Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What you suffer is your karma

 The following is one of the chapters of my e-book, Coping with Suffering.


Your suffering is your choice to a great extent in Hinduism. Your karma determines what comes your way. Karma is the principle that governs the unfolding of events in your life. Your karma depends on the integrity with which you lived your previous lives. It is not a punishment because unlike in the Abrahamic religions there is no punitive God sitting in any heaven meting out retribution to people. Karma is the unfolding of the moral law that drives the whole universe. As Dr S Radhakrishnan put it, “The working of karma is wholly dispassionate, just, neither cruel nor merciful.” It is not about cruelty or mercy. It is the natural consequence of what you do. If you eat salt, you will drink water. Quite as simple as that.

There is no escape from it because it is part of the eternal law of the universe which is applicable to everything and everybody in the universe without any discrimination. The high and the low, the mighty and the weak, the animate and the inanimate, all are subject to the eternal law one way or another.

God is the eternal law. We may even say that the eternal law is god. Brahman (God) is the infinite reality, the all-encompassing existence. Your ultimate deliverance is a merger of your being into that infinity. For that you need to achieve purity by liberating yourself from your ego. Only the pure self can dissolve into the infinite reality.

The infinite reality pervades everything. Nothing exists outside that. But evil is not a part of that pure reality. Evil belongs to the impure, imperfect material reality. Concepts like good and evil, bliss and suffering, are not applicable to the infinite reality which is beyond all such limited and limiting notions.

Evil and suffering are our creations, in short. Our anger, greed, delusion, etc bring much suffering to ourselves as well as others. Other people, beasts, reptiles and so on can cause suffering to us. There is also a kind of suffering caused by forces beyond us like natural disasters.

There is no material life without some evil and suffering. That is precisely why our ultimate goal is to liberate ourselves from this existence and merge into the infinite reality which is beyond all sensations and feelings, beyond any possibility of suffering.

Krishna of the Bhagavat Gita advises us to live without attachment to anything here on earth if we wish to escape the cycles of birth, death and rebirth, the cycles generated by our karma. Attachment is a desire for things you don’t have and a clinging to things you do have. This attachment is the primary stumbling block to achieving moksha, liberation.  This attachment brings unnecessary suffering to human beings.

You have to rise above the joys and sorrows brought by this attachment. As Krishna tells Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, “You must learn to endure fleeting things – they come and go! When these cannot torment a man, when suffering and joy are equal for him and he has courage, he is fit for immortality.”

It is the nonchalance of the ascetic that Krishna is asking Arjuna to acquire. It is not the listlessness of the weary person. It is not the apathy of the unconcerned. It is an enlightened state of mind which shows you the illusory nature of the things to which you feel unwarranted attachment. It reveals to you how like a moth you are flying into a flame that will scorch your wings when you have the option to fly higher into the pure and blissful light of divinity.

How do you do that? How do you reach that higher realms and attain eternal deliverance?

Follow your dharma, Krishna would say. “Be intent on action, not on the fruit of the action; avoid attraction to the fruits and attachment to inaction! Perform actions, firm in discipline, relinquishing attachments. Be impartial to failure and success.”

Do your duty with full integrity. That is the ultimate mantra for deliverance. Hinduism offers at least four distinct paths for attaining that level of integrity. Devotion [bhakti] is one such path which is a purely spiritual path involving prayer and meditation. You can pursue the path of ethical action [karma] if you prefer that. Krishna’s Arjuna obviously was being advised to do that.

There is the path of knowledge for the intellectually oriented souls. Real knowledge reveals the impermanence and ineffectuality of earthly things and thus frees the seeker from the bondage of ignorance. Ignorance is what ties you down to the illusory realities here on earth.

For the mystically oriented ones, there is the path of asceticism. Abandon the world altogether though you are still in it. There are thousands of ascetics living in the ethereal peaks and caves of the Himalayas seeking deliverance through renunciation. This is an extreme path and it entails much suffering. You endure hunger and cold and whatever comes your way in the hostile environment of the elevated hills. You have to live as if you don’t have a body. But you do have a body which endures the onslaught of what normal people perceive as reality: hunger and thirst, climate and wild animals, breathlessness and insomnia.

