Epic tales of labor

In this spirited 16th-century painting illustrating a battle scene in the Bhagavad Gita, the gods look down on the mortal hero Arjuna (far right), who is directed and assisted by his personal charioteer (and God incarnate), Krishna (second from right), during the climactic engagement with the Kauravas at Kurukshetra. Krishna fortifies the will of the wavering Arjuna, convincing him at his moment of moral crisis that it is his duty to proceed and to fight for what is right.

Back home to celebrate Labor Day week end in American tradition with the family. With work ending on this fateful Friday, I proceeded to the city with a CRV full of relatives and luggage. It was a great visit and the traffic proving to be the easiest part of the trip till one hit the $ 13 too at GWB and everyone was paying and queuing up to get past it to where they were going. Pretty remarkable for a steel and cable engineering achieved decades ago, to be still spanning the great Hudson and the barges and ships and yachts floating by far below the cliff face. The city has a life all its own and the theater district was full and the restaurants all crowded with early supper eaters. The big event was of course at Flushing Meadow and due to poor planning we missed the U S Open this year and the relatives who were there.

Back at the lake I heard the splash in the water of a big Bass jumping in its element in the dark night. I looked at the bank of the lake and wondered how all this chaos can be overcome of desire and love and life. There is duty to Dharma and then the mores of society to be followed. The big bass is the slippery ego in this scenario. No matter how hard I try to break free from these constraints; the ego slips in, and disrupts the plan. “Wow how much peace have you attained by standing on this spot in your home,” it whispers at the shore when it knows well that peace is far from the moment. There are bills to pay and labor to do and this week end is a welcome respite from all the daily toil. Freed from the burden of those chores tomorrow is for servicing the trusty vehicle and making sure it is in good running condition when I am away.
Tomorrow will be spent in reading the discourses on the Bhagwad Geeta at Naroup University in Colorado by Ram Dass in the 70’s. I revised a look at his “BE HERE AND NOW” after many decades on the way here on the kindle fire. It was a very poor substitute for the original which was far bigger and the paper and the prints an absolute delight. Arjun the Kshatriya after studying his opponents from his chariot; has asked the question to Krishna of why all he holds in respect and honor; must die on this battlefield of Kurukshetra and why must he partake in this dastardly deed. He has thrown his bow down in despair and refused to fight and seeks guidance from his charioteer and friend. I am avidly waiting for the next revelation tomorrow, as a lot is revealed in the first two chapters themselves. This song to god is an explanation of why we must do karma; and it is in Krishna’s strange interpretations of Dharma, and how Arjun benefits by following the path of war, are the main theme of the book. It is after all a war for their own existence and the righteous must win for the world to go on.
The book is a very small but significant other major Puran the Mahabharata. It is a massive tomb of a people who settled the plains of north India and a record of those times. It is an epic tale and meanders and flows and is only comparable to the other great Puran the Ramayana where the Ram avtar takes precedence in his righteous rule. These millinia old tales are so imbedded into the Hinu myth that even today the enaction of the chapters of the Ramayan and the eventual buring of the huge effigies of Ravan the ten headed wise man and his son Kumbhkaran and brother Megnath in Ramlila grounds in New Delhi even today to celebrate Dusherra and the end of the nine nights of Navaratri,. Traditions go a long way back in those lands and the Ram Mandir agitation in Ayodhya is still a hot spot for communal riots boiling under the surface of the mobs that can run wild at any time. A man who brought Ram Rajya or good governance is now used to defy the current government by instigating old communal fears that lie dormant but are never fully extinguished. Ambers that can light up whole neighborhoods, on dark night if stokeds. May it never come to pass and may cooler heads prevail when the spark is lit by some right wing leader in the vast land.
On Sat it is bedtime as one has to fulfill the quest for new mattresses for the new addition for the master bed. A lot of furniture will have to be moved reclaimed and refinished before this exercise is over. It is a long overdue one too; and we should have done it years ago, to enjoy a better room. Sun is probably back to the city after going to Jersey City for lunch. There is still so much to look forward to enjoy. Karmic laws and labor day are good companions and one should learn from the righteous; that there are paths we do not open our minds to, that are there for us to take.

Eightfold path


Figure 1: The pseudoscalar meson nonet. Members of the octet are shown in green, the singlet in magenta. The name of the Eightfold Way derives from this classification.

