Childhood Memory

Childhood Memory
Some childhood memories are etched so deep on our memory that they remain fresh for decades. One such that I am going to recall today dates back to 1941. I was ten years old. We lived in Karachi in a building named Mohammad Ishmael Building. Our apartment was on the third floor. There was one more floor above us. A Muslim family lived in the flat directly above us. This family was not a normal family, for it consisted of a woman and her four children. There were two boys and two girls. The oldest was a boy, Iqbal, about 20. Apparently he did not have a stable job. He often got into tiffs with the neighbors usually over trifles. But this gave the family a bad reputation. The mother and the two daughters rarely went out of the house. The boys did but they hardly talked with any one. We children were in awe of the big boy and wanted to talk with him. But he neither smiled nor made any friendly gesture. So we never talked, but we knew all members of the family.

Once when my mother’s two brothers were seriously ill, my parents went to Punjab to see them. My three sisters, an uncle, and I were at home. In the middle of the night when I woke up to go to the bathroom I heard a low sound in the other room. I froze. After a few minutes I saw Iqbal emerging. He saw me, stopped, came to me smiling and held my hand. I was still half asleep and quite puzzled. Iqbal led me toward the door, opened the latch and quietly walked out. As I latched the door I noticed a rolled up shawl in the grill just above it.

Everything happened so quickly that it left me in a daze. I went in and lay down in my bed. The idea that a thief had visited our house and walked away with things of some value did not enter my mind. After some time I got up and went to the outer door. The shawl was gone. I then realized what had happened but raised no alarm. Everyone was fast asleep and I did not want to disturb any one. I too quietly went to sleep.

In the morning I told my uncle what had happened during the night. He asked why I had not raised an alarm and woken him. He went out to the staircase shouted threats to Iqbal but there was no response. We knew the family living below us and told them what had happened. They thought it was best to ignore it since there did not seem to be much loss.

When I told the story to my friends in school they called me a big fool. I began to think and I realized my stupidity. My parents returned and inspected the only steel trunk in the house. My mother’s gold jewellery and her woolen shawl were missing. The total loss was not high. Both my parents were thankful that my sisters and I were unharmed. They did not scold me for my stupidity.

To this day, after 67 years, I remember every detail of that incident. But I still do not know if I acted foolishly or not. At age 10 what dominated my mind was that Iqbal was a neighbor and a ‘big boy’ whom I admired. This weighed more in my mind than gold or money. How could I have labeled him as a thief? May be I was naïve. Perhaps I still am.

17 December 2008

Life is an Echo

Life is an Echo
(a friend sent me this story)
A boy and his father were walking on the mountain. Suddenly, the boy fell, hurt himself and screamed: Uuuh! To his surprise, he heard the voice repeating, somewhere in the
mountain: Uuuh!

Curious, he yelled: Who are you? He received the answer: Who are you?
And then he screamed to the mountain: I admire you! The voice answered: I admire you!

Angered at the response, he screamed: Coward! He received the answer: Coward!
He looked to his father and asked: What's going on? The father smiled and said: My son, pay attention.

Now the father screamed: You are a champion! The voice answers: You are a champion!
The boy was surprised, but did not understand.

Then the father explained: People call it ECHO, but really this is LIFE.
It gives you back everything you say or do. Our life is simply a reflection of our actions. If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart. If you want more competence in your team, improve your competence. This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life: Life will give you back everything you have given to it.

Your life is not a coincidence. It is a reflection of you.

6th December 2008

Nonviolent Alternatives

Nonviolent Alternatives

Buddhu Ram: I am glad to see you Kalu and Balu. Good to see Balu back from his escapade! I need your help if you have the time. (These 2 dogs are brothers born at Navadarshanam. Balu had run away, found after a week, and brought back.)

Kalu: You flatter us BR ji. Please ask. We will try our best.

BR: A group of Americans is coming to Navadarshanam. They are highly educated and experienced in active peace work. Some have at times risked their lives protesting movement of US warships carrying missiles fitted with nuclear warheads.
I am sure Ananthuji and Jyoti are going to ask me to speak to them and I do not have a clue to what might be appropriate. I do know that they are concerned about increasing violence around us but what can I say to them?

Balu: Being mere dogs what do we know about such complex matters, but since you ask I am willing to give it a shot. In my view violence among you humans arises from your tendency to think that more is better than less and bigger is always better.

BR: You may be right but I do not see the point you are making. Please explain with more details.

Balu: Okay, take cleanliness. We dogs understand the importance of cleanliness as much as any other specie of animals but do not go overboard like you. To relieve ourselves we go into the bush and cover up afterwards. We always sweep before we sit, unless the place is already clean. We take a head-bath when water is available, but we also dry clean our bodies by preening, rubbing, scratching, and rolling in sand or on a rock. We often take each other’s help in doing things we cannot do, such as debugging, licking some parts, and slicking. We manage to do a good job, don’t you think? Our brethren living in the wild do even better than us: they literally shine.

BR: We humans do the same; I do not see any difference.

Balu: I am afraid I do, and a lot of it. For instance you humans wash yourselves with strong soaps and rub your body with rough towels everyday; some do it 2 or 3 times a day in summer. By this you remove natural protective oils that our bodies provide to check harmful bacteria and to keep our skin moist and healthy. Your males shave every day using sharp blades as well as soaps and lotions of doubtful merit. Some people do this drill twice a day, thereby exposing their facial skin to double the harmful effects of chemicals in the lotions. To take away the body odors some of you use deodorants containing even more harmful chemicals. Your toothpastes and mouth cleaners have deadly germicides that kill good bacteria together with the bad and make you more vulnerable to infections.

You will agree with me that in cleaning your homes some of you beat even the standards of ICU’s in hospitals. Many of you have your floors swept and wet mopped every single day using strong insecticides even on days when the floors are clean and all this is not needed. In some homes floors and appliances (even kitchen gadgets) are rubbed, wax polished and disinfected daily. This blind addiction to spotless cleanliness enslaves you to your home and furniture for life. Even when they have servants, some housewives tire themselves sick by daily wiping their furniture and decoration items.

Yes, cleanliness is good, but do not go manic over it. Your madness perverts your perception and you begin to regard dust, soil, and mud as dirty. The fact is that there is nothing cleaner than natural dirt from the forest floor. But few humans can believe that dirt is not dirty and in fact it has powerful curative properties.

Kalu: Excuse me for interrupting, but I would like to add something. I have noticed that you humans carry your cleanliness mania even to your gardens, farms, and the forest. This is really sad because in the name of cleanliness you remove dead leaves and other organic matter that falls on the ground. You forget that this is valuable mulch that protects the soil from the hot sun, preserves moisture, and encourages the growth of soil building worms and insects that live and work under the surface. By removing the mulch you not only kill the insects but also the soil and invite soil erosion. Do you realize that this is violence on a far bigger scale than any of your wars?

One can go on and on. For the sake of health and cleanliness you process your food in insulated factories and then pack it in tins, bottles, pouches and cartons. The biscuits in a box are wrapped in layers of corrugated paper and foil. By doing all this you end up with a huge garbage problem. This garbage is dumped everywhere and the entire earth is turning dirty and sick.

BR: What you say is enlightening. Please go on.

Kalu: This craze for more and bigger things is applied virtually to every aspect of your life.
Your houses are bigger than necessary and they are crammed with furniture and knick-knack. As a result your lives are cramped. Yet most of you are killing yourselves to earn more so you can buy more. For transport you have cars, planes, boats and more. But every year you increase their number and travel more.

BR: Yes, you have a point there; but what is the connection between possessions and violence?

Balu: They are connected as day is to night. Obviously, all humans cannot possibly have all the things they desire. The supply is limited because earth’s resources are finite.
When a society puts high value on possessions few people become wealthy. A majority remains poor and suffers deprivation. Such unequal distribution inevitably leads to unrest and violence. Similarly, in a world divided into nations if some are rich and others poor there is bound to be violence. It is simple to see; the wealthy, individuals or nations, have to protect their wealth with weapons. As wealth grows in the hands of a few, weapons to protect it also grow bigger and more lethal. If you do not take steps toward distributive justice the weapons of war will become megaton nuclear bombs, and worse.

You humans are not very good in conflict resolution we dogs are better. We too have our disagreements and altercations, but they are momentary and easily resolved. But you humans keep fighting over an issue with armies year after year.

BR: I agree with you, but what are we to do? What are our nonviolent alternatives?

Kalu: Apparently humans were not always so greedy; otherwise they would have perished long ago. . Forest dwellers living simply in obedience to nature survived happily for hundreds of thousands of years. Only civilized people who spurn nature’s laws and try to control it have trouble.

Nature alone has the wisdom and the power to run the universe. No animal species, not even humans, can possibly handle nature’s job. In fact it is foolish to want it. I think you humans must learn to live in obedience to Nature. This means obeying its laws. These laws are written in the wind and even we dogs can read them.

For instance, nature values and loves all beings and makes sure they have enough to eat. Obviously, for all animals to survive there is a law that says no specie may deny other species their basic sustenance. You humans are disobeying this law by acquiring all the soil to produce food for yourselves. As a result your population is increasing and all other animals are dying.

Living in obedience to Nature is the real non-violent alternative.

May 14, 2005

Chitta Mending Broken Leg

Chitta Mending Broken Leg

This is a true story based on a direct experience in Hyderabad in 1997. My wife Sudesh and I used to go every morning to the Sanjivayya Park for a walk and some exercise. The park spread over 100 acres but about half of it was developed and the rest left to overgrow with bushes and wild weeds. It was used as a safe haven by many small animals including dogs. Of them only dogs were daring enough to come out, the others were too shy and remained hidden from the humans.

