Celebrate the essence of God than seek God’s physical presence.
The Kerala High Court has overruled a bureaucrat’s decision to allow women to wear churidars at the famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. I believe the bureaucrat K.N.Satheesh, the Executive Officer of the temple, was being very progressive when he made that decision on November 29th. But the court ruling only proves, yet again, that in India we seek to protect and perpetrate gender biases in the name of tradition and culture.
I don’t want to go into the long list of instances of gender bias unleashed against women and their right to worship at religious places in India – Sabari Malai is a case in point, as also the general thumb rule that women having their periods should not enter a temple. Clearly, at the core of all the arguments seeking to protect culture and tradition is a diabolical male chauvinist effort to deny women equal rights.
My view is that God is an over-rated idea. I don’t deny that there is a Higher Energy. And you may call it God. But to box God into a religion, into a place, into a gender, into a socio-religious and culture specific framework and hold humanity to ransom basis tradition and orthodox practices is cruel. If God created the Universe and all of us humans, what right does one set of those humans, the self-styled mandarins who administer and control religions, have to deny other fellow humans the joy of worshipping their creator?
The only way forward for humanity is to abandon the God idea as it exists. And embrace Godliness.
I simply love Mother Teresa’s idea of God: “I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.” This is the core idea on which she served humanity, so selflessly, all her Life. Osho, the Master, explains this concept beautifully: “I say there is no God, but there is Godliness. So I destroy God as a person. God is more like a fragrance than a flower.” Essentially, this means, we must celebrate the essence of God than seek God’s physical presence.
But society, tradition, culture, religion, dogmas – all these and more – want you to keep searching for God in a physical form. They want you to go find that form and confirm God’s presence. But the truth is God has never been found; God is still missing! Even so, the folks running religions want you to keep searching so that they can control you. Just imagine, as John Lennon beautifully pleaded in 1971, if we had a world where no one believed in religion and everyone stopped this search for God! Now, who stands to lose? The seekers or the administrators of religion? See, there you already have the answer – this is why the God theory is going on getting propagated. So that you and I can be controlled, generation after generation after generation. Think about it. Why does God, the creator, need propaganda – after all, God created the Universe. And God’s biggest advertisement is this beautiful, bountiful world that we have. Yet, there is so much propaganda about God, important, about fearing God: don’t wear churidars here, don’t enter there, you can’t enter a place of worship when you are menstruating, you can’t eat this, you can’t drink that and on and on. Why? So that that the propagandists, in the name of God, can keep you and me under their thumb.
Tragically, instead of believing in ourselves, and our own Godliness, we tend to, out of fearing God, believe the propagandists. The weaver-saint Kabir tried to awaken us, way back in the 15th Century, when he sang:
“Moko kahan dhoondhe re bande
Main toh tere paas mein
Na teerath mein na moorat mein
Na mandir mein na masjid main
Na Kabe Kailas mein
Na main jap mein na main tap mein…
Kehat Kabir suno bhai saadho
Main toh hoon vishwas mein”
This means, “Where are you searching for me (God)? I am not in a pilgrimage or an idol, nor in a temple or a mosque, not in Mecca, not in Kailash, not in mantras nor in penance…I am in your faith.” What he said then is so, so, true even today. I hope the women who are being denied entry into the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, and the judges of the Kerala High Court, who passed that order disallowing churidars, pause to reflect on Kabir’s verse again. The former then may find solace and the latter may find perspective.
But, clearly, for a better world, the idea of God as a physical presence has to be abandoned. For this we humans must embrace the essence of God, the Godliness in each of us. And this begins with respecting our women first. Because, without women, simply, there can be no humanity.
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Don’t try to overanalyze Life. Just take it as it comes.
This is what I told a friend who wanted to know what’s the method I practice to live my Life with “so much equanimity in the midst of so much strife”. I added that there are no methods or mantras to live Life. Each one chooses a way and, over time, they keep reviewing, refining, reinventing that way till they come to the point where they are ‘just being’, they are immersed in the present moment, with no grief about the past and no expectations from the future or no anxieties about it.
My friend insisted that there must be a method and our Life’s Purpose is to find that method. I simply said, “That’s your way brother, go with your sense of your way and it will eventually bring you to where you must be.” My friend dismissed my perspective saying that I was being “very spiritual”. “Spirituality”, he said, “is very abstract and what the world needs are logical, practical insights.”
I simply smiled back. I am sure, over time, my friend too will discover that spirituality is deeply personal, simple and practical. It is not religion. Religion, as it is practiced today, has methods and mantras. It is ritualistic and holds you hostage, reminding you constantly that you must be God-fearing. Spirituality, on the other hand, is simple. It is merely the flowering of inner awareness. This awareness sets you free. This awareness helps you understand that all Life is impermanent, and that, therefore, you must not squander this lifetime. It champions living in the moment, ‘just being’ and celebrating Life!
