Saturday, March 19, 2011

Letting Go

This is what happens when you devote all your energy to desperately clinging to the memory of Mysore and the quality of yoga practice you managed in a life where nothing else matters: you strain your neck pushing yourself to the limit in headstand so that when you wake up the next morning, you can barely tilt your head but a few inches to the left; it hurts, of course, but not as much as knowing that you’re doing this to yourself in a misguided effort to resist the inevitable re-entry into real life.

It seems to me that one’s yoga practice has to find its way to be integrated fully into one’s quotidian existence; what this little setback is reminds me is to practice in conjunction with where I am.

What that will look like is hard to see, but it’s certain it won’t be the same here in cool and green Seattle as it was in hot and brown India.

That’s fine and good and the way it should be; one simply has to let go of that which is being clung to; release the neck and shoulders, and breathe deep of the rich Northwest air.

And so, with that, this first Winter quarter edition of Sabblogtical comes to a close; after March 28, when Spring quarter starts, it will be back, with discussion more related to the activity of Philosophy for Children, which is my stated focus for April through May.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


If you take this yoga business seriously, then it’s pretty serious business. Here’s how the brilliant 20th century writer Christopher Isherwood puts it in An Approach to Vedanta:

“…Yoga is the process of exploring your own nature; of finding out what it really is. It is the process of becoming aware of your real situation. The day-to-day space-time “reality” (as it is reported to us by our senses and the daily newspapers) is, in fact, no reality at all but a deadly and cunning illusion. The practice of yoga meditation consists in excluding, as far as possible, our consciousness of the illusory world, the surface “reality,” and turning the mind inward in search of its real nature. Our real nature is to be one with life, with consciousness, with everything else in the universe. The fact of oneness is the real situation.”

Huh. You don’t say.

So it’s not just a way to get your abs in shape, or to sweat out the toxins of last night’s partying; it’s not even merely a way to find peace of mind and true happiness—although that may follow indirectly.

If Isherwood is right (and the odds of that are reasonably good; he was a literary genius, a student and co-translator of Sanskrit texts with Swami Prabhavananda, who hung out with folks like Aldous Huxley and Bertrand Russell) then yoga is mainly a way of seeing things as they really are; it’s a tool for discernment and clarity, a means of getting a better picture of reality.

As someone who’s been very myopic ever since about second grade, and is now, as a middle-aged man, increasingly presbyopic, too, I know all about the importance of devices that help you see; eyeglasses are serious business, too, but what's even better about the Ashtanga yoga prescription—“take these poses 6 times a week and don’t call me in the morning”—is that it never requires me to go to the optometrist and have drops put in my eyes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The weather’s different (about 40 degrees cooler and way wetter); the roads are different (no speed bumps on the highway!); the food is different (a WHOLE cup of coffee, BLACK, in a mug, instead of a few drops, milk and sugar, in a glass), but the practice (although solo) is the same.

Surprisingly, it isn’t the “magic feather” of the AYRI shala or even of mother India herself that makes success in asana possible. Rather, here you are, 8000 miles, and a lost day of travel away, but once on the mat, at least at day one, you can still find the poses you discovered or rediscovered while away.

While I was in Mysore, we marveled, my Stateside correspondents and I, that even though nighttime was flipped with daylight, it was still the case that when the moon was visible, it was the same moon both places: a remarkably mundane observation, but somehow comforting.

And this is like that: the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice doesn’t require you (although perhaps it helps) to be in a magical room halfway around the world; you can move through the exact same poses and reap the very same benefits of it just 10 steps away from your very own bed in your very own hometown: a remarkably mundane observation, but somehow comforting.

That said, you can’t help but long for Mysore already.

