Riddles in Vedanta(Upanishads)

Zen masters are well-known to use riddles (or Koans) as a preferred method of teaching. However, the origin of riddles dates back to Vedanta or Upanishads much before Zen koans came into existence. In this post I will try to present one such riddle straight from Keenopanishad. Here the riddles are presented in the form of seemingly contradictory statements. The resolution of the contradictions leads to understanding.

The Upanishad starts with a question from a student: Willed by whom or prompted by whose presence, do the sense organs perform their functions such as seeing, hearing, speaking, thinking or breathing?

The teacher says: “It’s the self (Atman or Brahman) which is indeed the ear of the ear, eye of the eye, speech of the speech” etc. The implication is that the ear, eyes, mind, organs of speech etc perform their functions merely by virtue of the invariable presence of the self, the Atman. He elaborates further saying that eyes, ears, organs of speech or the mind cannot objectify the Self or Atman. The student is confused. He wants to know if nothing can objectify the self, how does one arrive at this knowledge? The teacher says in exasperation: We do not know how to impart this knowledge except to say that Brahman is different from anything known or unknown! The teacher elaborates further: Brahman(Atman) is that which is not revealed by speech, eyes, ears or the mind but it’s that because of which all these organs function.

Just as some clarity seemed to be emerging, the teacher bowls yet another googly: “If you think you know Brahman very well, then you know very little of Brahman’s nature”. The implication of this statement is that Brahman is not an object to be known.

Now it’s the turn of one smart student to respond. He says: “I consider It known to me”. The teacher was taken aback by this bold statement. Therefore, the student explains himself: “I do not consider that I know Brahman well – Nor do I not know.  I know and also do not know”. Then the student makes a final remark: Whoever understands my statement above also understands Brahman.

As the dialogue between the student and the teacher ends, the Upanishad, picking  up the thread, sums up thus: Brahman is known to him who does not consider it an object of knowledge. He who considers it as yet another object of knowledge will never ever come to know Brahman. For those who really know, it’s not known (as an object of knowledge) and for those who do not know really, it’s known (as an object of knowledge).

This entire dialogue and even the summary of the last paragraph will surely drive anyone mad if it’s not taught by a competent teacher. The student surely needs a teacher who has himself studied under a tradition-bound teacher. It’s the way in which the words of the Sruti are handled by a teacher that makes these mantras meaningful.

Finally, the  Upanishad gives clarity in the mantra 4 of chapter 2. In this famous mantra, the mystery is finally unravelled. It declares: PRATI BODHA VIDITAM MATAM.

The Upanishad says in this mantra:Brahman manifests in every cognition and every experience. One does not have to go after a special experience to experience Brahman. He is present in and through every experience! Indeed it’s the invariable presence of Brahman which makes the Jagat what it is.

This mantra, if properly understood, will dismiss all schools of philosophies which say that Brahman is beyond all thoughts and hence one has to dive deep within and wait for that special experience. On the contrary, this Upanishad highlights that with proper understanding, one can experience Him in every thought and cognitive experience. If one probes this statement further, it will lead to Advaita philosophy(non-dualism)

Towards the end of the Upanishad, an interesting story is presented to drive home the message.

 

 

 

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Published in: on September 16, 2017 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Inspiring Parable of a Songbird

It’s said that the hardest thing in one’s life is to figure out what one ought to do. Doing is relatively easier once we have clarity on what  to do. As the 19th century philosopher Nietzsche said:  No one can build the bridge on which You and you alone must cross the river of life.

Here’s a sweet tale of a songbird in a book titled The Blue Songbird by Kousky which beautifully highlights this insight:

It’s spring time and a blue songbird in a golden island admiringly listens to the sweet singing of her siblings each morning. She desperately longs to be part of the singing group and makes repeated efforts. However, she could never get the tune right. This frustrates and depresses the songbird. She concludes pathetically that there is no song in this world which she could sing. So she goes to her wise mother and asks her : “Is there any song in the world which I alone could sing”. Her mother counsels her lovingly: Get out of the comfort of the nest, go and find that special song which you alone can sing.

Encouraged and inspired by her mother, she decides to fly across the great seas in search of her special song. Crossing oceans over several days, the bird finds a long-necked crane and seeks her advice and help to find the unique song which she alone could sing. The crane has no answer. However, she points towards a far off mountain on the horizon which is the abode of the wisest bird and tells her : Go and ask the wisest and the oldest bird.

