the tao of governance

lao tzu.jpg

“The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.

When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.”

(Ancient Chines Philosopher Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching)

A democratic country is administered by the elected representatives. There are periodic elections to find out whether the nation wants the same set of representatives or they want change.

After taking various decisions, the elected representatives don’t carry out the decisions themselves. There is the executive consisting of people who have a more enduring life cycle than the elected representatives so that the country doesn’t run into chaos even if there is political instability in the short run.

Checks and balances to the legislature and the executive are provided by the judiciary and the press. In a robust and developed democracy, the judiciary is autonomous and there is freedom of press. Freedom of expression for every citizen is a part of parcel of healthy democracy. But in the countries where corruption is rampant, attempts are made to curb  ‘free speech’ by carrot and stick policy.

Another signs of weak democracy is when the voters are not concerned with their own long term future. At election time they sell their vote eagerly for a few bucks or some cheap goodies that is not essential to their livelihood. It does not matter if the politicians later on deprive them of facilities like good roads or better educational or healthcare facilities. We sacrifice our long term goals for short term useless gains.

In a mature democracy all these elements of democracy – the legislature, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the press – function in a robust and autonomous manner so that ultimately it is the system that runs the country (based on a strong constitution) and not an individual as it used to happen during the times of kings.

The demerits of democracy is that development and decision making processes are sometimes slowed down. But at least it prevents the country from falling into the hands of a dictator. Time and again we have seen that:

Power tends to corrupt and

Absolute power corrupts

Absolutely.

The US prides itself as the champion of democracy. But it is not so. Because it is the world’s most powerful country,  it bullies others into accepting that it is the champion of human rights.

There is not a single day when the US president is not in the news around the world. In most of the countries politicians let their presence felt in a dominant way. Their photos greet us on every page of the newspaper and from every street corner. About their presence in the electronic media, the less said the better. The politician constructs a bus shed out of our money but puts his photo prominently on it.

Some of the small countries like Switzerland show the signs of the best developed countries in terms of public governance. Such countries are run so smoothly that you hardly know who is your mayor of the locality. These countries seem to be following the principles of Tao Te Ching quoted in the beginning.

The Big Lord Descends Among Us

netrotsav.jpg
nava jauvana darshana of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra (R to L)

This is the time for the Annual Car Festival in Puri – the Rathyatra of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. The rituals connected with the Jagannath temple has many roots and layers – some alaukik and some laukik i.e. some of divine origin and some by treating the idols as normal living human beings.

On the of the last full moon – known as Devasnana Purnima –  the idols were given the divine bath. Maybe, it was a little too much to handle even for the divine during their human leela on earth. So they fell sick, like they fall sick every year during this time.

According to western philosophy, time is linear. But the eastern concept of time is that it is cyclic. The rituals of the Lord gets repeated every year like the change of seasons. The rituals get repeated without fail, which is to say they repeat ad infinitum giving life a sense of immortality.

Of course it is not a monotonous repetition. How can it be? Everything connected with the temple is not only practically enermous, they are also named so. The temple is other wise known as Bada Deula – the big temple, the idol of Lord Jagannath is addressed as the Bada Thakura / Maha prabhu  – the big Lord, the road along which they make the annual journey in their huge chariots is known as the Bada Danda – the Grand Road, the sea nearby is  Mahodadhi – the great reservoir of water, the prasad is known as the mahaprasad, and so on. Everything is grand in scale and imagination scale and is named so.

After the Lords fall sick, the temple is closed for public darshan. These days are known as anavasara. At a practical level, this is the time for specific annual maintenance activities. The wooden idols are repainted and ‘many kinds of ‘secret rituals are undertaken so that the idols not only shine in their full glory when they emerge out of sickness, but also withstand the rough handling during the nine day rituals connected with the car festival.

So today, just a day before the Annual Car Festival, Jagannath – the lord of the Universe along with his big brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra emerge after recovering from the high fever.  The day is known as Nava jauvana darshana or netrotsav. The Lords are in their renewed vigour and splendour after being treated with powerful herbs and medicines.

