Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Dear Readers, Won't You Join Us on WordPress?

Yes, this blog has now moved to WordPress. This will be the last post on this blog.

The blog has taken a new birth in its new form with the same name, but with something new in its URL. 

"Beauty is his footprint showing us where he has passed." (Sri Aurobindo)

Inspired by this beautiful line from Sri Aurobindo's Savitri, we have chosen the new URL for our WP blog as:

The new WP blog preserves all the posts from this blog, minus the readers' comments. All the old posts (273, including this last one) will also be archived here in this space (along with the readers' comments and ensuing exchange). 

We hope our blog's new home will continue to inspire, remind and encourage us and our readers to seek for that deeper, inner beauty. We hope that our work there will continue to help us search for that All-Beautiful, All-Delighful Presence behind everything. 

It is our sincere hope that you will join us on our new blog, and continue to constructively engage with the thoughts expressed through the posts. We look forward to your presence at our new home. 

Many thanks for all the support and encouragement we have received from all our readers.
~ Beloo Mehra

Monday, 21 December 2015

A Blog Update and a Lesson in Detachment

The Divine Teacher

Today on the auspicious day of Gita Jayanti, I got an important lesson in detachment.

For more than two years now I have been writing this blog. After almost a year of writing, I discovered that I was beginning to get a small but almost-regular set of readers, many of whom would leave thought-provoking and encouraging comments on some of my posts. It was beginning to feel good, I admit, to see that at least some of what I was sharing was provocative enough (generally in a thoughtful way) for some of my readers.

Well, as things were supposed to happen, today I discovered that all the comments posted on my blog are gone! Disappeared completely. Gone. Who knows where? They are simply lost in the maze of the cyberspace. I discovered that after I published my recent post after a gap of more than two weeks.

The initial discovery was that all the social media shares had disappeared from the blog. No problem, I said, I really don't care about that. That's just a silly ego-boosting thing anyway to know how many people have 'liked' my post on FB, how many times it got shared on G+, how many times on LinkedIn, etc etc. So when I discovered that those social media share links had gone, I felt a sign of relief, almost. Who wants that ego-boosting thing anyway, I said to myself.

But a couple of hours later I was checking something on the blog, and discovered that all the comments from all 271 posts had gone. Just gone. Obviously, I was quite disappointed initially. Because several of those readers' comments were actually quite thought-provoking and added valuable perspective to the content of the original post. I felt sorry for that loss. Initially. I was also angry. Because I couldn't figure out how that could have happened. I have a tentative 'technical' theory, but now I have lost interest in figuring out whether that theory even makes sense.

And after a while it occurred to me that all this was meant to be a lesson in perspective, detachment and equanimity. With so much that is wrong in the world, so much that is unfortunate, unjust, untrue, unethical, unhappy, my silly little loss doesn't matter at all. Nothing in the world has changed because some blog comments are lost. Only my ego has gotten a little rub, much needed perhaps. For that I should actually be grateful. And I am, now.

The auspicious day of Gita Jayanti has indeed become a 'living' lesson for me. A beginning of learning that will hopefully continue. Thank you, Sri Krishna!

Forgetting and Remembering

A new post in the series - Reminders to self

Sometimes going through one's old writings, journals, diaries can be an incredibly learning experience. It makes one recall and perhaps even renew for oneself the insight, the wisdom of the moment that had expressed itself in those words from years ago.

Often there is a definite reason why one is led to a particular old scribbling. Perhaps it is time to remember something important, really remember. Perhaps it is time to re-dedicate oneself. Perhaps one needs a reminder. A reminder to remember.

Sometimes old scribblings take on new forms. Not necessarily because the writer has grown wiser, but more because the writer is seeking a greater clarity inside. This seeking is also a reminder. A reminder to not forget to seek.

A newer outer form also becomes a reminder. A reminder to remember and offer.

"Although his ego claims the world for its use,
Man is a dynamo for the cosmic work;
Nature does most in him, God the high rest:
Only his soul’s acceptance is his own."
In our egoistic journeys through life, as we go through various trials and tribulations, ups and downs, we generally forget that we are constantly being protected, pushed, guided and led by powers and forces beyond us, beyond our highest intellectual capabilities that we normally use to govern our lives, our choices and decisions. We may call these higher powers or forces by any name. We may call it the Divine.

In our ignorant intellectual debates on free will and destiny, we forget that in the ultimate analysis we are only instruments of a Cosmic Plan, and though blessed with a free will we have been put here on this earth to fulfil a tiny little part of His Grand Goal. We forget that we are here to manifest in our small ways His Divine Will, to play our little part in His Lila.
"Often our thoughts are finished cosmic wares
Admitted by a silent office gate
And passed through the subconscient’s galleries,
Then issued in Time’s mart as private make.
For now they bear the living person’s stamp;
A trick, a special hue claims them his own.
All else is Nature’s craft and this too hers.
Our tasks are given, we are but instruments;
Nothing is all our own that we create:
The Power that acts in us is not our force."
We forget, therefore we have to remember.

Because we are steeped in the Ignorance of our lower nature, enslaved by the prison of our physical-vital-mental selves, we forget that we are not really doing anything that we think we are doing. So we have to remember that even in our blind ignorance it is the Nature's Will manifesting itself through the outward actions being done through our hands and minds. We forget that we only have a responsibility for our actions and no claim on their outcome.

"Even Nature’s ignorance is Truth’s instrument;
Our struggling ego cannot change her course:
Yet is it a conscious power that moves in us,
A seed-idea is parent of our acts
And destiny the unrecognised child of Will.
Infallibly by Truth’s directing gaze
All creatures here their secret self disclose,
Forced to become what in themselves they hide.
For He who Is grows manifest in the years
And the slow Godhead shut within the cell
Climbs from the plasm to immortality.
But hidden, but denied to mortal grasp,
Mystic, ineffable is the spirit’s truth,
Unspoken, caught only by the spirit’s eye.
When naked of ego and mind it hears the Voice;
It looks through light to ever greater light
And sees Eternity ensphering Life."
We forget all this and that's why we are quick to take all the credit for the success of our actions and put all the blame on to the Divine or Nature if there is failure (or cry about our Bad Luck!). So we have to remember and offer all work to the Divine with no concern whatsoever for the outcome. We know we must do this, but still we don’t, we can’t.

We don’t do it because we forget.

We forget that all this is Hers, so we have to remember to offer it all to Her. We forget that we are only children of Hers struggling in Ignorance, so we have to remember that only Her Force and Her Grace can help us crawl out of this Ignorance and show us the Light.

"All stumbled on behind a stumbling Guide,
Yet every stumble is a needed pace
On unknown routes to an unknowable goal.
All blundered and straggled towards the One Divine."

Perhaps there is a deeper necessity for this forgetfulness because all is part of the Divine Plan.
"This world was not built with random bricks of Chance,
A blind god is not destiny’s architect;
A conscious power has drawn the plan of life,
There is meaning in each curve and line."
We are perhaps led to this forgetfulness so we may focus on the external world and all the actions that we must pursue. It is this action in the outer world that allows us to manifest and express outwardly what we may have experienced as part of an inward growth, whatever little that may be.
"This world is God fulfilled in outwardness."
Without the outward action we may not be able to translate any inner change into a concrete and sustained transformation. Without a reasonable dose of forgetfulness we may not be fully immersed in the outward action; without such an immersion an identification with the task may not be there and without which the task may not become a natural expression or outpouring of whatever part in us that has begun the journey of a deeper, wider and upward progress.

