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.


Caring for the important others in life

Your life is made up of ‘others’, in case you haven’t noticed! Often we consider ourselves as the center of the universe. Our world and our thoughts are so full of “I, me, myself & mine” that we hardly have time for others.  We need to step back and reflect on the significant others in our lives and we need to care for them. Here are a list of things that we need to do

Empathy: Quite often when your friend, colleague or family member relates their troubles to you, you find yourself judging them too quickly. You may see them as weak, or stupid and unable to handle their problems effectively. But what is really needed is empathy.  Empathy is the most important habit we need to cultivate in our relation to others. Empathy is the ability to sense the emotions and feelings of others. It is the ability to step into the other person’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. When we see the other person’s problems through the other person’s eyes, we are able to appreciate the reactions and emotions the other person is going through. If only we could see it through the lens of person relating the problem you will be able to appreciate it better.

Empathy, often gets confused with sympathy, where we acknowledge the hardship of the other person and provide comfort and assurance. People are not looking for your comfort but more for your understanding of their situation.

Listen more, talk less: When a family member, colleague or friend is relating their successes, failures or their experience, stop and listen. Let them have their say, whether it is a display of excitement, joy or sadness. Do not interrupt them with your own ideas, opinions and judgments. Listen more. Observe the visual cues and the body language of the other. Share in the joys and sorrows rather than giving your opinion and views on it. People like others who listen.

It is more important to be kind, than correct: This rule is an extension of the 2 points above. When the other person is venting their anger, relating their woes or showing enthusiasm and joy, be empathetic. There is really no need for you to correct the other person’s views, even if they are wrong, immediately. Let them vent their frustrations, even if unjustified. Listen to them. There will be time to tell them what your real view is. Honesty, in my opinion is over-rated. Honest is second only to kindness. Hence it is more important to be kind than correct.

Do unto others, as you have them do unto you: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you”. This is something that we need to keep in our minds all the time. Remember that just as you would like others to be kind, grateful and nice to you, so should all your activities to others be.

You don’t live in this world in isolation. Your life is made up of important others, all the time. Treat them well and they will treat you well in return.

So, pay heed, and care for the important others in your life!

Parallel philosophies of Lord Krishna and Christ

There are many parallels in the philosophies of Lord Krishna as mentioned in the  Bhagavad Gita and Jesus Christ in the Bible. This post highlights some of the parallels below

Christ: Judge not, lest ye be judged. Condemn not, lest ye be condemned.

Lord Krishna: Enlightened men are those who see the same in a Brahmana with learning, a cow, an elephant or a dog. In other words the yogi does not form opinions or judgments about others. A true yogi treats all persons with the same footing.

Christ: Love your enemy. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who treat you with disdain.

Lord Krishna: A true yogi is unaffected by praise or criticism. By always dwelling in the Atman he is unruffled by hatred, contempt or anger.  According to the Gita, a true yogi is a person who is expansive in his heart. He has risen above the joy that comes from praise or the hurt that comes from bitter criticism

Christ: Thekingdom ofGod cometh not with observation. For behold, the kingdom of the God is within you.

Lord Krishna: Above the senses, the mind, the intellect is the Atman which is within you. In the Upanishad’s this is also mentioned as “Tat tvam asi”, “Thou art that”.  The Atman is inside you and we become aware of it through self-inquiry.

Christ: You cannot serve God and Mammon at the same. Here Mammon refers to the desire for wealth.

Lord Krishna:  Perform niskama-karma or desireless action. Offer all the fruits of your action to God. Rise above desires and passion. Lord Krishna in the Gita enjoins us to rise above the rajasic nature of passion to a sattvic nature of principled living.

Though the words were different Lord Krishna and Jesus Christ were saying the same thing.

Sermon on the Mount – Truly sublime

Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3- 5:48) and (Luke 6:20 – 6:49) is truly sublime in its grandeur. The sermon is awe inspiring and truly majestic in its depth, breadth and philosophical import. The sermon is based on the two fundamental pillars of love and mercy.  Christ says that harboring anger against anyone as condemnable as murder itself.  One does not need to commit an act to transgress righteous behavior. Evil thoughts by themselves are themselves heinous. Hence hatred, lust, contempt or jealousy is bad in itself. In fact Christ goes on to say “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”   We have no right to criticize, pass judgments or opinions about others when we are less than perfect ourselves. There is no point criticizing about the “mote” in another’s eye when you have “beam” in your own eye.

The central point of Christ’s teachings is the need to repay with kindness any act of hatred towards you. This is contrary to the tit-for-tat and the eye for an eye we generally tend to react. For he says “for whosoever smites thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” and give, give freely to anybody who asks anything of you. With regard to charity Christ says “thy left hand should not know what thy right hand is doing”. There is no need to trumpet about one’s generosity and one’s kindness. This is similar to the Gita’s teaching which requires us to involve ourselves in charity without any regard to the expectations or fruits whatsoever.

Where the sermon truly sweeps you off your feet is where Christ asks to instead of loving our neighbor and hating our enemy to “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despise and persecute you”.  This is truly contrary to mankind’s years and years of conditioning where we react with animosity towards people we hate. We react with anger to insults and contempt. Christ asks to repay with love and kindness all acts of enmity and hatred.

With regard to forgiveness and mercy Christ’s response to Peter who asks him “how many times should I  forgive my brother if he sins against me. Seven times?”  To this Jesus says “Seventy times seven”. This is clearly a figure of speech and the crux is that we have to forgive and show mercy always and as many times as needed, simply because “so likewise shall my heavenly father do also unto you”. As human beings we err many times in our lives and God forgives us always.