Like all the morning walkers, Sudesh and I spent most of our time walking on the path built for us along the periphery. For a quarter or more of our time we went on to the lawns either for a barefoot stroll on the dew, or to do some yogic exercises. I was one of the very few to sometimes look into the overgrown area. Occasionally, I even ventured into the bush for two main reasons; one, if I needed urgently to visit a lavatory, and two, to watch animals or birds that attracted my attention.

A little white puppy not only attracted my attention but won my heart. I first noticed him when he was less than a month old. He would trail behind his mother together with his three siblings; so plump and white was he that when he walked one could mistake him as a rolling cotton ball. I would try to attract his attention but he showed no interest for a long time. As he grew older and a bit freer of his mother he noticed me and began to feel drawn. I called him Chitta (white in Punjabi) and he soon knew that this was his name; for when called he would brighten up, wag his tail vigorously, twist and turn like mad, and coo. He did not know what to do with himself in those moments of glee. We then knew that we were friends. Months passed as Chitta and I met each morning, talked, sometimes shared food, and often just fooled around.

One morning we did not see Chitta and wondered. He wasn’t there the second day either. On the third day I went into the bush to look for him. I hadn’t gone far when I noticed him lying on his side exercising rear legs and feet. He twirled his feet on the ankles, bent his knees and legs on the hip joints. Sudesh and I watched this in utter amazement for about 20 minutes. Chitta had injured himself badly in a road accident. His pelvis was broken and legs crushed; he was unable to use his rear legs. But his front half was in tact and by lifting himself on front legs he skillfully dragged his injured rear.

We asked Chitta what had happened. He answered: “Oh Brother, I am in great pain. Three days ago I was run over by a speeding scooter. A young man was driving; a pretty young woman was riding on the pillion. The vehicle went out of control. I was lying half asleep on the side of the road. It went over my back, crushed my legs and broke a vertebrae and the pelvis. Should I blame the poor driver, the girl, or my wrong choice of place to sleep? Perhaps all of them together and destiny caused the accident.”

“I cannot walk anymore. The fracture is complex. Body tells me to exercise the legs and other parts that will move. But I think my end is near. I am not afraid. Death will be relief from pain. I have found this secluded corner to lie down and starve to death. Fasting makes you groggy and subdues pain. Soon I will lose consciousness and that will be a signal to my friend the crow to come and eat up my eyes and make me blind to the world. Other birds too will get the message and descend to feast on my body. This will be good for I too will be in the feast as the host. I will give to my fellow beings what I got from life. After all what is death? This Chitta will cease to exist but every bit of his body will feed life in his brothers and sisters. They too will some day die, and Chitta reborn in a new body. The flow of life will go on and that is what counts.”

When we returned two days later all we saw was a few scattered bones. A grand feast must indeed have happened with Chitta the host giving his whole body with joy.

December 24, 2005

Skill of the Weaver Bird

Skill of the Weaver Bird

I have watched the Bayas (Weaver Birds) building nests. They find strong marsh grass to make unbreakable ties on branches extending over a pond or an old well for safety from intruders from below. Then they build the nest by intricately weaving strand after strand of ordinary grass. Some nests are short, some up to two feet long. They have two chambers; one for the parents, the other for the chicks. The entrance is on a side of the bottom rim. The parents’ room is next to the entrance and the safer one in the back is for the eggs and later hatchlings. The nest hanging from the branch is a true piece of art and an architectural feat.
I often go to watch the Bayas at work sitting quietly some distance away for hours. In the beginning the birds were shy or suspicious. They used to freeze for a few minutes on noticing me. But now they trust me and carry on just after a quick nod of acknowledgement. I can go much nearer and remain in full view without disturbing them. Their trust melts my heart and I feel blessed.
After many visits, one day, I felt I had friendly attention of one Baya. I asked, “Excuse me friend, may I ask you who taught you to build such a beautiful nest?”
The Baya smiled, “Nature, of course, who else? She is the mother and teacher of all of us, as you surely know!”
“That I know,” I said, but “I am trying to learn to draw and cannot manage to do even simple stick figures. I need a human teacher to show me how.”
“Of course you need a teacher to learn such a useless thing as drawing stick figures. But you didn’t need a teacher how to suck milk from your mother’s breast. Who taught you that? The reason nature taught you to suckle is that your survival depended on it.”
“Yes, you are right. I suppose I was born with the skill to suck. It was imprinted on my genes because my survival depended on it.”
“And who taught you to cry, to smile, to gurgle, to hold, to recognize and trust your mother, to digest food, to eliminate body wastes. Without these abilities you would have died as a baby.”
“I suppose Mother Nature built these skills into me, and I was born with them. There was no need to learn them.”
“Right,” said the Baya. “I too, was born with the skill to build a nest. Perhaps millions of years ago my ancestors acquired this skill by trial and error. It had such great survival value for our species that it became firmly imprinted in our genes as an instinct. Since then we have been building nests. I don’t have to teach my chicks. When they grow up, become pregnant, or if they are males and realize they have a father’s role ahead of them, the instinct will unfailingly awaken. If, however, for some reason they lose the nest building instinct, or the will to build proper nests at the right time, they will die. You see, we are life, manifest in our bodies. Life has both wisdom and power. It knows how to survive. In fact if we interfere too much, we hinder nature’s work.”
“Thank you brother Baya,” I said. “Your words are full of wisdom. We humans need your wisdom more than all other animals, for we are taught to spurn certain useful instincts and drilled to modify even our good instincts often in the name of etiquette.”

April 30, 2005

Living in the Forest

Living in the Forest

(Buddhu Ram* returned to Navadarshanam after a week. As always, dog Kaluram greeted him lovingly. The two sat down together and had an exchange of coos, barks, and words. Buddhu told Kalu that he wanted to talk about the forest. Kalu was delighted. They agreed to meet after an hour. Their conversation went as follows.)

BR: Kalu Ram ji I am curious about your view of the forest. It is bound to be different from mine. Let us see.

Kalu: You are right, for my view is gutsy, yours bookish.
When Nature thought of creating life and manifesting it in earthly beings she first provided a good home for them. This we call Forest and like mother it nourishes all animals, birds, and plants. She can be visualized as a living being like you or me. All of us, animals and plants, are her limbs.

BR: I am sorry Kalu ji; people will not understand the forest being a living body. Please elaborate on it a little?

Kalu: Obviously, like any living being, the forest is born and it dies. A good example is our own Navadarshanam land. An ancient forest lived here for a very long time and died about 50 years ago. A new one is being born. Like all living organisms the forest protects her integrity and health. By using her awesome powers and wisdom she draws needed sustenance from her immediate surroundings. For instance, she literally pulls clouds from the sky to squeeze their moisture for the plants. She evolves and sustains innumerable species of animals to do her work. Forest is breathtakingly beautiful and in perfect balance.

BR: Humans of the industrial culture do not want to live in the forest. They think they are clever enough to create their own environment.

Kalu: I beg your pardon Buddhu Ram ji. You humans are shamelessly boastful. A few of you came out of the forest less than ten thousand years ago and by interfering in nature’s work you have virtually ruined this planet and pointed it toward a horrendous disaster.

BR: You see Kalu Ram ji; human population has risen to 5 billion and is continuing to explode. We have to produce food for all of us. Don’t you think we are smart to produce the amount we currently do?

Kalu: I beg to disagree. Huge population increase of the humans is an aberration, and it is your own fault. Forest balances animal populations by controlling their food supply. For the first time ever, one specie (the humans), has stolen a major part of the available food. Consequently, the human population is exploding and all the other animals are dying. If you begin to share food with other animals your galloping growth rate will stop. It is as simple as that.

In fact your shortsighted actions have made you also an endangered species. By becoming dependent on a few varieties of cereals as your staple you have made your future food supply dangerously vulnerable. For instance if virus destroys a crop of wheat, your food supply will plummet worldwide and millions will starve. In fact by abandoning the bountiful, beautiful, healthy forest and moving to filthy morbid cities you have hit a hornets’ nest and gained nothing whatsoever; for your gadgets are tinsel compared to forest’s gifts.

BR: What you say is true, Kalu Ram ji, but how can so many of us fit in today’s woefully diminished forest?

Kalu: Physically returning to the forest would be ideal, but it is neither possible nor essential. You can, however, start living as if you were in the forest by changing your diet, clothing, and houses. You will have to stop agriculture and drastically cut the amount of cereals you eat. Luckily, trees and other natural plants can still produce enough wholesome and tasty sun cooked food for all of you.

Your education can begin by recognizing the forest as a model caretaker of life. You must also learn that you are not special. You are only one species in a community where everyone has equal claim to what our forest mother provides. Remember, like the Vedic Rishi had sung (sarve bhavantu sukhinaha), only if all the other beings are healthy and happy, the humans can prosper. If you stop cutting the forest back, she will automatically return quite rapidly, regain her vigor and spread.

BR: But, Kalu Ram, we have rigid food habits and strong desires. Do you think we can change them?
Kalu Ram: Yes you can. You are not a stranger to the forest. Your ancestors lived happily it for three million years. In fact life in the forest is much easier. The forest in its beauteous habitat provides good ready-to-eat foods. By going plucking and gathering every day you will get free exercise in fresh air.

BR: We cannot live under trees, can we? We have to build houses to protect ourselves from summer heat and winter cold.

Kalu: You can easily build simple shelters in the forest. But you will have to move to suitable climate for which your body has evolved. You need air-conditioning and central heating only because you live in wrong places.

BR: Do you think we can still squeeze into the tropical areas.
Kalu: Yes, I think you can if you do three things. 1. Trust the awesome power and wisdom of the forest. 2. Use your own abundant intelligence bestowed in you by nature. 3. Have compassion for all beings. If you do that, I don’t see how you can fail.

*pen name of the author.