Suffering has a vital role in Hinduism, in other words. This world is not your real place. You belong elsewhere. Here you are trapped in the midst of illusions. The ordinary souls go through life taking those illusions as realities. The ascetics transcend the illusions by embracing suffering in various ways. To have a physical body and yet to live as if there isn’t one is certainly not an easy task. But that is just what the ascetic does.

Hinduism is not a monolithic religion like Christianity or Judaism. There are diverse schools with significantly different teachings. We have looked at some elements which are fairly common to those teachings. One thing is obvious: suffering has its due place in Hinduism too. It descends on you one way or the other. Some even choose it voluntarily. There is no escape anyway.

Though Hinduism shares something of Christianity’s aversion to the body, the two religions have little else in common. There is no judgemental God in Hinduism peering at whatever the people are doing and keeping accounts so that the final judgement day will be some gigantic firework show. The ultimate reality of Hinduism, Brahman, is not going to issue any verdict. You are your own master in a way. You decide your destiny with your own actions. That is karma. You reap the results of what you do.

Hinduism offers more cause for optimism than Christianity and its predecessor, Judaism. In the words of Dr S Radhakrishnan, “If we miss the right path, we are not doomed to an eternity of suffering. There are other existences by which we can grow into the knowledge of the Infinite Spirit with the complete assurance that we will ultimately arrive there.”

Hinduism leaves us with enough optimism and reasons to smile. 

Coping with Suffering is available at Amazon.


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Goswami kinda Nationalism


83-year-old Stan Swamy who can’t even have glass of water without somebody’s help is thrown in jail for terrorist activities. A young stand-up comedian, Munawar Faruqui, is in jail for a joke that didn’t crack but might have cracked. Siddique Kappan, a journalist who went from Kerala to report a gang rape in Yogiland, is in jail for suspected terrorist links.

Laughter is a crime in Modi’s India. Helping the poor and the marginalised is a crime. Even questioning the government’s crimes can land you in jail. Nitish Kumar’s Bihar has enacted a law for gagging people’s mouths. And Nitish Kumar is the “Bhishma Pitamah of corruption” according to Tejashwi Yadav. Now, why is Mr Yadav not arrested yet for making that statement?

Well, this is Modi’s India. You can never say who will go behind the bars for what. Somebody like Arnab Goswami can say anything and do anything – even induce suicides – but won’t be caught by the law. He is above the law like a lot many other hardcore criminals in the country. Moreover, many of these criminals are ruling the country.

A famous Malayalam poet, Akkitham who died recently, wrote many years ago the famous lines: “Light is sorrow, son / Darkness is solace.” The young son who takes the morning walk with his father in spite of the latter’s warning against it is condemned to see the debris of the night’s venality lying on the wayside. Our leaders go on promising utopia in talk shows and public performances and channel discussions. Politics is entertainment without the consolations of consoling moral lessons like in other entertainments. Instead of morals we get the wayside debris and its nationalism.

Nationalist Arnab Goswami is one of Modi’s lapdogs in what has come to be known as Godi Media. The Mumbai police have released some of his WhatsApp chats which show him clearly as a deep pit of depravity. He has been asserting his nationalism with a vociferousness that disturbed sanity. Most nationalists in Modi’s India smack of insanity and Goswami is a perverted version of that insanity.

The leaked WhatsApp chats prove his nationalism to be nothing more than sham. Just a show. He can celebrate the deaths of our soldiers because those deaths bring him certain personal benefits. His nationalism is only that: personal aggrandisement. I have always believed with Dr Johnson that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. The kind of nationalism that is peddled in India these days will make even scoundrels blush with shame.

Ambrose Bierce differed with Dr Johnson and said that patriotism is the first (not the last) resort of the scoundrel. His definition of patriotism is: “Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name.” Arnab Goswami’s torch has been burning for too long now. It’s time to give it some rest and a prison cell would be quite the ideal place for one who has been deciding for too long what the nation wants to know.


