Freedom of choices

badshahkhanIn the context of all relationships, the best ones are the ones where we understand each other, despite having differences.

Unfortunately, being judgemental about others,  even in the food choices we make seems to be the name of the game today. This often results in more divisions and unity as it only creates more barriers between ourselves.

In this context, I remember reading somewhere about the time when Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Badshah Khan came to visit Mahatma Gandhi in his ashram along with a young child.  We know that Gandhi was a staunch naturopath.  Still, he did know the food in his ashram would not be suitable for his guests. He immediately ensured that a suitable non-vegetarian diet was served to them.

He could of course have enforced his own diet on them. Surely, they would have accepted it but this gesture of Gandhi in going beyond his own beliefs endeared him to them as nothing else could have.

This also does show us the true hospitality and humaneness of Gandhi who at other times, chose to live in a Dalit home, during times when they were considered sub-human, cooking and doing all the work that they did and bonding with all.  Mahatma Gandhi called them “Harijans” or people of God. People may criticise the term but to Gandhi, everyone was a child of God, be it Dalits, people of other faiths, or even other nations. Equality to Gandhi was equality in all domains, which is what he considered real freedom.

Freedom to be who are, freedom to fight your battles, freedom to pronounce all your choices is what true independence is to every individual and by extension, to societies and nations.  This to Gandhi and other stalwarts of that era was what true freedom and independence was all about.

 

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Basaveshwara, the exemplary social reformer

basaveshwaraAs of now, there is a lot of mayhem in my home state, Karnataka, where people are getting divided on the basis of caste, religion, and all kinds of labels.

India as a land has always been spiritual, a land of seekers who have always recognised that all answers shall come from a divine power above. Even social reform has always been guided spiritually, be it in the case of Buddha, Mahavira or Karnataka’s Basaveswara in earlier times and Mahatma Gandhi in recent times.

 

Basaveshwara was born in Bagevadi ( of undivided Bijapur district in Karnataka) during 1131 AD. He   belonged to Brahmin community. As a religious tradition, he was initiated with the holy thread ‘janivara’ in Upanayana, (thread ceremony) at the early age of eight years. Basavanna revolted against this tradition, cut threw his janivara,  left  home and went to Kudalasangama from where he was educated in all respects.

In the later stage, he went to Kalyana, where the Kalchuri king Bijjala (1157-1167, AD) was ruling. Because of his highly intellectual personality, he was appointed  as a karanika (Accountant) in the initial stage, in the court of king Bijjala and later he became the Prime minister of Bijjala  after proving his administrative ability.

At this stage, Basaveshwara looked around the socio-economic status of the then society, where most of the static, superstitious and anti-social elements were ruling. There was much gap between haves and have- nots and rich people were harassing the poor.  Untouchability was rampant and sex discrimination made the lives of women very pathetic. Basavanna revolted against all these evils and he himself started practicing the socialistic norms to bring about drastic change in the society. Hence, he became the guiding path to others in bringing the change. He scripted his practical experiences in a novel form of literature called –Vachana (poetry).  This innovative literary form is the main contribution of “Sharanas”  through which they expressed their revolutionary and reformist ideology in a very simple Kannada language.

First of all Basavanna  tried to change the concept of Temple which was the main centre of various types of harassments.   Priests   and rich people were exploiting the common folk in the name of God and temple. Thus he tried to convince the society about the real god and temple, which are within and with us only. In one of his vachana he says-

Rich build temples for shiva

What can I a poor man do?

My legs are the  pillars

My body is temple

My head makes the golden cupola

Oh, Lord  kudala sangama

The standing will perish

The moving will stay on.

By saying so, Basaveshwara gave two important and innovative concepts called “Sthavara ’’and  “Jangama’’, the meaning of which is “Static’’ and ‘’Dynamic’’- respectively. Both of these concepts are the main foundation stones of the revolutionary ideology of Basavanna.  By ridiculing the physical structure of temple and God; which are perishable, Basavanna  gave a new dimension to the human body and soul (inner spirit), by which the  self respect of all human beings was boosted.

