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There is a simple technique, a part of Yoga, which can be used as a stress busting technique and to add positively to our overall happiness.

This is called the `Sukha Pranayama’. Sukha means happiness, pranayama means control of Prana. Prana is an esoteric concept of Hinduism, for now we can take it to mean control of breath.
So Sukha Pranayama means the exercise of controlling our breath which gives us happiness.

It is really very simple. We can do this at any time and place, any number of times we wish to do during the day.

It consists of sitting up straight so that our back is very straight. Preferably we should sit in the Padmasana posture, a Yoga pose which is actually quite simple and consists more or less of a cross legged sitting position. We can sit in this way, but it doesnt matter if we are sitting in a chair in the office or lying down in the bed. This is not a strenuous exercise and any posture will do, the only essential is that our back should be straight. This is considered necessary for the flow of `Prana’ along our spine.

We then breathe in slowly in and out. We should draw the breath in first as slowly and evenly as we can. There is no need to put stress on ourselves by drawing it too long, this is not a test. We should just try to be comfortable. After drawing it in, we then expire in the same way, slowly and evenly.

The main point of interest is not the breathing in or out but the gap in between the two breaths. This period is called `Kumbhaka’ and it is very important for Pranayama, in fact this is the most important period in Pranayama. The aim is to prolong this period between the two breaths.

In Hindu logic and Yoga, it is always the gap between two opposite movements which is the most important, such as the gap between the night and the day. Such moments are considered to be very `still’ movements, and hence the closest to the Absolute. Thus the dawn and the evening are considered to be the most conducive for Yoga.

In breathing, it is the Kumbhaka which is considered the most important. As our breaths become slow and even, the kumbhaka also will become prolonged, but we should not exert ourselves over this and try to prolong it artificially. The movement at all times should be natural.

Our mental state during this Kumbhaka is the vital part of Sukha Pranayama. The aim is to put ourselves into a happy state during this moment, as it is the calmest moment in our movements.
To do this, we are encouraged to think of anything which makes us happy. For Bhakti yogis, this would mean thinking about God and the love of God. But by no means is it confined to this. We can think of anything which makes us happy – some time spent with our family, watching the sunset at the beach, a particular song or piece of music, etc. It could even be a risque joke. It does not matter what it is as long as it is something which gives us happiness.
Filling our minds with this happy thought, we then gently let out our breaths.

This is all there is. We need to repeat this as many times as possible, as often as possible. The time and place does not matter. Any time is a good time for at least one exercise of Sukha Pranayama.

This simple exercise is enough to radically transform our lives. We will find our minds getting lighter and happier, and we will be more easily able to bear the griefs and worries of life in the world. This exercise should form an important part of our arsenal to tackle the world.

~

P,J,Mazumdar is the author of “The Circle of Fire”, a book on Advaita Vedanta and Yoga.

To read further on Advaita Vedanta philosophy, please go here for an overview of the basic principles and logic of Advaita:

-> Advaita Philosophy

To read more articles on various aspects of Hinduism, Enlightenment, Upanishads, etc. from the website thecircleoffire.com, please click here:

-> Advaita Vedanta Yoga

You can look up the book on Amazon here: The Circle of Fire.

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When did Yoga start? The origins of Yoga are lost in antiquity. According to tradition, the Samkhya philosophy along with the Yoga school are considered to be the oldest among the six schools of Hindu philosophy, older even than the Upanishads. This however does not give us much information because there is controversy about the dating of the Upanishads and other Hindu scriptures like the Yoga sutras, with dates ranging from 1500-500 BCE (according to Western experts) and 4500-3000 BCE according to Indian tradition.

Proto Shiva Yoga seal from Mohenjodaro

Yoga seal from Mohenjodaro

In this context, this image is very important (image from here). The image is from a seal from the Indo-Saraswati civilization, from the city of Mohenjodaro. It shows a figure in a Yogic posture. The image is quite clearly an image of the God Shiva, the God of Yoga. Various aspects point to this, like the three faced image, the crown with buffalo horns and three peepul leaves, etc.