Ten aspects of being there that will particularly be missed:

1) Yoga: the magic of the shala, the commitment of your fellow practitioners, the heat in the room
2) Classes: in Sanskrit, Chanting, Indian Philosophy, both from Laksmeesh at the shala and from Professors Jayashree and Narasimham at the Anatha Research Foundation
3) Flute Lessons: from Mr. Upadhyaya and from Hindustani flute God, Ravishankar Mishra
4) Cycling: on my Neelam bike, all round Mysore, anyplace you’d go on a scooter, you can get by human-powered two wheeler
5) Ashadayaka Seva Trust Orphanage: three times a week, the pleasure of playing with the kids from the orphanage; among other things, they taught me how to play cricket!
6) Food: less than a buck for your daily thali lunch, pretty much all you need to eat for the day
7) Ashrams: Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Ashrama and Ramakrishna Ashram—oases of wisdom and calm amidst the craziness of city life in India
8) Drinks: Coffee, Chai, and Coconuts
9) People: the spirit and friendliness of the locals I got to know a little in Mysore, from the trickster boys working at the coffee stand to the friendly and welcoming professors at Mysore University
10) Shopping: I don’t go all that crazy, but I did come home with four new custom-made shirts, and a bag full of bike parts, all for well under fifty bucks.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Asmita or “I-am-ness,” I learned today, is the error of mistaking the self that we experience ourselves as being for the real Self.

Apparently, it’s what all of us (well, me anyway) do all day long all the time: suppose that the person we think we are is who we actually are.

So in other words, I’m not actually a middle-aged, married, community college teacher on his last day of sabbatical in India, saddened somewhat at the prospect of leaving, but looking forward with great delight to seeing his home and family again; no, not at all.

Rather, I am Atman, I am Brahman, I am the One Thing in the Universe that IS the Universe and Pure Consciousness at the same time.

I’m not this individual wave on the ocean with its own special curve and dip, spray flying of its top, seagulls wheeling overhead; I’m just the Ocean itself, or maybe, to put it another way, the idea of Ocean where the Ocean is Universal Mind conceiving of the Ocean, dreaming it and itself into existence and out again and in again endlessly.

Or something like that.

All this remains an open question for me, which means, as Dr. Narasimham put it in today’s yoga sutras and chanting class, that I’ll keep coming back to it again and again. It’s like when you have a piece of food in your teeth, he said, the tongue can’t stop poking at it. But when it’s gone, you forget about it completely—until the next trapped bit of rice or whatever, at which point the process starts all over again.

That seemed like an appropriate metaphor for my final day here; I’ve been saying that India has gotten under my skin (in a good way), but maybe the better way to put it is that it’s gotten stuck between my teeth. I’ve got a little piece of Mysore lodged in the distal marginal groove of my maxillary first biscupid (I'm pretty sure that technically, this description doesn't even make sense, but keep in mind that what I experience as my teeth aren't even teeth at all.)

The important this is that now, I just have to keep coming back until it works free.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Treasure Hunt

Reaping the benefits of Ashtanga yoga, (which our fearless leader, Sharath, in today’s conference touted as the only yoga that includes all the angas, and therefore represents the one sure way to purify the mind and body and ultimately attain jnana, that is, knowledge) “is not like making noodles.”

It takes time.

And patience—which apparently, many people don’t have; everyone wants to be a teacher without even being a student. The shala gets many calls, he said, from people asking how they can become teachers; the answer: do your practice.

Paradoxically, though, it’s not about the goal: “We don’t expecting anything, we should do our practice.”

But it’s also, said Sharath, in what was my favorite quote of the day, “a treasure hunt.” He likened the longtime experience of doing Ashtanga to a search for the enduring knowledge and benefits that follow from the practice.

And he pointed out that the person who has found them will, like the discoverer of hidden riches, refrain from shouting, “I’ve found it!” He will be calm and in fact, may not even be aware of his achievement.

The hunt, in any case, is predicated on asana; in spite of being but one of the eight limbs, asana is the foundation, said Sharath; it is how we purify our minds and nervous systems. “Asana, don’t think it is only physical; it is very big tool to purify mind and body.”

Thankfully, though, one only need do what what can, as long as it’s done with a thirst to know what is yoga: “It’s not necessary that everyone should jump back; the people who doesn’t have that can also do Ashtanga.”

Which isn’t to say there won’t be pain; "with each new asana, you get new pain," but “sometimes when you get pain that means it is working.” The good news, however, is that “If you have pain from asanas, asanas will help you get rid of it.”

Sharath said that he has seen the practice heal many people’s physical ailments, from the arthritis of his friend’s aged parents to the hunched back of older student who has subsequently passed away, an inevitability we all face: “Once we take birth, we have to die, otherwise, we shouldn’t take birth.”

