Sunday, July 17, 2016

Aren't we all fools on the hill trying to derive meaning?


                           Growing up in a dynamic household where everything else was drowned in the strains of music...'music' the oasis in the desert...'music' the night replete with stars of an otherwise vacant day.....'music' the soothe-balm to many an agonizing event....the loud chaos of the 'music' on headphones on the walkman, somehow blocking the real chaos outside and offering a peaceful retreat......yes, thanks are due, to parents who made available the means to keep sanity in the midst of the madness that is popularly  known as, growing up.

Over the years the flow and ebb of life take precedence and one moves on from ashram to ashram (stages of life: refer Notes), learning,  stumbling, growing,  learning some more. People come and people go and some people and memories just stay forever. Dear reader, I am certain that you too like me, believe that people and events happen to you to teach you important aspects of life and to rekindle your interest in subjects you might have forgotten existed in you. In that, each encounter in life is a learning cry you learn, you bleed you learn....Once I am aware of this reality, life becomes a joy to surrender to, in all its wonders.

Here's one I love :

And so it is that circumstances allow such an exploration of the self. My father says that we must be open to experience, whatever be the challenge life throws at us, with elan and strength and go away from each/any situation having made the most of it, in that I learnt early, to learn something of value from even the most adverse situations I found myself in. No point crying and fretting about things I can not change, so I strive to make the best of what I can from the situation. On many such occasions, it was M.S.Subbulakshmi that I heard in that walkman :) (How deeply indebted am I, of being part of this vastly magical Indian civilisation that has allowed me to have been touched by her divinity so early in life, and through her singing, of an understanding of life itself). Today, I share her divine voice with you, it is almost as if I share a deep secret with you :) but I am happy to do so, in the hope that you too, my dear reader, develop/ rekindle your interest in meaning in the chaos, heaven knows the world needs it today. 

Bhaja Govindam by Subbulakshmi:

(If the Link does not play here please cut paste into the browser)

Amongst the many genres of music one picked up, the above bhajan (hymn) in Carnatic paddhati (method) was and continues to be one of my many favourites of M.S. S

 This bhajan Bhaja Govindam is a collection of  ~thirty-one verses. It is a fantastic insight into Hinduism from one of the spiritual giants of Hinduism Adi Shankaracharya. Here is a picture  of Adi Shankaracharya from a  wall in my home. Many an evening I have sat just staring at this painting from the Ravi Verma press, just gaining, I do not know what, from it. But, it is part of my being.

The above beautiful image of a guru with his disciples belongs to the 8th century. It was then that India was in the midst of  the chaos that pervaded all through, in matters of religion and philosophy, the social order and the economy of feudalism. There were close to seventy-two sects in constant conflict. The caste system which had been at its peak. Basically, a rapid disintegration of all that a society holds dear and of value was on the rise. It was in this backdrop that the philosopher and theologian Adi Shankara wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon, the Brahma Sutras, the Principal Upanishads and also the Bhagwad Gita. He was also the one who explained the key difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, in that Hinduism asserts  that the "Atman: Soul, Self: exists", while Buddhism asserts that there is "no Soul, no Self". Incidentally, this was the same stage of my very favourite period of the Bhakti and Sufi movements. More on that later. Oh! Joy! 

So, the popular story about how Adi came upon composing the verses, so beautifully rendered by M.S. Ssubbulakshmi, the Bhaja Govindam, is that when he was on one of his wanderings in Varanasi, he came across  an aged scholar reciting the rules of Sanskrit grammar repeatedly on the street to earn more money from any students who would be interested in learning it. On watching this, Adi Shankaracharya in anger went up to the scholar and advised him not to waste his time on "Drukrukarane", rules of grammar, at his age, but to turn his mind to God in worship and adoration which alone would  save him from this vicious cycle of life and death and not the money earned through the teaching of the rules of grammar. The bhajan "Bhaja Govindam" is said to have been composed on this occasion.

In the next post, if you will permit me, I will try to partake with you, some of the verses, especially one from the Bhagwadgita from this Bhaja Govindam bhajan that I like, and their meaning, as I see it, but till then, let me just put here for you, my dear reader, the first verse, the chorus, and it's understanding, which is this. Please read it in the light of the above-mentioned story.

Lift the heart up to Govinda, lift the heart up to Govinda,
Lift the heart up to Govinda, O foolish mind!
The rules of grammar which you are trying to master will be of no avail when the appointed time arrives.

( Interpretation: Govinda, or Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu, here being the spirit as opposed to the material body, rules of grammar being material pursuits )

It is quite relevant, just this chorus. How easy it is for us humans to get lost in the nitty-gritty of day to day life and just stay lost in them forever without once stopping to think about what the deeper meaning of the life that we have been gifted with, is. 

And so what is this so-called meaning of life that has been bestowed upon us?

In it's most simplistic understanding, the meaning is to be derived from an understanding
of the Self. Who am I and what it is that brings me happiness? Shankara proposed that lasting happiness that humans seek lies within and not out there in the world. No amount of worldly knowledge, referred to by Shankara as grammar-rules, gives us sustainable joy. True happiness comes when we are able to rise above our little selves and our egos to a higher level of awareness. For me, the higher level of awareness comes through a feeling of the world in its totality. Of the acceptance of the way things just are.

It is believed that when the ‘appointed time’, death, stares us in the face, the only things we are able to carry forward with us are our spiritual assets. We are unable to take the wealth we worked so hard to accumulate, the relationships we developed or the ‘grammar rules’, worldly knowledge, we have assimilated through the course of our lives. 

Even so, in my understanding, one must realise that an attention on the self, does not in any way mean we have to stop what we are doing and give it all up. What Shankara means is that wherever we are, whatever we are doing, the focus must be on improving ourselves, in controlling our desires when they prove to be hindering self-development   and moving towards the ultimate goal of self-realization. Utilizing our talents to improve ourselves.

Shankara refers to humans as moodha matey (foolish brained/ fools). He calls the human existence foolish for focusing on the transient, on the temporary aspects of life, while completely missing out on the permanent factor, (for Shankara, it is) Govinda, the self in our lives. According to Shankara in their short-sightedness, humans tend to choose the trappings of immediate pleasure over long-term satisfaction. 

Another one I love :

(If the Link does not play here please cut paste into the browser)

Therefore Shankara asks us to invest in ourselves, simplistically putting it, urging us to not only build a healthy bank balance but to create spiritual assets that we can carry forward with us. Lead our lives in such a manner wholistically. It implies in day to day living that we look not only at taste fulfillment but nutritious eating, not looking at short-term gains but long-term fulfilling relationships, looking at creating happier healthier generations rather than insecure individuals. 

And I end here, with the thought that I think that I would not fully endorse the view of Shankara about human relationships ......He says that we are unable to take the wealth we worked so hard to accumulate, the relationships we developed or the ‘grammar rules’, worldly knowledge, we have assimilated through the course of our I am also a strong believer in human relationships as being more than just mere physical connections. A meaningful connection to my "self" for me requires a connection with others in my life. I think this thought needs more analysis and I hope to do that analysis at some point. 

Until next time then, my dear's been a somewhat heavy post!! :) 

Pictures courtesy the internet.

No comments: