There is an interesting discussion on the issues between the locals and Tibetans in Dharamsala/ McLeodganj at the www.himvani.com promoted Yahoo group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/himvani/message/4001.
Archive for March, 2008
The sacrifice of Tibet: Extraordinary delusions and temporary insanity
Rajeev Srinivasan :: http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/mar/25rajeev.htm
March 25, 2008
On November 18 every year, I silently salute the brave souls of C Company, 13th Kumaon Regiment, who in 1962 died practically to the last man and the last bullet defending Ladakh against the invading Chinese Army. These brave 114 inflicted heavy casualties and prevented the Chinese from overrunning Leh, much like Spartans at Thermopylae held the line against the invading Persians many moons ago.
But have you ever wondered why these brave men had to sacrifice themselves? One answer seems to be that is because of the extraordinary delusions that affected a number of the dramatis personae on the Indian side: notably Jawaharlal Nehru, KM Panikkar and VK Krishna Menon.
A deadly combination of blind faith, gross megalomania, and groupthink led to the debacle in the war in1962; but its genesis lay in the unbelievable naivete that led these worthies to simply sacrifice a defenseless sister civilisation to brutal barbarians.
Furthermore, they were far more concerned about China’s interests than about India’s! Generations to come will scarcely believe that such criminal negligence was tolerated in the foreign policy of a major nation.
In a well-researched book, timed for the one hundredth anniversary of the opening of Tibet [Images] by the British, Claude Arpi, born in France [Images] but a long-term resident of India, and one of India’s leading Tibet and China experts, argues that India’s acquiescence to the enslavement of Tibet has had disastrous consequences. The book is Born in Sin: The Panchsheel Agreement subtitled The Sacrifice of Tibet, published by Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 241, Rs. 495, ISBN 81-7099-974-X. Unless otherwise noted, all of the quotations here are from this book.
Arpi also touches upon the difficulty scholars face with piecing together what actually happened in those momentous years leading to the extinction of Tibet and the India-China war of 1962, because the majority of the source materials are held as classified documents in the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund or the Ministry of External Affairs.
The historian is forced to depend on the sanitised Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru and the restricted Official Report of the 1962 War. If the relevant documents were made public at the very least we might learn something from them. Where is Aruna Roy, crusading champion of the people’s right to know who has now accepted a sinecure under the UPA? Why are the Nehru Papers controlled by Sonia Gandhi [Images]?
The story really begins exactly one hundred years ago, in September 1904, when the British Colonel Francis Younghusband entered Tibet and forced the hitherto insular kingdom open at the point of a gun. The Lhasa Convention of 1904, signed by the British and the Tibetans, put the seal of British overlordship over Tibet. The parallels with Commodore Perry of the US and his black ships opening up Japan [Images] are obvious. However, unlike Japan, which under the Meiji Restoration took vigorously to westernisation, Tibet continued to distance itself from the outside world, much to its later disadvantage.
Perhaps we need to look further in history, as Arpi did in his earlier book, The Fate of Tibet: When Big Insects Eat Small Insects. The Tibetans were a feared, martial and warlike race that had always, in its impregnable mountain fastnesses, held the expansionist Han Chinese at bay. However, in the 7th century CE, Buddhism came to Tibet, and they became a pacifist nation. Says Arpi: ‘Tibet’s conversion had another consequence on its political history: a nonviolent Tibet could no longer defend itself. It had to look outside for military support to safeguard its frontiers and for the protection of its Dharma. This help came first from the Mongol Khans and later the Manchu Emperors when they became themselves followers of the Buddha’s doctrine.’
The sum and substance of China’s alleged historical claim to Tibet is this: that the Mongol Khans had conquered both China and Tibet at the same time. This is patently absurd, because by the same token India should claim Australia, New Zealand [Images] and Hong Kong as its own, because India and these territories were under British rule at the same time.
In fact, since the Mongol Khans and the Manchu Emperors accepted the Dalai Lama [Images] as their spiritual preceptor, it is clear that it was China that was giving tribute to Tibet, not vice versa: so Tibet could claim Han China as its vassal.
The Lhasa Convention was followed by the Simla Convention in 1914 that laid out the McMahon Line defining both the Indo-Tibetan border, and the division of Tibet into ‘Outer Tibet’ (which lies along the border with India) and ‘Inner Tibet’ which includes Amdo Province and part of Kham Province. It is worthwhile to note that the Chinese were not invited to discuss the McMahon line, nor was their acceptance of this line sought. Tibetans signed this treaty as an independent nation. The British government emphasised this in a note to the Chinese as late as 1943: ‘Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911,… Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence.’
When India became independent, K M Panikkar wrote: ‘A China [organised as a Communist regime annexing Mongol, Muslim and Tibetan areas] will be in an extremely powerful position to claim its historic role of authority over Tibet, Burma, Indo-China and Siam. The historic claims in regard to these are vague and hazy?’ Yet soon thereafter Panikkar became the principal spokesperson for China’s interests, even though his job was Indian Ambassador to China!
