Kaṭha Upaniṣad Review

The Kaṭhopaniṣad with Śaṅkarabhāṣyam
Based on Swami Paramārthānanda’s lecture
Compiled by Divyajñāna Sarojini Varadarājan

The main teaching of the Kaṭha Upaniṣad is Death’s response to the request by a young seeker, Naciketas, for Self-knowledge. Any serious student of advaita will want to know the answer as this is our own question too: using logic we may well be able to arrive at what we are not, but we still need to know clearly what we are. For this reason this book by Smt. Sarojini Varadarajan, based on Swami Paramarthananda’s traditional unfoldment of the Upaniṣad and Śaṅkara’s commentary theron, is a valuable addition to any seeker’s library.

One way of approaching this Upaniṣad is to note that Naciketas standing at Death’s door (literally) remained steady-minded enough to press his request for Self-knowledge – in spite of Death’s initial resistance to answer. And, by the end of the Upaniṣad, after Death finally gave in to the young man’s request, Naciketas ‘became pure and immortal’. Is it really possible that we can also reach the same point by closely following the teaching that Naciketas hears, especially as we are living lives grounded in fear? Continue reading

Book Review: THE SELF ILLUSION

The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity, Bruce Hood, OUP, 2012, pp: 349. ISBN 978-019-989759-9

Prof. Bruce Hood is the Chair in Developmental Psychology at the University of Bristol, UK. He started off his graduate work in Psychology  a couple of decades ago studying the gaze of new born infants, tracking their eye movements and what excites them to take in the world they look at. From then on grew his curiosity to know how a ‘self’ gets ensconced in the innocent minds of the babies and grows to the Himalayan proportions in the grownup egos — some turning out to be Osama Bins or Hitlers and others, well, a you and a me. Bruce presents lucidly a captivating and absorbing narrative of not only his research findings but also that of a plethora of Psychologists and Neuroscientists from different parts of the world.  He does not, however, preach sitting on a high pedestal condescendingly giving the reader exercises for self-improvement as we usually find in the books authored by Psychologists. (In fact that was my peeve about the excellently written work of Gary Marcus, “Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind”, 2009).

Fig 2. Kanisza Square

But how could he? As so well argued by him, rather to the consternation of many Westerners unaccustomed to this kind of thinking, there is no entity, a ‘self’, present in you waiting to be improved. “Most of us believe that we have an independent, coherent self – an individual inside our head who thinks, watches, wonders, dreams, and makes plans for the future. This sense of our self may seem incredibly real, but a wealth of recent scientific evidence reveals that it is not what it seems — it is all an illusion.”  He illustrates the point using the Kanisza square (see Fig 2). Yes, you see a square alright. But remove the four Pac-Men in the corners. Where is the square? Continue reading

Inception: Dream or Not?

Here are two (related) book reviews which may be of particular interest to readers of our new serialization of ‘The Dream Problem’.

Nearly 2 years ago, the film of the moment was ‘Inception’, directed by Christopher Nolan. And this justifiably went on to win four Academy Awards. Friends told me how good this film was but, as is quite normal regarding films, I did not actually get to see it until some time after it came out on DVD. Since I have been a fan of science fiction ever since my childhood, I realized fairly quickly what this film was about in a general sense. Nevertheless, it was obvious that the story was quite complex and that all of the nuances could never be fully appreciated with one viewing. Accordingly, even at the time, I wondered whether anyone would write a book about it. (Of course, I realized that there would be a deluge of blogs on the subject but there is the slight problem of not having sufficient time to look, as well as not knowing which ones would be worth reading.) Continue reading