Sunday, March 26, 2006

Fighting adharma

Dharma means righteousness. More than a mere word, it is a philosophy in itself. Dharma involves right thoughts, right words, right action, right conduct. Adharma is the lack of dharma. Examples of adharma are blind faith, unabashed looting of resources, using up more than you need, etc.

Adharma is present in every single person, and in the world as a whole too. The issue of fighting adharma is, therefore, a pertinent one. Let me use the example of Vishnu as a pointer towards fighting adharma.

The various avatars of Vishnu have over time, used the same tactics as the adharmic forces to defeat them. Consider:

Parasurama killed the kshatriyas unabashedly in response to mass killings of Brahmins by the kshatriyas. Rama, in his war against Ravana, never deviated from the path of righteousness. He did so, because Ravana himself fought the war justly, following the rules of war as laid down by dharma. Krishna, on the other hand, justified the killings of Karna and Jayadratha (which involved trickery) citing the various actions of Kauravas (disrobing of Draupadi, cheating the Pandavas out of their kingdom, the killing of Abhimanyu) as examples of trickery by the opposition. Adi Shankaracharya, the brilliant philosopher, waged an intellectual war against the widespead prevalance of dogma and intolerance, by defeating representatives from all 72 religions in a debate. He managed to unify all religions under the single umbrella of advaita philosphy, and managed to resolve their differences.

I'm sure there would be many other examples available, but each of the above examples indicates that adharma is always fought using the same tactics of adharma. This is not an abdication of righteousness, but rather the performance of duty without any regard to personal benefit. I'm sure everyone will agree that it is morally incumbent upon us to fight adharma. Adharma must be fought at two levels - the personal level, and the global level, in that order. One cannot set the world on the path of righteousness without the person him(her)self following the same path.

In each case, one must identify the form of adharma, before taking any steps to eliminate it. At the personal level, the actions, as prescribed by Krishna, show us the best way to live. From the Bhagavad Gita (2:47)

karmaņy evādhikāras te mā phaleşu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te sańgo 'stv akarmaņi

which translates as
You certainly have the right for prescribed activities, but never at anytime in their results. You should never be motivated by the results of the actions, nor should there be any attachment in not doing your prescribed activities.
As for the global level, let that be a topic for some other day, some other person.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Is the Universe an Illusion? (part 2)

In my previous post on this topic, I presented a logical reasoning for why the universe must be an illusion. This time, I intend to present some scientific evidence. Most of these ideas have been obtained from here.

First, a primer on consciousness. What makes the entire universe tick? We observe macroscopic phenomena such as the earth revolving around the sun, apples falling to the earth, people moving and interacting with each other, and in a subtle sense, individual atoms interacting with each other. What is the cause of all this? Some people say this is just random chance that the universe has panned out in this way, but quantum mechanics tells us that if this is so, then there are other possibilities, and hence other universes where these possibilities occur. The question still remains - what caused it in the first place?

The universe is commonly thought of as a machine, with individual components working as cogs, and consciousness was never really acknowledged. But scientists today are finding it more and more difficult to ignore consciousness as the reason for existence. Consider this: It is a commonly known phenomena that sub-atomic (and other) particles behave differently when observed as opposed to their behaviour when unobserved (e.g. light as both a wave and a particle). This projection of different behaviour is caused by human consciousness. In my previous post, I described how reality is closely associated with my senses. The existance of any object outside of my consciousness cannot be proved at all. Therefore consciousness is the direct cause of all reality, and as a corollory, consciousness is all that exists. This is the conclusion that scientists working on quantum mechanics are coming to, and this idea is gaining increasing credence.

The EPR paradox has instantaneous communication (read: greater than the speed of light) as its implication, also known as a non-local event. Looked at another way, it means that the separation between particles is an illusion.

As per the standard model of the atom, one of the fundamental particles is a quark. While admittedly, the standard model is not a complete theory (gravity is not explained, for example), it presents a very good picture of the atom. According to the standard model, quarks, while they possess mass, are only one-dimensional things. But three of them combine to form a three-dimensional proton or neutron. The problem is that quarks cannot really exist, because if they exist, they become three-dimensional things. The entire universe is, therefore, composed of particles which do not really exist. The universe, therefore, is only an illusion. Even if quantum theory is disproved for some reason in the future, the experimental evidence itself showing that the universe is an illusion is overwhelming.

It is also not necessary to take the aid of quantum mechanics to show that the universe is an illusion. Consider a beam of light travelling from point A (say, the sun) to point B (say, you, the observer). According to you, the light takes about eight minutes to get from A to B. But as far as the light itself is concerned, it reached point B in no time, since time stops at the speed of light. There is an equation (which is, incidentally, fundamental to quantum mechanics) that shows that time is zero, meaning, it does not exist. But you and me experience time. This is an apparent contradiction, but it really means that time is an illusion. If time is an illusion, then so is space, because we cannot experience space without time. And again, this leads to the fact that the universe is an illusion.

PS: That the universe is an illusion, and pure consciousness is all that exists, is also known as the Advaita philosophy.

PPS: Before you start jumping on me, this is not about trying to prove religion with the aid of science. These are conclusions drawn by scientists independent of religion.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Is the Universe an Illusion?

The idea itself sounds absurd, we see and perceive the universe, we know it has to exist. But, does it really? What proof do we have that our senses are not deceiving us? After all, our senses and perception are all based on electric impulses. What is to stop these impulses to be designed in such a manner so as to create a make believe universe in our minds? What if the reality that we see is only for us? In other words, what proof do we have that we are not stuck in a matrix-like situation (like in the movie) where our senses have been deceived into believing in a non-existant universe? Is this universe only an illusion? Is there no way we can realize the truth?

Let us assume this universe is an illusion, and we somehow manage to pull the plug on the illusion. What guarantee do we have that the ensuing reality is not another layer of illusion? This can keep going on forever like the chicken or the egg question. The more you think about this, the more you realize that our senses are not as dependable as we thought when we seek the truth.

Take this a step further. I look down and see my fingers and toes. I can move and feel them. But since my senses cannot be depended upon, do my fingers and toes exist? Does my body exist? Do I exist outside of the mind? Does the mind itself exist?

There has to be something deeper, something more subtle than our gross senses and our mind. It is our Atman, loosely (and somewhat inaccurately) translated as soul. We have to transcend this material universe, which is nothing but an illusion to realise our true self. Our mind can only help us in going so far, but beyond a certain stage, we have to transcend the mind itself.