Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thoughts … … …

The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity – William Butler Yeats

There is a significant saying that while sacred shrines and tirthas purify and sanctify all mankind, the sacred shrines and tirthas are themselves more sanctified and divinized by the Holy Men and Saints who grace them with their passing footprints or prolonged presence.
-          Sri Swami Tapovanam

Self-redemption must come ultimately from ourselves. The external props such as temples, idols, and gurus are all encouragements and aids. They must be intelligently used to help build up inner perfection.
-          Swami Chinmayananda

Gandhiji used to say, ‘True democracy is not run by twenty people sitting in Delhi ….I would like to distribute these power centres in seven lakh villages of India.’
-          From ‘Swaraj’ by Arvind Kejriwal

Shaq pe hai yakeen to, yakeen par hai shaq mujhe …kiska jhooth jhooth hai, kiska sach sach nahin … Jaan loon ki jaan doon, main rahoon ki main nahin
-          From the film ‘Haider’

He who would go to sea for pleasure, would go to hell for a pastime
-          Old French Proverb

….the two stages of sea sickness described by a wise man: “The first stage is when you think you are going to die. The next stage is when you wish you were dead.”

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.
Or what’s a heaven for?
-          - Robert Browning

From ‘An Indian Summer. A Personal Experience of India’ by James Cameron

Why do I come, I wonder; why am I here? For twenty-five years I have been asking, at this first fatigued moment in the steaming heat of the Indian dawn, this first encounter with the opaque evasive velvet official eyes – why must I return to this tormented, confused, corrupt, futile and exasperating place as though I loved it, as though I needed it, as though I had to be forever reminded of its hopelessness and the splendor of its sorrow?
Yet if I ask this question, why then, when I am not there, do I miss it so? Each time I arrive my heart so quickly sinks, yet each time I leave India I know there I something of me I have left behind …… There is no sense to it…..

I was briefly seized by the sudden unreasonable happiness that comes to me with the steamy touch of India in the early hours.

I loitered fretfully at the counter, waiting as one always does for the inspirational phrase that will convey despair without passion; they looked back at us with patient, courteous indifference, hoping we would go away. They had all the time in the world and we had not; they could afford to wait.
In this situation India will always win. There is no purpose in being right if one is powerless. To give way to anger is to surrender…..

Hindu custom requires an obligatory daily bath, and I have never been anywhere in India where it is not manifestly obeyed; in the most wretched and abominable quarters of the city dawn finds the hungry derelicts and street-sleepers lining up at the stand-pipe for the meticulous body-wash ritual. An Indian man or woman has to be lowly indeed not to wear fresh laundered cotton on the body; however exiguous and worn the dhoti or sari may be, it is rarely soiled. Yet Indians of all varieties ……..will promenade through streets of almost indescribable filth and neglect, littered with refuse and debris, gutters adrift with ordure. Picking their way through the muck with a skillfully intuitive indifference, since they do not see it.

The Hillcrest Hotel was, as the airport man had foretold, clearly was not the Taj. Hotels that accept one without reservations at six in the morning rarely are.

If Hindus invented caste, the English invented the Club…… the Raj paid its respects to the most insulting custom of the society it affected to despise, and created Anglo-Saxon Brahminism……

These non-Indians – perhaps because they were non-Indian – the English adopted as their favourite sons, and greatly did the Parsi community prosper thereby…

…..really good South Indian coffee is incomparably the best, just as the bogus coffee to be found in Delhi and the north is unchallengeably the worst.

South Indian domestic servants are grand masters at the art of fiddling about, which is to say of achieving the absolute minimum of accomplishment through the expenditure of the most conspicuous activity. I have seen a bearer swab a table all the way round a single pencil left lying there. This is clearly more difficult and time-consuming than lifting up the pencil, but it also implies greater assiduity and consideration: If the master wants the pencil exactly there, so be it, the few square inches of dust it conceals will be his responsibility, not mine.

