Category: Shirdi Sai Baba
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
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!
Feeling confused and lost in Life? Relax, if you are willing, you will find your way and light!
Only when you lose yourself, can you find your true Self. Only through a confusion can you gain clarity. Only when you deal with a crisis, will you awaken to realize yourself.
There will often be times in Life when you don’t know what you are doing. Or you will not know whether you are doing the right thing or not. You seem to be lost. With no sense of direction. Every aspect of your Life seems broke and broken. It appears that no one wants you, no one loves you and nothing that you want to work ever works. In such situations, it is not unusual to feel an emptiness – along with self-pity, guilt, anger, depression and a sense of dreariness, purposelessness.
I have been through a similar situation in Life. When my Firm went bankrupt and we were plunged into a dark, hopeless, penniless phase in Life as a family, one night, I sat in my living room and was trying to swap channels. I was so disturbed that I was not able to attend to what I was doing. I was swapping the channels aimlessly not even knowing if I was understanding what was playing on any of them. At hand, apart from the TV remote, was a glass of whisky – a friend visiting us from overseas had brought a bottle of Glenfiddich some days ago. But while I drank my favorite Single Malt, I didn’t relish it either. Both the channel-swapping and the whisky-sipping were involuntary actions. I was not mindful of either. That’s when I turned to my bookshelf which was at arm’s length from where I sat that night in my living room. Almost involuntarily, I reached out to the Sai Satcharita (a book dedicated to extolling the Life and teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba). The book had been on my bookshelf for several years then. But not once had I had the urge to pick it up, or even read it. But that night I did both – without much thought or desire, I must quickly confess. I soon found the book ‘unreadable’ – the English translation is pathetic and getting past each page is sure to accentuate your suffering, especially if you love English as a language.
But two words stood out. And in the context in which my Life was placed then, they made imminent sense. Shraddha and Saburi – Faith and Patience. These two words form the cornerstones of Shirdi Sai Baba’s teachings and in a way hold the key to facing, dealing with, and living Life. Which is, keep the Faith – that is you have been created, you will be looked after, cared for and provided for. And while you keep the Faith, learn to be patient with Life – with people, circumstances and events.
Inspired by my “discovery” that night, I began to delve deeper. I embraced a form of meditation called mouna, meaning silence, where you practice daily silence periods. Through your remaining silent you train your mind to stay calm, anchored and focused. Along the way, I also turned to Osho, the Master. I found great value in what he had to say. His teachings pointed me in the direction of Zen Buddhism – I loved Osho’s practical, real-world, in-the-face approach. He always managed to distill the essence of Zen in the context of everyday living. That was indeed useful. As I explored Osho’s teachings further, and as I hung on to Baba’s two magical words, Faith and Patience, I found my Life transforming. My problems didn’t go away (they still are where they were 8 years ago) but my ability to deal with them improved greatly. Simply, I have learnt to accept my Life and whatever it brings my way, while making my efforts daily to do whatever is within my control to change my Life. But when my efforts don’t yield results, I don’t panic, I don’t grieve, I just try harder the next day. So, in a way, from being totally lost and confused in Life, I must say, I have found my true Self and have learnt that it is possible to be happy despiteyour circumstances.
|The Venerable Subul Sunim
Abbot of the Beomeosa Monastery in Korea
Yesterday, we attended a Talk on Mindfulness at the InKo Centre by The Venerable Subul Sunim, the Abbot of the Beomeosa Temple in Korea, who is currently visiting Chennai. The Abbot made a very important point in his Talk which has great relevance to what I have shared here today: “Meditation can be compared to allowing the sediments in muddy water to settle, while Zen attempts to eradicate the sediments themselves.”
I can completely relate to the Abbot’s point of view. The muddy water is the confusion, that lack of clarity that haunts us when we feel our Life is listless or battle-weary through a crisis (a relationship break-down, health issues or even loss of a dear one). The sediments are the emotions we cling on to – pain, anger, jealousy, hatred, grief and such. So, in my case, while Baba’s two keywords, Faith and Patience, got me started and mouna helped me along, it was Osho’s teachings on Zen that helped me let go of all wasteful emotions.
To be sure, each of us is capable of reaching this state. But for that, you must let go of all those debilitating emotions that hold you hostage. Try Zen. It works. As the Abbot said yesterday, “The purpose of Zen is to awaken to the absolute and to enjoy mindful living perpetually.” But don’t rush to Zen as if it is a headache pill or because it’s a nice sounding word or the latest fad. Be hungry to explore and understand the true nature of Life. Be humble. Approach Life like a good student. As they say in Zen, when the student is ready – and willing – the teacher appears. And only a teacher, a guru, can dispel the darkness, clear the confusion and help you see your light – within!
Peel off the unnecessary layers to discover yourself!
