Sunday, February 24, 2013

Everything You Know is Wrong (About Your Mind)

We are all engaged in occupational duties of different types according to our bodies and minds, and our relation to nature. Bodily or mental duties change, because we change our bodies. I am now a human being, and next time, if I become some animal, or a demigod, my occupational duty changes. If the body is born in India, one is feeling that "It is my duty to serve my country." Similarly, an Englishman is thinking to serve his country. The mind also changes according to body, or according to mind the body becomes engaged in a particular duty. We are contaminated by so many qualities of nature, and we are making our concoction, manufacturing our duty. A drunkard, because he has mixed with the quality of drunkards, he thinks, "Drinking is my duty." When you mix with the teabaggers, then you become like the teabaggers: "Oh, it is my duty to protest against the government." Otherwise you cannot stay in the society of teabaggers. But these occupational duties are not para. Para means transcendental, supreme.

After Krishna left the planet, the question was dharmaḥ kaṁ śaraṇaṁ gataḥ. "After departure of Krishna from this planet to His abode, under whom was the real occupational duty entrusted?" Krishna gave the answer in Bhagavad-gītā (18.66) sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: "This is your real occupation. You have got some bodily occupation, some mental occupation, some intellectual occupation, but you have to give up all these things. Simply surrender unto Me. This is your real occupation." Krishna descends to teach us this dharma, or occupational duty. He has explained karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga, dhyāna-yoga. These are all occupational duties of the body, of the mind, of intelligence. But real occupation is the soul's surrender to Krishna, because the soul is eternal. The body and mind are not eternal.

The bodies and minds of materialistic nondevotees seem to display the symptoms of life, but this appearance is deceptive. Actually, the conditioned soul has little control over his own bodily existence. Against his will, he has to excrete waste, get sick from time to time, and eventually age and die. And in his mind he unwillingly suffers anger, hankering and lamentation. Lord Krishna describes this situation as yantrārūdhāni māyayā (Bhagavad-gītā 18.61), riding helplessly as a passenger in a mechanical vehicle. The soul undoubtedly is alive, and irrevocably so, but in his ignorance that inner life is covered and forgotten. In its place, the automation of the external mind and body carries out the dictates of the modes of nature, which force one to act in a way altogether irrelevant to the dormant needs of the soul. Calling out to the forgetful prisoners of illusion, the Śvetāśvatara Upanisad (2.5) urges, "All you sons of immortality, hear, you who once resided in the divine kingdom!"

So, on the one hand, what is normally viewed as living -- the material body -- is in actuality a dead machine being manipulated by the modes of nature. And on the other hand, what the materialist condescendingly views as inert matter meant for exploitation is in its unknown essence connected with a living intelligence vastly more potent than his own. The Vedic civilization recognizes the intelligence behind nature as belonging to demigods who preside over the various elements, and ultimately to the Supreme Lord Himself. Matter, after all, cannot act coherently without the impulse and guidance of a living force. As Krishna states in Bhagavad-gītā (9.10),

"This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again."

There are many thoughtful writers and creative philosophers, but despite all their learning, if they cannot approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they are simply useless mental speculators. There are many sharply intelligent people in this material world, and they discover so many things for sense gratification. They also analytically study all the material elements, but despite their expert knowledge and expert scientific analysis of the whole cosmic manifestation, their endeavors are useless because they cannot understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Polluted intelligence has been compared to a prostitute. One who has not purified his intelligence is said to be controlled by that prostitute. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (2.41), those who are actually serious are conducted by one kind of intelligence, namely, intelligence in Krishna consciousness. One who is not fixed in proper intelligence discovers many modes of life. Thus involved in material activities, he is exposed to the different modes of material nature and subjected to varieties of so-called happiness and distress. If a man becomes the husband of a prostitute, he cannot be happy, and similarly one who follows the dictations of material intelligence and material consciousness will never be happy.
One must judiciously understand the activities of material nature. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (3.27)

"The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature."

