Thursday, May 9, 2013

To Sculpt Our Own David, of self realisation

                                    "To sculpt the David within"

Michelangelo's David is an immortal classical art form.  "David" is a Renaissance interpretation of a common ancient Greek theme of the standing heroic male nude. In  Renaissance period, contrapposto poses (Contrapposto in Italian means counterpose and is used to describe a human figure standing with weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs giving  the figure a more dynamic appearance) were thought of as a distinctive feature of antique sculpture. 
All his contemporaries had envisioned David in a victorious stance, with the slain head of Goliath, alongside as a testimonial of sorts. 
 Donatello and Verrocchio had depicted  the hero standing victorious over the head of Goliath, and Andrea del Castagno had shown the boy with Goliath's head rested between his feet. 
Michelangelo's depiction is consistent with the Renaissance practice of depicting its subjects in a "dynamic " just prior to action. It attempts to catch  the moment between conscious choice and conscious action. It symbolises an angst, coupled with a certain confidence, a blend of both  being required in perfect measure to ensure victory. 
 He would work on the massive biblical hero for more than two years.
David was sculpted out of a “ruined” block of marble rejected by all of his contemporaries. Michelangelo said that he  instantly envisaged the image he was seeking to create when he saw the  block of partially sculpted  monolith.
He then needed only to chip away at all that did not look "David"  to reveal the masterpiece. 
 In that moment,  he had  a very clear, unambiguous image of David in his mind. 
We all have  lurking within ourselves, a David, that eagerly awaits to be uncovered. Uncovering the David within, is what each one is capable of.
It requires tools like honesty, pragmatism, determination, discipline, clarity and industriousness. It also requires a great deal of motivation  to chisel away all that is not "David" gradually but definitively . Those who cannot see the concealed "David" within, it's a process of trial and error, that at times unveils glimpses of "Goliath" . There are a fortunate  few, who have a very clear image of their own David
Such fortunate souls get on with their task with amazing clarity. They take the appropriate  tools, measures, efforts, and work on themselves steadfastly. Their demeanour is a picture of conviction,  self assurance and confidence. They are not affected by any trials or tribulations they might encounter on their chosen path. The call of their David within is very strong and serves to guide every blow that lands on the chisel. There is no remorse at losing what is "Non David". Each piece that is shaved off, falls effortlessly leaving behind no scar or injury.  These shaved off bits are temptations, distractions, indulgences, weaknesses, limitations, emotional baggage and  diffidence.Their removal not only adds more meaning, shape ,aesthetics and beauty to the figure, but also makes it  much lighter.
Giving a blow requires courage, strength and a very clear image of ones own "David".  Patience is also a mandatory virtue as oftentimes, the monolith is unyielding, stubborn, and excessive force when imparting the blow can disfigure. The chisel at times needs to be moved as it is struck to get those subtle curves and the finer nuances perfect. The dynamics of the blow also have  a philosophy. They are not mere aggression but assertive, controlled passion coupled with a tenderness. The process of sculpting ones own "David" is a very gentle  metamorphosis that doesn't leave residual  rough edges of pain and grief. A certain ease and effortlessness were the hallmark of this "Michelangelo " method.
Michelangelo was not merely a very talented artiste but a great thinker of his times. His thoughts also reflected the "Renaissance" era he belonged to, and each sculpture of his was a reflection of  "The Michelangelo Method"
The gist of this method as mentioned in historical   References -
"To  find your personal masterpiece, direct your mind, which is divinely inspired, to your inner self—your values, your passions and your strengths. Once you’ve uncovered your vision, commit to your goals with confidence. To be successful, you will need to plan carefully, creatively using your unique experience, obtain necessary support, and battle to overcome obstacles. In doing so, be sure to live with integrity, remaining true to yourself."

