Monday, December 14, 2009

Marathi manoos who went to Telangana

Today, when the fire rages in Telangana and a debate on a Marathi Manoos rages on in Maharashtra, perhaps we need to remember and pay a tribute to people like Vinoba Bhave, who had seen the anguish of the Telanganites much earlier and yes incidentally happened to be a Maharashtrian.

In 1973, When Acharya Vinoba Bhave decided to see how he could help the landless people in India, he went to one of the most poverty striken areas, Telengana.

Setting himself up in the courtyard of a prayer compound, he was soon receiving visitors from the entire village. The landless people told Vinoba they had no choice but to support the people fighting for land, because they had no land. They asked him if he could ask the government give them land so they could grow the crops.
Vinoba replied, “What use is government help until we can help ourselves?”
Late that afternoon, by a lake next to the village, Vinoba held another prayer meeting that drew thousands of villagers from the surrounding area. Without really expecting a response, he said, “Brothers, is there anyone among you who can help your landless friends?”

The people were all silent, but they did realize Vinoba had no selfish interest, only their own interest at heart. “Why else would he coming walking all the way?” they thought.

Slowly, a prominent farmer of the village stood up. “Sir, I am ready to give one hundred acres.”
Vinoba could not believe his ears.

A farmer willing to part with 100 acres out of simple generosity. And Vinoba was just as astounded when the landless people declared that they needed only 80 acres and wouldn’t accept more!

Vinoba suddenly saw a solution. .

So began the movement called Bhoodan—“land-gift.” Over the next seven weeks, Vinoba asked for donations of land for the landless in 200 villages. “We do not aim at doing mere acts of kindness, but at creating a Kingdom of Kindness,” Vinoba Bhave used to say.

Yes, Bhoodan did not succeed as much as Vinoba wished, but surely, a remarkable way of solving problems through simple kindness had been shown..

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Buddha explains the law of karma

Prince Siddhartha was born in a royal family but gave it all up in his quest for a right path. After many years of penance, he became the enlightened one or the "Buddha" and brought forth some tenets which are extremely valuable. Still, I did have a few questions which I wished to clarify.

Lord Buddha, I have deep respect for you and your teachings. I would like to clarify some issues. Could you answer my queries?

Of course.

I know you do not believe in an external God and have advised against idol worship but sometimes people do use idols, especially to concentrate and meditate. Many even use your idols. What would you say to this ?

See, I have only shared my own experience, which is focusing inward. Do use what suits you but try to live in accordance with the principles of
1. Right Understanding
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

Desire may be the root cause of most suffering, but desire for positive change has brought in a lot of good, too. Is it then wrong to desire?

It is only detached action that can serve you and the world. As the outcome is not entirely in your hand, it is best to work with that in mind. I realized through my own experience and hence, advise you to try this approach.

Buddhism prohibits killing and yet, some Buddhists do eat meat. Isn’t this a contradiction?

I made a clear distinction between killing an animal and consumption of meat. See, the monks in ancient India were expected to receive all of their food by begging and so, had little or no control over their diet.

Now also, depending on your environment, you may or may not consume meat. That is entirely your choice.

Do remember that it is immoral conduct that makes one impure, not the food one eats.

You have advocated the principle of karma, yet good people also do suffer sometimes. How should one’s response be in this case?

Some actions bring instant retribution while the results of other actions may not appear until a future lifetime.

Still, this should not be used as an excuse to treat the people of poor karma poorly; indeed, all should help them and help to alleviate their suffering. Do remember you too may have been where they are right now.

Further, redemption is always available to all, no matter how heinous the crime as can be seen in my experience with Angulimala

I have found that this is the best way of applying the understanding the dynamics of karma.

As I bow and take leave of the Buddha with an improved understanding, I hope to apply the principles of karma better and wish others also do the same.

Zarathrustra tells me about the choices we have

Living in ancient Persia, now Iran, Zarathustra put forth for the first time the idea of monotheism, that is one God, rather than many gods (polytheism) of his tribal religion and other religions of those days. He addressed this one God as Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord.

With great vision and creative genius, Zarathustra explained the principles of good and evil, of light and darkness as the basis for the human struggle with life.
The principles he espoused are wonderfully simple and clear. Still, there are issues which Parsis or Zorastrians seem to be struggling with.. Hence, I felt I should speak to him about them.

Salulations, Prophet. There are a few questions I would like to ask you. May I?

Of course.

What are the basic principles of Zorastrianism?

God, or Ahura Mazda, is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything which can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In practice, every one is free to choose between good and bad. However, only those who choose the good will achieve happiness and peace.

Do you think one should not get converted? Couldn’t these principles be adopted by all?

The principles could be applied by all but they need not convert to Zorastrianism. If they understand and apply the true tenets of their own faith, and also read and imbibe from other traditions, that would be fine. It is, after all, the practice that is often flawed.

Today, in order to be a Zoroastrian, one must be born of two Zoroastrian parents. One is not enough. No children of mixed marriages are officially Zoroastrian. How then would these children fit it in any faith?

The children are entirely free to choose one faith or the other. The practice is what is more important and I do hope they adopt the right ones.