…..the wavering khaki figure of the room-sweeper, craving the privilege of entering to flap his cloth with a dedicated lack of purpose around the floor, his attitude simultaneously absent yet anxious, his role to achieve invisibility as befitted his station in lie and yet to demonstrate enough small fuss to justify his job: a delicate duality…He was a sweeper, and his function therefore to be a sweeper, not necessarily effectively to sweep. He fulfilled the role society required of him merely by associating himself as nearly as he could with the dirt in which he dealt; his efficiency was of minor importance.

…I could never walk like an Indian. No European could imitate the extraordinary flexibility and maneuverability of the Indian hands. Indians talk with their hands as they dance with their hands. There is none of the Latin shoulder-shrugging, eyebrow-raising, broad-swinging gestures, but a continual rippling of the palms and the fingers, with each nuance moulded out of the air, as though sculpturing syntax out of space.

I love dusk in India more than anything else in the world. ….Half a mile away a herdsman was sitting on a hillside singing quietly to his cows – a long and seemingly formal song, inexpressibly soothing. I knew I should never belong to India, but at these times I came very near to it.

….Jaipur is a somewhat dull city by day, angularly laid out ….Its appearance is at first desolatingly ordinary; only when you realize that its remarkable modernity was laid out by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1728, when London was sixty per cent a slum, does it being to seem admirable. By evening it became enchanting.

Just outside Jaipur lay Amber, the ancient capital, an exquisite place in a stifling gorge. It is possibly one of the half-dozen finest ruins in the world.

….the United States is one solid mass produced society to an extent India can never be; in India one is not driving through a country but a continent, the invisible frontiers here are truly ethnic dividing-lines – here the beards will be cut otherwise, the saris tied differently, the languages incomprehensible to each other three hundred miles apart.

….Gandhi …..had to be butchered to stop him becoming the conscience of India. He would indeed have been a terrible embarrassment today.

…General Dyer took ninety Gurkha and Baluchi mercenary soldiers to that densely crowded square and coldly fired 1605 rounds into their unarmed bodies, killing 379 and wounding more than a thousand. ……In Britain the sum of £26,000 was subscribed as a testimonial to General Dyer’s devoted gallantry …..I am eternally surprised that the Indians can ever forgive us. They do so of course because, unlike the Irish, they forget.

We had come to Madras, which we both love, although it is hard to say why….Madras has not the second-hand self-importance of new Delhi not the hysterical ugliness of Bombay, it is a million miles from the despairing horrors of Calcutta. It is an agreeable, rather boring place; it is the sort of place I would be if I were a town.

…how offensive to a cultivated Indian an object like the Taj Mahal….can be…. Indeed it has style. Nevertheless it is a monument erected by an occupation force, a foreign gesture in a foreign taste …..It is the arrogant expression of conquerors who believed (as did Sir Osbert Sitwell in the 1940s) that Hindu art and architecture was repulsive, greasy and vulgar, and who set about destroying every major Hindu temple they could get their hands on. They were vandals, albeit they built the Taj Mahal…..the expression of the Islamic ubermenschen. The beauty of the Taj Mahal makes some Indians want to be sick.

….when the British took over India….they learned about India from the Nawabs and the Nabobs. The language they learned was a variant of Persian, not Sanskrit, let alone Tamil or Telugu. It was one more aspect of a theory I have long developed: the peculiar affinity of the English ruling class with Islam. It expressed itself in generations of British favour to Muslims in India at the expense of Hindus; in the Middle East in tacit preference for Arabs against Jews, and for much the same reasons: Hindus, like Hebrews, tended to be clever and even literate, and certainly argumentative, while Muslims shared many of the deep-seated characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon elite – an intuitive resentment of culture, an amicable contempt for women, a proclivity for riding about on horses, a pleasure in discipline, a covert hemophilia…… One of the Indians’ problems in this regard is of course the fact that Islamic art, being aseptic and austere, is far more generally acceptable than classic Hindu art, which is voluptuous and sensual and at its best most explicitly sexual …..Representations of the Taj Mahal travel the world on picture-postcards; accurate photographs of the carvings of Khajuraho would be seized by the Customs.

