A Priceless Lesson For Rs.10

I wondered if it was the smoking. Yes, the climb was steep and I had no shoes. But 30 odd steps is all it took to break me. Panting as if my lungs had never taken a decent gulp of breath. Every pore in my body crying out sweat. My feet, calves feeling as if they had walked all the miles in a year within those 30 odd steps. You know the wall that sportspersons keep talking about? I did not stumble into the wall, the wall rammed into me with a ferocity I was not familiar with.

And that was just what happened to the body. The mind was another story altogether. Questions crawled out like ants, furious and relentless. What the heck is happening here? What was I being weighed down by? What could break me so? All the vice, all the indulgence paraded before my mind’s eye. I thought I used to be better, there was strength and grace to support, perhaps the Divine has abandoned me? But, but are the vices so unforgivable? Am sure you get the drift. I wondered, agonized and went through a mini version of Dante’s hell or perhaps the lower worlds illustrated by the Buddha.[quote_right]I wondered, agonized and went through a mini version of Dante’s hell or perhaps the lower worlds illustrated by the Buddha.[/quote_right]

I said yes, almost 2 weeks back when my cousin asked if I would to the ritual required to visit Sabari Mala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa. I did not think much, having visited the temple almost 18years back, I was familiar with the process. A period of austerity(abstinence from meat, alcohol and hanky panky), two time visit to temple, curbing of dodgy thoughts, wear the characteristic black dhothi, a t-shirt perhaps and no footwear. I managed to do okay even with the dodgy thoughts, the rest were tricky but doable.

As I stood there on Sabari Mala, with almost 80% left to cover, I did think seriously of going back. It was physically and mentally impossible. The devotion of fellow pilgrims helped egg me a little.

As I went the next 30 odd steps my eyes opened a little. The pilgrims who had seen the deity were on the way back. I caught the eye of one of them, a lad of 20years perhaps. Walking down, he came closer to the lane I was in and made a fanning motion with a piece of cloth to cool my body sweltering from the strain and heat. I still do not know how to receive that act of compassion. This stuff is easy for nobody and yet here was a guy who offered help, without asking.

Once I saw that, I could see there were more people acting thus. Small acts of compassion from strangers to strangers. Each act rendered as an offering to the Lord, each an offering to the immanent Deity. There was glucose powder being handed out, some gave out water and more. I was no longer alone with my crumbled mental and physical self. I felt as if the Lord was manifesting himself in every instrument available, who could do just that little bit to help take another step.

As you can guess, it took another 30 steps to break down again. The story repeated itself. The body wondering if it would last the climb, the mind wondering what the hell made me descend into samsara![quote_right]The body wondering if it would last the climb, the mind wondering what the hell made me descend into samsara![/quote_right]

At this break I stopped by a vendor selling slices of pineapple. Standing close to the vendor I noticed someone trying to step close from my right-side. I turned and saw an old man, perhaps around 60 years old, definitely not wealthy and almost positively poor or even very poor. He seemed hesitant for some reason. Thinking I was blocking his way I thought and stepped aside to make way. The old man came a little closer and asked the vendor the price of a slice.

The vendor was busy dishing out slices, he gave a damn about pilgrims, this was business and he conducted himself that way. He threw out the price, without looking at the old man, “Five rupees”. He even translated the number into couple of languages, after all people from nearby states visit this deity in large numbers. I kept watching as the man was about to step away. He was panting just like me and I could only wonder about the extent of breakdown that would happen to people at that age.

I almost instantly knew what to do. Having observed many acts of compassion thus far in the climb, I thought it was time for me to do something. I called the old man, more in signs than in speech. I asked the vendor to give the old man a slice. Old man hesitated, I reassured him in signs that it was okay. Taking the slice from the vendor, the old man started moving. Half way through turning away I saw the old man hand over the slice to a boy of 7 or 8 years old and kept moving.

It hit me like a bolt even in my broken down state, the mind awoke to an unexpected clarity. The old man might not last the climb up, yet, the one slice he got he gave the boy. He did not stand there expecting a repeat generosity from a stranger, though offered out of compassion and under the eye of the Lord.

This was not philanthropy of the rich, cheques written out over aged mahogany wood. This was not the generosity of bleeding heart liberals saving the downtrodden. Nor was it generosity looking to barter your religion for material things. This was sacrifice in the truest sense, giving what is essential to yourself and not a handout from excess.

This was the dictum of the Gita about intent of the act being more important demonstrated.

And yes, if you are wondering why the title says Rs.10 and not Rs.5, I called the old man back and insisted he take a slice for himself, which he did with some reluctance.

