Sunday, May 30, 2010

On Satyajit Ray - # 1

From ‘Imaginary Homelands’ by Salman Rushdie interspersed with videos from youtube

‘I can never forget the excitement in my mind after seeing it,’ Akira Kurosawa said about Satyajit Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali (The Song of the Little Road), and its true: this movie, made for nothing, mostly with untrained actors, by a director who was learning (and making up) the rules as he went along, is a work of such lyrical and emotional force that it becomes, for its audiences, as potent as their own, most deeply personal memories. To this day, the briefest snatch of Ravi Shankar’s music brings back a flood of feeling, and a crowd of images: the single eye of the little Apu, seen at the moment of waking, full of mischief and life; the insects dancing on the surface of the pond, prefiguring the coming monsoon rains;

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and above all the immortal scene, one of the most tragic in all cinema, in which Harihar the peasant comes home to the village from the city, bringing presents for this children, not knowing that his daughter has died in his absence. When he shows his wife, Sarbajaya, the sari he has brought for the dead girl, she begins to weep; and now he understands, and cries out, too; but (and this is the stroke of genius) their voices are replaced by the high, high music of a single tarshehnai, a sound like the scream of the soul.

The Bombay movie star Nargis (Nargis Dutt), star of the 1957 mega-weepie Mother India, was by the beginning of the 1980s a member of the Indian Parliament, from which exalted position she launched an amazing attack on Ray:

NARGIS: Why do you think films like Pather Panchali become popular abroad? …….Because people there want to see India in an abject condition. That is the image they have of our country and a film that confirms that image seems to them authentic.

INTERVIEWER: But why should a renowned director like Ray do such a thing?

NARGIS: To win awards. His films are not commercially successful. They only win awards …What I want is that if Mr Ray projects Indian poverty abroad, he should also show ‘Modern India’.

INTERVIEWER: What is ‘Modern India’?

NARGIS: Dams…….

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…….Ray has invariably preferred the intimate story to the grand epic, and is the poet par excellence of the human-scale, life-sized comedy and tragedy of ordinary men and women, journeying, as we all journey, down little, but unforgettable, roads.

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Martin Scorcese on Ray

From ‘Imaginary Homelands’ by Salman Rushdie

It may be argued that the past is a country from which we all have emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity

Midnight’s Children enters it’s subject from the point of view of a secular man. I am a member of that generation of Indians who were sold the secular ideal. One of the things I liked, and still like, about India is that it is based on a non-sectarian philosophy. I was not raised in a narrowly Muslim environment; I do not consider Hindu culture to be either alien from me or more important than the Islamic heritage. I believe this has something to do with the nature of Bombay, a metropolis in which the multiplicity of commingled faiths and cultures curiously creates a remarkably secular ambience

…… of the more pleasant freedoms of the literary migrant to be able to choose his parents. My own – selected half consciously, half not – include Gogol, Cervantes, Kafka, Melville, Machado de Assis; a polygot family tree, against which I measure myself, and to which I would be honoured to belong.

There’s a beautiful image in Saul Bellow’s latest novel, The Dean’s December. The central character, the Dean, Corde, hears a dog barking wildly somewhere. He imagines that the barking is the dog’s protest against the limit of dog experience. ‘For God’s sake,’ the dog is saying, ‘open the universe a little more!’ And because Bellow is, of course, not really talking about dogs, or not only about dogs, I have the feeling that the dog’s rage, and it’s desire, is also mine, ours, everyone’s. ‘For God’s sake, open the universe a little more!’

But India regularly confounds its critics by its resilience, its survival in spite of everything. I don’t believe in the Balkanization of India…….It’s my guess that the old functioning anarchy will, somehow or other, keep on functioning, for another forty years, and no doubt another forty after that. But don’t ask me how.

