Landmark Forum – Part III

Please read my previous posts about Landmark Forum (Part I and Part II) before reading this one.

In the past few weeks, I have been getting multiple comments for my posts about Landmark forum. Here is the summary of those comments:

  1. The landmark forum provides spiritual dimension to an individual. It helps the attendees to lead a peaceful life with full of self-expression. Why are you commenting on it?
  2. Today’s world is filled with misery, where people are selling anything and everything. If we can tolerate a phone-call from a credit card salesperson, why not a spiritual/self development course like Landmark forum, Art-of-living etc?

I think the commentors didn’t completely understand the point I was trying to convey. It is not my intention to criticize these organizations or courses and say they are of no use. My take is to learn, understand and internalize them and practice in real life. Also understand that ‘transformation’ is a journey, rather than an instant capsule to fix every other problem in life. Many problems in life are caused when individuals are not equipped with proper thought process to handle them. No doubt! These courses provide excellent tools but what is the use if an individual it not using them, but end up preaching it by becoming a salesperson? Here are the two classic examples I have recently come across.

Case 1: An ISKCON devotee

Recently I met a fresher, who just got into the IT industry after finishing his post graduation. Upon talking with him I learned that he is a devotee of ISKCON. We discussed many things about purpose of life, origin of birth and death, religion, philosophy, spirituality, spiritual practices, yoga and Indian way of living. We exchanged wonderful thoughts for close to two hours before the discussion took a different turn. This 23 year old all of a sudden started saying ‘Krishna is the ultimate god and nothing is more superior to him’. He went on criticizing other Yogic methods and spiritual gurus by saying they have not come in a proper generation (in his words — ‘guru parampara’) and don’t have rights to teach spiritual practices to anyone. Followed by that, he started pitching about ISKCON and compelling me to come for weekly meetings etc.

Case 2: An Art of living devotee

In another occasion, I met colleague of mine in one of the company meetings. Some time back I got introduced to him in one of the art-of-living classes. He immediately started of saying ‘so-and-so’ new course is happening, which can transform my life completely. In spite of me not showing interest, he went on saying the glory of the course, how good the teacher is, how quickly one can bring change in his life etc.

This is exactly what I mean by salesman mentality. First of all I don’t see how an individual organization is the superior than others. As mentioned in my previous post, I respect them for the reasons they are created. That doesn’t mean that every other thing in the world is shit. Second, I am not sure how the so called ‘transformation’ can happen in few days or hours of attending a course, satsang or a bhajans. Every other spiritual method, ideology, socio-political movement has taken years to bring in changes.

Gandhi might have got his ‘call’ when he was thrown out of the train in Pietermaritzburg, but it took 22 years of belief, hard work, commitment, visionary leadership to make the civil rights movement in South Africa as a success. He never told his ideology is the best and started selling/forcing on others. Paramahamsa Yogananda, one of the great spiritual gurus took 17 years to attain transformation in his spiritual journey by meeting his guru Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. It took 35 years for Varghese Kurien to envision, think and build ‘Amul — the taste of India’. It took years for these great people to transform themselves and people around them.

According to me transformation is a journey when an individual embarks with a great vision. It is neither one-minute-magic nor selling an ideology. It is about understanding self, becoming a magnet and making others becoming followers. It is always good to take up a self-development course (like Landmark) or getting associated with an organization (Art-of-living, ISKCON etc…) but don’t make is as a sales pitch or think only their ideology/organization is the best in the world.

Bilingual Way

This morning I was reading June edition of ‘Business world’ and found an interesting article titled ‘Bilingual Way’.

The article talks about a survey conducted by National University of Education Planning and Administration. The survey shows that 74% increase in the number of enrollments from 5.47 million students in 2003-2004 to 9.51 million in 2005-2006 — in upper-primary sections of English medium schools across India.

The article goes on saying that the results has come at the cost of regional languages like Marathi, Telugu and Kannada and suggests that its time we moved away from the ‘either or’ debate and lookat bilingualism as a real alternative for education.

The BW article has given statistical evidence, which is in sync my previous blog post.

Landmark forum – Part I

It’s been 6 months since I attended Landmark Forum in Bangalore. For people who don’t know what this is all about please check out this link. I have mixed opinions about the course. Let me share my first set of thoughts about this course.

