Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Difficult to break free from fear of death

He was a retired man financially sound. He had lived his life full. He had educated his children and married off his daughters. It was then he had this serious ailment. The doctor diagnosed it as cancer in an advanced stage.”How many months of life would you give me?” queried the man. The doctor gave him at best 6 months. He smiled to the surprise of his doctor and said “I am better off than King Parikshit who was given just seven days to die due to snake bite. He was a king and had many important affairs of state to settle. I have no pending work and can organize my exit peacefully though my wife and children may not take kindly to this development. I can now retire to a temple town and spend my last ays in peace and quiet prayer”
How many of us can face the end with such serenity and calm composure? More so when the individual is middle aged with wife and young children to take care of, with no financial security and with the prospect of leaving the entire burden on the young shoulders of wife. If only we go to the hospitals and stand outside the intensive care units, we would realize the agony of a staring death and the misery it beings in its wake. The doctors are human and they do to their best what they can possibly do. It was easy for evolved souls like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Ramana Maharishi to entrust their lot to almighty and suffer pain silently till their final departure..
How does an ordinary individual face the horror of death? It is fairly easy to talk about the inevitability of death and the immortality of soul to a man in his twilight years approaching the final moment. The fear of death in the case of younger people is not merely the fear of the unknown, the fear of treading into endless darkness or of a frightening hell. The horror emanates from the fear of losing the near and dear when the man’s duty towards the family and society is unfinished and when the knowledge that he would only be leaving misery behind both financial and mental. The burden of mounting medical expenses, the expenses towards unfinished education,marriages,for day to day living are all scary even to a normal person and what to speak of a dying man. To philosophize to such a person that life is but a blip in the timeless eternity would be rank foolishness. To talk of karma theory may satisfy the talker but would not make sense to the affected.
How does one break free from fear of death in such cases? Not all the teachings of Gita or of our religion can do little to minimize the pain and fear as is the knowledge that his immediate family would be taken care of well, their security assured and their future held in safe hands. This assurance alone would numb the pain in the ruffled mind to some extent and bring peace. He would then be prepared to die at least free from his major worry of leaving his family without adequate cover though the prospect of final separation would still be hurting. It is for the kith and kin to provide this mental solace. Nothing else is of any avail. But in today’s world where the families are tending to be small and self centred and even the living parents are considered a burden, the prospect is grim..

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Reinterpret religion through women’s eyes

Our religion has all evolved over a long period in a social framework predominantly controlled by men. All our scriptures have been written by rishis and sages who were men. These have a strong undertone of patriarchal ideologies. Women no doubt hold a central but yet an ambiguous role in Hindu religion. According to the Laws of Manu, women are essential to the dharma of men and find fulfillment in this subsidiary role. Women’s role is defined in relation to men upon whom they should remain dependent as a daughter to father, as a wife, to husband and as a mother to her son. Religion was used as an effective tool to oppress women and keep them subservient to men. There was no attempt to reinterpret the religion thro a women’s perspective. The place of women is still seen through the prism of religion framed by men. Religion is still controlled by men and the dharma is what is interpreted by them. Women are prevented in the name of religion certain duties that men are allowed.
Luckily with the advent of British rule and the emergence of social reformers some significant changes have been witnessed. Since the middle of nineteenth century reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra vidya Sagar, Dayanand Saraswati have created an awareness and climate for vesting women their rightful place in society. They were instrumental in bringing about legal changes in several areas like widow remarriage, women’s education, abolition of sati, share of property to women etc.in the second half of Nineteenth century. The national movement brought women to the centre stage. Mahatma Gandhi’s call to women to participate in the national movement enabled them come out of the four walls of their home and work for the nation’s cause as equal partners with men. The shining examples of Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay gave fillip to women join in large numbers breaking the barriers of caste and gender. Polygamy is illegal and divorce laws are easier.
But the basic question still remains unanswered that religion is an exclusive preserve of men and the incalculable harm it can do to women when most of the laws have been in the past enacted by men and interpreted in relation to archaic Manu dharma and some such outdated practices. Change in regressive laws is still slow. The progress in restoring women their legitimate rights is definitely there and significant but still it is in halting pace.. Feminist scholars should take in depth research and study of the religion and demonstrate wherever the laws are loaded against women The importance of such an endeavour in a pluralistic society as we have with men occupying positions of power is obvious. Such study should bring out the legal reforms needed for giving the women their rightful place in society and home. It should not be out of gratis from men. Look at the dithering on women’s representation in legislature. The resistance to accord equal place to women will be high and women should show their power through ballot to achieve what they want.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Developing detachment is difficult

