Friday, December 27, 2013

THE BHAGAVAD GITA – A RESPONSE

THE BHAGAVAD GITA – A RESPONSE

After all who am I to talk about the ‘Gita’. I am neither a saint nor a scholar or for that matter ‘God’. I have read it and tried to understand and assimilate what is said there. If you ask me if it has helped me, I would say ‘yes’. Then why should I want to talk about it here?

The motivation to write something came after reading the response of a person who has been described as an excellent mathematician and certainly not an ‘atheist’. I do not claim such credentials but I do have certain submissions to make in this context. Let me make it clear that I am not a diehard ‘theist’. There are times when I question the existence of such a concept. But I am certainly overawed by the existence of such scriptures and writings on the subject of God and how these have contributed to the continuation of mankind and brought it to this level, where we find ourselves in a position to question the roots of our own intelligence.

There are several noteworthy observations of this person which I shall highlight here and give my own opinions, for I guess everyone is entitled to one. I start with the very last sentence where he says –

“It is high time for everyone in the twenty first century to get rid of all kinds of spiritual brainwash”

I feel that it is time for me to get back to an earlier period in time because as per his statement it is ‘high time for everyone in the twenty first century’ for I believe I am still spiritually brainwashed as per his definition. The problem here is that he says ‘everyone’ and that is wrong, he should only talk for himself.

Next I go back to the very first sentence where he says -

“The only problem is that it is doubtful whether the Lord of the Universe ever said so. After all, this is a sloka written by a poet, probably Vyasa, who later imparted 'divinity' to the utterance”

Whether the Lord wrote it or not, my question is, do you find it relevant? What if it is written by a poet (he says ‘probably Vyasa’. He is not on sure ground there)? There could be several reasons why divinity has been attributed to it. To suggest blackmail by threatening that if these divine instructions are not followed one will be punished is tantamount to suggesting that all that has happened over the course of the centuries gone by is all wrong and we now have a chance to make it right. What a weird thought!

Next is the battle of Kurukshetra itself. If you listen to the discourses of the scholars, one would understand that the battle between the good and evil forces is within us. Kurukshetra is within everyone. It should not be tough for a man of the twenty first century to understand the metaphor involved. And of course it has to be told to a confused Arjuna on the battlefield when things come to a head. If he had been all knowing, there would have been no need to teach him, may be like the twenty first century man. A story is necessary for a man of lesser intelligence (pardon me for saying this) for it is difficult for him to grasp the meaning otherwise. Whether Krishna existed or not, whether he was God or not and whether there is a God or not, it cannot be disputed that these have served the purpose of knitting society together and bringing solace and order to the lives of so many.

Let us take another statement that has been made –

“There is even a suspicion among scholars that Adi Sankara interpolated the entire Gita in Mahabharatha, at a place and in a context that is most unsuitable and jarring for it”.

I am ignorant as to the scholars who said that. But if they have, then that is their own view point. May be they were greater scholars. I with my limited intellect find it the most perfect situation for expounding the ‘Gita’ for it has been already said that Arjuna was in a confused state. So when does anyone seek answers?

A reference is made to Swami Vivekanand who is supposed to have said

"Was there a stenographer present in the Kurukshethra battlefield to take down notes when Krishna was speaking?"

This is doing injustice to a great and realised soul. The problem I feel with whoever has written this response is that he has failed to understand what the Swami said in the larger context of things. Swami Vivekanand’s life itself was guided by the Gita and he himself expounded the paths of the four yogas as ways to realisation.

What the Buddha, JesusChrist, Adi Sankara, Mohammed and others have always emphasised is that God is one who is beyond comprehension and one can find him only within himself. Whether you believe there is God or not, you will always seek for answers. So what is the problem if you are enthralled by the Mahabharata and Lord Krishna’s Vishwarupam on the battlefield of Kurukshetra? What if it has been a written by a poet or God himself said it? The scriptures and the epics never cease to excite your imagination. I never fail to watch the Mahabharat on the television every Sunday morning.

But there is one thing that I agree with him when he says –

 “One thing that is certain is that the Lord of the Universe is too busy running the universe, to spend his valuable time talking to a chosen person in private”


I guess that is why we need others to speak to us.

