Enjoy every experience for its own sake – don’t dramatize or intellectualize Life

In this illusory experience called this lifetime, take nothing seriously – including yourself!
I caught up with my cousin after a long, long time. We talked about Life, philosophy and spirituality for a couple of hours. In the course of the conversation, my cousin remarked that Adi Shankara (788 ~ 820 CE) was the greatest philosophers of all time – greater perhaps than Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. My cousin extolled the virtues of the Vivekachudamani, the epic poem that Adi Shankara wrote in 580 verses, to expound his Advaita Vedanta philosophy. I found the conversation with my cousin empowering and enriching. Even so, I came away with a sense of disagreement over anyone wanting to merely pride Indian intellect as being ahead of and above the rest of the world.
Why can’t we enjoy anything – philosophy, experiences, whatever – in Life without comparing, I thought to myself. In fact, a story that Osho often narrated from Adi Shankara’s Life, highlights the same perspective.
Adi Shankara was in Benares. One day, early in the morning – it was still dark because traditionally the Hindu monks take a bath before sunrise – he took a bath. And as he was coming up the steps, a man touched him on purpose, not accidentally, but on purpose, and told him, “Please forgive me. I am a sudra, I am untouchable. I am sorry, but you will have to take another bath to clean yourself.”
Shankara was very angry. He said, “It was not accidental, the way you did that; you did it on purpose. You should be punished in hell.” 

The man said, “When all is illusory, it seems only hell remains real.”

Shankara was taken aback.
The man said, “Before you go for your bath again, you have to answer my few questions. If you don’t answer me, each time you come up after your bath, I will touch you.” 

It was lonely and nobody else was there, so Shankara said, “You seem to be a very strange person. What are your questions?”

He said, “My first question is: Is my body illusory? Is your body illusory? And if two illusions touch each other, what is the problem? Why are you going to take another bath? You are not practicing what you are preaching. How, in an illusory world, can there be a distinction between the untouchable and the brahmin? – the impure and the pure? – when both are illusory, when both are made of the same stuff as dreams are made of? What is the fuss?”
Shankara, who had been conquering great philosophers up until then with his intellect, could not answer this simple man because any answer was going to be against his own philosophy. If he says they are illusory, then there is no point in being angry about it. If he says they are real, then at least he accepts the reality of bodies…but then there is a problem. If human bodies are real, then animal bodies, the bodies of the trees, the bodies of the planets, the stars…then everything is real.
And the man said, “I know you cannot answer this – it will finish your whole philosophy. I’ll ask you another question: I am a sudra, untouchable, impure, but where is my impurity – in my body or in my soul? I have heard you declaring that the soul is absolutely and forever pure, and there is no way to make it impure; so how can there be a distinction between souls? Both are pure, absolutely pure, and there are no degrees of impurity – that somebody is more pure and somebody is less pure. So perhaps it is my soul that has made you impure and you have to take another bath?”
Now, the second question was even more difficult. Shankara had never been in such trouble – actual, practical, in a way, scientific trouble! Rather than arguing about words, the sudra had created a situation in which the great Adi Shankara was check-mated. He gracefully accepted his defeat. And the sudra said, “Then don’t go take another bath. Anyway there is no river, no me, no you; all is a dream. Just go into the temple – that too is a dream – and pray to God. He too is a dream, because he is a projection of a mind which is illusory, and an illusory mind cannot project anything real!”
I find this story beautiful. Unputdownable in fact. I believe the big learning here is this – enjoy everything that you see or experience for it’s own sake. Don’t try to dramatize and intellectualize anything. Least of all Life. My cousin has phenomenal insights into Advaita Vedanta no doubt, but he lost me while making the avoidable comparison.
I don’t think it ever is about who is bigger or who is better or who is richer or who is more beautiful. Everything is what it is. Everyone is who they are. And nothing is permanent. Everything and everyone is transient. So, don’t get caught up in a competition that is meaningless, in running a race which is a non-starter or in ritualizing and intellectualizing Life. Just live – as long as your Life lasts!  