April 16, 2005

Rich Man on Death Bed

Rich Man on Death Bed

A wealthy Marwari Seth was critically ill. He was old and appeared close to death. Members of his large joint family fussed around him pretending to be sad when they actually wished that the old man would die soon, medical bills stop and life return to normal again.

The old man was only partially conscious but even so he jabbered away. At one point he appeared earnestly to want to say something important. With considerable effort he even pointed toward the neem tree and said something to his sons but it was unclear. The oldest son of the Seth came very close and tried to hear his father and he thought he heard ‘under the tree a pot of gold.’ This raised his curiosity sky high because he and his brothers had always suspected that their father had hidden some valuables. All of them wanted to know where it was.

When the doctor came they pleaded that their father be revived at whatever cost even if it was for an hour. The doctor did not think it was a good idea because the old man was very close to death and reviving him would be expensive. But the young men said they were willing to spend any amount to hear their father’s precious last words. So the doctor prescribed some very expensive medicines. The sons quickly procured them and gave them to their father.

The medicines were so effective that the old man perked up and started moving his hands and talking clearly. He talked non-stop but did not say a word about the hidden wealth. The sons were getting impatient.

When they could not bear it any longer, the oldest son asked point blank, “Father, half an hour ago you were saying something about the hidden wealth under the neem tree in the yard. What was it?”

The old man opened his eyes wide and replied, “Oh that? Well, it wasn’t anything important. I was pointing to you that outside in the yard the calf was chewing up the broom. But apparently I was not getting through to you. So I clammed up. I am afraid there is no hidden wealth anywhere if that is what you are wondering about.”

The young men were still curious, they asked, “Then why have we been hearing about it for years?”

“Well” said the old man, “I may as well let it out now for it is a valuable lesson in life. If you wish to be served well by your sons when you are old and sick it is a good idea to plant such a rumor.”

April 7, 2005

Learning to Live as an Old Man

Learning to Live as an Old Man

My mother died in 1946 when I was 15. After about a year, in l947, our homes in Karachi and Panjab fell in newly formed Pakistan and we became refugees in Independent India. After wandering for several months my younger sister and I found refuge in Batala (a small town in Panjab). We lived there for 3 years and I graduated from a small local college in 1951. My father was in Karachi at the time of the birth of Pakistan. Few months later we got word that he moved safely to Bombay on a ship and set up his old hardware business there. Living alone in a new mammoth city did not suit him; he was lonely and very unhappy. I joined him after college and shared both his business and life for nearly a year. In that time I saw clearly that I was neither cut out for business, nor happy living in a city. I thought I would be happier in a small town or village relating with soil, plants, and animals. Therefore, after my sister’s marriage in 1952, I did not return to Bombay. For nearly 20 years after that my father and I were separated; he lived in an older people’s home in Haridwar, and my family and I periodically in rural India but mostly in upstate New York in America. I visited my father only after long intervals. In l971 I decided to return home to India and successively lived in Chandigarh, Delhi, and Rasulia in M.P. But every 4-5 years we went back to America for a year leaving my father homeless and to return to his Vanprastha Ashram (a sort of old peoples’ home).

My father tried to return ‘home’ to my family’s house every time we came to India; but he was always a stranger and very uncomfortable. Our culture had changed so much that to him we could be Martians. Having grown up in the era when people spent old age with their sons, he did not prepare for independent living in his old age. I think he knew very early that I would be a maverick, but he did not imagine that I would also be heartless. I have to admit that my guilt feeling has not completely gone away. For a time in my twenties and thirties I got so sucked into the Industrial Culture that I thought of career as most important. There was no need to waste time on an old parent. I did not think I owed him care and support. For were I not giving both to his grandchildren; wasn’t that sufficient? Doesn’t everyone do what I was doing? I did not then see clearly enough that my father, as a living individual, deserved attention in his own right.

My father had flaws like we all do. He was easily excitable and strong willed. He had difficulty letting go of past hurt feelings. Like a proud Pipal tree he did not know how to bend before strong winds of change as the wise bamboo. He had neither saved for old age nor acquired any useful adaptable skills. No wonder his pride got bruised wherever he went. He began therefore to avoid visiting relatives. I think mainly because in his eyes I was guilty of not doing my duty as a son, he was unable to communicate with me. For instance, whenever I asked if he needed money, he just said ‘no’. He probably expected that I would anyway thrust it into his pocket or bank account, but to the totally westernized me, a no meant no. Assuming that he still had what I had given him earlier; I foolishly failed to understand his need and did not give as frequently as I should have. I know now for sure I am guilty of not giving him enough. He did occasionally try to open a window between us; he even did naughty things in order to provoke me to look through it. But I was too dim to understand. His window did not work and the fault is entirely mine. Had I been kind and more generous, I would have looked behind the wall that separated us. Much too late, I now realize that all old people, regardless of what mistakes they have made in younger days, need and deserve our love and support. For the rest of my days I shall carry the burden of my omissions. Yet, in all this I see the hand of God, or the Great Wisdom that runs this universe, and know that what happens has to be the best at the time and in the circumstances: otherwise why should it happen?

I used to think what happened to my father will not happen to me because I am more educated and have a wider horizon. There was no doubt in my mind that the cultural difference between my children and me would not be as great as between my father and me. I also thought I was going to avoid his mistakes. Little did I know that some old age problems hit every individual no matter where schooled and how clever? Even the generation gap is a perennial problem, especially now when culture changes very fast. Hundred years ago older people were valued for their experience of living. Today it is not so because with big change in culture the experience of the older generation becomes redundant. College education is an impediment, not at all helpful. Savings are useful but only to a limited degree. Much else is needed, especially a strong ethical back bone. I now realize that love and ethics are not merely pious words. Their power is far greater than I ever imagined.

Old people do inevitably become slow, wrinkled, sloppier and touchy. They also seemingly become callous, insensitive, less caring, and weak. Some of these changes relate more to insecurity and other such social circumstances than to the old body. With love of family and community and a strong sense of security old people can change into valued elders who share wisdom and generate sound judgment and stability around them.

Lessons for the Old
1. Before one gets old, one must provide for old age. Some money is essential, but no amount may prove enough. Also, mere money cannot solve all problems. More important than money is a house regardless of location. When a good city house cannot be maintained because of high living cost, it can be sold. With the money realized one can buy a house in a town or village and have enough left over for daily expenses for years. The point is; we do have choices if we are flexible enough.
2. It is important to have simple and useful skills. The list to choose from is endless, for example cooking, cleaning floors and furniture, laundry, gardening, sewing, singing, painting, calligraphy, flower arrangement. Practice of these skills brings happiness and a sense of self reliance; the aged are meaningfully occupied.
3. Most important skill one can acquire is the ability and knowledge to live simply, at very low money cost, and by causing least harm to the environment. This can give old persons a sense of security that possessions never can. I am sure all of us know that the aged poor in our society feel more secure and content than the rich. Living simply is no hardship it’s a gift. Eating simple, fresh, and wholesome food and keeping minimum of furniture and few clothes makes ones life healthy and unencumbered.
4. Many old people slowly become hard of hearing. I often congratulate such people; for they no longer need to hear gossip and other trivia. It seems to me that partial loss of hearing in old age is a gift of God. Most young people resent a nosy old parent or aunt. The old can greatly help themselves by leaving the young alone. Furthermore, they should never argue either to prove a point or defend a view point.
5. We old people raised the young with love and a great deal of sacrifice. We should readopt those attitudes. Without doubt we will be rewarded in the same coin.
6. To do the above, one needs a spiritual foundation. Our immediate physical settings are inevitably full of hard knocks simply because we are in bodies separate from each other. In truth we are not separate. We are the one Life that makes all bodies alive; we are also Nature and the Universe. We are an indivisible part of an all-encompassing unity. We therefore never die, only our bodies do.
7. Love and compassion bind us all. When we know this it becomes easy to forgive insults and remember received kindnesses and respects.
8. Dare to be free from social obligations of younger days. For example if you do not wish to attend a wedding, just say sorry. Being old you will be easily forgiven.
9. This list is inexhaustible. Let us end by remembering that a very valuable attitude to acquire is humility; not servility but the sense of incompleteness that comes from realizing that in truth we are Life itself and in daily life we mistakenly act as mere bodies.

Lesson for the young
It seems not only possible but also eminently prudent that the young try to turn the old people into happy and useful elders. All they need is love, support, and a sense of security. What is given with love benefits the giver even more than the recipient? Imagine the incalculable benefit to children growing up in the shadow of grandparents!

April 2, 2005

Guru’s Talisman

Guru’s Talisman
A learned guru gave a sat sang (discourse) every Sunday. Many people came regularly to listen; some were deeply devoted. One such person was a man named Ramayya.

One day after the discourse Ramayya went up to the guru and said, “Guruji, I try very hard to change my daily behavior, but always fail. Your lectures inspire me and I resolve to improve myself; but as soon as I face difficult situation anger bursts and the worst in me comes out. It might help me if you give me a solid object like a Talisman as a reminder for such times.”

The guru listened patiently and promised to give a Talisman on the following Sunday. So Ramayya received a small packet, took it home and placed it next to the god’s image in his little puja room (home temple).

A few weeks passed. The Talisman seemed not to have made any change in Ramayya’s behavior. Unable to resist his curiosity he one day opened the package to look. It had three things: a ball of cotton, a sewing needle, and a lamp. Ramayya was puzzled; ‘what do these 3 ordinary things signify? Why has the guru given them to me? He should know that every household has these things.’

On his next visit to the sat sang he asked the guru to explain. The guru said, “With cotton we make cloth, and cloth covers our shame. Cloth teaches us never to probe people’s flaws. If by chance you hear something, do not go round telling everyone. Like cloth, cover it, so that no one else will know. Second, the needle is used to join what has been torn apart; you too must always do that. When you see people turned enemies by small or big discords, do what you can to resolve them and restore peace and friendliness. Third, light dispels darkness; but only when it is lit. All of us are born with a divine light; we must remember always to keep it burning. If you do so you will not only overcome your own anger and violence, but spread love, kindness and truth wherever you go.”

