Your ‘Mahamaham’ moment awaits you – not in Kumbakonam, but within you!

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

Translation
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! 

Pray in the buff if you like, who cares? Teri Marzi!

Faith is deeply personal. It is a communion between the Source and you. Nobody and nothing, least of all, religion and law, can come in between you and your faith.

Picture Courtesy: Internet
I was amused reading in the papers this morning that the ruling of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court stipulating a dress code for visiting temples in Tamil Nadu has come into effect from yesterday. Obviously the new dress code has evoked mixed responses. The Hindu reports that devotees were “bemused and irritated, stopping just short of being outraged”. I am not surprised. I will not be surprised either if someone challenged this order. I do sincerely hope it is struck down.  To be sure, Justice S.Vaidyanathan, who was concerned “over the use of improper clothes worn by many people visiting temples”, has stipulated that “men should wear a dhoti or pyjama with upper cloth or formal pants and shirts and women should wear a sari or a half-sari or churidhar with upper cloth,’ and for children, ‘any fully-covered dress’.”  So, anyone coming in jeans and/or shorts will be denied entry to temples in Tamil Nadu. Similarly, sleeveless-tops, spaghetti-strapped tops, skirts and mini-skirts are a strict no-no.
Wow!
I was even more amused reading a fellow citizen’s view favoring the new dress code: “If clubs can have dress codes, why not temples?” With due respect to the honorable judge’s ruling and to those favoring this new system, I would like to invite attention to why we must not confound an already complicated situation.
Really, to me, what matters is who you are – not what you wear or how you worship or who you pray to.
Let me tell you a story. The disciples of a venerable Master invited him to visit Benares with them. The Master asked them why they were embarking on the trip. One of the disciples replied, “We want to take a holy dip in the Ganges so that we can cleanse ourselves.” The Master smiled and said he was not keen on the making the trip. He instead gave them a bitter gourd fruit, karela, and asked them to immerse the fruit in the Ganges and bring it back with them. The disciples found the Master’s instruction weird but did not question him. When they returned in a few weeks, they handed back the bitter gourd fruit to their Master. He asked them if it had indeed been immersed in the Ganges. When they said yes it had been, he asked them if it would be tasting sweet now. One of the devotees responded with utter bewilderment, “How can a bitter gourd taste sweet, Master? A bitter gourd is always bitter. How can immersing it in the Ganges change its intrinsic quality?” The Master beamed his big smile and said, “So it is my child. How can you cleanse yourself by merely dipping in the Ganges? You are who you are. Look within and if you don’t like who you are, work on changing yourself. You can’t expect change by merely visiting a temple or taking a dip in a river!”
I relate to this perspective fully. For someone like me, even going to a temple to worship, is a wasted exercise. I feel communion with the Source, the Higher Energy, that has created us and governs this Universe, can happen any time and any place. It saddens me, therefore, that we now have a dress code that dictates how you must show up to worship. But Tamil Nadu is not the first state to have this sartorial idea – some of Kerala’s temples have had, for years now, strict dress codes too. Besides, it is not only Hinduism that’s confused with rituality, division and protocol. Religion as a concept is all messed up. It has become a fear-mongering charade – anyone telling you that God will punish you or that something is a sin wants you to be scared. If you pause to think about it, God has never come forth and said, do this or don’t do this, God has not said be scared of me; yet every religion and every vendor of religious discourse insists on inducing fear. So the truth is that those who peddle religion dogmatically want you to be scared of them. Isn’t it tragic that you cannot celebrate your creation and be one with the Creator, whenever you want, wherever you want; and that you must be fearing rule(s) that religion’s peddlers want you to follow so that they can control you in the name of God?
I must hasten to inform that I am not an atheist. In fact I like Swami Vivekananda’s (1863 ~ 1902) definition of an atheist: “Only the one who does not believe in himself or herself is an atheist.” I am not against religion either. But I refuse to practise religion the way (some) people expect me to practise it. Just like you, I too was created without my choice. Religion was imposed on me too, through family – it is therefore a human act. Whereas, to me, my creation, just as yours, is divine. So, the best way to celebrate the divine in me, is to communion with the Source, the Higher Energy, the way I want to – and when and wherever I want to.
I owe this perspective to Kabir who has written these immortal lines – rendered here beautifully by the legendary Bhupinder – way back in the 15thCentury!
मोको कहाँ ढूंढें बन्दे,

