Monthly Archives: July 2013

Pratipaksha Bhavana

We often find ourselves indulging in negative thoughts. Unfortunately this comes very easily to us. Often times we know the source of the negative thought, but there are also instances where we do not know the source and we do not seem to have any control over those thoughts. Recognition of such thoughts, and not indulging in them is perhaps the first battle that we have to go through.

The Gita says thoughts spring from desires and desires can be either in manifested form or unmanifested form. What does unmanifested mean? It means that the desires are there in our system, but are still in a dormant form, unknown to us, waiting for the right time to surface, and that right time may come in this life time or many life times later. Such unmanifested desires are called ‘Vasanas’.

Again, something to keep in mind is – tought at an intellectual level, translates into a desire in the mind, and if entertained further, translates into action at the physical body level.

The Gita presents this in a beautiful manner to help us deal with the thoughts, so that we are entertaining and promoting positive thoughts and stifling negative thoughts, by essentially saying that when the thought(s) appear, driven by desire(s), the key is to look at them as the different rive streams that flow into an ocean, but the ocean is not disturbed by it. Gita says, ‘One in whom all desires flow by, like the Ocean into which the rivers flow but which remains undisturbed, attain peace’. It is important to understand that this is not suppression. Suppression is like creating some form of artificial barrier to prevent the river from flowing into the ocean, so that the ocean / self remains undisturbed. This will only lead to frustration, and at somepoint the river will breach the barriers (thoughts will erupt into a forceful action).

Our scriptures also refer to a mechanism called ‘Patipaksha Bhavana’. The seers propose that upon being haunted by a negative thought ‘Vitarkas’, thoughts that are directed towards violence, untruthfulness, indulgence, stealing, discontentment, etc., the task is not to berate oneself upon finding oneself contemplating in a negative thought but to deal insightfully with such occurrences. This according to Patanjali, means considering their consequences, pratipaksa-bhavana. One should cultivate counter thoughts. This is a mindfulness meditation, self purification exercise, whereby one consciously adjusts the types of samskaras.

So, if we happen to hate or dislike someone, becoming aware that it is a type of ‘himsa’, violence, resulting from ignorance (ignoring the true self of the person), then one can and should make an attempt to think of the person in a non-violent (not dislike) way, think that the person is the victim of the gunas. This newly cultivated thought then gets embossed within, leading to the gradual transformation.

It is also important to note that the Gita offers the Guna code to help us understand our makeup, establish a baseline, thus enabling us to take the steps needed to refine our makeup, which would in-turn help in the quality of the thoughts that we promote, and those that we should just let flow by without being affected by.

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Vedanta – For the Mass or for the Class

We had a small gathering the other day for a discourse on Vedanta. It was an introductory session to provide a general overview and was presided over by someone who has a doctorate in Vedanta. The lecture strangely coincided with Guru Poornima this week, which is to do with paying homage to the dedicated Guru. In Sanskrit – Guru has two components – GU – which means Darkness and RU – which means removal of darkness. We had invited a small group of 20 people and the session was planned to be a 90 minute session. Eventually the session ended after 135 minutes, and that too because we had to intervene and inject a break for lunch.

The lecture generated good set of questions, interspersed by some thought provoking debates. Some made good copious notes for further study and research, while others were observers, deep listener, trying to absorb everything.

There were questions as to (not in any order):
1. What does living in the moment mean?
2. How should one view Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita?
3. What are the 4 purusharthas – Dharma, Kama, Artha and Moksha?
4. If Vedanta is so good, why has it not reached the masses?
5. If Vedanta is so good, why is India is the way it is today?
6. Do we know what we are looking for?
7. Do we know what tomorrow will bring?
8. What is ‘madhya maarg’?
9. Does Vedanta give me an ability to take an audit of myself at the end of the day?
10. There were questions Karma Kanda and Gyana Kanda
11. What is Swadharma?

At the end of the session, many loved it, and suggested having more of such sessions, some said they were leaving more confused than when they came in, some said it was like drinking from the fire hose, and some volunteered to conduct a number of spin-off sessions in related areas.

From my view point, I think the session met its unstated objective. Going into the discourse, I realized t was going to generate a range of views and opinions, given the diverse group, background and experiences. Two things that were pleasantly surprising, something that I had not anticipated were:

1. Request for more of such sessions, and
2. People volunteering to conduct spin-off sessions on related subjects like – states of mind, meditation, eastern philosophy, bodytalk, etc..