The swim on the warm Sunday evening is exhilarating; as I have neglected any kind of physical exercise, for the past few weeks. After my laps I sit exhausted on the steps; with my head resting on the railing, and close by eyes against the sunshine. My eyelids turned a bright orange; and then I see the phenomena of the sub atomic particles, appear as if in a dream. The quarks or whatever it is; carried by cosmic rays hitting my eyelid, rise out of nowhere and form a bright blue pattern against the orange background, like exploding firecrackers on the 4th of July. They rise out of nothing and formed this momentary pattern like a rising blue fountain of light; that branches off into all cascading directions, and then disappears as the stream fall back into nothing. I know we cannot see these sub atomic particles; and it has taken researchers years to even find them, so I came back and do some research. The model above describes the scientist’s findings.
Decades ago when I was studying Buddhist meditation, I was fascinated with Gautama/Siddhartha’s quest; as he struggled to find the source of misery, pain, old age and death and how to escape from its cycle of rebirth. He describes his long search and his practice of severe asceticism, of tantric practices, of bhakthi and devotion, and over many decades sought the greatest masters, to learn from them. He traveled to the great centers of learning; and held discourses with anyone who would engage with him, during his long quest. He said that after a particularly long penance; he went down to touch his belly button and felt his back bone instead, through the skin. He realized that extreme mortification of the flesh is not the way to truth and knowledge. He had already enjoyed the luxuries of the palace where he grew up; and the way of the householder and kings indulging in all the sensual pleasures, was also not the way he realized. He had to find a middle path that anyone could follow.
Scientists have come up with an eight fold way to describe the quark model; and Buddha also came up with his eight fold path, when he delved deep into his inner conscience to attain Nirvana. Everything is scientific and each model took a lot of work to arrive at. There is no creator here or death or destruction; as energy and mass interchange but do not disappear. So this was the biggest secret at the heart of all creation; that there was nothing there at the core. When Buddha tried to grasp the absolute and weighty argument of God; he found it wanting, as in the heart of the lotus, there was only bliss and compassion. He defined the way of knowledge that would lead us away from our ignorance; as he was sure that it is our own actions and karma that trap us here, and not the work of gods and goddesses. There are no super beings in this realm; only the Sanga or the likeminded folks to whom he preached his eight fold path of Dharma. So to take refuge in the Buddha, the Sanga and Dharma are core principles of Buddhist practices and to achieve enlightenment; you have to walk the path laid down by the ancient, who were Self awakened ones. This is represented by the eight spokes of the Dharma wheel; and those who walk this path, can find the direct knowledge to the cessation of death and suffering.

Division Eightfold Path factors Acquired factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā)
1. Right view 9. Superior right knowledge
2. Right intention 10. Superior right liberation
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

The next evening as I walk outside a mantra is constantly chanting in my head “Om Mani Padme Hum”. I quite my mind, and observe in wonder this mesh of Maya that surrounds us all, in the green grass of mother earth, the grey clouds of the heavens and the people going about their business of society. In the dusk a myriad of lightening bugs appear, again mimicking the quarks rising out of nothing and shining brightly momentarily in random places, and then disappearing into the darkness again. My heart is light; and the vegetarian meal that I have eaten, just right for this occasion. I have tried to find a concrete solution to everything; that one solid truth that would free me, from this cycle of rebirth, suffering and ignorance. No equation answers everything and so I look at the core deeply. I laugh at having discovered this void; as I realize this is all there is, and it is only our desires that manifest and create this being. The mantra goes on and within its chanting, all is filled with compassion and truth. If I am indeed this nothing or void at my core; and all my manifestations are external, then who is this I, who observes and stays the same compassionate being? The mystics may know the answer but I am here now; and as Rajiv Kapoor fades away, I become this mantra that goes on unending out of nothing into nothing.

Spirits and quilts

America was founded by the spirits of its pioneers; who uprooted themselves from the old world and set out to an unknown new world, where they believed they could make a better life. Even today this pioneering spirit lives on; as we remain one of the most mobile societies, where people will give up established homes and move for a better opportunity to an unknown new town or city. This spirit was what drew me here so many decades ago; when I moved my befuddled wife and confused children into a new existence, so far from where they were born. Maybe it was the open road that I had traveled on during my college years travelling across from New York to the west and back not once but twice over 2 long summers. Memories of the highway miles speeding by as one rolled across the eastern sea plain; to the endless prairies, and the desserts and the mountains across magnificent canyons, and slept on the shores of wondrous lakes of fresh water, to the amazing cities springing up in the wilderness. I learnt its history first hand; and found that the weave of the American quilt is unique, and the pioneering ladies who made up the early quilting bees, often had this as their sole source of socializing in their new homes.
Life on my return was different; as there was a family to provide for, and a home to build. Moving into a modified log cabin with minimum facilities; in a beautiful lake town, was the first anchor among many that came later. Commuting to Manhattan that I dubbed ‘maya nagri’ in my native tongue, or the city of masterful illusions, I was just another worker bee, servicing the queen bee of commerce and wealth. It drew in people from all over the world; and its financial systems had tentacles spreading across the globe, and the big money center banks were too complex, for even an MBA to understand. The NYC metropolitan area melting pot had communities from all over; and the cuisine was as varied and the languages spoken on its subways as diverse, and the cultural events held on weekends celebrated, long lost customs and festivals of the old world. There were many I found who lived in a time warp; raising children in old values, that even the countries that they had left behind, had forgotten or consigned to the pages of history. Thank God for the American High school as its bands marched on with their rousing Sousa marches; and the sport team played the local teams in rivalry games, that the die-hard fans could rattle off stats on for decades or more. Here the melting pot really worked; and kids picked up the accents and the mannerisms of the age and locality, as they slowly emerged as Americans at the end of the experience. Dual lives were lived by the immigrants as at home there was a different life; and in school it was a homogeneous amalgamation of shared experiences, and the spirit was infused and the young minds molded into a new world feeling. There were social divisions and prejudice; and all the ills of modern social interaction, but they were tempered by a common goal and a shared knowledge, starting each morning with the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States starting in elementary school. Irrespective of religious beliefs or cultural backgrounds you learnt what it meant to be an American. The Greco Roman facades of some of these institutions are testament to one of the greatest education systems ever built. They are as much a part of the American quilt, as apple pie and the Star Spangled Banner.