There are distances I have to travel within to get anywhere close to that type of selfless action. The thorn of inadequacy is still lodged within.

Thus Spake Sri Krishna

Chariot

[dropcap2]All[/dropcap2] this personal effort and self-discipline will not in the end be needed, all following and limitation of rule and dharma can at last be thrown away as hampering encumbrances if thou canst make a complete surrender to Me, depend alone on the Spirit and Godhead within thee and all things and trust to his sole guidance.

Turn all thy mind to me and fill it with the thought of me and my presence. Turn all thy heart to me, make thy every action, whatever it be, a sacrifice and offering to me.

That done, leave me to do my will with thy life and soul and action; do not be grieved or perplexed by my dealings with thy mind and heart and life and works or troubled because they do not seem to follow the laws and dharmas man imposes on himself to guide his limited will and intelligence.

My ways are the ways of a perfect wisdom and power and love that knows all things and combines all its movements in view of a perfect eventual result; for it is refining and weaving together the many threads of an integral perfection.

I am here with thee in thy chariot of battle revealed as the Master of Existence within and without thee and I repeat the absolute assurance, the infallible promise that I will lead thee to myself through and beyond all sorrow and evil.

Whatever difficulties and perplexities arise, be sure of this that I am leading thee to a complete divine life in the universal and an immortal existence in the transcendent Spirit.

Sri Krishna (Essays on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo)

Krishna – Sri Aurobindo

Krishna's birth Of all Avatars of the Divine Sri Krishna alone has a special place. Sri Rama is venerated. Every other Avatar prior to him is acknowledged and prayed to. But none is adored with the intensity and rapture that Sri Krishna is. Why is that so? We would not know entirely, until the same intensity of devotion and divine insight is given to us.

But suffice to say, I don’t care..I don’t need a reason to adore Sri Krishna. I adore him because what would I be without this capability to adore? Why would I give myself to an inferior joy?

There is plenty of devotional poetry composed around Sri Krishna. But I like the below poem by Sri Aurobindo.

Krishna

At last I find a meaning of soul’s birth

Into this universe terrible and sweet,

I who have felt the hungry heart of earth

Aspiring beyond heaven to Krishna’s feet.

I have seen the beauty of immortal eyes,

And heard the passion of the Lover’s flute,

And known a deathless ecstasy’s surprise

And sorrow in my heart for ever mute.

Nearer and nearer now the music draws,

Life shudders with a strange felicity;

All Nature is a wide enamoured pause

Hoping her lord to touch, to clasp, to be.

For this one moment lived the ages past;

The world now throbs fulfilled in me at last.

– Sri Aurobindo

The Right Choice

It is difficult, this thing called life. Subtle aspiration and crude ambition confuse and confound. Choices abound. Better this, better that. What can be acquired, what can be got. There is no end to the possibilities. Oh the temptation of it all.

But behind it all, the barely whispered option of the the right choice. The right action to do. How difficult it is!

To ignore the short term. To put oneself in the eye of the storm. To step into the abyss.

Because it is the right thing to do. The thing that would aid your fellow men. To build and to make. To craft something beautiful out of all that is crude and mundane. To attempt. To push the boundaries within. To quell that which says enough. To silence that which asks for more.

The labyrinth of life has but a simple key. To act selflessly. To look beyond pragmatism. How simple, yet how elusive this magic.

The unseen act of generosity. To craft the sublime in anonymity. To perform acts of heroism with no audience.

Unerring are the laws of Karma. Actions seen and unseen, conscious or deliberate, each is weighed, assessed and rewarded.

These obstinately obscure guidelines they choose to call Dharma. 

Hinduism with Spine

Swami-Vivekananda

Hinduism is often portrayed as a religion of peace and pacifists. Its legion of world shunning monks and yogis(the genuine ones anyway), reinforce this perception. Sometimes its not even a religion but an Eternal Dharma, a rule of living rightly that goes beyond the worship of its hundred thousand gods.

But all this other-worldliness, the excessive disregard of the world and the adoration of the Eternal and all its manifestations has had an unfortunate side-effect. And that is of lacking a spine, or a true measure and understanding of its own identity.

Origin of our Weakness

I would not be an expert to categorically state whether it was the many hundred years of Muslim rule, or the many hundred years of British rule, or perhaps a weakness that predated both these aggressors that allowed these aggressions to happen. But bottom line we have turned out to be a people lacking a spine.

