Of ‘Vishu’, a bartender and a lesson in “not wanting”

Learn to not want anything – and you will just live happily ever after!
There’s a lot of festivity in the air. Many parts of India are celebrating a New Year – Tamilians are celebrating Puthu Varsha Pirappu, Malayalis are celebrating Vishu, Assamese are celebrating Rongali Bihu – and in Punjab they are celebrating the harvest festival, Baisakhi. My favorite is Vishu. For it reminds us, first thing in the morning, how abundant our lives are. The fruits, vegetables, grains, the lamps, the mirror in which you see your own reflection and that of the assortment of nature’s bounty – all of these are a way to celebrate abundance and be grateful for what we have. Vishu meant a lot to me as a child because I would get Vishu Kani Nettam (a small amount of money that elders give people younger than them) from a lot of people and each year I would make a princely fortune on this day. Over the years Vishu continues to inspire me. It invokes in me a great sense of gratitude for all the abundance in my Life – despite anything material remaining with us in the past few years – and, importantly, it has taught me the power of “not wanting”.  
Not having something and not wanting something are not the same. Not having something is reality. Wanting something that you don’t have is desire. And desire always fights reality. When you fight or resist or argue with reality you suffer. If you examine your feelings carefully you will realize that all your suffering is over wanting what you don’t have. If you don’t have a job that you like, that’s reality. There’s no suffering there. Suffering sets in when you start pining for a better job – something you don’t have right now! Similarly, you don’t have a car. That’s reality. Again the lack of a car does not cause any suffering. You suffer when you start wishing that you have a car – which is when you fight your “no-car reality”! The key to get rid of suffering is to drop all desire, to stop the wanting.
Vishu, in a way, while helping you celebrate abundance, teaches you how to stop wanting. The very fact that you can see such a beautiful display of fruits, vegetables, flowers, grains, first thing in the morning, that very moment is a blessing. It means you have eyes and can see! It means you have a home. You have someone – a mother, sister, father, brother, grandparents – someone to set up this display for you. Isn’t that a sign of abundance? There are many, many people out there in the world who don’t have these blessings – eyesight, a home, a family! A bartender in Hartford, Connecticut (USA), reminded me of the value of this blessing some years ago. It was Vishu in India. And I was alone in my hotel room. (Owing to the time difference, it was Vishu eve in that part of the world, but about the same time when Vishu Kaniwould be seen by Malayalis back home.) I decided to go down to the bar. A couple of drinks down the line, I discovered that the Indian bartender serving me that evening was from Kerala. I pulled out a US $ 10.00 note and gave the young chap his Vishu Kani Nettam. He was in tears. He insisted that I move with him to the rear area in the bar so that he could touch my feet and take my blessings. I obliged. And gave him a hug too. He said, “As long as I was at home in Kerala, I never valued all this. Now, miles away, at the other end of the world, I realize how much all this means – thanks for your blessings! I will always cherish them.”
Your Life – just as mine – is filled with abundance. We, however, miss Life’s beauty and magic, and all the abundance there is, because we are lost running our rat races, and we are busy wanting all the time! When we realize, like that young bartender, that there is so much we have that we don’t value, that we don’t recognize, that we don’t celebrate, then we will drop all the wanting. When there is no want, there just is – only happiness!

‘Vishu’ and the art of witnessing

In brief spells of awakening, we become witnesses. In those spells we do see Life for what it is. And not for what it once was or what it should be. If we can learn the art of being mere witnesses of our lives, all the time, we can be free from all bondage and therefore from all suffering!

Today is the festival of ‘Vishu’ – a celebration of abundance and prosperity that all people with roots in Kerala observe. I have become non-religious and non-ritualistic over the years. Even so, I love ‘Vishu’. Because the festival calls for a true celebration of abundance! When you wake up, you are escorted with your eyes closed to the prayer room or to where a special arrangement has been set up. You are to open your eyes only in front of this arrangement of fruits, vegetables, flowers, rice, pulses, coins and everything beautiful that the lady of the house will have set up overnight. To me, the festival is not only a gentle reminder that there is so much abundance in our lives, that we are blessed to be waking up in a home, where our basic needs are taken care of, but it is also a reminder that we can perhaps choose to always be witnesses – just as we are when we are in front of this resplendent arrangement. ‘Vishu’ asks for nothing from you. All you are required to do is to just be a simple witness. Just observe. Drink in the sight that fills your soul with peace and joy!

Being a witness is blissful. Because a witness has no role. A witness just watches. Observes. There is no analyzing. Therefore no judgment. Therefore there is no suffering, no misery. Witnessing means being minus the mind. The mind is the source of all interpretation. When you are witnessing, you have disregarded the mind. This is what happened to me when I saw the ‘Vishukani at home today. I did not analyze. I did not question. I did not opinionate. I simply saw, with bleary eyes and amazement perhaps, how bountiful Life is.

This is the quality that is missing in our daily living. Witnessing brings us to perfectly focus on the now. You obviously can’t witness either the past or the future! So, when there is no past, no future, what you are left with is the present. As witness, you have no role in the present. It is unfolding in its inscrutable pre-ordained fashion. And you, you can only merely remain a witness. Witnessing takes you away from all your suffering, into a realm from where you will never want to come back – bliss!