Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita : On Reflections and Repentance

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arjuna uvaca

aparam bhavato janma, param janma vivasvatah
katham etad vijaniyam, tvam adau proktavan iti

1) If I continue to look at my world as comprising of just me, my actions, how they affect me and my ego, then I am caught in the  microcosm (Jeeva Shrishti) that does not allow me to look at how my actions and deeds affect the macrocosm (Eshwara Shristi)

2) With that microcosmic view of the world, a supreme being seems like a distant reality, beginning a spiritual journey then becomes a challenge.

3)  The more my actions feed my ego, the more clouded and petty my perspectives. I cannot see anything beyond the “I, me and mine” world.

 

sri-bhagavan uvaca
bahuni me vyatitani, janmani tava carjuna
tanyaham veda sarvani, na tvam vettha parantapa

 

1)      The reason I have come to live my life the way I live it now is the result of my vasanas (karmic imprints) of my previous lives.

2)      I don’t remember where I have been, what roads I have traveled or where I am headed. The choices I make in this life are not my choices. It is the design of the cosmic will.

3)      I am ignorance personified, I am clueless about the ‘big plan’ and that is why I look at life with a narrow and petty perspective(Jeeva shrishti)

ajo ‘pi sann avyayatma, bhutanam isvaro ‘pi san
prakrtim svam adhisthaya, sambhavamy atma-mayaya

 

1)      When I am not equipped to recall details of my journey so far and where I am headed, how can I be anything but ignorant?

2)      I have a constant sense of deprivation, needs and wants. I can begin my spiritual journey only when I move away from this materialistic world of needs and wants.

3)      I am forever looking for opportunities to escape one situation and often get into other situations without reflecting on what I have learnt from my past actions.

4)      I have to learn to move from selfish living to unselfish living before I aim for selfless action. I have to teach myself to celebrate abundance and cultivate a sense of gratitude.

yada yada hi dharmasya, glanir bhavati bharata
abhyutthanam adharmasya, tadatmanam srjamy aham

 

1)      I sense a decline in my values, my morality and my ethics. I sense a need for a spiritual journey, to find myself, to find my lost values.

2)      As my desires go up, I make compromises in my values and principles in life. Where is the scope for a spiritual journey? I sincerely want to be liberated from these desires that plague me.

 

paritranaya sadhunam, vinasaya caduskrtam
dharma-samsthapanarthaya,sambhavami yuge yuge

 

1)      When things go out of my control, am I doing my bit to correct the situation? Do I believe that there is a higher power who will intervene and show me the right path?

2)      I want to nurture the qualities that brings others happiness and kill those qualities that are my flaws, that hurt people and spread unhappiness.

3)      I am conscious of the fact that I have to take effort. I need help to step into a higher realm. I have a choice to allow myself to evolve, to protect my good qualities and destroy my bad qualities.

 

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Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita: Am I a Seeker?

This week we discussed three verses from Karma Yoga that talked about what differentiates a Seeker.

My key takeaways from this week’s lesson:

sadrsam cestate svasyahprakrter jnanavan api
prakrtim yanti bhutani , nigrahah kim karisyati

1)As I embark on this journey of understanding the lessons in the Bhagawad Gita, I constantly remind myself that just being knowledgeable about Karma Yoga does not make me a Karma yogi. I have to walk the path, abide by the teachings and apply what I have learnt to reach a state of sthitapragya (steady intellect). I know the journey is long and arduous. What matters is that I have begun the journey. Therefore I am a Seeker.

2) I understand and appreciate the fact that even though I may succeed in grasping the essence of the Gita, my natural instincts of thought, will still interfere in the way I view behave and deal with people. I have to consciously put to practice, the learning. I dare not call myself a Seeker, if I blame all my actions on my natural instincts of the mind.

