Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Thoughts … … …

Resentment is the poison you swallow hoping others would die – Carrie Asher

A single rose can be my garden …..
a single friend, my world – Leo Bascaglia

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity
-          William Butler Yeats

I have never allowed schooling to interfere with my education.
-          Mark Twain

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education
-          Bertrand Russell

You can only predict things after they’ve happened.
-          Eugene Ionesco

Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife
-          Franz Schubert

This city is built of bones,
Plastered with blood and flesh,
And filled with
Ageing, death, conceit, and hypocrisy
-          Dhammapada, 150

Knowing others is intelligence but knowing oneself is true wisdom.
-          Lao-Tzu

From ‘My Reminiscences’ by N Balarama Reddy

Bhagavan often commented on the value of listening to Vedic chants.

I saw many Western visitors come to the ashram after reading or hearing about the Maharshi. Of all these foreigners, none impressed me as much as Grant Duff. He was 70-years-old, tall, lean, graceful in his movements, and when he spoke his words were clear and soft, originating from a deep sincerity …..Bhagavan also openly spoke of his virtues. Rarely did I hear Bhagavan speak about anyone like that …..No one has written in English about Bhagavan as he has, as can be seen from his preface to Ramana Gita.

W.Y.Evans-Wentz gave Bhagavan copies of his books, and Bhagavan liked Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa best.

Bhagavan once remarked, referring to himself, ‘In this state it is as difficult to think a thought as it is for those in bondage to be without thoughts.’ ….. ‘You ask me questions and I reply and talk to you. If I do not speak or do anything, I am automatically drawn within and where I am, I do not know.

One day at about 7 P.M., when it was already dark, an indiscreet incident between a man and a woman occurred. When Bhagavan came to know of it, he said that the women devotees should be fed their evening meal by 6:30 P.M. and then sent home. In the case of moral propriety, Bhagavan intervened, but he would never judge or condemn people for their moral lapses. He understood human frailty and was available to teach us how to transcend it, not dwell upon it.

From ‘At the feet of Bhagavan’ by T K Sundaresa Iyer

….Bhagavan remarked that this is just what the look of Grace from a Jnani does. One look into a soul, and the whole tree of past tendencies and prejudices (vasana), gathered up through long cycles of past births is burned up and decays away. Then the reality of the Self is experienced. Thus He explained …..the supreme Jnana obtained with the touch of the Saint can never be won through the study of any number of Scriptures, or by any store of good deeds, or by any other spiritual practices and efforts.

From ‘My Life at Sri Ramanasramam’ by Suri Nagamma

Elders say Sreyamsi Bahu Vighnani. That means good work encounters several obstacles.

Bhagavan often said that those unable to meditate would succeed in their endeavor by circumambulating Arunachala.

…..scriptures emphasise the fact that with just a little control of mind, one can progress on the road to Self-enquiry. Bhagavan has written a song whose import is that Self-Knowledge is very easy. If the mind is not allowed to stray after the senses and directed to enquire its true nature, certainly the Heart is reached and the Self perceived. Our prime duty therefore is to still the mind and search within for the Self. This is the essence of Karma, Bhakti, Yoga and Jnana, says Bhagavan in his Upadesa Saram.

From ‘Purushottama Ramana. A pictorial presentation with anecdotes from Bhagavan Ramana's life’ by V Ganesan

Bhagavan’s upadesa was ‘Summa Iru’, “Be Still”, the purport of all the scriptures

When asked to define the goal of life, He said: “Getting rid of the non-existent misery and attainment of the Bliss which is always there.”

A questioner once wanted a clear exposition of nishkamya karma. Bhagavan did not reply but started smoothening a rough stick, took great pains to polish and beautify it. It demanded many hours of concentrated work. When it was finished and the stick looked shining and attractive, a woodcutter who happened to come there, was presented with it by Bhagavan, spontaneously….

From ‘Travels on My Elephant’ by Mark Shand

India shows what she wants to show, as if her secrets are guarded by a wall of infinite height. You try to climb the wall – you fall; you fetch a ladder – it is too short; but if you are patient a brick will loosen and then another. Once through, India embraces you …….

‘India is like an elephant,’ I was told. ‘She moves slowly.’

….he….told me that when one is buying an elephant, there are five points to look for that one doesn’t look for when buying a wife, and vice versa. Unfortunately, he could not remember what they were.

Gur is unrefined molasses, and to elephants it is like foie-gras to a gastronome. They love it.

With wonderful imagination, a trait seemingly inbred amongst artisans of Orissa.

