Connect with understanding

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive,” says the Dalai Lama

connectwitheveryoneThis is indeed true for humanity and all human beings in general. The fact is all positive emotions are interlinked and hence when we connect, love increases and therefore our world seems a much better to live in. This is a fundamental truth of life itself.

We do need to know here what to take seriously and what not to. Most of the problems in life itself is because we do not work on understand all kinds of people in the world. The world does indeed consist of different types of people but it is entirely in our control to see how we handle each kind. This is indeed one of the primary tests of life. One of the stories that I still remember in this context is that of a heap of skulls.

A Sufi mystic was passing through a cemetery and he came upon a heap of skulls. Out of curiosity he took one skull. He had always been of the thought that all skulls are almost the same, but they were not the same. There were a few skulls whose ears were joined together; there was a passage. There were a few skulls whose ears were not joined together; there was a barrier between the two. There were a few skulls both of whose ears were joined to the heart but not joined together; there was a passage running to the heart. He was very surprised. He prayed and asked God, “What is the matter? What are you trying to reveal to me?” And it is said that he heard a voice. God said, “There are three types of people: one, who hear through one ear; it never reaches anywhere — in fact they don’t hear, just the sound vibrates and disappears. There is another type, who hear, but only momentarily — they hear through one ear, and through the other ear it is lost into the world again. There are a few souls, of course, who hear through the ears and it reaches to the heart.”

And God said, “I have brought you to this heap of skulls just to help you remember it when you are talking to people. Talk only to those who take whatsoever you say to their hearts — otherwise don’t waste your energy, and don’t waste your time. Your life is precious: you have a message to deliver.”

This tale shows us that though there are different kinds, we need to know how to handle each one of them. Essentially, it is our attitude we need to try to improve. After all, we all have messages to deliver and this is exactly what we need to focus on.

A Thousand Rupees

 

There is enough in this world to meet every man’s need

But not even one man’s greed – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

‘Could you give me a letter allowing a friend to stay for a month’, my maid, Heera, asked.  She looked uncharacteristically anxious.

thousandrupeesWe lived in a defence colony which had strict security guidelines for allowing outsiders to stay.  Heera was a verified member and lived in a small room close to our home.  She had worked with us from the time we had arrived in Mumbai, and I knew we would miss her a great deal when we moved to another city, something that could happen anytime.  Transfers were a part and parcel of an Indian defence officer’s family after all.

This was the first time Heera had asked us to give her this kind of letter.  It must be important to her, I thought, and completed the necessary formalities.

Her friend, Sona Bai, arrived soon after. I realized in a couple of days that she was partially blind.  Yet, I could see her doing her best to be helpful by cleaning Heera’s room.  The month passed and Heera asked for Sona Bai’s stay to be extended.  This was a little difficult, but we managed to get the required permission.

It was then that I found out more about her.  Sona Bai’s eyesight had gradually failed and she had been supported by her daughter, her only living relative, for a few years.  A few months back, her daughter had developed high fever and suddenly died.  Sona Bai now had no one to call her own.

It was then that Heera had met her.  Even with her limited means, Heera had not hesitated to immediately bring her home, though she was just a casual acquaintance.

Would I have been so large hearted ? I wondered.  So called ‘educated’ people like us tend to think too much about long term implications:  ‘How long can I keep her’, ‘What will I do later ?’ and so on, and stop ourselves from a natural, human response; simple folk like Heera have much stronger values and courage.

Soon after getting Sona Bai’s permission extended, I realized we needed to try and help Sona Bai settle down in a more permanent manner because of the colony’s restrictions, and also because, once we moved, Heera might not be able to ask her next employer for permission.

However, this was easier said than done.  Options were limited as blind homes in Mumbai could not take her in; they were already fully occupied and, besides, her case was weak as she was only partially blind.  She was not old enough for an old age home.  And her blindness did not allow her to take on the kind of job she could do earlier.

As I was pondering on what could be done, I got a call from one of the blind homes that I had approached in Mumbai. ‘We understand the difficulty of the lady and have just got information that there is an ashram for the blind in Surendranagar in Gujarat, which has room for Sona Bai.  Would you like to send her there ? the director asked.

