From the Immortals of Meluha to Immortal India – in conversation with Amish

Shruti Bakshi speaks to bestselling author Amish Tripathi about a wide range of topics from his books to his writing process, to atheism in ancient India and current issues in India relating to religion, society and politics. As someone with vast knowledge about India’s past and ancient wisdom and who refuses to be pigeonholed as ‘left’ or ‘right’, Amish’s views are refreshing, insightful and enlightening.

When You Get Pushed Down From the Top of the World

“The earth beneath my feet moved. I was going down and could not see any soil beneath my feet. It was white ice all around. I pressed my trekking shoes against the ice as hard as I could and managed to regain my balance. I took a moment to catch my breath and then went to the edge of the cliff to see what was going on…”
Read more of the final part of the Everest Series in which Rohit Kumar finds that the awesome beauty of Mother Nature is enough to energise and lift one’s spirits in the toughest moments.

Primal Divergence : A Contrast of Cultures (Part-4)

The final part in this four-part series in which Ganesh Varadharajan contrasts Eastern and Western thought with a focus on pop-culture portrayals of the evolution and future of humanity. In this part, Ganesh explains The Mother’s vision of the future of humanity and the role of the Supramental towards achieving it – something that appears to have inspired many Hollywood movie makers in recent times.

Primal Divergence : A Contrast of Cultures (Part-2)

Part 2 of the series in which Ganesh Varadharajan​ explores the limitations of modern science that follows in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks and is not able to grasp the evolution of successive conditions of energy as expounded in Indian thought systems like the Sankhya philosophy.
Western pop culture portrays the next stage in the evolution of man as a brutish being, with the idea of beauty of form as emphasised by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, being completely disregarded.

Primal Divergence : A Contrast of Cultures (Part-1)

Ganesh Varadharajan explores the divergence between the East and West, essentially between Vedanta and Greek thought in the understanding of man and his relationship with the Divine. Setting side-by-side, examples from modern pop culture like Hollywood and the deep spiritual insights as articulated by Sri Aurobindo, makes for an interesting analysis of the diverging world and life views.

Be Simple

“One must be spontaneous in order to be divine.
One must be perfectly simple in order to be spontaneous.
One must be absolutely sincere in order to be perfectly simple.
To be absolutely sincere is not to have any division, any contradiction in one’s being.”

Living in a Faithless World

Sifting through the news nowadays, one gets a feeling that we are living in a doomsday scenario. There are countries that don’t want to let their neighbours in peace even after years of conflict, religious extremists seem to be multiplying exponentially and old viruses are attacking new susceptible populations with renewed vigour. It would seem as if the days gone by were way more conducive than the current age and surely the world is headed towards Armageddon.

But is it really?

If you open the chapters of history you would find that such natural as well as man-made calamities have always been a part of the human narrative. A majority of Europe was once wiped out by the plague that ushered in the Dark Ages; wars for the holy land have been fought right since the inception of the modern western religions; and the colonial ambitions of erstwhile superpowers have kept the world on the edge for a greater part of the previous century.

Even the so-called golden ages in various parts of the world were pockmarked by rebellions and atrocities. Case in point – hundreds of slaves perished while building the pyramids for Egyptian Pharaohs – not really a good way to die building someone else’s tomb eh? How about Alexander, the great, who brought the light of western civilization to the east – surely we wouldn’t let the massacre of tens of thousands of people in Persia, Afghanistan and modern Pakistan stand in the way of his greatness?

And then of course there were the Spanish conquistadors, who along with discovering Latin America also brought with them the small-pox, effectively decimating a majority of the native population that had never been exposed to the virus. Or if you prefer something closer to home, should we talk about the alleged limb-amputation of workers who built the Taj Mahal, the international symbol of our nation, or the caste system that turned thousands of hard-working Hindus into untouchables at the very moment of India’s golden age?

