Apr 22, 2011

In the stillness of mind..

In this concrete jungle of Mumbai, there exists a land which is close to the oasis of nature. Powai. Situated at the outskirts of Aarey & SGNP - the lungs of the city, a lake with hills as the backdrop bordering it, the area is greener and serene than most of the city. I consider myself fortunate to be residing here, because I can just hop, skip & jump to the lake and amble along to brighten up my mood while the lake remains engrossed in its own moods – changing from hour to hour & season to season.

From a happy welcoming kind of a lake in the winters, it starts becoming a bit harsh with the arrival of the summer and definitely becomes sullen as the summer progresses. The monsoon, however, rejuvenates it, as it receives the bounty of life from the sky, getting ready for the next lot of visitors. However, it is the mood swings that the lake undergoes daily that I find more interesting.

Usually, I see the lake on my way back from the office – the chaotic traffic continuing in full blare at its bank, the lake resembling one of the urban dwellers, having had a stressful day at work, its surface looking affected, the waves exhibiting its higher stress level. As the evening progresses, one can see the harsh neon lights of the hotels around getting distorted in the darkish stressed waters of the lake, irritating the lake which is trying to rest after a hard day.

But the day I am able to visit the lake early morning, I find it in an absolutely different mood. After having settled down in its own solitude in the night, the surface of the lake is quiet & calm, reflecting the world around with absolute clarity. It almost brings to mind the words of Henry David Thoreau, the lake resembling the earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. Though this mirror like mood starts changing with the unfolding day starts putting the water in turmoil, it is indeed a joy to see the reflections – especially of the winged characters in the water.

This is where I find the nature guiding us mortal beings. According to Democritus, truth lies at the bottom of a lake, the water of which serves as a mirror in which objects may be reflected. But a lake can be a mirror only when it lies unaffected, alone in its stillness.  Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted.

Similarly in life, in order to understand the perspectives, we need to find the equilibrium where the mind is calm & the heart is at peace. A stressed mind and turbulent emotions only manage to present the distorted version of reality, which in turn does not allow us to see the truth and skew our decisions. What we need is Equanimity – a state of unperturbed-ness.

Rumi had said -  Let the waters settle, and you will see stars and the moon mirrored in your own being.  But much before Rumi, it was Lao Tzu, the mystic & philosopher from China, who had said:  No thought, no action, no movement, total stillness: only thus can one manifest the true nature and law of things from within and unconsciously, and at last become one with heaven and earth.

Zhuangzi, another Chinese philosopher  and the Tao’ist thinker recognised this simile of water and human mind almost 2300 years ago. He wrote:  Water becomes clear and transparent when in a quiescent stage. How much the more wonderful will be the mind of a sage when poised in quiescence! It is the mirror of heaven and earth, reflecting the ten thousand things.

It is interesting to find the Chinese philosophy & Taoism so much in sync with Buddhism that early when the Buddhism had just started spreading. Perhaps Zhuangzi had already heard of the metamorphosis of the prince from India, Siddharth, who retreated to the stillness and solitude within himself and emerged as Gautam Buddha, with a new philosophy for the mankind - relevant even now more than two thousand years later..

Like Siddharth, what we need is a state of equanimity which alone can be our friend when the whole world is in turmoil. Equanimity is the only word used by Antonius Pius, the Roman emperor of 2nd Century AD to sum up the philosophy of life and how right he was. Of course, equanimity also means not to get carried away when thing are going our way. The praise, the flattery is also like the waves on the water, again distorting the image & our perspectives.

There has always been, and much more today, a need of infinite patience and calm reflections. The world is grooving more and more to the tune of instant karma, expecting instant cures, rewards & reactions. A phone in hand wherever we go almost makes it compelling to respond – irrespective of the situation. Little do we realize that there are very few situations in life that require an instant reaction – everything else can wait for a  calm, patient and well considered response. Stephen Covey has written - between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.
William Osler summed it up quite well in his valedictory address to the medical students of University of Pennsylvania:

Be calm and strong and patient. Meet failure and disappointment with courage. Rise superior to the trials of life, and never give in to hopelessness or despair. In danger, in adversity, cling to your principles and ideals. Aequanimitas!

Getting back to the mirror like surface of Powai Lake, I realize that it makes it easier for the birds out to find their morning meal – just like this egret returning to the land after a successful sojourn over the lake.

Mirror Image

Apr 14, 2011

Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai...

Life and the idea of Heaven…

We were enjoying some profound & inspiring sufi music at Sama-e-sukhan last weekend when the thoughts about the life and the heaven slowly crept in. The genesis was some fabulous fusion of John Lennon’s soulful Imagine & Sufi music which had just turned the entire evening into a sublime moment for the heart & head alike.