The guru further said, “The overall idea of the Talisman is that you fix the 3 messages in your mind. After some time they will change your behavior and also, like a magnet, draw more good traits to themselves. Now shut the box, place it where it was and totally relax. The Talisman will work.”

March 26, 2005

Where to Write Our Hurts and Where Kindnesses

Where to Write Our Hurts and Where Kindnesses

Two long time good friends were walking through a desert. They got into a discussion that turned into a heated argument. Heat of the altercation became so intense that one hit the other with a slap across his face. The latter felt hurt but remained quiet. After walking a little longer he sat down and wrote in the sand, “Today, my friend slapped me.”

They resumed their journey and reached an oasis where they planned to stop and do some business. Noticing a small pond in the middle of a marsh they felt tempted to go in and take a bath. The one who had been slapped got trapped in quicksand and was in danger of drowning. His friend rescued him putting his own life at risk.

The one first slapped and then rescued walked quietly until they came to a big rock. With a steel chisel he etched the following words on it. “Today my friend risked his life to save mine.” The friend asked, “Dear friend, why did you write the first incident on sand and the second on a rock?”

He answered, “I wrote my hurt on the sand so that the wind will soon blow it clean and make it easy to forget. But I wish always to remember your kindness of saving my life. So I etched it in stone.”

March 19, 05

Eighth Pitcher

Eighth Pitcher

A very rich man was not content. He wanted more without knowing why. Vaguely, there was a notion in his mind that it would be nice if he was the richest man in town. But if that would really make him happier he did not know. In fact he did not think much of anything. All he knew was he wanted more. So he engaged in rash, risky business deals; but this did not improve his condition significantly. In addition to other things he also began to visit the local temple mornings and evenings and prayed hard.

Hard to say if it was due to his prayers, and difficult even to call it good or bad luck, but on digging under one of his properties he found seven old pots full to the brim with gold coins. He was overjoyed. Surprisingly, however, he noticed that his desire for a lot more became even stronger than before and he began to ask more diviners to see if there were more gold pots to be found.

Again, due to his bad or good luck he struck another ancient pot with a lot of gold in it. But, the pot was a little more than half full. The wealthy man began to think why. ‘Who had stolen the missing gold? He must have got the idea from his first dig. How can I find him? In any case, he thought, ‘I must fill this eighth pot like the other seven as quickly as possible.’

He asked for a pot of gold full to the brim. He was given seven. To be even more generous the gods gave him a half full eighth pitcher. The man forgot about the seven pitchers and gave all his thoughts to the eighth pitcher. Why isn’t it full? How can I fill it?

He worked day and night; even neglected his family and health. In the end he died quite young in the ICU room of an expensive hospital. Truly his greed was ever lasting but his health and body were not. He never learned that a half full purse is okay, but not an empty heart.

It does not cost a paisa to fill ones heart with love, joy, and contentment. Then it does not matter if the eighth pitcher is full or empty.

March 12, 2005


Few days ago I woke up full of awe about water. What a wonder is this thing we use many times daily and take for granted. It is odorless, tasteless, colorless, soft, gentle, moist and pliant. It takes the shape of any vessel in which we put it and patiently stays there until we pour or scoop it out days, even years later. We may put it in an open container or a sealed can, water sits quietly without complaining. We may squish it, drop it from the tenth floor, beat it with a stick, or cut it with any instrument; water remains unhurt.

But the same pliant, quiet water pushed by wind turns into tsunami and levels buildings, flattens columns of steel, and razes entire cities. In the open ocean water can lift up a million ton ship like a paper boat, topple, and sink it to the floor in minutes. When heated, water turns into steam. Guided through tubes in a locomotive, steam can push a ten thousand ton train at hundred kilometers an hour. Flowing as river, water sometimes spates across thousands of square kilometers and breaks all bunds built by man to contain it. In its course it scoops up countless tons of loose naked soil and transports it hundreds of miles away. Dams, dykes, big boulders, hills; none can stop an angry river’s flow to its source, the ocean.

Chemists say it is just H²O, but imagine how well are hydrogen and oxygen welded together to make water. At temperatures bearable to humans water is liquid, when heated to 100ºC it turns into steam, and at OºC it freezes. The bond of H and O does not break no matter what we humanly do to it; cunning tricks, of course, can do unthinkably harm.

Most important, however, is that water denotes manifest life. When humans probe other planets they train their keenest eye to look for water; for that means there might also be life. To be precise, life as such is one indivisible whole, very subtle, invisible, and indestructible. It becomes differentiated and visible only when it enters a body made of food. Bodies need water to function; for water inside a body acts as carrier of food and waste materials, air conditioning agent, lubricant, and much more. Hence no living being, neither plant nor animal, can live without water for more than a few days. Hence nature the creator has made secure arrangements for the supply of water to every being, even the humblest to our eye.

First, nearly 70 % of the earth’s surface is covered with salt water of the oceans. That is why when viewed from space our planet earth appears blue. Oceans are full of living plants and animals quite safe from water scarcity! Nor can they possibly destroy or pollute it unless, of course, they become civilized and start acting like us.

Beings of the dry land need sweet water to live and Nature in its wisdom and power has made ample arrangements for its making and distribution. Salt water of the oceans evaporates with the sun’s heat, turns into clouds filled with sweet water, sails across the skies, and falls on land as rain. Trees bushes and grasses receive this bounty in their upraised palms and drink their fill. The overflow slowly runs to the ground to soak the soil and make rivers. Water also goes deep into the ground with the help of roots of plants after they have stored enough for their own needs.

Water that has gone into the ground starts to travel laterally and down thousands of kilometers, i.e. as far as it can go depending on the nature of the ground, and it can continue to roll for thousands of years until some thirsty being taps it.. Most animals living on dry land use river or lake water. Some who live far out from them have to dig into the ground. Small beings such as ants and termites make their homes deep in the bowel of the earth close to moisture. Rodents, foxes, and other larger animals like us dig holes in the ground to get water.

Nature slowly evolved these water supply systems to such perfection that even after millions of years they are working as new. It is only due to these marvels that countless species of plants and animals have survived on dry earth so successfully for such a long time.

According to evidence dug up by physical anthropologists and archeologists the human line diverged from the primate order 3+ million years ago. Throughout this long period they found Nature’s water supply system quite adequate and did not suffer excessively from thirst. Only in the last ten thousand years, after a few human communities adopted agriculture, did the ground water network began to crack in some areas. We will go into more details of ground water depletion elsewhere in this book. Here we will examine water problems most of us are experiencing daily and directly where we live. I will briefly describe some of my own experiences; readers must recall their own from where they sit. For environments vary widely from place to place and it is hazardous, confusing and needless to generalize. Our brothers and sisters who do so get into endless futile discussions. Only when we stick to direct experience can we gain conviction and be motivated to sensible action so badly needed at this time of looming peril.

About 50 kilometers due south of Bangalore city a group of friends including my wife Sudesh and me jointly acquired 120 acres of land about 14 years ago. This land was under living forest until about 60 years ago, and is adjacent to a large reserved forest now. But when we bought it, it was quite exhausted from careless cultivation for some years and heavy grazing thereafter. It was so bare one could freely walk all over it. There were only three mutilated trees and a few Lantana bushes here and there. Tiny acacia sprouts were everywhere but the goats nibbled at their leaves and did not give them a chance to grow. Soil had eroded so badly that one saw only little pebbles and gravel on the surface. We fenced the land and after 6-7 years of hard vigilance curbed grazing. The land turned green with grasses, bushes and even trees shooting up from dormant roots. By now all the ground is covered with vegetation. There are approximately 5000 trees, some of them 25 feet tall. More recently, however, the growth seems to have slowed down. The reasons might be: 1. Four year long draught and 2. Fall of ground water level. Even in its worst condition our land had one quite strong and at least two weak perennial streams. All of them have dried up. The reason seems to be several new bore wells in our area fitted with electric or diesel pumps; all to draw huge amounts of water for irrigation.

In the forest adjacent to our land the same thing is happening. Till 6 years ago on our hikes in the forest we always found small streams in which to bathe and frolic. Now they have all dried up. Even the strong stream in the valley down below has weakened. We hear from the villagers living there that it goes completely dry part of the year that did not happen earlier.

A more dramatic illustration of the fall of ground water is to be seen in Gumlapuram village just two kilometers down the hill from us. This village has about 300 houses. Most of them had their own wells and all of them were full of water until about 7 years ago. Today all of them are dry. The reason is obvious: ten years ago there were no tube wells in the area, now there are several; all pumping away to irrigate fancy flowers for export and exotic foods for the rich in Bangalore. The ground water is virtually gone for the ordinary villagers and even for the tube well owners it is rapidly falling.

We also have a rented apartment in a Bangalore suburb called Whitefield. Two years ago our town council’s 5 tube wells went dry. They drilled several more but without finding water. . Most privately owned wells in our area have also gone dry and many new ones have failed. We and other residents of the area had to start buying water from farmers and traders who own tanker trucks. We now pray for long life for the farmers’ wells.

From what we hear, the water situation in other parts of Bangalore is by no means more promising. People pin their hopes on Cauvery water, but we all know that Bangalore is exploding and the river is dwindling. Can the two make a happy marriage?

In March 2004, two Delhi friends and I went on a tour of Panjab villages. Between us we had several relatives and friends in the region. So we were able to meet and talk freely with farmers and workers known to our relatives. From our first stop to the last one concern that our informers frequently shared was the rapid fall of ground water level.
This area was known for ample water for irrigation from the time I was a boy in western Punjab. The reasons were: it is in the foot of the Himalayas, several rivers flow through the area, and there is an extensive functioning canal network.

