Saturday last week started with Vaani and I watching the “Petta” trailer. To us, there was nothing remarkable about it – except that he is most likely playing his age; it had all the trappings of the film ‘Rajnifying’ the audience though!
And Saturday ended for us with a spectacular, out-of-this-world, T M Krishna concert; his only live performance this Margazhi!
As #BlissCatcher Sriram Ayer (Season 1, Oct 2015), of NalandaWay, introduced the concert, he talked about how much venom had been spewed on social media over Krishna, over NalandaWay, and over the two partnering for this concert’s cause, to raise funds for the Chennai Children’s Choir. I had read some of those comments as they appeared on my timeline. They were not just distasteful, they were pathetic; they showcased how much our society – the educated lot, mind you – has got stuck with the insipid discourse on religion, caste and hatred, all of this in the name of ‘protecting and preserving culture and tradition’.
As I sipped my coffee on Sunday morning, I asked myself why do we, as a people, think it is OK being #Rajnified while it is not OK being #Krishnafied?
I guess the answer lies somewhere between what we can’t do – being like Rajnikanth – and what we don’t want to do – being like Krishna.
Rajni is an actor, a Superstar – everyone clearly cannot be that! His screen persona feeds our wannabe sentiment somewhere. We can’t be that, so we drool over him; we celebrate even his most mediocre efforts in the name of keeping his Superstardom alive – for our own aspirational needs! We can’t be that, so we need him, even if he is inaccessible and very, very distant! (PS: Having said all this, I must confess I respect Rajni for the person that he is – humble and sincere; I only wish he was not trapped in his on-screen image and truly explores his fullest potential as an actor!)
Krishna, on the other hand, is like you and me – he is ordinary, accessible, and has the guy-next-door persona. Yet, he has done what many out there don’t dare to do – not that they can’t, but they don’t want to – which is, he has followed his bliss, music; he asks questions on why irrelevant tradition must not be dumped, he works with change-makers to democratize the art form, he pauses and asks important, must-be-asked, questions to the government and, most significantly, he chooses to be himself. He has chosen not to be trapped in society’s image of who a musician must be or what a musician must do. Now, all of what Krishna is doing can be done by anyone. But people don’t want to do it. So, they spew venom; they find it easier to hate someone, who is like them, who has broken ‘tradition’!
But the beauty is, as Sriram pointed out, 1200 people made the pilgrimage to the Mutha Venkatsubbarao auditorium on Saturday evening, to show that love and unity can thrive in an environment where hatred appears to be extending its vice-like grip. And, I believe, whoever was there that evening, loved Krishna’s concert.
I surely did.
As I see it, Krishna’s is not even a music performance; he is not performing because he has an audience; or that he has to perform ‘for’ the audience. He is not in music for the living; he is living for – and because of – his music. So, whenever he sings, he is exploring the spiritual depths of ‘his’ art. How else could he have combined two (as it appeared to me) different compositions where he sang about 1. weeping inconsolably and 2. the Lord’s lack of compassion? How else could he have taken all ‘his’ time to delve into the magic and beauty of ‘Srirangapura Vihara…’? How else could he have so seamlessly blended with – the surprise of last evening – the Chennai Children’s Choir to deliver such inspiring, elevated, renditions, including the closing piece, Tagore’s ‘Momo Chitte…’ in beautiful Bangla?
In Krishna’s daring to be who he is, he is not saying that only he can do it. He invites us as a society, as people, to debunk hollow beliefs and traditions; he is suggesting, if he can, you too can: you too can partner in creating an inclusive society, where religion, caste and art are not held hostage by a few as if it were their fiefdom; you too can look at the Emperor, like that metaphorical child in the fable, and say “No clothes!”; you too can be who you want to be – and not be stuck in society’s definition of who they want you to be!
I am reminded of Rumi’s immortal line: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy!” Vaani and I live – despite our circumstances – doing things from our soul, so we know what it is to feel that river move in us; I am sure, Krishna feels that river moving in him too…
And so, I believe, you can feel it too…you don’t have to even be #Krishnafied, just be #Youfied…love yourself, celebrate yourself, be yourself, be happy…and let us together stop feeding and/or spreading hate…
My Standard Disclaimer applies: I have no knowledge of classical music (so, I have no learned/rasika point of view to offer a comment on anyone’s performance)…all I share here is what I have felt of what was sung or said.
The most important role of a parent is to enable a child’s bliss.