Most of my working life was spent in the pursuit of the mighty dollar, in what we simply called the city. Everybody understood what you meant when you said you were going to the city; as there was no confusion, as nowhere else in the world did such a confluence of five boroughs exist. Over time Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and their neighborhoods became household names familiar like an old aunt or uncle. Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Wall Street, Columbus Circle, Central Park, garment district became a part and parcel of life, and all that it had to offer. Identities merged with neighborhoods and life’s events were woven into a tapestry of locations and seasons and relationships, tied as much to a time and space, as an event. New Jersey was our home and the extended family became the focal point, of visits and celebrations. Births, marriages, deaths, graduations, divorces, anniversaries became the gathering points to discuss life and what pain, misery, joy or happiness it provided. Children grew up went on to college; and then took up professions and settled down with families, or otherwise branched off into their own lives. The American quilt grew; with its myriad pieces stitched together, and each new member contributed their own experiences into the larger whole.
Today it has become its own diaspora as the family is dispersed from the East to the West coast with some spread out like dots on a GPS map in various states in between. Not everyone is a failure; and neither is each one a roaring success, but sufficing it to say that they are largely middle class and the heart and soul of the spirit of America. Opportunity knocks and they answer with reluctance to give up the old, but then embrace the change and move on. The oldies may question change and these newfangled ways; but even they have to concede, that the spirit is alive and well. They may regale on some occasions about their own struggles and times that they went through, and do not realize that the next generation has to live through its own struggle and make their own lives as best as they can. They are not content with just a comfortable life that our struggle can help with; but must strike out on their own and build their own, in the American way. The quilt may become frazzled and unravel at times, but then someone has to make the effort and stitch it back together again. I look outside at the manicured green lawn and the large hibiscus bush; that adorns some of the apartment entrances, in small town Arkansas. We have standardized life and it could be anywhere in this vast land; and I realize that long as I can afford the rent, I could move anywhere that has gainful employment and live the same experience. The internet connects me to the world and smart phones and new devices connect to the TV, and the world is a click away. Circumstances caused me to move here; but it could have been anywhere else, and I would still lead a similar existence. Mediocrity and homogeneity are easy to adapt to when the society is developed; and we find pleasures in small differences, that bring flavor to one’s life. A particular film, play, show, book, magazine, town, TV channel becomes the definition of our individual preferences, and who we meet and interact with depends on it. Then as needed we uproot ourselves and start all over again and having traveled many miles; often find ourselves living the same life, in a new place.
So now the spirit is rising again and as my wife says; I am showing all the symptoms, of becoming antsy again. Where will I head off to this time I am not sure, but the time is not that far off that it will happen again. I do not want to change and would love to live this way in comfort and certainty about my tomorrow, but I know God and this universe have other plans. We live in the world of the spirit; and this physical manifestation, has to learn to adapt and change. If we allow it to define us, then we lose the point of this existence. Listen to the calling of your spirit, as only then will you give up this old world, for the new. Opportunity is calling, and to seize this moment is the only hope. I am, but in the end I am not this alone. The past is gone; and the future is uncertain, so this moment is it. Live it, love it and lift your head up to the heavens and bask in the glory of the sun and let the spirits move you. Weave your quilt with care and then leave it for others to carry on the work, and your spirit will live on in its beauty.

Summer sanity

The sun has set on another day and it paints the dissipating clouds in orange hues, as I take an after dinner walk. I hear the honking and look up to see the perfect v formation of a gaggle of geese; flying in from the south excited at the man-made pond, at our waterside apartments. They descend down into the water in a flapping of wings; to perhaps settle down for the night, after their day’s flight. In the gathering darkness I see a lightening bug hovering over the evergreen bush; appropriately lighting up the dark shadows, in its bursts of light, as it celebrates its life.