New challenges keep emerging, though yoga's effectiveness in meeting them has not changed. “Before television,” said Sharath, which he remembers coming to Mysore when he was fourteen, “people were very happy.”

Saturday, March 12, 2011


My timing was perfect: I showed up outside the Mysore Palace Gates just in time for the last of the 27 sun salutations led by children from the Odanadi Seva Trust.

In other circumstances, I might have played hooky from the yoga shala and attended the entire Yoga Stops Traffick event, but since today was my last opportunity (this trip!) to take part in one of Saraswathi’s led classes, I decided to do the 7:00 practice and then hightail it downtown in hopes of catching the last few surya namaskaras and taking a few photos.

And although I’d only just gotten my mat placed when the 27th downward dog was being counted out, I got to feel a little taste of the great love motivating the event; it was beautiful to see so many folks out on a Saturday morning in the already blazing sun in support of such a worthy cause.

One’s yoga practice here in Mysore is very inward-looking. It’s a remarkable privilege to be able to take time away from everyday life and do something so focused on one’s own personal, emotional, and/or spiritual development. So, it’s especially good to do something that supports a cause beyond the boundaries of oneself.

That the cause, in this case, is one that’s so important and meaningful makes it even better.

And that one can offer that support, (in a small way, anyway), with just a single sun salutation, well, that for me, totally puts a cherry on top.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Detached Attachment

“Nonsense can be spoken about in a sensible way,” said Dr. Narasimhan, and then he proceeded to do the converse of that, speaking about something that made plenty of sense in a manner that was somewhat nonsensical, or at least paradoxical.

I had wondered aloud about the concept of detachment or dispassion in the yoga sutras; Patanjali writes that the yogi should cultivate non-attachment; Sutra 1.15 is translated by Swami Prabhavananda as “Non-attachment is self-mastery; it is freedom from what is seen or heard.”

But I was puzzled because it seems to me that there are many things to which we ought to be passionately attached: the welfare of our families, for instance, or fighting against injustice, or even, for that matter, our own yoga practices.

But Dr. N. explained that Patanjali isn’t saying we ought to not care about things; “Detachment is not to be like a stone," is how the good professor put it.

We should be passionate, it’s just that “passion should be a detached passion so (we) can see the whole action in the field.”

The problem, apparently, is that a single-minded passion for an idea, a person, a cause, the next yoga pose in the series, you name it, “loses your ability to be aware of the nuances.” “Single-mindedness,” said Dr. N., “is not evolutionary.” It doesn’t allow the object of our passion to grow or change, or for our reactions to develop as well.

What we want, in other words, is a “detached attachment” so we can continue to evolve along with the situations in which we find ourselves. I can be as committed to my family, my life projects, social justice, or to dropping back and standing up on my own from urdhva dhanurasana as I want to be just so long as I don’t lose myself (or the object of my passion) in the process.

“Attachment with understanding is detachment,” concluded Dr. N.

With that in mind, then, I think I can safely say that now I’m a little more detached from the concept of attachment than I was before.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Non Non-Contradiction

“There are no false statements in Indian philosophy.”

With that quote in today’s yoga sutras and chanting class, Dr. Narasimhan cleared up something that’s been puzzling me: you’ve got all these various schools and perspectives in the Indian spiritual and philosophical tradition and commentators like Swami Prabhavananda seem to be cool with all of them, even though they stand on different sides of long-standing debates in philosophy, like between idealism and materialism, or dualism and monism, or even theism and atheism.

But, if they’re all true, then I guess there’s really no problem, after all.

Dr. N. explained from the Indian perspective, truth is relative, or at least contextual. The madman is only mad from the perspective of the sane person; as he goes on about space aliens abducting him or whatever, he’s speaking what he takes to be true; and while I would want to say that just because he thinks it’s true doesn’t mean it is, the Indian philosopher is comfortable with accepting multiple versions of the truth, depending on the context.

I suppose that this is in part because our everyday statements of what we take to be true, say, for instance, “I have two arms and two legs” are, metaphysically speaking, false. After all, if the world of our experience is essentially illusion and all that really exists is pure undifferentiated consciousness, then all of my utterances about things are actually mistaken. But if I’m okay with considering them true on pragmatic grounds, then why not allow other statements, even if they contradict with mine, to be true, as well?

