Purnapramati retreat near Mangalore

(Note: Pawanji conducted a retreat for the teachers of Purnapramati school of Bangalore between 3rd to 11th February, 2024 at Purnaprajna Prakruthi Paathshaale near Mangalore. The Paathshaale is set in a lush forested area near Kudremukh national park. Around 50 teachers from Purnapramati came in three batches to attend a retreat titled ‘Sanaatan and modernity. Photos of the retreat are posted on our Telegram channel.The following is the note written by Pawanji after the retreat.)

I want to thank everyone especially Swami ji, Satyanarayan Acharya ji, Srinivasa, Balchandra, Latha and the entire Purnapramati team as well as other participants for giving me this opportunity to share and organise this event in such an idyllic place. I believe the place, the environment contributes equally to the unfolding that happens.

It was good for me in more ways than one. I could witness rootedness in practice and appreciate it. I could see sahajata in the Anandavana (Purnapramati’s gurukula on the outskirts of Bangalore) students, teachers and many others. I could see the sincerity and, this is important to me, reaffirm my faith in such qualities. Acharya satyanarayan and Swami ji validated many things and that again reaffirms that we are on the right path. So thank you all.

I am getting more and more convinced about the need to challenge and expose the myth of modernity otherwise even tradition is in the danger of getting fossilised.

Also the importance of spaces like the one created by purnapramati through this dialogue, of a discussion forum for people who are rooted and also have knowledge of the devastation caused by modernity, needs to be recognised. And at some point we will have to get rid of our hesitations and fear which makes us compromise by trying to build bridges between modernity and tradition. This is not possible. They are in conflict with each other. Traditions are rooted in the sanatana, irrespective of which tradition. All traditions ultimately have to be based on sanatana—if they are not, they are merely ideologies. And, of course, modernity is not based on anything at all. It is rootless. It is false. Schools like Purnapramati and Udbhavaha and perhaps even traditional institutes like the Purnaprajna Vidya Peetha need to shed their inhibition and come out boldly to challenge modernity, to create such spaces and increase their scope by including not just students, parents and teachers but also lay people uncomfortable with the mainstream systems of education. We need to show all these people that they have the alternative to step out.

Why China Survived Its Dark Ages

In his last week’s blog post, John Michael Greer talked about the reasons for China’s culture continuing more or less intact after repeated collapses, while so many other civilizations rose, fell, and vanished. I thought that the insights in the post were useful for looking at our Indian context. Here are some excerpts to encourage you to read the full post:

Excerpt 1:

During its recorded history, China has been through four major dark ages: during the late Zhou dynasty, 770-226 BC, when the Zhou emperor became a powerless figurehead and warlords fought over the wreckage of the empire; during the long interval between the Han and Tang dynasties, 220-618 AD, another age of warlords when some sixty short-lived dynasties struggled for power; after the fall of the Tang dynasty, 960-1271, another brutal period of war and chaos; and finally the period after the fall of the Ming dynasty, 1644-1949, when China fell under foreign rule, first Manchu and then European, and plunged into poverty and misery as its wealth was stripped away by its foreign masters and its government disintegrated into another round of rule by local warlords.

Excerpt 2:

The most important resource base for any nontechnic society—that is to say, any society that gets most of its energy from human and animal muscle—consists of food and water. . . . The heart of China’s traditional subsistence economy was wetland rice agriculture, which used human and animal manure, nitrogen-fixing water plants, and hundreds of varieties of rice specialized for local conditions to provide a relatively robust food supply come thick or thin. Supplement that with dryland millet and soybean agriculture and animal raising that focuses on small livestock such as pigs, chickens, and pond-raised fish, and you’ve got a means of subsistence that’s impressively resilient. It doesn’t depend on extracting nutrients from the soil, as less sophisticated systems of agriculture do; instead, it systematically puts nutrients back into the soil. This is why there are areas in China that have been producing rice crops regularly for five thousand years.

Excerpt 3:

The old sustainable agriculture that made China so resilient for so long is a thing of the past. These days China uses more chemical fertilizer than any other nation on earth, by a significant margin. That’s not optional—more than a billion Chinese depend for their daily meals on the extravagant yields that only massive use of chemical fertilizers can provide—but it’s also not sustainable. On the one hand, chemical fertilizer feedstocks are mostly nonrenewable resources, and as those deplete, feeding China’s population is going to become more and more difficult; on the other, chemical fertilizers wreck the soil over time, so that an area that’s been farmed using chemical agriculture becomes more and more barren. That promises a very difficult future for China and the Chinese people.