I return home and cut up one of the last mangoes of the season; and enjoy its sweet and tart pulp and yank the dryer switch, to continue on in its weekly task. Another summer of my life is coming to an end; and I look back and realize, that I have much to be grateful for. There were birthdays and anniversaries and love making and parties and movies and plays to enjoy. Summer here in the south is a long season; and the farmer will probably reap two harvests from the wild fields, with neatly rolled haystacks for the winter. Spring had begun with hope and museum visits; and summer is ending with book readings from across the centuries on the Kindle, and movies unlimited from Netflix. I am entangled in the World Wide Web like never before; on Facebook and my blog, and there is often not a moment to lose, as life goes on with its merry whirl.
I often grapple with my loneliness; as I am an alien, in an adopted land, and sometimes the passing of time in itself becomes a burden, resulting in sleepless nights, watching trash or reading it. There are times when there is no one to love or share the day’s happenings; except for this stray cat that has adopted me, and comes by morning and night, mewing and forcing its way into my life. I feed it my version of tandoori chicken; which it licks its lips and enjoys, or on lazier days just tuna fish or the chicken of the sea from a can, which it relishes, and then spends countless hours preening itself lying outside my door. I guess we are kindred spirits in this complex; having no one else to call our own, or to depend on, that life has randomly thrown together to spend together, another summer of wondrous happenings. Unlike me it hunts at night; and when I found it with its head buried in a hole one late night, it ignored me completely and kept at its task of findings its prey, as it is a part of its existence, it keeps to itself.

These dog days of summer are not driving me insane; as I remember the philosopher’s famous words that “Insanity in individuals is something rare — but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.” -Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844-1900). The summer has been particularly insane; as the world seems to be unraveling slowly, at it’s seams. Wild fires burn, floods devastate whole states, unemployment of our young leaves many dreams unfulfilled, wars rage on, suicide bombings, rapes, pillaging and wile human deeds increase and the economy does its own thing. Statesmen cannot find consensus to move forward; and the consenting cannot find morality it seems, as they look forever backwards. Society is a schism of the haves and the have-nots, and the divide grows greater every day. The poor scramble on in desperation; and the privileged look down on the bourgeoisie, as if they do not belong in the same world. The earth turns and the seasons come and go and I live this life, in awareness of my own impending death. I look around me and find people mostly believe in their own infallibility and the death of others.

Political parties are at loggerheads; and do not allow the business of those who elected them, to prosper. There is no gain in a common good as; if they can keep their faithful living on in this delusional state, then all will remain well in their world. Power is now in overwhelming force and not in the ability, to do the most good. When Zuckerberg gathers the likes of Facebook, Samsung, Nokia and Erickson into a mighty coalition to provide cheaper connectivity and the web to the masses; Bill Gates sadly points out to all who will listen, that no application can cure diarrhea, in the population they are trying to reach. Progress is now measured in bytes of digital media and not the bites that feed the hungry. Sanity would be to provide healthy food, clean water, decent housing, green clothing, higher education and equal opportunity to the under privileged. The cat is mewing outside and it is probably bringing me the news; that she just spied the last sane man sneaking out of our complex, and we should probably hurry up, if we do not want to miss the last plane leaving Bent On Ville.

Soft State

India’s falling stock markets, rupee valuations and rising inflation are now spreading to South East Asia also. The Indian Stock Market is swooning and the rupee is in a free-fall; as global investors pull out cash, to invest in more developed economies; fearing the withdrawal of the U S stimulus policies. Indonesia’s market is the worst performer among the global indexes; as it has lost 8% in the last two days, and 10% since the start of July. Thailand once considered an Asian tiger is now officially in recession; with two quarters of declining GDP, as it is affected by China’s slowdown.
As a young MBA student in the US I had found little research on the Indian economy; and was delighted to find Gunnar Myrdal’s study as he had in 1974, received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Friedrich Hayek for “their pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena.” After reading his work on India I came away puzzled by his description that because India is a “Soft State,” development had languished and would continue to languish, for the foreseeable future. I never really understood what it meant at that time; as I had not experienced the checks and balances and disciplined systems, developed in the western economies. All I knew was that things just worked when you switched on the light, turned on the tap, caught a plane, train or bus as they were on time; as opposed to what I had experienced back at home. Having spent countless hours in foul smelling train stations where people heaped their whole house hold into the compartments that were stuffy beyond measure in sweltering heat; the air conditioned\heated splendor of comfortable travel was pleasant, and readily accepted as the new normal.
It was not till many decades later during the current reign of Sonia’s congress and Dr. Manmohan Singh’s second term that the meaning of the soft state has become stark and clear. It is a state that cannot take decisions and act to protect its own institutions. Truth needs to be armed and given the weapons to defend itself. It should not be a timid whisper spoken apologetically from the ramparts of the red fort; but thundered and enforced by the legislative and judicial bodies. The third rail of the administration its IAS and PCS cadre; should be held to higher standards, and allowed to do their job. Labor reform, land reform, equal justice for all communities, education reform, and infrastructure development should be the focus and not an afterthought of political gains. The pandering to selective vote banks; ensures that power is maintained, at a cost to the growth of the economy and the general good suffers, and morale and commitment of good hard working honest men is looked down upon. To be successful is not looked up to or emulated; as it is understood to mean that one is either corrupt, politically connected or at worse a thug and a cheat.
I read recently the recommendations of a leading body “Looking ahead,” the BBVA team wrote, “bolder structural reforms, including greater fuel price liberalization, land acquisition reforms, and higher foreign investment limits in insurance, pension management and the pharmaceuticals industry are crucial to regain investor confidence and shore up the rupee.” I almost laughed to myself remembering the soft state argument; I had read so many years ago, and wondered who could possibly implement a fraction of the medicine that is being recommended. I am not saying that there are not brilliant and dedicated leaders in India, as otherwise the society would fall apart, I am just saying that the power is in the wrong hands. The state has gone into the hands of leaders in India and Thailand for example who have accumulated mountains of rice in their Government storage, while the poor starve outside. The political economy of the state has corroded to the point, where common sense and law are byproducts and goals are set for the wrong outcomes. The state gathers economic power into its institutions; and disbars its own citizens from taking the right economic actions, to better themselves and pursue their happiness.
The road ahead is murky and fraught with danger as continued fiscal deficits and unfinished projects and unproductive state enterprises will continue to eat away the countries valuable reserves. There is no bold leader here who can persuade the legislative body and administration into taking the right action. We deserve the leaders we appoint in a democracy, as the public is neither gullible nor foolish. They have just become used to living in a soft state; and accept the latest scandal and shenanigans with a shrug of their shoulders, as this is how life has always been. There will be no Arab Spring or revolution here, as the people are too preoccupied with the price of onions and finding a decent place to live. They do however expect miracles to transform their life; as that of course is the essence of the soft state, where expectations run high and actions run low. It is a beautiful but poignant tale like the full moon rising tonight; which reflects the brilliance of the sun, but has no power on its own.