Unmask yourself. And you will find pure joy, unadulterated bliss, with no expiry date, limitless, in a nano-second.
You are not father, son, husband, brother, sister, mother, wife and daughter. You are not an engineer, doctor, CEO, writer, lawyer, student, gardener, cook, cleaner, pilot, whatever. You and I are not what we yearn for, or toiled, to become. You__and I__are a free spirit. You are because you can breathe. When your breathing stops and someone declares you dead, they will pack you off and cremate or bury you. Kabir, the 15thCentury weaver-poet, describes this so matter-of-factly: “While you are busy perfuming your body with sandalwood, someone else is chopping the wood for your funeral…you forget that when you die, they will truss you up with a rope, just like a common thief, and put you on the pyre to burn…can’t you see that Rama is the only truth says Kabir…” When you are gone, gone too will the engineer or brother or wife or CEO. But what about the energy that powered you? Has it perished and been consecrated like you? Or is it free – and out there in the cosmos!
This is all there is to understanding Life. When you unmask yourself and stand naked, you see the truth. Kabir refers to it as Rama. Shirdi Baba called it Maalik. Jesus called it Father. The truth is that the Self, the atman (in Sanskrit), the soul, is indestructible. When we know this truth, then living becomes so simple. Life acquires an indescribable hue, a beauty that cuts across race, caste, protocol and stays anchored on being human. Khalil Gibran (1883~1931), the Lebanese-American author, has taught this so powerfully: “If a man knew himself, he would know all of mankind. I say if a man loved mankind, he would know something of himself.” To know yourself, therefore, and to become love, capable of loving all, you must unmask yourself. Peel off all your layers. And anchor in the energy that is you. This is where you__and I__and all of humanity will meet and drink from Life’s cup of bliss, together!
The password for attracting miracles into your Life: “Let Go!”
Miracles happen to you only because you need them – and not because you prayed harder or that you deserve them over someone else!
In continuation of my post yesterday on Shirdi Sai Baba, some readers pinged me wanting to know more about the miracles he is known to have created and continues to create in the lives of his followers. Well, the miracles Baba created in his lifetime are well documented and I don’t wish to enlist them here one more time. However, let me share my personal perspective on miracles here.
First, let’s get a better understanding of what is a miracle. The truth is that you are a miracle. I am a miracle. This moment, and your ability to read this post, is a miracle – you are educated, you have a laptop or a PC or a mobile device, have internet connectivity and, above all, have vision (eyesight), which is why you are able to read this post! Isn’t that a miracle? There are millions who don’t have any such luck! You and I are miracles – because, think about it, else, we may well have been created as the swine that gives the flu than be created as the human being that receives the flu! But we are all so obsessed with the rat race that we run, earning-a-living, that we don’t consider any of these as miracles. We simply take everything that we have for granted and keep pining for what we don’t have!
Deepak Chopra, in his beautiful book, ‘Why is God Laughing?’, says that miracles happen when mind-body-soul are in alignment. He says there are three levels of mind-body-soul alignment and hence three types of miracles are possible. At the most basic level of mind-body-soul alignment, he says we can BUY whatever we want to. And that is a miracle. Believe me, the ability to BUY something with money is a miracle. I have, through the years of my family’s financial strife, and the several spells of pennilessness we have been through, known what it means when you can’t afford to BUY even groceries for everyday survival. At the second level of mind-body-soul alignment, says Chopra, when you WISH for something, it often happens. For instance, if on a hot summer afternoon, you wished for a cold lemonade or beer and a friend passing by decides to drop in with some cans for you. This may have happened, in our own ways, at least once in our lives. Chopra says that whenever this must have happened, our mind-body-soul may well have been in alignment. If that alignment can be consistent, at that level, more of what you WISH happens to you or comes to you! At the third, and perhaps highest, level of mind-body-soul alignment, says Chopra, you can actually CREATE whatever you think of or visualize. This means you can CREATE an object or an event or a situation. And this is what the Himalayan Masters (please read Swami Rama’s ‘Living with the Himalayan Masters’ for a better understanding) or Shirdi Sai Baba or Swami Sathya Sai Baba were capable of. In the name of rationality, the less spiritually evolved folks, dismiss this ability to CREATE miracles as “cheap magic”. Fine, so be it. To each one, their own. To me, Chopra’s reasoning is both powerful and true.
So, how does one attract miracles into one’s Life? Is it by praying to someone like Baba or to a Higher Energy? Or is it by following rituals or tantric practices? Actually, if you can just let go of this view that you need to do something about your Life, your mind-body-soul will reach a basic level of alignment for you to be able to attract miracles into your Life. Again, let me reiterate that the most profound miracle of them all is the fact that you are human and are alive. But if you want more “apparent” miracles to happen to you, please let go! You will then attract the right people, the right opportunities and the right energies. Which means you will get the job you want, the companion you have been longing for, the wealth and assets you wanted and everything that you once thought was beyond your reach. So, the password for attracting miracles into your Life is “Let Go!”.