We spout words about our ancient culture that we have no effing clue about. When our brothers from other religions convert our folks we quote the constitution that allows conversions. When more of our brothers from other religions of peace slaughter us, we quote mantras for peace and convince ourselves to let bygones be bygones. After all an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, as a leading light of the nation had said. When one of us decides to give others a taste of their own medicine we are the right wing!

Don’t get me wrong. If you know me or attempted to read and understand what I have written you will know am all for universal brotherhood and I mean it sincerely. But each culture has to stand up for itself, no one else will come to its aid. Or we will go the way of the Tibetans, the Mayans and all the other peoples that have perished under the onslaught of more ignorant cultures.

Do we understand our religion?

Each of us who profess to be Hindus will have to understand our heritage truly. Not the crap shown on TV serials, or the clueless nonsense spouted by the traditionalists, or the ones that give you certificates. Nor should we believe that spirituality is to be done at the last stage of life, it is such moronic thinking that has given rise to a nation without spine. That allows some so-called secular element within our founding members to interpret our subtle notion of universal brotherhood as a free for all, to come and do as they please. Enough is what I say.

What we need

From now, let each of us vow to understand our identity and our true heritage by going back to the original sources, the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas. Not as intellectuals, not to spout verses without understanding or realizing them. But as students and aspirants to the living truth of these scriptures, the One Divine who transcends everything.

The Method

I want us to do this not as Sanyasis or renunciates, not as intellectuals far removed from reality, not as arm-chair custodians of our heritage. I want us to uphold our values in the thick of material life. To build out the wealth of our nation again and not to see Narayana in poverty alone. To create art that once again captures the myriad infinities of the soul’s beauty. To engage our brothers in strength and pride of our identity and heritage. To churn out perfection in every thing we do and take our place once more at the forefront of civilizations.

The Impediments

It is not easy, this double mode of existence. Long has been our enslavement, impoverished our spirit and our members weak. A little wealth and little success rocks the boat of our pride too much. We are as children, who go into rapture at the smallest bauble. We are not a nation of Arjunas and Ashokas anymore. Even our villains are not fit to take the world stage, we have no strength to even do evil on a grandiose scale. Our Balis and Hiranyakashipus are just myths now.

But this need not be the case anymore. And it can start with us. Today. Let us reconnect with the Self within, in our own way. A little perfection in all that we do, a little service to elevate humanity, a little strength to stand up for our identity and a lot of humility is all it takes to offer as sacrifice to the immanent Divine.

The Guide

After all, as Sri Aurobindo states, “He who seeks the Divine is sought by the Divine”. Let us offer our works, paltry though it be, and Sri Krishna shall be with us. We have endured a lot until now, it is time for us outgrow our limited self-conception.

This post is dedicated to Swami Vivekananda.

Does Steve Jobs Do Yoga?

Usually the search terms that lead the handful of people to my site are fairly standard. But few days ago the title of this post led someone here. If that was you dear reader, then sorry I did not have a ready reply then and will address it now.

Before moving to the answer I will have to state some assumptions. By Yoga I take it to mean something more than the physical aspect of it. Not the smattering of breathing exercises done for physical well-being and balance in life. Yoga is a mystic yearning for the Divine, a perspective that acknowledges the superficiality of material forms and seeks to exceed it into the truth that sustains everything. Yoga is state that the Vedas and Upanishads describe and offer the roadmap for. Yoga is a world-view that sees the connectedness of things and more.

There are two parts to the answer, we move from the abstract to the precise.

All Life if Yoga…

..says Sri Aurobind0. So read that again. All life, not just the virtuous and the religious, all of life is Yoga. This statement, as with many of Sri Aurobindo’s statements, reveals both i) an immanent and essential truth and ii) an available end goal.

The former points to the fact that any life, literally anything, to exist would be impossible without the tacit support of the Divine. (This is a moral minefield when viewed from the stance of day to day life, let us not consider that aspect in this blog post. If you are interested we could return to it later.). The latter is the explicit affirmation of the possibility that all of life can be Yoga or an union with the Divine. Not just the supra-normal states of consciousness like various Samadhi states but even the mundane moments of our lives too can be in Yoga, can be experienced union with the Divine.

With this definition, not just Steve Jobs but even you and I are in Yoga!

Now that is sort of nice but it does not give a method to get to this state in the first place. And besides answers our original question with too abstract a framework. We can do better, so let’s continue.

Yoga is Skill in Works..

..says Sri Aurobindo. This is a more accessible definition and something we can work with. Like a Vedic or Upanishadic mahavakya this little thought’s illumination belies its size! Yoga is said to be skill in works. There is no mention of what works, it does not matter. I could be a serf serving the whims of a landlord  and following instructions to the dot or its modern day equivalent of sitting in a cubicle and following processes to the letter. And still could exceed the conditions of my birth, outgrow the mortal limitations placed upon me and grow into the consciousness of the Divine. All of this while performing the normal works of a human existence.