In the ultimate analysis, this simultaneous inner and outer journey is what helps us correct the multiple defects of the different parts of our physical-vital-mental nature. Only this can over time lead to a dynamic change of our outer nature which is essential for our evolutionary process. And for the purpose of our individual growth, this ‘back and forth’ between the outward external action and an inward redirecting of energies is what keeps us ‘testing’ for ourselves whether we are really changing. And for that we are given this experience of forgetfulness.

But we must remember that we are also given the ability to remember. We are given this because we must remember what we forget. It is this remembrance that takes us back inward. To the inner chambers where all journey is supposed to take us.

And yet we forget to remember, we forget to offer. We forget and we keep forgetting it more and more in our forgetfulness. It is as if we are lost in our own forgetfulness. The journey is long, but it begins as all journeys begin, with the first step. And that first step is remembrance.

Remember and Offer.

Verses from Savitri by Sri Aurobindo
Photos by Suhas Mehra

To see previous post in the series, Reminders to self, click here.
To see all posts in the series, click here.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Needed: Spiritual Practicality

A new post in Current Events

The world has been busy talking about Climate Change, Solar Energy, Global Terrorism and all these other things. Political leaders, subject experts, public intellectuals, journalists, pretty much everyone who reads the newspaper and watches news on TV or follows it on social media has an opinion on these important topics of the day.

No, this post isn't about one more opinion on these important topics. It is actually about something quite contrary. It is about the inadequacy and the insufficiency of the mental ideas and opinions.

Remember my post from last month about Who is a True Thinker? Of course, you do. Especially if you are a thinker!

In that post I had spoken of two essays of Sri Aurobindo: one titled, Conservation and Progress that inspired the True Thinker post; and the other titled, The Conservative Mind and Eastern Progress that is the inspiration for this one.

In some sense, this post may be considered a natural sequel to the previous post. Because only a True Thinker will be open-minded enough to engage with the ideas presented below. Are you one of those? Why not reflect on this question for a while?

In the essay, The Conservative Mind and Eastern Progress, a phrase that intrigued me was "spiritual practicality." This phrase could present a challenge to the general notion or understanding many people have of the term "spirituality." Most people are somehow used to thinking that spirituality and practicality can't go hand in hand. This perhaps comes from the faulty notion of seeing "spiritual-type" people as "impractical, other-worldly or out-of-touch-with-the-real-big-bad-world-out-there types."

But the truth is quite something else. One just has to give a quick look (without any preconceived notions) at the thousands of years of history of India and one will learn about the immense contributions of rishis, munis, yogis, sadhaks, gurus in practically all aspects of human life and activity. Philosophy, psychology, ethics, sociology, mathematics, astronomy, science, medicine, literature, arts, politics, warfare -- every field of what we consider as "practical" human activity has been the field of work of our rishis and yogis.

[Of course, one wouldn't find this in the Marxist school of Indian history which is generally being taught in our Indian educational programmes. One will need to do one's own un-learning of the old ideological view of history and then begin a process of re-learning of this deeper and inner history of India.]

But the other day as I reflected more on the term "spiritual practicality" as used by Sri Aurobindo in his essay, I wasn't thinking of history. I was thinking of the present.

Photo by Suhas Mehra

Global Poverty vs. Mindless Consumerism, Ecological Destruction vs. Economic Development, Terrorist Violence vs. World Peace, Religious Wars vs. Respectful Pluralism. Not a single day passes when we don't hear or read something or the other about one or more of these harsh conflicts facing the humanity and the world. It seems that such conflicts represent the state of things right now in the world.

In their own ways peoples, societies, and nations have been trying to address these conflicts in different ways. By enacting reasonable laws, by forumating thoughtful policies, by creating organised institutions, and by promoting all the 'right' secular values such as equality, liberty, human rights, universal education and at the same time lending their weight to the nobler ideals such as compassion for all life and nature, peace, non-violence etc.

And yet nothing seems to be working.

What is missing?
"The present era of the world is a stage of immense transformations. Not one but many radical ideas are at work in the mind of humanity and agitate its life with a vehement seeking and effort at change..... No nation or community can any longer remain psychologically cloistered and apart in the unity of the modern world. It may even be said that the future of humanity depends most upon the answer that will be given to the modern riddle of the Sphinx by the East and especially by India, the hoary guardian of the Asiatic idea and its profound spiritual secrets. For the most vital issue of the age is whether the future progress of humanity is to be governed by the modern economic and materialistic mind of the West or by a nobler pragmatism guided, uplifted and enlightened by spiritual culture and knowledgeThe West never really succeeded in spiritualising itself and latterly it has been habituated almost exclusively to an action in the external governed by political and economic ideals and necessities; in spite of the reawakening of the religious mind and the growth of a widespread but not yet profound or luminous spiritual and psychical curiosity and seeking, it has to act solely in the things of this world and to solve its problems by mechanical methods and as the thinking political and economic animal, simply because it knows no other standpoint and is accustomed to no other method. On the other hand the East, though it has allowed its spirituality to slumber too much in dead forms, has always been open to profound awakenings and preserves its spiritual capacity intact, even when it is actually inert and uncreative. Therefore the hope of the world lies in the re-arousing in the East of the old spiritual practicality and large and profound vision and power of organisation under the insistent contact of the West and in the flooding out of the light of Asia on the Occident, no longer in forms that are now static, effete, unadaptive, but in new forms stirred, dynamic and effective."
(Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 13, pp. 137-138, emphasis added)

What is missing is "spiritual practicality," which when combined with a "large and profound vision" and a "power of organisation" can help humanity come out of the conflicts it has created in its path to progress.

What kind of "large and profound vision" do we need as an ideal? Perhaps the ideal of a true human unity?

But it can not be a mentalised ideal of unity which is unable to handle diversity without imposing a certain mental idea of uniformity. What is needed is a truer, an inner unity that doesn't impose uniformity but also doesn't tolerate abuse and disrespect of all that is different and unknown. What is needed is a deeper unity that doesn't eradicate diversity but also doesn't allow inhumanity and mindless violence (not only physical) to trample over all that is good, beautiful, true and humane.

Such unity doesn't come easily. Such unity doesn't come simply by wishing. Or simply by being politically correct. It requires sincere honesty. Of intention, of action, of rising above the pettiness and the lowest tendencies of greed, power struggle and domination. Serious work, stragetic work is required. On all fronts -- national, international, political, economic, social, cultural, educational.

And most importantly, on spiritual.

What is needed is a sincere effort to recover that "spiritual practicality" of the olden times and make it relevant for today and tomorrow. A spiritual practicality that helps us -- individuals and societies -- become more conscious of all our movements, all our actions, decisions and choices.

On an individual level, it could be something as basic as making food choices that are least harmful for the environment or becoming conscious consumers in order to keep reducing our carbon foot-print. Or it could be at the level of socially-politically active individuals organising together to work toward a greater civilisational and cultural renaissance.

At all levels what is required is an inner approach to outward action. Only a deeper, inward turning to the higher truth (of the self, not of the ego) and a disinterested action (in the sense of unegoistic, unselfish, having no regard for the result, with no preference for any particular outcome) can become the basis of a true spiritual practicality. Mentalised ideals can only take us so far, because mental ideals are easily broken at the first attack from life's complexities and circumstances.