Kipling’s racial bigotry is often excused on the grounds that he merely reflected in his writing the attitudes of his age. It’s hard for members of the allegedly inferior race to accept such an excuse. Ought we to exculpate anti-Semites in Nazi Germany on the same grounds? If Kipling had maintained any sort of distance between himself and the attitudes he recorded, it would be a different matter

………it used to be said that one read in order to learn something, and nobody can teach you British India better than Rudyard Kipling

He ascribes to Miller the gift of opening up a new world ‘not by revealing what is strange, but by revealing what is familiar.’

That immensity is Gordimer’s chosen subject, and she has grown to match it. The writers she quotes and draws strength from – Brecht, Mann, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, Achebe – have taught her that the only important thing for a writer is ‘to go on writing the truth as he sees it’. Such an effort inevitably brings the artist into the arena of public affairs, and not only in totalitarian states; nor does such a fierce engagement with life necessarily involve creative compromise. Gordimer (who is good at quoting) quotes Turgenev: ‘Without freedom in the widest sense of the word – in relation to oneself… indeed, to one’s people and one’s history – a true artist is unthinkable; without that air it is impossible to breathe.’

And she adds her own, indisputable last word: ‘In that air alone, commitment and creative freedom become one.’

Journalists in general appear to be the only human beings for whom Graham Greene has little time or respect. ‘A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction,’……..

The most appealing account of the Big Bang I’ve ever read was written by Italo Calvino in his marvelous Cosmicomics. In the beginning, we’re told by Calvino’s narrator, the proto-being Qfwfq, ‘Every point of each of us coincided with every point of each of the others in a single point, which was where we all were…it wasn’t the sort of situation that encourages sociability.’ Then a certain Mrs. Ph(i)Nkₒ cried out, ‘Oh, if only I had some room, how I’d like to make some noodles for you boys!’ And at once – bam! – there it was: spacetime, the cosmos. Room.

To burn a book is not to destroy it. One minute of darkness will not make us blind.

.......And then there is the matter of disappointment. Any good advertising man will tell you that a product or service must never be oversold, because to claim too much for it increases the likelihood of consumer disappointment, of what they call a ‘cognitive dissonance’ between what you say and how the product performs. Consumer disappointment greatly reduces the likelihood of brand loyalty. In this respect religions have the great advantage of not having their most important promise tested until after the consumer is dead; whereas the promises of politicians, of political parties and movements and theorists, go wrong while we, in growing disillusion watch. Even those ideas which have been, for a time, the most uplifting and galvanizing, end by inducing cognitive dissonances and damaging brand loyalty. It is a disillusioned age. So it is not surprising that some of us turn back towards belief-systems which at least have never made the mistake of promising us an earthly paradise.

………….the language of politics has become more materialistic. Both on the right and the left, politicians have learned to speak in the newspeak of economics. If an airport is to be built in the midst of sleepy villages, the distress of the locals is calculated, astoundingly, in cash terms, and then balanced against other figures. The increasing mechanization of society has created a mechanical politics; one which no longer asks ‘why’ or ‘whither’ questions, but only ‘how’. As a result, the world of politics no longer encompasses much of what real human beings actually care about. It does not ask what kind of world we wish to live in; it does not analyse the consequences of the choices that are made for us; nor, but perhaps it never did, does it address itself to the grievances and achings of the soul……..

Human beings understand themselves and shape their futures by arguing and challenging and questioning and saying the unsayable; not by bowing the knee, whether to gods or to men.

How is freedom gained? It is taken: never given. To be free, you must first assume your right to freedom. In writing The Satanic Verses, I wrote from the assumption that I was, and am, a free man.

What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist. Without the freedom to challenge, even to satirize all orthodoxies, including religious orthodoxies, it ceases to exist. Language and the imagination cannot be imprisoned, or art will die, and with it, a little of what makes us human.

A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.

And I would like to say this: life without God seems to believers to be an idiocy, pointless, beneath contempt. It does not seem so to non-believers. To accept that the world, here, is all there is; to go through it, towards and into death, without the consolations of religion seems, well, at least as courageous and rigorous to us as the espousal of faith seems to you. Secularism and its work deserve your respect, not your contempt.

