One might have hoped that CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, who has a kind, gentle manner, and who is an American with an Indian background, might be more in tune with the tradition of ahimsa. Promoting fish farming in the oceans on his program The Next List, on September 9, 2012, isn’t going to do anything to help the world’s hunger problems.
Alleviating the hunger crisis can be done by humans eating less meat (less of all kinds of meat, including seafood, fish, and chicken) and fewer dairy products – and relying more on plant-based diets. We’d be healthier too.
Helping the planet (and ourselves, because we live here as well) won’t be accomplished by imprisoning fish or by further extending humanity’s sphere of dominance over the seas as well as the land. Since we’ve usurped and destroyed much of the earth already – air, water, and land – and killed most of the fish in the sea, it might be good to leave the remaining fish alone to live in peace.
Brian Greene’s “The Illusion of Time, part of the series “The Fabric of the Cosmos” aired Sunday evening, July 22, 2012, on “Nova” on PBS. Here’s a summary, followed by a couple of thoughts.
“Time is not what it seems…There may be no distinction between the past, present, and future.” Discoveries in quantum physics suggest that time is entirely different from how we perceive it to be in our daily lives.
All cultures, including very ancient ones, have found time fascinating. The Maya for example calculated time with three different, interrelated calendars; for the sun, the moon, and Venus.
In our search to measure time, the rotation of the earth and its revolution around the sun became our first clock.
Today, instead of measuring the earth’s rotation, the atomic clock measures the frequency of the cesium atom, which, in one second ticks 9 billion, 192 million times.
Asking the question, “Time is a mystery. What is it we’re actually measuring?” Brian Greene recalled the work of Einstein.
For Newton, time had been absolute and immutable. But with Einstein, time is experienced differently by each of us, and is affected by motion through space and time. Time and space are linked, and one person’s time is not the same as another’s. Although time moves more slowly for a person in motion, this is not something that we can observe in our everyday lives, but scientific experiments have proven that this is true.
By an experiment in which a jet plane circled the earth and time was measured by atomic clocks on the plane and on the ground, it was demonstrated that time moved more slowly on the plane, which was in motion, than it did on the earth.
The sharp differentiation that we make between past, present and future is an illusion because, Brien Greene explained, according to Einstein, “Time and space are fused together as space/time.”
In a different galaxy thousands of light years distant, an alien who is riding on a bicycle away from us, would not (assuming that he could look at us through his telescope) see us as we are in the present; instead he would see us in the past – perhaps during the time of Beethoven. If the same alien were riding towards us on his bicycle, he would see us, not in the present, but in the future – perhaps as we will be 200 years from now. So, says Brian Greene, “Past, present, and future are all equally real….the future is not non-existent….Einstein shattered the distinction between past, present, and future.”
Just as, in a movie, every frame already exists on film, the flow of time, from a past that exists to a future that does not yet exist, is an illusion.
Though we think of wormholes as something belonging to science fiction, Einstein’s equations actually predict them, and they would provide gateways through both space and time. Perhaps even if we don’t jump into them, we might just peer through them as a window to view what is far, far away, what has been, or what will be.
One of the most puzzling aspects of time is that it is one directional, though there is theoretically no reason why time should not flow in both directions. There is simply the fact that it doesn’t. The laws of physics do say in fact that time could go backwards, so the question asked is “Why doesn’t it?” If one drops a wine glass and it shatters, one can’t reverse the action and have all the pieces streaming back together again. Our lives go irreversibly in one direction, which leads to the question, “What is responsible for the arrow of time?”
Entropy is randomness, meaning that everything has a tendency to move toward disorder, like the pages of a book that fall apart, but do not fall back together again.
Billowing smoke becomes disordered. Degrees of messiness increase.
This problem of the directionality of time seems to be solved by taking entropy into account. The arrow of time comes from the tendency of nature to move towards increasing disorder. If one goes all the way back to the Big Bang, one arrives at a highly ordered situation.
At a single moment at the beginning, all matter was compressed neatly into one single point, all precisely ordered. After that came the beginning of disorder. The universe expanded and spread out. It can’t be put back, like the genie can’t be put back into the lamp. So, at the Big Bang, the arrow of time was given its direction toward disorder. “Time is a 13.7 billion year old drive toward disorder.”
Scientists, who used to assume that the expansion of the universe was slowing over time, had a rude awakening a few years ago, with the discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating – going faster and faster, and the galaxies are hurtling away from each other. One day, our descendants will see no other galaxies, and the cosmic past will be out of reach. Eventually there will be no movement and no time. Brian Greene summed it up by saying, “The flow of time is an illusion…We are part of a far richer and far stranger reality.”
