Monthly Archives: August 2012

Gratitude – towards ?

Gratitude – towards ?

One topic amongst the many enlightening talks that Sehra uncle, he comes every year from the States and spreads these pearls of Wisdom, gave was on Gratitude. All the topics are very thought provoking and introspective in nature, and uncle repeatedly encouraged us to listen, mull over and imbibe.

We used to serve snacks and tea during the little recess session that we used to have during those talks. And though the rendezvous always used be at my place any one of the sisters used to go and make tea and offer the light refreshments.  Invariably someone or the other would ask, ‘who made the tea? thank you so much, it is exactly the way I like it !’

Or ‘who made the cake? It is very delicious, thank you.’ one such question popping up was a sure shot. Uncle always used to smile, very differently, as if, I don’t know how to put it in exact words, but the smile used to convey something like, ‘I am surrounded by such simpletons! Or O’ O’ they have once begun thanking one another!’ And I always used to wonder why he used to put up that particular countenance every time we were exchanging thank you!

For almost three or four sessions uncle never voiced anything, the fourth session happened to be on gratitude. Who should we thank? Uncle asked.

We all had our own answers, ‘We thank God, of course.’ This was the common reply.

Then he asked, ‘When should we thank?’

Some of us replied, ‘when HE answers our prayers.’ Or ‘HE has helped us in some way.’ Or ‘HE has protected us, and kept us out of harm’s way.’  

So the next question was, ‘How should we thank?’

Again a few voices said, ‘mm, we pray to HIM and thank HIM, those who worship offer flowers and Prasad or offering as a thank you to GOD’

I think uncle was expecting something more than what some of us had just answered. He smiled and said, ‘Just now you said that you made tea today, yes? And everybody appreciated its taste and thanked you for offering such a refreshing drink. Just ask yourself once again, did you really make the tea all by yourself?’

We all were silent and knew there was more to this than meets the eye! Uncle continued, ‘What all goes into making this tea; Sugar, milk, tea leaves, water and the gas of course to make the tea, yes?’ We all nodded slowly, it was beginning to dawn on us ever so gently.

Uncle, ‘Now, amongst all these ingredients what did you exactly make? Contribute to in making them?’

We kept mum. We had barely thought of this in this dimension! The simplest task like making a tea also involves the effort of so many others! I never brought the milk, I had no role to play in the making of the tea leaves, nor did I have any say in the sugar that went into the tea! I simply put a few ingredients available to me and cooked it on the burner, (the existence of which is again because of someone else) and served! And here we were, lapping up all the Thank you! And gloating about our achievement in making a nice tea!

I mean, how blind or myopic are we! Why are we thanking so singularly? Should we not thank every single person who has contributed in making this tea? And do we thank them? No, we didn’t even acknowledge them till then. The magnitude of it all is a big eye opener and a blow to ones ego. Forget the human being helping each other; we never realize but every single thing in this universe works for us and helps us; the human beings. It is so over whelming and humbling at the same time. If we really want to say thank you, show our gratitude we will never know where to begin! We very courteously thank the cab driver and pay him too for taking us to our destination. He was doing his job and we are paying him for his services done, a thank you is good but we never thank our maid for doing her work well, do we? Why so? We blithely cut trees where we have been seeking shelter and whose fruit we have gorged during the season. We neither thanked the tree nor did we bat an eye lid when we cut it down. Why again?

If we really have to show our gratitude it should towards God who gave us all this, free of cost. We should thank nature for serving us, working for us incessantly without once complaining about the harm we humans have brought to it. We will fall short by a large measure if wish to show our gratitude and try and repay nature and God.

Repaying is very farfetched as of now, at least let us try keeping intact this beautiful world and stop destroying it with our insensitivity and greed; this will a small step towards repaying the immense debt we have upon us.

So, thank the Tea maker and thank God for providing us the Tea! 

Warangal – Andhra Pradesh

Warangal – Andhra Pradesh

I can go on endlessly about my country.  This time it is about a small place called Warangal. This is a town in Andhra Pradesh state, about 175 km north of Hyderabad, the capital city. This is a politically active region of the state and suffers because of the recurring strikes, dharnas (protest shows). Yet it has retained its rustic charm and has definite air of mystery and enigma. People are loud and soft in the same breath. It is a place full of contradictions. My country is such, the whole length and breadth of it; full of good –bad, tradition-modernity, myths- truth.

