Javed Akhtar – Muslim, Atheist, Rationalist, Writer, Brain and Mind Scientist – discusses Mind and Spirituality with Sadhguru

Javed Akhtar – Muslim, Atheist, Rationalist, Writer, Brain and Mind Scientist – discusses Mind and Spirituality with Sadhguru

We had covered Javed Akhtar’s earlier rendezvous with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (Intellectual Nonsense, Javed Akhtar and the India Today conclave), and how – ideologically inclined as Akhtar was, he just seemed to be arguing on things that (1) Sadhguru didn’t say and (2) Kept denying.  Just as in that interaction, the public, the anchor – Akhtar and the Harvard professor seemed to be going on their own tangent without any intelligent discussion keeping the topic on hand; the same happened here as well.  But here, Akhtar, the fiction writer and poet stumbled into a territory that he is not totally capable of credibly handling.  Let us watch the video and then we will discuss the absurdities of Akhtar’s verbal “brilliance”.

Now, if one was to sum up the two streams of arguments – of Sadhguru and Javed Akhtar they would be:


  1. Any human being at the most foundational level comprises of the Body, Mind (specifically intellect shaped by experiences gained from five senses), Emotions and Life Energies.  That is what we have in our experience.
  2. There is a dimension of experience, which is beyond physical – body and mind – where the experience of life enhances beyond the normal limitations.  Something in every human is inherently yearning for that.  Greed is a manifestation of that.
  3. Spirituality is NOT the same as Religion.  Religion is a Belief system, Spirituality is experiential.
  4. In Spirituality there is ONLY Seeking.  No Believing.  That is why, Spirituality can never be at loggerheads with Science.  For, both – Spiritualist and Scientist seeks.
  5. There is a limitation to the Five senses.  You can never be sure of what you can gather from the five senses.  Mind is but an accumulation of the impressions that one gathers from these five senses.

Javed Akhtar

  1. Mind is all there is to “Me”.  “Without my mind I am nothing”.  In fact, the difference between Javed Akhtar (he emphasized “Me”) and Cockroach is only Mind!
  2. Apart from the Five senses, there is nothing else that can record anything that one experiences.  So, if anyone tells you that there is something “other” than the five senses, he is fooling you.
  3. He emphasized that he is a rationalist and has no place for religion or belief, and would rather use common sense for living.  In common parlance, he is an atheist and a rationalist, at least as much rational as he thinks he is.
  4. Somehow, Akhtar kept using the concepts of Religion and Spirituality, interchangeably, although he did call “Spirituality as the debris of Religion”.

With the basic arguments laid out, and the video for the most detailed view of discussion, let us delve into the arguments and their veracity.  But before we do that, one must say that the anchor was remarkably prone to theatrics and taking cues from Akhtar.  In the end, despite Sadhguru’s protest, she somehow kept up with her absurd segregation of “Man of Faith” vs “Man of Reason”.  Former being for Sadhguru and latter for Javed Akhtar.  But from where I was looking at this discussion, it looked the exact reverse!!  In the end, you will see why.

PS: Javed Akhtar, btw, apart from his writing work, is also the President of an organization called “Muslims for Secular Democracy” – a body which expressly is for representing the viewpoint of Muslims and threat from “ideological Hindus”.  So, one is fairly confused at his claims of being an atheist and tom-toming his “rationalist/non-religious” credentials.  Just saying.  Anyhow, whatever it takes for someone to feel good about himself, his ideological greatness and intellectual prowess.  It isn’t nice to rudely puncture the made-up world of a rationalist, is it?  So let the readers make their own judgment.

Keeping ’em Honest
“For if we truly believe, when the day is done, that our mind and all that term entails – the choices we make, the reactions we have, the emotions we feel – are nothing but the expression of a machine governed by the rules of classical physics and chemistry, and that our behavior follows ineluctably from the workings of our neurons, then we’re forced to conclude that the subjective sense of freedom is a “user illusion”. (Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD in “The Mind & The Brain”.  Author is a research professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine)

Anyone who has seen your “Mind”, please raise your hand.  Or anyone else’s Mind?  Anyone?

I mean, after all, this intellectual and theatrical dude, Akhtar seems to suggest that he is nothing except his mind, AND that he is a rationalist, I am sure he and the band of his fans who broke into laughter at every quip – intelligent or otherwise – would have met this thing called Mind.

Any doctors amongst the readers who have dissected the human body and come across this organ or thing called Mind??

