Last updated on 4-Sept-2018
[Note: A limited version of this conversation having only my part of it was put up by me as a standalone post around a week ago here: Some thoughts of mine about software techie spiritual aspirants, Hinduism, Science, Christian faith etc., http://ravisiyer.blogspot.com/2018/08/some-thoughts-of-mine-about-software.html, 23rd Aug 2018]
Given below is a recent mail conversation I had with an old techie colleague of mine we will refer to as Anon1. Anon1 was OK with public sharing of his mail contents. My comments are prefixed with Ravi and included in the body of Anon1's mail contents given below.
I happened to come across something you had written last year on your blog about BioLogos and your thoughts on changes to be made to reflect all religions. I should thank you for inspiring me to put down a lot of things that (have) been tossing around in my own mind.
Ravi: Happy to know that my post triggered you to expression of your thoughts and views. [I think Anon1 is referring to this blog post of mine: Crisp Statements of Belief in God that is Compatible with Science, https://iami1.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/crisp-statements-of-belief-in-god-that-is-compatible-with-science/ .]
Anon1: I am a novice, so let's get that settled; but for my own edification, I am trying to reconcile the spiritual and scientific voices in me, if you will.
Ravi: I think most of us are in the learning boat. As software techies we get trained rather ruthlessly by the computer to be respectful of truth. If the program or the design/architecture of the software has serious flaws, the computer ruthlessly exposes the flaws when the appropriate input triggers the flaws leading to the software not working properly. The computer does not try to be nice to us neither can we try to boss over the computer to "behave" and run our software "properly". We come to terms with the fact that, virtually always, the problem is in our program and/or design/architecture of the software, and that the computer is virtually always truthful to its task of running the program as per instructions given to it.
I think this training of our minds to be respectful of the truth is a great benefit of having been or being in the software development field. And I think it is this respect for truth that is vital in both the spiritual quest as well as in science.
Anon1: As a family man with responsibilities, as time permits, I am reading up on material, listening to discourses and analyzing things in my own mind - can't think of any other tool at this time, even as the suggestion to keep the mind out of it pops up - where else but in my own mind! The counter-intuitive and ironic nature of this has not escaped me. What I really want to do is look at the genesis of every thought or claim or conclusion that is drawn in our common ancient literature and current thinking - an arduous and time-consuming task in of itself, bearing in mind there are human hands that have shaped this over years or even eons and that I will be only looking at a miniscule amount of translated stuff to arrive at these conclusions. Clearly I stand on the shoulders of giants.
Ravi: Noted. Though a key technique in such matters is to identify which parts of the huge knowledge base that is available to us today on various fields, would be most appropriate and suitable for us to focus on, for the particular learning-objective that we may have.
Anon1: I want to state at the outset that whatever I have presumed and concluded or 'believe' are 'As of now, and is subject to change given new evidence, knowledge or insight that I may be the beneficiary of!' This is, IMHO as any, I was going to say scientist, but any reasonable human being would or should state about any opinion or thought that they share.
Ravi: I tend to agree though I would add new experience (subjective experience at times) to the change-agents mentioned above.
Anon1: And so yes even this is subject to change! Even as I write this, arguments for and against are rising in my own divided mind and that is not even just the spiritual side, even the scientific (aka logical) side is full of arguments for and against every thought that rise in my mind. I just hope it keeps me balanced and grounded.
Enough of the preamble!
Getting to the point and there are many!
I will start with an interesting discussion that I had with a young lady a long time ago at a party. She is a Christian in her own words and our conversation (was) on religion where I think I said something like in Hinduism we believe we are all divine - this is straight from everything that I had read about Hinduism without, I might add, truly understanding (and probably still not) what that really meant. This led to her questioning me (about) how can any one person claim to be God or the sole representative of God, because all Godmen say (that is what she said) that theirs is the true God! The response that came out of me surprised me; and I can honestly say that at that stage in my life I had never thought of this question before, although I was interested in and attracted to the spiritual wisdom and thoughts and had gone through many works even if superficially for the most part.
The question that popped up in my mind and (which I) asked her was: Do you believe, if you believed in God, that God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent? In my mind that was the definition that most religions gave of God. If I recall correctly, she replied in the affirmative. If that is the case, I said, you and I or anyone for that matter cannot be but a part of God. If we are not, then God is not omnipresent or omnipotent.