Warangal happens to another such town on the brink of breaking tradition yet trying to retain its cultural values. We took a taxi from Hyderabad, at around 5 in the morning. It is a 4-5 hours journey. The main attraction of Warangal is its 1000 pillar temple. There is neither a duplicate nor anything close to this in the whole world. I had visited this temple when I was barely 7 years old; and it left an indelible mark.  This trip was to relive that memory and see the rush of adrenalin on my kids faces when they would see this unimaginable beauty. The Warangal fort, which is in semi ruins now was another place of interest for me, that I wanted my kids to see.

The journey began in a bad way; we got a horrible driver with no driving sense. He broke all records, drove at a break neck speed, his hand never left the horn and the sound was deafening. We all had a splitting head ache.  The kids began to complain, they were getting angry, irritable, tired and weary .I was regretting this decision of mine. Only a wonder of the world may pacify my battered kids and this temple was a religious, historical, architectural monument; a far cry from a wonder of the world genre! After the arduous journey, imagine my dismay when I saw a miniature temple complex and the driver insisting, “THIS IS THE 1000 PILLAR Temple, madam!” I was crestfallen; the children looked at me with murderous rage. God! For a few fleeting seconds I saw Yama (The Hindu God of Death) in front of meJ.

We later found out that the Archeological survey of India had dismantled a part of the temple, comprising of almost 400 pillars! And the remaining 600 pillars are tightly knit to form the walls. They definitely look far less than 600 in number. The temple is star shaped and has a huge NANDI (Lord Shiva’s mode of transport). The guide took us through the entire complex giving us the history in great detail. This is a temple which dates back to 750AD- 1325 AD. Till date the temple is breathtakingly beautiful and intact. This is the only temple which faces south, and the Nandi too looks eastwards only here.  Usually Hindu temples face east and the Nandi looks westwards. The guide also mentioned that the whole city, the original Warangal was carved out of one rock in the 13th century.

Finally, I did get to see the awe struck look on my children’s face. The sheer magnitude of our cultural richness and our achievements humbled my son.  With all our technological advancements we still fall short in comparison to what our ancestors created centuries ago. It was a successful trip and we returned very content despite the bad beginning. You also please do not miss it for anything. The other places of interest are A Kali temple on a hilltop, a serene lake called Pakhal Lake about 45-50km from Warangal and a Jain temple too.  The fort I already mentioned above is another must visit site.

God – Our Creator

God – Our Creator

My Master, spiritual Guru, always writes in his books and quotes in almost every alternate speech; what our Adi Guru Shri Lalaji Maharaj used to say ‘God has hidden Himself inside your hearts and exposed you. Hide yourselves and expose God.’ This one line sums it all up to say that God is within us. If we have to pray to God or seek God we have to imperatively begin to look within and not at the world that he created or at the different life forms in which he seems to appear in the world around us.

I am reading a very enlightening book titled ‘Inner Growth through Devotion’ By Swami Tattvavidananda Saraswati. Everything is explained so simply and with such lucidity that it is very overwhelming and the truth kind of hits you. He talks about God, our creator, the paths to realizing our creator and the ways and means to achieve enlightenment. This is so like our philosophy in SRCM that I am compelled to share it with all of you. This is what is being reiterated by every true realized soul and yet we refuse to see the truth. Many of us still wage an inner war when we have to stand up to our philosophy and follow what our heart knows to be true. We fear opposition from our dearest ones and succumb to what they are following; leaving our creator within us, hidden in the dark corner of our heart. The longer we continue on this path, he further away we are from the truth.

Hinduism, today, thrives on idol worship and terms it as the ideal form of devotion to almighty. Every day we see a temple getting constructed or a ritual being performed in Hinduism. In doing so we tend to fall into the gradual habit of treating God as someone outside of self; a different person sitting somewhere else who may have to be kept happy or pleased at all points of time. If it is true devotion and we really feel immense love for the Idol , want to feed, bathe and tend to the Idol as one of the family , even then we are treating God as someone apart from oneself. But the key question is, is the creator someone else? Is the creator he or she? The Swami writes in his book, ‘According to the French philosopher Descartes, since the universe is structured so well, it must have a creator. It is said that he once visited the king in his newly constructed park. As the king showed him around, it occurred to Descartes that the entire universe was as beautifully structured as the park, and hence, should also have an architect.  We call this architect God. Thus, in this model God is external to the universe; He is in heaven.’  This is the theory which Hinduism also seems to follow, adapt and believe these days. The moment we say God, it immediately suggests a powerful gentleman sitting somewhere in heaven, who seems to be benevolent only towards some members of his flock.

