To say that life is full of stress and strain may be to state the obvious. What makes us stressful is our concern for the external world, urging us to act based on our material identities. In turn this creates expectations, competition and control, leading to stress. And that is how life plays out for most people, a narrative punctuated by hard toil, struggles, serial failures and occasional triumphs. The sagely advice point to monitoring our consciousness as an efficacious stress-buster, by choosing to operate without the mantle of identity-linked ego, of being a spouse, parent, teacher, technocrat, entrepreneur, administrator and the like; through a soul-centricity that radiates qualities of the soul even if situations go wrong. We are the actors, or souls, performing every scene combining our physicality and mental attributes on the world stage. If every actor’s true nature of peace, purity, joy and love are given full play, every role becomes a pleasure – effortless and free of stress.
The vast majority, still uninitiated in such spiritual subtleties, continue their lives in close identity with their roles and, hence, stresses and hardships are mostly fellow travellers in the hurly-burly of quotidian routine.
The next half century will bring more change than the previous three centuries. The statement is not as hyperbolic as it sounds because we are already crossing a crucial threshold that was previously unthinkable. Technology is no longer simply changing our environment; that is, what is around or outside us, or the hardware we use. No more is it just a tool. Technology is well on its way to becoming a creative force, and a thinking machine, as well. It is now gearing up to get inside us, thereby changing who we are and rapidly redefining what it means to be human, in ways transcending the limitations of humanity. If intelligent machines are to perform our routine work for us, we will have to train them, teach them, connect them to us – in effect making digital copies of ourselves, cloning our knowledge in the cloud. This will alter us; and it will alter our view of what we are and what we could be, as well as what the machines are. And this is only the first step… The world is becoming hyper-connected, automated and uber-smart – for everyone’s benefit. A significant number of the over seven billion constituting global population stays ‘connected’, with each one seeing a smorgasbord of information and content all the time. We interact with platforms via augmented reality, virtual reality, holographic screens, or via intelligent digital assistants. Our digital egos are moving to the cloud and are developing a life of its own.
Such leaps in technology are bound to create its own paradigm shifts in human values and cultures. What was considered kosher a couple of decades ago may either no longer be so or may need to be revisited in light of today’s compulsions. The spectre of an aging population in my native state looms large, given the reality of globalization drawing young people far away from their home provinces and countries, leaving nearly empty nests of aging couples left to fend for themselves in their twilight years. State welfare measures cover merely microscopic numbers, comprising politicos and those in government service; vast sections of people are outside its ambit. Even if the monetary aspect is supported by resources of respective families, caretakers or hospices are woefully short of demand in sharp contrast to ready availability of such facilities in Europe, Canada, Australia, NZ and elsewhere.
What then is the way forward? One of the finest thoughts of the 20thC that opened the floodgates of possibilities and probabilities is that of French social philosopher and anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. ‘The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions’. In fact, the entire history of human intelligence is more to do with dwelling upon questions rather than their answers. ‘A question gives direction. An answer closes it’, said Socrates more than three thousand years ago. The right question is like a rough stone. It has so many possibilities, so many forms unrevealed in it. The Buddha’s penetrating query ‘Why there is so much pain and suffering in this world?’, gave a new direction to mankind. The Japanese adage, ‘A man is known by his questions and not by his answers’, is germane to all ages and eras. A question gives a semblance of idea about the person’s perceptions and discernment. An answer has the base of the question but a question has no prior base. Upanishadic and Greek philosophy are questions leading to further quests and contemplations because the moment one gets the answer, one stops to enquire further. The Buddha says in Dhammapad, “Stop expecting answers. Look at your own question. It has the answer concealed in it. Your question itself is an answer, provided you ask an intelligent one”.