The divisions set up by society with the Chaturvarna or the Four Fold Caste System, that condemns me to a class of works determined by birth and heredity, though a sham and a corruption of the principle Manu had in mind, do not limit my potential to attain the highest states unavailable to the priest who chants litanies for years.

Skillful execution of work, like the pursuit of a moral living, has no end to its perfection. And beyond a certain threshold of skillful work one is invariably widened and soon see ourselves touching the borders of heaven. What began as work is transmuted into Yoga.

With this approach one would easily agree that Steve’s extraordinary skill for producing, or at least orchestrating the production of, beautiful things he most definitely is doing Yoga. Not in the sense of being seated in meditation and chanting a mantra but more like Arjuna who though in the thick of battle is in union with Sri Krishna due the skill of his craft and devotion to his dharma.

Relevance for India and Indians

The path of salvation through works is especially relevant for us Indians. To do this with all the rigor and perfection and devotion we can muster will yield both material and spiritual rewards. Long have we viewed yoga as something performed after we are old, the current material and moral poverty is a direct result of this world view. 1000 odd years of foreign rule and influence have destroyed our self-identity. It is time now to unshackle ourselves, not just with the mantra and deity but also with the skill that yields material abundance and strength.

Many Crucifixions

 

ChristCrucified

The Messiah is crucified but once.

An Eternal Wilderness

Ivan_Kramskoy's_1872_-_Christ_in_the_Wilderness

A lot of us get by with the agenda life sets for us. An education, a career, family and the other assorted conventions get our attentions.

A few choose to question this default agenda. Attempt to intuit the mechanics behind this grand machinery, to understand the method behind this madness.

To a privileged few is given the wilderness. A barren interior landscape devoid of transient joys.

The inner monologue is the only company. And the ever present silent question that mocks us.

We stumble into the question at the most inopportune times. Life’s pressing urgencies carry no meaning here.

We contemplate, we wait and wonder in awe at the endurance of those who passed before us through the wilderness.

My Greatest Engineering Challenge

Putting man on the moon, sending a probe to the remote edges of our solar system, instrumenting the planet, reversing global warming, finding a cure for cancer and AIDS and every other scientific endeavor that engages our collective attentions are worthy problems as candidates for the title of Greatest Engineering Challenge Ever.

But all these pale into insignificance before the one true problem, at least according to me. That is the problem of purpose, that has confounded, baffled and defeated all but a handful of us since the first animal pondered cause and effect.

Problem of purpose forks into the following trinity of questions – Who am I, what am I here for and what do I become. Questions that have been mistakenly considered as axioms and resisted honest investigation.

As someone attempting to comprehend and practice the methods prescribed by Buddha, I have come to realize this emphatically – Introspection is a path littered with inner conflict. The notions and ideas that make up the sense of self are all placed in doubt. Self-identity is no longer a given. In the place of a homogeneous entity there is a mass of influences and impulses. It is a time of great confusion.

Contrary to general perceptions this decomposition of the sense of self and the analysis of its constituent parts seems to share an intimate affinity with the scientific method that is characteristic of modern sciences. And the elegance of this endeavor lies in the fact that the experiment and the experimenter are one.

We work on our own selves and help re-make ourselves anew. The methods and techniques of our experiments have an exactitude that is more unforgiving than a programming language compiler that barks a warning at the least deviation from the required syntax.

Of all that life churns out in its fevered imaginations, and of all the trials and tribulations I have had the opportunity to confront, this is my greatest engineering challenge ever.

Fragments of Aspiration – 1

Repentance, that alchemy of the heart
Transmuting vileness into a luminous submission
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Deeper the mire, vaster the heavens
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There is a need for evil in the world.
Without it virtue has no reason to exist
In a way every aspiration wakes the shadow of its own ascent.
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The tyrant is but a tantrum thrown by the Ishwari
To compel her lord, the Ishwara, to waken from his musings.
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I would dissolve one day
Into a burst of rainbow hues
Become one with the pollen on a butterfly’s wings
Or plunge headlong as a blue fisher into a forgotten pond

I shall be a verse one day
A murmur upon every lip
Or throbbing as thought in a remote mind upon a snow-peak

I shall be austerity too
The death knell of desire in a hermit’s breast
Homecoming of the long wandering senses
Back once more at the feet of the Supreme Mother.