As soon as the Communists came to power, in 1950, they started asserting their claims: ‘The tasks for the People’s Liberation Army for 1950 are to liberate [sic] Taiwan, Hainan and Tibet.’ A Scottish missionary in Tibet said the PLA officers told him that once Tibet was in their hands, they would go to India.
On October 7, 1950, Mao Tse-Tung’s storm troopers invaded Tibet. But under Panikkar’s influence, Nehru felt that the loss of Tibet was worth the price of liberating Asia from ‘western dominance’. Panikkar said: ‘I do not think there is anything wrong in the troops of Red China moving about in their own country.’
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the few in the Indian government who recognised the menace from China. He wrote:
‘We also have to take note of a thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power practically at our doors? [It is clear that] we cannot be friendly with China and must think in terms of defense against a determined, calculating, unscrupulous, ruthless, unprincipled and prejudiced combination of powers, of which the Chinese will be the spearhead? [It is obvious to me that] any friendly or appeasing approaches from us would either be mistaken for weakness or would be exploited in furtherance of their ultimate aim.’
How prophetic Patel was! Unfortunately, he died soon after he wrote this. Interestingly, the very same words apply in their entirety to India’s dithering over Pakistan today, 54 years later. The Pakistanis are also exploiting India’s appeasement and friendliness.
But Nehru, it appears, had decided to sacrifice Tibet, partly in order to appease China, partly because of his distaste for what he considered ‘imperialist treaties’ (in this case the Lhasa Convention that gave enormous rights in Tibet to the British, and, as their successor, to the Indian government) and partly in order to act as mediator between China and the West over the Korean War.
Observers could see what was going to happen. The American ambassador Henderson noted: ‘The UK High Commission would like to be able to argue with Indian officials that if GoI bows to Communist China’s blackmail re Tibet, India will eventually be confronted with similar blackmail not only re Burma but re such areas as Assam, Bhutan, Sikkim, Kashmir, Nepal.’ Absolutely correct, for this is exactly what is happening today.
Nehru and Panikkar simply did not see the threat from China, so enamoured were they of the great Communist Revolution there. Nehru said: ‘The biggest event since the last War is the rise of Communist China’. Part of his admiration arose from his distaste for the Buddhist culture of Tibet: ‘We cannot support feudal elements in Tibet, indeed we cannot interfere in Tibet’. Now doesn’t that sound exactly like Xinhua propaganda, which Nehru seems to have internalised?
A Canadian high commissioner had a different theory: ‘[Panikkar] had no illusions about the policies of the Chinese government and he had not been misled by it. He considered, however, that the future, at least in his lifetime, lay with the communists, and he therefore did his best to get on well with them by misleading Nehru’. That might be considered treason in certain circles.
Whatever the reason, we can see why Zhou-en Lai is rumored to have referred to the Indians in general and Nehru in particular as ‘useful idiots’. (There is no reference to this in the Arpi book). In every discussion with Panikkar, the Chinese hosts smilingly avoided the question of settling the border, but they made sure that India acknowledged Chinese hegemony over Tibet. The Indians were thoroughly outsmarted, partly because they were willing victims dazzled by the idea of Communism.
When confronted with the question of the undefined border, Nehru said, “All these are high mountains. Nobody lives there. It is not very necessary to define these things.” And in the context of whether the Chinese might invade India, here’s Nehru again: “What might happen is some petty trouble in the borders and unarmed infiltration. To some extent this can be stopped by checkposts? Ultimately, however, armies do not stop communist infiltration or communist ideas? Any large expenditure on the army will starve the development of the country and social progress.”
The naivete leaves the neutral observer speechless. What might be even more alarming is that there are supposedly serious Old Left analysts today, in 2004, who mouth these same inanities about not spending money on the Indian Army. Why they do not take their cue from China, with its enormous Army, is mysterious, because in all other respects they expect India to emulate China. Except that is, no nukes, no military might for India.
By not asserting India’s treaty rights in Tibet, which would have helped Tibet remain as a neutral buffer zone, Nehru has hurt India very badly. For, look at what is happening today. Nepal is under relentless attack by Maoists, almost certainly supported by Chinese money. Large parts of India are infested with violent Maoists. Much of West Bengal is under the iron grip of Marxists, who clearly take orders from Beijing [Images].
It is in this context that the so-called Panchsheel Agreement was written. Given that the Indian side had a priori decided to surrender all its rights to the Chinese, in return for vague promises of brotherhood, it is perhaps the most vacuous treaty ever signed. However, Nehru opined: “in my opinion, we have done no better thing than this since we became independent. I have no doubt about this?I think it is right for our country, for Asia and for the world.”
Famous last words.
Nehru believed that the five principles which are referred to as Panchsheel were his personal, and major, contribution to world peace. Based on his impression of his stature in the world, he thought that the Panchsheel model could be used for treaties all over the world, and that it would lead to a tremendous breaking out of peace everywhere.
