16 June 2021

David Godman on Ramana Maharshi

Listened to a couple of talks by David Godman, one of the foremost scholars on the life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi, as well as some videos by a Canadian filmmaker who filmed many of the talks with him - see the channel on YouTube).

In one video, the same filmmaker contrasts those who are "truly enlightened" and those he calls merely “pointers”, i.e., those who are not enlightened, but can, to a certain degree point us in the right direction.

Actually I think the differentiation is unimportant. Those of us who are not enlightened are (according to traditional sources) unqualified to discriminate between an enlightened sage and one who isn't, and anyway, I cannot accept solely on faith the words of gurus and spiritual masters, however popular or distinguished they may be.

For me, as for others, it is more a question of what is helpful to our understanding, at a given time. In the last couple of years I've been reevaluating what I've learned from Brahmanic treachings. Buddhist teachings I take mainly as a point of reference.

People with greater intellectual gifts and spiritual sensitivity than me have analysed these traditions innumerable times and reached multiple and conflicting conclusions. I feel closer to the Vedantic tradition (not so much the Adwaita Vedanta system of Sankara). Ramana, is one of the greats, but practically, I feel that his teachings lead me to a cul-de-sac. Focusing on the "I" and looking for its source does nothing to abate my egoism.

Yet plainly our mistaken worldview has led us into the crisis now facing us. I'm quite convinced of the need to shake up our wrong perception and wrong conceptions. The inner conviction that we are independent separate entities, rather than equal members of the vast, intertwined network of the universe has led to the problems we desperately need to confront.

When we look at the world through the prism of our egoism, we think in terms of what we can extract from it, or consider how to protect ourselves from it, etc. But as long as we are objectifying the world, and subjectifying ourselves, our vision is incomplete, and therefore mistaken. This is why the eastern religions say that the world is illusion or appearance.

It isn't that we should identify with what we see. The kinship between us, that which binds us, is not something we can perceive through the senses. At a scientific level, we can understand (more and more) the connections within the biosphere. But it is not even that. The network, the matrix, is, itself the result of a deeper substratum of unity; a unity in consciousness. That is what the Vedantins are speaking of when they tell us that what we perceive as our limited self is actually the “big self”, the Brahman.

I think as I grow older, I want, more and more, to become absorbed into this “big self”, until one day I will kiss the little self goodbye, without the least regret. But for now there are dishes to wash, laundry to clean, and responsibilities that require a greater degree of concentration than either of those.

Research on a song

There's an amazing, gorgeous bit of piyyut (Jewish liturgical poetry) at the beginning of one of the Cafe de Anatolia albums, Ethno World Tarlabasa. I was clever enough to recognize it as piyyut but had no idea where it came from.

One commenter to the YouTube channel led me to a Syrian composer of piyyut, Raphael Antebi Tabbush, and said that the song is Ata El Kabir ("You're a great God"), but I found and looked at the words and couldn't see any resemblance there. This was clearly a wrong lead. Eventually, I found the composer and the lyrics to the song.

This is a poem by a 16th-17th century Rabbi Israel Najara, who was born in Safed. lived in Damascus and Hebron, and became the rabbi of the Jewish community in Gaza. The singer is Israeli, born in Tiberius, Lior Almaleh. He has an amazing voice, and it's a lovely, mystical song. The first part is in Hebrew, from the 3rd chapter of the Song of Songs. The second in Aramaic (which I don't understand, and Google Translate cannot help with that). The words quoted from the Song of Songs (trans. World English Bible) are:

I will get up now, and go about the city;
in the streets and in the squares I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but I didn’t find him.
The watchmen who go about the city found me;
"Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
I had scarcely passed from them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.

(The above section has been updated, thanks to D)