Perhaps the most revealing test of the sincerity of any drive for reform lies in how welcoming it is of the voices of women. When Basava sparked the 12th century movement that we now recognize as Lingayatism, many were those of dazzling intellect who joined him. Tired of social shackles and determined to chart an alternative course, they found in Basava’s anti-caste, egalitarian crusade a resonance that has survived the ages, down, indeed, to our times. Indeed, of the 210 saints associated with Basava, as many as 35 were female, 14 of them unmarried. These were women of uncommon brilliance who, in addition to their battles against caste and inequality, also challenged patriarchy’s grip over their bodies and thought.

Being a born progressive activist, Basaveshwara revolted against all the social evils of the traditionalistic society and brought a drastic change in various facets.  We often talk about the human rights in this twenty-first century, but these human rights were being enjoyed by sharanas (Citizens of welfare society) during 12th century itself, because of the socialistic and democratic  approach of Basavanna .

While making our choices in all areas,  let us try to see what the leaders/ parties stand for to make the right choices to take our nation move forward progressively.

Raising of consciousness in horrific times

asifaIn all horrific situations like the current situation of the gang rape and murder of little Asifa, we need to reflect on what a person like Gautama the Buddha, Christ, Socrates or Gandhi, all famous figures of history, universally respected for the excellence of their character and model way of life would have done. Would he have e would behaved as our present-day leaders do and been an active participant or a passive onlooker of the suicidal race for more and more destructive nuclear engines run day and night before our eyes?

The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Such a personality would never be a party to or an idle spectator of the horrid game. On the contrary, he would raise heaven and earth to rid mankind of this hideous nightmare and even stake his life to achieve this aim.

This may sound unrealistic but the fact is we all are indeed connected and to raise the consciousness of humanity, we have to not just protect and yes, punish the criminals but work on raising the conditions we find ourselves in.

What I am saying is not entirely new. For humanity to change, we need to focus and raise our own way of being so that slowly but steadily, there is true empathy towards all which is the only thing that can create a better world, again slowly but steadily.

It does not matter what the child’s religion, so called status or state was. What matters is that she was a child. This is what must call out to each of us. Again, not for politics or for playing blame games but for seeking to treat each child as one of us. In other words, let us seek to remove all labels from the people we come across and treat them as one of us.  The day this begins to happen, the world would indeed change and little Asifa’s death would not be in vain.

Seven principles of surrender

surrender“God give me the serenity  to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,”  said Reinhold Niebuhr ages ago. This slogan was then used by the Alcoholics Anoynomous as a slogan to help people recover from this malaise and has travelled all over the world as the ultimate mantra to combat stress.

In my case, I have been highly inspired by the above prayer and have framed seven principles of my own to make surrender a part of my life.

  1. We cannot control everything.

We really do not have complete power over everything and must recognise this key principle of life. Wishing to see the whole world as we would like it to be only makes us tense and stressed. All we can do is is understand people and the situation for what it currently is. For, even if we are powerless to change a situation,  we always have the power to change our own attitude.

  1. We need to become comfortable with uncertainty.

The fact is the only certainty in life is uncertainty.  We need to always remember to ensure that we go with the flow of life and never be fixated about anything, whether it is a trip or a promotion.  If we remain inflexible, we shall of course be susceptible to anger, distress, and depression. Instead, if we learn to surrender, even when an unplanned event takes place, we could  happier, more lighthearted, and resilient.

  1. We must remember to exhale during stress.

We have two choices when things pile up at work or we’re surrounded by people who require a lot of energy to deal with. . We can get frantic, hyperventilate, shut down, and become reactive. Needless to say, these responses just make us more stressed. We need to pause, take a deep breath, and observe. Sustaining silence and circumspection are two behaviors that lead to better, healthier outcomes.

  1. We are powerful without trying to dominate

The most influential people in the room are not the ones who are bullies. True power comes from being respectful and listening. People who surrender know themselves and are empathetic toward others. They don’t measure themselves by how much they are liked, nor do they compete for attention. Even when they sit quietly in a room, others always seem to come to them.

  1. We are successful wherever we are

The drive to acquire money and power is a behavior that drains people of their passion and emotional connection to others.Whatever our designation or worldly status may be,  we must learn to enjoy life, relish our personal development, and value our friends.

  1. We can admit when we are wrong.

People who hold on to grudges, insist on being right, and try to change other’s minds have a difficult time maintaining healthy, happy relationships.  We must understand that most people do make mistakes and must learn to forgive others and our own selves.

