Thursday, 27 December 2018

Unfamiliar Lines:

image credit: bipasha m

The end of this particular year deserves a post. This has been a special year, for me, and for many people like me elsewhere. In the sense of regular living, nothing has changed on the surface. But I am not the same person I was at the beginning of this year. The year, at one level, seems to have gone by in a flash. But I can recall every day of every month with crystal clarity because I lived all the days at nature’s pace – without any hurry.

Some of the lessons that I have learnt this year are simple yet so critical – to become human in the real sense; the importance of which I cannot stop emphasizing. The list of lessons that I have learnt can go on to fill pages, but here are some of the most important ones that I want to share.

·       Remember the movie Tamasha by Imtiaz Ali? Everyone is born with one gift in the least which is unique like every individual. Find your gift and let that gift lead you in life. Your gift is not about being a leader or an orator or a team player or money manager. Think subtler, something which you have buried deep inside and forgotten. Are you intuitive, a healer, an herbalist, a singer, a dreamer, a storyteller, a person who connects dots, a performer? Go back to your childhood – who were you then, what did you do naturally, what were you drawn to naturally? That IS your gift – hone it, live it. Just like the movie!

·       Humanity’s potential is vast, like cosmos vast. With the kind of life we are living now, we barely have scratched its surface. No, it’s not about being a CEO of a company or a world champion or a beauty pageant or earning like the Ambanis. Human potential is about the power of the subconscious, and the power of your heart. We have immense capacity for love (not the jealous possessive kinds), compassion, empathy, intuition, 'psychic' abilities, creating magic, self-healing, connections to each other and other sentient beings!

·       Reconnect with your heart and listen to what it says! Stop thinking with your mind or brain. Your heart knows what is best for you and will guide you accordingly. Use your mind to implement what your heart says and watch how everything changes around you. We have collectively used our brains for way too long and we are nowhere near being happy. Just look at the state of our world!

·       Move your body. Dance. Yes, dance! Switch on the music, switch off the lights, close your eyes, place your hand on your heart and let your body respond to the music. We need to know and love our bodies, just as it is. We are as disconnected from our bodies and we are from our hearts. If you have the strength, stand in front of a mirror naked and look at yourself. Acknowledge yourself for who you are.

·       Fall in love with the night. Don’t rush to switch on the lights when dusk approaches. Watch the day merge into the night. Watch the stars, reconnect with the moon. It’s powerful!

·       Heal yourself. We carry tons and tons of emotional baggage – from our childhood, current life, from our parents, ancestors, and even past lives. Do whatever it takes to heal, drastic or slow, skydive from an airplane or go for vipassana. Just do it! You owe it to yourself to become who you truly are.

·       Live with awareness. Live in the present. As an Alaskan indigenous community leader mentioned – past makes you live in guilt and hurt, and future makes you live in fear. We need to be present to the present (as my late English teacher always used to say) to know what love and compassion is.

·       Let go and stop controlling things. Nature flows and does not control. Don’t go against the rhythm of nature. Respect it. Observe and learn from it. Nature’s wisdom is immense and deep.  

2019 is a year for new beginnings, but only for those who are willing to let go of everything past and step up to a new life. So wishing everybody the best for another shining year. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

In Search of Authenticity:

There is a rhythm and there is a structure. The moon waxes and wanes, exerting an ancient influence on everything. Old trees in forests fall, so that younger ones can grow. Rivers continue to flow for centuries. The insects, birds, reptiles, small and large animals on earth and those in the vast oceans feed on each other, depend on each other keeping the machinery of life going. Rising and falling, like the sun, like the oceans. Like the storms, floods, volcanoes which destroy and then bring forth new life. Everything on earth moves to nature’s own rhythm, all inter-connected, all alive. And it’s this same cosmic rhythm that governs the universe, governs us (humans) as well.   

Except now. For we have chosen to forget and to disconnect.

Now humanity is racing, against this very rhythm. Racing to earn lots of money, to become the next president in a company, so get the latest phone, to buy that car, to have that first kiss, to get married and then get divorced, to touch Eiffel tower and then off to touch Petronas towers, to climb all the tallest mountains, to tick things off the bucket list before others. Racing to do and connect with things that hold no truth. Racing against our very nature, ignoring the fact that living a life that is not ‘nature’ will ultimately self-destroy.        

In this human-created physical reality which is moving so fast away from nature’s reality, I have chosen to stop and ask myself – how authentic is my living? How authentic are my relationships, at what level do I connect with people, how truly do I love? How authentic is my work, do I do the work that I do for money or fame or to resonate with my Spirit, do I even know and use my gifts well? How authentically do I communicate, do I listen well, do I articulate well? How authentic is my connection to myself, do I know who I am when I strip myself off my skin, muscles and bones? How authentic is my connection to my environment, the nature around me, the rising sun and the moon, other sentient beings? How authentically do I live in my body?

I have chosen to stop, slow down, find my truths, return to the rhythm of nature, and reconnect with my home – the Earth.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

In Gratitude:

Thich Nhat Hanh - Inter-Being or Inter-Are*:

What do you see when you see a paper?

