Musings on the Population Problem

Newsletter No.9

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Dear LWP Readers,

This month’s World Population Day (11 July) was a reminder of the population problems the world and especially India, faces. World population, currently at 7.5 billion people, is expected, by the United Nations, to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. This does not bode well for the state of the world’s natural resources which we already appear to be over-using – the Global Footprint Network estimates that we are using the equivalent of 1.5 planets for our resources and to absorb our waste.

Ironically however, it is not the most populated countries that consume most of the world’s natural resources. Studies have found that with lesser population, levels of education and affluence rise, and concomitantly, so does the use of natural resources per person.

So the future resource-sufficiency of the world depends not only on population control by developing countries, but also lifestyle changes in developed countries. The latter need to embrace less resource intensive lifestyles including lowering meat consumption given how adversely that affects the environment.

For India, which is estimated by the UN to have a larger population than China by 2024, the population problem is complex and worrying.

India’s problem

One of the first things that strikes most foreigners about India when they step off the plane, is the sheer number of people everywhere. With a staggering 1.25 billion strong population, the quality of life for citizens is severely impacted in everything from transportation to education.

The 2 main reasons for this overpopulation have been 1) Economic and 2) Social

While most of these factors are slowly losing their grip as the government under PM Modi is working towards the economic development of the under-privileged and changing social attitudes among them regarding the desirability of a male child, there is one factor that still holds strong – marriage as a necessary rite of passage.

India culture still prizes an assembly line kind of unfolding of an individual life: study hard, get a good degree, get a good job, get married, have children, live some more, die. Any deviation from this model is not viewed favourably.

This social rigidity, while having its benefits in giving us relatively strong and stable family structures, has the downside of stifling creativity, risk-taking and trail-blazing, not to mention, leading to an exploding population. Because let’s face it, when most people have children, their potential out-of-the-box business ideas get shelved straight away. Suddenly it’s all about school fees and funding family vacations. The millions of youth that could be working on business ideas, are cajoled into “settling down” with spouse and kids. The result – higher population and fewer potential Steve Jobs. Just take the example of our PM Narendra Modi – had he not shunned the traditional family man mould, we would not have the dynamic and transformational leader we have for the country.

If we want to be a more creative society with better standards of living, this is something we need to think about.

Population as reflection of mind

In India we have known since Vedic times that the external world is a reflection of the internal world. Everything is within us which is to say that whatever is within is what we perceive as manifesting externally. The fact that there are too many people in the world in that sense is then a reflection of there being too much ‘person’ within us. That is to say that there is too much identity, ego, doer – the ‘person feeling’ – within us which has its outer reflection in the unprecedented number of human beings on the planet.

That is the real ‘weight on the planet’ so to speak. Too much person within us. Not necessarily too many bodies around us.

Thus the population problem needs to be dealt not only on social and economic fronts, but also spiritual.  As we know, as people turn within, they naturally give up compulsive consumption as the need to satisfy the ‘me’ entity diminishes.

One thing is for sure – population and strain on the planet’s resources requires everyone to look hard at their lives and implement changes. Ultimately if we can at least be more conscious about our choices and not blindly follow tradition – whether it is eating meat or getting married – then we have a chance of dealing with the world’s problems effectively.

What are your thoughts on these issues? Do write in or leave your comments on LWP.

Weekly Digest

Here’s some other highlights from the past week on LWP:

– A Himalayan yogi’s message to the world is to watch your karma. Ishaputra Kaulantaknath explains how karma is of three kinds and that we need to perform a-karma.

– A spiritual travelogue on the Isha Yoga Centre through the eyes of an outsider – Rahul Sharma shared his experience

– In ‘Indian Yogi Vs. New Age Spirituality’, I looked at how Indian yogis (like Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, quoted in the article) consider new-age messages like “love yourself”, “be compassionate”, etc to be nothing but games we play with ourselves. Such psychological tricks may appeal to conscience but do not really elevate consciousness which requires transcending tendencies – whether bad or good.

– LWP shared information about the Rally for Rivers campaign to save India’s depleting rivers. Find out what the issues are and how you can help.

– A brand new recipe was sent your way – a delicious and wholesome chickpea, pumpkin and coconut curry, South Indian style!

– Last Sunday’s newsletter was about Soldier-Saints, in reference to the 3 part exclusive interview with Maj Gen GD Bakshi where we explored themes of spirituality against the backdrop of war and conflict.

As always, I look forward to your comments, feedback, suggestions and article contributions. Do share this with those you think may be interested so that they can also and join the wiser-living movement!

Wishing you a lovely Sunday wherever in the world you may be!

Warm regards,
Shruti Bakshi
Editor, the LivingWise Project

#RallyforRivers – What You Need to Know

The Problem

  • Per capita water availability in India has come down 75% since 1947
  • 25% of India is turning into a desert
  • By 2030 we will have only 50% of the water we need for our survival

If you live in India and consume water, this is a problem.

The Reason

India’s rivers are drying up – perennial rivers are turning seasonal and many tributaries have vanished.

  • Godavari went dry at its source in 2016
  • According to the World Wildlife Fund,  Ganga is one of the most endangered rivers
  • Kaveri and Narmada have shrunk by 40-60%

What is Rally for Rivers?

A campaign spearheaded by the Isha Foundation to raise awareness about India’s depleting rivers. It was officially announced on 9 July. It involves:

  • Raising awareness of the problem across institutions and communities within India
  • Highlighting solutions to stabilise and rejuvenate our rivers through a “River Rejuvenation Policy Recommendation” to be submitted to the Government of India
  • Gathering and presenting public support for the Recommendation to the government – support will be gathered in the form of missed calls received to the number 80009 80009 (see more information below on ‘what you can do’)
  • Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of the Isha Foundation will be driving across India, from Kanyakumai to the Himalayas starting 3 September, until 2 October, conducting over 20 events in major cities. Government leaders and celebrities will be participating in various legs of the journey.

What solutions does the River Rejuvenation Policy Recommendation propose?

The Recommendation focuses on the planting of more trees and protecting river banks. As per the recommendation, trees must be planted for a width of one kilometre on either side of every major river:

  • Native trees to be grown on government-owned land
  • Fruit trees to be grown organically on private lands (and no ploughing). Farmers will need to be subsidised for the first few years to be incentivised to grow fruit tress.

Trees help to:

  • protect the top soil
  • normalise rainfall since they store carbon
  • keep water flowing as tree roots make the soil porous increasing the soil’s ability to hold water which is then released slowly (ensuring rivers can flow even in the dry season)

What you can do

  • Give a missed call to +91 80009 80009. This registers like a signature on a petition.
  • Share this information with others.
  • Commit to consuming ~30% fruits in your diet so that farmers are incentivised to grow fruit tress (this will also be beneficial for your own health).
  • Learn more about our rivers, the foundations and one of the most significant features of the Indian civilisation since ancient times. Read more on the Isha Foundation website and check out some of the articles on Indian rivers on LWP:
See also: Rally for Rivers – You Time to Act!

Visiting the Isha Yoga Centre – a spiritual travelogue

Disclaimer: I am writing this article just as a seeker, as someone who eventually developed that strong urge  to explore beyond the physical world. I am not a follower of any particular spiritual ideology or Guru ji as such, though I respect them all.

I will share my experience of visiting Sadhguru’s Isha Yoga Centre and will try answering questions that seem to generally bother people – Is there really something Divine there? Will you automatically start meditating there for hours? Is there any undesired commercialization? etc.

The background

Rajeev Sharma  and KK  Sharma, two of the people dearest to me, knowingly or unknowingly triggered that first restlessness in me about spirituality about a year ago. Though their approaches towards meditation were relatively different, yet both seemed to eventually converge at the same point.

Spirituality, for most beginners, commences with the excitement of wanting to know the unknown. However, this mystic infatuation with meditation /spirituality lasts for a few days until one switches attention to something new and more exciting when the meditation just doesn’t seem to work despite one’s best efforts. Hence one very conveniently concludes,  “Life is anyway short,  just go with the flow and enjoy your pizza, mate!”  I, and the people around me also probably thought that I would go down the same lane.

But I was wrong!

Here I was at Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s ashram, after a year of lengthy discussions, some deep digging into books/media and watching lots of videos related to this quest of  ‘going beyond the physical world’.

Why Sadhguru?

As stated at the outset, I am not associated with any particular spiritual group/institution as such and I will probably be happy to keep it that way. But of all the people that I heard, read and saw on various platforms, I was drawn towards Sadhguru for what he spoke – every single word just made so much sense. And after going through a few books of Sadhguru, I decided to take a leap of faith, straight to Sadhguru’s ‘energy centre’.

Blessings at 36000 ft

About an hour or so on my flight to Coimbatore from New Delhi, just as I started to feel a little uncomfortable, I was shifted from standard seats to the ones adjacent to the emergency exit door (with relatively better leg room ) as all those seats were unoccupied and probably because I was the only one on the flight travelling alone. Then, I was the first to be served the wonderful corporate meal. Very small incidents, but since I was on a spiritual travel, I concluded, as I enjoyed my paneer wrap, that Sadhguru’s magic had begun.

The first few hours

“Namaskaram Anna!” These polite words welcomed me as I entered the beautiful premises of the Isha Yoga Centre, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s meditation centre at Coimbatore.

The people at the Help Desk at the main entrance were really very helpful and they quickly completed all the formalities and handed over an ID card which read ‘Nadhi’ (Cottage) beside my name.

On my way to my room at Nadhi cottage, I could feel the extremely soothing vibes as everyone there was so calm and smiling. After checking into my room, I immediately rushed through the map and the instruction leaflet which had information about the various activities that happen throughout the day at the centre.

Testing my luck

Soon after checking in, I was informed that it was Poornima (full moon night) that day and hence a special pooja was scheduled in the evening at the Linga Bhairavi temple in the premises.

I was really happy at the thought of participating in a special pooja that I had not even been aware of! “Sadhguru’s magic, Rahul, Sadhguru’s magic”,  I whispered to myself.

And since everything seemed to be going so well that day, with utmost excitement I decided to ask the obvious question, “Will I meet Sadhguru? Will he be there?”

“No Anna,” said the guy at the help desk very politely, “Though Sadhguru is in the ashram today,  yesterday only he met everyone at Satsang and since his diary is full of meetings/work assignments planned months ago, your meeting looks unlikely”.

I felt a bit sad. But since there were still three more days to go, I was still hopeful.

Amidst these thoughts, I headed straight to the Linga Bhairavi temple. Actually, when you reach Isha Yoga Centre, your eyes immediately begin searching for the two popular mystic energy spots – the Linga Bhairavi temple and of course, the energy powerhouse, the Dhyanalinga, located besides the latest attraction, the 112 ft Adiyogi statue (unveiled by the honorable Prime Minister in March 2017). One wishes to be in these spots as quickly as possible and preferably at all the three at the same time which, at least for now, is definitely beyond my capabilities (though with continued meditation, who knows)! Such was my excitement, having read so much about the mystic meditative energy around these spots.

Linga Bhairavi temple

Around 7 pm, on my way to the Linga Bhairavi temple for the special pooja , I passed by the Dhyanalinga. As so much was happening in my first hours at the centre, my thoughts almost froze and I was just witnessing everything, including the Dhyanlinga without any judgement or feeling, just kind of numbly, you can say.

As I reached the Linga Bhairavi temple, hundreds of shining ghee (clarified butter) lamps greeted me. It all looked so spectacular that I literally didn’t bat an eyelid for a few seconds. As everyone calmly sat down and took their positions, pooja and mantra chants began and I actually felt a rush of energy just sitting there.

Source: lingabhairavi.org

Linga Bhairavi, in the words of Sadhguru, is an extremely powerful feminine energy form which is very responsive for people seeking prosperity and well-being. But there is a spiritual side to Linga Bhairavi Devi as well. As I learnt from various people at the ashram, those who find it difficult to meditate when sitting in front of the Dhyanalinga, are advised to first spend some time at the Linga Bhairavi temple as the energy there helps one to focus, and is especially beneficial during the very initial days of meditation.

Dhyanalinga

The Dhyanalinga, in the words of Sadhguru, is the largest mercury based living linga (a form or symbol) in the world which is the centre of infinite energy. In spiritual terms, in the Dhyanalinga, all aspects of life have been woven in the form of seven chakras energized to their peak and locked by Sadhguru after three years of the intense process of prana prathistha.

The Dhyanalinga is enshrined in a dome shaped structure of earth colour and natural stone and is in fact considered to be the best spot to meditate by the ashram-ites, because the energy of the Dhyanlinga is said to naturally aid you in your dhyan (meditation).

So much has been said and written about the unbound energy around the Dhyanalinga that for many, including myself, the Dhyanalinga is the primary reason to visit Isha Yoga Centre, at least for the first visit.

Adiyogi

Shiva is, as we know, among the most popular and widely worshiped Indian Gods. However, after digging into the origins of yoga and meditation, including some of Sadhguru’s writings, I learnt that in yogic culture, Shiva is not considered to be a God but the first yogi – the originator of yoga and the first guru (teacher) who experienced what we call ‘Enlightenment’ and Samadhi for the first time.

Hence, as a mark of respect and as a reminder to the world to move towards liberation through exploring the inner instead of the outer world, Sadhguru consecrated the 112 ft tall face of Adiyogi.

While I didn’t find anyone meditating in front of or around Adiyogi’s huge bust, there was hardly anyone visiting Isha Yoga Centre that did not spend 5-10 minutes in Adiyogi’s  vicinity.

The Teerthakunds – Suryakund and Chandrakund

 

There are two Teerthakunds or sacred water pools for purifying oneself within the Dhyanalinga complex – Suryakund for men and Chandrakund for women.

I can obviously speak of the Suryakund only that I visited, which itself looks like a divine water pool with three Shivalingas immersed in water. Ideally, men are supposed to take a dip at the Suryakund  before going for meditation at the Dhyanalinga or the Linga Bhairavi temple. On the first day, I went there just for the sake of adventure but because of the powerful energy that I felt there, I could not help but take the holy bath again and again, even just before check-out.

The strong presence of the king cobra

Image credit: author

No matter where you are at Isha Yoga Centre or whatever direction you are facing, you can very strongly feel the presence of snakes (namely, king cobra) in various forms – be it representations on lamps, walls, pillars, at the Suryakund, or at the Dhyanalinga. On inquiring, I learnt that Sadhguru considers snakes, especially the king cobra to be the most sensitive animal/reptile when it comes to meditative energy. Sadhguru has also mentioned about this in his book Mystic’s Musings.

Besides, since the Velliangiri Hills, where the Isha Yoga Centre is situated, are reportedly home to king cobras, the original inhabitants, in a way, Sadhguru has paid tribute to them.

Luckily, I too spotted a beautiful water snake, swimming his way through the lotuses in the pond between the Nandi statue and the Suryakund.

Image credit: livingwiseproject.com

 

My experience

First things first, of all the locations/energy spots at the Isha Yoga Centre mentioned above, for me the Linga Bhairavi temple definitely needs another mention as I spent the maximum amount of time there and not exactly by choice. I mean there is something really very magnetic there, something very soothing and very, very positive, that keeps pulling you and you just can’t resist going there.

Sitting right in front of Linga Bhairavi Devi, I could actually meditate for the longest time. More than the duration, it’s the feeling that engulfed me while meditating there. On the one hand, I was kind of blank, absolutely calm while at the very same time I could feel extreme joy and an unfamiliar sort of power within. Until my last day there, I could not get enough of meditation at the Linga Bhairavi temple. That mystic feeling is still with me.

As for the Dhyanalinga, I had read so much about it before going to Coimbatore that I had almost made up my mind in advance that as soon as I would sit near the Dhyanalinga, I would feel something out of the world, something really Divine. But honestly and unfortunately, I didn’t feel anything of that sort. Yes, the whole ambiance around the Dhyanalinga is very peaceful and calm with everyone sitting in sadhana completely in peace and I too went to sit there again and again, at least 8-9 times in three days, to have that out-of-the-world feeling that some people have written about online, but I was probably not fortunate enough. In fact, as I have mentioned above, I could feel strange energy goosebumps (giving a feeling of extreme joy) at the Linga Bhairavi temple and even while chanting mantras at the Suryakund, but not at the Dhyanalinga.

FAQs

Finally to answer some common questions as promised at the start of the article:

  • Is there really something Divine there?  Divine I don’t know but yes, I felt an extreme rush of positive energy at some spots, especially at the Linga Bhairavi temple.
  • Will you  see something beyond the physical there? I myself didn’t see or feel anything of that sort.
  • Will you automatically start meditating there for hours? The whole atmosphere at the Isha Yoga Centre is such that meditation is all that you think of while there.
  • What exactly is taught at the Isha Yoga Centre? There are a number of yoga programmes of varied durations happening there. Primarily, introductory programmes include Inner Engineering and Hatha Yoga while advanced programmes include Shoonya Intensive, Bhava Spandana and Samyama. Details about these programmes are available here. I didn’t attend any programme as such but one can still participate in a number of activities even without attending any programme. Among the various things that I saw and learnt there, Aumkar meditation  (the correct way of uttering the sounds “Aa” , “Uu” and “Mm” ) and the knowledge about the  various scientific facts hidden in the Mahabharta are really worth mentioning. Besides, I am now addicted to the Nirvana Shatkam mantra and the Brahmanand Swaroopa Isha chant. They are mesmerising, really.
  • Is there any undesired commercialization?  No, not at all. This was one concern that a few people have written about online and in fact it was also bothering me. But I am happy to write here that there is no culture of commercialisation at Isha Yoga centre. No one asks you for donation anywhere, except for a mere Rs.20 at the Suryakund which I think is legitimate for the maintenance required there.
  • Is it fine to travel with family? What about food? There are absolutely no issues here. It’s just that you go to such a place for a specific purpose, to spend maximum time meditating and hence kids can be a distraction, otherwise the stay is extremely safe and comfortable. You can book your stay at Nalanda or Nadhi cottages based on your requirement. As for the food, two meals a day are covered in your stay where you will be served simple and healthy South Indian food. For the compulsive foodies like myself, there is Peppervine Eatery within the premises which offers various delicious dishes / deserts / fresh fruit juices at a  nominal price.  
Image credit: author

On a lighter note…

My three days were very well spent at the Isha Yoga Centre, although it would probably have been an altogether different experience had I met Sadhguru.

Nevertheless, many old questions were answered, some new ones started sprouting but a phone call at the time of check-out brought me back to square one. It was my lovely wife Nishtha. “Coimbatore’s silk sarees are world famous,” she said. I was supposed to understand the rest and act accordingly. Which I obviously did, to make sure that inner peace is maintained back home!

 

Read this and other articles in the LivingWise Project Digest – available as an ebook and a glossy coffee table magazine

 

 

See also: Winding through the Streets of Sanskardhani, Jabalpur
See also: 7 Amazing Shiva Chants/Songs
See also: Life is Inclusiveness – Sadhguru

 

Soldiers-Saints

Newsletter No.8

Dear LWP Readers,

It’s wonderful to see the LWP community growing week by week, sustained by the interest of you, the Readers as well as our gifted contributors – gifted not only in writing talent, but also in inspiration and vision and their ability to communicate the same.

As LWP is very much about you dear Readers, I would love to hear your feedback from time to time. Do share any comments to help us know how we’re doing and to help us know and serve you better.

As usual, the weekly digest is included further below in the newsletter.

(FYI, if you’ve been forwarded this email, you can sign up to receive these newsletters directly)

Soldier-Saints

This week, we concluded the three part series of an interview with Major General GD Bakshi on Soldiers & Spirituality.  You can watch Parts 1, 2 and 3 on LWP or on our YouTube channel.

The interview explored areas that have not been discussed much in modern media, namely the role of spirituality in the lives of soldiers. This is despite the fact that soldiers have one of the closest relationships with death, which would understandably serve as a strong natural impetus to enquire into the nature of life and one’s own mortality, the basis of spirituality.

The interview started with GD Bakshi telling us about his Guru Swami Parvananda Saraswati and his meditation experiences under the Swami’s guidance. Following a near death experience, GD Bakshi came to the realisation that an ascetic’s life was not for him and that he should return to his worldly life to fulfil his karma.

In Part 3 of the interview, GD Bakshi discussed the soldier-saint (sant-sipahi) tradition in India where the one who meditated, picked up the sword. He discussed the relevance of the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in modern times and the importance of the teachings of the Gita as well as yoga and meditation, to hep soldiers maintain their balance and calm on the battlefield and overcome their fears on the frontline.

A soldier’s spiritual life is not much examined as spirituality is usually associated with peace. But that would be taking a very stunted view of spirituality which cannot really exclude any aspect of life. In intense situations like conflict and war, in fact, it should only become more immediately relevant and meaningful. We were lucky to have had the chance to speak to a soldier who is also well acquainted with spiritual traditions to be able to unearth some wonderful insights on the theme.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this interview so far – do continue to write in with your comments.

