Chapter 5. Believe in being a Conduit rather than a Storage Vessel
The reputed Sanskrit grammarian and poet of 5th century CE, Bhartrhari came out in his Shatakatraya poems with his observations and admonitions about many aspects of existence, famously remembered along with other similar poems by him and other authors collectively as Subhashitaani. One of his themes was that man must learn from many living and non-living objects of Nature and become more generous in giving. He wrote in one verse,
The trees bear fruit to help others.
The rivers flow to bring water for others.
The cows give a lot of their milk to others.
So, this body (my body) must be meant to be of use to others!
Persons who had this natural tendency to be of benefit to others he classified as santah, good persons. He exclaimed, –
“The Sun voluntarily makes lotuses bloom in their pond.
The moon helps the white lilies to bloom in the night.
Unasked, the cloud showers a lot of water.
Good persons seem on their own, to get involved in benefitting others!”
Aware that everyone hopes to acquire a lot of wealth, he warns the hopefuls about what can happen to wealth so acquired. Charity, enjoyment or destruction awaits all wealth, he points out. The miser who does not want to give away wealth or even to spend it on himself for enjoyment will soon lose all the wealth and rue his folly. We can follow this, because, even if such a person, at the time of his death, has the satisfaction of leaving all his assets to his children, they in turn, will not place the same value on it as he did, because they did not earn it. If he had done some charity, the blessings of the people who had benefitted by it would be a balm to his heart in his last days.
If this body, obviously along with its brain function called mind, which seems to do its thinking for it, is to be interested in giving away rather than in accumulating wealth, there must be some evidence present in its own design indicating this tendency and its desirability. Let us examine the scope of such evidence.
The most glaring and highly symbolic evidence, in my opinion, is the fact that the human child develops from just a few inches of height and a few kilograms in weight rapidly in a few years and then as a teenager or a young adult, it stabilizes in these parameters, especially in the height. There seem to be standard weights corresponding to the heights for human adults, which are considered healthy. When some adults ignore this need of correspondence and either overeat or do not exercise their limbs properly, they are subject to diseases and suffer in consequence. In other words, the body continuously warns you not to deviate from a healthy lifestyle. One important component of healthy living is correct eating, which consists of eating the right kind of food in right amounts at healthy intervals and only when truly hungry. The digestive system inside our body digests the essential components and distributes them throughout our body. The rest of the intake is thrown out at a regular periodicity as faecal matter. Water available in nature and water based natural liquids when ingested help in the transport and effective assimilation of the nutrients conveyed through solid and semi solid food. After serving its function, surplus water too gets substantially thrown out as urine and perspiration. The oxygen needed for purification of body fluids and oxidation/combustion of appropriate components of food inputs is breathed in as air, which is breathed out depleted in its oxygen content and enriched with carbon dioxide. The body of an adult human being does not need to store the bulk of whatever food, drinks or air we allow it to ingest. Most part of it is expelled. It is wisdom on our part and therefore our duty to take care that there is no unwarranted build up of solids and liquids inside our body, and that the liquid ingested is always either water from natural sources or from water based and unprocessed natural plant products. This discipline also assures us that we do not spend Nature’s gifts of resources faster than they can be naturally generated.
Here are some data on water in the adult human body, as provided in this wiki note https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_water. By weight, the average human adult male is approximately 60% water and the average adult female is approximately 55%). There can be considerable variation in body water percentage based on factors like age, health, water intake, weight, and sex. In a large study of adults of all ages and both sexes, the adult human body averaged close to 65% water. However, this varied substantially by age, sex, and adiposity (amount of fat). The figure for water fraction by weight in this sample was found to be 58 ±8% water for males and 48 ±6% for females(“Total body water volumes for adult males and females estimated from simple anthropometric measurements” (PDF). 33 (1). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. January 1980). The body water constitutes as much as 93% of the body weight of a new-born infant, whereas some obese people are as little as 15% water by weight (Guyton, Arthur C. (1976). Textbook of Medical Physiology (5th ed.). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders. pp. 284, 424. ISBN 0-7216-4393-0.) This is due to how fat tissue does not retain water as well as lean tissue. These statistical averages will vary with factors such as type of population, age of people sampled, number of people sampled, and methodology.