A thought or two
“The Illusion of Time” is very fascinating and brilliantly presented, though it does come to a rather grim ending. (We can’t, of course, hold scientists responsible for how the universe ends.)
However, interestingly, the idea that time and space are illusory is not new at all. It is at least 5,000 years old – maybe 10,000 – maybe it is a timeless concept that has always been there.
The ancient texts of India describe time and space as illusory, as maya, having the appearance of reality, but not having the quality of ultimate reality. We do not see the world as it truly is because of the veil of maya, just as, on a cloudy day, we do not see the sun hidden behind the cloud cover. We do not see the true nature of time and space, until the veil is removed from our eyes.
Concerning the concept of entropy, long ago Hindu seers wrote that there are four ages – each on a lower, baser level than the last, until one arrives at the fourth, last age, the Kali Yuga, the age where we find ourselves now—an age of dishonesty, corruption, and negativity. This is an example of entropy – of traveling inexorably from order to disorder.
The concept of time as linear is, by and large, a western concept. In eastern thought, time tends to be not linear, but cyclical. The four ages, the yugas, are one day in the life of Brahma, the Creator. At the end of this day, Brahma goes to sleep, and then at dawn he awakens, ready to start a new day composed of another four ages. Of course it’s somewhat more complicated, but that is a rough outline of what happens. The four ages are one day in the life of Brahma.
This concept has a few things to be said for it – for one, it is not grim; for another, it has not only a poetic quality, but also a truthful quality. And it transcends the problem of being stuck in a purely physical reality.
Brian Greene is a brilliant physicist who has taken us on an amazing journey into a strange world, a very thought-provoking journey.
Physicists of today are by no means limiting themselves to a linear view, quite the contrary. There is the concept of multiverses. (Brian Greene examines this in other programs, as part of the “Fabric of the Cosmos” series.) This is the idea that there may not be just one universe, but countless or infinite parallel worlds; and one individual may exist in many of these at the same time or different times. Have you ever felt that you were in more than one place?
A book that takes a look at this possibility is “2012” by Whitney Strieber.
It’s basically a horror novel, but if you don’t mind the horror bits too much (I did actually mind, but found the book intriguing anyway), it is fascinating reading.
Then, from another angle altogether, there is the legend of the Chinese general who lost a very important battle. It is said that the reason he lost the battle is that many years later, mistakes were made in the liturgy of his funeral. The mistakes caused his life to be less auspicious and therefore led to the loss of the battle. I suppose, if we are not too confused already, we could meditate on this as an alternate view of time and destiny.
In all societies of the past, ancient spiritual traditions recognized many levels of reality. There is the material level of everyday life where we walk along on our journey from day to day, but there are also the broader, more sunlit levels above, of mystical or magical realities from which we see with different eyes – seeing farther and more clearly—beyond the bounds of time and space. The things we cannot see from this earthly level, can be seen from other levels, as if we are looking out the window of an airplane or riding on a magic bird that flies above the clouds.
Top photo: Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration / A star-forming region known as N90, on the outskirts of the Small Magellanic Cloud.
Second photo: NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University). Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble) / The Crab Nebula. Observers in China and Japan recorded the supernova nearly 1,000 years ago, in 1054
Third photo: Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team / The Orion Nebula
Fourth photo: Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI) / The Carina Nebula: The Mystic Mountain
For more Hubble images and information, click here.
For more on the Nova series, “The Fabric of Time”, click here.
Having just written about the pros and cons of the Egg Products Bill now in the U.S. Congress, one is led necessarily to a broader thought about our treatment of animals. The underlying difficulty, of course, is that we, as the human race, do prey on other species, with little thought or concern for their well-being. Rather than getting better, the fate of the billions of animals sacrificed in factory farming simply grows worse over time, with greater suffering on the part of the animals.
The explosion in the human population of our planet, the “advances” of technology, the entrenched behavior patterns of the developed world and the economic rise of the developing world, all conspire to ensure that this trend will continue – like an unstoppable, relentless march.
Influencing the nature of human beings, bit by bit, a few at a time, which is certainly being done, even very successfully, by the countless dedicated groups and individuals at work throughout the world, through education and raising levels of awareness – is very much work worth doing. It awakens the consciousness of a few humans, greatly alleviates the suffering of some animals, lessens the misery of many, and brings a better life to a few. Helping a few of the earth’s animals is far, far better than doing nothing or than helping no animals at all. If we can help only one in a hundred, then let us focus on that one.