With courage and determination, the songbird goes flying again in the direction pointed by the crane. She flies deep into the forest and finds an old owl who simply hoots and frightens her away. The bird continues her search once again. She flies far and wide crossing several mountains and oceans only to get nothing specific in answer to her question. No one could suggest what she may sing as her unique song. Eventually she meets a scary crow in a strange land unknown to her and begs her not to eat her off. As the crow turns friendly, the bird asks whether she has any clue about what special song she and she alone could sing. The friendly crow tells her to fly far into the west where she might find one.

Not giving up, the songbird takes off once again crossing several strange lands and oceans. Finally, she sees a glow of lights and an island. She could also hear soft beautiful music and thinks she has at last reached the right destination. Elated,  she swoops down…. only to realize she is, after all, back home!

Completely frustrated and in tears, she goes to her mother. Overwhelmed by emotion, she feels a great urge to tell her story of where all she traveled, her meetings with the crane, the unfriendly owl, the scary crow and numerous other birds. But as she opens her beak to tell her story, what pours out was a song – a special  song of her own!

This simple story is an inspiration to all – young and old alike – searching desperately to find answers to who they are or what they are.

 

 

Published in: on August 26, 2017 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Smile that can make the day

Here’s​ my six months’ old grandson with a beaming smile without any provocation. (Click on the link below)

https://youtu.be/ObztIc5rV04

While smiling he looks at you fully focused and completely​ absorbed in the act. He invites a smile back and you have no choice but to oblige. You smile back as he gets even more ecstatic making all kinds of sounds. Then again you have no choice but to join him in the chorus or cacophony. It’s music set to no particular tune to all sitting around.  In fact it’s more than music as the infant weaves a magic all around and one quickly gets under his spell. It’s often said a smile is infectious but how about an infant’s smile? Won’t it launch a thousand smiles if not thousand ships? It’s a great blessing to start the day with an infant smiling innocently.

The enchanting smile of my grandson reminds me of a Shanti mantra which goes like this:

PoornaMadah poornamidam

poornat poornamudachyate

poornasya poornamadaya

poornamevavasishyate

This mantra is all about poornam. A simple translation of poornam is completeness. This mantra says everything is complete – this jagat, you, me. Each one of us is complete- as Rajaji says in his famous composition KURAI ONRUMILLAI. Yes, how can there be any regrets if you are complete by yourself. That is Poornamidam, the second line of the mantra. The first line says something which is easy to accept. It says Poornamadah – Brahman or Eswara or God is complete. The third line is reconciling the above two lines and says – Poornat Poornamudachyate, that is, from completeness is born completeness or completeness begets completeness. The fourth line says the obvious, that is, if you add poornam to another poornam, the result is also poornam. This is all pure Vedanta. A lot of  Vedantins have written commenteries on this. Here’s how this profound mantra applies to our interactions with a child.

I will replace poornam in the Shanti mantra with happiness or Ananda. This is acceptable because what is poornam is certainly ANANDA personified. With this substitution, the mantra, in its verse form, will look like this:

Happiness personified is the child – And so is the man, for, happiness begets happiness – Add happiness to happiness –  you still end up with happiness.

There is nothing like more happiness when you add happiness to happiness because there’s no scale for absolute, unconditional happiness. The child experiences this and transmits, as it were, to the elders. It’s unconditional because the child smiles without any reason or agenda and in turn we reciprocate by showing our happiness with an equally intense smile.

If only we can emulate a child, the world would be a very happy place to live in.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 12:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Well begun is half done

Someone asked me recently how long I would take to recite Vishnu Sahasranama. I said: Hardly 2 seconds. He thought I was kidding till I explained my logic which is the following: Vishnu Sahasranama starts with: Viswam Vishnu……, Right? If we understand the meaning of this properly, where is the need to recite the rest of the mantras? These two words capture the quintessence of Vishnusahasranama and even Vedanta. Here’s the explanation: These two words mean that the Universe is Vishnu. Once we say the Universe is Vishnu, nothing else needs to be told. The universe with all its diversity, the living & the nonliving, the sun, the moon, the planets, the entire cosmic order , the mind & intellect, the psychological order etc  are all manifestations of Vishnu. So evidently, the rest of the Vishnusahasranama is merely a matter of detail. You can check it out.

