Being in the world, but not of it!

This is a story that I tell usually at the end of the “Art of Living” programs that I facilitate and it lucidly illustrates the spiritual path.

One day, the king Akbar, asks his witty and clever minister, Birbal, to bring him someone who was “Here and not There”.

Not obeying the order would mean death.

Birbal thought deeply and brings a thief to the King and says “This thief lives here in this world and steals trying to grow his wealth Here. He has no concern for the other world. So he is fit to be one who qualifies for the one who is “Here and not There”.

Akbar, not to be outdone, then orders him to bring someone who is “There and not Here”.

Birbal, ponders and a while later brings an ascetic and tells Akbar: “Here is a person who is concerned only about the world beyond and has nothing to do with the world here. He qualifies for one who is “There and not Here”.

Impressed, Akbar now tells him to bring him someone who is “Neither Here nor There”. Birbal brings a beggar and tells the King that the beggar is neither Here nor There, because he is not participating in the world in any sense and has no concern for anything related to spiritual matters either.

Akbar, then asks Birbal if there is anyone in the world who is both Here and There?

Birbal, brings a simple household couple and says “The man and woman work in the world and tend to their family, but do everything in the world with God in their thoughts. Because they do the work of the world and allow their spiritual practices to carry them through both the good and the bad times, they are a man and woman who are both Here and There.”

Source: The Path of the Everyday Here by Lorna Catford.

The 84th problem.

Read a wonderful parable today in Indian Express and while I couldn’t find the link, I found the same story on [http://wisdomquarterly.blogspot.in/2011/07/83-problems-buddhist-sutraparable.html] Posting it out here.

 

THUS HAVE I NOT HEARD. Once while the Buddha was staying near the fields, a farmer came to him, paid his respects, sat to one side, and said:

“O, great teacher, I am but a simple farmer. I love farming. But sometimes there is drought, at other times flooding. I am a husband. I love being married. But sometimes my spouse is indifferent, at other times smothering. I am a father. I love being a parent. But sometimes my children are dull [incorrigible], at other times unruly. What am I to do?

The Buddha looked at the farmer with great compassion, extended both hands, and said: “Sorry, I can’t help you with those kinds of worldly problems.”

The farmer was dumbstruck for a moment. When he regained his composure, he argued: “Wait a minute. People speak in praise of you from all quarters. They come to you seeking advice for all things. And they go away enlightened. You’re famous!”

“Sorry,” the Buddha repeated, “there’s nothing I can do to help you. Every person has 83 problems. And I can’t help them with that.”

“Well, tell me,” the farmer asked calmly hoping to make the best of his visit, “what can you help me with?”

“I can help you with the 84th problem.”

“O, and what’s that?” the farmer leaned in.

“The 84th problem is the desire not to have any problems.

The farmer was overjoyed. And the Buddha taught him how to overcome suffering.

The one common binding thread

We stay more than 30kms almost on the other end of town as far as Ashram is concerned. And we make it a point to be in Satsang’s as much as possible, whenever Guruji is in town. The ride back home after the Satsang is always interesting, more so whenever we give lift to folks who want to get dropped off typically at Banashankari bus stop. In so many years, we would probably given lift to over hundreds of folks and we make it a point to indulge in small talk and invariably the talk turns towards Guruji, Art of Living and their experiences.

As people share their stories – and it is so fascinating to hear them – about their experience with the courses, changes it has brought in their life, miracles they have experience etc. One common thread that runs across the sharing is their experience of Grace manifesting in their lives.

We are so delighted and humbled to be chosen to traverse this beautiful path……my only grouse is that it takes only 20 minutes from Ashram to Banashankari bus stop and it is hell of a short time to listen to those incredible stories.

“Hari ke hazaron haath” ~ Vignettes from Banaswadi Satsang

Last evening was a memorable one – an evening with Guruji, that too in our own backyard. A day that we had waited for years. And what a evening it was!! If you missed it, you can catch it on video here. And as is the case with any event with Guruji, there are several stories – stories full of love, devotion and grace. And needless to say, there are several stories associated with this event too. More than hearing stories, experiencing them first hand is an incredible experience.  Personally for me encountering people from various walks of life rooted in devotion, faith and service and deep love for Guruji was soul stirring.

There are several such folks who crossed my path in the last few days and helped me re-look at my own commitment towards the path,  devotion and service. I want to take this opportunity to write about one such individual in this post.