Nehru was sadly mistaken. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the principles themselves: they were not his invention, but were merely common-sense provisions used widely. And he had a megalomaniac idea of his own influence around the world: he did not realise that he cut a slightly comical figure. In his own mind, and in the minds of his toadies, he was the Emperor Ashoka returned, to bring about World Peace.
Here are the Five Principles:
1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
2. Mutual non-aggression
3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs
4. Equality and mutual benefit
5. Peaceful co-existence
The Chinese immediately violated every one of these principles, and have continued to do so happily. For instance, even while the treaty was being negotiated, the Chinese were building a road through Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir [Images], and in perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of this whole sorry mess, India was actually supplying rice to the Chinese troops building the road through Indian territory! This is distinctly surreal!
The problem was that Nehru had no sense of history. He should have read RC Majumdar: “There is, however, one aspect of Chinese culture that is little known outside the circle of professional historians? It is characteristic of China that if a region once acknowledged her nominal suzerainty even for a short period, she would regard it as a part of her empire for ever and would automatically revive her claim over it even after a thousand years whenever there was a chance of enforcing it.”
And this was the ‘ally’ Nehru found against the ‘imperialists’ of the West! He went so far as to decline a seat at the UN Security Council because the China seat was held by Taiwan. He did not want India to be in the Security Council until China was there too!
Since many people are curious about this, here is chapter and verse: it is in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series II, Vol. 29, Minutes of meeting with Soviet Leaders, Moscow [Images], 22 June 1955, pp. 231. Here is the conversation between Nehru and Soviet Premier Marshal Bulganin:
“Bulganin: While we are discussing the general international situation and reducing tension, we propose suggesting at a later stage India’s inclusion as the sixth member of the Security Council.
Nehru: Perhaps Bulganin knows that some people in USA have suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council. This is to create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and India might itself become a subject of controversy. If India is to be admitted to the Security Council it raises the question of the revision of the Charter of the UN. We feel that this should not be done till the question of China’s admission and possibly of others is first solved. I feel that we should first concentrate on getting China admitted.”
The casual observer might wonder whether Nehru was India’s prime minister, or China’s. Besides, the Chinese have now repaid all this support. India insisted that India should not be in the Security Council until China was in it, too. Now China insists that India should not be in the Security Council until Pakistan is in it, too. Seems fair, doesn’t it?
What is the net result of all this for India? It is a strategic disaster. Forget the fact that the Tibetan civilisation has been decimated, and it is an Indic civilisation with practically no relationship to Han Chinese civilisation. Strictly from India’s security perspective, it is an unmitigated catastrophe.
Analyst Ginsburg wrote in the fifties: ‘He who holds Tibet dominates the Himalayan piedmont; he who dominates the Himalayan piedmont, threatens the Indian subcontinent; and he who threatens the Indian subcontinent may well have all of Southeast Asia within his reach, and all of Asia.’
Look at the situation in Tibet today.
a.. The Chinese are planning the northward diversion of the Brahmaputra, also known as the Tsangpo. This would make North India a desert
b.. The Chinese have on several occasions used ‘lake bombs’ to flood Indian territory: as the upper riparian state based on their occupation of Tibet, they are able to do this, for example on the Sutlej
c.. Hu Jintao, who was the Butcher of Tibet, is now a top strongman in Beijing. Under his sponsorship, a railway line will be finished in 2007 linking Lhasa to eastern China. This would be an excellent mechanism for bringing in both large
numbers of Han immigrants to swamp the remaining Tibetan people, and also to deploy mobile nuclear missiles
d.. The Chinese are deploying advanced nuclear missiles in Tibet, aimed at India, Russia [Images] and the US. With the railway line, they will be able to move these around and even conceal them quickly in tunnels and other locations
e.. The Chinese dump large amounts of nuclear waste in Tibet, which will eventually make its way down to India via the rivers
f.. The India-Tibet border is still not demarcated.
It is difficult to imagine a more disastrous foreign policy outcome than what happened between India and China. Claude Arpi is owed a debt of gratitude by all of us in India who care about the nation’s progress and even its survival.
If the rather well-thought-of founding prime minister of the country was so uncaring about India’s interests, one shudders to think what might be going on today with some of the ministers who are accused in criminal cases.
But even more than that, Arpi’s detailed analysis and painstaking research on the process through which Tibet was enslaved is an instructive case study in how barbarians are always at the gates, and how, as Will Durant said, ‘Civilisation is a precious good, whose delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without and multiplying from within’.