Swamiji goes on to write, ‘The external God is entirely based on a belief system, which cannot become part of philosophy. That is why these religions are called faiths. Sri Krishna says in the Geeta, “This entire universe is pervaded by me (Like ornaments by gold) of unknown (and unknowable) nature.”’

This universe is the only place where life exists and life forms sustain. If God created this world then who created God? And like we humans reside on earth where does God reside? If we are worshipping outside of us; someone external, living elsewhere then how is it that, till date, no scientist has found the residential address of the Almighty?  The researchers seem to have come up with all kinds of theories and logistics but have come to a dead end when they have to answer this one question. So, is God intrinsic to the human being or extrinsic? The thought that has prevailed so far is the later assumption, which we can ascertain with certainty from the different faiths being followed world over. What surprises me though is how come we accept anything in the name of religion and faith? We rarely question this one particular field, whereas we question everything else and have a very firm stoic opinion too. How come our thinking faculties go dim in this particular aspect alone? 

This pertains to understanding about us, the God who created us and who we really are, yet we wish to believe in what has been passed on to us as part of mythology and refuse to remove the colored glasses or seek the truth. The fact that God is intrinsic has been explained by Swamiji thus, ‘Suppose, for instance, God were external to the world in the same way as the pot –maker is external to the pot. A question would then arise about the nature of the material used in this creation. Like the material needed to create a pot is given to the pot-maker. Where did Isvara / God get his material? We may have to say the material was available in heaven. One might then ask who created that heaven and that material. That would seem to require another creator. If he created heaven then where did God live before he created heaven? Therefore, the concept of an external God ‘creating’ this world is a mere belief contradicting reason.’ So, God has to be intrinsic to the universe; He must have created this universe out of Himself. Actually himself/ herself, gender is irrelevant here. God exists everywhere, in everything because this is all from him, through him, a part of him and his! It is clearly visible that this universe is an expression of God. It is like a spider that spins its web from its own self. The spider borrows no material from anywhere outside; it weaves the web from its own self. The web appears to be outside the spider but it is not so, in reality it is a part of the spider, never separate from the spider. Similarly God created his own self in the form of this universe and created this universe for us. He is in each and every one of us; we have kept him elsewhere and treat him to be outside of us. If we can see him as us, a part of us we are on our road to true inner growth and self realization. Till then the journey of self discovery would not have begun for us.

For us abhyasis our beloved Master has explained the same thing in so many simple ways with simpler illustrations. The 12 Maxims tell us how to conduct our lives ; they give us the path to walk on for self realization, for us to become one with Him, our creator.

Idol worship – good or?

Idol worship – good or?

The essence of worship or bhakti and its meaning is what I continue to see for the last 43 years all around me; my mother, when I was young, my in-laws after I got married, we were all devout people and performed Pooja everyday very religiously. SRCM, the meditation practice that I am following for the last four years, does not advocate Idol worship. In the beginning I used to be very skeptical about the SRCM philosophy, it questioned the very foundation on which Hindu religion is structured! And every Hindu performs ritualistic Pooja or rituals every day. This is what I have been sincerely doing, practicing for the last 35 odd years. It was very disconcerting to leave it all, give it the name of increased grossness and stop idol worship. I actually could not give up idol worship for almost an year after joining the Mission, call it fear of displeasing the Gods or deep rooted samskara, a diehard habit of lighting the lamp after bath, then eating food, anything, it was just too ingrained in me and I could not let go. So, I continued Idol worship and maintained my beautiful marble temple with the same love, affection and devotion.

A book I recently read, Temple the heart of worship, describes the method, the aim and the resultant effect of Idol worship very beautifully. Only if one can follow what is written in that book, holding on to that thought in our mind, with that emotion in our heart and pray to the Idol will our prayer be called a prayer and worship has the probability of bearing fruit. Every step has a significant meaning and a reason for performing that particular ritual. If we can worship exactly the way it is said in the scriptures and be able to recreate the essence every time we worship or pray, then alone can it be true idol worship.

