June 22, 2017

Death and Destiny

Birth and Death are the two great original mysteries — the birth of this vast and complex universe in a seeming void, the birth of life and living beings in and out of a seemingly mechanical universe, the birth of a thinking, half-conscious creature called man from a seemingly unconscious, unthinking life. 

So is death a mystery, the apparently dark void into which everything collapses, the great and the small, the high and mighty as well as the lowly and weak, the virtuous and the vicious, the pious and the wicked, the angels and demigods as much as the devils and the titans themselves. Death swallows all. 

The great philosopher-poet was casually asked by one who gave him shelter for the night: “Who are you? Where do you come from? Where are you going?” These seemingly insignificant questions whose answers we often take for granted can change our life radically. The merely living can change into a thinker; the thinker into a philosopher-poet, the poet into a visionary-mystic, the mystic into one utterly identified in an inner ineffable union with God. 

And as we move up through this ladder of self-transcendence, our self-view changes. And as our answer to this fundamental question ‘who are we’ changes, so do our answers to the other two fundamental questions, ‘where do we come from’ and ‘where do we go’. 

The questions that Death asks of us upon the highways of life is symbolised in the story of the Sphinx — Who are you? If our answer is correct, it lets us pass. If not, we are slain by Death. Therefore, the body that knows not its immortality dies, whereas the soul that knows itself escapes. This truth applies as much to individuals as to entire civilisations. 

Death forces us to raise this question and thereby change. Therefore, death to one point of view is a passage or perhaps even a precursor to this change. To another eye that sees yet sees not, because it sees only one half of the truth, or rather sees the apparent outward fact as the sole truth, death is the dark womb to which all returns. Day, from the point of view of earth, is only a brief or long interregnum compressed between two dark eternities of night, earth itself a small dot amidst an appallingly immense and largely empty space. 

But the limits of our sight are not the limits of light. Light is hid in the darkest corners of the universe. Light is trapped in the dumb inertia of matter and stone, light climbs up in the plant and the trees, leaps to dynamic movement in animals, aspires through conscious thought in man. Night is only a concealment of Light or a depravity of our sight. Light blazing beyond our horizons is the birthplace of that which we truly are — the Light Supreme, the secret home to which we climb through the many-tiered stairway of Life and Death and Rebirth. 

But these are deeper things we are told. The issues of Birth and Death and Life may be very complex, may even be unsolvable riddles to man while the daily issues of an average person are different. He is not concerned so much with what or who is death but rather with what death does or means to him. To us who live in perpetual slavery to the senses, moved as puppets by the hundred and one strings of the heart and life’s small and blind desires, death comes with a terrible face whose only task is to spoil the too brief and short-lived happiness of our human life. Death represents to us a blind and capricious god or a cruel and merciless demon who comes to snatch all that we hold dear to our life. What we see is a powerful god or Adversary or whatever else one may call it, who comes only to take, and if at all it gives anything it is only indirect and in the form of a release from our earthly bonds, a negative giving so to speak. However, it is our undue and ignorant attachment to darkness that makes him assume such a formidable figure in the human mind. 

And yet, life would become so very difficult, nay even impossible if this scavenging god whose presence one loathes didn’t exist. It is his cosmic task perhaps to cleanse the darkest corners. He instinctively discovers darkness even in a cloak of light and swallows it as if by affinity. Does he swallow light as well? Shades of grey yes, but not the authentic Light of the Soul say those who have seen beyond its frightful form. But then we are not merely souls. The soul is indeed our true identity but we also assume a body and all that goes along with it. So, does it mean that apart from our soul, nothing will ever escape it? That all is foredoomed since the very beginning and amidst this grand dance of destruction, this grim specter of a universal collapse, the only thing that stands immortal is the naked soul divested of all its vestures? 

If that were so, then life and creation would not be an act of God or of a deeper wisdom and love, but an accident and an aberration arising as a momentary bubble upon the Infinite’s Timeless sea. 