3) Despite my conscious efforts of referencing the lessons from the Gita to go about my life, if I fail and continue to blame my nature for the way I deal with things, people and situations around me, then I will give myself time to evolve. I will accept that I am not ready for higher learning. I am reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

4) I know and understand that I cannot choose to be a Seeker on a few days of the week or only when it suits me. I will consciously allow the teachings of the Gita to interfere with my nature and learn to channel my train of thought to be worthy of being called a Seeker.

indriyasyendriyasyarthe, raga-dvesau vyavasthitau
tayor na vasam agacchet, tau hy asya paripanthinau

5) The fact I like a certain person, food, or activity has nothing to do with how fabulous the person, the food or activity is. Similarly, my dislike of a person, food or activity has nothing to do with how terrible the person food or activity is.  Any attachment or aversion I feel is decided by how I have filed the information in my mind as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, how my mind perceives the external stimuli. My buddhi (intellect) is ultimately responsible for how I deal with external stimuli (person, food or activity)

6) As a Seeker, I am expected to be in control of my buddhi. When my buddhi is in control, then my natural instincts stop controlling how I perceive external stimuli and allows me to experience the stimuli without judging them as good or bad. As a Seeker, I have to learn to be less caught up in my own drama. I have to unlearn to be a happy victim of my life.

sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah, para-dharmat svanusthitat
sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah, para-dharmo bhayavahah

7) I choose to be at peace with who I am instead of yearning to be like someone else. My personality (Svabhava) is the external manifestation of my predetermined inborn nature (Svadharma). Just to please someone, if I place a constraint on my natural inclinations and alter my personality to be someone else that I am naturally not, then the pretence only hurts and does not keep me happy in the long term.

8) My personality does not depend on where I was born or to whom, which religion I belong to or what caste. It largely is the result of my thoughts, shaped by my past. To be at peace with the choices I make, I should act according to my thoughts, however imperfect or flawed they are. I have to let my true nature make the choices and not force myself to follow the choices someone else makes for me – even though the alternate choices may be the right or a better choice. By doing that, I help purge my way of thinking, and that alone will let me adapt to a newer way of thought.

Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita: On Faith

Brahmacharini Vishakaji simplified the teachings from two related verses from Karma-yoga this week.  Both the verses urged us to reflect on how our faith and belief affect our behaviors and actions. When you believe something to be true, without needing proof, then you begin to understand the teachings from the Bhagawad Gita, said Brahmacharini Vishakaji.

My key learning from this week:

ye me matam idam nityam ,anutisthanti manavah
sraddhavanto ‘nasuyanto , mucyante te ‘pi karmabhih

1) When I believe that something is true, it becomes my faith. I don’t have to question the truths in the scriptures just because I am educated, or possess a scientific bent of mind. I have to remember that a mere understanding of the text is not enough to experience the truth.  I have to live by the teachings, walk the talk, to really gain from the lessons in the Gita.

2) Spiritual truth is like a fine cut diamond. Just like how a diamond has many facets and therefore looks different when looked at from different angles, religious faith reveals only one part of the whole truth when looked at from one facet alone. Followers of a religion invest their faith in one facet of the truth alone. This is the reason why we are not able to appreciate the truth from the perspective of another religion.

3) We evaluate and judge everything around us using cognitive reasoning. We always look for evidence and proof, use our gross intellect (Theekshana buddhi) and that is why faith eludes us.  Faith is a virtue of the subtle intellect ( Sookshma buddhi) .  l have to learn to tame and temper my intellect to allow the subtle intellect  grasp the essence of the teachings, without critical evaluation of the texts.

ye tv etad abhyasuyanto, nanutisthanti me matam
sarva-jnana-vimudhams tan, viddhi nastan acetasah

4) Unlike mathematical reasoning, where you have to have a hypothesis, arguments and conclusions, faith is a form of truth that does not need any evidence,  proof or argument. Brahmacharini Vishakaji could draw an analogy from one of William Wordsworth’s poems who said – ‘Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; our meddling intellect misshapes the beauteous forms of things:–   We murder to dissect.’

5) Swami Chinmayananda observed that only poetry can capture the truth , not science. He meant Tagore’s description of faith as a “bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark”.  The fact that birds sing at day break just before dawn is proof that they have the faith that the Sun will soon be out. They don’t use intellect or cognition like we humans do to judge if it is soon going to be day.

6) I understand the essence of Avidhya-Kama-Karma . When I am spiritually ignorant, my desires lead me to perform thoughtless actions. When I am spiritually awakened, it is possible to be free of desires and be at meditative peace.

7) I must be willing to do things for the others (Lokasangraha) and not merely for myself. When I work to make others happy or their lives easier, then I live by the teachings of the Gita.  Despite my intellectual understanding of the teachings of the Gita, if I cannot help but find faults in the teachings, it is impossible to live by the principles that the Gita extols.

Learning about life and motorcycles

words_of_wisdomI don’t read books on philosophy. I have never been tempted to visit that part of the library that shared truths about life. Recently though, the CEO of the company I work for, remarked that any reader worth her salt, should have read a few classic pieces of literature and mentioned this philosophical novel from 1974.

Having no previous knowledge of either Zen philosophy or motorcycles, I was intrigued with the title of the book and got my hands on to a PDF copy. I confess that I thought the book would be a drag.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.

I may not have understood what great philosophical minds can from such books but I have reflected upon a few things that jumped out at me and will stay with me as lessons. Here is a summary of Part 1 of the book  (I am still to read Part 2) from the perspective and understanding of a first time reader of books in this genre.

What I learnt from Part 1 of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Life is a rush. Reflect on the way we all travel to work every morning. We take roads that are less winding, drive in fast moving traffic and reach destinations without really enjoying the journey. A few of us though, stop to smell the flowers. And it is at these times, in paths less traveled do we have these realizations of how simple and amazing life really is.

We take life for granted. How many of us take time to enjoy the little pleasures that life offers? We take for granted the little wonders of nature. The grass has always been green and the birds have always fluttered by. What is new? Even when someone points the wonders of nature to us, we are quick to discount them as ordinary.

We detest technology. Accept it or not some of us do not understand how things work and don’t make an effort to learn the basics. We are very superficial in our knowledge even when we do know. When we meet and interact with people with in depth knowledge, instead of respect, we feel anger and antipathy.

We rush to conclusions. When things go wrong, as they often do, we are quick to conjure up the worst reason why they did. We blame adversities and circumstances on underlying sinister, inexplicable reasons and always look for deeper meanings of situations when none exists.

We don’t share perspectives. Sometimes we don’t look at things in the same perspective as others we work or live with. We look at the same situation, want to understand and solve the issue that bothers us, but see, think and talk about it in completely different ways. We overlook some details that others consider important because they are so tiny and sometimes we don’t look at things because they are too huge. We are quick to reject ideas, point out why the other person is wrong and cannot believe that they are not able to look at the situation like the way we do.  This destroys and ruins relationships. The fact that the difference in opinion is because of looking at the same situation in two different dimensions doesn’t occur to us at all.

There is always more than one dimension to everything.  There are essentially two modes of thought. Some of us think about stuff in an aesthetic romantic, groovy dimension while the others analyze and figure things out more scientifically. Both these dimensions are incompatible, in conflict, not in sync and can be miles apart. The difference in this dimension is what we name generation gap, modern outlook or bias. Our vision of reality is largely dependent on what the mode we use to think – groovy or scientific. That probably explains why blue prints and schematic drawings don’t fascinate everyone. When you look at the world around you in the romantic mode, you are imaginative, creative and intuitive. You give more importance to feelings and less to facts. You aren’t governed by reason or laws. Leave the laws, reasoning and unemotional views to the classic mode thinkers.

The trouble is when we write off each other’s views as dull and boring or frivolous and shallow. When we think exclusively in one mode, we tend to underestimate the other mode of thought. Therein lies the reasons for the huge split or divide we experience with each other, both at work and otherwise. We alienate those who live with us, underestimate each other’s contributions to work and spread hate. We dislike intrusions in our reality. If something is not the way we believe it should be, we ignore or reject the idea, we fight it and look for another explanation that makes sense to our reality.