Ravi: Interesting! Seems logical. And that matches my belief based on Hindu Vedanta - Isa Vasyam Idam Sarvam, which has been reinforced for me by my Gurudev Sathya Sai Baba. [Isa Vasyam Idam Sarvam has been translated as "All this is enveloped by the Supreme Being." by Swami Krishnananda of The Divine Life Society, https://www.swami-krishnananda.org/upanishad/upan_04.html. Others have translated the Sanskrit word Vasyam as pervaded by or full of. The translation that I, who has limited knowledge of Sanskrit, am comfortable with for Isa Vasyam Idam Sarvam is: "All this (world/universe) is pervaded by (or full of) God".]
Anon1: She could not argue with that. Logically, it contradicts the definition of God if she did.
Ravi: The last sentence above seems to have something missing. [Perhaps what was meant was: Logically, it would have contradicted the definition of God if she had argued with that.]
Anon1: In that case, I continued, if a person like Muhammad or Christ or Krishna claims to be God, particularly if they have realized it, they would not be wrong! It is just that they are all not just in different time zones, but in different times! If anybody claimed they are God, I would completely agree and also aver that hey, so am I! This is where the average folks in society gossips or states on social media that I am 'loco'.
[Ravi: Not part of my response in the mail convo but as I am reviewing the draft of this post, I felt it appropriate to add that my limited understanding of Prophet Muhammad's teachings and revelations is that he viewed himself as the prophet of God (Allah) but not as God (Allah).]
Ravi: Well, here I think the definition of God in the context of a person, comes into play. My understanding of Hindu belief and scripture in this matter is that there is the absolute formless God - Nirakara Parabrahman is one term for it - which is all pervasive in the universe. There is no place where it is not. And then there are Avatars who are superhuman divine figures endowed with superhuman and divine power who take birth as a form (animal or human - Matsya, Kurma, Varahari, Narahari, Vaaman, Rama, Krishna etc.). These are referred to by many as Godmen (or God-animals too, I guess for Matsya, Kurma, Varahari and Narahari/Narasimha). But I think it is imprecise to refer to them as Godmen as that implies they represent all aspects and powers of God. Avatar is a much better term as it does not imply that they represent all aspects and powers of God. And then there are saints and rishis who through spiritual inspiration, practices etc. attain some divine powers and get some divine revelations. The key difference between Avatar and saint/rishi being that the Avatar does not do any particular spiritual sadhana to acquire divine powers. They are born with those powers which may lay hidden/latent at times but expresses itself appropriately at times which become the signs with which they are recognized as Avatars.
And then there are normal animals and humans (like us), all of which are essentially divine [Tat Twam Asi from Chandogya Upanishad] but they do not have the direct knowledge and experience of their divinity. Hindu scripture (and my Gurudev Sathya Sai) tells us that Maya, the great illusion, born primarily out of the mind and its desires and samskaras (mental impressions/mental tendencies) from previous births, clouds us from knowing our innate divinity and innate reality. So we identify ourselves with our mind-body complex which, Vedanta teaches us, is an illusory projection of our innate reality, the changeless and divine Atma. And this Atma, Vedanta teaches us, is part and parcel of Paramatma.
Nowadays some spiritual masters use the term consciousness or awareness as the Atma (I would use the term spiritual-consciousness or spiritual-awareness to differentiate from more limited meanings, I presume, of consciousness and awareness in psychology related sciences). And they say there is a super-consciousness which spiritually evolved beings (and Avatars, I believe) experience where they experience their awareness/beingness not only in their mind-body but also in mind-bodies of others. I have directly experienced that Sathya Sai would simply know what is in my mind and what I had done even outside his physical presence. Sathya Sai explained to somebody else that he gets such knowledge as he is the consciousness not only in his body (mind-body, I would say) but also in the bodies (mind-bodies) of others.
I have never experienced such a state where I felt myself (my awareness/beingness) as part of another person's mind-body and thus know about what they are thinking or had done (having access to mind and memory of others). But Sathya Sai had that awesome divine power. And so I now believe accounts in holy scripture where Avatars like Krishna had such powers and more.
Anon1: As I try to understand the contradictions and claims, this is what - and admittedly this is half-baked yet - I am concluding, subject to all the caveats I put in para 2 in the Prologue!
As of now, if the Omni definitions of God is valid, then God is simply our embodiment of nature and its laws - that includes all of this universe and its laws which I believe scientists are trying to discover and a few spiritual masters in our time on Earth seem to have divined, no pun intended. What is telling however is that they are all trying to tell the rest of the world what they learned!
Ravi: Hindu view of Divinity/God which I believe in, is more than divinity permeating the universe and its laws which include what I view as spiritual laws like law of karma. Hindu belief (and Christian belief) includes the power of prayer to the Divine which, at least at times, results in Divine power interceding in worldly affairs to help the supplicant (person making the prayer). E.g. Narasimha Avatar responding to prayers of Prahlada. Jesus healing some of those who prayed to him for help.