Let me explain the course structure first. It’s basically a three day plus one evening course primarily focused on personal transformation. Each day starts about 9 AM in the morning (sharp) and goes on till 11 PM in the night, with grueling sessions. Each day has only very few break in between, that too at odd timings (11 AM, 3 PM and 7 PM). A well trained ‘forum leader’ will be leading the course for about 400 participants. He has a pre-defined courseware and speaks non-stop for all the three days. These leaders are extremely smart people and ruthless in expressing their viewpoints. The landmark education forum has internal methods of identifying, coaching and grooming these leaders.

Coming to the course contents, it’s completely a westernized therapy session. They give a different perspective of life, more from the psychological point of view. The forum leader will encourage participants to come and share problems they face in relationships, career and life. He will listen to those problems and provides different perspective about solving those problems. In between these conversations the leader keeps on giving certain gyan about: parenting, purpose of life, holistic living, relationships, human behaviors etc. I found these sessions totally boring and couldn’t get anything at all from them. I felt more annoyed when people cry in public about their personal problems and their inability to solve them. This is what happens on the first two days.

On the third day of the forum, I found pretty interesting things. The leader started discussion certain topics (question like ‘Who am I?’), which slowly dwells into a philosophy. When I questioned the leader about its interference with philosophy (especially Indian way of thinking), he totally diverted the discussion and forced me to sit down. He went on expressing some of the points in a very forceful manner in loud voice. Finally he ended up with some of the concepts from Zen Buddhism.

When such philosophical thoughts are conveyed in forceful manner (this is what I call western therapy), people feel all they have discovered something great. They feel they are free and get whatever they want. This is what defined as ‘transformation’ by the Landmark education people. Apart from that they give a whole new terminologies like ‘racket’, ‘break-through’, ‘possibility’, ‘break-down’, ‘interpretation’ etc. Thus the third day of the course comes to an end.

The evening session resumes after two days, where each participants are asked to bring at least three guests. These guests can be friends, family members or relatives. When the evening session stats, the nasty sales pitch of the Landmark forum takes the centre stage. The forum leader literally forces all the participants to take up the ‘advanced’ course. There are many so called ‘volunteers’ who do excellent job in brainwashing the guests to sign up for the ‘basic’ course. I took my wife and some close friends on the evening session but felt totally humiliated when they started the sales pitch. I didn’t expect this at all!

After the course (sales pitch session) gets over, the participants are asked to take up ‘Landmark forum in action’ lecture series. I was so pissed off with their evening session that I just stopped going in that direction. Also it’s quite interesting to see the way the course is marketed. People who are weak minded, immature or lived a miserable life in the past become ‘volunteers’ of this forum after achieving ‘transformation’. These volunteers become mobile marketing/sales people for the organization and they go ahead and force all of their friends and family members to take up the course. I do see some value of courses like this but can’t even think of becoming a sales person for them.

Let me write more about Landmark Forum in the next blog post!

Billion beats

Recently, Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam has launched fortnightly e-newspaper ‘Billion beats’. This is a welcome initiative as the internet medium is reaching every corner of India. Got a chance to read the first edition yesterday and it is very good.

Check out this link for the latest edition.

BOOK REVIEW : Wise and Otherwise

Author: Sudha Narayanamurthy

This book contains collection of short stories, which the author wrote in many newspapers and magazines. The author has traveled extensively to the rural parts of India where she met different type of people in India. She explains how people in rural India are having very high value system and leading a self-contained life. This book contains almost 50 small stories. Written in very simple English, this book explains the author’s experiences. Reading this book also gave me the background information of Infosys able to contribute to the society. Basically the author experienced everything, which made Infosys as a good corporate citizen.

However at some places, the author mixed too much of sentimental stuff which I didn’t like it. Also at some places it became boring as it had similar kind of stories. I would strongly suggest to read this book if anyone is interested in doing charity in India.

Why do I write blogs?

There are ample reasons for anyone to flock into the blogsphere. Recently I came across some blogs with gobs and gobs of ‘negative’ contents focusing on ‘controversial’ topics. They quickly become popular as they get high hit-rate and copious comments. These blogs mainly express strong ‘opinions’ against some of the burning issues in the areas of religion, sex, creed, caste, racism, nationality, politics etc. Naturally they catch attention of readers — as it has got to do with an individual’s emotions. Readers quickly tend to take stands and tempted to express their counter arguments.

According to me there are enough avenues to discuss about controversial topics as they are very well known. Especially in countries like India — the media is given complete freedom to conduct debates, opinion polls, panel discussions to discuss flaming issues. Also at an individual level, most of these issues are ‘no-control’ problems and finding a solution is close to impossible. I am not against expressing an individual’s opinions but it will not make any difference to anybody.

