Faith … or mental illness?

quotes-about-listening-to-music-20150208083448-54d71fa8c43bb

Is faith a psychiatric disorder?

In my country, there are more godmen than scientists, more ashrams than hospitals. In my country, stone idols drink milk, dead men are brought back to life, snakes take human form, cats bring bad luck.

All my customers are scientists. Almost all of them have religious icons on their desks, and have their own weird superstitions. Like the organic chemist who gave me a “scientific” explanation on why one should not trim his fingernails after sunset. Or the physicist who would never start any experiment in his lab during Rahu kalam (an inauspicious time of the day). Or the brilliant professor who told me that her husband would die if she took off her mangalsutra even for a minute.

I’m no stranger to world-famous godmen. I’ve seen them up close, watched them perform their ‘miracles’, produce gold watches, drive their devotees into a religious frenzy. I’ve seen people getting ‘possessed’. I’ve seen a godman’s photographs generate nectar and holy ash.

Why do people consistently fall for such obviously crooked godmen? They call it faith. I call it something else.

Faith is their raison d’être.

They will not give up their faith. In the face of overwhelming evidence against their godman, they will still cling on to him. Show them a video that clearly shows their godman producing holy ash from a tube hidden in his sleeve, they will denounce the video as a fake. Explain to them that the “nectar” pouring out of the godman’s photograph is merely the product of a simple chemical reaction and show them how it can be done, they will yell at you and call you an agent of Satan.

The phenomenon has been extensively studied by psychologists. There’s a scientific term for it. It’s called persistence of belief. Or confirmation bias.

People will interpret data based on their own individual beliefs. When they are given evidence contrary to their beliefs, they will either disregard it outright or twist their interpretation of that evidence to fit in with their beliefs. This is why godmen get away with all kinds of crap. They have a deep understanding of how confirmation bias works. And they know that confirmation bias is contagious. In particular, parents can and do, pass on their confirmation bias to their children.

I lost my only child solely because of confirmation bias. Haven’t seen her in fifteen years. She believes that I am the embodiment of evil, because I stood against her mother’s godman. And mind you, the godman she worships died in 1918 – in Shirdi. Such is the contagion of confirmation bias that more than a hundred years after his death, his cult still continues to grow. And has become frightfully powerful.

Harsh experience has taught me to keep my scientific arguments to myself. There is just no point in explaining to people that blind belief in a godman does not constitute religion, and that talking against an obviously fraudulent godman is not blasphemy.

I have tried to explain this to my ‘rationalist’ friends. You know, those hopelessly misguided souls who rant against godmen and religion. They firmly believe their ranting will bring forth a new generation of enlightened humans who believe only in science. No matter what, they will not let go of that belief.

In other words, these “rationalists” suffer from confirmation bias – just like their non-rational counterparts.

I am fiercely proud of my country, the depth of her culture, the greatness of her philosophy, the vastness of her scriptures, her achievements in science, her ancient sagacity, her capacity to assimilate alien cultures and enrich them while doing so.

However, nowhere in her scriptures does She say that we should not use our common sense. Krishna in the Gita talks at length about ‘muda bhakti’, i.e. foolish, mindless devotion. You may read the Gita if you wish to. And whether you accept Krishna’s divinity is your choice. But the wisdom Krishna imparts in the Gita is practical and down-to-earth. If you take the trouble, you will discover that much of the knowledge in our ancient scriptures, like the Upanishads for example, is practical in nature. Contrary to what you may think, skepticism was encouraged in ancient India, debate was preferred over discourse, and evidence was a pre-requisite to belief.

Thanks once again to confirmation basis, we have been made to believe instead that our culture is based on ritualism and our scriptures are ‘mumbo-jumbo’ – this being the term favored by ‘rationalists’ and ‘free-thinkers’ (who are neither rational, nor free nor thinkers).

So. How do we deal with confirmation bias? We don’t. There is no real cure for confirmation bias.

Just as you cannot convince a devotee that he is wrong in his beliefs, you cannot convince a ‘rationalist’ that he is wrong as well. It may seem incongruous, but frequently ‘rationalists’ base their arguments on flawed evidence. And just like their superstitious counterparts, they will not accept that their evidence is flawed. Ironic, isn’t it?

Therefore, don’t bother. Just steer clear of both sides, smile and go about your life. You can use confirmation bias to your advantage, in your business and in your social life.

interview-first-impression-300x300

There is a very good reason why first impressions always count. That reason is confirmation bias. If your customer (or potential lover) forms a favorable first impression of you, then confirmation bias will usually compel him to hold on to that image, even if you screw up later on. And vice versa. If someone forms a bad first impression of you, there is little you can do to correct it later.