My friend is stressed out over his 15-year-old son’s “future”. The lad has below average grades in high school and is unsure of what he wants to do in Life.
I believe this is a perfectly normal state for anyone to be in. So, I advised my friend not to be stressed out. “In fact, you must celebrate that your son does not know what he wants to do. If you are cluelessness in Life it is a great state to be in. I was clueless about what Life meant to me till I was 35, and now, I am have no clarity about how long it will take me to fix the material, professional and financial dimensions of my Life,” I told him. (Read more here to understand the context in which I made my statement: Fall Like A Rose Petal).
I am not sure my friend is convinced with my perspective. Even if he isn’t, it is fine. Life doesn’t offer any of us, any more clarity than what we think we have. The best way to move forward in Life is to go one step at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time. This doesn’t mean you should not have a plan, that you should not have a long-term vision. You must. But if you don’t have a plan or a vision too it is perfectly okay. Over time, you will figure things out. There’s no point though getting keyed up with what’s happening around you and imagining that everyone’s getting “ahead in Life” while you are clueless. More than children, it is the parents who are keyed up over their children’s peers getting “ahead in Life”! And that’s pretty sad.
Let’s look at this from a higher plane. The truth is all of us have to end up dead – sooner or later. We are all speeding towards our deaths, but at different speeds! So, what is the sanctity about wanting to be ahead of the others? This keeda, this avoidable desire-virus, is what makes parents like my friend unnecessarily sweat over their children. The teens actually are a great time to experiment with Life – try out many things, decide which ones give joy, try these ones out more and eventually pick up that one thing that is immersive, blissful. Now, this decision about what to do in Life must not be a decision that’s based only on earning potential, career growth opportunities, reputation in society, marriage prospects and such. You must do only what makes you come alive and what you absolutely love doing – something that makes you lose yourself when you do it. And finding that something takes time – several years, in some instances. How then can parents expect their teens to attain this clarity?
But that’s exactly what parents across are demanding of their wards. Look around you. Every child out there is in line to be slaughtered on the altar of a “stable” career. Just because they have “memorized” syllabi and vomited them in exams to secure “high grades” people think their children are “brilliant”. The truth is their brilliance has been sacrificed in order for them to merely become employable. So, astronauts, musicians, sportspeople, actors, artists, chefs, designers and standup comedians end up becoming engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants and MBAs. Generations of parents have done this to their children. And children when they become parents perpetrate the same horror, the same injustice. In the name of concern for their children’s “future”, parents are literally crucifying the happiness of their kids. And while doing all this, instead of feeling accountable, they end up being stressed out and anxious?
Vaani and I are offering a Program called Zero-Anxiety Parenting – ZAP – targeted at parents of children and young adults. And through that Program, the one fundamental principle we wish to champion among parents of teens is this: “Please do not get in between your children and their bliss.” We encourage parents to trust their children’s choices, to trust the process of Life and to let go. We are calling for a paradigm shift in parents – we are imploring them to switch from merely wanting to see their children earn-a-living to parenting them in such a manner that they can see them living, thriving and being happy! Only when parents start celebrating their children truly, they stop being anxious.
All of us work hard. And almost all of us pray. But if you make your work your prayer, you will neither need to work nor pray!!!
Yesterday I was in conversation with renowned theatre actor and voice-over artist, P.C.Ramakrishna in The Artist’s Soul Series that we curate at Wandering Artist. Ram said that theatre has always had a very therapeutic effect on him in helping him to deal with the pulls and pressures of everyday living: “I survived 26 years in a corporate job that I loathed, only because I had theatre rehearsals every day.” Ram eventually took early retirement from his job in 1993 and immersed himself in theatre and voice-over work. He’s been on his own, and happy, for over 24 years now.
I believe the secret of Ram’s happiness is how he looks at his work. He loves what he does and he offers himself to it. Simple!
Think about it. Life can be blissful for off us too. Let’s demystify two myths that the world has been conditioned to. 1. The first myth is that work is drudgery. That it is something you to do to earn a living. Rubbish. Work is everything you do. Whatever you are immersed in, whatever you are working on now. You are working at your computer now. You are working on your Facebook Page now. If you get up and go for a bath, you are working on cleaning yourself up. When you eat, you are working on your appetite and so on. Work therefore is everything we do living and not only what we do to earn a living. So commonsense demands that you choose to work only on what you love doing! 2. The second myth is that prayer is asking something from God. That it is a method. That it is a practice. That it is a dialogue. Every religion has made prayer a ritual with their prescriptions and standard operating procedures. The reality is that prayer is about being immersed, being alive, and, in fact, just being. So, being in the present moment, engaged with Life, living, and totally immersing yourself, mindfully, in thought, body and soul with whatever you are doing, is prayer.