Farmers told us that fifty years ago one needed to dig from 6 to 15 meters to strike water. Now it is nowhere less that thirty and in some places as low as 80 meters or more. We saw well drillers at work in several villages. Most of them were going down 80 to 100 meters.

With the introduction of high yielding dwarf wheat and rice seeds in the last 40 years the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has increased many fold. Consequently, the crops need more intensive irrigation as well. To make things worse, free supply of electricity to Panjab farmers has made them negligent. Too much water is pumped out and at least a quarter is wasted.

In any case the rate of ground water depletion in Panjab is alarming.

Some Random Experiences

My ancestors lived in a place called Daska in Sialkot district close to the Himalayas. They had come from somewhere in Rajasthan 400 years ago. In their original home soil had turned into sand and most people had slowly moved away. Four or five years before I was born my father moved from Daska to the newly opened Lyallpur area where pastures looked greener. The rest of the family followed in a year. My father’s brother’s family also migrated some time later and a big joint family had assembled with all its problems. I was five years old when my father moved to Karachi and lived there for ten years till 1947. About 1943, when there was danger of Germans attacking Karachi, my father sent us to Daska. We lived there for nearly two years. This gave me the opportunity to get to know the town and the area. It was different from both Karachi in the Sindh desert, and Lyallpur on the edge of it. Sialkot was in a belt of fertile land touching the Pir Panjal in the north and the Ganges valley and Rajasthan in the south. This was the area where the Sanskrit speaking Aryans are supposed to have lived. The Vedas and the Upanishads were written here. Evidently, this area somehow escaped the fate of Sindh and Rajasthan where Indus Civilization flourished and turned the soil into sand. Possibly the people and the culture of this area were different. The Rishis had talked in favor of Aranyak Sabhyata (forest culture) over and over. They had also opposed the city-based civilizations. They could have seen the Indus Civilization and what it did. My imagination runs too fast here. I must pull the reins.

I distinctly remember how safe, friendly, and pleasant this simple rural area was. Ordinary vegetables and chapattis (flat unleavened bread) tasted much better here than in Karachi or Lyallpur. People said it was due to the quality of water. All wells in the fields and in the homes of town dwellers were full. But the needs of people for water were meager. Wheat and other cereal crops were not irrigated; they grew only with the rainwater. Only small vegetable growers used irrigation. They used Persian wheel for lifting water. Soil was fertile. In the rainy season I distinctly remember seeing millions of earthworms crawling on the bunds. Having come from the city I had never seen them, and was afraid. Later I learned that they were friendly and totally harmless.

I was born in 1931 in the Lyallpur district of west Panjab (now in Pakistan). For a long time it had been an arid, treeless, semi-desert, splattered with bushes, and very sparsely populated by nomadic cattle herders. About the turn of the century the British colonial rulers built a canal system. Farmers from the rest of Punjab flocked here and became rich by harvesting heavy crops from virgin land. Traders (like my family) and people of other skills followed the farmers in the hope of sharing their bounty. All this had gone on for 20 years when I was born.

I recall that there was ample water in the canals and it flowed into square fields called murabba (literally square fields). Our house, like most others, had drilled wells fitted with a hand pump. These wells were 5 to 10 meter deep and had ample water. Sixteen years later, in 1947, when the country was partitioned and we had to migrate to east Punjab, this area was still prosperous but the decline had begun. The land was turning saline. A hard clay crust was forming a foot below the surface. Moisture was being trapped and pushed back up with the salts of the earth. The soil was fluffing with white salts visible right on the surface. The affected land turned unproductive; it was not good even for building houses because salty moisture rose into the walls and disintegrated the bricks and cement. Later, we have been reading in the newspapers that this process has accelerated and most of the farm lands are also affected. After this I went to college for four years in a small town in east Panjab. Here the ground water was high, main crops rain fed and only small vegetable patches irrigated with well water lifted with simple devices run with bullock power. Canals were few and far between.

From 1951 to 1956 I lived in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Forest was still alive and ground water level was high. All major crops (wheat, Jawar, Tur, cotton, oil seeds) were grown without irrigation. There was water in the rivers and the wells in towns and villages were full. All this began to change in the fifties. Bore wells were put in everywhere to irrigate orange or banana orchards and other commercial crops such as onion, ginger, potato, and sugar cane. I still have friends in the area who I periodically visit; only last month, i.e. in February 2005, I was there. What I heard and saw was saddening. The fall in the ground water level is alarming. In fact ground water is virtually gone. Orange orchards are being cut on a large scale and market gardening is weakening rapidly. In some places even the traditional crops cannot be grown with rain water because the soil’s capacity to soak and hold water has been curtailed.

In the sixties and seventies we lived in upstate New York. Both dairy and crop farming were still quite strong in the area. About the middle of the sixties smaller farms began to close shop. By mid-seventies very few large ones were surviving. The ground water level dropped but not enough to affect domestic supplies. The big change here was in the quality of water. All ground water now is contaminated and not fit to drink. People buy treated packaged water for drinking.


Sweet water in all our rivers, lakes, ponds, and under the ground constitutes about 3% of the total available on our planet; the rest is salt water of the oceans. All our sweet water comes from rainfall. All animals and plants need water to survive. Nature, therefore, has evolved a complex mechanism for the collection, preservation and distribution of this precious resource. It works beautifully and assures adequate supply to water to every being where it lives. In fact it is hard to imagine a better system.

Very simply put, this system has the forest on one end and widely scattered plants and animals on the other. The forest pulls moisture from the clouds, provides it soft landing on its head to soften its blow on the soil, lets most of it to flow off to make streams, ponds and rivers, and gently sends the rest into the ground. Of course the trees of the forest use what they want and preserve some for future use underneath themselves. This system has worked quite well for millions of years and is capable of adapting to change of environment. .

About ten thousand years ago some human communities began to do agriculture and quickly developed civilizations. To produce large amounts of grain they cleared forests, ploughed up the land and produced large quantities of grains. Other species living on the land were denied food and allowed to die. As the supply of food for the humans increased their number also exploded. This gave rise to a vicious circle.

On the one end civilized humans cut forest for timber and firewood to satisfy the needs of their growing populations and on the other they started taking too much water for their cities and for irrigating their crops. This double attack over a period of time busted Nature’s water distribution system. Evidence gathered so far shows that lack of sweet water was the major cause of the collapse of civilizations.
Today our Industrial Civilization is repeating what earlier ones did before. The major difference is that with our superior technology and greater use of fossil energy we can accelerate the process many fold and destroy Nature’s water distribution network in a short time.

Some people say we are good at laying pipes and we can fill them with desalinated sea water. I say, no thank you, I prefer to stick with ground water.

March 5, 2005


Man’s Attachment to Samsara

Man’s Attachment to Samsara

Narad the wandering Rishi was visiting baikunth (one of the heavens open to humans). He and Hanuman together watched them going about their business on the surface of the earth. They focused their gaze on a middle-aged couple in a small town.

The man’s name was Ghasi Ram and his wife’s Lakshmi. He had a small grocery shop that he kept open from dawn to dusk. He sold mainly dry grains, i.e. cereals, pulses, spices and hard candy. Early afternoons with the help of his wife he made and sold deep fried batter coated vegetables. Both husband and wife were busy all day earning money. With it they bought gold and furniture that they served by wiping and polishing daily. They had no children but hoped for some even though it was getting a bit late. Because of his sedentary routine Ghasi’s health was far from satisfactory; and Lakshmi too, had her aches and discomforts.

On watching Ghasi’s life Narad commented, “What miserable lives these foolish humans live. If I could, I would bring them all to Baikunth where life is much freer and happier.”

Like a spring, Hanuman retorted, “How little you know about these humans, Narad. They are so rooted in their culture that they are actually attached to their sufferings. I bet you, if you go and offer Baikunth to Ghasi Ram and Lakshmi on a platter, they would refuse it.”

“Incredible,’ said Narad. “But I would like to find out to be sure.” So he descended on earth and appeared before Ghasi Ram as a celestial being. He said, “Your life on earth is truly miserable. You are already in your forties, and it will become worse as you get older. I offer you Baikunth for quick release. You should not pass up the opportunity.”

Ghasi Ram pondered and said, “I am not ready. Look, who will mind my shop and who will care for my furniture? I still hope to have some children even though Lakshmi is getting old. Baikunth can wait. You can go where you came from; I am okay as I am. Good bye. “

Narad recounted his interview but Hanuman was not satisfied. He wanted the investigation to proceed further to be more convincing.

A few years later when Narad returned, to Ghasi’s shop a young boy was minding it. Ghasi had died and his son had succeeded him. With his special powers Narad found out that Ghasi’s soul had been reborn as a calf and was now a full grown bullock serving his own son.

Narad went up to the bullock and said, “Look at you, pulling heavy cart and beaten with a whip. What kind of a life is this? My offer of Baikunth is still open.”

“Go away,” answered Ghasi. “I am serving my son by making sure of prompt transport of supplies and deliveries. All my life as a human I waited for this son. He is young and needs assistance. Now let me enjoy serving him.”

Narad was amazed. He went back and reported his observations. But Hanuman advised that to know the strength of human attachments the experiment must continue.

After about five years Narad again returned to visit Ghasi. The bullock had died and reborn as a dog. Narad found him sitting in a little wet hole in the mud, for it was dead of summer. He served the family of his human son who, of course, did not know any of this.

Narad was full of compassion and pleaded, “Think Ghasi, had your son been an American, and you were living with him as his dog, I would have considered that you were already enjoying Baikunth. But here, your life is rotten. You are not even allowed inside the house. Rain or shine, you have no shelter. No special food is prepared for you. They give you stale crumbs to eat. No one ever gives you a proper bath. If you happen to be in their way, they kick or beat you with a stick. Yet they expect you to faithfully guard the house day and night. Are you now ready for Baikunth? Remember life there is superior to anything you have ever had on earth. My offer is still open; you just have to say yes. What do you say?”

