Yearly Archives: 2010

01Dec/10

Technology, Ecology and Humanism

Technology with a Human Face.

- E.F. Schumacher, Swedish Economist

In the last few decades, several areas of science have demonstrated that Nature is incomparably more subtle and intricate than we had realized. The technology that humans are so proud of is crude and primitive compared with Nature, but it can be brutally powerful.

- James Martin, A leading authority on the economic and social impact of technology.

The ancient world was governed by the values of religion and philosophy. The middle ages were driven by the values of politics, conquest and empire building. The reigning angels of our modern age are science, technology and commerce. We are children of the technological age. The ambience of technology permeates every activity of our life including our religion and spirituality. An image in a popular magazine shows a Buddhist monk in an ochre robe operating a personal computer. This image reveals very concretely the all-pervading impact of technology on our life. Even the most ascetic, religious and spiritual institutions use technology either to enhance efficiency or spread their message or to rail at the “evil of technology”.

And modern business is the most efficient and effective user of technology though not always a wise user. The corporate world has not displayed much wisdom in using technology in a humane and eco-friendly manner. However, the imperatives of competition and the need to focus on the customer have awakened business leaders and entrepreneurs to some of the human factors which need to be considered in the right use of technology. In the corporate world there are many products which are technical marvels like for example Polaroid Camera and Apple’s Newton, but bombed in the market or replaced by more customer-focussed products because customer is not willing to pay the price for the technical perfection. So the new age entrepreneur has realized by hard experience that in the emerging corporate landscape, technology cannot be for its own sake but must serve the customer, which means human needs.

Similarly in the domain of economics and development studies, the Swedish economist E.F. Schumacher has awakened the development theorist and practitioner to the human face of technology. Schumacher’s gospel of “Appropriate Technology” counsels that a technology-system for a human group must be specifically tailored to the actual and unique economic, ecological, social, cultural and human needs of people living in the community.

The other important perspective on technology is the ecological view. After the advent of industrial revolution, our attitude to Nature is that of a hardened criminal who deserves the gallows. We have plundered, polluted and raped Nature and called this ignorant, criminal assault on Nature as mastery. Only recently, after the dawn of the new science of ecology and environmentalism, we are beginning to realize that by doing harm to Nature we are destroying ourself, because we are part of Nature and that too a small part of a much greater force.

If we are a part of Nature we cannot “develop” by taking an antagonistic and arrogant attitude to Nature. The exclusive humanism which aims at “conquest” of Nature by the power of technology and harness her energies for human “progress” is an obsolete mindset of Industrial Revolution. We must outgrow this infantile attitude to Nature if we have to survive as a race. We must keep in mind that Nature is an infinitely greater force than any individual or collective human ego. No human organism can “conquer” Nature with the puny force or intelligence of its ego. The right attitude to Nature is not the urge for conquest but to learn from her, obey her laws and imitate her methods; not to become the master of Nature but to be her student, disciple and child. Beyond this ecological and humanistic perspective there is a spiritual-evolutionary perspective which will be discussed briefly in the beginning of this issue.

All these perspective on technology point out to the need of a philosophy of technology which can bring clarity and vision to the role of technology in human development and planetary evolution.

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29Nov/10
03moralnature_SA

Nurturing the Moral Nature

The moral nature cannot be cultivated by sermons, lectures and lessons, which touch only the surface layers of the mind. An effective moral education requires cultivation of emotion along with an inner discipline and practice. This article presents an insightful review of the basic principles of effective moral education.

Key Perspectives

Cultivation of the heart; fundamentals for moral training; basics of religious education; an illustrative story.

Cultivation of the Heart

In the economy of man the mental nature rests upon the moral, and the education of the intellect divorced from the perfection of the moral and emotional nature is injurious to human progress. Yet, while it is easy to arrange some kind of curriculum or syllabus which will do well enough for the training of the mind, it has not yet been found possible to provide under modern conditions a suitable moral training for the school and college. The attempt to make boys moral and religious by the teaching of moral and religious text-books is a vanity and a delusion, precisely because the heart is not the mind and to instruct the mind does not necessarily improve the heart. It would be an error to say that it has no effect. It throws certain seeds of thought into the antahkarana and, if these thoughts become habitual, they influence the conduct. But the danger of moral text-books is that they make the thinking of high things mechanical and artificial, and whatever is mechanical and artificial is inoperative for good.

There are three things which are of the utmost importance in dealing with a man’s moral nature, the emotions, the samskaras or formed habits and associations, and the svabhava or nature. The only way for him to train himself morally is to habituate himself to the right emotions, the noblest associations, the best mental, emotional and physical habits and the following out in right action of the fundamental impulses of his essential nature. You can impose a certain discipline on children, dress them into a certain mould, lash them into a desired path, but unless you can get their hearts and natures on your side, the conformity to this imposed rule becomes a hypocritical and heartless, a conventional, often a cowardly compliance. Only what the man admires and accepts, becomes part of himself; the rest is a mask. He conforms to the discipline of society as he conformed to the moral routine of home and school, but considers himself at liberty to guide his real life, inner and private, according to his own likings and passions. On the other hand, to neglect moral and religious education altogether is to corrupt the race.

As in the education of the mind, so in the education of the heart, the best way is to put the child into the right road to his own perfection and encourage him to follow it, watching, suggesting, helping, but not interfering. The one excellent element in the English boarding school is that the master at his best stands there as a moral guide and example leaving the boys largely to influence and help each other in following the path silently shown to them. But the method practised is crude and marred by the excess of outer discipline, for which the pupils have no respect except that of fear, and the exiguity of the inner assistance. The little good that is done is outweighed by much evil. The old Indian system of the guru commanding by his knowledge and sanctity the implicit obedience, perfect admiration, reverent emulation of the student was a far superior method of moral discipline. It is impossible to restore that ancient system; but it is not impossible to substitute the wise friend, guide and helper for the hired instructor or the benevolent policeman which is all that the European system usually makes of the pedagogue.

The Fundamentals of Moral Training

The first rule of moral training is to suggest and invite, not command or impose. The best method of suggestion is by personal example, daily converse and the books read from day to day. These books should contain, for the younger student, the lofty examples of the past given, not as moral lessons, but as things of supreme human interest, and, for the elder student, the great thoughts of great souls, the passages of literature which set fire to the highest emotions and prompt the highest ideals and aspirations, the records of history and biography which exemplify the living of those great thoughts, noble emotions and aspiring ideals. This is a kind of good company, satsanga, which can seldom fail to have effect, so long as sententious sermonising is avoided, and becomes of the highest effect if the personal life of the teacher is itself moulded by the great things he places before his pupils. It cannot, however, have full force unless the young life is given an opportunity, within its limited sphere, of embodying in action the moral impulses which rise within it.(1) The thirst of knowledge, the self-devotion, the purity, the renunciation of the Brahmin, – the courage, ardour, honour, nobility, chivalry, patriotism of the Kshatriya, – the beneficence, skill, industry, generous enterprise and large open-handedness of the Vaishya, – the self-effacement and loving service of the Shudra, – these are the qualities of a truly cultured human being. They constitute the moral temper we desire in our young men, in the whole nation. But how can we get them if we do not give opportunities to the young to train themselves in this tradition, to form by the practice and familiarity of childhood and boyhood the stuff of which their adult lives must be made?

Every boy should, therefore, be given practical opportunity as well as intellectual encouragement to develop all that is best in his nature. If he has bad qualities, bad habits, bad samskaras whether of mind or body, he should not be treated harshly as a delinquent, but encouraged to get rid of them by the Rajayogic method of samyama, rejection and substitution. He should be encouraged to think of them, not as sins or offences, but as symptoms of a curable disease alterable by a steady and sustained effort of the will, – falsehood being rejected whenever it rises into the mind and replaced by truth, fear by courage, selfishness by sacrifice and renunciation, malice by love. Great care will have to be taken that unformed virtues are not rejected as faults. The wildness and recklessness of many young natures are only the overflowings of an excessive strength, greatness and nobility. They should be purified, not discouraged.