As I thank and take leave of the Prophet, I realize how simple and yet profound his principles were and still are and do hope more and more people realize this completely in the true sense.

Abraham tells me who the chosen ones are...

Abraham was a man who was tested severely by God many times and is revered by the Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. I do have some queries on some aspects of the faith, though, so I approach him to clarify the same.

Dear Father Abraham. I have heard much of you and would be honoured if you could clarify some doubts for me.

Yes, of course. Go ahead.

You have been tested several times in your life.
What was it that made you never falter?

I always believed in a greater power and I would implore you to do the same.

It is said the Jews are a chosen people. What makes them the chosen ones

The Chosen People is a metaphor for the choices we make in our lives. All Jews are Jews-by-Choice in that every person must make a decision, at some point in their lives, whether or not they want to live Jewishly or as per correct principles.

All are God’s children. Still, human beings are more empowered and therefore, are more fortunate, if only they make right use of this power.

In this way Jews are called to be a “light to the nations” by doing good in the world through gemilut hasidim (acts of loving kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world).

Who are the messiahs?

There is no single messiah. They come at various times in various places of God and spirituality.

This is happening all the time.


Will this suffice to overcome the world’s suffering?

Ultimately, it will. However, the ending of all evil could take some time. Besides, the process of good and evil permeating the world is cyclic. Still, goodness alone will ultimately triumph.

The answers seems resonating perfectly with the the theory of Karma. Whether one believes in rebirth or a heaven and hell we would go to later, isn’t goodness alone that we would carry with us ? Isn’t that what all religions teach us?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The true message of Christianity

Jesus of Nazareth's life and message has inspired many, all through the ages. He welcomed and embraced the sinners, the despised and the harlots and gave them solace and peace. To Jesus, God was a loving Father. Jesus' mantra was love for God and one's fellowmen. There is so much to learn from him and yet, he is misrepresented at times. I felt I must meet him and clarify the doubts I have

My dear Lord Jesus, so many people have been inspired by you, still there are some doubts that persist. The areas which do not somehow seem to be in synergy with your teaching. Could you clarify these doubts for me?

Of course. Go ahead and ask me the queries you have.

It is a fact that different people pray to a different God. Some do not even believe in an external God but believe in God being a presence within us. In this scenario, what is the criterion for deciding who is a true ‘Christian’ is? One who believes in the principles you spoke on or one who uses the name “Jesus” instead of say, Allah or Ram?

Evidently, the latter. It is the principle which matters not the names used. This one principle has caused tremendous conflict and I really would like to implore people to stop promoting Christianity as the sole way to reach higher levels of consciousness.

Is idol worship to be avoided?

See, the important thing is remembering the presence of God everywhere. If idols help you concentrate on this divinity, use them as a channel. But do remember it is only a channel and remember to perceive the divinity one can perceive in the world.

In the Christian tradition, a lot of people are quite scared of ‘Satan’ What is this force?

As you probably know, my sermon on the mount clearly stated that God is within each of us. Similarly, Satan or negative forces too are within us. These vices are the ones we need to combat. Ego, jealousy, anger, violence – these are mini Satans among many people. The path to totally rise above them may be ardous, but the results are wonderful.

You sacrificed your life on the cross to save the sins of the world and asked for the
forgiveness of the tormentors. This sort of attitude is sometimes too difficult to cultivate. Is this really possible for ordinary people?

If you are in touch with love, you will realize that holding grudges can only make your path difficult. In my case, I did not want even those moments of torture to take me away from love. Remember this all through your life.

How do we get in touch with the God within us?

One’s life needs to be directed by the spiritual element which is its basis, which manifests itself as love, and which is extremely natural to man.

Unfortunately, this simple truth has often be misrepresented by many and a lack of complete clarity has occurred everywhere in all faiths.

Discard this misrepresentation and understand the true principles of spirituality from all faiths and wisdom traditions.

Which are the sayings you admire apart from the Bible.

See, wisdom is present all over the world. Some beautiful sayings found in other traditions, say the truth which I have ttried to convey in my own life.

For instance, the Thirrukural in Tamil says -

The aim of the sinless One consists in acting without causing sorrow to others, although he could have attained great power by ignoring their feelings.

The aim of the sinless One lies in not doing evil unto those who have done evil unto him.

If a man causes suffering even to those who hate him without any reason, he will ultimately have grief not to be overcome.

The punishment of evil doers consists in making them feel ashamed of themselves by doing them a great kindness.

Of what use is superior knowledge in one who does not endeavour to relieve his neighbour's want as much as his own?

If, in the morning, a man wishes to do evil unto another, in the evening the evil will return to him.

My what clarity and completeness of Christ's true message. I sincerely hope this message permeates to all Christ would have liked it to.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mahavira's wisdom of anekanta

Lord Mahavir was the twenty fourth and the last Tirthankara of the Jain religion. He became a Siddha, living for ever in a state of complete bliss. I felt I should speak to him to clarify some doubts I have today.

Lord Mahavira, Your journey and experience are just amazing. I have some queries which I would like you to clarify. Could you answer them ?

Of course

Is it possible for people now to aim at enlightenment ?