मैं तो तेरे पास में

ना तीरथ में ना मूरत में, ना एकांत निवास में

ना मंदिर में, ना मस्जिद में, ना काबे कैलाश में

ना मैं जप में, ना मैं तप में, ना मैं व्रत उपास में

ना मैं क्रिया क्रम में रहता, ना ही योग संन्यास में

नहीं प्राण में नहीं पिंड में, ना ब्रह्माण्ड आकाश में

ना मैं त्रिकुटी भवर में, सब स्वांसो के स्वास में

खोजी होए तुरत मिल जाऊं एक पल की ही तलाश में

कहे कबीर सुनो भाई साधो, मैं तो हूँ विशवास में

Translated, it simply means that the Creator, the Source, the Higher Energy, is not in places of worship or in rituals or in penance or in prayer, but is (to be found) within you – in your faith, in what you believe in. So, pray if you must – and for all you care even in the buff in your home – but pray to the Higher Energy within you, the one that keeps you alive and has helped you read, and hopefully internalize this post! J

Unless we know when we worry, we will never be able to quit worrying.

The key to being liberated from worry is to be aware. Being aware requires only being. Just being. Nothing else.
There’s a perception, as a follower of this Blog commented the other day, that simply being is tough. No, it is not.
Examine yourself. Most of the time you worry without even applying your mind. It is a mechanical affair going on in your head. What will happen to this? Or that? Will I get what I want? Will my child be happy? Will my spouse survive? What if something terrible happens and what I want done is not accomplished? It is an incessant chatter. A cacophony in your head. And one worry sparks off another and another. Often times, this becomes uncontrollable. And you seek remedy. Someone tells you to lean towards meditation. Someone else tells you to propitiate the Gods. Someone again tells you to meet an astrologer or soothsayer or a tantric. Why? Because your mind refuses to listen to you.
Kabir, the 16th Century, weaver-poet, says this so beautifully in his couplet!
“Maala To Kar Mein Phire,
Jeebh Phire Mukh Mahin
Manua To Chahun Dish Phire,
Yeh To Simran Nahin”
Translation
The rosary rotating by the hand,
the tongue twisting in the mouth,
With the mind wandering everywhere, this isn’t meditation
(counting the rosary, repeating mantras, if the mind is traveling – this is not meditation)
Meaning: Control the mind, not the beads or the words.
That ability to control the mind will come only from your awareness. Awareness can be inspired in you by practicing silence.
Spend an hour being silent every day. Just being. Read a passage. Write your thoughts in your personal journal. Do whatever you want, but remain silent and refuse to attend to anything that calls for you to disengage from what you plan to do in that hour. Don’t sleep. Don’t speak. Your hour of silence can make you super productive and aware during the other 23 hours in the day! So, it is good return on investment. This is the practice of ‘mouna’.
To be sure, it will not eradicate worry. Worry will arise, but your awareness will cut off that flow of thought. It will arrest the worry in its tracks. And help you come back to focusing on whatever you are doing in the moment. Practicing ‘mouna’or silence periods bring you to appreciate the power of now! Remember, there is precious little you can do about what you worry about by simply worrying! You can either act on a situation and succeed, or act on a situation and if you fail, accept that outcome. Or just leave the situation to Life to sort things out over time. Why worry? And then, worse, why worry about your worrying? The bottomline is don’t worry about worrying. Focus on where that worry germinates, sprouts, takes root. Go to that point and stem the flow of worry.

A weaver, a verse and 4 haunting questions

Pause. Ask yourself four quick questions: 1. What am I rushing in Life for? 2. What security do I need in this Life to live doing what I truly love doing? 3. What am I praying for? 4. What is my deepest aspiration in Life?

Understandably, these questions cannot be answered in a jiffy. But asking them doesn’t cost anything. On the contrary, it awards you with inquiry, grants you thinking that can transform your Life. But these are also uncomfortable questions. And so we don’t want to dwell on them. We prefer just rushing along with our daily lives __ continuing to work without joy, to live in fear, feeling frustrated and insecure. Every now and then, we turn to God, demanding that our financial, emotional and physical problems be solved. With some element of probability coming in to play, when our prayers are granted, we thank God. When they go unanswered, we blame God.

Kabir, the 16th Century mystic poet, a humble weaver by occupation, invites us to find the God, who we desperately seek, in the Faith we (must) have in ourselves. For those who follow Hindi, find the verse rendered in Bhupinder’s soulful voice on this link:
This verse translates as follows in English:
“Where do you search for me? I am with you
Not in pilgrimage, nor in idols, Neither in solitude
Not in temples, nor in mosques
Neither in Kaba nor in Kailash
I am with you O man, I am with you
Not in prayers, nor in meditation, Neither in fasting
Not in yogic exercises, Neither in renunciation
Neither in the vital Life source nor in the body, Not even in the ethereal space
Neither in the womb of nature, Not in the breath of the breath
Seek earnestly and discover, In but a moment of search
Says Kabir, Listen with care, Where your Faith is, I am there.”