One of the profound lessons to be taken away is that it is the lack of respect for the spiritual that has led to this cataclysm. As Ministry of External Affairs observer, Apa Pant, pointed out about Tibet and the Han Chinese colonisation: ‘With all its shortcomings and discomforts, its inefficiencies and unconquered physical dangers, here was a civilisation with at least the intention of maintaining a pattern of life in which the individual could achieve liberation? The one so apparently inefficient, so human and even timid, yet kind and compassionate and aspiring to something more gloriously satisfying in human life; the other determined and effective, ruthless, power-hungry and finally intolerant… In the corridors of power [in official India], Tibet, Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, were all regarded as ridiculous, too funny for words; useless illusions that would logically cease to exist soon, thanks to the Chinese, and good riddance.’
In the final analysis, Tibet was lost because those in power in India were dismissive of matters spiritual. It is the Empire of the Spirit that has made India what she has been all these millennia, and once the rulers start dismissing that, it is clear that we are in the Kali Yuga, the Dark Ages. It is the end of living, and the beginning of survival.
Teachers intervene stop marriage of 12 years old girl
In Tamil Nadu, in the village of Selliampalayam, a 12 years old girl, a student of class VII was to have been married off to a boy 11 years old, from a neighbouring village.Neither of these kids wanted to marry.
However parents insisted and the marriage was arranged.
The day before the marriage the girl informed her friends who told their teachers. They informed a local NGO who got in touch with the police.
The local police under a DSP rushed to the village and warned the parents on prohibition of child marriages and counselled the fathers and stopped the marriage.They have advised the parents to send the children back to school.
A good deed indeed. Teachers in the school, the NGO and the DSP R Bhaskaran deserve to be congradulated.
Can the police intervene and stop child marriages in Rajasthan, UP or Bihar?
Christian Dalits face Intolerance from co religionists .
Casteism supersedes religion
All In the name of the Father
Extracts from a report in Mail Today
IT HAS been simmering under the surface for a long time. And despite repeated pleas from Dalit Christians of Eraiyur, a small hamlet in Northern Tamil Nadu, against discrimination from caste Christians, the Church authorities have always looked the other way and failed to act.
The result: a savage mob attack on Dalit Christians and the death of two caste Christians in police firing. The incident has put the Catholic Church in a quandary. It has also blown the lid off the persisting discrimination of Dalits within the Church. It all began when Eraiyur Dalits protested against the injustice at the hands of their fellow Christians, the Vanniyars who are a higher caste.
Northern Tamil Nadu has been a hotspot of Vanniyar- Dalit conflicts.
The Vanniyars are not only numerically stronger but are also politically the most influential caste in the region. In fact, caste parties like the Pattali Makkal Katchi ( PMK) and the Dalit outfit, Viduthalai Chiruthakakkal Katchi ( VCK), draw their sustenance from this caste divide.
Dalit Christians complain that they face the worst forms of discrimination: segregation in the parish church, a separate cemetery and an unsaid ban on entering the main street to the church, among other things.
Even families of Dalit priests and nuns are not spared discrimination. In 1999, the Archbishop of Puducherry was greeted with abuses and stone throwing, for taking part in the funeral of a Dalit priest’s father.
Dejected with the ostrich- like attitude of the Church leadership, Dalits sought a separate parish, having built a small church in their locality. Despite their countless representations to the Archbishop, their plea has not been conceded. Last week, they launched a protest fast.
Even as the fast was under way and with no response forthcoming from the Church leadership , a poster campaign began calling for the closure of the parish church. In no time, all hell broke loose! Caste Christians felt the Dalits were overreaching themselves and needed to be taught a lesson.
To make matters worse, Dalit Christians are a numerical minority in Eraiyur. Immediately after Sunday Mass last week, a furious mob of 500 caste Christians descended on the Dalit locality. Protestors were attacked and houses ransacked and set on fire.
The situation soon got out of control and the Dalits’ lives were at the mercy of the violent mob. The violence did not stop even after the police intervened.
In fact, the police became the target of attack — police personnel including a senior officer were injured. Finally the police opened fire claiming the lives of two caste Christians. The problem has now spread to other churches in the region.
As many as 25 non- Dalit priests were forced to pack off by Dalit Christians. The churches remain locked and the local Dalits are firm they should not be opened until a solution is found to their problems.
There was no Palm Sunday in many parishes and Dalit Christian forums have called for observing the Holy Week as a Black Week.
Eraiyur echo: Churches in Cuddalore, Villupuram locked
Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, Mar 17: Expressing solidarity with the Dalit Christians of Eraiyur village in the district, many here and in neighbouring Cuddalore district have been closed down, even as churches across the world were preparing to observe holy week and celebrate
Even cooks can one day be panchayat head
KALAIVANI works as a cook in a school. But this is not her only job. The middleaged woman also doubles up as the Panchayat President of her Keezhkuppam village in the backward Dharmapuri district.
Riding a trendy two- wheeler on the bumpy roads, she sets out to do her work as panchayati president. Kalaivani has overcome many a hurdle to rise to this level. Poverty forced her to be a second wife when she was barely 18 years old.
“ Being black in colour, I was insulted and deserted by my husband, when I was four months pregnant,” the spunky president recalls. After a brief stint as a tailor at the hosiery town of Tiruppur, she returned to her native village and life continued to be a struggle as ever.