Friday, December 20, 2013

MUSIC IN THE AIR

MUSIC IN THE AIR

Whether the North East monsoon comes or not, come December and there is music in the ‘air’ and it is all over Chennai. I am sure there is no other city in India at least, where music becomes the air you breathe in every nook and corner. They call it the ‘Kutcheri Season’ or music festival which is heralded by the arrival of the Tamil month of ‘Marghazi’ and classical Carnatic music throbs in the veins of the thousands of Rasikas (music lovers) who throng the hundreds of Sabhas spread throughout the city to hear their favourite musicians and encourage the budding ones. This stretches over a period of fifteen to twenty days. Not only music but Indian Classical Dance festivals are held especially in places like Kalakshetra.

Though a music lover I am not a regular attendee at these concerts due to logistic problems – the commuting distance and car parking. But I do look for some of them in the vicinity of the area I live in and try to attend. The last few days have been special for I have been attending the concerts at a place, a kilometre from my house and near the seashore. As I listened to the strains of the flute emanating from the stage in front of me and the cool air from the sea drifting in, caressing my face, I was transported to  a another dimension. In between I got up and walked to the rear gate, which was open and looked out at the dark wide expanse lit only by the light of the moon and the silver streaks dancing on the surface of the sea. The waves were also gentle as if paying obeisance to the music in the air.

Even now I can recollect the various times that I have had these sublime trysts with music and to a large extent I can say these were a result of the situations I found myself in. Great music becomes greater when the ambience is also great. Last year I accompanied my daughter to a musical performance by a well known Indian rock band called ‘Indian Ocean’ playing what can be described as fusion music. This was held on the Elliots Beach seashore. The crowd was huge comprising mainly of the younger lot, mostly students. As the group played, the rains came down and they continued playing their music. The crowds danced and the sea roared in the background. We all got wet but it was an awesome experience. Though it was the Bay of Bengal in the backdrop it was the Indian Ocean that was playing that night.

I am sure most of you would have listened to and attended concerts of Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Amjad Ali Khan and others. I have attended many of them at various places in Mumbai, Baroda, Ahmedabad and elsewhere. But I specially remember the concerts which were held at the Durbar Hall of the Laxmi Vilas palace at Baroda. Sitting on the carpeted ground below the golden light emanating from the chandeliers and listening to the artiste on the stage, like disciples in front of the Guru is something I can never forget. As Bhimsen sang his abhangs late into the night making sure to render his favourite ‘Jo Bhaje Hari Ko Sada’ towards the end of the concert, I went back home in a spiritually elevated mood, his voice still ringing in my years as I fell asleep.

I still remember the night when sitting on the lawns of ATIRA, Ahmedabad on a cold winter night with only the stars and the moon above gracing the occasion with their benign presence and listening to the strains of Shiv Kumar Sharma’s santoor rendering raag Bagesri was sheer bliss. This was a night long festival of music which started at around seven o’clock in the evening and went on till the next morning, with performances by various renowned Hindustani classical musicians. In between one would get up to have a cup of hot ‘chai’ which was served free at the venue. I think nearly everyone who came stayed till the end.

And of course I cannot forget the concert ‘A Tribute to the Beatles’ by a group called ‘Rain’ at the Fox theatre in Saint Louis. It took me back decades to my school and college days and I relived every moment.

There have been several such moments but it is necessary to recollect them to really understand the effect of music has on us. All the arts are expressions of the human soul, I prefer to call it that, as there is too much of thought and analysis when the mind is involved and in the process the spontaneity of the moment is lost.

Kierkegaard in his book ‘Either/Or’ examines this aspect. In the chapter on ‘The Immediate Erotic stages’ while talking about an abstract idea says “our concern here is only with an idea that can become the object of an artistic treatment, not with ideas that lend themselves to scientific presentation”. He continues that the most abstract idea conceivable is the spirit of sensuality. It cannot be represented in sculpture, for in itself it is a kind of quality of inwardness. It cannot be painted, for it cannot be grasped in fixed contours. It is an energy, a storm, impatience, passion, and so on, in all their lyrical quality, existing not in a single moment but in a succession of moments, for if it existed in a single moment it could be portrayed or painted. The only medium that can represent it is music, for music has an element of time in it and it does not lapse in time. What it cannot express is the historical in time. Music exists only in the moment of its performance, for however skilful one may be at reading notes and however lively one’s imagination, it cannot be denied that it is only in unreal sense that the music exists when read. It exists really only when it is performed. It is because of this he says that music is a higher spiritual art”.

