The physicist David Bohm and the artist Charles Biederman wrote letters to each other on relationships between art and science, amounting to 4000 pages! This book presents some of these letters, edited by Paavo Pylkkanen. The letters are fascinating, brimming with ideas, and even opening the book at random and reading a few lines provides something to think about. Bohm, as seen earlier in a review of his biography, sought to find the universal principles of life, the inner reflecting the outer, and vice versa. Biederman, a structurist in his artistic style, tried to represent the structure of reality through geometric planes. Among the aspects they discussed was how the past existed in the present, each moment therefore, representing an inexhaustible totality. They discussed art, physics, nature, time, relativity, identity, and a lot more. A refreshing book to delve into, to look at two intellectuals exploring the nuances of life.
Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875, well known for her works on the occult, including The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled, also wrote some horror stories. These were evidently based on her nightmares. I just read The Ensouled Violin, expecting something mysterious and beautiful, but found a gruesome story of violinists achieving heights by using the intestines of loved ones as violin strings!
The story narrates that it was rumoured that Paganini’s brilliant playing was due to this. ‘Exaggerated as this idea may seem to some, it has nothing impossible in it.’ How the young violinist Franz Stenio, emulates this rumour, and how it ends in disaster, forms the rest of this horror story, which evidently draws on another, The Violin of Cremona.
The Ensouled Violin is available online, though I don’t recommend it.
David Bohm [1917-92] was something of a genius, a physicist always searching for parallels between theories of physics and the functioning of the universe. This biography by F. David Peat, is one of the best books I have read for a long time. Bohm delved into quantum physics with innovative theories that were not always appreciated by other physicists at the time. He should have won the Nobel Prize but somehow he was overlooked. From childhood he thought about the cosmos and created a world of imagination, imagining a light that could penetrate matter.
Among Bohm’s significant theories was that of implicate order. Explicate order that we see around us reflects something that cannot be seen, that is, implicate order. Thus the dichotomy between mind and matter, brain and consciousness, could be resolved. He also proposed that information, like matter and energy, is a basic principle of nature.
On the whole he had a difficult and in some ways a tragic life. But he was lucky that his wife Saral was always there to support him. At first a communist, Bohm, born to an immigrant family in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, had to leave the US during the McCarthy years. He was teaching at Princeton, but even that elite university succumbed to political pressure. He went to Brazil, later to Israel, and finally settled in Birkbeck College in England.
Bohm, says his biographer, ‘took the world on his shoulders and agonised about what should be done. Corruption, political mistakes, and military actions he believed, were all evidence of deep errors in human thought and society. And since Bohm believed in the wholeness of the world and consciousness, these errors were also enfolded within his own thinking.’
Einstein had referred to Bohm as his ‘intellectual son’, and intervened several times to help him get a job, difficult because of Bohm’s communist past.
I came across Bohm through his Dialogues with J Krishnamurti. Bohm’s ideas were similar to those of Krishnamurti even before meeting him, and thus these dialogues are among the most profound. Yet the relationship with Krishnamurti did not work out well. After many years of close association, one day Krishnamurti criticised him fiercely. Bohm, who had had episodes of depression earlier, sank into depression. He recovered from this, and even gave talks on Krishnamurti after the latter’s death, but heart problems and depression continued to haunt him.
This brilliant biography is for anyone interested in the world of physics, particularly new developments in quantum physics, and in the life of a man who suffered a lot, yet made immense contributions to the world.
This was written three years ago–but chess is still an important part of my life as a writer.
How does a writer begin each day? Some start writing as soon as they wake. Some write at night. Some start with emails, twitter, facebook– I start my writing day with chess.
As soon as I get to my table, I look at my online chess games and make one move in each of them. During the day, if I am stuck in my writing, I make a few more moves. Most of these are somewhat routine, though they help to focus the mind. Once in a way, I suddenly see a brilliant combination. And that is when the mind makes a leap from its normal level, and becomes different–fresh and sharp.
I have heard the same thing happens to mountaineers, and perhaps to people playing other sports. I think that is the ‘unconditioned mind’, the ‘freedom from the known’, that J Krishnamurti talks about. Applying this to writing, it…
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Not sure why some cities have a colour code–pink Jaipur, blue Jodhpur. Seeing Jodhpur yesterday on TV it brought back memories of the Emergency of 1975-77. Very few may remember or even know, that at this time an order was passed to paint Dehradun blue. As the deadline approached, house painters were in great demand. Frantically, everyone was getting the buildings painted, often an inky, watery blue. Dehradun’s ferocious monsoon, with incessant rain, is well known. Soon all the buildings had strange smudged streaks of blue, with the earlier colour showing through. The Emergency ended. With another monsoon the blue was all washed off, the buildings were dirty and streaky. Finally they were repainted in their original colours.
Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, in 1958. I had met him on his visit to Mt Abu at this time–and presented him flowers. I was six years old.
Today is his birth anniversary, also celebrated as Children’s Day.
‘Every country has a Children’s Day, to celebrate the innocence and courage of childhood, and to remind one to work for the welfare of children. India’s Children’s Day is observed every year on 14 November, the birthday of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He was known for his love for children. This day was chosen in 1952. Earlier, it was known as Flower Day, and celebrated on 5 November, 1948. ‘ [From my book, India at 70].
Nehru, to me, was India’s best prime minister, so well read that he could write on world history in jail without access to relevant sources. He composed his speeches himself, and was a great speaker. He had a world vision, initiating the non-aligned movement. He made India a secular and democratic country, and if we are still a democracy today, it owes a lot to him.
With books as one’s lifelong companions, there is not much else that one needs. Once while inaugurating a book fair at a school I gave a talk on the benefits of reading, and was thinking about the many benefits again today. So a few points for youngsters, on how reading can change and improve your life. What books you read do not matter, and nor does the media through which you choose to read it. But do make sure you are reading books by authentic authors, and not fake news on the internet.
Some of the benefits:
- Improves the imagination. Books like Harry Potter create a make-believe world and your imagination is fired when you read these. This increases your intelligence as your right and left brain begin to work together.
- Reading is an escape and a safety valve. Everyone had problems in life, and if you are feeling overwhelmed, very often reading a book can temporarily take you away from the problem so that you can look at it in a more balanced way.
- You gain knowledge by reading. If you read non-fiction, the knowledge gained is obvious, but you also gain knowledge by reading fiction. In non-fiction, you can start with memoirs and biographies which are easy to read and interesting. In fiction, each book has a background, of a country, a place, or time, which provides you with knowledge that is absorbed without you being aware of it.
- Reading makes you an independent thinker. This is perhaps the most important benefit. You learn to think for yourself, and thus are no longer influenced by what others say or do not say. You become a critical thinker, and don’t believe everything you read or hear. You stand apart from the world, with confidence and self-esteem.
School education has so many variations, and across India there are schools that are trying to educate differently. Rajeev Sharma puts together the stories of some of these schools in this book, Not Just Grades.
Here we come across schools that have done away with exams and textbooks in the lower classes, and schools that specialise in admitting failures! There is a principal who makes a difference by first trying to get a good relationship with the students, and does this by sitting outside the school greeting the students who enter. This simple move was the beginning of an improvement in all aspects of the school. The book covers both urban and rural schools, as well as schools for first-generation learners.
Worth reading for anyone interested in education.
- The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti advocated having an open mind. A freedom from all beliefs was essential. This seems a very valid approach to life, even though in his later years Krishnamurti seemed to subscribe to several beliefs…more on that later.
C W Leadbeater, in The Masters and the Path, also puts forth the view that one should be free of beliefs and conditioning–and then goes on to describe his own beliefs! So this freedom is required only so that one can take on new ideas and believe in them. Is it the same with Krishnamurti? If one insists that ‘Truth is a pathless land’, as he said, isn’t that a belief, a concept?
2. The Masters and the entire hierarchy were male, from the king of the world, to the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, Manus and Chohans, who form part of it. Leadbeater says there is also a female element, a world mother, Jagdamba Amba, permeating every aspect. At the same time he says, the greatest role of a woman is to give birth! She shouldn’t try to live the life of a man. With this, and the theosophical concept of ‘root races’ of which the ‘Aryan race’ is the present one, perhaps theosophy influenced Hitler?
The philosopher J Krishnamurti [1895-1986] was discovered and nurtured by Annie Besant and Charles W Leadbeater, who were leading theosophists. Adding to the work of Madame Blavatsky, they provided details on the hierarchy of beings said to rule the world. Among them were adepts or masters, two of whom guided India. Of the two, the Master Kuthumi was Krishnamurti’s guide. The Masters Kuthumi, Morya and Djwal Kul were said to have lived near each other in a ravine in Tibet. One can presume that they are no longer there, after the Chinese occupation!