קַמְתִּי בְּאִישׁוֹן לַיְלָה לִסְבֹּב אֶת הָעִיר
לִרְאוֹת פְּנֵי דוֹדִי יְפֵה קוֹמָה
מְצָאוּנִי הַשּׁוֹמְרִים הַסּוֹבְבִים בָּעִיר שְׁאָלוּנִי
מַה לָךְ בַּלַּיִל תְבַקֵּשׁ מָה
עוֹדָם מְדַבְּרִים עִמִּי וְהִנֵּה אוֹר פְּנֵי דוֹדִי זָרְחָה כְאַחְלָמָה
יָהּ רִבּוֹן עָלַם וְעַלְמַיָּא
אַנְתְּ הוּא מַלְכָּא מֶלֶךְ מַלְכַיָּא
עוֹבָדֵי גְבוּרְתָּךְ וְתִמְהַיָּא
שְׁפַר קֳדָמַי לְהַחֲוַיָּא
שְׁבָחִין אֲסַדֵּר צַפְרָא וְרַמְשָׁא
לָךְ אֱלָהָא קַדִּישָׁא בְּרָא כָל נַפְשָׁא
עִירִין קַדִּישִׁין וּבְנֵי אֱנָשָׁא
חֵיוַת בָּרָא וְעוֹף שְׁמַיָּא
רַבְרְבִין עוֹבָדָךְ וְתַקִּיפִין
מַכִּיךְ רָמַיָּא זַקִּיף כְּפִיפִין
לוּ יְחִי גְבַר שְׁנִין אַלְפִין
לָא יֵעוּל גְּבוּרְתָּךְ בְּחוּשְׁבְּנַיָּא
אֱלָהָא דִּי לֵיהּ יְקָר וּרְבוּתָא
פְּרוֹק יַת עָנָךְ מִפֻּם אַרְיָוָתָא
וְאַפֵּיק יַת עַמָּךְ מִגּוֹ גָּלוּתָא
עַמָּךְ דִּי בְחַרְתְּ מִכָּל אֻמַּיָּא
לְמִקְדָּשָׁךְ תּוּב וּלְקֹדֶשׁ קֻדְשִׁין
אֲתַר דִּי בֵיהּ יֶחֱדוּן רוּחִין וְנַפְשִׁין
וִיזַמְּרוּן לָךְ שִׁירִין וְרֲחֲשִׁין
בִּירוּשְׁלֵם קַרְתָּא דְשֻׁפְרַיָּא

Today's Links

World's first wooden satellite to be launched from New Zealand - The Hindu

The satellite, designed and built in Finland will orbit at around 500-600 km altitude in a roughly polar Sun-synchronous orbit. WISA Woodsat is a 10x10x10 cm nano satellite built up from standardised boxes and surface panels made from plywood, the same material that is found in a hardware store or to make furniture.

Google is using AI to design chipsets in just six hours - The Hindu
The new chips are said to be superior or comparable to those produced by humans in all key metrics including power consumption, performance and chip area.

You Can Still Upgrade to Windows 10 For Free, Here's How - The Bleeping Computer

Covid Survivors Smell Foods Differently - The New York Times

Long after some people have recovered from the virus, they find certain foods off-putting.

15 June 2021


This country has almost entered a "post-Corona" situation. Today, the rule that requires the wearing of masks in most indoor areas was cancelled too. The necessity to show "green passes" or vaccination certificates, limitations on congregation and on wearing of masks outdoors were cancelled some time ago. Yesterday, out of 21,000 tests there were only four positives, and the number of hospital patients in serious condition is down to around 30. But "post-corona", like "post-colonial" has its own meaning, and carries the outcomes, repercussions and trauma forward into the future.

Personal property

My aspiration is to have a dwindling amount of personal property - I would prefer not to have any, but to have enough income to cover my living expenses. Whenever I go to India, I don't have more than fits in a small rug sack, usually, and that feels like more than enough. I can live like that for months on end, doing my laundry each day so that I don't need more clothes than I wear; having just a phone and a computer for my technology needs, etc. As I grow older I want to feel completely independent and free, which means for me living without debt or financial commitments. Yesterday Cory Doctorow had interesting things to say with regard to home ownership and rent:
The Rent’s Too Damned High. A human right, commodified and rendered… | by Cory Doctorow | Jun, 2021 | GEN.

Why do homes increase in value? Because they grow more valuable over time. But that value isn’t intrinsic: the roof doesn’t get better at keeping out the rain, sleep doesn’t come more easily in the bedrooms. Rather, homes get more valuable because not owning a home gets worse...

The very existence of the rental market is key to home appreciation: one reason someone might pay you more for your house than you paid for it is because they expect to be able to rent to someone who can’t afford to buy. The more lucrative it is to be a landlord, the more every rentable home is worth, because every sale potentially includes bidders whose maximum price includes their expected returns from rental income.

This means that the more rights tenants have, the less your house is worth, even if you never rent your house out. Or, contrariwise, when tenants are worse off, homeowners are better off.

