NSA Manual for Budding Spies Quotes Greek Mythology

The NSA, a key component of America’s Intelligence Community, released a manual for budding spies titled, ‘Untangling the Web‘. Warning, it is a large pdf file. Given the sensational headline on Wired, I took a peek inside. Many points stood out, let me list a few for you.

Libraries in Persia

Love of learning in Persia

The opening passage of the Preface starts by illustrating love of learning in Persia. What struck me was the stark contrast of how Persia was then and how it is perceived now.

Sisyphean Fate of Spies and Information Seekers

Sisyphean Labors - 1

Sisyphean Labors - 2

This section captures the futility of trying to grasp the Internet. And what better way than to highlight the parallels with Sisyphus. This feeling of hopelessness should be familiar to anyone trying to gather any insight from unstructured data!

Minotaur in the Labyrinth

Minotaur in the Labyrinth

Love this parallel about being lost in the Labyrinth and role played by the Minotaur. And guess the irony, NSA might be the Minotaur, capturing every unwary piece of information that flows through the labyrinth!

Every Angle of the Universe

Every Angle of the Universe

To bring Borges and Boswell in the span of a single paragraph about the Internet does count for something in my view. I had never heard about Aleph but that  idea of “Aleph..little more than an inch..which nonetheless contains all space, actual and undiminished..in which one can see every angle of the universe” is profoundly beautiful.

Not sure if anyone other than Borges could have thought it up. Of course there are parallels with the Upanishadic idea of “Purusha, lodged in the heart and no larger than a thumb“. Purusha in this case is the Highest Consciousness, or the Brahman, in whom is contained All Time & Space and yet exceeds everything.

After this I was half-expecting references to the Library of Babel but unfortunately I did not find any. Neither could I search through the pdf because the whole document is made of images. So much for data transparency from the NSA, they basically gave a document that is not a document.

I have not read the entire document yet but found the preface and initial sections with references to Greek Mythology, Persia’s love of learning, Borges and Boswell strangely beautiful. Another example of beautiful minds serving fuzzy purposes.

The Mystique of the Curse in Hinduism

Durvasa flees, his curse backfires

A curse is hard to escape. Within the tomes of Hindu mythology and its epics, the occurrence of a curse is a frequent certainty. Most ancient civilizations, ancient Greek, Biblical, Egyptian etc., had curse practitioners.

The practitioners were almost always someone wronged. Someone whom the laws of Dharma were to protect but failed to. Instances of cursers include chaste women, short-tempered Rishis and incarnate manifestations of the Divine. The curse was the last resort of the weak and the oppressed. The final card that would play out in time.

The recipient of the curse were just about anybody. Gods yielded in silent submission to law greater than their omnipotence, for they too were subject to the causal laws. Cities were subject to it. Kings. Gods. Nothing was spared.

Framework of Laws

The Hindu conception of laws of life had many layers to it. The individual was said to be governed by the law of Karma, cause and effect to be worked out within this framework of life. The notion of Dharma, or the principle of righteousness, provided for laws the individual and the larger collective had to adhere to. Kaala, or Time, was also seen as a law that governed the lives of men. Above all this, as an inscrutable element, was the notion of Lila, or Divine Play, something mounted for the purpose of the immanent Divine to realize and savor within the scope of Time.

Time-bound Laws Were Mutable

Each of these co-existed, overlapped and even cross wired many a time. Everything was subject to ignorance and error. Even Kaala, or Time, could err. Ensuring the short-term survival of the wicked and the tyrant. But Lila stood far above as the chief arbiter who could correct every wrong. What a short-sighted God yielded as a boon to the Rakshasa would be overcome and negated by the Avatar who would come later.

Idea of Lila, or Divine Play

Lila was above the idea of Karma, or Dharma, or even Kaala. Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata exemplified this idea of Lila. Superficial notions of individual and time based morality were shattered for the wider perception of Dharma. Time bound ideas of Dharma were exceeded in the expression of the supreme Lila.

But the Lila and the certainty of it was only given to the Avatar. Not for common mortals or the lesser gods. Here is where the curse comes handy. How do you compel an unyielding Time or the Supreme Divine to hear your case? When all else fails you curse.

Qualities for a Curser

The curse required some basic qualities if it had to be effective. If you were a Rishi you had to acquire Tapas, the spiritual strength that is born of introspection. A woman had to be chaste – chastity was seen as a shield that even the Gods would fail to conquer. A householder and commoner had to adhere to his Svadharma, the law of his personal evolution. Each of these would ensure there was enough charge for the Curse to work.

Deflection of a Curse

The nullification of curse was almost never managed head on. It always had to be deflected, a workaround had to be sought. This required the knowledge of someone who exceeded the spiritual stature of the curser. If it was a someone who had acquired some spiritual merit then a Rishi could figure out the workaround. If it was a Rishi who cursed then you had to head to a Godhead to redeem yourself. But the key aspect was this – An incarnate Godhead never cursed, never ever cursed. In fact he took on any curse with equanimity, it was the price he would pay..even with his life if need be in sticking to the laws of Time.

And overarching all this was the idea of the Lila, the Divine Play of existence.


The curse was an instrument of action. It was intent vocalized towards a specific result. The target could be anything as long as the practitioner had the spiritual merit. Laws of existence could be superseded by curses. 

What is next?

There is much more to explore on this particular topic especially in comparison to how a curse was perceived in other ancient civilizations and specific instances of how the curse is not what it seems on the surface within Hindu mythology.

