Friday, February 12, 2010

Symbiotic Narcissism

Romeo and Juliet, Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, and their latter day counterparts have tended to meet with great societal opposition. The cliché of two lovers walking hand-in-hand into the sunset seems appropriate, for it is frequently darkness thereafter. While the common belief is that “all the world loves a lover”, in practice, they are, more often than not, ‘hated.’

The strong romantic bond between two lovers appears to weaken the relationship the couple has with others. This is perhaps because lovers are far too absorbed in their own selves, and so appear to be indifferent to those around them. Psychologist Eric Fromm, the author of The Art of Loving, calls this symbiotic narcissism — an egoisme a deux — after the 18th century Swiss-French writer, Madame de Staël who said, “Love is a selfishness of two.” A couple engrossed romantically in each other may truly feel no love for anybody else, seeing others as obstacles in their mutual self-absorption. Little wonder, then, that the world reciprocates their feelings and ‘hates’ them.

In India, romance as a basis for marriage was more the exception than the rule. Even today, it is the choice of a minority, as convention still largely prevails. Indian smriti describes eight types of marriage. The quality of offspring and their mental makeup is predicted to be a direct reflection of the nature of their parents’ union. Gandharva Vivaha, or romantic marriage based on desire, is just third from the bottom of the list, just below Asura Vivaha where the bride is purchased from her parents, and yet, is above Rakshasa and Pisacha Vivaha, that involve kidnapping the bride or stupefying her into cohabitation with intoxicants or narcotics.

In her book, Love will Follow: Why Marriage is Burning in Urban India, psychologist and marriage counsellor Shaifali Sandhya indicates that the structure of the traditional Indian family has tended to discourage romantic intimacy and bonding between lovers, subordinating their ‘lesser’ relationship to the more important, overarching relationship between the groom and his larger family, particularly his mother. Thus, romance and intimacy that developed between the couple remained an intensely private experience, even as they externally conformed to the compulsions of society and family.

Undoubtedly, symbiotic narcissism is a developmental advance over the narcissism of one. But it cannot be the evolutionary culmination of the endeavour to unlock the core of natural love that is the essence of our being. In its purest essence, love is a universal emotion that is indiscriminate and all-encompassing. If it is authentic, love for an individual must necessarily awaken love for all, even as its immoderate expression is constrained by social norms and its implication for the existing long-term committed relationships

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna states that He is erotic love that is within the confines of religious principle or Dharma. On Valentine’s Day, ignoring the commercial hype, it could be instructive to reflect on the point that the martyr, St Valentine, was renowned not for encouraging romantic or frivolous liaisons, but for risking his life to unite couples in dharmic marriages.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Dharma of Encounters

A Television English News Channel, recently presented an interesting debate over the ethics of Encounters or extra judicial killing. During this lively and often acrimonious discussion, the moralists (NGOs) and their protagonists (representatives of law and order) were unable to come to any agreement.

When a terrorist murders unarmed civilians, women, children and even an unborn child in the womb, holds hostages and an entire city to ransom, even as he attempts to torch a Heritage landmark, is he entitled to due process of law and a prolonged trial or does he merely deserve a bullet to the head? When a Naxalite kidnaps, tortures and beheads a senior police officer, is he free to take shelter of a lawyer to protect himself against the wrath of the entire law enforcement machinery in the State?

Should we confront Terrorists, Naxalites, Gangsters and similar brethren, with law in courts of protracted justice, or should we deal with them on the streets - with bullets of instant justice ? These questions are not new. Gurcharan Das in his book “The Difficulty Of Being Good – on The Subtle Art of Dharma” discusses the quandary that Yuddhistra faced many millennia ago: Should the Pandava Prince do his duty as a warrior or as a human being?

“Debate is useless”, says the Mahabharata, “there are many scriptural authorities (or law books) that contradict one another, as do the Brahmins (lawyers). The essence of Dharma remains a great secret. We need to learn (Dharma) from the conduct of Great Ones”. From the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and looking at the behaviour of Lord Rama and Krishna, we might get some insight: Are Encounters or extra judicial killings within the boundaries of Dharma?

In the Kishkindhakand of the Ramayana, Lord Rama hides behind a tree and shoots an arrow that kill the Monkey King Vali as he battles his brother (Rama’s devotee) Sugriva. While dying, Vali accuses the Lord of transgressing Dharma by indulging in murder through concealment rather than by direct confrontation in battle. Lord Rama declares that Vali has himself indulged in Adharma by appropriating his brother’s wife. Further, Kshatriya Dharma is valid only in battle against another Kshatriya. A sub human or wild animal has no right to appeal or demand that the laws of Dharma protect him.

