do self help books help?

self-help

Those who can, they do; those who cannot, they teach – thus goes an old maxim.

This can be a bit harsh to the teachers and coaches. Of course I include the writers of self help books and motivational speakers in this category. I say this even thought I myself have been and still do, off and on,  teach, give pep talks and write on ‘Art of Living’.

It does not mean that teachers are not successful. Only thing is that their growth, in the field that they are teaching now, has stopped.

Now  consider this. If somebody is passionate about science, he (she included) would go into the depths of science and come up with some invention or land mark scientific theory. He would not plunge into teaching science right after graduation or post graduation.

Players usually become coaches when they are well past the time when they could win at professional sport. In a sense they are teaching because now they can’t.

In fact I would rephrase the saying to say that  those who can should not teach, at least while they are still doing it and in the filed they are doing it. There comes a conflict of interest issue here. When a writer conducts creative writing workshop  I do not think she will honestly pass on all the secrets and tricks that has made her successful. Similarly, a professional payer cannot share all his secrets to others who are either his competitors or his potential competitors.

Today the book market is flooded with self help books. It is another issue that that the majority of the self help books do not help as was found out in a survey done some time back.

Before picking up a self help book one should do this simple probing. Did this author succeed in any thing other than in the field of writing self help literature. Recently, a book titled Success Mantra became a best seller in India. At least it was claimed to be so. The writer of the book is Mr. Subrat Roy and he wrote this book while he was in jail for his fraudulent practices. No doubt he has been successful. But what kind of success are we talking of?

Those who never worked in an office writer books about how to succeed in the workplace. Sometimes, people who failed in every field they tried their hands on, write books about how to achieve success and suddenly the book becomes a best seller.

Similarly,  I come across a number of motivational speakers whose only claim to fame is being a successful motivational speaker. Many of them chose this field because they could not stick to and persevere in their earlier chosen fields. Some of them might have been kicked out of their earlier jobs. Yet, they are hired by companies by paying hefty sums to motivate their employees to work hard and be more productive.

It is not that I have been a strict adherent of the wisdom I am dispensing here. I have also read a number of best seller self help books. One thing I have noticed is that if you pick any book, not only does it say why this book is the best book,  it also tries to convince you that all the other books are totally out of time and useless. Now examine another scenario. Suppose there are 100 self help bestsellers. Every books proclaims that other ninety nine books would not work. So by the authors’ own collective admissions 99% of self help books do not help.

But all self help books are not totally useless. Occasionally, you may comes across a book that dispenses wisdom and insights to uplift you.

I have come across friends and colleagues who are addicted to self help books. They do not read anything else. If you are one of them, remember: there had been successful people since the time of Adam, long before the Americans started flooding the market with self-help books.

Of course, you may take solace in this positive possibility. If you read enough number of books on how to become a motivated productive employee, one day you my end up becoming one of those motivational authors or speakers.

Well, what has been your experience? Please leave your opinions.

five simple principles of holistic health

To be whole is to be healthy. The Sanskrit word Swastha is defined as, ‘to be established in self’. Seen this way, to be healthy is not merely to be physically fit. Nor is it mere absence of physical ailments. The ancient medical practitioners, not only in India but elsewhere, took into account all dimensions of existence while recommending healthy ways of living.

There was also much importance on preventive methods. It is said that in China the family doctor was paid his annual honorarium if nobody in the family fell ill during the year. What an advanced concept!

The ancient health exponents have recommended five basic principles to be inculcated into daily life. These are in terms of food, work, rest, mental purification and direct contact with the five basic elements.

  1. Food: When you go to an Ayurvedic Doctor for any ailment, first the doctor ascertains the composition of your three basic humours known as bata, pitta and kapha. According to Ayurveda the imbalance caused in the three humours is the main reason for all ailments. Hence food can be divided into three categories in terms of their effect on a particular or a combination of humours.  – (1) Foods that suppress, (2) Foods that aggravate and (3) foods that bring in balance. The humours are also related to the mental attitude of a person. Hence food for a particular individual is decided keeping in view the ratio of humours in one’s body, one’s mental state, the type of work one is engaged in and the time of the year. It is good for everyone to know his or her dominant humour so that food can be chosen or avoided accordingly. One should never over eat. To have a balanced diet one should have food consisting  of all the six tastes –

  1. Work: Here work implies physical labour. Most of the lifestyle diseases today are attributed to lack of physical activity. Physical activity is also closely related to hunger and food. These days, there are many who never feel hungry. Hence they try to compensate this by inventing ways to make the food more and more delicious and thus palatable. People, whose nature of work is sedentary, must find time to do some physical exercise. Combined with other forms of physical exercises, yogasanas and pranayama are very good for overall mind body balance.

