Monday, 29 June 2015

He and She: A Photo Essay

A new post in the series: Things of Beauty

I found Her & Him - Them - hidden in the back in a dusty corner of a large shop in the temple town of Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. A Chola-style Ardhnarishvara, who now adorns a small corner in my home.

The Chola style of Ardhnarishvara form, often cast in bronze or panchaloha (an alloy of five metals -- copper, lead, zinc, gold, and silver), is unique because of three arms, two on the Shiva side and one on the Shakti/Parvati side. However, in the majestic Brihadeeshwarar temple, built by emperor Raja Raja Chola I at Thanjavur, one finds a magnificent eight-armed form of Ardhnarishvara:

When I saw my Ardhnarishvara that evening, I knew why I had stood totally transfixed earlier that morning at the Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple in front of this:


When I saw my little Ardhnarishvara I knew exactly the spot that will be His/Her abode in my home.

Why did this particular spot come to mind spontaneously? Perhaps because a contemporary form of Ardhnarishwara, framed under glass, already has found its home there. 

A painting made by the young Delhi-based artist, Bindu Popli, titled "You and Me 2" hangs on the wall just above the panchaloha Ardhnarishvara. (Actually it is a print of her painting -- can't afford all original works even though the artist is my sister and gives me great discounts!) And yes, there is also a "You and Me 1", a print of which hangs in another room.

I have always thought of this particular work as the artist's vision of Ardhnarishvara -- a totality that lies beyond duality, a non-duality that is beyond the unity of opposites, a oneness that is beyond the complementarity of the masculine and feminine principles. 

Several years ago, the artist had done another Ardhnarishvara, which she actually called by that name. This was a wall mural in her previous studio.

Small photographic prints of this Ardhnarishvara have also found home in my place. In three different versions -- coloured, black & white and sepia under the stairs. 

So yes, I do feel a special connection with this particular form of the Divine, Ardhnarishvara! Here are three that adorn my home, up close. 

May the Two That are One and the One That is Many continue to grace my inner Home too.


"Without Him I Exist Not, Without Me He is Unmanifest."
(The Mother)

Each now was a part of the other’s unity,
The world was but their twin self-finding’s scene


For we were man and woman from the first,
The twin souls born from one undying fire.
(Sri Aurobindo, Savitri)

Unless specified all photos are from personal archives, taken by family members.

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

To see the previous photo essay on this blog, click here.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

X is Ten, Ten Lessons Over A Fortnight

A new post in the series - Reminders to self

Writing after a two-week-long break from this blog. Part of this break was because of being occupied with other things such as life and living. But part of it was also because I didn't want to write about things that were bothering me about some aspects of this whole thing called blogging. 

When I started this blog I had promised myself that I will NOT use this space to rant or vent about things. There is a whole lot of that happening elsewhere on the net, I didn't and don't want to add to that noise. As I begin this post I truly and sincerely hope it doesn't become a rant. 

So why am I bothering with this post, one may ask? Because I DO want to write about what I have learned for myself during this self-imposed break, especially with regard to how I want to approach this work of writing for my blog.

I have learned that: 
  • I will not let others' behaviour, no matter how hurtful, come in the way of my pursuit of the deeper purpose why I started this blog in the first place. 
  • I will not allow others' plainly obvious and blatant discrimination and disapproval to bother me in any way. 
  • I will not be bothered by the fact that some of my views, positions and opinions, particularly on social-political-cultural matters, that I express in some of my posts on this blog or via other updates I share/post on social media might make some fellow bloggers uncomfortable. 
  • Having once experienced a gag on my freedom of expression I am even more firm in my decision to write about topics, issues that I consider important no matter how politically incorrect or controversial they may seem to others, particularly fellow bloggers. 
  • I will not give in to the temptation of writing about what I consider mundane and superfluous stuff, just to get more readership and views.
  • I will try with all sincerity not to be inwardly moved by any words (expressed or un-expressed) of praise or disdain.
  • I will try to constantly watch over the effect of others' actions on my ego and sincerely attempt to walk away from my egoistic reactions. 
  • I will choose quality over quantity.
  • I will keep reminding myself about why I should write.
  • I will try with all sincerity to keep an inner poise of prayer and aspiration to help me remember these lessons every time I write and publish a post.
Not all these lessons are newly acquired, some have been picked up over the last 2 years as I gradually became more aware of the "tips and tricks" or the "do's and don'ts" of this world of blogging. 

Photo: Parul Kashyap Thakur

But what is new for me is the way all these lessons became more living as a result of some recent observations, experiences (real or perceived - same difference?). To be more truthful, what made me acutely aware of these lessons once again was the growing awareness of my egoistic reactions and responses to some observations and experiences. That created a disturbing dissonance within which not only compelled me to take a short break from blogging but also made me ponder upon what I needed to do to bring greater light into this dark place called writer's ego. Most importantly, the newness of these Ten Lessons is in the meta-lesson to which they lead me today.

