Loose Change

Why the Financial Crisis is a Good Thing (Humor)

Posted in Humor by Neeraj on 05/28/2010

We no longer need to pretend to know everything.
Heck, even the “experts” don’t know what’s going on most of the time.

Leonardo da Vinci and the value of procrastination

Posted in Musings by Neeraj on 05/27/2010
Are you a habitual procrastinator? Do you find yourself routinely putting off important activities that need to be urgently finished simply because you find working on one particular thing too limiting and you can think up a dozen things that you’d rather be working on? Well, you’re not alone, and what’s more, you’re in distinguished company. The March 2009 edition of the ClassicalPursuits newsletter carried an interesting piece on Leonardo da Vinci’s habit of procrastination: How to Procastinate Like Leonardo da Vinci. The article was interesting because it challenged the common perception of procrastination as being a wasteful activity better avoided by anyone aiming to make best use of his/her time. In reality however, the article argues, procrastination may have its own benefits and  Leonardo da Vinci’s life gives us ample clues that this is indeed so.

In the course of his life, da Vinci — quintessential renaissance man and arguably the most gifted polymath of all time — chronicled hundreds of ideas in his notebooks. Is is clear even from the fraction of notebooks that have survived to this day that da Vinci’s ideas ran a vast gamut of the human experience, ranging from painting, sculpture, geometry, anatomical studies, to the design of military tanks and flying machines. However, da Vinci was  seldom able to complete (to his own satisfaction) the projects that he started. Even his most celebrated work of art, the Mona Lisa, was still in his possession when he died (apparently, he had still not finished it to his liking). The mainstream view contends that this lack of follow-through is attributable solely to da Vinci’s “fault” of procrastination. In my opinion, however, it is hard to say whether this “fault” should take all the blame. For instance, da Vinci was known to be an incorrigible perfectionist, always striving to match his work to its conceptualization in his head. This may explain why he finished very few of his projects because he would keep tinkering and fiddling with his works even when they looked perfect to others. Of course, procrastination may explain why he started so few projects in the first place. For example, all the compulsive note-taking may have been da Vinci’s way of avoiding working on any one specific idea in reality.

Does this mean that procrastination is altogether bad? It’s a hard question (more…)

On Meditation – Osho

Posted in Osho, Spirituality by Neeraj on 05/26/2010

I first made this post on 06/21/2007. It is an excerpt from the book From Misery to Enlightenment. I’ve always felt that this is one of the most lucid expositions on meditation that Osho has ever given. Although it’s rather a long post, I would encourage you to go through it in its entirety. There are some really interesting points that Osho makes.

For instance, he talks a bit about his constant refrain (in discourses) to pay attention not to his words but to the gaps between them. I couldn’t understand what he meant at first. I thought that he wanted us to digest his words — to mull them over — in the pauses when he was speaking. But I’ve come to realize that this is not what he was indicating. His true intent was to signal to us to listen to our own mind, as we (by habit) digested his (or anyone else’s) words in the pauses. If we were able to become aware of the different contradictions or interpretations evoked in our mind by Osho’s words or the different spin that our mind put on those words, we would be one step closer to understanding the evasive nature of the mind. Perhaps this is why Osho always spoke in that extremely slow, measured cadence. It irritated me at first but once you know the intent behind it, you can come to terms with it.

Another very important distinction that Osho makes is the difference between meditation and concentration. This is all the more germane now because most people today confuse the two. If you have ever searched the Internet for meditation techniques, you will find a lot of methods that actually teach you how to concentrate (e.g., on an image or a word) and call it meditation. But this is not meditation. (Some religious traditions like Nichiren Buddhism or Bhakti Hinduism also use a similar technique, but in those cases concentration is used only as a crutch to develop the art of true meditation. Most Western or modern techniques that stress concentration treat it as the end goal or even more precisely, to be meditation). However, meditation is not the ‘narrowing of consciousness’ (as Osho terms it) but a broadening. He explains it very beautifully with the help of two parables in the passage below.

Lastly, the third important point that Osho makes (again, with the help of a beautiful parable) is that the phenomenon of meditation is not an activity but a state of being. Someone who understands this has understood meditation completely.