In the Mahabharata, when a helpless Karna, without any weapons, is facing an encounter type of death from Arjuna, he takes shelter of Dharma as protection. Lord Krishna asks Karna if he upheld Dharma - when Draupadi was being stripped, when Shakuni played a rigged game of dice with Yuddhistra, when Arjuna’s young son, Abhimanyu was encircled in the Chakravyhu and mercilessly slain. As Karna hangs his head in shame, the Lord instructs a hesitant Arjuna to shoot his arrows to behead and kill the defenceless warrior.

Dharma protects those who uphold Dharma. Those who violate Dharma and behave like sub humans and wild animals are not entitled to the protection of Dharma. Indubitably, Amnesty International and other NGOs have their place in protecting the innocent from becoming collateral damage in this unholy pyrrhic warfare. But is it their Dharma to equally protect Terrorists?

Equality is a spiritual concept, for all of us are truly spiritually equal. But we need to be careful in porting this equality onto the material plane of dispensing justice. If one desires to follow in the footsteps of the Great Ones, it could be arguably stated that Encounters might have some place, in the big picture of maintaining law and order.

In his book: Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, Nietzsche said “When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you”. If you look into evil long enough, even as you confront it - evil becomes a part of you.

In modern times, there are no Great Ones, to unravel through example, the mystery of Dharma. Hence those who risk taking the law in their own hands must be prepared to face the Karmic consequences, and like Yuddhistra at the conclusion of the Mahabharata, be ready to enter into Hell.

Dr. Shantanu Nagarkatti

A version of this - published in the Times of India, Speaking Tree Section on October 22nd 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Trust in God - Rest Strictly Cash

Once upon a time a sage and a disciple were discussing the issue of altruism versus selfish interest.

The Guru said to his disciple "Never trust any person; especially when he swears by ethics and principles. Ultimately, a person whose primary focus is the world, acts entirely in a selfish way."

The disciple was astounded. He remarked "Shouldn't a spiritual seeker always think the best of every person. Should he not trust the Lord seated in each person's heart?"

"Indeed" said the Sage. "We must love and trust in the spiritual goodness of every living being, but we should never be in any illusion about his natural material responses and behavior.”

“Even as a person condemns the unethical and unprincipled behavior of another, he will find himself helplessly behaving identically, when in similar circumstances”

"Ultimately, in the long term, we trust in the will of God, and His perfection. Never fear! The Prince of Peace will not desert his devotee. By the law of karma, each person will get his due. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.”

“What about trusting one’s friends?” the disciple protested. “What about trusting one’s parents, brothers and sisters?”

“Your only friend” said the Sage “is God; and those who no longer belong to this world, having lost themselves in Him. Many lives have you had before this one; many parents and many siblings."

Connections of the flesh are often a great burden. They create expectations on both sides that are impossible to fulfill, and obligations that often make life difficult to bear. Despite blood being thicker than water, none may be truly depended upon. The sooner you are free of such illusions, the happier you will become.”

With these words, the Sage led his disciple through the pouring rain, to the nearby river, which was in flood. In the stormy river was a tree that was rapidly being submerged by the water. A monkey was seated near the top of the tree and she held her baby close to her breast.

As the water rose higher, the mother climbed higher and higher. Finally, as the water rose to her chest, the monkey raised the baby in her arms above her head.

At this point, the disciple looked triumphantly at the Guru. "Wait a bit” said the Sage. “Let us stay here awhile.”

Finally, as the water rose above her head. The mother monkey now placed the baby below the water and climbed on it to keep her head above the flood. At the moment of crisis, she sacrificed her child's life for her own!

Have you ever been disillusioned by someone you trusted or believed in? That is a painful way to become enlightened. The painless way is to listen to voices of wisdom that echo from timeless creation.

According to the Shastra - "One should never trust anyone in material consciousness! " Every worldly minded person rides on what is termed "manorath" (chariot of the mind), and cannot be depended upon or trusted; especially when his /her selfish interest is involved.

Either one should create systems that make depending upon trust irrelevant, or one should align one's interests so closely, that your interests become his or her interests. There is truly no other way.

It is important to have a realistic world view even as one endeavors to live with a spiritual vision. After all, it is only when you can understand and accept the intrinsic failings of all human beings, that you can truly love them, completely free of illusion and expectation, and in an enlightened manner

Dr. Shantanu Nagarkatti

A version of this article was published by The Times of India in their Speaking Tree section

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Accepting Praise and Honour

I once asked a spiritual teacher, "Don't you get embarrassed when people praise you, touch your feet, perform your worship and honour you in various ways?"

He smiled in the way that only a saint can smile. After a pregnant pause, he answered me by asking another question: "What would you do if someone gave you a gift that was meant for me?"

"Well," I said, "I would hand it over to you!"