But does this mean that anything, anything goes? Apparently not; there is still absolute truth, but, as Dr. N put it, “Absolute truth cannot be expressed absolutely in the relative world.”

Consequently, I guess, we’re stuck with making relative statements which means, apparently, that the so-called “law of non-contradiction” which we take for granted in Western philosophy can be broken at will.

Makes perfect sense. And none at all.

But now, I understand. And don’t.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Finding God

In the Philosophy of Religion class I teach a couple times a year, I usually assign, as a final project, for students to “Go Find God.” Their challenge is to articulate a clear conception of what they mean by a Supreme Being and then undertake some activity to connect with that Being, whatever it may be.

Of course, there’s no requirement that they are successful in their search; what I expect them to do is to take the assignment seriously, do some creative and analytical thinking and writing, and to be able to clearly articulate to their classmates and me what they did and what they learned from the effort.

In years past, students have engaged in any number of different activities, from taking nature walks in the woods, to visiting houses of worship different than their own, to ingesting ecstasy in Las Vegas (this before I included a caveat on the assignment rubric that they couldn’t do anything illegal), to attending a rave (without taking drugs, the student assured me, in keeping with my revised assignment guidelines.)

Each year, in hopes of modeling what I’m looking for, I try to do the assignment myself, and I’ve done a bunch of different things, too, including taking a long bike ride, to attending Sunday service at an evangelical church, to performing 108 sun salutations.

In spite of my own reasonably serious efforts, though, I’ve never succeeded in finding God. I’ve generally had a meaningful experience, but it’s never gone beyond the material world; I’ve never inferred something behind or beyond the Universe as we know it.

This year, as I prepared to come to India, I told my students that my trip here would be my this year’s “Go Find God” project. And although more than a few chuckled, I meant it sincerely.

So far, in spite of serious yoga practice, regular (albeit somewhat disjoined) study of Indian philosophy, and a general immersion in this world where God is everywhere, I haven’t really succeeded in locating the divine.


In today’s Yoga Sutra Chanting and Philosophy of Yoga class at the Anatha Research Foundation, Professor Narasimhan made a point—in response to a student’s question about whether, essentially, one can be a serious student of yoga without buying the underlying Hindu religious dogma—that may be moving me in the direction of something akin to success.

First, he explained that yoga is better understood as psychology than religion. It’s a technology, if you will, that, if followed completely—all 8 limbs—enables anyone who does so to, in time, find God.

God, however, is not to be understood as an external objective, nor as an externally objective Being. Rather, (and here I may be misrepresenting what he actually said, but this is how I understood it), God is the state of being you achieve when you employ the yoga “technology” successfully. To achieve Samadhi, in other words, is to find God.

Nevertheless, God remains indefinable by definition, distinctly beyond distinctions, and unknowable by any of our standard knowledge-acquisition methodologies.

Less esoterically, “God,” said Dr. N., “is a state of equanimity or contentment”; “the innermost sustaining force in your life;” he also suggested that whenever you achieve true satisfaction in your life, you have touched God.

So what does this suggest for finding God?

Well, if I’m satisfied that I haven’t, then have I?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ways of Knowing

As Professor Narasimham explained in today’s Yoga Sutra Chanting and Philosophy of Yoga class at the Anatha Research Foundation (which, to my chagrin, I’ll only be able to attend a handful of times before departing) Patanjali, in the yoga sutras, talks about three ways of acquiring “right knowledge” (essentially, what I have been trained to call “true belief,” knowledge being, by definition, true or “right”).

These three are pratyaksha (perception), anumana (logical inference), and agama (testimony or tradition, including scriptural knowledge.)

One of the students in our class made the insightful observation that the first two are essentially Western philosophy’s empiricism and rationalism, which she also thoughtfully pointed out are often seen from the perspective of our tradition as in conflict with each other since the days of the Ancient Greeks, whether it’s Aristotle vs. Plato or Hume against Descartes, with maybe Kant off to the side trying to mediate things.

Additionally, in my world, testimony or tradition tends not to be seen as a reliable knowledge-generating methodology, at least without further empirical or logical justification. In fact, accepting “received knowledge” at face value is generally seen as an informal fallacy of logic, the so-called “appeal to tradition,” the very same mistake in reasoning that has people believing all sort of wild claims and, as a result, having misguided opposition to same-sex marriage, birth-control, or women’s collegiate athletics.

What I found puzzling, and had to ask about (even though I felt a bit presumptuous posing a question in my very first class—but hey! It’s my last week here!) was whether Patanjali envisioned a hierarchy in the reliability of these various knowledge-generating techniques, as, for instance, we tend to do in the West, depending on whether our intuitions lie with the Rationalists or Empiricists.

But as Dr. N. pointed out, the three techniques work together so that, let’s say, pratyaksha is seen as reliable unless it conflicts with anumana, as in the case, for example, of “seeing” a solid table but knowing via received knowledge from the sciences that, in fact, it’s actually made up of atoms with more space between them than matter. Thus, none of the three gets to hold the epistemological high ground; it's rock-paper-scissors all around.

And what was particularly interesting to me was that, as I understood it, anyway, even scriptural knowledge doesn’t therefore get to be incorrigible; if it’s illogical and/or conflicts with sensory perceptions, then it can be rejected as not providing “right knowledge.”

Too bad for same-sex marriage, birth-control, and women’s collegiate athletics, this isn’t more a more prevalent idea in the West.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Given the opportunity, your average human being (well, this one, anyway) can rationalize just about any sort of behavior; all it takes is a plausible excuse and most of us (well, me, anyway) will find a way to justify even relatively egregious actions in the name of some principle that makes what we’ve done seem reasonably acceptable.

In this case, though, my transgression was pretty minor.

I’ve been one pose away from having been given the full Ashtanga primary series to practice under the watchful eye of my guru, Saraswathi. Having stopped me after Maricasana D the first week I was here in Mysore, she has then—following my triumph in binding both sides of the pose the same day the Steelers lost in the Superbowl—been slowly doling them out to me, a pose or three a week, depending on my progress and who knows what else.

Most recently, before my family and I left for Goa, I received Ubhaya Pandangusthasana and Urdva Mukha Pascimattanasana in a single day, leaving only Setu Bandhasana, a pose I usually get away with in the led class, even when, like on Saturday, I am in the front row, right where Saraswathi can put the kibosh on me should she so desire.

So today, I figured, “What the hell,” and “Besides, it’s my last week here,” thereby justifying my decision to assay that final posture even though I hadn’t officially received it.

Bad man, I know, but it’s my last week here, okay?

Of course, no sooner did I complete it and move into the finishing postures than my teacher arrives alongside to ask me in her sweet, but commanding voice: “What you do?” the question she poses to people as a way of ascertaining how far they’ve gone in the practice and whether they’re ready for a new pose.


Upside-down in Sarvangasana, I mumble first, “Urdva Mukha Paschimottanasa,” but then have to come clean: “Setu Bandasana,” I admit, guiltily.

“You do it correctly?” she asks.

“I think so,” I say, never sure, really about the “correctness” of any posture, meanwhile steeling myself for whatever punishment will now ensure.

She takes a beat, obviously, in my mind, deciding whether to ban me from the shala for life or just the rest of my time here.

But then: “Okay. Tomorrow you stand up for backbends.”

I almost fall out my pose with relief.

It’s taken six weeks, but I’m back to where I was in the length of my practice when I arrived.

Now, though, I’m official, albeit today—I admit somewhat guiltily but tempered by the excuse of this being my last week here—with an asterisk.


The talk at the Ramakrishna Ashram last night was all about devotion to one’s guru. The monk, Swami Karunakaranandaji Maharaj, told a number of stories about the commitment of students to their teachers; the one I recall best had something to do with Krishna bringing the dead child of his guru back to life because he had promised his master he would find the man’s lost son.

I couldn’t help but compare such an attitude to that of most students for their teachers at, for instance, my school. Whereas in the Indian tradition, the student serves his guru, in our world, the teacher is generally seen as providing a service to the student. College students, (somewhat reasonably, I think), have something of a consumerist mentality about their education: they’re paying for it, and it’s up to their instructors to provide value on the dollar.