However, she won hands down in the panchayat election as an independent candidate, trouncing male opponents, who flaunted money and muscle power. To her shock, she found that most of the women panchayat presidents in the district were represented by their husbands even at official meetings.
When the school authorities entertained doubts as to whether she could remain a cook, the cool headed Kalaivani made it clear that she would not mix her new role with her job saying, “ I am president only for my village but a cook for my school”.
Muslims Nations: Defame Islam, Get Sued?
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The Muslim world has created a battle plan to defend its religion from political cartoonists and bigots.Concerned about what they see as a rise in the defamation of Islam, leaders of the world’s Muslim nations are considering taking legal action against those that slight their religion or its sacred symbols.
It was a key issue during a two-day summit that ended Friday in this western Africa capital.The Muslim leaders are attempting to demand redress from nations like Denmark, which allowed the publication of cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad in 2006 and again last month, to the fury of the Muslim world.
Though the legal measures being considered have not been spelled out, the idea pits many Muslims against principles of freedom of speech enshrined in the constitutions of numerous Western governments.“I don’t think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy,” said Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, the chairman of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference. “There can be no freedom without limits.
“Delegates were given a voluminous report by the OIC that recorded anti-Islamic speech and actions from around the world. The report concludes that Islam is under attack and that a defense must be mounted.“Muslims are being targeted by a campaign of defamation, denigration, stereotyping, intolerance and discrimination,” charged Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the group.
The report urges the creation of a “legal instrument” to crack down on defamation of Islam. Some delegates point to laws in Europe criminalizing the denial of the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic rhetoric.
They also point to articles within various U.N. charters that condemn discrimination based on religion and argue that these should be ramped up.“In our relation with the western world, we are going through a difficult time,” Ihsanoglu told the summit’s general assembly.
“Islamophobia cannot be dealt with only through cultural activities but (through) a robust political engagement.”
The International Humanist and Ethical Union in Geneva released a statement accusing the Islamic states of attempting to limit freedom of expression and of attempting to misuse the U.N.
Day Adventists :Kerala HC allows separate exam timefor Christian sect
KOCHI: In a controversial decision, the Kerala high court on Friday asked the state government to fix a separate time for two students of the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian sect, to write their SSLC exam scheduled for Saturday.
The HC decision came on a petition filed by the students who pleaded that giving exams on Saturday would violate their religious rights as the day is usually set apart for prayers.
Allowing the petition, Justice Thottathil Raveendran asked the government to hold the exam for these students only after 6 pm on Saturday.
The court also perused a 1961 order of the state government which specifies that important exams need not be held on Saturdays. If it was inevitable to hold the exam on Saturday, the order provided for fixing the time after 6 pm.
The state government opposed the plea saying it was impossible to make separate arrangements for the exams. It would also lead to a leakage of the question paper as majority of the students would already have given the exams in the morning, the state maintained.
The state rushed an appeal which was heard in a special sitting of the HC in the evening. But the division bench while refusing to reverse the single bench order, however, asked the students to present themselves in the school at 1.30 pm — when the exams are scheduled to start – and wait there till 6 pm and give their paper.
Fritjof Capra is one of my favourite authors and thinkers. This physicist has been a leading light bringing sanity into the dialogue between Science and Spirituality.
Here’s an interview of this living genius, in a section called Third Eye in The Indian Express: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/278598.html
Fritjof Capra, physicist and philosopher is also the author of several international bestsellers, especially The Tao of Physics which makes an assertion that physics and metaphysics (spirituality) are both inexorably leading to the same knowledge.
What does spirituality mean to you?
It is a very intense feeling of being alive — being so alive in mind and body that the separation between the two is transcended; and in some extreme moments the separation between myself and the environment is transcended as well. Those are what Abraham Maslow calls peak experiences. But spirituality is more than that. It fundamentally is a way of life. Those experiences help develop a certain attitude towards nature or human existence, they teach me things that I can then integrate into my life, that inform and shape it.
For instance, when I was last in India twenty-five years ago, I also spent some time in Sri Lanka, which was my first experience of a Buddhist country. There, I had quite a few discussions with leading Buddhist scholars and realized how limited our Buddhist practice was in the West. In Zen especially, we tended to equate Buddhism with meditation whereas the Buddha presented an eight-fold path, eight disciplines starting with right seeing, right speaking and so on — the last one only being about right contemplation i.e. meditation. So being spiritual transcends all aspects of one’s life. And one should behave in an ethical way not because there is a God set to punish me on the Last Judgment day, but because it would reflect significantly and negatively on my mind and spirit.
Do you believe you are guided and protected by a superior force?