So, lots of goodies in this excerpt. I would love to know if anyone out there found this post helpful. Please leave a comment. In any case, peace and love to you all.

P.S. Here is another post on Osho and meditation that you may find interesting: Watching the Mind – Osho.

To say something about meditation is a contradiction in terms. It is something which you can have, which you can be, but by its very nature you cannot say what it is. Still, efforts have been made to convey it in some way. Even if only a fragmentary, partial understanding arises out of it, that is more than one can expect.

But even that partial understanding of meditation can become a seed. Much depends on how you listen. If you only hear, then even a fragment cannot be conveyed to you, but if you listen…. Try to understand the difference between the two.
Hearing is mechanical. You have ears, you can hear. If you are getting deaf then a mechanical aid can help you to hear. Your ears are nothing but a certain mechanism to receive sounds. Hearing is very simple animals hear, anybody who has ears is capable of hearing — but listening is a far higher stage.
Listening means: when you are hearing you are only hearing and not doing anything else — no other thoughts in your mind, no clouds passing in your inner sky — so whatever is being said reaches as it is being said.
It is not interfered with by your mind; not interpreted by you, by your prejudices; not clouded by anything that, right now, is passing within you — because all these are distortions.
Ordinarily it is not difficult; you go on managing just by hearing, because the things that you are hearing are common objects. If I say something about the house, the door, the tree, the bird, there is no problem. These are common objects; there is no need of listening. But there is a need to listen when we are talking about something like meditation, which is not an object at all; it is a subjective state. We can only indicate it; you have to be very attentive and alert — then there is a possibility that some meaning reaches you.
Even if a little understanding arises in you, it is more than enough, because understanding has its own way of growing. If just a little bit of understanding falls in the right place, in the heart, it starts growing of its own accord.
First try to understand the word “meditation.” It is not the right word for the state about which any authentic seeker is bound to be concerned. So I would like to tell you something about a few words. In Sanskrit we have a special word for meditation, the word is dhyana. In no other language does a parallel word exist; that word is untranslatable. It has been recognized for two thousand years that this word is untranslatable, for the simple reason that in no other language people have tried it or experienced the state that it denotes; so those languages don’t have that word.

A word is needed only when (more…)

Watching the Mind – Osho

Posted in Osho, Spirituality by Neeraj on 05/25/2010

A discourse by Osho that will be interesting to anyone who has ever tried meditating.

P.S. Here is another post on Osho and meditation: On Meditation – Osho.

I HAVE BEEN THINKING ALL DAY OF A WAY TO ASK THE QUESTION: HOW TO STOP THINKING?

THINKING cannot be stopped. Not that it does not stop, but it cannot be stopped. It stops of its own accord. This distinction has to be understood, otherwise you can go mad chasing your mind. No-mind does not arise by stopping thinking. When the thinking is no more, no-mind is. The very effort to stop will create more anxiety, it will create conflict, it will make you split. You will be in a constant turmoil within. This is not going to help. And even if you succeed in stopping it forcibly for a few moments, it is not an achievement at all — because those few moments will be almost dead, they will not be alive. You may feel a sort of stillness, but not silence, because a forced stillness is not silence. Underneath it, deep in the unconscious, the repressed mind goes on working. So, there is no way to stop the mind. But the mind stops — that is certain. It stops of its own accord. So what to do? — your question is relevant. Watch — don’t try to stop. There is no need to do any action against the mind. In the first place, who will do it? It will be mind fighting mind itself. You will divide your mind into two; one that is trying to boss over — the top-dog — trying to kill the other part of itself, which is absurd. It is a foolish game. It can drive you crazy. Don’t try to stop the mind or the thinking — just watch it, allow it. Allow it total freedom. Let it run as fast as it wants. You don’t try in any way to control it. You just be a witness. It is beautiful! Mind is one of the most beautiful mechanisms. Science has not yet been able to create anything parallel to mind. Mind still remains the masterpiece — so complicated, so tremendously powerful, with so many potentialities. Watch it! Enjoy it! And don’t watch like an enemy, because if you look at the mind like an enemy, you cannot watch. You are already prejudiced; you are already against. You have already decided that something is wrong with the mind — you have already concluded. And whenever you look at somebody as an enemy you never look deep, you never look into the eyes. You avoid!

