Belief System for Continual Progress


Ta-Nehisi Coates shares snippets from an interview with William Faulkner. The topic being the amoralism(lacking a moral sense) of being a writer. I would not have characterized it as “amoralism” but rather as “belief system”. Faulkner sizzles in articulating this belief system of a novelist, and perhaps of himself. All that he says is 100% true of any creative endeavor- whether you are starting a company, creating a product, participating in a competition or learning music. This is like Arjuna, or perhaps Achilles, talking about what it takes to be a warrior. Go digest these words:

Impossible Goal

All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide.

I simply love the axiom-like assertion of the first sentence and the oxymoron(splendid failure) in the second. Act and raise yourself. And repeat! Perfection is an impossibility, so get ever closer to it. The striving is its own reward.

Formula to Follow

Ninety-nine percent talent . . . ninety-nine percent discipline . . . ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

Your swabhava, inner disposition, is to be the guide of your efforts. Following the law meant for another only leads to chaos, jealousy, confusion. The Gita declares the same thing, to follow your own dharma rather than that of another.

Demons and Muses

An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.

Two opposing elements churn the being of an artist or a creator. The one is bright, luminous and leads him to higher ground. The other is dark, brooding, wrathful and doubting. Between these opposing pulls our being is churned. We laugh, cry, dream, suffer and create. All our works are born thus.

Creator’s Responsibility

The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written.

Focus and resourcefulness. A single minded aspiration to realize the dream. Nothing else distracts him from that endeavor.

Art Can Come From

Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.

Faulkner really nails this one. What do you fear? What are you willing to sacrifice to create something? What will make you stop trying?

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


[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)

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 postcards from eternity. They arrive without warning. The discerning mind of the aspirant latches onto them.

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

The Sannyasin

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


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




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


Last Temptation of Christ

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

Essays on the Gita

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

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