Yes, of course. All Tirthankaras were born as human beings but they have attained a state of perfection or enlightenment through meditation and self realization.
This can be aimed for by anyone, anytime

The ultimate objective is to attain the total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve the permanent blissful state of one's self. This is nirvana

What is the way to do this?

The first step is to recognize that it is necessary to destroy his inner enemies like anger, greed, passion, ego and so on
As human beings, we keep going in and out of these traps, and one must remain guarded.

What is the stumbling block that one may face?

From eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms, that are accumulated by its own good or bad deeds. Under the influence of karma, the soul is habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and possessions.
Karma goes beyond sinple cause and effect of action. Even one’s thoughts do accumulate karma.

Self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and such negativities too need to be discarded.

I can only stress upon avoiding all situations and actions which may lead to violence.

Today, I would like to also stress intolerance too is a kind of himsic (violent) thought.

Here, I quote Acharya Kundkund who rightly stated “I am presenting a comprehensive knowledge of soul as differentiated from external objects based on my understanding and experience. Accept it if (in your estimation) it satisfies the condition of authenticity (PRAMAAN). But if I fail in my description, reject it.”

Such humility is what one needs to emulate.

Further, anekantavada, a principle I have spoken about also points out to diverse points of view being acceptable.

What is anekantavada?

Anekāntavāda refers to the principles of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth.
This is to contrast attempts to proclaim absolute truth with adhgajanyāyah, In the story of the blind men and the elephant, each blind man felt a different part of an elephant (trunk, leg, ear, etc.). All the men claimed to understand and explain the true appearance of the elephant, but could only partly succeed, due to their limited perspectives. Since we cannot comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; no single, specific, human view can claim to represent absolute truth.

In practice, Anekāntavāda encourages its adherents to consider the views and beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties. Proponents of anekāntavāda apply this principle to religion and philosophy, reminding themselves that any religion or philosophy—even Jainism—which clings too dogmatically to its own tenets, is committing an error based on its limited point of view.

The principle of anekāntavāda actually influenced Gandhiji to adopt principles of religious tolerance, ahimsa and satyagraha. Even here, he was not dogmatic about vegetarianism, for instance, but only shared his own experience.The key is not to sit on a seat of judgement.

Can karma also be used in a negative manner? For instance, some people do not really get moved by the suffering of others, stating past karma as the cause.

Yes, of course. Unfortunately, sometimes people do not understand karma as dynamic.
We must remember that just as ego is thought, so is pride, self righteousness and intolerance.

As I thank and take leave of Mahavira, I understand the deep significance of acceptance as a way of life of true Jains and hope we all learn religious tolerance from the principle of Anekanta..

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Being a Sikh (learner) with Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak, the first Guru in Sikhism denounced wrong practices of those days, even if they were in the name of religion and found his path in discovering a supreme Godhead who although incomprehensible, manifests in all major religions.

Sat sri Akal, Guruji. I have deep respect the tenets of the Sikh religion but am not clear in some areas. Could you clarify them for me?

Of course, my dear. Go ahead.

What was the original foundation of Sikhism?

I realized and traveled all over India and the world and found the basic truth that there is One God who looks after the welfare of all. There are no other division like Hindu. Muslim and so on.

I introduced the langar, a meal shared as a way of not just service but bonding and sharing.

All through, I was against empty religious rituals, pilgrimages, the caste system and the sacrifice of widows. In my time, there were both priests and mullahs who exploited people’s weaknesses and I told people to be free of any such dependence.
I told people also that one not should depend on books alone for religion but practice religion in the true sense in one’s own life.

Isn’t the forbidding of gurus and using the Guru Granth Sahib alone as a guru a kind of contradiction? After all, you too were a Guru at one time. Besides, you yourself have stated that there should not be a dependence on books alone.

Let me explain. During my time, all followers still remained Hindu, Muslim, or of the religion to which they were born, but then gradually they became known as the Guru's disciples, or Sikhs, ‘people who learn’.

It was here that my followers began to refer to my as teacher, or guru.

When Guru Gobind Singh became the Guru, he felt we should maintain the principles as they were and not allow any more change and therefore, asked the Granth Sahib to be the only guru.

Now that Sikh-ism is a religion, as long as people are following the basic tenets of the religion which are really tenets of humanity, people can remain Sikhs (learners) of wisdom. If this guidance is sought from a human being and people seek a person for some guidance, there is no issue.

There are some countries and some airlines which do not allow the Sikhs to carry a kirpan (sword). How should a Sikh respond to this?

See, the five Ks each had a specific symbolism as that time.

Kesh - uncut hair and beard, as given by God, to sustain him or her in higher consciousness; and a turban, the crown of spirituality.

Kangha - a wooden comb to properly groom the hair as a symbol of cleanliness.

Katchera - specially made cotton underwear as a reminder of the commitment to purity.

Kara - a steel circle, worn on the wrist, signifying bondage to Truth and freedom from every other entanglement.

Kirpan - the sword, with which the Khalsa is committed to righteously defend the fine line of the Truth.

Now, in today’s world, carrying of a kirpan is neither necessary nor really useful. If one does come across injustice or wrong ways being practised, defend it courageously with the appropriate tool.

What is important is adherence of these principles, not the external symbols.

