Saturday, March 23, 2019

Psychology and Spirituality

Thoughts make themselves available in my head and jostle to get expressed. I have to rein them, give them sequence, and hope Logic helps me here. Some familiarity with the rules of causality help, but Eris too lurks in the background. She is the mischievous one! But today, I'm writing about Eris' brother, Spirituality.

Am I spiritual?

I am not sure. For me, today the lines between psychology and spirituality are blurred.

Much of what I have heard from 'spiritual' gurus like Sadhguru, Sri Sri, Shivani, Osho, Wamanrao Pai, and other popular speakers and writers, I find them echoing what I read many years ago in my favourite self-help books Your Erroneous Zones and The Sky is the Limit.

For me, much of the spirituality today is actually psychological counselling wearing the garb of spirituality.

The amount of psychiatrists in India is terrible in terms of the population. It's probably 1/50th or 1/100th the amount that should be there. Same goes for the psychologists and psychiatric social workers. In the Indian social context, talking about visiting a psychiatrist or counsellor would raise eyebrows and get wondering looks and hushed questions, "Are you mad?"

But say that you are embarking on sessions by Sri Sri or Sadhguru or others and you would get reverential and admiring looks.

In the Indian context, psychological counselling in the guise of a spiritual quest is a very good way to deal with the lack of professional counselling.

I only hope that this becomes more popular. Spirituality, introspection, inspiration are very high on the list for us as Indians and the Indian culture. And these provide a sound and solid foundation for creation of self-confident people,  organizations, and the nation.

More power to these!


Monday, January 14, 2019

Education Entitlement

A quick thought this morning.

On Education.

Of course, we all know by now that school education is limited in its scope and ability to cover everything that needs to be taught.

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This is nothing new. Emperor Marcus Aurelius of Rome said the same thing in his Meditations almost 2000 years ago.

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So, it is quite realistic to go by the assumption that things will continue to be the same in the future.

What then, you ask? Should we not create better institutions of education? Should we just go by the flow?

Certainly not. Marcus Aurelius too doesn't say that. He only says that at one point, we start with our own education by enjoying good teachers ourselves. This does not mean only home tutoring. Today it also means resources like Coursera, Udemy, Khan Academy, Mind Valley, and of course the trusty old things called books! And of course, we cannot limit things to only academic education. Watching, observing people and situations teaches us far more than any book or course. Just watch and learn. It's free!

It is now time to — no, strike that off! It has always been the right thing to take matters in our own hands.

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Real Education, just like Success, is not guaranteed... however we may like to see it happen. Education might be a Right, but Learning is a Duty. Wishing learning to just 'happen to oneself', delivered by selfless, dedicated teachers is a laughable matter. We could enforce the education process, but the wish to learn is a flame that must be carefully kindled.

Learning consists of long hours, most of which are spent in confusion, in searching, with some enlightening moments which make it all worthwhile.

Here's wishing you that you will stick to this fabulous journey of discovery, to a relentless pursuit of insights and clarity! And when you think you have some of these, share! Fan the flame so it burns brighter! I leave you with this immortal quote related to this pursuit.

Words (spoken or written) should clarify ideas, rather than demonstrating the speaker's knowledge. ~ Swami Vivekananda
 ~ KalpaK

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Caste and the Work-Life Balance

Q: Where could India be if there were no castes?
It is generally assumed that India would be much better off without castes. The caste system takes a lot of blame for bringing India to “where it is” — whatever that means.
I am not too convinced.
Humans are social beings. They naturally form tribes consisting of “people like themselves.” Entry into these tribes has many criteria — birth, profession, belief in a type of God, and so on. Such tribes are not unique to Hinduism or India. The various Churches are also an example of such a tribe. People differ in their opinions and form groups based on their viewpoint and interpretation. Differing opinions from the agreed viewpoint of the group are discouraged and can result in ostracism in extreme cases.
One or the other way, humans will form tribes of their own based on various factors. The caste system originated from the profession people followed. The Varna system consisted of:
  • the intellectual or scholarly class of Brahmins,
  • the warrior or protector class of Kshatriyas,
  • the business or merchant class of Vaishyas, and
  • the service or labour class of Shudras.

The caste system is considered a corrupted version of the Varna system where birth replaced ability. Nepotism set in.
But it brings an interesting perspective to what we think of our own lives today. We are looking for work-life balance, whatever that means. But if in the olden days, people had their identities created on the basis of their work or role in society, it meant their work was their life. There was no such thing as work-life balance. Their work was their life and identity.
Today, young Indians are still identifying themselves socially from castes i.e. the jobs their ancestors did. But there is a disconnect somewhere because the present generation is doing things totally unrelated to their “ancestral caste” and also refusing to accept a new, modern day “caste” based on what they're doing today. The pride that people show or feel in their castes today is baseless. The caste is just something that their forefathers did! What does it mean to most of us today if we're working in software, or medicine, or teaching, or law, or totally different businesses than the traditional ones?!
It is ironic and tragic that today we’re struggling to strike a work-life balance, when our ancestors were so proud of and connected to what they did that they BASED THEIR ENTIRE IDENTITY around their work! OUR WORK SEEMS TO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH OUR LIFE and many of us are mostly waiting for weekends to connect to their “life”!
It's something to really think about, and spend some non-trivial amount of time on self-introspection!
So, tribes are the very fundamental and instinctual part of what makes us human. Call them tribes, or castes, or by any other name. Humans. Will. Form. Groups.
However, work and careers chosen today with care, with passion, with pride, will eliminate the concept of work-life balance problem like it did many many years ago for our ancestors. Then India will be back on track to its former glory.
This post came about as a Quora answer. I put in some thoughts that have been on my mind for quite some time there, so should become a blog post as always! ;-)

~ KalpaK

Sunday, January 14, 2018

संघर्षाची कौशल्य with conscience!

कृष्णा करता दुष्कर्मी किंवा इतररित्या अतिरेकी पात्रांबरोबर लढणे आणि त्यांना मारणे शक्य होते?
रामा करता?
गणपति करता?
इतर देवांकरता?

उत्तर 'हो' आहे ना?

याचा अर्थ, जे काही शस्त्रप्रयोग पुराणकथेतील "व्हिलन" करत होते, तेच किंवा त्यापेक्षा अधिक परिणामी शस्त्रप्रयोग पुराणकथेतील "हिरो" करू शकत होते.

म्हणजे आजच्या काळात, संघर्षाची साधने - आयुधं - पैसा, संघटन-कौशल्य, चुणचुणीतपणा, स्पष्टवक्तेपणा, तंत्रज्ञानाची खरी आणि सखोल समज, कायद्याची समज, कल्पकता, आणि इतर कौशल्य, ही आहेत. आणि ती साधने जर कोणी विवेकशून्यपणे वापरत असेल, तर तीच आयुधं निपुणतेने वापरायला शिकणे आणि विवेकासहित वापरून संघर्ष करणे हे आपले कर्तव्य नाही का? की "आम्ही त्यातले नाही! तसंच वागलं तर माझ्यात आणि त्याच्यात काय फरक राहिला?" असे म्हणून मैदान सोडून पळण्याचीच शिकवण घेऊन बसलोय आपण? जर अर्जुन म्हणाला असता (म्हणालाच होता ना!) कि "नाही नाही, मी शस्त्र हातात घेणार नाही!" आणि तसं खरंच करून बसला असता तर काय झालं असतं?

राम म्हणाला असता, "मी नाही अतिविध्वंसक शस्त्रे वापरणार. किती किती जीवितहानी होईल! मी काही रावण नाही. मी आपला बापडा इंद्रजित विरुद्ध लाकडी बाणच वापरणार बुआ," तर काय झालं असतं?
त्यामुळे, "आम्ही तसं करत नाही!" हे म्हणण्यापेक्षा "आम्ही तेच आमच्यारितीने, विवेकबुद्धीसह करून दाखवू शकतो!" यात जो गौरव असेल तर तो मिळवण्यात खरा आनंद आहे, आणि यश आहे.

राम कुशल संघटक होता. केवळ त्याने आणि लक्ष्मणाने मिळून एक विशाल सेना उभी केली, किंवा ज्यांच्याकडे विशाल सेना होती त्यांना आपल्या कार्यासाठी सहभागी करण्यास प्रवृत्त केले. The Art of Persuasion, The Art of Collaboration and Building Partnerships. The Art of Being Dangerous in a Good Way!

