On the universe, evolution, God and religion

Spiral-galaxy-wallpaperHere are some of my ruminations on the universe, evolution, God and religion

The Universe: If only we stop to ponder about the universe we will be absolutely fascinated by it. In the universe there are 100 billion galaxies, each galaxy has several hundred billion stars and each star has several trillion planetary systems and satellites. If we consider the universe to the size of the earth, then the earth itself would be the size of a grain of sand.

In other words the earth is a tiny, miniscule drop in the ocean of the universe. We are located in some remote, inconspicuous corner of the universe. The universe itself started 13.4 billion years ago when there was a cataclysmic event, the Big Bang, when the universe itself was a singular point in space-time. Time, space and the universe were created thereafter. The stars, planets, galaxies have been flung out from the moment of the big bang and the universe is still expanding, The fact that the big bang occurred and the galaxies, stars are moving away, can be measured by the velocity with which they are either receding or moving towards the earth resulting in a red or blue shift in the light spectrum.  A few weeks backs scientists have been able to measure the gravitational waves created during the birth pangs of the Universe about 13.2 billion years ago.

Evolution:  The theory of evolution as propounded by Charles Darwin in his “Origin of Species’ is truly a fascinating work of careful scientific analysis backed by painstaking effort at observing, recording and analysis. Darwin shows very clearly how different species of flora and fauna are formed. The forces of ‘natural selection’ and ‘survival of fittest’ act very strongly, resulting in the perpetuation of certain characteristics in the species, which allow it to survive into future generations.  Those species that are unable to survive by adapting to the natural environment become extinct. The evolution of mammals, fishes and birds all exhibit remarkable changes in physical characteristics of internal and external organs, color and other attributes.  These changes take place over many centuries. It is also fascinating when we realize in how many ways we have changed from our earlier ancestors for example the Neanderthals.

For e.g. the forearms have become shorter, our foreheads have become broader to accommodate a bigger pre-frontal cortex for more cerebral activities. The pre-historic man existed about 4 million years ago. We, the modern man, have a come long way through evolution.

God: The knowledge of the universe and evolution clearly show us where we have come from and how we have arrived here. So where does this leave God?  To be honest, God, as we now know it, loses significance. As Carl Sagan says, it would be really odd that in this vastness of space and time, to believe in a local God for this earth in some insignificant corner of the universe.   Our understanding of God is only about 5 thousand years old. Whereas the universe in itself is more than 13.5 billion years old. The fact that we evolved from pre-historic man is an established fact.  The age of the universe has been confirmed time and again. We need to rethink our beliefs in this context. Also evolution has confirmed the progressive sophistication of beings and thus man.

It is possible that you may ask? What was there before the Big Bang? Who created the universe at the time of the big bang?  The answer is “We don’t know”. Can we assume that chance and nature created man and all creatures with such complexity? To this we can say that evolution for millions of years have produced all these variations.

So, to many of the questions,  we can just say,  we don’t know. Our limited intellect and finite brain cannot comprehend beyond a certain amount. So it is best to say we really don’t know.

Religion: So really nothing can be said about God. There are lots of things we don’t know.

So what can we say about religion. In my opinion, we do not need a God for religion. All religions talk about the same principles of integrity, kindness, compassion and mercy. So whether we believe or don’t believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, all knowing God, we can all practice good moral values of kindness, integrity, compassion and love. This is something that is eternal and has always existed.

So whether you agree or disagree with my views I hope you subscribe to the moral view that we need to have true north based principles and values in this existence of ours.

How do you instill good values?

How can we instill good values whether in our child, our juniors or people younger to us? Is there a way that allows us to transfer good moral values whether it is integrity, perseverance, kindness or compassion?

In my opinion there is no easy way.

As opposed to our academic lessons where we understand things, values need to imbibed and internalized. We cannot intellectualize values, we need to internalize it.

These are my thoughts on this difficult topic.  Please feel free to come up with your ideas.