             The human  being, evolved as he is has the sharpest tool available for chiselling his own "David", the intelligence and capability of self-realisation. This enables him with the ability to comprehend  and discriminate between "David" and "Non David" .
When all that is  "Non David" is removed painstakingly, what remains as "David"   is "pure unadulterated blissful consciousness ,  the " Self".
When we become "David" all that remains is only "David" and along  with it comes the realisation that  everything is a manifestation of "David" and 
that everything "Non David" was merely an illusion. 
The sculpting process in vedic philosophy is  called the principle of "Neti Neti" .
Neti Neti, meaning, "Not this, Not this", is the method of Vedic analysis of negation. It is the cornerstone of Vedic inquiry. The  seeker negates identification with all tangible,sensory interpretation of this world which is not the Atman, or realising it as Anatman. Through this gradual process he transcends all worldly experiences till nothing remains but the Self. He attains union with the Absolute by denying the body, name, form, intellect, senses and all limiting adjuncts and discovers what remains, the true “I” alone
The true self is an exalted awareness, a blissful state of  simply being rather than becoming. 

Dr Deepak Ranade
(The author is a consultant neurosurgeon)


The Neurological Basis of Samadhi

The thalamus is a paired structure joined at the midline and sitting very near the  centre of the brain. In humans, each half is roughly the size and shape of a walnut. Essentially, all information reaching the brain, and thus consciousness is relayed through the thalamus.
All the objective information that is generated from the sense organs is essentially coupled or tagged, with a subjective coordinate by the thalamus.This tagged data is then stored appropriately for future reference.
A computer stores data too, but impersonally. This data storage is totally a function of operating system, common to all the machines using it. There is no preferential, or biased data storage, that is unique to each computer.
The same visual image viewed by two different individuals is perceived, interpreted and stored differently. This  ‘emotional indexing’  is mediated by the complex interconnections of the thalamus with different centres of the brain.
On reaching the thalamus, the signal percolates like a drop of ink on blotting paper (thalamo-cortical radiation) to adjacent processing areas such as-
The hippocampus: This has a crucial function in the creation of memory. It has specialized adjustable synaptic receptors called NMDA receptors that can assign a constellation of properties linking an object and its context.
The amygdala: The amygdala is largely responsible for generating and regulating major emotions such as anger, happiness, joy, sadness, and mainly fright.
Orbitofrontal cortex:  If, driving to work on a Monday morning,  you have had a narrow escape at a particular intersection on the road, it is very likely that for a long time thereafter, there will be a knot in the stomach when approaching that intersection, specifically on Mondays around the same time. The orbitofrontal cortex has stored the spatio temporal coordinates, and the amygdala has stored the fear.
The anterior cingulate cortex: The anterior cingulate cortex monitors the direction of activity, and progress toward a set goal. It has the ability to rework the strategy if the existing one does not seem to work.
The above mentioned centres are part of the  ‘limbic'  system, which is an important constituent of even the very primitive reptilian brain.
These emotional coordinates weave a pleasure - pain, attachment -avoidance grid. Our identity is pure Consciousness trapped in this matrix of likes, dislikes , preferences and aversions,
an identity that we generate of ourselves for ourselves, by ourselves.
Based on this matrix of emotional coordinates, the various synaptic connections respond to subsequent inputs by an effulgence of neurotransmitters that generate a myriad of motor responses.
The human brain has an evolutionary upgrade. An intelligence that can discern, discriminate and transcend this program of emotional tagging. This intelligence is called 'vivek'.
This program could be transcended by inhibiting the spread of thalamo-cortical radiations. Practices such as meditation or chanting may facilitate this inhibition to a point of 'Vairaagya' or a state of detachment.
This is a  state or a discipline that results in control of the spread of the sensory inputs from the thalamus and subsequent emotional tagging.
Using  ‘vivek’, the potent power of discrimination,  ‘vairagya’  is effected, more as a consequence. Renunciation as a beginning of all spiritual endeavour, might be putting the cart before the horse-  the effect preceding the cause.
Vairagya is the ability to restrict all data to the  ‘objective’  domain,  eliminating the  ‘subject’  totally. In neurological terms, it would be described as an elimination of neuronal segregation,reducing the hierarchy of neurotransmssion to a monarchal singularity ;
 an ability that progresses to sharp focus and localise  perception to mere awareness . Transcending personal consciousness to a state of total objective  impersonal awareness, a point of cognitive bliss that expands to become the manifest universe, a state of Samadhi.

Dr Deepak Ranade

What really Is Love ?