These Ten Lessons basically point to one simple truth I want to practice as part of my writing work. That of "writing as a yogic practice." This is a practice which, I believe, will help me work on developing greater equanimity, greater sense of detachment, and most importantly greater aspiration to seek inner progress through the outer work called writing. 

This writing-as-yoga practice requires me to make all possible and sincere efforts in becoming a more honest, authentic and true writer, expressing truth only for the sake of truth; nothing more, nothing less. Truth as I feel it in the moment, as I see it, experience it, perceive it. No gimmicks, no stylizing, no obfuscating. 

At the same time this practice also requires that I become more mindful of when I should not write and what I should not write. No matter how strong the pull (push?) of the ego is to speak it all out, writing-as-yoga requires one to know when to stay silent.

"All Life is Yoga" (Sri Aurobindo)

To see previous Reminder to self, click here.
To see all Reminders to self, click here.

Linking with ABCWednesday, X: X is Ten

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Of Vibrations, Victories and Changing the World

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.

The world is full of innumerable problems. Anywhere we turn, we see suffering, wars, destruction, disease, disasters, environmental threats, natural resource depletion. So many things that often overwhelm us because we don't know what we, individually can do about any of these.

People love to quote - Be the change you wish to see in the world. But what does it really mean? Surely each one of us can do a little something to make the world a better place. For instance, as I said in my previous post, even by becoming more mindful of our consumption patterns we can add our tiny little bit for the good of the environment.

But is there something more we can do, in addition to changing our outer actions or behaviour? Something on a deeper, more fundamental level? On the level of human nature itself? On the level of our own nature? 

The other day while doing some research I was drawn to the following passage from Volume 5 of the Collected Works of the Mother. The power of the vibration of goodwill, the power of an absolutely sincere effort to gain a victory on some little imperfection of our nature, the power of this seemingly small but incredibly difficult work we must do if we want to really make a meaningful difference in the world around us.
Can one help the world with a vibration of goodwill?
With good wishes one can change many things, only it must be an extremely pure and unmixed goodwill. It is quite obvious that a thought, a perfectly pure and true prayer, if it is sent forth into the world, does its work. But where is this perfectly pure and true thought when it passes into the human brain? There are degradations.
If through an effort of inner consciousness and knowledge, you can truly overcome in yourself a desire, that is to say, dissolve and abolish it, and if through inner goodwill, through consciousness, light, knowledge, you are able to dissolve the desire, you will be, first of all in yourself personally, a hundred times happier than if you had satisfied this desire, and then it will have a marvellous effect. It will have a repercussion in the world of which you have no idea. It will spread forth. For the vibrations you have created will continue to spread. These things grow larger like the snowball.
The victory you win in your character, however small it be, is one which can be gained in the whole world. And it is this I meant just now: all things which are done outwardly without changing the inner nature—hospitals,schools,etc.—are done through vanity, for the feeling of being great, whilst these small unnoticed things overcome in oneself gain an infinitely greater victory, though the effects are hidden. Every movement in you which is false and opposed to the truth is a negation of the divine life.
Your small efforts have considerable results which you don’t even have the satisfaction of knowing, but which are true and have precisely an impersonal and general effect. If you really want to do something good, the best thing you can do is to win your small victories in all sincerity, one after another, and thus you will do for the world the maximum you are able to. 
Will our victory act for the whole world?
It will not change the whole world. For your victory is too small for the whole world. Millions of such victories are needed. It is a very small victory if compared with the whole. But it gets mingled with other things.... It could be said that it is like bringing into the world the capacity of doing a thing.
But for this to act effectively, at times centuries are necessary; it is a question of proportion. You can try it out (and it is much more difficult) even with those around you. You must be absolutely sincere, not do it with the idea of getting a result, but because you want to gain a victory. If you gain it, it will necessarily have an effect on those around you.
But if a bargaining element is mixed up in it, if you do this thing because you want to get that other: “I want to overcome my defects, but that person must also overcome his”, then that doesn’t work. It is a merchant’s attitude: “I give this, but I shall take that.” That spoils everything. There is neither sincerity nor purity. It is bargaining. Nothing must be mixed with your sincerity, your aspiration, your motive. You do things for love of the Divine, for truth, for perfection, without any other motive, any other idea. And that brings results.
CWM, Vol. 5, pp. 19-20

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

Linking this with ABC Wednesday: V, V is for Vibration, Victory 

Friday, 5 June 2015

Buy Less, Be an Environmentalist

A new post in the series - Reminders to self

June 5, World Environment Day

Some people plant trees in their neighbourhoods. Some people go on nature walks. Some people clean up the local rivers and lakes. Some people start a campaign to make their cities greener. All noble efforts, all important initiatives.

World Environment Day is also a day when....

...we must question our consumption habits,
...we must reflect upon our purchasing patterns,
...we must ponder upon the impact of our consumerist lifestyle on the environment.