"Exactly," said the spiritual teacher, "I accept all the praise, honour and worship offered to me and I pass it on to God."

When you make a large cash deposit in your bank, the cashier does not experience a thrill of excitement. He accepts it soberly, and counts it carefully, before depositing it your account.

Similarly, the devotee of God does not experience elation or exhilaration on receiving any praise or honour. He accepts it soberly and evaluates it carefully before depositing it in your account at the feet of the Lord God.

The devotee of God is a window into the spiritual world. While he is not God, you can reach God through him. As an instrument of the divine, he is a conduit for the spiritual energy that surges through him. The honour, appreciation, or respect offered to him, goes back to God as part of the bi-directional flow within this transparent channel to God.

Empty yourself and become an instrument of God by understanding that all things are done by Him alone. Make yourself transparent to the praise and honour that people direct at you.

Pass all the praise, respect honour and appreciation you receive to the dark mystical lord who is seated within your heart and the hearts of all those around you.Thus, you shall be free of ego, serene, tranquil and unruffled by embarrassment at all times.

Dr. Shantanu Nagarkatti

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Non Violence or Violence

Recently, I received an email from a mailing list with the following story and a
request for comments:


Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the M.K. Gandhi
Institute for Non-violence, in his June 9 lecture at the University of Puerto
Rico , shared the following story as an example of "non-violence in parenting":

"I was 16 years old and living with my parents at the institute my grandfather
had founded 18 miles outside of Durban, South Africa, in the middle of the sugar
plantations. We were deep in the country and had no neighbors, so my two sisters
and I would always look forward to going to town to visit friends or go to the

One day, my father asked me to drive him to town for an all-day conference, and
I jumped at the chance. Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of
groceries she needed and, since I had all day in town, my father ask me to take
care of several pending chores, such as getting the car serviced. When I dropped
my father off that morning, he said, 'I will meet you here at 5:00 p.m., and we
will go home together.'

After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie
theater. I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double-feature that I forgot the
time. It was 5:30 before I remembered. By the time I ran to the garage and got
the car and hurried to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00.

He anxiously asked me, 'Why were you late?' I was so ashamed of telling him I
was watching a John Wayne western movie that I said, 'The car wasn't ready, so I
had to wait,' not realizing that he had already called the garage. When he
caught me in the lie, he said: 'There's something wrong in the way I brought you
up that didn't give you the confidence to tell me the truth. In order to figure
out where I went wrong with you, I'm going to walk home 18 miles and think about

So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark on
mostly unpaved, unlit roads. I couldn't leave him, so for five-and-a-half hours
I drove behind him, watching my father go through this agony for a stupid lie
that I uttered. I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again.

I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we
punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all. I don't think
so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But
this single non-violent action was so powerful that it is still as if it
happened yesterday. That is the power of non-violence."

"Forgiveness is giving up my right to hate you for hurting me."


This is my comment on the above story.

There are many forms and levels of violence.

The effects of violence are more exquisite and impactful as it moves to more
subtle levels

Physical violence is the most gross form of violence (as a father beating his

Emotional violence occurs when the father tortures himself in full view of his
loving son as punishment (as in this story). The son suffers a great deal more!

When love is withheld or denied, anger is expressed directly or indirectly (by
not communicating with a loved one) it is emotional violence

Intellectual violence occurs when learning or education is limited or
constrained. It occurs when there is a ban on the free exchange of ideas, and

When freedom of the press is abolished, books are censored/banned/burnt, people
are imprisoned or exiled/expelled for expressing ideas, opinions or
philosophies, it is intellectual violence.

Ego violence occurs when the ego is directly or indirectly subject to violence.

Public humiliation, insult, social exclusion, criticism, censure, taunts are all
examples of violence to the ego

What is interesting is that violence is an essential and integral part of life.
We all need it and benefit from it. The only caveat is, that it must be used in
authorized, discriminate and intelligent manner.

The best example is that of a Surgeon. He uses a knife with surgical precision
to extirpate gangrene and disease..

Physical violence is necessarily a last resort for the Police and the Armed
Forces to keep us safe.

Where a nation or state has used non violence as state policy, it is over run
and enslaved.

When Indians (especially the kshatriyas) were swayed by non violent religions,
we weakened and lost our independence to invasions from land and sea borders.

India gained independence not because of any non violent movement, but because
the British were exhausted, depleted of both resources and manpower,thus
completely incapable of running a restive Colonial Empire after the violence of
World War II.

Tibet was the only nation that resisted Genghis Khan effectively. When it
adopted a non violent way of life it was over run and absorbed into the Republic
of China

Emotional violence is regularly used by parents to discipline their children. As
in the story above, it works far more effectively than physical violence.