Crap shoot

File:Craps table layout.svgThe stock market is nervous and the huge gains that we have seen recently seem to have hit a speed bump as 10 year treasuries have gone from 1.6% to 2.8% in a little over a quarter. The time may not be far off when we return to a more normal 4.5% in the long run and that could make a huge difference in what corporations and consumers pay for their loans. Currently as the recovery took hold sales and revenues have grown; and driven up profits along with it making the current PE ratios look good. This was of course helped by the belt tightening that corporations undertook to recover from the great recession with the layoff of employees and increased productivity. This tightening cannot go on and labor productivity may be reaching its limits and profits will get squeezed from the increased cost of capital and stagnant productivity and reduction in the rate of growth of revenues.
With a change on the horizon in the Federal Reserve policies; with the expected departure of Dr. Bernanke, and also a hopelessly locked legislature, we cannot hope to see any relief from these sources soon. Inflation has been tame during the Bernanke years and the financial institutions have had time to cover the bad loans and build up their capital accounts. Even corporations have built up their capital reserves; and there is a lot of capital that can be put to work, if the economy demands it. There is also a lot of capital sitting around in consumer accounts; with negligible returns, that could come into the stock market, if the economy continues to expand. This is not 2008 and some of the excesses from that time; have been slowly squeezed out of the system, and we are intrinsically much healthier now. A lot of the easy pickings that come at the start of a recovery; may be past us and we may be entering the slough years with a slow and steady growth, given no new catastrophe hitting the markets.
Consumer confidence is off its lows, and manufacturing indexes predict slow growth. A tepid back to school season is worrying retailers, as they gear up for the crucial Holiday season ahead. With no clear indicators emerging; they will be cautious in their projections, trying to gauge the mood of the consumer, till the last minute. This could result in lost sales and opportunities; as they do not want to face mark downs and access inventories, if consumers continue to stay frugal. The international situation is not helping; with the continued slowdown in China and India, and the Arab spring is fading into chaos. Europe’s continued slow recovery is a positive and will help, but it is a far cry from robust growth.
So what are individual investors supposed to do, remains a dilemma? Does he step in now and then get burnt by a 25% downward correction; as predicted by some, or does he wait on the sideline till some clear trend emerges and loses the opportunity of some continued gains. There is no crystal ball that we can look into, and predict the direction the markets will take. The patient was sick and a blood transfusion has been given. Now whether the patient will take it upon himself to take the necessary steps to walk out of intensive care; and the recovery room, is up to the patient. There are many opportunities out there and we should never underestimate the human spirit. . Entrepreneurs and risk takers are still ready to pursue the next big thing. Some of our greatest corporations have arisen, out of the ashes of some of the worst conditions. It may be time to have faith and hope in the markets to do the right thing and invest in the future; and all this uncertainty may just fade into memory, as a real recovery takes place and unemployment goes down and inflation stays relatively tame and growth become more sustained. Only time will tell; as the crap table is loaded with money on the sidelines, and the dealer just handed you the dice to roll.