Offering whatever you do to Life, in gratitude, is prayer. If you are cooking, cleaning, sweeping, making a presentation, making love, preparing a report, tending your garden, drinking, eating, whatever, make it an offering to Life. That’s when work becomes prayer. And living becomes praying. Then you don’t need to ask anything from Life. All the answers are there in front of you, within you. When you reach this state of awakening, you stop treating work as drudgery. Every day then is fun. Each moment comes alive. And Life becomes meaningful. Blissful.
True intelligence and distinction lies in your Buddhahood!
At a grocery store the other day, a couple we know had brought their son along with them. The young boy has autism. So, he is often reflective and lost in his own world. Someone seeing the child, smiling curiously at the ceiling, remarked in Tamizh to another: “Ashadu Sirikkarthu!” Loosely translated, it means, “The idiot is laughing!” Of course, it was a very insensitive, inhuman comment. And the person to whom the comment was made quickly whispered a firm admonishment. So, I did not take up the issue with them.
But the inappropriate remark kept me thinking. I concluded that the real ‘ashadu’, idiot, was not the autism-afflicted boy. It was the person who made that comment. Because only an idiot will see Life so insensitively, so inhumanly. To me, the young boy is a Buddha. He has, unwittingly perhaps, learnt the art of living with equanimity, in total bliss, happy being who he is. His autism is a blessing. All of us, educated, intelligent, all-faculties-intact folks, only aspire to get to that state which the young boy has already arrived in. Many of us even fail to understand what this Buddhahood is all about. We wrongly imagine that it is about religion and ritual. We think being educated and financially well-off means we are better than most people around us. But the truth is mere education and knowledge do not necessarily guarantee wisdom. Hear what Osho, the Master, has to say about this. It is brilliant: “Our whole education is absolutely unaware of the fact that growing up is a different process than growing old. Even idiots grow old; only Buddhas grow up!”
Academic education, in fact, when overdone, and over-relied-upon, is a disease. An affliction, that comes in the way of intelligent living! Which is why, I am all for Buddhahood. To be sure, each of us is capable of it. Except that we have to grow up. And for that we have to first awaken. Growing up clearly is not about knowledge and qualifications. It is about going within, connecting with your source, your core, your Self. When you delve deeper you will find value in the silence that will greet you there. And the peace that you discover inside you, in that silence, that peace makes you a Buddha.
So, in effect, the more educated you think your academic qualifications make you, the more wealthy you think your material assets make you, the more experienced you think you are because of your professional body of work, well, these mean nothing from a Life-fulfilment point of view. These only mean you have grown older. It only means you are now a bigger idiot! Being educated, being financially wealthy, being a subject matter expert are not sinful – but imagining that you are, therefore, better off than others is sinful! True intelligence and distinction lies in your Buddhahood. To attain Buddhahood, you must simply un-cling from all that its worldly, all that is perishable, and see the light, metaphorically, in the sky. As Gautama Buddha famously said, “When you see how perfect your Life is, you will look up at the sky and laugh!”
Well, isn’t that what the young boy in the store was doing? Pause and reflect: are you capable of looking up at the sky and laughing with such equanimity and honesty? When you do that, you too will be a Buddha. Until then, just be accepting of the ‘ashadu’ that you are!
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The key operative word in the ‘Follow Your Bliss’ philosophy is ‘your’.
I lead a monthly conversation series called The Bliss Catchers at Odyssey Bookstore in Chennai. The series is inspired by American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell’s (1904~1987) philosophy of Follow Your Bliss. Vaani and I bring in people into the conversation each month who have dared to give up predictable paths and go do what they love doing in Life.
So, I am often asked these questions. What if everyone in the world follows their bliss? Won’t society collapse because there may be no one to do those jobs that are a drudgery or are menial? Someone who visited us last week too asked me these questions again. And this person insisted that ‘following your bliss’ is detrimental to our social structure. This is what I shared with him.
