Thursday, February 23, 2017

Divine Conundrums

Rao and his wife appeasing the gods

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao’s faith in God is a highly expensive affair for his people.  His latest offering at Tirupati Venkateshwara Temple amounts to gold worth Rs 5.6 crore.  Earlier too he made similar weighty offerings at various other temples.  He is rewarding God for making the state of Telangana a reality. 

If any individual wants to give away his/her wealth to anyone for any cause, it is his/her personal affair.  But Rao is throwing the money from the state exchequer into the temple coffers.  The taxpayers’ money is supposed to be used for the people’s welfare.  If the people of Telangana share their CM’s faith that throwing money into divine repositories is going to ensure their welfare, may God save them.  Otherwise they should question the misuse of their money.

Rao is rewarding God for creating the new state. If God is going to do all such things, then what is human endeavour for?  All we need to do is to sit in the temples, sing bhajans, promise kilograms of gold to the presiding deity and then leave it to God to create new roads and bridges for us, to heal our diseases, to educate our children, or whatever. 

Rao is making a mockery of human endeavour.  He is strangling man’s honest quests to understand and grapple with life’s inevitable conundrums. But he is likely to get away with it because gods are involved.  That is a more serious conundrum.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Open-Eyed Meditations - Review

Book Review

This book is a compilation of 64 inspiring meditation pieces.  Each piece, brief and to the point, deals with a specific topic, a very common human problem.  ‘How do I enhance my happiness quotient?’, ‘7 secrets of innovation’, and ‘Jealousy – a terrorist attack on self’ are three of the 64 titles.  Each piece gives eminently practical counsel on the topic.  Each piece is meant to be read and meditated on.  We have to absorb the lessons slowly, not just read and understand.

‘Valentine’s Day Secret Tips’ begins with a question: “Are you sure that your first valentine will remain your last valentine?”  The secret of maintaining a good relationship is acceptance rather than expectation, the piece goes on to counsel.  It gives us the example of Dasaratha and Kaikeyi from Ramayana.  Their love grew stronger when they set aside personal needs and focused on the other’s needs.  Kaikeyi was ready to risk her life for her husband.  But then conditions and expectations entered that relationship ruining it as well as ruining other people’s happiness. 

Each meditation piece in the book is founded on examples from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.  Rama and Ravana, Krishna and Arjuna all come to teach us certain fundamental lessons of life and happiness.  The author has combined psychology with religion successfully.  However, one who does not believe in the divinity of Rama or Krishna can also find succour in the book provided they are familiar enough with the great Indian epics and their characters. 

Those who take the epics as divinely inspired books will find Shubha Vilas’s meditation book a source of spiritual strength too.  In fact, spirituality achieves far more than psychology when it comes to transforming the psyche.  This could be one reason why the author chose to mix psychology with spirituality in this book and call the chapters meditations. 

In the chapter, ‘Can your talent be your enemy?’, we are told that “While talent is useful in handling things and projects, good attitude is useful in handling people and relations.  While talent moulds our actions, attitudes mould our reactions.”  Then it presents Karna and Arjuna as examples.  Both were great warriors, equally talented.  But Krishna chose the latter because he had a good attitude.  Suffering from inferiority complexes, Karna boasted a lot; he used his talent as a means to shield his deep insecurities.  “Exhibition of talent is an expose of one’s weakness when the attitude behind it is negative,” we are told.

This is the way each chapter in the book proceeds.  It is a method that Thomas a Kempis employed in his classical meditation book, The Imitation of Christ.  Shubha Vilas has written a contemporary Indian version of that classic, I dare say. 

Each chapter is very brief and yet each is followed by a condensed summary which makes it easy to recapitulate.  It will be highly rewarding to begin each morning by reading a chapter of this book and spending a few minutes in contemplation.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hemingway and the Yogi

Ernest Hemingway, Nobel laureate in literature, loved life passionately.  He loved adventure and relished the big game safaris in Africa as much as sailing through the dangers in the ocean or even punching the opponent in amateur boxing. More so, he trusted people just to know if they were trustworthy.  Many of the adventures he embraced had the potential to kill him.  He survived two plane crashes during his last safari in Africa and read with considerable amusement the obituaries that appeared in the morning’s newspapers which had presumed his death.

The Yogi, on the other hand, has no passions by profession.  He is supposed to be dispassionate.  He has conquered emotions and passions.  Rig Veda says that the whole spectrum of human passions ranging from enthusiasm and creativity to depression and agony, from the heights of spiritual bliss to the heaviness of earth-bound labour, belongs to the rank and file.  The Yogi has transcended these contrary forces. 

Between the extreme passion of Hemingway and the equally extreme dispassion of the Yogi, there exist an infinite variety of possibilities which we the ordinary mortals embrace.  A bit of adventure here and a bit of spirituality there is good enough for us.  We can extend the bits occasionally to protracted entertainments too, maybe in the mountains or in the temples.  We can be both passionate and dispassionate, as demanded by the occasion.  We can be secular and religious at the same time.  That’s why we are normal human beings.  Albert Einstein wondered many times, looking at people like us, whether he was crazy or the other people (that is, we) were.  

Hemingway was crazy anyway and his passions took his life in the end.  The Yogi may live a hundred years though I will never understand for what.  What’s the use of living like a vegetable even if you can exist for a hundred years?  I’d rather have much shorter life filled with joys and passions.  That’s my personal view: one of the infinite varieties of possibilities that lie between Hemingway and the Yogi.  But I love those Yogis who go around entertaining the world with passionately undulating bellies and selling us everything from fairness creams to Ayurvedic Soanpapdi.  They entertain us with a difference.