Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Zen and the Art of Playing the Saxaphone

Zen and the art of playing the saxophone.

The sheen of the brass could have easily been mistaken for gold. As a child when i watched an artiste playing the saxophone, he appeared larger than life. I imagined him to have the most powerful lungs and breath holding capacity. There was a touch of surreality to not just the sound that emanated but to  the aesthetics, graceful curve and the ivory keys of the instrument.
It was probably an infatuation at a tender age but any kind of romance in childhood  has  the most profound and prolonged impact.
The fascination for the instrument in teenage years almost grew to an obsession on  seeing a matinee idol  flaunting the instrument effortlessly to woo the reluctant heroine. It added to his machismo and made his  appeal irresistible. Or so I thought considering my innate fondness for the instrument.
The many stories and rumours about the saxophone being the most difficult instrument to learn made me abandon all hope to  make any attempt to pursue my dream. Hearing solo renditions of the instrument in hotel lobbies or elevators only whetted my lust for the unattainable.
Limitations of any kind are most often self imposed and my giving up any hopes of playing the saxophone was no different.
      One fine day on an impulse I just drove down to music store and bought myself the instrument that had captured my imagination for so long. Taking a few tips about assembling the neck, the reed and the mouth piece I  began courting this beauty. Just the feel of the instrument as I hooked it in the harness made me feel ecstatic. The sounds that I emanated were a cacophony. So remote from those ethereal notes that I had imagined.  It was largely like travelling on uncharted territory. Almost like getting to know another person.
As I puffed and snorted like a bull into the mouthpiece all I got in return was a high pitched squeal. This was surely not the way i had seen the  more accomplished ones play. It couldn't be so painful and exhausting. One was supposed to clasp the mouth  piece between the upper teeth and the upcurled lower lip covering the lower teeth. The so called embouchere.
     As I ran my hands along the polished metallic contours I was filled with a sense of despair.
I had to keep blowing and changing the angle of how I held the instrument every time I tried. Each day was a similar experience. Blow hard,  catch my breath, restore  the contours of my ears drums and then keep the instrument aside and leave all further attempts  for another day.
One day as I was packing the  instrument into its case, an idea flashed across my mind. Almost a divine revelation.
I hurriedly reassembled the device and instead of taking a deep bite embouchere, I closed my mouth closer to the tip of the mouthpiece and drew the breath from the inner recesses of my lower abdomen.
The sound that emerged was certainly sounding like a note. I quickly positioned my fingers as instructed and lo behold !
The notes were distinct and clear as I lifted my fingers one by one. The exhilaration was indescribable. The most fundamental lesson of getting the embouchere right was at best - serendipitous.
         As the cacophony and noise was being replaced by more coherent notes I realised the importance of technique. Technique is what enhances the mechanical advantage. Skill is  optimal deployment of force and effort. Some  are blessed with skills congenitally whilst the lesser fortunate ones have to strive to acquire them.
As my interaction  increased it decreased the intimidation by the instrument  and soon I was looking forward to the  practice sessions.  I was warned by many that it would be nigh impossible to learn this instrument without learning the chords and notes. The sharps, flats, major and minors always were confusing and I realised that I was incapable of familiarising myself with this musical jargon.
      Approach to learning can be either classical or romantic. The classical approach is method based. A series of sequential chronological steps that eventually  become established  neuronal circuits in the brain. A left brain phenomenon.
The romantic approach is one that makes learning  a process of forgetting ones inabilities. It is not necessarily the outcome of any sequential protocols. The beauty of this approach is that it is unique for each one. A path that each one makes for oneself. It has a spontaneity and a novelty. A process of discovery. It is not incremental and dawns as a realisation. A right brain phenomenon that is more intuitive than inquisitive.
Getting the appropriate note by deploying the correct embouchure and blowing from deep within is just the beginning.
All music starts in the mind. Each note with all the attributes of the tone, pitch, amplitude, sustain etc is first sounded in the mind. Using this  reference point one goes about co-ordinating the finger placement, the grip on the mouth piece and the intensity of blowing. When the sound emerges a real time comparison of the emerged sound with the reference manual of the mental note happens before the next note is contemplated upon. The mind splits into parts. One part that assesses the emerged note, one part constructs the mental image of the next note, one part determines how the fingers ought to be manipulated, as another part  subtlely reminds to take the next breath. The fragmentation of one's conscious intelligence and the delegation of responsibility to  each part is the beginning of Zen. The Zen-narrative mentions a realisation that is a "special transmission outside scriptures which does not stand upon words"
      This fragmentation is still based on a fundamental underlying unity of one's consciousness. This intellectual symphony is above all continually observed  by an impersonal consciousness. The "Witness". This impersonal witness remains non judgemental.This fragmentation process becomes more cohesive and  the process of playing successive notes becomes smoother. Each step merges imperceptibly into the other and one approaches the  Zen moment. This moment is the most ecstatic. At this moment all premeditation, deliberation fragmentation disappears and is replaced by a spontaneous effortless synchronicity. Like the pleasure the child gets when he turns back to see no one is holding the seat anymore, the  peddling continues and the away cycle speeds along. Holding the balance while cycling is a realisation. Its not knowledge. It's a state of mind. The sound becomes a kind of symphony.
There are two different ways of understanding and actually practicing Zen. These two different ways are termed in Chinese pen chueh and shih-chueh respectively. The term pen chueh refers to the belief that one’s mind is from the beginning of time fully enlightened, while shih-chueh refers to the belief that at some point in time we pass from imprisonment in ignorance and delusion to a true vision of Zen realization: “Our enlightenment is timeless, yet our realization of it occurs in time.”
I experienced  this Shih-chueh moment playing the saxophone. The realisation that I all along knew how to play this instrument and my inability to play it was merely my imaginary ignorance.

