Saturday, 26 October 2013

Kailasha & Swarga

The Heavens of Contentment and Indulgence

Devdutt PattanaikShiva's realm is Kailasa, a stony mountain covered with snow, where there are no pastures, still Shiva's bull is happy. There is a tiger there, the mount of Shiva's consort, Shakti, still Shiva's bull is not afraid. The snake around Shiva's neck does not chase Ganesha's rat and does not get chased by Kartikeya's peacock. There is no fear of death in Kailasa, so no hunger, no predator, no prey, no chase. This is the realm of yoga, where Lakshmi does not matter.

Indra's realm is Amravati, the abode of the Devas, where the Asparas dance, the Gandharvas sing, and Sura flows, where there is the wish-fulfilling tree Kalpataru, the wish-fulfilling gem, Chintamani, and the wish-fulfilling cow, Kamadhenu. There is no fear of death here either, for Indra has consumed Amrita, nectar of immortality.

Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

This is the realm of bhoga or pleasure, where all desires are realised without any effort: where Lakshmi comes when summoned. Yoga demands inner transformation, the churning of inner mental fire, tapa, through the practice of tapasya, to outgrow hunger. It is a solitary activity. Bhoga demands no inner transformation, just the churning of outer fire, agni, through the practice of yagna. Needless to say, people prefer bhoga to yoga, yagna to tapasya. That is why Amravati is referred to as Swarga, paradise. The purpose of human enterprise is to achieve Swarga on earth.

This desire expresses itself in many household rituals of Hinduism. During the festival of Pongal, people of Tamil Nadu boil milk in pots till it overflows. During Gudi Padva, in Maharashtra, pots are perched upside down atop staffs to simulate divine pots showering sweets and silks into the household. During Vishu, in Kerala, the matriarch of the household ensures that the first thing every member of the household sees is his or her own reflection in a mirror surrounded by grain and gold. During Annakoot festivals of temples, vast quantities of food are heaped in the shape of mountains before the deity. Presence of abundant food and fun makes us feel closer to Swarga.

Both Shiva and Indra are immortal. Shiva's immortality is achieved by tapasya. Kama is sacrificed during tapasya. Indra's immortality is achieved through yagna that is fuelled by Kama. And his greatest yagna is the churning of the ocean of milk that yields him the Amrita, the nectar of immortality. Along with Amrita comes Halahal, a poison that threatens to destroy the whole world.

Indra wants to consume Amrita but is unable to handle Halahal. He offers it to Shiva who drinks and digests it, much to Indra's delight.  Along with Amrita also comes the eternal enmity of their half-brothers, the Asuras. Denied a share of Amrita, they remain mortal giving the Devas an unfair advantage over them. Like Shiva, they perform tapasya – but only to get power with which they can defeat Devas, and lay claim to the treasures of Swarga. The Devas fight back, with the help of Vishnu, reclaim their treasures. 

But the defeated Asuras always come back, thanks to the Sanjivani Vidya they get from Shiva. They may not be immortal but they can always come back to life. So Amravati, the land of bhoga, is always under siege. Immortal Indra can never enjoy Lakshmi in peace. So it is with human success.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Vipassana: Ch.1: How it began for me …

That Goenka technique? ... It’s free na? … but You can’t do it…. 10 days is too long to waste … They starve you …  They torture you … They don’t let you speak … It is for old people who are bored… why do you want to torture yourself? … … they will brainwash you… it’s a Buddhist cult … once you join you can’t leave …

I had heard about a distant aunt, whom I admired, being a staunch follower of Vipassana – but other than a few fragments of truth … the rest was all hearsay. But there was a long-standing, deep desire in my heart that kept gently cajoling me to fulfill this long cherished dream of mine.

But I knew it was not going to be easy … being vegetarian, no smoking, no speaking … so I kept putting it off … until I quit smoking on 13 April 2010.

Three years later, having fully recovered from my nicotine addiction - I expressed this latent desire in June 2013 to treat myself for my birthday to this, and my supportive family, though skeptical, were very supportive, once they saw how genuine my desire was.  And so I booked myself for October 2 -12, 2013 course at the closest centre -

Me .... After the Course

Vipassana: Ch.2: A Free Holiday or A Spiritual Adventure?

“I am for conversion, but not from one organised religion to another, but from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation.” - Late Sh. SN Goenka

I recently returned from what I felt was a rollercoaster that lasted for 10 days. It was an emotional rollercoaster because there were times I felt joy and times that I felt fear – but in the end I came out exhilarated and refreshed.

And just like after the first ride in an Amusement Park – I want to go AGAIN! AGAIN! (This time there shall be no fear – as I have come out the other side!)

Having been termed by the Dalai Lama, no less as “Analytic Meditation”  - Be well aware this course is for seekers of a left brained disposition - the rational, logical, and intellectual.

Left vs Right - The Two Hemispheres of the Brain
Vipassana is for the Hard-Headed Realist NOT Soft-Hearted Humanists.

Let me explain with these 2 videos –

While both children are highly advanced in their conception - the baby on the left is better suited than the one on the right – for Vipasanna training.

I would describe Vipassana to the uninitiated simply as a High Intensity Commando Training for the Spiritual Seeker!

If nothing else ... Consider it an all expenses paid 10-day holiday and go!

Personal Highlights –
Body – 3 Days to adjust to schedule
Mind – 6 Days to explode and release all the negativity
Days 7-10 – Sheer Bliss – Walking on Air

Vipassana: Ch.3: Nutshell - This is what I learnt at Camp – Practically

1.     Meditation. Meditation is where mindful living starts. And it’s not complicated: you can sit still for even just 1 minute a day to start with (work up to 3-5 minutes after a week), and turn your attention to your body and then your breath. Notice when your thoughts wander from your breath, and gently return to the breath. Repeat until the minute is up.

2.     Be Awake. Meditation is practice for being awake, which is not being in the dream state (mind wandering into a train of thought, getting lost in the online world, thinking about past offenses, stressing about the future, etc.) but being awake to the present, to what is. Being awake is something you can do throughout the day, all the time, if you remember. Remembering is the trick.

3.     Watch Urges. When I quit smoking in 2005, the most useful tool I learned was watching my urges to smoke. I would sit there and watch the urge rise and fall, until it was gone, without acting on it. It taught me that I am not my urges, that I don’t have to act on my urges, and this helped me change all my other habits. Watch your urge to check email or social media, to eat something sweet or fried, to drink alcohol, to watch TV, to be distracted, to procrastinate. These urges will come and go, and you don’t have to act on them.

4.     Watch Ideals. We all have ideals, all the time. We have an ideal that our day will go perfectly, that people will be kind and respectful to us, that we will be perfect, that we’ll ace an exam or important meeting, that we’ll never fail. Of course, we know from experience that those ideals are not real, that they don’t come true, that they aren’t realistic. But we still have them, and they cause our stress and fears and grief over something/someone we’ve lost. By letting go of ideals, we can let go of our suffering.

5.     Accept People & Life As They Are. When I stopped trying to change a loved one, and accepted him for who he was, I was able to just be with him and enjoy my time with him. This acceptance has the same effect for anything you do — accept a co-worker, a child, a spouse, but also accept a “bad” situation, an unpleasant feeling, an annoying sound. When we stop trying to fight the way things are, when we accept what is, we are much more at peace.

6.     Let Go of Expectations. This is really the same thing as the previous two items, but I’ve found it useful nonetheless. It’s useful to watch your expectations with an upcoming situation, with a new project or business, and see that it’s not real and that it’s causing you stress and disappointment. We cause our own pain, and we can relieve it by letting go of the expectations that are causing it. Toss your expectations into the ocean.

7.     Become OK with Discomfort. The fear of discomfort is huge — it causes people to be stuck in their old bad habits, to not start the business they want to start, to be stuck in a job they don’t really like, because we tend to stick to the known and comfortable rather than try something unknown and uncomfortable. It’s why many people don’t eat vegetables or exercise, why they eat junk, why they don’t start something new. But we can be OK with discomfort, with practice. Start with things that are a little uncomfortable, and keep expanding your comfort zone.

8.     Watch Your Resistance. When you try to do something uncomfortable, or try to give up something you like or are used to, you’ll find resistance. But you can just watch the resistance, and be curious about it. Watch your resistance to things that annoy you — a loud sound that interrupts your concentration, for example. It’s not the sound that’s the problem, it’s your resistance to the sound. The same is true of resistance to food we don’t like, to being too cold or hot, to being hungry. The problem isn’t the sensation of the food, cold, heat or hunger — it’s our resistance to them. Watch the resistance, and feel it melt. This resistance, by the way, is why I’m doing my Year of Living Without.

9.     Be Curious. Too often we are stuck in our ways, and think we know how things should be, how people are. Instead, be curious. Find out. Experiment. Let go of what you think you know. When you start a new project or venture, if you feel the fear of failure, instead of thinking, “Oh no, I’m going to fail” or “Oh no, I don’t know how this will turn out”, try thinking, “Let’s see. Let’s find out.” And then there isn’t the fear of failure, but the joy of being curious and finding out. Learn to be OK with not knowing.

10. Be Grateful. We complain about everything. But life is a miracle. Find something to be grateful about in everything you do. Be grateful when you’re doing a new habit, and you’ll stick to it longer. Be grateful when you’re with someone, and you’ll be happier with them. Life is amazing, if you learn to appreciate it.

11. Let Go of Control. We often think we control things, but that’s only an illusion. Our obsession with organization and goals and productivity, for example, are rooted in the illusion that we can control life. But life is uncontrollable, and just when we think we have things under control, something unexpected comes up to disrupt everything. And then we’re frustrated because things didn’t go the way we wanted. Instead, practice letting go of control, and learn to flow.

12. Be Compassionate. This sounds trite, but compassion for others can change the way you feel about the world, on a day-to-day basis. And compassion for yourself is life-changing. These two things need remembering, though, so mindful living is about remembering to be compassionate after you forget.

Buddha on the hill / from your holy nose indeed / hangs an icicle ~ Issa (Ancient Japanese Haiku)

The courses are divided into 4 distinct steps:

I. The first step is about “The Conduct”. The aspirant should not engage in any of the following activities; killing, theft, sexual activity, lies, and intoxication. The goal is to calm and prepare the mind.

II. The second step is about keeping the “Focus On The Breath”, the activity that happens in the nostrils. The goal is to master the mind by keeping the focus on the present moment.

III. The third step is about “Observing The Sensations In The Body And Not Reacting To Them”. The goal is to understand the sensations in the body, develop equanimity, and learning not to react to them, with the ‘experiential understanding’ of impermanence

IV. Finally the fourth step is about “Emanating Love And Goodwill To All”. The goal is to develop Mangal Maitri - compassion, purity and love.