Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers – An Interesting Book

Visualize a scene where a zebra is being chased by its predator, say, a lion. That is the moment of do or die for the zebra. Aided by its evolutionary instinct for survival, it will run like hell for its life. In a few minutes after the chase begins, it’s all over for the zebra – either it is chased down and killed by the lion or it manages to escape. Either way, it’s all over. During the chase, its blood pressure could peak to 180. However, once the chase is over and it saves itself, it’s back to its normal self within a few minutes. How does it get back to its normal state of health so fast? The zebra does not brood over the past nor does it get anxious worrying about another possible chase by yet another predator in the future. It won’t ask questions like – why did it happen to me? If it happens again, how will I face it? Will I survive another attack? etc. It knows only one thing, that is, to keep running if a predator chases. That’s because it doesn’t have a well-developed brain which is, in a way, a great blessing. This is the major difference between we humans and all the other primates. Unlike a zebra, the human mind would not rest after a traumatic experience. It will keep brooding for ever on the same episode. Add to this our anxiety about insecure future and you have a deadly combination causing chronic & continuous stress. It’s this chronic stress, according to the author, that makes human beings susceptible to a variety of diseases such as diabetes or hypertension.

This book reminded me of a story I read long time back in a scripture called Yoga Vasishta. The story goes like this:

Long time ago there lived three princes in a city which did not exist. Of the three two were not born and the third one was not even conceived. The princes having lost all their relatives started wandering.They arrived at the banks of three rivers out of which two were dry and the third one had no water. The princes had a refreshing bath and quenched their thirst in them. Then they arrived into a huge city which was going to be built. Entering the city they found three exceedingly beautiful palaces. Of the three, two were not built at all and the third one had no walls. They entered the palace and invited 3 holy men to be their guests of which two had no body and the third had no mouth. After the 3 men had taken food the princes ate the left over. They felt happy and happily lived ever after in that city….

What does one make of the story? One is likely to dismiss it as ridiculous and non-sense. However, tell me how is it different, for instance, from a typical Indian parent worrying about the marriage of their son or  daughter? Here’s an example of a parent agonizing over the delay in fixing his son’s marriage:  What will happen if his marriage is delayed — what if he doesn’t get a suitable bride.. he will end up marrying a girl who is not educated .. not belonging to our caste…or worse still, he may remain unmarried… in which case he will have no one taking care of him.. . when my son reaches old age he will have none to support him… so on so forth.

To my mind this is no different from the story from Yogavasishta.

I have an over-simplified explanation (a mere speculation) of how a complex mind functions. It is as if we have a circuit for creating misery and one for unnecessary excitement.  What is common to both the circuits is endless analysis of ifs and buts of any given situation. So the subject lives in a non-existent future feeling either elated or miserable. The story from Yogavasishta falls in the second category of an excitement-seeking mind.
Human mind thrives on problems and worries. If there are no real problems to solve, it will create imaginary ones to worry over.

Let me narrate one more story from YOGA VASISHTA which depicts the same phenomenon of mind inflicting misery upon the body. Here is a very short version of the story:

There lived in a dark forest a man with thousand hands. Terrified with the darkness all around in the thick forest, he was roaming about restlessly in the jungle. He was beating himself with all the thousand hands. Seeing this, a sane person meets him, tries to bring him to senses and gets him out of the dark jungle . But then he feels uncomfortable in the daylight, having lived in darkness of the jungle all his life. He runs back to the forest blaming and cursing the sensible man for all his problems.
The story again may seem ridiculous. It’s just symbolic. The thousand hands represent his miserable mind filled with negative thoughts inflicting injury on himself. Troubled by his mind, he can neither help himself nor be helped by others.

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A Simple Ritual that I enjoyed