Futility of reason and explanations: Values can never be transmitted by way of explanations and reasons. However sound your reasons may be the other person will either acknowledge or disagree with your views. It will never go deep into the psyche. Reason and logic can be used as supporting elements but never as the primary cause for transmitting values.

The strength of mythology and fables:  Mythology and fables are usually good tools to transfer values. A story has a soul and is a good way to transmit values. So whether it patient Job or the valiant Arjuna stories are pretty powerful tools. Aesop’s tales and other fables are also excellent tools particularly in the case of the children.

Leading by example: This is another potent way to pass important values and principles to others. We always tend to look up to role models in life. A Gandhiji, a Mother Teresa or a Bill Gates is a sound example of role models in our life. It is always said that the key method to pass good values to children is by being a role model for them. Children always look up to their parents. Similarly in a corporate world the values of the CEO are usually a pointer to the way the organization is headed.

Inculcating sound values take time and requires a lot of patience. It is extremely critical that we live the values that we want to transfer to others.


For a degree in right attitude

We spend a third of our lives in academic pursuits, the initial years being taken away in basic education and the later years in the pursuit of degrees and certificates. Education in itself is important and necessary to get us through this increasingly knowledge intensive world. However the fervor with which we attempt in getting into top –rated colleges with top-rated degrees does not make a whole lot of sense. We run, or are made to run, by our family and society after law, medical, engineering, commerce degrees.

Granted, a good degree from a great college or a great degree from a good college will give you an excellent initial velocity and momentum to your career in the early years. But with time it is not the degree that will come your aid but your attitude towards life. Unfortunately there are no institutions that give a degree in right attitude. There are no institutions that teach us the importance of personal responsibility, of social obligations, the ability to solve life’s problems. Neither are we taught to maintain a constant drive to get things done, the need for patience and consistency and so on. These are essential skills that one needs in life in addition to the medical, engineering or the law degrees.

We are left to fend our lives on our own. A great many people, after the initial exuberance of a wonderful start to their career and lives dies down, tend to meander about completely lost in life. There are others who just potter or drift about in life.

“Life’s journey, not a destination” we have been told a million times. What has been left unsaid is that this journey can be to new territory, or simply in plain circles. It is what we make of it.

If we don’t have the right attitude to life we will not navigate our way in life properly. Some of us will tend to the same mechanical things ad-nauseum without getting nauseated. Others will tend to buffeted by the vagaries of fortune. Still others will be cowed down under their responsibilities and problems.

In my opinion “success in life lies is in the eyes of the beholder”. Life is a marathon and we need to have the right attitude in dealing with it. We should not shy away from problems. Rather we should face it head-on. We need to become expert problem solvers. We must sow seeds for our future. We must be grateful for life itself and what it has offered us. We must live every moment.

We must use the creativity of imagination, the strength of courage, the power of determination and the wisdom of patience to sculpt our lives as we live them.

Life is never a race though it is often mentioned as one. In life, you never need to get anywhere. Life is all about paving your own path in time.

You are the sculptor and you sculpt yourself!

A healthy and a right attitude can come handy at any stage in life. This does not just apply each one of us but also to our children.

We should spend more time educating our children about true values like courage, will-power, consistency and drive while they pursue their college degrees. This will take them farther in their lives.

The puzzle of life – The Hindu, Christian and Buddhist view

Life is a puzzle at best. Different religions and religious philosophies have different approaches to life and the way to handle it. While at one end of the spectrum all religions are the same, at the other end they are unique and look at life from a completely different angle. This post tries to look at 3 of major religions of the world and their approach to life and how to conduct ourselves

Buddhism: Buddhism answers the essential question “What is life?” The root of all existence,according to Buddhism, is human suffering. Buddha expounds that life is suffering, in his four noble truths. Buddhism further clarifies that suffering is born of attachment, cessation of suffering is attainable and the path to cessation is based on taking the middle path given in his eight-fold path.

