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!  
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Stay stoic. Be happy with what is!

The best way to lead Life is to be stoic.

This is what both history and the scriptures have been teaching us all along. Zeno, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, who lived around the 3rd Century BC, championed the belief that God determined everything for the best and holding on to that view was a virtue sufficient for happiness. Zeno’s followers were called Stoics – some of the more popular followers were Seneca and Epictetus. The Roman philosophers who followed advocated the calm acceptance of all occurrences as the unavoidable result of divine will or of natural order. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita ends with the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says (presenting here only the relevant extract): “…He lives in wisdom, who sees himself in all and all in him, Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed every selfish desire and sense-craving tormenting the heart. Not agitated by grief, nor hanker after pleasure he lives free from lust and fear and anger. Fettered no more by selfish attachments he is not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer….” The key operative part is to be “not elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad”. Mahatma Gandhi meditated on this verse for 50 years every morning and night and devoted all his Life to translating it into his daily action. This was the key to his self-transformation.


In our lifetimes, we are seeing stoicism all around us as people deal with catastrophic calamities – like MH 370 or the Nepal quake. We also see people deal with their private tragedies stoically – a health challenge, a relationship issue, the passing of a dear one. There is immense pain for those who are caught in these Life situations. Yet we don’t see them beating their chests and wailing. They see no point in grieving and suffering endlessly. Instead, we see them, almost prayerful, moving on with their work, seemingly unaffected by the pain and grief. This is the highest spiritual quality individuals can acquire. In learning from them, we can find a better way to deal with our own, smaller, calamities. Stay stoic. Stay anchored. Be happy with what is!

Each moment is a never-again opportunity!

Yesterday was the legendary singer Kishore Kumar’s birthday. And I chanced upon one of his most memorable songs while shuffling channels on TV. The song is from ‘Aap Ki Kasam’ (1974, J.Om Prakash, starring Rajesh Khanna, Mumtaz and Sanjeev Kumar with music by R.D.Burman and lyrics by Anand Bakshi).

It goes like this: Zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hain jo mukam, woh phir nahin aate, woh phir nahin aate….

And it means: The moments that you live through in Life will never come back…

The film itself has a powerful message. It tells the story of a jealous and possessive husband who doubts his wife and abandons her. Only to realize, much too late, that he was wrong. The song is sung by him in the aftermath of his awakening, where he pines for the time he spent with her and realizes painfully that those times can never be gone back to again, that what is lost is lost!

This is so true with all our lives’ scripts too. Each moment is so precious. And if we are not alive to the moment, living in the moment, it is gone. Forever. Heraclitus (535~475 B.C), the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, has said: “You never step into the same river twice.” What he means is that, Life, like a river, is ever flowing. It is always in motion. If you step into it once, it has changed by the time you have stepped into it another time. Similarly, with each passing moment, Life changes. In a new moment, which will never come back, you have a new opportunity to live. Using that moment, living it fully, is up to you. If you are going to be caught up with debilitating emotions like anger, worry, sorrow, greed and jealousy, you are sure to miss that never-again opportunity! Remember, no one’s getting any younger. And all of us are speeding towards our deaths – albeit at different speeds!!!

So, seize the moment. Live each moment – fully, joyously! Make your Monday Magnificent….begin, if you wish, by listening to that immortal Kishoreda melody here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYYe0gCoQx0