Friday, May 15, 2015

Being happy... making others happy.

i was reading this article here and was struck by this passage:
India Knowledge@Wharton: Do you have any reason to hope that the way Indians are will some day become the way Indians were?
Raghunathan: I am not a spiritual person. But in doing research for this book, for the first time I read the Bhagavad-Gita [...]. I realized that the Gita has a lot of things which help resolve the prisoner's dilemma readily. For example, if you do your dharma [duty] towards humanity, the level of cooperation could be much higher. That is what having a good character is all about.

This gives me hope for the future. As India's economy improves and education spreads, I hope defection will be replaced by cooperation. My question about why Indians are the way they are is a rhetorical one -- it is an expression of my frustration. But my attitude towards India is like that of a parent towards a beloved child who needs correction. You don't love that child any less; it is because of your love that you want to bring about change. I hope these ideas will encourage some introspection about how to make things better.
At the end of the Mahabharata (svargArohaNika parva, 5.49), Sri Vedavyasa expresses exactly this sentiment (hat-tip: prekshaa). 

ऊर्ध्वबाहुर्विरौम्य़ेष न कश्चित् शृणोति माम् ।
धर्मादर्थश्चकामश्च स किमर्थन्न सेव्यते ।।

Liberal translation: Here i cry out, with uplifted arms, that from dharma flows artha (material wealth) and kAma (desires, their fulfillment). But none listens. Why don't people pursue dharma?

So dharma (duty/righteousness/...) not only will leave us feeling good about ourselves but also leave us materially happy.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Sri Aurobindo's experience in prison - The wisdom - Part 2

Part 1 of the wisdom here. The humorous extracts of his experiences are here, here and here.

 1. (p.74)
The ease with which the British legal system makes it possible for innocent persons to be imprisoned, sent to kalapani (transportation) or even served with the death sentence was demonstrated at every step of the case.

2. (p. 78)
But these young boys made one feel as if a different breed of large-hearted, puissant, dynamic men of a bygone era had re-emerged in India. That fearless, innocent look in their eyes, the dynamism inherent in their words, their delight and joy devoid of sentimentality, their unaffected brightness in the midst of this crisis, their cheerfulness and pleasantness, untouched by irritation, concern or grief, was completely uncharacteristic of the inertia-bound Indians of the time and seemed to herald a new age, a new race and a new stream of activities.

3. (pp. 78-79)
In the beginning, a few amongst the lot started bringing books with them. This practice was soon emulated by others. After some time this resulted in a strange spectacle: the trial would be in progress, the fate of about thirty to forty accused convicts hung in the balance, the outcome could either be death by hanging or transportation for life; yet those who could be affected, without so much as a glance at the proceedings, would remain absorbed in perusal of Bankimchandra's novels or Vivekananda's Raja Yoga or Science of Religions, or the Gita, the Puranas, or books on European Philosophy.[…] However one day Mr Birley's attention was drawn to this sight; such a practice was intolerable to him. He kept quiet for the first two days but then he could not exercise restraint and issued orders banning the access to books. It was indeed regrettable that people were reading books rather than paying attention to and appreciating Mr. Birley's remarkable dispensation of justice!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Sri Aurobindo's experience in prison - The wisdom - Part 1

This post is the final post about Sri Aurobindo's narration about his prison experience. The first three parts (here, here and here) focussed on the humurous sections in his narration - this one is focussed on the wisdom.

1. (p. 42) 

The tired prisoners would then take refuge in sleep - the only source of pleasure or respite in the prison. This was the time when the weak-hearted wept over their current misfortunes or in apprehension of future hardships in prison. The lover of God though felt the nearness of his deity and experienced joy through prayer or meditation in the silence of the night. When night fell, this massive torture-chamber, in the form of Alipore Jail, along with its inmates - three thousand of God's creatures: the unfortunate, the fallen, the victims of an imperfect society - was immersed in a vast silence.

2. pp. 47-48)

His third purpose was to teach me that my yoga would not proceed on the strength of personal effort, but an absolute faith and complete self-surrender would be the means toattain perfection in yoga; the Supreme Grace would grant whatever power, realisation or joy it deems fit in its Supreme Vision and to assimilate and utilise these for His work should be the sole aim of my yogic endeavours. As the veil of Ignorance lifted, I began to see the Managalmaya Lord's amazing and infinite goodness reflected in all World-events. There was nothing that happened in this world, from the apparently most significant to the most trivial, which did not lead to greater good. He often fulfilled multiple objectives through a single act. We often think of the world as the play of a blind force and consider waste
as part of nature's method and thus questioning God's omniscience, we find fault with the Supreme Intelligence. This accusation though has no basis. The Divine Power cannot and does not work blindly; not a single drop of His power can ever be wasted; rather the Supreme economy inherent in the manner He achieves a variety of results is beyond human comprehension.