  1. We are passionate and can express our emotions in a healthy way.

People who feel the need to push and control tend to keep their feelings bottled up. As a result, they get shut down or remote, and their feelings come out in twisted, unhealthy ways. They become irritable, passive-aggressive, or volatile. People who have learnt to surrender are spontaneous and playful. They love to feel and express their emotions in a positive, loving way. As a result, they look vibrant, healthy, and energetic.

Surrender is a daily practice. Sometimes it means just getting down on your knees and praying to be willing to receive guidance from a higher power. Sometimes, it means surrendering fear and surrendering to the power of love.

Ultimately, it is a process through which we feel more joy, compassion and a lightness of being in our own lives.

Forgiveness, the mantra of being and flowing in life

I have attended many workshops and read many books in the zone of self help and motivation. What I have seen is that the one principle that makes us feel must better and by extension, the world around us better is forgiving others for what they have done.

“Lord forgive them as they know not what they have done,” said Jesus and founded an entire religion based on this key principle.

The religion was born but have we imbibed its principles and those that teach us the same thing in their own way ? I truly do not know if we have as we are looking out for whom to blame almost all the time.

How then can we learn to forgive? This is possible only when we understand them. This understanding can come only if step into their shoes and look at the world from their perspective.

This is beneficial for them and most importantly for us too. For, in the journey of life, not forgiving others impacts our mind so intensely that the body too rebels.

When someone errs inadvertently or knowingly, if we bless them with equanimity, there are definitely more chances that change could take place in the whole scenario. Even if the situation does not change as we would like it to, we can be at peace only if we learn to forgive.

There are many techniques people use to forgive.  Writing their names and throwing water, so on and so forth. What makes most sense to me, however, is to forgive people as we and they are dynamic beings who change all the time. I would like to end with a favourite story of mine in this context.

The Buddha was sitting under a tree talking to his disciples when a man came and spat in his face. He wiped it off, and he asked the man, “What next? What do you want to say next?” The man was a little puzzled because he himself never expected that when you spit on somebody’s face, he will ask, “What next?” He had no such experience in his past. He had insulted people and they had become angry and they had reacted. Or if they were cowards and weaklings, they had smiled, trying to bribe the man. But Buddha was like neither, he was not angry nor in any way offended, nor in any way cowardly. But just matter-of-factly he said, “What next?” There was no reaction on his part.

Puzzled, confused, the man returned home. He could not sleep the whole night. When you see a Buddha, it is difficult, impossible to sleep anymore the way you used to sleep before. Again and again he was haunted by the experience. He could not explain it to himself, what had happened. He was trembling all over, sweating and soaking the sheets. He had never come across such a man; the Buddha had shattered his whole mind and his whole pattern, his whole past.

The next morning he went back. He threw himself at Buddha’s feet. Buddha asked him again, “What next? This, too, is a way of saying something that cannot be said in language. When you come and touch my feet, you are saying something that cannot be said ordinarily, for which all words are too narrow; it cannot be contained in them.”

The man looked at Buddha and said, “Forgive me for what I did yesterday.”

Buddha said, “Forgive? But I am not the same man to whom you did it. The Ganges goes on flowing, it is never the same Ganges again. Every man is a river. The man you spit upon is no longer here. I look just like him, but I am not the same, much has happened in these twenty-four hours! The river has flowed so much. So I cannot forgive you because I have no grudge against you.

“And you also are new. I can see you are not the same man who came yesterday because that man was angry and he spit, whereas you are bowing at my feet, touching my feet. How can you be the same man? You are not the same man, so let us forget about it. Those two people, the man who spit and the man on whom he spit, both are no more. Come closer. Let us talk of something else.”

Remaining human, humane and Indian

jayshreeshukla

Jayshree Shukla is born and bred in Delhi, a street photographer, a flaneur, a lover of history and a heritage buff.

Whether it is India or any other nation, the fact is we need to understand a nation is created by the ethos and ethics of the citizens. After all, it is citizens create a nation that then becomes an identity.

We in India were brought up to believe that all paths to the divine lead to the same destination and most importantly, everyone is free to make their own choice. Now, in the confusion about food and food choices, we have begun adding one more label to the identity of humanity that is actually the only true identity we all have. Food is becoming more political and judgemental than it ever was in the history of India along with a million other labels.