  1. Rest: Along with food and physical activity, rest is a vital need for life. Rest and activity are complementary. Sound sleep in the night rejuvenates the body. Usually people give rest to the body but not to the mind. Body may lie still but the mind keeps on moving, even in sleep in the form of dreams. Meditation is the best way to give rest to the mind. Likewise, living a pure life keeps the mind away from unnecessary agitations. It is only when both the body and mind rest that one gets rests in the true sense.

  1. Mental purification: there is a close relationship between the body and the mind. Now even modern medical science is slowly waking up to the fact that man is a body-mind complex. When the mind is purified one gets positive thoughts that give rise to beneficial actions for self and the society. When the mind is agitated due to excessive greed, anger or envy, the body’s defence mechanisms get weak and it is an invitation to hosts of diseases. To keep the mind cool and be in a pleasant mood one should engage oneself in doing good deeds, reading good literature and  avoid bad company.

  1. Direct contact with the five basic elements: Our body is made up of the five basic elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Ether. Direct contact with these elements in their purified forms depending upon the seasons is beneficial for health. Modern lifestyle in cities dotted with skyscrapers and filled with smoke emitting vehicles prevents one from being in direct contact with these elements in their purified forms. It is good to go to a remote place once in awhile to be in touch with mother nature. While in college,  I spent most part of my vacation in a remote village, either my own or somewhere else being part of the NSS team. I made sure that for the most part of the stay, I  walked barefoot, swam on the water bodies in the surroundings, sat near the blazing fire in the kitchen or a yagnakund if it was happening,  remained outdoor as much as possible and slept under the open sky on the village cemented chouraha. After a few days it gave me a feeling of ‘returning to source’, even though I did not do any’ formal’ meditation then. Now such an experience would be the ultimate luxury. May be one has to cough up hefty sums to a health resort or nature cure centre and book months in advance to get such an experience.

come back divine ancestors and be fulfilled

mother and childShe was not like Gorky’s Nilovna who was immortalized for supporting a revolutionary son even though she herself was not educated enough to understand what the revolution meant. She did it for the seer love for her son. But, she was a mother and every motherhood is as great as it can be. I do not think any rating is possible as far as motherhood is considered.

Of course, I am talking about my own mother. But why do I remember her today? The fact was that when she was alive, she was so much part of my life neither did I felt her presence, nor her absence. She lived that way or rather preferred to live that way, just a whispering presence like the gentle breeze, not asserting yet as life sustaining as the air. Today is her twenty first death anniversary, or what we call shradha divas according to our sanskara.

Our ancestors never foresaw we would have to see the unfortunate days when the children will remember or give special importance to their parents while they were alive once a year on a day designated as Mother’s day or Father’s day.

It was envisaged that generations would live under one roof in the presence of parents and other elders for years to come. You do not remember when someone is present with you, day in and day out. Of course there is a need to remember them when they are away or dead and gone.

The word Shraadha is derived from Shradhaa which means fondness mixed with respect. So, on Shradha days, in our Hindu tradition, we remember fondly not only the departed  parents, but also three lines of progenitors from father’s as well as mother’s side.

My father was an avid ritualist. It was worth watching and being around when he performed Shradha for his own parents and ancestors. He himself did all the Brahminical rituals while my mother cooked elaborate satwik dishes that were too good to resist.  The rituals would take four to five hours. He was very meticulous. He saw to it that no part of  the ritual was left out.

It was a great occasion to skip school. I would also urge my contemporary cousins to skip school so that we would be able to assist my father in preparations. Our adventurous duty started before sunrise by practically stealing flowers from the nearby temple premises. In case my father felt the quantity of flowers was not enough we raided the village zamindar’s well-guarded gardens. We also had to collect Jackfruit leaves for making plates and bowls by stitching these with coconut sticks.

Then, we would be ordered to go and take bath so that we earned the merit  to sit near the place of Shradha proceedings. We could  understand neither the elaborate mystical drawings that my father made on the floor, nor his Sanskrit chanting. But his chanting, which were sometimes in a whisper barely audible to others and at other times  in a high pitch voice that reverberated around the whole village, created a mesmerizing and mystical effect.