Weekly Digest

Here’s some other highlights from the past week on LWP (scroll down for more):

– LWP shared some insights on the significance of idol worship, an important part of Hinduism. Images, symbols and idols feature as an important part of the human psyche and emotional landscape and their dismissal in the realm of devotion is wholly misplaced.

– Dr Vineet Aggarwal discussed the place of ‘faith’ in modern times and it’s significance in the context of a belief in humanity rather than a belief in the superiority of one or the other religion.

– Beloo Mehra shared her reflections on the harmony of spaces. What is it that makes us linger in some places and not others? What gives harmony and space to spaces – physical and mental?

– Ranjan Bakshi shared his review of the book, Ten Sutras for a Great Life by RA Krishna

– Last Sunday, I gave a talk on Facebook Live, hosted by the Indic Book Club, on my book From Dior to Dharma as well as on the purpose and vision of LWP. You can check it out here.

As always, I look forward to your comments, feedback, suggestions and article contributions. Do share this with those you think may be interested so that they can also and join the wiser-living movement!

Wishing you a lovely Sunday wherever in the world you may be!

Warm regards,
Shruti Bakshi
Editor, the LivingWise Project

Soldiers & Spirituality – Part 3

The Mahabharata tells of a question asked to King Yudhisthira: “What is the greatest miracle in this world?”

King Yudhisthira replied: “Everyday millions of people die yet people think they will live forever”.

Soldiers, perhaps more than any other group of people in the world, are constantly aware of their own mortality. Does that naturally turn them spiritual, wanting to know what is beyond death? What does it take for a soldier facing death on the frontline to overcome his fears and do his duty (dharma)?

In India, the ‘sant-sipahi’ or ‘soldier-saint’ tradition has been a long standing one. How does spirituality help one conquer the fear of death and are yoga and meditation essential for soldiers to maintain their calm and balance on the frontline?

Ancient Indian epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata embody a fight for good over evil – how can they help us better deal with the violence and threats we face in modern times from groups who only aim to terrorise and destroy?

In this final Part 3 of the exclusive interview for LWP with General GD Bakshi explores these questions, marking the narrative with his own on-the-ground experiences that make his messages all the more alive and powerful.

In case you missed the earlier parts of the interview, you can find both Part 1 and Part 2 on LWP.

Hope you enjoy this video and don’t forget to leave your feedback and comments on Facebook and YouTube!

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

Soldiers & Spirituality – Part 2

Newsletter No.7

Dear LWP Readers,

This newsletter contains news about the much awaited Part 2 of the exclusive LWP interview with Maj Gen GD Bakshi.  As usual, the weekly digest is included further below.

(FYI, you can sign up to receive these newsletters via email every Sunday)

Important Updates

Here’s Part 2 of the exclusive 3 part interview with Maj Gen GD Bakshi on the theme, Soldiers & Spirituality

General Bakshi is well-known in India for his views on military and defence matters but in this interview, he reveals a very different aspect of his life – the mystic and spiritual. It’s GD Bakshi like you’ve never seen him before!

In case you missed Part 1 of the conversation, you can find it here. In Part 1, GD Bakshi spoke about his guru.

In this Part 2, General Bakshi discusses his experiences in meditation as a sadhak, which included experiences of ecstasy as well as a near death experience that had a profound impact on his life.

He also talks about his two questions to his guru for which the circumstances shaped themselves into answer. The first question General Bakshi asked was whether he should dedicate his life to meditation and spirituality or continue his career in the army. The second question was, what is the meaning of Adhidaiva, Adhibhuta and Adhiyajna, that are mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita where Lord Krishna says:

“O Supreme among the Embodied (Arjuna)! Adhibhuta is the basis of physical existence; Adhidaiva is the basis of astral existence; and I (the Spirit manifested ideationally, both macro- and micro-cosmically) am Adhiyagya.”

—The Bhagavad Gita 8:4, from The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Kriyananda

Hope you enjoy this Part 2 of the interview and don’t forget to leave your feedback and comments on Facebook and YouTube!

Also, look out for the final Part 3 next weekend in which General Bakshi speaks more generally about the role of spirituality in the lives of soldiers and how the scriptures like the Gita and Ramayana are still relevant today.

See Part 3 of the interview.

 

From Dior to Dharma

I’m happy to announce that my book, From Dior to Dharma was reviewed in Creative India magazine this week. It’s always very interesting for an author to see the book through the readers’ eyes and this review was particularly perceptive. You can read it here.

Update: Check out my Facebook Live Indic Chat (with Indic Book Club) about my book.

You can buy the book on Amazon (also Flipkart in India). I’d love for you to read it and share your thoughts on it with me!

Weekly Digest

Here’s what else happened on LWP this week:

– This past Monday marked the start of the month of Shravan (or Sawan), the auspicious month dedicated to Lord Shiva. LWP shared some quick facts about the month. This year’s Shravan is considered to be especially important because the month starts and ends on a Monday, the day traditionally observed as Lord Shiva’s day.

– Joe Nazar, a yoga and Ayurveda practitioner gave us a brief introduction to the two sister sciences and provided some tips on how we can use yoga and Ayurveda in daily life.

Subhash Kak shared his poem Pura Tirtha Empul, the great Vishnu pilgrimage temple in Bali, Indonesia which illuminates through a confluence of the five elements.

– LWP shared 5 tips for happiness such as being aware of the present moment and letting things be! Check them out.

Last Sunday’s newsletter was a Guru Purnima special about how the guru helps us go ‘from darkness to light’ (tamaso ma jyotirgamaya). The words of Sri Ramana Maharishi were also invoked to inspire us on Guru Purnima day.

– As mentioned above, you can also now read the first chapter of From Dior to Dharma on LWP.

 

As always, I look forward to your comments, feedback, suggestions and article contributions. Do share this with those you think may be interested so that they can also and join the wiser-living movement!

Wishing you a lovely Sunday wherever in the world you may be and don’t forget to share your comments on the GD Bakshi interview!

Warm regards,
Shruti Bakshi
Editor, the LivingWise Project

From Dior to Dharma: Free Chapter!

The first chapter of the book, From Dior to Dharma, exclusively on LWP.  Here’s a review of the book by Creative India magazine.

See also: From Dior to Dharma: Meet the Author

 


 

From Dior to Dharma, Chapter 1 (Part 1/3)

“Who leaves Paris?” Michaela obviously didn’t know what a good leaver I was. I had left many times before. You name it and I had left it – people, cities, jobs, countries, even continents. There’s not that many things I could say with much certainty about my life, especially at that point, but there was one thing I was sure quite about – I was good at leaving.

“Who leaves a two year relationship to go to South Korea?” I retorted, stomping petulantly on the crunchy leaves. Six months on, I wasn’t fully healed from the heartbreak. But though there were hurt emotions, there was no desire to reconcile with Charles. The only thing I was reconciled to was the illusion and frustration I had found in a city where people supposedly routinely found love.

