Materialism – The Cult of the Mother Goddess

In a recent YouTube video, Dr Rupert Sheldrake discussed various aspects of matter. At around the 31 minute mark he proposed that Materialism, the worship of matter, was really the unconscious worship of the Great Mother. The relevant excerpt from the video is given below:

“There is a mythological aspect of matter. The word ‘matter’ itself, of course, has the same root as the word ‘mater’ – mother – and the material out of which something is made. The philosophy of materialism says there is nothing but unconscious matter in the universe. Or Physicalism that says there are only unconscious physical processes, basically equivalent to materialism. Materialism is the basis for the most common form of atheism, that the whole universe is made of unconscious matter and there is no God out there, there is no consciousness out there. There is just consciousness, for an unknown reason, inside our brains. And maybe in animal brains as well. That is a very, very restrictive view of consciousness which can’t be explained in terms of a fully material universe. That is the problem with materialism.

“I think what’s less noticed is that materialism has a kind of unconscious mythology, in that it started historically as a rebellion against an extreme form of mechanistic Protestantism. You know, God is the Supreme Engineer and creator of the whole universe. God is the all powerful Emperor who sets the laws of nature. God is the engineer who designed the machinery of nature – and nature is a machine – and then he pressed the start button.

“So it’s very much a kind of male God that atheist materialists were rebelling against in the 17th, 18th and 19th Century, and what they said was “No, no, there’s no God out there, the total reality is matter, matter is the sum total of all things”. Basically it’s saying “We don’t believe in the Great Father, instead we believe in the Great Mother”, so matter is I think a kind of unconscious Cult of the Great Goddess, the mother principle, so it’s just all from the Mother and not all from the Father. Of course, as soon as you put it in those terms, it’s obvious this is an unbalanced metaphor in both directions. You know, if you’re going to use mother and father as metaphorical terms, in a sense they’re co-determinative – you can’t have a father without a mother and you can’t have a mother without a father.

“They’re polar, they’re part of a greater unity, of which they’re polar parts, but I think that materialism when one sees it as the unconscious Cult of the Great Mother – everything comes from matter, everything goes back to matter, matter is the source of all things – it’s basically a Great Mother cult. So hard-nosed materialists who think they’re just being rationalists, are unconsciously believing this, and the fact it’s unconscious doesn’t mean it’s not powerful, it means it’s so powerful it’s emotional power is kind of repressed.”

Our Bharatiya mythology is free from this kind of polarity and we have not had to historically rebel against any Great Father. We can probably drop the materialistic madness as soon as we realize this. The full video is linked below:

On Tentativeness

Lately I have been thinking about a child-like tentativeness in thought and behaviour as a desirable trait. I will quote two ancient Chinese sages and let them present the case for me. Take a look and let me know what you think…

THE Sage has no interests of his own,
But takes the interests of the people as his own.
He is kind to the kind;
He is also kind to the unkind:
For Virtue is kind.
He is faithful to the faithful;
He is also faithful to the unfaithful:
For Virtue is faithful.

In the midst of the world, the Sage is shy and self-effacing.
For the sake of the world he keeps his heart in its nebulous state.
All the people strain their ears and eyes:
The Sage only smiles like an amused infant.

– From the Tao Teh Ching of Lao Tzu

THE ancient adepts of the Tao were subtle and flexible, profound and comprehensive.
Their minds were too deep to be fathomed.

Because they are unfathomable,
One can only describe them vaguely by their appearance.

Hesitant like one wading a stream in winter;
Timid like one afraid of his neighbours on all sides;
Cautious and courteous like a guest;
Yielding like ice on the point of melting;
Simple like an uncarved block;
Hollow like a cave;
Opaque like a muddy pool;

And yet who else could quietly and gradually evolve from the muddy to the clear?
Who else could slowly but steadily move from the inert to the living?

He who keeps the Tao does not want to be full.
But precisely because he is never full,
He can always remain like a hidden sprout,
And does not rush to early ripening.