 I quote the book, “All worship is meant to lead us to the Brahman. That is what is called Karma Yoga. The temple is a place to worship Isvara, or to perform rituals. Lord Krishna points out (Bhagvad Gita, 2-14) that Vedic rituals help a person who has a clear understanding about the ultimate goal in life, whereas those who do not have such an understanding get lost in the jungle of rituals. Therefore, the temple worship should create ‘jignyasa’ an intense desire for self – knowledge in the devotees.

We have to worship Isvara in a temple with the right attitude.  Even though there is difference in the upadhis, or titles, names, Isvara and Jiva are essentially the same; just as a stone is different from a mountain. Because of the false identification with the ‘upadhi’, the emerging individual may appear to be very insignificant vis-à-vis the universe and its creator.”

It is clear from the above that the most ancient and till date accepted, read and followed scripture, Bhagvad Gita, also says that devotion or worship has to be for self knowledge. The lord is inside, within all of us; through worship we need to delve deep inside and seek HIM there! The more we go to different temples, the more we try to see HIM in different forms on the outside, the more we are running away from HIM within. Whatever is within us, how can we possibly achieve it on the outside?

The author further writes, “The temple architecture is symbolically significant in all aspects. Space is the very first manifestation of Hiranyagarbha, the cosmic person. Every temple has four gates, representing the four directions.” This is the body of every temple, the exterior. But do the devotees flock from world over to see the architecture and go home happy with the thought that they met God? No, they wait for ‘Darshan’ a glimpse, ever so fleeting, of the lord, sitting in the heart, the sanctum sanctorum of the Temple. What is the life source of the temple? The heart, the inner most corners in the temple is where God resides!  That is what a true devotee wants to see. The author beautifully writes, “The Lord verily abides in the cave of the heart. Similarly, a figure symbolizing the Lord is installed in the cave – like Garbha Graha, the inner sanctum – sanctorum in the temple.” It is really no coincidence that even the biggest temples have a very small sanctum sanctorum. “It is just by sheer ignorance that one assumes or imagines that merit and sin accrue to Atman obtaining in the heart. Brahman can be cognized in the cave of the heart of every human being as his innermost reality.”  

To reiterate the same point, we are seeking on the outside and in a defined form what is inside and in a very subtle form. To take the analogy a little further, Even though the temple has four doors, the inner sanctum has only one door. We can take as many paths we wish to walk on the road to self realization, but to really reach HIM or merge with HIM there is only one way, through the heart with self knowledge.

I never knew that there was a reason for keeping the inner sanctum or the Lord’s abode so dark and dimly lit! The inner most corner of our Heart; the sanctum sanctorum is filled with darkness or ignorance. “The idea is that the spiritual aspirant may think of his ignorance, at least in the sacred presence of the Lord. The significance of burning the lamp round the clock is that the lamp of knowledge should ever shine in our heart.

The seers have incorporated the entire teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita in temple worship. When we visit any temple we should keep this vision in mind. Once we understand correctly the symbolism of temple worship, the temple emerges from a seat of worship to a seat of learning”

The small booklet has every single word that is thought provoking; every word has a reason and a meaning. I will also talk about the significance of an oil wick lamp, and why the now used electric lights hold no meaning. Also the meaning and essence of Prasad, the offering received after prayers in the temple.

But first let us try and ask ourselves whether we are actually worshipping the way it has been prescribed in the scriptures? If we are, then is there an increment in self- knowledge? Are we able to see the Idol sitting in front of us, within us after some time? If yes, then Idol worship is your path to self – knowledge. Does our prayer really move you to the very core of your heart? Are you changing after all these years of worship? Is the little lamp continuing to burn or is it getting snuffed and struggling to stay alive drowned with the soot of ignorance and ego? I have been visiting temples and a very diligent devotee for 35 years of my life.  Every shloka and Mantra was by heart to me. I could parrot them even in my sleep. Did I change? When I look back and assess, my honest answer is ‘no’. I never really knew or understood the essence of Idol worship. I prayed because I was supposed to and more often than not it was out of fear that I used to pray. I had never really lit the lamp of my heart. Self – knowledge was very far away. I realized that I had only grown up; I was yet to grow wise.

