Power of imagination in Sādhana

This article deals with an important preparatory step for real meditation.

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Sri Rāmakrishna continually conversed with the Divine Mother. To him, she was a living entity. He saw her, spoke to her just as a child speaks with its mother, had childish fights with her even! The Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna is an unparalleled book mainly because it faithfully records innumerable incidents from the daily life of this ‘Greatest of Avatāras’.

One of the purposes of an incarnation of God is to provide spiritual aspirants with mental and emotional props for their spiritual practices. Sādhana involves imagination. Purely fictitious imagination lacks power to engage us for long. Hence, an Avatāra provides us with situations, which we can use in our imagination. It is something similar to role-playing employed by teachers of history and literature. Avatāra energizes the spiritual environment of an epoch by providing situations for role-playing. In fact, this is the reason art, literature, poetry and music gets immense inspiration from the life of an Avatara.

The Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna is a very rich source of material for such imageries. Pure Consciousness assumed the form and personality of Sri Rāmakrishna and enacted innumerable human situations with his devotees. Some of these have been recorded in this book. We need to read those incidents. Then we need to put ourselves in the role of one of those devotees with whom Sri Rāmakrishna interacts, as described in this book. This creates a mood in us. We need to dwell in that mood for some time. This will form the content of our meditation. This kind of meditation is called ‘Līla Dhyāna’. This is one of the most powerful tools available for a spiritual aspirant. In fact, Swami Vivekānanda points out[1] that real meditation comes only by a sustained process of systematic imagination.

We cannot start our spiritual practice with meditation. It is not possible. This is because, meditation is the 7th step in a graded process of spiritual practice. It is preceded by a process called Dhārana. When the mind is limited and confined within a certain set of ideas, imageries, feelings and physical settings, it is called Dhārana. Try it out. Try to keep the mind confined to a certain set of ideas! It is almost impossible to do so beyond a few seconds in the beginning. Practice however enables us to do this for a few minutes. The greatest help in establishing Dhārana is imagination, says Swami Vivekānanda.[2]

The Vedāntic conception of the world is that it is nothing but imagination. There is a wonderful line of logical arguments to establish this conception. We need not go into that argument here. But, what follows from that conception is that our conception of our bondage is but imagination; and that our conception of spiritual practices to break free from that bondage is also imagination! So, one set of imagination will cure another set of imagination. Among the imaginations that cure us of our delusion, the greatest imagination is that of the Personal God, proclaims Swāmi Vivekānanda.[3] By Personal God is meant God with a name, form and a personality. With such God, we can interact, as persons. With the Impersonal God, how can we, as persons, interact?

Here, we may ask: If God is but imagination, then, where is truth in God, or efficacy in thinking about and meditating on God? Swāmi Yatīshwarananda points out that imagination can be of both the Real and the fictitious or Unreal; and imagination of God is actually imagination about the Real.[4] Therefore, thinking about God is really beneficial for our spiritual growth. Persons who are experts in this field have discovered that God, although an imagination in the final analysis, serves a great purpose in the evolution of the human soul. In fact, Swāmi Vivekānanda says categorically, that the Personal God can indeed be molded according to the imagination of each person.[5]

Meditation occurs only when the object of meditation is clearly visualized. When we say clearly visualized, what we mean is that the object has to be visualized as living. In order to achieve this state of visualization, we need to hone the skill of imagination. Swāmi Vivekānanda says, “The same faculty that we employ in dreams and thoughts, namely, imagination, will also be the means by which we arrive at Truth. When the imagination is very powerful, the object becomes visualized.” [6]

One important milestone in our spiritual practices is to bring alive the personality of Sri Rāmakrishna alive in our mind. The photograph of Sri Rāmakrishna is just a starting point. None of us have seen him when he lived. Hence, the photograph might be just a two dimensional picture for most of us to begin with. Gradually, we need to attach our feelings with that picture. The person, whose picture we see in the photograph, has to become living in our mind. That is why we need to weld that picture with the graphic instances recorded in the Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna, and invest them with our feelings. And we need to do this repeatedly, for a few minutes every day, for many years. The result will be truly amazing. For, our mind is indeed a most wonderful instrument.

As we noted earlier, the life of an Avatāra provides us with innumerable situations which can serve as effective imageries for sharpening our faculty of imagination. As a sample, we give below some incidents recorded in the Gospel of Sri Rāmakrishna, which can be used in our daily practices by devotees of the Rāmakrishna Order.

  • Make him stainless: When it was dusk he returned to his room and sat down on the small couch. Soon he went into Samādhi and in that state began to talk to the Divine Mother. He said: “Mother, what is all this row about? Shall I go there? I shall go if You take me.” The Master was to go to a devotee’s house. Was it for this that he was asking the Divine Mother’s permission? Again he spoke to her, perhaps praying about an intimate disciple: “Mother, please make him stainless.[7]

I put myself in the role of a devotee present in that room. (It would be helpful if we have visited that room in the Dakshineswar Temple complex. Else, we can at least look at the Pictorial Biography of Sri Rāmakrishna where a good photograph of that room is given. This helps our imagination greatly.)