Now I remember a few lines – “Ranganahta deva sharma  atra gachha, iha tishtah, achamanam kuru……… Ranganatha deva sharma trupytam” which may roughly translate as – “Oh Godlike Ranganatha (his father), come here, take your sit, wash your feet and have these many delicious dishes……. Oh, departed ancestors come and be fulfilled ……”

But as children, our real interest lay in the dishes that were served. We would eagerly wait when all these mumbo jumbo would  be over so that we relished those dishes, fruits and sweets. Sometimes out of compassion, my mother would urge father to finish the rituals and not unnecessarily prolong the proceedings.  My father would act as if he had not listened and would go on unruffled, to make it doubly sure he did not miss any part of the ritual.

Sensing that my father was in no mood to take a short cut and finish early, she would call us to the kitchen on some pretext. In the kitchen she would have a kept aside a few sweet cakes  specially for this occasion. She would tell us to eat those cakes without making any noise, wash our mouth and hands and re-join the proceedings.

With my generation, the tradition of elaborate Shradha ritual has become almost extinct. Now a day, we go to a temple and donate something to the priest and the temple in cash and kind. In return, the temple priest gives his blessings, the intensity of his blessings being dependent upon his mood and his ability to chant those difficult Sanskrit stanzas.

Since I write this article on the occasion of my mother’s death anniversary I must pay my tribute to her. She was no special mother- that was her specialty. She was like any other mother, an Indian mother to be precise -not educated beyond the primary classes, yet unschooled enough to follow her motherly instincts and insights to know at what precise time which of her children needed what. I felt she had a special corner for me, being the youngest of the siblings. If I recall all events great or small to exalt her motherhood, it will fill a book. But, the following  incident haunts and will continue to haunt my memories for a long time to come.

My parents usually stayed with my elder brother. I studied staying in a hostel and then joined Indian Air Force where you cannot live outside the bachelor quarters till you are married. It was going to be her first visit to my place of posting. I was coming back to Bangalore with my wife, parents and my three months old daughter. We were waiting for the train at Berhampur, my home town. It was announced that the train was going to be late by a couple of hours.   Coincidentally, the child fell sick. We rushed to a doctor and got medicines. Being novice parents we panicked and decided to cancel the journey. But my mother would not listen. She insisted we carry on with the journey and that everything was going to be alright. So we carried on with the journey, though not sure whether it was the right decision.

We reached Bangalore without much problem. Still I could not forgive my mother for being so adamant and putting us to such risk. After a few days she explained during a casual conversation, “ See, first of all I knew there was nothing serious about the baby and at this age these are common ailments. Secondly, if I cancelled the journey you would have got a very bad name. Without understanding he situation the neighbours would have murmured that you were trying to avoid the responsibility of taking us with you. Thirdly, who knows whether I will be able to visit you again at your place of posting?”

Hardly convinced, I told my mother not to say so. But the depth of her concern and her foreboding could be realized only after her death three years later. Even though everything for her second visit to our place was arranged for, she died just three days before the proposed visit.

She preferred to be misunderstood so that her son was not condemned. That is what distinguishes mother’s love.

And she had a premonition that she would not be able to make it for a second time. If I had missed the chance first time, it would have been a regret of a lifetime.

On my mother’s twenty first death anniversary as I recall her, I am reminded again of the Shradha chantings done by my father in his mesmerizing and mystical voice inviting the ancestors to come, partake of our offerings and go back fulfilled.

 If only, we could really get those ancestors back, even if for a day!

mother

A SOLDIER SPEAKS

 

It is not that Army is fighting external enemies only. It is not that Army has to fight at physical level only. There are internal enemies, there are psychological enemies. Unfortunately, many of our own people are trying to undermine the morale and ethos of our soldiers by irresponsible statements. Or, who knows these people are agents of some external forces that want to destabilise the fabric of our nation.

In spite of all these anti india forces both external and internal, I am confident Army will come out with flying colours.

MAJOR GAURAV ARYA (VETERAN)

They know that the Indian Army is the last argument of the state. They know that after the Indian Army, there is nothing…no fallback. And so, with malice and cunning, they seek to undermine the institution and the man who leads it.