Not so, we are told by Sri Aurobindo. The destiny of the individual and of the earth is not the doom of death but the crown of conscious immortality. An Infinite wisdom and love has built this world out of Itself and an Infinite wisdom and love shall save it from doom and death. [...]

The ancient wisdom speaks to our modern hearts and lures us to the whispers of the gods. Out of the ruins of the past, the forms of the newer creation rise. Out of the pyre and the grave arises our deathless form defying annihilation’s script, defying adverse fate. 

But who has seen this?
And who really knows?
As for us, only a giant Ignorance and a dumb unthinking stillness surrounds us. And who can pierce this darkness?
Not we in our present collective littleness. We can do nothing but cry and want and weep. We can do little except bear with a heavy and grudging heart the tragedies of time. Are we not ourselves bubbles and waifs upon Time’s sea? 

The answer to this is also the answer to our fate. If we truly are nothing but this, then surely we have to somehow bear our fate in the hands of a cruel destiny. [...] Alok Pandey 
This is a non-affiliated site, run by and for devotees and followers of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. The site features talks and writings of Alok Pandey and Mangesh Nadkarni, as well as some other materials, directly related to Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. To stay current on new posts, please subscribe to a weekly newsletter
http://auromaa.org/subscribe/ - Follow us on: – Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuroMaa.Org– Google+: www.google.com/+AuroMaa– YouTube: www.youtube.com/c/AuroMaa– Twitter: www.twitter.com/AuroMaa_org– Vimeo: www.vimeo.com/livingwords
Listening Off-Line - For off-line listening please use the links below. MP3 files are grouped into ZIP archives, 150 to 250 MB each.
Other Disciples & Devotees:

Is there a destiny, and can we change it?
It is often assumed that whatever happens to us in life has already been decided by God. It is as if God prepares a schedule of events for our stay in the world while our soul is getting embodied. This divine document, which is kept secret from us, is our destiny. While faith in destiny is almost universal, opinions on the extent to which it actually determines the course of our life, and the extent to which we can change our destiny, differ widely. At one extreme are those who do not believe in destiny, and think that our own actions alone determine what happens to us. This opinion typically belongs to young, intelligent and rational persons. However, their supreme confidence does not usually survive the erratic and unpredictable course of life. At the other extreme are those who not only believe in destiny but also insist that it just cannot be changed. But even the most staunch believers in destiny do not think that destiny determines every minor detail of our life. For example, few would think that if I add today one spoon of sugar to my tea instead of the usual two, it is because the change was a part of my destiny. The truth about destiny is complex, and all diverse points of view have a grain of truth but none of them probably is the whole truth.

The scientific counterpart of destiny is a combination of genes and the environment. These two together determine our capabilities, behaviour, susceptibility to disease, and many other characteristics. Since we have apparently no role in choosing our parents and the environment in which we grow up, a lot that happens to us is beyond our control. Destiny is as good as a name as any, which we may give to the entity that controls the uncontrollable in our lives.

It seems that the broad outline of our life is pre-determined, but the details are left to us. The details that are left to us give us plenty of opportunities for exercising our freewill. Freewill gives us the freedom to make choices. The choices that we make have two principal consequences. The most critical result of the choices that we make is the effect of these choices on spiritual growth, or the level of consciousness. Within the same situation, the choice that we make determines whether we rise or fall in consiousness. The other result of the choices, specially major choices such as choosing a career or the person whom we marry, is that the choices determine in a big way the conditions and circumstances we will get in the years to come. The conditions that we get are often attributed to destiny. Thus our destiny is being rewritten during life by the choices we make. To illustrate this point, if on the road we come across a T-junction, we have a choice to make. The choice that we make has two consequences. First, depending on the choice we make, we go towards or away from our destination. In life, the choice that leads to spiritual growth takes us towards the goal of life. Secondly, on the choice that we make depends the scenery that we will find around us. In life, on the choice that we make depend the conditions and circumstances that we get in life. For example, when Arvind Kejriwal was with the Income Tax Department, he was at a T-junction, the choices being whether to continue or to quit. By quitting, he took one big leap towards the goal of life. Secondly, the conditions that he would have got for further spiritual growth would have been quite different for him in the Income Tax Department as compared to what they are in politics. That corresponds to the scenery.