Deepak Ranade



Serendipity is a chance stumbling upon a new idea, rather accidentally. This term was first coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. It was with reference to  a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip who were “always making discoveries, accidentally and unexpectedly  of things which they were not in quest of.
Evolution of scientific thought and ideas is replete with a number of such Eureka moments. These momentous flashes of enlightenment have a touch of serendipity. They can't be explained as a logical outcome of sequential thinking. They are maverick moments that at first have a whiff of anti conformism. They have a spontaneity that's bereft of flexing any intellectual muscle. In retrospect one realises that they actually pushed the frontiers of prevailing concepts and ideologies.
The incredible thought experiments proposed by Einstein at the iconic "Copenhagen interpretation " are truly stunning. This genius proposed concepts like Entanglement way ahead of his times even when he had scarce modalities and resources to actually verify his hypotheses. The EPR paradox was a  critique levelled against the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.  Albert Einstein and his colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen(known collectively as EPR) designed a thought experiment which revealed discrepancies in  the accepted formulation of quantum mechanics. This hypothesis had a consequence which looked unreasonable at the time. The thought experiment incredibly  described a  phenomenon that is now known as quantum entanglement.
The Vedas are considered by many as a similar flash of realisation that occurred to the rishis in their meditative state.
This kind of enlightening is termed as "Aparoksha Gyaan" or knowledge acquired  without the intervention of any medium.
This knowledge is almost  a celestial handout to the ripe and prepared mind. The human intellect is traditionally classified into two broad categories.
"Tarka Pradnya" and "Antah Pradnya". The former or Tarka Pradnya is logic based intellect whist the latter or Antah Pradnya is the innate intrinsic intellect. It's the substrate with which divinity gets Entangled. This coupling is termed serendipity in common parlance. Serendipity does not occur to the unprepared mind. It is effectively a kind of resonance with divinity. A  concerted effort, a quasi obsessive single minded dedication  (tapascharya) is a precondition for creating this resonance with divinity.
       Masterpieces in creative art forms like music, literature, painting are also testimony to similar trysts with divinity. They are euphemistically termed ' inspiration'. These moments are characterised by a fleeting sense of  transcending the self. Awareness expands from the personal frame to a much larger canvas.
     Recently, a neurological basis for this perplexing phenomenon has emerged. It was observed that the capacity of consciously processing visual stimuli increases significantly when the observation of the outside world is not guided by precisely defined expectations. In particular, the brain produces an enhancement of the level of consciousness amplifying and extending, in the secondary visual cortex. (An area situated at the back of the head around the primary visual cortex)
“Serendipity seems, therefore, to occur when the attention of an active observer is not tied up, based on the experience of past events consciously perceived, to precisely defined expectations of incoming sensory inputs,” explained the scientist Fabrizio Doricchi, coordinator of the study conducted in Rome. It probably indicates a mindset that's not biased and is in a deprogrammed state. It might just  be a ' quantum resonance 'with the universal consciousness. A realisation when the consciousness sees with the 'Third Eye'