However, as we all suspect, though we are probably not saying so out loud – we are not actually winning in the battle to modify human nature, and there is no actual indication that any winning is going to happen ever on a grand scale. (Though there is no denying that change for the better happens often, even dramatically, on a more modest scale.) If the human race were, on the whole, becoming more compassionate and more enlightened with each passing year, surely we would be noticing fewer, less violent wars; kinder, more civil conduct; and a steady diminution of suffering for animals and for humans. But none of this is happening.
This may sound fatalistic and entirely depressing, but there is no need for depression at all. These are just the facts, and seeing them allows one to step beyond a level of mystery and confusion. “Human progress” is a myth, and a confusing myth at that.
If we seek clarity, we’d do better to focus on another perspective – on being open to any insight from almost anywhere and almost any other time, except here. Any insight that may arrive from other worlds, other visions, other dimensions, or from the most ancient civilizations on our own planet – from their perceptions and realities, often so profoundly forgotten, which may lead us back to a kinder world, would be welcome.
This concept, though at first glance it may seem irrelevant and incomprehensible, is the link between the search for wisdom in ancient cultures and the doomed and bereft state of our own current existence as humans. The pathway lies elsewhere, not here in our hollow, modern perceptions, and elsewhere is where we need to look.
It is noteworthy that many ancient traditions see the world as manifesting in several succeeding worlds, in cycles. As one world comes to an end, another begins. As the most degenerate and cruel age is dissolved finally into nothingness, then a kinder, more noble age is born. It would seem that this would be the direction to look in to glimpse the way through the fogs of the desolation of our present age.
Photo: Lip Kee Yap / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.” / “Red Junglefowl at Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India.” The Red Junglefowl of India is the ancestor of the domestic chicken.
Did you know that sub-atomic particles can communicate with each other instantaneously over a distance?
Well, they can.
If you think about it, this is kind of amazing.
In quantum physics, there is something that physicists call “entanglement”, which refers to the relationship between two sub-atomic particles. (I don’t understand this very well, so one or two details may be amiss, but you can read more about it at
All this is interesting because of the implications of the theory. A number of actual physical experiments have been conducted, the Bell test experiments, which scientifically proved this.
Sub-atomic particles have a spin – either clockwise or counterclockwise – and this can be measured. When two particles are “entangled” or connected, one will have a spin opposite to that of the other. When the spin of the first one is changed, say from clockwise to counterclockwise, then the spin of the other will automatically reverse as well.
Now the really weird thing is that this happens even when they are not near each other. It happens across distances. In the experiments that have been done, in which the spin of Particle A is changed from one direction to the opposite – the spin of Particle B, which has been moved to several kilometers away, then changes automatically, by itself, at the exact same moment in time – even though there is no possible line of communication between the two. Somehow information has passed instantaneously, faster than the speed of light, from one particle to the other.
To actually understand this properly and be convinced, you’ll need to read an explanation from an authoritative source, which is not me – so I would suggest you look it up online – or read any of many books on quantum physics or watch any of several TV programs.
In any case, it is an accepted scientific observation in the real world.
These experiments are intriguing – and what seems most intriguing, though this is a leap from the scientific world of measurement to the philosophical world of speculation is that it would seem that the only way to explain this is to say that space and time do not have any absolute existence – indeed that the entire physical universe is not really real in quite the way we have always imagined it to be. This is generally accepted by physicists as true too, since the last time the physical world seemed to actually correspond to the “common sense” way of perceiving it was in the days of Isaac Newton (although even Isaac Newton had his own peculiarities, being obsessed with topics like prophecy and alchemy, but that’s another story).
Anyway, this lack of substantiality of the physical world cannot help but remind one of some of the concepts of ancient Hindu thought that evolved hundreds or thousands of years ago – like the concept of Maya – sometimes translated as “illusion,” but it certainly seems that the concept of Maya is much more complex than that. It is associated with ideas of “magic” and “power” and the bringing into existence of a field of limitations which cause one to see only the physical reality that we live in every day – and to mistake this for the ultimate reality, which we are generally blind to – except in flashes of great, clarifying insight.
The example used often is that of a rope. In the darkness, a rope lying on the ground can be mistaken for a snake, which can be a great cause of fear. But when daylight shines, it is seen clearly to be just a rope.
There are higher levels of reality, and we have glimpses of these – intuitions, inspirations, visions, and dreams – moments of clarity and insight, which come to us from a higher source or a higher world, where the things that are are not at all separate, distinct, and isolated – but where reality is much more fluid, where there are millions of unseen connections, not explainable by the simple laws physics as we think we understand them.
This awareness leads to a perception of art, myth, spiritual traditions, history and prehistory, as having a more profound, more pervasive reality than we might have thought – where “truth” is of a higher level – where we are not isolated individual beings – but instead are all interconnected – where, for example, the environment and the human are not in opposition, but are one – where, ultimately, the trees, the stars, the clouds, the butterflies, the rabbits, and the tigers are not separate from us. We are they, and they are us.
In the end, scientific and mathematical theory and also the knowledge passed down in the most ancient writings point the way in the same direction – that there is a mystical, spiritual reality – that there are levels infinitely more real — clearer, brighter, and more luminous than the foggy world shown to us through the cultural lens of our current world civilization.
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons. “This file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA and ESA.” / (Spiral Galaxy M51, NGC 5194) is a classic spiral galaxy located in the Canes Venatici constellation.
Second photo: / Wikimedia Commons / “This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or fewer.” / Photo of a 1904 painting by Raja Ravi Varma.
Not only is the western world having a few problems – financial, economic, etc., but even in the realms of science, things are looking a little crumbly.
They haven’t been able to find the “God particle,” the existence of which would confirm a lot of modern physics, now they can’t find “dark matter” either — and most recently experiments at Cern in Switzerland — over the past two years – seem to track neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light, thereby violating one of the most basic principles of modern science, formulated by Einstein, that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light!
Oh well, back to the drawing board! How could scientists be so mistaken — or maybe it’s that physical reality is falling apart? Not to be alarming — it’s just a thought. Here’s the link:
After twelve days of fasting in a park in New Delhi, Anna Hazare, (Anna means brother and is a term of respect and affection) brought his fast to an end at around 10 AM Sunday morning, August 28 (Saturday evening in the U.S.) by drinking coconut water with honey.
In the midst of hurricanes, earthquakes, the violent overthrowing of governments, explosions, gunfire, wars, and whatever else is taking the world’s attention, a truly remarkable event has taken place in India. In an astonishing moment in history that has gone largely unnoticed in the west, this one elderly man, solely by the power of his spiritual authority, has dealt a decisive blow to governmental corruption in his country.
Anna Hazare, 74, comes from a humble background, holds no official position, leads an austere life, and has no home of his own. He represents no special interests and has no powerful backers.
In the words of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, a well-known author in India:
Anna (brother) Hazare brought prosperity to his village, Ralegan Siddhi, by practising sustainable use of natural resources. He also stopped the consumption of alcohol, cigarettes and other tobacco products and non-vegetarian food in his village of Ralegan Siddhi by convincing the villagers to do so. He is a great practising environmentalist, who has stopped the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in Ralegan Siddhi. He is a simple man who owns nothing – no house, no land. He lives in a temple in his village and lives on his army pension. He has no bank balance.
Anna Hazare dropped out of the seventh grade in school due to poverty. He became a street fruit seller, till he joined the army as a driver after the Chinese attack of 1962. He is not part of the educated elite.
Several years ago, he formed the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Andolan (Anti-Corruption Movement) and has sent several politicians in Maharashtra to jail by “fasting unto death”. The Congress should have known that he would do the same this time too.
The arrest of Anna Hazare – first in April, followed by the latest arrest in August – has set off one of the most widespread mass movements in India, after Independence and the India Emergency in 1975-77, and shaken the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government….They called him corrupt – that did not stick. They said he had been thrown out of the army. The army denied it and said that he had been discharged after retirement and had received several honours. They arrested and took him to Tihar jail – where the corrupt and the killers are kept – and then tried to release him when the mobs surrounded the jail. He refused to leave the jail till the government agreed to let him fast indefinitely with no conditions. The government was forced to accede.
Over the past few days, we have been witness to innumerable demonstrations and marches in almost every neighborhood in Delhi, and in every city and town in India. There are huge crowds at the Ramlila grounds 24×7, where he is fasting – in public… even Chennai has witnessed huge crowds of support. Contrary to the general propaganda, this is not merely a middle class movement. The public outrage at the scandal-a-day record of governments of all political hues and the groundswell of support for concrete action culminating in the Lokpal debate is a welcome sign for our democracy. An old man has the youth of this country following him, taking leave from schools, colleges, and offices and supporting his movement in different ways. Amazing!
Most importantly, there has been no rioting, no violence. India has lived up to its heritage of ahimsa. Anna is surrounded by the singing of bhajans (religious songs) and cries of Inquilab zindabad (Long live freedom), Jai hind (Victory to India), Vande mataram (the national song of India,) and Bharat Mata ki jai (Victory for Mother India). There is 24-hour live TV coverage of this movement. We are watching history being made.