I like rituals which are short, simple and easy-to-understand in terms their symbolism. Last Saturday, we performed one such ritual known as MAAVU VILAKKU which involves worshipping of a lamp completely edible. Yes, one can literally eat the lamp(minus the wicks) as PRASADA once the ritual is over. Let me give some details of the ritual: Rice is ground to a fine powder and mixed with jaggery, cardamom, cashew nuts and pure ghee made from cow’s milk. The entire mass forms a dough of moldable consistency, which is then molded to form a lamp of square shape. Cotton wicks dipped in ghee are then placed at all the 4 corners and ghee is poured inside the lamp.The lamp is lit ceremonially marking the beginning of the PUJA. The ritual ends after all 4 wicks get extinguished on their own. During the entire course of the ritual, which lasts for around 30 minutes, one is supposed to chant the names of the Lord – typically the name GOVINDA is chanted.
The significance of the ritual is simple to understand. The Tamil month PURATTASI is auspicious for the Lord Balaji of Tirumala. On the day the ritual is performed, which is typically on a saturday, the deity is supposed to visit our homes and give darshan in the form of Jyoti or Light for the sake of those devotees who are unable to make it to the holy Hills during this auspicious period.He gives darshan, accepts the offerings of the devotees, blesses them and goes back to Tirumala. When the last wick gets extinguished, it marks the end of the Lord’s journey back to His Hills. Towards the end of the ritual as the last wick is about to get extinguished, we offer a variety of items like milk,fruits,dahi, annam(rice with dal) etc.Once the lamp goes off, we offer AARTI to the Lord. The cotton wicks with the carbon deposits are carefully removed to make the edible portion clean. The rest of the stuff is thoroughly mixed with ghee in the lamp and is served to everyone in the house. What a simple and creative ritual! It is easy to perform and gets everyone involved in chanting the names of the God. The Jyoti represents the Lord and the lamp and its contents together constitute His delicious PRASADA.

This year we performed the ritual a week back on a saturday. The lamp was lit and we were waiting patiently for the light to subside as even as we were chanting GOVINDA. Towards the end, the last wick would just not go off even after a long wait. My wife kept offering whatever she had prepared and still the last embers of the fire on the wick was lingering and would not subside. Obviously, ghee was mysteriously finding its way to the 4th wick to keep the spark glowing for a long time. My wife was trying to recollect to see whether she missed out on some important offering to the Lord! She asked exasperatedly: What is the Lord waiting for? Did I miss something important? Finally I said: Did you offer……..to the Lord? I guess, this is what the Lord wants. She smiled, sat down and kept quiet. We had no choice but to wait till the light eventually subsided.

Can you guess What precisely I asked my wife to offer and by offering which the Lord seemed pleased and obliged? To find out, read the following story taken from our scripture Yogavasishta:

Once there lived a virtuous king who was mentally agitated and wanted freedom from worries.He approached a sage for advice. The sage advised him that he should renounce everything to find peace. Accordingly, he abandoned his kingdom,his palace, his country and even his wife and yet peace eluded him. The sage told him: That is not enough. Wealth, wife, kingdom, palace, country and relatives are not yours.You are merely a caretaker with a duty to take care of them. Renouncing these doesn’t mean total renunciation. How can you give up something that doesn’t belong to you and call it renouncement? Therefore, go, search for something that truly belongs to you and give it up. The king thought: okay, I will renounce the forest and this ashram that is everything to me and seek peace. Feeling good that he had really renounced everything, he got back to the sage again. The sage was still not convinced. As the story goes, the king then threw away all his belongings including his clothes and set them on fire.The sage was still unmoved.The king finally wanted to sacrifice his body with all the senses. The sage told him: The body is inert and dumb and you have nothing to do with it.The King was exasperated and asked: Pray tell what is the secret of renunciation. The sage replied: It is chitta, the mind, which causes all the confusion and which is also the cause of this SAMSARA, renouncing which one attains freedom from sorrow.This is what you need to renounce and offer to the God!

Now, you know what I told my wife to offer to the Lord when the lamp in our ritual was not getting extinguished.

The Story of an invincible Minister (Source: Yoga Vasishta)

Here is an interesting story which brings out a very fundamental Truth in the simplest possible manner:

Once there was a king who was always at peace with himself and in complete bliss. He had a minister who was very powerful. The minister did everything on behalf of the king. He was ignorant and never enjoyed anything. He was capable of bringing about what didn’t exist and also very good at altering reality so that he could spread sorrow all around. He would not allow anyone to approach the King. If at all anyone wanted to reach the king, he had to first conquer the minister, which was impossible, given his strength.  The minister was generally intent on working on his own agenda, although his  power was essentially drawn from the king. And he did everything for the sake of the king, assuming that it was his duty to keep the king in bliss without being disturbed .  No one could face him including the gods.  If anyone conquered the minister somehow,  everything was conquered because he would instantly get the audience of the king himself. On the other hand, but if one didn’t succeed in conquering the minister, nothing was conquered.