– From the Tao Teh Ching of Lao Tzu

“The man of character lives at home without exercising his mind and performs actions without worry. The notions of right and wrong and the praise and blame of others do not disturb him. When within the four seas all people can enjoy themselves that is happiness for him. When all people are well provided, that is peace for him. Sorrowful in countenance, he looks like a baby that has lost its mother. Appearing stupid, he goes about like one who has lost his way. He has plenty of money to spend and does not know where it comes from. He drinks and eats just enough and does not know where the food comes from. This is the demeanour of the man of character.

“The hypocrites are those people who regard as good whatever the world acclaims as good and regard as right whatever the world acclaims as right. When you tell them that they are men of dao then their countenances change with satisfaction. When you call them hypocrites they may look displeased. All their life they call themselves men of dao and all their lives they remain hypocrites. They know how to make a good speech and tell appropriate anecdotes in order to attract the crowd. But from the very beginning to the very end they do not know what it is all about. They put on the proper garb and dress in the proper colours and put up a decorous appearance to make themselves popular but refuse to admit that they are hypocrites.”

– Behaviour of the high form of man, Zhuang Zhou

Four Ideas on Education

A friend with young school-going children was recently talking to me about education. Some ideas came up in the conversation that I thought were worth sharing here as this week’s blog post.

  1. Imagine a classroom with many children working on some set task and an adult sitting in the classroom busy with some work of his own. He will be available to answer queries, if required, while the children are learning on their own in small groups. The work the teacher could be doing may be something that actually earns him his livelihood. For example, we can imagine that the teacher is part of a distributed software team and he is doing his work finishing a project while the children in his class go through their maths or science syllabus. If you think that this idea is Utopian you should take a look at the work of Dr Sugato Mitra who has experimented with giving unsupervised computer access to illiterate children and seen them teach themselves English and complicated subjects like biochemistry (
  2. School can be a place where the teacher grows in knowledge and wisdom. Transacting the school text books with passive students leads to neither knowledge nor wisdom. If we have a good artist, a good craftsman, a good poet, a good actor, a good boxer, all hanging out together in the same school staff room with an agenda to learn from each other, it is possible that all of them will grow in knowledge and wisdom. It is grown-up, wise men and women we need if we want our students also to aspire to be grown up and wise. This seems to be obvious but in every school the teachers are so stretched finishing their syllabus that there is no time for self-development.
  3. One often hears people saying that they enjoy the company of children so they chose to work as school teachers. We see that the company of grown-ups is helpful in making us grown-up. This is the idea of the Sangha where people at different stages of maturity come together and help each other to grow up. So what my friend was wondering was whether spending all your time with children, getting involved in all their activities, was not a way to infantilize ourselves? You may not agree and this is a slightly controversial idea but I think it is worth thinking about.
  4. A large percentage of school teachers are women. This has happened probably because the work of a school teacher is perceived to be easy with its long breaks and fixed timetables. A woman who has to make food and take care of children and take care of the house will probably find being a teacher easier than being a software engineer working to tight deadlines. All this is very commendable but is it not true that when we bring up our children, both the mother and father play different roles and both are equally important? I know that in the polarised world of today’s feminist ideologies there may be people who think that the father plays no role or plays a negative role. Keeping such foolish ideas to the side, does it not seem that children spending huge amounts of time in our current school system are like children who are being brought up in a fatherless house?

The Future of the Body – Part 3

(The Future of the Body is a remarkable book that has an encyclopedic cross-cultural study of the extraordinary potentials that human beings embody. Of the 12 capacities that the book identifies and details out, the following are the notes I made for ‘Vitality’ and ‘Love’. The overview of the book is available here and the notes on ‘Cognition’ are available here.)


Superabundant vitality that is difficult to account for in terms of ordinary bodily processes.

Examples of nascent expressions in everyday life:
– Feeling great warmth on cold days, without benefit of extra clothing.
– Remaining free of infection in spite of contagious diseases among those around you.
– Going without normal amounts of sleep for extended periods without loss of clarity, vitality, or physical strength.

Evidence of evolution from animal to ordinary human to metanormal (extraordinary) development:
Sustained energy levels, exemplified by warm-bloodedness among birds and animals.
Enhanced vital capacity such as the exceptional fitness produced by endurance sports and the ability to survive extreme deprivation produced by religious asceticism.
Extraordinary vitality evident, for example, in the rising kundalini of Indian yoga traditions.