It is like a bull tethered by a nose ring. The bull always thinks he's in control, but he's being pulled by the nose this way and that. The bull is being pulled in one direction, and the bull thinks "Let me go this way." When the bull is pulled in the other direction, then the bull thinks, "Let me go that way."
Although one follows the dictations of material nature, he happily thinks himself the master or husband of material nature. Scientists, for example, try to be the masters of material nature, life after life, not caring to understand the Supreme Person, under whose direction everything within this material world is moving. Trying to be the masters of material nature, they are imitation gods who declare to the public that scientific advancement will one day be able to avoid the so-called control of God. In fact, however, the living being, unable to control the rulings of God, is forced to associate with the prostitute of polluted intelligence and accept various material bodies. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (13.22)

"The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species."

If one fully engages in temporary fruitive activities and does not solve this real problem, what profit will he gain?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Everything You Know is Wrong (About Your Body)

This piece was published in the Huffington Post on February 11, 2013

This is the first in a series of essays called "Everything You Know is Wrong"

"If you wake up in the morning and see your face in the mirror, you know you've made a mistake." - Devamrita Swami

If we wake up in a prison, and can't remember how we got there, we can surmise that we've probably made a mistake. Perhaps we got drunk and did something illegal. Maybe we stole a car and went on a joy ride.

This is just like the experience of taking birth in this material world. We can't remember our past lives, or what we did to get here. This world is actually just a prison house for those who wanted to enjoy separately from God. He fulfills everyone's desires, so He creates this world, and kindly allows us to act out our fantasy in our own little playground, called the material world, where we can pretend to be God.

This material world is only ¼ of the creation of God. The other ¾ is the spiritual world, where everyone knows their eternal constitutional position as servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There, everyone lives an eternal life full of bliss and knowledge. This prison house, however, is temporary, miserable, and full of ignorance.

God doesn't leave us here to rot, however. He comes Himself, or sends His son or representative to bail us out. After we realize that we cannot enjoy separately, and begin to question why we are suffering, He sends a spiritual master to teach us how to get out of this material world.

What we are seeing in the mirror is a material body, and actually, we are not this body, we are spirit. Man is made in God's image, and therefore man's body appears to be like God's, but God's body is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss, whereas our bodies are temporary, full of ignorance and misery. Every material thing is a perverted reflection of the original spiritual reality.

Emerson described the spiritual reality as "the reverse side of the tapestry" in his lecture "The Transcendentalist", delivered at the Masonic Temple in Boston in January of 1842:

"The idealist, in speaking of events, sees them as spirits. He does not deny the sensuous fact: by no means; but he will not see that alone. He does not deny the presence of this table, this chair, and the walls of this room, but he looks at these things as the reverse side of the tapestry, as the other end, each being a sequel or completion of a spiritual fact which nearly concerns him. This manner of looking at things, transfers every object in nature from an independent and anomalous position without there, into the consciousness. Even the materialist Condillac, perhaps the most logical expounder of materialism, was constrained to say, 'Though we should soar into the heavens, though we should sink into the abyss, we never go out of ourselves; it is always our own thought that we perceive.' What more could an idealist say?"
In the 15th chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, the analogy of the material world is described as a tree whose roots are upwards and branches are below. We have experience of a tree whose roots are upward: if one stands on the bank of a river or any reservoir of water, he can see that the trees reflected in the water are upside down. The branches go downward and the roots upward. Similarly, this material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. The material world is but a shadow of reality. In the shadow there is no reality or substantiality, but from the shadow we can understand that there are substance and reality. In the desert there is no water, but the mirage suggests that there is such a thing as water. In the material world there is no water, there is no happiness, but the real water of actual happiness is there in the spiritual world.
In the Bhagavad-gītā  recognized as the most important scripture of India, Krishna gives knowledge to his dear friend Arjuna on a battlefield, 5000 years ago. He teaches, "You are not this body." This is the beginning of knowledge. But where is the university that teaches this knowledge? There is none. That is the position of education: there is no knowledge. They simply advertise ignorance as knowledge.

