Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Memories of Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda



I met my guru Swami Chinmayanandaji for the first time in 1972, in the Sandeepany gurukulam [Sandeepany Sadhanalaya] in Mumbai. By then I had already been an inmate of the grrukulam for a couple of months and Swamiji had just come back after a world tour. We brahmacharis and brahacharinis of the ashram received him at the gate with a poornakumbha, all of us chanting the mantras that are traditionally used to receive a sannyasi:
na karmana na prajaya dhanena
tyagenaike amritatvam anashuh
parena nakam nihitam guhayam
vibhrajate yad yatayo visanti

vedantavijnana-sunischitarthah
sannyasayogad yatayas shuddha sattvah
te brahma loketu parantakale
paramritat parimuchyanti sarve

dahram vipapam varameshmabhutam
yat pundareekam puramadhya sam’stham
tatrapi dahram gaganam vishokah
tasmin yatantas tad upasitavyam

yo vedadau svaraprokto
vedante cha pratisthitah
tasya prakritileenasya
yah parah sa maheshvarah

Not by rituals, not by progeny, not by wealth,
But by renunciation is immortality attained.
The highest, which is beyond heaven
Which sages enter
Is hidden in the cave of the heart
Where it shines brilliantly  

Those who have ascertained the meaning of the highest teachings of the Upanishads through direct experience,
Those who have practiced the yoga of renunciation and through it purified their hearts,
They, having realized their oneness with the Supreme,
Enter the world of Brahman at the time of the fall of their body.
At the center of this city of the body,
In the lotus of the heart,
Is the sacred abode of the Supreme,
Pure, sinless.
Therein, in that tiny space,
Meditate constantly
On the Supreme Being
Untouched by sorrows.

The swara we pronounce at the beginning of the commencement of the Vedas
The swara rooted firmly in the Upanishads
Which dissolves in what is beyond
As we transcend the world of nature
Through meditation –
What is beyond that is the Supreme Lord  

As I chanted the mantras along with the others, my eyes were on Swamiji. Tall, majestic in every imaginable way, glowing with spiritual tejas, Swamiji exuded a kind of energy that I had never felt in anyone else. As the chanting of the mantras began, Swamiji’s eyes closed by themselves and it was clear he had entered a world of his own into which none of us had admittance.
We expected him to rest at least for a day – after all he had just come back from a hectic world tour that had lasted for several months and taken him to numerous countries. Nothing like that – in an hour or so, we were sitting in front of him cross legged for our first session with him, our hearts thrilled with eagerness and excitement.  The spiritual legend we were all constantly talking about for the past few months was before us, the man behind the stories we were always hearing. For the next one hour we sat enthralled as Swamiji wove sheer magic for us with his words and his presence.
In the Taittiriya Upanishad there is a beautiful prayer by a teacher:

Amayantu brahmacharinah svaha
Vimayantu brahmacharinah svaha
Pramayantu brahmacharinah svaha
Damayantu brahmacharinah svaha
Shamayantu brahmacharinah svaha
Yathapah pravata yanti
Yatha masa aharjaram
Evammam brahmacharinah
Dhatar ayantu sarvatah svaha

May students come to me in large numbers! Swaha!
May students come to me speedily! Swaha!
May students come to me from all sides! Swaha!
May students come to me filled with self-mastery! Swaha!
May students come to me filled with inner serenity! Swaha!
Even as waters flow towards depths
Even as months flow into years
Oh Lord, may students come to me from every direction!

This is a teacher’s greatest desire – that students come to him in large numbers from all directions.
Thinking back on that day, and on numerous such subsequent occasions, I realize it would have been difficult for Swamiji to hold himself back from the students who had come to him from all over the world to sit at his feet and learn from him. Just as we were impatient to be with him, he must have been eager to meet us, to be with us.
This first memory of Swamiji is mingled with a little bitterness for me. Swamiji was meeting us for the first time, since studies in the ashram had begun earlier while he was still away under our other guru, Swami Dayanandaji. By way of knowing us, he asked us if there was anyone among us who hadn’t heard him earlier. Two hands went up – mine and another person’s. “Which corner of the world are you coming from?” he asked in his characteristic thundering voice with both amusement and surprise in his voice, his eyes widening as he asked that question. And I mentioned his home town – his home town!
Today I am a different person, but in those days more than anything else I was a questioner. I had gone to the ashram full of questions that my reading of atheist literature had given rise to. Rather than a devotee, I was a seeker. I was always a voracious reader, and among the books I had read were the works of the great Swami Brahmananda Sivayogi in Malayalam, who questioned a lot of things that we traditionally believe to be the heart of religion but actually are not. Shivayogi who lived from 1852 to 1929, the founder of Ananda Matham [religion of bliss; matham/matam is the word for religion in Malayalam] denounced idol worship and said all human activities are the result of man’s search for ananda, his true nature. This rebel who had an important role in the reawakening of spiritual Kerala inspired me with a kind of spirituality that appealed greatly to my heart.
Apart from atheist literature and Sivayogi’s works, one other book that had sent thrills through me was Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India – the part where he speaks of ancient India’s spiritual glory. It was in Nehru’s Discovery of India that I first came across the words of the Taittiriya Upanishad that I would later learn to ritually chant, following the Vedic tradition, under Chidambareswara Sastrikal, as the other antevasis of the ashram did – words that said:
bhishasmad vatah pavate
bhishodeti sooryah
bhishasmad agnischendrascha
mrityurdhavati panchama iti.

I became ecstatic reading those lines. It reawakened the ecstasy I had felt the first time I had come across the Gayatri mantra – for months my feet wouldn’t touch the ground, so joyous was I. As I read the Upanishad mantra, the same ecstasy spread through me and took roots there. I had to know that – that for fear of which the wind blew and the sun rose; for fear of which fire burned and Indra did what he was supposed to do; for fear of which death stalked the world tirelessly. 
It is this quest that had led me to the ashram. Unlike the other inmates of the ashram, I had missed Swamiji before I joined the ashram.

How Swamiji Had Learned to Swim in a Pond in My Village
Every morning all of us brahmacharis and brahmacharinis went to Swamiji’s room to touch his feet and take his blessings whenever he was in the ashram. All of us did it early in the morning, but there was no fixed time, nor any queues in spite of the large number of inmates and guests in the ashram. Swamiji would be at his table, working, ready after his bath and other morning rituals, by five in the morning without break and you could walk in and take his blessings.
One day when I went to him, he was alone and in a leisurely mood. As I turned to go after prostrating at his feet, Swamiji asked me to stop, a smile spreading across his face. He asked me where exactly I was from – and I told him the name of my village. It is a well known small place in Kerala, famous for its temple drummers. Years later I learnt that it was in the Ayyappa temple in our village that something unique in the history of sacred Vedic scholarship in the country had begun – kadavalloor anyonyam, in which two groups of Kerala brahamanas, known as namboodiris, would meet and assess the Vedic scholarship of one another. The scholars represent the brahmaswam mathas of Thrissur and Tirunavaya, and through this anyonyam [a word that means each other] both perform a ritual as well as examine the precision of the chanting and through it the learning of the scholars from the two traditions. The anyonyam is of great value in preserving the prakriti and vikriti pathas [readings, chantings] of the Rig Veda and scholars are awarded titles like Mumpilirikkal, Katannirikkal and Valiya Katannirikkal. Though started in the temple in our village, the anyonyam is these days conducted at the Kadavalllor temple in Kerala as a spell-binding event that lasts ten days. I understand that such a debate-cum-ritual-cum-examination of Vedic scholarship is not conducted anywhere else.
As I mentioned the name of my village, Swamiji thought for a moment and asked, “Isn’t there a famous family there, a landed aristocrat family? What is their name?” I immediately recognised the family – a girl from the family had been my classmate in high school. I named the family and Swamiji said, “Yes, that’s it.”. And then he told me how it was in a pond surrounded by paddy fields, some distance behind their house, that he had learnt swimming. He was staying as a guest in their house as a boy and used to go there for his bath, and as children do, learnt swimming there. Swamiji’s face was beaming as he recalled those childhood days.
Some years later, a few members from that family and a couple of other young people visited my home when I was there and they had a request for Swamiji which they wanted me to take to him. When I told them of how Swamiji still cherished memories of his stay in their house as a boy, they were understandably delighted.
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Some four-five years back, on a visit to my sister’s house, I took a walk on the eastern side of our village. I hadn’t been to those parts of the village for decades. One of the things I was looking for was the pond – well, it was almost as large as a small lake, maybe in reality or at least in my memories. I had spent so many hours as a child happily swimming in it – swimming from one side to the other was a big challenge because of its size and I remember how my mother always warned me against it. And now Swamiji’s association with the pond had made it sacred for me. I was all excited as I took the walk.
To my shock, I realized the great progress Kerala has been making had completely swallowed up the pond. My initial feeling was perhaps I had missed the place and have reached somewhere else. Possible, because the village has changed so completely. What was once a rubber estate was now a sprawling residential complex originally planned for people who returned from the Gulf. Several other residential complexes have appeared. In fact, there was hardly anything that had not changed except the Ayyappa Temple, the attached temple pond, the primary school and a rare few houses. “No,” my sister who was with me assured me. “You are exactly where the pond used to be.”
I looked everywhere and all I could find was a tiny pool of water, not ten or twelve feet wide and some thirty feet long. The rest had all disappeared, a victim to encroachment.
As I type out these lines on my computer in a city in the eastern parts of the country, I have changed so much from the little village boy I used to be. But in spite of that I can still smell the wet freshness of the air around the pond and the crystal clarity of its water across the more than four decades of time that has passed.
It makes me really, really sad to think of the disappearance of the pond. True, so much else has disappeared and everything is vinashavan – everything perishes. Time claims everything as its own. Yet the pond where Swami Chinmayandaji learnt swimming just vanishing.....!
I am writing these lines in the birth centenary year of Swamiji when Chinmaya Mission has organized celebrations all over the world, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has released a gold coin in Swamiji’s memory and so many other things are happening. That makes it sadder still.
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To be continued....