Keeping Our Cities Clean

My daughter stays on the first floor of an independent house in Bangalore. When she first moved into this house she tried to figure out how to get her garbage disposed. The landlady downstairs has her daily help take the garbage away and keep it in a place from where the BBMP van collects it. My daughter has no daily help and she realised that the BBMP van comes at odd hours and doesn’t stop at individual houses so it is difficult to catch it. The landlady suggested that my daughter speak to the BBMP workers who clean the streets outside and get one of them to carry away the garbage. It would then become the responsibility of the worker to ensure that the garbage got into the garbage van somehow. The landlady said that 100 Rupees per month is the maximum that we should pay for this service. A white-haired BBMP worker agreed to this and the garbage from my daughter’s house started getting disposed. Now, the white-haired BBMP worker comes sometime between 7:00 and 8:00 AM, so my daughter’s task is to have her garbage kept near her small side-gate downstairs before 7:00 AM. Whenever I have stayed at my daughter’s house I have noticed the brown paper garbage bag near the gate and when I look sometime later the bag would have vanished. I have met the white-haired BBMP man only a few times but I have always felt a deep sense of gratitude towards him. I have wondered why this quiet, smiling man would go out of his way for 100 Rupees per month and I have no answer to that question. I see the vanishing of the brown paper bag as a daily morning miracle.

The other thing that I want to juxtapose with this anecdote is the large number of pet dogs of all sizes and shapes that live in the somewhat posh neighbourhood that my daughter stays in. She has to come out on to the road using the side-gate to the house and she regularly finds dog-shit just outside the gate. It seems that the dog-minders find this side-gate a quiet place hidden from normal view and utilize it as a public toilet for their dogs. There are two types of dog-minders. A few are the owners of the dogs and a small percentage of these owners carry a strange device for collecting their dog-shit (how this behaviour has been normalized is a great mystery to me). However, most dogs are with professional dog-walkers, people who are paid to take the dogs of busy people for walks. Obviously, none of the professional dog-walkers carry the strange device for scooping dog-shit.

The dog-walkers get paid many times the 100 Rupees that the white-haired BBMP worker gets from my daughter. The difference is that the BBMP worker gets my daughter’s deep gratitude and the dogs, their walkers and their owners get her curse.

On Toxic Relationships

I was talking to a friend about his toxic relationship with an elderly relative and thought that the controversial insight that came up is worth recording in a post here.

Friend: I talked to my old aunt last night and couldn’t sleep after that because of all the random accusations that she threw at me. She is like a mother to me and I don’t know what to say when she uses her sharp tongue.

Me: Without going into the details of the random accusations that kept you awake at night, do you think that she was also guilt-ridden and couldn’t sleep at night because of what she said to you?

Friend: Of course not. She would have forgotten what she said immediately she cut the phone connection and would have gone to sleep like a baby.

Me: That is what I thought. So think of it like this — she says whatever comes into her head and then forgets it immediately but you lose sleep over it. You are sensitive and kind but you would have noticed that many people around us are both insensitive and unkind. That is not surprising because these are the qualities that get nurtured and rewarded in our hyper-competitive world. Since you are the one who suffers in the relationship, you are the one who has to do something about it — I think the way out for you is to avoid your aunt as much as possible.

Friend: How can you speak like that? Isn’t respecting our elders part of our tradition?

Me: Yes. I realize that what I am saying goes against everything that we deeply believe. In properly functioning social systems, there is a role, a place for us to broadly fit in. In this kind of system respect for our elders would probably be automatic. The elders in this system would have moved on the trajectory of fully ‘take’ mode as babies to more-or-less ‘give’ mode as old men and women. Whatever their swabhaava, angry or irritating or nice, I think that they would not come across as needy or childish. Things are different now. In the rush that all of us live in, most of us do not grow up out of our childishness and our sense of entitlement. We continue in a mostly ‘take’ mode. Unfortunately, it is the sensitive, if they are able to grow up without their sensitivity being extinguished, who suffer more in this unnatural state of affairs. I will still say that if it is clear that you are the one who suffers and the other person doesn’t, you had best avoid their company.

(Disclaimer: I apologize if the post comes across as preachy. I wrote it because I see that, as Pawanji often says, all of us are both the victims and the victimizers. I see that I inflict my childish ways on others and others inflict their childish ways on me. The point of the post is that some people feel all this more than others.)