Imagine there's no Heaven, It's easy if you try
No hell below us, Above us only sky ..

In 1971, after the breakup of Beatles, when John Lennon sang this song, the world was witnessing one of the most tumultuous age of modern history.  Already continuing the cold war with Russia, the USA had just started retreating from Vietnam & Combodia, bowing to the pressure from its own citizens, but not before waging a long hard fought war. Despite all its talk about human freedom, USA had just seen the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. On the other hand, amidst all talks of social equality, the USSR’s autocratic regime was finding it difficult to accept the dissenting voices of people like Solzhenitsyn. The Middle East was engaged in its own conflict with Israel while the ethnic issues of East & West Pakistan had kept our own country engaged in a war. Amidst this, John Lennon’s song Imagine, alongwith another hit, Give Peace A Chance, became the voice of those looking for the peace in the strife torn world, and giving words to the human beings’ everlasting quest for the Heaven. But he was not the solitary voice, nor was the idea unique.

Over the centuries, the mankind has always been enamoured with the idea of Heaven, a utopian world, perfect in all pervasive sense. Since the life itself is never accepted as perfect by anyone, the Heaven has been thought to be a place which one visit afterlife. This has also resulted in religions across the world making heaven a kind of much cherished reward for living a life approved by religious scriptures.   

However, the rational minds across different ages in time and place had a different take as they tried to define the idea of Heaven, relating it to our daily life.  Considering the everlasting power struggle amidst the human race and resultant negativity it has generated, it is no surprise that these thoughts were centered at finding heaven by adhering to humanitarian principles.

Gautam Buddha, perhaps was among the earliest of such thinkers & philosophers who worked extensively on making the life in this living world itself heavenly through humanity for the universe. The Sutta Nipata, one of the earliest Buddhist discourses in Pali language, extols these virtues so lucidly:

Let your love flow outward through the universe,
To its height, its depth, its broad extent,
A limitless love, without hatred or enmity.
Then as you stand or walk,
Sit or lie down,
As long as you are awake,
Strive for this with a one-pointed mind;
Your life will bring heaven to earth.

For Rumi, the Persian Sufi Mystic of 13th century, the Heaven again meant absence of hostility and hatred:

I love this world, even as I hear
the great wind of leaving it rising,
For there is a grainy taste
I prefer to every idea of heaven:
Human friendship.

Kabir, the secularist that he was in the times strife with religious fervours & antagonism, went further and showed us the way to find the God & the Heaven within ourselves when he spoke:

Moko Kahan Dhundhere Bande Mein To Tere Paas Mein
Na Teerath Mein, Na Moorat Mein Na Ekant Niwas Mein
Na Mandir Mein, Na Masjid Mein Na Kabe Kailas Mein
Mein To Tere Paas Mein Bande Mein To Tere Paas Mein…
Kahet Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho Mein To Hun Viswas Mein

As our race continues to hurl itself frequently into various crises, there have been many more voices – known & unknown, echoing repeatedly the similar sentiments – finding the Heaven through living life with love for humanity. 

That evening, however, as I sat in a trance listening to the music that evening, I thought of the verse, a joint effort of Raj Kapoor’s favourite team – Shailendra & Hasrat Jaipuri, from one of the most profound Hindi movie songs, exemplifying through simple words the way to live life, and thus finding heaven, here & now:

Kisi ki Muskarahton pe Ho Nisar, Kisi Ka Dard Mil Sake to Le Udhaar
Kisi ke waste ho tere dil mein pyar,
Jeena Isi Ka naam Hai..

It is ironical that, despite the technological advancement, we are facing breakdowns in human communication. With faster speed, we are also getting distanced from each other faster. Add this to ever rising inequalities, in fast growing economies, and there is a perfect recipe for disasters. The challenges are many, but not impossible to overcome. All it requires is astrong resolve & honest action from us, the ones who are better offs, to do our own bit for the humanity & the lesser privileged ones of the society. We have to remember these oft repeated words from past

I expect to pass through life but once.
If, therefore, there by any kindness I can show,
or any good thing I can do for any fellow being,
let me do it now …
As I shall not pass this way again.

If such will be the resolve, we will not have to worry about finding the Heaven for us in our afterlife. Rather we will be building our own much sought after heaven.

Sounds Utopian? May be, but as John Lennon went on to sing:

You may say that I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

So here is my picture for this week, from Varca Beach, reminding me always - I shall not pass this way again: