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Showing posts from September, 2009

Maitreyi Upanishad

There is a beautiful story about my parama guru [teacher’s teacher] Ramana Maharshi. Once a European journalist met him. During his interview, the journalist asked Maharshi: “Do you believe in God?”

“No. I don’t,” said Maharshi.

The journalist was taken aback. He was sitting in front of the greatest sage of India, revered by millions, and he was saying he did not believe in God. Perhaps he had heard it wrong. He wanted to confirm. He asked, “Did you say you do not believe in God?”

Ramana Maharshi said, “Yes, I did. I do not believe in God.” Then the sage of Arunachala saw the confusion in the eyes of the journalist and added after a pause, “I do not believe in god, I know God.”

The Maharshi could have said “I am God,” but he must have realized how much more confused the journalist would have become when he heard that.

Nisargadatta Maharaj did say that, though. In fact, he said more than that. He said, “The world is my garden and God is my gardener.”

Each teacher teaches the path by which h…

Upanishads: A Personal Encounter 2

Continued from 1

Ishavasya Upanishad

The Ishavasya Upanishad is one of the most beautiful Upanishads. This Upanishad forms chapter forty of the Vajasaneyi Samhita of Shukla Yajur Veda, for which reason it is also called Vajasaneyi Samhita Upanishad.

One of the most fascinating features of the Upanishads is that the sages who ‘authored’ them had an exquisite sense of aesthetics and as works of literature, they are unsurpassed and rival even contemporary literature in their beauty. Which is to say nothing of the depth of their perception. It is difficult not fall in love with the Ishavasya Upanishad, so beautiful is it. It is short, with just eighteen mantras. It was the first Upanishad that I learnt from my guru in his ashram where I was an antevasin, and for this reason too it is special for me.

The Upanishad begins with the mantra ishavasyam idam sarvam, a statement of the omnipresence of God: All this is permeated by God. And then it quickly moves on to state, in the same mantra, a ph…

Upanishads: A Personal Encounter

Speaking about Indian thought, EWF Tomlin says in his book Great Philosophies of the East: “Indian thought arrives at subtleties of distinction so varied and acute that the uninitiated and unprepared reader may well receive the impression that Indian philosophers enjoy the use of half a dozen intellects instead of one. We are accustomed to the idea of scientists constructing artificial brains to effect calculations which neither a single individual nor a team of individuals devoting a lifetime to the task, could hope to achieve. The elaborate system of certain Indian philosophers sometimes appear to be the product of such socially-constructed intellects.”

Of all Indian thought, the most highly respected is the philosophy of the Upanishads. Strictly speaking though, the teachings of the Upanishads cannot be called either thought or philosophy. For, they originate at a dimension beyond thought. The wisdom of the Upanishads is born when all thought has been transcended, when the mind it…

Parable of the Young Bird and the Termite Salesman

She was young and beautiful. Each of her feathers sparkled. And she loved to use those feathers, to lift herself into the sky on their power. She loved to soar into the open sky. She loved to stretch her wings and float effortlessly in the open sky. Floating with the wind – there was nothing she loved more than that. She loved the freedom it gave her, the experience of boundlessness it gave her. She felt her boundaries melting and herself becoming one with the sky and the wind. As though she did not exist as separate from them, as though was one with them. As though she was not floating in the wind, but was the wind itself. And she sought greater speeds, because the greater the speeds she achieved, the less she existed as separate from existence, and the more she became one with existence. She knew it is for this she was born and there was nothing more important in life to do than this floating in the vastness of the skies.

Then one day it happened. She was perched on a tree pruning h…

The Beggar in the Boat

It was a beautiful evening. The sun was a glorious sight in the western sky. There was not a hue in creation that was missing there. Birds could be seen against the fabric of colours, returning home at the end of a busy day. Boats lay idly at the ghat. Men sat and talked about nothing, in great leisure. A slight breeze touched the river and a thousand ripples of ecstasy were born the next instant.