I can further imagine that I am that blessed devotee about whom Sri Rāmakrishna is praying to the Divine Mother. Sri Rāmakrishna himself is praying to the Mother of the Universe that I be made stainless! Can you imagine the efficacy of that prayer?

What happens when I become stainless? Elsewhere, Sri Rāmakrishna himself explains what this means: Weeping, I said to Her: “O Mother, protect me! Please make me stainless. Please see that my mind is not diverted from the Real to the unreal.”[8]

So, as a result of imagining that I am that devotee, regarding whom Sri Rāmakrishna supplicates to the Divine Mother that I be made stainless, my mind will get focused on the Real. This quality, my mind will start developing, as I progress with this imagination for an extended period of time.

  • Draw him to Thee: The evening worship began in the temples. The Master was seated on the small couch in his room, absorbed in meditation. He went into an ecstatic mood and said a little later: “Mother, please draw him to Thee. He is so modest and humble! He has been visiting Thee.” [9]

Sri Rāmakrishna went into Samādhi. His body was motionless. He remained in that state a long time. Gradually he came down to the consciousness of the outer world. Still in a spiritual mood, he began to talk, sometimes addressing the devotees, sometimes the Divine Mother. “Mother, please attract him to Thee.[10]

Just observe how Sri Rāmakrishna identifies some simple qualities in someone and recommends him to the Divine Mother! I need to put myself in the place of that devotee for whom Sri Rāmakrishna is putting in a strong recommendation! What are the qualities of that devotee? He is modest, humble and visits Sri Rāmakrishna often.

I imagine that I have these qualities in me; I sit before Sri Rāmakrishna as he sits on the small couch in an ecstatic mood. Then I imagine that he makes the request to the Divine Mother regarding me.

He doesn’t stop with just that one prayer. He knows that I really do not have those qualities such as modesty, humility, regularity and punctuality. Hence he further prays to the Divine Mother on my behalf, Mother, please attract him to Thee.

Who knew that the Divine Mother could attract people to herself, and that she actually did such a thing! Anyway, I am fortunate that Sri Rāmakrishna is himself praying on my behalf! I stay in that mood of feeling fortunate for some time.

  • Now and then: The evening worship was over in the temples. The Master returned to his room and sat on the couch, absorbed in meditation on the Divine Mother. M. sat on the floor. There was no one else in the room. The Master was in Samādhi. He began to come gradually down to the normal plane. His mind was still filled with the consciousness of the Divine Mother. In that state he was speaking to Her like a small child making importunate demands on his mother…The Master was weeping and praying to the Mother in a voice choked with emotion. He prayed to Her with tearful eyes for the welfare of the devotees: “Mother, may those who come to You have all their desires fulfilled! But please don’t make them give up everything at once, Mother. Well, You may do whatever You like in the end. If You keep them in the world, Mother, then please reveal Yourself to them now and then. Otherwise, how will they live? How will they be encouraged if they don’t see You once in a while? But You may do whatever You like in the end.” [11]

I imagine the ambience in the room when Sri Rāmakrishna is in Samādhi. There is a palpable pressure on my entire being. My own breathing has slowed down perceptibly. I look intensely at him. He is not breathing. His face has an unbelievable glow, eyes half-opened and transfixed, focused on nothing in particular. I remain in this incredible atmosphere for some time.

Then he starts coming down to the normal plane. The return to normalcy is not fast. It is haltering. Clear changes are visible in his personality with each step he takes towards becoming normal.

Then I imagine him making an amazing prayer to the Divine Mother. I imagine I too am one of the devotees for whom that unprecedented prayer was made!

  • Human relations: Sri Rāmakrishna was sitting on the small couch in his room. Rākhāl, M., and, several other devotees were present. The Master, in a happy mood, became engaged in conversation with a fair complexioned young man: “Be on friendly terms with your brothers. It looks well. You must have noticed in your theatrical performance that if four singers sing each in a different way, the play is spoiled.” [12]

I am the young man to whom Sri Rāmakrishna is speaking. Rākhāl, M and some others too are in the room and looking on. I am the center of attention of the Greatest of Avatāras! Those eyes are riveting; extreme concern for my well-being is oozing out of those eyes. That voice is the sweetest I can ever imagine.

And what is he saying to me? “Be on friendly terms with your brothers. It looks well. You must have noticed in your theatrical performance that if four singers sing each in a different way, the play is spoiled.”

Whatever be the situation we are in, we live among other people. A large number of our problems in life arise due to lack of proper understanding among ourselves. A sweet relation between us creates a social homeostasis, allowing us to concentrate our time and energies on our spiritual practices.

