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! 

The mind holds the key to your physical fitness

When you are anchored in inner peace, your body functions the best.
Swami Parthasarathy
Photo Courtesy: Mid-Day/Internet
This morning’s The New Indian Express (TNIE) carries a story of Swami Parthasarathy playing cricket. Parthasarathy, now 88, was once a businessman and is now a corporate guru who teaches managers to live intelligently! He lectures frequently on the Bhagavad Gita and runs Vedanta World, a learning academy in Malavli, near Pune. Sharing the key to his fitness, he told TNIE: “When you don’t worry about the past and don’t get anxious over the future, you stay fit.”
This is such a simple, beautiful, perspective. Yet this philosophy eludes most of us. Because we have come to somehow believe that our lives are complex and so only a complex solution can help rid us of our problems. Resultantly, we keep waiting for a perfect future, where there will be no problems and we can live happily ever after. The truth, however, is that there is and can never be a perfect future – you can never have a Life that is free from problems. All you can and must do is to live your present perfectly. What prevents this from happening is the mind. It draws you into grief, anger and guilt over the past and into anxiety and worry over the future. So, you are never present in the now. The now is perfect. It is what it is, the way it is. But you are not here. You are brooding or you are worrying. So you are besieged with lifestyle-related ailments – diabetes, hypertension, stress, cholesterol and such. What is a lifestyle ailment? Anything that is an outcome of the Life you lead. So, if you can train your mind not to worry and if your Life can be a continuous celebration of a series of present moments, your body will be fit and you can enjoy the pleasures of a good, productive Life.
I don’t say this from a philosophical perspective alone. I have been there – so I know what it means to be trapped in an unhealthy lifestyle situation. And I have experienced the power of transforming my Life by changing the way I think. I once had a tobacco habit and was obese. And I am both diabetic and hypertensive. When I understood the role the mind played in my physical condition I worked on training my mind. Over time, I have learned to rein in my mind and now know how to stay focused on the present. I have since shed my excess weight and have been able to keep my key physical markers under check. I did this through the practice of daily silence periods – mouna. So, I know that you too can do this. Your method may be different depending on what works for you. But I want to reiterate that it is both possible to train the mind and, therefore, stay fit. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in or the hours you keep. You just need to be willing to be the change that you want to see in you!
Inner peace is not elusive. It is not complicated. If you stop imposing conditions on the way your Life must be, and instead accept it for what it is, you will start living, than merely existing. When you live fully, in the present moment, you will experience inner peace and you will see the magic and beauty of a healthier, happier Life!