The external reality is so closely intertwined and inter-related with the very understanding of the ‘self’. The pursuit of this learning and understanding is not picking one or the other (it is not a choice), the pursuit of this understanding is not one after another (it is not sequential). As the questioning begins, as the search begins and the quest for answers continues, the inter relationships begin to unfold. We start seeing the connectedness be it in plants, animals, nature and / or between people.

Getting to know as to when we are focusing on the ‘self’, its implications, and how were can, and should, shift our focus to the Self’, is the underlying essence of the Vedanta philosophy.

Vedanta is the river that eternally flows. We are the pots floating on it and drifting (in ignorance). If the pot has to collect some water, it has to make an effort to tilt so that the water can flow into the mouth of the pot. Without the tilt, just contiuning to stay upright and uptight, the pot will never get to appreciate the richness and sweetness of the water.

The fundamental teachings of Sanatana Dharma have always been centered around providing a framework for a human being, that he/she could try, experience, explore, question, and expound upon. It has never been PRESCRIPTIVE. In that sense, it is not a set of COMMANDMENTS. It provides a framework that is all inclusive and comprehensive, fully recognizing that every individual is at different points in his/her journey, some reach the end in this very life, and some may take many lifes (law of Karma). It is not only for the learned or for the classes. One has to make an attempt atleast to undestand, and then decide whether to imbibe it or abandone it.

For now, make an effort to tilt the pot.

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The Flying Sikh

If you have not watched the movie ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ , I would strongly recommend that you watch with family. There is something to learn for everyone, regardless of age and gender. The movie is about about Milkha Singh, a former Indian track and field sprinter who won 77 of the 80 international events he participated in. He was named the ‘Flying Sikh’ by the president of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan, when he competed in Pakistan.

Sr and Jr Milkha

I was touched by the last scene where the director shows the adult Milkha Singh running on the tracks and next to him is the young Milkha who was cheerful and fun loving as a child, in Pakisthan.

This depiction was profound, and in my view it represented that Milkha transcended the limitations of body and mind, and connected with his inner Spirit. Once he was able to let go of the baggage of loss and hatred he was carrying all along, he was a free Spirit at that moment, totally in the present, that led him to come up with such superlative performance. The result of this performance was the title bestowed upon him – ‘The Flying Sikh’.

The Spirit (I), the unchanging part in an otherwise always changing physical body, from childhoold to death, is the one common thread between the adult Milkha and boy Milkha, and the Spirit is the one which is able to see both in this depiction.

Seel also ‘The Three Gunas‘.

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She Defeated Fear

Malala

In October 2012, I wrote ‘Courage under Fire’ on Malala Yousafzai, a young girl who was shot by Taliban.

Today 9-10 months later, Malala was at the UN addressing the youth on her 16th birthday where she made some profound statements that I thought were worth mentioning as key takeaways for all of us:

“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”

It was humbling to see such a young girl’s resounding voice that had the clarity, conviction and beaming with confidence. She talked of love, forgiveness and non-violence.

“This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.”

I am reminded of Swami Vivekananda said ‘Uthishtatha Jagratha Prapya vara nibhothita’ – Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.

This year is also the year of the Swami marking his 150 birth anniversary.

You can read the full script at – http://www.ibtimes.com/malala-yousafzais-speech-un-full-text-1344117

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Does Swadharma Determine Caste OR Does Caste Determine Swadharma?

This morning I was very impressed when an American colleague at work asked about Swadharma and Karma. We got into an interesting exchange for over an hour and and among other things, a few of us who were Indians unanimously felt that there was ‘dignity of labor’ in America which was lacking in the Indian society, which was also contributing to the imbalance in the society. 

Compounding this further was the misunderstanding and misuse of the Caste system and the ignorance of  Swadharma.

In America, one would often find people saying ‘do what you like and love most, find what you are passionate about, figure out what makes you tick…’ and I think people truly live by this philosophy – be it flipping burgers, selling soda, music, or hair cutting…. On the other hand, we Indians seem to have got it completely wrong and appear to be approaching it quite the opposite way. We first want to find out where is it that one can make maximum money and that is what we want to pursue, regardless of inert capability, liking and potential. Our scriptures say the net result of this approach is in the end is only ONE – UNHAPPINESS. One should examine this closely and be honest to oneself.