During this period when the temple is closed to public, the hardcore devotees of the Lord  Jagannath have an alternate option not to miss the Darshan of the Lord even for a single day. They can go to Alarnath temple at Brahmagiri, located at about twenty five kms from Puri. According to the legend, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, during his stay in Puri,  was directed to go to Alarnath so as not to miss his daily darshan of the Lord during this anavasara period.  The boulder over which Sri Chaitanya used to do Sankirtan is still there.

Being the Lord of the Universe, He has the privilege to take a break. But not so for the devotee or, a seeker in the spiritual life. After getting this rare human life, not even a single day should be devoid of spiritual practices.

alarnath.jpg
Alarnath Temple, Brahmagiri

 

 

 

 

 

 

I give you divine eyes

I was surprised at the logic of one of the bestselling authors of India.  He tweets that even though, India is well known for yoga and Ayurveda, it has poor life expectancy. His further elaboration indicates that he means to undermine the efficacy of yoga and Ayurveda.

I replied, ‘Sir, agreed that yoga and Ayurveda originated in India. But, how many people do practice it? If you want to know the efficacy of yoga and Ayurveda take the health record of those who practice yoga and use Ayurveda and compare it with the non-practitioners, whether they are Indian or not.”

He did not have anything further to say. Coincidentally, this author is famous for writing fiction based on Indian Mythology. It implies that he must have read the Indian scriptures, seriously.

There are a section of writers among Indians who write stuff just to please those western sensibilities that take pride in undermining Indian culture. It is sometimes driven by commercial interests as they think that it will appeal to the western and the westernized Indian audience.

I would not have been surprised if the author had told that in spite of being gifted with such things as yoga, Ayurveda and spirituality, neither do we practise nor do we take pride in these things. I would have been happier if the author, instead of merely limiting himself to bookish knowledge of Indian scriptures, had practiced yoga and meditation and tried Ayurveda.

These days, along with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (my spiritual master), spiritual leaders and yoga gurus like Baba Ramdev and Jaggi Vasudev are leading the movements to awaken the world to the ancient wisdom of India. Their popularity has also rang alarm bells for many who are not interested to see an awakened India. So, they raise pointless protests from time to time.

A case in point is the World Cultural Festival held on the banks of Yamuna River last year. Certain forces tried to portray Art of Living in a negative manner stating that it violated not only environmental norms, but also procedural norms. The press, which is always eager for such kind of baseless news also joined in. Of course now Art of Living has been cleared of all the allegations.  But, this does not make as much media buzz as the previous occasions when there were so many baseless allegations.

Similarly, the so called environmentalists are never seen when lakes are encroached and huge tracks of forests are destroyed by the Industrialists. But, when a Spiritual Leader raises a statue to create awareness about yoga, these environmentalists become alarmed.

Another incident that made headlines across India a number of years back was when the Shankaracharya of Kanchi was arrested. But when he was absolved of all charges, the news hardly made even to the corner of a fifth page in our newspapers. To a large extent, our media has been responsible for projecting a negative image about India and its heritage.

Coming back to the author, it brings out an interesting facet of human nature. Our ancient scriptures have been guiding lights to many for finding solution to their practical as well as existential problems. At the same time, some use the same scriptures to support their counter arguments.

Even Arjuna was not able to gain the insight that Lord Krishna had intended till Arjuna was given the divine eyes. It is very symbolic. One should have the eyes to see the gems in the scriptures. A yogeswara like Krishna can provide those eyes. Without those eyes, one will see dung heaps in place of the gems.

Even to get those eyes one should have a little bit of willingness and some basic eligibility. Arjun was willing, desperate and deserving to have those insights into the nature of truth.

But the propagandists and the activists that I am talking of are not interested in truth. Motivated by their narrow personal gain (which may sometimes include a promised better place in heaven), their ceaseless campaign is aimed at showing Indian spiritual and cultural traditions in poor light. Sometimes they may come in the garb of rationalists and humanists to hide their vicious agenda.

What kind of eyes can be given to them?

krishnarjuna

 

part 3 : the sentinels of vishnu

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.

part 2: the sentinels of vishnu

 

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

jaya vijaya.jpg
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

Indian Bloggers