The image is undoubtedly in a Yogic posture. Since the date of the Mohenjodaro civilization is quite well established (more…)

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In trying to form a metaphysical explanation for the world, we can argue through these four steps which lead ultimately to the Advaita Vedanta conception of god.

1. The world is a non-absolute or relative reality.

2. There is an absolute principle which exists beyond the world.

3. This absolute principle also forms the basis for existence of the individual consciousness.

4. The individual consciousness can ‘touch’ this absolute consciousness for a mystical experience.

4 Steps to Brahman

4 steps to God/Brahman/Absolute

1. The world is a non-absolute or relative reality.

This is something which is pointed at by quantum mechanics, relativity, etc. which all show that the world does not have an absolute reality. Of course, this has also been argued quite effectively by Advaita Vedanta and also western philosophers like Hume. Advaita Vedanta has always said that the world is only relatively real. This was considered a play of words by other philosophers or something which was too high to understand. But now modern science through Quantum Physics and Relativity has said exactly the same thing.

Because science has proven this step of logic of Advaita Vedanta, there is often a tendency to say that science has proven Advaita Vedanta in total. But I would not like to claim this. In my view, it is only this first step that has been proven till now by science, the further steps of Advaita Vedanta philosophy are something which science has not gone into as yet, although we can hope that perhaps this too will happen someday.

2. There is an Absolute Existence beyond this worldly existence.

Let us take an example. Take a candle which burns from wax and dissipates into smoke and heat. Now as the candle changes its form, we know that there was one thing which was constant, it was the matter in the form of molecules and energy. It was this matter-energy which was initially in the form of a candle, later in the form of dissolved wax, smoke and flame and finally dissolved altogether into the air as smoke. So in this, it was matter-energy which was the constant, the absolute reality behind the ‘fuzzy’ reality of the candle. I am using the word ‘fuzzy’ here to show the non-absolute reality of the candle, in that it can change its form and disappear.

Now, we know from physics that matter and energy are two ends of the same spectrum of existence, they are like two sides of the same coin. They are equivalent, and this equivalence is determined by E=MC2. So this suggests that there must be something which is common to both. Now we know that matter and energy has opposite properties in the present universe. So that which is common to both must be neither but something from which both can be manifested, hence it must be something which has the absoluteness which can manifest both these contradictory properties. It has to be something which is ‘beyond’ both matter and energy, which lies at the base of matter and energy. (To read more on matter-energy equivalence, please go to my website article, Mass-Energy Equivalence.)

Similarly, we know that time-space is connected to matter-energy, it is related only to this, and time-space is relative. So that from which matter and energy is manifested has also time-space manifested at the same time. So the absolute is something which lies ‘beyond’ time and space, something from which time and space are manifested. It is this Absolute which is the Brahman or the Absolute Principle of Advaita.

Lack of absolute reality as in Quantum Physics and Relativity means not in the sense that the world or particles do not exist, but that theories like quantum physics ascribe opposing properties to particles which are paradoxical and  which cannot be explained by the present theory in itself . To explain such phenomenon, quantum physics would have to define something beyond the phenomena itself, a theory at a deeper level, just as relative mechanics lies beyond Newtonian mechanics, particles lie beyond atoms, etc. In this way,  physics would have to go on defining more and more general theories till one day it comes to a theory of an Absolute Field. The theory of an absolute field of Brahman would be consistent by explaining such phenomena. (To read more on the interplay of Advaita for quantum physics, please go to my article, Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics.)

As can be seen from this definition, the Brahman here is not a creative God, it is not a God to whom we can pray or ask for blessings. It is a principle only. In fact, any scientist can believe up to this point and still consider himself or herself an Atheist. It is only when going beyond this stage that Advaita Vedanta becomes a spiritual path and not a physical explanation for the world.