Let us be honest. Do we worry about how our consumption patterns and spending habits impact the environment? What happens to all the stuff we discard when we buy new stuff? What happens to all the plastic packaging that we end up adding to the garbage dumps every time we purchase a new product? From where are all the natural and energy resources coming to manufacture all the goods we keep on purchasing? What about the fuel costs to ship the products all the way from China, Philippines, Malaysia or wherever else these products are being manufactured? What about.....what many questions to ponder upon when we start on this path of reflection.

But the key question remains -- Why do we keep buying? Do we really need all the things we buy? Or are we just buying to satisfy some desires, some wants in the hope that acquiring more things will bring us happiness? Do we know how to carefully discern between what is really a need and what is a desire when we enter a store or step into a shopping mall?

Like everyone else living in this age dictated by the two mighty trends of consumerism and commercialism, I also struggle with this dilemma of how to buy exactly what I need, and how to control the urge to possess and acquire more and more?

A personal seeking to become more self-aware and a quest to understand the larger societal trends gradually led me to explore in greater depth the topic of growing commercialism and consumerism in India. I became interested to look into different dimensions and aspects of this issue, all of which eventually took the form of an essay titled, "Commercialism and Consumerism in Today's India," included in my recently released ebookThe Thinking Indian: Essays on Indian Socio-Cultural Matters in the Light of Sri Aurobindo.

On this World Environment Day, I take the opportunity to share below two brief excerpts from the essay. One of these also includes some powerful words from the Mother to help us develop a sense of discernment, an ability to distinguish between what we really need and what we can do without.

[But before going to the excerpts, I wish to add a disclaimer here. Trust me, I am not advocating an ascetic lifestyle or a giving up of all the creature comforts that we have all become so used to. All I am suggesting is that we slowly become more mindful of what and how much we consume, and why. This is the least we can do for our Mother Earth -- to remind ourselves of becoming more mindful, on this World Environment Day and all the days to come. Is it easy enough to do? Each one has to find the answer within. But perhaps it is one of the most effective ways to begin to express our love for our planet, our mother earth.]

Begin Quote
What can you or I do individually to grow beyond our identities as consumers and commercial beings? I am reminded of a statement I read a few years ago—“Capitalism can only utilize certain feelings for its own purposes; it cannot create them” (Varma, V. P., The Political Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, 1960/1990, p. 192).
When I first read it, I said to myself—how simply he presents a really deep and complex idea! We generally like to blame American or Western style capitalism—I have done it so many times myself—for many of the economic woes of developing countries like India. But then the very human feelings (frailties is a much better word, perhaps) of possession, acquisition, greed for wealth, power to exploit and extract from those that are weaker than us, etc. are so easily ignored in our incomplete analysis of how to make the world better.

We don’t want to objectively examine and accept these frailties and work towards a deeper transformation of our individual nature. Why? Because that is such a hard work, it almost seems impossible. But then a part of us always knows that nothing else would ever work, it hasn’t. This is true for everyone, everywhere. 

Let each one of us look deep into ourselves and determine how much are we responsible for this rampant commercialism and consumerist culture, how much do we want to move beyond this age, and what, if anything, are we doing in that direction. This is the only way out.

This brings us to an important, perhaps the most important, issue—how should we deal with our desires to possess and acquire material things. This, in turn, also compels us to examine the difference between material needs and desires. The Mother has explained this point beautifully in one of her talks in 1951. If one is in a state of total indifference or detachment about what one has and doesn’t have, and if one is quite sincere, that which is a need will be automatically fulfilled. At a second level we see situations when “one is preoccupied with one’s needs, if one thinks of them, tells oneself, “Truly I must have this”, it is not often that it comes to you; so you are obliged to do something to satisfy yourself and, if you have the means, to go and buy the thing.” But the problem begins to get serious because there are people, forming the great majority, “who always take their desires for their needs….They are convinced that without this or that one cannot live...” (CWM, Vol. 4, p. 383).

The Mother has given us a very simple experiment as an exercise to help us understand the hold of such desires on our minds. She tells us, “The first step for these people is to try a small experiment (if they are sincere): “Well, I won’t have this thing and we are going to see what happens.” This is a very interesting experiment. And I can guarantee that 999 times out of a thousand, after a few days one asks oneself, “But why the devil did I think I had such a great need of this thing, I can do without it very well!” There you are. And like this, little by little, one makes progress” (p. 384). She further adds,

"It is a question of training—educating oneself. The sooner one begins, the easier it is. When one begins very young, it becomes very easy, for one gets accustomed to one’s inner reactions and so can act with wisdom and discernment—whereas for those who are accustomed from their childhood to take all their desires for needs or necessities, and have rushed into them with passionate zeal, the road is much more difficult, because first they must acquire discernment and distinguish a desire from what it is not; and sometimes this is very difficult, it is so mixed up that it can hardly be perceived." (ibid)
 End Quote

To purchase the ebook, click here.

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

To see the post written last year for the #worldenvironmentday, click here.