He and his associates want the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill) to replace the useless Lokpal Bill proposed by the government.
Anna proves that there is still hope left in a morally degraded world.
In every corner of India, massive demonstrations in support of this improbable figure have been characterized by candlelight vigils, peaceful marches, and the chanting of songs. Many have joined him in his fast.
Having fasted for many days, despite his growing physical weakness, the loss of around fifteen pounds (seven kilos), and the mounting concerns over his health by his doctors and followers, Anna refused to end his fast until all the anti-corruption measures he sought were guaranteed by government officials.
On Saturday Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a letter to Anna, agreeing in principle to all of his demands. The Indian Parliament has voted to accept his demands, though formal laws must be still put into place.
There had been a fear that Anna might fast to the death, and when, with typical humility, he stood up to speak on Saturday, asking the crowd’s permission to end his fast, they were filled with a great sense of joy, as was nearly all of India.
Anna’s anti-corruption campaign, which began in his village, Ralegan Siddhi, has spread throughout India. The major thrust of the campaign is to institute not just an ombudsman who would report to the government (which wouldn’t accomplish much, and would be like the foxes guarding the hen house), but what he calls a citizen’s ombudsman, Jan Lokpal – that is an ombudsman who has the authority to look independently into, and take action against, corruption on every level from the prime minister to lower public officials.
Why is there an outcry against corruption in India? (This is our problem in the west too, though we do not see it quite so clearly.)
Just about everywhere in the world, there is corruption, and public servants can be bought. (In the U.S. where we are fond of euphemisms, we don’t talk much about corruption. Corruption is here though; sometimes it is legal, well-regulated, and is known by more delicate names, like “campaign financing”). In India, less artfully, but more honestly, “corruption” is just called “corruption.”
All the same though, it is truly a widespread epidemic in India and is the cause of great suffering and inefficiency.
Corruption is a real, but hidden, reason why so many things just don’t seem to work in India. Laws are not enforced. City streets are not kept clean.
The effect of corruption on around a billion people in India, both the poor and the middle class, is oppressive, exhausting, and disheartening – little can be accomplished without paying a bribe or a kick-back. It’s not just a minor inconvenience; it can turn life into a painful obstacle course.
The environmental effect is catastrophic. In a land where people love animals, where there is an age-old tradition of sacred rivers, sacred trees, sacred forests, sacred mountains, and sacred animals – actually all of nature is worshipped in Indian tradition – it seems nothing can be done to save the environment—despite the presence of one of the most active and committed environmental movements in the world.
Tiger poachers can never be caught and thrown into jail, and so the tiger is widely thought to be doomed. Why? The answer comes down to corruption.
Cow slaughter is illegal in all but two Indian states, yet thousands of cows are slaughtered illegally. Laws against cow slaughter are not enforced because of corruption.
Great tracts of land are being destroyed by mega-companies. The air is unbreathable. There is poverty, the depth of which is hard to comprehend. Anything that could be done to change all this cannot be done because corruption stands like a roadblock in the way.
Injustice and hypocrisy, the underpinnings of corruption, have a way of turning people’s impulse towards life, growth, and transformation into dust and ashes. Corruption is profoundly demoralizing, and kills all it comes into contact with.
The lack of any redress causes, in turn, countless societal ills, and the whole country lives under a blanketing haze caused by the corruption of certainly not all, but a great many public officials.
Anna’s solution – a citizen’s ombudsman, with the power to hold officials accountable –would go far to lift this cloud of oppression.
Naturally, there have been countless objections to his proposal from law-makers and civil servants, including the charge that such an independent body might have the power to upset things. Upsetting the status quo and the entrenched reign of corruption is, of course, precisely the intent.
In an amazing and courageous campaign, Anna, backed up by his team, and supported by hundreds of millions throughout India who came out into the streets to show their support, has against all odds, won. He has won, not with bullets or violence, but by the oldest of Indian traditions – the self-sacrifice of fasting. Only in India could this happen.
Truly, this is a victory, not just for this one saintly man, and not just for his loyal followers and all of India, but for all of us — of truth over lies, of goodness over deceit, of courage over cowardice — of all that is spiritual over greed and fear.
In the west, comforted by our cars and our refrigerators, it can be easy to live oblivious to all the injustice, corruption, and the destruction of the natural world that surrounds us too. The problem is worldwide. Greed and fear rule and destroy the planet.
