Sunday, April 17, 2016

Elephant in the Mirror

Teachers and Trainers all over the world use many methods and techniques to impart knowledge and skills to their pupils, especially when conveying complex and abstract concepts. The more popular as well as effective among such tools are the methods known as "Known to Unknown" and "Simple to Complex". In "known to unknown" method, the teacher or trainer starts with some concept or subject that is already known to the student or the trainee. He then develops on it and links the same to a new and more difficult concept to enable the wards to understand the unknown. In "simple to complex" method, the principle or application is started from a simpler idea and then slowly develop the wider and more complex principles or applications. Modren teaching and training methods place a lot of emphasis on using these techniques to ensure faster learning and lasting effects on the students. It is interesting to note that these methods are in use for several centuries and have wide usage and acceptance all over the world. These methods are also in use in explaining the abstract theorems, axioms and assumptions. We can find many such examples in spiritual as well as cultural writings and literature.


One of the most important theorems of Vedic knowledge and understanding is the concept of "Parabrahma", the supreme Lord. His presence is learnt through his infinite qualities. One such quality is all-pervasiveness. The supreme Lord is believed to be present everywhere; he has occupied all the space that is known as well as beyond that. He can be present everywhere at the same time. He can be bigger than any big thing and smaller than the smallest thing that one can see, imagine or perceive. "Narayana Suktam" which is a part of Yajurveda and believed to be a appendix to "Purusha Suktam" explains this concept beautifully. Narayana Suktam is generally recited at the end of all religious procedures and offered to the supreme Lord as "Mantrapushpam", offering of flowers in the form of words. This concept of all-pervasive and omni-present Parabrahma and his infinite capacity to occupy the biggest as well as the smallest available space is one of the basic tenets of Vedic beliefs.

While it is easy to say that Parabrahma can be bigger than the biggest as well as smaller than the smallest, it is difficult to comprehend the same for many. This is explained by means of many examples. 

Saint Purundara Dasa (1484-1564) who lived during the finest period of Vijayanagara empire in South India was a contemporary of Sage Vyasateertha and King Krishnadevaraya. He is hailed as the Pitamaha (Great-grandfather) of Karnaatic school of music. Legend has it that he has composed 4,75,000 poems (Devaranamas) in the praise of Lord, though only a few thousands are available now. His Devaranamas are in simple Kannada language and yet have succeeded in bringing the essence of Vedic and spiritual knowledge to the common man. Ugabhoga and Suladi are among many forms of compositions made by him and later followed by others in his path. 

In one of his Ugabhogas, he explains the concept of the Lord occupying the smallest place when he is bigger than the biggest known entity and extending beyond that. It is in Kannada and reads as under:

ಜಗವ ಸುತ್ತಿಹುದೆಲ್ಲ ನಿನ್ನ ಮಾಯವಯ್ಯ, 
ನಿನ್ನ ಸುತ್ತಿಹುದೆಲ್ಲ ಎನ್ನ ಮನವಯ್ಯ ।
ಜಗಕೆ ಬಲ್ಲಿದ ನೀನು, ನಿನಗೆ ಬಲ್ಲಿದ ನಾನು, 
ಮೂರು ಜಗವು ನಿನ್ನೊಳಗೆ, ನೀನು ಏನ್ನೊಳಗೆ ।
ಕರಿಯು ಕನ್ನಡಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಅಡಗಿಪ್ಪ ತೆರನಂದಿ ಎನ್ನೊಳಗೆ ನೀನು ಅಡಗಿದೆಯೋ।
ಸಿರಿ ಪುರಂದರ ವಿಠಲ ।।

The summary of the above Ugabhoga is something like this - "The entire Universe is engulfed by your charm, but my mind is wrapped around your entire presence! You are a big presence for others due to your all pervasiveness; but I am bigger than you since I hold you in me! Just as an Elephant is captured in a small mirror held in its presence, you are present in me! (Elephant is very big but its image can be held even in a small mirror kept before it.) Purandara Vittala, The supreme Lord!

This is the submission of a pious devotee of The Lord. It is not an arrogant statement, but a humble submission. The devotee is bigger than the Lord only because he is holding the biggest possible entity (The Lord) inside him just like the image of a huge elephant in a small mirror.

This is a fine example of "Known to Unknown". In the following devaranama titled "Pillangoviaya chelva Krishnana elli noodidiri?" (Where did you see the flute playing Krishna?), Purandara Dasa expands this theorem by using the "Simple to Complex" method. The follower or devotee is thrilled by the understanding of one of the fundamental tents of the Vedic knowledge. Whether one believes in it or not, the principle and the method of its communication is indeed magnificent.   