Watching the mind means: look at it with deep love, with deep respect, (more…)

Oil and the War in Iraq

Posted in Geopolitics by Neeraj on 05/24/2010

I first published this on 06/21/2007 but it still seems as relevant now as it was back then.

Critics of the War in Iraq have argued that the invasion was always more about oil than any of the purported reasons like weapons of mass destruction or atrocities that the neo-cons bandied around. This claim, by the way, is not as far-fetched as you would think.
The Iraqi government approved a new hydrocarbon law on the 26th of February which is currently being mulled over by the Iraqi parliament. If approved, this legislation will hand over Iraq’s entire oil wealth to Western oil companies on a silver platter. For example, the law allows western companies to operate underProfit-Sharing Agreements or PSAs . Under this arrangement, Iraqi provinces will share the profits only after the oil companies have taken their cut. No other major Middle Eastern oil producer has allowed anyPSAs on its territory. In fact, PSAs are used only in 12% of the world’s oil reserves, some of them signed in times of political upheaval as in Russia. The new law also freezes thePSAs for a period of 30 years. What this means is that any future Iraqi attempts to renegotiate the contract before the 30 years are up will be arbitrated internationally. We all know what that means. The law also permits the oil companies to take their profits out of the country without paying any taxes. While the costs of developing the oil fields are being recovered, companies will be able to recoup 60 to 70% of revenue as against the more usual 40% elsewhere. Also, after the costs have been recouped, the law allows oil companies to keep 20% of revenue – 10% more than is normal.
Supporters of the law argue that being so generous with the oil companies is a necessary evil because those companies need to be persuaded to set up shop in a volatile and insecure country. They also assert that the investment will jumpstart the faltering Iraqi economy and seed a robust private sector.
However, this claim sounds hard to believe when you factor in the enormous oil wealth that Iraq is sitting on. Iraq has 115 billion barrels of the world’s known oil reserves. This amounts to 10% of the world total — the second largest conventional oil reserves of any country; and most of it is poorly developed — only 24 out of 71 discovered oil fields have been developed. With Saudi oil production projected to decline in the near future, Iraq is set to become a major player in the oil-producing world.
A little history: Iraq nationalized (more…)

From the horse’s mouth: How to work with INTPs

Posted in Musings by Neeraj on 05/23/2010

I’m an INTP and I’ve often felt that the rest of the world doesn’t really “get” how to interact with us. In this post, I’ll explain my thoughts on how to approach and deal with an average INTP person. Since, the post title may be a little misleading, I’d like to clarify that this post is not specifically about dealing with INTPs in your workplace (although you could very well apply these principles there too!).

First off, for those who are not fans of personality tests or  who do not know about MBTI personality types, INTP is one of the 16 personality types in the Myers-Briggs personality classification system (wikipedia). MBTI type indicators were developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Briggs and was derived from C. J. Jung’s theory on psychological types early in the 20th century. Here is a brief description of how the system works:

The identification and description of the 16 distinctive personality types that result from the interactions among thepreferences.”

Excerpted with permission from the MBTI® Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®

Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

Your Personality Type: When you decide on your preference in each category, you have your own personality type, which can be expressed as a code with four letters.

Source.

INTPs are one of the rarest personality types (by some estimates, they make up only 1% of the entire population). It is important to understand exactly what makes an INTP ‘tick.’ This page is a good start (and so is this one, for those who prefer shorter descriptions). INTPs are usually described asThinkers, which is to say they live mostly in their heads. INTPs view the world around them with a great deal of logical detachment. In addition, they are fiercely independent, consciously striving to be different from other people. INTPs also detest facades and greatly value frankness, both in demeanor and in conversation. This means that they do not much go for small talk or social niceties that are valued by ‘normal’ people with more extroverted personalities. Because these personality traits often make them seem cold, aloof, and uninterested (more…)

Ethnic diversity and China’s Great Leap West

Posted in Geopolitics, History by Neeraj on 05/22/2010

The majority of Westerners are aware of only one of the many (officially, 56) ethnic minorities in China: the Tibetans. Lately, because of the recent anti-Han rioting in Urumqi, some media attention has also been focused on the Uighurs. However, Westerners still remain largely unaware of the existence and status of other ethnic minorities in China. The official discourse focuses on the Han majority not only due to their overwhelming numbers but also because of the fact that the history of modern China, from the communist revolution to leaps in industrial development is largely a story of Han accomplishments.