PS. Written for Indispire Edition 360: #ContemporaryNationalism

Both the images above are fish that swam into my net from the vast ocean of Internet. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Malevolent India


Book Review

Title: Malevolent Republic

Author: K. S. Komireddi

Publisher: Context, Chennai, 2020

Pages: xxxiii + 228       Price: Rs399

‘A Short History of the New India’ is the subtitle of this relatively short book. In ten tersely titled chapters [e.g., ‘Erosion,’ ‘Surrender,’ ‘Decadence’], the book presents just five prime ministers of India: Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh, and Narendra Modi. The history of a country is largely a creation of its prime leader. While the first four PMs mentioned above receive one chapter each, the entire second part of the book [6 chapters] is dedicated to Modi and the pathetic if not pathological history he has been forging.

With Indira Gandhi started the erosion of the high principles followed by the former leaders. Indira knew the game of politics and played it shrewdly. The emergency and Bhindranwale were her serious mistakes. Her son Sanjay was another. Komireddi is of the opinion that Indira was glorified rather hyperbolically by history.

Her Congress successors weren’t much better either. Rajiv Gandhi was not the “redeemer prime minister” as he is projected in liberal lore. He was a suave young man who loved to wear designer denims, Gucci shoes, and a Cartier wristwatch. He would have liked to live a private and affluent life. But destiny hurled him into politics. He was quite the Mr Clean as he came to be acclaimed. Yet he lacked strength of character. He buckled before religious populism. His grandfather’s distinguished secularism was strangled by him mercilessly.

Narasimha Rao was a polymath and a polyglot. He had a soft corner for the right wing in India and let L K Advani’s nationalist vendetta march “from Somnath, where a majestic Hindu temple had repeatedly been ransacked by Muslim invaders, to the ancient town of Ayodhya, where the founder of the Mughal empire had erected a mosque by bringing down a Hindu temple.” Rao had got an assurance from Advani that the Babri Masjid would not be demolished. But Advani “was the most poisonous figure in Indian politics at this time.” [All quotes are from the book under review.]

Advani’s blatant betrayal haunted Rao for the rest of his life, says the book. Rao knew that people like Advani [as are now Modi and his fans] “who search for personal consolation in bloody retributions against the past … do not bring history to a terminus: they endow it with an insoluble fury.”

Rao revolutionised the country’s economy by liberalising it and putting an end to the License Raj. He put India on a progressive path at least where the economy was concerned. Yet he had a sad end. The Congress refused to give his mortal remains an honourable place in Delhi’s historic ghat. “His body was flown back to Hyderabad, where it lay in state in an empty hall. His funeral was poorly guarded… (S)tray dogs tore at the remains of his partially cremated body.”

Manmohan Singh continued the economic liberalisation set in motion by Rao. But the economic surge of the country did not bring any remarkable ‘trickle-down’ effect to the poor and the marginalised. “16.000 farmers killed themselves every year for all but two years that Singh was in office.” Lands belonging to the Dalits and tribals were taken over by the government and handed to the corporate sector in the name of development. The poor people who lost their lands and livelihoods protested only to be fired upon by the police. They had no choice but become Maoists. Manmohan Singh declared Maoism the greatest internal threat to India without ever bothering to understand his own role in the creation of Maoists.

Manmohan Singh lacked vertebrae, according to the author of this book. He focused on GDP and left politics to Sonia Gandhi and her men. A lot of scandals broke out during Singh’s period. Those who profited from Singh’s inefficiency “were Muslim extremists in Pakistan and Hindu supremacists in India.” The corporate honchos who benefited praised him “as wise, thoughtful, visionary, compassionate.” In reality, however, Singh was “totally isolated from (the) people.”

K.S. Komireddi

And then came the people’s hero: Narendra Modi.