The urban awfulness of Calcutta has become a cliché of such dimensions that one flinches from even trying to say more about it, with such lasting and eloquent disgust has every aspect of this appalling place been described since Kipling called it ‘the city of dreadful night.’

The inhuman cruelty of Calcutta defiles the normal language of odium…. Its paradoxes are a platitude….. In Calcutta most people are debris, and only too clearly know that they will never be anything else. ….India is a country of beggars; nowhere but in Calcutta is there beggary of such a ubiquitous, various, ever-present and inescapable kind.

From ‘First there is a mountain. A Yoga Romance’ by Elizabeth Kadetsky

India was also smelly. Pier Paolo Pasolini titled his India memoir The Scent of India, though a more accurate rendering of the Italian might have been the stench – “that odor which, little by little, becomes an almost living physical entity,” he wrote. A generation later, Gunter Grass was most impressed by the visceral quality of the filthiness. It seemed to assault his body “like flotsam, thrown in with everything and everybody, skin rubbing skin, sweat mixing with sweat.201D

Bombay smelled exactly as bad as its reputation. There were many things floating on the air currents, things I couldn’t recognize and things I could: roasting meat, soot, fire, shit.

Yoga gives you the strength to ace God when he appears, a yoga teacher once told me.

….one of Iyengar’s phrases: When you still the flickering eyes, you still the consciousness.

From ‘Health, Healing and beyond. Yoga and the living tradition of T Krishnamacharya’ by T K V Desikachar with R H Cravens

…..Francis Bacon ….. “the mind can be enlarged, according to its capacity, to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind”

….Yoga….a word from Sanskrit ….derives from the root yuj, which has two traditional, complementary meanings. The first is “to bring two things together, to meet, to unite.” The second meaning: “to converge the mind.”

….the essence of Yoga, was formulated by the great Indian sage, Patanjali, more than two thousand years ago in this succinct definition:
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively
toward an object and sustain that direction
without any distractions

Each person will have a different starting point, but the fulfilling experience of the Yoga taught by Krishnamacharya will utilize five elements.
The first, and the usual beginning, involves asana, a Sanskrit term for the physical postures of Yoga. The second element is pranayama, consciously controlled breathing techniques. The third element is chanting, partly for its healing effect on mind and body, and partly because it brings us spiritually into contact with something ancient and sacred. Meditation is the fourth element, a means of opening our awareness both inward and outward beyond our usual mental limits. And the fifth element is ritual, so instinctive and universal a human act – and so widely misunderstood

Probably no aspect of Hindu culture has been described more often and more misleadingly than our so-called caste system….. The original division of these functions in society, by divine intention, was to be on the basis of abilities and temperament – not birth. It evolved into an extremely complex system of inherited castes, sub-castes and sub-subcastes handed down from generation to generation. To their credit, the Vedanta schools never had much use for castes…

My father once told me that his guru [at Manasarovar] knew about seven thousand asanas. Of these, my father mastered about three thousand. After more than thirty years of study with Krishnamacharya, I know approximately five hundred or so. My more serious students at the Mandiram will usually teach, perhaps, fifty or sixty postures to their more advanced students. And yet, with less than one percent, so to speak, of what the guru at Manasarovar knew, we witness thousands of individuals developing through Yoga ever greater health, mental clarity, and spiritual capacity.
Still, isn’t it haunting to think of the wisdom once possessed and taught in the Tibetan cave of Shiva’s sacred mountain?

…the path to perfect clarity and freedom… through the practice and mastery of the eight components of Yoga, which are:
1.      YAMA – our attitudes toward our environment;
2.      NIYAMA – our attitudes toward ourselves;
3.      ASANA – the practice of body exercises;
4.      PRANAYAMA – the practice of breathing exercises;
5.      PRATYAHARA – the restraint of our senses;
6.      DHARANA – the ability to direct our minds;
7.      DHYANA – the ability to develop interactions with what we seek to understand;
8.      SAMADHI – complete integration with the object to be understood

YAMA comprises:
·         Consideration toward all living things….simulate friendliness and reduce the anger, dread, and even violent feelings of those around us
·         Right communications ….with sensitivity, without telling lies, and with reflection…..
·         Non-covetousness……
·         Moderation in all our actions….
·         Nongreediness…

NIYAMA comprises:
·         Cleanliness of our bodies and our surroundings…….
·         Contentment, or the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have. The happiness that comes from acquiring possessions is invariably temporary….
·         Removal of impurities in our physical and mental systems through correct habits of sleep, exercise, nutrition, work and relaxation….

Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation…..There must always be alertness without tension and relaxation without dullness or heaviness. These qualities are achieved by recognizing and observing the reactions of the body and breath to various postures….Through asana practices we can also understand how the breath behaves. Breathing patterns are very individual……..the knowledge of breath gained through asana practice is the foundation. Upon it, we begin pranayama, defined as:
….the conscious, deliberate regulation of the breath replacing unconscious patterns of breathing …it involves the regulation of the exhalation, the inhalation, and the suspension of breath. The regulation of these three processes is achieved by modulating their length, and maintaining this modulation for a period of time, as well as directing the mind into the process. These components of breathing must be long and subtle.

There are many combinations, many techniques of pranayama. These, too, must be competently taught. What is important is that an entirely different experience of breathing appears in a state of Yoga. “Then,” Patanjali tells us, “the breath transcends the level of the consciousness.”

PRATYAHARA, the restraint of the senses, occurs when the mind is able to remain in its chosen direction. The senses disregard the different objects around them and faithfully follow the direction of the mind.

DHARANA is the ability to direct the mind toward a chosen object in spite of many other potential objects within reach.

Once this direction is fixed, the mind establishes a linkage with the object. This is DHYANAM, a state in which mental activities form an uninterrupted flow only in relation to the object. While at first our understanding still is influenced by misapprehension, imagination, and memories, a fresh, deeper understanding occurs.
Dharana and dhyanam lead the individual to SAMADHI – an involvement with the object so complete that nothing except its comprehension is evident. It is as if the individual has lost his own identity and achieved complete integration with the object of understanding ….Through sustained discipline…each individual can refine and adapt the mind for sustained direction without difficulty. In this way, the mind reaches the highest state of Yoga – it is simply transparent, devoid of any resistance to inquiry and free from past impressions of any sort.

If, at the end of a program of exercise, the student is breathing hard or the pulse is accelerated, the rhythm and sequence of movement has been too energetic.
The practice of asanas prepares the body and mind naturally for pranayama.

asanas are needed to open the nadis; pranayama is what brings prana into contact with apana, or dirt, and so removes impurities

….the ancients taught that each individual is allotted 21,600 breaths per day in a lie span intended to be one hundred years long. We can draw upon our allotted breaths like a bank account. Through anxiety, short breaths, and unnecessary exertion we may overdraw our account – and so shorten our lives.

Let me emphatically clear up one widespread misunderstanding. Nowhere in the Vedas or in the ancient teachings is it said that you must be a strict vegetarian. Westerners, in particular, seem to believe that to seriously study Yoga it is imperative to adopt a vegetarian life-style. This is not the case, and for some individuals may even be unhealthy… is not a commandment embedded in Yoga.

In his ninety-eighth year, my father ….a young doctor ….told him he would die very soon …… “Nonsense!” my father said. “I am not going to die now. It is not in my breath … and I know my breath.”
It is one of the most remarkable things I’d heard him say…..

From ‘Lost & Found in India’ by Braja Sorensen

Not all who wander are lost

I was in the land where transcendence had been living for thousands of years as everyone’s next door neighbor. Everything about my surroundings drove me towards introspection, depth, and the beginnings of peace.

…..a tradesman…… showed true resourcefulness and a unique trait often lacking in Indian village tradesmen: he started to clean up after himself. In the West, this is a given: a workman comes in, does his job, cleans up, and leaves …. But not here. It’s not part of the job description and, if you really want to get into the details, it’s sometimes got something to do with sheer brute laziness, and often something to do with caste……because his caste doesn’t clean up after people….

According to Eastern philosophies, there are seven mothers: (1) the real mother, (2) the wife of the guru or spiritual guide, (3) the wife of a sage, (4) the wife of the king, (5) the cow, (6) the nurse, and (7) the earth.

….The facilities at Bombay airport…like many public facilities around the world, they charge you a small fee. No problem.
Only they wanted to give me a ticket.
A ticket.
To go to the toilet.
Even worse, I kept it.
This is what India does to you: you end up succumbing to its ways, you accept its little rules. And it doesn’t make sense. So you find yourself hanging on to a 2-rupee toilet tickets, because you know if you don’t, you’ll just wish you had.
And that’s what I love about India: it makes you do what it wants…

…..India really does have a unique slant on death: they are definitely not in as much denial as the rest of the world. None of the things that disturb the delicate sensibilities of Westerners are hidden in India: poverty, the lack of cleanliness, disease, and death – things that, in the West, are not absent, but just hidden away with the disinfectant of denial, decontaminated and sterilized to maintain the mecca that is advanced Western civilization, where even death is kept quiet, tame, well-behaved behind the sound-proofed doors of funeral parlours and softened by the thick, lush carpets that line their halls.

Something very unusual is happening outside and down the road a little to the right, just past the barber stand. I know I’ve mentioned some strange goings-on here in the village before, but right now I’m listening to a noise that seriously sounds like an absolute riot and I have no idea what it is. And since it’s 9.30 at night I’m not about to wander around out there to find out, either.
This place has an incredible knack for sounding like war-torn Beirut for a period of time, then just as suddenly it stops and a drop-dead silence engulfs the village. Seriously. It just ends. X-Files could film an episode here.

My guru once wrote, “Ritual practice is the art of making life sacred.”

…Marx Brothers saying—“Everyone has to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”

If you want to read possibly the greatest dialogue that was recorded about decision making, it is called the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is: “Do I kill all my relatives and thus fulfil my duty (seriously!?), or do I back out and make it look like I’m a good guy seeking peace?” That’s the synopsis in a nutshell.

And now in a total departure from beggars ……we went to the Taj Bengal and spent the evening in 5-star luxury. The absolute polar opposite nature… is what makes India what it is: abject poverty and overt opulence mixing like dirty unwanted street debris and blessed wanted rain, leaving crappy muddy puddles of obscure contents that you don’t know whether to dodge or dip your toe into. It rips your heart out and drowns you in all its riches in one dose, and I love it and hate it.

….should come as no surprise that cows are as different in India than they could possibly be compared to anything else in the world. I met one named Shyam at the cowshed the other day. He is a huge boy, young at only four years, and a sweeter and funnier bull you’ll never meet. When I walked into the gated yard, Shyam came running at me. I hightailed it back out the gate, only to have the cowherd laugh and tell me that Shyam was actually a big softie. I came back through the gate a little hesitantly, but Shyam turned out to be as gentle as a puppy dog. He took a liking to me and followed me everywhere, nudging me for tickles whenever I stood still for long enough, and sometimes blocking me from walking away. When I gave him my full attention he was like putty in my hands. I kissed his cheeks and nuzzled his neck and he melted. I’ve met bulls like that before but you forget that when you see one running towards you. They’re not the kind of creature you take chances with…..
I’m glad I grew up and moved here where all the bulls are happy and friendly and eat out of your hand, lick your back when you’re not watching, and run at you because they’re just plain happy to see you.

A mother understands what a child does not say
- Jewish Proverb