When you talk of a protective force, or karma, or prayer, or any concept connected to religion, it generally is a shortcut to describe something much more complex. The notion of God itself is not one I am comfortable with. I grew up as a Catholic in Austria, which actually comes with a lot of baggage —moral and beyond— so I’d rather stay away from the notion of God. Of course it is possible to understand it in a very sophisticated way. I wrote for instance a book called Belonging to the Universe with David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. For him, the religious experience is essentially one of belonging to a larger whole and God is the ultimate reference-point of belonging. I can go along with it but it is pretty intellectual.
I’d rather focus instead on the mindfulness of body and mind, or what Jung called synchronicity. So many times for instance I had experiences of meeting people or coming across information exactly at the moment I needed it.
Carlos Castaneda used to say that every now and then, a cubic centimetre of chance pops up. The man of knowledge picks it up while the others do not see it. So it has a lot to do with awareness.
Sports are a good illustration of that. I am a dedicated tennis player and a huge tennis fan, and I often hear players say “when I am in the zone, everything works, everything flows, nothing can then go wrong”. Tennis is not about muscles only, it is a very mental game, and so much in it is about that awareness. Players would often say “I saw the ball very well today”, as if the ball was larger and time was slowing down. They are totally into it. So rather than guidance, I would talk of mindfulness and awareness in order to be in that flow.
Do you believe you have a special mission or purpose in this life?
I would not talk of a calling, which would have religious undertones, but I would definitely say I am on a mission. As an environmental activist and educator, I have been for decades on a mission to solve the world’s problems and make it a better place for our children and the next generations. Also, through my writings, research and lectures, I have been trying to present a unified scientific view of life, integrating life’s biological, social and cognitive dimensions. At the beginning of my career, when I came across the parallels between physics and Eastern mysticism, I felt I was at the right place and the right time, and I had to write about it, as if I owed it to myself. It was a pretty strong feeling because it meant in the end a lot of sacrifice. I dropped out of full-time physics research and embarked on an uncertain financial path. But I really believed in it.
Also, even though having a calling would not be the right word, I have to say I am an extremely focused and centred person. When growing up in a small flat in Innsbruck [Austria] after the War, I would hear my mother wake up very early in the morning to write her poetry. The noise of her typewriter punctuated my childhood and somehow I inherited from her the talent for writing, as well as the discipline. I like long projects developing over several years and there generally is a gap of six to ten years between my books. I am long term minded when I write and I love to incessantly refine ideas.
What is spirituality for you in your day to day life?
It is a way of life flowing from the spiritual experience. But there also needs to be practice and discipline. It manifests for instance in my daily Tai Ji practice or in ecological ways — recycling, walking or cycling instead of driving whenever possible, not wasting plastic bags and so on. It also is about eating as less meat as possible. Or little things like following Castaneda’s advice of never carrying something in one’s hands when walking. So I have had three generations of shoulder bags over 35 years. It also is about being as aware as possible of opportunities when they arise. And of course it is about human relationships as well. On the overall, one should not forget that the original meaning of “spirit” is breath, so it is about feeling the breath of life.
What is the role of spirituality in your work?
My professional life has several sides: I work as a scientist doing research, as a science writer and as an educator.
As a science writer from the late 60’s on, spirituality was the focus with the Tao of Physics. The Turning Point also had an eastern framework. I consulted the I Ching in finding its title which actually came from it. In my most recent books I have moved on a bit to other things. But spirituality is always there as a background and I feel both obliged and curious when writing a new book, to check whether the spiritual dimension is still there, and what I would have to say about spirituality from this new viewpoint.
My whole involvement with ecology is also steeped into spirituality. Indeed, I see ecology as a form of spirituality, especially the school known as deep ecology which sees humans as intimately connected with the patterns and processes of the world. The sense of belonging, the aliveness that transcends boundaries, all these characteristics of the spiritual experience are part of it.
Some of its manifestations are usually not known and yet so exciting when you think about it. For instance, the fact that we share the same cell structure, the same molecules, the same enzymes, the same lipids of the cell membrane with all living systems whether plants, micro-organisms or animals. And not only do we share the same structures, but also the same processes — what biologists call metabolic pathways.
When you study the chemistry of the cell, you find that the food, the energy that come inside, move in extremely complex pathways, which have evolved in such a way that the cell is very stable and resilient.
These metabolic pathways are not very well known because they are highly non-linear and until very recently we did not have the language or the mathematics to model those highly non-linear phenomena. So it is still quite a mystery. But it is clear that the metabolic path or our cells is very similar if not identical to the one of other living organisms.
When life evolved, it did so in molecular networks then in cellular networks and in organism networks, by modifying patterns, merging structures, borrowing from a structure to change another, modifying structures through mutations.
All this requires a cognitive process, a progressive integration of the new with what was already there. Evolution does not create anything ex-nihilo, it always is a variation on existing patterns.