Saturday, July 18, 2015

To Meditators: Practical Suggestions for Achieving Inner Silence


Dharamshala,
India: Photo by Anagha M.

I teach a course called Zen and the Executive Mind in one of the top business schools in India. Zen means meditation and meditation is something to be practiced rather than discussed; and naturally, practice of meditation is central to the course. A common difficulty practitioners of meditation run into is their inability to achieve inner silence – not just my students, but all meditators all over the world face this problem. It is for this reason that one of the most frequently asked questions about meditation is about the difficulty to control the mind, to control the thoughts in the mind during meditation. In fact, as you move into meditation, the mind appears to become more restless, more chaotic.  It is only partly true though; the other part is that normally we are not aware of the chaos in the mind, but in meditation we become aware of it. In this short article, we are going to take a look at how we can achieve inner silence in meditation and retain that inner silence throughout the day.

One of the first mistakes we make is to believe that the moment we sit down to meditate the mind will immediately become quiet, still. Stillness of the mind is the end of meditation, not its starting point. In the journey of meditation, thoughts are going to be with us for a long, long time. In fact, even when we reach the highest peaks of meditation, which happens only to deeply committed meditators, thoughts will still be there in the mind. Meditation literature speaks of two kinds of samadhi, the highest peak of meditation – savikalpa samadhi and nirvikalpa samadhi. Even at the stage of savikalpa samadhi, vikalpas will be there in the mind. That is what the word savikalpa samadhi means – samadhi with vikalpas. In this state there still are thoughts, ideas, and so on in the mind, though they do not disturb the meditator.  It is only in nirvikalpa samadhi that the mind becomes completely still, silent. There are no more thoughts, no ideas, nothing, except pure awareness itself. In that state, in the words of my parama guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati, “the mind loses its own consciousness and becomes identical with the object of meditation”.

So if even in the lower samadhi the mind has thoughts and ideas in it, how can we expect the mind to become still with a few days or weeks of sitting in meditation, a few minutes a day? Our expectations become our enemy, the enemy of our achieving meditative stillness.

For meditation is not something that we can rush into, but something we gently float into, something that happens to us – and happens on its own, like sleep that comes on its own. There is nothing we can do to make it happen, except let it happen and surrender to it when it happens. The more we struggle to make sleep happen to us, the more we try to force sleep to come to us, the more it evades us. It happens when we relax, when we let go of all struggles, all efforts. Exactly in the same way, meditation happens when we let go of all efforts, all struggles, and do not even wait for it, but just let go. There is no other way for meditation to happen to us.

Yam esha vrinute tasya sa vivrunute tanum svam – says the Up0anishad. It reveals itself only to the one whom it chooses, even as a shy bride reveals her body only to the one whom she chooses for herself. And the requirement to be chosen is to let go – let go of thoughts, of worries, of plans, of the list of things to do, the deadlines.

And above all, to let go of the need to be in control, for the time being at least. My years of experience with meditation tells me that people who have a need to be always in control are the ones that have the hardest time getting into meditation. 

But what happens if you want to let go but are not able to do it because thoughts keep coming into your mind? What happens when you sit in meditation and try to let go of your worries, your thoughts, your problems, all that keep you away from inner silence but instead of inner silence, what you have is a mad, chaotic rush of thoughts and images, madder and more chaotic than before you sat down to meditate?

Struggling to stop the thoughts is useless because the struggle itself becomes another obstruction. Worrying about it is useless, because the very worry becomes an obstruction. The only thing we can do really is develop what masters call the witness attitude, sakshi bhava.  

A book that influenced me deeply and changed my life forever when I was in my early teens is Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the story of a boy in ancient India, at the time of the Buddha, with the same name Buddha had when he was a prince. Young Siddhartha joins numerous spiritual traditions that flourished in India at that time, including that of Buddha, meets Buddha personally, but he is not able to reach inner stillness. Eventually, as an old man, towards the end of his life, while working as a ferry man taking people across a river, it is by watching the river flowing by that he finds inner silence.

That is exactly what we have to do. Thoughts will be there when we sit down to meditate, there will worries, plans, deadlines, all kinds of things. Rather than fighting them, just become a watcher, a witness. You become Siddhartha and let your mind become the flowing river. You become the sky and let your mind become the clouds floating by.

This can do wonders for you.

Yes, it will take time, but slowly you will find the thoughts in your mind are losing their feverishness, a kind of serenity is coming to them. It is like a torrent becoming a serene flow. From then on the journey is smoother. And when you discover inner silence, you will find there is nothing in existence more beautiful than that.

The Mundaka Upanishad has this hauntingly beautiful mantra:

Dwa suparna sayuja sakhaya
Samanam vriksham parishaswajate;
Tayor anyah pippalam swadu atti
Anashnan anyo abhijakashiti.

There are two birds perched on a tree, friends, always together; of these two, one keeps eating the sweet fruits of the tree, the other keeps watching on.

As the Upanishad says, we are the bird that keeps eating the fruits of the tree – the pleasant and unpleasant experiences of life – and at the same time we are the bird that keeps on watching, uninvolved, just witnessing. What is to be done in meditation is to become the bird that watches on, at least for the duration of sitting in meditation.

Another help is to cultivate the daivi sampad that the sixteenth chapter of the Gita speaks of – positive virtues such as fearlessness, purity of mind, self-mastery, uprightness and so on. The Gita advises us to develop samata – equanimity – in success and failure, while dealing with pleasant and unpleasant people, with enemies and friends. That too helps a lot. Patanjali speaks of the need to begin meditation by cultivating the five yamas and the five niyamas – non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, abstinence from over-indulgence, non-possessiveness, cleanliness, contentment, discipline, self-study and surrender to existence.

What Inner Silence Can Do For Us 
“When you are still, you find that your perception of life is at its purest,” says Ron Rothbun, in The Way Is Within. One of the first things inner stillness does for us is to make our perceptions keener and clearer. This is true about mental perceptions as well as about physical perceptions.  I do not think it needs to be explained that when our mind is disturbed, our perceptions are distorted. The mind is like a mirror and everything we see, we see through it, in it. Just as the distorted mirrors you find a village fair elongates or flattens out or in other ways distort your image falling in them, when the mind is restless, not at peace, all our perceptions are distorted. A case in point is what one of my students did on a pilgrimage to Kailas-Manas Sarovar. He was upset because he had to stay back at Manas and couldn’t proceed to Kailas and when the tent in which he was staying at Manas caught fire, instead of pouring water to douse it, he emptied a can of kerosene oil over it. Many of us have made terrible road accidents because our mind was not still while driving. Under pressure even great executives take wrong decisions. It has been known for airport traffic control personnel to become the cause of airplane accidents because their minds were upset under stress. The timeless Vedantic metaphor of rajju-sarpa-bhranti is a beautiful example for how our perceptions are distorted when the mind is not still. In semi-darkness, we see a piece of rope lying on the floor and because we are afraid, the mind has lost its stillness, we mistake it for a snake and scream in terror.

When your mind is still, it becomes easier to get into what modern psychology calls the flow state. And similarly, when you get into the flow state, your mind becomes still. In a way we can say flow is a state of still mind. Flow is what sportsmen frequently speak of as the zone. In flow your efficiencies increase manifold, you are ccompletely involved in what you are doing, totally focused, entirely concentrated. Your mind experiences no distractions, even when highly distracting events happen right next to you as in the case of a neurosurgeon who remained focused on the brain surgery he was doing in spite of the roof collapsing behind him. You have great inner clarity. There are no confusions, no doubts. In flow you know exactly what needs to be done, your perceptions attain absolute clarity.  You feel absolutely challenged, fully engaged and you experience a feeling of ecstasy, a sense of rapture, so that the work itself becomes self-motivating, without a need for other rewards, as happens to a mountaineer, for instance, when he tackles a dangerous cliff.

George Leonard, author of The Ultimate Athlete, speaks of a sportsman’s experience of being in the zone, in the flow state: “Long distance runner Michael Spino was training one rainy day along dirt and asphalt. 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 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.”

What Spino is speaking about is the experience of countless people engaged in all kinds of activities: an executive in the boardroom, a salesman dealing with a customer, a teacher in the classroom, a cook in the kitchen, a woodcutter splitting wood, a gardener mowing grass, people doing a million other things. Because flow is a state available to us all, if only we can make our mind still, have inner silence, while engaged in the activities of our life.

Tibetan psychology, deep, profound, based on the insights of countless yogis over millennia, speaks of our two minds: the lower mind that it calls sem and the higher mind, rig. In the words of Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, sem is “the discursive, dualistic, thinking mind…that thinks, plots, desires, manipulates, that flares up in anger, that creates and indulges in waves of negative emotions and thoughts, that has to go on and on asserting, validating, and confirming its existence by fragmenting, conceptualizing, and solidifying experience.” Sem is the mind as we know it, the mind that masters liken to a candle flame in an open doorway, constantly flickering, subject to every passing external influence.

