A dip in a ‘holy’ river or tank can never ‘cleanse’ you. Pausing, reflecting and awakening alone can.
A friend feverishly texted me on WhatsApp a few days ago. He’s close to me and believes that the financial challenges that my family and I are enduring, for close to a decade now, is directly related to my past karma– a ‘carry forward’ of sorts of ‘sins committed in a previous birth’. He furiously appealed to me I must make the pilgrimage to the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam and take a dip to ‘wash away all my bad karma, my sins’. “You will see an immediate change in your fortunes,” he insisted. I merely thanked him for his compassionate perspective and offered no justification for my choice not to accept his advice.
|Mahamaham – Kumbakonam
Picture Courtesy: Internet
The Mahamaham is a Hindu festival that happens every 12 years in the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. I have no disrespect for the Mahamaham. Nor do I intend questioning its legend that’s drawing several millions in (what they think is) piety. Yet, I sincerely don’t believe a ritualistic dip, however ‘holy’ the site may be, can ever cleanse anyone. In his memorable 2003 classic, Anbe Sivam (Love is God), Kamal Hassan beautifully explains to his co-star Madhavan why the God within us – the Universal Energy that keeps us alive – must awaken for us to realize the magic and beauty of Life. That realization, to me, is the biggest awakening. And only an awakening from within can truly cleanse us.
To be sure, there is a Mahamaham moment waiting for each of us – provided we are ready and willing to understand Life and have seeker’s, a student’s, attitude. And that moment need not be at a temple tank, where millions are crowding with a herd mentality, throwing personal and public hygiene to the wind! My own Mahamaham moment happened in my living room, some time in 2007, when I was having my favorite Royal Challenge whisky, and was utterly bored with two other things I was trying to do at the same time – swap channels on TV hoping to find something interesting and make sense of the English translation of the Sai Satcharita, a book on the Life and teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba. My search for something meaningful on TV drew a blank. And I soon turned it off. My family had long gone to sleep. Even as I poured myself another drink, I tried – but failed miserably – to understand what the Sai Satcharita was trying to say – it will easily rank as among the most horrible works of translation ever, from the original Marathi to English! I put the book away. And I thought deeply about what Shirdi Baba had taught the world in his lifetime. In a Eureka-like flash, it dawned on me that the two principles around which all his teachings were anchored are – Shraddha, Faith and Saburi, Patience. To face Life and to overcome the challenges that you are faced with, I realized that, you must keep the faith and learn to be patient.
Over time, I employed this awakening very constructively, through my daily practice of mouna (silence periods), to understand the impermanence and inscrutability of Life. I learned that this is the only Life we have. And to live this Life well – and happily – we must train our mind to be in the present moment. In the now. I discovered that the way religion is practiced in the world today is that it encourages you and me to fear people (who peddle religion) than inspire faith in creation – that if you have been created without your asking to be born, then the same energy that created you will care for you, will provide for you. When there is fear, how can there be faith? When there is no faith, how can you be patient?
This clarity is helping me live my Life with total inner peace, despite the storm that rages on outside, in my business, professional and material Life. This clarity makes me believe that a dip in an insanely crowded temple tank will hardly cleanse anything – not even your body, let alone your mind. I am more with Kabir, the 15thCentury weaver-poet, here. He said:
Kabir Man Nirmal Bhaya, Jaise Ganga Neer
Pache Pache Har Phire, Kahat Kabir Kabir
Kabir Washed His Mind Clean, Like The Holy Ganges River
Everyone follows behind, Saying Kabir, Kabir
That is, Kabir urges us to remove all impurities from our mind, from our thinking process, thus letting the light of divinity to shine forth. Truly, there is divinity in each of us. That divinity is suppressed, lying buried under layers and layers of grief, guilt, anger, fear and such debilitating emotions. This is why we are searching for God outside of us. This is why we are running to a Mahamaham.