Wise fool

All our life we are advised to save and put away for a rainy day; our retirement and sunset years, and the fool and the wise man, make their own interpretation of how to go about it. There are those of us who take up this goal seriously; and make task lists, and set goals, and work hard at achieving milestones, which will make us more secure. We work diligently all our lives; and if lucky we achieve a level of prosperity, that allows us to enjoy life, when we are mature and in greater needs of the comforts that a geriatric population needs. There are others who fitter away fortunes; on the latest craze, and consume as if there is no tomorrow, and have no goals except for pandering to their latest whims. Easy come and easy go; seems to be their motto, as they live in an age of abundance and feel that there are inexhaustible resources available, and the more they consume, the more will be created, to ensure that they can continue to do so.
For the first time in the history of humans we have the technology and industry available to feed, house, educate, protect and socially connect billions. Malthus would be amazed that such a vast population can exist as all his theories pointed to the earth’s resources drying up, in the case of such an assault for our species. We have standardized the basics; and created the means to productively provide vast quantities of goods and services, to allow us to continue to prosper. From the landless pheasant with his cell phone checking the market price of his\her produce; to the engineer who is writing the latest program to support the technology, we can rest assured that things will only get better. This is the information age and data is now counted in trillions of bytes; and we produce more each year than all our ancestors did, for all our evolution. We continue to live a modern life with brains that haven’t significantly evolved; since the first humanoids walked upright, and started to use tools and fire. We have transferred these tasks to microprocessors and machines and our tools are getting more sophisticated each day; allowing us to use our limited brain capacity, for greater good.
This journey is just starting and as we are using up the earth and its resources; we are now looking outward and find that there is a whole universe out there, just waiting for us, to evolve and move into it. If we harness a fraction of our sun’s energy; we can have more than enough for our needs for millenniums, so what more can we possibly do with the billions of other suns out there? By just using the Sun’s gravity as a slingshot (as an example) we could travel to distant stars and their planets and continue on to infinity. But I digress as the passage is meant to be about personal choices and savings, and how to live a better balance in our life. The wise man husbands his sexual energy to be more creative and achieve more in life; while the fool squanders it away on the first available opportunity, to satisfy his carnal needs. The one I call truly wise is the one who knows both good and evil; and then evaluates them at each step, and picks the right path.
The sage of Omaha looks for companies who have built moats around them; and will continue to reward their investors even if a fool takes over the helm, as he knows in his wisdom, that surely the day will come when a fool will run them. The US corporations remain his first choice as he feels that they will continue to outperform gold, bonds and other investment choices out there. So to discipline ourselves and invest in low cost mutual funds or to build portfolios with dividend reinvestment plans; with a large fraction of our current income, seems to be the only way to go. He has made many millionaires among his faithful and imitators, and we can follow the same path. So we can deprive ourselves today by not taking that extravagant vacation or buying that must have luxury, and live a happier life tomorrow. Luxury resorts that cater to every single whim imaginable; will continue to prosper, but we will leave the money to our descendants to enjoy them, after we die.
The choices are not stark or bleak as life’s journey will continue either way. We just need to make the choice, based on our own individual disposition and character. Circumstances will make us successful or failures; but a clearly laid out plan, gives us more chances for success. So indulge a little; and do not let guilt or frustration overtake you, on the journey. Enjoy what life offers up at every corner; and then make a choice, and move to do what is best for the long run. Live a little and look around you and enjoy what you have, for this opportunity is here today only. Do not obsess over the future; as the present is far more important. It is not the wise answers that we spout out to all around us, but the questions we internalize that are far more important. Wisdom is not shown by what we acquire; but what we examine, and shed. The choices are not always clear; as modern life increasingly offers multiple paths to the same goal, but we still have to choose wisely. As there is no one path; pick one and then run on it; enjoying the milestones that you achieve along the way, as that is the only way that you will reach you goals. Let the buffoons make the noises and become the idiot who is not normal, as the wise fool is one who sees what others miss. I would rather let truth and wisdom; write my history, than be counted among the current wave, of so called wise men.

Darkness to light

In this late summer night I see the moon wearing a Venetian mask; that is half shining bright and the other perfect half is in a darkness, which reflects my own tortured soul. Every morning when I get up; or even late at night, I feel this war rage on inside me, whether to dwell in the dark side of despair, or emerge into the light of hope. It is not the moon’s fault, as I know that it just being itself; and it is only my imagination that is attracted to its light, but is also drawn into its darkness at the same time. It feels my anguish; as I wander in the late night with the darkness surrounding me, and at the same time, it lights my path. I walk on towards my destination, even though I may have lost my way. We are pulled and attracted by the dark forces of hatred, bias, ignorance and greed and at the same time need to keep our balance and move towards compassion and knowledge. As Somerset Maugham pointed out that in life we always are walking on the razor’s edge, and nobody knows what we will decide to do in the end.
The forces of good and evil, of dark energy and light, battle on across the vast reaches of this universe; and we are pawns in their games. It is so easy to give in and take the easy path and having started on it, oftentimes there is no turning back. The try it once; becomes a second step, and then we are running well on our way to a place, we should never have even entered in the first place. We give in to sensual pleasures and delight in the orgies of the flesh; and life seems to be finally rewarding our wildest dreams, with more of what we crave. It is easy to justify that existence was meant to be this way; and even question as to why would God created these pleasures, if we are not meant to enjoy them. Excess is good and the more the merrier; as hedonistic lifestyles and depraved thinking become our motto, and life is an endless parade of days and night that provide even more fuel to quell our mortal fires.
As I walk across the park; I come upon a picnic table, on which a couple has left two identically filled cups with clear water and two straws sticking out, lit by a mercury lamp in the darkness. Now I am even more mystified; as what do these represent, on this dark night lit by a stage like beam. I realize that the clear water means that the two sides of my soul are pure and unblemished, and nothing can taint them. I may color them in darkness or light but at the end they will emerge again, just as they once were clear and receptive to whatever I want them to be. It is my karma that writes on the clarity and I make it dark or light by my actions; but there is always the path to return back to its original form, as the soul is timeless and cannot be burnt, cut, colored or be hot or cold. My pleasures and my despair do not affect it; and it is just there and while I live my life, it is only a cup that I am filling. At the end it will be left on this picnic table and others will not see the colors that I painted, as it will be clear again.
So I walk back to my apartment and a great weight has lifted from me; as the darkness and the light of being, do not trouble me anymore. My past actions do not have the consequence to control my present, as only I own this moment. I turn on the light and sit down to write this, for the clarity of the water needs to be explained to everyone. We have the choice to wipe the slate clean, and start over again. The noise of the past is no longer a roar in my mind and it is clear and pristine again. This present is the only life I know and those who recognize me for what I was, do not know me. I grapple with truth and seek the knowledge, which only a clear head can provide. The light must come from inside me, and I light my own way. I dance on the razor’s edge; with an abandon all alone, for who else is there to share my joy except my creator. If your inner feelings allow you; come jump up on this razor’s edge with me and live life fearlessly, for this is the cosmic dance that he created us for, and neither darkness nor light will affect us. He is, and he made us free to dance in his clear light.

