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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Lessons - coming at us - every single day

Balaji Vishwanthan writes: I will start with a story.

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Grandson and the golden fruit:
An old man and his grandson lived in a small hut. The grandson was a lazy bum and the old man tried various ways to get him to work. He was puny and wasted. Nothing worked. One day, the old man brought a "gold plant" and told his grandson that the plant will grow to bear "golden fruits". But, it must be watered from a well a mile away as it was a dry area. Thus, the old man gave him three dirty pots to fetch water.

The greedy grandson took the pots and every day tried to fetch water from the well. But, the pots were so leaky that most water leaked by the time reached the plant. He ran faster and faster, but most water still spilled away. The golden plant got only a few drops of water during every run. The grandson was very motivated to have a tree full of gold and continued the practice for months.

The grandfather died after a year. The grandson was dejected that his old man didn't leave him anything. He then noticed the "golden plant" that has grown big now. The grandson took the plant to local jewelers to get money, but they all laughed at him. Having realized that the plant is not gold, he walked back dejected. He now has nothing.

On his way back, he noticed something he missed all along while being fixated on the golden plant. Spring had come and the fields outside his house was blooming. He was watering the whole field as he was fetching the water from the well with a leaky pot without knowing. The grandfather had sown all the seeds in the parched lands.

He now knew he could do something profitable with the fertile fields he has now. Carrying the pots has grown his arms big and he felt like a strong man. The year's activity also made him a very determined man. Then he looked at the coal pots now. The coal pots were now sparkling clean carrying all that water.

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Multiple layers of religion:
Religions are constructed in multiple layers and often we don't realize the profound realities that are in store for us. Just like a 3 year old, who learns the alphabets and numerals, having no idea of where they will be used, we are often presented with things that we learn without knowing where they will be used.

Ramayana is an immensely great leadership story, clothed in a philosophical layer and then covered in a moral layer and finally the entertainment layer. Had my father talked about all those layers when I was young, I might never gotten the story and would have skipped the whole lesson. The entertaining story of bows and arrows and monkeys kept the interest, while the profound understandings were slowly kicking.

The moral stories act like the water poured on the leaky pot. Although we forget most of the morals immediately, repeated pouring of water slowly cleans the soot of our inner mind.

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Humans and Rationality:
Although we assume the human race to be rational, most of the interesting things we do are barely rational. From relishing your favorite food to liking your favorite monument to painting a picture to loving the girl (or guy) of your life, we use less of logic and more of subjective decisions.

If you are perfectly rational, it would be hard to fall in love, hard to relish most foods you love and find nothing beautiful about the sandy beaches of Tahiti. Rationality forms our base, but everything beautiful and interesting goes beyond plain reason. Religion falls in the same bucket. See it as an art form; look at its beauty and aesthetics; but don't try to reduce it to a mere logic, just as you cannot reduce the beauty of Taj to mere equations.

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Religion as a way to keep hope and spirits:
One of the first things a visitor notices in India is that there are really no policemen in the country. The nation is virtually unpoliced, but our crime rates are still among the lowest and most places are safe to walk at any time of the day (safe in comparison to a major city elsewhere in the world).

Think about all the poor in India. We have 700 million living in dirt poor conditions and a big chunk of them are illiterate. What prevents them from pillaging the society? They don't. Even in a poorest village you will rarely feel as insecure as walking into an inner city of a developed nation.


The poor do worship "Lakshmi" (the goddess of wealth) and keep the hopes up even in conditions we can never imagine. They still laugh and celebrate their festivals. There is a reason why Hinduism never mourns for anything. Religion gives people the hope to survive an another day even in times of absolute despair.

Like the Jews who survived the Nazi camps using the power of their faith, Hindus have put through enormous suffering over centuries. Hinduism reminds even the poor and illiterate of the moral stories and infuses them with hope. Most poor in India would rather commit suicide than harm an another soul. (I'm not condoning suicides here).
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Religious practices as a way to reach inner self

When I was young, my mom used to make me circumambulate the temple altars. She told me that the gods would bless me. Then someone told me that it was a great exercise, as you could walk in a peaceful environment in a well leveled plain (a luxury in India). Then I noticed Basil (Tulsi), Neem and other herbs grown in the temple and realized maybe there is a bit more to it. Then there were incredibly artistic pieces on the walls that sparked my history interest. I met a lot of people on the walk who were singing and smiling. The incense sticks and music was soothing. The walk slowly takes me to you understanding your own self as you keep going round and round and round.

A famous yogi points his finger to a star constellation. The students follow his finger to identify the pattern. Once they get the pattern they sit and wonder in amazement. They talk about the brightness and order of various stars. But the yogi had already pulled away his finger. Having the got the pattern, students don't need his finger to point, anymore.

Idols in Hindu temples have the same purpose as the finger. They are pointing out to the characteristics and truths we have to aspire and identify. But, once you have found that pattern that suits you, there is not need for an idol anymore.
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Hinduism: An all-you-can eat Buffet. Stuff yourself with you favorite dishes.

Hinduism is a profound religion that has many layers and we don't get all the layers on our first touch. It lets you pursue the truth in many ways. You can do through science just like our Atharva veda saints and Pathanjali yogis did. You can do through arts, like all the music, painting and dance forms that you see in the temple. You can pursue through philosophy - Upanishads or pursue through leadership stories - Ramayana and Mahabharata.

In any case, you are pursuing a profound truth, beyond the banal everyday truth and Hinduism points to the many directions you could take. If you like, you can take other religious ideas, moral ideas or scientific elements. You can choose to not worship any god or pick up ONE God or pick up plenty of gods that fits your interests.

For a practitioner, the religion provides a trail map and a bunch of advice, and it is upto an individual to hike/trek the trails of various difficulty levels. Just as a single trail doesn't fit every trekker's strength levels, no single path can fit the profile of every seeker.

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This blog is an offshoot of a website that I had conceived as a result of the spiritual grace and resultant inspiration during Shivaratri Y2K (http://www.jyotirlinga.com) on the joy of Shiva Bhakti and my quest for spiritual progress. Not finding the time (yep, bad excuse!), this blog suits me fine in quickly adding content... my spiritual forays and thoughts - helps log them too. My spiritual journey started with Hinduism and it's simple stories/ teachings as far back as when I was a 2nd grader, with Lord Shiva and has now found convergence with Advaitism / Duality. The Advaitism gurus like Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj; they have provided that spiritual boost of energy in many lagging moments and have tremendously influenced me ... little baby steps at a time... that will hopefully all lead upto a final crescendo. The merits of satsangh are many!

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