Monthly Archives: December 2016

Dublin Diaries-4

Dublin Diaries-4

Labour of Love

Whilst writing about our friendly neighbourhood ‘cabbie’ friends, many other comparisons sprung to mind.  India and Ireland are replete with comparable contradictions (another jumble-word which jumps to mind). Don’t know whether it makes sense or not but I will try to frame the scene and elucidate better. I get all dewy eyed when I think of how much India is losing out on, and how much room for improvement we have and yet… With half the resources and one tenth or even less manpower, this country has emerged as a developed nation. The only difference is in the attitude.

From the moment I wrote that cabbie article, I have been wracking my brain to recollect one such memorable, informative or light hearted incident that I have had the pleasure of being a part of, in all my countless taxi experiences in India. Sadly, I can recall many unsavoury instances! I may have a few good ones too if I try hard and for long; but the point I am trying to make here is; I have not met a single, and I repeat, a single auto-driver who enjoys being an auto driver! A single taxi driver who loves his work and is happy with his job! Not just the taxi drivers, most people in my country seem to be stuck at their jobs. The joy on the faces I see anywhere I go in Dublin is in stark contrast to the harried, frowning expressions I encounter in today’s India. The people here seem to enjoy what they do, be it a menial job (did not dare to write ‘no-brainer’) like managing the cash counter at the local grocers or sitting behind the HR desk in an IT firm.  I can assuredly say that picking dead leaves all day to keep the streets clean cannot be a dream job. Yet, the Irish seem to add wit and joy to it; make it enjoyable for themselves and for the people they encounter.  Till I came to Dublin I never dreamt that being a taxi driver could be a chosen or happy job either. Yet every taxi driver is intelligent, very politically aware, witty and always smiling!

What the Hindu philosophy teaches us, about the Shat Sampatti (Sama:  the ability to control the mind, think objectively. Dama: applying the will to help control the mind, keeping the vices at bay, doing regular sadhana to succeed in this endeavour. Only if Dama is practiced properly, the will power will increase and therefore Sama can be achieved with relative ease.  Uparati: Being able to rise above all the dualities; even relinquish the feeling of ownership. Attain a state of balance and stability. Titiksha: The attitude of forbearance which refuses to be affected or shaken by pain and suffering.  Every situation is accepted with calm and equanimity; not moan with pain, rather endure with a smile.  Shraddha and Samadhana, the six behaviour traits) the Irish apparently live the first 4 Sampattis admirably.

Our Wild Atlantic tour this summer brought to fore many more comparisons. Somehow, our country despite having it all, seems to be lacking in everything. I accede that the natural beauty here is unparalleled but after completing the whole 10day tour I could only pick a handful of distinctively different places! Crag Caves, Hooks’ lighthouse, Skellig Island and then the countless spectacular beaches and mist laden mountains.  India has Himalayan peaks, the greenery in Kerala, beaches of Goa, desert in Rajasthan, the list can go on, each distinctively unique and memorable.  However, the upkeep, maintenance and efforts put in by the Irish government and the Irish themselves, to retain the pristine beauty is laudable, and that is the contrast point. Our monuments; I don’t think I need say anything. The Irish have more to tell with the little they have; the tourist guides kept us enraptured. They spun a yarn about every brick in the wall and leaf on the tree!  We visited the Hooks Lighthouse and were smitten by the guide. We visited the Ferns Castle in Wexford and the yarn spun by the tourist guide had us reeling all week! This fort is not even a fort really, barely a wall remains, the rest of the structure is long gone and yet the guide went on and on and he had more to tell!  The Irish have their own unique brand of dry humour and they brandish it with great panache.  All the places became more beautiful and embedded in our memory because of the guides and their narratives. That brings me to the comparative. I dreaded hiring a guide in India. They lack the enthusiasm and zest, their command over the language is pathetic, they simply rattle off the facts in a well-modulated drone.  In no time, I skitter away from the group and wander onto a personal discovery journey. ‘Athithi devo Bhavah’ (Guest is God) is our belief and the Irish are living it. Could it be the labour of love question again?