Apart from this mind, we also have what is called rig, the higher mind, what Indian spiritual psychology calls prajna, chit, chiti – “the primordial, pure, pristine awareness that is at once intelligent, cognizant, radiant, and always awake.”
   
The wisdom of yoga, the wisdom of the east, teaches us that sem has no intelligence and all intelligence belongs to rig. The intelligence of the ordinary mind, the lower mind, of sem, is the intelligence of rig reflected on it. And just as the reflection of the sky in a lake will be clear when the water is clear and disturbed when the water is disturbed, when sem is still, it can reflect the intelligence of rig beautifully and when it is disturbed, we have either very little intelligence or confused intelligence. Inner stillness is the state where our sem is still and reflects intelligence perfectly, giving us keen perceptions, great imagination, superb creativity and sound memory.

Just one more thing. Life becomes beautiful, the world is beautiful, only when our mind is still. When your mind is upset, say because you have just received the pink slip, the beautiful sunset is no more beautiful, the delightful movie is no more delightful, nor is the grand concert in the best hall in the city any good. And when your mind is still, the entire world is beautiful – a simple walk on grass becomes an unforgettable experience, sipping coffee from a cup becomes wonderful and you are mesmerized by the calls of a bird from a distant tree and the chirping of a cricket at night – which I can hear at this moment!


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Monday, June 22, 2015

Ananda Bhairava and Saying Yes to Life


Reading a Darshan Diary of Osho Rajneesh last evening I came across the advice the master gave to one of his disciples who had just been initiated into sannyas. The man, apparently not an Indian, had been given a new name as is customary during such initiations: Anand Bhairava. Osho explained: the word anand means bliss and bhairava means God – so his new name means the God of Bliss.


He then explained to the new sannyasin that Bhairava is one of the names of Lord Shiva and Shiva is God who celebrates life, God who is life affirmative and not life negating. He is not against life, but for it. Osho asked his disciple to constantly remember not to deny anything, not to fight with anything, not to carry any condemnatory attitude.

“Love is affirmation,” said Osho. “When you say yes to life, you are loving, you are flowing. When you say no to life, you are stuck, frozen. That’s how people have become stuck – by saying no to many things. There are people who cannot say yes. No comes very easy to them. Their whole attitude is based on negativity. No helps the ego to be very strong; it is an ego-enhancer. The more you say yes, the less the ego can exist. And the less the ego, of course the more the bliss.”

Continuing his advice, Osho asked his newly initiated disciple to “start feeling more of a yes attitude. Even sometimes when you feel it is difficult to say yes, then too, try. And if you can manage to say yes, you will suddenly see a release of energy – as if one obstacle has been transcended, one negation has been dropped. You will feel more freedom with yes. So with the name Bhairava, remember it – become more of a yea-sayer and drop nay-saying. One day you will come to a point where you can say yes to all. That moment is of total release. One is free so nothing confines one, nothing holds one down… A person who says no all his life goes on crippling himself, goes on denying many parts of his being, disowning them, and becomes smaller and smaller and smaller. In the end a no-sayer simply remains a no – doors closed, all contact with life lost. That is actually what spiritual death is – a person just living inside a no. Spiritual life is living with yes – flying, flowing with yes. So Bhairava is the God of yes, affirmation, love, life. Remember it.”

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All advice from a master to a disciple is an individual thing – meant for that particular disciple for that particular occasion. We often generalize it and take it as an advice meant for all sadhakas for all times. And in doing so, we err. That is why it has been said that we should go personally to masters for their guidance and instruction. In this particular case, following the advice given above, Osho explains to the disciple concerned that he is asking him to follow the path of yes-saying because he has observed in him a lot of negativity. So this is Osho’s advice to a disciple with a lot of negativity in him.

But as teaching meant for all, where does Osho’s advice stand?

Let us begin by taking at a look at the Vedic religion of India. While the Vedic religion may not be the oldest form of Hinduism since Hinduism is older than the Vedas themselves, hoary though they are, and many of its variations still survive in the form of religious cults of ecstasy spread across many parts of our subcontinent, it definitely is the form of Hinduism for which authentic texts are available through which we can study and understand them.

Speaking of Vedic Hinduism, Dr Radha Kumud Mookherji, a scholar of Vedic culture and author of such books asThe Call of the Vedas, says: “The Vedas and especially the primordial work known as the Rig Veda, represent not merely the dawn of culture, but also its zenith. Indian thought is seen at its highest in the Rig Veda… On the one hand it is the first book of India and also of mankind. At the same time it shows the highest point of human wisdom.”

How does the Rig Veda see life? What is its attitude towards living?

In the words of Dr Mookherji, “The Vedas accept life in its fullness. The malaise caused by the loss of balance between the primary biological instincts [the body] and man’s active and contemplative faculties [the mind] is completely absent in them. There is no clash between flesh and spirit. There is no evidence of the tragedy of the divided soul and the anguish and misery that accompany it. Nor do we come across signs of repression or self-torture, accompanied by morbid sin-consciousness... Instead what we find is a sense of festivity, the celebration of life.”

To the Vedic people, life was a festival of joy – such joy in which one forgets oneself and becomes one with all existence and experiences existence itself as ecstasy. For, to exist is, said the sages of the Vedas, is to be joyous; existence is pure joy, ananda.

To the Vedic people, God was joy. “We worship with joyous hearts the joyous Deity, dear to all, effulgent, holy, purifying.” [RV VIII.43.31] The Vedic seers believed there is sacredness in all our joys and to be joyous is to be close to the Divine. They saw prayer not as repentance for sin, tapas not as penitence – to them worship was “the opening of the flood-gates of a joyous soul before the radiant glory of the Source of all joy.”

The Vedic people knew how to say yes to life. The oldest hymns of humanity composed by them celebrate love in all imaginable forms: familial love, love of the community, love of the rashtra, love of nature, love of the divinity manifest in nature, love of wisdom, love of poetry and dance, love of festivity, erotic love, all. And they saw sex not as a sinful act but as a celebration of life and as an offering to the gods, a holy yajna [sacrifice] performed at the altar of life for bringing new life into the world. “Hey Gautama,” says the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, part of the Shukla Yajur Veda, “woman is fire, ...her sexual organs the sacred place where offerings are made, ...and the spouts of joy that arise when you make offerings at that altar are the sparks of fire that arise when offerings are made into the sacred fire...and man is born from that offering” [Br.Up VI.II.13]

There is absolutely no life-denying here, no world-denying. Man is not a sinner born of sin, but a divine being born from a sacred offering made at a sacred altar.

Recently I was part of a group of professors offering a leadership training programme in one of India’s most respected training centres to a group of executives from all over the country. Soon after I started my session, one of the executives raised his hand and said the faculty before me had mentioned that Indian culture is a negative, life denying, world denying culture and requested me to respond to that comment. I patiently explained to the group how the comment was born of a lack of understanding of Indian culture and how the fact is just the opposite. I took time to explain how many of us are still conditioned by colonialist perceptions of India that said Indians, Indian culture and Indian religions are life-negative, less because our colonial masters really believed so and more because saying so and painting India in dark colours served their purpose of demoralising Indians and thus keeping us under slavery.

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I find the advice given by Osho to his disciple completely in sync with the perceptions of the Vedic seers.

Ages after the time of the Vedas, when the culture of the seers had gone into decline, something that happens to all cultures, we find in Krishna someone who tries to rejuvenate the wisdom of the seers. He lived his own great life in the spirit of the Vedic seers: in utsava bhava. We find the same message in innumerable Indian masters subsequent to him too, like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Meera, Sree Ramakrishna and so on, each of whom lived his or her life as a celebration, dancing in ecstasy, frequently getting into trances of pure bliss.

There is a small video of a short mohiniyattam performance by Sunanda Nair and team on You Tube in which they dance to the Sanskrit song nrityati nrityati sambashivo… In a way that song and that dance communicate the very essence of Indian culture: life is Shiva and Shakti dancing together in celebration. Life is a leela, it is a kreeda, a sport. Energy expressing itself in vibrant life, out of pure joy, in the exuberance of celebrating itself – that is what life is, said ancient India. It has no ultimate goal – even moksha, often considered as the ultimate goal, is no goal, for moksha is learning to live life free from bondage, free from the bondage of ignorance, awakening from ignorance, sambodhi. Today we live our life bound by ignorance – awakening from that ignorance so that life becomes free, the celebration it really is, that is sambodhi, that is moksha. India has repeatedly said throughout its history that life is suffering, duhkha, only so long as we are ignorant, bound, and the moment we free ourselves from ignorance, life becomes pure bliss.

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There is short prose poem in one of my favourite books, Nikos Kasantzakis’s Zorba the Greek: The Dialogue of the Buddha and the Shepherd. Let me quote the poem here:

The Shepherd: My meal is ready, I have milked my ewes. The door of my hut is bolted, my fire is alight. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please!

Buddha: I no longer need food or milk. The winds are my shelter, my fire is out. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please.

The Shepherd: I have oxen, I have cows. I have my father’s meadows and a bull who covers my cows. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please!

Buddha: I have neither oxen, nor cows, I have no meadows. I have nothing. I fear nothing. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please!

The Shepherd: I have a docile and faithful shepherdess. For years she has been my wife; I am happy when I play with her at night. And you, sky, you can rain as much as you please!

Buddha: I have a free and docile soul. For years I have trained it and I have taught it to play with me. And you, sky, can rain as much as you please!