Will share more from Part- 2, when I am done with that part.

 

Har Har Mahadev!

I have never hesitated picking a book by a lesser known author. In fact, in all my library visits in Singapore, I have picked books by authors I have never read before just based on the blurb I read at the end of the book. Some of the books turn out to be pleasant surprises and some not so. But when buying books I have always tried to use sound judgement- either bought books by known authors or best sellers.

I learnt of Amish Tripathi’s books in early 2011 when he released his second book of the Shiva Trilogy. I was in fact in the bookstore browsing books the day Amish was to launch his second book at the same store. There was a sizeable crowd waiting to get signed copies of the second book. The hype did not excite me since I hadn’t read his first book nor any reviews of the book until then.

It took me much longer than that to actually want to read the book. When I heard some of my friends and associates talking about his books and buying copies to read, I did not want to be left behind. By then I knew of the two books and how successful they had become. So I ordered my own copies from Flipkart. When they arrived, I flipped through a few pages of the first book and wondered if I had foolishly jumped on the bandwagon.

I got busy with other books I had borrowed from the library and kept Amish’s books back in the stack of books on my bookshelf. A whole 6 months passed before I made another attempt to read the Shiva Trilogy. This time around I took just that one book when I travelled, so that I had no other option but to strive through even if I did not find it gripping.

The second attempt paid off.  I set a 50-pages-a-day reading limit and completed the 400 page book in 6 days- two days lesser than I predicted it would take. I had to read just beyond the first few chapters to begin enjoying the book. Amish has made Shiva so approachable and real life like. He curses, jokes, is earnest to learn and please.  I love the way he has used some facts from mythology and added believable content to make the mythology plausible. For someone who has no interest whatsoever in religion or philosophy, I have begun to admire Shiva.  When I read the book I was able to appreciate life the way it was in the time of Shri Ram and after him, Shiva. I would never have been able to remember names of Shiva’s able bodied friends and associates, if not for Amish’s picturization of them as mere mortal beings with the same needs and wants as us. I can tell you about Nandi, Veer Bhadra and Brahaspati now without having to philosophize.

It is possible that people who read the Shiva trilogy will look at Gods like Shiva with new perspective. The story makes you believe that there was a human like him that lived many thousand years ago who went on to become a God because of his deeds.  In that I think Amish has achieved something that no religious book would be able to.

I look forward to reading the second book of the Shiva Trilogy and will wait for the third and final book in March 2013. The last time I read all the books in a frenzy before the last one came out was JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. There again I was the last adaptee!

Listening to Life

It was concert time in Singapore and this time around we were at the Kalaa Utsavam and at Bombay Jayashri’s concert. My mother is a big fan and having grown up listening to her records, I enjoy her music as well.

The concert was at the beautiful Esplanade concert hall, with state of the art acoustics and reverberation chambers.  It was my first time there and a great memory to treasure.  What was unpleasant was the fact that even though people knew that the concert was scheduled to begin at 7.30 in the evening, we saw people trickling in past the given time. I wonder if we will ever have the discipline to be in time at such gatherings, as a mark of respect to the performer. Music pervades all boundaries and is such a unifying factor. The audience were a mix of Indians from the South and the other parts, people from the West and East. People like Bombay Jayashri have made Indian music so popular around the World.

Bombay Jayashree was dressed in a simple yet elegant sari and her trademark bindi. From where I sat- The foyer- I couldn’t see much of her expressions but I imagine them peaceful and serene like in the many videos of her that I have watched. She spoke in flawless English, with the learned perspective of a person who has travelled the world, experienced various influences in life and music in particular. She spoke of the oneness of music, of the similar emotions that music evokes in each one of us, of how each of us is a rasika like she is and the rest of the musicians on stage were. Her description of each piece of music she sang that evening was simple and made it feel like we were all musicians in our own ways.