Some of you may have guessed by now the point I am trying to make – such strife and conflict has been a part of human diasporas since time immemorial but does that imply that it will  always remain so? Is there a way we can change the situation? I don’t have a ready-made answer but I have something that I find is lacking in a majority of us today – Faith.

Faith in the inherent goodness of humanity and the infinite possibilities it possesses to rise above its animal instincts. For each despot who has shed the blood of innocents there has also been a healer to stitch the bleeding wounds. To counter the autocracy of Egyptians we got a Moses; to unify a nation drowning in internecine conflicts we got a Chanakya; to counter the tyranny of Mughals there was the birth of Khalsa; and to protest against the apartheid practiced by the colonials we did get a Gandhi and a Mandela.

Many people today argue that religion and nationalism has only led to strife and conflict but I beg to differ. It is the blind faith in the superiority of one’s own community/religion/race/colour/language or country that has led to these problems.

Faith, when kept away from hubris, has worked wonders all through the history of the world and you can clearly see its effect on all those who tried to clean up others’ mess. Faith has not only resulted in the development of humanity and civilization but also given it its most stupendous achievements. It is faith that gave us the soul-stirring poetry of Mirabai, Kabir and Rumi. Faith has given us music (Carnatic music/Shabads of Gurbani/church choirs), dance (Bharatnatyam/Indonesian ballet/Manipuri), calligraphy (Arabic/Tibetan/Japanese) and writing (epics of Gilgamesh/Mahabharat/Odyssey).

It is faith that has given us such masterpieces as the works of Michelangelo or the Chola’s Nataraja. It is faith that helped build structures like the Angkor Wat of Cambodia or the biggest monolithic rock-cut Kailash Cave of India. It is faith in the unity of life that makes people follow the strict vegetarianism of Jainism or open langars in the Gurudwaras. And of course it is only because of faith that thousands of people even today continue to serve unknown strangers whether it is through animal shelters, old age homes or orphanages.

What makes the saviours different from the tyrants? What inspires some people to do good even while facing peril to their own lives while others do not think twice before torturing people in gas chambers? What makes some of us think about the ‘good of all’ rather than the ‘good of self’?

I believe the answer lies in Faith – not the kind that fills your head with grandiose notions of superiority, but the kind that fills your heart with humility. Maybe the fault does not lie in faith, but our interpretation of it. Maybe if we try to open our hearts we may find the world around us changing as well.

Maybe faith is really all we need to make this world a better place.

Read also by Vineet Aggarwal: Tantra And yoga

A View from the Window and the Harmony of Spaces

It was not the first time I saw this view of my small garden in the back of the house. I see it daily, both when I am out in the garden and when I sit at my desk. But that day was special.

It was special because that moment brought a sense of deep quiet and peace within as I let that view sink in to me. There were a few small birds flying around the champa trees and the bushes nearby, making lovely sounds, calling each other, playing, resting on the thin branches, enjoying their freedom.

I sat there, in my chair; just sat there. For several minutes. Taking in the view, enjoying the sounds of the birds, the peace of it all.

I don’t know for sure or perhaps I am unable to fully express what I was feeling in those moments. Perhaps it was some type of peace, a sense of harmony. Perhaps it was one of those moments when everything feels perfect, everything around you, everything within you, everything is just the way as it should be. There is no need to fuss over anything, no need to shift anything. As if there is nothing to disturb this moment, this sense of peace.

Have you ever felt that? Surely, you must have. We must thank all the gods for such moments, rare as they are in the noisy worlds we live in – within and without.

A few minutes later, a part of me wanted to go out in the garden and take pictures of the view. Even thought of taking the pictures of the birds who were still playing and singing. How foolish of me, I immediately said to myself. As if pictures would preserve the ‘feel’ of the moment for me.

Still I could not resist taking one shot on my phone, from this side of the window. The one you see above.

The moment passed. Only to be followed by another moment, of a reflection. Reflection on spaces and harmony. And on art.

Today, a few days later, as I sit by the same window, trying to give voice to that reflection I see the same tree and the same bushes, though there are no birds at the moment, I try to recall to my awareness that moment of quiet and peace from the other day.