The alternative to this explanation is that ‘there is no Absolute beyond this worldly existence’ This is an alternative conclusion and is also a valid conclusion. This is the Buddhist conclusion. Starting from here, Buddhists go on to explain that since there is nothing permanent, sorrow also is not permanent, hence can be got rid of following the eight fold path and so on. Some atheists can also follow this conclusion and follow alternative paths of their own system of ethics and philosophy.

There is really no third conclusion, once we accept that the world which we experience has relative reality, (more…)

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Positions taken on determinism in modern times invariably have to contend with the fact that indeterminism has been proved quite comprehensively in the quantum world.

Determinism however is maintained for the world at large by saying that quantum indeterminacy is a strange little phenomenon that is confined only to quantum events and has no relevancy at all for our macroscopic world. Quantum indeterminacy is thus boxed in in a safe little world of quantum events and is not allowed to intrude into the discussion about determinism at large.

But when there is indeterminacy at any level, it is bound to cause the hole chain of determinacy to collapse. Determinacy involves arguments regarding cause and effect, a chain of cause and effect tightly following each other. After Hume of course, the very mention of a cause and effect relationship ought to raise a red flag. Determinists would argue that when an ocean wave crashes on the shore, each bubble is ultimately dependent on factors involving the formation of the wave and there is no random event even here. Thus events since the big bang itself have ensured that a particular wave would crash at a particular shore causing a particular amount of bubbles.

However, quantum indeterminacy can and does intrude into this cozy chain of cause and effect.

For example, when we take a kettle boiling and ultimately blowing off its lid, we have an example where activity at the quantum level intrudes ultimately into the macroscopic world. As the temperature of the water rises, the electrons absorb energy and buzz around, jumping from lower to higher orbits, and ultimately the atoms in the steam vibrate with a great deal of energy. As these atoms vibrate, they vibrate as molecular phenomena and the element of indeterminacy is present in their interactions, until the point when the vibrations burst off the lid.  When the kettle blows off its lid, the angle is determined by randomness. No determinism in larger events outside determine this and quantum fluctuations certainly play a large part. The final vector of force which acts on the lid is the sum of all the random vectors of each molecule, and this is entirely random.

These systems also work in other macroscopic events. In analyzing volcanoes, we can infer that there must have been millions of such ‘kettle pot’ phenomena deep inside and these random phenomena finally decided when the volcano was going to go off and on which side the lava would flow.

Similarly, the direction taken by a spark when two quartz are rubbed together, determines a fire in a forest.

Also, in a wave crashing on a shore, we can infer millions of such miniature ‘kettle pot’ events which would ultimately determine the events, so that the bubbles would truly be random.

Thus randomness in quantum events cannot be confined to quantum levels only. This randomness no doubt determines events in the macroscopic world too, and so maintaining a position of determinism for the macroscopic world when we know that it does not exist for the quantum world is untenable.

If you wish to read more on this topic,  you can look up my book, The Circle of Fire- the Metaphysics of Yoga. You can also look up topics on the relation of science and Advaita Vedanta like Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics on my site, www.thecircleoffire.com

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Determinism would seem to be seriously challenged by quantum theory, which has proved randomness in as far as quantum events are concerned. This is however rejected by determinative thinkers who hold that determinism still holds at the macroscopic level.

Thus a determinism adherent would hold for example that if we could have a sort of supercomputer, he would be able to predict every bubble in a wave or every toss of a coin.

So a determinism adherent would say that in a macroscopic case, say a billiard ball hitting the side of the table and bouncing back, we could predict exactly by knowing the angle at which the ball hits the table and its initial velocity, the resultant angle and velocity after hitting the table.

But is this so? In fact, this is not really true and randomness still enters the picture. The path of the ball is not in fact totally predictable but has random fluctuations in its path, but these fluctuations are of a quantum proportion and therefore are not measured in macroscopic measurements.