अर्थात, हे वागणे 'जशास तसे' नक्कीच नाही! हे संघटन करण्यामागची तत्वे महत्वाची होती!

प्रोफेसर डम्बलडोरबद्दल 'हॅरी पॉटर' मध्ये म्हटले आहे:

McGonagall: But you're different. Everyone knows you're the only one You-Know- oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.
Dumbledore: You flatter me. Voldemort had powers I will never have.
McGonagall: Only because you're too - well - noble to use them.
It is not just about Character... but also about Competence!
And Character is not just about niceness. These days, nice and good have attained different meanings.
'Nice' implies someone who shies away from offending anyone, even if that leads to some loss or problems.
'Good' has come to mean standing up to people, sticking to values, even if it causes offence. So 'good' is 'nice' ALONG WITH competent handling of values and conscience.

Character and Competence, both are necessary. One without the other is quite useless!

Edit: Mark Manson has written a nice article on this topic. The last part of this article emphasizes 'being an ethical asshole.' WHY BEING AN ASSHOLE CAN BE A VALUABLE LIFE SKILL.

So, anywhere in your personal or professional lives, if you are unwilling to indulge in some seemingly-dubious "situation" because of your "always being on high moral ground" stand, you're playing a losing game. Higher moral ground is just as important as competence! You need to learn to counter the dubious skills with other skills, and use them as needed! Competence With Character is necessary! Focus on both!

Train your conscience to be louder, by listening to it. Weaponize your optimism. Sharpen your beliefs and logic, use them ethically.

Optimistic and constructive aggression, conviction in your goals and values, using the right values to choose the means used to achieve those goals, determination, and nobility in behaviour are amazing skills to possess! Be dangerous (in a good way)!

~ KalpaK

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Money and Nature - The give and the take of It

This image is doing the rounds on WhatsApp.

I do not claim copyright for any image in this post
And like usual, some discussions on the unfairness of the corporate world (You are needed only as long as your work is needed by the company. Once the need is over, no matter how good or bad you are, you will be hear a goodbye, oh-this-world-is-a-mess, this-rat-race-is-so-frustrating), and such discussions have opened up on a few of my WhatsApp groups.

And as usual, I find this extremely interesting food for thought.

So... here is a blog post for it! :-)

So first thoughts come from Ayn Rand. In Francisco d'Anconia's speech from Atlas Shrugged you have this:
So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?"
I will leave the rest of speech and it's compelling viewpoints to the eager reader. May you follow the above link and read Atlas Shrugged some time.

Here I'm extending the view on this topic to another direction.
Money is a tool of exchange. There's no doubt about this.
Now, is it an illusion? No. It is a creation of the human mind. Money is an abstraction created by the human mind. An abstraction is not an illusion. See this article for more.

An abstraction is an expression of a concept or an idea. An illusion is a false belief in an idea or its effectiveness.

In money, mankind has created and evolved a tool to "measure" effort or creativity and tried to give "value" to these uniquely human attributes.

A Sachin Tendulkar or a Roger Federer or a Tom Cruise or a Christopher Nolan gives consistent value and commands huge amounts of money for it. An Albert Einstein gives value in that the whole of humanity benefits from a new viewpoint, and he earns the respect of generations of thinkers and scientists. An engineer commands value by giving tools that solve some problem for his customer. Same is the case for any professional. Competency, consistency, trust in giving value brings in more value and thus more money, and other tangible and intangible benefits.

And success is always only about this: how can you give value to others?
If you can imagine it, articulate it, do it, and repeat it for someone, you can create value for someone.
It is as simple and as difficult as that.

Okay. So now that being established, what is the human mind that envisioned a concept of exchange of value? The human brain certainly is a product of nature. About the mind, there are good videos by people like Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and other thinkers and explorers who will take us on an interesting, worthy, and life-long journey of exploring the depths of the human mind. They will stress on the fact that the brain is not the mind. But I digress. The human mind is certainly "natural" so far as this blog post is concerned.

So, the mind that created money is certainly natural. So, the 'creator' of money is natural. The source that thought up this concept that exchange should be fair, is natural.