Mind to no-mind: the art of taming your drunken monkeys

To enjoy Life and to live each moment fully move from mind to no-mind.  
We have all been conditioned to believe that the human faculty to think is what differentiates us from other forms of creation. Undoubtedly it does. But the human mind is also responsible for causing all our suffering. The nature of the mind is that it keeps generating thoughts. And the other fact is that the mind thrives only in the past or in the future. But either position is irrelevant in the present moment. Which is why it serves no purpose for the mind to be in the past – which is dead, which is over – or to imagine a future – that is still unborn, yet to arrive. Life is always happening in the present moment, in the now. So, when we listen to the mind, we are missing living in the moment. We are missing the beauty and magic of Life.
In Buddhism, the mind is referred to as the Monkey Mind. This is to emphasize the point that there is a constant churn of thoughts, most of them unsettling in nature, that is happening in the undisciplined mind. With a mind that is steeped in anger, grief, guilt, fear, anxiety, worry and such wasteful, debilitating thoughts, where is the opportunity to live in the moment? One Buddhist scripture quotes the Buddha even describing the mind thus: “The human mind is like a drunken monkey that has been stung by a bee.” This is so apt. So powerful a metaphor that I can totally relate to.
The mind is powerless in the present. So, when you are trying to relax, for instance, watching TV or a sunset, the mind will remind you of a sunset that you watched with your girlfriend. And your thoughts will go to a time in the past that is so painful because your girlfriend and you had a messy break-up. Or it will drag you into the future, to a worry about some unpaid bills and the lack of cash to meet them – which includes not being able to pay for your DTH TV connection coming due next week! When your mind wanders, it will stop being in the present. So will you. Which is why all of us are leading incomplete lives – lost in mourning about the past or worrying incessantly about the future. This is why we suffer. Since we cannot undo what has happened nor can we tell what will happen, we are either pining for something is not there or we are fearing something which we believe will happen to us. Both these thoughts cause our agony and suffering.
I have, over time and consistent practice, learnt to tame the drunken monkeys in my mind. I do this by having conversations with the monkeys. Every time a monkey starts jumping around in my mind, I talk to the monkey. For instance, whenever I think of someone who has betrayed me or has been unkind to me, Anger Monkey starts jumping up and down. I ask Anger Monkey, “What’s the point in your getting excited. It’s all over.” The Anger Monkey replies, “But you were cheated, you were pissed on and passed over. You must avenge.” I would say, “I am not interested. Why do you insist?” Anger Monkey would reply: ‘So that they (my detractors) don’t get the feeling that they got away with doing what they did to you.” I would conclude, “Let them. I am happy not wanting to prove anything to anyone or teach anyone a lesson.” That would be it. And I would go back to living my Life without the least trace of anger or vengeance in me. But, as I said, this attitude is something you cultivate with practice. This is true for every monkey in your mind – from Fear Monkey to Guilt Monkey to Worry Monkey.

To expect thoughts – the drunken monkeys – not to arise in your mind is futile. As long as you are alive your mind will be churning out thoughts. Intelligent living is the ability to tame the drunken monkeys and make them powerless by staying in the present. This then is the state of no-mind. Try to be in this state for as long as possible each day. That’s the only way to not be held hostage by the past or be fearful of the future. That is the only way to live in the now!

Budhhahood is a great pain reliever

Every pain, every unresolved relationship situation, every wound, is a disguised opportunity for enlightenment.
There’s a Buddha in you, in me, waiting to awaken. And extraordinary pain, believe me, is not a sign of your past sins and retribution happening to you, as some would want you to believe, but is a sign of extraordinary grace waiting to enter your Life. This entering of grace is what is called enlightenment. It is a state of being and not an event that happens at a specified time at a specified, glorified venue, like,  under a tree. For Gautama, it happened under the Bodhi Tree. For you it can well happen on a potty or at 30000 ft. while you are flying! Buddhahood is a state you will realize, you will awaken to, when you look deeply at what is causing you pain – and understand your pain. Whatever is, look at it intensely. Your first, human and normal, tendency is to resist pain. Instead embrace it. Invite it to tell you why it has arrived in your Life. And it will always tell you why. Be honest. Because pain is not like worry. It is not an imposter. It is a teacher. Initially, you will find external reasoning very powerful to the cause of your pain. As in, he cheated me. So I am in pain. She led me up the garden path, hence I am in pain. My competitor chose unethical means and so my business couldn’t cope and I lost all my money. Instead of apportioning the blame to an external agent, a foreign hand, ask yourself what have you done to have invited this situation? When you know how you invited pain into your Life, your learning will be complete. Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century, Persian poet says, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” When this awakening happens, you will be able to live with your pain, yet without suffering from it!

In reality, pain is powerless. If you look deeply at whatever is causing you pain at the moment and stay in this moment, in the now of reality, your mind will not even report the pain. The mind always exists in a past grief or a future worry. In the face of reality, the mind is inactive. Which is why people champion the power of now! So, if you want to profit from your pain, it is possible, by choosing to be aware. Something or someone is perhaps your source of pain, but by not understanding your pain, you are inviting it to stay over longer. All you need to do is look at it intensely, ask what have you done to have invited it over, internalize the learning and watch the pain just leave you alone! This state is called Buddhahood. And Buddhahood, indeed, is a great pain reliever!