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

More Labels on You, Dumber You Get

Often the route we take to arrive at a destination does not matter much. The destination justifies the paths we take.

Reason and logic always seem to have a dryness about them and always seem to be used and thrown out when the higher perceptions open up.

But there are times when even reason hews its way and arrives at perceptions of truth that is ascribed to more intuitive and spiritualized sight.

Today I had come across one such article by Paul Graham, called Identity. Paul speaks about understanding why politics and religion lead to “uniquely useless discussions” 🙂

So here is a terrific quote

What’s different about religion is that people don’t feel they need to have any particular expertise to have opinions about it. All they need is strongly held beliefs, and anyone can have those. No thread about Javascript will grow as fast as one about religion, because people feel they have to be over some threshold of expertise to post comments about that. But on religion everyone’s an expert.

And here is the closing statement..

Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

I am not sure Paul had Yoga and Nirvana in mind when he wrote this post. But suffice to say that it is an noble attitude that will directly help anyone pursuing an inner life.

An extremely interesting post to say the least..do not miss.

The Benevolent Tyrant

anantavishnu

I had grown deaf to thy call, the flute was heard no more;
And thou dost come with the sword of the warrior.
No longer the promise of eternal embraces,
Now is the cold grasp of mortality.
But thou dost hunt with an infinite sight
And I have grown too large for any lair.
Thou art dire O Beloved,
But I know thy embrace shall cancel my opposites.
Come then, Benevolent Tyrant, I shall run no more.

To the aspirant beset with the travails of karma and circumstance, the world seems a veritable hell. All turns into a fount of his continued misery. The future is no more, only a painful lingering of the past.

One is reminded of an aphorism by Sri Aurobindo – 

I used to hate and avoid pain and resent its infliction; but now I find that had I not so suffered, I would not now possess, trained and perfected, this infinitely and multitudinously sensible capacity of delight in my mind, heart and body. God justifies himself in the end even when He has masked Himself as a bully and a tyrant.

Is the “justifies in the end” bit what we usually paraphrase and call as hope? Or faith?

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.

Siddhartha

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.

 

 

Ka

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.

A Thought – The Sanyyasi’s Reticence

The Sanyyasi is said to be a recluse. Shunning all contact with the traffic of the world. The lonely king of an empty kingdom.

Men of the world look down upon him and think, ‘What an existence! Without any possessions, living on the whim or generosity of the world. Not knowing where the next meal would come from. Living on faith instead of food.’

On another extreme, men idolize the Sanyyasi. Even revere him. But keep him so high by patronizing him that all possibility of following the ideals are ruled out upfront, like a disclaimer in a legal document.

But the Sanyyasi watches silently. Observing. Learning. Becoming.

He thinks, ‘How vain is man! Positing cause and effect where none exists. Trading in hypothesis that can never be proven true. Building upon laws that are more volatile than the sand patterns on a beach. Anchoring the soul’s infinity to the trinkets of time.’

“I shall be the witness, for without me the folly of man would be truth. I shall be there when he falls and cries out for succor. Until then I shall watch as the nameless one does, for I am a Sanyyasi..the witness in time.”

The Parable of Churning of the Ocean

DSC00976_copy

It was the perfect parable and myth. To be listened to at the foot of a beloved grandparent under the moon light. The tale itself is quite simple. 

Two mighty groups. Devas and the Asuras, the forces of light and darkness respectively. The Devas and Asuras desired immortality and headed up to Vishnu, the grand Godhead. Who directs them to the one Ocean and asks them to churn it up. Just as clarified ghee, or butter, would rise up when churning butter-milk, so too would the sweet nectar of immortality rise up in this churning.

The Devas

Clothed in their mystic mantras and equipped with unheard of weapons. Smug in their invincibility, in their almost automatic assumption of virtue. They were livid at being expected to co-operate with these barbarian hordes. How dare Vishnu ask this of them!

The Asuras

The forces of darkness and ignorance. They were elder to the Devas, after all before there could be light, there was absence of light. They were the older race, hence expected the nectar to be given to them by rights of lawful inheritance. Here too were weapons, crude and effective. Not here the shimmer of steel and mantra. The grease of blood and lives had smoothened the weapons to deadly perfection.

The Arbiter

Vishnu, the arbiter in this collaboration between sworn enemies, suggests the apparatus, the configuration of it and lets the churning commence.