What is really inspiring about the Sermon on the Mount is its all encompassing love and forgiveness that it preaches. Rather than behaving with anger and hatred towards people we hate, as we are programmed to react, we are encouraged to show mercy and behave with love and compassion. It really brings forth our human side of nature. The Sermon on the Mount is truly awe inspiring.

The Essence of charity

If there is one quality that is essential to the character of man it is the virtue of charity. Nothing is more important than the ability to give and give wholeheartedly. Charity truly elevates the giver.

There is an interesting tale in the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic, which highlights the essence of charity. When King Yudhistra was appointed king he performed great acts of charity by giving food and gifts to the poor and needy besides performing great rituals. People spoke very highly of the charitable acts of the king. One day while the king was performing these acts of charity a mongoose whose one half of the body was golden came to the assembly and rolled on the ground. After some time the mongoose gave up and said that the charity of the King was not all that great. This brought about a stunned silence in the court.

When the mongoose was asked why it had made such a statement it recalled its experience a few years back. The mongoose told the story of an extremely poor family, whose members had not eaten for a few day, had one day received a small bag of wheat flour. The wife made some bread for the family and just when they were about to eat a guest comes to their house. When the father of the household learns that the guest is hungry, he gives away his portion of the food to the guest. Since the guest is still hungry the mother and the son also give away their portions of bread to the guest. The guest goes away satisfied but the entire family dies due to hunger. It appears that the mongoose which was around this area happened to roll on the ground where there were a few grains of flour. The flour was so sanctified by the charitable act of the family that half of the body of the mongoose turned a golden color.

The mongoose said that since then it has been roaming the earth to witness an equally charitable act to turn its other half of the body golden. When the assembly heard they were dumbstruck and realized the value of true charity.

Generosity does not depend on the monetary value but more on the intention to help and serve.

There is another interesting tale of Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk, who lived during the 5th/6th century and transmitted Zen. Once he was asked by the Emperor Wu “What is the karmic merit I have earned for building monasteries and performing other charitable acts?”. To which Bodhidharma was supposed to have said “Absolutely none, whatsoever. Good deeds done with selfish intent bring no merit.”

By far the greatest act of charity is the virtue of forgiveness, the ability to pay back with goodwill to an act of transgression. As Shakespeare states, “Mercy is twice blest. It blesses him that gives and him that takes”

Charity must be done without any expectation. We should not even expect gratitude.
We should not feel that we are doing something noble. Charity does not mean only mean monetary assistance. It could also mean sharing of knowledge or giving moral support.

The virtue of charity requires us to be selfless while the performing the act. We should give from our hearts and expect nothing in return.

Charity is not determined by its magnitude but the magnanimity with which it is delivered.

The difference between ambition and desire

Ambition & desire are two seemingly similar ideas but in reality are concepts that have a world of difference. Ambition is the desire for achievement, while desire in its most raw form is just pure greed and avarice. While it is perfectly reasonable to be ambitious it really does not bode well if we are too desirous of something.

Oftentimes we get confused with the philiosophy of the Gita which advocates niskama-karma or desireless actions. We think that this basically means going through life in a mechanical way without any ambition. We then start to drift aimlessly in life.

Ambition is very important in life. It is the chief motivator that propels us to be achieve great things, It makes us want to do better in life. However pure desire is bad. Desire for power, wealth or fame is extremely bad and in fact can tempt people to use dishonest means.

Ambition is never affected by evil thoughts. Ambition is pure. It is the driving force which makes us do things, to get better in life.

Ambition propels us to great heights while craving or wanton desire can really result in a person’s downfall.

So while we should be ambitious we should really avoid greed and avarice.

Karma or plain convenience

Last night while I was returning home at around 10 pm I had a stop at a traffic signal. In the maze of the stopped vehicles I saw two little girls stopping at cars to beg. They were dirty and ragged. They must have been around 5 years old. Their cute, innocent faces looked tired. One of the girls walked to my car and tapped persistently on my vehicle.  The other girl decided to take a breather and sat on the median between the roads. I am sure that their day probably starts around 6 am and end around 11 pm.

When I looked at the little girls faces I started to wonder what they had done to deserve this. Their life had hardly started and they were forced to work for their living at such a tender age, so late in the night. When other children of their age must be listening to bedtime stories or having cute baby dreams these two little ones were out on the street, in a dangerous road, working their way between speeding vehicles, begging for alms.

My mind immediately turned to the old faithful theory of karma. I thought to myself that it was the karma of these two little girls that they had to suffer this fate. But I realized that these two little ones were too little to have done anything bad in life to have to undergo this tribulation. So then I started to think that in their past birth they must have done things and are suffering in this birth.

Somehow I found no satisfaction in either of these trains of thought. I just realized that life is unfair. It can be cruel. There is no real rhyme or reason behind the inequities of life in the world. It is just a throw of the dice of fate and depending on how the dice turns up we see either good times or bad times.

It is definitely true that karma provides an easy excuse for most of life’s problems. When we experience problems in life for which there is no easy explanation we conveniently rationalize that it is all our karma. We think that in the distant past we must have done thing bad and we are seeing the repercussions of this now. If that does not satisfy us we argue with ourselves that we must have done something downright bad in one of our previous births which is having its effect in this birth and in the current time.

However looking at these two little girls I somehow came away feeling unsatisfied with the theory of karma, This time I felt karma is just a convenient theory to answer life’s inequities. To me there was no plausible reason for these two little girls to undergo such an ordeal so early in their life.

I just came away with the realization that life can be unfair. Some people just suffer while others get away. We need to accept this reality and move on life. There are no other explanations. Do you have any thoughts?