Appreciate any feedback, even a curse, for putting you through this! 🙂

5 Indispensable Books to Guide Your Soul

This is for each of you who have aspired to a higher state within.

Sometimes one hits a wall. A wall of obstruction that prevents us from making progress. These states come out as an unease, a state of disquiet, a sense of being alienated from the world and its events.

However this state of unease is not a conducive condition for any sort of contemplation. Sri Aurobindo talks about ‘uthsaaha’, the Sanskrit word for enthusiasm, as a necessary condition for all yogic endeavors.

But enthusiasm and hope are not the easiest of qualities to gain when one is beset by travails within and without.

Sometimes, just sometimes, there are intimations..like postcards from eternity. They arrive without warning. The discerning mind of the aspirant latches onto them.

Every time I have lost my grip, and was to slip into the abyss, a life-line has been thrown to me, often in the form of a book. Today I shall share details of 5 of these books. My review shall be brief, for the essence has seeped deep within me and the specifics of time, place and plot have given way to reveal the story of every aspiration and mine.

The Sannyasin

Satprem A partly autobiographical work of Satprem, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, it speaks of the chief protagonist Nil’s attempts to storm the gates of Heaven. And how in the process this pleasant green earth eludes him. The impossible intensity with which Nil feels the burning question, all point to an experience lived and savored, not merely thought out in the mind and cast on paper.


41RV449YN2L._SL160_ Contrary to what I expected this is not the story of the one called the Buddha. Rather its the story of character called Siddhartha who lived during Buddha’s times. He too wishes to reach the source and find answers. But unlike the Buddha, this Siddhartha’s methods and means are more commonplace, which makes this book resonate more deeply with our own quest.




51T6Q1WDFYL._SL160_ The story and myths of the Indian pantheon. A god of birds in search of ransom that would redeem his mother, the king of gods who often falls prey to lust, a Rishi who whispers the highest secret to his wife with the lower gods straining to catch the cadence of it – words hardly do justice here. The author displays a very rare understanding of the symbolic and metaphorical nature of the Hindu psyche. Forget the Ganges, take a dip in this book, and the gods might just notice you.


Last Temptation of Christ

51585A01V6L._SL160_ The Christian institution I studied in attempted numerous times to ‘save’ my soul. None of these evangelical methods worked of course. The super-son or the super-lamb portrayals popular with the common mass and the official system, or the sanitized and simplified biblical version might suit the evangelistic purposes of the establishment but means very little to the true seeker. Read it to understand the very real torments even of the chosen ones. Also know what it is to suffer, that wounds of the flesh are mere trifles before the anguish of eternal separation from the Highest Divine. This book has single handedly birthed in me a profound devotion for Christ.

Essays on the Gita

41mXMgHhZdL._SL160_ There is a scene in the assault on Minas Tirith in LOTR with Pippin and Gandalf. Pippin wonders aloud, “I didn’t think it would end this way”, to which Gandalf replies, “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… And then you see it.”. The setting is critical. Right in the thick of the battlefield, Gandalf chooses to comfort the hobbit with a truth that is universal. Such is the setting of the Gita. In response to Arjuna’s shirking from the great battle of Mahabharata, Sri Krishna, the incarnate Godhead, sings of the eternal nature of the soul and the imperative to follow ones duty, however bitter the act and the outcome. One can almost hear in the intimacy of the inner ear Sri Krishna himself. This more than any other version of the Gita seems to channel the Higher Word without the interpreting agency of the human element.

Of course this is a just a quick list. The number of books that I have sought solace from are many. Based on time and your interest, I shall share more.

How a Breakup Reinvented the Ramayana

Sita Agni

Myths are archetypes. They seem to hold in them the universal story that encompasses the essence of all that we are.

The test of a living myth is if it provides vivifying waters to the parched mode of individual existence. If it does not connect at the level of the individual psyche and alter the balance within, then it reduces to being a mere story.

Perhaps Joseph Campbell, in the Power of Myth, puts it best when he says-

“The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stands this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”

Roger Ebert on his blog, speaks about a new rendering of the Ramayana.[Note the entry appeared on my Google Reader, for some reason the link on the header seems to be broken and does not land at the blog itself. Pick it from my shared posts here.]

The common place is often only a perception away from being a profound story of mankind.

A break-up, common in these harrowing times, of Nina Paley, leads her to plunge into the Ramayana. Sri Rama’s treatment of Sita, causing her to commit sati and be re-born, finds a modern echo within Nina. Instead of drowning in the fires of despondency, Nina forges the Ramayana brand new.

A break-up instead of becoming a statistic and a lasting wound, ends up being a catalyst of life-affirming creativity through myth.

I have seen a few stills from another review here and they seem to be amazing.

Not sure what options exist in India to catch this one. Please drop a comment if you have a means to see this movie in Bangalore.

Those Damned Greeks, Always Get it Right


In conceiving of Medusa as woman, with snakes for hair, the Greeks got it so right!

But thinking about it, the Greeks did not get science right, so no basis to say that they got everything right always.

Step back for a moment and notice that portrayal of anything in art has a deeper resonance to the truth of things than any scientific representation.

Perhaps it is the perceiving of the subject in the mind’s eye, the deep contemplation in utter solitude within..all seem to guide the artist’s hand with an unerring accuracy.

Now back to my main point for this post. Medusa is a woman. Enough said.

[Note: Take this sentiment with a pinch of salt. As my friends and colleagues would easily confirm..I adore women..sometimes their version of rationality conflicts a little with mine, that is all!]