These are two contrasting lifestyles, beautifully presented by the author Kazantzakis. But then there is a way of living very different from the two portrayed by this poem: the way of the truly wise man, enlightened living, the way of the living liberated, India’s highest ideal of life, the way the rishis of yore lived, the way Krishna lived, and I am sure the way the Buddha himself lived. Adi Shankara, India’s great mystic-philosopher, sings of it thrillingly in his short philosophical poem Jeevankukta-ananda-lahari, Waves of Bliss of the Living Liberated. Here are two of the eighteen verses of the song:

Kadáchit prásáde kvachidapi cha saudheshu dhaninám

Kadákále shaile kvachidapi cha kooleshu saritám

Kuteere dántánám munijanavaránám api vasan

Munir na vyámoham bhajati gurudeekshákshatatamáh (3)

Now he lives in palaces, now in the rich mansions of the wealthy. At times he resorts to the mountains, at others to the banks of running brooks. Sometimes he dwells in the huts of great ascetics whose wealth is their self-mastery….

Maune maunee gunini gunaván pandite panditashcha

Deene deenas sukhini sukhaván bhogini práptabhogah

Moorkhe moorkho yuvatishu yuvá vágmini praudhavágmee

Dhanyah ko’pi tribhuvanajayee yo’vadhoote’vadhootah [18]

A silent one among the silent ones, virtuous among the virtuous, a scholar amidst scholars, sufferer among the suffering, joyous amidst the joyful, a contented man in the company of the pleasure seeker because he has attained all pleasures, a fool in the company of fools, a youth when he is with young women, eloquent among men of eloquence….

This was the highest Indian ideal of living for India.

India wanted us to say yes to life – to life as it comes to us. If it is pleasure, welcome it. If it is pain, welcome. Welcome victories, welcome losses. Say yes to success, say yes to failures, to heat, to cold, to friends, to foes, to everything, just as Osho asked his new disciple to do.

India had its own name to this kind of life: nyasa, the word from which we get the word sannyasa. But then the sannyasa ancient India spoke of, the sannyasa Krishna speaks of in the Gita, is very different from sannyasa as we generally understand it.

Experiencing everything with awareness, with full consciousness; remaining a witness, alert witness, to all that is happening to us – not being carried away by them, but at the same time experiencing them intensely, that is what India called nyasa or sannyasa. Not running away from things, not denying life, but deep, detached involvement.

In Greek mythology Circe, daughter of Hecate the goddess of black magic and herself a great magician and enchantress, becomes the mother of Odysseus’s three sons. As Odysseus is about to embark upon a journey to the underworld, Circe warns him of the dangers on the way, which include the island of the sirens. The sirens were such tempting singers that when sailors on ships that passed by the islands heard their songs, they went crazy and jumped into the sea to swim to the islands, only to perish on the treacherous shores that surrounded them. Circe warned Odysseus about the danger and asked him to avoid exposure to their songs at all costs. But the more she told him about the grave dangers, the more fascinated he became, as any great hero would. As his ship approached the island, Odysseus asked his men to fill their ears with bee wax so that they could not hear the song of the sirens. As for himself, he had them tie him to the mast of the ship after warning them not to release him on any account, however much he struggled, cursed, threatened or fought.

The sailors were now deaf to the songs, but as the ship approached the islands and waves of the songs began to reach the ears of Odysseus, he, now crazy with desire, began to fight against his bindings and to threaten his soldiers asking them to release him. However the sailors followed his earlier instruction and did not obey him and slowly the ship passed the island, Odysseus all the while fighting, tearing at the ropes, cursing and threatening the sailors. It is said that Odysseus became the first man to remain alive after hearing the song of the sirens.

India wants us to listen to the song of the sirens – all the temptations that this feast of life brings us – without the aid of ropes and yet remain in complete self mastery. This self-mastery is called nyasa. India wants each one of us to conquer ourselves, to become a jina as Mahavira became, using the only weapon that it would allow us: in the words of the Gita, asanga-shastra, the sword of non-attachment. Only a man who can do this is a swami.

The heart of nyasa is awareness – what Zen masters call attention: attention to the present, attention to whatever you are doing, to whatever is happening in the now. Awareness that helps you experience the now intensely and at the same time detaches you from whatever is happening, makes you a witness of everything, an uninvolved witness, a bystander who watches what is going on.

Once a young man came to Zen master Ikkyu and asked him to explain to him as briefly as possible what Zen means. Master Ikkyu took a piece of paper and with a brush wrote on it one word and handed it over to the young man, who read it: Attention. With a puzzled look, the man requested Ikkyu: “Can you be a little more detailed. This is too short for me.” The master took the paper back and wrote something more on it again and gave it back to the man. He looked at it and saw written on the paper two words: Attention, attention. Rather impatient and irritated, the man handed the paper once more to Ikkyu and said, “Master, please. Make it clear to me, be more elaborate, please.” And this time when the master handed the paper back, the man saw written on it: Attention, attention, attention. ‘That’s it,” said the master. It cannot be made more elaborate.”

The essence of Zen is attention. And that precisely is the essence of nyasa too – being attentive, wide awake, fully conscious, mindful, fully aware of whatever is happening to you, whatever life brings to you. Precisely what Krishna teaches. Precisely what the Buddha taught.

We sometimes forget that the Buddha is first master of Zen and Buddha’s teachings are a reassertion of the best in ancient Indian wisdom rather than a rejection of it.

India taught saying yes to all life and consciously living it.

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However, there are grave dangers to this path. Such a path is not for everybody. It requires great alertness, great courage, great heroism. It is for this reason that this way of life is sometimes called asidhara vrata – the edge of the sword way, or the razor’s edge way. Because it is as difficult as walking on the edge of the razor. Kshurasya dhara nishita duratyaya, durgam pathas tat kavayo vadanti, as the Kathopanishad puts it – the wise speak of that path as the edge of the razor, sharp, difficult to traverse upon.

Damage is a 1992 British-French movie directed by Louis Malle, starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche. Rated R for strong sexuality and for its language, the movie centers around what happens when Dr Stephen Fleming, a responsible father, British parliamentarian and Minister for Environment, becomes sexually obsessed with his young son’s beautiful lover and fiancée Anna Barton. Such is his passion for his son’s fiancée that nothing can stop him. The movie shows how, on one occasion, maddened by lust for Anna, Stephen abandons a two-day European Parliament conference in Brussels and catches a train to reach Paris where she is spending a weekend with his son. Stephen telephones to her in her room where she is sleeping with the young man and calls her outside. They meet and have sex in the early hours of the day in broad daylight in front of the open doorway of a church while church bells toll in the background. Stephen loses all grip over himself, he does not anymore care for his beautiful wife or their son, does not care about how his passion can destroy him as an individual, destroy his family, destroy his public life. As can easily be imagined, such a relationship can end in nothing but tragedy.

Unless one is a sadhaka of the highest caliber, someone like Sthulibhadra the monk that Jain literature speaks of who is able to spend his four months in the house of a prostitute he was once in love with and yet does not lose his self-mastery, it is indeed dangerous to think of treading such a path. It is for this reason that most masters speak of the need for sadhakas to be careful of the snares on the path. Fall on this path is effortless – you miss one step, a moment without alertness and you fall. For the vast majority of people, the best thing would be to avoid that path. It is only for those who are ready for it – matured, alert, attentive, constantly aware, constantly in Zen.

Tantra is a path developed by India in which sadhakas are constantly pushed into paths filled with danger, with temptations, experiences in which it is easy to lose awareness, self-mastery and yet are asked to retain awareness and self mastery. Tantra is the highest path in which asidhara vrata is practiced by deliberating throwing oneself into the world of temptations.

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This path is not confined to Indian spiritual traditions alone. Acceptance of all that life brings is part of all religious and spiritual traditions. The very word Islam, for instance, means submission to the will of God, surrender, total acceptance of whatever is his will, of whatever life brings through his will. And the Lord’s Prayer in Christianity, the most common Christian prayer, says: Thy will be done – may whatever is your, God’s, will be done, not what is my will. That is acceptance of whatever life brings.

Throughout the Gita Krishna teaches Arjuna to accept the war and fight it with all his heart now that it has become inevitable – surrendering to God. And Krishna’s final teaching in the Gita is: sarvadharman parityajya, mam ekam sharanam vraja – drop everything else and surrender to me, accept me as your final refuge. Krishna is repeating here what he has taught earlier: prasada-buddhi, the attitude that whatever life brings is God’s grace, his prasada.

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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Aangirasi: Woman who Changed Rama’s Ancestry


We do not know her name, so we will call her Aangirasi. It is the Mahabharata that tells her story – and in the story she has no name. Like so many other women in our epics – Rama’s mother Kausalya, Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi, Duryodhana’s mother Gandhari, to name just a few important women – she is a woman without a name. And yet her story is powerful in itself to be told here, apart from the fact that she plays a decisive role in the ancestry of Rama. Since her time, the blood of the Ikshwaku’s would no more be pure kshatriya blood, assuming it had so far been so. It would be mixed with brahmana blood, through an act of niyoga – the same act through which at a later time Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura would be born in the Bharata family through Sage Vyasa, through which the founders of Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, and Paundra would be born to the family of Emperor Bali through the sage Deerghatamas.

We would call her Aangirasi because her husband, whom the epic simply calls a brahmana and who has practically no role in this story, is mentioned as belonging to the Angirasa gotra.  

The story is related to an ancestor of Rama – King Saudasa, also known as Veerasaha,  Mitrasaha and Kalmashapada. His father was Sudasa, hence the name Saudasa. Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata tell us his story. And, as it usually happens in Indian culture where authors and story tellers enjoyed endless freedom to tell stories in their own ways, the stories they tell are significantly different. The Mahabharata tells his story in much greater detail than the Ramayana does. However, for our purposes, I shall follow the shorter Ramayana story for the first part of Aangirasi’s story that deals with the curse Kalmashapada receives and for the second part the Mahabharat since, Aangirasi does not appear in the Ramayana story.