If we take the toss of a coin for example (ignoring for the moment the question of whether the toss is actually random or not as it is not relevant right now), we can see that we get a probability factor of 50-50. It is because the toss is random that we get this probability. If we get two heads in a row for example, it does not mean that the third throw has a higher chance of turning up tails, the chances for it are still 50-50. however, because it is random and the chances of both are equal, in a large amount of throws, the two cancel each other and we get this 50-50 probability. If we throw it a hundred times, we have a good chance of getting a 50-50 result or a 49-51 result, we would not expect a 45-55 result. If we throw it a thousand times, we would get even less fluctuations proportionate to the number of throws, for example, say, 495-505. the fluctuation of 5 would be significant in 100 throws but of much less significance when compared with a thousand throws. Similarly, if we throw a million or a billion times, the fluctuations would be even further dampened compared to the total overall throws.

A chance observer presented with the results of only a billion throws at a time and not individual throws would say that there is a determinism which dictates that the coin would fall equally on both sides each time. He might be tempted to say that, if a coin shows head at one throw, it is virtually certain that the next throw would show tails. But of course he would be wrong, there is no determinism here, it is a pseudo-determinism based on randomness at its heart.

Similarly, we can consider a giant insurance company. Some peple would die early and some would die late, but most people would die around a certain age, and a mean age can be calculated, say 72 years. A manager in such a company can make his calculations for his offers taking the age of 72 and would be correct. But based on this, no man can remain sanguine that he would die at 72 and no other age.

Such processes where the overall result can be predicted on the basis of probability even though the individual processes are random are called stochastic processes.

Now, we can take take the case of a billiard ball. We know that the surfaces of both the billiard ball and the side rails of the table edge are in fact composed of billions of atoms with their electrons. Now, according to quantum theory, the electrons are not at a fixed position but can appear randomly at certain points when they interact with other electrons. So when it is considered at the level of quantum events, there is no predictable outcome, instead we can predict a number of outcomes and give their probability. So when the electrons of the billiard ball hit the electrons of the side rails of the table, there are in fact a huge number of random events taking place. But the randomicity adds up, as in the case of an insurance company or the toss of a coin, to give a path which is weighed heavily in favor of the most probable path and which is the macroscopic path of the ball.

But here, the most important point is that there are still random fluctuations in the path. Despite the ball going in the most probable path, the elements of randomicity would not usually add up perfectly and so there are always random fluctuations in the path. This is similar to the event of throwing, say, a million tosses of the coin. We would not expect always an exact 500,000-500,000 heads or tails, and there is bound to be a minor fluctuation of say,10 or 20 throws or even a bit more on either side. So also in the case of the ball, there is a minor fluctuation in the path and it does not follow strictly the laws of macroscopic mechanics, there is always a strong likelihood of deviations from the path. These deviations, moreover, are derived from the deviations of the electrons in their path and (more…)

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‘Free will’ requires of course a ‘willer’.

Who or what in the context of human consciousness is that ‘willer’?

Having a ‘willer’ seems to suggest that there is an entity that is independent, independent of the consciousness and having its own will, that is, a soul. This entity would then ‘run’ consciousness as it were, running it like a machinery. Such a ‘soul’ is stable and above the fluctuations of the consciousness and has some ‘superconscious’ power that gives it this power to have a ‘will’.

But it is not at all necessary nor is it logical to suggest such a ‘superconscious’ soul.

As I have discussed in my book, “The Circle of Fire“, the concept of such a soul runs contrary to logic and science.

Instead, it is our consciousness itself, our minds, in which resides this ‘willer’. Here we have named that which wills as the Buddhi. So we may ask, what is this buddhi?

In this context, we have first to ask, what is consciousness?

We know that consciousness is somehow generated in the neurons of the brain. This consciousness is generated, not in the cells or their processes, the axons, but in the signals which are transmitted between the cells. The cells, the axons and the signals are all only elecrophysical substances, but it is in the interplay of information which is intensely relayed within this collection of neurons which generates consciousness. We can foresee an alien species which has silicon chips for cells and fiberglass cables for nerves, and light signals in place of electrical signals, but which could still generate the same consciousness as in a human. It is not in these material things that consciousness resides but in the interplay of information. It is this information flux which is consciousness.