I looked away towards the Seine, breathing in its chilly freshness. At this time of the morning, there weren’t many other joggers along the banks. It was a breathtaking jog; not only because of exertion but because of the stunning images along the river, of delicate cherry blossoms creeping up on desolate churchyards and flamboyant buildings yawning in the fledgling sunlight. I remembered my first visit to the city, some ten years ago and how jealous I had been of the Parisians running by the Eiffel tower in their sweatpants. Here I was, one of them now but I didn’t feel like I had any reason left to stay anymore. To Michaela’s question, not only was I fully capable, given the aforementioned natural proclivity, but I was also fully ready to leave Paris.

“But you’re doing so well in your career,” Michaela argued, attempting to change the subject to something more positive than my love life.

Ha! If only she knew how I had to drag myself to work every day and do the same thing I’d been doing for three years. The same colleagues, the same work, the same desk, the same stress. Yes, I was doing well – I was a Director at only 31 and received a very substantial paycheck every month. But the job was not that interesting anymore in that it was not…..what was that word people always used…….fulfilling. And while I had made a concerted effort after business school, to find something where I would have a good work-life balance, this had not turned out to be it. I was exhausted from working almost every weekend and packing my work laptop for vacations. Since the recession, that was no longer a valid complaint. More work for less pay had long become the norm almost everywhere. Meanwhile job-search grape vines were bursting with stories of people facing visa issues, being offered roles that they were overqualified for and sometimes finding that the position they were interviewing for disappeared midway through the recruitment process. With such a bleak outlook for desirable jobs, sticking to whatever one had was considered wisest.

“You know what, I don’t feel so good. I’m going to take the bus home.” I felt a strong urge to be alone, preferably curled up in my bed under a warm cozy blanket and ideally watching Agatha Christie movies.

“Ok, please take care of yourself Maya, and call me if you need anything!” Michaela panted, pulling me in for the mandatory French bisous and jogged off.

 

***

“Can I have two chocolate croissants and four of those macarons please?” I knew that by speaking English to the baker, I was stacking in my favour, the odds of being served the worst pieces of the ordered items that he had available, but I didn’t care. Since I was generally done trying and failing, that naturally also extended to the French language. I was tired of struggling to get the grammar right only to realise that I had messed up the pronunciation or vice versa. I was tired of being a foreigner.

Reaching home, I changed into my most comfortable PJs to savour my sour mood and my unnecessarily calorific breakfast and go through all my unopened mail from the last few weeks. I looked around at the beautiful large apartment with its high ceilings and two terraces. I was very fortunate to have a living space like this in central Paris, complete with a wardrobe full of designer wear. But what was the use of it all if I had to live all by myself? The recent horrific terror attacks in Paris had highlighted the briefness of life. I missed my family. What was the point of working late nights for promotions, living in a foreign country for the sake of travel and adventure if in the end I was miserable and alone? I was pretty sure I could have achieved this state without all the hard work and heartache. Paris had been a failure.

As I was about to drop heavily onto the living room couch, I caught my old diary peeping out from under the pile of books on a white shelf in the wall. It was just the thing I needed to help me figure out how I had come to be in this undesirable place in life, macarons and Dior notwithstanding. I yanked it out and flipped open the light-blue cover of coarse handmade paper. A carelessly folded piece of paper flew onto the floor. I picked it up and opened it. It must’ve been really old because it had that translucence you get when you apply time to paper. It was typed. It read:

 

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” – Henry David Thoreau

 

A little shiver went through me as I recalled how much those words had meant to me ten years ago. I sat down on the couch and began to flip through the pages of the diary. A wave of memories came rolling in, bringing a whiff of the ocean of ancient dreams and aspirations that covered the somewhat faded pages. I remembered what had started me off on my journey. I had wanted, quite simply, for my life to be ‘spectacular’. To strive against the dullness of ordinary experience, the struggles of average means, the unremarkableness of mediocre achievement and the discontent that stalks an average life.

A memory of standing in the scintillating Rainbow Room, with all of New York laid out before me in sunset, flashed in my mind. At 22, I had been one of the youngest of the elite group of young bankers invited to mingle with industry leaders over dangerously expensive champagne and hors d’oeuvres in an ambience of aspirational luxury. I was hardly able to believe how everything had worked out so closely to plan in those days. I remembered standing in that 65th floor dining room, tracing the famous skyline over and over with my eyes and thinking, What do you do when dreams come true? And at the same time, another part of my mind was wondering, How much higher can this go?

From the sultry Mumbai summers spent burning the midnight oil in my teenage years, my hard work and academic perseverance had delivered me to the dreamy spires of Cambridge with many scholarships and awards marking the way, including a full scholarship for Cambridge. After graduating from Cambridge, I was hired by a prestigious bank in London in spite of my complete lack of any work experience or internship. I could hardly believe my luck. Those were the days I believed in chasing dreams, setting goals, working hard and believing in myself over and above anything else.

I remembered my first visit to New York in July 2006 like it was yesterday. There had been something familiar about the New York summer. There was the same blazing sun and air infused with humidity, heat and the smell of people that reminded me of my native Mumbai. The same hurried pavements in non-stop motion. The roads flowing down like mighty, hot, effervescent streams carrying a motley and expressive collection of humanity and its machine-toys. Spending two months in a swanky hotel in Times Square was an overwhelming and somewhat surreal experience for someone in the initial weeks of their first job ever. My fellow graduate recruits and I were treated like royalty, the future heirs to the kingdom of Power and Privilege.

The job itself had turned out to be quite unlike anything I had expected. I was fully mentally prepared to take on the nastiness and tough lifestyle that big banks were reputed for, but in the tight-knit structured finance team I worked in, life was great. At least at first. The hours were not as unearthly as the other investment banking teams and my occasional willingness to work until midnight was rewarded with effusive appreciation and expensive dinners or tickets to events like the Wimbledon and the Cirque de Soleil. Everyone was friendly and helpful and jokes and banter rescued us on many a slow afternoon. Continue Reading Chapter 1

See also: From Dior to Dharma: Meet the Author

Buy the book in Kindle or print at Amazon: Outside India;
Within India:

Ayurveda & Yoga: Introduction & Tips

This article discusses Ayurveda and Yoga. I start by explaining both systems and the way they view the world, and then I give some tips on how to implement both systems in daily life.

Ayurveda

 

A 19c. roundel of Brahma depicts him with 4 heads and holding the Vedas (wikipedia.org)

Ayurveda came down to earth with Lord Brahma. It is first mentioned in the Rig Veda (the earliest Veda 1500-1100 BC) in the form of Agni (one of the most important aspects in Ayurveda).  Lord Brahma taught it to Prajapati, who in turn taught it to Ashwini Kumaras (the twin doctors of the Devas). It continued to be passed down until Lord Dhanvantari emerged with it in the churning of the ocean of milk. It finally reached humanity through Charaka and Sushruta, who wrote two very important treatises: the Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita respectively. Ashtanga Hridayam, written by Vagbhat came next. Together, the three texts are known as Brihat Trayi (the three grands).

