Why your ‘drunken monkeys’ need taming
Enjoy the power of now!
We were at a house concert recently. Rajasthani folk singers from Barmer, who are called Manganiyars, were performing. It was a privilege to listen to them live, at such close quarters. A lady sat next to me. She kept requesting the singers to sing a song of Reshma’s (a Pakistani folk singer who was born near Bikaner, Rajasthan), particularly, the number Lambi Judaai from the film Hero (Subash Ghai, 1983, Laxmikant Pyarelal). The Manganiyars politely declined to sing the song requested by the lady saying they don’t sing film songs. But the lady kept extolling Reshma’s virtues – she started to discuss Reshma’s voice, the music of Hero and the haunting impact the Lambi Judaai song left on the listener. All this, even as the Manganiyars went on to perform more native songs from their community. The lady’s banter was very distracting for me. So I moved away from her and immersed myself in the Manganiyars’ performance. A few songs later, I tried to check on the lady. She was still singing paeans in Reshma’s praise. She was simply not present in the Manganiyars’ concert!
I found a very important spiritual takeaway from the lady’s behavior. She is, to me, but a metaphor. She reminds us that we are all often never present in our nows. Our human mind thrives only in the past or in the future. Which is why it drags us back to the past – which is dead, which is over – or pulls us into imagining a future – that is still unborn, yet to arrive. But Life is always happening in the present moment, in the now. So, when we obey the mind, we are missing living in the moment. We are missing the beauty and magic of Life. This is what was happening to the lady – she was missing the scintillating, live performance of the Manganiyars, she was clinging on to Reshma and to Lambi Judaai – not that they are bad memories, but in the present moment, they were clearly irrelevant!
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.
I have, over time and consistent practice, learnt to tame the drunken monkeys in my mind. 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. We must 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!
Stop searching for methods, start living with gratitude
The problem with searching for what isn’t there is that it takes you away from what is there!
We recently bumped into a couple who had attended one of my Talks a few months ago. The gentleman said he was very moved by our story and inspired by our ‘courage’. He suggested that we attend an Isha Yoga Program led by a prominent member of Jaggi Vasudev’s team. He felt we need to ‘put into practice a method that can attract abundance and inner peace into our Life’. Both Vaani and I politely declined his suggestion. He was a bit taken aback by our response. Noticing his discomfort, I told him that we had nothing against Jaggi Vasudev personally but we are saying no because we don’t believe that there are any methods to live Life.
The Isha philosophy has somehow never appealed to me personally. Nor has any other. In the past, people, out of sheer compassion and love for us, perhaps even concern, have recommended various approaches to us to help us ‘solve our problems’. Someone said that we must follow Buddhism, another said we must try or Pranic Healing or Reiki, my former secretary said we must embrace Christianity, a friend suggested we meet a Pir Baba at a mosque on Pycrofts Road (Chennai) who would look at eggs and tell us how to get rid of the ‘evil spirit that had gripped us’. So, the suggestions have been plenty. But we have consistently declined embracing any method, any practice.
Not that we haven’t tried anything ever. We did pujas, pariharams, went on pilgrimages to various shrines, across religions, wore rings on all fingers, fasted on specific days each week and followed several, several, methods and practices. But none worked for us – forget solutions, we didn’t even feel the peace we were desperately seeking! What I am going to say now applies to Vaani and me. There is no suggestion that anyone must agree with us or that it will work for others. After years of trying various approaches, we have realized that Life cannot be methodized. This understanding alone has worked for us. So we love it. And religion, practiced in a God-fearing, ritualistic, mindless, divisive manner, as it is done today, doesn’t work. At least it doesn’t work for us.
They say religion is for those who want to go to heaven. And spirituality is for those who have been to hell. Vaani and I have been to hell, are in hell, and are loving it here. Because if a problem-ridden Life is hell, then, no one is ever going to be living a problem-free Life. So, in a sense, we are all in hell already. Instead of loving what is, and learning to deal with it or work on changing it, we clearly don’t want to merely pine for – and suffer for – an aspirational state.
Spirituality is an inner awakening. It is understanding the divine, the godliness in you. And realizing that everything about your Life, including this lifetime is impermanent, except your divinity, or as every scripture points out, except your true Self. As Osho says, there is no God, just godliness. Or as German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (1844~1900) asked so thought provokingly: “Which is it, is man one of God’s blunders or is God one of man’s blunders?” So, spirituality inspires us to live our temporary, soon-to-expire, human lives, intelligently, beautifully, happily. On the spiritual path there is no religion, there are no methods, no mantras, no practices. There is just an awakening; an empowering awareness that there is no logic to Life, just magic, everywhere, in every moment, in everyone!
I am reminded of Baal Shem Tov (1698~1760), the mystical Rabbi, who implored his followers to drop all rituals, all methods and all practices and simply trust Life. He used to say: “Trust Life, trust God, and whatsoever has been given to you, enjoy it! Enjoy it with such deep gratitude that every small thing matters and becomes holy, becomes sacred, becomes God.”