The Basics of Religious Education

I have spoken of morality; it is necessary to speak a word of religious teaching. There is a strange idea prevalent that by merely teaching the dogmas of religion children can be made pious and moral. This is an European error, and its practice either leads to mechanical acceptance of a creed having no effect on the inner and little on the outer life, or it creates the fanatic, the pietist, the ritualist or the unctuous hypocrite. Religion has to be lived, not learned as a creed. The singular compromise made in the so-called National Education of Bengal, making the teaching of religious beliefs compulsory, but forbidding the practice of anusthana or religious exercises, is a sample of the ignorant confusion which distracts men’s minds on this subject. The prohibition is a sop to secularism declared or concealed. No religious teaching is of any value unless it is lived, and the use of various kinds of sadhana, spiritual self-training and exercise, is the only effective preparation for religious living. The ritual of prayer, homage, ceremony is craved for by many minds as an essential preparation and, if not made an end in itself, is a great help to spiritual progress; if it is withheld, some other form of meditation, devotion or religious duty must be put in its place.

Otherwise, religious teaching is of little use and would almost be better ungiven. But whether distinct teaching in any form of religion is imparted or not, the essence of religion, to live for God, for humanity, for country, for others and for oneself in these, must be made the ideal in every school which calls itself national.

(1) Note: An Illustrative Story

The following story illustrates this aspect of moral education:

A King of ancient India came to his Guru with his prince, a young boy. He told his Guru, “Sir, this boy is going to inherit my kingdom after me. I request you to give him a suitable education which will make him a good king.”

The Guru said, “Yes, you leave your boy with me and come back after six months. I will train him to be a good king.”

The next day, in the morning, Guru told many stories on kindness, generosity and compassion to the boy and said to him, “My dear child, now you go out and wander around in the city. Look for as many opportunities as possible to put into practice what you have learnt from the stories. You should not come back home without doing atleast a few acts of kindness. You will do this everyday. This will be your education for the next six months.”

Thus, everyday after listening to stories on kindness from his teacher, the young prince went out into the world and found many occasion to be kind and helpful to others. After six months the King came back to his Guru and asked, “Sir, is my son ready to be a good king?” The Guru said: “Yes, you can take your son back. He will be a great king because he has developed a kind and compassionate heart. He will not run after power or wealth for himself because a compassionate heart cannot be greedy. Whatever wealth or power he has or acquires, he will use it for the well-being of his subjects.”

Sri Aurobindo

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01Nov/10
01editorial_november2010

Ethics, Goodness and Greed

I know what is right, but I have no inclination for it. I also know what is not right, but I can’t resist it.

- Duryodhana in Mahabharatha

One thing is the Good and quite another is the Pleasant, and both seize upon a man with different meanings. Of those who chose the Good, it is well for them; he falls from the aim of life who chooses the Pleasant.

- Katha Upanishad

Its human nature, unless somebody can find a way to change human nature, we will have more crisis and none of them will look like this because no two crisis have anything in common except human nature.

- Alan Greenspan,

Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve of US.

After the financial meltdown, so much has been said and written about the evils of greed and the need of ethics. How to make ethics and goodness prevail over greed and selfishness in human nature?

The ethical sensitivity is not the prerogative of a saint. There is a saint in everyone of us. Even those who suffer from a congenital wickedness have a spark of goodness in a little corner of their being. There are deeper and higher layers in our mind and heart which respond spontaneously to truth, beauty and goodness. The main problem of ethics is that most of us are not able to live and act from this deeper and higher part of our being. We live mostly in the lower part of our self where the main actuating force is not truth, beauty and goodness but greed, pleasure and personal satisfaction. Even when our lower self awakens to this higher values, it is not able to live these ideals, because in this part of our nature, motives like greed for power and wealth, pleasure-seeking and self-interest are much more powerful forces than the aspiration for truth, beauty or goodness; truth or goodness is a weak, desirable, more or less abstract ideals but greed or the urge for pleasure is a powerful, compelling force.

This is the reason why an intellectual and emotional awakening of the surface nature to ethical values, though helpful as a beginning, is not enough for a deep and lasting moral change. Rational analysis, case studies and stories are helpful in creating a preliminary ethical awakening in our surface nature and in our thinking mind. But this awakening does not have sufficient force to overcome a strong and compelling temptation or the gust of nature, which raises from the need for power, wealth, enjoyment or for safeguarding or expansion of our self-interest. The lure and temptation is all the more difficult to resist when it is sugar-coated with pleasure and immediate gratification.