What is really required is to rise in consciousness so that as individuals, societies and nations all our actions and decisions are more and more guided by unitarian, integrative and harmonizing tendencies instead of separative, divisive, egoistic tendencies.

Unfortunately, for many people being 'open-minded' and 'modern' has come to mean accepting pretty much every lifestyle choice as an equally valid choice, in the name of 'freedom.' Being 'liberal' has come to mean defending or being apologetic of the worst kind of violence and terror against humanity. All in the name of becoming the voice for the “all beliefs are equal” type of post-modernistic relativism.

This supposed ‘value-neutrality’ is against the most essential tenet of any spiritual path which emphasises the development of a clear sense of discernment, vivek -- defined by Sri Aurobindo as "intuitive and inspired judgment gained by a previous purification of the organs of thought and knowledge" (CWSA, Vol. 1, p. 501). It is an ability to sincerely and honestly distinguish between right and wrong, between good and not-good, between dharma and adharma. This applies equally to individuals in their individual sphere of life as well as to the societies and nations in collective life.

It is also equally important to recognise that spirituality doesn’t have to be religion-based, it can just as easily be areligious quest. The most sincere seekers on any spiritual path are in fact most open-minded and accepting of the diversity of wisdom traditions emerging from within various civilizations and cultures. They recognize that while each religion has a spiritual component but practical spirituality or spiritual practicality doesn’t require or necessitate any fixed adherence to any outer forms of any religion. They recognize and respect the truth that for some seekers a religion's outer forms such as rituals, ceremonies, etc. are important aids on the path. But equally so, this may not be the case for many others.

Such equal acceptance of difference is part of the inner make-up of sincere seekers on the path of truth. They recognize that what binds all these diverse seekers is a common search for the higher truth, an inner seeking whose practice is generally as individualised as something can be. Only such an experience has the potential to help one inwardly realize the deeper truth of values such as freedom, equality, and unity, beyond all intellectualising and rationalising of such ideals.

What is needed is a waking up to the life-affirming nature of Indian spirituality. Not religiosity, mind you. But a deep, personal seeking, an intense inner and outer search for the truth, the right, the good and the beautiful.
"It is more important that the thought of India should come out of the philosophical school and renew its contact with life, and the spiritual life of India issue out of the cave and the temple and, adapting itself to new forms, lay its hand upon the world. I believe also that humanity is about to enlarge its scope by new knowledge, new powers and capacities, which will create as great a revolution in human life as the physical science of the nineteenth century. Here, too, India holds in her past, a little rusted and put out of use, the key of humanity's future."
~ Extract from an interview given to a correspondent of The Hindu, quoted in Sri Aurobindo--His Life Unique, Rishabhchand, p. 410

Are we ready for the challenge to re-discover that key to the future? Ours and our world's?

To read other posts in the Current Events series, click here.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A Diwali Prayer

New post in the series Satyam Shivam Sundaram

Light, More Light

Diwali, the day we invoke and worship the Mother, some as Ma Lakshmi, others as Ma Kali. Diwali, the day we remind ourselves, once again, to turn toward the Light, to remove the darkness and dullness within. Diwali, the day, we recall and rekindle, once again, our inmost aspiration to open to the Divine Light. Light of Truth, Right, Good. Light of Love and Harmony.

This Diwali, I will light a special diya for my country too. With a prayer that my country wakes up to her true mission. With a prayer that I and my fellow Indians open more and more to the truth of the spirit that is the Mother India. With a prayer that more and more of my fellow Indians shun the darkness of the untruths we have been told for centuries about our dharma, about ourselves, our past, our present and our future.

With a prayer that my India walks toward the light that is in her soul, in her Eternal Dharma: Dharma that is Integral -- affirming and uplifting all aspects of life and living; Dharma that is Harmonious -- accepting and integrating all ways and dharmas; Dharma that is Universal -- respecting and transcending the diversity of all creation.

The task we set before ourselves is not mechanical but moral and spiritual. We aim not at the alteration of a form of government but at the building up of a nation. Of that task politics is a part, but only a part. We shall devote ourselves not to politics alone, nor to social questions alone, nor to theology or philosophy or literature or science by themselves, but we include all these in one entity which we believe to be all-important, the dharma, the national religion which we also believe to be universal. There is a mighty law of life, a great principle of human evolution, a body of spiritual knowledge and experience of which India has always been destined to be guardian, exemplar and missionary. This is the sanatana dharma, the eternal religion. Under the stress of alien impacts she has largely lost hold not of the structure of that dharma, but of its living reality. For the religion of India is nothing if it is not lived. It has to be applied not only to life, but to the whole of life; its spirit has to enter into and mould our society, our politics, our literature, our science, our individual character, affections and aspirations. To understand the heart of this dharma, to experience it as a truth, to feel the high emotions to which it rises and to express and execute it in life is what we understand by Karmayoga. We believe that it is to make the yoga the ideal of human life that India rises today; by the yoga she will get the strength to realise her freedom, unity and greatness, by the yoga she will keep the strength to preserve it. It is a spiritual revolution we foresee and the material is only its shadow and reflex.
(Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of the Karmayogin, CWSA, Vol. 8, p. 24)

To see previous post in the series, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, click here.
To see all posts in the series, click here.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Question to Ponder: Who is a True Thinker?

A new post in the series Current Events

In India today, we are witnessing a clash between the decades-old social-political-economic order and a new order struggling to establish itself. This is resulting in quite an unrest on various levels, especially when we view things only from the outer surface.

Part of this unrest has led to a disturbing uncovering of an extremely narrow, rigid and ideologially biased nature of a big section of the 'intellectual' scene in India. With every passing day it is also becoming clear that much of this 'intellectual' scene was deliberately nurtured and nourished by the political parties which had been in power for decades, thus creating a rather unhealthy nexus where intellect is forced to become a captive to the politics of the day.

A positive result of this unrest is that directly or indirectly it is compelling the concerned Indians to reflect upon what it means to be an 'intellectual'. Can merely writing bestseller books, pontificating via weekly columns, winning some state-endorsed awards, making provocative statements on TV debates, producing documentaries on controversial topics make one qualified to be labelled as an 'intellectual'?

For years, things in the Indian 'intellectual' scene had been sliding to such a low point that today certain powerful sections of our socially upward classes don't even think twice when labeling socialite celebrities and advertising entrepreneurs as "public intellectuals." Such outdated and completely absurd notions are being aggressively challenged as a result of the unrest we are witnessing today.

One of the fundamental reasons for the unrest is this. Those who think of themselves as 'intellectuals' align themselves with what they see as 'progressive' values, necessary for a pluralistic society (their chosen phrase is "idea of India" -- a coinage that is being hotly contested today, and for good reason). On the other hand, those who are not enamoured by the outer sheen and 'politically-correct', public statements of these 'intellectuals' question the very definition of this term 'progressive.' They accuse these so-called 'intellectuals' of playing politics by hiding behind such high-sounding labels, by imposing their westernised and limited notions of 'modernity', 'secularism' in their role as 'civilising missionaries', thus perpetuating the colonized mentality.

The 'intellectuals' in return accuse their critics of being 'conservative', 'parochial', 'regressive', 'stuck in past', 'irrational', 'communal' etc and label their critics' angst and voices as something potentially harmful for the progress of the society.