Dr. Deepak M Ranade

Age of Innocence

The School Reunion

As we ambled up the drive way to the school on the auspices of a 35 year reunion, my mind was filled with a sense of nostalgia. The tall trees and the impressive building looked resplendent and yet not as intimidating as they used to back then.  As school children the buildings, the playgrounds and the entire campus loomed large. Those were times when one was timid. Times when one felt very small and vulnerable. This state of being diminutive  seemed to have magnified everything. Even minor indiscretions filled the young mind with  trepidation. The erudite priests in their cassocks lent an air of immorality to minor acts of truancy. They were  moral high priests who bestowed sanctity to the process of learning.
 Amidst this wave of nostalgia I was wondering why Schooling left such an indelible mark in my life? Was it the  because of the imposing structure and the ambience? Was it a residual  sense of pride of belonging to a tribe with a high  pedigree? Or carrying on the legacy of cult?
  As all batchmates started appearing for the occasion I could feel a surge of warmth coursing my blood. Time could only distort the container. The content was unchanged. Nicknames tumbled back into the memory as did the associated anecdotes. Those days of the languishing in the hot sun doing the most purposeless drills of mass PT, getting reprimanded for seemingly trivial acts of indiscipline played out as clearly as watching a movie.
I then realised that during those times my mind was so impressionable and absorbed each event like a sponge. It was not cluttered with any anxieties, worries about the future. There was an innocence that recorded each event without any bias. There was faith and trust that was totally malleable. A naivete that was pristine and unblemished.
Each event no matter how insignificant had a disproportionate impact. Not having completed the homework was an act of heresy. Failing in a test spelt doom.
 Happiness was popping a peppermint (bullls eye we used to call it) during class deftly avoiding the prying eyes of the teacher. Evil was restricted to pushing someone aside to get into the school bus, or fabricating a tale for not having completed the homework. Happiness was  sharing a snack from the 'dabba', reading Tintin in the lunch break, or even wearing a new pair of shoes to school.
Joy was unconditional. It was bereft of expectations, dependence. Friends were never categorised or stratified on basis of caste or creed. The mind was totally unbiased with an abysmally low threshold for contentment.
 As schoolmates we all shared these moments with an open mind filled only by a joy de vivre, fun and frolic. There wasn't a trace of malevolence or jealousy towards one another.
I quietly wondered when and how did my concept of happiness and joy mutate ? When did the recipe for  happiness become so complex?
 When did the scourge of status, position,wealth imperceptibly distort my perception? Did "maturity" mean losing my ability to find happiness in the smaller joys of life?
  As the evening progressed and the party livened up,a classmate slapped me on my back and everyone burst out in peals of laughter over a lewd joke.
I was rather rudely brought back to the present and although I painted my face with a sham smile, I gently turned away and wiped off that lonely tear. Probably homage paid on the  demise of "The age of innocence"

Legacy - An anachronism

Is cultural legacy an anachronism?