Donald and I were tasked with taking the souvenir to print. As usual, things were running behind schedule. We reached the Ashram Rishimukh office on Friday evening only to find that the person tasked with this was out sick and we had almost 80 advts for the souvenir – all in various different formats from scribbled on the visiting card to scanned pamphlets to various document format ads from Word documents to PowerPoint PPT etc – that had to be converted into proper ad layout and converted to PDF or JPEG images. We started making frantic calls to all and sundry trying to find someone who could help us out on friday evening. And we didn’t want this task to slip to Saturday at any cost.  Thanks to Kiran, we eventually ended up talking to Abijith who sounded very enthusiastic and agreed to meet us at Lingarajapuram. We drove all the way back from Ashram to Lingarajapuram, worrying, working out alternatives etc. It was already 9.00PM when we met Abijith and explained the work to him. We went home, had a quick bite of dinner and went back to Abijith’s shop in NarayanPillai street in ShivajiNagar. He owns a small printing press. It was already 10 and he had already started working on putting things together. And to my astonishment he worked all through the night, with absolutely no break at all. He just got up once to drink water and once to stretch himself. There was a point at 3AM in the morning where I was ready to give up and go home, but Abijith persisted and worked all the way till 8AM in the morning. That is a 11 hour work straight through, without any tea/coffee breaks.

But more than the effort, it was his attitude, making sure that he gave his best to each and every ad layout, paying incredible attention to detail and quality and to top it he spoke knowledge all through the night, quoting Guruji and sharing his experience of how the practices and Guruji’s grace has changed his life.   

As Donald and I wound up and left his shop on saturday morning, he said – Before coming on this path, my life was useless, today I am very useful. 

I bumped into Abijith much after the Satsang was over last evening as we were winding up the stall where we had put the souvenir and I asked him, how did he like the Satsang and he replied I was in the Parking seva and did not attend.  Not a trace of disappointment on the face of not getting a chance to have a glimpse of the Master. Yet, he had a beaming smile on his face.

A perfect example of someone demonstrating how spirituality and knowledge can be embedded in daily life.

The scriptures talk of the Lord having a thousand names, but I am sure that not only he does he have a thousand names, but also thousand hands. As the saying in hindi goes – “Hari ke hazaron haath” and it came back again and again looking at the way how the event unfolded.

So, if you have some printing work to be done, I wholeheartedly recommend Abjith- reachable at abijith.g@gmail.com

A Child’s curious Entry into the Spiritual World

Imagine taking a commitment to run an underprivileged school that imparts free education to first generation students from the lower economic strata of the society! Now imagine running the school without having money to do so, not knowing where the funds would come in from and how you would pay the salaries of the school teachers and staff.  For a school that is non-funded, raising money is a huge huge struggle and more so in an environment like todays, it is almost like not knowing where your next meal would come from. Imagine calling donor after donor, going door to door to neighborhood shops and establishments, sending out emails after emails to raise funds and facing rejection 95% of the time. Now imagine doing this month after month, knowing that the responsibility of the education of the 200 students rests on you and so also the fact that you need to generate funds month after month to ensure that salaries are paid on time. Imagine the uncertainty and the stress that this would bring! Now imagine doing this with a big smile on the face, not giving up at all despite the hurdles, despite the challenges, despite the setbacks and keeping on going – that is commitment and that is success!

Meena and I have been privileged to know Asha – a very courageous and strong lady, the coordinator for SVVN school – since the day she walked into our house to do the Art of Living course a few years back.  Every time we hear her talk to us about the struggles and the miraculous ways that funds have managed to reach her to sustain the school – we know that there is something much more than pure luck at work here. It is pure Grace! Every time we hear her challenges and the setbacks and her cool and unaffected way of dealing with it – we know that here is a truly spiritual person, so totally committed to her work and so totally detached at the same time.

This Sankrantri, Asha was reminiscing about her childhood and told us a very wonderful Guru story, after much pushing and prodding she finally decided to pen it down and send it to me, so here is the story in her own words. A little bit more on the context after you finish reading the story.

Jai Gurudev

As I was celebrating the Shankranthi this year, I was reminded yet again of an incident that happened sometime in the early 80s. This incident comes back to me every year, when I go from house to house, friend to friend distributing the ‘Yellu Bella’ as is the custom among Kannadigas. This year due to the prodding, pursuing, persevering of my friends Raj & Meena, I am putting the beautiful and vivd memory/image in some nook and corner of my brain into words.