There were very few lucky ones (let us refer to them as  ‘LO’  for want of a better word) who were able get an audience to the king and they revealed a secret with regard to the minister. Everyone was curious to know this secret. Here is the dialogue between the LO & the UO (Unlucky ones):

‘LO’ said: Folks, the minister is utterly powerless and will in fact flee the moment you are able to  see the king somehow.

‘UO’: How come?

LO: Because the minister can not exist or function in the presence of the king!

UO: But then, how can one see the king without conquering the minister?

LO: It’s a trick very few people are capable of. You have to befriend the minister and play with him and playfully subdue him; the moment he is under your control thus, you will see the king clearly.

UO: Then what happens?

LO: The minister loses all his powers and flees leaving you in the august company of the king! So the trick is to keep the minister under control and see the king. You need to work for that magical moment!

The story is metaphorical. Now the question is who is the minister and who is the king and by conquering the minister and seeing the king what is achieved? ‘Mind’ represents the minister while the king is represented by the ‘supreme self’. One achieves complete liberation by seeing the king!

Now read the story once again substituting the words as suggested and you will know the story is about all of us with our minds overpowering us!!

Published in: on June 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Wonderful Story from YOGA VASISHTA

Here is yet another gem of a story from YOGA VASISHTA. This story is all about conditioning of the mind. We all must have heard several lectures cautioning us against the dangers of mental conditioning. All great thinkers unanimously agree that a conditioned mind is the root cause of all human misery. But to be unconditioned is a tall order, considering that right from our childhood we are being brain washed continuously on every aspect of our life. This is the context in which I found the story interesting.
The story beautifully brings out the contrast between the two states – a conditioned & an unconditioned state. Here is an abridged version of the story:
Long time ago there lived a powerful demon called Sambara in the nether world. He had great magical powers and created a magnificient city full of living beings made of gold and beautiful looking swans made of precious stones. He also created his own celestial beings. In other words, he created a parallel Heaven which was in many ways superior to the real Heaven itself. Naturally the gods became envious of him. They wanted to kill him but the powerful demon was a terror to the gods. The gods, however, managed to kill the demon’s forces when the latter was asleep and away from the city.

Sambara got furious at this and created 3 demons(Daama,Vyala, Kata). They were exact replicas of himself with the only difference that they were robot-like projections. Sambara sent his army led by his three Robot-like projections to fight with the Gods. Fierce battle ensued in which both sides suffered heavy casualities. However, the 3 demons of Sambara fought so well that the gods had to flee. Feeling helpless, the gods approached the creator Brahma and sought his help. Brahma, instead of helping, gave a long lecture on the merits of Sambara’s demons: “Sambara’s army led by the 3 demons can’t be defeated because they are robot-like projections with no feelings. They are fearless, have no preconceived notions and no belief system. They have no doubts in their minds and are enjoying complete freedom. For that matter they don’t know what is war, victory or defeat. In other words they are completely unconditioned and therefore invincible”.
The Gods got frustrated with the lecture and wanted to know what was the way out. Brahma then advised the gods as follows: “Keep engaging the demons in repeated wars, but wisely retreat each time. By fighting the wars repeatedly, some ego sense will gradually arise in the three  demons. The sense of ego in turn will create latent tendences(‘VAASANAAS’) and psychological conditioning in them.

Once conditioning sets in, they will become weak, fearful of death, confused to fight etc. You must take that opportune moment to strike hard without let up and surely victory will be yours”.
Needless to say, the gods implemented the game plan suggested by Brahma and eventually emerged victorious.

The story beautifully illustrates how conditioning can make a huge difference between victory and defeat in any field of endeavour. Isn’t it then worth making an effort?

P.S: Those of you interested may now access my posts on ENERGY MATTERS – SCIENCE / TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENTS @ http://www.narasimhancs.com

Published in: on January 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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Of Ignorance and Bliss

Whoever said Ignorance is bliss must be kidding. On the contrary everyday we find people being penalized for ignorance. In the court of law one can not plead ignorance of law as a defence. Same thing holds for violation of any rules in our daily lives – be it the traffic rules on the road or whatever else. In the world of Business or Finance too the ignorant and gullible are the worst sufferers of losses.

