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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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. 

We are all a product of the time we go through

The situation that you are dealing with is your God. This is where experience comes from, this is how you learn – and unlearn.
The other day a cousin visited us. She’s been fighting cancer and has lost all her hair consequently. But she was her usual cheerful, well-groomed self. She’s been through a lot in her Life apart from her own health situation. And it was inspiring to see how she had coped with cancer with equanimity and cheer. We got chatting a bit on her positive attitude being her biggest asset. She corrected me – she saw it as her only asset! I agreed wholeheartedly. I told her: “The crises we go through in Life are our teachers. They are the God we seek. Because only through them, do we learn and unlearn to live inspired and intelligently.”
This morning’s story in Chennai Times on the Tamil star Simbu (Silambarasan) only reiterated this perspective. Simbu confessed to TOI’s Janani Karthik: “I have had no (film) release for the past two years. But personally, in the last two years, I have learnt a lot about Life. I have had personal experiences that have tried me… I might have been born with a silver spoon, but I went through a lot. I lost everything. I lost films, I lost money; it hurts when I go and ask for money from my mother for my daily expenses. When I lost money and films, I thought that, at least, I have someone who loves me, who I was in love with too, by my side. But now, the girl (Hansika) also has gone. Throughout that period, I thought that I would get married one day, have children of my own… But that too is not happening now. It was when I lost everything in Life, that I realized that I have only my breath with me. I am still alive, and I believe that I am alive for a purpose on this earth… That’s a very evolved Simbu talking there. And that’s what Life’s situations do to you.
You, me, everyone – all of us, are a product of the time we go through. Our situations mold us. They make us the people that we are now. And they will further make us who will be in the future. So, in effect, in reality, each situation is God. To be sure, situations are just events, mere happenings, in Life. You can go on and label them as good, bad, testing, whatever, but you can’t change a situation. Only time can. In going through any situation, you can learn – or unlearn – from it or you can resist it and so suffer. When you accept a situation and learn from it, you evolve. It is as simple as that. So, to me, God is not in a temple or a mosque or a church. The God we seek is right in us, with us, in each situation we experience in Life.

When you reach this state of understanding of Life, you are unmoved by the situations. Nothing can rattle you anymore. You remain anchored in your inner peace. You have then realized that everything is transient and impermanent. Why worry about anything that will go away from you certainly some day? Without exception, each of us has to go – empty handed. So, the best way to live is to live intelligently – learning from each experience and going with the flow of Life!

A red LAMY and THE Truth

In the end, you will have nothing.  You will depart alone, empty-handed. This is the truth of Life. As long as you don’t recognize this truth and understand it, you will continue fighting with Life. You will continue to desire and want. And you will continue to lament and grieve over anything that you lose. Or over everything that you don’t get!
I love LAMY (German-crafted) pens. I simply love the way they are designed and the way they write. Over years, I have collected most variants of a particular model in several colors. And I carry a Lamy most of the time while on business. One day, on a domestic flight, I lost my favorite red LAMY. When I discovered this loss, I was well out of the airport, driving towards downtown. I simply did not see a point in going back in search of my pen! But I could not get over the loss. For days on end I searched for the pen in every major Indian city. Those were times when LAMY products were not available in India and online shopping had not been invented! Whatever I did to get over the loss, my mind went back to grieving over the red LAMY. Several years after this incident, one day, I sat at a coffee shop with my wife to take stock of our lives. We had lost everything material in Life. And were hanging on to a thin ray of hope. We did not know what to do. Or whom to turn to for work, for help, for a solution, or for advice. We decided to make a list of options so that we could select from among them. I volunteered to take notes of our choices/options. I pulled out my pen – it turned out to be a red LAMY, which I had subsequently purchased from Kuala Lumpur International Airport while on a trip, subsequent to losing the one I originally had.
I saw that red LAMY in my hand and burst out laughing! Here I was, having lost everything material, and was contemplating calmly how to reinvent ourselves, how to keep our focus and how to find a solution to the unimaginable crisis that we found ourselves in. There was no grief. No sorrow. Just an indescribable resoluteness to deal with the challenge. Over and above that, I was laughing at the irony in my learning! I wondered what had changed in me between my losing a pen to losing everything material in Life. I am not sure I know even now what has changed in me – but I sure know how that change has come about. Over time, Life has taught me lessons through my experience of losing everything that I once dearly held on to – money, assets, the Firm we built, our unique business model and our reputation. I have learned through all this loss that everything is transient. That nothing is permanent. That we will all go the same way as we came – with nothing! Perhaps, this awareness has led to a great acceptance of Life as it is. And to an incomparable, matchless, inner peace.
Your story may be different. But you too may have lost in Life. Or are struggling with a loss just now. Whether you have lost something, or someone, reflect on this, the ONLY, truth. That is the only way not to lose your peace of mind and to remain anchored and blissful.