Can a Netflix series explain the destiny of India and my retirement from US government?
First, I recommend the new series Sense8 available on Netflix to folks serious about the future of the world, including India in a serious way, but including seven other significant characters as well. (I am not so excited that two of the eight are gay – not a representative percentage – but this is a minor reflection of the more important principle of diversity, just as my stomach problems are a side effect of personality traits I would not want to be without. One or two really good characters are enough to justify looking at this.) Yesterday, Luda and I watched episodes 3 and 4 where important things started coming together, building in an amazing way on things I have learned about the past and future of India since March. The trip to India was organized by Luda, as was this new episode.
The destiny of India... not a trivial subject. Please forgive me that I cannot even give a quick higher-order picture of the vision of that future, without a few pages to weave various threads together, and try to tell some entertaining stories.
How do **I** have any right to talk about the future of India, when other people I know have spent their entire lives or half of them in India? Well, sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees, and I have learned not only from my friends and from my adversaries but from various sources such as the Upanishads, from other books recommended by my friends, and from a chance to actually see the pieces coming together... in India itself... and even in this little TV series, which should not be underestimated.
Many call the Upanishads “the New Testament of India.” I won’t review the basics of that, as I already did two blog postings ago. After our India trip (with Luda and Chris), I obtained four copies of the Upanishads, and reread them. Ninety percent of the value of the Upanishads for me now lies in meditation on two important passages, which I posted in the Buddhism, Daoism and Hinduism page at www.werbos.com, along with a link to my previous blog post and a link to a free version of the Upanishads available online. I even did an Amazon review of the hard copy book I bought ($12).
In essence, those passages breathe additional life and spirit into the core idea that we are all one together in the noosphere, exactly fitting a more technical science-based paper on the same subject I also posted a link to. What does it feel like that we are all together? Where does it take us? How can we better manifest and use our inner powers, much of which are powers to cooperate at a higher level and understand each other better, powers crucial to the very survival of our species in the face of new challenges? The science and the two passages from the Upanishads reflect two sides of the same coin.
This netflix series, Sense8, is all about the same basic theme – just with eight people, to make a story, but in a way, it is an image of the real story of the whole planet we are all part of. A series giving further life to a core idea of the Upanishads, a key starting point for the whole culture of India, form past to future.
That’s amusing in itself, but there is more.
In actuality, for the first two episodes I was watching just “on faith,” and sometimes it took a lot of faith not to just turn it off. (You will see what I mean if you follow up.) Luda thanked me for having faith in her, and that is part of this. But this was not mindless faith. I know her track record, and she told me the track record of the people who created this series (including at least the Matrix, Babylon 5 and Jupiter Rising, coming together). From the start, the basic theme (as just stated) was clear; I knew it takes time for more intelligent things to crystallize out of disorder from that basic theme and for intelligence to show itself, in reality, and not just in the series. (Added below: further thoughts after seeing episodes 5 and 6.)
Of the eight characters... probably the one I liked most was the Indian woman, even though there was a Western cop “engineered” to give me a more personal hook into the series.
In one of the early scenes, the Indian woman goes to pray at a temple of Ganesh. (For details, do see the series.) This gives a quick window into another major part of the deep spiritual thinking of India, of what I saw in our trip, and of what India has been struggling with for a long time. I certainly saw very warm, productive and connected people in India who “channeled” the spirit of Ganesh, like our truly excellent tour guide, Mr. Lalit, from Gate1, who showed us his own temple in Delhi (regular Delhi, though he also showed us Old Delhi and New Delhi) and all parts, including the Ganesh part. In his warm, wise and informative guidance, it almost seemed as if I could see a friendly image of Ganesh hovering there as he spoke. (But that delicious Lassi on the street market was not so wise for our stomachs, as I learned from my GI guy at the hospital yesterday – not there for Imodium, but I am glad our regular doctor recommended having it when traveling to India.)