And if I was to summarize how evolution takes place, I would mention three pathways. The first one is mutation. It is not very meaningful for larger organisms as an animal will spend a year before reproducing (and humans more) and the mutated gene may, or may not be useful to the offspring. But bacteria reproduce themselves millions of times in a single day. So for them, mutation is a very effective mode. Bacteria also exchange genes on a regular basis: about 10% of their genetic material is exchanged on a daily basis. They simply expel and swallow genes. The third pathway is symbio-genesis, the creation of new species by symbiosis. More than two organisms merging and forming a third one, it is about a large organism absorbing bacteria and using its genome.
The three pathways of evolution are very connected. The bacteria are basically at the creative forefront as they multiply so quickly. If it does not work they just die out and try again. Large organisms cannot afford to do so as they reproduce comparatively so slowly, but they can absorb bacteria and use them. It is the case for instance for the chloroplasts. Originally independent organisms which invented photosynthesis, they were then absorbed by plants, and are now performing the photosynthesis inside the leaves’ cells.
Basically, bacteria invented most significant life processes like rapid motion, fermentation, oxygen breathing which were absorbed and used by higher life forms through this acquisition of genome.
Understanding those processes, seeing and connecting the new paradigms emerging in biology, as well as in medicine or physics or psychology are at the core of my work and are connected to spirituality as well. Indeed, I believe life is a unified whole. We do not have a separate biological life, social life, psychological life or spiritual life. It is all part of the whole process of life which has evolved in the last 3.5 billion years.
Can you tell us about a unique experience that changed or shaped your spiritual beliefs?
I have been through many such experiences, but one I would mention was my meeting with Krishnamurti, early on in my career.
I had read him extensively, and he was both very convincing and fascinating to me. As I was moving to California after two years of post-doctoral work, I was facing a real problem: how could I embark on a career as a physicist and pursue science, which is about seeking knowledge, while abiding by Krishnamurti’s injunction to free oneself from the known, to go beyond rational teaching?
He happened then to come to the University of Santa-Cruz where I was teaching. He was not keen on meeting people beyond his lecture, but as luck would have it, his assistant turned out to be French. I was married to a French woman at the time who befriended him and sure enough, we had an audience with the Master. I told him about my dilemma and without even blinking an eye he said “you are first a human being, only then a scientist”. As a human being, we have to go beyond the known in order to deal with our existential problems. Then of course, as a scientist I could pursue knowledge in a more restricted environment.
From then on the problem was gone, he had solved my dilemma.
I have had that experience several times — being ready to hear something and someone with a lot of personality and charisma shows up carrying that message, saying the right thing, at the right time.
What have been your main spiritual inspirations?
I have had so many spiritual experiences and encounters. Artists for instance would be one source of such inspiration. I will never forget the performance by guru Kelucharan Muhabarta I attended when coming to India in the early eighties. He was already old by then, but once he came on stage and performed the ritual offerings, he was not walking or dancing, he was floating in the air across the stage. These are very deep spiritual experiences.
In general, people may think I have been blessed with so many encounters with remarkable men and women, from Werner Heisenberg to Ronnie Laing, from Krishnamurti to Stanislav Grof, from Geoffrey Chew to Gregory Bateson and so many others. But I have also worked hard for it. I looked for such people and nurtured those relationships. I developed over time the skills to engage them in dialogue, to draw them out and give them a sense that I understand what they are saying beyond the technical language, that I could grasp the essence of their discourse.
And this search came with sacrifices as well. In 1970 I dropped out of full-time physics research in order to write the Tao of Physics. It was the last time I received a regular pay check for my research. After publishing the book, I did not want to go back full time to research. I still wanted to experience things in my writing. But science institutions are not equipped to fund part-time researchers — you are either part of the gang fully or not at all.
So I spent twenty years doing research, writing a number of papers, travelling to attend seminars, contributing to the development of the theory — all that on my own financial resources. And you can imagine it was not always easy. My financial situation has been permanently fluctuating. I am a self-employed writer and lecturer. I can turn down lectures but I cannot solicit them. So in the seventies and early eighties my income often fluctuated around zero. I would go into debt then manage somehow. When I wrote the Turning Point the level became higher. But this constant fluctuation and irregularity couldn’t ever be a pleasant and easy feeling.
If you were to be reincarnated, what would you like to be reincarnated as?
I am so fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci that I would choose to be part of his entourage, for instance the King of France who held long conversations with him towards the end of his life, or Francesco Melzi who accompanied him for many years.
If there was one question you could ask God, what would it be?
We are today in a huge global crisis, we are destroying our livelihood and ecosystems, we are decimating species, we are poisoning the atmosphere, we are living in a non sustainable way globally with huge population and economic growth, with over-consumption of things we do not need. Some of us know how to do things differently, not only theoretically but also in very concrete ways. There is no technological or financial problem, only a political one. If you were to transfer all the money invested in Iraq to alternative energies for instance, there would not have been a war in the first place. If all the money flowing into hospitals because of pollution related diseases was invested into electric cars’ infrastructure it would work as well. So I would ask God what I can do to really make people understand what is happening and jump into another reality, to make them “see the light”.
