The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Tag: learning (page 1 of 2)

Space and Time

Most comfortable chairs ever

Most comfortable chairs ever

This evening I came home and made myself a cup of tea. Pulled out an oft-read beloved book (“The Sunday Philosophy Club” by Alexander McCall Smith) and reclined comfortably in one of the two blue-grey chairs by the window. It was a quiet evening. No kids playing out or cars driving by or birds chirping. I sipped my tea and read for a while.

After a few minutes, the peace stealing through my soul felt so urgent, almost compelling. I had to lay my book aside and reflect a little.

A year or so ago, my life began to change. Objects and activities started exiting out of my life, literally and metaphorically. Clothes, music, furniture, books, knick-knacks, hair, interests, people… I bade farewell to all of them. It was an exodus of sorts. I felt that I was creating space. For what? I had no idea. But the decluttering motion had its own energy, rhythm and momentum. I simply followed along.

I discovered the joy of space and time, all to myself. And this space in my house, my head and my life feels so vital, so life-giving… that I wonder if, at a sub-conscious level, I even chose to remain childless because of my intense love for this space and time.

I am, what many term, a “spacey” personality. Previously, I chafed at that description but its meaning is simple. My Ayurvedic constitution is an Air-Space combination. Why resist it? After all, it connotes expansiveness, unboundedness, freedom. As long as I am able to find my grounding and center, it is bliss.

A Generous Space

“Inside every stone resides a statue. We realize it only when the sculptor uses his instruments and draws the statue out of the stone. What draws our own goodness out of our ignorance, mistakes are our own experiences. At all stages in life, different ideas give us strength. At one age, we become rebels. We disregard our elders, reject God, become rationalists. Later, we may turn into believers again. Then, at another stage, we become scientists, ultimately rejecting that school as well. Thus, changing and transforming, we become our true selves.”

Chinthaavishtayaaya Shyaamala ends on this note. Vijayan is back home with his family, leading the life of a householder, contented and happy. His search has ended and the restlessness in his soul has abated. There is great truth in Vijayan’s words. Allowing oneself the freedom to change is incredibly freeing. The younger me would have balked at the idea of devotion and prayer. She would have outright rejected the notion of a spiritual Guru, a guide and mentor for life. She would have been shocked at the idea of acknowledging weakness and vulnerability. Thankfully, the older me is slightly wiser, a little more sympathetic both to herself and to the world. Realizing how little we are and how less we know places us squarely in a space of humility, instantly connecting us to the vastness of the Universe and its soul. Once connected, all judgment flows away and what remains is the moment, utterly still and silent, waiting.

No matter what I did in the past, no matter where I roamed, I am here now. No matter what paths you traversed, no matter who you met, you are here now.

Such was the generous and non-judgmental space that greeted me as I walked my first dithering steps on the path of Yoga. That unconditional support and love brought me here and I am far grateful than I could ever express. So, how can I not extend the same generosity and tenderness to you, my friend?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Re-reading the Classics

I started re-reading the Mahabharata, courtesy Amar Chitra Katha. This is an epic I am very familiar with. I read it in my kiddie days, watched the TV series every Sunday, knew the names of the characters by memory, knew how it all began, and knew how it ended. I even knew many of the obscure tales that thread their way through the main story arc, linking back and forth in beautiful sync, without missing a single character. Yes, I was quite an expert on the Mahabharata, even as a child.

  

Yet it is amazing that as I begin my nth reading of the epic, there are a host of new realizations that come to me. As a child, they never struck me as being particularly salient or meaningful but in my ripe middle age, they acquire a whole new meaning.

Time and again, I am reminded of how brave and courageous the Kuru Princes were. Oh, we take it for granted that Kshatriyas are bold individuals; doesn't it come with the territory? But fear is a palpable sensation and it spares no one. There are moments of intense fear, a wish to run away. But there is no running away from one's duty. You might make it once but not every time. You gotta do what you have to do, and the Mahabharata is a beautiful illustration of this cardinal principle.

As a reader, it was a foregone conclusion for me that victory is in store for those who tread the path of Dharma and righteousness. But as I read the earlier parts (where the Pandavas escape from the burning house at Varnavata), I was surprised to read that they experienced anxiety, fear even. They wondered how far they should flee so that they wouldn't be killed by the henchmen of their wicked cousin, Duryodhana. It was new to me because I had never imagined that the Pandavas could go through such "human" emotions; they always seemed superhuman to me.

I was also struck by the respect accorded to the preceptor, learning and knowledge. Today, we don't see many instances of that. Teachers are given scant respect and it breaks my heart. One who embodies knowledge, shares it freely without compunction, expects nothing in return (yes, I have been fortunate to meet many such luminaries) deserves to be worshipped, really. Learning is an illuminating process. It sharpens and softens the intellect; it brings the Universe within alive, sets it ablaze. To me, the one who facilitates such a life-transforming process is a precious blessing, worthy of respect and gratitude. 

I also realized the importance of discipline. Many youngsters fall in and out of love during their years at school/college. It is but natural to experience such emotions at that age. But wisdom lies in realizing that there is a time and place for every thing, and there is great value in waiting. In fact, wisdom and intuition will also tell you when the right time and place arrive. Many a student has forsaken his/her studies in pursuit of the heart. It is such a foolish endeavor! Lack of discipline and focus drives people to distraction. The Mahabharata is a beautiful lesson about discipline, focus and devotion to one's goal.

I was touched by how the elders on the Kaurava side – Bheeshma, Drona, Kripa – fought bravely, knowing fully well that they'd be slain at the hands of their beloved students. Bheeshma knew himself to be invincible, yet he shared to the Pandavas how he could be felled. Without that benevolent knowledge, there was no way the mighty warrior could be defeated. Everyone who fought in the war was staring Death in the face. Yet each one fought without fear or compulsion. It was their dharma, their rightful duty.

It also struck me that there was no middle path. There was no question of sparing anyone's life; either you slay them or you get slain. The Pandavas knew that they had to slay all their family members, else they wouldn't be victorious. Imagine the pain and suffering experienced while killing one's own cousins and family members, yet fully committing to the act and responsibility! It blows my mind, every time I think about it.

As a reader, I knew that war was inevitable. And I thought that the characters also saw it that way. So, I was surprised to see how hard everyone (except Duryodhana) tried to avert the war. But it was so not to be. Yet everyone put in their best efforts because they could see the large scale destruction and death that the war would bring.

Ultimately, I realized that the Mahabharata was a conflict between love and duty. What will you choose, my dear one?

"Do what you have to do." It seems to me that that is the essence of the Mahabharata.

On a second note, here is an excellent introduction to the Mahabharata. Totally enjoyed reading this one.