Irrespective of the choices we make, the experiences in store for us are generally a mixture of those perceived as pleasant and those perceived as unpleasant. We get both these types of experience because we need both for fulfilling the purpose of life, which is spiritual growth. If all were going well, life would become for most of us so interesting, absorbing and entertaining that we would forget the purpose of life. On the other hand, if everything keeps going wrong with life, most of us would go into a deep depression, and again the purpose of life would remain unfulfilled. If this basic fact of life is understood, not only can we remain calm in all circumstances, but we can also use all experiences for growing spiritually, for it is possible to grow through so-called good fortune as well as through misfortune.

If the circumstances we get in life are a mixture of ‘pleasant’ and ‘unpleasant’ irrespective of the choices we make, how does it matter what choice we make? It matters in at least two ways. First, good choices take us towards the goal of life, bad choices take us away from the goal of life. Secondly, good choices give us lasting mental peace, whereas bad choices make us uneasy, and the uneasiness may sometimes continue to haunt us for years. This raises another question, how can we make out good choices from bad. The best choices come from the deepest Self, and are communicated to us by our inner voice. In order to identify this voice, we should ask ourselves which of the options we have will give us immense joy and leave us in lasting mental peace. That is the best option, irrespective of how many rational arguments we can find against it. Further, learning to contact our deepest Self, which is the Divine in us, also helps us pray sincerely if conditions in life become too painful. Sincere and intense prayer can also make a difference to the subsequent conditions we get in life. As the Mother has said, “be always at the summit of your consciousness and the best will always happen to you…. the individual can at least, when he is confronted by a danger or a critical situation, call upon his highest destiny by aspiration, prayer and trustful surrender to the divine will. Then in proportion to the sincerity of his call, this higher destiny intervenes favourably in the normal destiny of the being and changes the course of events insofar as they concern him personally”. Sri Aurobindo has also said that destiny depends on “powers and forces of which for human life at least, human will, aspiration and faith are not among the least important”. 

Thus, we start life with a range of possibilities. What actually happens within that range is determined partly by our actions, which include our sincere aspirations and prayers. Our actions may exaggerate, minimize or substitute the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ things that are destined to happen to us in life. Thus we do have a destiny, but it is neither detailed nor indelible. This is true of destiny at the ‘micro’ level. At the ‘macro’ level, we all have the same final destiny: to unite with the Divine. The variations in the destiny at the ‘micro’ level, over which we have partial control, only affect how long we shall take to achieve our final destiny, and how zigzag our path will be.
Author: Ramesh 

On 21 Jun 2017 16:14, "Vasavada, Kashyap V" wrote:
Dear Colin,

You have an interesting model. At the moment I am open to all ideas about quantum mechanics, sentient observations and their relation to particle interactions which have been explained in terms of physics. Understanding of these topics is a long way off and a big job! However let me make few remarks anyway. I actually like the idea of particles having some kind of (hidden, unexpressed as Biologists would say) consciousness or qualia. Somehow this qualia is switched on when particles interact with each other even in absence of a sentient observer. Consciousness is perhaps distributed in the whole universe starting from particles, then to rocks, plants, bacteria, animals and eventually culminating to a highest degree in humans, I have to admit though that most scientists would laugh at this idea. It is not clear if one can establish this scientifically. If someone could, there is a guaranteed Nobel Prize waiting for that! You may be reading comments on this blog for and against this idea.

Anyway, seriously, I have one suggestion. You may want to replace particle positions in your discussion of Qualia with spins, not that anything is wrong with positions model. A position wave packet even for a free particle (in absence of any interaction) spreads as time goes by. Spins are discrete and quantized and easier to deal with, both theoretically and experimentally. Assume that you have prepared a beam of electrons in a superposed state: (0.8(spin up) + 0.6 (spin down)). QM says that any observer at any time may get either spin up or spin down. But by the time million electrons are measured and all the results are added up, you will find 640,000 spin up and 360,000 spin down, by Born rule since squares of wave functions are used in probabilities.