This is where Shirdi Sai Baba, or any of the world’s greatest teachers, comes in. He teaches Faith and Patience; and in championing Sab Ka Maalik Ek (There’s only one Creator for all of us; one Higher Energy!), he invokes in us the spirit to let go! “Let Go!” means to simply stop wanting to control your Life. It means to live with the awareness that this lifetime, from your birth till your death, is nothing but a series of pre-ordained experiences. Unless you go through all the experiences, your lifetime will not be complete. Letting go, therefore, means to let Life take over and you simply (learn to) accept whatever comes your way. This is how your mind-body-soul get aligned in a special, natural, sub-conscious manner. Then you will notice how things happen to you. You will realize that the miracles in your Life are coming to you, happening to you, not because you have prayed harder or that you deserve them over someone else – they are there simply because you need them and because you have “Let Go!”
The man who taught me Faith and Patience
Let’s not miss learning from fellow human beings, and being human, in our quest for God – a God who belongs to a (our) religion!
|Picture Courtesy: Outlook/Internet|
The latest issue of Outlook magazine, through its cover story, examines the “controversy” over Shirdi Sai Baba stirred by the Shankaracharya of Dwaraka Peeth in Gujarat. The Shankaracharya, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, says Outlook, believes that Sai Baba was neither a God nor a Saint, besides he was a Muslim who ate meat, and hence he should not be worshipped by Hindus. In response to a question from Outlook’sPrachi Pinglay-Plumber, Saraswati adds: “We are worried that if our devotees go there, they will stray from our religion. We believe one gets salvation by remembering God’s name at the time of death. But if people take Sai’s name, then what? He was not a god or a saint.”
I don’t wish to either educate Swami Saraswati on secularism nor do I wish to ask Outlook why it has chosen to project, on the cover, personal opinions of a few and make the whole story “appear controversial”. To me Shirdi Sai Baba was one of the greatest human beings that lived on this planet. There’s no bigger religion than humanity itself – and Baba espoused the cause of humanity through his teachings and the way he led his Life.
My own encounter with Baba’s teachings was a sheer accident. One weekend night, about 10 years ago, I was bored switching channels on TV. I was drinking my favorite whisky and, for lack of anything else better to do, I glanced at my bookshelf. Our personal copy of Sai Satcharita had been there for many, many years. But that night I picked it up and started reading it. The volume we had was a poor English translation of the Marathi original. The sentences were badly constructed and reading it was struggle initially. But in the hour or so that I spent with my drink and the book, three key takeaways emerged: 1. (Keep the) Faith 2. (Practice) Patience 3. Sab Ka Maalik Ek (There’s only one Creator for all of us; one Higher Energy!). Over this past decade, Baba’s twin doctrines of Faith (Shraddha) and Patience (Saburi) have become the guiding posts of my tumultuous Life. They have not only helped me find my way each time I am lost, they have also helped me anchor within. Through Baba’s continuous championing of Sab Ka Maalik Ek, I have inferred that Life is the Greatest Teacher, the Highest Energy, that powers the Universe and keeps us all alive. This awareness has led me to stop seeking God outside of me and has helped me go within, to find my true Self. One of the most admirable qualities in Baba, which I learnt about from studying his Life, was his compassion for people – irrespective of who they were, what religion they followed and what backgrounds they came from. I salute him for the practice he followed of cooking for and feeding people – everyday that he lived. In fact, this is a best practice that all Sai institutions across the world follow even today.
To me, therefore, Baba’s religious background is irrelevant. I don’t even want to know if he was indeed a Saint or if he was an incarnation of God. What is important is that he was a great human being and taught us all to be humane.
Yes, he did perform miracles. I was born almost half a century after he left this planet. And I did not turn to learning from Baba’s teachings, until a decade ago. Even so, I have felt his presence in my Life – through the compassion and kindness of fellow human beings. Every time my family and I have needed something – someone has always walked into our Life and fulfilled those needs. I have recounted some of these experiences in my Book “Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money”(Westland, August 2014). Now if you want to call them Baba’s miracles, so they are. But if you were to look at them as “the milk of human kindness”, Baba wouldn’t have a problem with you at all – for that’s what he championed. That we humans be there for each other, irrespective of our social and religious backgrounds!
A large mass of humanity is searching for answers to live Life better. Some of that search, as in my case, takes us to people, like Baba, who inspire us to be better human beings. Don’t you think we miss the whole point when we don’t salute a great human being just because we are obsessed with finding a God who belongs to a (our) religion!?