Modi has been the most disastrous Prime Minister that India has had, according to this book. His impact on the country’s socio-political fabric had been so pernicious that it will take many generations to rectify the “pan-national cancer”. The titles of the six chapters dedicated to Modi are revealing themselves: Cult, Chaos, Terror, Vanity, Seizure, and Disunion.

Modi’s royal march to Lok Kalyan Marg started with a genocide in his home state in 2002 when he was the chief minister. He knows how to play the sectarian card and has been playing it dexterously for two decades now. He knows how to make it look something else, however: development, for example.

“In the minds of many Indians, Gujarat came to be imagined as a subcontinental Shangri La,” says the author. The truth was something else altogether. “People in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala enjoyed a superior standard of life from birth to death than their Gujarati counterparts. If you were a non-Hindu, if you happened to be a Muslim, Gujarat was a pit of horror and humiliation.” Modi’s Gujarat was somewhat like Putin’s Russia, says Komireddi. It was “a place where circumstances fell into the habit of becoming mysterious when it came to the departure of the leader’s enemies.” Later the whole of India became such a place when Modi became the Prime Minister.

A month after Modi became PM, the presiding judge of the Supreme Court was removed from office in order to save Amit Shah from a murder case. Six months later, Judge Loya died in “mysterious circumstances” the morning after spending a night at a government guest house. Two of his friends also dropped dead soon: one from the top of a building, another on a train. Loya’s successor, M B Gosavi, dropped the charges against Shah within three weeks of being given the charge of the case.

Countless people have been victimised by Modi’s thuggery. If Ehsan Jafri, an MP, could be dragged out of his home and gashed and burned alive in spite of repeated attempts to contact Modi during the Gujarat riots, what makes anyone think he or she will remain unharmed? The author asks citing many more examples. “If Aamir Khan … can be unpersoned; if Gauri Lankesh … can be shot dead; if Ramachandra Guha … can be stopped from lecturing; if Naseeruddin Shah … can be branded a traitor; if Manmohan Singh … can be labelled an agent of Pakistan; … if a young woman can be stalked by the police machinery of the state because Modi has displayed an interest in her – what makes the rest of us think we will remain untouched and unharmed?”

Modi is a malevolent narcissistic dictator who pretends to be a benevolent nationalist with a patriarchal beard whose length is the only thing that keeps improving under his watch and ward. All the endless foreign tours (putting an end to them was perhaps the only good thing that happened because of Covid-19) did no good to anyone. Foreign institutional investors withdrew their money from India, all our neighbours began to despise us, China has taken possession of Indian territories cocking a snook at Modi’s chest-thumping, time-tested friends like Nepal and Bhutan are alienated…

All significant institutions have been vitiated by Modi. The armed forces have been politicised – something which no former PM ever did. The Reserve Bank has lost its autonomy perilously. Universities have been enslaved to mendacity. The Election Commission has been enervated beyond recognition. Worst of all, the Supreme Court has become a handmaid of the government. The media has become a mere lapdog. “Indira Gandhi shackled the press,” says the author. “Modi co-opted it.”

The author illustrates all his claims with plenty of examples. That is one of the best things about this book. It is indeed a history to that extent. Otherwise, it is an incisive critique of the Prime Ministers mentioned, especially Modi. Towards the end of the book, the author shows why Kashmir will never again feel a part of India. Of course, Modi is likely to annihilate the Kashmiri Muslims and create a Hindu Kashmir. He might try similar things in other parts too. The South is already voicing dissent and making secessionist grunts.

Modi has drawn out the very worst in many Indians,” Komireddi says in one of the concluding pages of his first book. The biggest disservice contributed by Modi is that he has distorted India and it will take a long, very long, period after him to redeem the goodness within the country.

The book is highly recommended to all Indians who can read elite English. Komireddi’s style is not simple. Sample this sentence, for instance: “Is the capacious imagination of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism who envisioned a socialist ‘New Society’ for all inhabitants of Palestine, disgraced or upheld when Modi – forged in an ideology that lionises the tormentors of Herzl’s people – mouths platitudes about democracy with Netanyahu, an ethno-religious bigot whose anti-democratic politics are awash in the venom of Dr Geyer, the villain of Herzl’s foundational text on Zionism?”