This is the beauty of our scriptures. The beginning lines of many of our scriptures are so well written that it becomes easy for any reader to follow the rest of the text. Here are a few more examples:

Consider Bhagavadgita, for instance. It starts with the lines: Dharma Kshetre Kuru Kshetre……It’s so beautiful. The field of an epic battle is being described as Dharma Kshetra. This is where Dharma will win and get established eventually. Entire Mahabharata is about Dharma and Gita makes a bold statement of this fact in the opening line itself. The rest of Gita deals with Dharma & Karma in all its dimensions and explains how it can be a vehicle for attaining the ultimate Purushardha, namely, Moksha. What a brilliant  beginning to the sacred text!

Consider yet another brilliant work of Vyasa – Bhagavatam. Here’s how it starts: Satchitananda Roopaya, Vishva Utpathyadi hetave, Tapatraya Vinasaya, SriKrishnave Vayam Namah. This opening verse contains the essence of the entire Vedanta. Krishna is described here as Satchidananda roopa.  The same terminology is used in Upanishads also to describe the formless Brahman. From this it’s clear that Hiduism, while preaching worship of form(idol worship), emphasizes the basic formlessness of the God. Itself being formless, It accommodates all form. In other words, It manifests as diverse forms in the Universe. The Sloka quoted above says precisely the same thing in the first two lines. The third & fourth lines reveal the Lord Krishna as the manifestation of Satchitananda Brahman who alone can rescue us from the sea of Samsara or bondage. To me, this is yet another brilliant beginning for an epic which is all about Lord Krishna.

I will take a couple of more examples from Upanishads and rest my case.

Let us take Taitriya Upanishad. It starts off with the line: Brahma Vit Apnoti Param. Tadeshabhyukta. Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma. It says: One who knows Brahman attains the highest Goal(Param).Then it goes on to describe what is the attribute of Brahman. It says: Satyam Jnanam Anantam Brahma. Volumes have been written to explain just this statement alone which defines Brahman.  If one understands this one line properly, entire Taitriya Upanishad is as well understood and assimilated.

Esa vasyopanishad is another great example of a great beginning. The opening line of the opening verse is: Esa Vasyam idam Sarvam.… It declares straight away that Eswara pervades the entire Universe. This statement is similar to Viswam Vishnu of Vishnusahasranamam which we saw in the beginning.

I suppose one can go on and on with several examples from our scriptures on the importance of a good & insightful beginning to any great work.

The title of the post is an old saying attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Not satisfied with this proverb, the famous poet John Keats, in one of his letters, points out that a more appropriate saying is: ‘Not begun and yet half done’. I think this applies to Upanishads in a sense. All Upanishads begin with a Shanti Mantra or an invocation. These mantras, with their very profound meaning, set the tone for the main Upanishad text. The Shanti Mantra puts the student in the right frame of mind to absorb the Upanishad message. Thus the teacher’s job is already half done.

More on the Shanti Mantras in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 1, 2017 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Business of Busyness

Recently I received a ”forward” in FB which says: “Being busy is the secret of happiness”. Look at the logic put forth. “The busiest people are the happiest people(really?). Being busy gives one self-esteem and confidence. The flow of adrenaline when one is busy gives a feeling of  exhilaration, purpose and achievement. Being busy means you are bettering yourself and pushing your boundaries. You don’t get time for negative thoughts. It’s indeed the only solution to all human maladies”. Isn’t this complete nonsense? On the face of it, it sounds great and who ever reads will get carried away and instinctively pass it on to others as if it’s a great discovery. In case you are wondering why I disagree with this completely, here’s my defence:

Let me start off on a lighter note and quote  Ronald Reagan ( American president during 1980s) who was known for his ready wit and wisdom. Well, I’m not too sure about his wisdom but I have no doubts about his ability to come up with witty one-liners like the one below. Some one asked him why he shuns hard work and gets away to his ranch to relax every week-end. He said: Well, I know hard work doesn’t kill. But why take a chance?”. I’m sure you will dismiss this defence and laugh it off. That’s the power of witty one-liners, though. The interviewer would laugh it off and move to his next question.