The Upanishads show respect for the polytheistic streams of thought in India, but they also have a beautiful sentence comparing servile worship and belief in such gods to becoming a mascot or servant of a pet animal. I accidentally ended up having good relations with the Monkey God in India, not because of any awful servility but because we visited a national wilderness BEFORE getting to the hidden Monkey God complex in Jaipur. OK, folks, being Paul, I used my powers to do a little communicating with tigers and monkeys in that forest, from the safety of a couple of open-air jeeps bouncing on rough dirt trails. I felt deep and complete sympathy with the cause of ecology, including some endangered species. (NOT rare snail darter fish and such nonsense, but humans, above all, and also our most respectable cousins, like intelligent mammals especially.) And I expressed my support and concern to those creatures... and the image of where they really are in the world of their lives (not so simple as it seems, for tigers or for humans)... and in their case, the value of putting on a reasonable good show for their visitors, consistent with their way of life, to help maintain the revenue which helps pay for this vast natural park. Oh, did the monkeys perform, and demonstrate their understanding and even friendship! When one dropped from a tree almost into my lap in the later afternoon (in the bigger jeep), it was fun to see the expressions on everyone’s faces, human and monkey alike.
So then, in Jaipur, when everyone else was having lunch, we were led by a retired social science teacher (and yoga practitioner), inspired by two insanely energetic Russian women, to a place I think of as Monkey God Valley (see the picture) ... a great yoga teacher deep in the valley... typical temples, pools which were moderately famous for monkeys and for humans, majestic views, a funny bull who gave Luda a chance to play Crocodile Dundee... but two key relevant memories for now. First, of course, our leader purchased a bag of peanuts, and we threw peanuts to monkeys in all parts of the valley. The monkeys by the high pool hardly paid attention, as they were overfed already and more interested in sleeping. But lots of little girls (one quite bright eyed and beautiful) pranced around and up to us, and the bright eyed girl said, “see, we can be monkeys too. Watch us jump and play... and please, throw peanuts to us too....”.
I liked that little girl, but that image will always stay in my mind, in all its dimensions There was a lot of hunger in India (and yes, a lot of folks playing with visitors exploiting that)... and the worship of the monkey god has a couple of dark sides, and folks who really seriously want food. I would not underestimate those passages in the Upanishads (not what I have posted or will meditate on!) which talk about how to get food. Yes, there is a kind of spiritual food in play, like mana or prana or qi (actually a from of backpropagation), but sheer physical hunger is also in play, and is a core growing reality in the history of India, not just for a few of the wandering monks from the time when the Upanishads were written (“the Axial age,” look it up), but ever more as population pressures grew. Objectively, a rational social science analysis of India would say that the nation is at a kind of tipping point, where it could go either way, towards economic growth like what China has seen recently or better, or like earlier times when a promising civilization fell apart. There is a lot of rational economics and technology entangled in which way it falls. But for this posting I will try to focus on the cultural, spiritual and Mind aspects, which may be the most important and highest drivers. The Mind of India is certainly aware of hunger, and no one can claim to see the spirit of India if he or she cannot also see that aspect ever so clearly. India does need to rise above a possible path increasing the hunger problem, making the worship of Monkey God ever more servile and mindless, reinforcing the caste system, and decaying unto death; only a certain clarity of mind can accomplish that.
In the monkey valley, our taxi driver, a Moslem, finally decided to join the four of us, but he quietly expressed some great horror about this Monkey God stuff. A huge fraction of the nation of India is Moslem, and they too are a major part of us. As he and I walked along a trail... I remember the questioning look on his face to me as if to ask “Hey, don’t you guys see how insane this is..?” I responded... “I believe in universality... and I always try to remember that they too are part of the larger us... but no, don’t worry, I haven’t gone crazy, I am still grounded in the larger context.” As the Upanishads urge us to be! I hope to write more, later, about the Moslem aspects of India, which we also had a chance to commune with... but this is already too long. (There is, for example, a book called Rumi and Vedanta, related to this subject.)