Most of animal body water is contained in various body fluids. These include intracellular fluid; extracellular fluid; plasma; interstitial fluid; and transcellular fluid. Water is also contained inside organs, in gastrointestinal, cerebrospinal, peritoneal, and ocular fluids. Adipose tissue contains about 10% of water, while muscle tissue contains about 75%.
In Netter’s Atlas of Human Physiology, body water is broken down into the following compartments. (John T. Hansen; Bruce M. Koeppen (2002). Netter’s Atlas of Human Physiology. Teterboro, N.J: Icon Learning Systems. ISBN 1-929007-01-9.)
- Intracellular fluid (2/3 of body water) is fluid contained within cells. In a 72-kg body containing 40 litres of fluid, about 25 litres is intracellular, which amounts to 62.5%. Jackson’s texts states 70% of body fluid is intracellular.
- Extracellular fluid (1/3 of body water) is fluid contained in areas outside of cells. For a 40-litre body, about 15 litres is extracellular, which amounts to 37.5%.
- Plasma (1/5 of extracellular fluid). Of this 15 litres of extracellular fluid, plasma volume averages 3 litres, or 20%.
- Interstitial fluid (4/5 of extracellular fluid)
- Transcellular fluid (a.k.a. “third space,” normally ignored in calculations) contained inside organs, such as the gastrointestinal, cerebrospinal, peritoneal, and ocular fluids.
The above experimentally obtained bits of information point to two facts. There is an average value for the water that is retained by the adult human body. The value is affected by several factors but is consistent with the understanding that most of the water and watery fluids that we drink gets out of our body with regular periodicity, if we are healthy.
Yogic practices of pranaayaama guarantee that the breathing of a practitioner is maintained optimally in healthy levels, so that adequate amount of oxygen is available in our blood, which circulates throughout our body. The importance of the cleaning up function of oxygen can never be overestimated.
Respiration is a metabolic process. The body does not store oxygen; its supply is constantly replenished through respiration. The more active body processes are, the more oxygen they require. A higher oxygen content enables the body’s cells and processes to perform at a higher rate. This means that the body’s capabilities increase when more oxygen is available.
Breathing clean air is key to reaching our full health potential but it’s not the only factor. Nutrition is very important. Unfortunately, there are conditions that can prevent a person from properly processing certain sugars, fats, proteins, or vitamins. This is often caused by an obstruction or blockage in the digestive tract. Cleansing is an effective way to overcome this trouble. Cleansing helps to remove toxins that can be picked up from impurities in the air, water, environment, or food. Oxygen can help our bodies cleanse themselves.
The human body has natural, built-in self-healing mechanisms and oxygen can help boost them. Oxygen has natural cleansing and health-supporting abilities. When harnessed, it helps remove impurities and blockages. Blockages are preventable both by having disciplined eating habits and by exercises which make a good supply of oxygen available to our body. Blockages need not be in digestive tracts alone. They can be in blood vessels and can hinder or depress the functions of our hearts and our brains. We can save ourselves from unwelcome heart attacks and strokes by having a proper regimen of food and exercise. The above thoughts on the usefulness of oxygen availability are expected to convey apart from their main message the significant other message that we have a process of breathing in and out which goes on continuously throughout our life time, guaranteeing that we do not ever have to store oxygen as such within our body. We see thus that our body acts to convey solid organic food matter and watery fluids available in nature, apart from the atmospheric air through itself. None of these, at least not more than small essential amounts of their components are retained by the body. The body is in fact a conduit for these materials very dearly needed by it to maintain itself. Whenever it tries to hoard substantial portions of these within itself, the body becomes sick.
We understand from the above that the body has food, water and air conduits, which are for the most part conveyors and not storage vessels. They have entrances, namely the mouth and the nostrils, but what gets in through these entrances does get modified when moving towards exit points, perceptibly in quality and to some extent in quantity. Indeed, for air, the nostrils themselves take turns to act both as entrance and exit! The purpose of the food, water and air cycles passing through the adult human body is manifold but does not include continuous increase of the weight of the body. If Bhartrhari were alive now, he would have been pleased to find that a healthy adult’s shareera (body) would, with its near-zero-sum management of food and water, indeed inspire her/him to have enlightened selfishness and even think of charity not unlike trees and rivers and cows! He would have been extremely disappointed to note however that healthy human beings have indeed become very rare. I hope my readers will agree with me that only healthy persons can feel happy about their disciplined uptakes and therefore be inclined to charity, namely Bhartrhari’s paropakara, whenever existence provides them with surpluses.