The ferry that took people across the river was about to go when an old beggar hurried towards it. He was a quite old man, his clothes all worn out, his feet bare, owning nothing more than the bundle on his shoulder. As he entered the ferry, some passengers moved away from him in disgust. One or two others pushed him away roughly. A few young boys made fun of the old man.

The old man sat down quietly on the floor of the ferry and his closed his eyes. A few moments later he was deep in prayer – his daily evening prayer. There were tears in his eyes as he prayed silently in his heart.

The ab…

Heaven on Earth

In a passage titled the Kingdom of Heaven in Heart at Work by Jack Canfield and Jacqueline Miller, Thich Nhat Hahn says: “We do not have to die to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, we have to be fully alive. When we breathe in and out and hug a beautiful tree, we are in Heaven. When we take one conscious breath, aware of our eyes, our heart, our liver and our non-toothache, we are transported to Paradise right away. Peace is available. We only need to touch it. When we are truly alive, we can see that the tree is part of Heaven, and we are also part of Heaven. The whole universe is conspiring to reveal this to us, but we are so out of touch that we invest our resources to cutting down the trees. If we want to enter the Heaven on Earth, we need only one conscious step and one conscious breath. When we touch peace, everything becomes real. We become ourselves, fully alive in the present moment, and the tree, our child and everything else reveal themselves to us in their full splendo…

Shantaram and The Human Zoo

Desmond Morris is the celebrated author of such bestsellers as The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo, Manwatching, Intimate Behaviour and so on. They are powerful books that give deep insights into human nature, particularly the nature of the urban man. I remember reading and reading greedily The Naked Ape as a teenager and then The Human Zoo when it was published later. The books changed the way I looked at men and women and the world around me. The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo are the first books on what is today known as Sociobilogy and Desmond Morris, a brilliant pioneer in his chosen field.

In The Human Zoo Morris compares animals in the wild and animals in captivity, as in a zoo. He also compares people living in the openness of villages and people in big cities. He then compares people in these two different states with animals in the two different states. According to Morris, the neurosis and psychoses that the urban man frequently displays is akin to similar behaviours exhibited by ani…

Women, Gender and Power in Bheel Mahabharata 2

Part of a paper presented by the author at the national seminar on Mahabharata organized by National Manuscripts Mission and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Government of India at India International Centre, New Delhi in February 2007.


Continued from Part 1.


Lesser women than Kunti, Draupadi and Ganga too are no less independent and sufficient to themselves in the Bheel Bharath. Take the Naga king Vasuki’s daughter Hirapath for instance. Arjuna goes to her land in search of virgin gold which he requires for use in a sacrifice the Pandavas are conducting so that their father Pandu, reborn as a dog after his sinful death, may get absolution from sin. The snakes guarding the palace grounds bite him and he dies. It is then that Hirapath sees him and falls in love with him. To revive him, Hirapath gets magical substances from her father who initially tries to deceive her by giving her poison in place of ambrosia. Hirapath is no lovelorn helpless lass. She knows her father and suspects he…

Women, Gender & Power in Bheel Mahabharata 1

Part of a paper presented by the author at the national seminar on Mahabharata organized by National Manuscripts Mission and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Government of India at India International Centre, New Delhi in February 2007.

An epic of one culture incarnated in another is at once the same as the original and yet very different from it. It is not that its soul is the same and body is different. No, it becomes a different entity altogether, with a different identity, a different flavour, a different feel, perhaps even a different heart and a different soul, and yet it retains its original being. That is why such an incarnation is a kind of miracle.

The Bheel Bharath, the incarnation of Vyasa’s Mahabharata in the tribal world of the Bheels, is a miracle for its marvellous beauty, its unbelievable simplicity and elemental quality, and the ineffable charm of its rusticity. It is a miracle for the way it so perfectly reflects the world in which the Bheel lives: a world that is…