Regarding the five Ks, I have even said in the Guru Granth Sahib,

Kabeer, when you are in love with the One Lord, duality and alienation depart.
You may have long hair, or you may shave your head bald. ||25|

So, kesh (hair) is an external symbol, not an intrinsic core of Sikhism. Such is the case with all other symbols.

You adhere to the nirgun (formless) God, is it not?

Yes, that is true. I have maintained that God can be neither incarnated nor represented in concrete terms. In my time and even now, sometimes this workshop does lead to mindless rituals and conflicts. Still, if there are some who wish to worship Him with a form, that’s fine as long as the principles of truth and righteous conduct are upheld. I am aware that some of my own devotees keep my photo to pray and that is all right if it helps them connect more easily to the divine.

Which are the principles which you would like to emphasize in today's world?

Courage, equality of all and integrity is something that has sadly deteriorated. If all could work to revive it, the world would be a wonderful, safe place. This is what I sincerely wish for the entire world.

As I thank and take leave of Nanak ji, i realize the power of what he espoused when he spoke of a universal, unifying approach to the divine and hope that we learn to celebrate the lives of the Gurus and the universality of the liberating faith that they helped found.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A tryst with Shankaracharya

Adi Shankaracharaya is an epitome of Hindu wisdom and a pristine guru. Continuing my quest to speak with masters and prophets, I thought I would consult him to clarify the doubts that still persist in my mind.

Swamiji, Pranam. I am born a Hindu and am enamoured at your story and teachings. Sometimes, however I am confused by some of the tenets that prevail. Could you help me understand these better in today’s context ?

Of course. I will be happy to.

In your time, the caste system was sacrosanct. Today there is more openness but many people still do feel each group has slightly different traits and so there was an order created through the caste system. What is your opinion?

Of course, there are differences as humans are bound to be different. But, this is no way means one group is superior to another. Further, birth is not the deciding factor. Each person is who is his because of so many factors. So, I feel and have stated also that caste system is a stumbling block to realization. In my own case, when I happened to see a Chandala as one of a lower caste, I was jolted to realize it is highly contradictory to the principles I espouse.

Similarly, not accepting others because they are different in any one aspect, such as the God they pray to, is also one such stumbling block.

Only if we see all people as part of the same cosmos can we be true followers of Vedanta.

Why then do we have different Gods?

Just as there are different colours in the rainbow, different notes in music, there are different Gods and deities. The seven colors of the rainbow are actually manifestations of pure white light. But, doesn’t a rainbow look beautiful because of the different shades? Just as there is no reduction of harmony in nature with these differences, there should not be any disharmony because of differences. Sameness is not unity. Understanding is.

Some claim idol worship is not a good practice. And yes, there are some sacrifices undertaken in front of idols that even I don’t understand. Even the ecological damage during Ganesh festivities clearly create too much pollution. How do we understand these?

If through idols, you are able to connect better with a higher power, then do continue but remember to understand the symbology.

If Ganesh’s symbology is understood, none of you will create so much ecological damage in his name. A simple prayer to give more determination and persevere on the right path despite obstacles would make the vignaharta much happier.

Similarly, pray to Lakshmi for abundance (not excessive wealth but ample for your needs), Saraswati for wisdom and Durga for a sense of right and wrong and supporting justice.

With people of other faiths, how best must we understand the differences?

Each has evolved in a particular mileau in a particular context. Even Hinduism which we say is the oldest is not static but dynamic. It is necessary to grow with times while keeping the principles of oneness, compassion and both inner and outer peace as the goal.

Inner and outer peace?

We end each chanti with Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. First for inner peace, second for the environment around us and the third for the entire world. Only the approach of bringing change through a change in our own selves can ever wok, be it in one’s family, one’s environment or in the entire world.

Still, if others create violence, what should we do ?

The other you speak about, is obviously also a part of the same cosmos. Approach him with an attitude of understanding and peace. If nothing, at least don’t foster hatred.

If you do wish to make a difference, ask, why is this violence happening? What can I do to prevent it and bring about better understanding? All this obviously can be done only in a non violent way. .

However, would non-violence succeed?

Of course it will but you would need to continue your efforts not remain passive. See, the satyagraha of Gandhi almost succeeded but not completely only because of people not being able to understand oneness in the complete sense. Remember, the seed he has sown is not dead yet. Foster it to bloom completely.

As I bow and take leave of the Shankaracharya, I offer my gratitude and seek his blessings for all of India and indeed the world to move towards this pristine understanding of each other as part of a single cosmos.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happy to have been proven wrong

I used to wonder how Varun was managing to run an NGO, , entirely manned by volunteers.

Though Varun has shared many experiences of his, I did feel there could be a shortcoming due to a volunteer-only concept and his geographical distance today which he makes up for by being in constant touch (he is the US while the work is going on in India).

Volunteer I did as one of the slums the group worked in was close to my home, but still wondered whether something more was needed.

Geeta’s story, however, has made me rethink on the entire issue. Geeta was very determined to pursue an education in the science stream in the eleventh standard. Those of us in India do know that’s not such an easy task, financially, even for well those with reasonably deep pockets.

