Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barso Re Megha

At lunchtime today I switched on the TV again, as I usually do, and there was Aishwarya Rai singing and dancing in the rain: Barso Re, Megha Megha Barso Re Megha Megha Barso Re, Megha Barso….

Aishwarya’s performance is scintillating in that dance – one of her best ever. What amazing flexibility, as though there are no bones in her body and she is all made of the most pliable stuff. And she abandons herself totally to the rhythms of the song, becomes one with it. As though she is not dancing, but the dancing is happening through her, as though the song itself is dancing through her.

Aishwarya is a gaon ki gori in that part of the movie and has all the spontaneity and innocence of the pure village belle. True, it is not the rural India of today that comes to your mind as you watch her in that song, but an India of bygone times – perhaps the India that Kalidasa describes in his Meghaduta, which by the way is my favourite among all his works, Kumara Sambhava coming as a close second. The first Sanskrit verses that I memorised as a teenager came from the Meghaduta, and I still remember the thrill that I felt as I first read them. It’s that India that Aishwarya in that song reminds you of – the India of the Guptas, the golden age of India, when every Indian lived and breathed poetry and dance and a subtle mixture of two heady perfumes hung in the air – of eroticism and of spirituality.

The song is from the Hindi film Guru, reputedly inspired by the life of modern India’s greatest commercial success, Dhirubhai Ambani. I find the film a brilliant study in leadership success in today’s commercial world. But it is not about leadership that I am going to talk about here, but something entirely different.

The movie shows her going home at the end of the dance and writing a note to her father. She has decided to run away with a boy she is in love with. She would live her life on her own terms and would not be dictated to by her father. The boy and she would catch a train and be gone far away, to live their life together.

The boy does not show up at the railway station.

We find a weeping Aishwarya alone in the train that is gathering speed. She has nowhere to go now and she just does not know what to do. She is a tragic figure. Life has struck her a great blow.

And yet we later realize what appeared to be a great tragedy, a great blow, is in fact a great blessing. When the boy loses his nerves and decides not to take the train with her, destiny was playing not against her, but in her favour. For his betrayal makes it possible for her to become the wife of another young man who would eventually become modern India’s biggest business success, head of India’s largest business empire, a man who dreams of becoming one day the world’s greatest.

Her lover’s betrayal was for her a blessing in disguise, as they say.

And that is how it frequently is. What we consider great blows of life are sometimes our greatest blessings. And vice versa too. What we consider great blessings are sometimes great tragedies in disguise.

You never know.


There is a Chinese tale I fell in love with the first time I read it in Lin Yutang’s classic The Wisdom of China and have subsequently come across in scores of other places.

The story says there was a poor farmer in China, who had a single mare which he used in his farm and also to draw his cart. One day all on a sudden the mare ran away.

When his neighbours heard of this, they came to him to console him. “What a terrible thing to happen,” they said.

And the farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no."

The next day the mare returned but she was not alone. There were six young wild stallions with her. The neighbours learnt of this and came to congratulate him on his good fortune. “What a wonderful thing to have happened,” they exclaimed. “Six young stallions! You are now the richest man in the village. This is called good luck!”

And the farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no."

The farmer had a young son – his only son. The next day the young man tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses. He was thrown off and broke his leg.

The neighbors once again to offer their sympathies. “Sad for your son! And how are you now going to do all the work on the farm all alone? You need at least one help. What a terrible tragedy!”

And the farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no."

The next day the emperor’s officers came to the village to enlist all healthy young men for the war. Everyone knew when young people taken away for the war, few of them returned. The officers enlisted every healthy young man in the village. But of course, they wouldn’t take the farmer’s son into the army because he had a broken leg.

When the officers had left, the neighbours came once a gain. This time they congratulated him heartily. “How fortunate you are,” they said. “Every youth in the village has been taken away. You are the only man in the village whose son has been spared. Surely this is the best thing that could have happened to you.”

And the farmer said, "Maybe yes, maybe no."


In spite of all our attempts to understand it over the last several thousand years, life is still a mystery. In fact, the more we understand it, the more mysterious it appears. I believe that is its greatest beauty, its greatest charm. A lot of things are not meant to be understood but felt and lived, their mystery allowed to seep into our soul. Like the aroma of fresh coffee in the morning, like the fragrance of the earth after the first rain, like the smile of a little baby, like the mystery of falling in love the first time, or like sex.

Drala, the Tibetans would say. Drala is a word the Tibetans use to speak of the magic of things, the magic of life.

Here is someone speaking of Drala: “Drala is the elemental presence of the world that is available to us through sense perceptions. When we open to trees, flowers, a creek or clouds we encounter an actual wisdom, though one that is not separate from our own. Beholding a river is much more than merely looking at a river; potentially, we are meeting the dralas.”

Drala comes to us when we surrender to our experiences, when we let go of ourselves and allow the experience to be all that is there. Drala happens when we permit the world outside to penetrate us and permeate us. When we experience the world, when we experience life, as though we are experiencing it for the first time. Looking at it with a child’s eyes.

The Mahabharata says about Draupadi that because of a boon she had received, after wedding Yudhishthira and spending the night with him, she became a virgin again in the morning so that it was as a virgin that she married her second husband, Bhima, and spent her nuptial night with him. The epic says that this happened repeatedly so that she married each of her husbands as a virgin.

Perhaps that is how we should approach life. As a virgin. Every time.

Then we live life fully, intensely, intimately.

Most of us try to understand life. That is approaching life cerebrally. Life is not to be approached cerebrally. It is to be encountered through the heart, through your senses, through your blood, marrow and bones.

In Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, one of my all time favourite books, the two friends, who are also master and disciple, part their ways, for as the master Narcissus explains to the disciple Goldmund, their ways are different. His are the ways of the sky, of the sun, of the father, of the head, says Narcissus about himself. And Goldmund’s, says the master, are the ways of the earth, of the moon, of the mother, of the heart, of the senses, of the flesh and blood. The master continues in his monastery to pursue his path through discipline, and the disciple goes into the world – to encounter life, death, love, hatred, passion, sex, pleasure, pain, disease, and the thousand other things that form life. And then years later the two meet again and the master looks into the eyes of the disciple and says that he can see that he, Goldmund, has achieved; whereas he himself, Narcussus, is far from his goal.

Perhaps the true awakening of spirituality happens when we engage in life intensely with the eyes of our heart open, rather than when we close them to life.

As I understand it, this is what spirituality means for Krishna. The songs we sing about Krishna and Radha are the songs of his courtship of life and encounter with life.

I have perhaps moved away from what I began speaking about. Or perhaps I haven’t. What the story of Aishwarya in Guru tells us, and what the story of the Chinese farmer tells us, is that life a mystery.

I vaguely remember something we all wrote in one another’s slambooks as school children: Life is not a puzzle to be solved…It is a mystery to be lived.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Leadership Excellence and the Dancing God

Earlier this week when I introduced my course in Indian Philosophy for Leadership Excellence to a new batch of students at XLRI School of Business, I used a picture of the dancing Shiva in my Power Point presentation. One of the students asked me why I had used that picture in the presentation. I appreciated her question and told her that I had asked myself that question before deciding on the picture. I really had. It was after asking that question and some debating within my mind that I had chosen that picture.

Why did I choose that particular picture?

To me, as I explained to my student, the dancing Shiva symbolises the very essence of Indian culture and Indian thought. That image symbolises Indian philosophy, both of life and work, with amazing beauty and perfection. Few other symbols represent the core of Indian philosophy with the clarity with which this symbol represents it.

Everything in the dancing Shiva figure is symbolic, as in all other traditional representations of Shiva: his four hands, the objects he holds in each of them, his hair, his ornaments, the cloth he wears, the crescent moon, Ganga visible in the middle of his matted hair, the snakes, the third eye, the figure on which he dances, the frame of flames that surround him, the pedestal on which the idol is placed, the dance itself, all. And everything is profoundly meaningful. It has been said that the iconographic symbol of the dancing Shiva, called Nataraja, was developed in the 8th or 9th century in the Chola country in southern India. In all likelihood it was. But what I want to say is this: the dancing Shiva is a work of pure brilliance and the person who developed the icon, a creative genius of the highest calibre inspired by the deepest spiritual wisdom.

While, as I said, every aspect of the icon is symbolic, in this article I would like to talk about just one aspect of the image, or rather two: the prostrate figure on which Shiva dances and the dance itself.

The dwarfish figure on whom Shiva dances is known as the apasmara purusha. Purusha means man. Apasmara is usually understood as epilepsy, but the word also means absentmindedness or forgetfulness, which would be the meaning more appropriate here. He is the symbol of the primal self-forgetfulness which gives rise to the notion of a limited ego in the boundless self. He is also explained as illusion – the primal illusion that causes the limitless immortal self to appear as a limited one subject to births and deaths and all that happen in between.

If we do not want to go into all that complex philosophy, the apasmara purusha is the symbol of the ego that rises from self-forgetfulness and illusion. When Shiva dances on the ego, it is his dance as a master of the ego, the dance of ego-transcended. It is the dance of self-transcendence. And that is the traditional name for the dance: ananda tandava – the dance of ecstasy, which is the dance of self-transcendence.

When the ego is mastered, when it is transcended, life becomes a dance of ecstasy.

And we are born for this dance, says Indian philosophy.

There is a story I have told several times in different contexts, and I am going to tell that story again here. The story is taken from Richard Bach’s Illusions. For those who are not familiar with Bach, he is the celebrated author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, once a cult book for young people all over the world.

“Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river.
The current of the river swept silently over them all – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.

Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.”

The other creatures laughed and said, “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom.”

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.

Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.

And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, “See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!”