Let me now go to the other extreme and quote a serious thinker and philosopher Albert Camus. He says: Of all the ridiculous things on earth, the most ridiculous thing is to keep oneself busy all the time. In his book titled The myth of Sisyphus, he dwells into his philosophy of the absurd. He compares the present plight of the common man with that of Sisyphus, a character from Greek mythology. The story goes that the gods condemned Sisyphus to a worthless task of lifting a rock from the bottom of a hill and carry it all the way to the top of the mountain only to allow it to roll back again to the plains. Sisyphus would have to go back again to the foot of the mountain and start all over again. The punishment was meted out by the angry gods since he apparently leaked out the secrets of the gods. There was no escape from this punishment​ until his death. Albert Camus says this is the plight of the entire humanity today.

We seek happiness through purposeless drudgery. We are busy like a bee the whole day. When we come back home, we are too tired to do anything except watch TV. We then go to bed only to get up and start all over again. This is the curse of the modern civilization. Isn’t this dehumanizing? The comparison with a bee is perhaps not appropriate since bees are busy for a purpose.

The tragedy is we don’t get time to reflect on our plight unlike Sisyphus who gets time to reflect on his fate the moment he completes the task of carrying the boulder to the top of the mountain. That’s his period of introspection and awareness. For, when he is busy carrying the rock, he has no time to think. But alas, a guy working in a city today doesn’t get any time for reflection on his pathetic condition!

Coming back to the FB forward I received, there is a complete misunderstanding between excitement and pleasure on the one hand and real happiness on the other. The flow of adrenaline gives one temporary excitement and pleasure which dissipates within a short time and reality of boredom bites once again. Therefore, one is compelled to keep chasing more excitements for more adrenaline flow and pleasure and the show goes on and on ad infinitum. You are, in other words, escaping from reality which you cannot face. This was precisely the sad plight of Sisyphus in the Greek mythology and this is the tragedy of the modern man too.

Let me share a secret. The glorification of ”busyness” is a historical conspiracy of the intellectuals. Plato and Aristotle set the ball rolling when they declared that drudgery or hard work was meant for the slaves. It seems that in Athens, during 5th & 6th century B.C, 30000 aristocrats had nothing useful to do since 200,000 slaves were being driven to do all the hard work (The slaves were called the Barbarians by the Greeks). The intellectuals had nothing to do except​ to indulge in arm-chair philosophy besides activities like hunting. The influence of these philosophers could be seen almost until medieval times in Europe. People from affluent families, the so-called aristocrats, were not expected to do any hard work while the poor worked hard. But all this changed abruptly after industrialization to such an extent that even the richest billionaire today cannot afford to relax. Being busy is a matter of prestige and status in the industrialized societies irrespective of whether one is rich or poor. Today, Busyness is being eulogized as a virtue. By whom? Ironically by those who are not busy themselves  – the intellectuals who have plenty of time in hand and have nothing useful to contribute to society. They condition everyone into believing that hard work is the only way to succeed in life and success is again defined by them.  The net result is that  everyone else takes it as the gospel truth and keep working hard without any respite or purpose like our tragic hero Sisyphus of the Greek mythology.

This is not a thesis against hard work or being busy per se.  Life has many dimensions and one needs to appreciate that the leisure time activities are as important or even more important than just being busy for the sake of some imaginary concepts of success.

Social media “forwards” are often very misleading and the gullible fall for it. These “forwards” perpetuate myths by insisting on the readers to forward to all their contacts.

Published in: on April 1, 2017 at 10:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chasing Reality

This is the story of my 3-year old granddaughter. She moved to our place along with her mother who was expecting her second child. She was super excited to be with her pampering grand parents. But soon she realised her father could not be with her. However, she  settled down with her new routine and was thoroughly enjoying her preschool where she was being taught singing and dancing. Then one fine day her father came over to visit us and she was on top of the world. This didn’t last long as he had to leave with in a few days. Her world plunged into darkness as she couldn’t understand why he had to go back. Flexible as kids are, she got over her sorrow within a couple of days. She was back again on her feet enjoying every moment. Her next moment of excitement came when her mother went to hospital for delivery and gave birth to a baby boy to play with. Her excitement did not last long, though. She saw a rival in the new arrival as she found her mother’s attention was more towards the new baby. With jealousy comes anger and we could see her throwing up tantrums over trivial things. She overcame this as well over a period of time. But she could never reconcile to her father appearing and disappearing time and again. Although she could not express, she sure must have faced several unanswered questions such as: What is real – Me living with my parents or with grandparents? The school is the reality or home with pampering grandparents. If parental love is real, how come my mother doesn’t show the same love after the arrival of the new baby. Does reality which is constantly changing has any meaning.