Below is Leadbeater’s imaginative, or according to believers, real and true, description of Kuthumi’s house. Whether real or imagined, the details he goes into are incredible.
‘The house of the Master Kuthumi is divided into two parts by a passage-way running straight through it. As will be seen from our diagram 1, which shows the ground plan of the southern half of the house, on entering the passage, the first door on the right leads into the principal room of the house, in which our Master usually sits. It is large and lofty (about fifty feet by thirty feet), in many ways more like a hall than a room, and it occupies the whole of the front of the house on that side of the passage. Behind that large room are two other nearly square rooms, one of which he uses as a library, and the other as a bedroom.
That completes that side or division of the house, which is apparently reserved for the Master’s personal use, and is surrounded by a broad veranda. The other side of the house, on the left of the passage as one enters, seems to be divided into smaller rooms and offices of various kinds; we have had no opportunity of closely examining them, but we have noted that just across the passage from the bedroom is a well appointed bathroom. The large room is well supplied with windows, both along the front and the end—so well that on entering one gets the impression of an almost continuous outlook; and under the windows runs a long seat. There is also a somewhat unusual feature for that country, a large open fireplace in the middle of the wall opposite the front windows. This is so arranged as to heat all three rooms, and it has a curious hammered iron cover, which I am told is unique in Tibet. Over the opening of that fire-place is a mantelpiece, and near by stands the Master’s armchair of very old carved wood, hollowed to fit the sitter, so that for it no cushions are required. Dotted about the room are tables and settees or sofas, mostly without backs, and in one corner is the keyboard of the Master’s organ. The ceiling is perhaps twenty feet high, and is very handsome, with its fine carved beams, which descend into ornamental points where they meet one another and divide the ceiling into oblong sections. An arched opening with a pillar in the centre, somewhat in the Gothic style, but without glass, opens into the study, and a similar window opens into the bedroom. This latter room is very simply furnished. There is an ordinary bed, swung hammock-like between two carved wooden supports fixed in the wall (one of these carved to imitate a lion’s head, and the other an elephant’s), and the bed when not in use folds up against the wall.
The library is a fine room, containing thousands of volumes. Running out from the wall there are tall book-shelves, filled with books in many languages, a number of them being modern European works and at the top there are open shelves for manuscripts. The Master is a great linguist, and besides being a fine English scholar has a thorough knowledge of French and German. The library also contains a typewriter, which was presented to the Master by one of his pupils.
Of the Master’s family I know but little. There is a lady, evidently a pupil, whom he calls ‘sister’. Whether she is actually his sister or not I do not know; she might possibly be a cousin or a niece. She looks much older than he, but that would not make the relationship improbable, as he has appeared of about the same age for a long time. She resembles him to a certain extent, and once or twice when there have been gatherings she has come and joined the party; though her principal work seems to be to look after the house-keeping and manage the servants. Among the latter are an old man and his wife, who have been for a long time in the Master’s service. They do not know anything of the real dignity of their employer, but regard him as a very indulgent and gracious patron, and naturally they benefit greatly by being in his service.
The Master’s Activities
The Master has a large garden of his own. He possesses, too, a quantity of land, and employs labourers to cultivate it. Near the house there are flowering shrubs and masses of flowers growing freely, with ferns among them. Through the garden there flows a streamlet; which forms a little waterfall, and over it a tiny bridge is built. Here he often sits when he is sending out streams of thought and benediction upon his people; it would no doubt appear to the casual observer as though he were sitting idly watching Nature, and listening heedlessly to the song of the birds, and to the splash and tumble of the water. Sometimes, too, he rests in his great armchair, and when his people see him thus, they know that he must not be disturbed; they do not know exactly what he is doing, but suppose him to be in samadhi. The fact that people in the East understand this kind of meditation and respect it may be one of the reasons why the Adepts prefer to live there rather than in the West. In this way we get the effect of the Master sitting quietly for a considerable part of the day and, as we should say, meditating; but while he is apparently resting so calmly, he is in reality engaged all the time in most strenuous labour on higher planes, manipulating various natural forces and pouring forth influences of the most diverse character on thousands of souls simultaneously; for the Adepts are the busiest people in the world. The Master, however, does much physical-plane work as well; he has composed some music, and has written notes and papers for various purposes. He is also much interested in the growth of physical science, although this is especially the province of one of the other great Masters of the Wisdom.