It is worth enduring that convolutedness of style especially if you are a Modi bhakt. The book may open your eyes and thus you can be redeemed. Your redemption is the country’s redemption in the long run. If you are not a Modi bhakt but would like to take a critical look at your country’s prime ministers, that’s a good idea and here is the right book.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The heartlessness of Idealism


John Oswald was sent by the British to reform India in 1780s. India reformed him instead. Under the influence of certain Hindu ascetics, Oswald became a vegetarian and also a committed champion of animal rights. This same man, however, had no qualms about killing fellow human beings. In the very same year in which his pamphlet decrying meat eaters for their “callous insensibility” was published, Oswald was devising, as a member of the Jacobin Club in France, effective methods for largescale massacres of human beings. Vegetarianism and sensibility towards animals on the one hand and heartless brutality to humanity on the other. This is what India taught Oswald.

Do you find something similar happening in India nowadays? One of our chief ministers appointed by none other than our Prime Minister himself is a Hindu ascetic by profession and is a pure vegetarian who loves cows more than certain human beings. Before becoming the high priest of his state, he had founded a local army of his own in order to commit such ‘religious’ deeds as rape and murder of people belonging to a particular religion. This yogi was arrested in 2007 for his murderous exhortations to an excited mob and his worldly possessions at that time included a revolver, a rifle and two luxury cars. As soon as this religious ascetic was made the CM of his state he went on a rampage against the Muslims in his state. “Human beings are important,” he declared, “but cows are also important.”

India now has a lot of people like him: with idealism in heart and murder in deeds.

Religious idealism has often been brutally murderous. Who can forget the crusades and jihads of the medieval history? The West seems to have realised the futility of crusades and religion in general. The east is still in the heat of religious idealism with all its murderousness. India seems to be on the way to becoming the leader of such countries in religious heat.

The roots of religion lie in a sort of insanity, according to philosopher William James. Saints are insane people by ordinary standards of human psychology. But most saints don’t harm others. They harm themselves in the names of their gods and religions. There are some, however, whose insanity makes them imagine themselves as the saviours of whole nations and hence they choose to inflict the nations with their insanities. India is in the hands of some such saviours.

The people of India can still choose a better life by deciding to be more practical than idealistic. Practical people have hearts, you know.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Emperor with too many clothes

 Sunday musings

Image from panna.org

In the classical story, the vainglorious emperor is naked though he is made to believe that he is wearing some supernatural fabric. The King in this blog post is blessed with the same vanity though he cannot be accused of the same naivete. His sartorial sense is as sophisticated as his political acumen is shrewd. He has his own brand of jackets with colours that match the occasions.

His words have colours that match the occasions. He can be a teacher or a butcher, a persuasive demagogue or a deferential tea-seller. He longs for appreciation from the very people whom he holds in contempt. He emulates the people whom he seeks to displace from history.

He professes absolute love for his country and its ancient culture and civilisation. But he will get foreign writers to pen his biography. Andy Marino and Lance Price have written voluminous books about his greatness though they knew him little until they were hired to do the job.

Knowledge is not important in his kingdom. Propaganda is. The King makes use of all the available social media to tell his subjects that he has been adjudged the Best King in the world by UNESCO or to photoshop the American President as watching him delivering his monthly exhortations to his subjects.

He has put up selfie booths in significant cities where his subjects can take their photos with a lifelike statue of his with a broad grin on the lips. He has got his own statue installed at Madame Tussauds museum. His court poets compose poems to acclaim him as “God’s precious gift to the country” and “The messiah of the poor” and so on. They put words into the mouth of prophets like Nostradamus: “A boy who swam with crocodiles in the land beneath the Himalayas will grow up to be the greatest king in the whole world…”

Another boy – no relation of the Emperor at all – stood at a distance watching the poet laureate of the country composing his latest poem by bending halfway down beside the King and kissing his posterior…