Her young mind would have found some convincing answers when she finally moved to her father’s place along with her mother and the newborn. Having finally found the warmth of love from both parents, she may finally conclude: Yes, this is the ultimate reality – not my grand parents, not my friends, not my school.

Did the elders fare any better in the emotional drama? Far from it. The parents and grandparents were equally or more affected than the kid herself. Their heart sank along with the kid’s and their spirits got elevated as the kid got excited. Not just that. When both the grand kids finally left them, they could not take it in their stride. The silence in the house was overpowering. The house felt desolate and lifeless without the usual noises.

Look at the contrasting experience after the kids left. During their stay, time was in short supply. Now there is plenty of time on hand. There was plenty of noise then. Now there is deafening silence. There was plenty of fun, then. We all would laugh, make faces, whistle, sing & dance to no particular tune. Now that is replaced by meaningless monotonous work, matter-of-fact conversations, gentlemanly behaviour and plain boredom. Every piece of work had a purpose then, while now whatever work we do seems meaningless.

What is reality? They living with us or they living away from us? If the elders understand the realities, why do they find the separation unbearable?

The fact of the matter is that none of the things that we see as reality are real. All that we see in the human drama are mere emotions. Emotions come and go. They are not real. Whatever is changing with time is not real. And we are chasing the so-called reality which is constantly changing. What then is the reality that does not undergo any change? Awareness or Consciousness which lights up all the seemingly real things is the only reality. It’s that without which the relative world of experiences and emotions cannot exist. One may call it God, or Eswara or Brahman ( as in the Vedic terminology).

Published in: on February 11, 2017 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Memories, Experiences and Living in the Present


My daughter has a penchant for capturing precious moments of life with her camera. She is particularly fond of photographing kids in action. She visited us recently from the US along with her 2-year old kid and went on clicking video shots of the kids in action. I think she is sentimental when she says: Life is all about experiences and memories which are best captured with video shots. Whenever she has leisure, she says, she spends time going through these captured memories.

I disagree with her on the question of whether life is all about memories. Being a fan of the great philosopher J Krishnamrthy, I have completely different views on the subject. Let me quote JK himself.  He says very profoundly: Memory is the residue of an unfinished, uncompleted experience, is it not? Watch your own memory and you will see. When you finish an experience, complete it, there is no memory of that experience in the sense of a psychological residue. There is a residue only when an experience is not fully understood, and there is no understanding of experience because we look at each experience through past memories, and therefore we never meet the new as the new, but always through the screen of the old. Therefore, it is clear that our response to experience is conditioned, always limited”.

JK implies that since we do not experience every moment fully, we feel the need to keep going back to the past so that we can relive the experience. But then memory is really not very helpful either. It’s very selective and is never a faithful reproduction of what actually happened in the past. Not just that. We are perpetually busy recording experiences and miss the live experience. It’s like the old joke about a Japanese tourist who visits many places and ends up seeing them all only through the camera lens!

Having seen J Krishnamrthy’s profound insight on the topic, let us take the case of Lord Krishna’s life. He always lived in the present. His childhood was spent in Gokul. Then he moved to Brindavan where the Gopikas (Cow herding girls) experienced the ecstasy of his spiritual love. From Bridavan, he moved to Mathura for a while to complete his unfinished task and then went on to become the king of Dwaraka. Once that phase was over, his next destination was Hastinapur where he played a crucial role during the Mahabharata war. Wherever he went he played his role to perfection without being overwhelmed by emotions. He was always present in the moment and never looked back or brooded over the past. For instance, when the time came to leave Brindavan, he left all the gopikas he loved without feeling sentimental about their relationship, although the gopikas pined for him with nostalgia. Nostalgia is a symptom of having had an incomplete experience.

When is an experience complete? It’s only when one lives in the present moment completely. One can learn about living in the present moment from children. Children live every moment so completely that they have no need for memories. Here are a few live examples. Recently my granddaughter took part in her school sports day function. She participated in the running race and stood first in two events. Here is a photograph of her after winning:

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Don’t you see the innocence in her face. There is no great excitement. She ran like anybody else and winning was not important to her or for that matter to any kid. Excitement was only for the parents. Children, in their age of innocence, do not develop any sense of competition. Since there was no sense of competition, there was no tension before running and  no excitement either after the event. Nevertheless, they all enjoyed every moment of the race. Perhaps after a couple of years of brainwashing by parents on concepts like  competition, winning, losing etc, they would behave like any other adult.