I liked the little girls, even though I was sad for some aspects of their life, but later that day ... well, I am human, after all..... life was different when the whole group set out for an elephant ride, elephants carrying us up to a temple of Kali. (See far below for a comment on what happened first.) I had looked forward to the elephant ride, and hoped to communicate with these elephants – but it was impossible. This place was real, but it was also a tourist trap. A huge mass of street urchins behaved like a troop of unrelenting ruthless monkeys, insisting on trying to get money form us by any means possible. At one point, they physically wedged into a gap between my Lalit and me and the rest of the group, as we approached the kind of side door that most tourists would not notice on their own; I used energy (not force) to create a kind of gap where the followers could see the way to the side door, and not get lost, as calmly as possible while still being visible enough to do the job, but absolutely everyone was angry with me for doing that anyway, including even the folks who may have narrowly missed getting lost in India. I still kept quiet, as we lined up to the place where we would board our elephants, but one of the tour members, a big pig farmer from deeper South, then screamed very loudly, in the voice he would use ordering his pigs, “You! You heard her. Tie your shoelaces! Now!” So I turned around, looked him back in the eye and said in an equally loud voice: “And who the hell are you to give orders to me in that kind of tone?” Well, folks didn’t like that either, but it was quite after that. Please forgive my dwelling on this, but so much of my life has been like this episode...
But no, it did not end on the elephant. Just when I was hoping to relax and commune, one of the monkey boys jumped at us and tried to bargain to sell us a wooden model elephant. It is interesting how negotiations for idols can replace communing with the real thing, whether it be an elephant or a mountain or a planet or a universe!! Yes, the monkey boy needed money, just as the wild monkeys needed food, but people who pay for elephant rides also have a right to focus on what they paid for, to say “no” to the merchant, and get on with it. For me, it was especially disappointing that I could not do with the elephants what I had done before with (ironically) monkeys and tigers, before I had seen the human connections to them. Will the elephants of India also end up being oppressed and suppressed by certain troops of monkeys? I hope not. But the monkey boy would not accept no for an answer, and he kept screaming and jumping all around us, making concentration impossible. I said “no” quite clearly and energetically.. but then the elephant driver, who was supposed to be working for us (and Gate1), said: “but the price he is asking is quite reasonable. Why won’t you talk with him?” I said “No, I don’t WANT to buy an elephant statue, PERIOD. I do not WANT this discussion.” I was especially sad when Luda said, “He is being very reasonable in his bargaining about price, it is true.” But that wasn’t the point. Don’t we, the customers, and the elephants, also have some rights? It seems as if some of the monkey people have become so unhearing like statues themselves... they are as bad as the soulless jihadi zombies we also worry about. Not like that yoga teacher we met in the monkey valley...
As he kept screaming, another older guy, across the way, called out loudly but politely, “Hello, I am Rama, and you see I am taking your pictures. Remember me. I am taking your pictures, yes?” I called out so all could hear, “Well, if you are Rama, I am Shiva, and my third eye is starting to feel very itchy right now.” I suppose it all put me in the right state of mind for a temple of Kali. Some of Kali’s followers (like snake people, some I have met in the US) are worse than servile, but the people here were quite friendly and, sadly, my mood at that time fit in quite well with the higher part of their thinking. Yes, I could commune with them.
I later asked Lalit: “We have seen so many temples to Vishnu and to Shiva, but not yet to Brahma, the third person of the folk trinity. Where is Brahma in all this?” I remembered that Brahma was the real one in the Upanishads, the highest and most promising of the deep paths growing out of ancient India. “oh no,” he said, “Almost all the temples are to Vishnu or to Siva. Vishnu preserves, and Shiva destroys. Brahma just created the universe in ancient times, and we do not live in ancient times, so to live our lives we go between Vishnu and Shiva and their avatars. There is just one temple to Brahma, far away on a mountain pass, near a Jain Temple I will take you to.” (The picture below is of the Jain Temple, a complex story in its own right; there was a curious mix of feelings of light and spaciousness and emptiness, along with cautious wealth strict to preserve itself.)