Maybe writing out this reflection on spaces and harmony will bring its own harmony. After all, minds are spaces too, and creating a sense of harmony in our mental spaces is an art, a very important art that we all have to learn one way or the other if we want to experience more of these moments of peace and quietude.

So I begin.

You walk into a space — a home, a room, a garden, a temple, an ashram, a workplace or any other public place — and you instantly, spontaneously feel a sense of all-pervading harmony, a quiet ambience, an effortless beauty. Nothing is amiss, everything is perfectly placed where it should be. Nothing is obtrusive, nothing is jarring, everything is quietly at home in its natural place.

You walk into another space and instantly you feel that something isn’t right. There is a sense of disorder, an artificiality to the whole arrangement of the space, a feel of uncomfortable ugliness despite the outward prettiness and ‘designer-like’ placement of objects.

You must have experienced this, haven’t you? I surely have. Many times.

In fact, I have experienced this sense of harmony (or disharmony) even in empty spaces. For example, a few years ago when we were looking for a house to purchase, many times we would walk into an empty house for sale and just upon entering the house I would immediately ‘know’ whether or not I would even consider the house any further. Spaces, even empty spaces have their auras, sort of like an energy around them.

Personally speaking, how I feel in a particular space generally figures as one of the main criteria for deciding how much time I want to spend there. This could be a richly decorated home of a relative or a humble half-demolished temple in a village I am only visiting for an afternoon. I have experienced a discomforting sense of disharmony at a five-star hotel and felt a deeply calming sense of joy at an almost decrepit building that serves as a guest house.

This feeling or perception of order or disorder, a sense of harmony or chaos, is not about the physical appearance — the size of the space, the form, placement and outer charm and prettiness of objects or furniture in the space — though these things may be part of it. But only a very small part. The bigger part is about what the space makes one feel inwardly.

What is it that makes one space feel harmoniously beautiful, even though it may be very simply arranged with most inexpensive objects? And what makes another space, sometimes even the best-designed space, furnished with most expensive ‘designer’ furniture and object d’art, feel jarring, out of order almost?

Is it the aura of the person who lives, works, moves in the space? Or the aura of the person who looks after the space, its cleaning, upkeep, etc? Is it something about the way in which things are arranged in the space? Or the consciousness of the space itself, the consciousness hidden in everything that is there in the space?

Or is it the state of the mind of the person walking into the space? The sense of harmony he or she brings to the space?

It is perhaps everything, each of these things. And more.

It takes an artist to make a space harmoniously beautiful.

“If you ask me, I believe that all those who produce something artistic are artists! A word depends upon the way it is used, upon what one puts into it. One may put into it all that one wants. For instance, in Japan there are gardeners who spend their time correcting the forms of trees so that in the landscape they make a beautiful picture. By all kinds of trimmings, props, etc. they adjust the forms of trees. They give them special forms so that each form may be just what is needed in the landscape. A tree is planted in a garden at the spot where it is needed and moreover, it is given the form that’s required for it to go well with the whole set-up. And they succeed in doing wonderful things. You have but to take a photograph of the garden, it is a real picture, it is so good. Well, I certainly call the man an artist. One may call him a gardener but he is an artist….

“All those who have a sure and developed sense of harmony in all its forms, and the harmony of all the forms among themselves, are necessarily artists, whatever may be the type of their production.” 

 – The Mother, CWM, Vol 8, p. 324 (emphasis added)

It perhaps takes an artist to ‘know’ a space. To feel a space. To experience the harmony.

But what is this sense of harmony? Can it only be felt? Can we grow in our sense of harmony? Of perceiving? Of creating harmony? In our spaces, outer and inner?

Maybe in some other moment of grace, sitting by the window in front of the garden view, when my mind is in a state of harmony I shall be blessed with an insight into some of these questions.

The article was first published on the author’s blog and later contributed to LWP.

See also: Remembering Annapurna