08 Aug Prologue
It was just after I gave a talk at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in November 2008 that my dear friend, Gani, urged me to write this book. Gani is Dr. Gani Ganapathi, the rocket scientist from among all my classmates from India and he worked on the heat rejection system for the incredibly successful Mars Exploration Rovers at JPL. His assessment that I had something unique to contribute to the discourse was eye-opening to me. And from time to time, Gani kept nudging me to write the book and so did a number of my other friends, Joe Murray while helping me with my non-profit work, Manju Seal whose daughter Niharika did the wonderful illustrations for the book, and my son Sushil, among others. But nothing concrete happened until I held our granddaughter, Kimaya, in my arms two years later.
Kimaya was born to our son Akhil and the lovely Roxy Chappell on November 19, 2010, in Phoenix, Arizona. Akhil is South Asian, while Roxy is half Native American and half African American, with the result that Kimaya, Sanskrit for “Divine” or “Heavenly,” with the direct lineage of at least three continents, was the personification of all humanity in my eyes.
Now I had to write. I had to write down whatever I’ve understood so far, knowing that it will make at least a small difference in the kind of world that she inherits.
It has been exactly thirty years since I landed in America with an admission to a graduate program at the State University of New York, a teaching assistantship to help pay my way through graduate school, and $100 in my pocket. And what a ride it has been! I got my Masters at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in Long Island, NY, went on to do a Ph.D. at Stanford University in California, and met and married my beautiful wife, Jaine, while at Stanford. We moved to New Jersey, had two absolutely adorable children, while I carved out an amazing career in technology, reaching the pinnacle of my professional success when the company that had acquired ours, Level One Communications, was bought by Intel Corporation in 1999 for 2.2 billion dollars. We became millionaires and I was on top of the world! At that point, I thought that we had achieved our goal of ensuring security and wealth for our two children and for our old age!
Then our sons turned teenagers and the troubles began. There were episodes of drunken behavior that I attributed to the fact that we had irresponsible neighbors who fed our underage kids alcohol in their homes. I tried to ban our older child, Sushil, from associating with the neighbors’ children, but that didn’t work. When Sushil, a really bright kid, got admitted to early college right after his junior year in high school, we readily agreed so that he could get away from our neighborhood. Two years and a whole slew of bad grades later, Sushil entered a rehab facility in Arizona after getting arrested for possession of marijuana while driving in upstate New York. Sushil has now been sober for over six years and lives with his beautiful spouse, Michelle, just minutes from us. But when that arrest happened in 2005, I knew that something was really wrong with the life that I was leading, that I was being whacked on the head and told to wake up. Later that year, I saw former Vice President Al Gore’s slide show on TV and it was then that I began to suspect that something was fundamentally wrong with the life that we’re all leading as human beings.
But my initial instinct was just like my reaction to our neighbor’s liberal alcohol policy, to try and see if we can solve the problem while maintaining what Mr. Gore calls “civilization as we know it.” It was only when our younger son, Akhil, while a student at Lehigh University, attempted to commit suicide in September 2007, that I felt the urge to truly understand what was at the heart of it all. There were questions aplenty. How could this incredibly wonderful and loving child have grown to become so miserable that he lost the will to continue living? What did I do wrong? What did we all do wrong? And most importantly, why did this happen?
During my years at Stanford, I had a very wise advisor, Prof. Thomas Kailath, who told me that the holder of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from Stanford University should have acquired the ability to understand any problem in any field, document it and propose credible solutions. With that in mind, I set about attempting to understand and document the system level problem that is our modern industrial civilization. This book is an account of my findings over the past four years and I hope that it meets the exacting standards that Prof. Kailath set for all his students.
The great 20th century philosopher, Anthony DeMello wrote in his book, Awareness, “The trouble with people is that they are busy fixing things that they don’t even understand… It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed… They need to be understood. If we understood them, they’d change. Do you want to change the world? How about beginning with yourself?.. Through observation, through understanding, with no interference or judgement on your part.
What you judge, you cannot understand… Observe without a desire to change what is. Because, if you desire to change what is into what you think should be, you no longer understand… The day you attain a posture like that, you will experience a miracle. You will change – effortlessly, correctly. Change will happen, you will not have to bring it about. As the light of awareness settles upon the darkness, whatever is evil will disappear. Whatever is good will be fostered.”
With awareness comes understanding and with understanding comes change and action. Here’s wishing that such awareness will spread throughout the world and that this book nudges the reader towards this worthy goal.
The book is intended for the youth of this world who are facing some of the gravest challenges ever faced by any generation of human beings. It is also intended for all those who love the youth of this world, for they cannot solve these challenges on their own while their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts continue to pile on more grave challenges for them to solve.
The book draws upon ancient Hindu texts for that’s what I’ve become most familiar with and it is written from the perspective of a South Asian immigrant to America, for that’s who I am. But this is just a reflection of my limitations as an individual and author. The book is intended to be a global call to action, action of a very specific, focused kind. Rather than listing hundreds of “change-light-bulb” type actions that a lot of us have been doing disjointly, but somewhat ineffectively, it lists three specific actions that we can begin to do concertedly to make a difference. While changing the world is about changing ourselves, effecting social change requires such concerted action. Mahatma Gandhi is often quoted as saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” but a recent investigation by Brian Morton in the New York Times showed that this quote is a bumper-sticker style corruption of Gandhi’s words. The closest he could find was Gandhi saying, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do”.
Personal and social transformation go hand in hand. As Brian Morton explained in the article, “For Gandhi, the struggle to bring about a better world involved not only stringent self-denial and rigorous adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence; it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can’t change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence”.
Here’s wishing that we will work together with such discipline and thereby, persevere.
Danville, CA, Oct. 2011.
 Anthony DeMello, “Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality,” Image Publishers, June 1990.http://www.amazon.com/Awareness-Opportunities-Reality-Anthony-Mello/dp/0385249373 . Passage is from the last paragraph in the Chapter on “Self Observation.” Brian Morton, “Falser Words were never Spoken,” New York Times, August 29, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html