The question of forgiveness arises when there is a wrong doing – actual or perceived – and it is closely related to our sense of justice or fair play.
Tabebuias – Flower full
Come February, and you will find these flowering plants called Tabebuias in the streets and parks full bloomed in their yellow, pink or violet versions. This one too is in its full flowering glory.
I am awe stuck by these plants. Off season, you will not find even a single flower on them. But when they flower, they flower as if the whole being of the plant has flowered.
It reminds me of children. When they cry, they cry with their whole being; when they laugh, they laugh with their whole being. There is no halfheartedness. That is what you call living life in its totality.
As we grow up we become more and more divided. In order to achieve 101 things, we loose our propensity to live in the present moment undivided in our being. As the society becomes more progressive and more civilized, crocodile tears and plastic smile replace our heart full expressions.
The plant also reminds us of the principle of fullness and emptiness. It is the emptiness that gives birth to fullness. Sun Tzu has enunciated this in context of ‘Art of War’. In fact it is the basic principle of ‘Meditation’, and in general, this could be applied in our attempt to master the ‘Art of Living’.
Ah the Tabebuias! How they remind us to live life in our totality. Either do something wholeheartedly or do not do it at all.
In an earlier post Love is in the Air, I attempted to explore various flavours of love. In any kind of relationship, one or more of the flavours would be involved to sustain it.In a broader sense, as prominent spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Love is that glue that holds everything together”. Hence love unites, integrates.
Yet, it should not stifle. Even though some kind of interdependence is inherent in Love, it is not true love if it stifles, if it encroaches upon the freedom of another beyond a healthy limit.
Of course we have to consider what kind of love are we talking about? Freedom is inherent in true love. Once you have faith and confidence why would you impose any condition?
So, if ever you feel stifled in love, or feel your freedom curtailed, examine. Was it really love? Or, was it bondage, manipulation or an attempt to control masquerading as love?
From a different perspective, let us consider the following. Love is the process of uniting, merging. Two become one. It is true in the case of romantic love, divine love or any other kind of love. A feeling of oneness comes with love. Where does it leave space for freedom. One feels surrendered in love. In another sense, sacrifice becomes natural. In the land of love, freedom is an absolute stranger. A true lover does not seek to free itself of the beloved, neither does he/she would like to possess the other one and bring the other into submission.
Or rather, in a state of love, one simply does not bother about freedom. Love takes care of everything.
As Rumi says:
“Ride on love and don’t worry about the road!
Even though the road is rough.”
Still, if the question of freedom pops up, let us remember with Kahllil Gibran:
“Love possesses not, nor will it be possessed”.
That is the paradox of the state of love – one does not have the apparent freedom, yet it is love that brings the ultimate freedom.
An evolved human being has the innocence and intelligence of a child, yet is without the accompanying helplessness and childishness.
The evolved human being loves his neighbors, his culture & his nativity. However, he never confines himself to any boundary. He learns to see an individual as an individual and does not draw pre-matured conclusions based on the particular group the individual belongs to, by virtue of his birth. (more of this elaborated in I see you as you are)
He recognizes all the conditioning he is subjected to by the society and the vested interests and rises above them. However, he does not forget his duties to the society and his fellow living beings.
He may or may not be a follower of rigid religious rituals, but he has a kind of religiosity or spirituality that is not dependent upon any concept of God or Heaven or Hell.
To be an evolved human being is not only about valuing one’s own freedom, but also recognizing and respecting the freedom of others, at the same time realizing that we are all interdependent.
To be an evolved human being is about never going beyond a healthy point to persuade another to our own views and behave to our liking. It is never projecting our own dreams on others, however dependent they may be on us.
The evolved human being has his way, which he may follow very fervently. However, he recognizes and respects other paths.
Everything, anyway, one day returns to the source. The evolved human being, while realising the impermanence of everything, does not neglect to live with passion and commitment. (More of this at One life is not enough yet this moment is enough unto itself)
The evolved human being is truly an individual, yet he is the ultimate universal man. For him all the world is one family – ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’.
May be somewhere at the age of twelve I started to have deep feelings of uselessness of life. The feelings continued off and on. Pressing responsibilities and needs, first of a student life, then of a professional and family life drowned out the inner call.
Of course, since childhood I had been interested in yoga and meditation. I used to do certain practices following the instructions in some books that I had come across. However, I was not having any deep feeling or any significant progress as an amateur self taught pilgrim of the spiritual journey. But my self taught yogic practices continued from high school till the first year of college. Then, sometime in the second year I discontinued the yogic practices and my lifestyle took 180 degree spin off.