And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”

But they cried the more, “Saviour!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.”

The ego makes us cling to the twigs and rocks at the river bottom. It is the ego that makes us cling to the small things of life. It is the ego that causes all the misery in our life. It is the ego that stands between our true nature and ourselves. Our true nature is ecstasy, ananda, and our life should be an ananda tandava, dance of ecstasy but the ego disconnects us from ananda and makes life a mixture of small joys and sorrows. Instead of experiencing ananda, we experience samsara, the constantly changing world of little pleasures and pains.

Shiva is the symbol of man who has conquered his ego and reclaimed his original nature – seen his original face, as the Zen masters would say; reclaimed the kingdom of heaven within ourselves, as Jesus would say. To conquer one’s ego is to see one’s original face, reclaim the kingdom of heaven within ourselves.

Then you float in the river of life, as the ‘messiah’ in the story floats.

When you conquer your ego, you dance. Life becomes a dance for you. And you sing. You sing as Vak Ambhrini, the ancient woman seer of the Rig Veda, perhaps the world’s oldest woman poet, sang, because you are one with the power that runs the universe:

aham rudrebhir vasubhiś carāmyaham ādityair uta viśvadevaih
aham mitrā varunobhā bibharmyaham indrāgnee aham aśvinobhā

I move the cosmic forces of vitality and wealth
The luminaries and all celestial powers
I sustain the cosmic sources of water and light
I am the centre of energy, light and life
Given by the sun, air, fire…

I am the mother, the restorer of wealth;
I know all that is worth knowing and expressing;
The divine powers function with my instructions;
I possess all domains;
My hymns are chanted in all places…

I breathe like the wind pervading all the regions;
I go beyond the heavens, beyond the limits of this vast earth.
I am invincible; none can defy me.

[Selected verses from the Vak Sukta of the Rig Veda, 10th Mandala. English rendering by Pt Satyakam Vidyalankar.]

One evening I was with my teacher on the lawns of a bungalow in a posh area in Chennai. There was our hostess and a few others with us. The master on a leisurely evening with a few devotees and disciples. The atmosphere was light. Then someone asked my teacher, “Swamiji, don’t you ever sing? Don’t you dance?” And Swamiji looked up into the star-filled sky and said, “Look! See the stars twinkling and the clouds floating gently by? That’s my dance.” He then asked us to be silent and when we did, we heard the wind moving among the trees. Swamiji said, “And that’s my song.”


To me, the use of Shiva’s image in my first presentation was also an act of prayer. In the Indian tradition, we begin everything with a prayer.

Or rather prayerfulness.

For prayer in the true sense of the term is not asking for things. It is an act of surrender. It is an act of invoking the High into our hearts and our lives, into our actions. It is an act of eliminating me from my actions and bringing Him into it.

It is an act of transforming the accidental man into the essential man.

The accidental man is the one filled with uncertainty, with stress, with fears, with anguishes. He cringes, he clings. And fights to achieve goals he has set for himself. Fights against the whole world, fights against life, fights against existence itself. Fights against the river. Refuses to let go of himself, refuses to allow the current to carry him with it.

The essential man is the one who has let go of himself. Who has surrendered to life, to the river.

He becomes an instrument in the hands of Life. Or if you prefer that word, in the hands of God.

He becomes a mere nimitta – an instrument, in the hands of existence. As Krishna asked Arjuna to be when he said in the Gita: nimittamātram bhava savyasācin.

The wonderful example from Indian culture for a man who has become a mere instrument is Krishna himself. He is a man who has become totally empty – like his flute. Krishna’s flute is a symbol for Krishna himself. Like his flute, he is empty, a hollow reed. There is nothing of him in him. And since there is nothing of him in him, the bhooma, the Boundless, which we call God, flows through him, producing the intoxicating music that is Krishna’s life.

That is why we call Krishna an avatara – God incarnated.

Since there is nothing of him in him, he is all God.

The Buddha’s shunya, void. When you achieve that void within you, you become full. You are filled with the Boundless, the bhooma.

Kahlil Gibran says in his Jesus, Son of Man:

“Jesus the Nazarene was born and reared like ourselves; his mother and father were like our parents, and he was a man.

But the Christ, the Word, who was in the beginning, the Spirit who would have us live our fuller life, came unto Jesus and was with him.

And the Spirit was the versed hand of the Lord, and Jesus was the harp.

The Spirit was the psalm, and Jesus was the turn thereof.

And Jesus, the Man of Nazareth, was the host and the mouthpiece of the Christ, who walked with us in the sun and who called us his friends.”

Prayerfulness helps you empty you from yourself and achieve emptiness into which Christ can flow.

Into which Krishna can flow.


None of us is capable of becoming empty altogether. Our limited self remains with us. And that self is our curse, as Mark R. Leary says in his book The Curse of the Self.

As Leary points out, in western culture and pop psychology there is much glorification of egotism. The west believes that assertion of the ego is the solution to most of our problems. “People are often urged to solve their problems and improve their lives by focusing on themselves, setting more egoistic goals, enhancing their self-esteem, and otherwise strengthening their sense of self. Although these strategies are sometimes useful, those who promote an egoistic approach to solving life’s problems fail to recognize that an excessive emphasis on self and ego is often part of the problem.”

The solution does not come through the assertion of the ego. It comes when we silence the ego, quieten it, lose it, transcend it.

When we transcend the ego, the higher flows through us.

What Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi speaks of as the flow state is the state in which the ego is temporarily silenced and transcended.

Speaking of Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi and the flow state, Leary says: “People often describe the flow experience by saying that they “lose themselves” in the activity. This characterization seems apt because they did indeed lose their self. Whether we say that shutting down the self helps to create flow or that flow quiets the self, people in a state of flow are not self-aware. Instead, they are focused singularly on the experience at hand, lost in concentration, and responding largely automatically.”

But through prayerfulness, and through surrender which is a basic requirement for prayerfulness, we quieten the ego, silence it, lose it, temporarily transcend it.

And when we do that, we open our doors to the higher so that the higher can flow through us.

The flow state is when the higher flows through us.

When we let the rigpa, the higher mind, flow through us, as the Tibetans would put it.

Shiva is the symbol of this self transcendence. Shiva is the symbol of flow at its highest possible level.

That’s why Shiva dances. Dances in ecstasy – the ananda tandava. When you transcend the ego, all work becomes an ananda tandava, dance of ecstasy. It does not matter what you do, your work can become an ananda tandava when you are able to let go of your smaller self – the apasmara purusha, our basic disease, what separates us from our essential wholeness, what makes us unwholesome.

The Mahabharata tells us of this beautifully. The Mahabharata war is raging like a roaring fire. Bhishma is at his terrifying best. Hundreds are falling dead every minute, cut down by the grandsire’s arrows. The bravest of soldiers are not able to stand his fury and are fleeing in every direction, their armours removed from their chests, their hair lose and flying in the wind. And describing the way

Bhishma is battling in those moments when his is at his very best, the epic tells us: nrtyanniva, as though dancing. It is as though Bhishma is dancing in the battle field.

That is flow. When you are in it, any work can become a dance, including battling and slaughtering enemies.

And flow happens when you suspend your ego, quieten it, transcend it.

Here is Daniel Goleman of Emotional Intelligence fame describing the flow state quoting a composer:

“You yourself are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I’ve experienced this time and again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching in a state of awe and wonderment. And it just flows out by itself.”

George Leonard, one of my favourite authors, speaks of moments of flow in the context of sports:

“Pressing up against the limits of physical exertion and mental acuity, leading us up to the edge of the precipice separating life from death, sports may open the door to infinite realms of perceptions and being. Having no tradition of mystical experience, no adequate mode of discourse on the subject, no preparatory rites, the athlete might refuse to enter. But the athletic experience is a powerful one, and it may thrust the athlete, in spite of fear and resistance, past the point of no return, into a place of awe and terror.

Michael Spino, a ranking long-distance runner, was training one rainy day along dirt and asphalt roads, and was being paced by a friend in a car. He planned to run six miles at top speed. After the first mile, he realized something extraordinary was happening; he had run the mile in four and a half minutes with no sense of pain or exertion whatever. He ran on, carried by a huge momentum. It was as if the wet roads, the oncoming cars, the honking horns did not exist. Gradually, his body lost all weight and resistance. He began to feel like a skeleton. He became the wind itself. Daydreams and fantasies disappeared. All that remained to remind him of his own existence was “a feeling of guilt for being able to do this.”

When the run ended, Spino was unable to talk, for he had lost a clear sense of who he was. It was impossible for him to decide if he were Mike Spino or “the one who had been running.” He sat down at the side of the road and wept. He had run the entire six miles on wet and muddy roads at a four-and-a-half-minute pace, close to the national record, and now he could not decide who he was.”

What Michael Spino experienced during the run is self-transcendence.

Moments of self-transcendence are moments of bliss.

According to Indian philosophy and spirituality, the purpose of everything we do is this self-transcendence. That is our ultimate motivation, our basic motivation. Ananda, happiness, is possible only when the self is transcended. All our actions are motivated by the desire for happiness. And Happiness is the experience of transcending the self, however transitory it is. And the intensity of happiness is proportionate to the extent to which we are able to silence the self, transcend it.

Truly speaking, all our joys are glimpses of self-transcendence. As the Upanishads say, etasyaiva anandasya mātrām upajīvanti sarve jantavah: whatever joy beings experience, it is all but a tiny part of this joy alone. When you transcend the self, you get in touch with the source of all happiness – our boundless self, which the Upanishads describe as sat-chit-ananda, existence-consciousness-bliss.

