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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.