It is said in esoteric spirituality that every spiritual / non-spiritual cycle lasts twelve years. It may be a matter of pure coincidence that after my third 12 year cycle, I started again to search for answers to some of the existential questions that had bothered me every now and then: Who am I? What is the purpose of life? Is there any use in this thing called life? yeh jina bhi koi jeena hai yaro? These feelings of inner emptiness, uselessness, meaninglessness continued for quite some time. I turned my attention to a variety of spiritual literature. But nothing satisfied me.
One day while channel surfing on TV, I got stuck with an interview of Sri Sri Ravishankar taken by Pratibha Advani. I do not remember what exactly was the question or what was the answer, but I had a feeling that I got a starting point for the answers to some of the disturbing questions in my mind. Then, one day out of curiosity I went to the Art of living center to inquire about their workshops. It was a Tuesday and I was told the next workshop known as the Art of Living Basic Course was to start in two hours.Without thinking much I enrolled my self. Then I was in Hyderabad.
The six day workshop, for me was sheer bliss. By the end of the course my journey of self discovery had begun on a serious note. After that I visited the Art of Living International Centre in Bengaluru and met with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I also did many advanced courses.
Of course till now I have not got the final answers to my ‘existential’ questions. The quest of self discovery is still on. But the difference is, now I have the feeling that I am on the way. As I continue with the spiritual practices and knowledge, I experience many positive changes in my attitude towards life and society.
Different people may have different experiences and opinions about Art of living and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But one thing I know is that the word bliss cannot remind me, first of all, anything other than the Art of Living.
I have realised that one need not be a believer of anything to experience the bliss of meditation, yogic practices and mystic glimpses into the nature of truth.
Age bhi janena tu.. pichhe bhi janena tu.. jo bhi hai bas yehi ek pal hai. ( You do not know what lies ahead.. nor what happened earlier.. whatever there is, there is only this moment)
I am reminded of this song from the Hindi movie Waqt now that the topic of present moment has come up. Of course we understated that we do not know what will happen in future. But the song says you do not know the past. In a way, even though we know some events of the past, we do not know how to put it in right perspective. If you tell your story to five people, each may interpret it differently. Some one will say that whatever happened, happened for good. Someone may say how miserable it was. In a larger context, we are not sure how much myth and propaganda material go into the making of what we officially read as history.
In fact, the concept of present moment is not new. Our ancients were not only familiar with this concept, but also devised many methods to bring the mind to here and now.
Hindu rituals of worship begin with the customary sankalpa. It starts with something like this: In sweta varah kalpa …. in Jambudwipa (Indian sub-continent) … in the country of Bharatabarsha …. in so and so state, in so and so place, on so and so day, at so and so time ……. It starts with the higher denomination of place and slowly brings our awareness to the present place. Same way it starts with a bigger expansion of time and brings our awareness to the present. The time and place are put in proper context. If one follows this sankalpa, our awareness is brought from the vastness of time and space to here and now at the end.
If you have attended any evening arati at any of the temples, especially the Ganga Arati at Varanasi or Haridwar, you must have experienced that the overall ambiance crated by sights, smells and sounds act as a kind of shock therapy to hammer out your wandering mind out of its dwellings in past or future.
You may also read: One life is not enough, yet for now this moment is enough unto itself
It is said that the symbol of Jesus on the Cross indicates the importance of present over past and future. The horizontal line of the cross representing past and future is much shorter than the vertical one representing the present. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness aims at bringing the awareness to here and now. So are many of the meditation techniques and yogic practices.
Since ancient times, volumes have been written and spoken revolving around the importance of living in the present moment. In spite of all these talks and practices, scientifically speaking, the elusive present moment is just a concept, like the geometric concept of line or point that have no real existence. Time is a continuum. The moment I say moment, the moment is already gone.
However, it is a useful concept to rid the mind of the unpleasant feelings that comes from dwelling too much in past or future. To a certain extent, it is good to take the mind to past and learn the lessons it taught. It is equally good to have fixed goals and have a vision and know where one is going. It is only when the mind is too much anxious about the future or obsessed with the regrets of the past that one does a lot of harm to one self.
Here again I am reminded of another old Bollywood hit and let me conclude this post humming it:
Ae bhai ! jara dekh ke chalo.. age hi nahin pichhe bhi.. daen hi nahin baen bhi ….upar hi nahin niche bhi
Ae bhai! jara dekh ke chalo
I am reminded of Shakespeare’s famous lines, ” All the world is a stage and we are mere actors and actresses….”. Further, he goes on to describe the stages of life. Beginning from childhood to old age, it is a full circle. My take from this is that if it is a play, where is the need to be so serious. Five thousand years before Shakespeare, Lord Krishna had emphasized amid the back drop a looming war that life is a leela, a play.
Of course, dear life, you are fleeting and momentary. So many sages through out the ages have tried to bring home the point that life is transitory. If misery does not last, so doesn’t happiness. This does not mean one should shut oneself out of the play. Or, just watch, wait and endure till the play is finished.
I am reminded of the sand artist. The sand artist is a beautiful inspiration. His art is so transitory. Sometimes it may not last beyond a couple of hours. But, look at his enthusiasm while he is in the process of creation. He does not loose heart over the fact that it would all be over in a few moments.
Of course it is good to have the realization at the back of the mind that nothing is permanent. It takes away the feverishness that comes out of too much desire and attachment. At the same time one need not be anti-life. The sand artist inspires us to be lost in the creative process of the moment so much so that the present moment is stretched to eternity. It is a beautiful balance. If life is meant to be a play, it is meant to be played and played with all intensity. One loses so much being just a bystander all the time.
Your opposites are there to give depth to each other, not cancel out each other. So, where is the point of complaining when bad moments come. Without pain how would we know pleasure? Even sweetness loses its taste when there is no other taste to contrast it with. Thus, dear life, whatever you throw at me, gratitude comes. Sometimes, when you take me down, I know it is just to deepen my roots, so that when I come up, I come up like never before.
There was a time, I tried to understand you. The more I tried to understand, the more I got intrigued. Then I realised there is no point in trying to analyse you too much. I stopped over thinking about you. And then, you smiled and invited me to dance with you. I just surrendered myself to you rhythm. In stead of understanding, I started living you, experiencing you and occasionally getting lost in wondering about you.
It has been such an intense living, not rejecting any of your moments, whether mundane or extraordinary. I would take this opportunity to give a small message to my fellow travelers.
If life is a game meant to be played, play. Do not stand on the side lines just to watch, cheer or condemn.
Nothing is good or bad. But thinking makes it so- said Shakespeare.
Long before Shakespeare, a Chines sage had said somethings very profound. (Hope my patriotic countrymen – particularly the whatsapp warriors, will forgive me for using things Chines in my blog post). I extract here a few lines of Lao Tzu’s Tao- Te- Ching :
"As soon as beauty is known by the world as beautiful, ugliness is born. As soon as virtue is being known as something good, evil is born. Therefore being and non-being give birth to each other. Difficult and easy accomplish each other. .............................................. "
So the concept of ugliness was born when man recognized and discriminated something as beautiful. Prior to that things existed as they were without being judged. So was the case with good and evil.
Even the ancient seers who compiled the mythologies knew this. Hence, Ravana is actually not an enemy of Vishnu. He is just doing a role play as ordained by the divine order of things. He is one of Vishnu’s trusted lieutenants, being the doorkeeper of Baikuntha- the abode of Lord Vishnu, who becomes Rama in his seventh avatar.
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. However, 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 abode.
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. In their first descent from heaven as mortal beings they were born as Hiranyakha and Hiranyakashyapa. In their second life, they were to be born as Ravana and Kumbhakarna; while in their third life they became Shishupala and Dantavakra.
According to the mythologies the gods and the demons are descendants from the same father. Of course from different mothers. 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.(Here again, feminists please forgive the misogynistic bias of the seers who were mostly male.)
There have been interpretations of Ramayana, where Rama’s actions have been portrayed more devilishly than Ravana’s. So the dispute as to who is the hero and who the villain of the same story goes on.
As we see there is a very thin line that divides good from evil or deva (god) from the devil. If I put it in Hindi – hero aur villin mein sirf unneesh beesh ka farak. This theme has been used in many English movies. Remember Spider man III? Spiderman’s scientist friend is his arch enemy this moment, his savior the next.
As there are no absolute heroes or villains, some sages suggested let us kill the demons within.
Now, which are these demons? Anger, Ego, Lust……
As we know, without ego, many of the great things in world would not have been done.
And without lust, where would we be? Would I be here writing this post. Or, you reading it?
(I know it sounds a little incorrect, politically speaking)
So here comes my feedback form. My feedback at fifty. If the biblical life span is 70, for a Hindu the ideal life span is 100. So, here I am, at the thresh hold of my half way mark.
