Dear Sri Sri, I planted a tree for you…!

An open letter with love, compassion and a ‘jadoo ki jhappi’ for Sri Sri Ravishankar
Dear Sri Sri,
I must begin this letter with a confession. I am no follower of yours or of anybody else.
I am just a student of Life, learning from everyone around me.  I am just another fellow voyager – who believes totally in what the Dalai Lama so beautifully advocates – and practices – “responsible visitorship”. He reminds us that we are all mere tourists, visitors on this planet; our lifespans are a mere 100 years max compared to how long the planet has been and will be around. So, he says, we must act responsibly towards our inner and outer ecosystems and live meaningfully.
I understand spirituality to be simple and undemanding. It is the flowering of inner awareness. Period. An awakening that invites you to consider responsible visitorship and meaningful living. So, to me, anyone on the spiritual path, and that I imagine includes you and your organization Art of Living (AOL), must make an earnest attempt to live meaningfully and demonstrate responsible visitorship. If anyone is not making this earnest attempt, then, to me, they are not on the spiritual path. Period.
Around the same time that you and your organization Art of Living have refused to consider the sane counsel of the National Green Tribunal and are forging ahead with ‘your’ idea of preserving and promoting ‘world culture’, the people of Bhutan, have welcomed the country’s newborn Prince with planting 108,000 trees, each sealed with a prayer, for the heir to the kingdom’s throne. That, dear Sri Sri, is responsible visitorship. That is how, as I understand, culture is built, nurtured and protected.
So, I planted a tree for you. I planted it with love and compassion; I am sending you this open letter with my ‘jadoo ki jhappi’for you to receive my innermost energy and yearning for doing what is most compassionate for our world.
The word culture, again as I understand it, is best explained with the way the word appears in Tamizh: kalacharam. This word, kalacharam, is made up of two words kalai and acharam. kalai means art and acharam means discipline. The ‘art of living together in a disciplined manner’ is kalacharam, culture. And the art of living, dear Sri Sri, surely involves responsible visitorship!
I don’t think the world, most certainly not India, needs another culture festival. What the world needs is peace – both in our inner and outer ecosystems. Two of the world’s greatest musicians and singers, MS Subbalakshmi Amma and John Lennon, in their own way, left behind their soul-stirring reminders to what the world needs. Here’s a fusion of their Maithreem Bhajata and Imagine rendered by two contemporary artistes – Akhila Ramnarayan and Vedanth Bharadwaj. I am sending you this fusion single as well. Perhaps, after the dust settles down on your festival, and on the marauded plains of a beautiful river, this song – ironically and painfully titled ‘Pipe Dream’ – will invoke reflection and awakening.
I ask nothing of you dear Sri Sri or of Team AOL. I ask nothing of nobody. I have no hidden agenda, I practice no religion and support no political thought – and I am no foreign hand. I, however, make an earnest attempt towards responsible visitorship every single day, even while dealing with my own, often imponderable, real-world challenges ( So I guess I have earned my right to write you this letter.
All I have is love and compassion for you Sri Sri. The least I could do was plant a tree for you.
I feel immensely blessed I could do that.
With a ‘jadoo ki jhappi’,
AVIS Viswanathan, Chennai