This page gives a simple two-paragraph introduction to the history of ethnic minorities in China. Short verbal descriptions of the different groups can be found here, and here and some excellent portraits can be found here (an example is shown below).

To understand the emerging geographical patterns of China’s development, especially in its west, it is increasingly important to consider the role played by its ethnic minorities. The map below shows the geographical distribution of China’s minorities grouped roughly into six ethnolinguistic groups (five if you only wish to consider the mainland).

The provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Guizhou, Yunnan, Qinghai and Shaanxi, the municipality of Chongqing, the tiny, “autonomous” province of Ningxia, Tibet and Xinjiang together covering more than two million square miles account for more than half of China’s land area but only one-quarter of its entire population (source: The Economist; needs subscription). Even in 1998, the population of East China alone was almost twice the population of West China (source: The Westward potential of the Chinese Economy; MS-Word document). Per capita GDP in 1998 showed a similar inequality (more…)

The Immediate is the Ultimate – Osho

Posted in Osho, Spirituality by Neeraj on 05/22/2010

This is the first of a series of posts I plan to republish from my old posts that have gradually gotten relegated to obscurity over time. This post was originally published by me on Nov 3, 2008. It is an excerpt from the book The Wild Geese and the Water. In it, Osho addresses a question by one of the sannyasins who is not feeling very alive or excited about his life (something we can all identify with at one point or another). As always, Osho’s answer is simple and yet penetrating. Also, as always, Osho’s suggestions are harder to apply in practice than it seems (not because they are hard by nature but because our conditioning makes us resist them).


OSHO,
I HAVE NOT GOT ANY INTEREST IN ANYTHING. IT ALL SEEMS TO BE MEANINGLESS. NOTHING, EXCITES, PROVOKES OR CHALLENGES ME. THERE IS NO JUICE, NO ZEST. I HAVE FELT LIKE THIS ALL MY LIFE. WHY SHOULD I DO THIS OR THAT WHEN NOTHING FULFILLS ME ANYWAY? I AM ALWAYS TRYING TO BE JOYFUL – PRETENDING TO FEEL, TO BE EXCITED, INTERESTED AND ALIVE. I AM ALWAYS TRYING TO BE COURAGEOUS, TO JUMP OVER SOME OF MY FEARS. BUT FOR WHAT? I AM TIRED I FEEL THAT “I AM NOT” – AND EVEN THAT I DON’T REALLY FEEL.
OSHO, WHERE AM I?
DEVAGYAN,

Are you a Jew or something? The question is very Jewish.
You say: I HAVE NOT GOT ANY INTEREST IN ANYTHING.
What do you want? How much interest?

Little Moishe asked his father,”Father, how do you say ’one hundred percent profit’ in Yiddish?”
”It is Yiddish, my boy,” the father replies.
Hundred percent profit – it is Yiddish!

Moishe fell overboard and was eaten by a shark. In an endeavor to beat the shark off while Moishe was rescued, the passengers had pelted it with oranges, boxes and anything they could lay hands on. The cook in the galley waited until the shark was near, and hurled a kitchen table at it. The shark was stunned and was eventually killed.
When it was drawn aboard, there was an instant clamor for souvenirs, so the shark was cut open. Inside, Moishe was discovered – he had set up shop on the kitchen table and was selling oranges at cut prices!

You say, Devagyan: I HAVE NOT GOT ANY INTEREST IN ANYTHING. IT ALL SEEMS TO BE MEANINGLESS.
Has it to be meaningful? Why you are expecting it to be meaningful? That very expectation is creating trouble. There is no meaning. In fact, because there is no meaning, joy is possible. Because there is no meaning, playfulness is possible. Because there is no meaning, dance is possible. Listen to the birds – do you think there is any meaning? There is no meaning! But why there should be? See to the trees, the flowers, the stars – is there any meaning? But why there should be?

(more…)