Sankuji and the Two Villages

The story of Sankuji was told by my 8 year old daughter Aanya

An old man by the name Sankuji lived in a villiage. He was a skillful artist. He used to create beautiful drawings, paintings and artwork. He was a very creative person and that made him very famous not only in his own village but also in nearby villages.

It so happened that the heads of two nearby villages developed jealousy for Sankuji. People from other villages used to go to Sankuji’s village to see his paintings and they felt that their own villages were not famous because of Sankuji. So they hatched a plan to end the popularity of Sankuji.

The heads of the two villages went to Sankuji’s house in the night with several of their strongmen and knocked on the door. Sankuji was asleep but the repeated knocking woke him up. As he opened the door, the men pounced on him and tied him up. Then they took him to a barn and locked him there and went away. They also put some soldiers to guard the barn to prevent Sankuji from escaping.

In the morning, Sankuji found that he had 4 chocolates with him in his pocket and as he took 2 chocolates out, the guards saw them and quickly snatched it away from him. Sankuji saw that the soldiers liked the chocolates so after some time, he spoke to them asking if they wanted more.

The soldiers said yes but Sankuji put the condition that if they will let me go, then he will give them the chocolates. The soldiers were greedy and really liked the chocolates so they allowed Sankuji to come out of the barn. Sankuji gave them the two remaining chocolates and went home.

The next day, he called the head of his village and the heads of the two villages and said, “If you want to be famous, then show your skills, show your art and show your creation but do not end the work of others.” After hearing this, the heads of the two villages said sorry and apologized to Sankuji and went back.

Moral of the story – Never be jealous.

Who are you: The Big Picture

This workshop was a short introduction to how energies are transformed in the cosmos to create various living beings and how food undergoes a process to generate energy. The workshop was conducted in Ahmedabad for the regular participants of the Big Picture workshop series.

Detachment (2011)

Director – Tony Kaye

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In the film, the character of Adrien Brody, Henry says

I realized something. I’m a non-person, Sarah. You shouldn’t be here, I’m not here. You may see me, but I’m hollow.

The film shows the degradation of the American education system where children have no respect for anything and teachers are at their wits end. Henry arrives at this school as a substitute school teacher and is able to bring an unruly class under control. He is a person who does not show any emotions and is completely detached to everything and everyone. At the same time, he is also shown expressing his love and concern for his ailing grandfather. He brings home a street prostitute, heals her physical and emotional wounds and yet refuses to accept her advances. One of this students becomes infatuated with him and starts to click his pictures in secret. Then there is a co-teacher with also whom Henry gets close. He In all these relationships, Henry tries to remain detached. He even arranges for the orphanage to take away the prostitute.

Henry teaches his students to cultivate their own consciousness against what his calls the ubiquitous assimilation of everything around us.

I liked this film because I could identify quite closely with the character of Henry, a person struggling between detachment and involvement with the world.

The Five Questions of a Sincere Seeker

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A sincere seeker of truth is someone who is actively seeking for the truth. A sincere seeker is someone for whom discovering the truth is a very important and central goal of his life. So a sincere seeker will search for the truth in books, in gurus, in meditation and in conversation with others. A sincere seeker is serious about his search because he knows that the truth will give him the meaning of his life. This is not to say that a sincere seeker’s life has problems and therefore he is seeking the truth. That may be the case. But what I am saying is that a sincere seeker realizes that life must have something more to offer than the routine struggle for survival and he is seeking for that something beyond the ordinary.

Many people have written about this subject and a sincere seeker would do well to read all such literature. However, reading must be done with an open mind and not with a biased mind. This is an important point because any sort of bias – religious or personal – distorts the truth.

Many gurus speak on the subject of truth and today an unlimited amount of videos and audios are available on the Internet that the sincere seeker can access. But the very fact that so much material is available makes the task even more difficult because now the seeker has to literally search for the proverbial needle in the haystack. This cannot be a practical approach since it would take many lifetimes to read, hear and watch all the material on the Internet.