Interestingly, in this clash we see the so-called 'progressives' closely aligning themselves with the old social-political-economic order, the ecosystem which actually led to their rise as 'intellectuals'. And those who are being labelled as 'conservatives' and 'regressives' are interestingly on the side of the new order that is beginning to make its impact felt in various ways in the country's social, economic and political landscape.

When the noise level in a debate becomes so loud and unreasonable, nobody bothers to question the fundamentals. Everybody claims they are thinking in the interest of the society, but nobody asks the question - are we really thinking? Or what does it really mean to think? What is intellect?

What does it really mean to be a conservative? What does it really mean to be a progressive? Who is a true intellectual? A true thinker? Do we know?

The other day, I found myself revisiting some of the older essays of Sri Aurobindo. I was once again struck by the essay titled "Conservation and Progress" which was first published in Arya. For anyone interested to understand the deeper psychological forces working behind what we ordinarly speak of as being 'conservative' and 'progressive' must read this essay written almost a hundred years ago.

The deeply grounded and rich analysis presented by Sri Aurobindo makes one reflect upon the truth that a true independent thinker is not bound by any such conflics or dualities of a 'conservative being stuck in the past' and a 'progressive being only future-oriented.'

A true thinker rather strives to see the past, present and the unknown future as part of an overall march of the divine movement, not fixed in outward details and forms but as an attempt to work out the spirit of things and a progressively greater self-fulfilment of humanity, of the nation, of the individual.

Such a thinker, a true intellectual, will have some essential characteristics. Sri Aurobindo describes them beautifully in the last paragraph of this essay. I am listing them below as separate points for ease of understanding (though in the original text we find them all as part of one long sentence).

Such a thinker, according to Sri Aurobindo:
"will strive to understand the greatness and profound meaning of the past without attaching himself to its forms, for he knows that forms must change and only the formless endures and that the past can never be repeated, but only its essence preserved, its power, its soul of good and its massed impulse towards a greater self-fulfilment;
"...will accept the actual realisations of the present as a stage and nothing more, keenly appreciating its defects, self-satisfied errors, presumptuous pretensions because these are the chief enemies of progress, but not ignoring the truth and good that it has gained;
"...will sound the future to understand what the Divine in it is seeking to realise, not only at the present moment, not only in the next generation, but beyond,
"and for that he will speak, strive, if need be battle, since battle is the method still used by Nature in humanity, even when all the while he knows that there is more yet beyond beside which, when it comes to light, the truth he has seized will seem erroneous and limited.
"Therefore he will act without presumption and egoism, knowing that his own errors and those which he combats are alike necessary forces in that labour and movement of human life towards the growing Truth and Good by which there increases shadowily the figure of a far-off divine Ideal." (CWSA, Vol. 13, pp. 131-132).

That's quite a high ideal for any one who wants to become a true thinker, a true intellectual. Such an ideal requires not only a mentalised notion of what it means to apply one's intellect, what it means to think. But it necessitates that a true thinker recognises the limits of the intellect and the faculty of mental reasoning. It compels that the thinker must begin to develop an inner faculty to 'see' things, to see deeply and beneath the surface of the happenings, events and phenomena.

This ideal necessiates that if we want to be truly progressive thinkers, we don't confine ourselves to the narrow mental prisons of past, present and future, but rather learn to see things as part of an evolving, growing Truth that is trying to express and manifest itself in many different forms. It requires that we learn to develop a deeper sense, a deeper faculty of discernment, an intuitive capacity to distinguish between the outer forms and the real, deeper essence of things, a capability to be able to sense the inner forces driving the outer events and phenomena.

This ideal compels us to stand up and act, act aggressively if need be, but without "presumption and egoism."

Do we see any such thinker, any such intellectual today? Question to ponder indeed.

To see last post in the Current Events series, click here.
To see all posts in the series, click here.

Linking with ABC Wednesday, Q: Q is for Question

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Musings on Peace, Harmony and the Art of Spaces

The other day I was working at my desk, fully absorbed in reading a big document on my laptop, highlighting some points, trying to make sense of others, when I suddenly looked up. And this is the view I saw from the window by which my desk is placed.

A view from the window by my desk, one afternoon
It was not the first time I saw this view of my small garden in the back of the house. I see it daily, both when I am out in the garden and when I sit at my desk. But that day was a bit special.

It was special because the moment that day brought with it a sense of quiet and peace as I let that view sink in to me. There were a few small birds flying around the champa trees and the bushes nearby, making lovely sounds, calling each other, playing, resting on the thin branches, enjoying their freedom.

I sat there, in my chair, just sat there. For several minutes. Taking in the view, enjoying the sounds of the birds, the peace of it all.

I don't know what I was feeling in those moments. Perhaps it was some type of peace, a sense of harmony. Perhaps it was one of those moments when everything feels perfect, everything around you, everything within you, everything is just the way as it should be. There is no need to fuss over anything, no need to shift anything. As if there is nothing to disturb this moment, this sense of peace.

Have you ever felt that? Surely, you must have. Thank the gods for such moments, rare as they are in the noisy worlds we live in - within and without.

A few minutes later, a part of me wanted to go out in the garden and take pictures of the view. Even thought of taking the pictures of the birds who were still playing and singing. How foolish of me, I immediately said to myself. As if pictures would preserve the 'feel' of the moment for me. 

But still I couldn't not resist taking one shot on my phone, from this side of the window itself. The one you see above. 

The moment passed. Only to be followed by another moment, of a reflection. Reflection on spaces and harmony. And on art.

Today, a few days later, as I sit by the same window, trying to give voice to that reflection I see the same tree and the same bushes, though there are no birds at the moment, I try to recall to my awareness that moment of quiet and peace from the other day.

Maybe writing out this reflection on spaces and harmony will bring its own harmony. Afterall, minds are spaces too, and creating a sense of harmony in our mental spaces is an art, a very important art that we all have to learn one way or the other if we want to experience more of these moments of peace and quietude.

So I begin.

You walk into a space -- a home, a room, a garden, a temple, an ashram, a workplace or any other public place -- and you instantly, spontaneously feel a sense of all-pervading harmony, a quiet ambience, an effortless beauty. Nothing is amiss, everything is perfectly placed where it should be. Nothing is obtrusive, nothing is jarring, everything is quietly at home in its natural place.

And you walk into another space and instantly you feel that something isn't right. There is a sense of disorder, an artificiality to the whole arrangement of the space, a feel of uncomfortable ugliness despite the outward prettiness and 'designer-like' placement of objects.

What? You haven't experienced it? You must have. Think, think.

Well, I surely have. Many times.

In fact, I have experienced this sense of harmony (or disharmony) even in empty spaces. For example, a few years ago when we were looking for a house to purchase, many times we would walk into an empty house for sale and just upon entering the house I would immediately 'know' whether or not I would even consider the house any further. Spaces, even empty spaces have their auras, sort of like an energy around them.

Personally speaking, how I feel in a particular space generally figures as one of the main criteria for deciding how much time I want to spend there. This could be a richly decorated home of a relative or a humble half-demolished temple in a village I am only visiting for an afternoon. I have experienced a discomforting sense of disharmony at a five-star hotel and felt a deeply calming sense of joy at an almost decrepit building that serves as a guest house.