It’s a vicious web of half-truths, outright lies, deceit and ill gotten wealth. It is an eco-system where greed is king and the nation, a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.

If you want to undermine India, what better way to do it than to undermine the institution with the utmost credibility and integrity? If you want to undermine the Indian Army, what better way to do it than abuse its Chief?

They know that the army will never respond. They know that the Chief of Army Staff will never respond. They are honour bound not to. So, the Indian Army and its Chief will maintain…

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yoga #2: common yoga myths

yogaThe celebration of international yoga day has brought a lot of limelight to the ancient Indian practice of yoga. However, the myths surrounding yoga still continue.

In fact, as more and more people take to yoga in various capacities as practitioners, teachers, propagators and entrepreneurs new myths are created and propagated to suit vested interests. Here, let us explore a few of such myths.

 

  1. Yoga is all about asanas and body contortions

Now a days many forms or rather distortions of physical postures and activities are practised and are passed for as yoga.

In a wider context yoga is all about bringing integration to one’s various levels of existence. The word yoga which has been derived from the root ‘yuj’  means to join.  The English word ‘yoke’  has originated from the word yoga.

Asanas or the physical postures are part of the branch of yoga known as ‘Hatha’ Yoga. The broader context of yoga can be understood from the fact that various chapters of Bhagavat Gita are named as various types of yoga. Like Arjun Bishad Yoga, Sankhya Yoga, Gnana Yoga etc. Lord Krishna is also known as yogeshwar even though he is not known to have taught any kind of asanas. However, whenever there is talk of yoga, people understand the physical part of it.

  1. Maharshi Patanjali is the harbinger of yoga

Interestingly the word asana occurs in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras only a couple of times. Patanjali’s compilation of Yoga Sutras explores the basic philosophy of yoga. It does not contain any technique or procedure regarding how to do yogasanas or prayanama etc.

Various forms of yoga including Hatha Yoga have been in existence long before Maharshi  Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras  around 200 BC. Proof of yogic postures have been found to be in existence in the lost civilization of Mahenjodaro. Like the Upanishads whose writers preferred to by anonymous, the exact inventors of ancient yogic postures and practices are not known.

  1. With so many fake gurus around, it is better to self learn yoga. 

There are black- sheep in every profession. There are fake or fraud doctors. That does  not prevent us from going to a doctor when a need arises. Nor, do we brand the whole profession as frauds because of the existence of a few fraud doctors. Ravana came to abduct Sita in the garb of a saint.

In the Yogasara Upanishad it is said, “Gururantike yogabhyaset”-  Learn yoga under the guidance of a Guru. Similarly, setting aside their friendship, Arjuna accepts Sri Krishna as a Guru and seeks his advice for his existential dilemma. (Shishyasteham trahi mam prapanna… thus goes a stanza in the Bhagavat Gita)

Authority from the scriptures apart, let it be known that any kind of yoga, even hatha yoga is not just a kind of sundry exercise.  Many subtle energy centres and channels get activated while doing yoga.  So, the presence of a master or an expert is always a safer option.

Self learning of yoga is a kind of self medication where trial and error may sometimes lead to  dangerous consequences. Even if one may not face any kind of danger, one has to do a lot of trial and error and spend a lot of time unnecessarily to find out what form or pattern of yoga would suit one, considering that various combinations of yogic practices may run into thousands. Either way, it makes sense to seek the guidance of a master.

It is better to learn yoga first under the guidance of a master- a genuine master.

what is all that fuss about yoga?

idy.pngWith the International Yoga Day round the corner, posters pop out from every street corners and there is a buzz in the air, even the unlikeliest people suddenly joining the discussion to break a few myths associated with yoga. Of course,  there will be controversies galore as yoga may seem threatening to the perceived identities of certain belief systems. But how much do we really understand the various concepts and ideas associated with yoga?

Contrary to the often propagated concept that yoga is all about creating contorted body postures and holding on to them, it has a broader connotation encompassing all areas of life.

While Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras expounds the basic philosophy of yoga, each chapter name of the Bhagavat Gita ends with yoga, Arjuna Bishada Yoga, Gyana Yoga and so on. Interestingly these two popular scriptures do not give any description about the body postures which are so passionately propagated as yoga. Sri Krishna – the Lord of yoga did not teach even a single asana to his foremost disciple Arjuna during the entire length and breadth of the Bhagavat Gita. Nor did Arjuna had to do a Sirsashana (head stand) on a yoga mat amid the battle cries of Kurukshetra to a get a distorted view of the prevailing state affairs so as to fall into such depression that Sri Krishna took eighteen chapters with 700  verses to bring him to his senses.