Another interesting thing that came to my notice was that we work round the clock, the only country in the world which is a willing beast of burden.  Rest of the world says they work five days a week and diligently work five days only.  We can say anything but the world knows that we are willing donkeys.  Maybe, this lack of work ethic never allows us to imbibe Labour of love attitude?

Like I have mentioned many times before; weather here is dismal, perennially wet, cold, and least propitious for any vegetation or agricultural produce. All they have is different kinds of cheese, meat, liquor of course and potatoes! On the other hand, India is bestowed with all the natural resources, we enjoy every season; each state in India boasts of a different cuisine, integral to its agricultural produce and prevalent culture.  Irish are known world over for their music, liquor, and their carefree nature.  A cabbie said, ‘The Irish smile just because they wish to, it is more for themselves rather than to please others’. Today, what are we known for? It’s the only country in the world which has it all, natural beauty, culture, history, resources, manpower… God’s couldn’t have been kinder and more biased towards my country! Even with everything in our favour we remain a third world, developing nation. Abundance has proved to be detrimental to our progress, individually and as a nation, simply because we lack the attitude. We probably need to learn to love first, give ‘labour of love, a fighting chance; and then the right attitude hopefully comes….?

Upanayanam

Upanayanam

In the long list of rituals, I have participated in, clueless and totally ignorant about what and why I was being a part of it, Upanayanam tops the list!

The first I heard about Upanayanam was in the context of my marriage; my husband -to -be got the thread ceremony done a day before our wedding, because per him it was ‘licence to marriage’!  I found it illogical and hilarious, but with a missing spirit of inquiry, I gave no further thought to it; it was another of the never-ending rituals we have in our Religion.

A few years later, I was an active participant in the Upanayanam of my brother – in – law. This time around the reason was very contradictory; my brother was keen on pursuing the path of sanyasi. Upanayanam was imperative to enable him to join the tutelage of an able guru. The same ritual for two different reasons! This comes back to me now as I attempt to elucidate below the essence of this amazing ritual.

Upanayanam (Yajnopavita, sacred thread) is the 10th samskara (rites of passage) in the 16stages of life. It marks the acceptance of a pupil by a Guru; initiate the process of learning, dwell into the study of Vedanta and evolve. From the medieval Indian texts to the present day Upanayanam is restricted to the upper caste (varnas), namely Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishya varnas, and is performed only for the boys.  Whereas, the Vedic period texts show that Upanayanam was encouraged for all members of the society, even shudras and women. Everyone wore the thread to indicate their status in their household. Today, it is a worldly ritualistic festival of sorts, performed only for the elite Brahmin boys!

In Hindu traditions, a human being is born at least twice — once at physical birth and second at intellectual birth through teacher’s care. Verily, the sacred thread ceremony indicates that the person has started to learn the sacrifices (Yajnopavita). The pupil is given the primary set of instructions (Brahmopadesha) and the student is declared as Dvija (born again). Traditionally, this ceremony is solemnized at age 8 amongst Brahmins, 11 years amongst Kshatriyas and age 12 among Vaishyas (Apastamba Gryha, 1.1.1.27 states that the maximum age to complete this ceremony is 24), unlike my husband, who got his thread ceremony done a day before our marriage, where he was 28!  Luckily for him, Gautama Gryha Sutra and other ancient texts state that there is no age restriction and anyone of any age can undertake the Upanayanam. The Baudhayana Grihya sutra in verses 2.5.8 and 2.5.9 states the teacher to “let him initiate, to school through Upanayana; a Brahmin in spring, a Kshatriya in summer, a Vaishya in autumn, a Sudra in the rainy season; or all of them in the spring.”