3. (p.49)
I called upon God with intensity, praying fervently for Him to preserve my sanity. That very moment, a great peace descended upon my mind and heart, a cooling sensation spread over my entire body and the restless mind became relaxed and happy - I had never experienced such a joyful state in this life. Just as a child lies on the lap of his mother, secure and fearless; so I lay on the lap of the World-Mother. From that very day, all my suffering in prison ceased. After this I experienced various conditions: restlessness in detention, mental unease caused by lack of activity and solitary confinement, physical suffering or illness and stages of despair in the process of yoga; but the power that God had poured into my inner being in that one moment was such that the arrival and departure of sorrow did not
leave the slightest trace in the mind. The intelligence was able to draw strength and joy from the sorrow itself and annul the suffering of the mind. The hardships became as if drops of water on a lily. By the time I received the books, my need for them had lessened considerably. I could have managed even without them.[..] It was to bring about this state that God had created the requisite conditions. He did not actually make me lose my sanity but enacted, in my mind, the gradual process leading up to insanity, during solitary confinement, keeping my intelligence as an unmoved witness of the entire drama. This experience increased my strength, created empathy for all victims of human cruelty and made me realise the extraordinary power and efficacy of sincere prayers.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Sri Aurobindo's experience in prison - The wit - Part 3

 Part 1 here and Part 2 here

1) About the magistrate, Mr. Birley (p.63):

An ample body should be accompanied with a matching intelligence else nature's sense of economy might be held in doubt. But Mother Nature seems to have been distracted and rather unmindful in the matter of Birley. The English poet Marlowe had described this economy as " infinite riches in a little room" but an encounter with Mr. Birley led to the contrary impression - little riches in an infinite room. In reality, one felt saddened by the precious little intelligence that was housed in a body as ample as this. The fact that a small number of such administrators were governing the fate of thirty crores of Indians, aroused a profound appreciation for the greatness of the English and their system of governance.

2) Prosecution-magistrate tactics (p.66)

But Norton would not accept such an answer. He would thunder out his favourite question: "Come, sir. What is your belief?" Mr. Birley following Mr. Norton's cue would thunder in turn: "Tomar biswas ki achay?" (What is your belief in the matter?) The poor witness would now face a horrendous dilemma. He had no "biswas" (belief), yet on one side he had to contend with the magistrate, and  on the other side, with Norton, who, like a veritable tiger, was eager to tear out his very bones and intestines in an effort to extract the priceless elusive "biswas" . The "biswas" would still not materialise, and the witness - his body soaked in sweat and his brain in a whirl - would escape from this place of torture with his life. Some who held their life dearer than their "biswas" would make good their escape by offering a made-up "biswas" at the feet of Mr. Norton, who thus propitiated, would complete his cross-examination in a suitably affectionate manner.

3) Witness examination (p.71)

    However if the witness responded in the negative, "No, I cannot recognize anyone; I have not seen them earlier or I did not notice anyone particularly" , Mr. Norton would still not relent. The witness would be sent for the identification parade as an experiment to check if the faces were able to trigger some buried memory of the past life. The witness would be lacking in such yogic powers and perhaps even lacking in belief in re-incarnation; nevertheless, he would march gravely, under the sergeant's supervision, between two long rows of accused persons, and without even looking at us, shake his head and announce: "No, I don't know anyone of them" .

4) Witness examination (p.72)

In one case, a mere glimpse of a person brushing his teeth would be adequate for his face to be etched in memory for eternity; [...]. As one had met Hari on ten occasions, there was no possibility of forgetting him; but one had met Shyam for merely half a minute and yet one could not forget him until one's dying day, without any possibility of lapse in memory - such powers of recollection in this imperfect human form, in a mortal world of ignorance and error, is a great rarity indeed. Yet such amazing, faultless, precise powers of recollection were exhibited by not just one or two policemen but the entire police force. As a consequence, our devotion and respect for the C. I.D. deepened with every passing day.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Sri Aurobindo's experience in prison - The wit - Part 2