The benefits of reading and hearing from others cannot be discounted in any way. However, a sincere seeker must realize that the real work is inner work. In ancient times when there was not so much reading to be done, the seekers would only approach the task through the means of direct practice. And direct practice is even now the only way to self-realization. Mere reading and listening to Gyan will not help in any way.

I am recommending the following five questions that a sincere seeker of truth must ask of himself during his search.

WHO AM I?

This is a central question that appears again and again in most spiritual advices given by teachers across time and space. And no doubt it is the most important question to answer. However, note that the answer is not going to be in words because the answer is an experience or a direct realization of who you are. Later you might put it into words to convey it to another but those words will not transfer the realization to another. This has been the chief hurdle in the relationship between teacher and student.

So how do you ask this question? Who am I? What answer do you get? Probably you will say you are your name. And that is a good place to begin to discover who you are not. You could have any name but your parents gave you that specific name and now you think you are that. Then you might say you are your body and your mind. But please realize that the body is made of what you eat and the mind is made of what you sense (see, hear, smell, feel) and remember. Both body and mind will return to dust when you die. So is that it? If death really ended everything then there is no requirement for the spiritual search and no point in asking the question who am I. But if you simply think you are the immortal soul that keeps changing clothes in every birth, then you are no closer to answering the question than saying I am my name. Saying something and experiencing something are two different things. Saying something does not change your life. Anybody can say – I am the soul. But does it change his life? No. So remember that the experience of who you really are is important because that has the ability to change your life, your viewpoint and your experience. Remember also that going in search of the soul is another futile effort because you do not know what it is. How can you search for something you know nothing about. So there are very many complications in this question and a sincere seeker must be aware of them and not fall into their trap.

So a good way to answer this question is not to answer it but keep the question in mind as you go about your daily life. Do not answer but strengthen the question. Translate the question into the activities you are doing. Who am I? Who is walking? Who is speaking? Who is reading? Who is thinking? If you do like this for a long time, the answer might dawn on you suddenly. You will know for yourself.

Who am I is a very powerful and effective question. Teachers such as Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj have taught their students using only this question as the instrument.

Who am I is the key question but it can also be approached in a gentle manner by asking four other questions – where am I, what do I really want, why do I want it and how do I get it.

WHERE AM I?

This question is a good starting point for all those sincere seekers who find the who am I question a little daunting. Where am I does not literally ask which city or which house you are in, but refers to the context in which you find yourself. Where am I is about observing the world around you, observing what people around you are doing and what they are busy in. Where am I is a question about what age and time you are living in – what is the economic, political, social and religious environment, what is the prevalent psychology of people in the world.

If you are here, it means you are a part of that environment. You have been brought up in that environment with those beliefs and thoughts. Where am I in a sense is the reflection of the question who am I in the outer world. The whole world is reflected in you and you reflect the whole world. You may not be able to understand this at the moment but by understanding the world, you can get some understanding of yourself. Know as much as possible about the world – the way people live, the way people relate, the way people fight with each other, the way people express love, and the way people try to search for truth. Learn everything you can. Knowing where you are gives you a big picture perspective on everything and also your search for the truth.

J Krishnamurti in his talks usually pointed out to the things happening in the world. He was trying to tell his audience where they were and how the world reflected their inner mental turbulence. 

WHAT DO I REALLY WANT?

The next question is what do you want. And I want to break it into two questions – what do you want and what do you REALLY want? There is a big difference between the two questions. For the first question you could answer that you want money, a good job, a good spouse, a good life in general. Most people do not go deeper into this question because in order to get what they want, they have to spend all their energy. But as a sincere seeker of truth you must ask the question what do I REALLY want. Behind all the wants and needs and desires, what is it that I want ultimately? Is it happiness? Is it peace of mind? Is it supreme bliss? Is it self-realization? Is it truth?

Whatever it is that you really want, you must be able to explore that and make sure that it is something you truly want. When this is reasonably clear in your mind, then your actions will start reflecting your choice. You will start moving away from what you want superficially to what you want deep down. Allow this process to happen.

The Buddha talked about how our desire – what we want – is the root cause of our suffering. 

WHY DO I WANT IT?