It was Marcus Aurelius who wrote hundreds of years ago in his Meditations that “We ought to consider not only that our life is daily wasting away and a smaller part of it is left, but another thing must also be taken into the account, that if a man should live longer it is quite uncertain whether the understanding will still continue sufficient for the comprehension of things, and retain the power of contemplation which strives to acquire the knowledge of the Divine and the human.: He pleads that “We must make haste then, not only because we are nearer to death , but also because the conception of things and understanding of them cease first.’
Our own Bhartruhari in his Vairagya Satakam urges that “ Life is changing like a big wave, beauty of youth abides for a few days; earthly possessions are as transient as thought; the whole series of our enjoyments are like occasional flashes of autumnal lightning; the embrace round the neck given by our beloved ones lingers only for a while. To cross the ocean of the world, attach your mind to Brahman (God).”.
Easily said, well nigh difficult to follow. Still if one must slowly progress towards his spiritual journey, some amount of detachment should be cultivated. A man may live in the world but should strive to discharge all the duties of his order and stage of life with detachment. He may be a grihastha living with family and children. But that need not preclude him from practising perfect mental detachment or doing his spiritual Sadhana. This can be achieved by doing everything as duties enjoined on him and doing them as offerings to God. It may appear strange to be detached doing mundane things at home or in office. This can be acquired by doing the job sincerely without a longing for the outcome. In other words not getting passionate about the results of what we do. In fact, he will be better than a sadhu living in far off mountainous caves as he has to face unlike the sadhu the innumerable temptations of life.
It may look impractical but is possible gradually to develop inner mental detachment from pleasure if we are not carried away by the pleasant experiences of the world by clinging to them. If we adopt the attitude of a silent witness and keep practising, such an experience may help in our ascent in spiritual ladder. Eventually we will have mental poise and an unruffled state needed for such a journey. There is no other short cut for liberation from this cycle of births and deaths.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Being happy at little things

When I opened my eyes from my sleep one fine morning at 5am, I found my eight year old grandson sitting by my side holding my hand and smiling at me. I was surprised and asked him when he got up and what he was doing. He said, “fifteen minutes back, grandpa and just watching you sleep peacefully. I do that almost daily.” I smiled back at him and that whole day I felt very happy. He added he found it nice holding my hand and waiting for me to wake up. The innocent gesture of a pleasant smile from the little lad lightened my heart. The little smile in that early morning determined the rest of my day of 23 hours and 59 minutes with me basking in the knowledge of my being loved by someone. Whenever I left for office, my wife invariably stood at the balcony and ready to wave her hand at me when I turned the corner of the road. She put off all her work to be there on all days and I invariably turned to see her standing. There was nothing great as we were together all the time I was at home .But yet this small act of hers made me happy as I looked forward to a gruelling day ahead at the office. A Hi or Ram Ram to another jogger as I jogged along in the park cost me nothing but earned tremendous good will. A hello to the paper boy or a small coin to a beggar woman on the way side are small things for us but go to boost the spirit of others..These are petty things that we should do but do not remember to do.
I have found that others extend the same gestures to me like when I am standing in the queue for paying my bill. Someone much younger in age offers to pay mine along with his while I sit in the chair. Such acts give happiness to the giver as well as the receiver. Caring for small things that concern others takes us nearer God. Happiness is a state of mind. It is not in the external things like riches, comforts and material possessions..It lies in your being satisfied with what you have and sharing with others what you can.. Little things actually make us happy like the cool breeze as you stand at the balcony, chirping of the birds at the window sill as you rise in the morning, a multi coloured sky in the evening, the relentless waves beating the rocks, the joy in the urchins playing on the road, or a happy child with a rattler in hand. Happiness can be found everywhere if we deign to see and also lies in making others smile. There are innumerable little things in life for us to be happy about, if only we care to look for them. Try it out on your wife by expressing your delight at the dinner she served. Look at the broad grin on her face and the affection she shows thereafter. We should develop certain amount of selfless nature to appreciate the good things in others. It comes by habit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Are we capable of waiting?

There are number of occasions where we are compelled to wait. Be it at the bus stand or railway station waiting for the bus or train, waiting for someone who has promised to meet us at an appointed time, for the paper delivery boy to supply the day’s paper at day break or waiting for our spouse to get ready to go out with us, we need to wait for a few minutes or even longer. We become restless, fidgety and we start biting nails or walking up and down endlessly or buying a Pepsi to drink to keep engaged, looking at the watch every second minute. None of these can hasten the thing we are waiting for to materialize. It happens on its own. We are unable to sit at one place and calmly wait. We would have seen our mobile a dozen times for messages that are not there. We are all the time trying to keep our mind busy. This restlessness is contagious. It catches others too by your body language.
Can waiting be the only thing that we can be doing without making it tedious by such restlessness? When we say we are waiting, we are not actually waiting but expressing our tension in a variety of ways. As someone said we are constantly fleeing from waiting and are not capable of waiting. Instead of allowing the external distractions like the clock, mobile, Pepsi to disturb you for keeping your mind busy, would it not be good to calm the mind and be involved in the mere act of waiting, pure waiting free from discontentment and anger. I would not say eternally but for a reasonable time.Certain amount of patience and tolerance towards others would not be amiss. If we know the local train is scheduled to arrive at 6-15pm, stay quiet till 6-14pm engaging your mind on worthwhile thoughts instead of on mobile, watch or at the time–board. It is difficult but worth trying to make it a habit.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The tussle between the two ‘I’s

We have two ‘I’s in us. One belongs to the body and the other is related to the soul. Both the ‘I’s have adequate proof of their existence. The spiritual ‘I’ claims that it is immortal and therefore enjoys a higher status. There is no death for it whereas it said “the bodily ‘I’ is ephemeral in nature and would die. It taunted the bodily ‘I’ saying that moment the spiritual ‘I’ leaves the body, the bodily ‘I’ dies instantly and none would come near it. The bodily ‘I’ undaunted replied that the other cannot exist without the bodily ‘I’ and that none can recognize it without the bodily ‘I’ .It added that the soul cannot act without the help of body and mind and that it cannot concentrate ,meditate or go into Samadhi on its own. But it conceded its mortal nature and the power of the spiritual ‘I’ to elevate it. It also accepted that spiritual ‘I’ can adopt other bodily ‘I’ while the latter cannot do so. It finally agreed that it is in its best interest to follow the instructions of the spiritual ‘I’ and act accordingly eventually forgetting its own separate identity as ‘I’

It must be borne in mind that spiritual ‘I’ belongs to God and in reality the only one ‘I’ that should remain. There are among us good and bad urges. There is a twin personality in us the base and the noble each of which is recognized by the urges it manifest. That ‘I’ which kindles greed, jealousy, lust, vengeance, anger and carnal instincts is bodily ‘I’ The spiritual I brings out the lofty qualities of inner spirit like love, kindness, compassion, contentment, peace, charity, sacrifice, forgiveness and other angelic qualities. The characteristics of soul are natural and are there always. Violence is committed while non-violence is natural, deceipt and fraud are committed while simplicity and innocence are natural, a lie is told and is spoken while truth prevails when you don’t speak. The attributes of soul are natural characteristics but in actual practice we distance ourselves from these good qualities. We are ultimately that by which and to the extent one of the ‘I’s dominates. If the spiritual ‘I’ influences our actions and thinking, the superior qualities in us manifest themselves. It is not a question of spiritual ‘I’ dominating but it is the bodily ‘I’ submitting itself to the dictates of spiritual ‘I’ and merging itself with it gradually. It is only by determined effort and persuasion of the mind that the smaller ‘I’ can identify itself with spiritual ‘I’ .Once this sublimation of the two ‘I’ s takes place, the spiritual soul merges with Supreme Consciousness or God

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

‘Why me’ syndrome

In life afflictions of serious ailments, bereavements and loss of property are all common occurrences happening to every family. None is exempt. Yet when a person is visited with terminal disease, the question that crops up immediately in one’s mind is why me of all the people. Strangely this ‘why me ‘syndrome doesn’t manifest when one is happy, rich and healthy with all good things showered. When one wins a lottery of huge stakes or chosen for state honours, no questions are asked why he/she was chosen to receive the blessing. We always feel we do not deserve bad things we suffer while we accept good things without any doubt about our deserving them.
The point that I wish to make is that when we accept good things without any qualms, we should accept disagreeable things as well without demur. We should not curse God that He has unjustly inflicted pain when we never questioned His judgment when bounties were showered. We should accept His judgment always and under all circumstances. Again if we go deeper and accept the Law of karma, the good and bad we get are all the result of our own actions with God nowhere in the picture. True faith in God and in His goodness will enable us lead our lives virtuously without collecting additional baggage of misdeeds to be liquidated later. Trusting Him fully and entrusting oneself to His care would help face defeats and disappointments with equanimity and accept success and riches with humility. Leaving everything to Him but doing our duty to the best of our ability is the way to go. Life and things belong to Him and what He does with it is not something to be judged with our limited knowledge.. With this realization, there would be no place for ‘why me’ question.

My Intent is to have faith in God, even through the hardest testing

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Breaking the bad habits

Habits can be good or bad. They can be beneficial or harmful. “A man’s fortune has its form given to it by his habits.” We would be a success in life if we are able to cultivate the good habits of learning and work, good health, public behavior, discipline and method in our work, eating ways and what not. Life would be happy. If we are victims of bad habits, it can be a heavy burden and a hurdle to succeed in life. The problem with bad habits is that it is very difficult to break them once formed. There are some bad habits like finger nail biting, picking noses, blinking of the eyes, smoking, insomnia, stammering that may need to be tackled at the sub conscious level with the help of a professional psychologist.
Most habits can be broken by the individual with some effort. Most of the small habits can be stopped with determination. It is the mental will power. The feeling of comfort or enjoyment in pursuing the habit should be replaced by a revulsion and disgust. There is no open sesame or a quick fix except hard work. If only one looks at the reason why we indulge in it and the benefit you get by escaping from some problem, it may be easier to shed it. The tension in the office may make you irritable by habit to family members like wife and children. By letting of your anger, you feel a bit relaxed and calm. It could be to watch TV undisturbed that this irritability helps in keeping away the family members. One has to make a choice between irritability to family and the hurt it causes vis a vis the pleasure of watching TV. Which one you value more would enable you to discard the bad habit. . To effect a change in habits, one needs to bring the action back into the realm of consciousness and regain the ability to make right choices.
The old habits were formed to fulfill a need like releasing the tension of the office or desire to watch TV undisturbed. If we wish to break them, you need some alternative needs in place. “A nail is driven out by another nail, habit is overcome by habit.” That is why we see people who have quit smoking taking to snuff or chewing tobacco. If we choose a better alternative like going for a walk with spouse or playing with children board games or reading a book, the pain of breaking the old habit would not be felt. The thought that bad habits are annoying to others and often retard your progress, popularity and acceptability would steel your determination to get rid of them.. Let the bad habits be replaced by good habits It is good to take one habit at a time and immediately instead of many. It was Mark Twain who said “A habit cannot be tossed out of the window. It must be coaxed down the stairs, a step at a time.” It is a challenge that calls for determination and effort.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Courtesy costs nothing but gains everything

How many of us have the patience and courtesy to stop for a second and tell the time when asked for .We keep moving along and mumble the time without caring whether the other got it. Do we wait when asked for directions and give clearly or just keep walking telling nothing or just batha nai or I don’t know. How many of us are willing to stand up and offer our seats in a metro to an old man or pregnant woman where we are required to travel for 45 minutes to reach our destination. Do we bend and help in gathering the papers dropped unless the person who dropped is a young lady? Do we agree to give our lower berths to an upper berth to an old man? There are many such instances where courtesy can be extended and where people can be helpful. We do not even use ‘please’, ‘thanks’ or ‘excuse me’ as much as is necessary to people placed lower than us.
Courtesy is the essence of life. We spend nothing except a kind word or a few moments but gain everything. People do not announce who they are when making phone calls or express regret when they have made a wrong call. Some turn rude if you have made a wrong call. Lack of courtesy reflects poor upbringing. Are we polite in replying letters /mails when we get enquiries about something we are not dealing or conversant with? Do we go the extra mail giving useful information? Do we go out of our way to show customers they did us a favor by coming to us? There are scores of such instances where courtesy can be shown. It casts reciprocal obligations on us.We have to show respect and gratitude to those who are civil and polite to us. Then only it becomes contagious spreading cheer all around.
This trait is best seen in those who have had good upbringing. It is important that we raise our children in this manner by personal example and practice even in the household. The parent’s influence is the strongest in this regard. Courtesy is amplified by this story I read somewhere.When Einstein was holding a party to some well known people, he saw a young boy sitting alone bored and neglected by others. He went near the boy and asked him whether he liked music. When the boy evinced interest, Einstein took him to the first floor and entertained him with music on the piano. He forgot his guests and spent his time in regaling the boy. This is the height of courtesy where even the feelings of a youngster are observed. What would have been the impact on the boy for this generous gesture? Courtesy costs us no money but gives joy both to the giver and receiver. More so in crowded places, in rush hour, in competitive situations a smile and thank you will make the world a happier place to live in.