This feeling or perception of order or disorder, a sense of harmony or chaos, is not about the physical appearance -- the size of the space, the form, placement and outer charm and prettiness of objects or furniture in the space -- though these things may be part of it. But only a very small part. The bigger part is about what the space makes one feel inwardly.

What is it that makes one space feel harmoniously beautiful, even though it may be very simply arranged with most inexpensive objects? And what makes another space, sometimes even the most well-designed space, furnished with most expensive 'designer' furniture and object d'art, feel jarring, out of order almost?

Is it the aura of the person who lives, works, moves in the space? Or the aura of the person who looks after the space, its cleaning, upkeep, etc? Is it something about 'the way' things are arranged in the space? Or the consciousness of the space itself, the consciousness hidden in everything that is there in the space?

Or is it the state of the mind of the person walking into the space? The sense of harmony he or she brings to the space?

It is perhaps every thing. And more.

It takes an artist to make a space harmoniously beautiful.
If you ask me, I believe that all those who produce something artistic are artists! A word depends upon the way it is used, upon what one puts into it. One may put into it all that one wants. For instance, in Japan there are gardeners who spend their time correcting the forms of trees so that in the landscape they make a beautiful picture. By all kinds of trimmings, props, etc. they adjust the forms of trees. They give them special forms so that each form may be just what is needed in the landscape. A tree is planted in a garden at the spot where it is needed and moreover, it is given the form that’s required for it to go well with the whole set-up. And they succeed in doing wonderful things. You have but to take a photograph of the garden, it is a real picture, it is so good. Well, I certainly call the man an artist. One may call him a gardener but he is an artist....
All those who have a sure and developed sense of harmony in all its forms, and the harmony of all the forms among themselves, are necessarily artists, whatever may be the type of their production. (The Mother, CWM, Vol 8, p. 324)
It perhaps takes an artist to 'know' a space. To feel a space. To experience the harmony.

But what is this sense of harmony? Can it only be felt? Can we grow in our sense of harmony? Of perceiving? Of creating harmony? In our spaces, outer and inner?

Maybe in some other moment of grace, sitting by the window in front of the garden view, when my mind is in a state of harmony I shall be blessed with an insight into some of these questions.

Linking with ABC Wednesday, P: P is for Peace.

Monday, 19 October 2015

When Art Opens toward Ananda

A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram
A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - for this moment and for all times to come.

I recently had the opportunity to witness some of the great marvels of Indian sculpture and temple architecture in southern Karnataka. The world-renowned temples of Belur, Halebidu and several other small towns and villages on what is famously called as the Hoysala trail showcase some of the masterpieces of the magnificent scultpural heritage of India.

One could write plenty of words to describe what the experience of being in the presence of such splendid works of art is like. Or one may simply say nothing. Today I am inclined to choose the second option.

But the other day as I was trying to re-live, for myself, some of those moments of standing in a silent awe when faced with the marvelous and intricate beauties of these ancient temples, I recalled some words I had read some years ago.

I recalled the words on Beauty and Ananda by Nolini Kanta Gupta, a great yogi-scholar, a poet and one of the foremost disciples of Sri Aurobindo from his revolutionary days. These are words which remind us that great art, perhaps all art, is not merely about creative expression or aesthetic satisfaction.

Great art has the potential to open the mind and heart to the Truth. To the Knowledge, knowing which all else may be known.

Great art can be an opening to the Delight. Delight in and of the Truth, Beauty, Knowledge, Power, Love. Delight in and of the Divine.

Both for the true artist and the true rasik.

At Hoysaleswara temple, Halebidu
Photo by Suhas Mehra


Truth is Beauty's substance -- it is Beauty self-governed.
Beauty is Delight perfectly articulate.
Love is Beauty enjoying itself.
Knowledge is the light that Beauty emanates.
Power is the fascination that Beauty exerts.
All Art is the re-creation of Truth in Beauty.
Rhythm is the gait of Truth dynamic with Delight.
The Truth of a thing is its native substance, the being in its absolute self-law. Satyam is that which is of Sat.
Beauty is delight organised.
Poetry is the soul's delight seeking perfect expression in speech.
Speech is self-expression. It is the organ of self-consciousness. The nature of the speech shows the nature of the self-consciousness. The degree of perfection in utterance measures also the extent to which one is conscious of oneself.
Beauty is the soul's delight perfectly articulate and organised.
Where the soul does not speak out, where the rhythm of the spirit does not manifest, there comes in ugliness.
Things are ugly when they are not true to themselves, not sincere, not self-expressive.
In a sense, natural and beautiful are the same, the perverse commensurate with the ugly.
Beauty is not merely balance, symmetry, measure, a regular disposition of features. A form, an embodiment, need not be pretty to be beautiful.
Mere formal beauty is a power, but a surface power; there is a deeper unity of rhythm in the embodiment that is beautiful by its transparent soul-expression.
Art is the incarnation of Truth in Beauty, The Divine the truest Truth and the Beauty most beautiful, The incarnation of the Divine the supreme Art.
An art with the Divine left out is like a trunk without the head: It is built with the lower members and not with the higher members of Beauty; Skill it may possess but not greatness; it may please the senses, but cannot enrapture the soul.
The very nature of Art is rhythm and harmony.
The Divine is integral harmony and perfect rhythm.
The element of divine harmony and rhythm is the measure of the beautiful in Art. Even so it is with the art of life.
All things are beautiful, for the All-beautiful is in every thing.
The domain of Art encompasses the entire creation.
The Divine is present everywhere, but in essence.
In the manifestation there is a varying and developing degree of the Presence.
The Brahman is there equally in the saint and the sinner, in the knowledge and in the ignorance, -- it is the static Brahman.
But the saint and the knowledge manifest and embody the dynamic Brahman.
The stress of Life is to reveal and incarnate more and more of the dynamic Divine, the creative Ananda of consciousness in its self-nature.
The progress of art too consists in recording this march of the soul in its ever-growing consciousness and ever-deepening Ananda towards a higher incarnation of the Divine.

~ Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Vol. 2, pp. 357-359

To see the previous post in the series Satyam Shivam Sundaram, click here.
To see all the posts in the series, click here.

Linking with ABCWednesday, O: O is for Opening

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Storytime 3: The Story Within, The Shakti Within

A special post for Navratri

Photo by Manoop Chandran
I am going through a strange -- but strange in a good sense -- phase where I don't really feel the need to write. And yet there is this new post, after almost-a-month, you may ask? Well, read on and you will see that it is not really a post with too many of my words.

No, it is not about writer's block. One could always think of thousand different things to write about, if one must write. But I choose not to. There are recent travels to write about, there is plenty of fun and interesting socio-political tidbit to comment upon, but I would rather not. And then there is always some mundane life woes to complain about, etc etc. But rant is not what I do on this space.

I am actually feeling quite content not writing. I am happy not having to mentalise (for written expression) some of my recent observations and experiences that rest somewhere deep within, happily in their silence.

And I am happy today simply listening to a story, being retold. I invite you all to listen to the story, with me. Come.