“No, Narad. No. I don’t want your Baikunth yet. You see, my daughter-in-law is young and carefree. She wears a lot of gold and diamonds, and leaves them carelessly here and there and the thieves living all around here know this. They are looking for an opportunity to steal our property. I keep watch and make sure they do not enter the house. How can I think of going to Baikunth? Please come back in a few years.”

Hanuman heard Narad’s description and was still not satisfied. He insisted that Narad should visit again after a few years.

So after about ten years Narad went again to visit Ghasi Ram’s house. The dog had died. Ghasi’s soul had been reborn as a little worm that wriggled and crawled in filthy muck of the drain outside the house. Dirty water from the houses on the street flowed into the drain. One can only imagine what life would be like in such a place. Narad thought, ‘Now, surely, Ghasi will agree to come to Baikunth with me.’

But Ghasi said, “Life as a crawler is hard, but I am sorry, I am still not ready to leave it. I see my grandchildren playing happily and feel content. All this is familiar, but the freedom and comforts of Baikunth you offer are vague. To tell you the truth I feel scared of the unknown. How will I cope with the freedom you offer? Please leave me alone and go away.”

Narad returned to Baikunth, recounted everything to Hanuman and said, “What you said is true. What a wonderful glue of attachment our God has created? It holds all earth’s creatures, especially the humans, stuck tight to the samsara (web of life) into which they are born. Only one in a million becomes curious, works hard, and breaks loose. Then they taste freedom and know what bliss it is. But they can never fully describe the experience to the others because it is beyond words!”

February 26, 2005

Deserter of Battle

Deserter of Battle

One of Lord Krishna’s many names is ranachhor, literally, deserter of battle. Such a name does not do credit to a brave warrior like Krishna; in fact it is an insult. Yet this name persists and is very popular in Gujarat where boys are often given the name ranachhor das (devotee of the deserter Krishna). Back of this is an interesting story.

A foreign invader named kala yavan came to the Yadav capital Mathura with a huge army of highly trained and well-equipped soldiers. Krishna had just vanquished Kamsa and was the de facto leader of his race.

Kala yavan laid a siege around the city of Mathura and challenged the Yadavas. Everyone knew that the poorly armed and vastly outnumbered Yadavas were no match for the invader. Their council met for several hours without coming to a clear decision. Before the meeting was adjourned, Krishna stood up and asked permission to speak. The king waved his hand indicating consent.

Krishna said, “Honored king of the Yadavas and fellow citizens, the odds against us are overwhelming. If we fight the result will be annihilation of the race; but if we surrender we lose honor, which is worse. Therefore none of the options is good enough. I suggest that I should challenge Kala Yavan to a duel. People will be saved and the issue will be resolved.”

Everyone shouted sadho, sadho in consent. A messenger was sent and Kala Yavan accepted the challenge for a duel. He came to the city gate on the appointed hour the following morning so sure of his strength and wrestling skill that he pitied boy Krishna’s naiveté in throwing him the challenge. In contrast Krishna had argued ‘why have hundreds of soldiers killed and wounded when my opponent wishes only to settle the score with me for killing Jarasandha.’ The city gate opened and Krishna emerged in his yellow fighting garb and a broad smile on his face. He drew his opponent to follow him to a secluded place where his guards would be out of reach.

The story goes that as Krishna walked he took on his divine form with every step. Kala Yavan too, kept following and with each step got into the eternal pursuit of man for the divine. The God gradually lost His form and became subtle and formless. The human pursuer realized that the divine was really within himself and the best place to look was inside and not out. So in the end the conflict was over and both sides came out winners. By leaving the battlefield Krishna enlightened Kala Yavan and taught human kind a lesson.

Feb 19, 2005

Monkey Subuddhi’s Revenge

Monkey Subuddhi’s Revenge

In Panchatantra (an ancient Sanskrit book of animal stories) there is a tale of King Chandra whose sons were fond of monkeys. They kept one hundred of them and lovingly fed each one out of their hands. But incongruously their reason for keeping them was selfish, very cruel.

One day the leader of the monkeys named Subuddhi, who was very intelligent, imagined circumstances in the near future when all the hundred monkeys might be slaughtered. Worried for their lives, he tried to persuade them to flee to the forest; but they were so fond of fancy foods and other conveniences that they turned a deaf ear to his advice. Frustrated, Subuddhi left his companions, fancy food and city to begin new living alone in the forest.

Less than a month later the unthinkable happened. A pet ram of a prince who had acquired the habit of sneaking into the kitchen and eating his favorite foods was caught one day red handed. The cook who found him eating in the kitchen went into a wild rage. He took a burning twig from the stove and ran after the ram. When he hit him on his back the thick wool on his body got lit. The ram panicked and raced toward a barn full of hay. On entering he began to roll on the ground to put the fire out, but the hay caught fire and it spread to the king’s stables where highly prized horses were kept. By the time fire could be quenched, most of the horses had suffered severe burns. The royal vet recommended that monkey fat should be applied to the burnt skin of horses. This being the time honored remedy in those days no one questioned it and all the pet monkeys were slaughtered for their body fat.

Subuddhi heard the tragic news and felt sad and very angry. He had heard that the brave always avenged the wrongs done to them. So he burned with the desire to settle the score with the king. But it was not an easy task by any means.

While roaming in the forest, one day, he came to a large pond full of fresh water. He wanted to go in and drink some but noticing curious patterns of footprints on the water’s edge deterred him. Why were there footprints going inside the lake and none coming out? He wondered. From what he saw, Subuddhi quite correctly deduced that some demon in the lake was eating up the animals that entered the lake. So he found a long lotus reed and began to suck water without entering the water. Soon a huge demon emerged and said’ “You are a very clever monkey. I admire your wisdom and grant you a boon. You may ask for anything you wish.”
Monkey Subuddhi’s mind was still full of the idea of revenge. Deep thinking flashed a brilliant scheme into his mind and he said, “Sir, I have never seen a more beautiful and precious necklace than the one you are wearing. Please give it to me.“ The demon gladly gave the necklace to the monkey and he started walking proudly toward town with the ornament prominently displayed on his chest. Strangers stopped, looked and admired the brilliant pearls. Soon the word spread through town like wildfire.

Subuddhi’s destination however was the King’s court, for he knew that “civilized” men tend to be greedy, and among them rich more so than the poor. All courtiers, and then the King noticed the exquisite garland and asked the monkey where he got it. Without answering, the monkey passed the jewelry around for everyone to evaluate its worth. When he had everyone spellbound he said to the King, “Sir, this most valuable treasure can be had for the asking from a lake some distance away. I invite you together with your courtiers and relatives to come with me and obtain one necklace each. I guarantee it.”

Everyone was salivating and all of them trooped with the monkey to the pond. He told them that since everyone must enter the water together they should line up along the shore and go in when he signaled. When all were positioned as desired, he took the king aside and gave the signal. Everyone entered the water and the monkey and the King watched on the shore. When they failed to come out the king was anxious.

The monkey quietly climbed the nearby tree and shouted, “Sir, I am sorry. My revenge is taken. You killed all my relatives for fat from their bodies. To let a big wrong like that go unchallenged is cowardice. I had to pay you back in the same coin. The demon of the lake has already eaten your relatives.”

February 12, 2005

Vinoba Finds out Fair Wage for Spinners

Vinoba Finds out Fair Wage for Spinners

When Vinoba was still very new at Sevagram some workers started an organization to promote spinning and weaving as means of earning a living. One very important question was what would be the fair wage for a full day’s work. There were many different opinions and often-heated discussions. Everyone of course wanted to be fair to the workers, but some more than others.

Vinoba spoke few words. When asked he said he had no basis for suggesting a fair wage for a full day’s spinning at a hand operated wheel. He would want to know how much it cost to buy the basic necessities and how much yarns an average spinner could produce per day. To find that out would require long fieldwork. Nobody had time for that. Some people thought Vinoba was being too sticky. They needed to come to some figures before the end of their discussions. So they did just that.

Vinoba did not protest, but he was clear what he was going to do to find out the right answer. After the meetings he started spinning about 8 hours a day and continued for six months.
He sold the yarn every day to the shop set up by the khadi organization (predecessor to today’s Khadi and Village Industries Commission). He bought his food and other minimal necessities with the money he earned.

In the next meeting of the organization Vinoba gave detailed report of his experiment. What struck the members very deeply was his observation that all of six months he could afford only one meal a day. It is up to us he said, to change or not to change the figures we agreed on in our last meeting.

Vinoba’s diet even at that time was quite meager. We know that he lived on 600-700 calories per day in the second half of his life.

February 5, 2005

God Alone might save me

God Alone might save me

Long time ago a king had no children. A learned man suggested sacrificing a child in front of the Devi.

The king announced a large reward if a family would give their child for the purpose. A poor couple had four sons. In order to get the reward they offered their 13-year-old boy to the king.

The boy was taken to the palace. He was bathed, properly groomed from head to toes, nicely dressed, and sumptuously fed. He was then given a last chance to do what he wished.

The boy wanted to perform a puja (ritual worship) at the riverbank. There he sat down on the sand and carefully built 4 sand piles. He then prayed before one of them and demolished it. He did the same to the send and the third. The boy did not destroy the fourth pile.

The king was curious and asked the boy the meaning of all he had done. The boy answered: “The first pile symbolized parents and family. They offered me to be sacrificed just for a little money. I rule them out from my list of well-wishers. The second pile stood for my community that I thought would always support me, but they failed me. I rule them out also. The third pile was for my king and he too proved useless. So I flattened his pile too. The fourth pile represents God. I have not destroyed because I do not know what He would do when all others have failed.