On Pointless Jobs

In August, 2013, the American anthropologist David Graeber wrote a tentative essay about the pointlessness of most modern jobs. The essay, that went viral, was later expanded into a book published in 2018, ‘Bullshit Jobs – A Theory’. The book used poll data from UK, where 37% of the people polled identified their jobs as ‘bullshit jobs’. The following is an excerpt from the preface to the book:

“I would like this book to be an arrow aimed at the heart of our civili­zation. There is something very wrong with what we have made ourselves. We have become a civilization based on work-not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself. We have come to believe that men and women who do not work harder than they wish at jobs they do not particularly enjoy are bad people unworthy of love, care, or assis­tance from their communities. It is as if we have collectively acquiesced to our own enslavement. The main political reaction to our awareness that half the time we are engaged in utterly meaningless or even counterproductive activities—usually under the orders of a person we dislike—is to rankle with resentment over the fact there might be others out there who are not in the same trap. As a result, hatred, resentment, and suspicion have become the glue that holds society together. This is a disastrous state of affairs. I wish it to end. If this book can in any way contribute to that end, it will have been worth writing.”

In his book, David Graeber divided bullshit jobs into five major types. The following is the Wikipedia excerpt about the types:

“The productivity benefits of automation have not led to a 15-hour workweek, as predicted by economist John Maynard Keynes in 1930, but instead to “bullshit jobs”: “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.” While these jobs can offer good compensation and ample free time, the pointlessness of the work grates at their humanity and creates a “profound psychological violence”.

More than half of societal work is pointless, both large parts of some jobs and five types of entirely pointless jobs:

  1. Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants, store greeters;
  2. Goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer, or to prevent other goons from doing so, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations specialists;
  3. Duct tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags do not arrive;
  4. Box tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazine journalists, corporate compliance officers;
  5. Taskmasters, who create extra work for those who do not need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals.”

I have seen some videos of David Graeber talking about the book and have just begun reading it. It looks very interesting.

What is wrong with the Western political class?

I came across an article that I thought had many important insights about the Western political establishment. Here are some excerpts:

Excerpt 1:
A breakdown of diplomacy doesn’t quite describe how bad things have become. The behavior of US and European leaders has become increasingly unhinged and any semblance of rationality has been abandoned. It is impossible to listen to western leaders without coming to the conclusion that something is very wrong. Firstly, they seem to have created an upside-down fantasy world where Freudian projection rules and opponents are demonized. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are both Satan himself, Russia is still losing, and the West is still almighty – as well as the pinnacle of justice, freedom, democracy and culture. Secondly, they can’t seem to be able to open their mouths in public without insulting the non-western world.

Excerpt 2:
You can’t just hire anyone [to be part of the political elite] for a cultural and literal genocide and there aren’t really many options. You could seek out psychopaths but you might have loyalty problems with them, and strangely, some of them actually have principles. What you need is a person who likes, or even needs to force his will upon others and interfere with their lives. You need a person who has unwavering zeal for the cause and is incapable of backing down. You need a person who can rationalize any actions while not being affected by them. You need a person who can be brainwashed and controlled like a trained monkey. You need a person who can destroy his own home without realizing what he is doing. You need a narcissist. . . . But what are narcissists and why are they ideal for the demolition work on western societies? A narcissist is a person with self-awareness so low that he can’t develop a self-identity without the help of others – and who has been told that he is better and/or smarter than others. On top of that, he has high emotional neediness and dependence on others.

Excerpt 3:
The Ukraine war and the loss of control over the non-western world have caused economic chaos in the West – which will be followed by social chaos. This is bringing the whole house of cards down far too fast and they [political elites] fear they might lose control. They need to react and solve those problems – but they don’t know how – because they are incompetent. All these challenges and failures are causing their models of self to be challenged, which has serious emotional consequences for them – so they escalate on every level. They shout at people, insult people, make up delusional explanations, and then retreat into absolute denial. Everybody can see this – including the leaders of the non-western world. Nobody wants to talk to our political elites these days, because a narcissist who is losing control is not pleasant to be around.

(The full post is available at:
https://gaiusbaltar.substack.com/p/what-is-wrong-with-the-western-political)

Ideas On Detoxification

I met some distant relatives for the first time recently and was pleasantly surprised to see that although they were almost 50 years old, they were healthy and happy and vitally alive. It made me realise what a strange world we live in, where, if you are a working person, you get progressively unwell as you age. By the time you retire from your job, you are a slave to various unhealthy habits and usually to medicines with multiple unknown side effects. To me one of the main side effects of modern work-life seems to be a loss of vitality, as if we were patients forever stuck in a hospital ward. I have my life markers more or less under control and cannot remember the last time I had an allopathic medicine, but I also feel the loss of vitality that seems to naturally accompany modern life. It is almost like whatever I eat or breathe in or think about or get entertained with is slowly poisoning me. Slowly draining the life away from me like a dripping tap that cannot be closed.