Personally, I happen to be a vegetarian but posts like the one below by Jayshree Shukla always make me feel the identity of humanity and the India I believe in is still alive.

Jayshree says, “Raju (my husband) returned home last night after a longish spell and decided to take me out to Karim (a nearby restaurant) tonight. We were sharing the table with two sweet boys.

“Chicken tikka, chicken curry aur chicken biryani lao” asked the lads of the waiter. Raju started chatting with the boys. We are from Kanpur they said and have just reached Delhi from Vaishno Devi. I was delighted to see that piety had not got the better of our dear lads. From VaishnoDevi they had landed straight into the arms of Karim and Jama Masjid (a famous mosque).

This is my India”

Like Jayshree, I hope and pray that the identity of Indianness remains inclusive whatever one may call it. After all, don’t we all wish to leave a better world for our children by teaching them to connect and bond instead of focussing on whom to hate and avoid and why? For this, should we not set examples ourselves by remaining human and humane ? Is this not our primary identity whatever else we may be?

 

Playing our role in the drama of life

dramaoflifeWe often get along with a group of people who we find similar to us but often stay away from those who seem different. This is actually a very limited way of being. To expand our consciousness and way of being, we need to perceive others in a different way.

We could become the people and situations that can help you become clearly and strongly aware of our way of thinking. Usually we carefully protect ourselves from people we “just can’t stand”, we run the other way when life gives us a relationship that worries us.

This is actually a lesson that we need to learn and if we try and run away from it, we may see the lesson repeating in our lives again and again in a myriad ways. After all, life is indeed the greatest school of all and we need to work in this school diligently to learn and apply these lessons in all areas of life. In my case, I remember the time I used to run away from people who talked about ritualism, thinking is was at the lowest rung of spirituality. Now, this again is a judgement that no one has the right to make. When people get together be it for a ritual, for  a chant or for discussions of any kind, if they find it empowering, they are surely free to do so. Why should we judge the way anyone wishes to explore life?

Life is after all all always beautiful if we look at it with the perception of wishing to understand and not judge. It is only with seeking to understand that we shall see the different perceptions that everyone has. By understanding everyone’s perceptions, we shall indeed realise we all are players in the drama of the world. None of us is superior or inferior. We just are playing our role in the situation we are placed in. In that sense, we all are actors being directed by a supreme being who is pulling the threads. How we train our consciousness to play the role well, if of course entirely upto us.

The language of the soul

loveThe language of the soul begins with love. In the modern era, many of us have forgotten this and hence, we do need to go back to re-learning this law that is the primary law of our being complete wholesome human and humane beings.

We need to learn how to love everyone unconditionally — including our own self. This law can enable us to find the hidden strength and splendour within us and others.  Unfortunately, we have never been taught how to love unconditionally.  Almost all of our loving has been motivated by emotional desires programmed into us at an early age.

The most natural love that we all experience is that of a mother for her child. Miracles are created through this love. Later, we spend most of our lives trying to define and find ‘love’ in all our relationships.

Most of our love experiences have taught us we must earn or deserve love before we can have it and that others must deserve our love.  This is conditional love. This is not love but a business transaction.

This is why our well-meaning but unskilled attempts to love usually end up in separation and alienation.

Parents tell their children they must get a certain number of grades to be loved.  My friend, Anita’s (name changed) son was convinced that he should aim to become a doctor as there were successful doctors on both sides of his family. He tried his best but could not succeed. They kept pushing and prodding him. His self-esteem plummeted to the lowest level as he was just not being able to relate to the subject itself. When his lecturers said he would be rusticated, he took the awful plunge of committing suicide.

The above is of course an extreme case but depression and stress seems to be the name of the game in a world that is craving for love, true love. In the area of parenting, many parents have forgotten that what is required from them is just pure love and not proving a point to anyone.

In fact, the most natural love that we all experience is that of a mother for her child. Miracles are created through this love. Later, we spend most of our lives trying to define and find ‘love’ in all our relationships.

This can and shall happen only if we understand that love is always unconditional. When we do understand what love is, we shall begin speaking the language of the soul.

Many Gods or one God

manygodsVery often, we Hindus are asked why we have many deities and even hold weapons. “Are Gods not supposed to be peaceful” is a question that is asked often. The fact is, although peace is something people desire, the journey of life is such that one traverses through many paths before true inner peace sets in. Everywhere, we need to identify ourselves with someone.

