Note: Alan Watt’s Zen is existentialism in disguise?

Be careful of the “?” and the end of the title. But nonetheless, an explanation is necessary.

I must confess, although I am quite familiar with existentialism and its main tenets, I was quite unfamiliar with Alan Watt’s lectures. The only real instance where I dealt with the “Zen” in my life was trying to read “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” four times in my life. And after about 12 pages going to sleep each time. One of the books on a long list that I started to read but never could finish reading.

Frankly, the connection between Zen and the Vendanta was  not unfamiliar to me. However, what surprised me is Alan’s explanation of it. He explains Zen as, and I am paraphrasing here, acceptance of the world ipso facto as the best possible version as it can be. He goes on to state:

All true moral acts are not what we are bound to do, but what we are free to do.

You tell me if this is not existentialism then what it is.

This is a note to myself to explore more of this connection.  Please let me know in the comments of any source that explores the relationship between Zen and existentialism in depth.





“Dopamine hit” as a strategy for mind mangling

On a day, when one Indian is busy in the shameful act of handing over the greatest invention of mankind, the Internet, to the rich, another one is delivering a prosaic message of how “corporations” are programming our minds.

His political views are quite off the mark though and his idea to tackle political problems by gathering money is ludicrous. But as a recent believer that social media is very dangerous for our minds the conversation is very interesting.

“Falsafa” the long lost voice of reason in Islam

Ever wonder why the numbers that we use are called “arabic numerals”? Why two-thirds of all stars have arabic names? Where to words like “algebra” or “algorithm” come from? These all came from the “golden age of Islam”. Roughly spanning 500 years (around 800 – 1300 AD), started with the Abbasid Khalif Harun-Al-Rashid. The center of activity was, hold your breath,  Baghdad.

Islam from the beginning had three philosophical branches: Ulema (theology), Sufi (mysticism), and Falsafa (philosophy). The golden age was dominated by falsafa scholars.

But many unfortunate things happened. Mongol invaded Baghdad in 13th century.  Islams fell on its face. It got up again with the major work of Al-Ghazali. But alas, his worked declared playing with numbers a “devil’s business”. His work brought back Sufis and Ulemas into core Islam. But alas, the falsafa scholars largely left for Europe. This brought Europe out of the darkness into the light.

So yes, Islam was not always the religion of Hassan al-Banna’s or Abul A’la Maududi’s of the world. There were days of greatness, the days of “Falsafa”.

Wonder spice: “smoked paprika”

Perhaps the most versatile of spices in an indian kitchen is cumin. It can virtually be used in any Indian non-sweet dish. But, try replacing it with “smoked paprika”, a wonderful and now my favorite jack of all trade spice, invented in the spanish kitchen. Not hot like the indian version of ground roasted red chili, but has fantastic colors and aroma.

Here is a modified 2 spice chicken bake recipe:

  1. Mix smoked paprika with garlic salt in 2:1 ratio.
  2. Rub the mix all over chicken pieces (completely dabbed dry with paper towels).
  3. Bake 16 minutes at 450 degrees (or broil at high settings for 14 min as close to heat as possible) on a baking tray (don’t use glass tray).
  4. Immediately take it out and keep it covered.
  5. For chicken breasts, flatten them out to equal thickness before rubbing.
  6. (Optional) For extra softness, brine the chicken pieces about an hour is warm salt water before flattening.
  7. (Optional) Extra spices to add in the rub: 0.5 portion of black pepper, 0.25 portion of hot chilli powder, 0.5 portion of oregano, 0.5 portion of thyme, 0.5 chilli flakes.

Graphic Novel: Pride of Baghdad

Heart-wrenching story by Brian Vaughan and exquisitely drawn by Niko Henrichon, “Pride of Baghdad” is a fantastic graphic novel. A true example of the power of picture. Superb. Strongly recommend. 

Trying to remember

Remember these lines? Written by Tom Jones and immortalized by Harry Belafonte.

Try To Remember

Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
when grass was green and grain was yellow
Try to remember the kind of September
when you were a tender and callow fellow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

Try to remember when life was so tender
that no one wept except the willow
Try to remember when life was so tender
that dreams were kept beside your pillow
Try to remember when life was so tender
that love was an ember about to billow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

Deep in December it’s nice to remember
although you know the snow will follow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
without the hurt the heart is hollow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
the fire of September that made us mellow
Deep in December our hearts should remember
and follow

I am trying to remember the kind of September, when no one wept except the willow and dreams were kept beside the pillow.

Alinsky’s rules for radicals

Saul Alinsky’s “Rules of Radicals” describes the the golden rules of radicals. They are surprisingly effective in any conflict situations. Here are they:

  1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
  3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.
  8. “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.
  11. “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Sandman, oh sandman

Say your prayers, little one
Don’t forget, my son
To include everyone

Tuck you in, warm within
Keep you free from sin
Till the Sandman he comes

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight

Exit: light
Enter: night
Take my hand
We’re off to never never land

Something’s wrong, shut the light
Heavy thoughts tonight
And they aren’t of Snow White

Dreams of war, dreams of liars
Dreams of dragon’s fire
And of things that will bite

Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight

Exit: light
Enter: night
Take my hand
We’re off to never never land

Now I lay me down to sleep
Pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake
Pray the Lord my soul to take

Hush little baby, don’t say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It’s just the beasts under your bed
In your closet, in your head

Exit: light
Enter: night
Grain of sand

Exit: light
Enter: night
Take my hand
We’re off to never never land

Drishtikon: a Tagore album by Nachiketa

I have written earlier about the need of experimentation with Tagore’s lyrical composition with fresh rhythmic and orchestral arrangements. Only one person is doing it right. You can guess it from the title, he is none other than Nachiketa Chakraborty. His earllier album “Yatra” was nice. But, I said he should have dropped the lackluster performance of Rashid Khan and should have gone solo. He has done exactly that with his new album. The album, called “Drishtikon” (point of view) is indeed his “point of view” of Tagore. Listen to one song and you’ll see what I mean:

I agree the composition is not as musically rich as it could be. Particularly, the organ section should have replaced with flute. Nonetheless, the heavy bass groove, the choir, and the inimitable style of Nachiketa actually work well together, and the end result is  very refreshing. Overall, I like the album.

I will leave you with the best composition of the album, “Na sojoni na”. Again the heavy bass groove playing over three sections of shaker/ghattam, duff and khol (an Indian drum). Yes, it feels like a completely new song. A very successful reinvention of Tagore.  Nachiketa, brother, keep it up!