This seemed suitable, but I wondered whether Sona Bai would want to move so far from her friends, and to a place where she did not understand the language.  I spoke to her hesitantly and was amazed at her equanimity. ‘God has opened yet another door for me’, she said calmly, ‘yes, I shall go’.

We completed the formalities.  Just before the social worker from the blind home came to take Sona Bai to Surendranagar, I gave Sona Bai a thousand rupees – a small amount, but enough to see her through for a couple of months at least.

When we got a call after three days from Sona Bai saying she had reached and was comfortable, I felt at ease and was happy that I could play a small role in making it possible for her to have a home.

There was one more surprise in store for me.  The social worked called me in a few days saying she wished to meet me.  Wondering what the matter could be, I went to meet her and was handed an envelope with a thousand rupees.

‘Sona Bai asked me to give this to you’, the social worker said. ‘And she asked me to write a letter to you on her behalf’. She opened up a sheet of paper, and read out:

‘I am very happy here.  We spend our time weaving and knitting.  Thank you for finding this place for me.  Please don’t feel bad that I have returned your money.  I took it thinking I might need it for travel or for some expense I might have in the ashram.  But I spent nothing on travel.  The social worker told me you had already paid for my ticket.  When I reached here, I found I am given food and two sarees every year.  What more do I need ? The money is probably more useful to you.  So, please take it back’.

The sheer courage of the woman and her perception of ‘need’ astounded me.

This remains the most precious thousand rupees I have ever received.

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This was one of the first stories I wrote and it got published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. It remains one of my favourite stories and  I feel truly proud to have shared it.

Means are as important as the ends

Very often, we justify all kinds of actions of ours by justifying it in various ways. In various ways, we point out a finger at others when we have done something wrong. We do know two wrongs don’t make one right but that is the most commonly used philosophy/ justification today.

moralcompassWhy just personal life ? Even in social and political life, the way we function is more or less the same.  Which is why it helps if we examine morally sound people and movements.

Many may deride Gandhi today still if we think deeply, he was one who  genuinely believed that a freedom won by bad means would be a bad freedom. He has been proved right by every other country freed from colonialism by adopting any means possible (Indonesia, Kenya, Algeria, to name a few).

“The guns that are used against the British”, Gandhi once said, referring to those Indian freedom fighters who saw assassination of British officials as a reasonable retort to British oppression, “will tomorrow be turned against Indians”. The need to build a group where the discourse of ideas, not the discharge of weapons, would win the day was evident to Gandhi, but was not evident to impatient but short sighted hotheads across the country. Here, Chauri Chaura is something we all need to note, remember and learn from, at least now.

When Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement was in full swing in 1921-22, a group of non-violent protesters was beaten up by some policemen in the small town of Chauri Chaura in Northern India. The instructions to the satyagrahis was very clear, they would take the beatings but not respond in kind.

In this instance, however, the protesters were provoked enough to chase the policemen who, finding they were outnumbered, locked themselves in their police station. The crowd then set fire to the police station, killing 22 policemen.

That the atrocity at Chauri Chaura happened despite Gandhi’s efforts to keep the movement peaceful, that such misfirings were rare in a huge national movement involving hundreds of thousands, made no difference to Gandhi. He took total responsibility as the leader of the movement, and staked his entire career upon it. What happened later, something everyone keeps taking about, is not as important as the fact that Gandhi never compromised on his principles and hence set a remarkable example for us.

Let us all strive to at least recognise people like Gandhi, whether they are leaders now or not.  This is the way morally sound movements are born.

For the world to survive, what we need now more than ever before, is a moral compass guiding us.

This shall happen only if we ourselves are morally sound. For this, change needs to begin from within. This can and shall happen once we recognise it as the right direction for us and the world.

Rays of hope

In an era where there is so much of confusion  and conflict in religions, there are rays of hope that do show us that humanity is still alive.

perspThere are some  who have struggled to restore balance and justice in society and some who have achieved this by just being who they are. These are not just famous people but ordinary, commoners who know what is right and wrong.

This reminds of the time I had spoken sometime back to Teesta Setalvad,  who was and is passionate about communal harmony and amity.

Teesta Setalvad had resigned from mainstream journalism only because she was keen on promoting justice and peace. She is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace, the editor of Communalism Combat and runs an organization, KHOJ, www.khojedu.net, that encourages children to discuss and understand issues in society.