 

Ayurveda looks at the world as composed of five elements: Space, Air, Water, Fire, and Earth. Everything in the universe is made of these five elements. There are three pairs of these elements which compose the doshas. Dosha is a force which can go out of balance.

There are three doshas, Tridosha: Vata (Space+Air), Pitta (Fire+Water), Kapha (Water+Earth). Vata governs movement in the body, Pitta, transformation and Kapha, stability and strength. These three doshas are always working simultaneously in order to make our body fit and free of disease.

Read also: Understanding the Ayurvedic Principles of Panchamahabhuta and Tridosha

In Ayurveda, we look at ‘taste’ as composed of the elements as well. Shat-Rasa, the six tastes are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Each of the tastes affects  the doshas.

According to Ayurveda, we look to keep the doshas in balance in order to achieve good health.

Yoga

Yoga came to the world through Lord Shiva, Adi Yogi, the first Yogi. The legend says that when Lord Shiva taught it to his consort Parvati, the snake (Vasuki) around His neck heard it, and from him emerged Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Matsyendranath learnt it while Lord Shiva was teaching it, and so is considered to be the one who brought Hatha Yoga into the world.

There are few books and treatises on Yoga – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras being one of the most important. Shiva Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gheranda Samhita are more concerned with asanas and pranayama and how to perform them correctly.

As per the Yogic tradition, Yogis are doing all these practices in order to have control over the body, breath, and reach the ultimate goal of Self-Realisation.

Yoga sees the world with the same eyes as Ayurveda, as they both arose from the Samkhya philosophy of creation.  This is why they are called sister sciences. The difference between them is that Ayurveda is more inclined towards the body and its health, while Yoga deals more with realisation of the Self.

Using Ayurveda and Yoga in daily life for better health

  • Wake up before sunrise, and go to sleep by 10 PM.
  • Eat at specific times every day. That way Agni will be balanced.
  • Do not suppress the natural urges of the body, like flatus, belching etc.
  • Practice asana and pranayama in the morning after evacuation.
  • Do not drink anything an hour after food, and an hour before food.
  • Eat food which is compatible with you. Experiment with food and observe your digestion to know what is beneficial for you and what is not.
  • Avoid ice cold drinks and food. Occasionally it’s OK, however, do not make it a routine.
  • Eat hot fresh food. Avoid eating stale and overcooked food.
  • Drink when you are thirsty. Don’t just drink water because you think it is needed. The body will send you signs when it needs water.

Just by following most of these tips, one can experience digestion improving, and overall health reaching the optimum state.

See also: Yogic Technique to Beat the Cold and Pollution (Jal Neti)

 

From Darkness to Light – Guru Purnima Blessings

Newsletter No.6

Dear LWP Readers,

This newsletter contains news about the much awaited exclusive LWP interview with Maj Gen GD Bakshi as well as Guru Purnima blessings for one and all.  As usual, the weekly digest is included further below.

From Darkness to Light – Guru Purnima Blessings

The full moon following the summer solstice is of great significance to spiritual seekers, being the day of Guru Purnima. In ancient India, Guru Purnima was one of the most important days of the year.

The word “Guru” comes from the Sanskrit roots “gu” which means darkness and “ru” which means dispeller. The Guru is the light that dispels the darkness of ignorance. That moves one from untruth to truth. As the ancient verse from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad goes:

Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Lead me from unreality to reality. From darkness to light. From death to immortality. Let there be peace. Om.

In Indian culture, the first Guru, Adi Guru, is considered to be Shiva, who first gave the tools of yoga to the seven rishis (saptrishis) who then passed them down to humanity. Since that time, many gurus have walked the land of India and still do, showing the way of liberation to humanity.

And yet, the Guru is not in the essence, a person with a teaching. A guru is not someone who preaches morality, a man of principle. The Guru is the principle – the Guru Tattva – inside the heart of all sentient beings. The Guru is the universal Self. The Guru is the silence that quietens the mind.

“Guru is the Self. Sometimes in his life a man becomes dissatisfied and, not content with what he has, he seeks the satisfaction of his desires through prayer to God. His mind is gradually purified until he longs to know God, more to obtain his grace than to satisfy his worldly desires. Then, God’s grace begins to manifest. God takes the form of a Guru and appears to the devotee, teaches him the truth and, moreover, purifies his mind by association. The devotee’s mind gains strength and is then able to turn inward. By meditation it is further purified and it remains still without the least ripple. The calm expanse is the Self. The Guru is both external and internal. From the exterior he gives a push to the mind to turn it inwards. From the interior he pulls the mind towards the Self and helps in the quieting of the mind. That is the Guru’s grace. There is no difference between God, Guru and the Self.”

– Sri Ramana Maharshi (Be as you are, The teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, p. 91)

We don’t need to strategize about ways to dispel the different forms of darkness  – we just have to let the light of Grace shine. Guru Purnima is the time when it is easiest for humans to experience Grace. It is therefore believed to be a day that we must try to spend in contemplation, meditation and fortifying our spiritual aspirations.

How much Grace we allow into our lives is completely up to us because Grace itself is always ‘on’, always flowing.

May everyone experience the Grace of the Guru this full moon day – Guru Purnima Blessings!

 

 

Updates

My conversation with GD Bakshi on ‘Soldiers & Spirituality’ was personally very interesting and enlightening. The first part of this video interview was released on LWP yesterday. In this part, GD Bakshi spoke about his guru, a fitting topic for this Guru Purnima! Many viewers of the video expressed their surprise at this heretofore hidden side to GD Bakshi who is more popular for talking about all things war and defence!

I think you will find the upcoming parts of this conversation even more interesting – revolving around GD Bakshi’s peronal meditation experiences and a broader discussion about the role of spirituality in the lives of soldiers (an apparently obvious connection given that soldiers constantly face death, but yet not a much discussed/explored one). Look out for these videos on the LWP website and YouTube channel.

Below is the Part 1 video incase you missed it.

Weekly Digest

Here’s some other important highlights from the past week on LWP:

– Glimpses of the Rath Jatra 2017 in pictures. This annual festival of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) is enigmatic, colourful and a true display of universality in which people from all walks of life (including tribals and Muslims) participate.

– Beloo Mehra shared with us a touching piece in memory of her late mother. Sometimes a person’s cooking feeds not only the stomach but also the soul as this beautiful piece shows.

– If you’re thinking of visiting Korea, know that it is a meat obsessed society but there’s ways of getting by on a healthy vegetarian diet. Danielle Oakes shared some survival tips for going ‘Meatless in Korea’.

– LWP shared Dr David Frawley’s piece on Guru Purnima – the Full Moon of the Universal Guru – an enlightening piece on the significance of this day tracing back to ancient times.

Last Sunday’s newsletter included Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s video on the #RallyforRivers initiative being led by the Isha Foundation to save and rejuvenate the badly depleted Indian rivers. Do watch and share the video and pledge your support for the cause (a missed call to the number: 80009 80009  registers as a support to the petition for saving the rivers which will be placed before the Indian government in October 2017). LWP supports this cause and will be sharing much more information, knowledge and support in the coming weeks.