A Story and a Song
(From: A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India, by A. K. Ramanujan)

A housewife knew a story. She also knew a song. But she kept them to herself, never told anyone the story or sang the song.
Imprisoned within her, the story and the song were feeling choked. They wanted release, wanted to run away. One day, when she was sleeping with her mouth open, the story escaped, fell out of her, took the shape of a pair of shoes and sat outside the house. The song also escaped, took the shape of something like a man's coat, and hung on a peg.
The woman's husband came home, looked at the coat and shoes, and asked her, “Who is visiting?”
“No one,” she said.
“But whose coat and shoes are these?”
“I don't know,” she replied.
He wasn't satisfied with her answer. He was suspicious. Their conversation was unpleasant. The unpleasantness led to a quarrel. The husband flew into a rage, picked up his blanket, and went to the Monkey God's temple to sleep.
The woman didn't understand what was happening. She lay down alone that night. She asked the same question over and over: “Whose coat and shoes are these?” Baffled and unhappy, she put out the lamp and went to sleep.
All the lamp flames of the town, once they were put out, used to come to the Monkey God's temple and spend the night there, gossiping. On this night, all the lamps of all the houses were represented there—all except one, which came late.
The others asked the latecomer, “Why are you so late tonight?”
“At our house, the couple quarreled late into the night,” said the flame.
“Why did they quarrel?”
“When the husband wasn't home, a pair of shoes came onto the verandah, and a man's coat somehow got onto a peg. The husband asked her whose they were. The wife said she didn't know. So they quarreled.”
“Where did the coat and shoes come from?”
“The lady of our house knows a story and a song. She never tells the story, and has never sung the song to anyone. The story and the song got suffocated inside; so they got out and have turned into a coat and a pair of shoes. They took revenge. The woman doesn't even know.”
The husband, lying under his blanket in the temple, heard the lamp's explanation. His suspicions were cleared. When he went home, it was dawn. He asked his wife about her story and her song. But she had forgotten both of them. “What story, what song?” she said.

To read last year's Navratri special story, click here

To read other Storytime posts on the blog, click here and here.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Book Review: The Thinking Indian (Guest Post: Gilu Mishra)

ॐ श्री गणेशाय नमः 
A perfect day to share the first detailed review of my e-book, The Thinking Indian

I am happy to host today, Gilu Mishra, a friend and a fellow lover and student of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Gilu and I first met several years ago in Pondicherry when she joined the institution where I was working at the time, to participate in some structured courses meant to help learners go deeper into some aspects of the wide-ranging thought and works of Sri Aurobindo. I had the privilege of serving as her facilitator for some of this study and research experience. Through this shared exploration and study experience, particularly of the major works related to the social, educational and cultural thought of Sri Aurobindo, we became better acquainted with each other and a friendship began to blossom.

Gilu has advanced degrees in nursing and psychology. Having worked for many years as a healthcare professional at a premier medical facility for many years, she presently works in the area of education of young children, especially at the pre-primary and primary levels. Originally from Kerala, Gilu now lives in New Delhi. As a seeker and life-long learner she writes about some of her reflections and life lessons, though not as frequently as she would like (I am sure!) at "all life is yoga.

What makes me doubly pleased about her presence on this space today is that her post is actually about me! (Pardon the Ego Moment!) Well, it is not really about me, but about an e-book that I wrote and self-published a few months ago. Gilu is here to present her review of "The Thinking Indian: Essays on Indian Socio-Cultural Matters in the Light of Sri Aurobindo."

Thank you Gilu, and a warm welcome!

Click here to purchase

I present here some of my views regarding Dr. Beloo Mehra’s e-book ‘The Thinking Indian’, a collection of essays on several Indian Socio-cultural matters, as seen in the light of Sri Aurobindo.

Recently, during a casual conversation with a friend, our topic turned to the method of education being provided in the schools these days. We were talking about how today’s children are not interested in reading and how their thoughts are limited. ‘Thinking out of the box’ is out of question, we opined, but let them at least think! As I was reading through the e-book ‘The Thinking Indian.’ I remembered this conversation and about the ‘thought phobia’ (as Beloo quotes Sri Aurobindo) which has become fairly common now.

In the prelude, Beloo mentions that it is heartening to see people are becoming more open-minded and curious learners. This e-book is an excellent aid for such people, especially the young generation to contemplate about the current events and widen their spectrum of thought. The topics and instances provided in these essays may act as a spark to the light the fire within. All the essays are written in an ‘easy to read’ manner which will definitely appeal to every reader and not only those with an academic frame of mind. There is definitely at least one topic to which every individual can connect.

This e-book consists of nine essays related to Indian socio-cultural matters. Beloo presents a myriad of topics ranging from Spirituality, Hinduism to commercialism and movies! And all topics are contemporary, making them interesting to even the ‘not concerned about what is happening in the world’ younger generation. There is one essay inspired by the movie ‘The Monuments Men’ and there are two essays based on the TV serials ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata.’ There is one essay about spirituality being the master-key of Indian mind and another one about Indian culture.

For the one who is more materialistically oriented there are essays on commercialism and the study of Indo-American people where she talks about the evolution of the group soul. I am sure all these essays give a different point of view regarding the matter and would definitely encourage the reader to explore more regarding the same. For example, in her essay ‘Don’t Blame the Culture’ she talks about two sides of a behaviour may be seen simultaneously. One may see some people jumping the queue in a public place and at the same time there may be some people who will let a more deserving person move ahead of them! Presenting such examples, she forces us to think about the individual behaviour rather than the common trend of blaming the culture.

In most of her essays, Beloo gives us some questions to ponder on. In her first essay, ‘Spirituality, the Master-key of the Indian Mind’ she asks, “What does it mean to grapple with the infinite and how is it native to Indian mind?” Another interesting question is given to us in the second essay ‘Don’t Blame the Culture’ when she asks, “Shouldn’t we be concerned about learning what a culture really is before we start finding faults with it?” Or when she asks, “Can a piece of art be more worth than a human life?” in the essay ‘On Movies, Art and Culture.’ I am sure each of the readers would really stop for a while to think about these questions.

Many of her essays are lined with her personal experiences or observations as well, which are again some things that the reader will be able to connect with. One example where I did sit up and thought “This happened to me too...” was the picture of the sunset on page 22. Just as Beloo did, I too said, “Wow, what a beauty!” And as I continued to read her explanation of ‘The God’s Labour,’ I was mesmerized! I would not be doing justice if I talk about it here, it would be better if one reads the author herself! This is just one example. There are several such instances in this e-book which I am sure the readers will be able to identify with. In many of these instances, the reader may see that Beloo has given words to bring out his/ her own sentiment.

There is one essay about the Hindi novel ‘Abhyuday’ titled ‘Re-telling Classical Literature, Awakening a Generation: Case of Ramayana.’ In this essay, she talks about how the author presents Ramayana in the modern setting and the relevance of Ram in the present intellectual society. Here also she provides certain instances to explain this point. How Ram faces the dilemma of war, how he learns about the cruelty and oppression faced by the people and even the story of Ahalya is told in a new perspective. Beloo has to be given credit that I, one who is not very fond of Hindi literature, is tempted to read the novel after reading what she has written about it!

As Beloo says in the title of the e-book, her essays are in the light of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo’s words are significant even now and inspire everyone who turns to Him. To quote her, “It will be well worth reminding ourselves of these words of Sri Aurobindo that are meant to guide us through these wrong steps and detours, and inspire us to search for the soul of India that is leading her to her unique mission in the world.”

I could go on about how this little e-book ‘The thinking Indian’ is a motivation for every individual, but it would definitely be better for each to read on his/her own and be invigorated.