By the way, references to various body postures and other physical yogic techniques can be found in Hathayoga Pradipika. However, Many of the asanas have been handed over to us in master-disciple tradition, some of them refined and  some distorted, in their long passage through 5000 years of the yogic history.

The meaning the word yoga is to join, to connect. So purpose of yoga is to connect all the loose ends of life. At a basic level it is to connect with oneself. Surprisingly, the first chapter of the Bhagavat Gita is Arjunabishada yoga – the yoga of Arjuna falling into depression and the last chapter is Mokshasannyas Yoga- the yoga of enlightenment . When one is happy, one spreads out and forgets oneself. But it is during the times of misery and depression that one starts to remember oneself. But that is only the starting point. As it happened in Bhagavat Gita, through the guidance of a master of yoga like Lord Sri Krishna, Arjun was led from the state of depression and dismay to the state of ultimate awareness- from Arjunabishada Yoga to Mokshasannyas Yoga. In the Gita, Lord Sri Krishna is referred as Yogeshwara – the lord of yoga. At one place He says – Samatwam Yoga uchyate – to be in a state of equanimity is yoga. So, the scripture is full of description of the yogic state and how to attain that state.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as yogaschttabritih nirodhah. Even though different authors translate it in different ways, keeping in view the spirit of the book, I feel the nearest would be – Yoga is all about mastery over the modes of consciousness. Unlike Bhagavat Gita, the Yoga Sutras start with Samadhi pada – the state of ultimate bliss and equanimity. With scientific precision it describes,  explores and categorises the inner world of a human being.

Different religions and scriptures use different symbols and techniques. When one goes beyond those symbols or when one tries to decipher the real indications of those symbols, I feel, one may find those things touching upon some concept of yoga, even though they may  not be using the word.

Anything that you do, whether it is religious activity or secular activity, whether it is dictated by tradition or something new, if it gives you a glimpse into your real nature, if it brings you bliss, peace calmness and contentment, that is your yogic path.

If at the basic level yoga joins you with yourself, in a larger context yoga is being in harmony with your surroundings and the humanity at large. Thus, it starts with the well being of oneself but, ultimately it must spread to the society.

Do not all religions claim it to be their basic purpose in spite of the disagreements as to the methods to be followed to do this?

to judge or not to judge

The dictionary too has two contexts to judge the word judgement. One is secular, the other one is religious.

The secular meaning of the word is : the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions, a couple of the synonyms associated being discrimination &  discernment. In practical world judgement is necessary to make choices.

The religious definition is: a misfortune or calamity viewed as a divine punishment. In stead of feeling  sympathetic to another’s suffering  one can have a little devilish pleasure without feeling guilty by believing in this definition. Maybe, that is the reason the biblical injunction warns us: judge not, lest you be judged.

All judgments are based on certain facts. But. do the judges get all the facts? Is it possible to get all the facts?

After getting all the facts, the judgement is worked out based on certain premises. Then, how to decide whether the premises are not questionable?

judgement hammerIn my earlier post I see you as you are I have narrated how forming prima-facie opinions and labeling people can some times lead to funny situation and sometimes to disastrous consequences.

But, in society, judgments have to be delivered. The guilty needs to be punished. The social structure needs to be preserved. No doubt quite often the innocents get punished while the guilty go scot-free. But again, who am I to judge as to who is really guilty?

The fallacy of  wise judgement is illustrated best by this Zen story:

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

If nations brought in Zen and Budhha into their judicial system all the jailers would be jobless. Nevertheless,  the Buddha story about the angry man who spit on his face illustrates the futility of judging people solely based on their past deeds.

Maybe, that is the reason the Nobel committee awards Nobel Peace prize not based on the awardee’s past  but, the future. While Mahatma Gandhi, inspired by whom many got the Nobel prize, was not considered for the prize, Obama got it.

Obama was nominated for the prize just nine days into his office and was awarded the prize, to the surprise and shock of many including himself, when he had barely finished nine months in his office.

Then, of course, you always have the excuse in hindsight – the error of judgement, when the irreparable damage has already been done.