It is fitting that this act of heroism and this victory has taken place in India – a land whose history stretches back into the mists of time, before the world that we now know ever came into being –which, despite its problems and its all-too-glaring faults, is a land that has never abandoned its shining legacy of saints and holiness, of sacrifice and kindness, of great courage and wisdom, of spiritual leadership, and its abiding love of the eternal, the true, and the sacred.
Anna has not claimed victory, though the government has promised all the changes he demanded. He has seen too many times how promises made can be reneged on.
Yet this is a profound turning point in the era in which we live, where it seems so often that the forces of self-aggrandizement and corruption are gaining hold at every turn — that one man has stood up for the truth and has won.
There may yet be hemming and hawing, foot dragging, and even defeats and cataclysms. None of us can know which way the road will turn or what lies ahead.
Yet this is a great victory of truth and courage, not just for India, but in a way not yet fully seen, it is a victory for all the peoples of the earth.
Wherever the road may lead, what is certain is that there is a great light of truth shining through the darkness, one that is heaven-sent and can never be extinguished.
Top photo: Mnsanthoshkumar / Dreamstime.com / August 21, 2011, Anti-corruption protest, Freedom Park, Bangalore
Other photos: Sharon St Joan
Here are some websites, to learn more, recommended by Dr. Krishna:
In the U.S. our debt is owed to the Chinese, the Japanese, the Brits, and our next-door-neighbors. Our debt is big enough so that if we put dollar bills end to end, they could reach to the moon and back about three thousand times.
This though is not in any way the full extent our debt. As humans, we owe a debt to the planet earth for having harmed the forests, the oceans, the air, the animals, the plants, the mountains, the climate, and then so many of the peoples of the earth, indigenous peoples who are now long gone or, more or less, hanging on by a thread, who once had languages, art, histories, sacred places, and culture.
Our existence on the planet has not been a blessing to everyone else who lives here.
Over the past few months, we have watched escalating turmoil or transformation (depending on one’s perspective) afoot on the four corners of the earth, and this may end well or badly—or both – again, depending on which side of the fence we are on.
The state of our global pocket book is part of this wild ride.
Imagine for a moment that all economic activity has ground to a halt, then after a while, a short time or a long time, there will be no more rings of space debris encircling the earth, no more plastic trash clogging the oceans and the streets, no more slaughterhouses, no more research labs, no more pollution draining into streams and rivers, no more of the black rider of death who gallops across the earth doing away with all in his path.
What will there be then? No one knows. There may be great swathes of burned continents left behind in the wake of this rider of death. But maybe there will be flowers that emerge to dance in the meadows, striped fish that play among the river rocks, or chickens that once again can spread their wings in the jungle. Maybe.
So, as we watch the stock markets of world teetering across our television screen, if we catch flashes before our eyes of our diminishing lifestyle and the prospect of standing on a street corner, tin cup in hand, there is a reason not to be overcome with fear and doom, but to be joyful. A reason that we may not instantly welcome —a reason that we may find alarming in the night – but a reason all the same.
Because with the end of this skeletal rider will come release and freedom for the earth—for the cows, the deer, the turtles in the sea, for the eagles that would like to breathe pure air and fly through white clouds, for the dandelions that would like to peek out through the snow, for the moon that would like to shine bright in the clear night sky. And whether all these events take place on an earth reborn and re-awakened, or whether they happen on different worlds, in other dimensions, or in the landscapes of heaven, somewhere they will happen.
There is one option left yet to try—and that is an economy based on the restoration of the earth, rather than on trampling it under foot. And whether one wins or loses in this endeavor is not the question; as it says in the Hindu scriptures, one is not to be attached to the fruit of one’s actions. Walking on the path that gives life, rather than death, is the way to go.
Is it possible that people may play a part in a magical new beginning, may walk by the sea listening to the waves fall on the shore without envisioning recreating Miami Beach or live again in the forests with the birds and the animals, without harming the trees and without taking over more land than is their share?
One way or another, the consciousness that has worshipped the radiance of the tumbling waters, the shining sunlight, and the beings of the heavens will do so again—on one earth or another, on one level or another. Those who have hands will offer a drink to the thirsty fawn, and those who see the spirit world will give the gifts of peace and beauty and a link to the worlds of the stars.
In the meantime there is the debt that will be paid, the great cosmic ocean that will be churned again, the great unsettling of the world as we have known it, and the dismantling of the armies of iron riders that have plundered the earth.
In some countries people burn cities, in others they stage revolutions, in some places there are civil wars, in some the government kills thousands of civilians, in others mobs loot stores. In a world of instability, only in India does someone inspire massive protests by threatening to fast to the death.