King Mitrasaha Saudasa was doing what was expected of every righteous king in those days – killing wild animals of the jungle that were a threat to the people of his land. Thick, wild jungles abounded everywhere and villages and cities were built on land claimed from the wild. He had been camping in the jungles for several days and had killed a large number of ferocious animals when it happened. He saw all on a sudden not far from him a particularly ferocious looking pair of lions roaming fearlessly in the forest, sending all other animals scattered all around. Animals just fled screaming at their sight – a rather unusual sight since animals usually fled from a lion only when it began chasing them, not at its sight. These lions had to be dealt with instantly. Mitrasaha’s hands went effortlessly at the thought to his quiver and by the split second it took for him to fetch an arrow from it, his left hand was already holding the bow ready for the arrow. The next instant the arrow pierced one of the two lions and lo! what fell, its vitals pierced by the arrow, was not a lion but a terrifying looking rakshasa.

The jungles were the favourite haunts of wild rakshasas in those days – they loved to terrorize animals.  And the pair was in fact two rakshasa friends who had the ability to assume any form – as most people of this race of awesome power had. They were enjoying themselves in the jungle, spreading terror wherever they went, killing animals at random for fun.

Before the king had time to fully realize what was happening, the other rakshasa had turned upon the king in explosive fury. “Wretch,” he said. “You killed my friend! What harm had he done to you to deserve death?”

The king did not know what to say. Of course, as the king he had the right to kill anyone or anything within him kingdom that he considered a threat to his subjects. And the rakshasa deserved death, though it was mistaking him for a wild lion that Saudasa had killed him.
In any case, the rakshasa did not give him a chance to speak. “You deserve to die for what you have done,” he said. “But that will be letting you off too easy. You deserve a punishment worse than death. And that’s exactly what you will get.” Saying this the rakshasa wept over his dead friend for a while more and then, carrying his body with him, disappeared into the darkness of the jungle.

A few months passed. Since nothing happened that he could relate to the killing of the rakshasa, the king forgot all about it. After all, a ruler of the land has a thousand things to think about every day that it is not always that he gets time to ponder over things that no longer mattered.

The next incident in the story of Saudasa takes place towards the end of a sacrifice that the king had been conducting with Sage Vasishtha as the chief priest. In those days, life moved leisurely and Vedic sacrifices lasted months, sometimes years. It was the concluding day of the yajna, people were waiting for the ritual avabhrita bath that marked the conclusion of the sacrifice when the king received instructions in person from Vasishtha himself – on that day his meal should be prepared with meat.

The king was shocked. The great sage asking for meat in the last meal of the sacrifice? What a sacrilegious thing! How can you even think of something as shocking as that? The perplexed king looked again at the sage and the sage repeated his words: “You heard me, rajan. Today I need my meal to be served with meat.” And the sage walked away.
Unknown to the king, it was the rakshasa he had left alive who had given this instruction to the king, appearing in Vasishtha’s guise and speaking in his voice. The revenge the rakshasa had spoken of.  The worst thing a king could do in a sacrifice was to insult the chief priest – and that too by serving him a meal with meat in it! The rakshasa wanted the king to do precisely that. An act so unholy that it would be no wonder if the sage laid a curse on the king along with seven generations of his children.

Such was the authority and reverence Vasishtha commanded, the king could of nothing but to obey his words, however strange they were. Though it puzzled the king deeply, confused him, disturbed him, even angered him. What was the sage doing? Trying to destroy him? Destroy all his merit acquired through the sacrifice? Destroy the kingdom with all its people? What was he punishing him for? What Vasishtha was doing would certainly destroy him with all his family. The kingdom was nothing but an extension of the king. It will destroy the kingdom too, as other angry sages had done with other erring kings.

The king called the chief royal cook and gave instructions that the meal for the sage that day should include meat. The royal cook listened in shock to what the king was saying and walked away silently. He was not going to do something as evil as that.

But the rakshasa will not be discouraged by the cook’s lack of cooperation. When the time for the meal to be served to the sage came, the rakshasa himself brought it to the king in golden plates, this disguising himself as the chief chef. What he had brought in one of the plates was cooked human flesh. When the cook decided not to obey the king, the rakshasa had gone even further than he had instructed earlier.

Of course, there was no way the king could find out the man standing in front of him was not the royal cook but the rakshasa in disguise.  

The king accompanied by his wife offered the meal to the sage and the sage immediately recognized the food for what it is. He couldn’t believe a king would do something like that to him. His eyes burning in anger, he cursed the king: “Since you feed me human flesh in place of sanctified food, Oh king, from today your food shall be human flesh. I lay this curse on you – you shall be a rakshasa living the life of a cannibal from this very day.”
Saudasa was no ordinary king. He himself had done years of tapas and acquired great yogic powers through it. As far as he was concerned, all he had done was obey the rishi’s shocking order. And yet now he was being cursed. This was completely unjust.
In a moment of flaring anger, Saudasa took sanctified water in his hand and raised his hand to sprinkle it on the sage laying a counter course on him. His wife, Queen Madayanti, though stopped him and brought him back to his senses. She told him the person in front of him was his guru, his preceptor, and he cannot curse him back. Cooling down, the king sprinkled the water on his own legs – mantra empowered water couldn’t go waste. As the drops of water fell on his feet, his feet developed spots everywhere. That is how he acquired his new name – kalmashapada means dark spotted leg.

Struggling to master himself with great difficulty, the king now explained to the sage that it was he himself that had ordered for the meat and all he had done was to obey him. The rishi realized what exactly had happened. But the words of a sage cannot be waste, even if uttered in anger. The sage felt sorry for the king and did the best he could do under the circumstances – he limited the power of the curse and said that after twelve years of life as a rakshasa, he could regain in original nature and once again become the virtuous ruler of men that he was. Vasishtha advised him that nature as a rakshasa was wicked and powerful and he should try his best to retain his mastery over himself, an essential virtue for any ruler, and refrain from evil in spite of becoming a rakshasa. Perhaps regretting what he had done without understanding the full picture, Vasishtha blessed Saudasa with eternal fame – so long as the sun and the moon lasted, his name would remain in the world.
Saudasa thanked his guru for the blessing but knew what the sage was asking was impossible. He had already seen the power of rakshasa nature. Hadn’t he taken water in his hand and empowered it with mantras in order to curse his guru in a moment of anger? He also knew the rakshasa has already had his revenge. He, Saudasa, the noble Ikshwaku king, would now live for twelve years as a rakshasa. And what evils wouldn’t he now commit as a rakshasa? He knew he was doomed. The vengeance of the rakshasa was a thousand times worse than death.

There is a saying in Sanskrit that when Time wants to punish a man, it doesn’t take a stick and beat him up with it. Instead, what it does is to corrupt his brain. And that is what the rakshasa had done. Corrupt not only the brain of the king, but his heart too, his very nature.
As darkness began taking greater grip over his soul every second, Kalmashapada left the kingdom to the care of his ministers and hurried out of the capital before he could do any more harm.

The next twelve years he would live in the jungle the life of a rakshasa, thinking the thoughts of a rakshasa, feeling the feelings of a rakshasa, eating the food of a rakshasa.
It is in the jungle while he was in this sad state that his encounter with the brahmani
Aangirasi takes place.

Incidentally, the story the Mahabharata tells us about how Saudasa became a rakshasa is very different from this story and far more complicated. We shall skip that story to move on to the story of Aangirasi and how she changed Rama’s ancestry – the blood of all the Ikshwaku kings following Saudasa, beginning with his son Ashmaka.

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One day Kalmashapada was roaming the thick jungles that were now his home. Since he became a rakshasa, his hunger had become intolerable – the more he ate, the hungrier he felt. And he would eat anything that came to his hand – there were no more any rules for him as to what to eat and what not to eat. Food that he wouldn’t once touch with a barge pole was okay with him now. Of course he ate fruits and roots if they came to his hand, but he had a strong preference for meat. Any meat would do – usually meat eaters preferred the meat of animals that fed on vegetables – like the deer, the wild buffalo and so on. Kalmashapada felt no such compunctions about his food habits. Anything was okay, anywhere was okay, anytime was okay with him now. It was as though he was obsessed with food and eating. He lived for eating and relished the killing that prefaced eating. Violence thrilled him, blood thrilled him. He enjoyed giving pain, even his own pain seemed to please him. All that he once considered dirty, evil and untouchable was what he relished now. As he sunk into the darkest of evil deeds the very thought of which would have shaken him to his soul earlier, he laughed uproariously, sending terror throughout the jungle, making even the most ferocious of animals run for their life.

On that day too he was terribly hungry – it is not that he hadn’t eaten anything, but hunger never seemed to leave him. He had just woken up from sleep after a heavy meal and was roaming the jungles searching for food, already tormented by hunger. As he roared in hunger, wild animals fled, their eyes wild with pure terror. He could lay hand on not a single animal and his eyes, maddened by the raving emptiness he felt in his stomach, roved everywhere. It was then that he saw them – a young brahmana and his beautiful wife, lost in the games of love.

It was such a beautiful sight – a loving young couple surrounded by all the beauty of a wild jungle. The season was spring, trees were in blossom, the breeze intoxicating, their passion for each other riveting. But to Kalmashapada none of these existed. When one sinks into the world of tamas, all beauty disappears from one’s life, all sensitivity disappears, all refinement disappears. All one is left with is the most basic urges of the body and mind. We become like pigs that enjoy themselves in offal.