If we are really worshipping for years with the essence of worship, my perception is a change must be visible and the path to self knowledge must be illuminated by now. If either of these has not occurred then we are not even in the race and we really need to figure out if Idol worship is for us!  Knowing shloka and mantras may even contribute to adding to our ego, a chance to boast about our knowledge and awareness of the religious scriptures.  If no change has come till date then it is time we re-read the texts and try to understand the essence of worship once again. It is what you do, rather how you do whatever you do which is detrimental or beneficial for taking us closer to our real goal of life.

Bad ad! Mostly..

Ads these days…

These days every house is infested with television and the 1000 odd channels that come with this biggest vice! Of these, half the channels are for children and what is worse is that they are full of advertisements. The influence of these advertisements on our children is appalling. They seem to know every new product that is launched.

The message these ads pass are totally misleading, in bad taste or send a whole assortment of undisciplined signals to the viewers. The biggest dupe master, I have already mentioned this in my health drinks hub, is the Bournvita health drink and its’ ridiculous claims. The others to join the club are Fairness Cream ads, Shampoo advertisements featuring renowned figures, dishwashing bars, detergents and after wash for clothes, I can go on and on; the list is endless. Advertisements are exaggerated and need to be understood and treated after removing the garnish and spice!

The kids and adults alike are so keyed in into these ads that we have gotten into the habit of indulging just for the heck of it! Let us give this new brand a shot, a beginner’s try and see if we like this product or not! There is no silver lining in this abysmal dark gloomy cloud of advertisement menace. To top it, some ads get away teaching bad manners too! The kids bribe the grandparents and get things done or in another ad the child is asked to share a chocolate and the child starts to whine and cry! The mother and the granny both console the cheeky, impudent child and get another bar of chocolate! The casino ad‘s tag line is “Let’s have some sweets moments together”! What in the heaven’s name are we trying to teach or impart to our children with such ads? They can get away with anything! There is one more where the mother is standing at the child’s beck and call and the child is playing ‘Emperor’, ordering the menu of choice for dinner! Goodness! Absolute blasphemy, these ads are!

The only good ad I have chanced upon lately is that of an Insurance company. The father encourages the child to say ‘Thank You’ to the help at home. It teaches the basic values and etiquettes to the kid helping him/her to grow up to be a good human being. My congratulations and thanks to this ad team. Why can’t we have more of these and do away with all those? Even though I am loathe to agreeing that the chocolate is irresistible, but if a good deed is done by doing away with such irrelevant advertising, I am all for giving up eating chocolates! In fact, I resist buying my daughter that chocolate from the time I set eyes on that foolish ad!

 

Just a tribal Land ?- think again

Just a tribal Land ?- think again

I grew up in Bhilai, a steel city in Madhya Pradesh (Now part of Chhattisgarh). I always lived under this illusion that Chhattisgarh is a state seeking a lot from every quarter. It was renowned tribal area and also thriving with dacoits. Phoolan Devi hailed from this place! I was secretly very happy when dad left Bhilai for work reasons. This place showed no promise of any development or progress ever. India was making giant leaps in every way, tourism included. And look at this pathetic state! Apart for the steel plant, coal mines and the best forgotten Tribal warfare, what did this state have to showcase?

My father is now residing in Bhilai and we spent our new year’s there. And I was in for a huge surprise. The way the state has transformed is unbelievable.  Amongst the tourism ads this state’s Ads are the best (I used to think all this is a trap, false claims to tempt and lure tourists). Every architectural monument has been renovated new colleges and institutions have come up not to miss out on the innumerable flyovers, mall and multiplex movie theatres.

Chhattisgarh has the best Tiger reserves, lush green forests and abundance of flora and fauna. The Kanha tiger reserve has cent percent chances of sighting a tiger! We went to Mudumalai Tiger reserve (Chennai) ,Jim Corbett reserve (Uttar Pradesh), went on an evening, morning, noon safari  hoping to catch a glimpse of the majestic animal; all futile.  We chanced upon this wondrous beauty in all its glory strolling in its natural habitat in the Kanha tiger reserve! This state also boasts of India’s best, largest waterfalls, second to the Jog falls in Karnataka called the Chitrakot falls.  We can marvel at the 100ft drop throughout the width of Indrāvati River. Very rare caves called Kutumbser caves to mention a few. A very ancient temple site called the Khajuraho of Chhattisgarh is also in this state. The ‘Bhoram Deo’ temple epitomizes eternal love and beauty. Not to miss the Tribal Land Bastar. The government has made attempts to reconcile with the tribal’s, and made mutually beneficial agreements. A lot of their handicrafts, made in metal are up for sale. A weekly haat amongst the tribal’s takes place, barter system is prevalent here. Pench Tiger Reserve (Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle book), Kanger valley National Park and Tirthagarh Falls are some other interesting tourist destinations.