I did my education at a number of schools in a number of localities falling in rural , semi urban and urban areas. This provided the opportunity to have a taste of India in its myriad of colours and flavours. This experience was extended in range and depth when I joined Indian Air Force that provided me the opportunity of close interaction with people and places from all across India. A career in Defense takes away many of the biases associated with religion, language and locality. The stint in Indian Air Force has truly been a blessing.
By the way, as I write this article today, the Indian Air Force is celebrating its eighty fourth anniversaries. My hearty greetings to all Air Warriors (serving and Ex) and their families. I also take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Indian Air Force for not only giving me an opportunity to do my bit for my fellow citizens, but also for enriching my life with beautiful experiences.
There were times when the perceived indifference of parents was painful. But, when I saw how some of the over caring parents are playing with the dreams of their children and hindering their growth by their protectiveness, I realised what a blessing it was to have parents who did not interfere with many of my choices.
It is has been a great wandering, a great journey. There have been moments of fulfillment, moments of disappointment. Kabhi khushi kabhi gam – life has gone on. There have been rewards, there have been brickbats. There have been times when I have been treated like a celebrity and there have been times when I preferred to go into temporary oblivion. Plenty of foolish decisions marked by a few sparks of wise ones.
But no moment has betrayed me. Each moment has given me an intensity and passion. The failures have been as intense and meaningful as the successes. A cluster of failures caused disappointment in those moments. But, ultimately it was so sweet when those failures led to greater success subsequently. Through it all everything has been a learning experience and it continues to do so. Every event has been a launching pad, a rest house by the great road side of this journey called life.
One thing that I lack let me confess, is focus. Nature’s myriads of creations detract me. Sometimes I want to do too many things in one life. I get easily bored. However, I feel my interests in thousands of things do not leave any moment to get bored.
At the end of the day what is there to achieve ? Of course here I am reminded of the sand artist. Every achievement is like the art work of the sand artist, may be just a little more enduring. Nevertheless, the sand artist does not stop his creative work knowing full well it would be so transitory.
Similarly, I also take up challenges – sometimes for my own personal growth, sometimes to bring some beauty into the world through creativity, sometimes to make this world a little more livable and lovable thorough bits of unreasonable acts of service and criticism. Have I achieved anything substantial? By the way what would be my definition of achievement? Well that is for others to evaluate.
And so far, it has been a great wandering in this wonderful creation; and I would continue to wander and wonder.
New Delhi, 31.12.1974
She opened a blank note book. “It was not just any blank note book”, recalled Shravani. It had been given to her by a Buddhist Monk, when she had wandered inside the monastery in a listless moment a few days back. Nothing was written on its blue covers. There was no mention of its price, not even the name of the company making such notebooks. It contained one hundred pages of spotless white pages. It reminded her of ‘One hundred years of solitude’ – a book she had postponed reading a hundred times or so.
She smiled. It was the smile of a remote uncertain hope. A kind of imagined hope one experiences when the day gets slightly brighter on a gloomy rainy day.
But the memory of the tumultuous recent past cast such a gloom. How was she going to erase it? How was she going to be relieved of the burdensome memory?
She had read somewhere, she remembered, “to write is to get relieved”.
At the age of thirteen, when most of her friends boasted of boyfriends, she had formed an idea that she was enough unto herself. Now, at the age of twenty four some one comes into her life and she has this feeling that she is not enough unto herself.
He came, he saw and he swept her along. It happened at the wedding of one of her cousins, who was also one of her best friends. Usually, she avoided going to weddings. But this one she could not. Saket was not the usual guy who went out of the way to flirt with girls. Something happened in her in his presence. At the first meeting he had given her a ten second glance and gone away. Of course, she had heard of him from her cousin who had so profusely praised him as if her own fiancee was nothing compared to Saket.
Then there was a chance meeting with him after one week or so. The Ambassador she was driving had met with a minor accident near Old Delhi Railway station. It had hit a taxi in front and a crowd had gathered around her. Things were taking an ugly turn. Suddenly, Saket appeared form nowhere and became her saviour. A friendship developed which slowly turned into romance.
They met at secret places as often as possible. There was neither a dream nor a down to earth plan that did not involve him. But the dream world of heaven did not last long. Some days back, on 20th December to be precise, she received a letter that jolted her out of the dream world. The hero of her dream world turned out to be a coward. Of course he claimed he was being martyred for the sake of his family’s honour and he had to marry the girl of his father’s choice.
The latest Bollywood number – mera jiban kora kagaz – wafted across from the radio of a neighouring house. She closed the notebook, kept aside the pen after capping it and glanced at the envelope lying at the corner of her study table. She opened it to read the appointment letter, perhaps, for the seventh time. “Mama we are leaving to Calcutta Tomorrow. I am going to take up that job at the All India Radio, Calcutta”, she shouted so that here mother who was in the kitchen heard her. “It does not matter if we have to pack the whole night in stead of celebrating the new year”, she added.