Whereas this does turn education into a kind of market transaction, I don’t think it’s so awful, really. As a teacher, I feel a powerful responsibility to do right by my students, to provide them with experiences that are meaningful and relevant to their own lives. This doesn’t mean, of course, that it has to be all fun and games, (although in general, I think students learn best when they’re enjoying themselves), and it’s often the case that the students need to have their minds opened to new conceptions of meaning and relevance, but when it comes to devotion, I would have to say that I’m more devoted to the learners than they are to me.

But perhaps this isn’t so far from the Indian ideal, after all. Because, like most— if not all—of my colleagues, I will happily admit that the most profound pedagogical experiences I have are when I have the opportunity to learn from those I am officially teaching.

So, in essence, my students ARE my guru, and thus it’s perfectly in keeping with the tradition that Swami Karunakaranandaji Maharaj was talking about, and entirely consistent with it that in the classroom, I'm the real devotee.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


For the true mystic, or even—if I understand Swami Prabhavananda correctly—your average follower of Hinduism, belief in God is not a matter—as it often construed of in the West—of being convinced by some argument or another. Rather, it comes as a result of direct perception, just as my belief that I’m sitting here in my apartment typing on my computer follows straightforwardly from the sensory data I’m receiving through my eyes, ears, nose, and body, in general.

Here’s Prabhavananda quoting Ramakrishna describing his first vision of the divine: “House, walls, doors, the temple—all disappeared into nothingness. Then I saw an ocean of light, limitless, living, conscious, blissful. From all sides waves of light, with a roaring sound, rushed towards me and engulfed and drowned me, and I lost all awareness of outward things.”

Prabhvananda goes on to say that later in his life, Ramakrishna passed six months in a state without any consciousness of body or of external surroundings, remaining, as he put it, “continuously in the bliss of union with Brahman.”

I suppose if something like that happened to me—even for six seconds rather than half a year—I’d have to believe in the supernatural, too. As it is, though, in spite of over a decade of serious yoga practice and what I hope is at least a somewhat open mind to the possibility that everyday reality isn’t all there is, I remain unconvinced by my own experience, anyway, that there is a Higher Power behind the awe-inspiring majesty that is the natural Universe.

I like the idea of it, and conceptually it makes sense that the natural world is merely a manifestation of something more essential, but so far, it remains merely conceptual. And while I certainly cry inwardly, “Oh God, Oh God” at any number of the difficult poses during asana practice, I’ve yet to truly experience the divine either while doing yoga or in reflective meditation upon the practice.

This, of course, may be merely a perceptual failing on my part, no different than my inability to read the big “E” on the eyechart without my glasses.

Maybe I have something like God myopia and won’t ever really experience the Divine without the help of some sort of corrective lenses. In a way, I think that’s sort of what yoga is, which is why, in part, I typically practice without wearing my spectacles.

Friday, March 4, 2011


The sand in the hourglass of my time here in India is running out—just 10 more days—and so I can’t help being reflective about the experience, even if that’s a bit premature.

And what I couldn’t stop reflecting upon today is that even though lots of practices that would be considered ethically inappropriate in the US are seen as perfectly acceptable here in India, this still doesn’t necessarily support the claim of ethical relativism: essentially, that culture defines morality such that no overarching objective moral norms exist.

I keep thinking about how people drive differently here; basically, the rule seems to be that the bigger your vehicle, the more people have to get out of your way. The yield signs say “Give way,” but the only giving way I ever see is like when a subcompact car lets a giant truck go ahead of it mainly in order not to be run over.

In the US, plenty of what passes for daily practice here would be reckless driving if not attempted manslaughter, but does this mean that there aren’t any objective moral norms related to conduct on the road?

I don’t think so. It seems to me that both societies concur on some foundational principle, maybe something like, “It is wrong to violate the rules and practices of the road.” It’s just that the two countries have different conventions, sort of like how people drive on the right in the US and (mainly) on the left here.

Or consider the morality of queuing up. At the train station yesterday, people just sort of surged to the ticket window, even if you’re already standing in front of them; only pushy assholes would do that in America, and they’d be unlikely to get away with it, at least if the person in front of them were bigger.