From time to time the Master Kuthumi rides on a big bay horse, and occasionally, when their work lies together, he is accompanied by the Master Morya, who always rides a magnificent white horse. Our Master regularly visits some of the monasteries, and sometimes goes up a great pass to a lonely monastery in the hills. Riding in the course of his duties seems to be his principal exercise, but he sometimes walks with the Master Djwal Kul, who lives in a little cabin which he built with his own hands, quite near to the great crag on the way up to the plateau.
Sometimes our Master plays on the organ which is in the large room in his house. He had it made in Tibet under his direction, and it is in fact a combined piano and organ, with a keyboard like those which we have in the West, on which he can play all our western music. It is unlike any other instrument with which I am acquainted, for it is in a sense double-fronted, as it can be played either from the sitting-room or the library. The principal keyboard (or rather the three keyboards, great organ, swell and choir) is in the sitting-room, whereas the piano keyboard is in the library; and these keyboards can be used either together or separately. The full organ with its pedals can be played in the ordinary way from the sitting-room; but by turning a handle somewhat equivalent to a top, the piano mechanism can be linked with the organ, so that it all plays simultaneously. From that point of view, in fact, the piano is treated as an additional stop on the organ. From the keyboard in the library, however, the piano can be played alone as a separate instrument, quite dissociated from the organ; but by some complicated mechanism the choir-organ is also linked to that keyboard, so that by it one can play the piano alone precisely as though it were an ordinary piano, or one can play the piano accompanied by the choir-organ, or at any rate by certain stops of that organ. It is also possible, as I said, to separate the two completely, and so, with a performer at each keyboard, to play a piano-organ duet. The mechanism and the pipes of this strange instrument occupy almost the whole of what might be called the upper story of this part of the Master’s house. By magnetization he has placed it in communication with the Gandharvas, or Devas of music, so that whenever it is played they co-operate, and thus he obtains combinations of sound never to be heard on the physical plane; and there is, too, an effect produced by the organ itself as of an accompaniment of string and wind instruments. The song of the Devas is ever being sung in the world; it is ever sounding in men’s ears, but they will not listen to its beauty. There is the deep bourdon of the sea, the sighing of the wind in the trees, the roar of the mountain torrent, the music of stream, river and waterfall, which together with many others form the mighty song of Nature as she lives. This is but the echo in the physical world of a far grander sound, that of the Being of the Devas. As is said in Light on the Path:
Only fragments of the great song come to your ears while yet you are
but man. But, if you listen to it, remember it faithfully, so that none
which has reached you is lost, and endeavour to learn from it the meaning
of the mystery which surrounds you. In time you will need no teacher.
For as the individual has voice, so has that in which the individual exists.
Life itself has speech, and is never silent. And its utterance is not, as you
that are deaf may suppose, a cry: it is a song. Learn from it that you are part of the harmony; learn from it to obey the laws of the harmony.
Every morning a number of people—not exactly pupils, but followers—come to the Master’s house, and sit on the veranda and outside it. Sometimes he gives them a little talk—a sort of lecturette; but more often he goes on with his work and takes no notice of them beyond a friendly smile, with which they seem equally contented. They evidently come to sit in his aura and venerate him. Sometimes he takes his food in their presence, sitting on the veranda, with this crowd of Tibetans and others on the ground around him; but generally he eats by himself at a table in his room. It is possible that he keeps the rule of the Buddhist monks, and takes no food after noon; for I do not remember ever to have seen him eat in the evening; it is even possible that he does not need food every day. Most probably when he feels inclined he orders the food that he would like, and does not take his meals at stated times. I have seen him eating little round cakes, brown and sweet; they are made of wheat and sugar and butter, and are of the ordinary kind used in the household, cooked by his sister. He also eats curry and rice, the curry being somewhat in the form of soup, like dal. He uses a curious and beautiful golden spoon, with an exquisite image of an elephant at the end of the handle, the bowl of which is set at an unusual angle to the stem. It is a family heirloom, very old and probably of great value. He generally wears white clothes, but I do not remember ever having seen him wearing a head-dress of any kind, except on the rare occasions when he assumes the yellow robe of the Gelugpa sect or clan, which includes a hood somewhat of the shape of the Roman helmet.
The Master Morya, however, generally wears a turban.’