The essence of karma yoga is transforming work into a means for self-transcendence. This is the true meaning of spirituality at work. Spirituality at work does not mean love and sharing and understanding and acceptance and so on. Of course it also means those things. But that is not the true meaning of spirituality at work. Spirituality at work at its highest level means self-transcendence.

It is possible to transcend the self through work.

Prof. Charalampos Mainemelis of London Business School in his When the Muse Takes It All: A Model for the Experience of Timelessness [The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 26, Number 4, October 2001] talks at length of how it is possible to experience timelessness through work.

Studies by Csikzentmihalyi and LeFevre have shown that not only can we experience flow through work, but that “flow occurs more than three times as often in work as in leisure.” They found that flow happened in all three kinds of work they studied – managerial, clerical and blue collar. “Further,” says Prof. Mainemelis about their work, “the results show that employees experience flow in a variety of daily activities, such as writing reports, fixing equipment, doing assembly work, talking on the phone, and so forth.”

The experience of flow and timelessness is the experience of self-transcendence.

R. May, in The Courage to Create, writes: “Ex-stasis” – that is, literally to “stand out from,” to be freed from the usual split between subject and object which is a perceptual dichotomy to most human activity. Ecstasy is the accurate term for the intensity of consciousness that occurs in the creative act. But it is not to be thought of as a Bacchic “letting go”; it involves the total person….It is not, thus, irrational; it is, rather, superrational. It brings intellectual, volitional and emotional functions into play all together.”

What we experience when we are able to achieve the suspension of the self is ecstasy – ecstasy that makes us dance. May is right. When that happens, it “brings intellectual, volitional and emotional functions into play all together.”
Whenever the self is suspended, our actions achieve the quality of excellence.

Shiva is the symbol of man [which includes men and women] who has achieved self-transcendence. Then life becomes a dance, a festivity, a celebration, as it is meant to be. Then work becomes a dance, a festivity, a celebration, as it is meant to be.

We can taste infinity through life, through work. The image of Shiva teaches us this.


Incidentally, Shiva is both male and female. He is the Ardhanarishwara – God who is half male and half female. He is the male in us and the female in us merged together. When we try to live our lives exclusively from the male side, our life becomes meaningless. Similarly, when we try to live exclusively from the female side, our life becomes meaningless again. It is only when we live giving full expression to our maleness and our femaleness, that life becomes complete.

Which is as true about leadership, as it is about life. A true leader has to be both masculine and feminine.

The Chinese put it beautifully. They speak of the yin and the yang of leadership. And they say leadership becomes effective when we bring into it both the yin of leadership and the yang of leadership. The yin of leadership consists of the feminine qualities that make us a great leader, frequently referred to as the qualities of the heart, and the yang of leadership consists of the masculine qualities that contribute towards making us a great leader, frequently referred to as the qualities of the head.

The yin of leadership also refers to the inner qualities that make us a good leader and the yang of leadership, the outer qualities that make us a good leader.

The dancing Shiva is also a symbol for the harmony of the feminine and the masculine, the heart and the head, as well as the inner and the outer.

He is in fact a symbol for the union of all ‘opposites.’ He is the erotic ascetic, the angry god who is the gentlest of them all, the destroyer who is also the creator.

To be a complete leader, we have to unite the male and the female in us; our inner and outer, the head and the heart, reason and intuition, toughness and softness and all other opposites.

To me Shiva is not God to be worshipped from afar but a goal for each of us to strive to attain. Shiva is what we should try to become. For Shiva is what we are.

That is Indian philosophy at its highest. We are Shiva. Each one of us is Shiva himself – shivo’ham: I’m Shiva – full and complete. Not parts of him, for he is indivisible and has no parts.

And the only thing that separates us from our true nature as Shiva is our little self, our ego.

Ego is the sickness of the soul. Once you heal that disease, life blooms in all its beautiful rhythm and harmony for each one of us.

Shiva is the symbol of life lived in tune with that rhythm and harmony, of life lived as a dance.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reincarnation: The Persistence of Memory

Renuka Narayanan has a weekly column in the Hindustan Times. It is her column this week that drew my attention to this touching story. She had mentioned in her column that the story is available online and I looked it up. Renuka’s narration is a slightly edited version of the story as it is available online. Since the online version has a few more details than her narration, I am giving here the online version.

“There was a village of about 400 houses called Chaungyo, ten miles north-west of Taungdwingyi. Two young men of the village, Nga Nyo and Ba Saing, who were friends earned their living by going round villages selling betel leaves. Coming back one day from the rounds, Ba Saing went short of rice on the way. He borrowed a small measure of rice from Nga Nyo to cook his dinner. After dinner, while they made their way back to the village leisurely in the moonlit night, poor Ba Saing was bitten by a poisonous snake and met instant death. It was sometime between 1270 and 1280 B.E. when the two friends were about the ages of twenty or so.

Probably because he hung into the thought of the loan of the small measure of rice, at the time of his death, he was born a cockerel in Nga Nyo's house. Nga Nyo trained it to become a fighting cock and entered it in fighting competitions. The first three competitions were won by Nga Nyo's cock which unfortunately lost the fourth fight because its opponent happened to be older and stronger than itself. Nga Nyo expressed his disappointment and anger by holding his cock by its leg and thrashing it against the ground. Bringing the half-dead cock home, he threw it down near the water-pot where Nga Nyo's cow came and touched it with her lips (as if expressing her sympathy).

The poor cock died afterwards and took conception in the womb of the cow. When the calf had grown up considerably, it was bought for four kyats by his friends for a feast which Nga Nyo would also join. While they were butchering the calf and cutting up the meat in preparation for their feast, a couple from Taungdwingyi, a clerk and his wife, happened to arrive on the scene. Expressing her sympathy for the calf, the clerk's wife said, "If it were my calf, I wouldn't have treated it so cruelly. Even if it had died a natural death, I wouldn't have the heart to eat its flesh. I would just bury it."

Sometime afterwards, a son was born to the clerk's wife. The child remained without speech till he was seven when, one day his father told him, "Son, do utter some words and talk to us. Today is pay day. I'll buy and bring back some nice clothes for you." Keeping his promise, the father came back in the evening with some pretty garments for his son. He said, "Here, Son, these beautiful clothes are for you. Do speak to us now." The boy then uttered, "Nga Nyo's measure of rice."

The father said, "Son, just talk to us. Not only a measure, but a whole bag of rice we will pay back the loan for you." Thereupon the boy said, "If so, put the bag of rice on the cart. We will go now to settle my debt." After putting a bag of rice on the cart, they set off on their journey. The father asked the son, "Now, where to?"

The child directed his father to drive towards the north of Taungdwingyi. Eventually they came to Chaungyo village when the son said, "That's it. That's the village," and kept directing his father through the village lanes until they came to Nga Nyo's house. Upon enquiring whether it was indeed U Nyo's house, U Nyo himself confirmed it by coming out from the house. As he approached the cart, the child hailed him, "Hey Nga Nyo, do you still remember me?" The elderly man was offended to be rudely addressed as 'Nga Nyo' by a mere child, the age of his son, but became pacified when the clerk explained, saying, "Please do not be offended, U Nyo. This child is under some strange circumstances."

When they got into the house, the boy began, "So, Nga Nyo, you don't remember me? We were once together going round the villages selling betel leaves. I borrowed a small measure of rice from you. Then I was bitten by a poisonous snake and died before I could return the loan. I then became a cockerel in your house. After winning three fights for you, I lost the fourth fight because my opponent was much stronger than I was. For losing that fight, you beat me to death in anger. Half dead, you threw me down near the water pot and a cow came and kissed me. I took conception in her womb and was reborn a cow. When I became a heifer, you all killed me to eat. At that time a clerk and his wife, who are now my father and mother, came nearby and had expressed sympathy for me. After my death as a cow, I was born as a son to my present father and mother. I have now come to repay my debt of the measure of rice."
All that the child recounted were found to be true by U Nyo who wept, feeling repentant for all the ill-treatment he had meted out to his former friend.”


To me this is an incredibly beautiful story in more ways than I can explain.

The first thing it speaks about is the persistence of memory beyond death and through lifetimes, a fact that has been found true by the experiences of countless people and is attested to by several major religions and spiritual traditions. It is an integral part of Hinduism and Buddhism. It is so integral to Indian thought and spirituality that it routinely appears throughout Indian literature. Speaking of this, Krishna in the Gita tells Arjuna: Both you and I, O Arjuna, have lived through several lifetimes. I remember them all, whereas you do not, O Scorcher of Enemies. [BG 4.5] The Mahabharata mentions who each character in it was in his previous lifetime and in a few cases, in many previous lifetimes.

Another important thing the story tells us is that memory does not depend upon the brain. It is independent of the brain. Indian philosophy and psychology mention the chitta as the seat of memory and the chitta survives death since it is not physical and only the physical part of us dies each time we die. Chitta is one of our four inner instruments [antahkarana], the other three being manas, buddhi, and ahamkara, usually translated as mind, intellect and ego-sense. Chitta has no English equivalent. The usual translation is mind, which is more correctly the translation for manas.

A single dominating thought remains in Ba Saing’s mind through his several incarnations: that he has borrowed a measure of rice and has to return it. The feeling of guilt that you have borrowed something and have to return it can be a powerful thought, depending on your value systems. The great Socrates in his dying moments asks his disciples to return something trivial that he had borrowed. While many of us take it lightly, some of us get obsessed with the thought of returning borrowed things, almost to compulsion.

Speaking of one thought remaining in your mind through several lifetimes, the Mahabharata talks of Amba dying with the thought of revenge in her mind. She is then born as a princess in Vatsa and dies again with her revenge unaccomplished. The next time she is born as the daughter of Drupada and becomes known as Shikhandi after a sex transformation. In that lifetime, as we all know, she accomplishes her goal.

Clinical psychology using regression as an approach to healing has come across several cases when a psychological experience of one lifetime is carried into another life time, or across several lifetimes. The celebrated author and clinical psychologist Brian Weiss talks of several such incidents in his works. Through regression he takes people to the lifetime that caused their problems and healing happens when they relive with awareness the incident that originally caused the problem.

Just as the case of Amba which the Mahabharata discusses in great detail, Rosemary Ellen Guiley in her Tales of Reincarnation discusses the story of two brothers who carried their thoughts and feelings across several lifetimes from the Roman times to today’s United States. The two brothers were driving chariots in Roman times when the younger brother’s chariot collides with that of the elder brother. The elder brother is thrown down from his chariot and is crushed by his own chariot wheel. What follows is a tail of vengeance that last two millennia. Here again it is the dying thought of the elder brother that forces him to torture his younger brother through lifetimes – in some lifetimes the younger brother is a wife who is tortured by the elder brother who is now his/her husband; in some others, they are a son and father and so on. [Please see my Reincarnation, Transactional Analysis and Karma for more details of the story. [http://innertraditons.blogspot.com/2009/05/reincarnation-transactional-analysis.html]

Every time he is killed, Ba Saing is reborn at the home of someone he is attached to.

His first rebirth is in his friend Nga Nyo’s house. Here he is reborn as a cock. While birth at his friend’s house could be due to his attachment, one reason for birth as a cock could be because of the connection between cocks and rice, which was the debt he owed to his friend. In the east, cocks are commonly fed rice, both raw and cooked, and paddy. Another reason could be that the jiva [psycho-spiritual being that transmigrates from body to body] often tends to take the first body available for rebirth which he finds more or less appropriate depending on his dominant thoughts and feelings of the moment. The Upanishads metaphorically speak of all life being paraded before a jiva ready for rebirth. When a form that he finds appealing at the moment appears before him, the jiva jumps up and says that is what he wants and he is then reborn as that. Like in all other decisions we take in life, our moods are very important and can influence our decisions strongly.

Nga Nyo trains the cock to become a fighting cock and enters it in competitions. When it fails after three wins, an angry Nga Nyo dashes the cock to death. Here his cow shows some sympathy by touching the dying cock with her lips and Ba Saing now takes birth as a calf of that cow. He is till in the household of his friend Nga Nyo to whom he owes a debt. The cow’s feelings for the dying cock have obviously touched it and it is as her child that he is born this time.

This time Nga Nyo sells the calf to four of his friends. They butcher it for a feast that Nga Nyo himself was to join.

While the friends and Nyo do not know it, it is his friend’s body they are feasting on. This reminded me of folktales from across the world, in which a child is killed and the murderer – usually the wicked stepmother – feeds it to the child’s own father and siblings. Ashliman lists several such stories in his collection of folktales, folklore, fairytales and mythology, many under type 720 [Mother Killed Me, Father Ate Me type of tales].

While they were butchering the calf, a clerk and his wife happen to pass by. The clerk’s wife laments the calf’s fate, saying "If it were my calf, I wouldn't have treated it so cruelly. Even if it had died a natural death, I wouldn't have the heart to eat its flesh. I would just bury it." The calf is now reborn as her child.

Again, a touch of sympathy in a cruel world and the jiva is drawn to it.

The child decides to remain silent. He does not talk.

It is a conscious decision on his part. Perhaps the experiences of the previous two lifetimes have shocked him into silence. Sensitive people often withdraw into silence in the presence of heartlessness, whether the heartlessness is knowing or unknowing. Lots of children do that, and so do several adults. Women frequently become silent when they are treated brutally by their husbands, or in a joint family, by the in-laws. School children do that when they are treated heartlessly by their teachers. The silence is usually partial, but it can also be total. Medical science reports cases where children turn autistic because of traumatic incidents.

Indian tradition talks of child who remained silent for a different reason. This is the great Hastamalaka, who eventually becomes a disciple of Acharya Shankara. But of course, he was not shocked into silence; it was his sensitivity that made him silent. That, and the feeling that mundane communication is so futile. A sensitive and awakened mind often finds much of what goes on around him so utterly meaninglessness that he becomes silent.

Hastamalaka has the rare honour of being the only disciple in the world on whose work his guru wrote a commentary.

Eventually, at the age of seven when Ba Saing speaks, it is to talk of his debt to his friend from lifetimes back. The father takes him to Nga Nyo, the child showing the way to his village, which he remembers. When he sees Nga Nyo, he immediately recognizes him and addresses him familiarly, as though he is meeting an old friend after a long time. Well, he is, really.

Nga Nyo weeps repenting the cruelty he had meted out to his former friend. He had trained him to be fighting cock and when he lost a battle, dashed him to death in a fury. The second time he had sold him to his friends, to be butchered and eaten, and he himself had joined the feast.

One day before I read this Burmese story, my wife told me about something that happened to someone who had got married two weeks ago. She had married a person whose wife had died of blood cancer a while ago. After a wedding party in the husband’s hometown, the husband and the new wife went to bed late at night – their nuptial night. And the moment they were together in their bedroom, in flew a little bird – past midnight, when birds do not fly about. The bird began flying about the room restlessly, now landing here, now landing there. The fan was on in the room and they were afraid that the bird might get hit by its blades. They tried to drive the bird out through the open window and then what they feared happened. The bird flew onto the fan and was hit by the blade. As it lay in a swoon, they picked it up and gave it some water. It was soon revived. They took it to the courtyard so that it can fly away, but it wouldn’t go. Instead, it flew back into the room again through the window and started flying about once again. Eventually they managed to catch it again and then took it in the middle of the night itself to a far off place in their car and let it fly off.

All this while, there was one single thought in the minds of both the husband and the new wife. They instinctively felt they knew who the little bird was.


How long does it normally take for a dead person to be reborn again? It all depends on the strength and nature of your vasanas, the psychological scripts you have written into your depths, and several other external factors. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the classic that is about a thousand years old, is perhaps the most authentic text we have on this subject. The book, one of my favourites, talks about the transformations human consciousness undergoes each day from the moment of death. According to the Book of the Dead, most people are reborn within forty-eight days of their death.

In modern times, several people have studied the phenomenon of rebirth scientifically. The most respected of them is Dr Brian Weiss, the clinical psychologist referred to earlier, whose Through Time into Healing I found fascinating. His most famous book, though, is Many Lives, Many Masters. I am sorry to say I couldn’t agree with some parts of the book.

One important lesson the story of Ba Saing teaches us is not to be cruel to animals around us. Who knows who they are?

There are far too many more things that I would like to write about Ba Saing’s story. But that would make this article far too long. Maybe, some other time. For the time being, let me end this with a folktale called The Rose Tree, from Devonshire, England. The story is taken from William Henderson’s Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders.


There was upon a time a good man who had two children: a girl by a first wife, and a boy by the second. The girl was as white as milk, and her lips were like cherries. Her hair was like golden silk, and it hung to the ground. Her brother loved her dearly, but her wicked stepmother hated her.

"Child," said the stepmother one day, "go to the grocer's shop and buy me a pound of candles."

She gave her the money, and the little girl went, bought the candles, and started on her return. There was a stile to cross. She put down the candles while she got over the stile. Up came a dog and ran off with the candles.

She went back to the grocer's, and she got a second bunch. She came to the stile, set down the candles, and proceeded to climb over. Up came the dog again and ran off with the candles.

She went again to the grocer's, and she got a third bunch, and just the same event happened. Then she came to her stepmother crying, for she had spent all the money and had lost three bunches of candles.

The stepmother was angry, but she pretended not to mind the loss. She said to the child, "Come, lay your head on my lap that I may comb your hair."

So the little one laid her head in the woman's lap, who proceeded to comb the yellow silken hair. And when she combed, the hair fell over her knees and rolled right down to the ground.

Then the stepmother hated her more for the beauty of her hair, so she said to her, "I cannot part your hair on my knee. Fetch a billet of wood."

So she fetched it.

Then said the stepmother, "I cannot part your hair with a comb. Fetch me an ax."
So she fetched it.

"Now," said the wicked woman, "lay your head down on the billet while I part your hair."

Well! She laid down her little golden head without fear; and whist! down came the ax, and it was off. So the mother wiped the ax and laughed.

Then she took the heart and liver of the little girl, and she stewed them and brought them into the house for supper. The husband tasted them and shook his head. He said they tasted very strangely. She gave some to the little boy, but he would not eat. She tried to force him, but he refused, and ran out into the garden, and took up his little sister, and put her in a box, and buried the box under a rose tree; and every day he went to the tree and wept, till his tears ran down on the box.

One day the rose tree flowered. It was spring, and there among the flowers was a white bird; and it sang, and sang, and sang like an angel out of heaven. Away it flew, and it went to a cobbler's shop, and perched itself on a tree hard by; and thus it sang:

My wicked mother slew me,
My dear father ate me,
My little brother whom I love
Sits below, and I sing above
Stick, stock, stone dead.

"Sing again that beautiful song," asked the shoemaker.

"If you will first give me those little red shoes you are making."

The cobbler gave the shoes, and the bird sang the song, then flew to a tree in front of a watchmaker's and sang:

My wicked mother slew me,
My dear father ate me,
My little brother whom I love
Sits below, and I sing above
Stick, stock, stone dead.

"Oh, the beautiful song! Sing it again, sweet bird," asked the watchmaker.

"If you will give me first that gold watch and chain in your hand."