Love   -a  ubiquitously used word that unleashes so many emotions and feelings. Is it a  romance that has inspired poets, a virtue preached by religion, or merely , chemical pandemonium in the neuronal circuits? Is it a sense of possession, ownership or control? Is it an acceptance or a dependence? Is it subjugation or submission? Is it desire or an overwhelming need to be desired? Is it a surreal emotional high,  or  just, an euphemism  for   rudimentary  biological behaviour?
 Love  conventionally  encompasses a multitude of emotions; from the selfless and unconditional, to a pathological, paranoid obsession ; from empathy and compassion to an insane ,inexplicable passion. From attachment and  dependence,  to a very liberating and inspiring experience. A spectrum that extends from divinity to despair;  from a benediction to transcend to a curse of lustful, beastly regression.
Nomenclatures abound,  - filial love, maternal indulgence, platonic love, conjugal love, compassion, empathy, the sobriquets just go on endlessly.
Prima facie, Love is a bond that binds, a virtue that connects, giving a sense of purpose in this otherwise meaningless hedonistic existence.
It paradoxically  also harbours the potential to hurt, cause pain, create misunderstandings and grief.  Why does  an emotion that can  potentially liberate mutate into a tool of torment?
Love  based on acquisition comes with a shelf life. Valid till  the object of affection remains captive on the shelf of possession. A possession that is available for indulgence any time  , to gloat over with a  pride of ownership. This  joy, however, is a package that comes with  a subtle fine print, 'terms and conditions apply'   implicitly and unobtrusively.
These terms and conditions  restrict the validity  of the emotion to circumstances frozen in time and place.  Any thawing of the same with the passage of time  effects disintegration of this conditioned emotion.
This conditional love is divisive , a love that discriminates the subject as separate from the object and depends on the equation between the two for its survival. Love that is subject to specifications is transient, and volatile ,changes shades as the specifications change, inevitably.
 A radioactive isotope , with variable half lives, but  irreversibly decaying with time.   A love that comes packaged with fear, and an insecurity of change.  A change, either in the subject, object or their equation, and this ecstasy morphs into agony. 
Can love ever be eternal?  Can this  emotional transience, evolve, beyond mere gratification of the ego and the senses into a state of unending bliss?
This fleeting duality based high is  merely a glimpse of the eternal bliss of Nonduality. A state of bliss and compassion experienced in oneness, without any anxiety of separation. A fearless unconditional state.
A state that does not seek recourse from insecurity but rather dispels any need for it.Love, experienced as the need to merge, has the ability to liberate when a state of unison is achieved. 'Selfless' love is the exalted  state of bliss when this emotion is experienced by transcending the form. Using the form as an instrument to pitchfork the  consciousness of the 'self' into the abyss of selflessness.
This love liberates, sets free. It is no longer a bondage, between the subject and the object . It does not become a phenomenon linking the two. It becomes the noumenon, a source that manifests as subject and object,to experience itself through its own manifestations.  Like Meera's  realisation that Krishna was not merely a personification, but an instrument to merge  her own Identity into. Krishna, was a transformation of her own self, into a state of 
formless, eternal bliss, beyond subject and object, beyond nomenclatures.

Dr Deepak Ranade
The author is a consultant neurosurgeon -


Relationships As Mirrors to see our own image

Mirror mirror on the wall.......who's the fairest of them all ?