I had asked: “But wait, besides preserving the ancient order, or rebelling, what about BUILDING a new order? What of creativity, construction? Isn’t it a big problem not to have more of that?” I thought back to graduate school, when I was seriously hoping to marry a woman studying neuroscience, who has also studied yoga, who had once suggested I might be an avatar of Shiva. I had said, “No, I am not a rebel type or a destroyer. I am a creator type. Building is much harder than destroying, and it is the essence of everything I am trying to do.” But Lalit said: “Oh, the rebuilding, that is part of the job of Shiva.” Maybe if building were taken more seriously, it would be easier to marshall the consciousness and energy needed to do it! But to some extent it seems that the Jains – part of the parentage of Ghandhi – try to fill that hole in the spirit of India, and play a much larger role in the economy than I had realized before visiting India.
As we left the Temple of Kali, Luda went up to a guy with a cobra. I took a picture of her... and then of the cobra leaping and trying to bite her. The cobra lived... that was lucky for it... Our own pictures were much more vivid than what we did finally buy from Rama (for a good price, negotiated as he ran after us while we rode on an electric jeep).
Our last official stop in India was in Mumbai, in the house where Ghandi lived for many years. Perhaps we were ready to commune with the incredible complexity of what he was coping with, and the need for the continued energy to move forward in that complexity. We have photos of his personal library, including well-worn obscure books which we also have in our own shelves – some surprising even Luda, with how exactly they confirmed some improbable things I said before we left. Yes, of course he was a real spiritual leader, unlike many followers and many in other parties who talk big but see nothing. (We have 1500 high resolution pictures from this trip...)
And so... it is real challenge... between Darwinian entropy and spiritual depth... between greedly wooden idols and deep Brahmanic spirit... between new science/technology and intellectual insight versus Malthusian and partisan pressures, which way will India fall in the end? Between technology breakthroughs inspired by unique hard creativity, “yang thinking,” and the death by pride and closed stubborn minds, which way will India go in the end? Of course,. It is India’s choice, but it will affect the entire world.
Between the time of our return and my purchase of Upanishads.. I won't bore you with even more details... but there was a really acute physical episode which reminded me of what Carl Jung said about the risks of playing with powerful archetypes. But some of us really have a duty to do, and maintain a balance. That's part of the unity mission. Archetypes or prototypes are part of any brain as high or higher than a reptile, let alone a human brain or a noosphere.
And then, finally, after all of that... episodes 3 and 4 of Sense8
There was a scene with the beautiful Indian woman which will stay in mind just as vividly as the one with little girls in the monkey valley. She goes back to the Temple of Ganesh, where the old priest says he remembers her well... and complains about her fiancee, who is not American, but is cosmopolitan and doing well in industry. The priest views him as an effective foreigner, an agent of those evil Americans taking over the world so as to destroy the worship of Ganesh and the soul of India and all they have ever stood for. She hears him... and has always respected him... but there is a delicious irony here since she has just begun a process of more authentic awakening, fulfilling those verses in the Upanishads in real life, and they are pushing her towards a larger Self, a more whole-earth self, which is much more authentic than becoming a “meals on wheels” service for this very narrow priest. Real spirit versus Darwinian decay. (I call it “Darwinian decay” rather than “entropy” because the word “entropy” has a precise mathematical meaning, quite different from the special case of systems where disorder and “the heat death” are the only possible outcomes. To see the equations, search at arxiv.org for my name and “cond-mat,” a paper from about 2003.)
Curiously, the subject of “the Monkey God” is also discussed in the Official Classic of China, Journey to the West – and in a humorous movie “remake” by the folks who produced “Shaolin soccer.” All three are also worth knowing about. In my view, the “journey” book and movie both evince some interesting “invisible” communication between Chinese and Indians, some by mundane channels but some via noosphere. The movie is newer than the Classic, and may partly reflect developments in India itself, from a Chinese viewpoint.
So that’s all. That’s the India story, for now, at a big picture level. More details and related subjects to come elsewhere.
But... I also mentioned my retirement from NSF (on 2/15/2015) in the subject line.
I told people: “My decision – made late in 2014 – was based on many pros and cons. It was not just one thing. But the number one consideration in favor of retirement was the plan to try to do more, somehow, to advance the spiritual goals which tend to be beyond the scope of what I can do at NSF.” What are those goals? In essence, to do more to strengthen the unity, coherence and growth of us noosphere. A bit like the netflix series. Like what those verses in the Upanishads advocate.