The jeweler gave the watch and chain. The bird took it in one foot, the shoes in the other, and flew away, after having repeated the song, to where three millers were picking a millstone. The bird perched on a tree and sang:

My wicked mother slew me,
My dear father ate me,
My little brother whom I love
Sits below, and I sing above

Then one of the men put down his tool and looked up from his work,


Then the second miller's man laid aside his tool and looked up,


Then the third miller's man laid down his tool and looked up,


Then all three cried out with one voice, "Oh, what a beautiful song! Sing it sweet bird, again."

"If you will put the millstone round my neck," said the bird.

The men complied with the bird's request, and away to the tree it flew with the millstone round his neck, the red shoes in the grasp of one foot, and the gold watch and chain in the grasp of the other. He sang the song and then flew home.
It rattled the millstone against the eaves of the house, and the stepmother said, "It thunders."

Then the little boy ran out to see the thunder, and down dropped the red shoes at his feet.

It rattled the millstone against the eaves of the house once more, and the stepmother said again, "It thunders."

Then the father ran out, and down fell the chain about his neck.
In ran father and son, laughing and saying, "See, the thunder has brought us these fine things!"

Then the bird rattled the millstone against the eaves of the house a third time, and the stepmother said, "It thunders again. Perhaps the thunder has brought something for me," and she ran out. But the moment she stepped outside the door, down fell the millstone on her head. And so she died.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Leadership and Resourcefulness

A woman and a man are involved in a car accident on a snowy, cold Monday morning. It is a bad one. Both their cars are totally demolished, but amazingly neither of them hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the man starts yelling at the woman driver. Women are stupid, he says, and they should never be allowed to drive. The woman keeps her cool. She says, “All right, all right. You’re a man and I’m a woman, that’s the fact and neither of us can help it. But look at it this way. Our cars are finished, there is nothing left, but we’re unhurt. This
be a sign from God that we should be friends and live in peace for the rest of our days.”

The man takes a good look at the woman again. She is beautiful. He is flattered, but he still cannot forgive the woman. He says, “Oh yes. I agree completely. This must be a sign from God! But you’re still at fault…. Women should not be allowed to drive.”

The woman continues, “And look at this, here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished, but this bottle of wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.” She hands the bottle to the man. The man nods his head in agreement, opens it and drinks half the bottle and then hands it back to the woman.

The woman takes the bottle, puts the cap back on and hands it back to the man. The man asks, “Aren’t you having any?”

The woman replies, “No, I think I’ll just wait for the police.”

That’s resourcefulness! A bit wicked, yes, but resourcefulness at its best!

I love the story!


A good leader needs to be resourceful.

Folklore from across the world is full of stories of resourcefulness. The Arabian Nights has numerous stories of resourcefulness, as do Hitopadesha and Kathasarit Sagara. The whole of Shuka Saptati, that ancient collection of seventy mildly erotic tales, consists of tales of resourcefulness. A tale of resourcefulness that l like very much is from the Panchatantra: the story of the blue jackal, which I am sure most of us have heard as children.

His name was Chandarava [Fierce Voice] and one day when he couldn’t find anything to eat in the jungle, he wandered into the town. The moment he reached the town, a pack of dogs began chasing him around, barking furiously. The jackal felt any moment they would tear him to pieces. He ran blindly, fearing his life. The first door he found open was that of dyer. He fled into the dyer’s. The dyer had a large vat filled with blue dye, ready for use. In his confusion, Chandarava fell into the vat. The dogs stood around him furiously barking, while he pressed himself into the vat as low as possible to escape their rage.

A moment later the jackal surfaced from the vat, unable to hold his breath any more. He shook his head to clear his eyes and hair of water.

Suddenly there was total silence all around. The dogs had stopped barking. The next moment they turned around and fled. For, what came out of the vat was not what went into it. The dogs had seen the jackal fall into the vat. What emerged was a creature none of them had ever seen. All blue, from the tip of his nose to his tail. They had never seen an animal like that.

Still hungry, the terrified jackal walked back into the forest. He had no idea what had made the dogs suddenly leave him and flee. Something had apparently scared him.

And then all on a sudden he realized the truth. It was he who had scared the dogs. For, in the jungle too, every animal that saw him turned around and fled. Foxes, hyenas, monkeys, deer. leopards, even tigers and lions. He approached a pack of his own people – jackals. And they bolted as one at his sight.

He stood still and took a good look at himself.

He was not the same jackal any more. He was all blue. A blue jackal! He had never seen a blue jackal. No one had ever seen a blue jackal. But he was one now.

The animals that had turned around and fled were now standing around and watching him from a safe distance. He looked into their eyes. What he saw there was mortal fear. And that gave him the idea.

He lifted his head majestically and addressed the animals. “Kukudruma – that’s my name, “he said. “And I am your king. Appointed by Brahma himself. He realized you needed a new king. And he has ordered that you shall all obey me. And the lion and the tiger shall work as my chief ministers. And those among you who are capable, as my other ministers. Like the panther and the wolf and so on.”

In great relief, the jungle accepted him as their new king. He made all the ferocious animals of the jungle his ministers and with their help, drove all the jackals away from the jungle. He said this was the order of Brahma – Brahma hated jackals. They were evil creatures. He would even have wiped out the memory of jackals from the minds of the animals, if that was possible.

Thus with quick thinking and resourcefulness the jackal became the unquestioned king of the jungle. The other animals hunted for him and he lived exactly as a mighty lord of the jungle should live. Served by lions, tigers, panthers, leopards and wolves and other animals.

The story does not end happily, as all of us who know the ancient fable know. But that does not matter to us. What matters is that with his resourcefulness, he was able to completely turn a bad situation around in his favour. What could have been a great tragedy and a reason from isolation and perhaps a lonely death, became a source of power for him.

That’s what resourcefulness can do for you.


Krishna, the greatest leader in the long history of India, displays brilliant resourcefulness throughout his life. I shall narrate here just one story in which he gives us a superb demonstration of his resourcefulness. The story is part of the Krishna legend and is well known.

The fierce Kalayavana lays siege to Mathura with a huge army. Krishna knows he cannot afford to lose his army fighting him. The Yadavas are expecting any time Jarasandha, their mortal enemy and the slain Kamsa’s father-in-law, at the borders of Mathura and they need all their resources to battle him.

After making arrangements for the safety of the fort and the people of Mathura, one day Krishna comes out alone to answer the challenge of the Yavana. Seeing him coming unarmed, Kalayavana too gives up his weapons, deciding to fight Krishna on equal terms. Dropping his weapons, the Yavana runs towards Krishna with a fierce battle cry. Krishna waits until he comes near and then turns around and bolts, surprising the Yavana and all his army. Krishna is known as a fearless warrior and nobody expected him to turn around and flee from an attacking enemy.

Kalayavana follows him. It appears to the Yavana that Krishna is tired and could be caught any instant. But as the warrior comes near, Krishna suddenly picks up speed and runs. Again and again the same thing happens. All along Kalayavana showers insults at the fleeing Krishna. Eventually both Krishna and the Yavana are from Mathura and the army.

Krishna has a definite plan. He is taking Kalayavana to a mountain cave where the ancient royal sage Muchukunda who once fought for the gods is now sleeping. Eventually they reach the mountain. Krishna enters the dark cave and the Yavana follows. As his eyes get used to the darkness of the cave, the Yavana sees a sleeping human form some distance from him. Taking it for Krishna collapsed on the floor from exhaustion, Kala goes to him and gives him a mighty kick. Muchukunda wakes up and opens his eyes that had been shut for ages. As his enraged eyes fall on him, the Yavana’s body bursts into flames and Kalayavana is turned into ashes, exactly as Krishna had known would happen, as per a boon the royal sage had received from Indra.

According to the Bhagavata, Krishna had to get Kalayavana killed by someone else since he could not have been killed by any Yadava because of a boon he had received from Shiva.


Resourcefulness is not to be confused with cunning. Resourcefulness is planning. It is foresight. It is thinking creatively. It is thinking on the spur of the moment. Thinking on your toes.

It is refusing to allow your limitations to overpower you.

My daughter recently brought a VCD when she came home for vacation and insisted that I must see it with her. She had seen it and now wanted to watch it again with me. The movie was 300, a movie about human excellence, courage, nobility and a lot of other things that make life the wonderful thing it is. For those who are not familiar with the movie, it is a recent retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae which depicts King Leonidas and his army of three hundred Spartans fighting to death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army. Described as movie making at a cutting edge, it is an absolutely brilliant movie if you are willing to overlook the blatantly dark biases in the portrayal of Xerxes and his army and Asians in general.

We see Leonidas’ brilliant resourcefulness throughout the movie, including in bringing the seemingly endless Persian army [supposed to be of one million soldiers] to the narrow pass between the rocks and the sea at Hot Gates where the advantages are all with the Spartans and the disadvantages all with the Persians.

In an early scene in the movie we see how Leonidas goes to war against the law that said he shouldn’t because the oracles have spoken against it. When people object to the Spartan army going, quoting the law, this is what he says: “Nor shall it… these are three hundred men of my personal bodyguard. Our army will stay in Sparta.” He does not break the Spartan law that is sacred to his people, and yet he goes to war, taking the best of Spartan army with him – three hundred selected warriors who have chosen death over life as Persian slaves. Another example for a leader’s resourcefulness.


There was a 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.

The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn't understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move.

"Sensei," the boy finally said, "Shouldn't I be learning more moves?"

"This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you'll ever need to know," the sensei replied.

Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.

Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.

This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened.

"No," the sensei insisted, "Let him continue."

Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.

On the way home, the boy summoned the courage to ask what was on his mind.

"Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?"

"You won for two reasons," the sensei answered. "First, you've almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grasp your left arm."

The boy's biggest weakness had become his biggest strength through his master’s resourcefulness.


