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Posts from the ‘Spirituality’ Category

The winter writing season begins…

A big hello to regular readers and those who stumbled on this blog by chance!
Many thanks to all of you who have read, commented, and shared your views on my blog all these days. And some old faithful who checked in from time to time, noticed I haven’t written anything at all for a long time, and dropped a kind note to check if I am doing fine. I have had a challenging, yet fruitful year and doing rather fine!

Here is why I haven’t written as often as before, and why I woke up from the slumber to start blogging again now:

To start with, it was a very demanding and significant phase of my career and life in Switzerland, and I was fully occupied on excelling at that! Also, I had this strange feeling mid 2010, that in 6 months or so I am going to hit 30. That’s right, I am hanging on to my last days as a 20 something, and I was mentally making too much of a fuss of this 20s to 30s jump. I did an informal audit on the targets I set myself when I moved from 19 to 20, and figured out I did pretty well, but there were some very important personal things to finish. There was very mind space for serious writing

Perhaps the more important reason was the success of my last blog entry on my life in Switzerland. So, many of you had written such appreciative comments, that it got me thinking very hard about my communication style. I figured out that I have the ability to look at every topic / subject in great detail, and in many layers, but I was capable of making a mess while trying to explain that. And I also have this strong desire somewhere to be understood in the correct way, even if you don’t agree with what I say.

So, for most of this year, I have conducted an experimentation on all forms of communication. Instead of rushing out to talk, write, or blog, I have held back my thoughts but making a note some where. I have listened more, and studying each an every topic I have a view on in greater depth. So, I have enforced this discipline of silent observation for a long time and its been quite rewarding.
I’ve also used mechanisms such as Face book / Twitter to vent out my instant 2 minute solution to all world problems, and far more aware of the responses than before. It has been a very interesting experiment, and perhaps this is why the concept of “Mouna Vrath” or a vow of silence has been so popular in India. Well, I haven’t been totally silent, but listening much more than speaking has made me see the world in a very different way. You should all try it some day!

Having done all that, and earning myself a mini vacation during the winter, I would get back to active blogging shortly. The fact that I have scribbled random things on paper, or bookmarked interesting links on the net, leaves me with a wealth of material to write about. So many wonderful changes have happened in my life, and while I do not go into details of my personal life on my blogs as a rule, it does influence my way of thinking as a person.

Here are the things outside of my personal life, which I have thought actively about this year. This is just a brief synopsis of what I am going to write about:

God & Religion: I read and watched a fair bit of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking this year, and have been fascincated at the tremendous progress science has made in explaining our world’s mysteries. Yet there is a feeling that the more you discover, the more there is to discover! At the same time I ahve experienced a fascinating phase of personal life, bordering on magical. Thus, after close to 3 decades of wondering now and then, if there is a god up there, or if he / she made the rules of the world as we know it, and studying all the far right and far left view points, I have one simple, profound conclusion that has mad eme feel very light and relieved: it doesn’t matter, at all, one damn bit. It could sound like a bizarre theory to some, it could sound like a simplistic definition of agnosticism to some, but I have to write in detail about why it doesn’t matter.

“Multi culturalism” is dead, says Angela Merkel, and that simple statement violates everything I have believed in all my life. In spite of all the tensions & challenges the world faces as globalization and movement of people grows at a rapid face, the only way forward for the human race is multi culturalism, movement of people across the world, and blurring of all the artificial borders we have erected around us. Most large countries have failed to adapt to a multi cultural population, but the failure to carry out the idea correctly should not lead to killing the idea in the first place. I have always believed, and live every day of my life with the view that the entire world is my home, and I am capable of building a bond with any damn person, anywhere, irrespective of color, faith, sex, age, or even language. It is not so easy for every one to reach where I have in life, but once you are there and see the truth, you’d like to stay in this beautiful place where I am.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.” Charles Dickens. These wonderful words of Dickens’s are so relevant today. I have no doubt, that we live in one of the most exciting times in human history, and we have a golden chance to correct many wrongs.

Can / should / Would India be a super power, or the leading nation in the world?. My one line answer is no, at least for the next few decades, but I need to lay it out with more specifics. I don’t think any form of super power is good for the world, i have no doubts India would make tremendous progress on multiple fronts, and I also think the dynamics of the world as we have historically known it would be tremendously altered in the next few years. But how should India handle its massive problems, and what place should it have in the world. My views, though not unique, are not quite mainstream, and it’s a collection of thoughts on my mind all my life.

An underlying theme to all the topics above is that of balance. The word is far more relevant today in our age of instant communication, than ever before. If somebody says something that’s blasphemous to my faith, I shoot him down immediately, or write some blog attacking the person. If somebody has a problem with the way the government handles a situation, you get a mike and call for a revolution, and attract a few thousand people on the streets and the T.V cameras. You don’t like a mosque being built somewhere, and over night you spread a story of how Obama is a Muslim, and does not have his heart in the right place.
We live in the information age, where there is one simple truth: A good view spreads fast, but a ridiculous and dangerous view travels faster. Everybody starts to think and communicate in extremes, knowing that your online views are quite different from what you would say in real person. In many ways, the internet age has highlighted to us, the extremist side in each and every one of us. And this leads me to lay out the need for being balanced, well researched, and sensible in our view-point.