People often miss any spiritual perspective because they find ‘just being’ a very difficult thing to do. They want to be in control of Life. But ‘just being’ means sitting back and watching the magic and beauty of Life being in total control. So people see spirituality as ‘beyond’ them because they are so caught up in the quagmire of worry, anger, guilt, sorrow, suffering and the ‘earning-a-living’ syndrome. They have an ostrich-like mentality – their heads are buried deep in their ill-formed beliefs. Their minds are closed – although there’s so much grace, so much abundance, freely available, they are still focused on what they don’t have, steeped in scarcity. Kabir, the 15th century weaver-poet asked us to think: ‘What if a fish said it was thirsty?’ Wouldn’t that be the stupidest of situations? Won’t you tell the fish to go re-examine its brain? How can a fish be thirsty when it is always in water?’ Quite similarly, the human mind is being foolish by seeking peace outside and by not looking within. By not allowing this flowering of awareness to happen from within. So, you conclude that you can’t be at peace, you refuse to look within and choose instead to be enslaved by your self-imposed limitations. Only when the awareness within you blooms, only when you understand that you can be in control while controlling nothing, only then will you see the Master in yourself.
This understanding is elusive because, while being profound, it is, at the same time, too simplistic. That’s why, it doesn’t come to everyone – especially when they are employing their education, their logic, in trying to make sense of Life. The truth is Life doesn’t conform to any framework or rules. Least of all your logic. Clearly, there are no methods or mantras to live Life. It is simple – and uncomplicated – when you unquestioningly accept its paradoxical, often inscrutable, nature. So don’t dissect or analyze Life – live it for what it is, with what is!
If we can focus on the essence of a religion or ritual, than merely being dogmatic about it, we will awaken.
In response to my blogpost yesterday on the value of remaining detached – both materially and emotionally, a reader reached out to ask me this: “Sir, is the poonal (the cotton thread worn across the shoulder by Brahmin menfolk, who deem it to be ‘sacred’) an attachment? Or is it a ceremonial identity for those born into a sect?”
Now, I am not going to answer this reader’s questions in specific. But I am going to share what I think of being born a Brahmin; and having given up wearing a poonal, what I have understood about being prayerful, being spiritual versus being ritualistic and religious.
I come from a very conservative Palakkad Brahmin, Iyer, (Palaghattan) family. My upanayanam (sacred thread/poonal ceremony) was performed when I was 13. While, for some inexplicable reason, I took to liking the Gayatri Mantra, even though I never understood its meaning then (just to clarify, I never asked for, nor was I taught, its meaning), I loathed the practice of doing sandhyavandanam thrice daily. Looking back, I feel it wasn’t about the practice, it was the draconian manner in which it was forced upon me that got my goat. As an adolescent, I had more worldly, more physical, more spirited matters to deal with in my body and mind, than to explore the spiritual aspect of living. I simply resisted the whole idea of being Brahmin and having to imagine that I was ‘intelligent, exclusive and exalted’.
Here I was, getting the lowest grades in my class – I was in fact thrown out of PSBB, KK Nagar, by the venerable Ms.YGP, for scoring 8/100 in Geometry in a quarterly. So, far from intelligent, I felt like I was a duffer. Second, all I wanted to do was hang out with friends, watch movies, smoke, have girlfriends and talk about and do stuff that all adolescents indulge in. But no. To do any of that was sinful, I was told. Because a. I now wore a poonal and b. I am Brahmin. I began hating the idea of being Brahmin and privileged even more. So, somewhere, along the way, I gave up doing sandhyavandanam (citing time constraints), but the poonal stayed on – possibly because of the fear-your-God-else-you-shall-be-punished orientation that I had received all through my childhood.
I grew older wearing the poonal. I did stuff that was deemed sacrilegious wearing the poonal – which is, I ate non-vegetarian food, drank alcohol, smoked tobacco and had sex! But the poonal stayed on. And, as they say, history, repeats itself. So, at 13, my son, Aashirwad, had his upanayanam. Vaani and I were liberal with him though. He had a choice to wear his poonal or do sandhyavandanam. Nothing was forced on him. And so, he made a choice not to do either! I don’t think I ever sat him down and helped him understand the meaning and significance of the Gayatri Mantra though. Life just went on for all of us.