Here is another instance of the spontaneity of children. The pictures below are of celebration of the birthday of my granddaughter:

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One can see all the children playing spontaneously on their own without feeling inhibited. Unlike adults who have to be coaxed into playing, all the kids joined in to play games without anyone prompting then to do so .

To me, this is the meaning of living in the present moment which is completely different from living in memories and nostalgia.

 

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ganesha – The most Cosmopolitan among the Gods

My Ganesha is a Vaishnavite, said one showing the familiar mark of auspicious Tiruman on the forehead. Mine is a typical Shaivite with Vibhuti (sacred ash) spread out on the forehead, said another. Yet another quipped: ”My Ganesha can dance”, showing an idol with a dancing pose. My Ganesha does not mind wearing Jeans, said another proudly displaying a photo of an idol wearing Jeans.

I have not seen any Ganesha idol with Jeans except in a picture. However, here are a few pictures of various Ganesha idols which I am familiar with. Personally, I like the first picture with a simple decoration which looks extremely sathvik (calm & virtuous). This is from my niece.

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You cannot have a more Cosmopolitan God than Ganesha ( I use the word cosmopolitan in the sense of belonging to all sections of the society). Everyone loves him irrespective of caste, creed or culture. Ever since Tilak popularized the so-called SARVAJANIC GANESH festivals(public celebration) way back in late 19th century, Ganapati idols have evolved in appearance and the mode of celebration has also changed significantly. Starting with very simple and Sathvic looking idols to the most modern and fashionable idols of today, the variations are mind-boggling. It is as if the Lord can fit into any description and any imagination of a person. There is no rigid dress code either. I’m sure if He were to choose to appear before us, He will not mind dancing to our crazy tunes. Not just that – He is as happy with His favourite MODAK (Kzhakottai in Tamil?) as He is with, say, Halwa or Rava Kesari or Laddus or any sweet made with jaggery. For instance, our Pillayar(Ganesha)loves Seera with Sundal. Seera is Rava Kesari and Sundal is made from chana or black chickpeas. He doesn’t mind anything that we offer as long as it is offered with devotion. It’s this flexibility that attracts and inspires millions to worship Him. In Mumbai, for instance, even Muslims are known to visit and offer prayers to SARVAJANIC Ganesha. Politicians of all hues support and generously donate money for the celebrations.

This Hindu God in a sense captures the spirit of Hinduism. The way Ganesh Chaturdhi is celebrated reflects the Hindu way of life and our understanding of God. God, for us, is not someone sitting up there in the Heaven deciding our fortunes in life. God is right here in our midst manifesting Himself in the form of universal laws & universal order. Indeed the laws, the order, the dharma are Him. He is inseparable from all this. In that sense Hinduism is not a religion. It’s a way of life. You may call God by any name, Eswara or Allah or Christ as long as our understanding is not flawed.

I have only one complaint against the celebrations, though. Tilak might have started Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsavs with Pandals (temporary structures); however, he would never have endorsed noisy celebrations or traffic jams.

Published in: on September 5, 2016 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On my recent Business Trip to Paris

Last week, as I was busying myself with packing stuff for my business trip to Paris, my granddaughter kept following me persistently with a couple of questions: Enna venum Thata; enna pannara?(what do you want, grandpa; what are you doing?). She found it funny to see me move from room to room picking things up for packing. I kept dodging her questions and at one point asked her mother exasperatingly to take her away from me and allow me to focus on my job.
I might have felt a little irritated to face the same set of questions repeatedly; however, I found it extremely useful to ask myself the same questions at every step in Paris. I used these questions as a mantra throughout my stay lest I should lose my way or forget my daily itinerary or miss out on important appointments and objectives of my visit. The value of this mantra, strangely coming from a 2 year-old kid, cannot be overstated in our daily lives. Don’t we often find ourselves doing things that have no relationship to what we want to achieve in life? These twin questions can indeed serve as a useful guide to do course correction in our lives.
Having started the blog on a philosophical note, let me now come down to earth and tell you something about the trip itself. Paris was exceptionally hot and dry last week. The delegates who attended the conference at the well-known palais des congress (place of meetings?)found it extremely difficult to keep themselves dressed up in their formal suits with temperatures soaring to an intolerable 36deg centigrade.
I had one evening free and was wondering what to do. My boss advised me to keep away from crowds while my niece told me not to venture into lonely or suspicious looking deserted lanes of Paris known for mugging. My sister said: You are safer in a 3-star hotel, not in posh hotels. A well-meaning friend of mine told me jokingly: keep away from the infamous Lido shows! I was also warned of the presence of Italian mafia in the city by another friend. With so many conflicting suggestions coming in, I decided to do my own thing. So, I defied my boss’s advice and went to see Eiffel tower by night which I missed seeing in illuminated light in my earlier visits to the city. It’s indeed a wonderful sight to watch in the night. Here are a couple of photographs of the illuminated tower.

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The tiredness of standing in the long queues for security check, ticketing counters and elevators was forgotten once I got on to the tower.

On the topmost floor there was a surprise in store for the tourists. Besides the usual points such as the Seine river view or Champs- Elysees view and not to forget the several selfie points, there was a point for which several couples (married & unmarried) queued up laughing all the way. I was curious to see what it was. It turned out to be …… a point for kissing which is written in bold letters on the wall above. I must congratulate the tourism department for their great sense of humour.
On the penultimate day of the conference, we had a traditional cocktail party. Although there was nothing to look forward to in such parties for teetotalers like me, I still attended the party since the venue is a famous place in Paris. It’s called Cite de la mode et du design which is a City of Fashion and Design overlooking the Seine river. This is an old general Store-house converted into a new structure. It’s contemporary in design with a bold architecture. It houses a museum of contemporary art in comic books, live animation and video games.  I have taken a few pictures of this remarkable building from the other side of the river:

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Published in: on August 28, 2016 at 1:16 am  Comments (2)  
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Spontaneity in Action 

Did you hear about this interesting stuff about IIT JEE. Way back in 1990s, there was this  simple question on arithmetic: 1+1=? The options were: 2, 11, 22, none of the above. Most of the students preferred not to attempt the question as they were scared of negative marking for a wrong answer. Why did so many guys miss the obvious? The answer is not far to seek. Many must have felt: There’s something more to the question than what meets the eye. A simple sum such as 1+1 cannot find its place in an exam like IIT, JEE.

 The story maybe apocryphal but one should not miss its moral. We tend to complicate our lives and miss the obvious and simple solutions.  An important consequence is that we lose Spontaneity in our actions making our lives dull, boring and devoid of any excitement.

Talking of spontaneity,  let me narrate my recent  experience with my grand-daughter. She was admonished and taken to task by both her mom and grandma obviously for being terribly mischievous. She was all tears when She found me relaxing on the sofa. She came running to me and buried her face in my  lap. empathizing with her misery, I told her matter-of-factly: Oh dear, whatever happened to you? Ah, I know, your mom and your Patti(grandma)got angry and scolded you. Right? She nodded in agreement and looked at me expecting to express my support to her. I consoled her and said reassuringly:”My dear little one, from now on, if  anyone hurts you, do not hesitate to come to me. I will keep you company and play with you “. Instantly her spirits perked up. She displayed her affection by hugging me tightly with a warm smile.That is spontaneity in action. When she was in mental pain, she was completely absorbed in that emotion and when she was consoled, she showed her love and affection without any inhibition. Having got over her agony she was again ready for her next round of mischievous acts. No brooding over the past at all like adults.

Interestingly, we lose that spontaneity when we grow up. How does it happen? The word tomorrow is the culprit, I suppose. Think of tomorrow and one gets into the psychological world of one’s ambitions , targets, plans, the fear of not achieving or under-achieving, the fear of losing money or property if one is wealthy,  the thoughts of retaining one’s name and fame if one is a celebrity, the fear of losing health if one is healthy and the fear of death if one is aged  etc – the list is indeed endless.

The solution lies in relearning to live in the present which is a life of spontaneity. Plan, by all means, for tomorrow. However, do not get bogged down by fears and  insecurities of tomorrow. These are not real. Present is the only reality and if we fully live in the present the future will take care of itself.

Published in: on July 28, 2016 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment