Sunday, November 15, 2009

Formula for Happiness

All of us are in constant search of happiness or let me put it more coherently, true happiness. From the day we are born till we die this becomes, singly, the biggest motive to our existence. I am happy right now, as i write this, that i finished my run and exercise for the day. I was happy in July 1982, because i gained admission into a decent college, inspite of less than good performance. I was happy a few years back, when i acquired my new digital SLR camera, and yesterday when i purchased a brand new battery for my Mac, and three years back, when i made the switch to the Mac, and before that when i went to a movie, ate outside, ate inside, ate, or didnt eat. I was happy on different occasions when i fulfilled the desire in my heart. And that also means i was sad or unhappy, when i couldnt or gave up on a desire.

I recently was reading of Swami Chinmayananda, from a story published by Amar Chitra Katha. In it, i read a clipping of his discourse, where he elucidates:

Formula for Happiness
Happiness =
Number of desires fulfilled
Total number of desires craved

He explains further that in today's world, or to quote him, "in the western world", happiness is achieved by increasing the numerator, ie. the number of desires fulfilled. And in "the eastern world", happiness is achieved by decreasing the denominator, the number of desires. Think a bit, and like most mathematical equations, this too can be quickly understood. If you apply this formula to your life, you must enumerate these numbers, soon you will understand, that while today you might have achieved a lot of happiness, this cannot be said of you tomorrow or yesterday. And that is because these number are constantly changing.

To us human beings, the curse of desire, today symbolizes the pursuit of happiness. I began my life with a push cart while learning to walk, then i had a tricycle, a small bicycle, a motor cycle, a car, a bigger car, a better car, a more expensive car, a car more expensive and newer than my neighbour's car. I stop to take a breather now, having achieved all these, but remember, i no longer care for my tricycle, motorcycle or the first car. And my breath is soon lost, when my neighbour upstages me with a newer car. Now i have to add one more denominator and will attain happiness only when it is fulfilled. This process is endless and requires constant adjustments to my state of happiness, which now vacillates between one extreme to another, between joy and woe.

If we want to attain true happiness, the only way is to limit our desires, abate them, slowly at first, but steadily. Each desire limited or eliminated, takes you expeditiously closer to a more balanced mind, or state of happiness. This might seem in direct contrast to the current material world's definition of the pursuit of happiness. It has to be, because the material world today depends on us being dissatisfied, to grease the growth of economies. It is made to appear that today's generation is better than the previous, this century better than the last, this millennium better than before. We are in some ways, we have more information in our hands today, but this has not made us more intelligent. It should, we will then be able to understand formulas like these better, and apply it in our lives.

As for me, i am trying. Its not easy. The pressures of modern day living, it is difficult to do something like this. But it requires constant retrospection, and a lot of grit, to stand up against what would be considered normal. It at these moments, a power outside or within, helps.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Religion and India

India has been the biggest laboratory int the world for invention and creation of religion. Four major religions originated in India, the smallest of which has about 6-12 million followers worldwide. While most nations are home to religions that originated outside, few are as tolerant, and fewer still offer refuge to followers of a foreign religion and their belief and practice. Our Dharma, always allowed us to listen, follow, preach and practice new ideas. There have been a few specific cases of intolerance, retribution, coercion and killing in the name of god and religion, throughout history, including here. But largely the collective Indian physique has tolerated and accepted newer ideas and religious beliefs. Even our Hindu scriptures themselves are replete with such amalgamation of ideas and concepts. And a closer observation will show that while it began its practice earlier than most, it has benefited and even appropriated practices from other religions that came along, most importantly Buddhism and Jainism.

I have attempted to provide a simple narrative for each form of religion that now find a home in India. All i have presented is some factoids, not a theological discussion of these religions. The main focus has been on numbers, and how India and the particular religion are associated, internally and some external comparison of strength in numbers. Numerical strength here, in my argument, is an indication of acceptance and assimilation, and also a factor to counter or favor as evidence for religious persecution.

India has the largest Hindu population in the world. Hindus form almost 80+% of the country's population. Hinduism is not the religion of the State (government of India). Unfortunately the concept of Hinduism is so tied to the history of India, and it has become indistinguishable from the birth of civilization in India. And much of these early facts about Hinduism, India and its ancient history has been colored by the, now considered bogus, theory of Aryan Invasion. Hinduism, like the indigenous Aryan or Dravidian culture, clearly was born in the sub-continent, and every new site and areas being discovered adds credibility to this fact. More excavations and deciphering the Indus Script will ultimately resolve this once and for all. With around 930 million followers, Hindus would become the fourth largest country in the world, immediately after India !

Jainism is probably one of the oldest religion in the world. This is not including Hinduism, which does not have specific timeline. Jainism also follows a very parallel path, although 900 BCE is often mentioned as the time when it originated. The period beginning around 600 BCE, is when Mahavira became its most influential teacher, and helped Jainism spread throughout most of India. Jainism, like Buddhism, influenced the thinking of Hinduism during its period of prominence. Today there are about 6 million Jains around the world, vast majority of them living in India. The official count of Jains in India is about 5 million. The identity of Jains are difficult to clearly ascertain, as they can be easily counted as Hindus in India and elsewhere, because of customs, particular sects and sub-sects and other idiosyncrasies.

Buddhism is another religion that originated in India. Followers of Buddha and his teachings, instituted from about 600 BCE, and has today about 250-500 million followers worldwide. Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha in Lumbini, India, and attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, India. He lived the rest of his worldly life traveling through most parts of India. Buddhism too had a tremendous impact on the followers of Hinduism, not only because of very closely related ideologies etc, but also because of the compassionate form of the religion. However, today there are only 12 million people within India who are followers of the Buddhist religion. Buddhism was spread by Indian kings through the rest of Asia, to other parts of the globe, where they thrive in larger numbers.

Sikhism is one of youngest religion with a major following. There are about 26 million Sikhs around the world today, and over 22 million of them live in India. Founded by its first guru, fondly called Guru Nanak, in the 1500 CE, it has grown as the 5th largest religion in the world. Skihism is still relatively young compared to the timeline of other religious teachings and followers. Sikhs were mixed with the Hindus and considered another sect of Hinduism by many rulers of India and elsewhere until very recently. It has now been able to establish its true and unique identity. 

Zoroastrianism, also known as Parsi in India, has it origins from Persia (today Iran). In 651 CE, with the influence of Islam, and the fall of last non-islamic empire in Persia, Zoroastrians had to migrate out or were slowly but steadily converted to Islam. Large numbers of Zoroastrians landed in the Indian sub-continent, near todays Gujarat and bordering Pakistan. There are only about 200 thousand followers of this faith around the world. The biggest majority live in India, numbering about 70 thousand. A very tight set of rules, that officially does not include conversions, and the practice of inter-community marriages to keep the faith, has resulted in their numbers slowly but steadily declining over the many years.

India is home to more Muslims than only Indonesia, as per 2001 census. As per the most recent available statistics (pending the 2011 census) there are an estimated 165 million Muslims, but that puts India behind only Indonesia and Pakistan. That is more than the population of Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Turkey etc. And more than the combined population of Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, the middle-east arab nations. Islam arrived in India, soon after 600 CE, during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad. The second oldest mosque in the world, exists in India, was built in 629 CE in Kerala, by Cheraman Perumal. Islam spread in India, even before the advent of the Mughals and other invaders who came from the north.

There are over 26 million Christians in India today. That is more than most countries in Europe, except the top 9 (including Russia).  Christianity reached in India, probably with the arrival of St. Thomas in 52 CE. Although there is not much information of his evangelism, he is known to have seeded the faith in this country. Christianity's connection with India, runs even deeper, if more proof and facts can be uncovered around the final journey of Jesus, and his apparent life and final burial in Kashmir, India. These facts and incidence show that Christianity or the preachings of Jesus reached India, during his lifetime or immediately after.

It is important to mention the Bahá'í Faith, which also originated outside India, in present day Iran. There are only about 7 million followers of the faith, and almost a third of them, about 2.2 million live in India.

Not leave Judaism behind, India is home to about 15 thousand jews. This number may seem really inconsequential inside India, and also when compared to the world population of Jews numbering a little more than 13 million. However, the real significance is that Jews arrived in India almost 2500 years ago, around 562 BC (70 CE). There were given sanctuary by local kings and chieftains, and lived and made India home, till the birth of Israel in the 20th century CE, as a nation, when they began a reverse migration.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Krishna - The guru of all

Gita Dhyanam, Verse 6

भीष्मद्रोणतटा जयद्रथजला गान्धारनीलोत्पला
शाल्यग्राहवती कृपेणवहनी कर्णेन वेलाकुला |
अश्वत्थामविकर्णघोरमकरा दुर्योधनावर्तिनी
सोत्तीर्णा खलु पाण्दवै रणनदी कैवर्तकः केशवः ||

bhiishmadronaatataa jayadrathajalaa gaandhaaraniilotpalaa
shaalyagraahavatii kripenavahanii karNena velAkulA |
ashvatthaamavikarnaghoramakaraa duryodhanAvartinI
sottIrNA khalu pANDavai rananadii kaivartakaH keshavaH ||

Bheeshma Drona the banks; Jayadratha the water; Gandhara a blue water lily;
Salya an alligator; Kripa the current; Karna a great swell of water;
Asvatthama and Vikarna frightful crocodiles; Duryodhana the whirlpool;
was crossed by Pandavas, that battle-river, because of their boatman Keshavah

With Krishna (keshava) at the helms of their boat, the Pandavas were able to cross the river filled with crocodiles, swirling whirlpools, fast current, the frightful water, its waves and swell, not be fooled by innocent looking flowers and banks. The river the great battle of Kurukshetra.

A nice poetic verse, but packed with a lot of meaning. The Gita Dhyanam, is a collection of verses that extol the virtue of Krishna, Keshava or Madhava as he is called within. These verses set an introduction to the Gita, creating the right mindset before one ventures in to the Bhagavad Gita. I learned this first when i attended the CHYK (Chinmaya Yuva Kendra) classes on sundays. While these verses do not lend itself to a sing-song chanting or a melodious poem, they pack in them deep meanings about Krishna, setting the stage for a Guru Shishya format.

This verse in particular, showcases the role of Krishna in single-handedly winning the Kurukshetra war for the pandavas. The philosophical impact of this verse, captures essence of Bhagavad Gita. 'Do your duty' is the strongest message communicated here. To explain in the tone of the verse, if you are in the boat, you could either loose your mind and leave control of your senses, because of the various dangers ahead, but it is best to leave your trust to the boatman to take to your end destination. If one were to look at every action, by attempting to deduce its, you may never start.

The Pandava brothers at different points of their journey expressed despair for different reasons, because people were related, taking the high moral ground or avoiding killing. When all along as a Kshatriya it was their dharma to fight injustice. Krishna had to repeatedly show them the right path and coax them to act. To each of us also, we at times may need a guru to help us navigate the waters of life. They come in many roles, mother, father, teacher, brother, sister, friend, etc., and at different points in life. We also need to understand that sometimes, or rather many times, faith helps. Faith helps close the gap between the action, its plan and the reaction.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why Krishna Killed Karna?

Most all casual readers or even a few astute followers of Mahabharata are easily fooled into thinking that Karna was killed by Arjuna. Even though throughout the Mahabharata, Krishna constantly indicates that Arjuna is nothing but an instrument in his hands. My previous blog about these two protagonists, Krishna and Karna, raised a lot of discussion regarding the two sides at war, with a lot of people getting lost in choosing between the righteous Pandavas versus the self-righteous Karna.

Rarely, if not no where, during the course of Mahabharata does Krishna speak spiteful of Krana. In fact there are several instances when he has sung the praise of Karna and also admonished Arjuna a few times, when he boasted about his skills or spoke ill of Karna. Krishna even reasoned with Karna, to support the just cause of the Pandavas, and not to blindly support his friend Dhuryodhana. Sadly, but well to his credit, Karna does not yield to Krishna's advice or guidance. It is this stance that has helped Karna accrue his league of supporters, 'steadfastness'. Unfortunately, loyalty to the wrong cause, can only be sympathized, and cannot be admired as a quality of a well read person.

So, then to the question, of the blog. Why did Krishna kill Karna? Many a commentator of Mahabharata, including me, believe that Krishna's role in this epic was clearly not portrayed as a person who always followed the rules. He, more than once, broke the rules to achieve his goals. A clear characterization, showing that the end is equally, and sometimes more important than the means. To some extent, it shows the evolution of the dharma professed by the hindu thinkers and gurus, that the power of evil was increasing, and a straight forward fight between good and evil, did not guarantee success. Even god, had to adopt to some trickery to fool and defeat the people on the wrong side of the law. The whole life of Krishna as depicted in the different stories, revolve in a very political world, where the forces of evil and good were even more difficult to determine clearly. Unlike Ramayana, in times of Krishna the big war was not fought with asuras or demons, instead it was fought between members of a family.

Karna stood by loyalty, over the choice of righteousness. It was this same steadfastness of Karna, that resulted in his death. Even upon learning that his brothers were the ones that were being discriminated, he did not try to reason with his friend, Dhuryodhana. He instead, clouded his mind with all the atrocities he suffered at the hands of the Pandavas, Draupadi, his own mother and even his own guru. His reasoning was flawed, for all his loyalty and by his own dharma of karuna. It appears that he himself was in a state of turmoil, and reasoned that his loyalty and support to Dhuryodhana, surmounted any and all other considerations. His skills and prowess now needed to be neutralized, and when all reasoning by Krishna and negotiations failed, death was the only option left. At the end it was war, and someone had to lose, because it was a kill or be killed battle. So, the helplessness of the opponent was an appropriate state, given the circumstances, and was fully utilized by Krishna.

With Karna trying to retrieve his chariot wheel, stuck in the mud, armed with no weapons, Krishna commanded Arjuna to kill him now, because there may not be another oppurtunity. He dismissed all pleas for mercy by Karna, saying he lost all his oppurtunity to ask for mercy earlier, and that there was no need to discuss about virtues at this stage, since he too was just as bereft when it make to virtuousness. He also dismissed any more discussions from Arjuna, saying the choice was not his, and he was just doing his duty, and as commanded by Krishna.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What is Om?

What is Om or Aum? The chart and the explanation for Om was what i took from the discourses of Bhagavad Gita, by swami Chinmayananda. He put it very simply, that Om is like 'x' in an algebra equation. An unknown, that we seek to find. We dont know who God is, so we shall represent him with a symbol, and that symbol is Om. He used this chart to show how the body, mind and intellect interacted with Om or God.

BMI chart as used by Swami Chinmayananda.

Of course there is more to Om, than just what i picked and highlighted here. But i found this very succint and stuck in my head. Now take this thinking a bit forward, like other math equations or logical reasoning. If Om were to represent God, it then represents any God. So no matter what name we call that being, it could then be represented with this symbol Om. Or rather another way to look at it is, to say people have replaced the symbol Om with names. Names they like to hear, names they like to say, names they like to sing, names they like for what it means, or names they like because of what it represents and many other reasons.

For me such a name is Krishna. I have my own reasons to pick this name, the image, the characterisation, the teachings etc. But yet, to me, he is just a god, could be any god, or could be used to represent any other god, as all others being an avatar of him. So i have replaced Om, in my equation with Krishna. Right or wrong, it works for me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Idol worship

Idol worship is considered the bane of hinduism, and also of some other religions. The newer religions presented a more philosophical base to their thoughts, which only basically usurped the similar knowledge already available in the older religions. But the followers of these new religions seem to have ignored or overlooked the very strictures and teachings that talk about omnipresence and curse of objects and icons that are meant to symbolize the god. They, the followers, have in fact found new means to represent this faceless god with books, numbers, signs, objects, icons and even pictures.

Even scriptures in hinduism, have attempted to wean followers from their stupor, but have failed miserably in their appeal to the masses. Philosophers who have preached and touched people about these, are in turn, made into new icons of worship. It is common in hinduism, as in other forms of religion, that preachers and philosophers are consecrated and made into new demi-gods, only to give rise to new variations of the same religion.
The Hindu scriptures state that God is beyond comprehension by mind and intellect. Powerful as they are, their scope is insufficient to contain him. So the human mind is incapable of a true conception of God. The question, "Who made God?", arises only because mind cannot comprehend that which has neither beginning or end. 
- Paramahansa Yogananda.
Why is that people tend to overlook these, or are not able to fathom the depth of this philosophy? We are all children, or rather naive. Age of a person has never been representative of their wisdom or knowledge. It takes wisdom and courage to understand the difference between something that is 'beyond comprehension' and a block of stone that can be touched and bathed. Awareness of this difference, is probably easier to attain, because there are plenty who have been talking about this for a long time. But the courage to let go of the idol, that you so beheld all these years is more difficult to acquire.

And so till that moment, we, all of us, irrespective of our religion will continue to worship or look upon icons that symbolize god. Till then we are just a mere mortal, floating on log of wood, lost in the vast open sea, praying to a figment of our imagination.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hey Ram!

Two words that has rocked this country for more than half a century. At first it was supposedly the last words uttered by Mahatma Gandhi just before he died. Much later it was used by Lord Ram's so called followers, who crushed a mosque, in the hope of building a temple for him. But more sadly is the utter fallacy of the use of these words by people who are so called Hindus, who have butchered muslims, again in the name of the Lord.

Ram in the story as translated to me, by my grandmother and much later by other seers and authors, was an embodiment of an ideal man. Maryada Purush, as he is referred commonly, a title even denied to other avatars of Vishnu.
3. Why is Shri Ram called a Maryada Purushottam?
As a person, Shri Ram personifies the characteristics of an ideal person who is to be emulated. He had within him all the desirable virtues that any individual would seek to aspire. For example, he gave up his rightful claim to the throne, and agreed to go into exile (vanvas) for fourteen years, to fulfil the vow that his father had given to Kaikeyi, one of King Dashratha's wives. This is in spite of the fact that Kaikeyi's son, Bharat, begged him to return back to Ayodhya and said that he did not want to rule in place of Shri Rama. But Shri Ram considered his dharma as a son above that of his own birthright and his life's ambition. For such supreme sacrifices, and many other qualities, Shri Ram is considered a maryada purushottam.
Source: VHP's website

This is from the same group that preaches intolerance and hatred, and takes the name of the same god who was willing for 'supreme sacrifices', in the name of dharma. Ram, during his final battle with Ravana, also gave him time to repent and seek forgiveness. People may question many different things done by Ram and the mythology surrounding him, but no one can accuse him of being a sadist and or a murderer, butcher of innocent men and women. In India today, his name is used in vain to protect hindus from the influence of other religions. Hatred is spread by his so called followers, to counter and subjugate muslims and christians and other minorities.

It appears that it is hindus who really need to be saved. Saved from these organization and followers, who are destroying the very fabric of the hindu religion. Their acts, be it protection of a temple or killing of muslims and their property, has absolutely no sanction within the hindu religion. It is high time that all the so called religious heads of hinduism like the babas, ammas, gurus and sri manji's, come out in complete protest against these people and their actions. Their silence and any mute protests are not helping the cause of the hindus or the religion.

Ram is a Maryada Purush. But his followers cannot or do not even aspire or attempt to follow any of his ideals or teachings. Lord Ram's message is a message of peace. That one must remain true to one's dharma. His life teaches us the power of sacrifice. Above all, i think there is a message of love, love to all around us, be it small or big, father or step-mother, rich or poor, friend or foe.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A million reasons to pray

Yesterday, i visited Tirupati, or rather the Balaji temple at Tirumala. As it has happened in the past, this time it was not easy to attain the 'darshan' easily. Like many major pilgrimage sites around the world, Tirupati (almost synonymous the temple, located at Tirumala, up in the hills nearby) also regulates the millions visiting the temple. I searched the internet for some statistics on how many people visit this temple annually, and came up with counts ranging from 19 million to 25 million a year.

The process to gain entry using the normal route can be very difficult and time consuming. This has lead to a lot of short-cuts to gain entry and obtain the 'darshan'.  Long back, i had walked away from the temple refusing to wait the time, among the myriad of other reasons, including paying money to see the god, obtaining help to reduce the wait time in the queue, and the manner in which the temple was being maintained. There is a belief, instilled in me, mainly by my mother, that the God of Tirupati, decides when you get to see him. I didnt believe it then, but after many failed attempts, this belief seems to have taken root in my psyche and so my special meaning to the word 'darshan'. Darshan as in, when you are granted the appointment to see the god.

Again, all this comes from the same person, who also toys with the idea of atheism and holds the belief that god is everywhere, literally everywhere and everything we see, feel or touch. So then why endure all this to pray at a temple. To wait hours in a queue to have a glimpse of a decorated piece of stone, covered in gold and other finery. A long serpentine queue filled with people in penury, to see a god who lives in an opulent home that is paved with gold. The biggest paradox is that you are pushed and shoved through a distance of less than 10 feet, during which if you see the idol for more than 2 seconds, you are blessed. And to further add to the anomaly here, like most people you close your eyes as you try to pray.

Yet, the reasons according to me are plenty. To me, today, the time i spent waiting in the queue to obtain the 'darshan', is my time to pray. This wait is almost an humbling process, when you consider that you are no different from the millions others waiting patiently or as restlessly as you to obtain the same fleeting vision. Every step as take to move closer to the inner sanctum, is moment to think and shed a layer of your ego. But most importantly, in todays world, the time spent waiting without a cell phone or tv or other world distractions (electronic kind), is a blessing in itself. You are only sorrounded by people, people like you and me, with all their shortcomings, held up as a mirror to you. So you can observe what you are or can be, or what you should never be, or what you must aspire to be.