Thursday, November 14, 2013

Man’s Search for Meaning: a Book Review

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”__Dr. Viktor E. Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)

Image Courtesy: Google
In Man’s Search For Meaning Dr. Viktor E. Frankl introduces his psychotherapeutic idea ‘Logotherapy’ and the events and revelations that led him into the practical realization of his hypotheses. The book has three parts: Part One: Experiences in a concentration camp; Part Two: Logotheraphy in a nutshell; and Postscript: The case for a tragic optimism. The book is graced by a wonderful preface by Harold S. Kushner, in which he contextualizes the book for general readers.

As Dr. Frankl himself asserts repeatedly, this book is limited in its space and possibility to include the complete scholarship of Logotherapy. Instead, one should look at Man’s Search for Meaning as an attempt to elucidate what is concisely expressed in the subheading: “The classic tribute to hope from the holocaust”. Part One of the book is dedicated completely to this purpose. Part One also analyses three mental stages the prisoners undergo, from the time of their incarceration to release. This analysis gets poignant and disturbing, because it is taken from the first hand experiences of Dr. Frankle himself from Auschwitz, Dachau and the Bavarian camps during the Nazi reign. Although the book does not follow a chronological order of events, the narrative is a gripping tale of how uniquely unveiled is the “human potential…to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.” (116)
Image Courtesy: Dr. Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search For Meaning helps its readers ask two significant questions: One-is there a meaning to my life? Two-do I believe in the existence of such a purpose or meaning in life in the first place? The second question should be asked first, but most of us randomly settle for the first one in negation and take the second one in affirmation, as a consolation. This in turn ruins the very roots of life and imprisons the person within vacuum. Every reader is sure to find something unique and personal in Dr. Viktor E. Frankl’s small but affective book.

There are people who even survived the “provisional existence” of death chambers during the Nazi era. The element that separated most of them with the rest, the ones, who, in the middle of their suffering gave up the hope for existence, is the responsibleness to attach meaning to their lives. Viktor E. Frankl also suggests that the cause of the present day deterioration in mental health is due to an “existential vacuum”-the absence of any meaning to one’s existence. He sidelines many philosophies and ideologies, including Freud’s and Sartre’s and suggests “Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-detemining.” (133)
Image Courtesy: Google

The “tragic triads” of life, namely pain, guilt, and death cause definite suffering, but in Dr. Frankl’s point of view, this suffering can be overcome if one deems it as part of finding or achieving the ultimate meaning of life. Viktor Frankl puts meaning at the altar of highest human achievement. He uses meaning as a cure to many of our problems due to suffering. Only an individual, who found some purpose or meaning in his or her life, can accept the inevitable suffering and make the right choices. “The emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is:“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.” (114) 

This is an MSP Book Review: Procure a copy of Man’s Search For Meaning for yourself, here 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sachin; What’s in a Name?

Is it Shakespeare who asked:-
“What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”?
Let me think.

Yes indeed, in his everlasting love story, Romeo and Juliet.
Before 1994, Sachin was a rare name in Kerala. It’s a north Indian name, and Keralites did not prefer trying it, ever before. Then something happened. The year between 1994 and 2000 coincided with the rise of a new religion in India, the land of all religions. Much like any other religion, there was a central god figure to this one too. They called this new religion, Cricket, and named their god Sachin.

Image Courtesy: Google
Indian culture has never been reluctant to worship human idols. Some critics have dubbed it a profitable industry, and some others a fraud. Every epithet appeared pale in the affinity a vast majority of people exhibited towards these human-gods. God-men and God-women even turned to become political kingmakers. Sachin, too, became a similar god figure in the minds of the people, but with a different nature. When the natures of most of the god-men and god-women in India are tied with Hinduism and Islam, with mythical tales as tributaries to assert their legitimacy. Cricket god Sachin is a mass culture icon with a powerful aura, perhaps many times powerful than the other god-men and a non-voluntary status on the face of this epithet; meaning, Sachin never claimed himself to be “god”.    

Krishnan, Raman, Lakshmanan, Shivan, etc. are names driven from the Hindu mythologies, names of gods and demigods, commonly found in Kerala. In the post-1996-world-cup-India, one more name was added to the existing original inspirations—Sachin.

Image Courtesy: Google
Several Sachins can be found among kids born during this period, who are now studying in colleges, for their Under Graduate courses, to say the least. If you look, the primary schools and high schools are abundant with “Sachin”. Thus the new religion, Indian cricket, has contributed a “divine” name to the existing choices. With “Sachin” their first name, this generation of young individuals shouts out to the world they live in, how influential this game has been, not just to them but to their parents’ minds as well.

With the divinity attributed to Sachin, one peculiarity separates him from other holy men: he is the central figure of the market-phenomenon in India, in the post-globalization era. He is never compared with something spiritual, literally, although commentators and critics often use a combo of spiritual and religious terms to describe Sachin. One reason for this ‘divination’ is the modern Indian penchant for idolatry. Coincidentally, this came to be quite handy to the huge ‘cricket bazaar’ that was being set up in the outskirts of the worshipping stadiums.

Image Courtesy: Google
With the rise of Sachin Tendulkar in Indian Cricket, cricket registered a stunning rise in popularity. Even though Indian cricket team had won a world cup in 1983, cricket was never a national passion to the extent it is now. Sachin Tendulkar might have been ten years old when the Indian Cricket Team under Kapil Dev, marched to victory against West Indies at the Lord's Cricket Ground on 25 June 1983. But cricket did not catch fire until Sachin came.

His name is sold in billions and so is his influence. The Shakespearean dictum has to be revalued under these circumstances, much like those many cricketing records Sachin Tendulkar demolished and created under his own name. This indeed authorizes his name as the supreme figure in Indian cricket.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Do You Fear?

Some of you might have gone through my recent post titled ‘What’s Meaningful For You?’. This was a short fiction in my attempt to extrapolate the significance of the few lines that struck me from the book Man’s Search for Meaning. Now I realize, there was more to it. It was not just about the meaning of a symbolic dream, but also about a strong enemy that often does some good to us all--fear. 

Fear seems to be the most primitive of human emotions, which often works as an alarm bell and releases various signals through hormones in human body thus influencing mind to take the best suited decision at the time of need. Fear, however has a very deep cultural meaning as well. This emotion signifies the inability to be in control of a certain occasion or the failure in keeping one’s nerves calm when met with adversity. As a result the coward flees from the war zone. Many a passages from holy texts of religions as well as ideologies proclaim it best to be full of courage.

“Sanity-destined people are fearless. They don’t occupy themselves with ego thoughts. They cling to knowledge and its discipline.”- Bhagavad Gita, Gita 16.1.
Image Courtesy:

This quote suggests the significance of achieving courage in the face of ‘the unknown’, the most important and terrifying ‘enemy’ of human psyche. Fear for ‘the unknown’ is a severe form of fear that does not concern itself with the specific impacts of a harmful opponent, but the unknown repercussions of facing an unseen void.

“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” --Deuteronomy 31:6.

This verse from The Holy Bible assures the presence of The Highest Being at the time of facing an adversary. The focus, of course, is on the physical and ‘the known’ adversary. whether the threat is known or unknown, internal or external, within or without, fear always pops up in our minds and makes us feel as if fear is the enemy, as I mentioned in the first paragraph.

Fear is real, courage is only response. The tightening of muscles and the fastening of heartbeats make us realize either we should flee or should take measures for protection. The short story about dreaming spiders and those disgusting creatures crawling over the man’s face was not real. It was just a dream, both within the context of the story and the event that inspired the story. Or so I believed, until today, (5-11-2013) when I found a news item in The Independent.
Image Courtesy: Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer suggests in his captivating book You'll See It When You Believe It: The Way to Your Personal Transformation that each individual is part of the great ‘human being’ that spreads throughout the earth, across time and space, and that individuals are not islands, as we normally conceive. In other words, every human being living on this plant, according to Dyer, is a part of the body of the total humanity. The news piece I encountered sounds an eerie proof to this pan human state of being.

According to The Independent, dated Monday, 04 Nov 2013, Consi Taylor noticed that “dozens of tiny baby spiders were emerging from within the fur and crawling all over her banana.” The newspaper quoted her saying, “they were hatching out on the table, scurrying around on my carpet.” She informed the pest control company, although at the time she was frightened out of her senses. The authorities said that the crawlies were “Brazilian wandering spiders – an arachnid commonly known the “banana spider” and listed as the world’s most venomous by Guinness World Records in 2010.”

The poison of Brazilian wandering spiders is capable of inducing “total loss of muscle control, severe breathing problems, and partial paralysis” and all this resulting in asphyxiation--the condition of extreme decrease in oxygen level in the body.
Image Courtesy:

The fear for spiders is totally justifiable, although some of the spiders are rather harmless to humans. Being an arachnophobic, you cannot expect me to be unbiased, by the way. Although the events in the news and my blog post on dreaming spiders were set apart by differences in dates and continents, Ms Taylor from the UK and I from INDIA, the striking similarity in spiders running around all over the place makes these two instances connected. Was I dreaming of what would happen to Consi? Or was Consi living an altered reality portrayed in my short story? The spider babies came out of the banana she was eating at the time. Her fright led her to take the right decision to call for help.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.”-- 1 Corinthians 16:13.

As I mentioned, courage is only a response. However, a total absence of fear might cause a total absence of courage as well. In other words, courage is born out of fear. This verse from The Holy Bible suggests the same, when it says “be on your guard” and “stand firm in the faith”. Faith, in the final attainment of courage, is the only channel, the door of hope, in interpreting the message from those hyperactive muscles and fast paced heartbeats, correctly.