What is your idea of happiness?
I would say I know of three kinds of happiness. First, short but extremely intense moments of happiness — it could be a spiritual episode, listening to music, a sexual experience, or some extreme skiing adventure for instance. Then longer periods, maybe a week or a month, usually connected to human relations, like falling in love, but not only. When I spend time with my brother for instance, to whom I am very close, I have that kind of feeling. The long term is the most difficult part. But I could rephrase your question and say that basically, I am a happy person. As I am getting older, I have to take care of my body with much more care, I go to the gym, I do Tai Ji daily, I watch my diet, and I am in a very good shape, much younger biologically than my actual age. So I have this feeling of being at home in my body. I also have a constantly active mind, I never get bored, I always have research projects, and interesting people to talk to. It does not mean I never get unhappy, for instance when I watch the state of the world, or when things do not work out, like human relationships. But those are transitory crisis or difficulties everyone has. In the long term, I think I am basically happy because I feel truly alive. And it comes back to my answer to what spirituality means to me — being alive. That feeling of aliveness holds for the three kinds of happiness, it can manifest in short and intense moments or in a less vivid but long term subtle feeling. And it is interesting to notice that spirituality and happiness come down to the same answer, to the same place.
A word about human creativity
Talking about happiness, here is one question I have not found an answer to: I noticed that many artists thrive on stress, rather than on happiness. They are most productive at times of utter strain and do not seem to focus on finding balance in their lives.
When they come to describing their most creative moments though, they would often use the language of the miraculous, as if it was a supernatural experience, as if they were a conduit for something beyond them. And this is something I can actually explain. To me, the dynamics of creativity are basically highly non linear situations when the mind is considering all sorts of information, issues etc. It may lead to a crisis when it gives up altogether and once that happens, there is a sudden flash of insight and there comes the creative manifestation. The artist cannot explain it because it is not a linear phenomenon. He cannot describe doing something, then another one, that would ultimately lead to a certain result. So he will depict it as a miracle, coming from somewhere else.
I once read an interview of a jazz drummer who was asked about collective improvisation. How could all the musicians be so perfectly synchronized and then stop on the exact same note? To which he musingly answered: “if you feel it is a miracle, then that is what it is”. He had no other way of explaining it.
This news piece appeared in “The Hindu: http://www.hindu.com/2008/03/09/stories/2008030954700700.htm”, and covers the story of a former terrorist who has turned his gun against the terrorists in Kashmi, with help from the Indian Security Forces.
NARKOTE: In these remote hilly hamlets of Jammu and Kashmir, a new tale of battle against militancy and religious extremism is being scripted by a former militant trained by the Hizb-e-Islami (HeI) outfit on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He now leads a frontal assault against his former colleagues.
Trained by HeI, Mohammad Aslam, a former Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) militant, was sent across the Line of Control to fight security forces. HeI was originally formed by Afghan national Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and it had close ties with outfits working in Jammu and Kashmir such as HuM.
The 35-year-old Aslam has employed the same skills in warfare he learnt from militants, to lead a group of 110 men with 11 groups in different areas to fight militancy.
Sets an example
Aslam’s is a classic tale of a person who was smitten by religious extremism in the 1990s but abandoned the path after realisation that his perceptions were wrong.
Aslam told The Hindu that he crossed the LoC in November 1997 through the Manjakot area of Rajouri district to enter Kotli district of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The change of heart, according to him, took place during his training in the HeI camp. Recalling the camp days, he says, “Our training was a mix of religious discourse and military warfare. We were asked to fight out the infidels but as I closely observed the scene there, it changed my whole outlook. I saw youths below the age of 14 undergoing training which I thought was no jihad.”
Aslam came back on October 14, 1998 to work under the commandership of Hyderi, a Pakistan national heading the Pir Panjal regiment of the HuM, which was the most powerful militant group in this belt. “We were trained by Pashto-speaking as well as Punjabi-speaking trainers for a year. Taliban were in the command of the affairs in Afghanistan. I handled automatic weapons and could also explode Improvised Explosive Device,” Aslam recalls. He surrendered before the security forces on May 17, 1999.
“There was no option except to pick up guns against my former colleagues, otherwise they would have killed me,” he says.
Fighting 130 militants
The battle is not easy as he is fighting against 130 militants, including 40 non-locals operating in Reasi district and its adjoining areas.
On Thursday night in a neighbouring hamlet, militants tossed a grenade into the house of Mushtaq Ahmad, killing Ahmad’s 76-year-old father, Habibullah, and his two daughters, Nagina, 13, and Nazia, 9. Aslam himself has been attacked many times but survived.
He says: “We have to fight as otherwise militants would kill us. We can migrate but then we would die of poverty as our means of livelihood are limited.”
We are told only side of the story most often. The popular and more accepted side of the story.
The “other side of Truth” rarely comes to light. This section is dedicated to giving out stories which show the alternate side of the story – THE OTHER TRUTH.