In the same vein, let us revert to the question of those steadily burgeoning numbers of aging citizens, increasingly isolated by the dynamics of contemporary living. What next? Do they continue to drift towards twilight years, with steadily deteriorating mobility and other functional impairments? What about terminal illnesses that drag on for years with shattering impact on the quality of days and nights remaining on life’s calendar? Bereft of all hope, is there any meaning in a person who is terminally ill struggling till the very end for natural ebbing away of life? Is there any obligation to somehow muddle through waning faculties and heavily compromised dignity, awaiting Nature’s guillotine? Can societies everywhere not migrate out of religious claptrap to embrace voluntary euthanasia as a much longed for and dignified departure to the unknown? Our sense of rationale must not be blinkered by faith and bound by dogma. Robert Barron puts it with clinical objectivity: “Faith is not infra-rational, meaning ‘below reason.’ That’s credulity, that’s superstition, that’s accepting things on no evidence, that’s childish…. Authentic faith never involves a sacrificium intellectus, as the medievals said, a ‘sacrifice of the intellect.’ In fact, that’s a sign that your faith is inauthentic. If you feel obligated to leave your mind aside to have faith, it’s not real faith. Real faith is not infra-rational, it’s supra-rational, it’s beyond reason, but inclusive of it…There may be darkness on the far side of reason, but never on the near side. There’s never a suspending of one’s critical faculties. Authentic faith awakens the mind.” Sri Aurobindo expatiates it further: “Reason is not the supreme light, but yet is it always a necessary light-bringer and until it has been given its rights and allowed to judge and purify our first infra-rational instincts, impulses, rash fervours, crude beliefs and blind prejudgments, we are not altogether ready for the full unveiling of a greater inner luminary. Science is a right knowledge, in the end only of processes, but still the knowledge of processes too is part of a total wisdom and essential to a wide and clear approach towards the deeper Truth behind. If it has laboured mainly in the physical field, if it has limited itself and bordered or over-shadowed its light with a certain cloud of wilful ignorance, still one had to begin this method somewhere and the physical field is the first, the nearest, the easiest for the kind and manner of inquiry undertaken. It is regrettable if ignorance becomes dogmatic and denies what it has refused to examine, but still no permanent harm need have been done if this willed self-limitation is compelled to disappear when the occasion of its utility is exhausted. Now that we have founded rigorously our knowledge of the physical, we can go forward with a much firmer step to a more open, secure and luminous repossession of mental and psychic knowledge. Even spiritual truths are likely to gain from it, not a loftier or more penetrating view but an ampler light and fuller self-expression.”
Enter “Sarco pod”, the euthanasia device consisting of a 3D-printed detachable capsule mounted on a stand containing a canister of liquid nitrogen which when inspired puts the person to permanent sleep. Unlike the asphyxiation with accompanying panic and struggle triggered by carbon dioxide fumes, medically known as the hypercapnic alarm response, nitrogen is harmless in the additional sense of facilitating painless and quick transition to unconsciousness. The Sarco was invented by euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke in 2017, and usage of the device is reportedly legal in Switzerland and Spain. Akin to stepping into a space capsule, the device with its liquid nitrogen, soon as activated, causes rapid loss of oxygen in the receiver’s body resulting in unconsciousness and death.
If the device spurs more interest in voluntary euthanasia, there is no need to be on edge as it may be a sign that one of the harsh realities of our times is getting addressed. Nonetheless, balance is the key. Holding off technological advances just to feel the way we used to feel before is not progressive thought. To reiterate, we all should be able to appreciate the need to be scientifically and technologically advanced. We cannot be primitive again just to discover the thrill of making fire from flint stones! While staying connected with our natural selves, it is essential that we, the creators of technology, do not lose ourselves into it so much that we forget what we were originally. And that responsibility lies solely with us. In a materialistic world, the most precious commodities are not objects, but emotional states. We don’t dream of owning more possessions, but of becoming calmer, less anxious, and more fulfilled. Wherever we are, the divinely supreme is. In order to realise it, we have to return what we have borrowed from the world: darkness, ignorance, bondage, limitation, imperfection and death. We borrowed these things because we felt that they would help us considerably, but now we have come to realize that they are real encumbrances, and hence these things must be jettisoned, and the things we eternally have in the innermost recesses of our being – peace, light, bliss, truth -, we have to increase. The things that we eternally are, we have to claim and offer to the world at large. Doing this will lead us to the knowledge of the who and where of divinity, which is essentially self-realisation, meaning the attainment of divine Oneness, or self-discovery in the highest sense of the term.