Pumped up!

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Slicing through the water I swam the lap and headed to the far wall, in an effort to get my much needed exercise. Lately I have noticed that it is easier to make an excuse; than to actually get started on being active, and get the right amount of exercise. The evening walk is no longer brisk but a casual stroll, and far from the running of my youth. The laps are no longer vigorous, and more of an easy loping style that just gets the work done; and passes the time, giving the illusion of keeping in shape. No longer is the body one big muscle joined to the bones; but it is more a case of bones that are barely moved by the fatigued muscles, with odd joint pains and strange strains appearing out of the blue. The occasional instances when I revive the drive to live a healthier life; the efforts are more subdued and the gains not as pronounced, as they used to be in my youth.
I remember in the old days I could run for miles and swim for hours; and come out feeling not tired, but refreshed. As the fat and muscles were burnt; they would also allow the brain to release hormones, and one would get a feeling of euphoria and well being on emerging from the field or the pool. Wikipedia says “The endocrine system is the system of glands, each of which secretes different types of hormones directly into the bloodstream (some of which are transported along nerve tracts to maintain homeostasis.” The body is a chemical and electrical composition and its functioning is mysterious to most of us; and we only feel the effects of what we do and it is these chemical releases that affect our nervous system, and our overall sense of well being and health. When we do certain physical activities; it promotes the release of these chemicals, and it directly affects our nervous system and our moods and disposition. The runners “high” or the pleasure of a long walk; are not just figments of our imagination but actually are physical phenomena, which the body has learnt over its evolution.
In early evolution the job of hunting and the training of the young ones to travel many miles for finding a meal; or the sudden sprint for survival, were potent forces that made us what we are today. The feeling of flee or fight are primordial; and happen at a lightning speed and instinctively, just like when we spy a snake in our path. The brain has survival secrets built in; and often time responses happen even before we consciously become aware, of the actual danger or lack of it (discovering it is a rope and not a snake). The heart pumps more blood and the muscles taunt up to flee or attack, even before we can think about the situation. When we take in food or drink we often talk about its aphrodisiac property, or its energy giving capacity, or its ability to reduce our inhibitions, or its ability to intoxicate and provide feelings of euphoria and well being. The whole pharmaceutical and health industry has been studying these chemicals and their affects for centuries now; and a good doctor will combine the medicines, with a good dose of advice on active life styles to keep us healthy. Attitude and resolve has been often found to be the difference between a survivor and a deceased person; in their response to a biological or chemical attack, to their body.
Our ability to survive not only depends on our ability to find the right medicine; but also in our ability to bring about a positive attitude that will help release the right hormones and chemicals, so that the body can do the work of healing itself. A morose or ill person who gives up the desire to fight, will waste away and another person with a positive attitude will take the actions, required to recover from such a similar attack. It is all in these minute amount of chemicals that the body produces, in response to the actions we take. When we meditate and still the mind; and allow it to be quite all we are doing is allowing the body and mind not to get distracted and stressed, from our external stimuli. We are allowing ourselves the time and the energy to focus on what is important for our soul. A healthy body promotes a healthy mind, but the reverse is even truer. It is our mind that we need to nurture and it will promote well being and give us the energy; to take the much needed exercise, or do the right physical things without distractions. We are often overcome by anxiety and negative feedback loops; that leave us feeling stupid, ugly, fat, weak, and helpless or whatever else we may condition ourselves to be, and it is only quiet contemplation that will allow us to resurface from this negativity and start on the path of healing and self-actualization.
Thus the next time that you feel a lack of energy or feel that life is not treating you well take a brisk walk, and clear your mind. Let the release of Adrenaline or Dopamine do its magic automatically; and you will feel refreshed and ready, to take on any challenge. When your partner or boss berates you for the nth time regarding a task not done or a chore not performed; let these positive releases energize you and you will find the tasks and chores completed in no time, and you can move on to building that healthy relationship that you secretly crave. We are after all the masters of our own destiny; and just a minute dose of the right hormone, goes a long way in achieving what we need. The high achievers are constantly pumped up and in a positive spin cycle; where each action fuels the next, till others around them consider them supermen or super women. They attract others like themselves, and as a result are in a positive feedback loop that propels them into ever higher realms.
So when life has thrown that oddball at you and you find yourself backed into a hopeless solution; and are lost and helpless, let your mind go to a quiet place. Do not let the stress of seeing the snake overwhelm you, into paralysis or inaction. Allow the mind and body to come up with the appropriate response, and move on. Nothing is holding you back except for yourself. As you climb that unconquered mountain; the strength will come to you, and the will to reach the summit will prevail. The mind and body are mysteries that even the wise sages could not explain. All we have to do is live our life to its fullest and the rewards should not be the goal, but just the feeling of euphoria that we get from taking the right action will be our own reward. It is when you stand on the top of the peak and feel that elation of mind and spirit; that you will know that the next higher mountain will be even easier to conquer, and you will become happier and fulfilled.