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the sentinels of vishnu – part #3

continued from part #2

Waking_up_Kumbhakarna

In Treta Yuga, Jaya and Vijaya were born as Kumbhakarna and Ravana. Assuming that most of the readers are familiar with Ravana, I will skip writing about Ravana now. Along with Ravana, Kumbhakarna is also well known, so well known that one who sleeps too much is called a Kumbhakarna and one who has a very sound sleep (including sound making), is said to have a Kumbhkarna nidra.

Kumbhakarna is a very complex character. It is said that even Lord Indra was jealous of him. Once, Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Bibhisana did penance together. When it was time to ask for the boon, by a twist of the tongue, instead of asking for Indrasana, Kumbhakarna ended up asking for Nidrasana. The twist of tongue was caused by Goddess Saraswati at the behest of Lord Indra. Lord Brahma said, “tathastu, so be it”. Later on when Ravana realized the mistake he pleaded for the reversal of the boon. Lord Brahma modified it and said that Kumbhakarna would sleep for six months and would be awake during the other six months.

In Dwapar yuga, Jaya and Vijaya were Sishupala and Dantavakra. They were both Krishna’s cousins.

Life is full of strange phenomena. Who knows when your benefactor becomes your malefactor.

Born with three eyes and an extra limb, Sishupala was an odd child. The prophesy was that when someone special takes Sishupala into his hands, he would be cured. But that special person will also be the cause of Sishupala’s death. In search of that special person, his parents invited many eminent persons to their palace and asked them to take him in their hands. However, nothing happened for a long time.

Once, Lord Krishna paid a visit to his aunt and casually took his cousin Sishupala into his arms. Sishupala was instantly cured. Seeing this, his mother was happy. At the same time she was reminded of the other part of the prophecy. So she begged Lord Krishna to spare Sishupala and forgive him in case he did anything wrong or insulted Krishna. Lord Krishna promised that he would forgive one hundred times, but no more than that.

sishupalaLater in life, Shishupala’s would be wife Rukmini was abducted by Lord Krishna. Of course, it was done at the request of Rukmini as she was in love with Lord Krishna and did not want to marry Shishupala. But this was cause enough for Shishupala to nurse a grudge against Krishna. The opportunity to even out with Krishna came during the occasion of Rajasuya yagna of Yudhisthira. Shishupala opposed the selection of Krishna as the chief guest of the function. Arguments followed and Shishupala began insulting Krishna. When the insults crossed one hundred, the Sudarsana chakra beheaded Sishupala. But it was also the moment of mokha for Shishupala and made him regain his place in Baikuntha.

Dantavakra was not only a cousin of Shishupala, but also a close friend of Salva whose death was also caused by Lord Krishna. In order to take revenge an enraged Dantavakra invited Krishna for a mace duel. Dantavakra got killed in the duel. Thus ended the earthly parts played by Jaya and Vijaya as part of Lord’s Leela during three of his avatars.

The stories of Jaya and Vijaya illustrate the oneness and the wholeness of the creation. The best or the worst, all are filled with the divine light and the whole world is a playground of the creator. You may hate somebody thinking he is bad or is villainous. But he is as much a child of the divine as you are. He is as close to the divine as you are. This is the key to unconditional compassion.

the sentinels of vishnu – part #2

 

prahlad natak.jpg
Dying dance form Prahlad Natak staged during Kalua Jatra in Berhampur, Odisha. Image source: DNA India

Continued from Part #1

Hiranyakha’s brother, Hiranyakashipu learns of his brother’s death at the hands of Vishnu in the form of a boar. It fills him with rage and he vows to take revenge. He thinks that the boon of Brahmadev, the creator would help him achieve this. He goes to the Himalayas and engages in severe penance to appease Brahma.

Meanwhile, the devas connive to abduct his pregnant wife Kayadhu. Here, Seer Narada comes to her rescue and protects her. While in the womb, the child, who is later known as Prahlad, is spiritually influenced by Naradji. Prahlad grows up to be a great devotee of Lord Vishnu to the consternation of his father.

Pleased by the severe penance, Lord Brahma appears and asks Hiranyakashipu to put forth his wishes. Hiranaykashipu wants nothing less than immortality, to which, Brahmadev expresses his inability. Alternately, Hiranyakashipu asks to be granted a highly improbable conditional death. He says, “Oh Lord! Grant that let me not be killed by any God, man, demon or beast. Let me not be killed at day nor at night. Let me not be killed on land, in water or in the sky”.