And then both Hindu and Christian belief includes the great possibility/potential of humans evolving spiritually and getting divine / superhuman experiences. In Hinduism there is the vital possibility of the spiritual aspirant experiencing great and powerful states of divinity like one where he/she experiences himself/herself in all and all in himself/herself.
Anon1: If language is the sign of sophistication of a civilization - and I think so - then some of our ancient languages show remarkable signs of sophistication in thought and expression. So, clearly there is value in trying to decipher their thoughts expressed in the knowledge and concerns of their time. What is abundantly clear is that they were all concerned with our timeless angst and were trying to allay it!
As far as the theory of Karma goes and just like any scientific theory (even the Big Bang) this is in my mind a theory that actually answers a lot of questions satisfactorily along with the concept of rebirths in Hinduism. There are a few parts to the theory. One that aligns with the 'As you sow, so shall ye reap' which is the same thing as the scientific 'cause and effect'. The second part of the theory does not contradict or conflict with the cause and effect or the Christian thought. All it states, if we accept the definition of God as stated above, is that while you do whatever work you do with or without any specific intention of results and perhaps hence some attachment thereof (or not), the results of your work will always depend on the laws of Nature (God, if you are so inclined) - most of which as it applies to your specific job you may be aware of, and some that you may not be aware of! So, there is no conflict with science or logic here either.
Ravi: Well, hard science is a very rigidly delineated system of acquisition of knowledge and of the body of such acquired knowledge. Objective verification using human senses and/or well understood scientific instruments is a starting point for scientific investigation of any phenomenon. This is where Karma and even rebirth become very difficult things to bring into the realm of hard science investigation. Whatever work is done by parapsychology sciences and rebirth studies (like what University of Virginia, USA is famous for) is rejected by top hard science scientists as pseudo-science.
So I will not say that law/theory of Karma is not in conflict with science. Science will not even accept the entry of such a theory/law into any proper scientific investigation! I mean, I cannot imagine Nature (top scientific publication/magazine) publishing a scientific paper (as against a casual column/article) examining law of Karma. Now I don't usually read Nature magazine and so I may be wrong here. But I doubt it. I have corresponded with a couple of top scientists who read Nature and such stuff. I doubt such top scientists will accept Karma as a valid scientific phenomenon on which scientific investigation articles should be published in Nature. These guys are very solid and very protective gatekeepers of top level hard science publications.
But theory of karma will not have any conflict with logic or philosophy (religious philosophy) as a possibility. They would still demand evidence for a statement that Karma is fact. I would say that Karma is belief and NOT logical/philosophical established fact.
Anon1: The third part is what requires some deliberation. Again, this is not in conflict with the above scientific or Christian thought/theology. The fact is results of any work takes time. After you sow, it takes a while to reap. However after you do something, if you die without reaping the benefits of it, seemingly, then this theory of cause and effect is not true in all cases. And if there is one x where f(x) is true, it is more than likely there is y such that x<>y where f(y) is true! Which then denies the cause and effect and that seems illogical until you bring in the concept of rebirth where depending on your past karma, you are born in poverty or luxury; in a democratic country or an authoritarian one, in a palace or a prison! That also answers the question of why this all merciful God seems so partial to a few with his blessings. He is just obeying his own laws!
Ravi: Karma along with rebirth is a pretty satisfying catch-all theory though very elastic in exactly when and how the effect will take place. But Christian belief rejects rebirth. And so I don't think they buy the Karma theory the way Hindus do.
Anon1: Now comes the 'sinning' and 'saving' part. An argument is put forth that sinning is really our thought that we are separate from God! The Ego. As long as you do not realize that your ego is what keeps you away from being one with God (or Nature) and causes you all the misery, and joy for that matter, the results of your work will always come back to you (the Ego) and for you to bear those fruits you may have to take birth again and yet again. The saving part or the moksha part is when you let go of that sense of ego. Then, the results of 'your' action cannot come back to you as you have renounced your ego and hence you are liberated from the cycle or rebirths as you of the ego has renounced it, you will not get the fruits of your results - good or bad and hence need not be reborn. You attain Moksha and become one with God/Nature. You are 'saved'. That is what I understand and there are no conflicts about it in what Hinduism and Christianity says.