The Churning and its Effects

Out come magical glories, weapons of immense power, beauty that would bind the heart for every eternity, every sort of desire found manifestation.

And so did evil, the poison of the world, suffused in every hidden intent, thought and manifest action gathered too.

Interpretation

Of late the meaning of this myth has become intimately clear to me. Not as in something understood mentally, but lived, endured and felt with every fiber of this being.

The myth was a symbol. The forces of light and darkness stood for the higher and lower tendencies within man. Life and all its outcome, the varieties of our existence was the result of the churning between these two opposing powers, who were actually kin in the appointed task. One could not live without another.

To use a contemporary analogy. The scientist who slaves over an obscure medicine to cure AIDS is not probably doing it out of altruism for the dying millions. Perhaps he loves the problem of defeating the virus, almost drools at the challenge of taking on a force of nature. To ease the suffering of millions will be a pleasant bonus.

Outcome, Secondary to Intent

The outcome, the act of acquiring and using knowledge to understand the working of a deadly virus so as to eradicate it can be the working of light. The motivation behind it could easily be the workings of lower impulses.

Regardless, the outcome is of importance. And it would not be possible without the cooperation of both these forces.

So it is with each of us. The impulse to be religious or spiritual could, and mostly does, border on the mundane. But the outcome of this impulse is often noble – poetry, devotion, zeal, sacrifice..all high traits flower out from an apparently ugly seed.

Picture courtesy my friend Babu who visited the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport. The picture triggered this post!

Identity 2.0

For all its present crudity my race had many saving graces in its past. By ‘my race’ I don’t mean the Aryans or Dravidians or the countless other classification systems by which my people choose to slaughter themselves.

I do not choose geography as the criteria to identify myself. As some of the ancient travelers did, I am not me because I live on one side of the Indus.

Nor am I Dravidian because of the color of my skin, or because I live south of the Vindhyas.

My identity is not subject to the racial notions that the western conquerors wanted to thrust upon me.

I am not defined by the language I was born into. Language is conferred by the accident of birth, but the speech of my mind exceeds man made languages. 

My identity is not encoded in the genes that make up my physical self. Nor am I the mental being made up of time-born conceptions, ideas, opinions and all the impedes the self.

I define my identity by my deepest beliefs, by values that don’t change with the notional values of society.

As hero or villain. As the victor or the vanquished. As delight or anguish. Through all runs a single strain, an eternal music of silence that supports the cacophony.

I am my deepest self. And you too dear soul, you too.

One True Moment, Had Any Lately?

You could not imagine a more mundane setting. I had gone to get some lunch from a nearby hotel. After placing my order I let my attention drift to a bunch of papers laid out for customers. I picked a color supplement and cast a glance, soon my eyes fell on this picture.

I just froze within. The usual tumult of the senses, my orientation, the sense of existing all were sent to low priority. Every bit of my being went into this picture.

I honestly do not know if you see what I saw. This picture allowed me to escape all the noise of the senses. And in doing so revealed a glimpse of a higher concern, a subtler state of being.

It seemed as if Daniel was a metaphor for each of us. The wild animals of the senses all raging by, ready to devour you. But absorbed in the contemplation of the Higher Self, Daniel seems to not even notice the commotion around!

In a certain sense the function of art is to communicate, which in most scenarios is a common enough task to pull off. A picture perfect postcard, a fine foot tapping tune, an exquisite poem. Each, to the extent that it communicates the idea in the mind of the author does justice to its creator.

Often this is where it all ends. To grab a bite and appease the immediate hunger. Sometimes, just sometimes, art exceeds itself. It does so by communicating a higher sentiment, without overtly talking, painting or capturing it in a specific way. It is in such moments that art elevates itself into something sublime, beyond the immediate techniques employed to create it.

Sri Aurobindo talks of poetry being elevated into a mantra when it becomes a vehicle to carry the aspiring soul to the gods. Ceremonial pictures have been used to symbolize, and they say even capture, the wavelength of occult powers. Carved stones have been the personification of Supreme Godheads.

We chase the Grail. Treasure the relics. And fight over the places.

But let us not forget, the literal name and form seldom matters.

What does matter is if we have paused enough and seized the moments and the name and the form to haul ourselves up into the beyond. 

Have you had such true moments lately?