If you think about Life deeply you don’t have any other way to look at Life than with gratitude. This whole Life is a gift. The experiences that you have been through and are going through are unique gifts – that teach you and awaken you – too. When you realize this you will wonder why did you ever complain about Life, why did you have to struggle with and suffer in Life, instead of celebrating it!
Because you think you have to ‘solve this problem of Life’, it has come to mean a set of things that you don’t have or keep aspiring or searching for. Which is why you are looking for methods, which is why an external resource, a God, or religion, or ritual, is seen as a possible panacea. But are you at peace with your Life, are you happy, despite being religious, despite practices and rituals? To be sure, this search is futile because there is nothing, no one, to be found; there is nothing to be solved. You miss this simple truth about Life because while you are running amuck chasing what isn’t there, you never feel grateful for what is there, for what you have!
Life is happening in every moment. If you are not present in each moment you will miss the most spectacular show in, and of, your “entire lifetime”! You may define some moments of your Life as good and great and several others as plain drudgery. That’s perhaps because you don’t see the blessing in each moment. If you pause to look, every leaf looks beautiful in the sunlight, and differently beautiful in the darkness of the night, every cloud has a silver lining and everything around you, in you, is a miracle! What method do you need to see all this? What practice can help you see what is evident? How much more abundance do you need than what is and that which you don’t already recognize? When you do awaken to Life’s magic and beauty, you will stop searching for methods and start living with gratitude!
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The ROI – and ROI – on Prayer
True devotion is when you offer yourself to Life – in total surrender, willing to be led.
What is the best way to profit from prayer? I was recently asked this question. I have often thought about this too. Since we all talk of Return On Investment (ROI) on almost everything else that we invest ourselves, materially, in, why not talk of the ROI on prayer?
To be sure, I have tried several forms of prayer in my Life. Over time I concluded that chanting or performing a religious ritual was not something that gave me an immersive experience. Not to impugn those that find value in praying that way. It just didn’t work for me. Instead I found great value in conversations, that too in English, with a Higher Energy. So, when I would find some ‘me time’, I would pray to the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, the stars, Nature…and to any vision I held in my mind’s eye of this vast inscrutable cosmos. I know and believe that this Universe is powered by a Higher Energy that is far more intelligent and compassionate than all of us. So I always found myself at peace when I appealed to that Higher Energy.
Initially, as instilled in me by my father, as a way of praying at our native Bhagavathi shrine in Athipotta, in the Palakkad district of Kerala, I would simply say, “Show me the right way.” My father always used to say: “Don’t ask for anything material…just ask to be shown the right way.” As I evolved in understanding and awareness of the Higher Energy as not being something in a form, in a place, and instead learned that this Energy is a presence in each of us, around us, I simply added, “Show me the right way…you lead…I will follow.” So, I don’t necessarily go to a place of worship anymore to pray. I don’t follow rituals. And I believe religion, as it is preached and practiced today, interferes with simple, peaceful, intelligent living. I have learnt to pray to the Higher Energy I feel in me, around me, from wherever I am at a given moment.
Over the last several years when we have not known what to do in several contexts and situations, I have found this state of let go, this way of letting Life take over, incredibly peaceful. I have found that every time I surrendered to Life, I have been taken care of, provided for and hoisted up even as I have been stripped of everything material and may actually have been plunging into a dark abyss.
That’s really how, from my own personal experience, I have understood that prayer is not about a language. Nor is it about a ritual. Or about a religion. So it doesn’t matter if you recite Vishnu Sahasranamam or say namaaz five times daily or show up at a Sunday Mass or on the banks of the Ganges or at a Gurdwara. It is not about writing down Sri Rama Jayam or Sairam a million times alone. It is not about angapradakshinams (whole body, rolling-on-the-ground, perambulations of a place of worship) and observing fasts alone. It is not also about landing up to meditate for weeks at a Buddhist monastery up in the hills. Yes, you may do all of these, but if you are not immersed in your actions, if you are not emptying yourself, if you are not having an attitude of total surrender, of letting go, you will not feel peaceful within.
Devotion is what you feel when you are thirsting to learn, are humble enough to surrender, are willing to let go and are allowing yourself to be led. And, to me, true devotion is to be devoted to Life – who is the biggest teacher of them all – and therefore to living fully! I say so because I have found that Life always gives the test first and the lesson later. So every moment of this lifetime is a learning experience. When you are devoted to Life, to the experience of living fully, from moment to moment, you will find that all questions cease, and inner peace prevails. This is when you are soaked in abundance because you are in a total let go, and are nothing but grateful (which is why they say that ‘Thank You’ is the best prayer ever!) for whatever is! This is the most profitable, if you like, prayerful state ever! And the ROI, which is actually a Return On Immersion too, on this state – well, that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
‘Karma’ or no ‘karma’, simply take Life as it comes!
|Mohammed Thahir with his parents
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu/Internet/M.Vedhan