Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why does U G Krishnamurti say, “Thought is your enemy”?

I recently read U G Krishnamurti’sThought is your enemy”. UG, as he is popularly known, is one of the blunt spiritual teachers. This usually means there is no apparent common ground between UG and the reader (or the person conversing with him). “Thought is your enemy” is a compilation of discussions between UG and various seekers in India, Switzerland, Australia, Netherlands and UK between 1985 and 1990. In “Thought is your enemy”, UG is consistent in his position that thought is not an instrument that can help us in solving our problems; on the contrary, it only creates problems. Why does UG say that? Let’s explore it through three claims he makes in the book.

Thought destroys sensitivity: UG says, “The function of the brain in this body is only to take care of the needs of the physical organism and to maintain its sensitivity, where thought, through its constant interference with sensory activity, is destroying the sensitivity of the body.” We might be able to observe this in our daily life. When we are really anxious or stressed, we tend to eat more or sometimes eat less. Body is sending signals about when we should eat and when we should stop eating. However, the constant interference of thought is obscuring those signals. Hence, our eating habit may become abnormal. What happens to eating also gets extended to sitting posture, sleep and various others habits because our sensitivity gets diminished due to interfering thoughts.

Thought can only create problems, not solve them: UG says, “Thought is not the instrument for achieving anything other than the goals set before us by our culture or society or whatever you want to call it. The basic problem we have to face today is this: the cultural input, or what society has placed before us as the goal for all of us to reach and attain, is the enemy of this living organism. Thought can only create problems; it cannot help us to solve any.” Thought comes with a built-in program to create the next goal to be achieved – be it an educational degree, a house purchase, a promotion, a start-up, poverty alleviation or even enlightenment. Once one goal is met, another is generated automatically. Thought makes sure that happiness lies in the future, not in the present moment. How can such an instrument help us live a peaceful life ever?

Thought is fascist:  UG says, “Thought in its birth, in its origin, in its content, in its expression, and in its action is very fascist. When I use the word ‘fascist’ I use it not in the political sense but to mean that thought controls and shapes our thinking and our actions. It has helped us to create our technology. It has made our life very comfortable. It has also made it possible for us to discover new laws of nature. But thought is a very protective mechanism and is interested in its own survival.” Just like a Hitler believes in an ideology and makes it non-negotiable, thought believes in a value system and makes it non-negotiable. Whatever I value, be it a religion, be it a scientific principle or a business principle, once I make it non-negotiable, fascist nature is born. UG says, “You see, the value system is false.”

“Thought is your enemy”, like any other UG book, is not a light reading. It has no prescription. It is not meant to be understood. However, if you are open to reading between the lines, contemplate and perhaps ready to experiment with your own value system, then it may be a powerful companion.

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Gabbar Singh and self-deception

Growing up as a school boy in the late 70s, it was hard to miss the famous Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) dialogue from the movie Sholay – Kitney admi they? (How many guys were there?) It was popular among kids and a mandatory item during family gatherings. What I realized only recently about this dialogue is that it is a great example of self-deception, a phenomenon in which our thought process is fooling us and we are not even aware of it. How does Gabbar Singh dialogue demonstrate self-deception? That is what we will see in this article.

The dialogue has three of Gabbar’s gang men – Kalia and two others - sheepishly standing because they have come back empty handed – without any loot. Moreover, they were driven away by two young men. Gabbar is really upset. He tells them that the government has put up a huge prize for catching Gabbar. In fact, every mom living several miles away is telling her child to be quiet while putting her to sleep. “Otherwise Gabbar Singh will come,” she says. And these three men with their cowardly act had tarnished Gabbar’s image. The dialogue ends with Gabbar killing all three and finally proclaiming his team’s core value – “Jo darr gaya samjho mar gaya” – Once afraid, as good as dead.