Practices that foster this attribute:
– Psychotherapy that lifts repressions, resolves internal conflicts, and unblocks defences against strong feeling.
– Somatic disciplines that reduce chronic tensions, promote regenerative relaxation, and make available energetic reserves.
– Athletic training that improves blood circulation, metabolic efficiency, and general fitness so that more energy is available for mental and physical activity.
– Martial arts that promote mental alertness, emotional balance in stressful circumstances, and general somatic efficiency.
– Meditation or other religious practices that reduce draining emotions, unify conflicting volitions, and promote access to the subliminal depths of mind and body.


Love that transcends ordinary needs and reveals a fundamental unity with others.

Examples of nascent expressions in everyday life:
Experiencing love that removes all sense of boundaries between you and a loved one, as if you and the other were a single person or body.

Evidence of evolution from animal to ordinary human to metanormal (extraordinary) development:
Loving devotion to others exemplified, for example, in whales and dolphins.
Empathy and interpersonal creativity produced by emotional education. The loving service evoked by religious service.
Love that transcends normal needs and motives, revealing a unity among people and things more fundamental than any differences between them.

Practices that foster this attribute:
Love has many elements, among them:
– Delight in others for their own sake.
– Empathy, which can be developed by:
–>> experiencing actual situations that others experience.
–>> imaginatively entering another’s experience during role-playing, intimate conversation, or solitary reflection.
–>> extending the range and depth of emotions through non-interfering observation of suppressed or forgotten feelings, concentration upon visual, auditory, or other imagery that evokes it, etc.
– Desire that others thrive, which can be strengthened by:
–>> self-examination or therapy that reduces competitiveness and needs for dominance.
–>> practices that promote one’s own integration, well-being, and sense of personal security.
–>> philosophical reflection that reveals the similarity or identity of one’s own and another’s highest ends.
– A well-being that overflows to others, which can be cultivated through all the practices noted here and by mutual self-disclosure.

The Future of the Body – Part 2

(In last week’s post we looked at the overview of a remarkable book, The Future of the Body, that has an encyclopedic cross-cultural study of the extraordinary potentials that human beings embody. This week and the next I will share some notes I made from the book. Of the 12 capacities that the book identifies and details out, we will look at ‘Cognition’ in this post.)


The supreme intellectual capacities evident in some works of genius, by which great artistic or other productions are apprehended ‘all at once’; and the unitive knowledge inherent in mystical experience, which differs from ordinary thinking described, for example, by Plato, Plotinus and other Neo-Platonist philosophers, by the authors of the Upanishads and other Indian seers, by Christian mystics, and countless sages of the Kabbalistic, Hasidic, Sufi, Buddhist, and Taoist traditions.

Examples of nascent expressions in everyday life:
– Correctly sensing unexpected danger.
– Correctly anticipating a melody before it plays on the radio or a dramatic event before it happens etc.
– Apprehending an exceptionally complex and original set of ideas all at once, in conjunction with great excitement and joy.

Evidence of evolution from animal to ordinary human to metanormal (extraordinary) development:
Specialized organs and internal networks to transmit information within the organism, culminating in human symbol-making and self-reflection mediated by the central nervous system.
Cognitive skills developed by intellectual training, logic, and stimulation of the imagination through art and philosophy.
– Mystical illumination described in words such as — In that which is the subtle essence, all that exists has its self. That is the True, that is the Self, and thou, Svetaketu, art That (तत्त्वमसि श्वेतकेतो, Chandogya Upanishad, VI.8.7)
– Creative works marked by extraordinary immediacy, ease, and completeness, which come ready-made as if from powers beyond ordinary consciousness. Mozart for example, said he saw many of his compositions ‘all at once’, and Blake claimed he received poems by ‘dictation’. In Platonic, Sufi, Kabbalistic, and Vedantic traditions, inspired works of this kind are said to come from God, the gods, the One, or Brahman.