My mother  was a simplistic person who believed in austerity.  She despised any cosmetic enhancements, and never wasted  time, preening before a mirror when getting ready. My elder sister who spent hours before the mirror in narcissistic indulgence  once quizzed my mother about her casual indifference with her own reflection. My mother's terse reply  -" Your  father  is my most authentic ,hi fidelity  mirror. He reflects  the beauty of both my outer as well as my inner being too" - redefined my paradigm of aesthetics.
          As time passed, my relationship with my father evolved into a profound camaraderie. He would often encourage me, and motivate  me, revealing the latent qualities, capabilities and strengths lurking within me.  He would also , on occasion  highlight a few idiosyncrasies that escaped  my own self assessment. He indeed was a high fidelity mirror reflecting my true nature congruently , no matter how inaccessible it seemed  to anyone else including me.  He was  in fact , part of me, cleaved  from myself, observing  me from without. 
 Close   relationships are  high fidelity mirrors.  They reveal not just the  beauty but also the subtle imperfections and nuances of ones total personality.  The persons we are close to and comfortable with  are often  people who reflect the positive ,pleasant and  desirable traits within us. The darker shades of our personality are also revealed albeit gently, in a manner that doesn't make us self despicable. Mirrors that have not just high fidelity but high sensitivity. A sensitivity, that doesn't miss the subtleties  but also, a  greater sensitivity in the art of revealing them. 
Then there are some delinquent mirrors  , like ones in  funfairs, that only reveal caricatures of our personality. They  are masters in the art of magnifying the unpleasant, distorting our image, to the point of raising serious doubts " is this really me"?
A mirror that reflects  the radiance and beauty of ones  soul is a soulmate.  A mirror that highlights  the strengths and camouflages the weaknesses very subtly till eventually , revealing the beauty of the inner being, that obfuscates any cosmetic correction.  A relationship that helps transcend the form, redeeming it from any  subservience  to its image. 
     Interactions  with people are a window to catch  a glimpse of ourselves. 
Our own image keeps changing kaleidoscopically during the course of multiple interactions.  This diverse imagery effects a  waxing and waning self esteem , which is, a function of the reflection. A plurality of identities , a multipolar personality, however raises doubts  about our true self.  Is there any immutable part in me ? Is my impression of myself, so fluid, so subjective? 
Am "i" merely different reflections in different mirrors ?  Do i need a reflection, constantly, to assert myself ?
Is a reflection, the only testimony to my existence? 
A reflection is just visual  cognition, but so is a mirage. Both are perceptions by the same visual apparatus.  The former, presumed to be a testimony  of the real, the latter, confirmed as a concoction  of the unreal.  The crux lies in fidelity of perception, rather than fidelity of cognition. 
The "true "self is the screen of consciousness on which the various images keep getting projected.  The screen , that remains unaffected and unchanged, irrespective of whether any image is projected or not. The true "self " is  an awareness, that needs no testimony of its existence. It is simultaneously,the image, its creator, its  observer and the phenomenon of observation .

Dr  Deepak Ranade

(The author is a consultant neurosurgeon-

Reaction vs Response

Reaction vs response

As undergraduate medical students, we were taught  about muscle contractility and excitability  by electrical stimulation of a nerve muscle preparation harvested from a frogs thigh. The strength of the current applied to the nerve was incrementally increased, while closely monitoring the response. 
It was observed,that there was not  even a flicker of activity with successive increase in the current, till a threshold was reached, at which point, all the muscle fibres contracted in unison. Any subsequent supra threshold  increase in the current  changed neither  the amplitude nor the frequency of contraction. This phenomenon is called an "all or none" phenomenon ; all the muscle fibres contract beyond a critical threshold current  but none below that. It demonstrated the inherent congruence and unambiguity of biological tissue behaviour .
  This attribute ensures, an integrated , coordinated and complete response, avoiding any tentative, half hearted "reaction".  Feeble ,partial  reactions are  called as fasciculations which are not only unproductive, but come at the cost of expending energy, a very precious resource considering the plethora of stimuli, that the organism is exposed to. 
Day to day life  involves dealing with a myriad of situations, circumstances, that entice the subject  to react. Half hearted reactions, expend a lot of emotional, physical and mental energy.  They are the consequence of an excitable state pregnant with  anxiety, making one edgy, nervous apprehensive and  irritable. Trivial stimuli  stir the hormonal cauldron, cascading into a fight,flight or fright reaction. Such emotional fasciculations  more often than not are futile, unproductive, and self defeating, wreaking havoc on the internal milieu. Repeated turbulence of this type could be the substrate  of psychosomatic illnesses.Reactionary behaviour sends ripples over the surface of the  discriminatory intellectual waters or " vivekbuddhi". Extreme turbulence virtually makes the intellect ineffective, resulting in erratic irrational behaviour
Response is a stage, that precedes reaction. It involves cognition and interpretation of the stimulus, coupled with an ability to evaluate its threshold potential. Only, threshold or supra threshold stimuli are forwarded to the "reaction department " for appropriate action. Sub threshold stimuli, are processed, and at the most stored if necessary or then just ignored. The "all" response is a reaction, but  is purposeful, effective, and  complete.
A response is physiological and need based whilst reaction is emotional and fear based.  Being responsive, improves performance, whilst reaction serves to its detriment.
Reaction or response, both are in the domain of duality.  The subject ,object stimulus ,response dichotomy still permeates  perception.
In the course of spiritual progress, there comes a milestone of "Sthita Pradnya" or stilled intellect. This is a state, of dispassionate observation. It is also the objective of "Yoga", -" Chitta vritti nirodh". 
Chitta is the state of pure consciousness, and vritti is the storehouse of all the tendencies and desires,acquired over successive lives.  Yoga endeavours to disconnect  the two.  This is largely achieved by purifying awareness to a state of non duality.   The   stilled tranquil waters, of the mind and intellect permit a glimpse of the  self,  the state of beingness, awareness, and bliss - " satchitananda", a state  transcending  duality  and becoming "all and none" .