To conclude, I wish that the vibration of positive and open thinking which Beloo inspires is well received and more and more people are motivated by her.

Monday, 14 September 2015

सुमिरन कर ले मेरे मना…

आज, १४ सितम्बर, हिंदी दिवस के अवसर पर एक विशेष प्रस्तुति

चित्रकार: बिंदु पोपली 

संगीत जब उपासना की ओर ले जाए…कल सुबह के कुछ पल ऐसे ही थे…

एक दिव्य अनुभूति थी जब गुरु नानक के भक्ति-भाव से भरे शब्द पंडित जसराज के भावपूर्ण सुरों में और डॉ एल सुब्रमण्यम के मनमोहक वॉयलिन की तारों पर नाच रहे थे। इस प्रेमपूर्ण संगीत-उपासना में साथ दे रही थीं - कविता कृष्णमूर्ती। और इस संगम में डुबकी लगाने का आनंद-अनुभव शायद शब्दों में वर्णननीय नहीं है।

प्रातः-काल की उस बेला में इस प्रकार का अनुभव वास्तव में ही एक उपासना से कम नहीं है।

(मेरे पास यह संपूर्ण भजन एक साथ ही है, परन्तु इंटरनेट पर दो भागों में ही उपलब्ध है - इसका खेद है क्यूंकि इससे ध्यान भंग होने की संभावना रहती है। )

इसे अनुभव करने के बाद यदि आप आगे पढ़ना चाहें तो....

आज हिंदी दिवस के अवसर पर रह रह कर वही गुरु नानक की पंक्त्तियां याद आ रही हैं। शायद कल के उस अनुभव की छाप है। परन्तु अपने हिंदी न जानने वाले पाठकों के लिए मैं जब इन पंक्त्तियों का अंग्रेजी में अनुवाद करने का सोचती हूँ तो ऐसा लगता है मानो अनुवाद करने से इस भजन के आतंरिक सत्य को, सम्पूर्ण स्वरूप को मेरा प्रयास कभी पकड़ ही नहीं पायेगा। ऐसा प्रतीत होता है कि कुछ भाव ऐसे होते हैं जो केवल किसी एक भाषा में ही व्यक्त किए जा सकते हैं।

गुरु नानक के ये शब्द साधारण नहीं हैं। ये एक सच्चे भक्तिलीन हृदय की अभिव्यक्ति हैं जो संपूर्ण मानव-कल्याण के लिए हैं, परन्तु इसे और किसी भाषा में कह सकना इतना आसान नहीं है। कम-से-कम मेरे लिए तो नहीं। इसलिए नहीं की अंग्रेजी में उपयुक्त शब्द नहीं है इस बात को कहने के लिए। पर शब्दों का सही चयन सही भाव भी उत्पन कर सके - ऐसा सदैव आव्यशक भी तो नहीं।

एक और कारण भी है जो अनुवाद में कठिनाई प्रस्तुत करता है। वह है - सांस्कृतिक प्रसंग जिसमें इन पंक्तियों का गूढ़ भावार्थ समझा जा सकता है । क्या "मंदिर दीप बिना " के सही भाव को अंग्रेजी का वाक्यांश "temple without a lamp" वास्तव में अभिव्यक्त कर सकता है ? मंदिर और मंदिर में दीप जलाने के भाव के सांस्कृतिक प्रसंग एवं आतंरिक अर्थ को समझे बिना मात्र अनुवाद कर देने से हम कई बार एक कोमल और पवित्र भाव को, एक आध्यात्मिक कर्म को केवल एक साधारण भावना अथवा एक बाहरी कार्य बना देते हैं।

जब गुरु नानक मंदिर में दीप जलाने की बात करते हैं तो हमारी भारतीय संस्कृति के अनुसार वे हमें स्मरण करवा रहें हैं कि मंदिर केवल बाहर ही नहीं है, वास्तविक मंदिर तो मन के अंदर है। और वह मन-मंदिर हरि नाम के बिना सूना है। बहरी दीप जलाना तो केवल एक बाहरी कार्य है, उसका वास्तविक उद्देश्य तो मन-मंदिर को ज्योतिर्मय करना है।

इसी प्रकार "देह नैन बिन" के भाव को समझने के लिए यह प्रसंग समझना आवश्यक हो जाता है कि यहाँ पर केवल बाहरी नेत्रों या बाहरी दृष्टि की ही बात नहीं हो रही है। बिना आतंरिक दृष्टि के, बिना सूक्ष्म दृष्टि के यह मानव जन्म सूना है, अधूरा है -- यह गूढ़ सत्य हम तभी सराह सकते हैं जब हम भारतीय सांस्कृतिक प्रसंग में इस पंक्त्ति को आत्मसात करें। इन सब को मैं अनुवाद में कैसे लाऊँ ?

और सबसे महत्वपूर्ण बात तो यह है -- जब एक प्रबुद्ध संत-पीर, एक ऋषि जिसने अपने एवं समस्त ब्रह्माण्ड के आत्म-दर्शन किये हों और इस जगत के सत्य-स्वरूप को पहचाना हो, जब वह हरि-स्मरण की बात करता है तो उस उपदेश की व्याख्या आप एक साधारण वाक्यांश - "Remember the Lord" से कदापि नहीं कर सकते हैं। प्रभु और प्रभु-लीला का स्मरण तो अन्य कई लोग भी करते हैं, पर गुरु नानक शायद हमें उस स्मरण की ओर ले जाना चाहते हैं जो वास्तवतिक रूप में हमें हरि-दर्शन के लिए, एक अंतर-ज्योति से साक्षात्कार के लिए तैयार कर सकता है। इस भाव को अनुवादित कैसे किया जाये ?

इन सब सीमाओं को भली-भांति अपने समक्ष रखते हुए मैं अनुवाद करने का प्रयत्न नहीं कर रही हूँ। इच्छुक पाठक इस लिंक पर एक अनुवादित प्रयास पढ़ सकते हैं। अथवा भाव को बिना शब्दों के ही अनुभव करने के लिए भजन को सुन कर हरी-स्मरण में डूबने का प्रयास कर सकते हैं। जैसा जिसको साजे....

सुमिरन कर ले मेरे मना तेरी बीती जाती उमर हरी नाम बिना रे ||

कूप नीर बिन धेनु क्षीर बिन धरती मेघ बिना |

जैसे तरुवर फल बिन हीना तैसे प्राणी हरी नाम बिना रे ||

देह नैन बिन रैन चन्द्र बिन मंदिर दीप बिना |

जैसे पंडित वेद विहीना तैसे प्राणी हरी नाम बिना रे ||

काम क्रोध मद लोभ निवारो छाड़ दे अब संत जना |

कह नानक तू सुन भगवंता या जग में नहीं कोई अपना ||

To see previous post in the series, "All Music is Only the Sound of His Laughter" click here.
To see all posts in the series click here.


Linking with ABC Wednesday, I: I is for Indian Languages

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Desi Secularist Dilemma (Or How to Secularize a Hindu Religious Festival)

A New Post in the Series: Current Events

If you are part of the so-called educated, English-speaking, urban/semi-urban sections of Indian populace, and spend any time on social media, you must have noticed all the status updating, tweeting, sharing etc. that happen on most of the so-called secular ‘holidays’ (since Americans call the festivals holidays, so naturally we must call them ‘holidays’) – be it Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or others such.