Voila! the government began junior colleges with a tie up with reputed coaching centres, where students of government schools are not charged any fees. A volunteer’s efforts in taking her and ensuring her admission there has now made Geeta realize her dream.

I for one, do feel it is going to be the first of many steps in Geeta’s foray into the education of her dreams.

Most of all, am really happy to have been proven wrong in assuming that serious steps could not be taken in a volunteer only organization.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The spirit of enquiy

An article from Life Positive I deeply cherish.

Both science and spirituality rely on, and benefit from, the mental attitude that is widely known as 'scientific temper'. More

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The purpose of life.. who is being asked

"What is the purpose of my life, " is an existential quest which had led to many unusual journeys. Some of them are chronicled in here

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Listening with love and compassion

Long ago, in ancient India, Angulimala - "the one wearing a garland of fingers" - struck terror in the hearts of all. He virtually controlled the whole forest. Once, the Buddha set off on the route frequented by Angulimala.

"Please do not go on this route. Angulimala does not spare anyone," people begged, but the Buddha merely smiled and told them to be at ease.

As soon as the Buddha had traversed a little distance, he could hear thundering footsteps. Angulimala had seen him and was trying to catch up. The Buddha walked steadily while Angulimala ran desperately. Strangely, Angulimala was just not able to do catch up with the Buddha. Utterly frustrated, he cried out, ''O Bhikkhu (monk), stop, stop!'' though he did not really expect the monk to stop, thinking there was some magical power in the monk.

To his surprise, the Buddha stopped, turned around, and replied calmly: ''I have stopped. It is you who have not stopped.'' Totally bewildered, Angulimala looked on as the Buddha continued, ''I say that I have stopped because I have given up killing all beings. I have given up ill-treating all beings, and have established myself in universal love, patience and knowledge through reflection. But you still have not given up killing or ill-treating others and you are not yet established in universal love and patience. Hence, you are the one who has not stopped. You could, however, stop anytime you wish to.''

Nobody had ever spoken to Angulimala in such a calm and compassionate manner. The peace that he felt just by being in the Buddha's presence was overwhelming. With tears in his eyes, he threw away the necklace of fingers and his weapons. Choked with emotion, he pleaded with the Buddha to admit him to the order of the bhikkhus. The Buddha willingly did so.

Many in the order were aghast. Bound by Buddha's order, they did not oppose the decision but avoided interacting with Angulimala, the dreaded bandit. Observing this, the Buddha counselled Angulimala: "Be patient. Your bad karma will cease to haunt you if you remain calm and composed.''

Angulimala understood and continued serving in the community patiently and lovingly.

Over a period of time, he realised he was especially skilled in helping women in labour as blood, pain and shrieks did not unnerve him. Gradually, his past identity dropped and he became known as the person who was very skilled in helping women deliver babies.

This tale reveals many truths. The statement of the Buddha, "I have now stopped", that was crucial in effecting Angulimala's transformation, is a wonderful message of compassion and empathy. It says: "I have been there and I understand what you are going through." There is no fear or pity, just deep understanding.

Once transformed, Angulimala struggled to earn the respect of others. The Buddha counsels him to keep going, for, in due course, by following the path, he is sure to gain acceptance of the community. This shows us that penitence may be tested severely but, if it is genuine, there is acceptance at the end of the struggle. Redemption happens only with time and sincere effort.

At the societal level, this tale is eternally relevant in showing us that even a hardcore criminal can turn into a socially responsible and caring individual if he is approached with understanding and empathy. Buddhahood is within reach if only we take the path of love and compassion.

Published in Times of India's Speaking tree, 01 August, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reformers: My tribute

In the area of reformers,I have been privileged to meet some, for instance Sandeep Pandey of Asha for Education Bina Lashkari of Doorstep school , Anouradha Bakshi of Project Why , Shanti Raghavan of Enable India , Varun Rangarajan of Dream India 2020 .

These are in no particular order of ranking of importance but the common thread is their heart felt commitment to India and humanity.

Isn't this what keeps the world going ?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reformers, prophets or saints - does it matter what we call them ?

It is intriguing to see the people we consider religious leaders today were actually reformers in their time. Jesus, Mohammad, Zarathrushtra, Nanak, Basavaveshwara, Ramanujam, Buddha all spoke for the changes required in their society in their respective era and society.

Their achievements were stupendous, mainly because it started from a space of wanting to bring about a positive change, no matter who or what opposed them.

Surely then, being religious does mean being connected with the world and still remaining true to eternal spiritual principles. This may even be tested severely, but they are our role models precisely because they had the courage to persevere.

"Listen to your heart to see what is right", is something they all believed and lived by.

Surely, they would like us to do the same.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Focussing on the happiness of others

Sometimes, profound truths are exceedingly simple. Suma Varughese says in her book that the moment of her step towards a greater plane of existence happened when she decided to focus on the happiness of others and not herself.

If only all of us could do the same.

For instance, in the area of parenting, parents would be a true support and not people causing stress to their children. Children in turn would respond by realising their complete potential and not being robotic in their chase towards so called success.

The same analogy applies in governance, business and indeed all areas of life.

We may not have a role to play of these but certainly, we can begin with ourselves.