Part 1 here

1) About food in prison (p.30)
Coarse-grained rice, seasoned variously with husk, foreign particles, insects, hair, dirt amongst other things; tasteless  dal with most parts water; vegetables in the form of leafy greens and shak (herbs) - I could have hardly imagined before this that human food could be so tasteless and devoid of nutritive value. [...] any such vegetable once introduced in the menu was persisted with endlessly. We were currently witness to the reign of shak.[...] the appearance too did not undergo the slightest variation; the same everlasting, eternal, immutable, unique form was preserved throughout.  This experience, even if for a couple of days, was adequate to convince the prisoners of the stability of this transient illusory world (Maya-jagat).
2) About lufsi (prison gruel served for breakfast) (pp. 31-32)
It was only after a few days that I first indulged in this highest form of delicacy. [...] Lufsi was a trinity i.e. it had three forms. On the first day, Lufsi was presented in its Prajna aspect - unmixed original elements, pure, holy, Shiva-like. On the second day it was presented in its Hiranyagarbha aspect - boiled along with lentils, named khichuri, a yellowish admixture. On the third day, lufsi appeared in its Virat aspect - with a touch of jaggery, greyish in form, closer to being fit for human consumption. I shunned the Prajna and the Hiranyagarbha aspects after concluding that their consumption was beyond the capacity of mere mortals; but once in a while, I swallowed miniscule portions of the Virat aspect and then lost myself in wonderment and joyful reflection of the many-splendoured virtues of British rule and the high level of humanitarianism manifest in Western culture.
3) About Mr. Norton who was the government prosecutor (pp.60-61):
It was as if the National Movement began and ended with me; as if I was at once its sole creator and saviour, endeavouring to bring down the British empire. As soon as any high-quality, inspirational piece of writing in English came into view, Mr. Norton would jump up from his seat and loudly proclaim - Aurobindo Ghose! [...]
It is a pity for him that I was not born as an Avatar, else his devotion to me and ceaseless meditation upon me would have earned him mukti(salvation), and reduced both the period of our detention and the government's expenses.
4) Mr. Norton's reactions to witnesses who do not follow his plot (p.61):
Mr. Norton's anger under such circumstances was similar to the  legitimate outburst of a poet aggrieved at an inaccurate representation of his poem or that of a stage manager when the actor's declamation, tone or postures are not in keeping with his specific directions 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sri Aurobindo's experience in prison - The wit - Part 1

Sri Aurobindo, one of India's foremost mystics of the 20th century, was arrested in 1908 by the British (who were then occupying India) in connection with a bomb-blast. Acquitted a year later, Sri Aurobindo has penned down his experience in jail in a delightful essay. There's a lot of spiritual import in the essay; it's gratifying to know that even great Gurus - who we think have been born Gurus -  have a tough time controlling their mind.

I really loved the sarcasm and wit in the essay. Am posting some extracts in three separate posts. And a final post looks at some of his spiritual insights.

1) When he was arrested (p.4)
Subsequently, Cregan asked me: "It seems you are a B.A. Yet you sleep on the floor of an unfurnished room. Are you not ashamed that despite your educational qualifications, you dwell in such conditions?" . I said, "I am a poor man, and I live like one." Cregan immediately responded in a loud voice, "So have you worked up all this mischief with the aim of becoming rich?" .  Considering the impossibility of explaining the import of patriotism, selflessness or a vow of poverty to this thick-headed Briton, I refrained from any such attempt.

2) Before being led away (p.6)
Then the police mahatmas descended to the ground floor. Cregan had his tea there. I had a cup of cocoa and toast. Cregan took this opportunity to impress his political views upon me through logical arguments - I remained unmoved and bore this mental torture without a word. Physical torture may be a longstanding police tradition, but may I ask if such inhuman mental torture too is within the ambit of its unwritten law?
3) First impressions of jail (p.18)
The impeccable standard of hospitality manifest in arrangements for our accommodation, was maintained, by the generosity of the authorities, in the matter of furnishings too. The bare courtyard was adorned with a single plate and a single bowl. Once scoured with suitable care, this representative sum of my material possessions - the plate and the bowl - would shine ever-so brightly that the silver-like lustre would simply melt one's heart; and taking the faultless, glowing radiance as symbolic of the 'heaven-like' perfection of the British Monarchy, I would savour the pure bliss of loyalty to the Crown.
4) About having to excrete in the same place and eat and sleep (p.22)
It is needless to say that such arrangements in a small cell caused great discomfort - especially during meals and at night. One is aware that attached toilets, in many parts of the world, are considered an integral part of western culture; but one tiny cell serving as bedroom, dining-room and toilet - this was simply too much of a good thing! We Indians with our primitive customs find it painful to attain such higher rungs of civilization.