Ananda and multicellular organisms

Article was featured in the Sunday edition of Speaking Tree , 5th May 2013

All  creation is energy manifesting  in different forms. As postulated by Einstein in his famous E=mc2 equation , and later, verified under rather tragic circumstances, mass and energy are interconvertible. Energy and matter however display a conjugal  relationship. Energy excites matter, and  increases  its  disorder or "entropy"
Entropy is  the  measure of the disorder ,randomness,or  chaos in a given system.  As we heat water, the molecules get agitated and after a point, water begins to boil.  Heat, or thermal energy increases the entropy of water, and further heating causes the water to change its state, and evaporate. The tendency to disseminate  and equilibrate matter and energy across the entire universe is the basis of entropy. 
The entropy of the universe  is always increasing with time. That's a universally accepted and proven law. Time is a program that travels unidirectionally, from order to disorder. Logic however demands, that  the  reverse journey, viz disorder to order  must also  exist. When we tidy up our room that was in disarray, we are taking this path. Information systems are another example of decreasing entropy. Greater the information about a system, lesser is the chaos and disorder. The  DNA  represents a highly complex code of information. It precisely determines the structure and  function of the organism in a very orderly an structured manner. 
Szent-Gyorgyi , (the nobel  prize winner for his work on negative entropy,)postulates that there exists what he calls the "principle" of syntropy or "negative entropy." Since entropy is a universal "force" which causes organized  systems  to gradually disintegrate into lower and lower states of organisation, there has to be an opposite force, a force which causes living things to reach "higher and higher levels of organization, order and dynamic harmony."
Inanimate nature stops at the low level organization of simple molecules. 
But living systems go on and combine molecules to form macromolecules, macromolecules to form organelles (such as nuclei, mitochondria, chloroplasts, ribosomes, and membranes) and eventually put these all together to form the greatest wonder of creation, a cell, with its astounding inner regulations. The multi cellular organism, is a miracle of sorts. All the organs working independently, yet cohesively and synergistically. The billions of cells, each a unit by itself, working congruently, synchronously in a dynamic harmony.
This complex ,structured organisation of cells has become more and more complex since evolution. This is in conflict with the  law that says the entropy of the universe is always increasing.
Who is the conductor of this symphony of billions, of multicellular life forms ?
It is  a force, that is  conscious,intelligent ,pulsating and simultaneously blissful. " Satchitananda" is how it is described in the scriptures. This life force, orchestrates the plurality of cells with a  "syntropic " baton.
The  highest state of this "dynamic harmony" , a state of zero entropy or total syntropy may be the "Shiva" state.  
"Shakti" is  this entropy, that combines  with "Shiva" in varying proportions to manifest as creation.  Matter, is condensation of energy and energy , sublimation of matter. Matter and energy are inter convertible, but it's only when they are sanctified  by syntropy or "Shiva", that they manifest as life forms, to eventually evolve as the epitome of creation -  as "self realised " beings.
Consciousness may therefore not an emergent phenomenon, as believed by most neuroscientists, but a quantum coherence, a state of zero entropy, a "Shiva" state. 
Manifest creation  is a synergy of  syntropy and entropy,a  cosmic waltz  of "Shiva" and " Shakti" . A conjugal bliss of the apparent and  the immanent .
And "Brahman "the stage on which this dance is performed. 

Dr  Deepak M Ranade
(The author is a consultant neurosurgeon-