Friday, July 17, 2009

My first books

"Amma, no one ever reads letters to the editor! ", Siddart, my son exclaimed ! "If you really want to convey something, why don't you write a story?"

The post Godhra riots had left me shaken. I felt like an alien in my own land. People I thought I knew were coolly complacent with strange theories of 'cause and effect', 'such things happen' and so on. Beyond a point, verbal debates seemed quite pointless, as I realized people believed what they wanted to believe, picking out news articles and media reports that confirmed their own 'pet' theory, interpreting facts as per their preconceived notions and being cock sure of their respective ideology. Not just this, debates would often degenerate into arguments. Not content with keeping mum, I then began darting off letters to various publications, protesting against the gross misuse of religion.

My son, Siddart, who was then twelve, was a voracious reader. Harry Potter was his favorite and so was R K Narayan's "Swami and friends." When immersed in his book, he inhabited the different worlds they portrayed, be it Harry Potter's Hogwarts or Swami's Malgudi. I did often share with him my letters for I wanted him to understand his world and the different forces in it.

Now, clearly, he felt strongly that a story was the best medium of communication. Naturally, being a child, he considered nothing 'impossible'. My daughter, Samyukta, then six, too fully agreed that stories were the way to go.

This set me going. I had never written anything till then, neither did I have a background in journalism or literature. Still, I thought I would attempt writing fiction As my inspiration, sounding board and critic were my children, it had to be stories for children.

Would I be able to convey the essence of religion, a lofty subject, in the form of simple stories? I wondered. Still, with Siddart and Samyukta by my side, seeing what I was attempting, I had to persist. Slowly but surely, a collection of stories emerged, on the humanistic aspect of every religion practiced in India.

For a while, it was reading all about all the religions of the world, their source, history and practice today. It became more and more clear to me that great souls have come many times to the earth, brought cheer and hope for a while, but alas have been misquoted, misinterpreted and thus dishonoured as time elapsed.

Initially published in childrens' magazines like Twinkle, the entire collection were then published as a collection of stories, "One". The process also put me in touch with a whole lot of committed people working for peace and amity and I could see a glimmer of hope amid the sad reality of the day.

Thus began my foray into the uncharted territory of writing; something that shall remain truly special for me, as it was my children who led me there.

The second followed. "The Magic Liquid"

For this, the seed was sown by my daughter who felt I should write an adventure tale. Interspersing this with my experience at DoorStep, a mobile van for the education of children.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Neti, Neti says Gora in Rabindranath Tagore's book

Just re-read, Gora, a book which gives new insights every time one reads it. Sometimes one relates to it as a romantic novel, sometimes much more than that.

Gora is set in disruptive times when the Bengali society of Kolkata was starkly divided into the traditional orthodox Hindus and the modernized, liberal thinking Brahmos instructed by the Brahmo Samaj. The Hindus followed their practices and ceremonials while the Brahmos were in constant clashes with orthodoxy and vehemently opposed all idol-worships, caste system and so on. The author shows how both the communities were not devoid of their own hypocrisies and contradictions. This story contains a number of characters each of which is unique and strongly individualistic. Through these various characters and their stories, Tagore has raised almost every single concern of the society at that time.

Binoy, Gora`s friend in the story and Paresh babu a mature and high thinking gentleman are important characters and so are Sucharita and Lolita, the young ladies who are educated and articulate with their own point of view in life. The anchor in Gora's life and his friend is Gora's mother, Anandamoyi, a strong, principled and loving person.

Gora, the protagonist is a strong advocate of Hinduism and practices his religion strictly. Due to his attitude, he seems an arrogant, self-asserting, aggressive and violent person who thrusts his opinions unto others. However, Gora at heart is an eternal optimist dreaming about his ideal Bharatvarsha, a prosperous and happy India.

At the end, Neti, Neti, the spiritual law comes to the fore here when Gora seeks to discard notions one after another to finally recognize the truth in his heart.

In sum, this tale is eternal in relevance and appeal to people of all ages. I hope more people read it and perhaps a film too is made with the tale as the script. I, for one, look forward to this.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Travelling light - Walking the path

As I held the long awaited book of my friend and editor, Suma Varughese, the feeling of oneness was amazing. This book, released on popular demand, is a compilation of her columns in Life Positive, and is divided into self, reflections and society.

True to the author's belief, the self has the maximum articles as it is her firm conviction that only by transcending our own shortcomings can we reach anywhere significant.

The multitude of seekers who are able to relate to it at their own levels is the unique characteristic of her much loved columns and the book too. All truths are eternal and time tested - so there is no unique formula, just a sharing of a sincere quest. As we all have had similar thoughts and doubts, the columns seem to be a sharing of our own travails. The solution offered is not a magic formula, just a complete acceptance through which the answer flows seamlessly.

One of the posts says her goal is to reach the point where the creator compliments us on a 'well lived' life. The book tells us the process through which she has almost reached this lofty goal. By reading it, we too feel we could perhaps reach there with her.

Bhagiratha Prayatna - Raising the consciousness of India

All great tales have a message for all time.

One such tale is that of King Bhagiratha.