When I asked her what was her most memorable event in all the work she had undertaken, she shared, “In December 1992, post Babri Masjid violence  had made Bombay burn with the Shiv Sena-BJP leading the violence. I encountered an amazing story there. A building with entirely Muslim residents had been attacked on the night of December 6-7 and they survived only because of Vimla Tai Khaonekar the mother of the Shiv Sainik leading the mob set to burn the building.

She came out, fully clad in her nine yard Maharashtrian saree,and dared him to go past her. The aggressive Shiv Sainik confronted with the moral force of his mother, slunk away. The grateful residents narrated the story of their saviour, I wrote about it in The Sunday Observer and fortunately she received the Mayor’s medal for bravery. It is such acts of unsurmountable courage and conviction that need to be told so women like Vimla tai become our role models.”

I completely resonate with her and truly echo her sentiment of trying to focus on real courage and bravery.

On another note, we know Teesta has faced and is still facing a lot of travails but the hope that she still has in humanity is laudable.

Teesta and yes, people like Vimala Tai make me certain that we will surely overcome the malaise in our society of hatred of all kinds, slowly but surely.

Food is NOT religion

 

Food is a need we all have. Why has this become such a confusion and controversy? We need to remember we eat to live and survive and not really something that we need to obsess on, be it in the name of religion or anything else. This is the worst thing we can do to each other.food_02

religions

The fact is, religion has been formed as guidelines in every era.  Some religions used books, some stories and many used diktats. It is often said “Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life”. The fact is this is true for all religions as every religion has evolved as a way of life in whichever region they were born.

As far as belief systems are concerned, we must remember that these happened because of the region and the conditions where the religions were born.

 

Food and religion

All religions have their own guidelines regarding food mainly because of anthropology.

For instance, both Islam and Judaism have the similar guidelines. Of utmost importance in both religions is the way in which an animal is killed for its meat. There are very strict guidelines that much be followed for each, and there are differences between the sets of guidelines.

In both practices, the animal’s throat is cut, and it is drained of blood. The spinal cord must not be severed. Death is said to occur within seconds, but animal rights groups worldwide have long campaigned to have the practice outlawed, or, alternately, stun the animal before it is killed. In both traditions, the animal needs to be alive, healthy, and uninjured when it is blessed and the slaughtering process begins. There is debate within Islamic law on whether or not stunning the animal first violates this rule, but Jewish law is very clear on the matter. Stunning methods cause injury to the animal, making the meat that ultimately comes from it non-kosher.

The fact is both halal and kosher meats are likely to decay later than the method where blood is not drained. They also believe in killing instantly and though the blood drains gradually, according to them, the animal does not feel this.

Christianity does not have any particular practice but it is believed that meat consumed by Christians should not retain any blood, just like Judaism and Islam.

The fact is as these came from an era where the climatic conditions made it more likely to decay this was a major parameter in the times where there were no refrigerators or ACs.

In the huge debate on whether or not this is cruel to the animals, we need to remember food is just food and meat is just meat, however one kills it.

Eastern religions

Early Buddhist monks depended on food donated by supporters. Anything placed in their proffered bowls was to be accepted with gratitude and eaten, even if unpleasant. This included fish and meat. The modern sects of Buddhism have different rules regarding diet. While most practice nonviolence, many do consume meat. This again depends on the region in which they originated.

The basic tenet of Jainism is non-violence. Jains do not believe in killing anything, be it even plants hence do not recommend eating root vegetables. From a higher perspective, one needs to remember that non-violence actually means not offending others and not just about food.  A Jain who truly understands this will never offend others about their food choices.

From the Hindu point of view, the killing of bulls was discouraged as Hinduism was born in an agrarian society. Swami Vivekananda often pointed out this obsession with food and had said “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef.” We went on to aver that “The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.”

Food is not who we are

We must remember religion is about spirituality not about what we wear, what we speak and most certainly not about what we eat.

One’s food doesn’t make one clean or purified or sanctified. Definitely, we do a much greater wrong when we make unkind and harsh comments about those who make different dietary choices than we do. This is one of the basic tenets of freedom and yes, about bonding too. Let us make food a medium of bonding not growing apart.

 

True Heroism

I do think we should not focus on the negative but the greatest challenge of all is defining terms that are negative or positive. Most of all, who is it that makes these definitions?

gurmeharkaurLet us take the example of Gurmehar Kaur. I had heard about her a long while ago when she was encouraged when she began on a mission towards peace.