The paintings in the Lascaux Cave in the south of France, in the department of Dordogne, are believed to date back 17, 300 years. Inside the cave, in the Hall of the Bulls are many equines; among them paintings of aurochs, a species of cow now extinct, ancestor to the varieties of modern cows.
The painting of one of the bulls is 17 feet long and is the longest cave art animal anywhere. The paintings in the cave, because of the presence of visitors (the visitors’ breath has affected the air) have been damaged by fungi, and in 1983 a different cave was constructed for visitors with replicas of two of the cave halls.
The earliest cave paintings in Europe go back around 35,000 years.
Reverence for bulls was widespread in the ancient world – in Paleolithic times and on into Neolithic times – and up to today as well.
In the book of Exodus, in the Bible, is told the story of the Hebrews returning to the practice of worshiping the Golden Calf while Moses was up on the mountain collecting the ten commandments. Moses wasn’t pleased to see the image of the Golden Calf when he got back, and he smashed the ten commandments in anger when he saw it.
Still, worship of the bull cropped up again and again, both before and after the time of Moses.
The Babylonian god Marduk is called the Bull of Utu. In the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, the heroes are often referred to as “bulls”.
In Mesopotamian mythology, Gugalanna was the Bull of Heaven. The word “gu” meant bull and was of the same origin as the Sanskrit word ”go” or “gau” meaning “cow”. “Cow” comes from these earlier words. The bull Gugulanna was associated with the constellation Taurus (the Bull), which from 3,200 BC held the place where the Spring Equinox occurred in the northern hemisphere.
The myth tells us that the bull Gugulanna was killed by Gilgamesh (the Sumerian Noah). Gilgamesh was linked to the light of the sun, and when the streams of sunlight rose at the Spring Equinox, they overcame the starlight of the constellation of Gugulanna, which then became invisible, thus “killing” Gugulanna.
The bull, whose horns are shaped like a crescent moon, has been associated with the moon.
When I visited the Minoan ruins in Crete in the summer of 1969, I recall looking at a stone block, one of many there with carved bulls’ horns, and noticing for the first time the unique importance of the bull to ancient cultures. The bulls’ horns were everywhere.
The aurochs, the ancestor of today’s cattle, both western and eastern, became extinct when the last of the aurochs, a female, died in 1627, in the Jaktorow Forest in Poland. Authorities at the Paleontologisk Museum, University of Oslo, believe that the aurocks first appeared in India two million years ago, and from there spread throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
It is thought that South Asian, including Indian, cattle descended from a sub-species of aurochs who lived at the edge of the Thar Desert which lies across Rajasthan and Pakistan. These Indian cows have a hump and have a very elegant, distinctive look.
Western cows do not have a hump and are known as taurine cattle. Aurochs were much larger than all modern cows; the males were black, and the females reddish.
Aurochs also spread to North Africa, and the cattle of the ancient Egyptians may have descended from them.
Throughout the centuries, the bull has been both worshipped and mistreated.
One might wonder whether the human race has a propensity for killing what it worships – from the sacred bull to the life and death of Jesus. To be fair, it may not only be humans who behave that way. Among all mammal species, males engage in battle with each other. And any male who seems to stand above the others becomes a target—to be feared or to be attacked in order to take his place. (Having the top place seems to be a pretty essential goal, which can supplant any inclination towards reverence or worship.) Females are not immune from an impulse towards violence, and they also attack when they are defending their young.
Throughout the ancient world the bull was worshipped as a divine being, yet today, one finds in various places extremely cruel rituals that seem designed for young men to prove their dominance over the bull. These ritual “games” seem to have degenerated over time into greater and greater levels of barbarism.
The cruelest of these are festivals put on by the Catholic Church, on feast days of saints, held in Mexico and Spain, in which the bulls are tortured and killed. There are also, of course, the bullfights in Spain, introduced here and there in other countries in Africa, Europe, and Asia. In the western U.S. there are rodeos, also cruel, also exported to other countries. There are attempts taking place now, to introduce rodeos into China.
The slaughter of bulls and cows for food happens all over the world, more in the U.S. than anywhere else, where around 33 million cattle are killed every year. Brazil and China are fast catching up. The pursuit of cattle for food is destroying the planet through climate change and destroying vast tracts of land, as well as native animals like the bison and the wild horse, thousands of whom are being killed by the U.S. government to make way for cattle grazing.
Worship of the bull has tended to devolve over time into torment of the bull.
In the Greek legend, the Minotaur, who is half-man, half-bull, dwells in a labyrinth, and is killed by the hero Theseus.