Practices that foster this attribute:
Transformative practice can develop cognition by bringing new material into its purview or by articulating and strengthening its processes. Several practices also facilitate cognitive activity in general. For example:
– The resolving of psychological conflicts that impede imagination or analytic thought, as in good psychotherapy.
– The recall of repressed or habitually unnoticed imagery; for example by emotional catharsis or witness meditation, so that such imagery enriches mental processes.
– The reduction of inhibition to unusual ideas, imagery, or associative process; for example, by psychotherapy, meditation, or philosophic reflection that makes them philosophically and morally acceptable.
Strengthening concentration.
– Integration of analytic, holistic, and imaginative thought by the study of philosophy, myth, artistic works, or religious symbols.

– Exercising unfamiliar types of knowing; for example, through:
>>> concentration on evocative ideas, visual images, sounds, or other stimuli.
>>> intensely imagining new worlds suggested by fantastical literature, contemplative writing, dreams, or altered states of mind.

>>> establishing contact with ego-transcending realities by:
—– imagining such realities with concentrated attention till tangible contact with them is established.
—– prayerful communion with them.
—– surrendering to their activity.
—– noninterfering self-observation that deepens an awareness more fundamental than particular mental contents.
—– deliberately emptying the mind so that its fundamental essence is directly experienced.

The Future of the Body

‘The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature’ is the title of an 800 page scholarly book (the bibliography is 85 pages long) by Michael Murphy. When I read it many years ago I was so impressed and so overwhelmed by the details that I decided to read it all over again and take notes. I thought that presenting some of the notes in these blog posts may interest some of you. The blurb on the book says:

“In the oral and written histories of every culture, there are countless records of men and women who have displayed extraordinary physical, mental, and spiritual capacities. In modern times, those records have been supplemented by scientific studies of exceptional functioning.

“Are the limits of human growth fixed? Are extraordinary abilities latent within everyone? Is there evidence that humanity has unrealized capacities for self-transcendence? Are there specific practices through which ordinary people can develop these abilities?

“Michael Murphy has studied these questions for over thirty years. In The Future of the Body, he presents evidence for metanormal perception, cognition, movement, vitality, and spiritual development from more than 3,000 sources. Surveying ancient and modern records in medical science, sports, anthropology, the arts, psychical research, comparative religious studies, and dozens of other disciplines, Murphy has created an encyclopedia of exceptional functioning of body, mind, and spirit. He paints a broad and convincing picture of the possibilities of further evolutionary development of human attributes.

“By studying metanormal abilities under a wide range of conditions, Murphy suggests that we can identify those activities that typically evoke these capacities and assemble them into a coherent program of transformative practice. Such practice, he believes, if embraced by enough people, would constitute a crucial next step in the world’s evolutionary adventure.”

— End of blurb —

The book discusses metanormal capacities under the following headings:

  1. Perceptions of external things. Eg.: Auditions of beautiful music with no apparent source.
  2. Bodily awareness and self-regulation. Eg.: Awareness of cells, molecules, and atomic patterns within the body.
  3. Communication abilities. Eg.: Direct transmission of spiritual illumination.
  4. Vitality. Eg.: Yogis who do not feel the cold.
  5. Movement abilities. Eg.: Out of body experiences.
  6. Abilities to alter the environment directly. Eg.: Spiritual healing from a distance.
  7. Self-existent delight. Eg.: “For who could live or breathe if there were not this delight.” – Taittiriya Upanishad.
  8. Cognition. Eg.: Mozart said he saw many of his compositions ‘all at once’.
  9. Volition exceeding ordinary will. Eg.: Sportsmen doing what looks like superhuman feats when they are ‘in the zone’.
  10. Transcendent sense of self. Eg.: Perception of oneness with all things.
  11. Transcendent love. Eg.: Love that reveals a fundamental unity with others.
  12. Alterations in bodily structures. Eg.: Activation of the chakras and kundalini by yogis.

We will go into the details of some of the above in the weeks to come.

On Thinking for Yourself

The following are excerpts from an essay written by Arthur Schopenhauer in 1851 and translated into English by L.P. Koch. The full essay is available here.