As a way of cheering myself from the weight of all these topics I have taken up, I would also write some light-hearted notes about what I look forward to in my 30s. Laughing about it is probably the only way I’ll escape this feeling of growing old!

So, that’s broadly the agenda, so to say.
Cheers!
Vasu

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One of the many moral dilemmas we face everyday…

How do you handle beggars in India? What is the  ideal way to handle a problem like that? 

Its something that I have been grappling with for years without having a clear idea what is the best approach. 

You see them everywhere – footpaths, traffic signals, entrance to malls, and they almost always leave me with a lump in my throat. And most of them happen to be children, women, disabled, or elders. 

It’s a reminder for us day in and day out, that whatever economic progress we have made in last few decades has not reached everybody. Or rather, it has not reached most people. 

On one hand, your brain says its wrong for you to indulge somebody who could work and earn his money. It tells you that by giving him free money, you are pampering him  and making him lazy. On the other hand, your heart says that whatever money you make in life is to be shared with the needy.

 I will be candid to admit that all my life I haven’t figured out a consistent solution to this problem

There are days when I have walked past old, weak women because they shoved a plate at my face. In hindsight, I should have given them something. 

On some other days, I have taken any random note from my wallet, given it to the beggar, and walked past. 

On one occasion, I paid a decent amount to a person who appeared reasonably healthy but had 3 hungry children around him. I got food for all of them, listened to their stories, and satisfied my ego that I am a noble man. They were probably never his children and probably never got all the money. I might have helped pander to their laziness. (In the great tradition of Hinduism and all other religions, I should never mention this, but when you moral dilemmas of such magnitude its best to be candid about the good and bad that you have done) 

Another fine day, I came across a man on a wheel chair who begged me to help him with whatever money I can, so he could have his next meal. He promised me to note my address, and pay me back the earliest he could. I made up my mind to give him whichever note was the first I drew from my wallet. I drew a 500 rupee note, and it was his lucky day. He refused to accept such a large amount. I insisted, and felt that ego gloat again. But when the realization dawned that I cant give a 500 to every beggar I see, and I am not going to help his cause in the long run (damn that brain again) I felt terrible. I would have probably been wiser to give a 10 rupee to 50 beggars. And there are thousands of beggars I haven’t given a single rupee to and walked past rudely before they trap me and play on my emotions. 

And sometimes I feel terrible when I donate huge amounts in temples. Would I have been better off not bribing god for my happiness, and feeding another hungry man. Or, would I rather leave it to god? 

One beggar I saw at Times Square, New York, held up a banner that read” I need $s;  for beer, for drugs, for cigarettes, for sex”. I was shocked beyond comprehension. Even in the lives of the have nots, some are luckier, some are crazier, some more deserving, some less. 

The brain says that the world is unfair, and unjust. A very convenient word for that is Karma. The heart refuses to accept. And this conflict can sometimes leave me crazy. There are no easy answers, but I would like to hear from those reading this, as to how you deal with individually. 

Cheers!

Vasu

A wannabe Yogi’ story

The two yoga worlds 

After what seems like ages, I managed to get up really early on a weekday (to me that means around 6.30) and full of energy. I open the curtains and it was pitch dark (winter has set in here in Basel, and I typically don’t see any light before 7.30 or so), but there were no clouds. Now that was such a pleasant surprise that I actually stood outside in just my T shirt and shorts, unmindful of the numbing chill wind. 

I decided its time for my long overdue morning yoga. I very rarely work out in the morning these days, but today was the perfect day to break the shackle, stretch my bones, and sweat it out. 

Sweat it out? Yoga? Are you confused? 

Yoga, that ancient Indian method of relaxing, freshening and rejuvenating your body and mind is not that well understood. To a lot of westerners, it conjures up images of naked sadhus in some mystic pose in a Himalayan landscape telling you how you can transform your life. To a lot of Indians, it’s a cool thing you state every time to be proud of your culture, but hardly know anything about.

 That’s until people like B.K.S Iyengar, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Baba Ramdev, and Bharat Thakur popped up on the stage (I may have missed many more relevant names, but that’s because I am not too knowledgeable on this subject myself) 

Although I cant claim expertise on this subject, I have flirted with different forms of yoga at different stages, and perhaps my experiences on this are worth sharing. And I can say with pride that Yoga is a huge contribution to mankind from India. 

First brushes with Yoga

My first initiation to Yoga, was at my boarding school – Rishi Valley. It was one of the hundred good things I picked up there. I still remember my first few weeks of Yoga as a 11 year old. We had to get up early for what is called as P.T session (Physical training), and we fought like crazy to bunk this. At some stage, all of us matured enough to either enjoy or accept as your fate. Most people ended up doing any combination of  a cross country run across  a lush green valley, or a run up hill with an incentive of the view from Cave rock or Boat rock, or limitless rounds across the football field. There was an alternative though, and that was Mishra Ji’s serene, quiet, and non violent (!)  yoga classes. As you stretched your bones and then went into Shavasan (the pose of the dead), you could hear the birds chirping, see the first few rays of the sun, and blissfully fall asleep before he woke you up! 

In those days yoga was all about spending an extra hour either sleeping or doing something closes to sleeping. 

By the time I actually started enjoying them and felt myself fitter, the classes stopped and it was back to the runs and drills. By which time, I made it to the cricket teams , and a chance to do what I loved more than anything else was enough motivation for me to get up at 5 and run from hostel to hostel waking my team mates. The reward was diving and bruising yourself trying to catch a ball, which, if you did, was bound to bite you hard with the early morning cold and dew. I would like to think Yoga helped me play sports pretty well at a time when playing cricket, tennis or football was the biggest passion of my life. 

The next round of Yoga was a few years later at an RSS camp that I attended briefly. For the uninitiated, RSS is a right wing Hindu nationalistic organization, that is typically in the news for all the wrong reasons these days (that’s about as diplomatic and neutral as I can put it!). But at the core of their organization is an endeavor to make young kids work out and do yoga to stay fit & focused. In those innocent days, all that mattered to me was to look at the sun while doing the wonderful Surya Namsakar (Sun salutation) , and competing with the other kids in my neighborhood about who could hold onto a particular posture for longer. 

Like with most things in life, I never followed up those great surya namskar sessions regularly and lost touch with yoga for many more years. 

In my adult life, I tried the “Art of Living” classes that are fairly popular in the country. There is mixed opinion on Sri Sri Ravishankar and his organization, but you’ve got to hand it to him that he has branded his foundation extremely well and is know in most parts of the world. Technically speaking, he teaches specific kriyas or techniques, that are a part of the wide body of Yoga, but I do not think the focus is Yoga itself. 

But to me those sessions were a mixed bag; there was very less of workout, a lot of meditation / breathing techniques, and a fair bit of propaganda. Now that’s the part which fascinates the west : mystics gurus, typically with beard and a pleasant face, and who claim that after a few sessions with them, you will be transformed. This is exactly what a lot of westerners want and this is exactly what a lot of less informed Indians suck up to. 

But I always believe in coming out of anything with the positive take ways, of which there were a few techniques that helped me deal with stress better. 

That being the approach, my search went on until I found Bharat Thakur’s artistic yoga. Now this is not the perfect thing, but the closest I have found.

A yoga form in tune with modern life & times… 

BT, as he is popularly called, is a bit of a maverick and a new age guru. I am going to do free marketing for him here, but you can read up about him on his website. Makes for a pretty good read actually! 

Artistic Yoga is a bit of  a rage across large cities in India, drawing youngsters and elders alike. It’s a bit like power yoga or aerobics, in its genre, but there are differences. In spite of being fairly pricey, people are flocking to these classes. I have nothing against the fees, as I can afford it and see the value for money; plus when you pay for something you tend to be more serious about it. But I hope in future more yoga centers at different price levels, but with same quality, expand across the nation. 

I have been doing it whenever I was in India and the daily evening classes were a no miss for me, and a huge part of my life. 

The classes were typically very intense, comparable to any hard gym session, and full of fun. Almost inevitably your body ached a little afterwards but you were assured of either a good day at work or a good sleep, depending on when you did it.

 The most impressive things I took away from those classes were:

  1. A risk / injury format of an ancient science form, that has been customized to modern life
  2. Fun, fast, intense and sweaty classes!
  3. Very easy to follow and DIY workouts. You don’t have to go for the classes after a while, but they helped tremendously from a  motivation and routine perspective
  4. Loads of fun people to meet and friends to make, including most of the teachers 

I still do some asanas, bandhas  and stretches that I learnt over the years, but its not quite the same as being in my friend Ramshad’s classes in Bangalore where on a crazy day he is capable of pushing you to do over a 150 surya namaskars in an hour. (If anybody reading this can Google how to do surya namaskar, and can do more than 50 in an hour, please let me know, I’d like to meet you!) 

I am pretty sure there are many different yoga gurus, and centers across India and rest of the world,  that are run by well trained and committed people.

So, I would love it if my friends reading this, take the initiative to sign up to any yoga class that suits their style and convenience. Tapping into our rich heritage of knowledge of the body and mind, is tremendously rewarding! And, if you have been as lucky as I was to travel to,  and do yoga near  an icy waterfall on the Himalayas, at a lush green village in the alps, or by a silver sand beach in Goa, there’s nothing quite like it in life 🙂 

Cheers!

Vasu

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