The man who knows how to harvest happiness

‘The Happiness Road’ is a weekly Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I feature eminent geneticist Prof.M.S.Swaminathan, who, at 90, shares with me his little secret to harvesting happiness!
When my meeting with Prof.M.S.Swaminathan ended, the word, ‘blessing’ kept popping up in my head on the ride back home. “What a blessing it is,” I thought, “to meet someone like him”. Not because of what he has achieved – but because of the way he is, despite what he has achieved! Titles like international geneticist, the ‘Father of the Indian Green Revolution’; honours like the Padma Vibhushan; an awe-inspiring work and travel schedule that includes fulfilling invitations from Heads of State of Afghanistan to Bhutan to Japan to Sri Lanka; all this, at 90, to Swaminathan, is “just a part of this journey called Life”!
Picture by Vaani Anand
He leans forward, with eyes lighting up, when he says, “You have an unusual question – ‘what makes you happy’?” “Happiness is a state of mind. I think Bhutan has got it right when they talk of Gross National Happiness (GNH). They asked me for suggestions on GNH. And I told them that it is more than just economics. It is what people feel through the influences of culture, music, spirituality, morality, work, work ethic…relationships…all of these. Happiness is an attitude.”
In Swaminathan’s presence you can’t but help wonder how he is so much at peace with himself and with the world around him. Swaminathan considers himself very fortunate that he always got the right support to be who he wanted to be. “Although I lost my father when I was only 11, my family has helped me go do what I loved doing. First it was my uncle, then it was my wife Mina and my three daughters. I believe your family plays a big role in your happiness,” he explains. Adding, “And of course, I had the opportunity to be led and surrounded by people who gave me the freedom to express myself through my work. I have been very, very fortunate to have achieved all that I set out to achieve.” Swaminathan recounts an incident from 1961 when he received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award from the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. One week later, Nehru invited him to his office and asked him, “Young man, I remember giving you a prestigious award last week. Tell me, what did you do to deserve it?” When Swaminathan explained his research focus, Nehru thumped his back and asked him to forge ahead. “Whether it was Nehru or later Indira Gandhi or C.V.Raman or C.Subramaniam, everyone I looked up to has only been supportive,” informs Swaminathan.
Quoting French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet, Swaminathan says, “Population will stabilize itself if children are born for happiness – not by chance, but by choice.” The World Happiness Report 2015 ranks India at 117thposition among 158 countries surveyed. Swaminathan refers to this report and believes we need a reorientation of our value systems to shift the focus from material wealth to happiness arising from the joy of sharing and caring. His modest office in Taramani is lined with dozens of awards – from across the world. In fact, there’s no more shelf-space to hold the next one when it arrives! Each of these awards has been accompanied by a cash prize in celebration of Swaminathan’s scientific genius. But he’s given it all away to further research at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation. “I believe in Gandhi’s philosophy of trusteeship – I don’t need to own anything more than what I need. My work is not my own. So many people, so many efforts, I have no right to take any of what I got for myself,” he says.
Swaminathan says he’s enjoyed every moment of the ‘60 years of adventure’ he’s had with agricultural research. Along the way, watching his daughters grow up and settle down, seeing his wife find joy in whatever she chose to do, reading Aurobindo and Ramana Maharishi – all these, he feels, make him happy. “And, of course, listening to T.M.Krishna live is such a delight – he always elevates you to a new high, takes you to a new horizon,” exults Swaminathan.
I believe Swaminathan has not just led the Indian Green Revolution, but along the way, he’s learned to harvest happiness too! That’s what makes his Life so meaningful. As we are winding down our hour-long conversation, I ask him if he’s thought of how he may be remembered. He laughs. “There are 6 billion people in the world. 100,000 may know me at present. I am not sure anyone will want to remember me. My work too may become obsolete as newer research arrives. My family may remember me for a few more years perhaps. But it doesn’t matter. The whole world thrives on receding memory!”

Humility and divinity truly converge in Prof. Swaminathan. Maybe that’s why he’s so happy, so peaceful – and so successful? 

Expunge the IFs and the WHENs – Be Happy!

The idea that you can worry today and someday in the future you will be happy is the one that induces all your suffering!
We have been conditioned to believe that happiness comes from all our external reference points and is subject to certain conditions being fulfilled. I will be happy IF I get a job. I will be happy IF I get money. I will be happy WHEN I get a good companion. I will be happy WHEN I get to sell my property. The IFs and WHENs in our Life are the ones that cause us unhappiness.
The very logic that we will be happy upon reaching a milestone means that if we don’t reach it, we will be unhappy. And the human mind is such a creation that when one want is met, one milestone is attained, it will want more, and want to conquer another milestone. So, there is a perpetual chase that we are on, and therefore, that’s precisely why we remain perpetually unhappy. As individuals, as families, as communities, as nations, as a world and as a race!
Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan kingdom, has made significant moves to change this thinking at a national level. It introduced, a couple of years ago, a measure called Gross National Happiness (GNH), in lieu of GDP, which focuses on what it believes are four contributors to a nation’s happiness levels: sustainable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation of culture and good governance. But these four aspects prima facie may mislead. In reality, Bhutan’s GNH survey asks people simple questions like ‘How many people can you count on for help in case you get sick? How often do you talk about spirituality to your kids? When did you last spend time socializing with your neighbors?’. These are questions that apply to you and me too. And it’s high time we ask them and several more.

What Life will teach you, if it hasn’t taught you already, is that by choosing to save ‘being happy’ for another day, you are actually postponing living. Important too is the fact that you need nothing to be happy. You just must be willing to be happy. Happiness is not dependent on any circumstance. Nothing can really make you unhappy UNLESS you allow it to! So, please don’t put off being happy for another day. Because, you never know, tomorrow may never come!