We are lucky enough to own a home, and the family owns additional property; but I actually don't think of myself as owner of any of any of this; let it be in my wife's name or the family's name.

MS Windows, computers

I spent some time yesterday updating one of the office computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10.1. It took forever but worked without a hitch. Samah has at least 3 computers. I can't understand why people who are much worse at managing computers than I am feel the need for so many of them. I never want to use more than one of them - keeping a single computer well maintained is enough of a challenge for me. It is true that I also use three, but one is an old laptop for my home server, and the other is our media PC, which runs on Ubuntu. And lately I brought home another old laptop from the office, in case I need to do anything fancy with Office 365, as my everyday computer runs on MX.

Email subscriptions

I have signed up to the blogs of Cory Doctorow and Dave Winer, as mentioned earlier. I quite enjoy receiving these in my inbox each day. Winer's usually arrives first thing on a morning, like a newspaper. Seeing it in the mail has the advantage of not having to look at the racist mug of Winston Churchill, which currently adorns his blog header. Doctorow's comes in via Mailman a bit later in the day. I also signed up for my own blog to see how well Feedrabbit handles it: they are an Australian company that converts an RSS feed for despatch by email. In a case situation where there is just one blog post per day, this works well, and the result looks good.


Plastic rafting: the invasive species hitching a ride on ocean litter - The Guardian

Ocean plastic has become a route for invasive species that threaten native animals with extinction, with Japan’s tsunami sending nearly 300 species ‘rafting’ across the Pacific

NSA whistleblower Reality Winner released from prison | Reality Winner - The Guardian

9 June 2021

Home Server

I only pretend to understand how to run my home server, and sort of bungle my way through. That's supposed to be inspiring: if I can do it, anyone can. I've managed to keep Hubzilla running and updated for a few months, and now added WordPress. Today I had some difficulties with the Hubzilla update, due to some changes I'd made to some bootstrap files, but in the end I sorted it out.

I've also been adding some plugins to WordPress so that I can write in Markdown, post automatically to Mastodon and Twitter. I still need to find a way of allowing subscriptions by email. I will see how these work. Without experimentation, none of this is fun. Another decision I've made with WordPress is to change the hyperlinks to suit my blogging style. The system I've decided on isn't very SEO friendly, but I don't care about that.


We had a Zoom conference with an organization that wants to sell us access to their database of foundations; they can handle various other things, but the data they keep on donors is the core of their business. There are several such subscription-based databases on the market, and no doubt these steal and copy from each other. Fundraising and resource development can be a slimy sort of business at base. I have always preferred to do other things than be involved directly with fundraising. But we've have several excellent people who know how to fundraise while staying human, warm, and loving. It doesn't have to be ugly, the domain of sleazy slick schnorrers. Sometimes, when we have had to hire people, it's attracted that type. But usually they haven't stayed around very long.


On our end, we still need to improve our database infrastructure. A couple of years ago I tried to set up Civi-CRM, a free open source system, with a large, friendly community. But I didn't find it very inspiring, and, after I'd left it alone for a few months, it stopped working and I floundered with the complexity of trying to update the thing. I may try to go back to it. Previously I'd tried Salesforce, which is significantly more complex. Now, maybe, we have the opportunity to use Microsoft products for free, but I have my doubts about whether they have produced something good. The main trouble with all these systems, for a small organization, is that staff who are trying to spend their hours on actual fundraising work do not have time to master and then maintain complex database systems. That's painstakingly tedious work, and, if the software is slow and clunky, that only adds an additional hurdle. One could hire someone to do this boring job, but a small organization cannot really afford to do add additional, non-productive salary positions. Foundations don't really want to see a large chunk of the money they give spent on administration. On the other hand, fundraising applications and reporting needs grow increasingly demanding. That's especially true for organizations that give large grants, such as the European Union, but not always. We have sometimes had to contend with foundations that gave small amounts but had huge demands, out of all proportion to the funding they had given.


Revert to type: how Goa’s last typewriter repair shop defied the digital age - The Guardian

Fastly says single customer triggered bug behind mass internet outage - The Guardian
It's like with my car; I learn about these things when something goes wrong. I knew all about the infamous Cloudfare, mainly because of the troubles it creates when using Tor browser. I'd never heard of Fastly.

Maybe I really should consider moving to Gemini; the web as we know it becomes a less and less friendly place. The advantage with Gemini is that it would be much more difficult to commercialize and monetize.