Ravi: I don't know Christian theology well enough to make proper comments here. But from what little I know, I think that Christian theology has the view that God is outside of us. I also don't think they talk of people merging in God. The impression I have is that Christian theology views humans as lesser than God and distinct from God, but that humans have been created by God in the image of God. So humans being 'saved' by God, attaining salvation in Christianity, I think, means that the person is saved from suffering the consequences of sins including the original sin of Adam & Eve which is inherited by Christians as per their belief (humanity as per their belief), and leading an eternal blissful life in the presence of God (but separate life from God) in Heaven. Those who do not get 'saved' are expected to suffer in Hell. I think these beliefs are quite central to Roman Catholic Church belief and I guess it would be somewhat similar in many Protestant church beliefs.
So I don't think Christians who deeply believe in Church doctrine would view being 'saved' as attaining 'moksha'. However, Christians who are willing to be a little elastic on such Church doctrine matters could view being 'saved' as attaining 'moksha'.
About letting go of the sense of Ego and Moksha: Letting go of the ego is an important aspect of spiritual evolution. But I think there is more to be done for attaining Moksha (freedom/liberation from illusion of Maya and worldly bondage). Typically one views ego as pride associated with one's mind and body, possessions and achievements. Humility would be viewed as its opposite and a very desirable spiritual quality for spiritual aspirants.
But the key thing for Moksha is getting out of the illusive and false (bhrama) identification of one's reality with one's mind-and-body, and getting into the real and eternal identification of one's reality with one's Atma (divine and unchanging awareness/consciousness). Hinduism talks of overcoming the six flaws of Kaama (desire including sexual desire), Krodha (anger), Lobha (Greed), Moha (infatuation), Mada (pride) and Matsarya (jealousy), which can then lead to a calm and peaceful (and thoughtless) mind at which time one can more easily experience one's unchanging and eternal awareness which Hindu scripture says is the source of the mind (and the body).
Anon1: I have not read anything about what Islam (or) Judaism says about this, or for that matter Buddhism or Jainism or Sikhism or Zoroastrianism! Have I covered all?
Ravi: I think you have mentioned all the major religions of the world.
Anon1: There is something to the theory of rebirths as nothing else explains the reason why one is born in specific circumstances, why one is born with specific talents, gifts, handicaps or why one is born with specific traits. DNA explains some of it, but only what you did in a past life can explain why you need to be in that specific present life you were born into! I cannot think of anything else.
Ravi: For me, it is revelations from Avatars and evolved spiritual masters/Rishis about Karma, that is the basis of my belief in Karma. Yes, the theory does answer, when interpreted elastically, various things we see in life. But that alone would not have made it a strong belief of mine. It is the revelations about it in Hindu scripture, and in my case, reinforced by my beloved and revered Gurudev Sathya Sai Baba, that makes it a core belief of mine. In particular, I try to avoid hurting others as far as possible (excluding case of self-defense), partly as a way of life taught by Sathya Sai, but also as a way to avoid negative karmic consequences that I would suffer if I deliberately hurt somebody (unless in self-defense), in this birth or a future birth (if I do not achieve Moksha in this birth).
Anon1: As for evolution, even a staunch atheist like Dawkins suggest(s) (and I paraphrase) that while evolution is natural, not an act of God, the biggest leap of faith is the transition from and what we think of as dead chemicals to creation of the molecules that are the foundation of life itself! It is easy for an atheist to ask the question who created the creator ad infinitum to disprove the notion of creativity. Perhaps. However, that question arises from our own limited and incomplete knowledge of the process of creation of life itself. What if that is the wrong question to ask in the first place?
Ravi: My belief is that there are some things beyond human mind comprehension. Who created the creator is one such thing.
Anon1: As for super-human capabilities of certain people (avatars?), this can be explained statistically. Our IQ and our body strength or any other characteristic can probably be measured and for the entire population it may fit on a typical bell curve. I like to say we are all the same and different only in degrees. Most of us fall in the area of the bell curve that is highest and fewer and fewer of us fall to the extremes. The bell curve suggests that it does not stop at any point but potentially point to people of incredible IQ or physical capabilities as probable occurrences but one in a billion or one in ten billion or even rarer. But as Jim Carrey says in 'Dumb and Dumber - you mean I have a chance?' Meaning it is possible! Here is how: Take the millennia of human existence itself and we probably have more dead people than live ones which currently is at around 7.5 Billion? Suddenly the possibility of a super human being with all the capabilities coming to birth, once in a while is not a mere probability but almost a certainty! And over a lifetime, learning and training can improve those gifts and capabilities. And this ties to the next argument.
While the Abrahamic religions focus on one savior and is now split between who that savior might be, the Hindu tradition is explained in the famous shloka: 'Yada yada hi dharmasya... sambhavami yuge yuge!' meaning 'Whenever there is decay in righteousness... to reestablish it, I will take birth from age to age!'. And historic events that are not contested and is recognized by people all over the world and of all faith - i.e. the life of Buddha, Christ and Muhammad only proves that Hindu adage!