This will happen whether the experimentalist is a Nobel laureate in physics or a simple illiterate villager who is taught to press buttons, but otherwise does not know what he is doing. If you want to relate it to qualia (not intelligence or Ph.Ds.), then both of these persons should have built in knowledge of Born rule in their brain, may be by evolution. Or it is just a law of nature which electrons follow. Remember, until 20th century, people did not know about this though Qualia was there all the time for millions of years. Individually it is a subjective event, but after experiments with large number of similarly prepared systems, the final result is predictable and agrees with experiments. In fact, this makes QM a science in spite of subjectivity. So the property may be more related with particles than with our consciousness. But I am not sure. I understand, according to you, qualia of particles and qualia of humans are related. OK. But how and why? Does our brain know about laws of nature through evolution or some deep seated subconscious intuitive knowledge? Most of the time, evolution dealt with survival which did not need knowledge of QM! This is the confusing part.

So, as far as I see, the main problems are
(1) role of conscious observers in the universe (more so in quantum situations).
(2) Whether consciousness can be understood as a QM phenomenon and
(3) how consciousness plays its role in describing laws of nature which should be applicable to both animate and inanimate objects.

Best Regards.

Dear Kashyap,

The problem with the idea of consciousness residing in a rock or tree,  etc,  is that such a view suggests there ought to be a consciousness throughout a human body.  Although many of us may think that is what we are,  science clearly shows that we can only be something in the brain. There are many notable differences between our patterns of sensory qualia and the patterns formed by the sensory stimuli they appear to represent,  and seemingly purposeful differences like colour constancy could only have been brought about by the brain. Of course,  that does not mean that there ain't a consciousness extending throughout the body. But if there is one wonders why the brain couldn't have adapted that one rather than going to all the bother of evolving an internal one that feels somewhat similar.

As far as I can see, there is no justification for attributing the status of being a single consciousness to anything other than a single quantum system - a system isolated from interactions that carry information about it into the outside world. It is when properties become indeterminate that nature needs a consciousness to randomly choose their values. It is this need that makes it justified to posit the existence of consciousnesses to do this job,  and that need does not normally arise at the level of macroscopic structures like rocks and trees.  Although there will be many such consciousnesses in a rock or a tree,  I think it is unlikely that the experiences of any of these consciousnesses will co-vary with anything that happens to the surface of the rock or tree.  Hence none of them will feel like the rock or tree making it unreasonable to call the rock or tree conscious.

As far as spins are concerned,  you are probably right in thinking it will be easier to imagine a neurophysical system that can precisely manipulate spin states.  However,  my motivation for Position Selecting Interactionism comes from the need to account for the subjective visual image (and the equally precise body image) as a product of positive natural selection.  Although it may be possible to conceive of a particle that selects from a 3-d space of all its possible spin orientations, I think it would be practically impossible to specify a set of selection pressures that would lead to the probabilities of these spin states varying in a way that formed patterns in that mathematical space closely resembling those of retinal or touch stimuli.  If, on the other hand, the space we experience is the configuration space of a single quantum particle, it is quite possible to conceive of structures evolving that could adjust the probabilities of all those potential positions in response to sensory stimuli in a way that does reflect the original spatial patterns of the stimuli impinging on the sense organs.  My book (THE BLIND MINDMAKER) describes exactly how that could happen.

Since we can't have a vacuum in a brain structure, I am hopeful that a diffusional process of the sort proposed by Matthew J.  Donald in Quantum theory and the Brain will allow the position of some kind of largish molecule or ion channel to become indeterminate within a particular region of brain tissue from which no info about the particle's location can escape. That is because I suspect only a largish particle would have the capacity to trigger a neural event that registers its position (but I am open to other ideas on this).

Best wishes,
June 21, 2017
C.  S.  Morrison - Author of THE BLIND MINDMAKER: Explaining Consciousness without Magic or Misrepresentation.

To view this discussion on the web visit

No comments:

Post a Comment