Intellectual violence is used by the State to protect us from pornography,
seditious material and anything that will promote public disorder

It is used by the Guru to protect us from contrary philosophies/other spiritual
teachers who would confuse us, weaken or faith, and/or distract us from the path
that He is leading us on.

Violence to the ego is one of the primary duties of the Guru who is singularly
authorized for this task. By constantly sniping at, directly assaulting ,
demolishing and finally annihilating the ego - the Guru removes this one
obstacle that stands between us and God

(c) Dr. Shantanu Nagarkatti

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Guru whose Blessings were a Curse

The Guru whose Blessings were a Curse

The "Blessing"

Once upon a time, there lived a great Guru who taught Vedanta. This Guru
had a strange and disconcerting benediction. When besieged by those
devotees who sought worldly happiness or material remedies for their
suffering, she raised her hand over each supplicant’s head and solemnly
declared – “May you become materially destitute!”

This "blessing" frightened all, and angered many. “How dare our Guru
wish material destitution upon us?” they cried in fear, frustration, and
rage. Yet, those few disciples who understood its deeper significance
marveled at its profound wisdom.

Nature of this World

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that this world is place
of misery where everything is temporary. An abode where no lasting
external happiness can be found and a realm of experience where birth,
death, old age, fault misfortune and unhappiness are guaranteed to everyone.

Each of us is engaged in two universal activities. Either we are
occupied in trying to increase our quantum of happiness in this world or
we are desperately struggling to somehow reduce our misery. Yet, the
Vedantic truth is that our very essence is bliss and the very moment we
try to increase it from an external source, our miseries begin.

Look within for Bliss - Don't look externally for Happiness

Vedanta and its ultimate conclusion - Love or Para Bhakti, direct the
individual to look within rather than without. The Upanishads instruct
us to seek the happiness that lies inside oneself, rather than worldly
joys that lie outside in the environment. Indeed all the Bhakti Shastras
ask the devotee to rest in a natural devotional bliss that is
causeless, rather than upon an artificial pleasure dependent on any
specific source.

Lord Krishna advises Arjuna, to remain a warrior without - but a sanyasi
within. Moving in the world always ready to act appropriately; yet
observing all external events and their implications, with perfect
internal detachment.

Worldly Happiness - a distraction for the Spiritual Seeker

Indeed, the true spiritual seeker sees temporal worldly joys and
happiness, as a distraction from the quest for the true eternal bliss
within. Contrarily, each affliction and sorrow is welcomed as a spring
board for a leap into the spiritual world within.
The Chaitanya Charitramrita describes how Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was once
cursed by a Brahmin for starting the Sankirtana movement that adversely
affected their livelihood. “ May you be bereft of all material
pleasures” he cried out. On hearing this, Lord Chaitanya was filled with
ecstasy, and immediately began jumping, dancing, and singing, in
complete God intoxication.

On conclusion of the Kurukshetra battle, Queen Kunti is filled with deep
trepidation while awaiting her impeding coronation and a life of royal
happiness. In her impassioned prayer to Lord Krishna she begs “O Lord
may the miseries that I have experienced thus far, be repeated over and
over again, for then I will be sure to again remember and become lost
in You – forever free from the clutches of material illusion.”
None of us would have the temerity to pray to the Lord and ask for
miseries and suffering like Queen Kunti. Yet, really we do not have to
do so. Misery comes uninvited to us all. Have you ever prayed to God
for distress? Did you at any time go consciously looking for sorrow or
suffering? Yet, did anguish and grief not come to you, completely

Must we run from unsought worldly pleasures?

Yet, the flip side is also true. Worldly joys, pleasures, and happiness,
come to us naturally as a result of our Prarabhdha (Manifest Karma) by
the grace of the Lord.
Bhakta Pralhad tells his classmates in the Bhagavata Purana, “Why are
you struggling for happiness, my fellow Daityas? Did you ever have to
struggle to attain misery? Both come to us unsought, by divine arrangement”.

What should we do when material happiness or pleasures come our way
unsought? Should we reject them and run from the pleasures of the
senses? Must we cleverly dodge worldly occasions of happiness and live
in desolate austerity?

Krishna describes how the Sage of Steady Wisdom behaves in such
circumstances: “As the flooded ocean continues to welcomes rivers that
enter into it, the Sage of Steady Wisdom resting in divine bliss,
welcomes all worldly pleasures that come by divine arrangement. Yet,
when the rivers run dry, the ocean remains ever full with water, never
missing them. Similarly, the Sage of Steady Wisdom even in the severest
deprivation, remains ever blissful, never craving, seeking, or even
mindful of the absent sensual pleasures”

This article was edited and published in the SPEAKING TREE section of the TIMES OF INDIA newspaper.

Dr. Shantanu Nagarkatti

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