Now, let us look at how nature herself deals with exchange.

Let's take the example of a bird. A bird would eat a fruit of a tree, and maybe spread the seeds of the tree "in return". So there is some mutual benefit, although it isn't intended. Well, you could argue that it is by design... Sure, but I don't want to debate that. The point is that this exchange is certainly not 1:1. If a bird eats a fruit from a tree, it doesn't always give back to that tree by spreading its seeds, or by becoming fertilizer for that specific tree after the bird dies - most likely other tree(s) would benefit from our bird. Other trees would benefit from other birds. Similarly, a tiger doesn't give back or compensate something of value to a deer or rabbit, in return for its life. Insects that take nectar do pollinate the flowers but not always of the same type of plant. Nature has a complex food chain, which is basically a mechanism of exchange of energy. Nature does have its cycle, but it is not a 1:1 exchange.

As another proverb goes...

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However, the exchange was not between the same entities! The fish that got ate did not later eat the ants.

Here is the crucial difference, and hence the seeming unnaturalness of money! Money is almost always exchange of value between the same and exact giver and taker. The entities could be people, organisations, whatever. But the one who gets, gives to the giver. Nature does not exchange between the same entities. There is a cycle, but the taker is not a giver right away. A taker takes from one, but gives to another. The giver gets from a third...

Speaking of unnaturalness, humans take great efforts to do things unnaturally. It is natural to shit in your pants. It is natural to not brush your teeth. It is natural to not grow your food and cook it before eating.
Humanity's greatest ability is to go for the unnatural.
So, to bring the original topic into perspective, how could we have a lesser stressful exchange medium. How could my friends who seem insecure about money be reassured?

Money seems to pinch us in many uncomfortable ways. Those of us who "get" things, and read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" often say that the perspective about money needs to be changed. So, what would be an alternate and more 'holistic' medium of creating and exchanging value?

So, bringing back Nature into the picture, how would a more "natural" transaction between humans look like?

Think, I say to myself... Think. Main idea as we saw above is that such a transaction cannot be 1:1.

Which means... a person gives to someone, but does not expect anything back from the same guy. If he gets something from that guy, great! If not, yeah, well, there will be someone else who'll give.

Oh my Krishna! Sounds familiar?

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Yo, my dear people who read this blog! It has been staring at us right in the face all this time!

So, the vision for exchange of value will evolve. "Money" will evolve.

We will work out a better way for this. We will have a better means of exchange... at least at how we look at exchange. The Hawala transaction of value is actually close to how Nature exchanges energy. But will it eventually be formalized into the mainstream economy? Time will tell. It is certainly closer to how Nature works. You will get your due, just the time and manner is not fixed. Oh wait! Now does this sound familiar? Yes! The spiritual principle of Karma - where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). You will get your dues.

When you
think of exchange, of giving in return for getting... and not balance it all the time, nature will kick in. It has to! It is natural law.

There's no doubt that the concept of exchange is fully Natural. There cannot be only taking. There cannot be only giving.

© Kalpak Nikumbh

Sunday, October 8, 2017

What's smarter?

Q: Are people who betray, lie, and cheat considered to be smarter than average, as these acts require careful planning and execution over a period of time?
Let's get a few things out of the way.
Honesty is usually the best policy. If people are offended by honesty or truth or facts, it is a BIG indication of their values.
Intelligent people know what to lie about, and what to be honest about. Intelligence is awareness of consequences. So, what to be honest about, is a decision to be made.
"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." ~ Abraham Lincoln
Now coming to the question: lying, cheating requires careful planning and execution over a period of time. Well… making anything requires careful planning and execution… from making a clay pot to the most sophisticated engine or processor or software.
The only difference is: whether there's presence or absence of fear and insecurity.
In general, if you aren't paranoid about discovery of what you've been doing, i.e. you aren't paranoid about keeping privacy about your actions, you don't have to worry about betrayal, lying or cheating. This is goddamn difficult.
People are so taken up by “getting credit” for their ideas and work, they get entangled into secrecy and privacy. These situations are fertile grounds for betrayal. Alright, not always. Sometimes people would want to put out an idea, but would not want it traced back to them! Accountability is indeed a problem for some. Again... shows the values of the person. But we digress.
Back to the topic: Transparency is what a betrayer, liar, and cheat is most afraid of.
The simplest way to deal with any hint of lies, gossip, cheating is to make things transparent. It scares the shit out of people.
And do not underestimate the intelligence required to do this. Usually, people who lie, cheat, betray, are not doing it for some malevolent reasons, they are hiding things to save their own skin, because they'll be embarrassed about the truth. And it will require your entire gamut of skills: kindness, patience, empathy, compassion, encouragement, straightforwardness, and more to deal with that situation.
It takes a holistic level of intelligence to handle things so that things get done without betrayal, lies, and cheating. It's massively complex ― far beyond the scale of intelligence required in cheating, conniving, and such ― to get things done with strong values.
So from that perspective, getting things done by lying, cheating, and betrayal is the easy way out… certainly not the smart way out.
Who wants to do the messy work of defining values, spending time to think “what could be a better way than this?”, dealing with conflicting aspirations of people, and so on. All this needs so much work… and intelligence!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Be Interested