Do your homework then, before that first meeting.

And don’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias yourself. Learn to look at both sides of the coin. Realise that even scientific evidence can be heavily biased. Understand that even renowned scientists have frequently been shown to be wrong – but rarely accept that fact.

If you do an internet search for the ill-effects of alcohol, for example, you will be presented with tons of research papers that conclusively prove that booze is bad for you. Do a search for the health benefits of alcohol, and behold, you will be presented with an equal amount of evidence that proves that booze is actually good for you.

You will have to use your own judgement.

As for me and my former daughter Sanjana, who believes I am the embodiment of evil, well, I consider her dead.

I have lost faith in her.

Srini.

The timeless funda of Yugadi.

Death of Krishna. Public domain image from Wikipedia.

 

The Indian calendar can be baffling to many people. The gist of it is quite simple though. There are twelve months in the year and 30 or 31 days in each month. Leap years are accurately accounted for, as are other astronomical events like equinoxes and eclipses. The significant difference between the Indian calendar and the Western calendar (or the Gregorian calendar) is that our calendar follows the phases of the moon. The Western calendar follows the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.

That is why Indian festivals seem to fall on different days each year, with reference to the Gregorian calendar.

In the Indian calendar, there are certain days that are especially important, since they mark epochal events in Indian history.copy_of_gudi-padwa_300

The death of Krishna marks the end of an era. Kaliyuga, the age of Evil, began from the moment of Krishna’s death, and according to the scriptures that day was during end-March in 3102 BC. Hence, this day is called Yugadhi, the first day of an Era.

Yugadhi also marks the beginning of a new year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar that calculates the passage of each year based on the Earth’s annual revolution around the Sun, the Indian calendar is based on the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. As these two planets move through the heavens, they seem to transit across the twelve Zodiac constellations, starting with the constellation of Aries (Mesha rashi). Jupiter takes one year to move from one Zodiac constellation to the next and therefore takes twelve years to complete one round of the Zodiac. Saturn takes thirty years to complete one round. And once in sixty years, both planets wind up at the starting point, i.e. Mesha rashi, at the same time.

Hence, the Indian calendar follows a cycle of sixty years. Each year is called a Samavatsara and is assigned a specific name, like in the Chinese calendar. Last year was Durmukhi Samavatsara, and it began on April 8 2016.

The 31st year in the cycle begins today, i.e., March 28, 2017. The new year is named Hemalambi or Hevilambi. This is not predicted to be a good year!

Yugadhi falls on the first day of the first half of the first month in the Hindu calendar, i.e. the month of Chaitra. The official Indian calendar, that was adopted by India on March 22, 1957, and starts from that day, is based on the Shalivahana Saka.

Shalivahana, also known as Gautamiputra Satakarni, was a mighty king from the Shalivahana-8973-16Satavahana dynasty, that ruled much of South India for about four hundred years, from 230 BC to 220 AD. Shalivahana was the greatest of them, and the date of his coronation is the beginning of Shalivahana Saka. This was during the year 78 AD. The month of Chaitra is reckoned from that date.

Therefore, the Indian national calendar officially began on Chaitra 1, 1879 (Saka era) i.e. March 22, 1957 (Gregorian era).

And therefore today, March 28, 2017 is Yugadhi, Prathami (first day), Shukla Paskha (Bright half), Chaitra (first month of the year), Hevilambi Samvatsara, Shalivahana Saka 1939, Kaliyuga (age of Kali).

Yugadi is celebrated across India. In Maharashtra, it’s celebrated as Gudi Padva.

Happy Yugadhi everyone!

Cheers … Srini.

The extinction of Brahminism.

Question: Who is a Brahmin’s worst enemy? Answer: Another Brahmin.

Brahmins will be extinct by 2050.

Brahmins are less than 4% of the total population and declining at a rate that will result in extinction within four decades, give or take a decade.

We won’t be missed after we go extinct. Brahmins are already irrelevant in Indian society. We are out of the mainstream. Neither in government jobs nor in academic institutes are Brahmins wanted. Every year, reservation quotas increase and opportunities for us decrease, no matter which political party is in power. That is because our votes are too few to matter.

Battered, humiliated, hounded and reduced to a negligible minority, we are in fact the most marginalised section of Indian society.

And yet, who is a Brahmin’s worst enemy? Another Brahmin.

All the grief I have faced in my life – personal and professional – has been caused to me exclusively by fellow Brahmins.

This is how we are making ourselves extinct:

1) Exogamy: Simply put, marrying out of caste. Brahmin grooms are no longer preferred by Brahmin brides – especially a Brahmin groom who is not an NRI. It’s called “empowerment” you see.

On the other hand, Brahmin grooms are no better!