Again, I think both societies share a common value in this case; call it efficiency. The shared moral norm would then be, “One should always queue up in a manner that maximizes line-moving speed.” Here, that means getting ahead of whomever you can; in Seattle, by contrast, that means somewhat passive-aggressively ensuring that everyone behind you knows who was here first.

So in the end, it’s all the same thing, only different. Or, as is so often the case in India, totally different, but somehow the same.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


If you consider, even for a moment, our society’s necessarily inevitable transition to the post-petroleum economy, you’re going to conclude that we’re all totally and utterly FUBARed; so much of our world depends on the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine that the path from here to whatever lies beyond for recreational and commercial transportation and small-power generation seems absolutely impassible

The world may not end in December of 2012, as New Agers, conspiracy theorists, and allegedly, Mayan calendar-makers, forecast, but insofar as the next few years represent a watershed period in humanity’s exodus to a time when life runs on something else than burned-up hydrocarbons, it sure seems like the world-as-we-know-it, anyway, will pretty soon meet its demise, if not before the curtain rises on 2013, at least not too long afterwards.

It’s hard enough to imagine how it’s all going to happen in the United States, whose empire, such as it is, is pretty much founded on cheap gasoline and where the personal automobile is probably a more appropriate symbol of the country than the Stars and Stripes or the Bald Eagle, but maybe because being native to the society, I can sort of envision how a confluence of events, including lots of governmental support and industrial innovation, might almost begin to build a road (no pun intended) to a future in which the gasoline-powered car is not so king.

But here in India, and especially when I’m in a motor vehicle—be it scooter, autorickshaw, or taxicab—enmeshed in the crazy traffic that characterizes pretty much every trip I’ve taken, it just seems impossible. What will happen to all these vehicles and how in the world will people and goods get moved around without relying on gasoline engines?

What’s weird to think of, though, is how new it all is. A hundred years ago, none of these vehicles existed; besides walking, it was all horses, cows, donkeys, and other four-legged creatures moving folks around; it had gone that way for thousands of years; this period of fast-moving cars, trucks, and motorcyles is just a blip on the screen of human history; I suppose there’s no real reason to assume that it won't all be gone in another century or so.

It’s conceivable that it will actually be an easier switch here in a country like India where so many people already use less gasoline-intensive vehicles—small cars and scooters, for instance—so maybe as the oil runs out, the people here will be able to fun on fumes a little longer and extend the status quo until new solutions emerge, but it also seems likely that because so much of everything depends on petroleum, things are going to get a lot uglier before they get prettier—which I assume they will at some point, when traffic lightens up.

But frankly, all this discussion of cars and traffic represents only a theoretical concern right now; after all, I’m cruising along comfortably from Bangalore to Mysore on the express train.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I’ve seen Disney video of otters cavorting in the water, sliding down waterfalls and cracking clams on their bellies; or nature films where Orcas throw seals around for fun; and who hasn’t enjoyed movies where bears tussle in the snow for fun or in which mountain goats bash each others’ horns in for the sheer entertainment value of it?

Clearly, there’s something delightful about seeing animals having fun, which is why, perhaps, it’s such pleasure to observe human animals engaging in the variety of strange and wonderful ways they have of amusing themselves, including running full speed into waves breaking upon the shore, then flipping forward to land—smack—on their back in the surf; or hooking themselves to parachutes to be pulled into the air by a boat so as to dangle, suspended a hundred feet above the water, laughing hysterically; or swimming back and forth from sand to breakers, riding the waves or being pulled beneath them or sometimes both.

I wonder if our hunter-gatherer ancestors played around in the ocean as much as we do and whether they did so in such weird ways. Did Og and Gog, for instance, body surf? Did their mates take time from pounding dried fish or whatever to enjoy a float on their backs the boyant waters of the salty sea?

Who can say? But it’s certain that their contemporary counterparts, namely those of us currently inhabiting planet earth, have mastered the practice of doing strange things just for shits n’ giggles; I myself have no idea why parasailing, for example, is such a riot, but I heartily endorse it as a morning’s entertainment and as a way for parents and their children to bond at 150 feet above sea level.

I for one, was cracking up, and so was my kid, and I’m sure that any otters who were watching would have been laughing out loud, too.