What problems did you solve today?

Who thanked you for a favour today?

Who got something from you better than they expected?

Who enjoyed an interesting discussion with you? Where you lost track of time! Where they said "We should do this again!" today?

Has it been too many days since such a thing happened to you? Better get up and create such events. Study, practice, get better... so that you are able to contribute better. By definition, having such words expressed by someone means you are doing something remarkable. Someone remarked, right? You rock, dude! You go, girl!!

So, now you know what needs to be done... forever... as long as you are alive. Tirelessly. You've found the purpose of life. There's nothing more than this. Really. Just go and bring stuff - software, algorithms, art, blogs, paintings, stories, user manuals, songs, novels, give voice to someone's work so it isn't lost, think of better rules, better ways of doing something, insights for others to get better - anything, just bring something of value out into the world. Just anything.
"The pursuit of purpose, in my experience, is found only in individuals who are overly self-centered. Sometimes I joke that the search for purpose in life is God's punishment for those who care more about themselves than about others. Seek out others. Try to help them. It doesn't have to be a lot of people, just a few will do. Listen to them. Interact. Take their thoughts and concerns seriously. Be part of a larger community. It's remarkable how the deep philosophical and bothersome "search for meaning in life" fades and itself becomes meaningless when you do this." 
~ Richard Muller, physicist, author of 'Now - The Physics of Time'
The whole argument about “following your passion” is sufficiently vague to put people into an inferiority complex about themselves - if they hint or admit that they are not following their passion.

Developing the discipline to be skillful enough by hard work, consistency, grit, persistence is 'passion'. Passion is an outcome! The Follow Your Passion mindset reverses this fact… it says that you will work hard, be consistent, show grit and persistence, and not give up in face of setbacks and adversity if you are passionate. Bullshit. Passion is not the cause!

People who claim they are passionate about something from a young age actually forget something very important: that they were encouraged, disciplined, coaxed, bribed or even shamed for not being sincere enough, to be good at something consistently by teachers or parents or someone who took responsibility. These people made sure that the young person did it… and kept doing it… and got better at it. And now these people say, "I am passionate about XYZ. I do not know anything else I would have done in my life!"

That is how the world works - be interested in it. It works both ways! You will not learn effectively if you aren't interested. And then how can you do something well if you aren't interested in using what you have learnt?

So, now you might ask, "When do the people to whom I give my time, attention, interest, give something to me back?"
Answer: In their own time. Those who know you are giving them value, will find ways to give you what you value. Sometimes, it comes back through other ways - like opportunities. And those who cannot bear your giving, who in their minds know they are a 'sink' in your life, will grow more and more insecure. There will come a time when it stops working out. Resources run out... patience runs out. There is a difference between a giver who knows how to receive, and a taker who only is a drain on your time and resources. 

Then such questions about 'purpose', 'meaning of life', 'finding your passion' become worthless.

Oh... this does not apply to bills! Pay your bills on time, and ask for your bills to be paid in time. I do not imply that you blindly trust someone.

Go on.
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." ~ Alan Kay, computer scientist
~ Kalpak

Psychology and Spirituality

Thoughts make themselves available in my head and jostle to get expressed. I have to rein them, give them sequence, and hope Logic helps me ...