First, let’s focus on what ails our society and what can possibly be the fix. There’s so much emphasis right from birth, through the growing up years, that by the time a person turns an adult, she or he is obsessed with earning a living. Our social conditioning has forced people to look for material wealth – money and things – all the time. But materialism leaves people incomplete, there’s a lack of fulfilment all around. Which is why people across the world are hugely unhappy. Folks like Campbell and British philosopher Alan Watts (195~1973) have stood up to remind us, again and again, that our lifetime is limited. So, they have championed that it is more important to be happy doing what we love doing than just earning money. They encouraged us, in their own ways, to follow our bliss, to live as if money were not an object, and watch how Life always, unfailingly, helps us to be happy doing what we love the most. Vaani and I have personally experienced the ‘opening of doors, where only walls existed’, when we have stayed rooted to our bliss. Campbell, in fact, said, ‘follow your bliss’. He didn’t say ‘follow bliss’. The ‘your’ is very significant. It means focus only on what gives you joy. The emphasis is on the individual. Not on society. The point here is that if each one follows her or his bliss, we will find our world to be a happier place than it is now.
Second, too much logic, too much analysis, constant comparison of the individual with peers, with social trends, is what has wrecked inner peace and happiness. Life is meant to be lived in the moment and enjoyed from moment to moment. If you can do what you love doing, for all your Life, then you are alive, you are living, and not merely existing. That’s how you live in the moment – immersed, in bliss. So, drop all your analyses, stop looking at others, follow your bliss first. See how you feel, see how your Life unfolds magically in the direction of your bliss and then see who else you can inject this spirit of discovery and inner joy with.
Third, even if, hypothetically speaking, all the 7.5 billion+ people in the world follow their bliss, it’s a cause for celebration not worry. The world will be so much more happier! Everyone on the planet will be thriving. Not existing. And in branding a job as drudgery you are being judgmental. Cleaning toilets may seem like drudgery to you, but may surely be someone else’s bliss. I am sure for almost every vocation out there, champions exist. And through following their bliss, of doing what they love doing, they will not only do things, that you may loathe, better, they will also do them happily!
Bottomline: just focus on your bliss. Nothing else. As they say on a plane, place the oxygen mask on you, before you help another get it on. So, you be happy first. When you are following your bliss, your happiness becomes infectious and your immediate world becomes happier. This is the way we can make our world blissful – one person at a time!
You have nothing to lose, nothing at all, ever in Life!
Someone we know met us for coffee the other day. He felt that Life is so much on the edge. He said he often seemed to be dealing with this gnawing feeling within him, that if he wasn’t vigilant enough, he was going to lose all that he has created in Life. He also added that there’s so much at stake, most of the time for everyone, that there won’t ever be a time when anyone will ever have nothing to lose!
I have a different perspective to offer. From the time we are born to the time we will die, none of us has anything to lose. Because you came with nothing and you will go with nothing. Whatever you have got has been given here – in this lifetime. So, even if whatever you have got now – your assets, cash, family, lover, your reputation, whatever – is taken away from you, you don’t have to sweat over it. Because you will never be able to take them away with you when you die!
So, the truth is this: you have nothing to lose – ever!
The Japanese martial art form of Karate, now also a major sport, has a deep, spiritual relevance to what we are discussing. The word Karate comes from a root that really means empty-hand. Gichin Funakoshi (1868~1957), founder of the Shotokan style of Karate, is widely credited with introducing and popularizing the discipline on the islands of Japan. Funakoshi changed the way the art form was called, from Karate-jutsu to Karate-do with the do suffix implying that it is a path to self-knowledge and not just a study of a technique of fighting. Karate soon came to mean “the way of the empty hand”. In Karate-Do Kyohan, Funakoshi quoted from the Heart Sutra, which is prominent in Shinghon Buddhism: “Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form itself.” Funakoshi interpreted the kara of Karate-do to mean: “To purge, empty, oneself of evil and selfish thoughts”. He championed that if a Karate practitioner could understand that “empty-handed I come, empty-handed I will go and empty-handed I am here – ready for combat”, then the practitioner has nothing to lose! Funakoshi says one can become a great warrior with this understanding. Then no one can defeat such a warrior, no one can rob him or her – because he or she is empty and has nothing to lose!
When you are willing to live fully, with no fear of losing anything – because there is nothing to lose really – then all you will do is to gain, to attain – happiness, inner peace, fulfilment and bliss! Or simply, when you have nothing to lose, it logically means that you really have everything to gain. As we journey along, let’s always remember ‘the way of the empty hand’!