Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ones and Zeroes (Letters to Parth - 17)

My Dear Parth, my Flying Circus,

In a few days you step into 10. Devank turns one today. I wished him for you last night itself.

(He’s dev’ing fast and learning about sleep and hunger, heights and blows, Mia and you. Dadu and Thammi enjoy his company as does he theirs. Of course, none of them can help missing you. We wake up each day believing it to be the day we all meet. Seven indescribably strange years have passed since we last saw you. Meaning or joy cannot change the strangeness or the pain of the years, nor can the knowledge that greater joys lie ahead. Matter of time. Rejoice.)

I have a few daddy blogger friends – they write blogs about their experiences as fathers. I have been too busy playing with Dev to get down to that, but a lot of the stuff they think and write about is very interesting. I really wish I had the dedication or the opportunity to write about these experiences without putting myself into the writing. Since I can’t, I rarely try. Communication is one such real cool thing. How do we learn how to speak? It obviously means we have all the words and their meanings stashed away somewhere in our head. When we grow up as babies in a multilingual environment, we learn to stash them away in separate spaces. We possibly identify one language as our primary language, or the most important one, and I wonder how that gets decided. We link languages to the people who speak them and switch unconsciously to using their language with them. We event invent our own secret groups and languages that only insiders will understand.

Brodsky's Child, Oil on Canvas, 16" x 12" unmounted

People who study brains and computation say all of this stashing away of information happens in ones and zeroes. The basic functional units of our neurological system can create data patterns out of ones and zeroes by using chemical on-off switches. With the help of the body, the mind can also extrapolate this idea of representation in verbal and visual ways – like speaking and writing. The branch of science that deals with these complex but fun things is linguistics and is in many ways related to mathematics.

Art, like writing or music, is also a representational system. Science with its ruthless exaction has proven that some of the greatest art was really a bug in the circuitry. The ones and zeroes were not being read properly. Music is another wonderful area to find ones and zeroes in. Enough already. The world around us is too interesting sometimes to be read in binary.

(Here is a list of things that I started writing to you about and never finished. Charlie Hebdo, the Grecian sadness of digital India, the wave of hate sweeping us and our neighboring nations, my experiment with one year of entrepreneurship, and the future of Andhra Pradesh. Kind of boring. Yabut.)

We live in cruel and prickly times. Like Nichiren keeps saying, that is why we must rejoice, since these are the best times to be in, where we have the maximum potential to make a difference, to learn the right lessons, and to manifest our Buddha nature. The rich have more wealth than they know what to do with while millions around the world are battling displacement, poverty, war, and lack of access to basic needs. We have become more violent and more sensitive than the name human deserves. Our world is being torn apart by religion, greed for power and regionalism. In the process, we have used all our resources to seek pre-eminence at the cost of sustenance.

Governments struggle to be and do what they were meant to be and do, and our leaders offend to defend the indefensible. Even good men live with epithets like the missile man of India, as if that were something to be really thrilled about. Hey, I am the man who armed India with missiles that wipe out half a million each time, much, much more if “nucular.” And though I am dead, I am so happy that that is what I will be remembered for. Not my teaching, not my writing, not even my hairstyle perhaps, but missiles and tea parties with the Sheriff and his deputy. The signs that we have taken the wrong turn in the road way back when are everywhere. The easiest argument to live with is that the system, like a truck, is too heavy, too complex and moving too fast to do anything about it.

Dev studying light through packaged water jars

For those who stand and wonder if they should dare, all one can ask is that they look at the complexity, the vastness and the immutability of cause and effect as they manifest our universe, with every little thing obeisant to it. Then it looks a little simpler, but still huge. To think of bringing positive change to this complex social, political, economic mess that we have created seems daunting, but not when compared to the vastness of the mystic law that makes everything happen everywhere all the time together. Doesn’t it?

It always helps to break problems of any size down to the smallest unit. You will learn about circles of concern and circles of influence. We are concerned about many things but our influence might not be adequate to redress those concerns. Most people deal with this by reducing their circle of concern. While this results in short term pleasure, it triggers off an imbalance within the person’s value system. Strangers need reasons and explanations. Within our inner cosmos, every cell knows the truth about everything. This imbalance, of having to live pretending you are not concerned about certain things, is compensated by behavior that psychologists call guilt. It can manifest in compulsive behaviors like eating, drinking, and doing other things even though they are harmful for you. It can manifest as obsessions that override your physical or emotional needs. You get the picture.

One could of course work on expanding one’s circle of influence so that concerns can be addressed. One could study hard and rise to a position of eminence where one can impact policy and get people to do things. Doesn’t happen with everybody. The trick is to look at the two circles and then break them down to components, ones and zeroes, so to speak. Link units of concern to units of influence till you are left with perhaps a large number of unpaired socks. Your task is set. One, work on the concerns that are already paired with tangible possibilities, and start finding the missing pair for the concerns and influences that are hanging single.

The place where all change must begin is within you. Buddhism says that the external environment is a reflection of our inner environment. As we change, at individual levels, our environment changes too. This takes courage, wisdom, prudence, and above all, boundless rational faith. Judging is first replaced by discrimination and then by compassion as you see the magic unfold. It takes a while to go from there to ones and zeroes, but you will get there if you hang on.

I set out with a thought in mind, and ended up quite somewhere else, certainly exactly where I was meant to end up. You will have already started identifying your maps, your concerns, and your influence. Lead and take care of everyone and everything that comes into your life. Do not be too cautious. Never forget that we own our circumstances. Happy birthday.

Bye for now.

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