Of this information flux that resides in our brain, there is only a part which is conscious and the rest is unconscious. During any particular moment of being conscious, we are accessing only a part of the huge information pool that subsists in our brains. We are using only a very small part of the memories, for example, which resides in our brains at any given moment and the vast part of our memories remains unaccessed, or subconscious. Yet they are always within reach, so to speak.

So of the information flux that generates our individuality, we can discern at least two parts, a part which is conscious and a part which is unconscious. Now how much is which is something that can be known only in the future. We can hazard various guesses regarding the relation of the conscious part of our individuality and the unconscious part. The conscious part may be, for example, only like the display of our computer screens while the larger and main part of our individuality lies unseen working behind this display. Or it may be that consciousness is somewhat larger, like the tip of an iceberg, but the larger part of our individuality is still formed by our unconscious part. Again, we may say that consciousness forms the major part since those memories for example, which are not being accessed at any particular point of time are still accessible to the consciousness, and hence within its realm.

All these things are very much within the realm of future cognitive sciences, and at present we can only hazard a guess.

Similarly, regarding the buddhi also, we can hazard many different guesses. The buddhi is the part of the information flux that generates individual actions and plans which are independent of previous templates. How much of this buddhi is conscious and how much is unconscious is impossible to say right now. This buddhi can be said to lie entirely within the consciousness part, partly within the conscious and partly within the unconscious parts (most likely) or  entirely within the unconscious part (much less likely).

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. As long as we can define an entity that can generate free will, it doesn’t matter whether it lies within our conscious part, our unconscious part or the more likely guess, (more…)

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The question of free will is an age old question in philosophy and vast amount of speculation has gone into it. All sorts of issues from dualistic Gods, determinism, randomicity, etc. has been brought into it.

It is pertinent to note that these discussions are for those who like philosophical speculation only. Society at large has since time immemorial settled the question firmly in favor of everyone having a free will and the ability to make a decision on their actions, and thus being responsible for their actions. When we catch a murderer, we immediately produce him in court hoping to punish him. We are sure that he has killed on his own decision, and want to punish him for it. The judge also does not pontificate about free will but imposes a stiff sentence, considering him fully responsible.

Not just the criminal justice system but virtually all our institutions like marriage, government, companies, etc. depend on their functioning for this assumption that the persons involved in that institution have free will and can act on their own judgment.

Even those who indulge in such speculation do not actually believe that there is no free will in their practical lives, as they are also part of the same institutions and support them without question. Such speculation has no practical basis and exists merely to serve its own end of giving us something to speculate on, a ‘time-pass’ activity as we say in India.

Arguments about the absence of free will are rather like arguments of Mahayana Buddhists – Yogachara or Madhyamika, when they make their solipsistic arguments that the whole world is a dream that we are dreaming. We know right at the outset that they are completely wrong, even though we realize that we may have a hard time proving that they are wrong.

The basic problem with all arguments about ‘free will’ start from the use of the terms ‘free will’ itself. This is because we cannot really define ‘will’. What actually does it mean? Does it not mean our ability to do anything we want? In that case, what does ‘free’ indicate? The word ‘will’ should by itself convey the capacity of ‘freeness’. Again, other questions arise like where does will originate, etc. Any definition of will must rest on a clear definition of consciousness, and since we cannot define consciousness exactly, we cannot define will also.

Most of the confusion about ‘free will’ originates from here. Contemplating deeply into the question ultimately brings up the basic problems of these terms, and hence ensures that we remain muddled up forever.

Hence it is better to start off by trying to define this more exactly.

We must avoid definitions of free will which include words like consciousness in the second term.

In the future the question will undoubtedly arise whether a particular computer has free will. In these discussions, (more…)

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