I was pleasantly surprised to find an endorsement of this principle from a completely unexpected quarter – YOGA VASISHTA, which is a very ancient Hindu scripture. The entire text is in the form of a dialogue between Rama and his ‘Rajaguru’, the sage Vasishta. Rama raises a number of philosophical issues and Vasishta answers them all through philosophical discourses as well as parables. I will very briefly narrate the relevant story below:

Once upon a time there lived a demoness called KARKATI in the Himalayan mountain range. She had a huge body and was always hungry. No amount of food would satisfy her hunger. Therefore she sat in penance to seek a boon. Brahma, the creator was immensely pleased and appeared before her. She wanted a boon which would transform her to a very small, invisible insect( a virus?) which could enter any body without effort and devour the same. Brahma granted the boon saying that she could enter anybody with unclean habits through their fingers. The demoness got the form she wanted and began invading bodies as ordained by Brahma. But soon the demoness realized that with such an invisible body, she was not in a position to eat large quantities. Therefore, she sat in penance once again. Brahma appeared again and blessed her with another boon. Brahma made her regain her huge form once again. A strange solution to her hunger problem was provided by the gods. The demoness could eat only the ignorant among the human species! In justification the demoness was told: “It is NOT A SIN to kill the ignorant for the sake of food. The ignorant serve no purpose in the world as they are condemned to suffer. They would always feel miserable and spread the same to others as well”.
Having got the boon, the demoness now went around looking for the ignorant. She found a king and his minister relaxing near a pond and threatened to kill them. The king was wise and responded to the situation with calmness. When the demoness explained to the king about the boon she obtained from Brahmaji, the king proposed to the demoness to eat all the ignorant subjects in his kingdom leaving behind the wise ones. Needless to say the demoness lived happily ever after devouring the ignorant and miserable people in the kingdom.

The story above is illustrative of how ignorance is NOT protected or supported even in our scriptures. One need not take the story as a sanction to kill the ignorant and the miserable. The story has to be viewed in the right context. It is to provoke and inspire people to rid themselves of ignorance for the purpose of happy living.
The basic point to note here is that in a kingdom, if killing is inevitable to accommodate the demoness with her boons, the ignorant are among the first ones to be sacrificed. Besides ignorance, uncleanliness is also condemned in the story.

Postscript:
My daughter discussed the story with me and she was unable to reconcile with the fact that the king was prepared to sacrifice the ignorant among his subjects. I explained that the story is merely symbolic. Ignorance itself is the demoness within which will eventually consume the ignorant. That is the law of Nature – ‘NIYATI’.
Charles Darwin,the well known English Biologist of the 19th century in his famous book ‘Origin Of Species’ talks about ‘Survival of the fittest’. Who are the fittest? The species which is blessed with evolutionary intelligence.

Published in: on December 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Insightful Story from YOGA VASISHTA

Comparing, Competing, envying, feeling jealous and all this inevitably resultng in depression. Isn’t this what we see all around us? Most of us are victims of this vicious cycle at some point in our lives. We might shrug our shoulders and say, ‘we are after all humans’. This assumes that this is typically a human failing. Well, our scriptures narrate a number of stories that depict even our Gods in a poor light. It might be comforting to know that even the creator Brahma once succumbed to this tendency in a moment of weakness. However, it will be inspiring to know how he overcame his misery. I will narrate the story from YOGA VASISHTA:

The Sage Kasyapa’s descendant Indu gave birth to 10 brilliant sons through the blessings of the Lord Siva. The sons became distressed when their parents died and wanted to do something to become immortal like the creator Brahma. Therefore, they set out to do penance and meditation. In their meditation they kept repeating: ‘I am the Creator Brahma – The entire creation is within me – all the rivers, mountains, Gods, Goddesses, celestials and so on…’.
They continued their ‘Tapas’ for an entire epoch and beyond (one epoch is equivalent to Brahma’s cosmic night).The contemplation and power of concentration of their mind was so intense that they indeed started creating parallel universes. At the end of the epoch, it was time for the real Brahma to retire to sleep in his cosmic night. He got up early at the dawn of the next epoch, said his morning prayers and began to meditate before starting his next cycle of creation. Just as he was meditating, he noticed in his mind the parallel universes under creation by these 10 brilliant sons of Indu. Brahma got depressed and confused as to what he should do now. He summoned a Sun from one of the parallel universes and wanted to know all about the mysterious competing creation.
The Sun narrated the story of the 10 young men and how they initiated their act of creation. Brahma sought the advice of the Sun on what he should do. Sun said: ‘There is nothing you can do about their creation. Just as you are creating the universe by sheer strength of your Mind and its capacity to concentrate, these young men have also attained the merit due to the tremendous efforts of their Mind(SANKALPA SHAKTI). Trying to destroy their creation is akin to attempting to destroy a reflection formed in a crystal or mirror.No one can destroy anything created by the power of the Mind just as one cannot destroy an image formed in a crystal. In any case what do you lose if they are engaged in their own creation? ”