Given a body which he must care for, man learns to provide it with all the feed it requires, but his wisdom tells him that the provisions will have to be moderate and of the right kind at right intervals, so that his body stays healthy. This is like having the right equipment in good condition for fuel injection for your automobile and buying gasoline known to be in updated and right standard specification. I suggest that a proper lifestyle also allows the human mind to stay healthy. It ought to, as only a combination of a healthy body and a healthy mind would enable sensitivity to the needs of others.
To understand the philosophy of the right mix of enlightened selfishness and generosity, one can go back to Nature and look at the striking example provided by Bhartrhari, namely of plant-life. There is a difference between farmed plants and wild ones growing by themselves in Nature. The farmed plants, like farmed poultry and animals are slaves. They are totally the possession of the farmer. Let us ignore them and think of trees of the forest. Their independence allows them to make optimal use of Nature’s resources of rain water, sunshine, atmosphere and soil minerals. They bear blossoms and fruits and can afford losing leaves, twigs, flowers and fruits in substantial quantities regularly, a good part for use by other living beings. Some of the fruit have seeds in them, which sow themselves somewhere and grow into new trees. This is indeed an illustration of the right mix of charity and enlightened selfishness, both seeming natural and effortless.
The philosopher Ayn Rand, the author of bestsellers such as ‘Atlas Shrugged’, did not believe in altruism. She felt that the altruist saw too much merit in self-sacrifice in the process of helping others. This view gives a bad name even to what we referred to in the previous paragraph as enlightened selfishness. Rand considers selfishness to be morally right and would not even bother to use the adjective ‘enlightened’ to it. Her views in sum can be understood from this interview (https://atlassociety.org/commentary/commentary-blog/4141-virtue-of-selfishness). Western capitalism fully engaged and fascinated the mind of this brilliant thinker of Russian origin who migrated to the USA when she was 21. She was 77 when she passed away in 1982, by which time she had become quite convinced that self interest must come before any idea of doing good. People who would sacrifice themselves in the process of altruism, she pointed out, were doing neither themselves, nor anyone else any good.
If this powerful writer was fully right, what price is Bhartrhari’s subhaashitam on Paropakara? For the human body to be able to help others, it must not only survive but keep fit. Survival anyhow can be managed through selfishness, but survival as a fit human being requires wisdom in consumption of food. A sumo wrestler will not be a handy volunteer when an apartment is on fire. Similarly, unthinking capitalism which would benefit a few intelligent beings at the expense of many who get to be exploited by them is not good to communities. Greed, gluttony, miserliness and such other qualities which accumulate wealth in the hands of just a few, and do not make it available to others willing to work for it, even when they are in distress are diseases in the body of society. On the other hand, how can one provide for others if he does not have wealth?
Once again, a forest teaches us how. The roots of trees and their leaves are busy continuously making food for themselves so that the leaves themselves and other parts, especially fruits can serve as food for others. Storage or accumulation matches demand. Almost all living species in a rain forest continue to live and flourish in it. The rapid advancement of humanity in the past few centuries, however, which will gladden the hearts of Ayn Rands, has disinherited a large portion of humanity to a certain extent, while playing havoc with most other forms of life, destroying forests, spending the earth’s energy sources and other resources too fast and disturbing the predictability of climate in every part of the earth. The selfishness of the technology- and commerce-enabled mankind can certainly not be termed enlightened.
An important part of the human body, the human brain has been involved in enabling this chaotic development and will have to be employed also in solving the problems created. If our aliment, our blood stream and our breathing apparatus, all of which have storage facilities, function best when they store or hoard the least, thus teaching us some of Bhartrhari’s lessons on what to do about wealth, what about the function of the brain in assuring such discipline?