When she spoke, her voice was soothing and calming, much like her music.  Despite being renowned in her field and the glory she has earned in her journey as a musician, she seemed so humble.  She was able to get down to the level of the audience, many of whom were not as informed of ragas and other nuances of music like she was. It made me wonder what makes a person that way. People are known to take pride in their achievements. They love to be told that they are good when they are still learning and have no claim to fame.  A true achiever, like Bombay Jayashri, just does what she does best, and is unaffected by fame and laurels.  Being in the mere presence of such people can be humbling. It was for me.

The other vidwans who accompanied her with their instruments were all fabulous. There was such co-ordination and understanding among them.  I wondered how many hours of practice would have gone into perfecting the final presentation. It was flawless from the beginning to the end.

Bombay Jayashri seamlessly sang various genres of music. Hindustani to Carnatic to Ghazals. Even though there were plenty of tunes from Indian movies that the musicians played on the violin and flute, she sang only one to demonstrate how movie songs are also based on ragas from Classical music.  She understood that a common man’s appreciation of classical music is only possible if she could relate it to movies. After the tunes played, she paused to ask if we sang the tune in our minds. That she said was the true power of music. Among her renditions were a poetry from Bharathiar and Mian Tan Sen’s composition other than compositions by Saint Thyagaraja and her own Gurus.  She switched from Tamil to Hindi, Telugu to Kannada, without missing a beat and took us along the journey as a united group of rasikas. The concert was two hours long but seemed shorter.

I will reflect on the evening for many days. I missed my daughter, who is away at camp, at various points during the evening. I specially wanted to point out to how a piano can be a delightful accompaniment to carnatic music. She dreams of being a musician and I think there were a lot of lessons to take away for young people like her, who want to do so much in short time!

Someday soon, I hope to be blessed with another opportunity to enjoy music of that calibre.

Here is a video I found on YouTube which gives you glimpses of the evening.

Music, his refuge

guitarHe is 70. Too old to be driving door to door for music lessons, if you ask me. At 70, if I am still around, I would be busy doing things that please me. Maybe he was doing just that too. For someone who has taught music all his life, what else could be more exciting but that?

He loves to talk. It is a different story that I found it difficult to follow what he said in the beginning. His English is highly accented, despite the fact that he worked in England for twenty years. That would have changed the way he spoke the language, wouldn’t you think? Hard to imagine how differently he spoke before his 20 year stint.

He is lonely. Every time I cancelled my class, he would offer to accommodate me on another day of the week. I suspected that he was lonely, that his children were all older, married and having their own families. Maybe his wife was an old grouch and he wanted respite from her.

He is a learner. He asked me if I was computer savvy, if I knew how to use the internet, if I could teach him how to use his new iPad. His son gifted him an iPad 2 from one of his trips from Australia. After class, we sit down with his new iPad for half an hour, opening and closing apps and learning how to use them.

He wants to make new friends. I saw that he had three friends on Facebook from the time he owned the iPad. His son, daughter in law and wife. He showed keen interest on learning how to make new friends on Facebook. I suggested that he connect with friends of his friends first and then build his network. He looked hurt and refused to consider that option. He wanted new friends. Unknown to his family.

On the second session that I spent with him teaching him to use his iPad , he showed me an app he could use to call people for free. To demonstrate how it works, we called his wife. Her number was stored on the app along with that of his son’s. He was taken aback I chose her to call first. He spoke briefly in his native tongue and closed the call. I smiled. I had done a good deed for the day.

On the third session of learning how to use his iPad, he wanted to fill out an online form for a service provider. The text from the service provider said that if he updated his personal information he would stand a chance to win an iPad2. Who was I to ridicule his enthusiasm for a second iPad? I played along. I helped him fill out the form. When we came to the part that asked his marital status he said divorced.

That explained everything.

…. his enthusiasm for new friends on Facebook.

…. why he looked shaken after I connected the call to his wife using the app.

…. why he was lonely

…. why he loved to talk

…. why he drove door to door teaching music at 70.