George Harrison wrote a song based on the knowledge of the Bhagavad-gītā entitled "I, Me, Mine." We think we are these bodies, and that everything in relation with these bodies is mine. We think are a member of this family and a member of this nation. Thus we are dancing around like monkeys. In the Bhagavad-gita (3.27) it is said that because the living entity has associated with a certain quality of nature, nature is making him dance according to that quality, and thus one is thinking, "I am this" or "I am that." The most essential education is that which enables one to become free from the bodily concept of life, but unfortunately scientists, philosophers, politicians, and other so-called leaders are misleading people so that they become more attached to the body. It is the human life that offers the opportunity to become "Krishna" or God conscious, but these rascals are stopping that opportunity by alluring people to bodily designations, and therefore they are the greatest enemies of human civilization.

As for actual advancement in spiritual science, one should have a test to see how far he is progressing. He can judge by these items. A human being is fit to inquire as to whether he is this body or something else. This can be understood very easily. I am not this body, because at the time of death the body remains--although everyone cries, "Oh, the poor man is gone!" The man is lying there. Why do you say he is gone? He is lying there!" At that time, we can come to our senses: the body is not the man. The real man is gone. The childhood body is changed to the youthful body, and the childhood body is gone.

Similarly, when the boyhood body is gone, you'll have to accept an old man's body. The body is changing. Not only year after year, but at every second the body is changing. Science tells us that very 7 years, all of the cells in your body will have changed, so the body you had 7 years ago is completely different from the one you have today. Still, you are situated there.

The Upanisads describe the relationship of the self and the Superself (Paramatma) is like two birds in a tree. The self is the bird that is enjoying the fruits of the tree, and the Superself if the bird's friend, who is simply witnessing. So if we stick to our determination and pray for the mercy of the director of intelligence sitting within the same bodily tree, certainly the purport of the revealed information in the Vedas becomes clear to our vision, and there is no difficulty in realizing the Paramatma. The intelligent man therefore, after many births of such use of intelligence, surrenders himself at the lotus feet of Paramatma, (Krishna), then he realizes that he is not the body, but rather a spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit. That is the first lesson of spiritual knowledge. When one understands that knowledge, one is then qualified to be released from the material prison house, and set free to enjoy an eternal life of bliss and knowledge in loving service to our real friend, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And once one is released, one never again returns to this miserable prison.

"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." -- Bhagavad-gita 4.9

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Tale of the Lucky Liver Fluke

The following is an excerpt from the book "The War Between Science and Common Sense" by Martin Lyons

(From Chapter 1)

The Answer to Everything – And What’s In It for Us 

Here’s something you may care to chew on, while you make up your mind whether this is indeed a book you’re going to really want to dive into. Actually ‘chew’ might not be the most appropriate word, in a strictly literal sense, since the particular something I have in mind is a liver fluke: the Lancet liver fluke to be precise, or rather, a somewhat hurried description of its life-cycle.

Like many parasites, liver flukes require more than one distinct host-species to carry them through the various stages of their life-cycles.  As adults, they live in the livers of cows, where they mate, with their eggs being excreted via the host’s fecal matter.  Terrestrial snails that dine on such factual left-overs become infected by the fluke’s larvae, which then settle in the snails’ digestive tracts.  To protect themselves, the snails form cysts around the little parasites, before excreting them in their own waste.  Finally ants, looking to snail slime as a source of moisture, simultaneously ingest these cysts, each of which is filled with hundreds of juvenile flukes.