Excerpt 1:
Reading, you see, forces thoughts on your mind that are as foreign and incompatible with its current direction and mood as the signet is to the wax on which it impresses its seal. Which means that during reading, the mind has to suffer the utter external coercion to think now this, now that, even while at the moment it might neither have the drive nor be in the mood for it. – When thinking for yourself, on the other hand, your mind follows its very own drive, as triggered and shaped either by your current surrounding or some memory. This is because your palpable surrounding, unlike reading, doesn’t impose one particular thought on the mind, but merely provides it with the raw material and stimulation to think something according to its own nature and current disposition. – Hence reading a lot robs the mind of all elasticity, just as the constant pressure of a weight takes it from the spring. This is the reason why scholarly erudition impoverishes most people’s spirits even more, and makes them even stupider than they already are by their very nature.

Excerpt 2:
As with people, so with thoughts: you can’t always call them up when you want to, but must rather wait patiently until they arrive. Thinking about a certain matter must present itself to you on its own terms by way of a fortunate, harmonious coming together of the external trigger and the right inner atmosphere and tension. . . . That being said, even the greatest mind is not able to think for himself all the time. Thus he would be well-advised to use the remaining time to read, even though as I said it is a surrogate for thinking for oneself. . . . Least of all should you give up looking at the real world in favour of reading: because it is there that the occasion and the atmosphere for thinking for yourself will knock at your door much more often than by reading. For it is the vivid, the exemplification, the real, in its primal power, which is the natural matter of the thinking mind, and can stir it deeply most reliably.

Excerpt 3:
If we consider in earnest how great and obvious the problem of Being truly is, this ambiguous, tortured, ephemeral, dream-like Being; a problem so great and obvious that it overshadows and dwarfs all other problems or goals the minute one becomes aware of it; and if we further bring to mind how all people, except the very rare and few, are not aware of this problem in any clear way, or worse, don’t even know it exists, but rather put all their effort into anything and everything; wasting away their life, their minds set exclusively on the current day and the hardly longer time span of their personal future. . . . we may well come to the conclusion that we should call man a thinking being only in a very loose sense indeed.

The lost tools of learning

(I recently came across an interesting paper on British education written in 1947 by Dorothy Sayers. I thought that the paper had many insights that are relevant to our current Indian education system. Take a look at the excerpt below and download the full article here if you get interested.)

Is not the great defect of our education to-day that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think? They learn everything, except the art of learning. It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play The Harmonious Blacksmith [a music piece from Handel’s Suite No. 5] upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorised The Harmonious Blacksmith, he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle The Last Rose of Summer [a traditional Irish song].

. . . Let us now look at the medieval scheme of education—the syllabus of the Schools. The syllabus was divided into two parts; the Trivium and Quadrivium. The second part—the Quadrivium—consisted of “subjects,” and need not for the moment concern us. The interesting thing for us is the composition of the Trivium, which preceded the Quadrivium and was the preliminary discipline for it. It consisted of three parts: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order. Now the first thing we notice is that two at any rate of these “subjects” are not what we should call “subjects” at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects. Grammar, indeed, is a “subject” in the sense that it does mean definitely learning a language—at that period it meant learning Latin. But language itself is simply the medium in which thought is expressed. The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to “subjects” at all. First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of language—a language, and hence of language itself—what it was, how it was put together and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language: how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument (his own arguments and other people’s). Dialectic, that is to say, embraced Logic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language; how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.

…modern education concentrates on teaching subjects, leaving the method of thinking, arguing and expressing one’s conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along; medieval education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.

Adhyatma aur prakriti prem

I was again listening to a video of Guruji Ravindra Sharma and a sentence he said struck me this time. He said that someone who is not adhyatmik can have no prem for prakriti. (Around 43:00 of In this video he also talks about soundarya drishti, kala and about the Bharatiya life designed on the foundations of poornata (ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते। पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते॥) I feel the need to see how all these are connected and I want to start by looking at some aspects of it in this post.