       The American declaration of Independence in  1776 was a benchmark in the evolution of mankind. It was a charter that asserted the value of equality and independence. It heralded the birth of a new religion. A religion with no legacy, but nonetheless a religion that dreamt, justified and facilitated the pursuit of Happiness.
Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his rhetoric and his policies. Since then, it has become a well-known statement on human rights, particularly its second sentence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
      Since its inception the American philosophy was free of any cultural baggage. Tradition and Culture are only as relevant as the times they are practiced. "Freedom from bondage" was as applicable to any restrictive culture, as it was to slavery. The birth of a new order was a cultural epiphany that legitimised indulgence and sanctified opulence provided they were the product of hard work. This religion taught it's followers the virtues of thinking big.
Liberty Equality and Fraternity that were the highlights of the French Revolution across the Atlantic were suffixed by America with "Faster Higher and Stronger". This society unabashedly pushed the limits of human endeavor and redefined social hierarchy based on success and wealth that was self earned. Dynasties were not lineage based. Fortunes were created, not transfered. Ayn Rand eulogised selfishness.
Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge. She ostracised  faith and religion. She preached  ethical egoism, and rejected altruism. A new age philosophy  "laissez-faire "-capitalism based on recognizing individual rights was ushered in.
A religion that did not promise  heaven in after life. It promised a heaven in this life. Just that one had to create it oneself. A religion that preaches  to dream and prods to realise it. A breeze of a new world order that fanned the embers of creativity and ingenuity. A philosophy and belief that was more physical less metaphysical. A culture that did not promise the stars but rather strove to reach for them.
An ideology   that was brutally honest and accepted that the Emperor was indeed naked. An ideology that chose to drape the Emperor rather than debate on his non-existent wardrobe.
Opulent lifestyle was not anathema so long as one worked for it. Size did matter and bigger was better. Abundance had a flip side but it reigned in a need of self restraint. Restraint was not a subject of the state and did not need legislation. A society that evolves despite being spoilt for choices.Gratification has to be transcended and not avoided. Philanthropy was proactive , a by product of indulgence. It was based on true compassion and not morality based. It was not reaction based, to generate positive Karma for successive births. Renunciation based on depravity never liberates. Renunciation post indulgence does. The monk could drive the Ferrari or sell it. He sold it. But after driving it.

The Changing Face of Terror

The changing face of terror

9/11 represented a paradigm shift in terrorism. It was testimony to an ominous alliance  with technology and intelligence. Terrorism that was evolving from sporadic impulsive acts of retribution to highly  deliberate, strategic, premeditated operations executed with precision and professionalism. Such large scale operations  indicated terrorism having access to large financial and human resources, the kind we have never seen before. Terrorism had transcended from mere ideology to a well oiled Multi National Organisation.
 The profile of a Modern day Terrorist mutated from an indoctrinated fanatic to a tech savvy, intelligent albeit misdirected twenty something raring with rage and energy to take on anyone. Killing fellow humans or even oneself requires not just brutality and  barbarism, but also a deep rooted contempt.
What could be the etiology of such insane contemptuous hatred that could take innocent lives? What kind of a bargain are these posessesd beings indulging in? Is their  adversary genuine or an ill construed perceptive delusion fuelled by an imaginary persecution mania?Perpetrating senseless acts of terror and violence could hardly be the motive of one's life. Such extreme self destructive  virulence is analogous to an auto immune disease. For reasons that are completely unclear, the immune system that is programned to protect the organism targets innocent unsuspecting  tissues of the host organism.  What triggers such inexplicable behaviour is a mystery. These very restive and sensitised immune mediating cells go about their destructive  mission with a resolve,obviously with disastrous consequences. They are nourished by the host, who is rendered helpless by these  purposeless acts of rebellion and retribution. These killer  cells have no real adversary and yet unleash their weaponry on healthy innocent cells who have no means of counter attack. It is a slow and steady Harakiri that beats any logic. A mutinous act against a non repressive, supportive regime.
The biological organism compromises its own integrity by misrecognising parts of itself as other than itself and then seeks to eliminate these unrecognised and hence antagonistic aspects of itself.
Such acts of terror become anathema not just because they wreak havoc in society, but also because it confounds the political ontology that underlies our entire way of life. Perhaps that is also why “autoimmunity” continues to provoke if not horror at least misunderstanding, despite all efforts to the contrary.
Do these acts complicate the popular and political understanding that mankind is a singular and unified body? More importantly does it challenge the notion that this “body” circumscribes who and what we are?
A feeling of alienation by a part of one's own self hardly has any external remedy. It mandates a greater ability  of self cognisance and self appraisal.  A  more holistic perception  that would eliminate this senseless  pitting of the Self against its own Self.