Do you see a blank sheet - where you can shape your own creations? Or do you see bits of clouds that held the rain? Do you see the rain that fell from these clouds and which watered the soil, or the warmth of the sun that helped the trees grow?  Do you see the insects, organisms in the soil that distributed nutrient to the trees? Do you see the trees themselves, from which the sheet of paper was made, with its healthy mossy bark and green playful leaves? How about the golden wheat raised by a farmer in some remote village from which the bread was made – the same bread which gave strength and energy to the tree-cutter? Do you see the tree-cutter who felled the trees and the people who toiled hard to get that sheet to you?

Itadakimasu (Japanese):

I humbly receive.

You fold your hand and say Itadakimasu before you have your meal. In its simplest form, it is about showing respect to all the living beings and the processes that went to bring that dish of food to your table – the plants and animals that gave their lives, to the farmers, fisherfolks, vendors, cooks, your mother/father, hostess etc. who worked hard for that dish of food. At a deeper level, the essence of the word can be extended to almost anything that you receive – as an acknowledgment of the efforts of so many living beings, of gratitude and reflection, of the awareness that things should not be simply wasted.   

Shamanism (worldwide):

You are Nature.

(As different from - you are part of Nature). Everything is Spirit. You are as connected to that single blade of grass that grows after the winter thaw in Siberia as you are to yourself. What you do now can have an impact four generations later perhaps in Australia. At this very moment, you are present as much in the past as you are in the future. Your ordinary world or reality is as much of an illusion as you think the non-ordinary reality is an illusion.     


Element: Fire (Ink doodling by me)

This post is an expression of the deep gratitude that I feel for the city of Mumbai, where I have spent eleven uncommon years (boring by ordinary reality standards!) so far. Looking back over the years – from the time I landed at the Mumbai airport on a rain-soaked day, till today, when I am hunched over my laptop waiting for the rains to soak the city again – it’s been an amazing tapestry of inter-woven incidents and inter-connectedness of people and places. I have learnt two important lessons here: one, to stop controlling and going with the flow of life, wherever life decides to take me; two, to learn to say yes to everything that life brings to your doorstep (atleast to all that your intuition/body does not outrightly negate) – from rejections (gracefully accept them) to opportunities which appear totally unconnected at first.

The city has given me the much-needed space to learn these at my own pace, and much more.

And to the future that it intends to bring, I say Itadakimasu. 

* this example of inter-being has been given by Thich Nhat Hanh, though the words have been embellished by me

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Lost and Found:

Most ancient shamanic traditions, whether it’s the Peruvian, Maoris or Himalayan, believe that everything within this universe is made of energy; and we are all physical manifestations of that energy. According to one Himalayan shamanic tradition, we, each individual as well as the society, are the manifestations of our experiences, individual as well as collective - of past lives, ancestral experiences, and present memories and that current actions can energetically have impact over seven generations.

Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens says that animals live in and experience objective reality. Only homo sapiens (us) have the ability to create fictional (imaginations) reality like politics, religion, money, human rights etc. and accept that reality over and above the objective reality due to our ability to be flexible and cooperate in large numbers.  And now, we have almost lost touch with our objective reality.

Somewhere between these two narratives, we (humans) have lost our way.

So, who are you when you say you are a human? No, you are not the white privileged person from the rich west, or an Australian, or a Dalit, a Muslim, a CEO of a company, a teacher, a mother of two, a bored housewife, a miner, a writer, a photographer, a kabbadi player, a murderer, a hermit, a loner, a beggar, a feminist, a right-winger, a banker, a reluctant leader, a scientist, a child, a dreamer, a homosexual, a transgender, a terrorist, an African, a Buddhist, a tribal, an unsuccessful actor, a game-addict, an orphan, a runner, a trekker, a farmer, a rich man with two houses and two cars, a schizophrenic, a sad widower.

Who are you when you remove yourself from this ‘fictional’ life and definitions? Who are you when you strip yourself of your hair, skin, muscle and your bones? Who are you when you stand in front of your naked soul, when you confront your spirit?

When you come face to face with your spirit-self, then and only then, your journey as a human being begins.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

In the Mango Tree:

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come - Chinese Proverb (so says the internet)

It’s the time when the city is at its quietest and darkness is still heavy outside. A singular mellifluous eight-note song of the fantail in the almond tree outside my bedroom window signals that night is about to end and dawn break is not far away. And within the hour, a cacophony of birsongs bursts forth every single day in the limited trees that we have within our society compound.

In my arm-chair bird watching style, I have counted just over 20 species of birds in the one mango and one almond tree that dot my windows: from crows, sparrows, drongo, pigeons (dumb and forever fornicating just like humans!) to copper-smith barbet, golden oreole, purple rumped sunbird, common tailorbird, and even a single male paradise flycatcher.  It pains me sometimes to see so many birds in just a few trees, each struggling to find its own space (crows and pigeons mostly win). But somewhere I count myself fortunate to yet wake up to birdsongs in a city before chaos takes over for the rest of the day.