While all other mediums of self expression have space as their element it is only Language and Music that have time as their element. It is perhaps only music that can hold you a captive during the moments of its performance. I was a captive in all my trysts with music and never desired to be freed


Monday, December 16, 2013

THE DEATH OF A PET

THE DEATH OF A PET

I love cats and dogs. I love having a pet but do not have one, but as age catches on and your children have gone away, you feel the need for something that would cuddle beneath your feet and sit on your lap and look at you with kind eyes. A pat on the head or a scratch behind their ears would be enough to enhance that feeling of togetherness and belonging. You may wonder now why I still do not have a pet.

Way back in my childhood I did have two pets though they never stayed with us at home. The first one was a cat, a beautiful white cat and which I had named as Snow White. Yes it was a female cat. I must have been nine or ten years old. I can never recall when she came into my life and when she left. Now when I look at the classification of cats, I can say she was an outdoor cat for she used to be out most of the time during the day coming only during mealtime. She used to come back at night and park herself in a bin in the backyard and which in course of time became her dwelling place. I do not know how many kittens she delivered in that dwelling of hers. But I remember that every time I used to look into the bin after she had delivered, she would look up at me with those kind eyes and purr softly conveying that she trusted me completely. In course of time the kittens would grow up and find their own way but some would not survive. It was sad seeing her hovering around her dead kitten and then look at me and purr softly, mourning. It was an age when I could not fully comprehend what death was, but Snow White taught me that. I cannot recall whether I cried, but now after so many years when those scenes come back I can feel that intense sadness which comes with the passing away of someone dear. It was after three or four years, that she stopped coming back home, she had disappeared. Every time I saw a white cat from far I would go running there to see if it was her, only to be disappointed for I knew those eyes too well. My grief has always been that I could never really give her a proper send off.

The second was a squirrel. I found it lying injured on the ground in our backyard. I picked it and took it inside the house and tended to it. This was right after my cat had disappeared and may be I was looking for something to fill that void. I named the squirrel Squeaky which for me at that time seemed most appropriate. I put him (to this day I have always presumed it to be a male) in an open cardboard box and which became his house. Squeaky picked up in health soon enough got used to his surroundings. I used to pick him up in my hands and gently stroke his back. I knew he liked it for he would always run on my arms and land up in my palm. I remember taking him with me in my shirt pocket to show off to my friends in school. He would climb on to my shoulders and then come back to rest inside my pocket. The time I spent with Squeaky was very short but enough to ensure a close bonding between us. Then one day he fell sick for he stopped eating and was lying exhausted inside the cardboard box. I did not disturb him though I left some water and a banana inside so that he could have them when he felt like it. A day later I found him dead and stiff and as I slowly lifted his lifeless body from inside something snapped and I started crying. My mother understood and let it pass. The grief was greater than the disappearance of Snow White for by now I had understood what it was to lose a dear one.

Ever since I never had a pet nor did I go in for one. A very close friend of mine lost his golden retriever dog some time ago. I felt sad on hearing about it and can imagine what his family and especially his daughter would have gone through. The last time when I had been to his house, I found the handsome bouncy big fellow come sniffing around my legs and then with a leap parked himself on his master’s lap. One morning they found him dead in the garden after having eaten something on which insecticide was sprayed.

You see the relationship with an animal is entirely an affair of the heart. There is no mind involved and as such no expectations. The only thing that it wants is food and affection in return for affection and loyalty. The life span of a domestic animal being much lesser maybe a sixth or seventh of a human, the chances that one will experience the loss of a pet is very great. This could be traumatic in the case of a child and a deep sense of loss in adults. As long as the pet is young and healthy they can be great stress relievers but as they grow old and sick and exhibit the symptoms of an aging parent, our concern also grows.