When I was thinking in these lines, I asked a question to myself: ‘why do I write blogs?’. After contemplating for quiet some time, I came up with the following points:

  • I feel happy when I write.
  • Blogs provides a platform to share my knowledge with a bigger world.
  • I always wanted to write about ‘positive’ things to ‘influence’ rather than critiques. For example, blogs like ‘Emergic’ has influenced me to a larger extent.
  • Connect with like-minded people rather than the general mass.

Request: Can you please post your reasons for blogging?

Multi-lingual education in Singapore

I am currently in Singapore on an official visit and explored this country to certain extent. Even though English is spoken everywhere, they have given the much needed importance to three major local languages: Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. They have kept these official languages in best interest of all major sectors of the population. This is very well reflected in their education system. In their Primary School Leaving Examination (PLSS) they must choose their mother tongue along with English. Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia:

In order to test the students’ grasp of the language subjects, such as the English or mother tongue languages at the end of primary school, there are several separate examinations. As the student is usually required to take mother tongue and the English language, (with exceptions of exemption or additional languages), the average student repeats the following procedures twice. With each mother tongue subject there are two levels of examination, the standard and the higher mother tongue subject, which often depends on what age the language, was first introduced to the pupil. Whether a higher mother tongue subject is taken determines whether a student is in the EM1 (higher) stream or the EM2 stream (standard).

The format tends to vary by language, but each language examination usually has an oral examination, testing the students’ proficiency to speak the language, a listening comprehension examination, testing the students’ ability to comprehend spoken messages in daily situations, an examination to test composition and the student’s proficiency in writing in various scenarios, and finally an examination testing written use of the language.

This is a classic example for giving importance to vernacular language along with English. Also this is in shark contrast with India, where any student can get away by not knowing to read or write their mother tongue. In my blog titled ‘education in local languages’, I stressed upon this point and Singapore is a standing example where the diversity is taken as an advantage. Apart from learning the language in schools, it is also widely used and practiced. In all public places and notice boards all four languages are used. I had been to an Indian restaurant, primarily run by Tamilians and I was so surprised to see Tamil in the bills.

Why am I stressing on this point? Why should we learn any of the ancient Indian language? What is the importance of that in today’s globalized world? The answer is very simple: identity and belongingness. Learning local language creates an identity for a person and makes them understand our ancient past. When it is not there, people tend to ape the other cultures without even making an attempt to learn what India is all about. This creates a basic disconnect with the roots of the system and finally makes them not to understand the fundamental problems like poverty, caste system and illiteracy.

We should learn from countries like Singapore and accept the fact that Indians should learn their mother tongue. This might seem very simple but it goes long way in empathetically creating a diversified society, where India’s core strength lies.

Am I ‘proud’ to be an Indian ?

The Times of India recently launched ‘India poised’ campaign showcasing India’s achievements and problems in various areas. I am able to see the big-B’s TV appearance, huge banners near Richmond road (Bangalore), with this new fad. With India’s republic day is nearing, TOI can get some premium and publicity by initiating such things. These initiatives definitely bring in ‘feel-good’ factor among Indians at the same time there are lot of crude realities, which we need to digest. With over 5000 years of history and 57 years of democracy, I started asking a simple question to myself ‘Am I proud to be an Indian?’. After deep introspection within myself I got the answer ‘yes and no’. How come I can get two answers for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type question?

I feel very proud when I look back India’s glorious past. When the red-Indian tribes were living in north-American jungles, we had a great civilization here. Traces of Indus valley civilization shows the signs of democracy, knowledge about sanity system, collective living and so on. The vedas and upanishads are great source of knowledge even though it is very difficult to interpret them and understand completely. Recently Germans discovered that sanskrit is the best language for computer software usage (I am yet to dig more on this). If westerners can be proud of their management theories by showcasing Peter Druker and Stephen Covey Indians have much more to showcase in Arthashastra (Chanakya) and Thirukkural (Thiruvalluvar).

If westerners boast of their medicines, Indians had ayurvedha as answer. Pathanjali had yoga-sutra, which is proven technique for physical fitness and natural healing.We had great universities like nalanda, vikaramasheela which are equivalent to today’s MIT and Stanford. Students from various parts of the world used to get educated from these universities. Indians invented ‘zero’ without which there is no computers today. We have great architecture and symbols like tanjore brahadeeshwara temple speaks for the high caliber talent in those times. Yes! I am proud indeed when I look into this past! Mera bharath mahan!