This is the central knot of the immemorial ethical problem. The long-term solution lies in an inner discipline or education which brings a greater light, strength, energy and discrimination to our mind and heart and our higher aspirations and ultimately transforms our consciousness and life. There are many such disciplines in the spiritual traditions of the world, especially in the Eastern and Indian Yoga.

However, we must note here that the aim of these disciplines is spiritual and not moral. The moral development or perfection is only a means or preparatory stage for the spiritual freedom or perfection which is the aim. However the mental, moral and psychological discipline described in these Indian spiritual traditions provides a practical system of “value education” which can lead to a deeper and more lasting moral transformation than the mostly intellectual and superficial approach to ethics taught in modern academic and management education.

The other important lesson which the modern ethical paradigms have to learn from the ancient spiritual teaching is the limitation of ethics and morality in changing human nature. According to eastern spiritual traditions, ethics and morality can only achieve a limited, preparatory change which is uncertain because it has to be sustained by constant vigilance, effort and control of a higher mental or moral will over our lower nature. The permanent and radical transformation of nature can be achieved only in the spiritual consciousness of our highest and innermost self beyond our mental and moral being. This is because, the higher values like truth, beauty and goodness become entirely concrete, intrinsic, spontaneous and self-existent only in the consciousness of the spirit. This may be a far-off ideal for most of us. But we cannot expect any lasting and radical change in human life without a corresponding change in human nature. As Sri Aurobindo points out:

“At first sight this insistence on a radical change of nature might seem to put off all the hope of humanity to a distant evolutionary future; for the transcendence of our normal human nature… has the appearance of an endeavour too high and difficult, and at present, for man as he is, impossible. Even if it were so, it would still remain the sole possibility for the transmutation of life. For to hope for a change of human life without a change of human nature is an irrational and unspiritual proposition.”

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07Sep/10
01editorial_sept2010

Meditative Practices for Human Growth

In moments when the inner lamps are lit
And the life’s cherished guests are left outside
Our spirit sits alone and speaks to its gulfs.

- Sri Aurobindo

Meditation: Gateway to Corporate Consciousness. The logic behind today’s corporate meditation trend is clear. Meditation increases concentration, boosts intuition, relieves fatigue, juices up creativity and enhances organizational effectiveness.

- Patricia Aburdence
Futurist and Author

The art and science of meditation is one of the greatest discoveries of Indian yoga. This immortal art of the East, when rightly understood and practiced, can be a great help in accelerating human growth. The traditional Indian spirituality laid too heavy an emphasis on meditation as the path for inner spiritual growth. But meditation is not the only path for spiritual development. There are other equally effective paths like for example Karma-Yoga of the Gita. However meditation is a powerful method for accelerating inner growth. So every individual who is seeking for inner growth, whatever may be his professional occupation, must learn the art of meditation.

There are many forms of meditation. The well-known cross-legged and closed-eye posture of the Himalayan yogi is only an outer symbol of meditation. We have to get behind the symbol to the inner forms of meditation. Concentrated focusing of attention on a single point is a form of meditation. A more relaxed flow of thoughts on a single idea is another form of meditation. An alert and objective observation of the inner movements of our mind and the outer world, called as mindfulness in Buddhist yoga, is still another form of meditation.

These methods of meditation can be used for enhancing performance in work and action or for achieving inner peace, relaxation or health or for self-knowledge and spiritual growth. In the ancient India, meditation was used mainly for a more or less lonely spiritual development or salvation of the individual. But in our present age, we have to explore all the possibilities and potentialities of meditation for human growth in the spiritual as well as in the secular realms.

This issue contains articles, which describe various forms of meditative practices that can enhance performance and accelerate human growth. We have included the entire range of methodologies from the preparatory discipline to more advanced practices. And most of the articles are from accomplished masters of meditation like Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Rama, Ramana Maharishi, and J. Krishnamurty. The seeker in the path of meditation has to choose those methods or practices, which are in harmony with his needs, nature, temperament and stage of evolution. This issue contains more than the usual number of eight or nine articles because we want to present it as a life-long reference manual on meditation to our dear readers.

Editorial

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