Seriously, you don’t need to wait for 12 years to scramble to a Mahamaham for cleansing yourself. Your Mahamaham moment awaits you if you can simply pause, reflect and awaken to the opportunity of cleansing your mind, of living in the now!
There’s divinity everywhere, all around us, and in each of us.
To spot the divine in yourself and in all creation around you, you must be willing, not just looking for or seeking it. The willingness here is the ability to know that just as you are unique, so is all of creation. Just as you have dreams, others do too. Just as you have opinions and emotions, others have them too. Willingness here is to accept that all creation is beautiful and special and that you are blessed to be part of this whole Universe. When you see divinity in everything and everyone around you, you see the Master Plan, the Cosmic Design, at work.
In Hindu mythology there are several stories of the different incarnations of God. While this has led to a plethora of Gods being worshipped by Hindus worldwide, the hidden message in the propagation of such myths must not be lost. That each of us is God incarnated as well. And each of us is capable of love, compassion and selfless service like Rama or Budha or Muhammed or Jesus. Awakening to this truth and discovering the divine in us, around us, is what nirvana__a state where we extinguish ignorance of who we are and find ourselves liberated and free__is all about. The Indian greeting ‘namaste‘, interestingly introduced to me and elucidated by my American friend Mark Lewis from Phoenix, Arizona, is not just a mere folding of hands, bowing of the head or a respectful gesture. It means “I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are One. The divine in me bows to the divine in you.” Namaste to all of you!
Pause. Reflect. Repair. Restart.
This is what a Sunday is supposed to be used for. This is the real meaning of Sunday. For most Christians, Sunday is observed as a day for worship of God and rest, due to the belief that it is Lord’s Day, the day of Christ’s resurrection. It perhaps derives from the Hebrew Sabbath or a Sabbath, which is again generally a weekly day of rest or time of worship. While Sunday is considered a day of rest in most Western and Eastern countries, in most Muslim countries and in Israel, Sunday is a working day. They take their Sabbath on Fridays. The important thing is not what day of the week, per the English weekly calendar, a Sabbath is taken. What is important is it is taken.
Do we take a Sabbath? Do we pause, reflect, repair and restart with fresh vigor? Or do we laze, drowse, feast and snooze on Sundays? Nothing wrong with the lazing and snoozing, except, when done mindfully, even that is a process of rejuvenation. But we are hardly mindful. True divinity, real repair of the soul, is experienced through mindfulness.
Here’s a story to illustrate this point. A priest went to Japan to study in a Zen monastery. He said that after sitting in meditation for long hours his legs would often begin to ache terribly. The Master advised him on the proper procedure and then asked what practice he was following in meditation. The priest explained that he was sitting silently in the presence of “God” without words or thoughts or images or ideas. The Master then asked if his God was everywhere. The priest nodded his head, “yes.” He asked if he was wrapped around in God, and the answer again was yes. “Very good, very good,” said the Master. “Continue this way. Just keep on. And eventually you will find that “God” will disappear and only you will remain.” The priest was offended by this logic, for it sounded like a denial of his sacred beliefs. He contradicted the Master and said, “God will not disappear. But I might disappear and only God will be left.” “Yes, yes,” the Master agreed, smiling. “It’s the same thing. That is what I mean.”
Indeed. That’s what a true Sabbath really means. That’s what a Sunday is for. For you to discover the God in you. For you to pause, reflect, repair and restart. And not for you to bury yourself, wearily, warily and slothfully. It is a time and opportunity for intense mindfulness, for filling our souls with bliss, for recharging our batteries. When we do this, we will find the God within. As Kabir, the 15th Century weaver-poet, has so beautifully said. “Jaise Til Mein Tel Hai, Jyon Chakmak Mein Aag, Tera Sayeen Tujh Mein Hai, Tu Jaag Sake To Jaag”. [Just as seed contains the oil, fire’s in flint stone. Your temple seats the Divine, realize if you can]”
So, use this Sunday intelligently for your Sabbath. Your temple seats the Divine. Invest this Sunday to realize your true Self__the Divine!