It sounds terribly old-fashioned, I know. But I believe the choice of your life-partner is best left to your elders. I speak from harsh experience, people!

2) Soaring divorce rates: The divorce rate for upper caste marriages is far higher than other castes. Once again, “empowerment”, you see.

3) Emigration: India not good enough for you? Quit India. Whichever country you emigrate to, loudly mock India at every opportunity and on every social forum. And then wonder why resident Brahmins like myself hate you so much.

4) Cannibalism: Yes. Cannibalism. As I said, a Brahmin’s worst enemy is another Brahmin. We are the most intolerant people in the country. Shaiva versus Vaishnava. Iyer versus Iyengar. Vadakalai versus Thenkalai. North versus South. Aryan blood versus Dravidian blood.

Ever seen Brahmins from different sects arguing? They will come to blows over the most trivial differences. The argument about which symbol should be painted on the forehead of a temple elephant has been raging between Vadakalais and Thenkalais since two hundred years

Talk to an Iyer and he will vehemently explain to you why an Iyengar is an arrogant idiot. And vice-versa. The Nambudri says his form of Brahminism is the highest in the universe, while the Havyaka says the same about his version. The north Indian Sharma makes fun of the south Indian Hegde because he cannot speak Hindi. The Madras Iyengar laughs at the Palakkad Iyer because his Tamil isn’t “pure”.

We cannot stand each other, cannot tolerate minor differences, cannot even accept other Brahmins as fellow Brahmins. How can we blame other castes for wiping us out?

Thus, extinction is inevitable. Not because of other castes. We will eradicate ourselves.

We have two choices then – either we go extinct, or we don’t. The fundamental question is, are Brahmins worth saving? Does Brahminism deserve to survive?

Why not? Why the hell not?

As a Brahmin, I am unique. My culture is unique. My traditions are unique. My identity is unique. Like most other Brahmins, my bloodline is at least six thousand years old. Who are you to wipe out my culture, my traditions, my identity, my bloodline? Who the eff are you?

Brahmins and Brahminism. We have the right to survive, to live and to prosper. Like anybody else.

How do we prevent extinction then? Isn’t it obvious?

Don’t marry out of caste. At least, marry someone from another Brahmin sect, if you cannot stand your own. Do not marry for a green card or for money. Instead, marry into a family that is rich in culture and values.

If you think marriage is “slavery” and are unwilling to commit yourself to your spouse, then do not marry at all. Better that you remain single and not screw up another Brahmin’s life. Committing yourself to a Brahmin marriage also means committing yourself to creating a Brahmin family. If you are against the idea of child-rearing, that’s your choice – but then do not get married, please.

Mind you, I said “spouse“. Gender non-specific.

No one is stopping you from leaving the country, and I don’t blame you if you do. But do not abuse the country you left behind.  For thousands of years before you, your forefathers lived and died here. The sterling qualities that made you attractive to your adoptive country are a genetic legacy from those very forefathers. If you cannot honor them, then at least do not abuse them in front of foreigners, you ungrateful dickhead.

Give something back to your sect and your country. What you do for your fellow Brahmins depends entirely on you. Get a job abroad for a fellow Brahmin, help him or her in education, do business preferentially with resident Brahmins who are not as fortunate as you are. Do whatever you think fit. But resolve to help other Brahmins prosper in any way you can.

If you’re an employer in the private sector, hire Brahmins. The private sector is still free from reservation quotas – but not for long. Not for long.

Get familiar with your Brahmin culture, before you make fun of it for the amusement of others. I do not know much about the Vedas and other scriptures. That’s because I’m not very good at Sanskrit. I’m learning Sanskrit now, at this advanced age. But that’s just me. It is not necessary to be a great Vedic scholar, not necessary to recite hundreds of shlokas verbatim, not necessary to conduct Vedic rituals yourself, in order to appreciate your culture.

Even a working knowledge of Sanskrit and an acquaintance with our culture will do. You have no idea how rich our Brahmin culture actually is. Indian science, medicine, surgery, technology, philosophy, art, music, language – created, developed and nurtured by Brahmins over thousands of years.

For example, read the English versions of Kautilya’s Arthashastra or Charaka’s Samhita, and be astonished at how relevant that ancient wisdom still is today.

Invest a small amount of time in learning about who we are and where we come from, and I guarantee you will feel an enormous surge of pride in your identity.

And don’t screw up your fellow Brahmins in their respective jobs and businesses. If you cannot or will not help them, then don’t add to their misery either.

Or, continue to cannibalise your own caste, continue to be trod upon, keep whining about what’s happening to the Brahmins in India – and watch as we are driven into extinction.

I don’t want to be extinct. How about you?