She stepped on to the balcony. A gentle breeze was blowing, to sweep away the last trace of her burdensome past. The neighbour had increased the volume of the radio. But she heard nothing. She saw nothing. Felt nothing. As if a sea of void had devoured her. As if the decision not to write about her tumultuous recent past had erased the memory of it. With this erasure, came a great relief, a great hope. A hope to start life anew, as new as a blank note book.
She moved to Calcutta with her mother, leaving behind her father who did not mind staying alone for some time. The stint at Calcutta was short lived. So was the stint at Madras where she had been transferred subsequently. At her own request and with a little bit of influence of her father who still worked for the government of India, she got a transfer to Bombay. After moving to Bombay, life took a different turn. No more did her mother brought up the topic of marriage. She left the job at All India Radio and at the behest of a private production company she became a director for Telvision Serials.
The December month of this year has been particularly eventful. The short documentary film she had made on the life of the slum dwellers had won an international award. Her serials were getting high critical acclaim.
She was not much of a party woman. So she had declined all the invitations for the new year party. But her mother was happy to see the glow in her daughter’s face. This month has been an all time high in her career.
May be now was the time to write something in that notebook, she thought. She had regarded the note book as a kind of a sacred relic. Neatly wrapped in a silk clothe, she had given it to her mother to keep it in a safe place. She asked her mother to bring her the notebook. The interior pages had slightly mellowed. But the pages were fit enough to be written upon. She recalled all her achievements and thought of chronicling those watershed moments in the notebook. She felt the rush of adrenaline and the unconstrained joy by recalling her achievements that had far surpassed her dreams. She wished she could somehow reign in her overflowing joy.
In the morning that day, she had gone to the beach to inaugurate the Sand Art Festival, where she was the centre of attraction. One of the sand artists was her intimate friend. As she remembered her friend, suddenly, she had a vision where the art and the artist were not different. She was terrified when she saw, in her mind’s eye, the artist receding into the sea along with the sand sculpture that he had created.
Simultaneously she saw that she herself and her achievements were vanishing into the blank pages of the notebook and the overflowing joy had ceased into a calm lake without any waves.
She closed the notebook immediately, wrapped it up and gave her mother to keep it where it was.
New Delhi, 31.12.2014
After the death of her father, they moved back to Delhi. Even at eighty four, her mother was healthy enough to walk without support and eat without any restrictions. Sometimes she felt older than her mother. Of late, she had taken more interest in yoga, philosophy and spirituality. This particular day she had thought of going to the monastery with the blank note book and if possible to trace the monk who had given her the notebook forty years back.
After reaching the monastery she sought an immediate appointment with the senior-most monk. She was ushered into a circular room where the monks received visitors. As she entered the room she wondered whether life, some time or other came full circle. There was nothing on the wall except a painting of a lady and a monk. As her attentions got stuck there, the monk said that it is was a painting of Amrapalli, gifted to the monastery a few day back.
Oh! how could she forget Amrapalli. After all, she had made a serial on the Buddhist tales and the serial was highly popular those days.
The monk, his head clean shaven, was sitting on the floor on a mattress. He motioned her to sit across and make herself comfortable. She asked him as soon as she settled down, “Are you the same monk who gave me this blank note book?”.
“It does not matter whether I am him or not him. But what matters is, whether you have written anything in it.”
” I tried, but I could not write anything. Whenever I tried to write something some strange things happened in my mind.”
“Then, perhaps, you deserve a better blank book or some surprise gift in exchange of the blank note book. You have preserved it so carefully.”
He went inside and brought a gift wrapped in colourful paper.
She was going to ask many things, say many things. But the monk got up and said, “Excuse me. I have to go urgently. Take this gift and open it at home. I will discuss with you when you come here next time.”
She took the gift home. This year too she had decided to skip the new year celebrations. “But one thing I will do this year”, she thought, “I will open the gift exactly at 12 o clock”.
It was midnight and she could hear crackers bursting and loud speakers blaring to announce the dawn of a new year.
She opened the gift. Inside was a strange thing that looked like a note book. As soon as it was exposed to the air it started vanishing and was gone in a few seconds.
Now there was nothing even to create the dilemma – whether to write or not to write.
Outside, the celebrations became louder and louder. But she heard nothing. She sat down and felt the silence within, as she sank into the depths nothingness.