Resourcefulness has been defined as “the ability to cope with new challenges and situations promptly and skilfully as they arise. It is the ability to use problem solving methods to creatively channel available resources to meet situations effectively.”

Going by that definition, in a lighter vein, here is one more story of resourcefulness – this one from the Shuka Saptati, the ancient erotic classic from Sanskrit literature we mentioned earlier.

The man had long been suspecting that his wife was having an affair with another man in his own house. One night he lay awake pretending to be sleeping, hoping the catch her paramour. As he had hoped, sometime after he began breathing evenly as in sleep, he heard a sound in the room – someone was approaching quietly through the darkness. The paramour! The next instant the man caught his wife’s secret lover by his hair. Now he wanted to see his face.

By then his wife too was awake – of course, she hadn’t been sleeping, but had only been pretending like him, waiting for her lover. “What’s it?” she asked, alarm in her voice.

“Someone’s here,” he said. “I am holding him by his hair. Go get me some light.”

His wife was quick. “I am afraid to move in the dark. Let me hold him and you go and get the light.” The man agreed and got up, to go to the kitchen to get some light. The moment he left, she released her lover and sent him away, and instead brought their woolly dog in. When the man came back with light, what he saw was his wife holding their dog by its woolly hair.

“Don’t worry,” the woman consoled her husband as she released the dog. “He must have been hungry and come hoping for something to eat. Come darling, get back into bed while I give him something.”

This too is resourcefulness!


Radha and the Flow of Consciousness

The Upanishads are incredible, unsurpassed. In wisdom, in beauty and in clarity. When it comes to understanding the nature of the human being, they have never been surpassed. Speaking of them, C Rajagopalachari said, “The spacious imagination, the majestic sweep of thought, and the almost reckless spirit of exploration with which, urged by the compelling thirst for truth, the Upanishad teachers and pupils dig into the ‘open secret’ of the universe, make this most ancient of the world’s holy books still the most modern and the most satisfying.”

Kathopanishad is one of the most poetic of Upanishads. It is the Upanishad on which so much of the Bhagavad Gita is based, including its frame image of Krishna and Arjuna in the chariot. Several verses of the Gita have been borrowed from the Katha Upanishad, or adapted. Speaking of human consciousness, the teacher of the Katha Upanishad says:

parānchi khāni vyatrnat svayambhūh
tasmād parāng paśyati nāntarātman.
kaścid dhīrah pratyagātmānam aikshad
āvrttacakshur amrtatvam icchan.
Kathopanishad 2.1

“The self-born one created the senses turned outward. For that reason, man looks outward, and sees not the self that is within. Rare is the brave one who, longing for immortality, shuts his eyes to what is without and sees the self within.”

We see only what is without, because that is how we are made. Seeing what is without is fine, because the world created by that same self-born one is so enchantingly beautiful. The sounds, the touches, the colours, the shapes, the tastes, they are all so beautiful, as are love, passion, ambition, the thrill of achieving, sharing and the million other things that form what we call life. And yet in the process of seeing what is without, we should not forget what is within. When we forget the within in our fascination with the without, we get entrapped in the without. And this the Upanishads call maya – delusion. Maya is not the world outside, but being trapped in it.

It is like, say the ancient masters in their exquisite language, the bee getting trapped in the lotus flower at sunset. It is fine to enjoy the honey within the lotus, and it is the bee’s enjoyment of the honey within it that makes the life of the lotus meaningful, but the bee does not belong to the lotus. Its world is not the small world defined by the petals of the lotus that close at sunset, but the vast, boundless world outside.

We do not belong to the small world we live in, but to the bhooma, the vast. The world of the sun and the moon, of thunder and lightning, of winds and rains, of mountains and rivers, of birth and death and what is beyond all this. When we surrender to this world, and limit ourselves, that’s maya.

For the Upanishad says, we are not the limited self we take ourselves to be, the power that runs the universe.

As the Taittiriya Upanishad puts it:

bhīshāsmād vātah pavate
bhīshodeti sūryah
bhīshāsmād agniścendraśca
mrtyur dhāvati pancama iti.

“I am the power fearing which the wind blows, the power fearing which the sun rises in the east, fire burns, and Indra rules over the gods. I am that power fearing which death, as the fifth, stalks the world.”

We have been trapped within the lotus, and, tragically, forgotten the vastness outside.

And the way to reclaim our real heritage, the vast, the boundless, is to turn our attention to the within. Turn our consciousness inward. Make our awareness flow not outward, but inward.

Radha is the name for consciousness that flows inward, for the river that flows towards its own source.

The word radha is the word dhara turned around. Dhara means a current, like a stream, like a brook, or a river. Radha means the consciousness that flows outward has now begun to flow inward.

Parānchi khāni vyatrnat svayambhūh – the self-born created the senses turned outward and our consciousness flows out into the world through them. But now it flows inward: toward the self within, toward the pratyagātmā, towards its own source.

Radha is the longing for Krishna, Krishna standing for consciousness, our inner self. Radha is the name for the most intense meditation which makes samadhi possible. Samadhi means merger with the inner self, merger with Krishna. Which is also what we mean when we use the word yoga in its original sense.

Yoga is not asanas. Asanas are practically the first step in yoga, the lowest, and samadhi its culmination, the highest stage.

In India we worship rivers. It is not because rivers are useful. India has never worshipped what is useful. Worshipping what is useful is the commercial attitude and that has nothing to do with religion. To us religion has never been a commercial thing. We worship what inspires awe, what helps us open our eyes and wake up into light.

The first river India worshipped was the Saraswati. The Saraswati was the river on the banks of which the Vedas were born, the Upanishads were born. When we worshipped the Saraswati, we were worshipping knowledge – knowledge of the highest kind, which in Sanskrit is called prajñā. Prajñā means consciousness. We called her Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, of learning, of arts, of music, of the thousand forms of light.

And when the Saraswati dried up, the Ganga became the river on the banks of which the culture of light, the Vedic civilization, continued. To India, the Ganga then became the most sacred of rivers. Goddess Ganga. A dip in the Ganga washes away all our sins, said our culture. That is because the Ganga stood for knowledge and as the seers said, na hi jñānena sadrsham pavitram iha vidyate: there is nothing as sacred as knowledge in this world.

All the most sacred teerthas on the Ganga are where the Ganga takes a turn and flows northward. North is the direction from which the Ganga comes down. When she flows northward, she is flowing towards her own source.

Then Ganga becomes Radha, consciousness flowing towards its own source.

Those who study consciousness in the west, particularly those who study altered states of consciousness, say that man’s oldest adventure is this search. This search for his source. They say all religion is that search for the original consciousness, consciousness turned inward.

And they say that there is no culture in the world that does not seek consciousness turned inward. When the tribal dancers dance around the night fire to the beat of drums, they say they are seeking this altered state of consciousness – consciousness turned inward. When they use drugs and cacti and mushrooms that alter consciousness, they say they are seeking this inward turned consciousness. When people climb mountains and face death, they say they are seeking the same altered states of consciousness through danger and fear. And when man engages in sex, they say, they are seeking to turn their consciousness inward. The moment of orgasm provides to man the most easily accessible state in which his consciousness is no more flowing outward through his senses.

Every culture in the world has been worshipping Radha, though it may not know it. Worshipping her through drumbeats, through dance and music, through prayer, through fasting, through meditation, through fire-walking, through danger, through fear, through wonder, through drugs, through sex, through pain and self-torture.

Radha as a Goddess is new even to India. There is no Radha associated with Krishna in the Mahabharata, for instance. She is a later goddess.

But we have been worshipping her from the beginning of time.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Education and the Emperor’s Golden Bed

The little child had just come back from Kerala when Miss Pisces, her primary school teacher who taught her drawing, asked her class to paint a well.

Green is the permanent colour of Kerala – it is green round the year. But when the rains come, it becomes a mad riot of green. And Kerala gets incessant rains for months at a stretch. Listen to Arundhati Roy describing Kerala during those days of torrential rains: “… by early June the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn moss green. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks and spill across flooded roads.”

This is the Kerala the little child had seen.

Most homes in Kerala have a well. Her home in Kerala too had one. A very deep one, which gave cool water round the year. Cool water and plenty of exercise – you had to haul the water all the way up with a bucket and rope. The well had a laterite wall and this had a moss covering most of the time. However during the rains the wall, inside and outside, disappeared behind thick moss and ferns. Ferns and moss grew on the inner sides of the well too, much of the way down. And the water itself had a film of moss floating over it. Everything turned green.

And this is what the little child painted when her teacher asked her to paint a well. The well she had seen in her home in Kerala. A green well.

Miss Pisces took one look at her work, held it up for the whole class to see and then said, “Look at this! How stupid! How can a well be green? It has to be brown!” She paused for a moment for effect and then asked the child, “Where do you have your brains? In your bottom?” And she laughed, ridiculing the little girl before the entire class. Fifty titillated little girls joined her laughter at those last words, while the little girl hung her head in deep shame.

A year or so later, young Miss Pisces became my student for fourteen days. On plenty of occasions she tempted me to ask her where she had her own brains. But my culture did not allow me to do so. That is not the way I had been brought up. And that is not the way I had learnt to treat my students.


Many school teachers belong to the class that believes flowers are always red, leaves are always green and wells are always brown. Because that is what the books say and they go by the books. In spite of all the wonderful nature spread gloriously all around you. And they would do anything to make sure their students learnt this eternal truth.

Much education is about making children stop thinking, rather than about encouraging them to think. And stop feeling, rather than making them feel.

There is an old story about an emperor who had a golden bed made for his royal guests in his new guest palace. As the first guest came, the emperor himself took him round the palace. Everything was wonderful. The chambers, the garden with an artificial stream and a little cascade, the birds and animals in the garden, the paintings on the walls, everything. And there was a bed of pure gold for the guest to sleep on. The guest king was delighted.