As we entered Konarak the first rays of a glorious sunrise were illuminating the Black Pagoda, a temple of such solitary grandeur yet of such sensuality that my first impression was one of shock. I had been fortunate once, many years ago, to have visited an empty Taj Mahal on a bright moonlight night and had thought that nothing I would ever see could surpass it for its beauty. But the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, a tomb, silent in its splendor while Konarak is alive, a constant motion of stone – celestial nymphs with swelling breasts and rounded hips, the rhythms of the lovers and the ecstasy on the faces of the erotic statues. Its energy is manifest in scenes of royal hunts and military expeditions, with infantry, cavalry and elephants marching in full regalia, speaking of the dream of an ambitious and mighty monarch….Konarak is the peak of Orissan architecture about which it is said that the artisans ‘built like Titans and finished like jewelers.’

Watching an elephant take a bath is a delight in itself, but bathing with, or washing an elephant is something close to experiencing paradise. When I reached the river she was lying at full length with a contented expression on her face. Bhim and Gokul were busily scraping her with stones and the normally grey skin on her protruding backside was already turning black and shiny. Occasionally the tip of her trunk emerged like the periscope of a submarine, spraying them playfully with water before disappearing again and blowing a series of reverberating bubbles.

Bhim began to reminisce in a mumbling voice. ‘Haathi, nicer than people. Only hurt if you trick. Never eat until haathi eat. If feed well always faithful. But not not steal haathi food. Haathi always know. Haathi wait. Then haathi attack. Many mahouts bad, steal haathi food. Bad mahout, dead mahout.’

There was something reassuring about an elephant close by. It was like being guarded by a huge jovial nanny, and I fell asleep dreaming of tigers and temples.

The invasions of Orissa had begun in AD 1205 with the purpose of securing the superior breed of elephants for which Orissa is famous. …..Invaded and occupied by the Mohammedans for five hundred years, the state of Orissa was plunged into further despair by the arrival of the Marathas…. ‘During the famine of 1770…..when people were dying in their hundreds of thousands ….went completely berserk and “raged like wild beasts across the country”.’

Considering their size, it is remarkable how elephants can move so soundlessly. Tara’s footsteps, at their loudest, resembled the shuffle of an old man wearing carpet slippers.

‘Elephants are like human beings, Sahib’ he whispered. ‘They like companionship. Don’t leave her for too long. Every evening before you sleep, talk to her. Tell her stories.’

In a matter of a mile, the difference between Orissa and Bihar became visible. It was like suddenly parting the leaves on the edge of a rain forest and stepping into a scorched desert. Gone was the colour, the lushness, the laughter, the languid sensuality that manifested itself in Orissa, to be replaced by a harsh, suspicious and angry terrain. It showed in the quality of the tea, the sudden absence of fresh paan, the drabness of the lunghis, the condition of the villages and, above all, in the people. Our attitude changed accordingly. Bhim and Gokul became nervous and unsure of themselves. …At a small bank we stopped to change travelers cheques. The manager could not understand why I wanted to travel through his state. ‘When God created Bihar, Mr Shand,’ he told me, ‘He was in a very bad mood.’

As elephants can sense fear in a human being, they can also sense anger.

We climbed steadily, up the southern fringe of the Chota Nagpur plateau. Cultivation surrounded us. There were no trees. This area had never recovered from the ruthless exploitation of the timber demands during the Second World War.

When drunk, elephants are like human beings – their reactions varying according to their characters. The naturally good-natured appear even more so, the aggressive become downright dangerous. Everybody, except myself, was dispersed. Bhim explained that although Tara would not cause any trouble, it was better she was with the two people she knew best and trusted.

We stopped to talk to the cowherd, an Oraon tribal, who showed us a selection of these bells. Each was exquisite and of a different design, and each unique in its sound, enabling him to distinguish in which direction individual cows had wandered. Aditya offered to buy one. The cowherd refused saying that he would offend the soul of the tree from which he had fashioned the bell, having asked the tree’s blessing before cutting it down. The tree is always chosen and felled on a Saturday and the bell then made on Sunday. During its creation, no clothes can be worn.

Elephants are like horses; they get most of their sleep standing up and will lie down only when they are sure that all the world is at rest. Being immensely cautious animals they are at their most vulnerable when in a prone position

It is difficult to explain why elephants should display such uneasiness towards dogs and horses, considering that neither is capable of inflicting on them the slightest injury.

…I set off through Haathi bazaar ….My nostrils were instantly filled with the evocative smells of India – spices, incense, the heavy scent of the tribal woman, mixed with the more pungent odour of urine and excrement, and found myself thinking I never wanted to leave.