We went to Kutumbser caves this time. We saw natural limestone rock formation and amazing stalagmite, stalactite formations. It is very narrow underground opening, pitch dark and very hot. It lacks oxygen and has a wet feeling through the stretch because of the lake flowing overhead. A small Shiva temple is inside this cave, a pundit lives their! In that dark low oxygen cave, we were sweating profusely, many Bengali tourists found it hard to breathe and beat a hasty retreat. The rock formations are of different kinds. The guide showed us formations which resembled the unicorn, the elephant head, a lion face many more that I am unable to recall now.  A Small stream flows here in which you can see small fish, blind fish. They die the minute you take them out into the sunshine.  A very unique experience it was.  My father says we have seen only the tip of the iceberg.

My illusions shattered, I am eager to visit this amazing state and explore its wondrous places. You are invited too. Come and get surprised.

Health Drinks

Recently, I was reading an article; a blog in fact. It has an extensive survey report on health drinks! The very popular ‘Bournvita’ ‘Horlicks’ and ‘Complan’ were researched for their stated claims and their true value! The author and the family have used/consumed the above for a certain time frame, observed the results and made the statistical analysis. For the readers who are interested in that data, numbers and equations the site is www.kidsandparent.com.

For the result keen parents like me, Complan was voted as the best health drink, followed by Horlicks.  And much to my joy (I simply am against BournvitaL) Bournvita was at the bottom of the list. All the claims they make in the advertisements are untrue. The DHA component and the advantages it supposedly has are needlessly escalated. Horlicks with the Barley in it is a better health drink. This is for the entire conscious mother’s fraternity; any other research you want to get covered or survey results you are in search of, it is good to go through the blog and put up the requisite queries. The survey currently inline is baby food brands and the best a mother can offer the baby, like Pediasure and Cerelac, Farex etc.

That article set me thinking as to what I gave my kids at that age. Memory digging revealed that with my first born, I was in the exact state of mind that most mothers seemed on that site! I went through identical doubt pangs and used to question everything in an earnest attempt to do my best for my kid. This net research was unheard of in India then and wise aunts’ tips, grandparents’ wisdom, mother-in-laws: “we did this and not this!”, mother’s consolation or Doctor’s advice were our only knowledge banks! I did what all of them said in bits and pieces and suffered a fair share too because of this! My first born is still very susceptible to all infections and viruses! His immunity levels are severely beaten and he is sick at the drop of a hat.

By the time I had my second baby; I was experienced and also determined not to make the same mistakes that I made with the first one! Tinned/ canned food and Powder milk never entered my house. Even feeding bottles lasted barely 2 months or so. I can count my visits to the doctor, apart for the regular immunization shots; I went twice in the first year and maybe 3-4 times in the following four years. I had to go almost every month for my first.

I, personally, am of the feeling that mother’s milk is the best for the infant, as many times as the baby wishes to feed. Secondly, start cereals and grains soups, boiled vegetable blends as far as possible. Keep Pediasure etc only as the last resort. This is your best chance to make minimal visits to the Pediatricians! Natural food is the best immunization for the child. With luck, you can also escape the woes of weaning the kid away from bottle and graduating to sipper and bribing the baby through colorful glasses, flavored drinks just to get the toddler to have a glassful of milk (You save a lot of money, time and effort! Believe me).

Once the energetic bundle reaches five years of age, it is inconsequential which health drink you choose. He/ she may drink milk as it is and in case you have to make a choice do choose the best, to be on the safer side! Raising a healthy child is honestly pretty economical still. Ask the mothers from rural India.

This is the mother of all surveys conclusions. Parents can always go and check elsewhere for better options and cross check whether they have made the right choice or not!