Kalmashapada, the once beloved king who was always surrounded by the best of comforts and enjoyed the most refined pleasures, did not feel the spring breeze, did not see the lovely flowers that hung thick from every bough, did not breathe in their intoxicating fragrance that filled the whole jungle, did not see the beauty of the young couple lost to this world in the sweetness of their love. All he saw was food. And he jumped at it and seized it.
In a mighty leap, Kalamashapada grabbed the brahmana in his mighty rakshasa arms and lifted him up in the air, ready to sink his teeth into the flesh of the hapless man.  Aangirasi screamed in anguish, her bloodcurdling wails shattering the peace of the jungle. Her tender body shook in violent tremors. Eyes wild with pure horror, she looked at what was happening unable to comprehend it, unable to believe it, unable to accept it.  Her man had been violently snatched away from her arms while their bodies were still united, while they breathed in union, while their hearts beat as one.

And then she understood. This was Kalmashapada, their once noble king, turned into a rakshasa by a curse.  She had heard that the king now lived in the jungle, but hadn’t imagined he would come anywhere near where they were. And there he was standing, his appearance monstrous, his body mighty as the sal trees in the jungle, every limb of his exuding violence and brutality, his roars shaking the very earth, his arms holding her beloved in a mighty grip, his mouth open with his teeth ready to sink into him. The brahmana’s body twisted about in his hands, the terror of the grasp of the rakshasa taking away all his senses, his mouth open but not a sound coming out of it – his dread so great.   
Aangirasi stood straight, mastering herself with superhuman will. Looking steadily into the eyes of the abominable monster standing in front of her, she said, “Great king, you are the son of King Sudasa, the performer of a hundred holy sacrifices. You are a descendant of mighty Ikshwaku, who name will be taken with reverence by all so long as the sun and the moon last. Your ancestor is the sun god himself – Vivaswan, to whom millions pray every morning chanting the very soul of the Vedas, the gayatri mantra. And Manu, the first law-giver of humanity, the one who taught us all what is right and what is wrong, what to do and what not to do, is your ancestor. True you have been turned into a rakshasa by a curse, but should you sink so deep?  In the name of the honour of your ancestors, in the name of all that is sacred, I beg you: please let go of my husband.”

The words of the gayatri mantra came out of the brahmani’s heart, seeking solace as she had done in a thousand crises in the past, reminding through it once again the rakshasa his unsurpassed noble heritage.

Om bhur bhuvah suvah,” she chanted. “Tat savitur varenyam. Bhargo devasya dheemahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat!”

But it was not Mitrasaha Saudasa who was standing in front of her, but Kalmashapada, Saudasa who had been turned into a rakshasa by a curse.
Wild, terrifying laughter that shook the very vitals of the jungle was Kalmashapada’s only response.  

But the brahmani stood her ground, with great will power mastering her violent emotions, holding together her being that had been shattered into a thousand fragments by the rakshasa’s act.  “No one kills even animals while they are in the middle of the act of mating,” she said addressing the erstwhile king. “And you! You have pulled him away from my very arms while I was united with him in my passion. We are humans – who deserve to be protected by you under all circumstances. Don’t do what you are doing. Let him go, let my husband go. Show mercy to us. Or else eternal shame shall fall on you and all your posterity and all your ancestors. Raja Mitrasaha Saudasa, remember who you are and release the brahmana in your hands. Remember who you are in spite of what has happened to you, in spite of the curse on you.”

At those words Kalmashapada sank his teeth into the flesh of the brahmana. His strong arms tore the brahmana from limb to limb. Tearing his chest apart,  Kalmashapada pulled out the dying man’s heart and tore a mouthful of it, relishing the taste of human flesh, a rakshasa’s favourite delicacy. As he swallowed the bite, he roared again thunderously.
There was a moment of stunned silence from the brahmani. And the next instant tears of unendurable agony fell from her eyes.

As the first drop of tear fell on the forest floor, the grass on which it fell caught fire. The next moment she was surrounded by mighty flames that leapt up all around her. The roaring fire began to spred in all directions, engulfing the jungle.

Aangirasi had made up her mind. She would live no more! Separated so monstrously from her husband, her man snatched away from her arms while they were in the act of making love, his heart torn out from his chest and eaten up by a rakshasa, she would destroy herself.

But there was something that she would do before that.

Her eyes blazing, Aangirasi turned to the rakshasa, “Raja Saudasa,” she said, “what you have done is unforgivable, even for a rakshasa. And what you have done to others – like eating up the one hundred sons of Sage Vasishtha – cannot be forgiven either. With great grief in my heart, with deep anguish, I curse you. You have snatched away my man from my arms and killed and eaten his heart like common meat. For that sin of yours, I lay this curse upon you. When your present curse is over, you will go back to Ayodhya. There, filled with desire, you will approach your wife. But the moment you touch her, that moment shall be your last on earth. You shall die as painful a death as I am going to die now. And I lay this further curse upon you. You have made me childless – my life is wasted. And you have made the Sage Vasishtha chidless, by eating up all his children. For that sin you shall pay in the worst possible way. The only way you can have a child will be by sending your wife, your queen, to Sage Vasishtha, for your eternal shame. And your son will not have your blood in him, nor any of your future generations in them. No more will Ikshwaku blood flow through the veins of your future generations. Ikshwaku blood in your royal family shall end with you!”

The next moment the fire that had leapt up from her tears and was roaring all around her swallowed her. Soon nothing but a small heap of ashes lay where the brahmani stood.

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Later when the curse is over Kalmashapada goes back to his palace and takes over the administration of his kingdom once again. The first night he approaches his wife Madayanti filled with desire for her and for a child, she reminds him of the curse on him and begs him not to touch her, for fear of his death. Eventually Kalmashapada begs his guru Vasishtha whose sons he had eaten up to give him a son through his wife.
The next king of Ayodhya to succeed Kalmashapada is Ashmaka, Vasishtha’s son born to Madayanti.

Aangirasi’s is a powerful story – the story of the power of a woman’s tears. Through this story ancient India tells us that no earthly power can stand the might of a woman’s grief.
There are other valuable lessons in Aangirasi’s and Kalmashapada’s story. In the story, Vasishtha is impulsive in cursing Kalmashapada without looking into the whole picture behind his action, violating the ancient injunction: krodham kuryat na chakasmat – do not explode in sudden anger. The price he has to pay for this is the death of his one hundred sons and endless suffering to him. So deep is his grief that he attempts to end his life at least half a dozen times, failing each time. Eventually his daughter-in-law Adrishyanti sustains him by giving him hope in the form of his grandson growing in her womb.

Kalmashapada’s first failure is trusting appearances and failing to see the reality hidden behind appearances. A king should have eyes to see what is not visible to others. And his subsequent failure is impulsively attempting to curse Vasishtha, his guru, himself. And then, in spite of the warning given him by Vasishtha, he fails to retain his mastery over himself – he becomes a victim to his rakshasa nature. Atma jeyah sada rajna – says the Mahabharata, advising kings and leaders of men: a king should always be a master of himself. True, the curse of the rishi is powerful and all of us are slaves to the power of our nature – but Kalmashapada had the responsibility to retain his self-mastery. He had been warned, he was an Ikshwaku king.

We also wonder if Kalmashapada’s eating up the sons of Vasishtha as well as the brahmana was not at least in part a decision taken by him under the spell of his need for vengeance – the man who had cursed him and turned him into a rakshasa was a brahmana. And the victims were all brahmanas. The Mahabharata tells us another story of Kalmashapada being cursed by another brahmana, this time for feeding him human flesh. Vengeance can be a powerful force and destroys boys the perpetrator of vengeance as well as its victim.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Great Masters Teach: A Few Stories