Refine we must

Driving down the New Jersey Turnpike for many decades drivers would smell the foul smell; and see the lights of the giant refineries, and wondered why on earth would someone name it the garden state. Then the refinery lights went down and slowly the production moved to the gulf states as it became more expensive to move oil stocks up to feed them in the North East. As the lights went out it seemed a portent sign of the decline of America and its petroleum industry and the oil majors sought profits and capacity outside the United States. Europe with its North Sea oil, the Middle East with its huge capacity of cheap oil and Asia with its burgeoning demand became the standard bearers for new refining capacity additions. A death knoll on American refineries; and the general demise of its petro chemical industry, was being called by talking heads on major TV channels. They saw only a continued downward spiral; as costs remained high, and capacity utilization suffered. Even today the North East continues to import a major part of its consumption from abroad.
Little known to them; there were still some ingenious folks around the gulf coast; who were ready to take the risks, to turn things around. Their efforts paid off around two years ago, as the major refiner’s added capacity at an unprecedented scale to fulfill growing American demand and also to add surplus capacity for exports. “All these companies are expanding their export terminals—Valero, Shell, Marathon Petroleum, all of them,” said Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer. “Any companies with refining assets on the Gulf Coast are expanding their export terminals. …The profitability is not that clear, but the trend is very clear.” From being an importer just three years ago; today the US has become the largest exporter of refined petroleum products led by Diesel, airplane fuel and gasoline. The death of the US industrial capacity was prematurely announced it seems; and now it is well on its way from not only being the bread basket of the world, but also the refiner for the world. The petroleum hydrocracking industry is exploding it seems; and it is driven by cheap gas and shale oil, and at the current rate it will add substantially to the rate of GDP growth in the US. Trade deficits as a result will be driven down; and Europe with its higher cost of gas and petroleum products from the previous Russian republics, will continue to suffer.
President Carter had warned decades ago during the fuel crisis; that the US needs to become much more energy efficient, if it is to survive as a leader in economic development. It has taken decades for the conservation efforts to pay off and with President Obama’s declaration of still higher fuel standards for the auto industry; demand in the US will continue to fall over the next decades, as old cars are retired and replaced with far more fuel efficient vehicles. At the same time the US is finally looking seriously at renewals; and wind, solar, nuclear, ethanol, biomass and anything else that can be technically possible, is being explored and developed. Venture capital and investments in developing the fuel of the future continue, from the risk takers and entrepreneurs. The greening of America will have long term repercussions for the rest of the world; as more efficient cars, trucks, trains, planes, houses, appliances, buildings and cities develop. Warren Buffet is buying up solar plants; as if they were going out of style, and as I fly across the US I see more wind farms cropping up. After decades of decline new nuclear plants have been cleared for development and will come online to support the growing electricity needs of this vast land.
The national debt is an embarrassment to some; as we owe trillions to the Japanese and Chinese and anyone else, who wants the safe haven of US treasuries. In fact those folks are wise, as they are investing in the greatest economic engine known to man. What counts is that America continues to grow its economy, invests in new research and development and converts it into new technical products and industrial production continues to grow its GDP; all else is just rustling of paper representing doomsday scenarios. Talking heads will come and go; but it is the ingenuity of the people and the will to pursue the next big thing, that will make or break us. Today forward thinking people are placing risky bets on refinery expansions; and tomorrow the lights may go down on these ventures, leaving idle capacity and major losses. Yet I thank these enterprising folks; as at least they have a vision to be the best and largest in the world, and are leading us to a brighter and more efficient tomorrow.