“Living in fear is not worth living” is quite a profound statement. One can easily misattribute it to some spiritual teachers like J. Krishnamurti or a Zen master. However, Gabbar appears to be a living embodiment of that value. Or does he?  On a closer look, we can see that there is a self-deception going on. Actually, Gabbar is also a fearful man. What is he afraid of? Gabbar is afraid of his self-image getting damaged. In fact, deep down he knows that his image is not that secure. He can’t bear the thought of such a downgraded image. However, the most interesting part is that Gabbar is not even aware that he is also a fearful man. A man who goes to the extent of killing his team members for a value is not even aware that his own behaviour is contradicting the same value. That’s why this phenomenon is called self-deception.

What is self-deception? It is a process in which our thought process misperceives reality and mis-attributes cause and effect. For example, it perceives that the person in front has said something insulting and it has resulted in a feeling of hurt. Then it attributes the cause of the hurt feeling to the person in front. Thought concludes the person in front has caused the pain. Similarly, Gabbar concludes that Kalia and team are the problem and he needs to get rid of it. He doesn’t see that if being fearful is the real problem then he is infected with the same problem.

The real cause of the hurt feeling isn’t the so-called “insulting” words. The real cause is yet another thought stored in our memory in the form of a belief that insulting words are bad for us. Thought treats it similar to someone throwing dirt at us. This belief springs into action from memory when the insulting words get interpreted and automatically creates a feeling of pain. So the real cause of the pain is one’s own belief. If, for some reason, the belief is altered e.g. if somebody says, “I am bad” that doesn’t make me bad, the same insulting words would have a different effect.

When one pays attention to the thought process in situations which upset us, one may begin to see how thought is running the business of managing self-image. And it may unravel the self-deception. Perhaps one may be able to stay with the feeling of diminished self-image without reacting. And then a different reality might unfold. Until one experiments in real scenarios and sees the process in action, just the knowledge that there is self-deception, is really not of much help.

Hope you get to experiment with your negative emotions and see if there is any self-deception in action. Like Gabbar, you don’t want to end up “killing” the innocent guys, do you?

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Further reading on self-deception:

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman talks about self-deception in his interview with Sam Harris “Thinking about thinking” (see the last question – To what extent do you think true self-deception, as opposed to simple bias, exists?)

Jiddu Krishnamurti talks about it in chapter 18 of “First and last freedom” titled Self-deception.

David Bohm has written as article titled “On self-deception in individual, in groups and in society as a whole”.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Before-and-after storyboard: A simple template

A storyboard may sound like a simple or perhaps kindergarten kind of tool. However, an idea depicted through a simple storyboard may evoke powerful emotions, gossip and constructive criticism. Moreover, a simple storyboard can be drawn in less than an hour, sometimes within half an hour. I call it a candidate for building 1-hour feels like prototype. In this article, we look at a simple template that may be helpful in creating a storyboard.

Example-1: An idea related to a cafeteria experience in IIM Bangalore.

A few checklist items which I find useful in the storyboard are: 
  •  Does the storyboard contain people? This may seem like a silly question. However, I have seen engineers drawing detailed architecture diagram with no people. Architecture diagrams are useful but not in storyboards. A story is typically human centric.
  •  Are thoughts expressed through cloud bubbles?  To the person drawing the storyboard, the story is in the head. However, when thoughts are expressed through cloud bubbles, they help the reader understand the story better.
  • Is the place of the events clear? In the second frame in the “before” scenario of the example above, the event is happening in the cafeteria. Context helps us understand the story better. Unfortunately, the context is missing in the “after” scenario. It is not clear whether the ready-to-eat chole are warmed up in the hostel pantry or in the cafeteria. That would have helped.
  •  Does the “before” scenario bring out a pain? “Chole tasted like sambhar” – this expression brings out the pain in this case.
  • Does the story bring out a unique feature of the solution? “Ready to eat chole in 5 minutes” is presenting a unique feature of the proposed solution. Note that this point could be debated. One may argue that such products are available. And this would be an opportunity for the idea author to elaborate in what way her solution is unique. Or perhaps re-think of the solution or even problem definition.

Example-2: Here is another storyboard where an intelligent tool might help a marketing manager launch a Black Friday promotion campaign. 

A room or a wall with storyboards can come alive and attract a lot of attention and responses. Try it out and see it for yourself.