A legendary spiritual master born in Kerala, the land famous for acharyas like Shri Shankara, is Pakkanar, a pariah by birth. Numerous stories are told about how he gave lessons in the highest wisdom to people in his unique ways. In one of these stories, Pakkanar meets on the road a group of brahmanas who were on their way to Kashi, the holiest of holy places in India. He greeted these men as was appropriate for someone born to one of the lowest castes in the caste hierarchy and enquired of them where they were going. When they replied they were going to Kashi, Pakkanar showed them his walking stick and asked them, “Could your lordships do me a favour? Could you take this stick along and give it a dip in the Ganga too?”
They were offended by the request. They did not want even to touch a pariah’s walking stick. Why should they carry it all the way to Kashi and give it a bath in the Ganga and bring it back? But the man who was making that request was known to be not an ordinary pariah but a man of great wisdom. So instead of refusing him, they asked: “Why do you want the stick to be given a dip in the Ganga?” And all Pakkanar would say was that he would tell them when they brought the stick back. 
Reluctantly they took the stick with them.  
When the brahmanas reached Kashi, one of them dipped the stick in the Ganga and the force of the current carried it away. It disappeared before they could snatch it back. The brahmanas were upset about what happened, but there was nothing they could do. They finished their ritual baths in the Ganga and after visiting a few other holy places en route, eventually came back to their native place. When Pakkanar heard they were back, he went to them and after greeting them with due reverence, enquired about his stick. Did they give it a bath in the Ganga? Have they brought it back? And they told him they lost it. 
“Where did your lordships lose it?” asked Pakkanar.
“In the Ganga, in Kashi,” they answered. 
“Oh, that’s no problem then,” said Pakkanar with a smile. With that he went to the muddy pond that was close by and made a request to it, “Please, may I have my stick back?”
Legend says that the stick immediately rose up from the pond to the amazement of the brahmanas and Pakkanar picked it up. 
The brahmanas realized the invaluable lesson Pakkanar was giving them: Ganga is sacred. But every pond in the world is Mother Ganga herself, and all water is as sacred as the water of the Ganga.
Once we are able to see every place as equally sacred, all life becomes a sacred pilgrimage. Then you have no more to make special pilgrimages – be it to the sacred places of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism or any other religion.  And once you are able to see God in all living beings, then every breath you take becomes a sacred act.
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Sometimes even great masters fall under the spell of illusion in a rare moment of unawareness. That does not mean they are not enlightened; it only speaks of the great power of maya over the human mind. Speaking about this the Adhyatma Upanishad says it is like moss on water. You move it away with your hand, and a moment later it comes back: yathā apakrshtam śaivālam kshanamātram na tishthati, avrnoti tathā māyā prajnām vāpi parāngmukhām. A moment of inattentiveness, of carelessness, and maya takes over your enlightened mind. For that reason the Upanishad asks even great masters to be constantly aware of the power of illusion.
This story is about the great Acharya Shankara himself.  Once he was in Kashi and was walking along a narrow lane that led to the Vishwanatha temple accompanied by his disciples and a small crowd of devotees when he saw a chandala, the lowest of the low in the traditional caste hierarchy of India, coming across him, surrounded by his pack of dogs. The chandala was covered in dirt and had rags wrapped around him and the dogs barked continuously. Any chandala would have moved out of the way to give way to the acharya and his disciples, as was the social practice in those days, but this chandala was moving steadily towards the acharya, his steps showing no sign of slowing down, nor his eyes any sign of hesitation. “Gaccha! Gaccha!” the acharya shouted – “Move away, move away!”
But the chandala still did not slow down his steps or move aside. He advanced steadily towards the great master and standing before him with a smile on his face asked the him who had conquered practically all known scholars in India, “Mahatman, tell me one thing. When you said move away, what did you mean? Did you mean this body should move away from your body?  In that case your demand is ridiculous. Because my body is made of the same five elements that your body is made of and it consists of blood, bone, flesh and marrow as yours does. In case you mean my self, then you know that my self is as pure as yours. The soul cannot be corrupted at all – not by dirt, not by sin, not by pollution, not even by ignorance. What then did you want to move away?”
The acharya was shaken to his very soul by what the chandala had said. He was absolutely right. The body – his body as well as the chandala’s body consisted of blood, flesh, bone, marrow and other substances any of which you would take a bath if you touched. The soul was ever pure, its purity beyond the reach of all impurities. To what was he then shouting, asking it to move away?
The great acharya realized that in spite of all his knowledge, for a moment he had become a victim to habitual ways of thinking – for a moment he had been blinded by social expectations, the customs of the society in which he had lived all along. Instead of the Vedantin he was, he had become an ordinary individual bound by societal conventions.
Without a moment’s hesitation, the great acharya whose feet crowned heads touched in humble obeisance kneeled at the feet of the chandala touching his dirty feet with his forehead. The chandala had opened his eyes, reminded him of his own wisdom, the wisdom that he had taught so many people. The chandala was his guru, as much as Govindapada was.
Tears of joy flowed from the acharya’s eyes and he felt a current of rapture filling his whole being. With intense devotion the great master raised his head from the chandala’s feet and stood up, his eyes still closed in bliss. The ecstasy he felt in his heart found its expression in beautiful words as it had done on so many other occasions when was moved by rapture. What came out of the acharya in those moments of ecstasy and gratitude is what the world today knows as the five verses of Maneesha Panchakam, maneesha meaning wisdom. The acharya rises above social perceptions and declares fearlessly the truth of Vedanta in those verses and says:
chāndālo’stu sa tu dvijo’stu gururityevā maneeshā mama: whether he is a chandala or a brahmana, he is my guru, such is the wisdom of my heart.
At the end of the ecstatic song, the acharya opened his eyes and it was no more a chandala standing before him that he saw, but the great Lord of the Universe, the Master of the Holy City, the teacher of teachers, Shiva himself.
Was it that Shiva appeared as a chandala before Shankara or was it that the acharya saw Shiva in the chandala? Or does it really matter, since the entire universe is Shiva himself and all we need is the eyes to see?
The greatest of all teachers had given yet another lesson in his own unique way not just to Shankara but to all humanity.
Our tragedy is that in spite of all these great lessons, we live our life unconsciously, holding on to our petty beliefs, practices and concerns, thus reducing ourselves to ignorant men and women.
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In this story, Acharya Shankara Bhagavadpada forgets his wisdom for a moment. His eyes are opened and he is given a lesson in humility by Lord Shiva himself.
In another popular story Bhagavadpada himself opens the eyes of his scholarly disciples and gives them a lesson in humility. There are different versions of this story, as in the case of most Indian stories and the version I am narrating here is the one I heard from my guru.
One evening the acharya and all his other disciples except Sanantana were seated, ready for their daily session with the master. But on that day the acharya wouldn’t begin. The seated disciples asked him why he wouldn’t start the lessons and the acharya said he was waiting for Sanantana. This produced mild laughter in the scholarly disciples – the acharya must be joking. Sanantana was illiterate and served the master more like a personal attendant and less as a disciple. He was not expected to benefit from the scholarly expositions of the acharya who perhaps was the greatest intellect our land has ever seen. Why should he wait for Sanantana?
The acharya understood their silent question and told them they would all go and look for Sanantana. The disciples looked at one another and reluctantly got up and followed their master. Bhagavadpada went straight to the bank of the river near which they were staying at that time. They could see Sanantana on the other side of the river – he had gone there for some work. The acharya raised his voice so that it could be heard above the murmur of the river and called, “Sanantana, come! It’s time for class.” Sanantana raised his head as he heard the acharya’s voice. He looked this side and that – there was no boat available. Without another moment’s hesitation, Sanantana started walking towards his master across the river.
It is said that as Sanantana placed each step on the water, a lotus flower rose up and supported his feet. He crossed the river and fell at the master’s feet. The master raised him up, hugged him and looking at his other disciples who stood wonderstruck, said, “Now you know why I waited for him to begin the class. His strength is not scholarship but shraddha and in shraddha none of you excel him. And it is shraddha that gives the highest knowledge, not scholarship. Scholarship is no value when it comes to enlightenment, as the Upanishads themselves say.”
That day the great master renamed his fond disciple Padmapada, the name by which we know him today. Padmapada means Lotus Feet – the man who was supported by a lotus that rose up from the river as he walked on water like a great yogi at the call of his master.
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Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, my parama guru, is one of the greatest spiritual masters the world has ever seen. There are innumerable stories of miracles happening around him, though he never claimed, or even owned up, any of these miracles. One of my teachers who lived with him in his ashram for forty-five years was certain he was brought back to life from certain death when he was a young man by the Maharshi. But in this article I will not be talking about his miracles, but of his unique way of teaching. Of course, the Maharshi is famous for frequently teaching through silence, for which he is often compared to Dakshinamurti, Lord Shiva incarnated as a teacher. The incident I shall discuss here is much simpler, though – it is of someone asking him what nishkama karma is and the Maharshi teaching him what it is.
The incident is reported by Prof K Swaminathan, who at one time taught English at Presidency College, Madras and was the Chief Editor of the monumental 100-volume Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Let me reproduce here his own words, from the book Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi compiled and edited by Professor Laxmi Narain and published by Sri Ramana Kendram, Hyderabad.
“Once Rangachari, a Telugu teacher in a Vellore college, asked the Maharshi to explain nishkama karma [desireless action]. There was no reply. After a time, the Maharshi went up the [Arunachala] hill followed by a few devotees and Rangachari. There was a thick, strong, thorny branch lying on the way which the Maharshi picked up and began working on. The spikes were cut off, the knots were made smooth and the surface polished with a rough leaf. Hours of hard and careful work resulted in a nice stick that Maharshi presented to a passing shepherd boy who appeared dejected because he had lost his stick. Rangachari confessed that he had learnt a new lesson in the art of teaching, for this silent practical demonstration was the Sage’s perfect answer to his earnest question.”   
Of course Ramana Maharshi’s entire life was the most powerful teaching – in jnana yoga, in bhakti yoga, in dhyana yoga and in karma yoga. To speak of one more lesson in Karma Yoga, for years the Maharshi entered the ashram kitchen at 2.30 in the morning and began chopping vegetables so that breakfast could be served to the hundreds of people who came to see him every day from all over the world. They were coming to see him, to be in his presence and to be blessed by him – to be blessed by a man who had spent months at a stretch in Samadhi as a result of his intense meditation that lasted for years, who had climbed to the greatest heights meditation can take you, just by being near whom people went into powerful states of meditative trance and were healed of life-threatening diseases and perhaps even escaped death. But he would go to the kitchen hours before brahma muhoorta, long before these guests woke up, to help in the preparation of their breakfast! What could be a greater lesson in karma yoga?
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Here is another incident reported by Prof. Swaminathan that happened in the 1940s, a few years before Ramana Maharshi’s death. It was a day like many other days in the ashram. The Maharshi was reclining on a couch in the hall and there was a group of scholars seated in front of him, debating the intricacies of the wisdom of the Upanishads enthusiastically. The debate was absorbing and everybody seemed to be fully lost in it. All on a sudden Bhagavan rose from his couch and started walking towards a man who looked like someone from one of the nearby villages. He was standing with his palms joined towards Bhagavan. Bhagavan went to him and soon the two were engaged in deep conversation, oblivious to everything else. The scholars had stopped their debates and were now watching what was happening. After a while Bhagavan took leave of the man and came back to his couch to continue to sit as though nothing had happened, while the villager went away. The debates among the scholars started once again.
Prof. Swaminathan who was watching the whole incident with great curiosity rushed towards the departing villager. Stopping him, he asked the man what exactly had happened. Why had the villager come to the ashram and what had the Maharshi been asking him, coming to him getting up from the middle of an absorbing discussion on the ultimate reality as discussed by Vedanta?
The villager told Prof. Swaminathan that he was a stranger to the place and had come to the ashram to have Bhagavan’s darshan when the Master saw him and came to him. The Maharshi had made enquiries about him and his family and their welfare. He had asked the Maharshi how he could earn his blessings and the sage had enquired if there was a temple in his village and who the deity was. Then the sage had told him to repeat the name of the deity constantly and assured him he would receive all the blessings he needed through it. 
This is how Prof. Swaminathan concludes the incident: “I came back to Bhagavan’s presence, but lost all interest in the discussions. I felt that the simple humility and devotion of a peasant had evoked a far greater response from our Master than any amount of learning. I then decided that though a scholar by profession, I should always remain a humble, ignorant peasant at heart and pray for Bhagavan’s grace and blessings.”