This is why we are shown such images. The fact is our human mind often succumbs to fear. In a sense, fear is the primary enemy of wellness of the body, mind and spirit. It is due to the conditioned mind set to see the God with powerful weapons to protect from evil forces..

For instance, when we are chased by a street dog for unknown reasons and if somebody is there around with a stick then we tend to run and stand behind that person to save us from that chasing dog. He may or may not protect us but we look at him as a protector.  Similarly it’s nothing but the mind set of the devotees to visualise their God holding powerful weapons to protect them from demons and evil forces. As we know our fears are more of imagination than reality and in order to overcome this inherent defect it needs such powerful divine fallback to continue their life journey in faith and peace.

This makes the soul believe that all will be well and we continue on our life path to the best of our ability.

When we understand all of life, including one God, many Gods or our own self as a God, we shall surely be absolutely comfortable in the journey of life for we are after all from the same source, whatever we may call it.

Unconditional Love

loveunconditionalThe language of the soul begins with love. In the modern era, many of us have forgotten this and hence, we do need to go back to re-learning this law that is the primary law of our being complete wholesome human and humane beings.

We need to learn how to love everyone unconditionally — including our own self. This law can enable us to find the hidden strength and splendour within us and others.  Unfortunately, we have never been taught how to love unconditionally.  Almost all of our loving has been motivated by emotional desires programmed into us at an early age. 

The most natural love that we all experience is that of a mother for her child. Miracles are created through this love. Later, we spend most of our lives trying to define and find ‘love’ in all our relationships.

Most of our love experiences have taught us we must earn or deserve love before we can have it and that others must deserve our love.  This is conditional love. This is not love but a business transaction.  

This is why our well-meaning but unskilled attempts to love usually end up in separation and alienation.  

Parents tell their children they must get a certain number of grades to be loved.  My friend, Anita’s (name changed) son was convinced that he should aim to become a doctor as there were successful doctors on both sides of his family. He tried his best but could not succeed. They kept pushing and prodding him. His self-esteem plummeted to the lowest level as he was just not being able to relate to the subject itself. When his lecturers said he would be rusticated, he took the awful plunge of committing suicide.

The above is of course an extreme case but depression and stress seems to be the name of the game in a world that is craving for love, true love. In the area of parenting, many parents have forgotten that what is required from them is just pure love and not proving a point to anyone.  In fact, the most natural love that we all experience is that of a mother for her child. Miracles are created through this love. Later, we spend most of our lives trying to define and find ‘love’ in all our relationships.

In the Chakra theory, this is the second stage of being. This comprises of the Anahata center that is called the love center and the next center, the Visshudhi, that is both about communication and a sense of abundance.

Love comes with the unconditional acceptance of everyone and everything around us.  And how do we do this?  When your consciousness lives in the love centre, we instantly accept anything that anyone does or anything that happens, but of course, we are still entitled to our likes and dislikes.  For instance, a mother will love her child even though he/she upsets the milk and it smashes on the kitchen floor but would take the next steps of course.   In a situation like this, the mother thinks with love which is why she does not get emotionally upset.  This love is great as it does show us what love truly is. Later, when we begin comparing our child with others, the love diminishes and our child begins to sense this and usually gets into a love center of his/her own.

We can do this only by transcending our security, sensation, and power requirements. For it is only your emotional programming disturbs us when the events outside do not conform with the programming that we have conditioned inside of us.  As these requirements or addictions begin to melt away, we begin to experience everything and everyone around us in a different way.  We view them not in terms of how they meet our needs but in just accepting what is happening around us.

We know that if they are consciously on the path, they will similarly accept your moment-to-moment happenings for this is what helps them grow, too.  And if they are not consciously on the path and become angry, that’s their problem.  The only thing we can do to help them is to set an example of strength and completeness.

We begin to find that you can instantly accept what was previously unacceptable emotionally.  We must understand we really have no choice.

Most of us lead our entire lives trying to change whatever is happening all around us. This has to change if we need to understand what is our control and what is not. This itself can take a lifetime to understand.

This is why one of  the prayers I deeply resonate with is the one of Reinhold Niebuhr who said, “God give me the serenity to accept Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

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