This question is to be used in conjunction with the question what do I really want. The why do I want question helps to sort out the genuine want from the superficial want. For every answer you give to the question what do I want, you must ask why do you want it. This will take you to deeper levels of your psyche. However, beware of fooling yourself. If you are not honest with the answers to why you want it, you will not be able to go deeper. The why question is like a pickaxe which helps you to dig into the what question. The why question can hurt if you have created layers and layers of pretense about who you are and where you are and what you want. Do not underestimate the why question. It is a very powerful tool and you must develop your skill in using it.

The 5 Why technique was popularized by Toyota Motor Corporation as a means of getting at the root cause of any problem.

HOW DO I GET IT?

When you get the answer to the question of what do I want and why I want it then you can decide on how you can get it. The how is a conscious effort not dependent on vague expectations from the others in your life and God or destiny. A sincere seeker must realize that if one wants something, then one must consciously work on it without any complaints and blame. He should not expect anyone else in the world to support him in his task. He is truly alone in his search. Whatever path he chooses, he must take complete responsibility for choosing it and have no regrets on choosing that. He must accept whatever is the outcome of the path he has chosen without trying to manipulate the results.

From an awakened perspective, the how really does not make sense because the journey is really from the here to the here. How does one get from here to here or from the present to the present? There really is no way because you are already here. The problem is you do not know it and the journey is from ignorance to enlightenment. And it happens in an instant after a long period of effort. Sounds a little contradictory but that’s the way it is.

So the above five questions are powerful instruments in the toolkit of a sincere seeker of truth.

May you realize your true self.

 

 

 

 

Art of Attention Workshop @ Pune

We had a nice little workshop on the Art of Attention at Art&Now, an art studio in Model Colony Pune on the 14th of April. All the participants – Priyanka, Sonal and Pooja (R to L) enjoyed the session and had great fun with the self-experiments.

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Why You Must Learn the Art of Attention

If you observe your own mind, you will notice that your attention is wandering all over the place. It is constantly jumping from one thought to another, from one thing to another. This is the normal state of affairs for most of us. Usually we are not worried by this but when we wish to concentrate our attention on a specific task or activity, we realize how difficult it is. Not only external sounds and sights distract us but our thoughts are constantly moving and shifting randomly from one thing to another, preventing us from focusing on the work. This is why the mind is called the monkey mind because like a monkey it is never still and keeps jumping from branch to branch, in a state of restless activity.

Most people would think meditation is the solution to calming this mental activity. And it is true that many people actively practice meditation with the intention of calming their mind. But much of meditation practiced from the intention of calming the mind becomes an exercise in forceful controlling of the mind, which is not only difficult but impossible. Meditation becomes an even bigger struggle than focusing on an activity.

I believe that an understanding of the way our mind works is the starting point of all meditation. Even if we keep meditation aside, it is our duty and responsibility to know how our own mind works. If we are not aware of our thoughts then we will not be aware of our actions, which are a direct result of our thoughts.

 

The Compass of Zen

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The Compass of Zen by Zen Master Seung Sahn

After Alan Watts, if I have liked someone’s explanations on Zen, it has to be Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn. The Compass of Zen is one of my favorite books because it explains the whole thought process of all the major schools of Buddhism – Hinayana, Mahayana and Zen. Seung Sahn very succinctly explains the key points of some of the major sutras of Buddhism – the Lotus Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra, the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Heart Sutra and others.

The story of Kwan Seum Bosal is really funny and unforgettable and is the quintessence of a Zen teaching

Not depending on speech and words, a special transmission outside the Sutras: pointing directly to mind, see your true nature and become Buddha.

One of the most important teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn is the Zen Circle.

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Quotes from The Compass of Zen

I brought just one teaching to America: Don’t know mind. That’s all you need to know – Don’t know


Human beings suffer from speech and thinking sickness


Your karma makes your body and your body makes your karma


Everything in this universe that we experience arises, remains for some period, decays and disappears again. But there is one thing that never appears and never disappears. Can you find it?


That view. That view – the perception itself, the perceiving – is your true nature. What kind of view are we talking about? Seeing all appearance as non-appearance is itself your true nature. Perceiving is your true nature. You can see this world. You can hear this world. You can smell this world. Just seeing, just hearing, just smelling, just tasting, just touching is your true nature. That view is your true self. We sometimes call this “just seeing” or “just perceiving”. It has no subject or object. This is a very important point.


You must attain that there is actually nothing to attain. Everything is already truth, exactly as it is. You are already complete.


So if you want to take away suffering, you must take away mind, which means cutting your attachment to thinking. When you practice hard and keep a great don’t know, you see that you already have no mind. Already having no mind, why would you possibly need sutras? Why would you need Dharma speeches and explanations? If you are not sick, why eat medicine? If you have no mind, then sutras are not necessary, everything is not necessary. But human beings constantly delude themselves. Everybody thinks they have mind, and then they hold their mind, and get suffering. So then sutras are necessary, dharma speeches are necessary, Buddha’s teachings are necessary, and everything is necessary. This is already a big mistake!

 

Who Is Responsible For This?

There is an ancient story about a king who once ordered his minister in the middle of the night to fill up the royal swimming pool with milk so that he could swim in it in the morning. The minister was in a quandary on how to fulfill the king’s desire. It would take a long time to milk the cows to get such a large quantity. One of his courtiers suggested that if each person in the city could bring one cup of milk, then it is possible to fill the swimming pool. The minister liked the idea and immediately sent out messengers to all parts of the city with the order that everyone has to bring a cup of milk right away and pour it into the royal swimming pool. 

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Now there was this one person who heard the king’s order and thought to himself, “Everyone is going to bring milk. What if I take a cup of water? One cup of water will not make any difference in the large tank full of milk. And in the night, no one will notice what I am pouring in the tank”. So that’s what he did. He joined the queue of people who had come with their cups of milk and when his turn came, quickly emptied his cup of water into the tank. The next morning, as the sun rose, the minister was terribly shocked to see that there was only water in the swimming pool and no milk.


There are many things that can be learned from this story.

It is apparent that everyone put in a cup of water in to the pool instead of a cup of milk. The reason why everyone did it is not clear because only one person’s thought is expressed. And it is not sure that everyone thought the same. It is possible that some did not have a cup of milk at home and therefore had to bring water because it was compulsory.

However, the crux of the story revolves around the thought that “No one will notice my lack of contribution because everyone is going to contribute”. And it is true that when all contribute to a task, then one person’s lack of contribution usually goes unnoticed. Take for example, in the game of Tug of War, if one person does not pull to his maximum strength or simply pretends to pull, then whether the team wins or loses, this act will go unnoticed. No one will be able to figure out who did not put his full effort into it.

Similarly in a team project, one person can become a “free rider” – someone who rides on the success brought about by others. A free rider is a person who enjoys a benefit accruing from a collective effort, but contributes little or nothing to the effort. It is sometimes difficult to identify such free riders in a large team because they pretend to contribute yet do nothing in reality.

The real problem happens when many people start becoming free riders because then it starts to affect the results, as in the case of the people who brought water instead of the milk. In the story, even if one or ten people had genuinely brought milk, that would go unnoticed in the whole pool of water. And it would seem that no one brought any milk.

Think from the perspective of the minister. When he sees the pool full of water, he would blow his top and would want to punish all those culprits who put water but that would mean punishing the whole city, which is practically impossible. Let’s assume he was a really evil minister. He would order the flogging of every individual in the city. This would mean even those who brought milk would face the punishment because they would have no way to prove their honesty.

With all this explanation, it is easy to draw parallels between the story and what we see in life around us. Just think of milk as taxes and you will be able to understand a lot. Think of people who evade taxes. Think of people who violate traffic rules. Think of why initiatives like Swacch Bharat do not become successful. If everyone contributed to making Bharat swacch, there would be no Swacch Bharat cess. Many other social evils like corruption can be understood from this angle.

Jesus spoke of being a good Samaritan 2000 years ago and yet we easily convince ourselves to let others be the good Samaritans while we go about our jobs. The story of somebody, anybody, everybody and nobody is important in this context.

Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody

Now there are two more important learnings in this story which are not so obvious. The first is that the whole activity happens anonymously. If the minister had checked each person’s cup before it was poured into the pool, he would have realized what is happening. There is a Hindi proverb – Doodh ka dooth aur pani ka pani ho jata – which is apt for this story.

Wherever there is anonymity, there is a scope for free riders.

Therefore, it is important to bring transparency in transactions. Not only in transactions but also in our own mind and thoughts. Awareness of one’s own thoughts can prevent us from doing wrong and acting in an inappropriate manner. Only when we believe no one is observing us, then we can think of doing wrong or not doing what is asked for.

The other important learning is from the perspective of the king. If the king makes unreasonable requests in the middle of the night, then he has no right to expect the results he wants. Supposing the request was genuine. For example, if the milk was needed for feeding poor children and there was visibility of that activity, many people in the city would have genuinely brought milk for them. However, I guess from this story that the king routinely announced such unreasonable orders to serve his personal luxury and therefore the people, having known this from past experience, acted in the fashion they did, thinking the king did not deserve their honesty. So as a leader, one must learn to make reasonable demands on one’s team in order to expect their full cooperation.

The most sticky situation is that of the minister (manager?). On the one hand, the king is going to be angry on him for not getting the job done and on the other hand, he cannot do anything to correct the situation.

So the question is – who is truly responsible?

 

Is Reality an Illusion?

Is reality merely an illusion? The wise keep saying that. But it is difficult to wrap our heads around this notion. After all, we see, hear, smell, taste and feel things. How can all this be an illusion?

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Imagine you are in a movie hall engrossed in an exciting movie. As the movie captivates your attention, it begins to influence your emotions and state of mind. Depending on whether the movie is a thriller or a horror movie, you experience the ups and downs of emotions along with the characters in the movie.

So the question is – Is the movie real? Yes it is. It is playing in front of you. But it is not real. The characters are not real. It is an illusion created on the screen in front of you.

I am sure you would have experienced a movie which made you cry, laugh, and once in a while make you jump out of your chair. We think the movie is good, well made, well directed and the actors were superb. However, we forget one very important thing – the fact that we invest reality into the movie. Although it is not done by explicitly thinking “I am going to consider this movie as real” but the overall effect of lights out and loud volume immerses you into the movie and makes it appear as real. Without this serious participation in the movie on our part, we will not enjoy it.

Similarly it is with other things in life. Take for example sports. We have to invest seriousness into something which is fundamentally non-serious. Scoring a goal or taking a wicket is nothing in itself without us making a serious business of it.

Therefore, the wise say that life is merely the game of God – Lila.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players… (Shakespeare)

So it takes a slight turning around of our view, although happening in an unaware state, to consider an illusory thing as real. Similarly, it takes a reversal of that turning around in our view, by doing it consciously, to come back to normal perspective on things.

As a child, I cried when Amitabh died in Sholay. My parents told me it is only a movie and that he did not die in reality. Many people are upset when their team loses a match. But it only takes a minor realization that it is only a game in order to get over the sadness.

Getting Stuck

The problem is not that we consider as serious business what is not serious but it is staying for long in that specific state. When we continuously invest seriousness into everything in life, we experience stress. Even a small one minute delay will raise our blood pressure. We become cranky, demanding and pushy if we take everything as real.

However, staying too much on the other extreme is also equally problematic. If we assume the position that nothing in life is serious, then we will not be able to act appropriately in life. We will become casual, non committal when we take everything as illusion.

Those are the two extremes. The true path is in the middle. Discard both views that life is real or illusion and take life as it is. Do not ask how!

Everything is real and is not real. Both real and not real. Neither real nor not real. This is Lord Buddha’s teaching. (Mulamadhyamakakarika – Root verses of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna)

Just notice and be aware and be conscious whenever you invest seriousness (when you act as if it was real and it mattered) or non-seriousness (when you act as it it did not matter at all) into any situation in life.

So life is not serious but let us not take it casually or life is serious but let us not take it seriously!