My family has lived in Jaynagar right from early 70s to mid 90s. My daadi’s sisters family, maama and naani used to live in various parts of Jaynagar, Bangalore. Added to that we had various relatons spread through the length and breadth of all the blocks of jaynagar. During those days there were hardly any vehicles, cars, scooters, mobikes etc. In short NO TRAFFIC. We children could roam around right from Lalbagh to Ragi Gudda freely without any fear.

During those days, I remember mention of a Satsang every Thursday in ‘ That House on 41st Cross ‘, That House opposite to the play ground ‘.  (The beautiful park opposite to VVK on 11th main was just an open ground then). If I remember correctly, there was a triangular shaped Nandini milk booth. But nothing else.). Even during those days, there used to be atleast 4-5 cars in front of the then residence of Amma, Pitaji, Guruji and Bhanu didi. Even I have attended a few during those days right up to mid 90s.

The year and the incident that is etched in my memory might have happened in, maybe 82 or 83, I must have been in 2nd or 3rd Std. I had gone around distributing Yellu Bella from 2nd block to 4th block. For my company I had Lakshmi, who was my friend and neighbour and her elder brother Ravi, who was supposedly our bodyguard and caretaker. We proceeded from cross to cross and finally reached 41st cross. There on an impulse we entered Guruji’s residence because even as children we were always very curious about the so called ‘family that taught yoga to foreigners’. 

At Guruji’s house, we were greeted by Bhanu Didi and Amma. We did not know who they were at that time. They asked us to sit on the mat and sing a Karnatic classical song. We both sang ‘Lambodhara Lakunikara’ which is the most favourite song of every little child who has been put into the rigours of classical musical training. We were thrilled to receive high praise and encouragement from both Didi and Amma which I am sure they were, are and Will be doing to everyone they meet. After that Pitaji and Guruji came out from one of the inner rooms and we women and girls were in the process of the exchange of Yellu Bella. The procedure includes us asking them to give us a plate in which we proudly arranged the Sugarcane piece, Banana, Sugar Doll (made by my mother and grand mother by pouring hot sugar syrup into little wodden moulds of various shapes and sizes) and the packets of Yellu Bella mixture. They accept it with the exchange of ‘Yellu Bella Thinni, Olle Maat aadi’ ( Take sweet talk sweet ).

Pitaji asked Amma to give us a little bit of Yellu Bella then and there to eat and Didi went and got a small bowl that contained the auspicious and tasty mixture. Ravi was the first to dip his hand into the bowl and took a very generous portion of the mixture, Lakshmi was the next and them it was my turn. There was very little left of the mixture and it was mainly full of sesame seeds.The belief is that  the jaggery in the mixture is distributed to multiply all happiness and good karma and the sesame seeds that denote bad karma and sorrow is distributed to halve all sadness and bad things in life. So when the bowl came to me Pitaji jokingly said ‘ Avalige beri Yellu mikkide ‘ (She has only sesame seeds left for her). To which Guruji, who had not said anything till then said ‘Parvagilla avalige kodi, avalu adannu tadko taale’ (Its alright give it to her as she can bear it ). It was his way of teaching ‘Opposite Values are Complimentary’. 

Even as a child this incident and the soothing assuring voice of Guruji captured my impressionable mind and left a lasting impact on me. When I came and recited the incident to my grand parents they just brushed it aside as the persistent questioning of a nagging, curious child. But this ncident kept coming back to me till one day in my college days in ’92 I had gone again to VVK for a satsang and saw Guruji again. He was talking to all youngsters and asking them what they wanted to do and when it was my turn I said very loftily that I wanted to become an Art of Living Teacher and go abroad to take the courses to the western world. He just nodded. 