To enter India, on the visa application, we had to choose “religion” form a list of five options – Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian, and “other” (with a fill-in line for what). If there was another choice, I forget what it was. Luda just checked “Christian,” saying “you know what they mean.” But I felt a duty to be more accurate. I actually considered “Buddhist” a moment, as I thought about some folks I feel some resonance with, but decided that that would be as misleading its way as “Christian.” So I checked “other,” and wrote in “Quaker Universalist.” Someone asked: “But isn’t that a PART of Christianity?” My reply: “We regard Christianity as a part of US, an important part to be sure, but there are other parts as well, and in visiting India it is especially important to remember those other parts.” The scientific approach provides a way to integrate and appreciate the best parts (while eschewing a lot of nonsense and corruption, which also exists everywhere). I don’t like names like “Pink Dandelion,” but his book on Quakerism says interesting things about Rufus Jones, who sounds like a key channel for creating Quaker Universalism in the first place. Something to add to the long reading list, but who needs to read it when there are good enough live Meeting Houses nearby?
========================================================================This was about India, not about Netflix, but after I see episodes 5 and 6, some further thoughts come to mind. Above all, I still don;t feel anywhere near as engaged in this as I was, for example, by Babylon 5. It is still just an early part... (as it is for earth itself maybe?).... but I don't empathize personally with any of the characters as much as I do in some other movies.
If you were part of the normal Buddhist stream of Mind... you might say... the world is full of suffering, and these characters simply reflect what life is like for most people on earth. I em ever so grateful that my own is not, despite the incredible struggles I have worked through in much of my life. But the struggle to rise higher does involve themes which are more positive, more outgoing, and happier than what this series depicts... maybe it does more justice to the streams of mind in Asia than elsewhere... but even so, it really is missing something. Like the galaxy, for one.
To be positive... at NSF I would focus on the very most promising and novel 10% of proposals coming in. The passages from the Upanishads which I posted at www.werbos.com were also selected, from a larger universe which was more mixed -- like Ssense8 itself, a reflection of the world they came from. One good scene in Sense8 to use... two good passages... but more detachment from the rest... and memory that there are other sources to fill in the huge gaps.
The Korean character in Sense8 also reflects real dilemmas in that area...
But... OK, this caveat is important, but today it is more important for me to put this to a close for now, and move on to other topics.
Next day, after two more episodes of Sense8 (and other stuff):
The strength of the Indian part of the series grows ever stronger, as does my sense of their missing other major strands important to the larger thought. There was another scene of the Indian woman at a festival as a child, which was really amazing. It made me wonder: given how few Indians I met actually knew the basics of what the Upanishads say. how many will understand this scene, powerful and direct as it was? But as I think of it... of course it would be meaningful to most; knowing the deeper background in the Upanishads behind the scene would allow deeper understanding, but they would still get something. Likewise, understanding the even deeper background of mathematics behind such noosphere things would yield more.
For the other parts -- people would really get the wrong idea if they identified the approach to unification here too much with me. The series is very valuable, and I plan to watch it to the end, but it is missing many of the other strands as deep as the Indian strand which it captures. In the beginning, I found that I could empathize with the Indian and Korean women, as deeper than the others... but even the Korean strand does not even mention (yet) any of the important spiritual strands flowing through Korea and East Asia as a whole. The one US male, a cop, is a good guy... but at a personal level I felt I had more in common with the German criminal, but abhor the enterprises he is involved in. Is this a case where the Vishnu (cop) and Shiva (criminal) images are being projected onto the wealthy West, in a way which really leaves out a lot of really important core stuff? At a personal level I can identify more with characters in Interstellar and Inception... and many other movies... but the big challenge is to weave all these different strands together at a higher level. Sense8 represents one important strand -- just one.
Footnote on monkey valley versus elephant ride: both were in March 31, in Jaipur, as I see on the image files. But the elephant ride was earlier in the day. Why did I mention the monkey valley first? Well, my reactions on the elephant ride were very much a function of what I remembered from the monkey valley. Sorry about that. I don't pay much attention to that, because there have been much more improbable and clear experiences of asynchrony in my life...