Then Brahma asked,’Should I carry on with my work?’. The Sun replied – ” You gain nothing either by doing or not doing your act of creation. You are NOT creating because you get something in return. What will you gain by abandoning your natural function? Doesn’t the Sun’s light get reflected in a pool of water without the Sun nor water intending to reflect? Therefore, irrespective of what these young men are doing, you keep creating as many worlds as you wish, which is your natural function . There is beauty in doing what is natural to you. Wise men neither desire to act nor desire to abandon action.”
Listening to the insightful advice from the Sun, Brahma got back to his work of creation.

Saint Thyagaraja gave a similar message in one of his musical compositions. He said:
“Is my desire to sing in praise of Rama going to be fulfilled just because Valmiki had written wonderful poetry in the glory of Shrirama”.(He poses a rhetorical question,’NAA AASA TEERUNA?, meaning ‘Will my desire to sing in praise of the lord get fulfilled?)

The message is pretty simple and clear enough. Comparing and competing is NOT the way forward. Everyone of us is blessed with a unique talent(or a ‘skill set’ to use an IT jargon)and there is beauty and satisfaction in utilizing it to the full instead of comparing and feeling miserable.

Published in: on November 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Experiential Learning – A Story from ‘Yoga Vasishta’

Consider the two contrasting statements – ‘Greed is good’ and ‘Contentment is supreme gain’. Doesn’t this sum up the difference between the western way of life and the Eastern philosophy? In fact the entire Consumer durable industry with its mall culture heavily depends on perpetuating the philosophy that Greed is good. But how about the the second statement about Contentment? The present generation with its exposure to consumerism will find it difficult to agree with this statement.
I would think the relative merits of the two statements is best learnt through one’s experience in life. No amount of preaching is going to help. In this context I would like to narrate a story from our scriptures which deals with this question with emphasis on experiential learning.
The text I am referring to is’Yoga Vasishta’. This is in the form of a dialogue between the sage Vasishta and Rama on philosophical issues. The story goes that Rama along with his brothers went on a pilgrimage at a very young age. After returning, instead of feeling happy, he was depressed. The depression was pretty much similar to whath Budha went through in his youth. He was troubled by basic questions about human life, misery arising out of the false pursuits led by ego etc. At this point Rama met the sage Vasishta and posed certain fundamental questions. The entire dialogue between the two is captured in the text YOGA VASISHTA.
I liked the book because it was full of interesting stories to drive home the truth.

Vasishta started off with his own personal story. The story goes back to the time when Brahma started his act of creation. As he went about his job, Brahma was highly displeased with himself as he found that majority of the human beings were suffering and in great misery due to extreme greed. Brahma became compassionate and somehow wanted to solve the problem. Thus he instituted a path by following which people could get what they wanted. The path required human beings to follow certain auterities, charity(YAJNAS), truthfulness etc. People could use these as instruments to satisfy their desires. However, this did not solve the basic problem as people continued to remain miserable with ever increasing craving for material objects. Therefore Brahma created the all knowing sage Vasishta and brought him onto the earth so that he could teach the ultimate Truth leading to final liberation. Surprisingly though, as soon as the ‘all knowing Vasishta’ was born, Brahma covered him with a veil of ignorance. The ignorance plunged him into misery and he also began struggling like others. Vasishta begged and prayed earnestly to his father (Brahma) to bless him with the knowledge and wisdom which would liberate him out of the misery. Brahma obliged and revealed to him the True knowledge. Brahma explained to Vasishta that he spread the veil of ignorance on him deliberately so that he would truly appreciate the glory of true knowledge and understand the misery of ignorant masses and help them with compassion.
Having narrated his personal story, Vasishta declared that Contentment, Self control, enquiry and ‘satsang’ are the 4 gatekeepers to complete liberation. As a concession he prescribed the practice of any one of the 4, which would automatically lead to the attainment of the other virtues.

Published in: on November 7, 2011 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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