Volume 11 - Issue 01
January 2013
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Posted on : Jan 30, 2013


Prof. G. Venkataraman


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PArt 02



part 01 of occasional musings by prof. g. venkataraman part 02 of occasional musings by prof. g. venkataraman part 03 of occasional musings by prof. g. venkataraman part 04 of occasional musings by prof. g. venkataraman

The Challenges We Face Today are Twofold

The first relates to what I might refer to as challenges from the “outside”, while the other concerns challenges set up by the mind itself. The latter is the root of most of our problems today, problems that appear well-nigh insoluble but can in fact be solved, provided we are willing to apply the teachings of Swami. Let me now amplify on the above remarks.

I shall start with small pox, which is a typical example of a problem from the “outside”, that is to say, not generated by the mind. Almost everyone born after say 1985 would not know what small pox is. But do a bit of googling and you would get some stunning information. For the benefit of those who do not know what small pox is, here is a short narrative about it.


Basically it is an infectious disease caused by a virus and a pretty deadly one, I might add. If it fails to kill, it often blinds the eyes; at the least, it leaves horrible pock marks all over, especially on the face. I had a class mate in school who bore such scars. Some of you might recall Mr. Kasturi describing how his father died due to that dreaded disease.

It is believed that small pox emerged around 10,000 BC and the earliest evidence of it is available from mummies going back to 3000 BC. Small pox attacks used to come in waves, and as a young boy I remember some of these waves. The vaccine as we now know was developed in England towards the end of the 18th century. Since then, young children were given this vaccine soon after birth. However, since health services were not organised well in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, small pox raged fiercely. You may not believe this; it is estimated that small pox was responsible for somewhere between 300-500 million deaths during the 20th century. One way of looking at that number would be to say it is roughly 7 to 10 times the number of people who died during the Second World War! Whichever way you look at it, 500 million deaths is an awesome figure to contemplate – and these deaths were all caused by one single virus!

As recently as 1967, the WHO estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that 2 million died. But you know what? The last naturally occurring case of small pox was diagnosed on 26 October 1977; and by 1979, the WHO declared small pox to have been eradicated from the face of the earth. To me, this is an absolutely incredible feat, a remarkable achievement that is hardly ever mentioned these days. I use these effusive adjectives because as a young boy I have known what terror that disease struck when an epidemic broke out.

In 1958 when I had to go overseas for the first time, I had to have a special small pox vaccination certificate. For obtaining this, I had to go to a UN Certified agency in Bombay as it was called then and get a shot. They then issued me a yellow document that looked like a passport. It was stamped, signed and all that, and the particulars entered included the batch number of the vaccine used; this vaccine, by the way, had to come from a WHO source. And when I entered Canada after travelling 48 hours – those were before the days of jet travel – the first thing they checked was the health certificate; passport scrutiny came only after that. It was the same when I came to the US in 1968 to spend a year at the University of Ann Arbor in Michigan; first the health certificate and only then the trip to the immigration counter. Today, all that has become a dim memory because of the incredible progress made on disease control.


Now, why am I going into all this? For a very good reason. You see, the human mind is extra-ordinarily powerful and has an amazing capacity to rise up to all sorts of challenges, provided they are not the results of the infection of the mind itself! This is a very important point that somehow most people, including very intelligent ones, totally miss; indeed, that is our greatest weakness, which is what I wish to now focus on.

Consider some of the recent scientific triumphs. Some months ago there was a great buzz about the discovery of the so-called 'God particle' in the international scientific laboratory in Geneva known as CERN. I cannot go into the details of that discovery nor describe here why that discovery was a landmark event. Nevertheless, I would like to say that it was a tremendous feat and a remarkable triumph of the human mind.

Next I would like to call attention to the landing some months ago of a small lab named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. Normally such events are remote controlled, that is to say buttons are pressed in a lab on earth, which then transmit signals to the spacecraft to guide it. Pilotless planes and near-earth satellites are also operated by remote control. In the case of Curiosity, this was not possible. Why? For a simple reason.

Mars is quite far away and on the average it would take about 12 minutes for an electronic signal to travel from the Earth to Mars. Twelve minutes is a long time where electronic control is concerned, and for comparison I might mention that it takes about 8 minutes for light from the Sun to reach the Earth – that is how far Mars is from our Earth; please keep that in mind. Now I am sure most of you are aware of the now-retired Space Shuttle. When it was in service, it was used repeatedly to travel to the International Space Station, carrying both cargo and astronauts. On the return journey, the speed of the Space Shuttle would be around several tens of thousands of km/hour during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. From that hypersonic speed, the space craft had to be rapidly decelerated before actually landing and coming to a dead stop on the tarmac on the landing ground; and that required a lot of dynamic, rapid-fire control action by the Commander of the space craft.

Curiosity had no pilot. If it had to be landed by remote control from the Earth, then one has to remember that it would take about 12 minutes for the control signal to travel from the Earth to Curiosity. After that, it would take another 12 minutes to bring back information about the control action. Obviously this kind of control would simply not work because things happen very rapidly during a landing. Curiosity was therefore designed for auto-landing, that is to say instruments on board had to judge conditions instant to instant and safely put the lab on the surface of Mars. This is an exceedingly complex task, and there was no way of fully checking out the control system on Earth before launch; after all, Mars is different from Earth and we have so little knowledge about it. And when Curiosity made its contact with the surface of Mars, the first signal about the fate of the landing would be known on Earth only 12 long minutes after the event had actually happened on Mars. Thus at the time of touchdown there were 12 long, agonising and nail-biting minutes before the people in the control room in California became aware whether the mission was a success or a disaster.

Celebration erupts at NASA with the rover's successful landing on Mars, August 6, 2012. (right) A self portrait of the rover, Curiosity on the surface of Mars

As we now know, not only did Curiosity make a successful landing but it has since been working remarkably well, beating all expectations. By any account, this is a stupendous achievement for humankind. Once it was known that Curiosity had landed safely, everyone in mission control room broke into huge smiles and cheering. There was widespread celebration, singing, dancing, people hugging each other, congratulating each other and all that. But you know what? In the midst of all this, I did not hear a single person - not in the lab, not in the media, not in the wide world which reacted with great amazement - not one person ever mentioning how all this was possible because the Lord Almighty has blessed humans with a very powerful mind. That is how accustomed we all have become to using the power of the mind without being conscious that this power has been specially given to us by God. In fact, this indifference to how much God pervades our daily life is far more widespread than what I described, and maybe I shall come back to it later.

Man's indifference towards God has lead to the misuse of the Mind

Swami once said, “God created this beautiful Earth, complete with a lot of land, plenty of good water and of course a huge blanket of clean air surrounding the entire planet for all creatures to breathe. He then told man, ‘Son, all this is for you to use and enjoy. It is completely free. Just make sure that you use all these resources in a responsible manner and leave them as I gave you so that future generations also can enjoy them the same way you have been able to.”

Swami continued, “Has man done that? Hardly. Instead he has grossly misused the blessings I have conferred, besides selling what I have given free. Humans not only sell land and all that it contains like coal and oil, for example, but have also heavily polluted land, water and air. In other words, man is taking everything so much for granted that he no longer bothers to express gratitude for the bounties I have conferred, absolutely free I might add!”

Man’s indifference to God goes far beyond mere ingratitude and misuse of air, land and water. The power of the mind is now being increasingly used for the most abominable perversion. This is a painful topic and presently I do not want to go into it in detail but I am compelled to refer to some of the events that have made headlines in recent times.

Depending on the circumstances and media’s preferences, some events get a lot of visibility while others remain unknown. Even events that are on the front pages and the TV screens for a while soon get edged out because there are new crises, scandals, disasters and sensations to report on. Most of us are swept by the 24 hour news cycle and sway with it, egged on by the social media. From a larger perspective, however, we are mostly passive spectators, and take little initiative in eliminating the root cause of mind-made problems; notice I am not saying man-made or human-made but mind-made. There is a deep reason for this to which I hope to return, for it relates to a key teaching of Swami.

When atrocities occur, all of us express anger, sorrow or helplessness as the case may be; we also wonder for a fleeting moment where the world is headed. After that, we promptly withdraw into our respective bubbles because these issues do not personally affect us. That might seem to be the natural thing to do and also the only possible option available. But is that correct? Can we enjoy the blessing of security while remaining totally indifferent to the suffering of millions who are less fortunate? What are the lessons of history about such massive indifference? What about Swami’s teachings? Do they have any relevance at all in relation to what is happening around? These are some of the questions we ought to ponder about.





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