Archives: May2009

Nobody Knows The New Rules

Unlike the rule of law, the rules of social conduct are often strictly obeyed. These “rules” ,obviously unwritten and silent,dictate the gamut of social behaviour, from socially appropriate body language, to gestures, mannerisms, pitch of voice in a particular social context, to clothing, dress,etiquette, and accent.

Normally, the majority of people in any group or culture know the rules. But sometimes they don’t. Which brings us to Bangalore. Pardon the hyperbole, but never before have so many people, made such a big transition, in such a short time:in our city of about seven million people, about half are immigrants in the sense of having moved to the city within the last 15 years and the other half have seen Bangalore change so much in the last 15 years, that it’s not home anymore.

From an emotional perspective, we are all immigrants.

In this new, emerging culture,the rulebook is up for grabs.Each group or subculture triesto influence the direction of the culture, writing rules, so to speak. In its most egregious form, the lack of social consensus about these new rules allows such things as attacks on women for wearing western attire. If the majority were in consensus – that women have every right to wear whatever they want and go to pubs if they choose to – it’s doubtful that the attacks would have even occurred.

It is the lack of social consensus about what’s right that allows people to do what’s wrong.

In one way or the other, everygroup and subculture is in the process of negotiating and understanding its own rules:organisations and employees,politicians and constituents,employees and employers,parents and children, between in-laws, friends, and husbands and wives, and sometimes,shopkeepers and customers.

Recently, I was at anupmarket shoe shop in thecentre of Bangalore.

By way of piped music, theywere playing unexpurgatedEminem “Yo motherf*****.”

“Does your manager know you are playing this?” I asked the man behind the cash counter.

“I am the manager, Sir,” he said. And added, by way of explanation, “This is rap music.”

My issue is with the lyrics, not the genre, I wanted to tell him.But what’s the point? It’s not as if I don’t listen to Eminem – I happen to think he’s a genius.I just thought it was inappropriate in a shop I might bring my child to. Then again,the two other customers inthe shop, women in their fifties, seemed unconcerned as they leisurely browsed through the shoes. Why was I suddenly indulging in moral policing?

“You want me to put some other music, Sir?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Thank you for asking.”

We will eventually figure out the new rules. But until then, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a tourist or a long time Bangalorean, son of the soil, or fresh off the plane, boat, or bus.You don’t know the new rules.

Nobody does.


I recently reread Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”.

My favorite passage from the book:

“The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.

In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way–an honorable way–in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.

For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

Niyama: The Greater Plan

When life does not go according to plan, and it so often doesn’t, you feel distressed: disappointment, stress, anxiety, worry, fatigue, irritation, anger, frustration.

The more detailed your plan, the more invested you are in it, the worse you feel when it doesn’t work out.

And when the plan doesn’t work out, you make it more detailed, put more effort into it, trying harder and harder to ensure that the plan works out the next time.

You plan more and more, to avoid disappointment, you try harder and harder, as the plans twist tighter and tighter, constricting your present life, making it hard for you to breathe, to breathe in the vitality of your existence.

So one day you say: I want to leave it all. Give it all up. Retire from the rat race, freedom from the bullshit. Move away to the mountains.

But you soon realize that this too is strangely unsatisfactory. The tightness of the plans are gone now. But once the breath returned, you asked, “What am I breathing for?”

Embracing Infinity: The Meaning of the Word “Nirvikalpa”

When I tell people about Nirvikalpa: The Center for Human Potential, I’m often asked what the word “Nirvikalpa” means.

I usually answer, “Beyond the limitations of the mind”. Sometimes I am met with an incredulous or surprised look. After all, most of us have come to believe that the mind is our greatest asset, and that any development of our potential should be through the development of the mind.

However, the word Nirvikalpa suggests another perspective of the mind. A perspective that is shared by mystical faiths , both East and West – from mystical Christianity, to Sufism, to Hinduism, Buddhism, to the Kabbalah, Existential philosophers, Jungian psychology, and more recently, some psychiatrists and neurophysiologists: the perspective that our mind is a construct; that instead of helping us in our path towards a higher consciousness, our mind in fact prevents us from evolving further, holding us back, limiting us, even imprisoning us in old patterns and old ways of being.

So what does the word “Nirvikalpa” mean?

The answer, which doesn’t really go down well at your average cocktail party ( I tried it one time and the host asked me what I had been smoking…) is as follows:

Like many Sanskrit words, the word “Nirvikalpa” is actually composed of smaller words strung together, like pearls on a necklace. By itself each word has its own meaning, but when strung together, the meaning is transformed into something larger, more profound.

So, Nirvikalpa = Nir + Vi + Kalpa

Depending on how one interprets each component (Nir, Vi, and Kalpa), Nirvikalpa can mean many different things.

Kalpa means a unit of time, and according to Vedic cosmology, is 4.32 billion years. After each Kalpa, according to the Vedas, the world dissolves, only to begin again.

Kalpa, is also closely related to the word,”Kalpana”, which means imagination.

There can be no imagination without time, the word suggests.. And no time without the imaginations of the mind.

The word “Kalpa”, then, suggests that time itself is a figment of the imagination, a construct of our linear mind.

But Kalpa has another meaning – it can also mean “Rule” , or ” “Ordinance”.

So, if we add the prefix “Vi” to Kalpa, we get the word “Vikalpa”.

(It so happens that the prefix “Vi” in sanskrit can either intensify the meaning of a word, or, paradoxically, diminish the meaning of the word – and people say English is confusing!)

The word Vikalpa is then best translated as ” A state of mind that exists within the framework of linear time” or “A state of mind that understands the world and objects by language and constructs, but does not see the ultimate reality that lies beyond language and thought” or even , ” A mind that is not free of social constructs, prejudices, and preconceptions.”

Which finally brings us to Nirvikalpa

The prefix “Nir” in Sanskrit, means “Without”, or “Beyond.”

So Nirvikalpa then is best translated as ” A state of mind and being that exists beyond the limitations of time, space, and individual consciousness.”

Nirvikalpa is the absolute unfettered freedom of consciousness that exists beyond the limitations of the mind.

The word tell us that if we could break free from all our limitations, nothing is beyond reach.

It hints at the possibilities that exist within us. If we go beyond the mind. If we embrace infinity.