Ravi: My strong belief based on Hindu scripture which I think matches Christian scripture too, is that God loves his creation, especially humans that he has created. So God descends as Avatar among human society when things go very bad and shows humanity the right way to live (Dharma) for that particular age. But there is also the prayer of devotees for God to help them that is vital for God's coming down to world (or coming outside into world from inner being reality of all of us) as an Avatar. It is intense prayer and calls for help that triggers the Avatar's coming.
Anon1: The limitation in the Hindu thinking is, there is only one age left - ah but if changes in the direction of our civilization on this planet, over the last 100 years is any indication, there may be just this age left when we will have terminated humans as we know it from the face of this universe!
Ravi: I did not fully catch what you wanted to say in the above sentence. Perhaps you mean that according to Hindu belief we are in Kali Yuga now and that after this Yuga (which may last thousands of years more), the universe will be destroyed. If so, yes that's the Hindu scripture view. But then Hindu scripture also talks of the four yuga cycle restarting after the destruction! So end of Kali Yuga does not mean end of life for ever. It is a temporary destruction which is followed by creation again.
Anon1: I will take a break at this point and pardon the pun!
The explanations are probably the easy part! The real hard part is letting go of this ego, not as a belief, not as a matter of faith, not as a wilful act, but as a realized conviction, even as I strive to bring home the bacon for our daily sustenance!
Ravi: What I have observed from being with many family people who are spiritual aspirants too, is that the Jnana marg (wisdom path) as followed and preached by Nisargadatta and Ramana in the 20th century, is NOT suitable for family people who have family responsibilities to fulfill. Yes, they can read up the theory parts of it but NOT get into deep practice as that involves renunciation and Vairagya (detachment) which can wreck the family.
Instead the safer approach is the mix of Bhakti and Seva where the family members are viewed as gifts of God and whose service is the Tapas (spiritual austerity) that the family member is doing in a spirit of love and selflessness. That is very powerful spiritual practice to conquer desire, anger, greed, infatuation, pride and jealousy.
In the fullness of time, such persons may eventually find themselves to be in a position where they have discharged their family responsibilities and can then pursue a more intense Jnana marga path involving renunciation and vairagya. At that time, the earlier foundation being laid of conquest of lower urges of desire, anger, greed, infatuation, pride and jealousy, may make further spiritual progress and evolution through Jnana marga very easy.
Sometimes I feel like Ekalavya, who studied archery keeping Dronacharya in his mind as his teacher. I have a teacher too, but he does not yet know I am his student! Some of the ideas presented here are from his own explanations, but the synthesis of all the various thought strains are my own (Ego!). He himself says proselytization is not a Hindu tradition as explained in the Gita itself. So I will withhold the name, besides it is the moon that is important when somebody is showing you the moon, not the pointing finger (as an Islamic saying rightly suggests!), him and self included. --snip--. And why am I targeting you? Because your own observations have inspired the belief that you will understand me and may be one of the few people I know who can provide an intelligent feedback. Thank you!
Ravi: Noted the above paragraph contents. Happy that you have the benefit of a Guru figure (even though he does not know you are his student)! Also noted the Ekalavya part (Ekalavya is a self-learned archer from Mahabharata epic; for more see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekalavya). I too have felt like Ekalavya many times though it is very clear to me now that Sathya Sai, Shirdi Sai and Ramana Maharshi along with the large body of Hindu scripture from Veda to Vedanta to Geeta to Bhagavatam and other Puranas and Ramayana, have had a very big influence on my spiritual understanding and views. But I had to do a lot of thinking and contemplation too, to understand it from my individual life perspective and to, many times, get a more nuanced understanding and come out of some misunderstandings that I had had of some of Hindu scripture/Sai/Ramana teachings.
Hope you will find my responses to be of interest even if you disagree with some of them. I have tried to be as truthful as I can (truth as perceived by me today) which I think is unconsciously and partly based on my software developer trained-mind where I had to be truthful when dealing with a computer :-).============= end of conversation ===========================
I thank Anon1 for his valuable thoughts and also for his willingness to share those thoughts in this public and freely viewable post.
Given below is my comment from my Facebook post, https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/2276650492551515, associated with this blog post:
Ravi S. Iyer wrote (slightly edited): --Name-snipped-- - I thought you may be interested to know that Anon1 initially requested confidentiality in his conversation-starter mail to me, due to which I put up my part of the conversation suitably modified, as a standalone post without any reference to the conversation. I shared that post with Anon1 over email. Later Anon1 wrote me that he was OK with anonymous sharing of his part of the conversation. That resulted in this post being put up.