 

As always, I look forward to your comments, feedback, suggestions and article contributions. Do share this with those you think may be interested so that they can also and join the wiser-living movement!

Wishing you a lovely Sunday wherever in the world you are and may you have a truly blessed Guru Purnima!

Warm regards,
Shruti Bakshi
Editor, the LivingWise Project

Soldiers & Spirituality – Part 1 (Guru Purnima Special)

Here’s Part 1 of the much awaited interview with Maj Gen GD Bakshi – Like You’ve Never Seen Him Before!

General Bakshi is well known in India for his views on military and defence matters but in this interview, he reveals a very different aspect of his life – the mystic and spiritual.

In this Part 1, General Bakshi talks about his early spiritual influences and about his guru – a fitting topic for this Guru Purnima weekend. Enjoy and don’t forget to leave your feedback and comments on Facebook and YouTube!

(P.S. Sign-up for website updates to get posts like these directly by email)

See Part 2 and Part 3.

Guru Purnima: Full Moon of the Universal Guru

Who or what is a guru?

Many religions honour their founder or great teacher in various ways. Hindu dharma is perhaps unique in honouring the guru or spiritual master as a principle in itself beyond any particular personality, philosophy or revelation.

The true guru is a position of spiritual guidance, the illuminating presence of a higher awareness. The guru is not limited to any physical person, however exalted he or she may be.

The guru is an inner institution, an authority rooted in an experiential wisdom, not in any mere human convention. The guru works to awaken us to our own Divine potential beyond the limitations of time and space, fear or desire.

Great souls who hold the position of the guru have a special honour and immense responsibility that can only be served in a selfless manner. The true guru is not conscious of being a guru to others, but of simply sharing the light of truth to dispel the darkness of ignorance.

The guru is a powerful conduit to the universal flow of knowledge. As such, there is only one true guru in all gurus. The guru is the guiding intelligence of the universal and eternal dharma that assumes many names and forms.

The importance of having a guru resides in being able to connect with the transcendent realm through a human representative. We should emphasise the guru’s teachings, rather focusing on outer appearances.

It is the ability to surrender the human mind and its opinions that makes for a true guru. The true guru teaches a path of self-realisation, giving us back our own true nature, not making us weak or dependent.

Guru Purnima – the full moon of the universal guru

Guru Purnima is the day of the Hindu lunar calendar established for honouring the guru in every form, all the teachers, educators and teachings that help us in life, through various rituals, mantras and meditation performed in their honour.

Yet it is the spiritual master as the cosmic guru that is the main focus. On this day, one should dedicate oneself to following the guru’s instruction and putting it into practice. The guru principle is most active at this time, and we can more easily connect with notable gurus past or present.

Guru Purnima marks the birthday of Veda Vyasa, who structured the four Vedas, composed the epic of the Mahabharata, and created the foundation for the many Puranas, the vast encyclopedias of Hindu sacred lore.

As such, Veda Vyasa developed the foundation for Hindu dharma as it endures to the present day, with its main deity forms, philosophies and yogic paths. Yet Veda Vyasa stayed in the background and never made himself into an object of worship.

Veda Vyasa is said to have used Ganesha as his scribe. What this means is that his teachings were embedded in the cosmic mind, not simply composed at a human level. Ganesha rules over the organisation of all higher knowledge.

Adi Guru, Shiva with the Saptrishis (Image credit: ishafoundation.org)

Guru Purnima represents the date on which Lord Shiva as the Adi Guru or original guru taught the seven rishis who were the seers of the Vedas. This reflects the fact that Shiva is Omkara and all the higher teachings arise out of Om as the Divine Word and cosmic sound vibration.

In the Yoga Sutras, Ishvara as Pranava or Om is said to be the Adi Guru of Yoga. Lord Buddha was said to have delivered his first sermon on this day at Sarnath, reflecting the power of this sacred time.

India’s most important gift to the world is its many great gurus. Since Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century, a galaxy of monumental teachers has inspired humanity, and awakened India to its true role as the guru among nations.

Today, a new generation of gurus is arising to continue the process of sharing the universal knowledge in this new era of global communication.

While not all gurus are great, great gurus are always present, particularly in India, some prominent in public activities, others known only to a few.

Guru Purnima falls on 9 July in 2017

read also: Bhagavad Gita – the essence of India and its profound message for the world

This article was first published in the DailyO and has been republished here with permission.

Meatless in Korea: Vegan Survival Guide

Koreans love their rice, a necessary staple at every meal, but they also love their BBQ. It’s no secret that meat, dairy, and seafood are widely consumed in Korea. In fact, many Koreans are unfortunately under the illusion that meat, dairy, and seafood are integral parts of a healthy diet.

From my observations, a contributing factor to this disillusion is collectivism vs. individualism. An integral part of Korean culture is living community-oriented lives where sameness is encouraged and differences are concealed, for fear of being shamed. Given their collective approach, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many are ignorant when it comes to meatless diets and the reasons why people choose to go meatless. However I must note that they do understand those who abstain for religious reasons.

Prior to moving here, I researched online and became educated on the challenges I’d face if I pursued a vegan lifestyle.  It seemed likely that it would require extreme effort to be vegan while sustaining my health. As a result, I made a conscious decision to eat a mostly vegetarian diet with a little seafood on occasion, so in other words, pescatarian. Although I’m in rural Korea, I have found a way to make it work and it’s not as difficult as you may think. Don’t get me wrong, there are many instances when I’m frustrated with the situation, but if you adopt a diet similar to mine, then it’s feasible. And even a vegan diet is doable.

Here are some pearls of wisdom that will help you along the way and things you should remain aware of:

1. They really don’t get it.

Many Koreans truly don’t understand the concept. And I’m really not trying to be rude or crass, it’s just the reality. Eating meatless isn’t a diet their culture entirely supports. Not to mention, children aren’t typically exposed to empathy or compassion towards livestock. In their eyes, raising animals for food consumption is just the way of life. You will come across some who understand what a “vegetarian” is, but even so, it’s not widely accepted because of collectivism. They will be polite, but don’t be surprised if your reasons are questioned. On a rare occasion, you may even feel judgmental vibes emanating from an individual who asks. Generally speaking though, Koreans are more so interested in your reasons.

One thing that is particularly alarming is their lack of acknowledgement when it comes to the connection between the meat industry and climate change. Koreans are extremely passionate about the environment and take drastic measures to participate in the global awareness surrounding global warming, hence the hypocrisy is a bit ironic.

2. School lunches are vegetarian friendly.

This is purely based on my experiences working at two schools. Lunches contain meat on most days, but it is generally easy to eat around. Luckily for us herbivores, Korea has this amazing thing called 반찬 (banchan) or, in other words, side dishes. Most of the side dishes are vegetable based, so on days where meat is the focal dish, you can load up on extra banchan. Sometimes they’ll even make a vegetarian version of meat dishes.

Related: are veggies living-wiser?