Well, let us face it, Mind is a colloquial term.  NOT a REAL thing.  You could have called it Cockroach, and still got away with it.  Since this Mind-dude ain’t gonna come to bite your ass off for calling him names.  He doesn’t exist!  Just like Santa.

So, Javed-ji, your existence is predicated on something that is as real as Santa.  Wonder where I have seen such people who make up their entire existence on ideas that aren’t even real?  Asylum?  Hmmmm…

Mind, colloquially, is the sum total of all your experiences INCLUDING your emotions, feelings and reactions.  But the basis of this thing called Mind, is PREDICATED on Memory.  No Memory, No Mind.  You take Memory out of a person, and ability to experience pain, and no mind is there to express itself.

And that brings me to a hypothetical situation to fully understand the import of “I am Mind and without my Mind, I am nothing” assertion of Javed Akhtar.

Let us suppose – not that I want and Rational-forbid (Akhtar is a atheist, remember?) – Farhan Akhtar, Javed’s son, is going in a car at a fast speed.  He takes a turn, and despite his best effort he smashes his car into oncoming vehicle.  Gets a head injury.  Has to be operated and loses the parts of the brain which store memory and feelings – pain, taste etc.  Poor fella.  Sorry to pick on him, but that’s essential to our understanding so he will have to go through this in our story.

He has no expression of pain or senses to taste or even remember.  In short, no mind.  And no working senses.  So accumulation of experiences – Minimal.

Since, just as Senior Akhtar, the Junior Akhtar is also “nothing except his Mind”; and his Mind is no more; can Javed Akhtar then do the Rationalist job of throwing out his body in the street?  I mean he is NOT Farhan, his son anymore.  He is just bones, flesh etc.  He could be any beggar on the street.  Farhan was the Mind, remember?  And that “Mind” just got extinguished.  So out with the dirt, Senior Akhtar?

Sounds harsh and heartless huh?  Well, it is intentional.  Or you wouldn’t get the UTTER ABSURDITY of Javed Akhtar’s “Mind Claim”!

Why Javed Akhtar IS like Cockroach!

The reason why Javed Akhtar differentiated himself from Cockroach based on his superior possession of Mind is because Akhtar has never tried to catch a Cockroach.  Any of us who have done that KNOW that Cockroach runs away from you when you try and catch it.  Even when you do NOT announce in 20 different languages that you are going to catch and/or kill it.  IT BLOODY KNOWS!  And not only does the Cockroach UNDERSTAND that you are going to kill it, it MAKES A DECISION to FLY AWAY from you and get out of harm’s way!  It doesn’t apparently need poetic announcements to warn him.  That’s better than most humans including Javed Akhtar, who DESPITE the label “Smoking is Injurious to Health” SMOKES or SMOKED!

At the very least, give the Cockroach credit for possessing a more evolved Mind and Brain than one who is WARNED of danger (Smokers, alcoholics) and still cannot run away!

So, Cockroach HAS a Mind.  He can understand danger.  REMEMBERS what things cause danger and can MAKE a decision on what to do when faced with such situations!

Is Brain all to Memory and Experience?

As per a Gallup Poll, 8 million Americans have had Near Death Experiences (NDEs) [ Mauro, James “Bright lights, big mystery”.Psychology Today, July 1992.]  So, worldwide, the NDE and the related experiences are widespread (in millions) and have been studied by many medical and science practitioners every year.

The NDEs of most the people have a lot in common, and the way they change after their experiences is remarkable.  But we aren’t interested in that.  We are especially interested in a unique phenomenon called “Out of Body Experience” (OBE), where a person, whose body is dead and Brain has ceased to work, remembers not only SEEING what happened in the Operation Room (sight), but also HEARD what people said (Sound).  This all happened when the person’s eyes and ears were specifically made dysfunctional.

In 1991, for example, there was a case of Pam Reynolds, where she was brought to the operation because of a giant artery aneurysm in her brain.  Neurosurgeon Robert Spetzler at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona attended to her.  He was a specialist and pioneer in hypothermic cardiac arrest—a daring surgical procedure nicknamed “Operation Standstill.”

Basically, her body temperature was to be lowered to a level where her brain and heart would stop functioning and then after surgery, she would be brought back to life.  Prior to the surgery, she was prepared for it thus:

Pam was brought into the operating room at 7:15 a.m., she was given general anesthesia, and she quickly lost conscious awareness. At this point, Spetzler and his team of more than 20 physicians, nurses, and technicians went to work. They lubricated Pam’s eyes to prevent drying, and taped them shut. They attached EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of her cerebral cortex. They inserted small, molded speakers into her ears and secured them with gauze and tape. The speakers would emit repeated 100-decibel clicks—approximately the noise produced by a speeding express train—eliminating outside sounds and measuring the activity of her brainstem.

Eyes and Ears were TAPED shut!

But what she told them about what she KNEW of what happened during the surgery is mind-boggling:

Although she no longer had use of her eyes and ears, she described her observations in terms of her senses and perceptions. “I thought the way they had my head shaved was very peculiar,” she said. “I expected them to take all of the hair, but they did not.” She also described the Midas Rex bone saw (“The saw thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric toothbrush and it had a dent in it … ”) and the dental-drill sound it made with considerable accuracy.
Meanwhile, Spetzler was removing the outermost membrane of Pamela’s brain, cutting it open with scissors. At about the same time, a female cardiac surgeon was attempting to locate the femoral artery in Pam’s right groin. Remarkably, Pam later claimed to remember a female voice saying, “We have a problem. Her arteries are too small.” And then a male voice: “Try the other side.” Medical records confirm this conversation, yet Pam could not have heard them.

Why is it mind-boggling?  Not just because her eyes and ears were taped but because she was CLINICALLY DEAD!  More importantly, Brain was SHUT!

Pam’s blood vessels were indeed too small to accept the abundant blood flow requested by the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, so at 10:50 a.m., a tube was inserted into Pam’s left femoral artery and connected to the cardiopulmonary bypass machine. The warm blood circulated from the artery into the cylinders of the bypass machine, where it was cooled down before being returned to her body. Her body temperature began to fall, and at 11:05 a.m. Pam’s heart stopped. Her EEG brain waves flattened into total silence. A few minutes later, her brain stem became totally unresponsive, and her body temperature fell to a sepulchral 60 degrees Fahrenheit. At 11:25 a.m., the team tilted up the head of the operating table, turned off the bypass machine, and drained the blood from her body. Pamela Reynolds was clinically dead.

So, this case – and it is one of the best recorded case in history – opens up an important set of questions and areas of inquiry that cannot be satisfied with existing remarkably creative, yet inadequate theories.  The article* sums it up in the best way possible.

The scientific NDE studies performed over the past decades indicate that heightened mental functions can be experienced independently of the body at a time when brain activity is greatly impaired or seemingly absent (such as during cardiac arrest). Some of these studies demonstrate that blind people can have veridical perceptions during OBEs associated with an NDE. Other investigations show that NDEs often result in deep psychological and spiritual changes.
These findings strongly challenge the mainstream neuroscientific view that mind and consciousness result solely from brain activity. As we have seen, such a view fails to account for how NDErs can experience—while their hearts are stopped—vivid and complex thoughts and acquire veridical information about objects or events remote from their bodies.
NDE studies also suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality that normally is not accessible to our senses and awareness.
(Article is excerpted from the book “The Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our Lives by Mario Beauregard, who is an associate research professor at the Departments of Psychology and Radiology and the Neuroscience Research Center at the University of Montreal)

The last line is PRECISELY what Sadhguru was suggesting all along his discussion, which Javed Akhtar was either not listening or too busy creating his next quip to the “Mindless” cheerleaders of his in the audience.

The main issue that the NDEs open up is that the Brain and the other mechanism that the Body has ARE NOT the only tools to EXPERIENCE life.  Life was experienced by Pam in absence of these as well.  In fact, the experience of Life is HEIGHTENED!

Physicality – body and mind (sum total of all the experiences recorded from five senses) – are a limitation.  Outside of these, as one goes BEYOND these limitations, life experienced is remarkably amazing!  More importantly, Memory is recorded NOT just by Brain.  Like in this case study – and many others -of NDE, it has been seen that memory of the activities was vivid with the person who underwent NDE, even though the Brain wasn’t functioning anymore.

Btw, some of the most consistently common experiences and “take-aways” by those who experience the NDE are:

  • An intense feeling of unconditional love
  • A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world
  • Transcendence of egotic and spatiotemporal boundaries, being one with the Universe and the Light.

If anyone has ever attended Sadhguru’s programs – and I have – then one comes away with some or all of these feelings; albeit not as heightened as the NDE.  Sadhguru cannot seem to stress enough about the primacy of blissfulness and ecstasy as being central to the Spiritual Journey.  Not just he, but every Spiritual Guru and Master has said that.

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