Hinduism: Hinduism essentially answers the question as to “how should one lead life?” According to Lord Krishna in the Gita, one should perform one’s duty with detachment and without any concern for the fruits of the action. We should perform all actions as a sacrifice to God in the full awareness that it is the Creator who is the doer of all actions. Further the Gita tells us that it is better to do what is intrinsic to one’s nature rather than just do something for another.

Christianity: The central message of Christianity is “how should one behave”. The bible requires us love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself. In fact, Jesus goes to the extent of requiring us to love where we would want to hate or in other words we are to “love our enemy”. The Bible also enjoins us to forgive those who err against us, pray for those who despise us. We are to lead a life of love, compassion and mercy.

While all the religions require us to conduct our lives with highest moral principles they essentially show a different path.

In search of power, glory and prosperity

What distinguishes man from animals is his ability to reason. Man has the ability to choose an action from a set of valid alternatives. The action that he chooses should be based on the values that he cherishes. Values can be anything as long as they are founded on true north principles of integrity, kindness and compassion.

How should man conduct himself in life? Are there valid goals that are worth pursuing? What should be basis for goals that we set for ourselves?

Any goal in life is good as long as it is the result of a rational choice that man makes based on his inner values in life.

For example one’s value could be acquisition of great wealth through legitimate means. The person may be keen on gaining riches through dint of hard work, judicious choices and opportunities that he is able to see.

On the other hand a person’s value could be attainment of power and the ability to drive things on attainment. Similarly others may yearn for fame.

All these are perfectly valid values and do give a person a purpose in life. What is wrong in wanting to be multi-millionaire, or to have the immense power or far flung glory? All these are perfectly reasonable goals in life. It is only necessary that achievement of these goals is done through legitimate means.

Wealth, if it is not just for one’s own selfish pleasure, can be put to great use for the uplifting of the underprivileged. Similarly, power, if it is not misused can drive a lot of good actions.

There is nothing wrong in wanting riches, power or fame as long as one is willing to put it to good use for oneself and for society. We do have a Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, who is using his fortune to eradicate diseases like malaria and polio from the face of the earth. We are all aware of Mahatma Gandhi who used his enormous moral power to win India’s freedom and to eliminate the evils of casteism and untouchability.  Similarly we have a Michael Jordan or a Sachin Tendulkar who have achieved great fame and are role models for aspiring youngsters.

As long as our ambitions are grounded in good values of integrity, human kindness and compassion there is every reason to chase the dreams that we have.

The Tao of Human Behavior

Are there fundamental principles or laws that govern human behavior? If there are what would they be? In my opinion right human behavior should be based on sound values of character which I state as “The Tao of Human Behavior”.

Tao originated in Chinese philosophy and can be loosely defined as “the way”, ‘doctrine” or principle. Clearly there are certain ways that enable one to lead a more full life.

The essence of right behavior can be captured in the following 3 laws

The Law of Immutable Values: This law requires that human action be based on sound principles of integrity, kindness, compassion, tolerance and humility.  This law requires that all human action be based on above values. Action based on values will ensure good providence or karma and will ensure enduring happiness.

The Law of Greatest Good: This law ensures that in any given situation when there is conflict among the immutable values as specified in Law 1, the value that provides the greatest good will be chosen among others. This law implies that, in real life, there will be delicate situations where there will be conflict of principles for e.g. there could be a situation where there is a conflict of honesty versus kindness or another where there is a conflict of tolerance versus correctness. In these situations when there is conflict among several values, the course of action taken should be based on ensuring that the act provides the greatest good for the longest time.

The Law of Greatest Good to Greatest Number (dharma): Implicit in this law is  that society takes precedence over the self in deciding action. Also this law requires that action taken must be such that it provides the greatest good to the greatest number. This law clearly places the world at large above the individual. Action based on this law will be selfless. However, sometimes the path taken can never make everybody happy. So this law requires that action should be based on providing the greatest benefit to the largest number by choosing an appropriate action based the second law.

These laws are based on good human behavior and sound conduct and have proven value and are the essence of right action passed to us through the ages.

If all human action is based on the above 3 laws, human society at large can be peaceful.