3. Beware of any hidden ingredients.

Korea is infamous for including ingredients in dishes that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in there. For example, I bought a vegetable croquette one time and when I opened it up at home, can you guess what I discovered? Meat. It may not be characteristic of you to ask a lot of questions, but don’t be afraid to inquire when you’re purchasing something that you’re going to be ingesting. There’s no harm in asking, especially if it’s due to dietary restrictions.

4. Examine everything (even after questioning).

There have been a number of instances when I’ve ordered something, questioned the cashier, and somehow still ended up with meat in my dish.

There was a time when I ordered a curry dish, asked if it contained any meat, was told no, and it turns out there was ground beef in the sauce. Luckily I caught them in time and instead was served meatless sauce they had set aside. In the end, the dish contained bits of beef here and there, but I still ate it anyways – just took some extra time to meticulously pick around the meat.

Korea is notorious for these mishaps, so for those of you who are strict vegans, I highly recommend that you double, triple, and quadruple check everything before taking a bite.

5 . Tofu is readily available.

So don’t worry! You’ll find tofu in many soups and side dishes. Grocery stores are always fully stocked in that department. Although you may be sick of it towards the end of your stay, know that endless tofu scrambles are always an option. You’ve got to get your protein somehow!

6. Even at BBQ restaurants, you can order bibimbap (비빔밥).

Every single BBQ place I’ve been to has had bibimbap on their menu. It’s a really nice option because BBQ is an extremely popular group activity, so everyone can join in regardless of their lifestyle choices.

7 . If you’re exclusively vegan, living in rural Korea will be a challenge.

Kimchi

Firstly, kimchi is everywhere and as delicious as it is, it contains fish sauce. Secondly, seafood is commonly found in school lunches and if you’re already excluding meat, then your options are pretty scarce. Thirdly, eating out will pose several challenges because of everything I’ve discussed thus far. Even bibimbap includes kimchi in the mix (more often than not).

In order to make it work, you’d probably have to supplement school lunches with food from home or better yet, pack your own lunch altogether. And when eating out, you should identify a couple dishes you know you can eat, no problem, and stick to those.

8. The 5 survival words you should know.

  • i] Let’s start with the obvious. Vegetable = 야채 (yachae)
  • ii] The next obvious, is meat. Meat = 고기 (gogi)
  • iii] When asking if a dish has a certain ingredient, for example meat, you would use the word 있어요 (isseoyo). Bibimbap sometimes contains meat, so you would say “bibimbap, gogi isseoyo?” Which quite literally means, is there meat in the bibimbap? If the person’s response is “isseoyo,” that means there is meat in the bibimbap.
  • iv] However, if the response is 없어요 (upsseoyo), this means the bibimbap does not have meat. You’re safe to go, most likely.
  • v] Most importantly, without = 빼고 (bbaego). So if the response is isseoyo, then you would say “bibimbap, gogi bbaego juseyo” or in English words, I want the bibimbap without meat please.

9. Practice self-compassion, always.

You may be the strictest vegan in the world, but you’re going to have to make some sacrifices here and there and be okay with compromising at times. You may think you’re doing a fantastic job at avoiding certain things, but chances are you’ve accidentally and unknowingly inhaled some byproduct or trace of meat somewhere along the way. And it’s just something you have to swallow, literally and figuratively, and be okay with.

You can only do the best that you can do. If that means being okay with the lunch ladies using the meat ladle for your vegetable version of the dish or being gracious if you find a piece of meat in your meal or whatever it may be for you, then great. The more you can surrender and simultaneously love yourself despite the slip ups, the better off you’ll be.

Know that you’re already doing the world and animals a great service and enormous deed by dedicating your life to eliminating meat consumption, so if it becomes too difficult and you need to include seafood or some other food group or byproduct to maintain a balanced diet while you’re in Korea, then that’s okay. Be content with minimizing.

No matter what anyone says, you are healing the world and making a difference by choosing this lifestyle. Given your limited control over outside influences, work with what you can. Take pride in your choices and be good to yourself. Most of all, practice self-compassion every single day.

you might also like: A Sanctuary of Peace Atop a Bangkok Hill

A version of this article was originally published on EPIK e-Press.

Rath Jatra (Yatra) in pictures

The Rath Jatra (Chariot Festival) is one of the most colourful, enigmatic and important festivals in India and one of the oldest of its kind, finding mention in the ancient Puranas. It is an annual festival held at the Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) temple at Puri in the state of Orissa, India which is considered to have its origins in tribal culture (tribal art shows itself in the depictions of the deities of the temple) . The English word ‘juggernaut’ meaning an unstoppable force, derives from Lord Jagannath and the massive force of the Rath Jatra procession.

The festival involves the idols of the three deities of the temple – Lord Jagannath (form of Vishnu), his elder brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra – along with the Sudarshana Chakra (celestial wheel) being taken out of the temple in a huge procession, to the Gundicha temple (at a distance of ~2km) where they remain for 9 days before being returned to the main temple.

The chariot (rath) of Lord Jagannath is called Nandighosha. It has 16 wheels and 832 pieces of wood are used in its construction.

This year the festival took place between 25 June and 3 July. Below are a few glimpses (credit to @shrijagannatha for the tweets).

The first day of the Rath Jatra (25 July this year) is traditionally marked by a frenzy of festivities including song, dance and rituals. Both classical Odissi and tribal dance and music is performed side by side.

https://twitter.com/shrijagannatha/status/878967338669715456

The idols are carried out of the temple amid an explosion of festivities.

The ISKCON Hare Krishna movement was instrumental in making the Rath Jatra an international event that happens every year in over 108 cities around the world in the US, Canada, Europe, Russia and South East Asia.

The festival includes several rituals. One of the most important of these is the Chhera- Pahanra. This ritual is performed once the deities are brought from the sanctum of the temple, to their chariots (raths). It is part of ritual for the king of the region to come to pay respects to Lord Jagannath, perform aarti, fan the deities with a golden hand fan, offer flowers and fragrant sandalwood water and sweep the chariot with a golden broom. It is believed that the chariot cannot budge unless the king performs this ritual which symbolises humility through the complete submission to the Lord of the Universe by the lord of the land.

The Chhera-Pahanra is performed by diverse peoples, from Hindu royalty to Muslim leaders and tribal chiefs – in a spirit of universality.

Around the grand chariots are the  lesser-known Gods, Parshwadebatas, such as Harihara (composite form of Vishnu and Shiva), Ganesha (son of Shiva and Parvati and the remover of obstacles), Bhubhaneshwai (Goddess of the world), Goddess Bimala (presiding deity of Puri and identified with one of the 4 Shakti Peeths), Varahi (feminine counterpart of Lord Vishnu’s boar or varaha reincarnation), Madhusudana (Vishnu as the vanquisher of the demon Madhu), Banadurga (a form of Goddess Durga), Tantric Goddess Chamunda, Chintamani (benevolent Krishna) and Gajantaka (form of Shiva that destroyed the elephant demon Gajasura).

On the 9th day, Lord Jagannatha returns from the Gundicha temple on the day of Bahuda Jatra, culminating the festival. This was on 3 July this year.