I read somewhere that parents while choosing pets for their children take the life expectancy of the pet in to consideration, as the child is more likely to be emotionally distraught if the pet dies, while some others might see a pet’s death as a chance to teach their children about death. But I do not know how far this works. For me I did not choose my pets, it just happened. They chose me.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

RITUALS AND BELIEFS

RITUALS AND BELIEFS

In her blog post at http://varshaukenagpal.blogspot.in/2013/12/think-and-question.html ‘Think and Question’ Varsha has raised certain issues with regard to rituals. She says –

‘We all have grown up with a lot of beliefs ingrained in us. Most of us blindly follow what our parents tell us”.

She says that the gullible amongst us are being exploited in the name of superstition and rituals. She ends by asking us ‘For once please think and question these rituals’.

Yes, we have grown up with a lot of beliefs and values which have been passed on to us by our parents. We have retained some and shed some of them in course of time when we find that these are not really relevant   and acceptable in our lives. We start living our lives with new beliefs and newer values and try to pass it on to our children who in turn may accept or reject them. Beliefs are an integral part of our living. We cannot do without beliefs. Whether what you believe is right or wrong is always judged by the next generation as you pass the mantle to them. But despite all this the one reality that has not changed and continues to occupy our thinking is our end.

It is man’s innate fear of termination that has given rise to a belief in after life, superstitions and rituals. That death is the final frontier and there is nothing beyond is something that is not acceptable to most of us. The existentialists believe that there is nothing beyond this life but they do seek redemption in their own way.

So when someone comes along and says ‘I shall show you the way to immortality and redemption’ you willingly follow. I believe that’s how religion was born. It is when you are shown the path that, rituals come into existence. By definition, rituals are ‘a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions according to a prescribed order’. The problem arises with ‘prescribed order’. This by itself would mean subjugation of the individual ego and following a path without protestations in accordance with the prescription. The next question is who is the prescriber? We have seen that blind acceptance has led to exploitation and discrimination down the ages. This still happens in some form or the other and will continue as long as man’s desire to dominate and possess is present. Exploitation can never end till human greed is completely wiped out and which does not seem a possibility, for I do not believe that an ideal world can ever exist. Old rituals in course of time get replaced by new ones.

I have myself undergone some harrowing experiences in the name of beliefs and rituals. I consider myself as a rational person who does not accept without questioning. Still I have allowed myself to be consumed in the vortex of certain situations despite my efforts to avoid them, whether it was in Varanasi or the Kali temple in Kolkata, the Jagannath temple in Puri or some of the temples in the south. I am sure that this is a universal situation.

Whether religious ceremonies and rituals have any relevance at all is something that we should ask ourselves and find the answers. We cannot be dismissive of people who do follow and believe in them. The ultimate yardstick is whether they are good people. We find good and bad in all spheres of life. I can talk for myself and say that I am totally a non religious person under the value system in which I have been brought up but I am an extremely religious person as per the value system I have created for myself. We will always find exploiters and discriminators whether in the places of religious worship or outside them.

I remember when my father passed away fifty years ago, I sat alongside my elder brother who was performing the thirteen day ceremonies as per our beliefs. At that time as I listened to the chanting of the mantras and the explanations regarding the soul’s journey to the other world, I found great strength and solace in overcoming my grief. As a rational person now, having seen and experienced life in its entirety, whether I believe in a God or not, or in those ceremonies, or in a life after death, I have to accept that those religious ceremonies did serve their purpose and helped me back to normalcy. I am sure that despite the exploitations of ‘Guardians of God’ they still continue to serve their purpose to the multitudes. Sometime ago I had posted in my blog ‘Letters to God - 3’ where I talked about the ‘Guardians of God’, which I think relevant to reproduce here –

“Your Guardians have made you into a commodity and sell you and you keep watching. Of course you can be sold because there are buyers. The number of people wanting to see touch and ask you for favours is ever increasing. So you see the demand is far outstripping the supply and maybe that’s why you have these Guardians. But how many come for your sake, to understand you and be with you?”

I am a very religious person when it comes to my meditation. But I do observe certain rituals before I start. I chant the Gayathri mantra while doing the pranayama. It not only keeps time regulating the entire exercise, but also creates an inner vibration.



It is the individual’s angst and anger against these ‘Guardians of God’ that has produced religious and social reformers from time to time through the centuries and I am sure that they will be appearing again and again. Though they have been successful to a certain extent in bringing about a change in the thinking process and uplifting the exploited, we find that rituals and beliefs in some form or the other will continue to exist.