Over time, thanks to our bankruptcy, and the cathartic experience that we are going through, I leaned more towards spirituality and started moving away from religion and rituals. This journey was smoother for me perhaps because of my early resistance to being a ‘privileged Brahmin’ and my intense distaste for rituals. I preferred to understand Life than be driven by tradition. So, Osho, Rumi, Gurdjieff, Gandhi, Eknath Eswaran, Kabir, Thich Nhat Hanh, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty, Shirdi Baba, Sathya Sai Baba and Vivekananda, appealed to me more than the pantheon of Hindu Gods that I have been brought up propitiating. I understood that Life really meant living, not earning-a-living. And living meant celebrating each moment. I realized that happiness and inner peace were intelligent choices available to each of us and that God is within you and me, who must be loved, not someone who controlled you from the outside and who must be feared.
I understood the real meaning of the Gayatri Mantra. There are several ways it can be explained. But two flavors appeal to me the most:
One, Swami Vivekanananda’s single-line Twitter-friendly version: “We meditate on the glory of that Being who has produced this Universe; may He/She enlighten our minds.” (Note – I added the ‘She’ to this to celebrate gender equality!)
Two, what a sage seeker once shared with me:
“Through the coming and going, and the balance of Life,
the essential nature, which illumines existence, remains.
May all perceive through subtle intellect
the brilliance of enlightenment.”
Consider both versions of the Gayatri Mantra’s meaning. Is there any religion in it? Is there any parochial Brahmin supremacy enshrined in it? Then why, why is it preached, promoted and peddled as a Brahminical virtue?
One night, in the summer of 2011, when Aash was down here in Chennai on vacation, both of us sat down to polish off a bottle of Glenfiddich (that Aash had bought for me from his first part-time job’s salary). The ladies of the house had retired. And soon father and son got talking about Life, Purpose, spirituality, religion, rituals, God and almost everything that remains inscrutable to us mortals. I shared with Aash how much Osho has helped me live a fuller and happier Life. And then I talked about the Gayatri Mantra – sharing the two meanings, that I have presented above, with him. I also told him what I thought of the wasted idea of Brahminism – of how important and relevant just being is compared to being ritualistic and religious.
I then poured myself one more drink, and declared emphatically, that what the world needs more is Humanism, not Brahminism. I said we need no more of religion or rituals but we urgently need compassion and spirituality. Aash stopped me short and said, in a dead-pan tone: “But Dad, you are still wearing your poonal, right? Doesn’t all this sound a bit hypocritical to you?!” I looked back into his eyes. I set my glass down, peeled off the tee-shirt I was wearing, removed my poonal, and politely discarded it in the trashcan in the kitchen!
To me, that night was nirvana, enlightenment, moksha – whatever! That night I detached from an idea that had been bothering me from my adolescence – an idea called Brahminism that was based on religion, community, caste and parochial thought! Since then I have abstained from religion – as it is practiced today – and from all rituals. I feel freer, I feel happier and I feel at peace with myself.
This inner peace and joy helps me deal with my Life much better. In the last 5-odd years I have been enjoying my journey of this lifetime more than I have ever for 44 years before that night. I am so much more happier despite my excruciating material circumstances. Maybe this is the enlightenment that the Gayatri Mantra invites us to embrace. At least this is the essence I have picked up – and I don’t see any reason why the whole world shouldn’t be knowing and learning this!
Your Life’s happening at its own pace, of its own accord and in the way it must happen.
A recent blogpost I wrote on my experience with vaastu drew varied and interesting responses. Addressing the sentiments of some readers, I must clarify that I do not have anything against any practice. Vaastu and feng shui, I know, are very well researched, documented practices. I have tried them and have found them working myself. In fact, I also firmly believe that astrology is a science and I do consult astrologers. But approaching anyone or anything thinking they can solve your problem is wrong. Vaastu and feng shui can at best correct the flow of energy in your living and working spaces. Astrology can help you understand the cause for turbulence in your Life and tell you how long the turbulence will last. None of these crafts can change your Life for you. And if someone is telling you they can alter your Life’s course, then, I am afraid, they are leading you up the garden path!
To be sure, you have to go through whatever Life has planned for you. The Master Plan has no flaws. At best, a science like astrology can help you make sense of this inscrutable Life, but beyond that you must live through, experience and learn from your Life.
Once your inner awareness grows, when you evolve spiritually, you will stop looking for validation from external reference points. You will, like me, begin to believe that everything happens at the right time. Good or bad are labels that we human beings place on events and situations. In Life, there’s really no concept of a good time or a bad one. So, why agonize over things, events and people because we seek instant gratification? In an SMS/WA generation, this is even more starkly evident. Everyone wants everything now and fast. Practicing mindfulness, enjoying every breath we take, every morsel we eat, every sight we behold, is the best way to live. This doesn’t mean you must not be ambitious or aggressive. This means don’t rush through Life. Don’t stress over it. Learn to be patient. Everything happens to a plan, and just because we are not aware of that plan it doesn’t mean there isn’t one!
Kabir, the 15th Century weaver-poet, has said this so beautifully:
Dheere Dheere Re Mana, Dheere Sub Kuch Hoye
Maali Seenche Sau Ghara, Ritu Aye Phal Hoye
Slowly, slowly O! Mind….everything happens at its own pace…
The gardener may water with a hundred buckets, but the fruit arrives only in its season…
So, go easy with your Life. Don’t let anyone tell you they can make it better for you. Know that everything’s fine and is exactly the way it should be.
I am reminded of what I learnt eons ago from our neighbor, a Sikh, a sardar, in Jaipur. His last name is all I can recall – Aneja. I must have been barely 9 years old when this incident happened. We all used to sleep on the terrace at night in summer to beat the 40+-degree desert heat. Past 12 o’clock, one night, a telegram arrived for Aneja. He read it out aloud: “Burglary in Delhi house. Rush immediately.” He reflected on the message briefly as everyone who was awake crowded around him. And then he exclaimed: “Sab kuch changa hai ji! Chalo so jao. Savere chalenge, Dilli! – All is well. Go back to sleep everyone. I’ll leave for Delhi tomorrow.” The next morning my dad asked Aneja before he left for Delhi, “Arre bhai Aneja, how is it that you were so calm even after you came to know that your house had been burgled?” Pat came Aneja’s reply: “Sirji, what had to happen had already happened. What was I going to do ruining my sleep? Sab kuch changa hai is a good way to live Life. Zero-complications!”
That lesson has stayed with me. Thanks to the cathartic, transformational experience I am going through, I have learnt to live my Life fully – knowing that always, whatever be the issue, circumstance or problem, sab kuch changa hai!
Unless we know we are worrying when we worry, we will never be able to quit worrying.
Yesterday a man reached out to me from Bengaluru. His problem is that he simply stares at the computer and worries. He claimed he had become unproductive at work and feels defeated. He has too many business challenges. And now his preoccupation with his business has begun to affect his relationship with his wife. He wanted to know how he could ‘get rid of his worries’.
The key to being liberated from worry is not to strive for a state when there is absence of worry. The key is to learn to be ‘non-worrying’ by being aware. Being aware requires only being. Just being. Nothing else. But there’s a perception that simply being is tough. No, it is not. Examine yourself. Most of the time you worry without even applying your mind. It is a mechanical affair going on in your head. What will happen to this? Or that? Will I get what I want? Will my child be happy? Will my spouse survive? What if something terrible happens and what I want done is not accomplished? It is an incessant chatter. A cacophony in your head. And one worry sparks off another and another. Often times, this becomes uncontrollable. And you seek remedy. Someone tells you to lean towards meditation. Someone else tells you to propitiate the Gods. Someone again tells you to meet an astrologer or soothsayer or a tantric. You try all that. But you come back frustrated. You are not getting the answers you want. You are seeking inner peace and a worry-free Life, but you are not getting there. Why? Because your mind refuses to listen to you.
Kabir, the 16th Century, weaver-poet, says this so beautifully in his couplet:
“Maala To Kar Mein Phire,
Jeebh Phire Mukh Mahin
Manua To Chahun Dish Phire,
Yeh To Simran Nahin”
The rosary rotating by the hand,
the tongue twisting in the mouth,
With the mind wandering everywhere, this isn’t meditation (counting the rosary, repeating mantras, If the mind is traveling – this is not meditation)
Control the mind, not the beads or the words.
That ability to control the mind will come only from your awareness. Awareness can be inspired in you by practising silence. Spend an hour being silent every day. Just being. Read a passage. Write your thoughts in your personal journal. Do whatever you want, but remain silent and refuse to attend to anything that calls for you to disengage from what you plan to do in that hour. Don’t sleep. Don’t speak. Your hour of silence can make you super-productive and aware during the remaining 23 hours in the day! So, it is good return on investment. This is the practice of ‘mouna’. It will not eradicate worry. Worry will arise, but your awareness will cut off that flow of thought. It will arrest the worry in its tracks. And help you come back to focusing on whatever you are doing in the moment. Practising ‘mouna’ or silence periods brings you to appreciate the power of now! Remember, there is precious little you can do about all what you worry about by simply worrying about them! You can either act on a situation and solve it, or act on a situation and if you fail to solve it, accept that outcome. Or you can just leave the situation to Life to sort things out over time. So, why worry? And then, worse, why worry about your worrying?
The bottomline: don’t worry about worrying. Focus on where that worry germinates, sprouts, takes root. Go to that point and stem the flow.
Don’t attach any importance to any thing or any individual. Because when they are gone, as is sure to happen some day, you will be miserable.
Yesterday, we attended a Cinema Rendezvous screening of the documentary ‘A Life in Metaphors’ made on noted film-maker Girish Kasaravalli. After the film was over, people were in conversation with Girish. He talked about how it is important for a film-maker to express through images how a character is feeling. And he said the feeling of being alienated by one’s own family or community or society was the most painful one to endure; it is intensely personal and, therefore, very difficult to portray on screen. Someone then asked Girish if not being appreciated on social media or not appearing in Page 3 coverage in papers was a sign or way of being alienated in our times and in urban society? Very deftly, Girish avoided answering the question. And spoke only about the feeling of alienation his protagonists’ have felt and depicted in his films. I think Girish made a significant point by not answering the question directly. Which is this: looking for social media acceptance or approval and recognition among the Page 3 community is a sign of shallowness, of lack of evolution and maturity.
Alienation that happens to an individual by an act of abuse or social excommunication is never controllable by the individual. So, maturity demands that you remain detached and don’t attach importance to what others do to you. Now, in urban society where social media and Page 3 culture have become necessary platforms for expression and visibility, the same principle of detachment must be practiced. Just as it does not matter what caste or creed you are – and so being excommunicated by a society that is stooping below the humane shouldn’t matter – it doesn’t matter whether you are ‘liked’ on social media or whether you are included or excluded in the Page 3 circuit.
There are two points to bear in mind to keep Life simple – first, what others think of you is of no significance to what you can do; and second, everything, including you, will perish over time, so stay detached and never grieve over losing anything. Surely, you cannot control or avoid being alienated but you can always choose not to feel sad for being alienated.
Spirituality asks nothing of you; it simply teaches you to live in a total let go!
Yesterday, I was addressing folks from the corporate and business world. I delivered my “Fall Like A Rose Petal” Talk on Personal Leadership to this audience. The Talk traces the journey Vaani and I have undertaken from insecurity and fear to fearlessness, from self-doubt and self-pity to faith, from anger, grief and guilt to forgiveness and from feeling lost in Life to finding ourselves, finding focus and in finding that it is possible to be happy despite your circumstances. I shared many anecdotes from my Life – some of them showcasing my preference for good whisky! When the audience got an opportunity to ask questions, this one came my way: “Does the imbibing of spirits (alcohol) help in practicing spirituality?”
The question was perhaps asked half in jest, but it throws up an opportunity for me to share what I have understood about spirituality.
Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. This awareness helps you understand Life – that it is impermanent, that you too will perish some day and that you control nothing. This awareness sets you free, but in a uniquely personal way. Spirituality demands nothing – there are no methods, there are no rules, there is no need to pray, no need to abstain…be who you want to be, do what you want to do, but, important, just be, just be happy in the now! Spirituality is distinctly different from religion. Albeit religion makes an attempt to achieve all that spirituality does, but because religion, as it is practiced today, is mass-based, ritualistic, fear-inducing and divisive, it fails miserably. Worse, religion holds you hostage. So, to me, spirituality is not a practice. It is a state of being.
Another member from last evening’s audience, who I know well, was on a SMS chat with me early this morning. He said he was anxious that we were not able to get out of our debt situation. And he advised the practice of the popular runa vimochana stotram (a mantra to alleviate a debt condition) and the lighting of an oil lamp every day at a temple of our choice. I politely replied that we have got past all that stage – been there, done that – and that I believed more in Kabir’s perspective now: just as the oil is in the oilseed, the divine is in you; jaise til mein tael hai, jyon chakmak mein aag, tera sai tujh mein hai, tu jaag sake to jaag! Not that I disrespect religion on the compassion of the friend who messaged me this morning. But I guess we have moved on, evolved. Vaani and I have reached this state of total acceptance – or saranagati (total surrender) if you will – where we make our efforts every single day, but we remain detached from the outcomes. Our efforts have not borne fruit in almost a decade, but we keep trying. We may be beaten, but we learned to remain unfrustrated with the Life that we have!
This is what spirituality has taught me, to live in this world and yet be above it. To be in a state of total let go – acting diligently on whatever is in your control and leaving the rest to Life. And yes, spirituality has taught me that if can’t afford my Scotch anymore, I must learn to enjoy my Royal Challenge whisky on weekends! And you bet, I absolutely do! 🙂
|Mahamaham – Kumbakonam
Picture Courtesy: Internet
|Picture Courtesy: Internet|