The Egyptian god Apis, (or Hape, which is closer to the original Egyptian word), was worshipped, and the bulls were mummified and interred in great underground complexes. It is assumed that they were killed.
Bulls and cows are very highly revered in India. I’ll only mention them briefly for now. The fascinating book “Sacred Animals of India” by Dr. Nanditha Krishna, has a great deal of information about them.
In India, the bull Nandi is the beloved vehicle and gatekeeper for the God Shiva. In every Shiva temple throughout south India, there is a figure of the bull Nandi. Nandi is also the leading disciple of Shiva.
At the Brihadeswara Temple, Nandi is immense, majestic, and charming, with a very innocent, rather playful face. The devotee pays his or her respects to Nandi before going into the temple. Nandi is a much loved and revered figure, who would never be harmed.
In a strange contrast, however, there is also in south India, in Tamil Nadu, the cruel practice of jallikattu, in which crowds of young men torment and pursue bulls, often leading to injury to the bulls and to themselves in the process.
What begins as honor, worship, and devotion, can degenerate over the centuries into persecution and killing. Indeed, things tend to take that route.
These observations have taken a gloomy turn, but are not meant to be gloomy. The same fate is befalling all of nature—as we humans, who once worshipped the forests, the trees, and the divine beings who lived in them, have destroyed nearly the whole earth now to make way for ourselves. But of course we cannot live without the earth. Going to live in a colony on Mars or the moon doesn’t really seem like the best option—not for us, and certainly not for Mars and the moon.
Enlightening our fellow human beings and encouraging kindness to animals and to the planet is absolutely well worth doing. It may be the only thing well worth doing, and it will go a long way towards lessoning the immensity of the suffering of many people and many animals.
But as for affecting the fateful course of events and the downward-spiraling destiny of the earth, something else, an approach on a more cosmic scale, seems to be needed to turn the tide or to bring about a new tide—a tide that may go back to the beginning before the origin of cruelty.
In the book “Jung’s Map of the Soul, An Introduction”, Murray Stein recounts the story of an incident that happened with a patient of Jung’s. The patient had a dream of a golden scarab beetle. As they were discussing this, they became aware of a sound outside the window, and when they looked, there was a Swiss version of the same kind of beetle (Cetonia aurate) trying to get into the room.
Referred to as synchronicity, these sorts of events in which an occurrence in the outside world and an occurrence in the inner world mirror each other, have happened to many of us. Sometimes we see them as profoundly meaningful, sometimes we dismiss them as coincidence, sometimes they go unnoticed.
Occurrences like this should come as no surprise to anyone with a knowledge of the Hindu concept that the innermost soul of every being, the atman, “the self” (which is the opposite, generally speaking, of what we in the west consider to be the “self”) is identical to the universal Brahman—who is the great, underlying soul of the universe. (I’m expressing this in my own terms—and there are many, varying schools of philosophy in Hinduism, but this is a primary, and widely accepted thread, that runs throughout Hindu thought.)
One may question whether there is a clear division between the inner world and the outer world. Is there an inner and outer at all? This question flies in the face, not only of the material, atheistic view of the physical world as a sort of stand-alone event, that props itself up with its own laws of physics and has it’s own discrete, independent, unchallengable existence, but it also is quite different from the day-to-day perception that we, to the extent that we subscribe to a modern, western headspace tend to have of the world around us. As modern people, for us, things happen from external causes; events are required to follow the rules laid down by Newtonian physics and, for most of our lives on most days, that is that. The thunderstorm occurs, not because the gods are angry, but because the air currents and humidity are acting in a certain physical way.
Yet even modern physics has overturned this prosaic worldview, decades ago, with quantum physics and other even more arcane theories and concepts. Certainly, going back in time, for most of the societies that have gone before us, the inner world and the outer world are not two distinct happenings. They are intertwined—and life is, or can be, magical, mystical, pervaded with spirits, with numinous presences, with events and atmospheres far more meaningful and profound than the prosaic constructs we have deluded ourselves into seeing as “reality”. The “primitive”, animistic view of tribal people that knows the world as one filled with consciousness—where every stone, river, bird, or mountain is filled with life and awareness may be closer to the truth than our own sophisticated, but destitute, perception of reality.
“Reality” is far grander than anything we might imagine, and God and the gods more real than we might ever have thought possible. The underlying mystical reality of time and eternity far more present and profound than our own carefully-trained blindness has allowed us to see.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / A scarab beetle, for the occasion of the marriage between Amunhotep III and his wife, Queen Tiye