So, stop running. Stop searching. Stop seeking. Stop fearing. Start living. Live in Faith. You will find meaning in your Life. And, ah, yes, you will also find the answers to the four questions above! When you answer those questions, you will find joy filling your Life!!!

When you flow with Life, you will find peace and joy ‘in’ you

Learn to flow with Life.

Life is like a river. It has a mind of its own. It does not worry about precipice or a fall, nor is it perturbed by the boulders on the path. A crevice is all it needs, to make progress and find its way. The best we can do, as people who have been created without our asking to be born, is to enjoy the scenery as Life flows. When we don’t like what we see or experience, we can rave, rant, kick our feet, bury our heads in despair, but Life goes on – the way it wants to, not the way we wish it would! Such is the nature of Life. The only sensible option is to learn to appreciate the reality, accept it and to live with it.

Living is important. When you worry, you stop living. Even those who choose to go to mind-body-soul rejuvenation programs, are worrying. They are worrying about how the world will cope without them. They worry about their ability to ‘endure’ and ‘survive’ the program. Look at those words__endure and survive__they too are reflective of an inherent concern. So, when you worry, you have lost yet another moment of peace that was possible. And you begin to hunt for places where you will be peaceful. Temples, churches, mosques, gurudwaras, synagogues…a bar for some perhaps, a joint for others…you are forever seeking a place where you will find peace and joy! The best-kept secret is that when you start living, you will find these inyou! The fifteenth century weaver, mystic and Master, Kabir (1440 ~ 1518) says it perfectly: “Do not go to the garden of flowers! O Friend! go not there; In your body is the garden of flowers. Take your seat on the thousand petals of the lotus, and there gaze on the Infinite Beauty.”


Flow with Life. And you will find peace and joy overflowing from within you!

Stop being a ‘thought terrorist’!

You are human first. Your gender, your religion, your nationality, your qualifications and your income come later and, quite honestly, don’t matter at all.
Misbah Quadri
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu
This morning’s Hindureports the shocking story of a 25-year-old young lady, Misbah Quadri, being denied accommodation in all of Mumbai just because she is a Muslim! “Mumbai – of all places?” I thought. If Mumbai has become so parochial, the rest of India may well be damned! But this is not an isolated story or occurrence. The other day I was at a friend’s place for dinner. And he openly acknowledged that he would never rent his apartment to Muslims. He confessed: “Call me conservative or anti-Muslim, I cannot simply trust people who belong to that religion.” My friend is educated, widely traveled, does business globally and yet he holds such a regressive view? Within my own family, I have someone who cannot refer to Muslims without using an expletive alongside. This is a sad trend and needs to be condemned with as much intensity as it is being propagated.
When I think about it deeply, dispassionately, I believe we are finding it convenient to generalize and to hide behind our insecurities and flawed assumptions. While it is true that most acts of terror in the world are conducted by Muslims, it is wrong to imagine that all Muslims are terrorists. Perhaps, people find it simpler to banish an entire community because they have never tried to – or wanted to – be discerning in their judgment. Another reason why people cannot understand or appreciate Muslims may be because of their inscrutable practices, rituals and traditions – from circumcision to Muharram to the ubiquitous burkha. But that is no valid argument. Every religion, the way each of us is raised, every community has its own idiosyncratic methods and beliefs. If you find a burkha restricting women empowerment, then you should find the Hindu practice of disallowing girl children from performing the last rites of a dead parent equally restrictive. A sandhyavandanam can be as banal as Muharram if you don’t understand the significance of either.
I think there are as many reasons to divide humanity in this world as there are people on the planet. We don’t need to invent newer ways or choose to alienate a particular community or religion just because we don’t know or understand someone or something. Those who think they are very smart in exercising options such as the ones my friend has chosen, or what building societies in Mumbai have chosen against young Misbah, are actually sick in their heads and hearts. The very thought that you can discriminate against someone just because he or she belongs to a particular community or religion is an act of violence. As Gandhi would say, it is himsa (violence) of the highest order. It is worse than the acts of terror that kill people around the world each year. We must drop this tendency to be violent in our thoughts, in our perceptions, that lead us to discriminate against fellow human beings – urgently and wholeheartedly.

Fundamentally, let’s remember that there are only two kinds of people in the world. Humans who practice love and compassion. And humans who indulge in hatred and violence. If you cannot immediately decide which category someone belongs to, it is fine. But don’t imagine they belong to the latter category just because they come from a community that you think is redoubtable. If you do that, in the absence of valid, irrefutable evidence, unfortunately, sadly, you will be indulging in himsa too! When you discriminate against someone, you are being violent in thought. And, to be sure, thoughts can kill – they are like cancer, chewing away humanity! So, unless you are one, stop being a ‘thought terrorist’!