For many more Shankrantis and much more Sesame Seeds in Life

JAI GURUDEV !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Asha

I have typed this whole memoir in great haste and from childhood memory of 25 years ago. All mistakes are mine and are to be forgiven.
— 
Asha Ashok
Coordinator
Sree Veena Vidyaniketan
+91 09343381517 (C)
(O) +91 080 42051242
(R) +91 080 25421608
A School for the Economically and Socially Challenged Children
183 children ( Age 3yrs – 13 yrs )
108 boys/75 girls, Pre Primary-7th Grade
13 full time teachers, 2 part time teachers,1 head master, 2 helpers.
http://www.svvn.6x.to

This year the strength of the school dropped from 200 odd students to just a little below 200. One of the reasons is that since the children come from economically lower strata of the society, they are probably being removed by the parents to make them go to work. One way of getting the students back to school is to give them free mid-day meals. Now, this again involves big money. Asha was in talk with different agencies (Akshay Patra from ISKON etc) to see how best to work this out. Finally it turns out that it required a few lacs per year to get this scheme going. 

While she was talking with Meena about these challenges, she suddenly remembered the incident of the sesame seeds and Guruji’s response – and then it stuck to her that probably Guruji knew all along the struggles that she would undergo in running this school and the strength she derives from her spiritual practices to keep going!!

So dear readers, here is a pitch for SVVN school, feel a bit generous and do loosen your purse strings and contribute your bit towards the school and for the future of the children and the country. You can write to Asha at “ashaasho ( at ) gmail ( dot ) com”

Learn the True Religion

From Bachchan’ blog, a beautiful story for these times:

LEARN THE TRUE RELIGION 

An old man was visiting a city for the first time in his life. He had grown up in a remote mountain village, worked hard raising his children, and was then enjoying his first visit to his children”s modern homes.

While being shown around the city, the old man heard a sound that stung his ears. He had never heard such an awful noise in his quiet mountain village. Following the grating sound back to its source, he came to a room in the back of a house where a small boy was practising on a violin.

“Screech! Screech!” came the discordant notes form the groaning violin. When he was told that it was called a “violin”, he decided he never wanted to hear such a horrible thing again.

The next day, in a different part of the city, the old man heard a beautiful sound, which seemed to caress his aged ears. He had never heard such an enchanting melody in his mountain valley. Following the delightful sound back to its source, he came to a room in the front of a house where an old lady, a maestro, was performing a sonata on a violin.

At once, the old man realised his mistake. The terrible sound that he had heard the previous day was not the fault of the violin, nor even the boy. It was just that the young man had yet to learn his instrument well.

With a wisdom reserved for the simple folk, the old man thought it was the same with religion. When we come across a religious enthusiast causing such strife with his beliefs, it is incorrect to blame the religion.

It is just that the novice has yet to learn his religion well. When we come across a saint, a maestro of her religion, it is such a sweet encounter that it inspires us for many years, whatever their beliefs.

But that was not the end of the story…..

The third day, in a different part of the city, the old man heardanother sound that surpassed in its beauty and purity even that of the maestro on her violin. What do you think that sound was?

It was a sound more beautiful than the cascade of the mountain stream in spring, than the autumn wind through the forest groves, or than the mountain birds singing after a heavy rain. It was even more beautiful than the silence in the mountain hollows on a still winter”s night. What was that sound that moved the old man”s heart more powerfully than anything before?

It was a large orchestra playing a symphony.

The reason it was, for the old man, the most beautiful sound in the world is that firstly, every member of that orchestra was a maestro of their own instrument; and secondly, they had further learned how to play together in harmony.

“May it be the same with religion,” the old man thought. “Let each one of us learn through the lessons of life the soft heart of our beliefs. Let us each be a maestro of the love within our religion. Then, having learned our religion well, let us go further and learn how to play, like members of an orchestra, with other religions in harmony together!”

 

That would be the most beautiful melody!

Vishnu in the boardroom

I happened to step into VM this sunday afternoon only to find a seminar on Leadership for Youth taking place. The place was full with a hundred odd youngsters and the speaker was a young guy clad in a dhoti and kuta talking about “Vishnu in the boardroom”. I thought the choice of topic was very unique and I stood there to hear him but then as he started speaking or rather telling stories from mythology and connecting the dots between Mahabharata to Ramayana to Puranas to Bhagvatham, an amazing thing happened, the audience sat there totally immersed and transfixed in his stories – trust me there is nothing tougher than getting a hundred odd youngsters to sit and listen to a talk on mythology. And as far as I was concerned, I was so mesmerized by the talk given by this young doctor mythologist, that I spent most of my time at VM, leaving other tasks rather incomplete.

If you ever have a chance of hearing DevDutt Pattanaik speak, don’t give it a miss.

For now to satisfy your curiosity do head over to his website and read some of his articles.