….I asked the driver to stop. I walked slowly towards Tara, my mind detached, floating. Holding her tail, I clipped off three long springy hairs, the only memento I would take with me. It was then that Tara gave me my last lesson: elephants do weep. When I kissed her on her eye, one hot salty tear fell, staining my cheek. I walked quickly back to the car. We moved slowly away. I forced myself to look stonily ahead. But, as we rounded the corner, I turned and caught one last glimpse of her standing quietly, looking at me. Then she was gone, swallowed up in India’s dust.

From ‘Afghan Rumour Bazaar. Secret sub-cultures, hidden worlds and the everyday life of the absurd’ by Nushin Srbabzadah

In theory, in Afghan culture kindness is encouraged because it’s a way of Islam but in reality, brutes reign supreme. The whole nation is hostage to psychopaths, leaving healthy minds with three options: to fight back, to submit but keep one’s option open or to numb one’s senses with drugs or insanity.

We arrived in Delhi at night. The distinct smell of India, a mixture of gasoline, excrement and spice, was in the air.

For some reason, Indian waiters liked to stare at customers in a manner that can only be described as disconcerting.

….underneath the surface of Afghans’ polite conformism there lurks a strong spirit of ruthless rivalry. The country is poor and economically unproductive, with trade the only financially worthwhile activity. Everybody is basically a business man or woman and resources being limited, life becomes all about the survival of the ruthless and the beautiful. An Afghan saying sums up the competitiveness: ‘No-one wants to be a fifty-cent in Afghanistan; everyone wants to be nothing less than a dollar!’

‘…..Everybody in Afghanistan wants to be nothing less than a leader.

…we Afghans were fearful of being original, different, ourselves… We were an imitation-nation ….

Ours was a judgemental society. The only people who were given true respect were those who had died for Afghanistan, even if their martyrdom was accidental, or in a suicide attack targeting the foreign troops, for example.

If a woman breaches the traditional code of conduct, she pays the price for it…The price ….was that everybody out there felt entitled to cross one’s personal boundaries by staring, cat-calling and groping.

Upon arriving in Afghanistan from Iran, the British explorer, Robert Byron…..famously said, ‘Here at last is Asia without an inferiority complex.’

Kabul’s air is famously filled with tiny shit particles floating about, courtesy of the inadequate sewage system. Everyone who can leave the city for a while leaves it …..

I recalled an Afghan saying ….’There are three types of people in Afghanistan, al-Qaida (the insurgents); al-Faida (the enriched) and al-Gayeda (the fucked).’

Poetry and war are hard to escape in Afghanistan – we are the land of poet warriors………..With education interrupted, literacy and linguistic skills had suffered. Our Iranian neighbours made little secret of their mockery of our linguistic failures as the lesser-known custodians of the Persian language. Their famous saying that Persian took birth in Tajikistan, flourished in Iran and died in Afghanistan summed up their criticism…

The memories of the defeated gods of the past, of Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, are kept alive in the names of urban landmarks and landscape spots. Tomb shrines dedicated to local saints are scattered throughout Afghanistan, offering peaceful rest on long trips. It is inside such shrines that one finds quiet spirituality – even as a woman.

It is fair to say that since Kabul fell to Muslim rulers, religion never ceased to demand blood for its survival, protection and sustenance. In Friday sermons of the kind that would make a less desensitized people shudder in horror, Afghan imams tend to wallow in talk of carnage..

The further north one travels, the more Central Asian the shrines become. Decorated with animal horns, the metal bars around the tombs have colourful cloths tied to them. The sacred sites are leftover traces of the fallen gods of Shamanism.

Afghans like to exaggerate numbers for dramatic effect…

‘Thirsty when the water jug is full’ is a popular proverb that Afghans use to describe the state of their country.

Religious intolerance, especially towards Sikhism and Hinduism, is a deeply ingrained part of Afghan national identity……

Unlike most Afghans, who tend to be unreserved and gregarious, Afghan Sikhs speak in a quiet voice. Their manner of conversation to non-Sikhs is structured to avoid confrontation and often begins with formulations of reassurance….In my school in Kabul, Sikh children were regularly mocked at for their manner of dress and names; the boys were ridiculed for their distinctive headgear and there was pressure on them to convert to Islam.

Despite daily harassment in Afghanistan and the additional complications that stem from being Afghan Sikhs abroad, the community still feels a powerful sense of belonging to Afghanistan. Its members are known to have helped Muslim Afghans make a living by setting up businesses in the UK.