What is it that we can do? I can talk about what I do and what I think helps me and perhaps you can share what your practices are to keep mentally and physically healthy in a world bent on making everyone ill. The following is my incomplete list:

– I make it a point to walk outside in the sun as much as I can. A day when I miss walking in the sun, I consider a wasted day in which I have become a little less well than I was in the morning.

– When I feel that I have become poisoned with too much food over many days or months, I cut down drastically on my food intake and I make strict rules for recovering from the poisoning that I inflicted on myself.

– I am superstitious about missing my Pranayama practice. It feels like the poisoning that happens everyday gets partly reversed with this practice. At least it feels like that to me.

– And this may seem a little far-fetched but I was thinking that having a deep dialogue, a samvaad, with another human being also falls in the category of something that makes us less poisoned. By samvaad I mean an exchange where there is careful, respectful listening and a contemplative, authentic, tentative response, ideally based on personal experience.

– This brings me to the last point I wanted to make here about paying attention to the world around us (people, trees, birds, insects, animals, buildings… everything) and seeing the beauty and sacredness inherent in all of it. I think when we achieve a small part of this, we break free from much of the poison spread by modernity.

I will conclude this post here and request you to add your comment about your experience and what practices work for you. Thanks in advance.

The Myth of Disenchantment

‘The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences’ is a 2017 book by Jason Ananda Josephson Storm, a professor of religion at Williams college. The book argues that even in the West, the epicentre of the project of modernity, evidence does not support that magic and enchantment have been banished.

The following excerpts will give an idea about the thesis.

Excerpt 1:

Paris, 1907. Marie Curie sat in the sumptuous chambers of an apartment on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. As the lights were dimmed, the chemist joined hands with the man sitting next to her, and together they watched the psychic medium across the table begin to shake and mumble, speaking in a strange low voice, overcome by the force of a possessing spirit called “John King.” Eusapia Palladino, as the psychic was called, was believed to be able to make objects move without touching them and to produce “visions of lights or luminescent points, visions of hands or limbs, sometimes in the form of black shadows, sometimes as phosphorescent.” . . . By all rights, Marie Curie should not have been there. She was in many respects a paragon of the period’s scientific establishment, a hardheaded and critical thinker who had made a number of stunning discoveries. The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, she is one of the very few people in history to win it twice (physics and chemistry).

Excerpt 2:

“Modernity” is regularly equated with everything from specific artistic and philosophical movements to particular historical ruptures to distinctive sociological processes, such as urbanization, industrialization, globalization, or various forms of rationalization. I will not unravel all the possible associations and nuances of the term. From among these, I aim to undermine the myth that what sets the modern world apart from the rest is that it has experienced disenchantment and a loss of myth. I am not claiming that industrialization never happened, nor am I denying that rationalization occurred in any cultural sphere; rather, I am interested in the process by which Christendom increasingly exchanged its claim to be the unique bearer of divine revelation for the assertion that it uniquely apprehended an unmediated cosmos and did so with the sparkling clarity of universal rationality. Sometimes this account of modernity has been celebratory, rejoicing in the ascent of European science and the end of superstition. But equally often, it has been a lament, bemoaning a loss of wonder and magic.

Excerpt 3:

For a long time scholars have known that he [Isaac Newton] had an obsession with alchemy and the philosophers stone, and that he dedicated much of his life to searching for hidden codes in the Bible. As contemporary historian Charles Webster argues, “Newton in particular saw himself as a magus figure intervening between God and His creation.” It is not hard to find evidence for this claim, and in Newton’s unpublished papers one can find an extensive collection of magical and Kabbalistic texts and his own translations of alchemical writings. . . . Indeed, Newtonian physics was not the stripped-down mechanism he is associated with, but a dynamical cosmos inclined toward apocalypse and dissolution, which required active intervention by God and angels. In sum, it is hard to imagine Newton as a disenchanter insofar as he explicitly rejected the very clockwork universe he is often said to have discovered in favor of an animated world.