Recall the words of Jesus in the Bible: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”[13] “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”[14] “How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye.”[15]

  • The divine touch-1: Sri Rāmakrishna then went to Adhar’s house. M., Rākhāl, and other devotees were present. He sat down, still in an ecstatic mood. The Master said to Adhar, “My son, meditate on the Deity whose name you chanted.” With these words he touched Adhar’s tongue with his finger and wrote something on it.[16]

I put myself in the place of Adhar. Sri Rāmakrishna has come to my room. I see that he is still in a semi-conscious state. A beautiful smile is playing on his lips. he sits down on a chair in my room.

Once I am able to imagine this scene clearly, I then imagine him telling me, “My son, meditate on the Deity whose name you chanted.” I had been chanting his name. I have just finished doing Japa of my Ishta mantra. He now tells me that he is not a human being like me, but a divine being. He is a deity. I, however, see him to be just like me, a human being, but, he himself tells me this. I recall Swāmi Vivekānanda mentioning in the Math Rules, “The Lord has not yet given up the Ramakrishna form.” This is what Swamiji meant. Even as I hear Sri Rāmakrishna tell me these words, I immediately become aware that I do not understand what he means. What does he mean he is a divine being? I do not understand anything other than a human being.

That is when he suddenly gets up, comes towards me, presses my cheeks whereby my mouth opens and I instinctively throw out my tongue. He writes something on my tongue with his finger (I can’t make out which finger he uses). I am in a haze. But that touch was magical! I feel a tremendous joy welling up within me. I remain in that state for some time.

  • The divine touch-2: It was evening and the worship in the temples was over. Mahimācharan, Rākhāl, and M. were in the room. Adhar sat on the floor with the devotees. The Master said to him, “Please stroke here gently.” Adhar sat on the end of the couch and gently stroked Sri Rāmakrishna’s feet.[17]

I again put myself in Adhar’s place. I am sitting on the floor in Sri Rāmakrishna’s room.

He is reclining on his small couch, with his head and upper back resting on a cylindrical bolster. His feet are pointed towards me, while his head is slightly turned to his right side, and hence he is able to see me. There is the sweet scent of incense in the room.

All of a sudden, he asks me to stroke his feet gently.

I get up, go to his couch, sit down on the edge of his couch, and start pressing his feet. I first press his right foot, from the knee-cap down to his ankle. Then I switch to his left foot. I notice that he has very little hair on his legs. The color of the skin on his legs is uniform. There is very little flesh in his calves. The bones are easily felt. When I go on pressing like this, I hear his breathing, which is even; he seems to be drifting into a light sleep. I continue pressing his feet for some time.

  • Our real identity: Master (To M., pointing to Baburām): “You see, my own people have become strangers; Rāmlal and my other relatives seem to be foreigners. And strangers have become my own. Don’t you notice how I tell Baburām to go and wash his face? The devotees have become relatives.[18]

 

  • Complete your studies: Again for a few moments all sat in silence. Master (to Narendra, smiling): “Won’t you continue your studies? [19]

It was dusk. Sri Rāmakrishna was sitting in his room, absorbed in contemplation of the Divine Mother. Now and then he was chanting her name. Rākhāl, Adhar, M., and several other devotees were with him. Master to M: “Tell me, does Baburām intend to continue his studies? I said to him, ‘Continue your studies to set an example to others.’ After Sitā had been set free, Bibhīshana refused to become king of Ceylon. Rāma said to him: ‘You should become king to open the eyes of the ignorant. Otherwise they will ask you what you have gained as a result of serving me. They will be pleased to see you acquire the kingdom.’” [20]

Students can very nicely identify with this imagery.

A Swāmi of our Order used to tell us when we were young, that the first thing a boy does when he comes in contact with Rāmakrishna Mission is lose interest in his academic studies! A strong tradition seems to have been set by the direct disciples themselves, it seems.

Young boys however do face a real conflict within, between engaging themselves in spiritual practices such as Japa, dhyāna, adhyayana, etc. and completing their school and college studies. This conflict can be resolved by using this powerful visual and auditory imagery.

  • Brahmacharya in married life: Master: “Bhavanāth is married; but he spends the whole night in spiritual conversation with his wife. The couple passes their time talking of God alone: I said to him, ‘Have a little fun with your wife now and then.’ ‘What?’ he retorted angrily. ‘Shall we too indulge in frivolity?’” [21]

This is an essential imagery for married persons, who have a strong urge to practice Sādhana. All these words are uttered by Sri Rāmakrishna. We need to dwell on the sense of approval in his tone when he is telling these words. Sri Rāmakrishna is very happy, it is apparent in his voice, when he reproduces Bhavanāth’s angry retort, “Shall we too indulge in frivolity?

Elsewhere, Sri Rāmakrishna had told us that husband and wife should live like brother and sister after the birth of a couple of children. Here we have Bhavanāth demonstrating that teaching in reality. What was Bhavanāth’s state of mind when Sri Rāmakrishna teased him about having a little fun with his wife? We need to dwell on that incredible state of Bhavanāth’s mind. How did he get to develop such a state of mind?

We find the hint in another scene in the Gospel:

In the afternoon Bhavanāth arrived. Rākhāl, M., Harish, and other devotees were in the room. Master (to Bhavanāth): “To love an Incarnation of God – that is enough.”[22]

            We should imagine Sri Rāmakrishna telling us these words. “To love and Incarnation of God – that is enough.” Enough for what? And enough for whom? Loving an Avatāra is enough for all of us, married or monastic; for our spiritual growth.

Sri Rāmakrishna is revealing a great secret here. When he spoke such secrets, the entire atmosphere in that room would become intense! Our entire soul recognizes the value of those words. We must love Sri Rāmakrishna. That is enough for us.

 

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[1]Meditation, you know, comes by a process of imagination.” Complete Works: Vol-4: Lectures and Discourses: Meditation

[2]When the Chitta, or mind-stuff, is confined and limited to a certain place it is Dharana. This Dharana is of various sorts, and along with it, it is better to have a little play of the imagination.”: Complete Works: Vol-1: Raja-Yoga: Ch-VI: Pratyahara and Dharana

[3] “Some imaginations help to break the bondage of the rest. The whole universe is imagination, but one set of imaginations will cure another set. Those that tell us that there is sin and sorrow and death in the world are terrible. But the other set — thou art holy, there is God, there is no pain —these are good, and help to break the bondage of the others. The highest imagination that can break all the links of the chain is that of the Personal God.”: Complete Works: Vol-5: Notes from Lectures and Discourses: On Bhakti-Yoga

[4] What is the immediate goal? To get in touch with the Reality. Whatever we call real draws our whole being. So it is most essential for us to have a clear conception of what Reality is. The goal and the path must be real. Even our imaginations must be about the Real. Meditation & Spiritual Life: Pg: 644

[5] In the same man the mother sees a son, while the wife at the same time sees differently with different results. The wicked see in God wickedness. The virtuous see in Him virtue. He admits of all forms. He can be moulded according to the imagination of each person. Water assumes various shapes in various vessels. But water is in all of them. Hence all religions are true.: Complete Works: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Notes Taken Down In Madras, 1892-93

[6] Complete Works: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Lessons On Raja-Yoga

[7] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Pg: 283

[8] Ibid: Pg: 895

[9] Ibid: Pg: 160

[10] Ibid: Pg: 741

[11] Ibid: Pg: 381

[12] Ibid: Pg: 428

[13] New Testament: John 4:20

[14] Ibid: John 4:21

[15] Ibid: Matthew 7:4

[16] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Pg: 273

[17] Ibid: Pg: 387

[18] Ibid: Pg: 380

[19] Ibid: Pg: 935

[20] Ibid: Pg: 458

[21] Ibid: Pp: 715-716

[22] Ibid: Pg: 356

Rewriting Indian history

Honorable Minister for Culture, Government of India, Sri Mahesh Sharma, recently announced[1] that a committee had been formed comprising of 14 bureaucrats and academic scholars, headed by Sri K N Dikshit, that aimed at rewriting ‘certain portions’ of Indian history. This announcement has stirred a hornet’s nest and reactions have been really sharp and divided in the academic circles.

We believe that the effort is indeed laudable and most urgently needed. However, the agenda for such a momentous task needs to be as broad and comprehensive as this nation itself, if the efforts should not run into a cul-de-sac like the previous myopic attempts at writing Indian history by the various schools of communist, sub-altern, imperialist or nationalist historians.

Isn’t it a happy coincidence that this decision of writing an ‘Indian version’ of Indian history should gain momentum in the very period when we are celebrating Sister Nivedita’s 150th birth anniversary? We cannot fail to point this out to our readers because it was Nivedita who was the first person in recent times to recognize the urgent necessity for such an attempt. Swami Vivekananda had taught her, “…whoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone, is a great benefactor to his nation.[2] If a person has a true, undiluted, unbiased, unprejudiced version of one’s national past, it is easier to develop a solid self-image of oneself along national lines.

But let us remind ourselves here that the collection and collation of facts, discerning of the cause and the effect from a study of those facts, and uncovering the historical forces acting on the people of India, must be true, uncolored by biases, uncolored by a hidden agenda of conforming to a pet theory of history, be it the left-wing theory or the right-wing one! That is indeed a mighty task, and calls for great refinement of our faculties.

Anyway, following in Swamiji’s footsteps, Sister Nivedita pointed out that “India herself is the master document[3] which we have to read in order to know Indian history. She wrote, “The country is her own record. She is the history that we must learn to read.[4] This clearly means that learning how to read India is an exercise that involves a specific method. Nivedita wanted aspiring historians to decipher “the Indian idea of India[5]. It is impossible to understand an Indian idea in terms of non-Indian concepts.[6]

 “In all that lies around us…, we may, if our eyes are open, read the story of the past.[7] The proper way of understanding Indian history, according to Nivedita, is through travel: “If India itself be the book of Indian history, it follows that travel is the true means of reading that history.[8] An important component of Nivedita’s historical thinking was the intimate connection she saw between geography and the history of place, especially the layered histories of ancient cities. She said that “History must be viewed geographically, and geography historically”.[9] Once we invoke geography to serve the cause of history, (something which has not been done till now by any school of history), it immediately becomes clear that a notion of territorial and civilizational identity was already present in pre-colonial India. It was a result of stable geographical boundaries, busy pilgrimage routes and destinations spread across the length and breadth of the country, vibrant ancient cities that acted as centers of culture, and great political empires. In other words, the unity of India was not a gift of British rule as many British imperialist historians liked to claim.

One of the key features of Indian nationhood is diversity. A true historian will have to get initiated into the unique dynamics that exist between diversity and unity in the Indian context. Sister Nivedita writes: “…India is and always has been a synthesis. No amount of analysis – racial, lingual, or territorial – will ever amount in the sum to the study of India…all the parts of a whole are not equal to the whole.[10] In other words, India as a nation is not merely the sum of different regions professing separate identities; the whole has a life of its own. There has been a national cohesion—a synthesis—as a result of historical processes. According to Nivedita, the task before the historian is precisely this, “… apart from and above, all the fragments which must be added together to make India, we have to recognize India herself, all-containing, all-dominating, moulding and shaping the destinies and the very nature of the elements out of which she is composed…No Indian province has lived unto itself, pursuing its own development, following its own path, going its way unchallenged and alone.[11]

Nivedita held European treatises on Western History in high regard because of their method — ‘the connectedness of the treatment of each life with others’ is what she appreciated most in these works. But she lamented about the history of India written during her times, “In Indian History, such a point of view is conspicuous by its absence. Some writers are interested in Buddhist India (if indeed we have any right to employ such a term) and some in various stages of Mahratta or Sikh or Indo-Islamic History or what not. But who has caught the palpitation of the Indian heart-beat through one and all of these? It is ‘India’ that makes Indian History glorious.[12]

We hope and pray that this commendable attempt by the present Government of India fulfils these heartfelt expectations of the great Sister Nivedita.

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[1] NDTV Newsdesk (with inputs from Reuters) on 6th March 2018: (web edition)

[2] Cf: Complete works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Reply to the address of Maharaja of Khetri

[3] Cf: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf: Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: Some problems on Indian research:

[6] Recall how Swamiji famously said “I would not translate this word Shraddha to you; it would be a mistake.” : Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda:Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Reply to address of welcome at Calcutta:

[7] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’

[8] Ibid.

[9] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Hints on National Education in India: ‘The Future Education of the Indian Women’.

[10] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Footfalls of Indian History: ‘The History of India and Its Study’

[11] Ibid.

[12] Complete Works of Sister Nivedita: Vol-4: Hints on National Education in India: ‘A note on historical research’.

Addictive power of digital technology

Have you noticed how our children are getting addicted to smartphones recently? Parents and teachers are at their wits’ end dealing with this growing specter.

Psychologists are conducting researches on the impact of smartphones on teenage brains. Studies have found that a Class-8 student’s risk for depression spikes 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Kids who use their phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal. And recent research has found the teen suicide rate in the US now eclipses the homicide rate, with smartphones as the driving force.[1]

Educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles, co-authors of the recent book ‘Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber’ observe that, strangely, the two biggest tech figures in recent history – Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – seldom let their kids play with the very products they helped create. What is it these wealthy tech executives know about their own products that their consumers don’t? According to a growing body of evidence, it is the addictive power of digital technology.

In 2007, Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft, implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. Steve Jobs, who was the CEO of Apple, revealed in a 2011 New York Times interview that he prohibited his kids from using the newly-released iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs had told reporter Nick Bilton.[2]

Clement and Miles make the case that wealthy Silicon Valley parents seem to grasp the addictive powers of smartphones, tablets, and computers more than the general public does – despite the fact that these parents often make a living by creating and investing in that technology. More interestingly, the authors point out that some of the best schools in USA (Waldorf School & Brightworks School) still teach using chalk and pencil, without the deleterious impact of digital technology on their students!

Technology is always disruptive. Training is needed to employ any new technology beneficially.

Consider, for instance, Nuclear Technology. It developed during World War II. USA, UK & Canada formed the Manhattan Project to research nuclear fission. This Project had two outcomes. The 1st outcome was the atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima & Nagasaki and ended the 2nd World War. The 2nd outcome was a controlled nuclear reactor. The bomb came in 1945 and the reactor in 1951. The damaging aspect of the technology came 1st and then, slowly mankind learned how to put the technology to beneficial use. Today we have nuclear power generating stations, nuclear powered ships and submarines, and nuclear medicines that can fight Cancer. The same technology that gave us the devastating atomic bombs also helps us fight cancer today! Who is to decide whether nuclear technology is harmful or beneficial, per se?

Unless a new technology is accompanied by sufficient training, it can indeed be harmful. But, with the right kind of training, any new technology can be a great boon. Same holds good for digital technology too.

The marriage of personal computers, mobile telephony and blogging has unleashed unprecedented power into our hands today. Where is the requisite training to go along with it?

In this context, what indeed is the content of training to be imparted to students? Bradley Busch[3], noted psychologist, explains it is ‘Self-control’.

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[1] https://www.businessinsider.in/Bill Gates and Steve Jobs shared a surprising philosophy about tech and it should have been a big red flag/articleshow/61192216.cms

[2] Cf: British online newspaper: ‘The Independent’ on 24th Feb 2016.

[3] Bradley Busch is a Registered Psychologist, Director at Inner-Drive and Author of ‘Release Your Inner Drive’. You can follow Busch @Inner_Drive on Twitter. See his masterly article on ‘Lessons from Research’ in the Feb 2018 issue of The Guardian for more details.

Self-Control & Student Success

Education may be the most important thing in a young person’s life, but, when faced with yet another lecture or homework assignment, nearly all students in one survey said they wished they were doing something else. This, according to a new article in the December issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, suggests that succeeding at “studenting” may require as much self-control as intelligence, student-freedom and joyful learning.

This study is extremely important since it flies in the face of the ideas of Education we have adopted in India for over a decade now – the idea of making the entire learning process ‘stress-free’ for the child!

Everyone’s been in this situation, where you’ve got this piece of chocolate cake in front of you and you don’t really want to eat it but you’re so compelled to, and I think students feel this way all the time with their work,” said co-author Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania known for her research on “grit” as a pathway to achievement.

In a pair of longitudinal studies following 304 eighth-graders, Duckworth and her colleagues measured students’ self-control through self-reports, questionnaires completed by parents and teachers, and a set of behavioral delay-of-gratification tasks. Based on these scores, they found that, similar to IQ, students who were rated highly for self-control also earned higher grades and standardized test scores. Unlike IQ, however, higher self-control was also predictive of fewer school absences, less procrastination, more time spent studying, and less time spent watching television.

Duckworth, who taught middle school math before becoming a university professor, said these findings aligned with her own time in the classroom.

Kids actually want to do well,” Duckworth said. “I’ve never met a kid who wants to do worse, but not all of them were able to align their behavior with studying, with homework, with paying attention in class.”

On a larger scale, a study of 1,000 students in New Zealand found that ratings of self-control in childhood were just as predictive of a person’s financial security, income, physical and mental health, substance use, and criminal convictions later in life as intelligence or socioeconomic status were.

While self-control can be grouped with conscientiousness, a Big Five personality trait, it also stands as a unique behavioral measure that may contribute to a person’s overall success.

Self-control exists on the timescale of minutes, Duckworth explained, allowing someone to resist the everyday temptations of texting in class or hitting the snooze button in the morning, whereas grit may provide the persevering passion required to accomplish long-term goals such as winning a National Contest or attending your college of choice.

Encouraging conscientious behaviors isn’t as simple as telling students to “just use some self-control,” however. Duckworth said she is most excited about the use of situational modifications that make the temptation to neglect schoolwork less powerful – for example turning off your cellphone, or even leaving it in another room, to avoid distracting texts.

Thinking about ways to avoid these conflicts strategically seems much more efficient and less torturous over time,” she said.

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References

  1. Duckworth, A. L., and M. E. P. Seligman. “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents.” Psychological Science, vol. 16, no. 12, Jan. 2005, pp. 939–944.
  1. Duckworth, Angela L., and Martin E. P. Seligman. “The Science and Practice of Self-Control.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 12, no. 5, 1 Sept. 2017, pp. 715–718.
  1. Galla B. M., Rikoon S. H., Haimm C. A., Duckworth A. (2016). Explaining the phenomenology of self-control conflict. Manuscript in preparation.
  1. Moffitt T. E., Arseneault L., Belsky D., Dickson N., Hancox R. J., Harrington H. L., Caspi A. (2011). A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 108, 2693–2698.

 

Pocket Ventilator

We have…to gain a little in material knowledge …in bringing the best results out of the smallest of causes…some sort of materialism, toned down to our own requirements, would be a blessing to many of our brothers who are not yet ripe for the highest truths.”[1]The Western people will…be your Guru regarding practical sciences …for the improvement of material conditions, and the people of our country will be their Guru in everything pertaining to religion.[2]If we are to live at all, we must be a scientific nation.[3] Such was the prophetic vision of Swami Vivekananda.

Recently, a 25-year old Robotic Engineer from Delhi Sri Diwakar Vaish, has developed a ventilator, in collaboration with Dr Deepak Agarwal, Professor of Neuroscience at AIIMS, New Delhi. This ventilator is the smallest, as well as the cheapest one in the world! It is almost 450 times smaller than the conventional ones. It is as small as a cellphone and can slip into one’s pocket. When this pocket device hits the market after clinical trials and approval from Drug Controller General of India, it is estimated to cost between Rs. 15,000 to 20,000.

A traditional ventilator costs Rs. 5 lakhs to Rs. 15 lakhs. The cheapest portable one available in the market today costs between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh. An FDA-approved disposable ventilator costs between Rs 10,000 and 15,000, but it has a maximum life of four weeks. Most of these presently available ventilators require oxygen cylinders which cost about Rs. 4,000 per day.

This pocket ventilator will run on room air, and not oxygen. Hence the operational costs are close to zero. Traditional ventilators use oxygen cylinders. Disposable ventilators however use room air, but they push it into the lungs at a fixed frequency that does not necessarily match the patient’s breathing pattern, which may cause oxygen saturation. Controlled with an Android App, this device uses an Artificial Intelligence algorithm to adjust and synchronize air supply to normal breathing pattern of a patient.

Thousands of critically-ill patients live in hospitals today in our country, because the family cannot afford to buy a portable ventilator. Presently, India faces a huge shortage of ventilator beds needed to support critically-ill patients who cannot breathe on their own. According to norms, at least 10% of all hospital should have ventilators, but we are way too short of the demand. Nine out of ten patients, barring the ones with severe lung problems, can breathe in the normal atmospheric air because the problem is in their diaphragm, not lungs. For the 10% who need more oxygen, the pocket ventilator can also be hooked to an oxygen-supply system. This device can work on the normal power connection and comes with an additional battery backup for a couple of hours. For remote areas, it will come with additional battery for 12 hours.

It is cheap and affordable for hospitals and individuals. This will reduce shortage of ventilators in hospitals. It can reach the remotest areas for healthcare. People with paralysis can be wheeled with the ventilator. Shortage of oxygen or disruption of oxygen supply will no longer be an issue.

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[1] CW: Vol-3: Lectures from Colombo to Almora: Reply To The Address Of Welcome At Ramnad

[2] CW: Vol-5: Conversations and Dialogues: VI: Shri Priya Nath Sinha

[3] CW: Vol-6: Notes of Class Talks and Lectures: Notes Taken Down In Madras: 1892-93

National Policy-making

The most important quality a National Policy-maker needs is Insight; insight into the future. Where will we be 50 years from now, if we implement this policy today? This ability to look into the future is the most valuable asset of a National Policy-maker. When we ourselves don’t have that ability to a marked degree, we may call in those that do have that insight and profit from their super-sense. Introspection is another quality indispensable for Policy-makers. What is promoting a particular idea or option? This idea should constantly echo in the Policy-maker’s mind.

We are talking in particular about India’s plan for all-electric cars by 2030. The Indian Auto Industry was taken by surprise after the Government announced last year that the entire Auto Industry would go electric by the turn of 2030. The announcement came on the heels of the Government skipping one stage in pollution standards, and advancing the introduction of BS-VI fuel by two years.

Mercedes-Benz India MD & CEO Roland Folger was talking to PTI in a freewheeling interaction recently[1], in which he urged the Government “not to rush with the all-electric vehicles push” and thus “foreclose better technological options” for future generations, as the rest of the world is racing to run on hydrogen, and not electricity.

Calling for better and coordinated efforts, Mr Folger said, “Ideally, regulators and policymakers should be totally aligned with what’s happening on the technology front because 5-10 years is a short period in the Auto landscape. The least policymakers can do is to take the Auto Industry into confidence.”

Pointing out that the time frame announced to go all electric is very short, given the very long-term nature of the Auto Industry, he said this would mean that all Auto Companies stop investing in or developing any more products.

“If so what will happen to the investments already made in other technologies? Our planners should know that over the next two decades or so the whole world will be driving hydrogen cars and not electric cars,” Mr Folger said.

On the huge financial burden the plan would be on the nation, he wondered whether the Government has thought about this aspect before arriving at this decision.

“Can the Government invest hundreds of billions of dollars into setting up charging stations and associated infrastructure? If not, then who will foot the bill? Definitely not the private sector! If at all Government manages to raise funds, is it worth the effort in terms of meeting the key objective of bringing down pollution?” he asked.

In fact, Mr Folger thinks that the move would be “more counter-productive in terms of additional power demand, as you are still building and supporting thermal power plants.”

“Yes, with the current coal-based power generation model, this would be more polluting as demand for electricity will jump manifold. Or do we have the finances to upgrade all our old thermal plants? Or can we go completely off polluting coal plants? If yes, what is the cost that such a plan will entail?” he wondered.

As a way out, Mr Folger suggested “plug-in hybrids” as the best option for the country despite such vehicles being costlier than e-cars.

“Yes plug-in hybrids are more costly than e-cars. But if we consider the cumulative cost of putting up nationwide infrastructure in terms of charging stations and other supporting infra for electrification, plug-in hybrids are more affordable,” he said.

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[1] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/mercedes-benz-india-chief-roland-folger-plan-for-all-electric-cars-by-2030-not-viable-1791725#pt0-219865; dated 24th Dec 2017

Community Development through Polytechnics

Respected Prof. Saini, Chairman of the present Evaluation Committee, Govt of India, Prof U C Kumar, NITTTR, Kolkata, Dr Saibal Mukhopadyay, Director, Technical Education, Govt of West Bengal, other distinguished Professors and Directors, I represent Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira, Belur Math, an NGO running a premier Polytechnic since 1954.

Elaborating on the wonderful talks given by Prof Saini and Director, Technical Education Dr Saibal Mukhopadyay, I wish to point out a couple of issues that we at Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira have learnt in our long run with technical education. We were a Govt aided Polytechnic till 2007, during which time, we had the Community Polytechnic Scheme also. Our erstwhile Principal, Rev Swami Tattwajnanandaji, was of the opinion that Polytechnic College resources should not, and cannot, be used for running the CP scheme. The reason being – Diploma education is a separate job, while skill development in the community is also a separate, dedicated job. Each needs sufficient dedication and allocation of man power, time and resources. We cannot use the man power, time and resources meant for one to double up for the other. If we do that, both will suffer. Well, at least, one will certainly suffer. We cannot afford to lose focus in this way. Hence, what was done at Shilpamandira was that a separate unit was started as the Community Polytechnic. The machinery was completely different from the ones used for the Polytechnic. The rule is that a workshop cannot have two masters! The lecturers of the Polytechnic, however, helped when required in various respects like up-skilling of the CP instructors, setting the question papers and evaluating the answer sheets, setting up new equipment, etc. But, the Polytechnic and the CP were kept separate right from the beginning. And that is how it is running right now too. We have found this model to be really useful.

Regarding release of funds under the CP scheme, Director of Technical Education said that during the CP scheme days, fund-release was smooth. Now, we found even that scheme was troublesome! The problem we faced was the delay in releasing the funds from MHRD itself. We believe that money has to be paid to the instructor by the end of the month, failing which, we lose our moral power over them to demand efficiency. Whatever be the form the scheme takes, whatever be the form CDTP takes in the future, kindly ensure that funds are released in a phased manner at least twice or more times in a year. Then, timely payment to instructors can be done and the scheme will run smoothly.

We could further think of alternate methods of releasing funds. We could think of following the PMKVY method where the funds are released directly to the trainees and the Training Partners of NSDC. That way, we could entirely eliminate the cumbersome Governmental procedure of MHRD releasing the funds to NITTTR, which then releases it to the DTET, which then releases it to the Principals of CDTPs through the State Treasury. As explained by Director, Technical Education, this obviously has the bottleneck of parking the unutilized funds in the case of CDTPs too.

Regarding aligning the CDTP courses with NSQF, I wish to inform this august assembly that we at Shilpamandira Community Training Center have already done this successfully. It was quite an exercise, but it was worth the effort. All our existing courses were mapped to different trades under at least 7 different sector skill councils of NSDC. This enables the candidates to get a Pan-India certification upon completion of training. Moreover, this aligning with NSDC will allow for up-skilling and scaling up through their credit scheme for the candidates.

One other area where this Committee can give some thought is regarding gainful employment of the candidates who are trained under the CDTP scheme. The Committee can make a recommendation that the Govt of India should mandate all District & Panchayat authorities to allot development work only to CDTP certificate holders. All development activity at the rural and block level should be linked to CDTP scheme in some way. This will ensure that the trainees will get gainful employment and the effort spent in CDTP Training will be beneficial to the society. Unless some such step is taken, our efforts will seem to be shots in the dark.

Finally, regarding Prof Kumar’s query whether Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira will be interested in taking up the CDTP Scheme now, I wish to inform the honorable members of this Committee that we would feel honored to be associated with this Scheme, provided the Govt is ready to make us ‘Non-funded’ Training Partners. We do not want to avail funds from the Govt, while we would like to be allowed to avail certification for our Trainees under the CDTP Scheme.

I thank Prof Saini for giving us an opportunity to participate in this Review Session and express the views of Shilpamandira’s learnings in Community Development Training for the last four decades.

Swami Vedatitananda