Afghanistan is a curious place. Those who kill are called martyrs. Those who they kill are also called martyrs and the violence is apparently done for the sake of god….Those who kill do so for the sake of god. Those who die hope that god will punish those who kill.

It may seem hard to believe today, but historically it was Afghanistan to which Jews turned to when escaping religious persecution in Iran and central Asia. It was in the dusty, ancient cities of Herat and Kabul, to the west and the east of Afghanistan, that they found freedom to practice their faith without getting murdered in the process. A community of leather and karakul merchants, poor people and money lenders alike, the large Jewish families mostly lived in the border city of Herat, while the families patriarchs travelled back and forth on trading trips, moving between Iran, Afghanistan, India and central Asia on the ancient silk road.

….everybody is a poet in this land of love, lies and blood. Everyone writes poems, even the warlords

…Farsi, the Iranian form of Persian…………Dari, the Afghan form….

Whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor, Afghans can be exceedingly polite people….

Afghans are world masters in covering up the true causes of death, tending to fabricate stories to make dealing with bereavement easier for the victims families. In reality, what the stories do is to create confusion and avoidance of the grieving process.
The consequence of this is unresolved grief, which can lead to depression, anger and rage and in turn trigger new acts of violence against others or self-harm. The suffering often lasts for generations, with children growing up confused as they hear conflicting stories about a family member’s death without ever learning the true cause, or perhaps more importantly, finding justsice.

The bravery of Afghans is limitless, but when it comes to honour or naamoos, the lions of the Hindukush turn into the trembling rabbits of South Asia. Few have the heart to stand up for the victims and their rights. In the words of one editorial: ‘In our society, it is not the perpetrator of the act of violation who carries the shame of dishonor. It is the victim, who’s condemned to an eternally cursed life.’ ….A young boy was raped by a commander but couldn’t face going home with his honour ‘stained’. Instead he stayed with the commander, becoming his ‘mistress’. A girls family killed her as soon as they discovered that she had lost her naamoos. Fearing a similar fate, another rape victim fled to the local police station for protection from her own family.

The chaos of war was best described with the words of an Afghan jihadi figure, Sediq Chakari, when asked about his responsibility as a commander in war crimes of the 1990s. He said, ‘Look, this is Afghanistan. Someone fires a rocket; it falls on something, kills some people, Who fired it or why? No one knows.’ To add to the already existing disorder, the Taliban rarely denied involvement in attacks attributed to them because the attribution serves as free publicity, making them appear more powerful than they are.

…historical account from the 1920s, back then the women and girls of the conquered populations also belonged to the pillage package offered to militia jihadis…..The Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan in 1996t, by contrast, strayed from the path of tradition. …the Taliban militia did not make use of their unspoken right to pillage and loot. They searched the conquered populations’ homes, but only to confiscate weapons and so ensure a monopoly of violence for their state.

The Taliban….moving their capital to the much poorer city of Kandahar. Accounts of Afghans who met Taliban officials all reveal a lack of interest in material goods or symbols of social hierarchy. Meetings would be held seated on the floor in a circle, erasing all signs of hierarchy that traditionally has been part of Afghan court etiquette…..With the Taliban, rural Afghans came to power, ruling over the more sophisticated urban population. This too, was a breach of precedence….

The uncomfortable truth is that Afghanistan has never been a truly independent country and has always relied on outside resources and expertise for survival. Historically, much of the country’s limited wealth came through control of trade routes by local tribesmen who also acted as highwaymen, making travelling in Afghanistan a famously dangerous endeavor. Other sources of income included military raids into richer neighbouring territories and foreign subsidies in return for implementing superpower policies. The government in Kabul has always received foreign aid subsidies to implement modernization projects. The border tribes have always been hard to control and repeatedly undermined the central state, refusing to pay tax or supply soldiers to the army, again drawing on the unspoken right to independence.
The myth of independence also legitimized internal rebellions.

Independence, the national narrative that binds Afghans together, is simultaneously the force that helps mobilize rebellions …….

If you visit Afghanistan, make sure you have no good words for Pakistan because apart from misogyny, anti-Pakistan sentiment is just about the only attitude that almost all Afghans share. They regard the Taliban as a purely Pakistani creation and if Benazir Bhutto is famous as one of the few female Muslim leaders in the West, in Afghanistan she is chiefly known as the woman who gave birth to theTaliban.

Afghan leaders are famous for their reluctance to share power. They would rather preside over a smaller faction than abdicate power or the cause of the greater good and in doing so, become a mere deputy. As an Afghan saying has it, no one wants to be a dime; everyone wants to be a dollar.