Every state in India has a different name for this ritual. The ceremony is called Munja or Mounji-Bandhana (literally, tying of the munja, sacred thread) in the state of Maharashtra. This name finds its origin in the name of a grass called Saccharum munja (Bengal cane). This grass is used to make a girdle that is tied around the waist of the child. In Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and in several areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the sacred thread is known as the “Janoi” or “Janeva”. Many other names (varying by region and community), are Bratabandha, Janivaara, Jandhyam, Poita, Pūṇūl, Janeu, Lagun, Yajnopavita, Yagyopavit, Yonya and Zunnar. The other Sanskrit term being Avyanga.

The “sacred thread” is a thin cord, composed of three cotton strands. The strands symbolize different things depending on the region. Like, in the Tamil Hindu community, each strand is for each of the three trinity of goddesses, Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

As per the ancient Sanskrit texts the term Upavita was originally meant to be any upper garment (as stated in verse 2.2.4.22–2.2.4.23 of Apastamba Dharmasutra) or, if the wearer doesn’t want to wear a top, a thread would suffice.The proper manner of wearing the upper garment or thread, is from over the left shoulder and under the right arm.

The idea of wearing the upper garment or sacred thread, and its significance, extended to women.This is reflected in the traditional wearing of sari over the left shoulder, during formal occasions and the celebration of rites of passage such as Hindu weddings. It was also the norm if a girl undertakes the Upanayana ceremony and begins her Vedic studies as a Brahmavadini. They wore a thread or upper garment over their left shoulder. Those girls who chose not to go to a gurukul were called Sadyovadhu (literally meaning, one who marries straight). However, the Sadyovadhu, too, underwent a step during the wedding rituals, where she would complete Upanayana, and thereafter wear her upper garment (saree) over her left shoulder.

The invocation of tranquility, Udaka Shanti marks the beginning of Upanayanam. This is to invoke happiness and peace in the place. Invoking the blessings of ancestors is the second step. The blessings of the ancestors upto the Atman (the last 3 generations) and Brahman (beyond the 3 generations) are invoked to bless the sacred thread.

Preparations for learning marks the third step. The student is expected to learn to be simple in food, dress and learn to control his urges. Student should learn to submit as well as to seek, taking a solemn vow to learn and to acquire knowledge; this is the fourth step. The father (the first teacher) and the guru together whisper the Gayatri Mantra into the boy’s ear. This ritual is conducted carefully done, under the wraps, so that the boy pays total attention and not a single syllable is missed. This is the penultimate step.

The last step is explaining the significance of Upanayanam (second birth); concentrate on learning by seeking out and devote his entire time to build up his body and mind.

In Nepal, a slightly different ceremony is held which combines ‘चूड़ाकर्म‘ (choodakarma) (tonsure, shave the head) and Upanayana saṃskāra locally known as Bratabandhabrata meaning promise, bandhan meaning to be bound) It is held among the Bhramin and Kshytreya hill communities in Nepal.

Rajbali Pandey compares the Upanayana rite of passage to Baptism in Christianity where the person is born again unto spiritual knowledge, as the ceremony marked the initiation of the student for spiritual studies such as the Vedas.

Another veil lifted; every time I dive into our scriptures I am rendered nonplussed. Our predecessors seem to have lead the most modern lives yet stayed utterly simple and rooted to values and ethics. They understood the scriptures correctly and strived to live them, manasa, vacha, karma.

Sources:

http://creative.sulekha.com/upanayanam

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanayana

 

Present in the Present

Present in the Present

My last article titled Present in the Past evoked this (copy- pasted below) from my dear editor.

“This made me feel really sad! It’s all well and good to take ownership of our state of mind and spirit but it’s another thing to undermine the huge trauma of being uprooted, the incredible grief, loss of identity and isolation that comes with it, especially when where you have come from holds such meaning and significance.

I relate to this because 20 years down the track, I still struggle with cultural conflicts, identity crisis and a deep sense of loss with all things familiar and as the memories are now fading, there is a sense of anger too.