The brain is the command centre for the human nervous system. It receives signals from the body’s sensory organs and puts out information to the muscles. It is thus a simultaneous learner and coach. It communicates information from existence to all the centres of activity of the human body all the time and is capable as well of taking messages from any part of the body for suitable action. If a message such as the need for moderation is to be implemented, we should expect that to happen in two parts. These are the naturally evolved and the deliberately learned components. For instance, digesting whatever is put in the mouth and ingested into the aliment is natural. Putting the right amount of the right food at right intervals into the mouth and chewing it is deliberate. Interestingly the activities in both cases have to be at the command of the brain and supervised throughout by it, including giving alarm signals when any part of it does not agree with the minimal well-being of the body. We saw in the previous chapter that the brain of apes is larger in proportion to the whole body than for most mammals. When the human ancestor which was an ape evolved into man, a noticeable change was in the size of its skull, which almost tripled in size. It is certain that the proportion of the size of the brain to the whole body is much larger for the modern human being than for any other vertebrate on earth. This has been necessitated by the added responsibility on the brain when the synergy of its learning and its needs increasing in leaps and bounds called for more and more learning and its application.
A misconception that had been prevailing over the years and perhaps endorsed by Einstein too is still held by many. It is that human beings get to use a maximum of only ten percent of our brain capacity throughout our lives. This myth has been found to be untrue and one of the popular articles explaining why it got under way first and what is wrong with it is about ten years old. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-people-only-use-10-percent-of-their-brains/?redirect=1).
I want to read a special meaning into what has been happening to the brain of Homo Sapiens, since the human ancestor had descended for good from the trees and had shed its tail. Since information is weightless, the brain’s capacity to hold and store a sizeable amount of information for appropriate recall throughout the lifetime of the body does not physically burden it. This is indeed very satisfactory. We do not have to apply our moderation norms relating to quantity to this component of purushartha, namely information/knowledge. As our learning tends to affect who we are, we should, however, be choosy about what we learn. It is desirable that we do insist on a specification that the learning must benefit us and those with whom we interact and not do any harm. The brain neurons are communicators and storehouses simultaneously and it has been calculated that it is impossible to fill up even a fraction of all the memory spaces available in a human brain within the lifetime of the individual. Neurons storing different kinds of memories are present in different parts of the brain. Amy Reichelt in https://theconversation.com/were-capable-of-infinite-memory-but-where-in-the-brain-is-it-stored-and-what-parts-help-retrieve-it-63386
It is also known that there can be accommodation even of a differing kind of memory in any region, when the necessity arises. Glia which occupy larger space in brain matter protect the neurons and sometimes take up the work of the neurons. Through axons and dendrites, a very large number of connections are possible among the neurons simplifying and speeding communication. That this super communicating network has evolved specially for humanity where there is a profusion of sites available in the brain to avoid missing out action in any context is indeed awesome. It is wonderful again to ponder the coincidence of the fact that like food, water and air, information too is not originally present in our body. Our senses sense existence and the information they bring in becomes memories in our brain, which often processes them to get more information, making us richer in knowledge.
Amy Reichelt’s article ends with a paragraph on brain deterioration and talks about Alzheimer’s disease and related old age disorders, which as of now seem to be incurable and which damage brain functions badly. These become difficult to manage only in highly advanced stages for caretakers, but it is the duty of the latter who are being served very ably by their brains to look after the less fortunate aged persons with caring.
We need to try and deserve this tremendous help from existence and not squander it. We should learn and practise self-discipline and stop wasting the resources of the world which belong to all living beings on it and have belonged to many of them far longer than for us, who are yesterday’s children. We should continue to pursue our studies of sciences and of Nature, always respecting the need to avoid affecting our environment, as we pursue our studies and the processes and products that result from them, to help us develop greater love of truth and nature and not to choke ourselves and all other life out of this planet. A shining example from a small village can inspire us. The experience of Shri Paliwal of Piplantri village, its former Sarpanch, who immortalized the memory of his daughter who died young, by teaching his fellow villages to plant a symbolic 111 trees every time a female child was born in the village. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piplantri
In the past decade, the village has become a beautiful oasis where the lives of all are being transformed for the better.
More posts by this author:
- The sequential appearance of the five koshas
- Just wishing
- Thought as therapy
- Just believe. Chapter 4
- Just Believe: Foreword and Chapter 1
After R & D and technical management experience of over three decades in petroleum and organic chemical industry, have been devoting the past fifteen years to the study of Tamil and Sanskrit classics, including dharmic works and doing some serious translation work. Have been a significant contributor to the medha journal almost since its inception upto 2013 and expect to continue my association with it.