Deepak Ranade

The Art of Being No one

The Art of Being No one

At a get together, my father's friends were gloating about how their sons were so well placed and were rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty.
They were really priding themselves about how they made their offsprings become someone and how they themselves led by setting an example for their kids. They were showing off how they had reached big positions by the time of their retirement which inspired their kids
My father was asked about what kind of an example he set for his successors.
 My father replied"I retired from a very senior  position at the age of 65. I had made enough to live comfortable. My son  qualified as a neurosurgeon and was well set with his own Hospital and was doing well for himself. But he had developed a huge ego and had become arrogant.
I had fuelled his ego by appreciating his degrees, and status in society. That probably was becoming his undoing. I decided to start a new business at the age of 65. I began in an area where no one knew me and I had to begin as a nobody. It was extremely difficult. My son was at his wits end by my decision.
He asked me why was I doing something at this point and at a place where no one knew me. I would have to go to meet clients and sit outside their offices which was very humiliating for me and him as well."
My father continued-
"All parents teach their children to become someone. Its excruciatingly  difficult  to begin all over again as a nobody. Identities are great but if one  becomes a slave of that identity then the identity works to our detriment. The real Master  is one who can discard this cloak at will and yet identify with the true Self who exists independent of any robe.
I am trying to teach my Son  the art  of being 'No One' ."

Conscious Universe or Universal Consciousness

Conscious Universe or Universal consciousness?

Ripples in space-time caused by the catacysmic merger of remotely located black holes have finally been detected, exactly 100 years after these “gravitational waves” were predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Space time was a fabric that could be distorted. An idea that Einstein had to come up with in order to explain the very intriguing force of gravity. A force that caused sudden  acceleration of objects. He predicted that this was more likely, the result of distortion of space by the massive mass of the star or planet. Space and time were considered to be a single interwoven continuum, a single manifold called Minkowski Space. (In honour of the mathematics Professor who taught Einstein) The realisation that this entity of spacetime could shrink or expand was indeed mind boggling. It was indeed travesty of reason to conceive distortion of emptiness. Does spacetime objectively  exist or is  it actually a distortion of perception?
   Massive accelerating objects such as black holes should disrupt this spacetime as waves or ripples.  These waves would course the universe at the speed of light. Their amplitude would diminish as they travelled greater distances. By the time they arrived to  Earth, they would be almost indiscernible.  (around 1,000 times smaller than a proton). The LIGO's Interferometer, with a recent upgrade made it possible for  scientists to detect these tiny measurements of spacetime stretching in one direction and shrinking in another. This was done by using laser beams and the time it took for them to travel the length of the two 4 kms long arms placed at right angles to each other. The ripples generated by by these humongous entities would course in one direction and shorten the spacetime fabric in one of the arms as compared to the other by a very very tiny amount. Roughly about a 10000th the size of a proton. This shortening was measured by the time taken for a laser bean to travel inside a vacuum within the arm. Measurement of of an almost intangible unimaginable dimension. Measurement that demonstrated a heightened sublime sensitivity.
This perceptive upgrade  is testimony to the universe being not only sensitive and intelligent, but connected in a rather inexplicable manner. Could spacetime be the invisible web that knits the entire universe into a continuous unbroken fabric and simultaneously  sustains the illusion of discreteness? The spatiotemporal grid is the foundation for  discreteness of an object. Could spacetime be a software program of billions of neurons?
The ever expanding universe is conscious and self aware. These rumblings of its own constituents being measured however raise a quantum paradox. Would this black hole or their mergers  ever have existed  if we had not been able to detect and measure these waves? Quantum mechanics emphasises the need of a conscious observer for any event to have occurred. Detection of these footprints ,thousands of light years away actually  gives birth to these black holes. A Retro Causality that  concludes  the existence of the cause only after verifying it's effect. The classical scientific reasoning based on Causality being hijacked by a heretic quantum thought process.
Our cognisance  of these gravitational waves reflects  the expansion of our consciousness.  It bears testimony to the notion  of a self referential universal consciousness rather than the epiphany of a conscious universe.

Dr Deepak Ranade