At first glance, that may all seem to be pretty random. Except that there’s nothing random about the fact that the very distinct stages the flukes pass through in their life-cycle are so precisely aligned with their existence within these several and very distinct hosts. So how could all of this have come to be? How do we explain the flukes’ multifarious adaptations to so many distinct circumstances? And how we can account for the specific and simultaneous adaptations within the various hosts’ bodies that so perfectly serve to facilitate the flukes’ needs, including their transportation to their next destination? There is some seriously outrageous synchronicity going on here, such a complex and interconnected chain of events as to seemingly defy any rational explanation for how or why it came to be. Oh by the way, we haven’t even come to the most mind-blowing part of their story yet, where one fluke literally reprograms the body of its host ant for its own and its fellow flukes’ purposes. For that, you’re just going to have to wait for the next chapter.

 Is there really an answer that can satisfactorily explain such a thing, or such a series of things, as make up the life-cycle of the Lancet liver fluke? We’ve been educated to understand that this is indeed what science is able to provide. For example Leon Lederman, previous director of the Fermi Particle Accelerator, predicted that the ultimate goal of all their research would manifest in the form of a single equation that would explain everything, and that would be elegant enough to be written on a T-shirt. Well never mind a single equation that could sum up absolutely everything; how about a little one that could just account for but an infinitesimal speck of all that absolute ‘everything-ness,’ in the form of the amazing life-journey of the tiny liver fluke?

(Chapter 2)

It’s time now to take another and more detailed look at the life-cycle of the little Lancet liver fluke, or, as it is more formally known: Dicrocoelium dendriticum. I may mention that as long as I remember, I have loved to read books about nature and about the other inhabitants of planet Earth. I have always been delighted and fascinated by the unique features that every fauna and flora can be seen to possess, together with the extraordinary activities such features allow them to perform. But this little fellow is a personal favorite, because some of what it does is really quite surreal.

In fact, where we left off at the beginning of the first chapter was with the juvenile flukes about to emerge from their ‘space-capsule’-like cysts within the body of their new unsuspecting host, the ant. These juveniles are then free to wander throughout the ant’s body, but one in particular moves to the sub-esophageal ganglion, and this is indeed where the most extraordinary element of the story of the Lancet liver fluke takes place.

You may already recognize that the development and survival of such parasites requires an incredible degree of synchronicity and precise coordination of many highly complex and specific factors. Nor does such occur only within the body of the fluke itself, but it takes place over several distinct environments, which are in perfect dynamic alignment with the various needs and developmental stages of the fluke. In other words, the level of specificity and complexity of the system as a whole is virtually incalculable.

We may not even concern ourselves here with all that is involved in terms of the various mechanisms by which the host animals are able to protect themselves. Rather, we will confine our attention to simply the little parasites’ own part; though to use the word ‘simply’ in relation to any part of this story is a little misleading, I must admit. Just consider that a myriad specific adaptations are required for the little flukes to thrive within the various host species, which thriving includes being superbly able to take advantage of unique responsive processes within the hosts themselves, such as the snails’ cyst-manufacturing system. Plus a myriad specific adaptations more to facilitate their successful transportation from one species to the next, whereby the species involved are themselves both favorable environments for the flukes to survive in, as well as suitable providers of carriage to the next such favorable environment.

So if you can, just for a moment (or at least for this paragraph), put aside any pre-existing beliefs about how everything has come to be the way it is. And now ask yourself if it is truly and rationally thinkable that all of this could have spontaneously and randomly developed, unplanned and unguided? In other words, out of all the random mutations or developments that could ever happen (and such a figure is already way, way beyond anything we could ever hope to wrap our brains around), one after another after another … somehow or other, this single precise chain of random events happened to take place as to facilitate the mind-bogglingly complex series of interlocking eco-systems we refer to as the life-story of the liver fluke.  Because that is precisely what evolutionary theory tells us, as a matter of supposedly obvious and rational deduction, entirely consistent with experience and evidence.

But wait – the wee liver fluke’s story is not yet told. So putting aside any such inconvenient reflections for the moment, let us continue with the story of that one single fluke which by chance made its way to the aforementioned cluster of nerve-cells lying just underneath the ant’s esophagus.