A great wave of freedom has been washing over the world. Those who resist – in China, in Romania – find themselves bathed in blood. I should like to ask Muslims – that great mass of ordinary, decent, fair-minded Muslims to whom I have imagined myself to be speaking for most of this piece – to choose to ride the wave; to renounce blood; not to let Muslim leaders make Muslims seem less tolerant than they are. The Satanic Verses is a serious work, written from a non-believer’s point of view. Let believers accept that, and let it be.

In the meantime, I am asked, how do I feel? I feel grateful to the British government for defending me. I hope that such a defence would be made available to any citizen so threatened, but that doesn’t lessen my gratitude. I needed it, and it was provided. (I’m still no Tory, but that’s democracy)

……………Do I feel regret? Of course I do: regret that such offence has been taken against my work when it was not intended……….

Love can lead to devotion, but the devotion of the lover is unlike that of the True Believer in that it is not militant. I may be surprised – even shocked – to find that you do not feel as I do about a given book or work of art or even person; I may very well attempt to change your mind; but I will finally accept that your tastes, your loves, are your business and not mine. The True Believer knows no such restraints. The True Believer knows that he is simply right, and you are wrong. He will seek to convert you, even by force, and if he cannot he will, at the very least, despise you for your unbelief.

………….White cricket balls for night cricket? Female priests? A Japanese takeover of Rolls-Royce cars? Is nothing sacred?

Until recently, however, it was a question to which I thought I knew the answer. The answer was No.

No, nothing is sacred in and of itself, I would have said. Ideas, texts, even people can be made sacred – the word is from the Latin sacrare, ‘to set apart as holy’ – but even though such entities, once their sacredness is established, seek to proclaim and to preserve their own absoluteness, their inviolability, the act of making sacred is in truth an event in history. It is the product of the many and complex pressures of the time in which the act occurs. And events in history must always be subject to questioning, deconstruction, even to be declarations of their obsolescence. To respect the sacred is to be paralysed by it. The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – Uncertainty, Progress, Change – into crimes.

Sometimes I think that, one day, Muslims will be ashamed of what Muslims did in these times, will find that the ‘Rushdie affair’ as improbable as the West now finds martyr-burning. One day they may agree that – as the European Enlightenment demonstrated – freedom of thought is precisely freedom from religious control, freedom from accusations of blasphemy. Maybe they’ll agree, too, that the row over The Satanic Verses was at bottom an argument about who should have power over the grand narrative, the Story of Islam, and that that power must belong equally to everyone. That even if my novel were incompetent, its attempt to retell the Story would still be important. That if I’ve failed, others must succeed, because those who do not have the power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.
One day. Maybe. But not today.

……..I recalled my near-namesake, the twelfth-century philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroës) who argued that (to quote the great Arab historian Albert Hourani), ‘not all the words of the Qu’ran should be taken literally. When the literal meaning of Qu’ranic verses appeared to contradict the truths to which philosophers arrived by exercise of reason, those verses needed to be interpreted metaphorically.’ But Ibn Rashid was a snob. Having propounded an idea far in advance of its time he qualified it by saying that such sophistication was only suitable for the élite; literalism would do for the masses.

……….Actually Existing Islam has failed to create a free society anywhere on Earth

……..... Actually Existing Islam , which has all but deified its Prophet, a man who always fought passionately against such deification; which has supplanted a priest-free religion by a priest-ridden one; which makes literalism a weapon and redescriptions a crime, will never let the likes of me in.

Ibn Rushd’s ideas were silenced in their time. And throughout the Muslim world today, progressive ideas are in retreat.

‘Free speech is a non-starter,’ says one of my Islamic extremist opponents. No sir, it is not. Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

From ‘Sadhus. Going beyond the Dreadlocks’ by Patrick Levy. Part 2

I loved India.