The king was so impressed he cancelled the sacrifice and adopted the boy. He grew up as the crown prince and in time became the king.
January 29, 2005

Gambling Match of Mahabharat

Gambling Match of Mahabharat

“Like a stone on a sling we are hurled, seemingly helplessly, round and round in a circle by destiny. What choice a situation offers only one in a million recognizes, for as brilliant light blinds
the eye, destiny clouds our vision.”

When Yudhishtar received his cousin Duryodhan’s invitation to a gambling game he answered in an affirmative. YES, he said. He knew Duryodhan was burning with envy and wanted to humble him and his brothers. He also knew that Shakuni will play for the Kauravas, and he is a cunning trickster.

Further, Yudhishtar was clearly warned by his uncle Vidur and others that the game he was being invited to was no mere game. It had a sinister motive. His brothers told him he was walking into a snare. Yet Yudhishtar accepted the invitation saying that a kshatriya never turns down a challenge. Was it destiny? At seems destiny did have a hand in it.

Hundreds of dignitaries were invited and accommodated in comfortable specially crafted sofas around the arena. King Dhritrashtra, patriarch Bhishma, guru Vishwamitra, as well as other important leaders and members of the clan were present and seated in places appropriate to their ranks. The public too was invited to this shameful chess of destiny with pawns from the royal family.

Yudhishtar lost the first two throws, when he also lost the third; he complained that Shakuni was cheating. But he was cleverer in talking even than in cheating. Like today’s lawyers he fooled and subdued everyone. The game continued. Duryodhan’s men were suggesting stakes to the rapidly losing Pandava. He lost villages, cities, gold, his brothers, himself, and finally Draupadi.

Bhim and Arjun were furious; they muttered oaths. The elders saw what was going on. Vidur talked into the king’s ear. Bhishma was stunned. The air was ominous. Foundations of a ruinous conflict were being laid. Even the ordinary people could guess trouble.

Duryodhan was warned, “Please stop. You know the dice are loaded. If you go on cheating beyond limits antagonism will reach flash point and total destruction will follow.” Duryodhan knew this well but he was too jubilant to listen. He said, “This is a game we have played since ancient times. One side always loses. Today, thank God, we are winning. Do you want me to be sorry for that? No, I cannot be sorry, for I am glad. We are lucky the Pandava are not. What can I do?”

As we know the game ended badly. Duryodhan’s brother Dushasan and his friend Karan misbehaved to the extent of insulting Draupadi in public. Arjun and Bhim vowed in the full assembly to avenge the insults. The ground for the great Kurukshetra war was laid.

Bhishma was angry. Dhritrashtra was asked to declare the game null and void and invalidate all gains and losses. Pandava were set free. But destiny was not deterred. The Kauravas did not learn any lessons. They continued to feed the flames of discord, and in the end the big war had to be fought.

Have we learned? Thousands of years later, today, nations (and social divisions within them) are playing the same game. Powerful industrialized nations are winning and the rest are losing all the time. Obviously the dice are loaded as they were then. Otherwise, in a game of chance how can one side win all the time?

Conflicts are increasing and violence spreading like wild fire. Wise men and women caution us that due to lack of socio-economic justice the entire human race is in danger, but are we listening? Can we do something? Or is it again destiny?

January 15, 2005

Mahadev Humbled

Mahadev Humbled

Mahadev and Parvati sometimes go on a stroll to talk to ordinary folks. Once on such a visit, near a village they saw a farmer planting seeds. Mahadev asked him why he was planting seeds when there were neither clouds nor any other signs of impending rain. He got into a long drawn conversation and bored Parvati went home to Kailash.

The farmer said signs or not he still expected rain in the night.

The two got into a heated argument. One said it will and the other that it will not rain. In order to prove that he was right Mahadev went to the rain god, Indra, and told him not to send rain in the night. Indra agreed but said if the frogs croaked he would not be able to restrain himself.

Mahadev went to the king of frogs and told him to order the frogs not to croak in the evening. He said, “I’d like to obey you, lord, but I cannot help it if the fireflies come and shine.”

Mahadev went to the chief firefly and asked her reign her tribe for just one night. She agreed and Mahadev was happy.’ Now the farmer will be proved wrong,’ he thought.

But wonder of wonders, black clouds came from nowhere and it began to pour. Mahadev was furious. He went to Indra and shouted at him for breaking his word.

“But I was helpless,” he complained. “The frogs croaked. What could I do?”

Mahadev went and called the king of frogs a cheat. “Why did you promise one thing and do something else?”

The king of frogs said it was not his fault because a firefly shone.

Mahadev complained to the chief firefly. She said, “Not a single one of us shined, I swear.”

Mahadev was puzzled. He went to the tree under which he had seen the farmer. He was sitting there holding a pole. The burned cloth at the top of his mashal (firebrand) had fallen off, but the end of the stick was still glowing. It is this that the frogs had mistaken for a firefly flash.

Mahadev admitted defeat and went home to tell the story to Parvati, his beloved wife.

January 22, 2005

Food Offerings to Ancestors

Food Offerings to Ancestors

India and China are next-door neighbors; naturally, they influenced each other’s culture. One such influence is in honoring ancestors. In both the cultures ancestors are remembered, honored and fed. On specified periods each year priests or the poor are feasted on favorite foods of the ancestors.

Also in both cultures the line of descent is traced all the way to the great flood when almost everyone was drowned. There are legends of such a flood called pralaya in the Indian tradition. The Chinese too have a beautiful story of the flood that we shall hear presently.

This folk tale is popular among the Jiro people of China and it goes as follows. Long ago, water began to flow alarmingly, inundating villages and killing people, plants and animals. One family that had a son named Manu and twin daughters Mani and Mang did some quick thinking. They packed a hollowed log with food and told the children to climb in. The opening at the top was covered with cowhide and sealed with bee’s wax. Bells were attached to the boat so that they would ring when the boat hit dry land. The raging flood drowned the parents and set the log afloat.

After many days on the water the children were curious to see what was happening. The boy slit the cowhide with his knife. There was high water and dead bodies floating everywhere. The boy quickly closed the opening and sealed it with wax.

After several weeks of floating the log landed on a hilltop. The bells rang; the children came out and began to scout for a suitable place to build a house. They put up a shelter the best way they knew how and found enough edible berries and leaves despite the destruction cause by the flood.

Many years passed. One day, Manu, now a man, noticed grey hair on his sisters’ heads. It dawned on him that they were the only three people alive and all were getting old. The boy proposed to his sisters the idea of marriage and procreation. They were horrified at first but on further reflection grasped the importance of their brother’s suggestion. The sisters decided to agree but said they must first get the permission of grandfather Banyan tree.

As they went to the tree, Manu quietly ran by the short cut and hid behind it. The sisters bowed down before the Banyan and said, “We know it is not right to marry our brother, but under the circumstances we are confused. Please guide us,” Manu answered in an old man’s deep voice, “Children, if you don’t marry your brother the human race will end. Incest is permitted in this case.” After saying this Manu raced home and was there before the sisters returned.

So the twin sisters married their brother, but for long years none of them conceived. Manu feared they might already be too old. But something strange was happening.

One of the pumpkin seeds their parents had packed in the boat grew and flourished unusually well. Its creeper crept over valleys and mountains and spread like no other plant had ever done before. Thousands of pumpkins ripened every year. One branch of the creeper climbed over the twins’ house and produced a lot of fruit.

One day Mani heard strange voices in the back of the house. The sounds were not loud, but it seemed that a lot of little people were clamoring. Who could they be? She called Manu and both of them looked everywhere. Finally, they were convinced that the sounds were coming from a large pumpkin. Not knowing what to do, they didn’t do anything.

After much hushed waiting Manu decided to release the people inside the pumpkin. With a big knife he tried to cut a hole. A piteous cry came from inside, ‘please have pity, do not cut us.’ Manu stopped. Twice again he tried to cut the gourd to release the people, but had to stop because of appeals from inside.

Then another more commanding voice spoke from inside, “Son, I am Apierer. These are my children. The time has come for them to come out and spread over the earth. Please open the path on my navel.”

Manu did what he was told. As soon as the way opened, Apo came out. Because he rubbed against Apierer’s black navel his skin became dark and to this day the Apo people of China are dark.

Next came out the Han to spread with his descendents over a lot of land. Third came Dai and last came Jiro. Ji in Chinese means ‘squeeze’ and no ‘last’. So the Jiro were the last to squeeze out.

By the time Jiro came out, all the land was already occupied. So the Jiro settled on the remaining least desirable hilly area where they still live. But they are full of gratitude to Grandmother Apierer for her sacrifice. They always offer food to her and give thanks whenever they have good fortune.

January 01, 2005

Ganga Talks of Her Children

Ganga Talks of Her Children

River Mother Ganga flowed quietly one late afternoon. The day had been hot and muggy, but the soft breeze cooled quickly over the river water, especially because the sun had already turned toward the west. Mother Ganga was unhurried and in a pleasant mood.

I sat down on a ledge on the bank and turned both my ears to the river. My entire attention was in the ears. I heard no clear words I could understand, just a faint hum. But after some time, when I got more tuned in, I sensed that Ganga was watching me to read my thoughts. Like in a dream, she began to talk to me, telling me of her million experiences of watching life on her banks. This is what I heard.

“Son, you seem to be a serious young man. Let me tell you something about trees. They grow all along my course in a large variety and number. I often hear them talk about themselves.
The mango tree is boastful. She stands tall, wide, and luxuriant. In summer she is loaded with fruit. Some mango trees live for 500 years or more. When they flower, bees and other honey sucking insects gather in their millions and feast on the mango’s nectar. The scene is one of a giant mother suckling a vast brood. Then the flowers dry up and fall. Little mango fruits begin to appear and in a few weeks they ripen to the delight of humans and many other animals. Some of them literally subsist on mangoes for months every year. The tree has reason to boast but there is a price to pay.

Another day I watched a Pipal tree. It was huge like the mango but its thicker trunk and denser foliage made it look bigger. It produces no fruit for the humans, but twice a year it is loaded with little figs that the birds love to eat. Flocks of migratory birds alight on their favorite Pipal on their flight path year after year and stay for a few days to build up the fat level in their bodies. Local birds too, feast on the figs of the generous Pipal. The Pipal tree is proud of itself, but also enslaved by its worldly role for which it has to bend all its energies.

One day, I had the opportunity to visit with a Gulmohar (May Flower) growing tall on my bank. It was early April when the winter goes and spring arrives. The Gulmohar was sprouting millions of buds all over its branches. Soon after, these buds blossom into the most gorgeous flowers. There are so many of them that the whole tree appears to be one giant flower. There is no other tree that can match the Gulmohar in beauty. The flowers keep coming for about three months. The Gulmohar produces no food for humans, other animals, or birds; but its beauty gladdens all of them and they come as if pulled by a powerful magnet. Quite naturally, the tree is proud and it shoos all other plants from under it.

I could go on endlessly talking of my observations, but before stopping I must tell you of my conversation with a most unusual tree. It is called Cypress. It is neither big not long-lived, nor does it bear flowers or fruit. Occasionally a bird might build a nest in its branches, but otherwise no one is drawn to the Cypress tree. Yet in Persia they call the Cypress ‘Azad’, i.e. free. It has attracted the attention of poets and mystics everywhere through the ages. Naturally, I was full of curiosity when I got my chance to have the attention of a living, breathing Cypress not far from my shore. I wanted to know what this plain being had to say for himself. The following is what I learned.

The Cypress likes to remain still and unruffled. It takes for its sustenance a bare minimum of food, drink, space, and attention. It is so humble it does not ask for a particular terrain or climate. It grows in the Himalayas as well as in the desert. This strange tree remains green all year round. It is healthy, happy, and content most of the time.

Because it requires so little and thinks for itself, the Cypress chooses to be FREE. It does not dance to the wind, nor sing to the breeze like the Pipal. In the fall it does not shed its leaves. All winter it remains green when all other trees go grey, bare, and bald. Coming of spring gladdens the Cypress, but it does not glow, burst and dance like the others; for by turning inward it had remained cozy throughout the winter.

Cypress is neither stingy nor unloving even though it does not give anything tangible. Yet it gives something priceless—the knowledge of how to remain happy in this world full of sorrow. It is burdened neither by social obligations, nor political cumber. All its life it takes its just share of what is available. And since it does not suffer from the guilt of grabbing what should have gone to others it does not feel indebted to anyone. Perhaps when the Gita talks of stithapragnya, Cypress is her model.”

January 8, 2005

I Let Go of My Accumulations

I Let Go of My Accumulations

This is a Black American prayer. I came across this beautiful poem in May 1997 and share it now with all you friends.

My ego is like a fortress.
I have built its walls
stone by stone
to hold out the invasion
of the love of God.

But I have stayed here long
enough. There is light,
over the barriers, Oh my God.
The darkness of my house
and overtake my soul.

I relax the barriers.
I abandon all that I think I am,
all I hope to be
all that I believe I possess.

I let go of the past,
I withdraw my grasping hand
from the future,
and in the great silence of this moment,
I alertly rest my soul.

As the sea gull lays in the wind current,
so I lay into the spirit of God,
my dearest human relationships,
my most precious dreams.
I surrender to His care all that I have called my own.

I give back
all my favorite things
which I withhold in my storehouse.
I let go.

I give myself unto thee
O my God.

--Howard Thurman

January 28, 2006

Making of a Bhikshuni

Making of a Bhikshuni

Twenty-five hundred years ago during travels across India to share his insight with the people, Gautam Buddha camped outside the city of Vidisha in a mango grove. (Vidisha still exists just north of Bhopal.) The grove was at some distance from the settlement and the Buddha and all the bhiksus went out every morning, bowls in hand, to beg food.

Buddha was walking along the street one day when a chariot stopped and a well dressed young lady came out of it. She walked toward him with a garland of jasmine flowers in hand. As she tried to put the garland around the Buddha’s neck, he said, “No, shubhe, (auspicious one), this is not the right time for it, for I am carrying my begging bowl. If you bring this garland to the grove tomorrow morning, I will gladly accept it.” The lady gracefully agreed and left.

A companion informed the Buddha that the lady was Vanamala, a wealthy and prominent citizen of Vidisha. She entertained the rich with her beautiful songs and dances in an auditorium in her own palatial house. She also taught the young men of the area’s prominent houses in etiquette and finesse in interpersonal relations. Fame of her skill and beauty had spread throughout the region.

The following morning Vanamala arrived at the camp with the jasmine garland in hand and gracefully offered it to the Buddha. He respectfully received it, but commented, “Shubhe, as you can see, the jasmines have withered and their fragrance is gone. They are not like they were yesterday when you first offered them to me.”

Vanamala was a bit puzzled. She asked, “Bhante Bhagawan, don’t you know how fast these flowers decay? They are fresh today and gone tomorrow. I am sorry.”

“Yes indeed,” answered the Buddha, “but so is the body; strong and beautiful today, weak and wilted tomorrow.”

The lesson was crystal clear and its delivery straight as an arrow. Vanamala was pierced to the core.

She began to attend Buddha’s daily discourses. Soon after, she began to spend more time with the bhikshunis at the camp.

Her professional dates began to get passed up. New appointments were sparingly given. Disappointed customers turned to her rival performers. Her house was soon locked up for she spent all her time at the Buddha’s camp serving together with the other disciples.

In a couple of months as the rainy season came to close The Buddha was ready to pack and move on. Or more truthfully, just move on, for there was nothing to pack. Vanamala too, had donned yellow robes and she too walked barefoot carrying her begging bowl.

A new bhikshuni had been made and put on the path to love, compassion and bliss.

January 14, 2006

Neither a Saree nor a visiting Card!

Neither a Saree nor a visiting Card!

Gandhi ji was a stickler for punctuality.

One day a khadi worker named Hanumanth Rao was ushered into his room full ten minutes late for his appointment at 4:00 PM. Gandhi ji asked him, “Why have you come late?”

Hanumanth Rao answered, “It is because I neither have a starched saree nor a visiting card.”

“What do you mean?” asked Gandhi ji.

“I came punctually five minutes before my appointment, but your volunteers did not allow me to enter your room. They were favoring rich men with visiting cards and women wearing starched sarees! I had neither.”

Gandhi ji laughed, but he also understood what was happening in his own house.

January 7, 2006

Chasing Tails

Chasing Tails

This is an old story first written some years ago. It comes to you in its new avatar.

We have two dogs at Navadarshanam. One is a brown male called Raja. The other is a black female we naturally call Rani. You see, they periodically produce a litter of puppies which leads us to conclude that they are husband and wife.

Raja is handsomer with gold frame on his muzzle and a bit of gold on his ears. His bushy tail is his handsomest organ. It is not only well proportioned; it is also decorated tastefully with shades of brown and gold.

Rani is plain, even rustic in comparison, and not so smart. We cannot say whether or not dogs think of these things and let them fill their minds like us humans. But these two dogs do seem to be sensitive to looks and mental ability.

During my last 2 or 3 visits I had noticed a hint of superior attitude in Raja. In his occasional altercations with Rani he seemed always to want to win. This time I noticed a new habit in Raja of chasing his tail. Every dog with a handsome tail like Raja’s would naturally do such a thing, but Raja spent all his energy in this useless activity. In my opinion it was excessive.

One day I could not resist asking and politely said to him; “Friend Raja, why do you chase your tail all the time? True, it is handsome but why to waste all that energy. Besides, most observers would interpret it as egotistical.”

Raja was a bit embarrassed. He answered, “I know I have a bad habit but I am stuck with it. However, if you don’t mind my saying so I picked it up from you humans, for most of you have it and dogs normally don’t. I have been observing visitors to Navadarshanam. Some are occupied with their wealth. Most are circumspect, but with my superior olfactory power I can smell their body chemistry. Then there are others who are too taken with their education and knowledge. They are always defending a point of view or proving something or the other. Women are not much behind men in this game. They are a long step ahead as some of them spend hours in front of mirrors pinching, massaging, rubbing, plucking, powdering, creaming, coloring, and doing god knows what to their faces. All this is tail chasing and all humans are addicted to it.”

“You are right Raja, but are you suggesting that we can give up tail-chasing? If we did, much of our industry would collapse. For it is dependent on this habit of ours. Also many people would not know what to do with themselves.” I commented.

“Some people would for a time be confused, but they would soon learn to live healthier uncluttered lives. They will begin to enjoy their natural god given beauty and will not need to want to temper with their skin. There is no gain in tail-chasing. That I know from experience.” Raja explained.

I further probed, “Do you think humans have something really valuable to gain by realizing the silliness of tail-chasing? What in your opinion would it be?

“What a question to ask of a dog by a human!” laughed Raja. “You should know. Vishnu lies on a sheshnag (a huge snake) and on a lotus growing from his navel sits Brahma the creator. They do not chase their tails. Their energy is not wasted. And as you can see, they have become gods; Brahma creates and Vishnu sustains the universe. They carry on doing their onerous duties for billions of years because the energy of their silent stillness is awesome.”

“And by not chasing their tails they lose nothing. Lakshmi, Saraswati, and all the other goddesses press their feet. Wealth, learning and all other good things come to them in abundance. Humans too can follow their example and live blissful lives. By leaving your tails alone you can shed all your cares and become enlightened. Humans can do it easily. For dogs it is difficult.”

February 25, 2006