The Ugabhoga and Devaranama mentioned above are sung by many and recordings are available on "Youtube". The one sung by Sri Vidyabushana is very popular and can be accessed through Youtube.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Karna had a single goal in life; defeating Arjuna in a final war. His entire life revolved on this one target. All other issues in life paled into insignificance before this one ambition. He even chose to join the camp of Duryodhana with the hope that it will pave the way for the final showdown with Arjuna. He went to Parushurama, satisfied the Guru with his sincerity and learnt all the inner secrets of Archery so that he could match Arjuna arrow for arrow and weapon for weapon. He prepared for years to come out successful on that one day which truly mattered. All other happening and innumerable insults that came his way were brushed aside so that the ultimate goal is not sacrificed. He did not budge from his target even when first Krishna and then his mother Kunti revealed his birth's secret to divert his attention. He readily decided to spare the other four brothers, but not Arjuna.

The day finally arrived in the blood-drenched Kurukshetra. Karna was now standing before his target. Unfortunately, he had amassed a wealth of curses from different sources. They all took effect at the most inappropriate time. His hymns to call the weapons and astras when most wanted faded from his memory. All misfortunes smiled on him together. The curses reduced his efficiency. Inability to recall his war winning skills made him a lame duck. Having lost the cutting edge of efficiency in the war, he lost his effectiveness in pursuing his only goal. Efficiency deserted and effectiveness extinguished, he became the greatest symbol of tragic heroism instead of becoming a great victor.

Internet and Mobile banking have become major tools for a comfortable modren living. We have reached a stage where life can go on without breathing, but not so without net connectivity. We can live without food in the mouth or stomach, but not mobile in the hand. Fish out of water may as well be substituted with "Man or woman without mobile". If the websites of the banks fail when you need the most, it is the final trouble. Karna unwittingly amassed a combination of curses. We have ourselves voluntarily and painstakingly mobilized these gadgets and tools to make us highly efficient and effective. Collective maturing of the curses robbing him of efficiency and rendering him ineffective happened to Karna only once. Of course, there could not have been a second time for him. For the modren man, these happen more often. It is not one final blow, but repeating blows and often with repeating regularity. There could be more pain in future as more and more gadgets are being added with each day.

Decisions are postponed till the last day as they can be implemented whenever one desires. But when it is to be implemented, net connectivity fails. Most have already experienced this trouble and hence have a second arrow in their quiver. But the second source of connectivity also fails when needed most! If connectivity is restored, then the bank website becomes elusive. It is either unavailable or even if available, it is under routine or special updating or upgrading. The website dutifully informs that it is being upgraded only for your convenience! Some websites are considerate and advise the clients beforehand about the dates and time of outage. Some others are not able to advise because they themselves do not know about the date and time of outage. The client is not even in a position to go to the bank personally and get the job done because it is the second or fourth saturday. 

There are banks which send you a new credit card or debit card one month before the previous one expires. There are others who send you one a month after the previous one expires and you make a request followed by reminders. There are organizations that remind a payment due two or three days before the due date for payment, only if the payment is not made till the date of reminder. There are others (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board is a wonderful example) which remind you even if the payment is made on the date of the bill itself. They are of course very considerate. They give you the option of ignoring the reminder if payment is already made. That payment is already made is known to them does not really matter. They cannot help if their software is unable to make the distinction between those who paid up and those who have not yet paid.

Karna was lucky. Despite all his misfortunes, he indeed knew he was an unfortunate person. He knew the curses and he also knew that they would mature one day. Modren man is not so lucky.

What is Efficiency? It is defined in many ways. It is defined as the ability to accomplish something with least waste of time and effort. It is also defined as competency in performance. It is also said as accomplishing a job with minimum expenditure of money and time. In case of machines or engines, it is the ratio of work done or energy developed by it to the energy supplied to it, usually as a percentage of the output to input. Some twenty years ago, a study in fertilizer industry showed that almost all fertilizer company plants had performed at more than 115 to 120% of their capacity! Everyone appreciated their efforts until someone pointed out that it was not possible at all. The truth was that the rated capacity of the plants were much below their actual capacities!

The best possible definition for "Efficiency and Effectiveness" is perhaps given by Peter F Drucker, the Management Guru. "Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things", he says. Merely being efficient is not enough. One has to be effective as well. Being efficient as well as effective is a true indication of quality in any walk of life.