That night as he lay on the golden bed waiting for sleep to come, four of the emperor’s strongmen entered his chamber. Two held the sleeping king by his legs and two, by his arms. And they pulled him in opposite directions. He screamed, but the pulling did not stop. He struggled, fought, but the strongmen continued to pull him until every joint in his body broke and he died in agony.

The men were trying to stretch the man to fit the bed. The bed was five foot seven –the exact height of the emperor. And the men had standing instructions: the guest who slept on it should fit the size of the bed. This poor king was only five foot five.

The next king who came was three inches longer than the bed. The strongmen of the emperor held him down and pushed his legs into his body until he was five foot seven.

An absurd story, true. But it can describe perfectly an absurd situation.

Many teachers believe that the child should fit education rather than education fit the child. That the child is for education, rather than education is for her.

It was an American educationist deeply hurt by the insensitivity of our modern education system that once said “no child will ever again in his life be as intelligent, as resourceful, as imaginative and as daring as he is on the first day in his school.”

True, there are schools and teachers who are exceptions to this rule. But they are that – exceptions, and not the rule.

If humanity is to be healthy, if humanity is grow out of the insanity in which it lives now, such schools and such teachers have to be the rule and not the exception.

Education is the most powerful tool of man-making. And so it is, of man-unmaking too.

I never met pretty Miss Pisces ever again after those fourteen days years back. But for fourteen days I spoke to her and to her ninety-nine friends about what a teacher’s true job is. That it is not to make every child see alike, think alike, feel alike and act alike, but to make every child blossom into the unique human being he or she is. I wonder if my words helped her see children not as stupid brains to be disciplined and trained, but as beautiful minds to be educated cultivated.


Creating Winners in the School

Good teachers create winners. Winners are authentic, fearless, independent, imaginative people who are proud of themselves, who love others and care for them. These are people who know how to touch others, how to give and how to take. They have the courage to make their own decisions and they make these decisions based on their own thinking. At the same time, they also know how to listen to others and have genuine respect for their views.

Winners have a powerful, positive self-image and are perseverant. They challenge themselves continuously, aspiring to climb to greater heights every day. They know how to forgive and forget, and to let bygones be bygones. They celebrate life and see beauty in the most ordinary things.

Here are twenty ways a teacher can create a winner out of every child:

1. Challenge each child to do her best.
2. Set a good example by your own practice.
3. Care for each individual child and her needs.
4. Don’t let her give up easily.
5. Make her work out most of her own problems.
6. Keep her focused on the goals ahead.
7. Give credit to her when she achieves.
8. Correct her errors in private.
9. Celebrate her successes.
10. Be energetic and enthusiastic.
11. Listen.
12. Be patient.
13. Be accessible.
14. Make her feel confident.
15. Have trust in her abilities.
16. Set attainable goals for her.
17. Empower her.
18. Be there when she needs you.
19. Put her interests before your interests.
20. Enjoy your job.

I have spoken of the student here in the feminine gender. Of course, I mean both boys and girls. But I feel teachers have to be more conscious about creating a winner out of every girl because our education system, like the rest of our society, is biased against her. As of now, education gives boys more opportunities to be winners than it gives girls. In the case of girls, our ages old perceptions of what a girl should be reduces her chances of turning out a winner. Frequently, while ambitious boys are admired for their ambition, ambitious girls are secretly sneered at for the same thing.


The Secret of a Teacher's Charisma

[From the author’s address to teachers at the end of a two-week workshop.]

I remember watching a movie recently. The politician’s son is a college student and he is in the question paper business. He sells university question papers a couple of days in advance of the exam for a prize. A professor of the college, reputed for his integrity and courage, catches him with a bunch of question papers and hands him over to the police along with the question papers. However, the local police officer is in a nexus with the politician and his son. He releases the criminal and instead arrests the professor. The moment the news reaches the college, students leave whatever they are doing and walk straight to the police station. As the angry students in their hundreds siege the station, the officer looks at them and realizes they would stop at nothing to save their professor. Alarmed, he releases the professor and takes the criminal student back into custody.

What is that that inspired the students to leave everything and walk to the police station to stand with the professor? What in the professor invoked such devotion in students?

This does not happen with all teachers. But some teachers influence their students so powerfully that they would do anything for them, and do it happily and unasked.

Most schools and colleges have a teacher who is different from all the others. And most of us have come across a teacher who is unlike all other teachers. A teacher who is a legend among his students, a teacher who can do the impossible, a teacher for whom the students will happily lie down their lives unasked.

A teacher who is like the eagle that floats in high skies before whom other teachers seem like little birds that hop about on the ground.

At the beginning of his second book Illusions, Richard Back, the celebrated author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, tells us this story:

“Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river.
The current of the river swept silently over them all – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.

Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.”

The other creatures laughed and said, “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom.”

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.

Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.

And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, “See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!”

And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”

But they cried the more, “Saviour!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.”

Every teacher has this option. She can either become one of those creatures that cling tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom or she can become the messiah who floats up above on the surface of the river, the messiah who flies.

Every teacher has the option of choosing to become either the ordinary teacher or the extraordinary teacher – the inspirational teacher, the teacher who exudes charisma, the transformational teacher, the sorcerer who works miracles.

You need not have more authority than other teachers to be that kind of a teacher. Authority can help, but it is not authority that gives you that kind of influence over your students.

You need not have extraordinary knowledge to become such a teacher. Knowledge can help, but it is not knowledge that gives you that kind of influence over your students.


Contemporary Social Psychology says a teacher has five sources of influence over her students. Punishment power, reward power, position power, knowledge power and referent power or inspirational power. A recent study says that punishment power accounts for 5 percent of the teacher’s influence over her students, reward power for another 5 percent, position power 15 percent, and knowledge power 20 percent. These four together account for 45 percent of a teacher’s influence. Less than half. And the fifth power, referent power, accounts for 55 percent of a teacher’s influence. More than half a teacher’s influence, more than all the other powers put together.

The most inferior of these powers is punishment power. The worst teachers rely on this. The next is reward power. Poor teachers use this. And the next is position power – the power that comes from being in the position of a teacher. Authority power. Mediocre teachers use this. Knowledge power comes next and good teachers use this. But the best teachers use inspirational power to touch and transform their students. Such teachers become legends wherever they are.

What is the secret of a teacher’s inspirational power, her charisma? First, her being. What she is. Her integrity, her genuineness, her authenticity, her unpretentiousness, her openness, her courage, her self-mastery. And second, the way she relates to her students. Her love, her care, her willingness to put the student first, her willingness to stand by him, her willingness to take risks for him, her being there when he needs her most.

That’s what makes a teacher truly great: inspirational, charismatic, transformational. Just these two things: what you are, the way you relate.

All teachers know their subject more or less. They all have knowledge power. All teachers are teachers – they have position or authority power. And all teachers are capable of punishing and rewarding. But not all teachers have the qualities that create inspirational power.

But all teachers can have them.

Like the teacher in To Sir with Love. Naseerudddin Shah in its Hindi version, Sir.

The young teacher in Matilda.

Danny Devitto in The Renaissance Man.

Another teacher who comes to mind from the movies is Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. He is not really a teacher to the young boy in the movie. But he teaches him – education in living. And he does exactly what a great teacher should do. When the entire organization wants to break the young boy, when the principal of the school tries to cow him down with his authority and force him into betraying his friends, Al Pacino teaches him integrity and courage. The speech Al gives towards the end of the movie during the inquisition of the boy has remained an endless source of inspiration to me ever since I saw the movie first a few years ago.

That is what a great teacher does – the inspirational teacher, the charismatic teacher, the transformational teacher.

She stands with his students, come what may – against the whole school, against the whole society, against the whole world, if needed.

Against intimidation and fear and all the other dark powers that corrupt the human soul.

Such a teacher does more than teach.

She is a human being interested in the child as a human being.

She respects his individuality.

She listens to him and understands not only what is spoken but what is unspoken too.

She loves her students and knows how to express that love. She knows how to touch her children. She knows to touch is to communicate – whether with her hand, or with words, or just reaching out herself.

She knows how to accept her children’s love.

She inspires them to excel and to reach beyond their present boundaries.

And, as Kahlil Gibran puts it, she fills their hearts with the desire for the sea rather than teach them ship building.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Education and Tracking Down A Trail of Ants

[Developed from the author’s talk to a group of 100 teachers at the end of a summer workshop]

“All your teaching is centred on what has no use,” said Hui Tzu to Chaung Tzu, the great Taoist master of ancient China.

Chaung Tzu replied: “If you have no appreciation for what has no use, you cannot begin to talk about what can be used. The earth for example, is broad and vast, but of all this expanse, a man uses only a few inches upon which he happens to be standing at the time. Now suppose you suddenly take away all that he actually is not using, so that all around his feet a gulf yawns, and he stands in the void with nowhere solid except under each foot, how long will he be able to use what he is using?”

“It would cease to serve any purpose.”

“This shows the absolute necessity of what is supposed to have no use,” said Chuang Tzu.


No river runs straight from its mountain source to the sea.

Canals run strait to their goals.

But no one writes poems about canals. Poetry is written about rivers. No one makes legends about canals, legends are made about rivers. We do not take sacred baths in canals and pray for the welfare of our ancestors; that is done in rivers. We have no canal goddesses, only river goddesses.

Education should not be like canals. It should be like rivers. Education should have room in it for a lot of ‘useless’ things. Like a lot of leisure, a lot of idling. Like space for friendships. Like time for daydreaming. Like exploration without any focus, as children did in a bygone era when they would wander about with a friend for hours at a stretch. For aimless wanderings.