The kindness, the vitality and the enthusiasm of Indians delighted me. It is a dirty, disorganized and chaotic country, over-populated with noisy and invasive people, but most of them are smiling and courteous. They expectorate with conviction, shout when talking, call out to each other from one end of roads and buildings to the other and private life overflows into public spaces, but their friendship is immediate and their sincerity spontaneous.

In the narrow lanes shared with pedestrians, careless of their nuisance, motorcycles insist on the horn largely beyond decency and necessity. Whirrs of generators, bells and amplified rituals from temples, the backfiring of autorickshaws, political propaganda blasting out of cars, the latest songs booming from CD shops’ loudspeakers, cawing crows: all this composes a continuum of cacophony, punctuated in rhythm by resounding percussions of all kinds of work; and then suddenly lit up by a muezzin who proclaims the hour of glory or the childish flat voice of a sadhu singing Ram-Sita Sita-Ram ad infinitum.

Holy Varanasi has discovered neon, plastic, posters and concrete. The visual realm is a mess. Electric cables weave a worrying net between the heavens and the earth. Nothing ever seems to be finished. Harmony and beauty, or simply order, do no seem to be worth even a shadow of concern. The general indifference makes a huge dustbin of the collective space. People drop anything they don’t want here, there and everywhere, without remorse or complex and without making even the slightest superfluous movement. India Ma is a garbage dump. But these people can see beauty where others do not even have an inkling of finding it.

The air is unimaginably filled with levitating dust and the dioxin fumes of burning plastic bags and garbage. The acidic smell of spontaneous urinals pervades the alleyways. Sensory faculties are stimulated to their painful extreme. The food is like self induced arson that no amount of water can extinguish. Meals are torture. Each mouthful is a blazing inferno in which up to thirty-six types of chillies compete with flames roaring for fiery supremacy, imposing an exploration of the nuances of fire and burning upon the taste buds followed by the digestive tracts. At concerts, instruments and voices are amplified to the Larsen limit. ‘If God gave heaven to the Indians, twenty-four hours later it would be no different from hell,’ an Indian man once told me.

Half of the people cannot read or write and illiteracy is on the increase. Ignorance is deepened by prejudices, simplistic principles learnt by heart and by persistent superstitions. And certain traditions just prolong and amplify the misfortune…

………And I raged against filth and chaos, criticized conservatism, condemned its resignations, cursed the excesses, and thought that one must have carried out extremely nasty things in a previous life and produced terrible karma to end up being reborn in the land of karma. But with my heart of a benevolent anarchist, I was delighted there.

I loved India.

If we were to calculate the average time per day different populations of the world spend smiling, Indians would rank top of the list.

Wild and domestic animals live in cities. Not to mention wandering dogs, rats, tarantulas, lizards and cockroaches, one meets the monkeys of his local neighbourhood and offers them bananas, pats the passing buffalo on the street, gives a comforting smile to the neighbour’s goat, strokes the washer-man’s donkey, receives the blessing from the temple’s elephant and greets vultures, perched outside slaughter-houses, that seem to ogle our future corpse. The crows come up close, blackbirds are not shy, eagles perch on street lamps and wild peacocks bow endlessly before each other on the highest balustrades. One feels less isolated in his species, sharing the city with other beings.

The muffled dampness of the tortuous lanes seems familiar, as did their shadows. I savoured the coal fumes, frying spices and the omnipresent smells of cow pats. The whiffs of incense that came and lightened my steps afforded an exquisite charm. Expressing respect by bowing came naturally to me. Remaining squatted was second nature. I felt close to my remotest instincts, greeting the sun and honouring Mother Earth and her creations – the rivers, trees, mountains and fire. My genes had been doing this five thousand years ago, I was sure. I felt I knew the rituals and had sung in Sanskrit many times before.

I glorified India as that civilization, which bestows the title of saint on renunciants, where contemplation is a divine attitude, non-action a goal and idleness a vision. She recognizes rapture in humility and the superiority of equanimity over the passions. Although eager for consumption, she glorifies simplicity. Despite her addiction to cell phones and social ambitions, she finds legitimacy in those who let go of everything.
I admired her culture, praised her philosophical works, and acclaimed her barefooted vagrant philosophers. I loved her huge temples. I was moved by the unostentatious fervor of her crowds.

And I also considered her broad-minded in spite of and because of her castes. For one can live there within the margins of common rules and more or less as one wishes, because she has created a space of emancipation in the very heart of her social rigidity, an outside that is not pariah, dalit or outcaste, but which is beyond the supposed scale of purity, which includes lunatics, lazy bums, wandering philosophers, ascetics and all the peaceful and wise men who voluntarily give her up, and that she honours and incenses.
And I would conclude that if one has to be insane to live there voluntarily, one cannot be less mad living anywhere else if one has the chance of settling there.

When there is nothing to seek,
And nothing to desire, nothing,
Where neither thought nor speech can happen,
Brahman, the homogenous, shines.

“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little,” a saying of Epicurus.

Do you believe you purify yourself in holy water?
And washing wood before lighting it?
If one found salvation by plunging in water,
The frogs are saved taking plunges all day long!

There is neither day, nor night, neither Koran nor Veda,
Where the Formless dwells!
Do not let yourself be disturbed by the madness of the world,
Says Kabir, and worship nothing but him.

Prescriptions and prohibitions are transcended,
Purity and impurity no longer exist,
Mind freed from differentiation,
What is prohibited is permissible to him,
He is beyond rules.
All is accomplished.

When one perceives the universe as One with nature and
Consciousness, One should not praise or blame the personality
and the acts of others

[Uddhava Gita XXIII, 1]

……….The Rubaiyat of Sarmad, a Sufi saint of the XVIIth century who lived naked in the king’s court and ended up decapitated because he refused to recite the entire kalma. He was content simply saying La Ilaha – no God. “I cannot say that there is no other God than God without lying,” he explained during his trial, “because I do not know God.” One should not mess around with these things, even out of modesty. Condemned to death, he declared on the scaffold: “A noise occurred, and from the sleep of non-existence we opened our eyes and on seeing that the tumultuous night remained motionless, we fell back to sleep.” A scrupulous, foolhardy, delicate man. As a Hindu he would have been venerated.

……..Suddenly, a kind of liberation in the feeling to belong to whatever was around, to belong to the object of my vision, as Merleau-Ponty said.

Renounce the world anyway.
Renounce renunciation as well.
The poison of eternity is renunciation and attachment.
What nothing affects is our immutable nature.

Consider everything on the razor’s edge of uncertainty. It brings you back to what is really happening to consciousness in this very moment. And finally that’s what wisdom is. If you realize this, you are wise.

In the beginning was the logos, the word, but before the beginning, was silence. The monotheists seek the creator of logos. Hindus seek the silence that precedes this creator. In other words you could say: they seek the one who speaks.

Epicurus said:
If God wants to prevent evil and never can, he is powerless;
If he can and does not want to, he is perverse;
If he neither can nor wants to, he is powerless and perverse;
If he wants to and can, why doesn’t he do it?

‘Whole days doing nothing… Satisfaction, confidence and nonclalance are the three qualities of a sadhu. Agreeing with whatever turns up is the key to well-being; learning to keep quiet is the secret of bliss. Vairagya, the Sanskrit word for renunciation, means “absence of passion”. Its not the contrary of happiness; it is the opposite of desiring, acquiring and keeping. Nowhere close to the idea of refusing something. We just don’t seek anything. We don’t choose. Possessing, which is both oppressive and delicious, no longer exists. And that’s also delightful.’

‘But if one approaches renunciation with a fundamentalist attitude, it would then still be an attachment to something: principles, regulations and obligations. I say to those who are too strict: “If you still follow rules, you are not liberated, Babaji.” But some have also renounced so much that they also renounced renunciation… The illusion is everywhere. To rise above it requires a kind of derision towards everything, including the principles which are supposed to result in denouncing it…’

He prescribed him to repeat the Om mantra. ‘Mental modifications will gradually be fewer, then will stop,’ his guru promised him.

‘What power do you get repeating a mantra?’
‘The power to think of nothing else. Om is the closest sound to Brahman’

‘How do you recognize a realized man?’

'He lives in multiplicity like the others and yet he remains in Oneness where the stream of events acts without him having to act,’ Ananda Baba answered him.

‘Mind has split the world into two parts: me and everything else. This separation between me and what I perceive is also seen to be illusory, false. There is no outside. I and you do not exist. There is only a he who is talking to himself, as if in a dream. That which makes it possible to observe the transient nature of things has to be relatively stable, non-determined. That is the state of consciousness we’re talking about.’

‘The Kena Upanishad says:

That which cannot be thought by the mind, but by which, the mind is able to think,
That which is not seen by the eye, but by which the eye is able to see,
That which cannot be heard by the ear, but by which the ear is able to hear;
Know that alone to be Brahman, not this which people worship here.’

……… ‘And is there God in all this?’

‘Babaji is not interested in God. Not with me in any case. But he is open-minded and ready to swear that all the Gods exist and are happy, because he thinks that, in these matters, no point of view is closer to truth than another.’

‘Can you become invisible, Sadhuji?’ asked Connor.

‘Of course,’ he replied.

And he got up and walked away

Done, nothing can be. When one understands this deeply,
one is in peace to do whatever presents itself to be done

[Astavakra Samhita 13 3]

‘Haste robs things of their taste. Enjoy!’

‘Four kinds of human beings are naked, that is to say true,’ Ananda Baba later explained, ‘a newborn, who has not yet acquired a mind; the dying man who concentrates on what is happening to him; the man who found the child in himself, and finally, renunciants and sadhus because they ignore desires.’

‘We owe modesty to the simplicity of Oneness.’

‘What is Samadhi actually?’ asked Connor.

‘The eternal transcendence of subject and object. Indifference. The realm of bliss.’

The Self (the Atman) is in God’s image. The five senses take one into maya. Senses draw their strength from food. If one wants to control his senses, he must reduce the quantity of food he takes. Then stop eating. Then the senses are under control. Then in the soul, the five elements are quiet, subdued and remain unconscious. If the senses are unconscious, food is not necessary. The individual soul merges in Oneness. He who knows himself and controls his wandering thoughts does not need a guru. The Self becomes his guru. If the Self is pure, the Self reveals everything.

When it is quiet, the mind returns to its cause.

Brahman: The oldest; the ultimate Self, the supreme being, One, indefinable, unlimited, unchanging, without qualities, the Whole, the universal, the One in diversity. Brahman is the central topic of the philosophy of non-dualism: the impersonal absolute, unchanging, non-born, eternal; also synonymous with impersonal consciousness (not bound by identity or identifications). Should not be confused with Brahmin (caste), and Brahma, the creator of humanity………..Jiva, designates the impersonal consciousness taken in the illusion of being a separate being, distinct from the universal.

Friday, May 14, 2010

From ‘Sadhus. Going beyond the Dreadlocks’ by Patrick Levy - Part 1

“My King, I am tall and fat and rather ugly and I am a brahmin, but tell me, who am I really? And you, who are you? What can you be called? Are you your body? Are you your birth? And why are you a king? Where does this palanquin come from, do you know? Which kind of wood is it made of? Was the tree already a palanquin in the forest? And was the cotton flower already this robe you are wearing? The air is everywhere, and yet when one blows a little of it in a flute, as it passes through the holes, it produces a ‘la’, a ‘so’ or a ‘re’ and finally a melody. In just the same way, there is neither a ‘me’ nor a ‘you’, but only one existence in the endless flow of life.”

Having heard this, the king felt the power of truth in his heart, beating faster and harder, and was instantaneously freed from birth and the belief in an existence.

The instant of a flash of lightning is all it takes to awaken the truth. Then, all we have to do is go there, where there is neither identity nor the possibility of losing it, neither existing nor the memory of existence, neither birth nor the fatality of death, as if one is endlessly awakening from having passed out and incessantly asking oneself: where am I?

‘The king, who believes he lacks something, suffers the pangs of poverty just like a beggar. In the same way, the man who believes he is his body, is dominated by birth, sickness and death. But if he frees himself from the belief, he finds joy. Under the influence of maya, that which is perfect thinks it is not.’

In Hindu philosophy, maya, often translated as illusion or ignorance, is the name of the projection power of the mind, which transforms that which is perceived into the belief that that which is perceived is real. Thus a fundamental and parallel mistake is created: the belief that we exist as a separate entity.

……….a stanza of Kabir: ‘Ride the mount of silence to find your guru.

Hindus love to love. Adoration is the attitude by which the ego takes pleasure in diminishing. When admiring with the heart, one receives as much love as is offered. Adoration contains nirvana.

‘You are bound to act,’ says Krishna addressing Man in the Bhagavad Gita. But the sadhu replies, ‘No, I am not anymore. I will not do anything.’ If the essence of Man is action, then not to act is to be freed from the human condition. Akarma is tapas, our discipline.

Thus, it is not aimed as compassion and altruism – to work for the benefit of others in the name of God or that of a higher principle. We follow the way of samnyasa, ‘Renunciation does not mean “I” refuse objects,’ taught Ananda Baba, ‘because this I does not exist. Vairagya is a metaphysical rejection signifying the dissolution of me and my and of maya, the world.’

The use of cannabis is a tapas, an ascetic discipline and a gateway to the sacred. The chillum-baba finds in it a connection with God, a more intense surge of devotion, a vision of the world less numbed by conditioning and his own habits, or an access to the fourth state of consciousness, which is that of the witness. It is a means to an end. Would it be more authentic to attain this through abstaining? Babas do not attempt to make judgements or hold an opinion concerning the purity of their practice. They have given up judging and classifying althogether. For them purity is being authentic. And Reality is what they live in the now of consciousness. Going beyond conventions, taking short cuts and casual intrepidness are the marks of this spiritual path, which is also an adventure.

Cannabis does not produce hallucinations in the way that the mind creates objects and situations within itself, as for example during dreams. On the contrary, it reveals things as they are, stripping our apprehension of reality from its usual utilitarian, materialistic or ordinary representations. This is why it is thought of as a tapas. It transforms the hypnosis of the world. Through this process, the awareness that sees this hypnosis remains alert. And in this awakening, what we consider to be real is shaken. Our habits and things we take for granted are hypnoses whilst surprise is divine.

Baudelaire spoke of it as an initiation to a new reality, which makes it possible to gain insight into the shape of things beyond their presence. It produces an effect of displacement, which unmasks the identification that we have either of ourselves, or with the constructs of a reality that allows the mundane to dominate. It stimulates astonishment: the function which awakens.

‘The universe is only one being,’ he said. ‘It is called Brahman, the Immutable One. There is nothing one can say about it, but to give at least an indication, one says that it is Sat (being-existence-reality), Cit (consciousness-knowledge) and Ananda (bliss)’

Unconcerned with his own dignity, he does not distinguish
Between what has value and has none,
Including everything in one, he enjoys bowing
before all things. [Jnaneshvari]

‘One can see the Atman in the interval between two vrittis (mental modifications), or when they are absent as in deep sleep. Also, on the cusp of the three states of consciousness (the moment between sleep and waking up; when falling asleep; and between dreaming and deep sleep). Also at the time of the sun reaching its zenith and at the passing from night to day and day to night.’

There are quicker ways or even instantaneous means of freeing oneself from all of this, through realization, a sudden and definitive grounding in knowledge, understanding, awakening – freedom, the exit from maya – the delusion of considering objects and thoughts as being true or real, and consequently this theory as well. Maintaining one’s mind in this paradox is a state of realization.

‘Non-action means not expecting anything…if you hope for something, you create the one who hopes, and you have already started making action,’ explained Ananda Baba. ‘Without expectation, without any thought of success or failure, without desire of reward, who acts? The act is accomplished. Bass!

‘The ignorance of the Self in the dream state stops naturally when we wake up. How can one awaken from the hypnosis of the waking state?..........’

I practiced the dharana meditation: concentrating attention on only one sense organ, a method Ananda Baba had taught me………..

The ascetic turned towards me and looked at me. A gaze from the heart without pretence, that was neither cheerful nor severe. A quiet gaze that had been present in the now for a long time. One that pierces personality without reading it, that gently nullifies it; showing ego that, all things considered, what it thinks it is, is nothing but a puerile idea because it is the only one that believes in it. In such darshans nothing remains; just the reflection of Being.

‘When you look at your image in a mirror, although you identify with the image, you do not take the image to be yourself. In the same way, Brahman is that in which ‘I’ is the reflection. The mind thus lightened, contemplates Brahman through what existence presents itself with, and performs like an actor in a role.’

He does not feel any desire for the world’s dissolution
nor aversion for its maintenance. He has eternity before
him and is happy to keep quiet. [Astavakra Samhita 17 7]

‘It is from the point of view of stillness that one understands motion,’ commented my guru. ‘Sit down. Observe the impulse to move in yourself, but don’t move. This impulse is related to the source of life. Stillness gives you its knowledge. Go beyond, you will discover consciousness that has consciousness for an object.’

‘Keep silence within you when you take a darshan,’ Ananda Baba reminded me. ‘Don’t think. Let it be. Offer your gaze’

As a model of the superhuman the Greeks came up with the athlete; the Americans created a flying superhero dispensing justice and the Indians chose the ascetic. If stillness was an Olympic discipline, they would win all medals, I thought.

‘Light puts an end to darkness; knowledge puts an end to ignorance. The attachment of the mind to the object is cause of bondage, freedom from attachment leads to liberation in the same way as fire dies out when there is no more fuel for it. The one whose awareness does not know restlessness and sorrow dwells in bliss. This is the teaching of the rishis.

‘First, limit your world to that which you perceive. In other words, pull yourself away from speculations and establish yourself in the here and now.’
‘And then?’
‘Then you will be able to examine this reality. How is it? What does it tell you? What is your relationship with it? What emotions, what feelings does it produce? Examine all this. Examine the reality of this.’
‘What am I supposed to find?’
‘You want answers? Babaji does not give any answers. Be the witness. It does not require any effort.’

The true bliss of this supreme idleness is reserved to those for
Whom blinking the eyes becomes exhausting – not for others.

‘Agree not to seek anything for a moment,’ recommended Ananda Baba. ‘Establish yourself in a state of disinterest. Then, direct your attention to your senses and then towards the interior, to the mind impressions caused by the senses. This is Pratyahara – gathering….’

‘Second phase: Dharana, concentrate thought on one point only, only one sense, one object, one subject or one thought. That gives you a simple experience of Oneness.’

I concentrated on sounds, the lapping of water, multiple voices overlapping and reverberating against the walls, the cries of budgies bickering in flight, and the remote cawing….to which I was attributing words. And then there were the sounds themselves and… Hearing.

‘Third stage: Dhyana. Focus your attention on a single point uninterruptedly. Only one precise object.’

I concentrated on the lapping.

‘Once that is established,’ Ananda Baba continued, ‘let go of the method, the aim. Let go of the one who thinks. Give up the object and the subject. This is unity, samadhi, the “gathering”. You are not in the centre anymore, nor anywhere else in reality. You are reality.’

We cannot separate a subject from a universe, nor the observer from the observed, observed quantum physics, nor really know the phenomenon we are trying to study because observing them alters them. The observer influences and modifies the object he perceives, and it is probable he also makes it up! Our apprehension of reality is immediately polluted by thoughts, judgements, and a whole backlog of knowledge, mental systems and classifications with the purpose of recognizing more than knowing. And reality becomes invisible, warns the Hindu philosopher.