Good. Always good to celebrate good things. Both real and virtually.

Since virtual is also real today, in a way, let me just focus on that for now.

At some point you too must have participated in ‘sharing’ of such secular celebrations – posted or liked or commented on pictures of restaurants visited or the cuisines prepared at home for mothers, fathers, beloveds, gifts gifted or received, cards presented or received etc. etc.

Good, very good. Spread and share the happiness.

Have you noticed that there are even more ‘secular’ days now to celebrate and share photos and messages – World Poetry Day, World Earth Day, World Nature Day, World Wildlife Day, World this Day, World that day, even days to celebrate pets, dogs, cats, etc.?

Good. Good, I say.

Because we all can use reminders from time to time to do our bit in our collective responsibility toward Earth, Nature and all of Earth’s diverse creatures. And of course, also to remember to enjoy and celebrate good things like poetry, art, literature etc.

And of course, we all can use greetings of joy and happiness on Christmas.

But here is something to consider. Have you noticed how the once-religious holidays like Christmas and Easter have now been more or less ‘secularized’ for the larger Indian consumption?

Of course, many devout Indian Christians, in the spirit of Indian Bhakti, still continue to observe the various religious practices associated with these festivals. Which is how it should be.

But as a larger global ‘holiday’ trend, the Christmas ritual that is sold aggressively for Indian urbanites, for the most part, is limited to sending greeting cards, exchange of gifts, Santa Claus, tree decoration and enjoying special meals. Is it any wonder then that our secular Indian variety, in loyal obedience to the modern ‘secular’ dictum celebrates these holidays with the same enthusiasm as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day?

The fact that these are religious festivals now considered secular makes it more legit for our desi seculars to show their inclusiveness. And especially when the festival’s religious context is one to which our seculars may have no direct or personal affiliation, that makes them feel even more ‘secular’ when they send greetings to all humankind via a tweet or Facebook update.

Modernity and secularism both happily co-exist, as natural end-products of Western Christianity.

Of course, given the current political climate in the world, what with terrorism and all, things get a little more complicated when Eid rolls around. But the same formula still holds – the more you share Eid greetings and status updates about brotherhood and peace etc., the more secular you become.

But the biggest complication is with those other Indian festivals.

Krishna Janmasthami, Ram Navmi, Buddha Purnima, Guru Purnima, Dussehra, Rakshabandhan, Gurupurab, Mahavir Jayanti, Basant Panchami, Onam, Pongal, Vishu, Vaisakhi, etc. etc.

First of all, there are so many of these festivals. How will a desi secular decide which one to tweet about? Big ones like Diwali, Holi, maybe? Yes, those are easy.

You see, those have been more or less secularized already. Half the job of this secularization is done when a big commercial angle is added to Diwali – super sales on everything from Amul to Audi, from Bourneville to Brighton, all-inclusive-vacation package. And if you are not going on a Diwali vacation, well, you can always celebrate Diwali without all that mumbo-jumbo of Lakshmi Puja. Just light the diyas bought in expensive boutiques, drink, gamble, exchange gifts and be merry!

Holi too has come to be associated with fun and only fun. Stripped of almost all religious markings it is now mostly a merry-making holiday with all kinds of liberties built into it. So how can it be anything but a secular holiday?

Such secularization makes Diwali and Holi nice and acceptable to our desi seculars. Why can’t the same thing be done with other festivals? Especially the problematic ones such as Ram Navmi, Dussehra, Rakshabandhan, etc.

These can’t really qualify as ‘secular’ enough holidays for our secular-minded friends. Because you can’t really celebrate them via restaurant-hopping or gift-giving or card-exchanging. Or maybe you can, I don’t know. But fasting on Krishna Janmasthami – oh, how superstitious! Tying a thread on a brother’s wrist – how patriarchal! Visiting a temple on Ram Navmi – me having anything to do with Ram, you can’t be serious?!

And so it should be perfectly understandable if on these days devout Hindus see not many (or any) words of greeting or sharing from most of the secular-minded Indians in their online acquaintance circles.

After all, seculars are rational people, you see. And these ‘holidays’ aren’t rational at all, unlike say Mother’s Day. All those Surdas bhajans about Krishna and his mother Yashoda aren’t ‘rational’ songs, they are merely ramblings of a blind fool who loved Krishna! Maybe, now maybe, if one of those bhajans could be rewritten as a Mother’s Day greeting card type of poem, in English, it just might move along the path of becoming ‘secular.’ See, this is how it is done.

When will Hindus learn? When? It is all about ‘secularizing’!

Maybe I am being too nasty. Or perhaps too hasty in my analysis. Oh, well…so let me be even more brutally honest.

On some Hindu festivals, some of our secular minded desis take it upon themselves to show us how to secularize a religious festival. They offer some good advice for all those superstitious, irrational people who tie threads and visit temples and observe fasts. In their ever-helpful, civilizing mission role, they profess – if you must celebrate Janmashtami and Rakshabandhan, appreciate the spirit of these festivals, but don’t stick to the rituals.

Good advice. Or at least it looks good anyway.

But is it, really? Are they being sincere with such advice? Does it matter, one might ask? It does.

First of all, would these seculars even consider that giving flowers and chocolates to the beloved on Valentine's Day is also really a ritual, or does it not count as one because it is 'oh-so-secular'?

Honestly, do you think these ‘brown civilizers’ will lecture “follow only the Christmas spirit, give up the whole Santa stuff” to their Christian friends? Would they give such advice to devout Christians for whom the day isn’t complete without going to church or singing carols? Sure, the whole waiting for Santa Claus and the gift-giving has become more or less part of a ‘secular-commercial’ mode of this religious holiday. But will our secular-rational Indian friend tell his or her child there is no Santa Claus and all that is a superstitious mumbo-jumbo? Will they tell their children to give up this ritual? And what about the rituals associated with Eid? Shouldn’t our good-intentioned secular folks share their sound and noble advice with others also about “how to secularize religious holidays”? Why should only Hindus benefit from their good advice?

Maybe because in this desi secular worldview, it is only the Hindu who needs this advice the most.

These pagan and superstitious Hindus have been so busy worshipping crores of deities and even trees, plants, and animals that they haven’t learned the nuances of secularization process. A good secular comes to remind the Ram-worshippers or Tulsi-worshippers that they need to rise up to the ‘truth’ of the ‘secular’ world. A good secular out of his or her kindness helps the pagan Hindu see the ‘light.’ Shame on Hindus if they still refuse to give up their traditions. Shame on them for being so stubborn. Honestly, there is no hope for them, if they don’t secularize themselves and their religious holidays, as per the worldview of modern Indian secularist variety.

So the task is cut out for the Hindus. Either give up your religious holidays or secularize them. To begin with, consider renaming Rakshabandhan as Sibling Day, Guru Purnima as Master’s Full Moon or something like that.

I hear some communist groups have already started celebrating Krishna Janmashtami in Kerala; that should ensure a gradual secularization of this festival. Good! Looks like things are already on the move to resolve at least one desi secularist dilemma.

Author's note: This post is not meant to offend or hurt any sentiments. It is written in a spirit of sharing some honest observations and with an aim to generate some reflection on the part of the reader, particularly the modern Indian urbanite. 

To see previous post in the series, click here
To see all Current Events posts, click here.