Some aspects of modernity

(Note: The following is extracted from a conversation on the ‘SIDH Discussion Forum’ WhatsApp group. Click here to join this group)

आधुनिकता को सिर्फ intellectually ही नही, उसके उन पक्षों को भी समझना जरूरी है, जिनसे हम एक आम आदमी को समझा सके, सचेत कर सके। इसमें हमे स्वयं ही काम करना होगा। इसमें यानि आधुनिकता में एक तो यही कि इसमें यह इंप्रेशन दिया गया है कि “सबका अपना अपना सच होता है”। इसका implication यह है कि सनातन की बात करना ही दुभर हो गया है। क्योंकि यदि सबका अपना अपना सच है तो कोई सनातन सत्य है ही नहीं, क्योंकि सनातन का अर्थ ही यह है कि “सबके लिए एक जैसा और सभी काल में एक जैसा”। दूसरी जरूरी बात जो मुझे लगती है वह है “व्यक्तिवाद” जो हरेक (हम सब भी उससे कमोबेश ग्रसित हैं) के अंदर तक घुस गया है। यह व्यक्तिवाद फिर अंदर बैठी एक बड़ी इच्छा “लोकेशना” से जुड़ गया है। इस बीमारी से बुद्धिजीवी, राजनीति वाले, एक्टिविस्ट, और आम आदमी सभी ग्रसित हैं। इस पर भी ध्यान देने की आवश्यकता है। आम आदमी पुत्रेष्णा और वित्तेष्णा में फंसा है और जो उससे ऊपर उठते है वे लोकेश्ना में फंस जाते हैं। यह रोग है और आधुनिकता ने इसे अपनी शक्ति बनाया है।

आधुनिकता को समाज रास नहीं आता। समाज का अर्थ ही है की वह बहुत हद तक स्वावलंबी होता है। और साथ ही भौतिक आवश्यकताएं समाज मे स्वतः ही नियंत्रित होती हैं क्योंकि समाज दिखावे को रोकता है, पसंद नही करता, खास उत्सवों के अलावा। और स्वावलंबी समाज राज्य को चुनौती देने की ताकत रखता है क्योंकि वह उस पर आश्रित नहीं होता। यह बात राज्य व्यवस्था को रास नहीं आती। दूसरी तरफ क्योंकि खपत पर अंकुश होता है इसलिए आधुनिक बाजार और तंत्र को भी यह रास नहीं आता। समाज में व्यक्तिवाद पनप नहीं सकता।

शिक्षा और मीडिया और आधुनिक लोकतंत्र और बाजार एवं अन्य सभी आधुनिक तंत्र, आधुनिक technology सभी समाज के विरोध में खड़ी है और व्यक्तिवाद को पोषित और पल्लवित करती हैं, महिमामंडन भी होता है।

और इस आधुनिकता की बात पर एक और बात कहने का मन है। आधुनिकता में अर्थ पर शब्द भारी हो गए है। Written text बोले हुए से ज्यादा भारी बना दिया गया है। इसमें भी सत्य को चोट पहुंची है भले ही सीधे सीधे नही पर पहुंची है। शब्द पत्थर की लकीर हो गए। गद्य की महत्ता बढ़ गई, पद्य पीछे छूट गया । हल्का हो गया। गद्य के शब्द पत्थर की लकीर की तरह होते है, भारी होते हैं और उनके अर्थ सब अपने अपने हिसाब से बगैर मेहनत किए निकाल लेते हैं, बगैर सनातन का खूंटा ढूंढे और उससे बांधे । क्योंकि अर्थ तो वास्तविकता का ही होगा न और वास्तविकता यानि सत्य सनातन। “कुछ भी” अर्थ नही चल सकता। पर मजा यह है कि चल रहा है। अटकलबाजी। पद्य में लिखने या बोलने वाले और सुनने और पढ़ने वाले को अपने अंदर प्रयास पूर्वक झांकना पड़ता है, कोशिश करनी पड़ती है (मैं हल्की फुल्की कविता या शायरी की बात नही कर रहा। तुलसी या मीरा इत्यादि का सोचिए) । इस अंदर टटोलने की प्रक्रिया में वास्तविकता और सनातन के दर्शन हो, ऐसी संभावना प्रगाढ़ होती है। पर आज कल की गंभीर चर्चाओं में और लिखे हुए में ऐसा लगता है की शब्द अर्थ पर भारी हैं। सरन साहेब के लिखे में अलग बात इसलिए होती है कि उनका गद्य भी पद्य की तरह लिखा गया है इसलिए हमे मेहनत करनी होती है। सिर्फ पढ़ने से काम नहीं चलता पर स्वयं भी प्रयत्न करना पड़ता है अर्थ तक पहुंचने के लिए।