I know and understand what you are saying in terms of learning the lesson and meant to help you grow spiritually. But, I wonder if it is way too simplistic and you saying I have to now live in the NOW will make the rest of your readers (such as myself!) feel like we are just not wanting to help ourselves.

I do agree (although I wish I could dispute) that ultimately taking ownership and stopping the blame game is the only way forward…!!

Definitely a bit of a sad story for me…Leaves me wanting to say but! but!

If even one reader is in sync with my editor’s thinking; the onus is on me to explain myself better . To begin with, the article was meant to be leading towards self – inquiry, and not to evoke sadness. If it comes across as sad, I humbly apologize.

Secondly, the article seems to undermine the trauma of being uprooted, loss of identity, being alone in an unknown land… this is not my intention at all.  I am not belittling the emotional upheaval one goes through when thus uprooted. Having said that, I wish to clarify a little bit here; these days all of us willingly come abroad in search of greener pastures, a better life. I am yet to meet a person who has gone abroad to study and has come back to India after completing their studies. They have stayed on, desperately hunted for any form of employment, married abroad and settled abroad. They undoubtedly miss their country, true, but not so much that they return to their homeland. To connect this to my view point, this ‘living abroad’ is per se a self-made choice. At the risk of sounding brutally honest, it is a willing ‘loss of identity’ and adapting to the new culture. Most of us living abroad seem to be reminded of our culture or the Indian traditions when its festive season or in some religious context! I do not relate to the present show of Indian culture abroad nor am I very comfortable with the way religion is being showcased! Thus, I have no authority to comment on anything I know I am mentally disconnected with.

More importantly, I was less commenting about others and more trying to dwell upon myself! For a spiritual aspirant like me, I feel it is less about the place, people or even culture for that matter. It is simply about the self; and this is what I wish the reader to read into. I came abroad because my husband got his job here. As simple as that. I was living the best lifestyle, indeed the best life back home, my greenest pasture, as it were. I never had nor do I currently feel any need or longing for a life abroad. Yet, I have been put in this situation. Before making the big shift, I had mentally prepared myself. All thanks to meditation, I thought I could be happy anywhere in the world. If I was moving away it meant that I had completed my role in my present place, a new role was awaiting me.

Since coming here, especially after the novelty and activity of discovery in the first few months, I sensed a lull within me, as if life had been snuffed out. That’s when the pondering (self-inquiry) began.  The feeling of being uprooted, isolation and incredible grief that my editor mentioned; I seriously had thought I was way past all that. Home is where your heart is, and heart is where you help the heart love into being, making its home! So, what was I struggling with, why was I angry and where did this sense of ‘nothing to look forward to’ stem from for me? It dawned on me that I was still not looking at the bigger picture. I was talking big but not living it. One change of place, a slight shift from my comfort zone and all my calm, equanimity and wisdom seemed to fly out the window.

Again, I agree with my editor, it is not as simplistic. But, it was not meant to be, which is the truth I had missed too. It took an effort on my part. Some introspection and a lot of courage to look at the mirror and face the reality of what I saw. To answer the last part, about getting the feeling of not wanting to help oneself; I don’t think we do not want to help ourselves. More accurate is the assumption that we are lost and we do not know what exactly can help us! We try everything and most of it gives ephemeral peace and solace. In no time the hunt is on again, because the restlessness creeps in. “In vivekachudamni verse 11 Swami Dayanand Saraswati writes: There is always romanticism in spiritual pursuit. You want to be something special, something different. There is a value for this romanticism. When you see through this romanticism you are objective. This is vairagya.” That is exactly where I think meditation gives me the edge! I know I can walk my way out of any dark hole, I just have to stay calm, introspect and look within.  I am practicing something unique, I am trying to become someone unique, challenges will assuredly be unique too, right? I needed to ‘see’ beyond all this, become objective.

Now, only if I started living in the ‘now’ and stopped being ‘present in the past’ would I be able to figure that out. That’s the omniety, the whole nine yards of what I wanted to translate to the reader.