The quaility of life,  money are secondary and the belief is they are just a by product of the passion. Whatever one makes after that, he/she may or may not be materially well off but the belief is one will most certainly be  inwardly happy and centered. This is exactly what our scriptures teach us too. Our scriptures also stress on one finding, doing and exceling  in one’s area of passion based on one capability, and this is called  Swadharma.

The Sanatana Dharma definition of swadharma is an all inclusive definition. It recognizes that in society there will be people with different capabilities, skills and interests and therefore proposes swadharma as that work that best fits at the point of convergence of the two –  interest & capability, and then developing the appropriate skills needed to excel in that craft.

In hindsight, probably the single and perhaps the biggest mistake (though done with good and noble intentions) was the creation of the caste system/structure based on swadharma. This has been more of a bane than a boon. It has plagued the fabric of the society.  While Swadhama supposed to determine which caste one would fall under, it is caste that is today driving one’s swadharma.

Ignorant of Swadharma and the Caste system, the society is degenerating by the day. Caste has created such stark and deep divides that it will be a few more centuries before one can hope to transcend the caste chasms.

The recent incident in Karnataka, where a Brahmin family killed their daughter for marrying a Dalit. This is still happening in the 21st century and this is one example amidst thousands. In the day of internet, I hear from some of the team members that now we have match-making websites based on the caste system. These will only solidfy the caste model than aid in dissolve.

A Village Shamed & Silent
Read more at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/karnataka-vokkaliga-girl-killed-for-falling-in-love-with-dalit/1/171908.html

When will we be able to get beyond this?

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Measure of Time

Emperor Babur in his Babur’nama explains how time was measured in Kabul and in Hindustan during the period (16th century) when he first set his foot on Indian soil. He writes ‘In our country (Kabul), a day and night is conventionally divided into 24 parts, each of which is called an hour, and every hour is divided into 60 parts, each of which is called a minute. The duration of a minute is about what it takes to say the Fatiha with the Basmala six times.

The people of India divide the day and night into sixty parts, each of which is called a ‘ghari’. Moreover, the night and day are each divided into four parts, each of which is called a ‘pahar’. For keeping time, in all the important towns of Hindustan, a group of men called ‘ghariyalis’ is appointed and assigned.

Each ‘ghari’ is divided into 60 parts, each of which is called a ‘pal’, so a day and night contain 3,600 pals. They say that ‘a pal’ lasts the time it takes to shut and open the eyes 60 times, so during a day and night you could shut and open your eyes 216,000 times. By experiment it has been determined that a ‘pal’ is approximately the length of time it takes to say ‘qul buwa ‘llah and bismillah’, eight times. So during the day and night you could say qul buwa ‘llah and bismillah, 28, 800 times.”

I find this interesting in the way he defines the duration of minute as the time it takes to recite Fatiha with the Basmala six times., which in some ways is, along the lines of our scriptures, where time and space are defined as entities without a beginning and without an end. In verse 10.30 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, ‘among measures, I am Time’

Krishna concludes in Chapter 10, verse 10.42 by saying ‘I, the Unchanging and Everlasting, permeate and sustain the entire cosmos with but a fragment of My esential being’.

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The Violence Matrix

With the kind of violence we see all around these days, it is difficult not to question the rationale. Throughout history, hardly there was a period, when human being has lived peacefully, free of violence.

The other day, someone said, an elephant, however hungry, does not eat meat and likewise, a lion, however hungry, does not eat grass. It is the human being that has no such limits, or has broken all rules and continues to defy the laws of nature. Though we don’t have to accept or take it in the literal sense, but I think there is a profound message in it, and am sure, it makes us pause and think.

The scriptures say there are three dimensions to violence. The first dimension is to do with the intensity of violence, which is categorized into three – Low intensity violence, Medium intensity violence and Severe intensity violence. The second dimension is to do with the method of violence, which is categorized into three – violence performed directly, violence performed through the aid of someone else and third associated with people involved in violent acts. The scriptures denounce even those who may not have committed violent acts but may have been associated with one or a group. The third dimension is to do with the drivers behind violence, which again is categorized into three – Greed, Anger and Disillusion.

This is outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and he says that the only way to stem violence is to cultivate counteracting thoughts, namely thoughts on the consequence of such activities, , namely, that the end result of violence is on-going suffering and ignorance.

Ultimately, all creatures are parts of Is’vara, God, like sparks are to fire or the sons to father, and violence against others is violence against God.

This practice of cultivating thoughts that are opposite to any of the negative thoughts that arise, so that a more pure thought is planted and enabled, is what is called ‘Pratipakhsha Bhavana’.

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