Her father, Capt Mandeep was with 4 Rashtriya Rifles when militants stormed his camp in Kupwara in August 1999. He was killed in the gun battle that followed when he was just 30.

Gurmehar has spent almost all her years missing her father. She was two and her sister, Bani, was five months old when their father was killed.

In May 2016,  she was the subject of a silent video by Ram Subramaniam, an ad filmmaker whose Facebook page — Voice of Ram — aims to “create a positive change”.

In the video, Gurmehar recounts how as a six-year-old she tried to stab a burqa-clad woman because she believed Muslims killed her father. Gurmehar is who she is today hugely because of the parenting and the right values she has received from her mother. She explained to her that it was war that killed her father, not people and certainly not a particular community. “I fight for peace between India and Pakistan,” she has often said and considers herself a soldier of a different kind.

Though her life has been quite tough, she has learnt that hatred does not take us forward in any way. “Try and affect people in a positive way, that’s the only way to bring about a change,” she said in a Facebook chat on 30 January 2016.

This day is of course significant as it is the day we lost the greatest peacenik of all, Mahatma Gandhi. I am certain had he been here, he would have surely been proud of this young girl. Having lost her father and suffered more than many of us, the fact that she has embarked on a journey towards peace shows her as a person with tremendous emotional maturity.

Gurmehar has written a book on life in the forces and peace between the two neighbours. “We can have a cordial relationship, we don’t need to hate each other,” she said during the chat, as she took questions from people.

Her peace push has not gone unnoticed. She has quite a following in Pakistan and she hopes to visit the neighbouring country this year.

People are now blaming her for asking for a right to freedom of expression. This is not directly related to her but she knows this kind of freedom is very important not just for her but for the students and adults too. If friendship and peace and thought to be negative, where are we heading towards?

It is high time we join hands with her to understand what true heroism and maturity is all about and raise a toast to her and her ilk.

Sharing and resolving

rakshabharadia

Raksha Bharadia

I know Raksha Bharadia since the time I wrote a story for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul of which she was the editor. She took the task very seriously and verified all the facts with me before publishing it and we have been friends ever since.

Now, she has taken up studying couple relationships and launched a website, www.bonobology.com

This is a non-judgemental space where she hopes to break some of the taboos associated with discussing love lives.

She has approached experts, therapists, sexologists, historians, divorce lawyers and, of course, the couples themselves.

Indeed relationships and tag lines seem to be all over the world now. Though there is a lot of hype, there is also a lot of loneliness with people not knowing what to do, where to get answers. In this context, I was happy to come across this site that is working to make this happen.

I was happy to see that people are indeed sharing their issues to be helped and through sharing, encouraging others also to do the same thing.   In India, this is usually even more of an issue as people don’t usually share their problems. This is what made Raksha venture into this domain as make it easier for people to address their issues.

I personally like the fact that this site is is all about love and relationships that we all need. As Raksha says, “We need relationships and love as  these are an essential part of our lives. Otherwise we would feel lost in this huge populace of 5 billion plus. Our lovers make us feel that we exist, what is important to us is relevant to them…We all need witnesses to our lives”

By sharing our issues, this site enables us to solve issues and most of all, makes us realise we are not alone in whatever issues that life throws at us.

Difference between spirit and soul

Recently, I was asked the difference between soul and spirit and initially did not really know the answer. On exploring further however, I found that all spiritual traditions explore it in their own ways but convey the same meaning.

intent2As far as Hinduism is concerned, soul is the core-self and is defined by Shankaracharya as chit ananda rupa shivoham shivoham. Thus soul is consciousness which is a continuum filled with bliss and is always pure.  We are surrounded by five koshas while one is alive and one identifies oneself with these koshas by ignorance of our inner self. The five koshas that are part of all of us are

Annamaya kosha

The first kosha is annamaya, the physical body that is first thing we identify ourselves with.

Pranayama kosha

The second kosha is pranamaya, the kosha composed of prana, or life force. This prana is a part of cosmic life. Each and every creature, each and every thing in this world is a part of cosmic life.

Manomaya kosha

The third kosha is manomaya, the kosha composed of the mind. Mind is consciousness. It is a field of energy by itself.