Having said that what has happened in the last 1000 years of the history and whats the state of affairs today? We were invaded by every other country in the world and lost tones and tones of materialistic and intellectual wealth. Apart from loosing them, we allowed the British to program our minds by adopting their way of education system. Now let us take latest picture:

  1. Out of 1 billion Indians, 300 million earn less than $1/day and 600 million earn less then $2/day. Among total population 22% of the people live in below poverty line.

  2. Out cities are known for excellent medical institutions like AIIMS and loads of private players. But the rural India the scene is pathetic. We are number two in AIDS affected population in the world.

  3. Only 68% of our population is educated and illiteracy is still a never ending problem even after 70 years of Independence.

  4. Corruption and caste based discrimination are omnipresent. Only in the urban portions things are slightly better off.

  5. After opening up the economy in 1991, the Indian middle class have raised big time. But still the 33% of India’s wealth is with 10% of the population, which shows how discontinuously the wealth is shared. If you want to see this difference in front of your eyes come to Bangalore. A government employee earning an average salary cannot have a good life because of the in-appropriate wealth distribution. Soaring real estate prices are typical example for it.

At the personal level, let us talk about the morality and responsibility of Indian citizens. We don’t keep our streets clean, we spit in public places,We don’t follow line discipline, We keep complaining about anything and everything without taking ‘responsibility’ for anything. If we can boast ourselves as a ‘tolerant’ country by allowing all foreigners inside, why my fellow Indian cannot tolerate for the traffic light to become green? Why should he keep honking his horn when the signal is showing orange? What about the sanitation system? Even today my town school (where I studied) don’t have proper toilets and some residential schools in Karnataka has got 1 toilet for 40 students. Whereas the rich-urban kids are talking about writing IIT-JEE entrance test.

How much amount of economic liberalization benefited the rural Indians? How much amount of technology has penetrated farmers in order to empower them? Except for the mobile phone connectivity and a good banking system I don’t see anything happened for the rural India. I am writing these things based on my experience as I belong to sub-urban town and some of my school friends still make their living by driving auto-rickshaws, working in garment industry as daily wagers and doing the small-scale builder’s job. At the same time our CNN-IBN and NDTV would be conducting polls like ‘Is India shining or not?’ and conclude that we are doing great. Rubbish! Sitting in a AC room in any metro city how can they predict whats happening at the grass-root levels? Now if I ask myself ‘Am I a proud Indian?’ the answer is a define ‘NO’.

In conclusion I would say we need to take the pride of our glorious past and build a great future. My motherland has got so many problems, so what? After all she is my mother. Its time to show more in action than in words.

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Education in regional language?

Last night I was watching a TV program ‘Education in India’ in NDTV profit, where a set of educationalists (in my words arm-chair-activists) were talking about the current education system and the discussion turned to giving education in regional languages. Somehow everyone was glorifying the need of English language and telling there is not much need to stress regional languages. When any state government (recently in Karnataka and Maharashtra) tries to ‘impose’ a regional language, people start protesting as if they were born with English language. Frankly speaking I am not able to understand the reason behind simply ‘aping’ the west by embracing English big time.

Speaking from my personal experience, I learned all my education in Tamil till the age of 17 and I was able to understand things much better because it was taught in my ‘mother tongue’. But unfortunately for today’s parents they derive enormous amount of pleasure and they proudly say ‘My son speaks with me only in English and he doesn’t even know how to read or write his mother tongue, because it is of no use’. I am not against learning English language but why should we glorify it? Why we can’t we try to appreciate strengths of our regional languages?

I got my shock of my life when I got chance to interact with Chinese and Japanese folks. They barely speak good English (whomever I have interacted) and I have seen technical papers written by them with lots of grammar mistakes. Apart from that, ranging from MS windows to mobile phone screen, everything is in their language. My simple question is ‘What did they loose by not knowing English? Didn’t they demonstrate to the world their excellence in automobile and electronic fields?’ . One of my friend was doing his PhD in a French university and he told me that they translate the latest books and journals to French.

As again saying, I am not against learning English. In fact I am writing this blog in English and in my workplace I use English most of the times. Today India is having competitive edge because of its large English speaking population. What I hate is the ‘duality’ of some people by using some strange accents and showing-off their ‘pseudo superiority’ of knowing English language.

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