“So be it”, says Lord Brahma and goes back to his abode. When Indra and other gods come to register their protests, Brahmadev assures them that all will be well when Lord Vishnu takes up his next avatar.

Empowered by the boon of Lord Brahma, the arrogance of Hiranyakashipu knows no bounds. He is enraged as he sees that his own son has become the ardent devotee of his sworn enemy. First he tries to win back his son through reasoned friendly counseling. But the hardcore devotee of Lord Vishnu would not budge. Hiranyakashipu runs out of patience and resorts to desperate measures, to the extent of intending to do away with his own son. All his attempts to kill his son is foiled by the timely intervention of Lord Vishnu, who is well known for never failing to protect his devotees.

One such attempt to kill Prahlad involves Hiranyakashipu’s sister Holika. She has an invisible cloak and when she wears it she can pass through fire unharmed. Hiranyakashipu orders her to carry Prahlad in her lap and enter fire so that Prahlad is burnt to ashes while nothing happens to her. However, it so happens that by the grace of the Vayudev – the wind god- the cloak flies out of her body and enwraps Prahlad. Holika is burnt to ashes. This event is celebrated as Hollika Dahan  every year in Feb/March.

Tired of hearing the omnipresence of Lord Vishnu, one day Hiranyakashipu asks Prahlad whether Lord Vishnu is in the pillar nearby. Prahlad says, “Yes”. Enraged, Hiranyakashipu hits the pillar with his mace. To his surprise a strange creature emerges from the pillar. It has the face of a lion and the body of a human being. After engaging with Hiranyakashipu in a duel, at the time of dusk this creature who is actually Lord Vishnu in Narasimha avatar lifts Hiranyakashipu on to his thighs and using its nails tears apart his belly to kill him. Thus, no condition of Bramha’s boon is  violated while killing Hiranyakashipu. The story further goes on to describe the untold rage of Narasimhan which could not be pacified easily even though all the devas applied various means. Finally, Prahlad is brought in and with his humble prayers the Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu is pacified.

Indian BloggersPleased with Prahalad’s devotion, Lord Vishnu offers him a boon. Unlike his father, Prahlad does not ask for power, riches or glory.   He is content being a devotee of Lord Vishnu, and asks for his steadfast devotion to continue. Even though his father had been so cruel towards him, he  prays that he be forgiven.

The remote villages and small towns, where I spent most of my childhood days, provided healthy doses of entertainment in the form of dramas, puppetry and other folk performances conducted in open theatres.  Most of the performances would be based on stories from various epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavat Purana etc. At such places, by the time a boy/girl was into his/ her teens, whether he was educated or illiterate, he/she knew all the major stories from the epics, along with their moral and ethical implications.  One such popular performance  was Prahlad Natak, a musical dance drama with resemblance to Kerala’s Kathakali dance format. The drama would start in the morning and continue till late night or the morning next day. Before the battle finale, the actors playing Narasimhan and Hiranyakashipu would be bound in iron chains with two groups of strong men in control of each actor. The elders would explain that if it is not done, the actors may kill each other. Towards the end, the actors identify themselves with the characters so much they forget that they are acting out the roles. As I remember, after the killing episode of Hiranyakashipu, the actor playing Narasimha would reach a trance like state. The actors playing the roles of Hiranyakashipu and Narasimha, have to be not only highly skilled in acting, but also disciplined enough to  follow prescribed rituals strictly a few days before the enactment of the play till its end. Unfortunately,  many of such traditional performances are on the verge of extinction due to lack of artists, audience and patronage.

the sentinels of vishnu

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image source: pinterest

Ancient Indian legends or the stories from our puranas are not mere stories for entertainment. Each story also illustrates an eternal truth or an important lesson. Some of the puranas like the Bhagvat purana attempt to illustrate the principles of upanishads and other philosphies for the easy understanding of the common man. The two prominent epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata take us into deeper inquiry with regard to not only finding meaning in  life for an individual but also dealing with the complex social issues.

The stories of Jaya and Vijaya,  as narrated in Bhagvat Purana and further elaborated in various other puranas, are really fascinating. Jaya and Vijaya are not only the gatekeepers of Lord Vishnu, but are also two of His closest devotees. Yet, in subsequent births they are the villains becoming fierce opponents of Lord Vishnu during some of His avatars. Jaya and Vijaya took birth as Hiranyakha and Hiranyakashyapa in Satya yug, as Ravana and Kumbhakarna in Tretaya Yug and as Dantavakra and Shishupal in Dwapara Yug.

 In some mystical texts of ancient origin, it is also stated that Jaya and Vijaya are not different from Lord Vishnu. Of course it seems strange. But the stories of Jaya and Vijaya are in line with the following statements from Upanishad and other mystic ancient literature:

“One become two and then many, and finally many dissolve into the one”

Good and evil always co-exist. The Chinese concept of co-existence of opposing forces as found in the writings of Lao Tzu and other Taoist philosophers also finds resonance here.

According to the Bhagavata Purana, once the four sons of Lord Brahma also known as Sanat Kumaras, went to meet Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha Dham. The four sanat kumaras are Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Sanatkumar. It is said that due to regular spiritual practices they looked like children. So the gatekeepers did not take them seriously. However, when they insisted that they be allowed to go inside without delay, Jaya and Vijaya told them that Lord Vishnu was taking rest and they have to wait till He wakes up. At this, the kumaras were enraged and told that Lord Vishnu is available all the time for their devotees. Further, the kumaras cursed the gatekeepers for their insolence so as to be born in the mortal world leaving their heavenly bode. Subsequently, the gatekeepers asked forgiveness of the kumaras and requested Lord Vishnu to waive off the curse. Lord Vishnu told that the curse of divine beings like the kumaras cannot be reverted. However, he wanted to commute the punishment. So He gave the gatekeepers two options – either to be born as His devotees for six births or as His enemies for three births. Jaya and Vijaya chose the latter as they thought the sooner they are re-untied with their master the better,  even though they have to play the role of villains.

So in their first descent from heaven as mortal beings they were born as Hiranyakha and Hiranyakashyapa. It happened in Satya Yuga.

The story of Hiranyakha

Rishi Kashyapa had two wives – Aditi and Diti. All the devas and other auspicious beings were born to Aditi while the demons in general, and Hiranyakha and Hiranyakashyapa in particular, were born to Diti. Hiranyakha, the elder one, was conceived during the evening time and stayed in the womb for one hundred years.

Hiranyakha, which means – one whose eyes are obsessed with gold. It signifies the greed for wealth and all worldly desires. The greedy and the lustful ultimately become tyrants and sadists. So it happened with Hiranakhya that he became a  burden  for the existence.

At his birth itself the universe was filled with inauspicious omens that scared the devas. They went to Lord Vishnu and sought protection. Lord Vishnu assured them that when the time was ripe he would descend to restore the balance.

Hiranyakha grew up to be a great devotee of Lord Brahma. The severity of his penances moved Lord Brahma. Knowing full well that boons given to this demon would only be misused,  Lord Brahma had to give  him boons which granted him immunity from being killed by any God, human or demon.

True to the predicament of the Gods, Hiranyakha started misusing his powers. Entering the sea, he started churning it with his waist. Varun Dev, the Lord of the Sea was upset. Yet the notoriety of Hiranyakha was so much that Varun Dev, instead of offering a fight, went to hide himself.

Narada Muni, the beloved of all Gods, demons and humans happened to pass by. He stopped for a chitchat with Hiranyakha. Hiranyakha asked Naradji if there was anyone now more powerful than him. “Yes”,  said Naradji, “It is none other than Lord Vishnu.” Thus saying Narad muni disappeared instantly, without stopping to provide whereabouts of Lord Vishnu or any further information.

Hiranyakha started searching for Lord Vishnu everywhere he could go, but to no avail. Frustrated, he made the earth into a round ball and hid it in the cosmic ocean, so as to provoke Lord Vishnu to  come to him.

The devas panicked and approached Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu took the form of a wild boar. It was his Varah avataar – the third one. Lord Vishnu took this Avataar so as not to transgress the boon given by Lord Brahma. There ensued a fierce fight between Lord Vishnu in his Varah Avtaar and the demon Hiranyakha. Finally Hiranyakha was killed and the earth was restored to its former glory.

The demonic mind set is that even after so much penance it asks for power and glory – the things that are transient. Neither does it rest in peace, nor does it allow others  to have it. It seeks power and glory to torment others. In contrast, the person with divine mindset seeks love, beauty or truth. Even if it gets power,  it is utilised for the benefit of the mankind.

the sentinels of vishnu part #2

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