The sons of King Sagara had been burnt into ashes by Sage Kapila for their arrogance who pronounced that the only way the souls of the dead princes could rise to heaven would be through the waters of the sacred Ganga river, which was then flowing in the heavens. Bringing Ganga back to Earth required tremendous dedication and many years of tapasya. Many Kosala kings of successive generations tried, but failed. As a result, the sins of the princes multiplied in their destructive energy, and began resulting in natural disasters. The kingdom began to lose its peace and prosperity.

It was then that Bhagiratha ascended the throne. Realising that single minded pursuit of the goal of bringing down Ganga was essential, Bhagiratha turned over the kingdom to trusted ministers and set off to the Himalayas, embarking on an arduous tapasya. At the end of one thousand years, Brahma came to him and Bhagiratha asked for the boon of bringing down the river Ganga to earth so that he could set the souls of his ancestors free. Brahma cautioned Bhagiratha that Ganga’s fall would be colossal and it would be impossible to contain the destructive impact of this event unless Lord Shiva stepped in.

Bhagiratha then began to propitiate Lord Shiva, living only on air. The compassionate Shiva appeared relatively soon, after only a year's penance, and assured Bhagiratha that he would take care that Ganga's fall does not become destructive.

As the mighty Ganga flowed down, Lord Shiva captured her Ganga in his matted hair or jata, and let her flow from there at a gentler pace. Different streams of Ganga flowed through to release all the princes and at long last, the souls of Bhagiratha’s ancestors were freed and peace returned to the land.
Due to this, Ganga is also known as Bhagirathi (daughter of Bhagiratha) and Bhagiratha's herculean effort, Bhagiratha Prayatna, is a term that symbolises a dedicated effort to do something noble despite facing overwhelming odds.
Another message that the tale brings out is the responsibility we have to correct the wrongs of the past.

There are many parallels between the story of Bhagiratha and the situation we find ourselves in, while grappling with the creation of an inclusive society where the labels of caste based identity are not a deterrent to progress..

Indeed, we stand at the threshold of correcting wrongs committed and perpetuated, knowingly and unknowingly, in the past. Although the caste division has not been created by the present generation, we certainly have inherited the inequalities and negative ‘karma’ that the practice of this system has brought in.

The first step to a solution is accepting responsibility. By just blaming each other, we will again create a cycle of karma where the oppressor and victim could have different labels, but we will still be far away from an inclusive society.

Reservations and quotas were introduced in our constitution mainly to correct caste driven imbalance. However, these are only one part of the solution. Just focusing on quotas has only lead to vote bank politics that have resulted in further divisions of society. In this process, the core goal of the creation of a society that enables every child, irrespective of birth, to have equal access to education and career options, seems to have been forgotten.

Unfortunately, just like the kings of Kosala before Bhagiratha, we lack determination. Concern on the need for educational and employment opportunities is often raised, but soon forgotten, by the media and by the general public.

Further, just as the Ganga flowed in different streams all over India, the issue requires a multi pronged approach. While not rejecting affirmative action outright, we must examine where the lacunaes lie. Similarly, the provision of quality primary education to all is absolutely essential.

Social change is very challenging and therefore, not one Bhagiratha but a collective consciousness to undertake a “Bhagiratha prayatna” is essential.

We do know that none of these issues have easy solutions and the path would be long, but it must be undertaken with an unstinting focus on the key goals. There will be upheavals like those with Ganga’s mighty fall into the Earth. For this, we need a calm, non partisan voice of reason, playing the role of Shiva, who stemmed the forcefulnesss of the fall.

With all this, perhaps we will ultimately be able to bring in the ‘Ganga’ of oneness, solidarity and equality into our land.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Islam - the confusion

With Islam now at its crossroads, some questions have been plaguing my mind for a long time. After much thought, I felt I should confer with Prophet Mohammed directly. As I hoped, he was happy to talk to me.

I am so glad to meet you, Prophet. I would like to clarify certain aspects of Islam with you. Could I?

Of course. Please do.

Is music prohibited in Islam?
No, definitely not.
You just have to see closely at my messages. I have asked you clearly to respect all the prophets before me. That includes Prophet David, who sang and played music. How could music itself then be sinful and prohibited?

Why is this misconception there among people?

You must have heard of the saying “Don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. This is exactly what is being done with this injunction.
What I had asked people to do was guard against music which uses foul language and steers people toward alcohol, lust and such sinful activity. I have never stipulated that there should be no music at all.

Do you personally like music?
Totally. God created music so that it could give us joy. Music relaxes the mind and helps the person to gain energy and refresh himself..

What is jihad?
Jihad is a struggle. In recent times, the satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi is certainly a jihad as it required tremendous courage and perseverance.

Many terrorists call their activities a jihad.

That is absolutely incorrect. If they have any issues or grievances, they can peacefully bring it up in accordance with the law of the land and persevere in their strife. That is what I would call a Jihad.

CCan the shariat be changed?
See, Shariat is like a constitution which I made for the people of that time. Naturally, it relates to conditions of that period. There were tribes and people staying with girls without marriage. Yes, I did allow polygamy with full consent of both the groom and bride. Now, obviously times have changed and so should the shariat.

Who is a kafir and how do you recommend we should treat them?
A person who is a disbeliever, not just of God, but of human values, is called a kafir. Still, that is their choice and we should never forget they are human too.