Never operate from fear – simply do whatever gives you joy!
Don’t be God-fearing. Be God-loving. That too, love the God, within you. Heed your inner voice. And do only what gives you joy.
My friend bought me a drink the other day. In fact, he bought me a few! But he did not drink. I knew he had had a problem with alcohol some years back. He had struggled to quit it for several years. In vain. Until, as he told me, “Sai Baba appeared in my dream and ordered me to quit.” So, he has been off alcohol all these years. I asked him if he was enjoying abstinence. He confessed that he hated it. But he said he was “scared of Baba’s wrath” if he violated the “order” and so he motivated himself each time to stay away. Which is why, he claimed, he often entertained friends so that he could have the “joy of being in a bar”. I told him, at the cost of sounding rude, that he may have got off alcohol, but he was still “alcoholic in attitude”. I said, “Don’t do anything out of fear. Baba may have given you the right direction – because you indeed had a drinking problem. But there’s no point fearing him. By doing that, you are only suppressing your desire out of fear that you will be otherwise reprimanded. Act freely. Drink responsibly, drink with awareness, and you will never overdrink. By abstaining, and craving, you are only creating a context for you to slip back, one day, when your resolve will break, let’s say when you are angry with yourself or the world or even with Baba, your suppressed desire will explode and you will hit the bottle again!”
My friend politely refused to take my advice. And I appreciate it. To each one their own.
I strongly believe that the human mind tries to trick itself by bringing the fear factor into play in most situations where individual actions require justification in a social context. The mind revels being gripped by fear – of someone or something. Fear of God, especially, is a convenient way to justify decisions relating to personal choice. In fact the whole issue of morality is debatable and is governed by this kind of fear. For instance, many believe that to have an extra-marital affair is a “sin” that “God will never forgive”. Some see eating non-vegetarian as sinful. Others think that drinking alcohol will tantamount to being disrespectful to their religion. And some think of women in their menstrual cycle going into the kitchen or prayer room as sacrilegious. My humble view is that morality is like body odor. It’s intensely personal. And if it is not dealt with properly, honestly, by the individual concerned, it stinks. Period. I don’t see any role for (an external) God to play in any of our human choices – especially those that are driven by our very human, sensory cravings! Therefore, if we drop this fear of an external God that’s in us, we will be free.
The only person you are answerable to is the one you see in the mirror. The only voice you must heed is the one you hear from within. When you operate from the core of loving whatever you do – be it drinking, be it eating meat, be it having an active sex Life with multiple partners, be it choosing to pray to a Higher Energy the way you want to and when you want to – you will experience a great inner peace. Because in doing all of that, and more, you are going with the flow of energy from within you, from your individual Godhead. It is only when you run scared that you run confused. Where there’s confusion, how can peace prevail?
A good guru makes you realize yourself
A true, good guru is quite unlike the popular perception that exists of a guru. A good guru is simple, humble and unpretentious.She or he asks for nothing from the disciple except objectivity and making an informed choice. And a guru need not be in ochre robes or having matted hair. Nor does a guru need to be religious. A good guru is always a great teacher. Someone whose compassion and charisma draws you to that person no doubt, but equally important, the person invokes in you the urge to learn, to unlearn, and to make the journey inward, to find yourself. Your true self.
My experience with my gurus have all been uplifting. I have not found myself gravitating to a single person. Instead I have derived great inspiration, and gained even greater insights, from several gurus – from my barber Ramalingam (who taught me the essence of the Bhagavad Gita) in Bengaluru to my former colleague Deepak Pawar (who awakened me to realize that I was controlled by my ego) to my dear friend Raja Krishnamoorthy (who taught me to appreciate the inscrutability of Life and to learn to go with the flow) to Swami Sathya Sai Baba (who I have never met, but have always experienced, who taught me the way to live in the moment) to a Siddha Master Kavi Rajan (who taught me the Power of Acceptance and Loving What Is) to another dear friend Vijay Easwaran (who taught me the Power of Silence – shuba mouna yoga) to Osho, the Master (again, who I never met, but who taught me to celebrate Life) to Shirdi Sai Baba (who taught me Faith and Patience)! Apart from these notable influencers, I have learnt, and continue to learn, from the countless people that I encounter in Life. The word guru means the dispeller of darkness. Therefore, anyone, who can remove your ignorance, shine light upon you, dispel the darkness, is a guru. So, as I have realized, each person, including your detractors, brings along a teachable point of view, if you are open to the learning. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher always appears!
This guru purnima day express your gratitude to all those who have taught you in Life. Without their influence on you, you wouldn’t be who you are today. More important, continue to be open to learning – and unlearning. As long as your sails are open and hoisted, as the venerable Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has said, the winds of grace, which are always blowing, will fill them and you will reach where you must and are destined to be.