Vijnanamaya kosha

Vijnana means psyche. Vijnana is a Sanskrit word from the prefix vi and jnana meaning knowledge or awareness, inner perception or experience. Vijnanamaya kosha is related to a very unknown part of the universe and it is a link or sutra between the conscious mind, the individual mind and the universal mind.

Anandamaya kosha

The fifth kosha is anandamaya kosha. Ananda is when there is no happiness and no unhappiness. It means a state of eternal bliss.

While we are composed of these five sheaths or koshas, we are not that as soul is beyond the koshas. Thus, soul is a central core of our being, while spirit consists of soul with an ability to reconstruct the body and thus reenters a suitable body and is reborn.

In Christianity, there is usually no difference between soul and spirit.  We can carry our soul to where ever we are going because the soul is always with us. We exist in our subconscious mind, which is the soul, while not in a body. Our Spirit represent our true self, the spark of light, the Living Force. Somehow we are trapped into this material world via this body and we use it according to our desire and by the direction of Supreme Spirit (God) we utilize this body until it comes to an end.

Islam uses the words  rûh and the nafs – both of which can be loosely translated as “soul” or “spirit”.  The word rûh comes with the meaning of the divine infusion by which life takes place. The word nafs is more general in meaning than the word rûh and it just means sprit.  I have personally come across the term rûh  often as it is in romantic urdu shayri and poetry to convey meeting of soul mates.

Other faiths have their own explanation just like each language uses different terms and metaphors.

The most important fact is we all need to realize we are more than just the body, whether we can soul or spirit.  Nomenclature apart, all that we need to realize is that whether we call it soul or spirit, we all are part of the same higher power and consciousness, come from the same source and shall return to the same destination.

The cards that we are dealt with

randypauschRecently someone sent me a video of the late Randy Pausch, who continues to inspire me through his words and his book, The Last Lecture. It is a wonderful talk and book that I recommend that everyone to everyone.

In his book, Randy Pausch talks about his own dreams and his desire to help other fulfill their dreams. ‘If you knew were going to die, and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?’ is the question he asked himself. That thought became the spark that turned into a book, The Last Lecture. For Randy, it wasn’t a hypothetical situation. He was fighting pancreatic cancer. This book is not about death and dying, but rather about fulfilling all your dreams before dying. Specifically, it’s about accomplishing your childhood dreams and about how you can try to achieve them.

Pausch delivered his ‘Last Lecture,’ titled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, at Carnegie Mellon University on 18 September 2007. He also gave an abridged version of his speech on The Oprah Winfrey Show in October 2007. The talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical ‘final talk’.

Pausch’s lectures have become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles.

Celebrating the dreams we all strive to turn into realities. Sadly, Pausch lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on 25 July 2008, but his legacy will continue to inspire us all, for generations to come.

The fact is all do need to die one day. Everything that happens to us is not in our control. However, instead of worrying about this,  wouldn’t it be wonderful if we make our aim that of leaving the world at least a wee bit better?

As Randy himself has said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

 

Laws, laws and laws

lawsMy twenty four year old son shared with me recently that he does not consider it a duty to look after his parents but he would definitely want to do this as he loves his parents. “Nothing should be forced upon anyone as then then it never really works in the proper way,” he mused and then talked about various issues like gender stereotypes, societal ills and then about laws that are made to subdue the problem and not correct it.

For instance, when sex determination tests are legal all over the world but not in India, does it not show that we as a society are still grappling with complete acceptance of both genders? If this is the case, will just banning these tests shape the society to become an equal space for all? When we know there is an issue there, we need to address people’s mindsets and not impose a law to keep the issue under wraps. For if these tests are banned, either doctors who practise these tests illegally or quacks will operate for sure. Apart from these tests, if there are no tests, a child may be born in a home where she is most unwelcome.  There may be many views on whether this test should be allowed or not, but the fact is that despite women doing all or perhaps more than what a man can do, she still needs to be accepted as an equal in a world with a patriarchal mindset.

This fact is applicable to all areas of life, be it corruption, inefficiency and other aspects of our work life and personal issues like marriage, divorce, and laws like the prevention of dowry that has always been there but never enforced completely as the society has not changed to support it.

Society will change only when we as individuals change as we create the society and are not created by society.

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