Is attire, such as burqa for women stipulated in Islam?
There is no attire prescribed.
I do recommend modest dressing in women to preserve their dignity. That is not a rule, just a recommendation. Now, how that is achieved is based on the culture of a place at that time. For instance, if I was born in Iceland, I would have been dressed in fur. If I was born today, maybe I would have gone to the moon in a spacesuit.

Please try to see the core teachings and not the external layer of any teaching.

What is the core teaching of Islam? How do we apply them?


Treat everyone as a brother. Share, care and respect each other. Don’t pity, empathize. The other is your brother.
If this can be done without fail always, then you can create your own heaven on this earth.

Wow ! This is so clear and complete. Much of the confusion in my mind vanished.

Monday, June 29, 2009

No barriers in art

V V Sadagopan, my grandfather, was a great musicologist, musician, lyricist and a hero of his times.

Yes, I can honestly say he was one of a kind not just for his talents but for the person he was. I was very lucky to be with him at a young age and what remains in my mind and whole psyche is his openness in accepting all faiths, cultures and traditions. He used to take us to all holy places and ask us to observe what is best in each. All music was heard and appreciated. No preaching but just opening the windows of our mind.

“When we appreciate, the differences are rarely seen, “he said. “Art transcends all human differences, “ was another dictum he believed and lived by. He revived many traditions, like Vaishnavism (devotion to Vishnu) and Pasurams (devotional songs in Tamil), not because he thought them to be superior to the others, but to present that dimension too to the world. As a lyricist, he sought to convey secular values in a non obtrusive way.

Incidentally, the name of this blog, Jai Joy was his standard greeting. As for him, joy and music were synonymous. Yes, Jai ho, today’s buzzword would have appealed to him, too.

Even today, whenever confused, I always ask myself "How would Appaji have responded?"

Jai joy, Appaji, Thanks for the wisdom you imparted to me.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Value of Trust

“How could she do this?” was my first thought when I saw my old watch on Sheela, my household help. Her deceit and with my foolishness in trusting her whirled through my mind, all at once. She was a person I thought I knew and trusted.Slowly, I asked “new watch?”. “Oh, its an old one but for me it is new, as it was gifted to me by my niece, “ she replied with a happy smile. Was it over-confidence or lack of guilt? I sat down and assessed the situation again. Surely, she would not have flaunted the watch in front of me had there been an iota of guilt in her. I refrained from confronting her and searched all over again for all the likely places my watch could have been lost. Finally, to my great relief, I did find the watch in a remote corner. Was it a strange coincidence that she had happened to own the same model or was it a test of trust ? I think it was the latter for, I have never felt as gratified as I did today in not allowing my trust to break down. If I had doubted her, we would never had the same equation.

This is really important for eveyone. Each person wants to trust and be trusted, for without that, a sense of well being is virtually impossible.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Teaching Stories

With its different layers, a teaching story gives us new insights every time we read it ..and we begin to see the world, and even ourselves, differently. At its heart a teaching story encapsulates the wisdom and truth of life and transmits it to the reader in the most pleasurable, palatable way. These timeless tales will offer you hours of entertainment, but more importantly, it may well change your perception of life. These tales from Sufi, Zen, Hindu, folklore have something for who read them, irrespective of age, gender, creed or race.

For me, editing this volume has been a God sent opportunity, read, interpreting, understanding these timeless classics.

Surrounded by gurus

A European lady was wonderstruck when Swami Chinmayananda once answered the precise questions she had in her mind. “Could he read her mind?”, she wondered.. "I cannot read your mind and neither do I wish to," the Swamiji replied, "In life, your answers could be from a bus conductor, a man on the street or in this case, me. That is the way the universe works."

Truly, the universe has numerous lessons for us. Perhaps one of the greatest teachers is nature itself. The sun shines everyday at the precise hour and gives light to the entire world without expecting any returns. The birds chirp whether or not someone claps and applauds. Trees give shade and succour to millions of creatures and never tire or get bored of doing this. As a bonus, they add beauty too, the sun by giving us the rainbow and beautiful patterns of the sunrise and sunset, trees and plants by giving us different types of flora.

Every creature too has its unique lesson for us. One of the verses of the Thirukkural says, "The crow does not conceal its food from its fellows and calls them and willingly shares it with them. Only men of like nature prosper." To constantly remind us of this principle, people are encouraged to offer some food to the crow every day and observe how it shares it with the entire group.
Geese fly in a "V" formation. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in "V" formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. If a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies
Such teaching stories abound in nature. Even the much detested cockroach teaches us resilience and determination. Apart from this, the little coincidences of life, the people one meets and situations one encounters constantly teach us the lessons we need at any point in time.

Of course, saints and prophets have inspired and guided humankind in every era and if we have the good fortune to be blessed by such guidance by a human guru, it would be a wonderful bonus. As it is said, when the time is ripe, the master will appear without any effort on our part. In the meantime, let us recognize that the entire universe is constantly conspiring to teach us the lessons, the ones we seek actively, and the ones we may not voice but do need for our spiritual progress. All we have to do is to tune our senses to receive them.