Those wanderings were what enriched the soul of man.

Children should not be educated to be like canals. They should travel to their destinations like rivers travel to the sea.

In life, it is the journey that counts.

Today’s education leaves the soul of man starved. And this leads to life on a starvation diet. In the middle of riches and technology unconceivable in the past, man’s soul starves today.


I love a story called Tracking down a Trail of Ants that I read many years ago:

“A week before school opened, I walked the route my first-grader son would take to school. I walked slowly and it figured out twenty minutes. But when he walked it alone, he was ten minutes late the first two days of school. Puzzled, I walked with him the third day. The twenty minutes was all right, as far as it went. But I’d failed to consider such side trips as:

Tracking down a trail of ants from a sidewalk into a lot.

Critical inspection of a display of trinkets and bicycles in a store window.

An educational pause to watch a man change a tire.

Swing around half a dozen phone poles.

Friendly overtures to three stray dogs and one brown cat.

In short, I had forgotten I was six years old once myself.”


Education should enrich the human soul. And that enrichment takes place best with ‘useless’ things.

Don Harold writes in the Reader’s Digest, under the title Pick More Daisies:

“If I had my life to live over, I would try to make more mistakes. I would relax. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I know of very few things that I would take seriously. I would be less hygienic. I would go more places. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less bran. I would have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary troubles.

You see, I have been one of those fellows who live prudently and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I have had my moments. But if I had it to do over again, I would have more of them – a lot more. It may be too late to unteach an old dog old tricks, but perhaps a word of forewarning from the unwise may be of benefit to a coming generation. It may help them to fall into some of the pitfalls I have avoided.

If I had my life to live over, I would pay less attention to people who teach tension. In a world of specialization we naturally have a superabundance of individuals who cry at us to be serious about their individual specialty. They tell us we must learn Latin or history; otherwise we will be disgraced and ruined and flunked and failed. After a dozen of so of these protagonists have worked on a young mind, they are apt to leave it in hard knots for life. I wish they had sold me Latin and history as a lark.

I would seek out more teachers who inspire relaxation and fun. I had a few of them, fortunately, and I figure it was they who kept me from going entirely to the dogs. From them I learned how to gather what few scraggly daisies I have gathered along life’s cindery pathway.

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefooted a little earlier in the spring and stay that way a little later in the fall. I would play hooky more. I would shoot more paper wads at my teachers. I would have more dogs. I would keep later hours. I’d have more sweethearts. I would go to more circuses. I would go to more dances. I would ride on more merry-go-rounds. I would be carefree as long as I could, or at least until I got some care – instead of having my cares in advance.

More errors are made solemnly than in fun. The rubs of family life come in moments of intense seriousness rather than in moments of lightheartedness. If nations – to magnify my point – declared international carnivals instead of international war, how much better that would be!

In a world in which practically everybody else seems to be consecrated to the gravity of the situation, I would rise to glorify the levity of the situation. For I agree with Will Durant that “gaiety is wiser than wisdom.” I doubt, however that I’ll do much damage with my creed. The opposition is too strong. There are too many serious people trying to get everybody else to be darned serious.”


Recently a young man wrote to me. He was until recently my student in one the most prestigious educational institutions in the country. He has a wonderful job with an organization any young man would be proud to associate with and draws a salary of about a hundred thousand rupees a month. Recently married, he has beautiful, young, educated wife and a happy family life. But his life is filled with a sense of meaninglessness, a sense of emptiness. He wanted to know what to do.

This happens because our education today is too focused – too narrowly focused. It leaves no space for ‘useless’ things. It leaves no space for tracking down trails of ants from sidewalks into lots. It leaves no space for critical inspections of displays of trinkets and bicycles in store windows. It leaves no space for the educational pause to watch a man change a tire or to swing around phone poles. It leaves no space for friendly overtures to stray dogs and brown cats.


Today we have no time for any of the most beautiful things in life. No time for sunrises, no time for sunsets, no time for watching the moon or the clouds. No time to sit down and watch the rain and the winds and the trees dancing together.

No time to pick daisies.

No time to watch the dance of spotted butterflies on green leaves.

I remember seeing a Hollywood film some years back. In one scene in the film, we see a handsome young couple making love. They are both financial executives on the Wall Street. They are clothed as they have sex – they are in a great hurry and there is no time for removing clothes. And as they have sex at a feverish pace, they have their cell phones in their hands. Throughout the sex scene, they talk into their phones nonstop in a high pitched, urgent voice – with their customers. They cannot take a break from their business transactions even to have sex. Who knows, they might end up losing tens of thousands of dollars in those few minutes.

In contrast, let me give here a description of a lovemaking scene from the Bheel Bharath, the Mahabharata of the tribal Bheels who live in the border districts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Soon after her marriage to Shantanu Raja, one night Ganga is filled with a strange restlessness. She calls her maids long before dawn and tells them they are going for a sea bath. She bathes in the sea and sports with her maids in the water.

By then it is the golden dawn. The lord of the day has begun to make his appearance in the eastern sky. She puts on fresh clothes and walks back to her palace with her maids. Her steps are indolent as she climbs up the stairs to her cloud palace. There, in her palace, she finishes all the sixteen shringaras and thus ready, tells Shantanu, “Come, Raja, let’s go to the orchard. Let’s take a walk in the garden.”

Shantanu puts on his yellow dress, looking like a fresh bridegroom. He puts on his golden crown, his pearl necklaces and wears his slippers with serpent hoods. With bottles of saffron and musk in his hands, he climbs down the steps of the cloud palace taking leisurely steps.

Everything is wonderful in the garden – the orchard looks delightful, with mangoes everywhere. For long they wander through the gardens in exquisite idleness and then settle down in the shade of the champa hung with flowers. They spend all their time in the garden, engaged in sweet, intimate talk.

Soon the sun begins to set in the western sky. Birds have come back to their nests. Ganga tells Shantanu, “Come, Raja, let’s go back to the palace.”

Back in the palace, Ganga warms water in a copper vessel and tells Shantanu, “Come, it’s time for your bath.” The king takes his bath and afterwards puts on fresh golden yellow clothes. He puts on his necklaces, combs his hair and does all the sixteen shringaras.

Ganga cooks a five-course meal and serves it to her husband in golden dishes. She combs her own hair and fills the parting of her hair with sindoor. After finishing her sixteen shringaras, Ganga spreads the royal bed. She sprinkles saffron and musk on the bed. The bed now exudes the intoxicating scent of musk. She spreads soft flowers on the bed.

The young king and queen play a game of chaupad. The stakes go up, the stakes come down. And when it is that time when the yogi sleeps and the bhogi seeks his pleasure, the king and the queen have their sports of love lying on their bed in each other’s arms.


As we can see, sex here is not a crude physical act of mating, nor a fierce battle of lust, but a beautiful communion, leisurely and unhurried, aesthetic from beginning till end, spiritual in its essence – an act of worship at the altar of life so that fresh life could be invoked within a woman’s womb. The preparations are thorough. Ganga bathes in the sea before sunrise, comes back and finishes all the sixteen traditional items of shringara and then invites Shantanu to spend time with her in the palace gardens. The sun has already set and parrots have found their roosts when Ganga brings her man back to her cloud palace. She heats water for his bath, and while he is bathing, prepares an elaborate dinner for him. She serves the food in dishes of gold, and then gets ready herself with the sixteen shringaras once again. Careful attention is paid to every detail of the preparation of the bed on which they would make love. Flowers, fragrances are all used to create the right ambience. In this fragrant, beautifully decorated room, they sit and play a game of chaupad. It is only then that the king and the queen slowly move into the acts of making love.

As we read the description of the lovemaking of Ganga and Shantanu, we get a feeling that this is exactly how love should be made. The man and the woman float gently into the intimate world of sexual love, smoothly, blissfully. There are no sudden, hasty acts, it is like the coming into existence of an orchestra where everyone of the several elements fit in, in perfect harmony.

But the world is fast moving away from this world of Bheel Bharath towards what we saw the young executives doing in the Hollywood movie.

Because we have no time today.

No time for living. No time for ‘useless’ things.

Our education does not believe in wasting time in ‘useless’ things.


In my younger days in Kerala, Onam, our traditional harvest festival, lasted for twenty days. Today it is just one day.

Kathakali, the classical dance drama, used to be a five night affair, and sometimes longer still, each night’s performance lasting until the early hours of dawn. Today it is rarely one night long – usually it is no more than a ninety minute thing.

There was a time when wedding guests came and stayed for weeks. Today they do not spend even the day.

We have no time today.

Not long ago it was said that technology will free man from work and men will be able to spend all their time in leisure activities. Alwyn Toffler was one of the futurologists who predicted this.

That is not what we see around us today.

We do not see more people stopping by ant trails. We do not see more people picking daisies. We do not see more people taking time to smell roses.

James Truslow Adams tells us this cute story, Time for the Soul:

“A friend of mine, a distinguished explorer who spent a couple of years among the savages of the upper Amazon, once attempted a forced march through the jungle. The party made extraordinary speed for the first two days, but on the third morning, when it was time to start, my friend found all the natives sitting on their haunches, looking very solemn and making no preparation to leave. “They are waiting,” the chief explained to my friend. “They cannot move farther until their souls have caught up with their bodies.”

I can think of no better illustration of our own plight today. Is there no way of letting our souls, so to say, catch up with our bodies? If one thinks over the sort of life led in innumerable homes a generation ago, our immense speeding up in the process o f living today is clear. People then, as we say, ‘had time.’ Now no one ‘has time.’”

Because our education does not see ‘the absolute necessity of what is supposed to have no use.’