Friday, September 19, 2014

How his "Raghu Vamsa Sudha" changed my life

The Mandolin Samrat Passes Away

The period was the mid 80's. . We owned a panasonic cassette player and some of the earliest cassettes were devotional and movie songs like sankarabharanam which were a smash hit of that period..

One day, my mother brought home a bhajan cassette of ISCKON named Samarpan , sung by  Jagjit Singh. While we enjoyed the bhajan on one side of the cassette, suddenly , the cassette played out a Veena like rendering at the end- obviously the tradition of local recording centres who fill up the end pieces of cassettes with tid bit music. 

But this tid bit music was different. I was all about twenty years then, with no knowledge of music. But this music kept ringing in my mind. I would rewind the cassette and often play this part, not even knowing who played it, what the instrument was, what the song was and what Raga it was.

After nearly 25 years  in 2009 that I started learning music and learnt the Veena. At this time , I heard many recordings of musicians. When listening to M S Subbulakshmi, I recognised one particular song  to be the same as the bit of music at the end of the cassette heard by me long ago. The song was Raghu Vamsa Sudha, a Kirtana by Pattanam Subrahmanya Ayyar, in Telugu. My music teacher explained to me that the Raga was kathana kuthookalam. And most important, I found out from the internet that it was Mandolin Mastro U Srinivas, who played it. I also heard's Srinivas's full recording on youtube. The pep and joy in that song was indescribable. This period was a creative period for me and I learnt many songs and Ragas including this one in my Veena. 

Here is U Srinivas's rendering of the song on youtube.

My joy was immeasurable when I first played Raghuvamsa Sudha in my Veena. Every time I play that, I keep telling that Srinivas's rendering should be my goal to reach in that particular song. I do not know whether I will do it, but I have resolved to try. 

Khalil Gibron made a remark somewhere that children are born because of life's longing for itself.   I question this philosophically, and can point out a flaw in this theory. But, the prodigies like Srinivas make me wonder if that is so. Prodigies are the flavours of the dull monotony of our times. U Srinivas, that wonder boy from Andhra,  took the conservative Tamilnadu by storm with his unconventional instrument. His nimble fingers poured complicated kirtanas with effortless ease. The simultaneous playing of the madhyama sthayi (normal octave) and the mandra sthayi (lower octave) together in Veena recitals was a  consummate art which only renowned masters like Emani Sankara Sastri could do. Srinivas made that complicated art look child's play. His vintage record Vatapi Ganapatim is still wonderful and compares with any of the best albums released.

Osho once wrote that the virtuous and good karma laden Atmas wait long to take birth in this Bhu loka since such a womb is hard to get. They need to quickly wash off bad karmas of some previous life. And Srinivas looks a similar example of such a life. He came ,  entertained a whole generation and silently passed away. His life is like a fragrant one and it will continue to attract many more generations.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Sri Modi should have done in the Linguistic issue ?

Tamil nadu is a queer place. Its people are one kind and its politicians are altogether another kind in every issue. In all the cities, district headquarters and towns across Tamilnadu, Hindi teaching academies make a killing with offers like '30 day Hindi" to "30 hour Hindi"  programmes. Posters and flyers advertising for 'fluency in Hindi' are quite common across Tamilnadu. Gandhi is on record saying the Hindi spoken by South Indians is sweet.

Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha , organises Hindi courses in a proper manner and conducts exams here. To top it, almost all the matriculation schools in Tamilnadu has Hindi as an option in their curriculum not to speak of the CBSE pattern public schools where Hindi is normal.

It was in such a time that the politicians of the state went to war with Prime minister Sri Narendra Modiji  for his remark to patronize Hindi in online media. They called it an imposition. The minions of these politicians parroted their leaders' voice all over the state and local media. The Prime minister's office had to work extra time to 'clarify' the PM's remark.

As a person who privately studied Hindi while in school , I know its value today and the advantage it gives me in my personal and business lives .   Now looking back, I do not at all regret that long  walk  to the Hindi teacher's house. As I look at Modi ji's remark, I see no harm in it but, feel that there was another wonderful way this matter could have been handled. Only imagination and understanding of the Indian psyche was needed.

What Modiji  wanted to achieve in the end ? Was it the acceptance of Hindi in Social media ? No, it was to decrease the dominance of English. When that was the case, why did Modi ji went to town patronising Hindi ?

He could have simply asked Indians to depend less and less on English and instead focus on other National languages instead. This would have been an instant hit and could have triggered a nationwide debate. I call that a 'win win situation' where no Indian stands to lose. We all know what a havoc English is wrecking on young indian minds. Stripping English language layer by layer to its barbaric and colonial levels will happen within quick time. Modi ji  does not need any ministry to do this. He has enough followers on the internet to do this at zero cost and in a day.

Modiji  would have had the whole nation behind him had he jumbled his words and said the same thing in different words. No doubt, Hindi has the maximum acceptance in India. But being the statesman that he is, Modi should have considered the non Hindi states. By consensus, Hindi could have become a second official language to teach technical subjects and arts subjects in colleges. At least a beginning could have been made. The crux of the matter is that English should not have such an unchallenged run and should be curtailed and relegated to an 'optional' language of Indians.

The Chinese, Japanes, German, French, Russian , Spanish, Italian - all of them study in their mother tongue. Only Indians on  mass scale study in English. I also suspect that there is a coterie which works overtime to safeguard and impose the interests of the English language in India. For example, the dravidian lobby, while pretending to protect Tamil, has, in a short span of 10 years , pushed Tamil out of all government schools. Now Tamil is only an optional language there. This is an alarming situation. Children studying in a foreign language are undergoing an enormous stress which was highlighted by Gandhiji  even 75 years back.

Modiji could have highlighted these and could have asked for our opinion. I know that he is a man of sincere intentions and he should simply reverse strategies to further his objectives in this. Side by side, Modi can also appoint expert committees to purge non hindi words from the present biriyani Hindi taught in school books and college texts.

For all the non Hindi states, Modi can leave them to use their languages. But, the underlying warning should be to rid English.There will come a time, when non Hindi students who study outside their state carry this language to their society. There is already a silent population which knows Hindi and welcomes it.  And slowly but surely , we can have a NATURAL, UNIVERALLY LOVED NATIONAL LANGUAGE in our midst.

Once, Hindi starts to kindle our interests,   side by side its grand parent language, Sanskrit, the mother of all languages will also start to bloom and emerge from its hibernation and will show its secular and spiritual treasures to us and the world at large.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

So, you want to meditate ?

A few years back, I was talking with some female employees of my company. The topic was pranayama and I was telling them the value of mudras in pranayama. For  a demonstration, I asked them to close their eyes to observe the flow of breath with each mudra. These women, who were not even matriculates,   would have hesitated if I asked them to do a pooja . But, asked to do this eye closing pose, I was surprised to see their eagerness. They were following all that I told with great attention.  They always mentioned that session later with much pride and called that session as "dhyanam" though it was a pranayama.

That was a lesson to me. Meditation or Dhyanam has become a sure catch phrase in today's India. Being Macaulay's programmed children, the whole of India sees value in anything that is endorsed by the white man and Meditation is on top of the list.

Does Meditation play a crucial role in a Hindu's everyday life ? The answer is a clear no. If, the majority is induced into meditate every day, will it bring qualitative changes in their lives and bring our society to the level it was a thousand years ago ?

As I analysed this question, I get a big NO as the answer. But today's Hindu media is abuzz with the idea of meditation as a must for the modern person. The corporate gurus are advocating meditation to all their followers. Given this scenario, is there real truth that meditation or dhyanam is the key for spiritual progress of an average man. Let us see my own case.

Meditation and Myself

I was twenty years old then and was a keen student of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna. When  Chinmayananda toured Coimbatore in 1984, I went to his Gita lectures. With  a seat in the last rows of the crowd  all the days I could only see the swamy from a great distance. He was taking the 6 th chapter, Atma Samyama Yogam of the Gita. It is also called the Dhyana Yogam. The language was flowery, the contents seemed so beautiful and I felt I had received some great messages in those evenings.

Within a month all the euphoria vanished as all my attempts to 'meditate' failed. I tried to do as per Chinmayananda's guidelines. Sit down, Close your eyes,  let the thoughts flow by, do not interfere with them. I tried to desperately succeed in this and I was even confused whether this was correct or wrong. Every time I sat down for meditation, I emerged a more confused person than I was before. The peace, the experience of yourself alone were simply words in the book which I could hardly even begin to experience.

Then started my experiments with other meditation 'techniques' like the Transcendental meditation , The simplified Kundalini Yoga of Vedaththiri, and the brahma kumari types.

I immediately rejected Vedathiri and Brahma kumaris for their absurd philosophies and also because their meditation sessions were just  eye closing ones.They had nothing for a person of burning spiritual ambition like me.  Vedaththiri's SKY gave me some headaches too.

At this juncture, my professional life started and these experiments were in the backburner.. But my was reading a lot and  kept  searching for a good meditation technique. Meantime, I became a great admirer of Ayn Rand, America's intellectual lady who wrote such books as " Atlas Shrugged", "Fountainhead" "We the living" etc. Slowly I was losing faith in rituals and meditation. I  almost became an atheist. But not quite. I still believed in that " Supreme Brahman" since I had read the grand lives of Vivekananda, Ramakrishna and Ramana.

Then I got married and had two children in a span of six years. At around this time, I restarted doing hatha yoga and tried to do some meditation at the end of each session. My family reported to me that I had become very irritable. On close observation , I noticed that I was irritable only on the days on which I meditated. On some days, I even flew into a rage. On one such day my blood pressure was 160/120 !!! So, one fine day, my wife banned my mediation sessions.

I had started Gita reading regularly at this time due to some  circumstances which I call divine. . Along with Gita sadhana, a change happened in me. I was experiencing Bhakti for the first time in decades. I had horripilating sessions, tearful prarthanas and many stunning experiences during the Gita Parayana. I was very peaceful till I came to the 6 th chapter. This time I attempted the dhyanam as mentioned and all my previous troubles like that  rage and reslessness came back in a fury.

 But I kept questioning many Gurus who claimed to have knowledge on this. Their 'remedies' only worsened my situation. All the modern gurus said that spiritual progress is impossible without meditation , and here I was , not able to close my eyes for a few minutes . I became frustrated and totally abandoned meditation.

Many of my friends also reported such things. My brother in law said, he was raving mad at anyone interpreting him in his meditation. Another person reported sleeplessness, another friend had headaches. Every time, the picture of Buddha in the famous dhyana pose  teased me.

After many years, I read two very important works which changed the way I looked at Dhyanam. They broke the halo around the word 'Dhyanam' and destroyed many miconceptions I had about it. The first book was "the Orange book of Meditation" by Osho. The next and more important book was "Meditation" by Swamy Bhajananda (of Ramakrishna Mission).

Osho's book " The Orange Book Of Meditation:

In this book Osho listed 101 techniques. Though the book tiltle is meditation  , Osho called them as methods of Catharsis (or Purging methods). For example, Osho would tell a student to hit a pillow, kick it, bite and do whatever you like to vent your feelings or emotions. (In privacy). Another method is breathing through the mouth in a most irregular way. Another one is to run in a chaotic manner not following any rhythm.

Notice that all the above are not 'normal' acts. You will look at them as a joke. It is not. Osho says that a modern man is not fit for meditation. He is full of dirt and needs a mental purgatory technique. He prompted the readers to choose any one of those techniques that suited him best.One day I tried the pillow technique for fifteen minutes and felt relaxation fully. I felt I was fit for meditation now. But my confidence level was still low to attempt it.

This was my half awakening only. The next revelation was awaiting me in the other book by Bhajanananda.

Bhajanananda's book - "Meditation"

This book was another divine twist in my life. Nowhere in this book you will find a single line of instruction for meditation. But then, you may ask, what is the speciality of this book ? Why then, was it named as "Meditation" ?

Yes, these are valid questions. Bhajanananda was a higher soul who has had some rare insights. Plus, he describes in a straightforward and innocent language. And, he drew his content from the Magnum Opus of Yoga of all time which is known as "Patanjali Yoga Sutras"

What changed my concept of Meditation was the revelation that it is a part of the mosaic called Yoga. In other words it is  a limb of Yoga. I knew this . Everyone knows this. Why then such a fuss ?  But pause here. Have you ever spent as much time to think about the other limbs of yoga as you have done with  Meditation ? Most probably not . Dhyanam is the seventh limb in an ascending order. I am giving a list of them followed by the sutra by Patanjali describing that particular limb.

1. Yama
अहिंसा सत्यास्तेय ब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यामा: ।
The five qualities of ahimsa, adherence to  truthful ways, non coveting of other's property, brahmacharya, and non interest in accumulating wealth make up the first limb called yama.

सौचसन्तोष तप: स्वादयायेस्वर प्राणिदानानी  नियमा:।
cleanliness, pleasantness regardless of one's status, life of sadhana, self study of works of  adhyatma path,  dedication of all oneself to Iswara constitute Niyama

3. Asanam
  स्थिरसुखमासनम् ।
 A proper posture which can afford painless sessions of sadhana is asanam. This is also a victory over our posture which allows us to do long sadhanas.

बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भ वृद्धिर्देशकाल संख्याभि: परिदृष्टो दीर्घसुष्म : ।

Retaining the prana inside or outsidewith regard to the place time and count are called the deergha and sookshma pranayamas.

5. Pratyahara
स्वविषय सम्प्रयोगे चित्तस्वरूपानुकार इवेन्द्रियाणाम प्रत्याहार : ।

The stage in which the senses are withdrawn from the sense objects and dwell in the chitta is called pratyahara.

6. Dharana:

दसबंदश्चित्तस्य धारणा : ।

Focussing the mind for quite a lenth of time is called dharana.

7. Dhyanam:

तत्र प्रत्यैकतानना  ध्यानम् ।

Ability to focus the chitta  further for much longer periods is called dhyaanam.

8. Samadhi:

तदेवार्थ मात्र निर्भासम स्वरूपसुनयमिव समाधि : ।

When the feeling of I vanishes during dhyaanam and only the meditated object remains, that state is samadhi.

Now you see, dhyanam is possible only after total sense control, physical ability to dwell for long periods in sadhana and subtle breath control followed by withdrawal of senses from pleasure objects.

My mistake was to have started the seventh step without the least idea of the basic steps. How can a man drenched to the neck in worldly affairs in an energetic manner ever succeed in yoga ? So my failure to meditate is a normal outcome. I thank myself for not having pushed too vigorously. I might have even gone insane.

It was Bhajanananda who so beautifully illustrated the faultlines in the modern understanding of dhyanam. His book was the first book I read which stated explicitly that pooja is a very very sure and safe  path for a beginner of yoga. I am in total agreement with this since for the last ten years I was drawing much spiritual strength from my daily pooja and sloka chanting. Many modern gurus do not even mention the value of pooja. Some other gurus mention them in a passing manner only.

I am doing intense pooja and prarthana to cleanse myself of the dirt of many lives . That is the elementary step.  Sense control has hardly been begun.. Then there will be a natural progress. If I then try to withdraw my senses from  objects that might be another great leap.

Then, and then only I can gain enough spiritual strength to do dharana and dhyanam.

I am writing this to warn the sadhaks of the dangers in spiritual path. My life experience may be a life changer for many an aspirant.

Spiritual path is a lonely one and you have only your ishta devata for support and your guru's diksha as the guiding post.  Do not fall for high sounding talks on Dhyanam. Shun all the modern day gurus. All that we need to do has already been given in black and white by our ancestors. We already have our traditional mutts who have preserved those knowledge.

I am humbled at the power of puja, which gave me so much. If only I had done enough sadhana in those years in the wilderness, I would have been a mature sadhaka now. But, I remain still a beginner due to the glittering talks and books that led me astray.