For some time now, I have been thinking that my urban landscape in Bangalore is very beautiful. It pulses with the seasons as, for example, the trees put out new leaves and flowers and fruit. The trees look poorna (100% beautiful) through all this pulsing. Even when, for example, the leaves of the Pongamia get their old diseased look before they are shed. Right now, most of the Pongamia trees are full of new bright green leaves that shine brightly in the sun. Just a few days ago these leaves were tiny, delicate, near-transparent, pink-purple new-borns that reminded me of new-born human babies who smile in their sleep. What I mean is that when I pay attention, I am awed by the beauty all around me.

In the video linked above, Guruji also says that in all the years of complicated academics that we spend our childhood on, there is not a single subject that helps develop our soundarya drishti. He says that this is by design and what schooling actually achieves is only two things that lead to our adult-life slave mentality and behaviour:
1. Sitting fixedly in one place without moving for years on end, till our very bones are used to this habit, which limits the work we do as adults also to sitting-work and
2. Quickly adjusting to changing subjects every 45 minutes when a bell rings, which comes in use when we become adults with no lakshya of our own, willing to adjust to anything.
This is a sad state of affairs and the end result is what I notice in my neighbourhood – people who busily go round and round inside parks oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them.

Going by what Guruji is saying we can tentatively hypothesize the following circular relationship:
Kala is a step in adhyatma -> Adhyatma is needed for prakriti prem -> Prakriti prem develops our soundarya drishti -> soundarya drishti is needed in kala -> (back to) kala is a step in adhyatma.
This simple hypothesis is presented here only to show that all these are deeply interconnected. I will look forward to your comments and will edit the circular relation above if you have an argument for a change.

Let me end with a song that comes to mind when we talk about beautiful nature.

When the incredible magic of KL Saigal’s voice comes through the bad recording and its digitally degraded reproduction, we really see that – हाँ, दुनिया रंग रंगीली बगिया है! सचमुच!

My Shadow

I got forwarded a WhatsApp video which showed an American girl talking in a very artificial manner and an American man making fun of her accent and telling her that she was not sounding posh when she put on her fake accent. The conversation with my friend on WhatsApp went like this:

Friend: What do you think of this?
Me: Just some video created to trigger people. Why do you ask and what do you think?
Friend: She is putting on a fake accent which is seen in most of the youth today, not just in English, but also in Hindi and Gujarati. You might have observed this in Kannada as well. This artificial machine like accent emerges largely from the longing to be considered of a certain type. If you carefully see how the youth talks to their parents and friends or unknown but urban looking strangers, you’ll see a clear distinction. Such is the case with written language as well. Do let me know your thoughts about this.
Me: I have no opinion about it. The world has many more problems than the tone that people use. I still don’t understand why you find this so fascinating. In short, I am more interested in why you find it interesting than what the phenomenon is pointing to. 🙂

The conversation made me think about the psychological Shadow, the aspect of our self that is its emotional blind-spot. The part of our self that we hide and don’t acknowledge even to ourselves. The part that we hold in shadow but that comes and secretly kicks us again and again and bewilders us. I think the idea of the shadow helps decipher many of our unconscious responses to the complicated world we live in. For those who haven’t heard about it, here is a brief description of what the shadow is about.

The classic example used is of a young boy who naturally tells a lot of lies even though he knows that his father has a reputation for being truthful. One day his father catches him lying, gives him a hit on his head and shouts at him for being a liar. The boy is traumatized and stops acknowledging the lying part of himself—he holds the lying part of himself in shadow. As he grows up, the way his shadow manifests in his behaviour is that he passionately hates all liars. He has an emotional charge attached to liars that most other people don’t share. You see the connection with the WhatsApp conversation above? The people who work in this area say that by the time we grow up all of us have created many many shadows and this is what we carry around with us as we unconsciously react to external triggers. The good news is that we can work at uncovering our shadows, like the boy in the example above, we get clues to our shadows by our extra emotional response to situations, responses that other people don’t seem to share.

In our colonized country we carry the burden of many collective shadows on top of all our personal baggage. For example, the emotional charge around speaking Hindi that many North Indians carry seems like an indication of some deep-rooted shadow. I encourage you to think about and become aware of the collective and individual shadows that we carry. May we reclaim all our scattered pieces and become whole again!