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Years ago one of my friends, a Bengali gentlemen several years my senior in age, presented to me a beautifully produced copy of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, one of my cherished possessions which I open and read at random every now and then. The book refers to several meetings of Sri Ramakrishna and Keshab Chandra Sen, the great Brahmo Samaj leader. One of their last meetings took place in Sen’s house when the Brahmo leader was extremely sick. Here is how the Gospel describes that meeting:
“At this moment Keshab entered the room. He came through the east door. Those who remembered the man who had preached in the Town Hall or the Brahmo Samaj temple were shocked to see this skeleton covered with skin. He could hardly stand. He walked holding to the wall for support. With great difficulty he sat down in front of the couch. In the mean time Sri Ramakrishna had got down from the couch and was sitting on the floor. Keshab bowed low before the Master and remained in that position a long time, touching the Master's feet with his forehead. Then he sat up. Sri Ramakrishna was still in a state of ecstasy. He muttered to himself. He talked to the Divine Mother.
“Raising his voice, Keshab said: "I am here, sir. I am here." He took Sri Ramakrishna's left hand and stroked it gently. But the Master was in deep samadhi, completely intoxicated with divine love. A stream of words came from his lips as he talked to himself, and the devotees listened to him spellbound.”
What a complete change from the response Sri Ramakrishna produced in Keshab on one of the first occasions – perhaps it was their first meeting – when the master visited Sen. The following words are the master’s own, again from the Gospel:
"I visited him at his house in Colootola Street. Hriday was with me. We were shown into the room where Keshab was working. He was writing something. After a long while he put aside his pen, got off his chair, and sat on the floor with us. But he didn't salute us or show us respect in any other way.”
Well, of course, it was only by and by that Keshab Chandra Sen came to understand the master and learn to revere him. But there is more to it than that. The master, out of his infinite compassion, made sure that such a great man as Sen did not remain closed to his influence and thus miss what he could have learned from the master. He went out of his way to teach humility to Sen and thus make him more open. Here is how the master did it, in his own words:
"He used to come here now and then. One day in a spiritual mood I said to him: 'One should not sit before a sadhu with one leg over the other. That increases one's rajas.' As soon as he and his friends would arrive, I would salute them before they bowed to me. Thus they gradually learnt to salute a holy man, touching the ground with their foreheads.”
That was Sri Ramakrishna’s way!
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One of the most unforgettable lessons the saint of Dakshineshwar gave in his unique way was to young Narendranath, the future Swami Vivekananda. Narendranath’s family had at that time been living in extreme poverty, even finding two meals a day was difficult. This pained Naren deeply. The sensitive Naren was pained by the suffering of even strangers, what to speak of his own family that had once lived in rather lavish style, since his father was a lawyer who had a solid income. Unable to endure his pain, young Naren asked the master, on whose spiritual powers he had by then developed great faith, to pray to Mother Goddess so that she blessed him with some wealth. Naren was sure that Mother Kali would never refuse anything to the master – he was her child, Kali’s child.
Sri Ramakrishna understood the dire straits in which his young disciple found himself and his need for money, even if it was only so that he can focus more on his sadhana. When your family’s poverty and hunger are constantly pulling you down to misery, how is anyone with a sense of responsibility to concentrate on his sadhanas? The master explained to Naren that the mother was the source of all knowledge, all wisdom and all power and if it was her blessings in the form of money that he wanted, why doesn’t he himself go to her and ask her? She is capable of giving anyone anything – she has created the universe and what can she not do? The master added that it was a Tuesday, a day special for the worship of the Goddess, and he should go to the Mother that very evening and place his need before her. 
Young Naren went to the temple of Bhavatarini at nine that evening. As he stood there, he forgot all about his family and its poverty, all about his suffering and instead was enveloped by a divine feeling of pure bliss. The Mother Goddess’s name came out of his mouth in a never ending torrent and he felt boundless love emanating from the idol before him. The Mother appeared to him the source of all beauty, all bliss and all knowledge. All he could do was to stand transfixed in devotion before her, fervently repeating her name. Eventually when he brought himself to ask the Mother for something, it was not for financial help that he asked, but for the highest knowledge and untainted devotion, for her repeated visions.
When he came out of the temple, Sri Ramakrishna was sitting outside, waiting for him. “Did you ask the Mother to help your family?” he asked. When Narendranath confessed what had happened, the master sent him back to the temple, telling him to make sure this time he asked for wealth from the Mother.
As Naren stood before the deity, once again he was immersed in bliss and it was fervent prayers for deeper devotion, for the visions of the Divine, and the bliss of knowledge that came out of him. He couldn’t bring himself to ask the Mother for money.  Naren came out of the temple in a state of ecstasy to find Sri Ramakrishna still waiting for him outside.
The master was rather rough with the young man this time. He scolded him for failing to ask for money once more and sent him into the presence of the Mother for a third time, strongly admonishing the youth for his repeated failure and instructing that this time he should not fail to ask for monetary help. But in spite of all the instructions given by the master in strict words, Naren failed to ask the Mother for wealth for his family once again.
Which of course delighted the master. That precisely was what Sri Ramakrishna had expected from Naren, knowing who he was, knowing his potentials, knowing what he was born to. The disciple had passed another test by the master. The master hugged Naren and congratulated him. He assured the young man that his family will never want for food and clothing, will always have enough to live by.
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Recently I was teaching a course to the students of 3-Continent Masters in Business Management in one of the top business schools in India. The students come from some twenty-five different countries of the world and do one part of their course in Europe, one part in India and one part in the US [hence the “3-Continent]. I was talking to the students about spiritual leadership when an American student suddenly raised her hand and said, “Professor, please tell me one thing. Why are all the spiritual masters men?”
I explained to her that was not the case – all over the world there have been several great spiritual masters who were women. In India in particular there have always been and there still are any number of great women spiritual masters – and I named a few beginning with Vagambhrini and Lopamudra of the Vedas down to today’s women masters venerated by millions.
The masters we have discussed so far are all men. So let us talk of a great lesson in the highest wisdom given by a woman master – by Rubia, one of my favourite Sufi masters and perhaps the most venerated of women Sufi saints.  
One evening a passerby found Rubia searching for something under a street lamp. The man went to her and asked her what she was looking for and she said she had lost her needle. Of course, the great Rubia was looking for lost needle – you couldn’t let her do it all alone and go away.  The man joined the search. Soon another person came by and he too joined them. And then another, and then another and soon there was a large group of people looking for Rubia’s lost needle under the street lamp.
A long time passed and the night was fast approaching. Suddenly one man stopped, stood up and asked Rubia, “Mother, are you sure you lost the needle here under this lamp? 
There was complete stillness as the group waited for Rubia’s answer.
Rubia laughed and said, “Of course not. I lost it at home.”
“Then why are searching for it here?”
“Because there is no light at home.”
Aren’t we all looking for what we have lost at home under the street lamp because there is light there? Every single one of us has lost a precious treasure and all our life, all that we do, is nothing but a search for that priceless treasure. The only problem is we are not looking for it where we lost it, but where all the razzle and dazzle of the world is, where all the neon lamps glitter.     
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I will conclude this article with a Zen story I love in which another great master teaches very unconventionally. The story is about Hakuin.
One day a soldier named Nobushinge came to the master as he stood chopping wood in his garden. “I have heard about heaven and hell. Is there really a heaven and a hell?” asked Nobushinge.
“Who are you?” asked Hakuin. The soldier said he was a samurai.
There was an expression of great contempt as Hakuin asked, “You a samurai? What kind of master will hire you as his guard? You look more like a beggar.”
Enraged, Nobushinge began to draw his sword. Unimpressed, Hakuin continued, “So you have a sword too! What is it for – slicing bread? It doesn’t look good for anything else!”
Nohushinge’s sword was out in a split second, ready to strike off Hakuin’s head. “Here open the gates of hell!” said Hakuin serenely.
Nohushinge looked at the master’s face. There was great calm there. He sheathed his sword and bowed to the master.
“Here open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin
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Ancient India used birds as symbols for the highest awakening. For awakening is leaving our small world and soaring into boundless skies. And what masters do is give us wings to do so. And masters would use any method that would help us spread our wings and soar. Their interest is not in the method, but in giving us wings.
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