Monday Morning inspirations from Panchamda’s immortal music

Except what you will be remembered for, nothing is permanent. Neither your success. Nor what you call failure.
Everything changes. You too have changed. You too will lose everything that you desperately seek to protect: your name, your position, your salary, your savings, your assets. You too will move on, when your time comes. This is the Law of Life. This is the way of the Universe. If this is so, why do we fret, fume, worry, amass, control, protect, fear and feel jealous of or hate another?
Understanding the impermanence of Life itself and of each experience that comes with it in this lifetime is intelligent living. Whatever has happened, whatever is happening, whatever will happen to you cannot be changed. It is when you live with this realization that you actually live. And until you get this simple truth about Life straight, you will struggle and suffer through Life.
Last evening, I was listening to one of R.D.Burman’s compositions – Musafir Hoon Main Yaroon – (Parichay, 1972, Gulzar, Kishore Kumar). To call Rahul Dev Burman just great is perhaps blasphemous. RD or Panchamda as he was fondly called, was__and IS__one of India’s greatest music composers. Between 1966 and 1982, he ruled Bollywood. I am sure no one needs any introduction to his genre or his songs. Just a gentle reminder will get us all humming. It is said that he composed ‘Aye Meri Topi Palat Ke Aa’ for his father Sachin Dev Burman’s 1956 ‘Funtoosh’when he was hardly 9 years old! The golden years of Hindi cinema were courtesy RD: ‘Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera’ (Teesri Manzil, 1966), ‘Dum Maro Dum’ (Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1971), ‘Piya Tu Ab Toh Aaja’ (Caravan, 1971), ‘Chingari Koi Bhadke’, ‘Kuch Toh Log Kahenge’ ‘Yeh Kya Hua’ (Amar Prem, 1971), ‘Duniya Mein Logon Ko’ (Apna Desh, 1972), ‘Chura Liya Hai Tumne’ (Yadoon Ki Baraat, 1973), ‘Is Mod Se Jaate Hain’ (Aandhi, 1975), ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’ (Sholay, 1975), all songs of the musical blockbuster Hum Kissi Se Kum Nahin, 1977,  ‘Nam Gum Jaayega’ (Kinara, 1977), ‘Aaj Kal Paon Zameen Par Nahin Padte Mere’ (Ghar, 1978), ‘Piya Baawri Piya Baawri’ (Khubsoorat, 1980). The list is endless. Each of his songs can send people like me into a rapturous, emotional nostalgia trip. Yet, writes Bollywood chronicler and RD-admirer, Ganesh Anantharaman in his book ‘Bollywood Melodies’, “despite the youthful hit scores of Love Story (1981) and Betaab (1983), I believe that by the 1980s, RD was in the throes of a serious identity crisis. He had exhausted his capacity to create westernized jazzy scores. He had too many instances of his more melodious scores being rejected, mostly because the films were badly made or did not have the right star cast.” In reality this translated into RD being totally rejected by Bollywood.
Can you imagine one of the greatest music composers of all times knocking on the doors of producers and studio owners in Mumbai “asking” for an opportunity?   Where R.D. Burman had made a career from songs with a strong Western jazz influence, he found that he was repeatedly being outdone by Bappi Lahiri’s Western “inspired” disco. There were a few reprieves though from this ignominy. Notable among them, once again showcasing his genius, was the work he did for his close friend Gulzar: ‘Mera Kuch Samaan’ (Izzazat, 1987). He plodded on, hurt, humiliated, financially devastated, in pain and suffering. ‘1942-A Love Story’, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s super hit, and whose music restored RD’s glory convincingly came, I guess, a trifle too late. Although he had poured his heart into composing the film’s music__evident with the runaway success of the numbers ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha’, ‘Kuch Na Kaho’ and ‘Pyar Hua Chupke Se’__he died, beaten, rejected, dejected on January 4th 1994, several months before the film’s release and, therefore, before seeing his last work reach cult, iconic status.
(Enjoy a review of a book on him by Aniruddha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, R.D.Burman __ The Man and Music, in the video link here)

Such is Life. You could be on top one day. And hit rock bottom on another day. Or you could be catapulted to glory from the throes of defeat, failure and frustration. The key to intelligent living is to recognize the transient nature of Life. Then you will want to live well, in the moment, doing whatever you can do__the dishes, painting, cooking, teaching, curing, leading, whatever__the best way you ever can. Don’t get carried away by fame. Don’t get defeated by insults and rejection. What lasts is the immortality of your work__when you leave behind a legendary body of art. Just the way RD’s music is. Everything else is impermanent. 

Stay, happily, in a perpetual let-go!

Knowing, accepting and celebrating the impermanence of everything around us is a sure way to stay in a perpetual let-go!   
Over the last fortnight my phone crashed, our car suffered a break-down, and our TV conked out. For various reasons all three cannot be either fixed or replaced immediately. It was initially both disconcerting and frustrating to deal with this triple disaster. These are things we depend on and, often, mindlessly, take for granted. Their succumbing to wear and tear, which any piece of machinery is prone to, was not, I realized, the cause for my frustration. My inability to have them fixed immediately was.
That is when I read this inspiring story about the 43-year-old California-based beach artist, Andres Amador. Amador uses a rake to etch designs on to the beach during low tides. This art form of beach exploration is called playa. Raking exposes the wetter sand causing a color difference between the raked and the unraked sand. Some of Amador’s designs are massive – 300 ft x 500 ft. What’s remarkable – and amazing is – that while Amador pours his heart into each design that he creates, he has no problem in watching the waves come back up, when the tide returns, and wash away all his creations. He says, “For me it is more about the process and less about the result. When it is finished, I let it go. The only constant in this existence is impermanence. In the end our lives are all about the experiences we have had. And not about the things we have held on to.” Amador picks full moon nights to work on the beach, during low tides, and he uses Google Earth to choose the beaches he wants to work at. Why does he do what he does – knowing fully well that each of his creations will not last for more than a couple of hours after he’s done? He says, matter-of-factly: “It’s fun! I get to be at the beach!!”
I found Amador’s attitude to his art and to Life very uplifting. I thought to myself that here’s an artist, who “creates” works of beauty, of brilliance, (see his pictures sampled here and on http://www.andresamadorarts.com/ ), only to let them go. And here I was battling frustrations on things I have merely gotten used to depending upon. It was a humbling learning, and awakening, that helped me let go of those things I could not immediately fix or replace.
I have often, through my experiences, realized that our frustrations come only from our innate, subconscious desire, to be in control of everything. Technology has only made us even more parasitic. There’s an insatiable need, each of us experiences, for instant gratification. If something is broken, it needs a fix immediately. If something is not working out, we agonize over getting it to work. If we lose something, we grieve over that loss endlessly. All of these, and more, contribute to our unhappiness. Happiness really is about getting rid of – letting go – whatever we don’t have, isn’t there, can’t fix or have not got. We are unhappy only as long as we cling on to something. This is as true about our material assets as it is about relationships. When we get rid of the thought, the expectation, that something, or someone for that matter, should always be with us, we will be free. And happy.
Celebrating impermanence is not all that complex. It’s downright simple. If you think about everything – and everyone – in Life, including those people that you love deeply, you will realize that sooner than later, the waves of time will wash them all away. So, begin by stopping to think about anything that you have had to let go or can’t retain. Life’s most well-kept secret is this – as long as you are not clinging on to anything, even in your thoughts, you will not suffer!