Somehow or other this fluke is now able to manipulate the nerves there so as to cause it’s ant-host to act in a most peculiar but obliging manner.  What happens is that as evening draws near, such an infested ant begins to act in an entirely un-antlike manner, abandoning its natural behaviors in favor of a set of behaviors that are tailor-made to suit the interests of the flukes. What it does is to break away from the rest of its nest-mates, who are all back at the nest, snug as only a bug can be; while this uncharacteristically individualistic member of the herd goes off to spend the night firmly ensconced at the tip of a blade of grass.

Now as if that isn’t bizarre enough, in defiance of basic (ant-) logic, it in fact locks itself into place with its mandibles for the apparent purpose of making sure that it will be included in the diet of any cow that happens to graze upon the particular patch of grass it’s perched in. Should no cow happen to thus include that particular grass-blade in its meal, the ant then climbs back down at dawn to rejoin the rest of the colony, acting just like any other ant, and thus escaping the heat of the day which would otherwise kill both it along with its parasitic controllers.  What we can say, then, is that this particular ant has now been programmed to follow a suicide-mission specifically designed for the benefit of the flukes.

So the question is, programmed by what? The ant surely didn’t come up with such a program itself, acting under some self-sacrificing largesse aimed at helping the liver flukes in their own desperate struggle for survival. Nor is it any more reasonable to think that the flukes figured all this out for themselves, according to the panicked genius of the first generation of flukes that suddenly found themselves stuck in the digestive system of an ant, wondering what on earth they should do next to get out of there.

OK - so what is a reasonable answer? According to the theory of evolution, ‘it just happened.’ Or to put that another way, the answer is ‘random.’ It was all programmed at, or by, random. Well, not really programmed exactly, because the very idea of such a thing basically runs quite counter to the concept of random. So, no, it wasn’t programmed, it just happened. Randomly. How do we know? Because that’s what happened. It’s clearly the most obvious, sensible and empirically verifiable answer, so obvious, sensible and empirically verifiable in fact, that it’s been adopted by the very paragon of rational and objective thinking, namely science. And being science of course, and hence assumed ‘proven’ by such association, we really aren’t supposed to question it.

Well, even if we don’t question the theory, i.e. the science, of all this, still, the facts themselves do raise some very curious questions. For instance: how did the very first fluke that was swallowed by an ant and then made its way to said ant’s sub-esophageal ganglion before seizing control of the entire ant … well, how did it do that? How did it come to figure out how to pilot such an alien craft, and how did it even recognize what and where the controls were? After which, how did it determine its next life-supporting destination, namely the cow’s liver; and without the use of anything like a Mars Rover, for instance? Plus, how did it come by the actual chain of events by which it could arrive at said next destination via its new ‘space-ship’… including programming said ship for such activities as are entirely foreign to the fluke itself, such as climbing up grass-blades for the night, locking mandibles (whatever they might be, from a liver fluke’s perspective) in place, and patiently and one-pointedly awaiting the approaching ‘jaws of death’)?

Then there is the favorite old conundrum of course, suitably reworded for this particular example: which came first (as far as the fluke is concerned, that is): the cow, the snail or the ant?  Or isn’t the simple fact that all three are required simultaneously?  What series of prior evolutionary steps could be imagined that could have led up to this spectacularly complex and precise set of arrangements?  How is it consistent or rational to imagine that the explanation for such unparalleled complexity is mere arbitrary randomness? Would anyone take seriously, for example, a billionaire’s explaining as to how he became so fabulously wealthy if his only answer was, “Well, I started with nothing actually; and then I didn’t really do anything at all – and, umm, here we are then”?

How can the fluke’s life-cycle even begin to be explained by any undirected random evolutionary process, utterly devoid of foresight or planning, as evolution insists, since no rational person would ascribe such to the fluke itself?  Oh well, perhaps that’s why they call it a fluke.

Or how else can we explain such a scenario? And while we’re at it, how could we explain anything at all … or everything in general, for that matter?

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