I drink alcohol…and I am spiritual

Just because you don’t like the message, don’t shoot the messenger!  
A couple of days ago I received an email forward of a media release purported to have been issued on behalf of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living organization. I don’t know if the release was indeed issued on Sri Sri’s behalf. I hope not. The release attacks, albeit in a veiled manner without naming them, director Rajkumar Hirani, actor Aamir Khan and their movie PK, for “projecting sadhus (Hindu saints) in bad light”, for “promoting dargahs (Muslim shrines) and putting down ashrams(Hindu monasteries)” and for “influencing young minds”. The release also says that the makers of PK have been funded by a terrorist to put down spirituality.
I find the content of the media release preposterous. And the charges against Khan, Hirani and PK baseless. Whoever authored that release and whoever authorized its circulation neither understands spirituality not do they understand PK’s message.
Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is the realization that comes from within that you are the divinity that you seek. Spirituality is deeply personal, it is intense and it is liberating. It sets you free. Religion, on the other hand, tries to achieve the same result but ends up making bad spaghetti out of a good recipe. Not because there’s anything wrong with the recipe. But because the cooks, the high priests of the various religions (as the PK character says in PK, “the managers of the various companies”), have hidden and divisive agendas; they promote ritualism and hold gullible people – like you and me – hostage! In the movie, in one brilliant scene, PK picks up a new born baby to inspect if the baby is born with a “stamp”, a means of identification, that he or she was actually created (“sent down”) to be a Hindu or a Christian or a Muslim. The message is stark and uncomfortable: that our religion has been thrust upon us. We are born free to simply be human. But the label of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jew and such is stuck on us as an afterthought. Our family and society force us to follow the religion that they have chosen for us. To add to the confusion, people who are self-proclaimed leaders of the various religions, induce fear among their followers saying that if you question what is being told and practiced, you will be punished by your God! PK makes another important, uncontestable point – the God, he says, that created you and me, is different from the God that we humans have created to suit our convenience. God, the creator, is compassionate, loving and is ever present – within us. The God we have created, he says, is forever elusive, being “managed and protected by agents and managers” and making people fearful. The truth is where there is fear, there is no faith. And when there is faith, there can be no fear. Faith is like light and fear is like darkness. You can bring light to drive away darkness. But you cannot bring darkness into a room which is well lit. You cannot, therefore, claim you have faith in a God, your God, and yet be fearful of either God or Life or both!!
The media release makes one other ridiculous, erroneous point. It states that people who consume alcohol are not spiritual! Spirituality is totally unconditional. Being spiritual means just being. You can be whoever you are. You don’t have to abstain from anything, you don’t have to fear anyone, you don’t have to fast, you don’t have to pray and you don’t have to follow any rituals. You just have to be who you are and enjoy being who you are. Spiritually empowered people employ this freedom, this fearlessness, this faith – that they will be taken care of and provided for by the Universe – to live in bliss. To them nothing is a sin. And nothing is forced. They live simply – seeing the divinity in themselves and in everyone and everything around them.

I seriously hope Sri Sri’s ashram did not issue that release and that the mail I received was just one of those hoax forwards. If it was indeed a genuine communication, I pity those who put it out – for they are missing PK’s central message and shooting the messenger, Aamir, just because he’s seen, per worldly definition, as a Muslim.  PK is not about Hindus and Muslims. It is not about Hindu Gods and a Muslim God or a Christian God. It is about you and me and how we are allowing ourselves to be trapped in the vicious cycle of religion, rituals, godmen and fear. Watch PK if you can and care. And even if you don’t want to watch it, raise a toast when you drink tonight!! To Christmas, good health and happiness. My toast, however, is to the authors of that redoubtable release: “Hey, I drink alcohol…and I am spiritual”!   

Gratitude is the only way to respond to Life

You don’t see Life’s beauty and magic in everyday situations because you are not present. If you are in the now, the only way you can respond is by overflowing with gratitude for this Life and this experience!
On this morning’s walk, my wife pointed out how beautifully the sun lit up the leaves of a tree. We walk along that route almost daily. I must have seen that tree several hundred times. Even so, this morning it looked exceptionally beautiful and full of Life. Was there anything different about the tree or the sunlight this morning? Or was it that I was looking at it differently?
I have learned that gratitude arises in you and overflows when you pause to feel Life’s energy in and around you. It is this sense of gratitude that makes you realize that everything about your Life is beautiful, everything is the way it should be – irrespective of context or time. When the Life energy in you is charged with an overwhelming sense of thanksgiving,  you are filled with joy and peace.
Yet, you don’t always feel this way because you are forever rushing through Life. Even a morning walk is a chore. You push yourself through it. You are constantly thinking of all the tasks and schedules that await you later in the day. Or you are lost in worry and anxiety over problems that you don’t seem to have the solutions for. Instead of enjoying, with gratitude, whatever is, you pine for what isn’t. That’s why, pretty much like the way I had been missing that tree and its well-lit leaves, you miss Life – and living!
On the same walk this morning I noticed an old man, with bent knees making a valiant effort to walk. He carried a bottle of water in one hand and tried to make slow progress with each step that he managed to take. We walked briskly past him, finishing more than two laps around the block, while he struggled to complete even half of one. That’s when I realized how much I too tend to take Life for granted. I realized that my briskness comes from a pair for legs and knees that are still strong. It dawned on me that it may not be too long before I may struggle to walk just a few steps like my senior fellow-walker.
Because you take Life for granted, it has come to mean a set of things that you don’t have or keep aspiring or searching for. Which is why you never feel grateful for what you have! Life’s far more meaningful when you appreciate the value of what you have and stop complaining about what you don’t have.
I am reminded of Baal Shem Tov (1698~1760), the Jewish mystical Rabbi and founder of Hasidism (a spiritual branch of Judaism), 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 and endure Life – instead of celebrating it?
Life is happening in every moment. If you are not present 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, every cloud has a silver lining and everything around you, in you, is a miracle! When you do awaken to Life’s magic and beauty, you will know only one way to respond – which is, with gratitude!