This became all the more discernible when I was travelling in Germany and Slovenia during fall last year. Though I missed the ancient beech forests of Germany, the ones that I visited in both the countries were second or third generation forests, carefully regenerated and then ‘managed’ for ecological as well as economic sustainability. In Germany, citizens have the right to walk inside any forest, private or public, but within stipulated paths and trails. Different from India, I felt breathless and lost in the beauty of these young forests: in myriad hues of yellow, orange, red and green, in colours more heightened when the slanting autumn sun filtered in through the transforming leaves, in forest floors layered with fallen leaves, and in the pervasive silence everywhere. Coming from a country where noise is the prime sensory overload, the silence of these forests was like going deep in meditation. So absorbed was I in this other type of sensory overload, that I did not immediately sense the forests were more silent than normal. Even in a more rustic Slovenia, surrounded by craggy mountains and limpid lakes, the forests were cruelly still. So were the trees in the cities and city-parks. The singing birds did not come here despite the green trees.

morning mist in a forest in Slovenia

Our cities, villages, parks, forests, rivers, lakes, hills, mountains, salt-pans are alive, despite urbanisation: insects, dragonflies, butterflies, snakes, frogs, birds, small and large animals, fungus, algae…everywhere still. Our forests have an ephemeral silence as well as a constant chatter, filled with a raw energy. This energy can still be found scattered in pockets across the country, even though successive governments have been changing policy to forcefully create plantations in the name of forest ‘management’.  The country’s forest cover surprisingly remains the same: dense forests are cut down while plantations (considered ‘forests’) take over its space. But then a time will come when our ‘forests’ will also become deathly silent.

Till that time, I am grateful for all the singing birds in my green mango tree.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Age of Awakening:

“Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffaloes are all slaughtered, the wild horses tamed, the secret corners are heavy with the scent of many men and view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires?....The end of living and beginning of survival.” ~ excerpts from Chief Seattle’s famous letter to the President of the US. 

In his book, The 12th Planet, Zecharia Sitchin provides meticulous evidence, if one were to believe, about the shocking origin of Earth and human beings. He argues that Homo Sapiens and the first great civilisations are an anomaly to the natural evolution process which has taken millions of years to actually shift from using stones to using stones as tools like blades, spearheads etc. According to his evidence, humans were created by beings belonging to a 12th planet in a genetic modification process which involved the genes of Homo Erectus and themselves. If one wants a bit more scientific evidence, then the theory of Panspermia says that life on Earth or the first organisms that started life was seeded from outside. This theory has the backing of eminent scientists such as Nobel Prize winner molecular biologist Professor Francis Crick and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

The beauty of this theory is that it answers one critical question about humanity - in a well-oiled natural machine where every species and natural processes serve a purpose and are intricately linked to each other for survival, what role do humans play? Human behaviour so far, has been more parasitical than interdepending; like the alien weeds which invade local eco-systems and result in massive ecological changes. If you take humans away from nature, nature thrives just as it would if we were inherently not part of the original blueprint of Earth.

“For so long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, they who sow the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”  ~ Pythogaros

In 2013, Nestle’s CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe declared that access to water is not fundamentally a human right and therefore it should be privatised. 

In about three centuries, the definition of nature changed to mean natural ‘capital’ and ‘resources’ – nature commodified to supply us with goods and services in a blatant disregard for other life forms on Earth. As per scientists, human activities and control over nature have resulted in the sixth great mass extinction of species even before we have been able to fully understand how nature works or known its many secrets. Not only that, we have systematically eliminated indigenous tribes and their ways of life for centuries simply because they speak the language of nature. 

As the famous naturalist E.O. Wilson mentions in his latest book Half-Earth, in order to save species from extinction, we have to leave half the planet untouched. In an increasingly violent space, his radically reimagined world is but a practical impossibility.   

“Shiva (male principle, the consciousness, the medium) denotes all things positive and virile…Parvati is the Shakti (female principle, the universal energy, the creator) or the force behind Shiva. Without Shakti, Shiva is impotent.” ~ under a statue in Dakshina-Chitra (TN) – a tantra philosophy.

A similar philosophy exists in the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang (female and male energies respectively) that are present everywhere in the universe. Though mutually exclusive, they complement each other and only together they form a perfect whole. The universe, solar systems, planets, Earth, nature, life and even humans - all function in tandem to this rhythm and balance. The ‘chaos’ of nature and cosmos is mathematically structured. Beauty, whether it’s found in a human face, nature or life, is the existence of this perfect balance.

War, conflict, violence, aggression, abuse, materialism, too much stress on the self – all point to a masculine world order, moving towards a hyper-masculine world order led by 56”chests and similar anatomical features. The evidence is that men are the perpetrators of violence and abuse towards fellow men, women, children, transgender, queer, nature and animals. The evidence is that nature and humanity are on the edge of a precipice.   

And yet, as his own death drew near, Sakyamuni turned again towards the north....“Come Ananda, let us go to Kushinagar”. Like the rest of us, perhaps he longed for home  -  Matthiessen in The Snow Leopard.

In the shimmering global arena today, our economic policies and technology are rapidly changing society’s way of connecting with each other and everything around us, bringing everybody closer, eliminating boundaries and interlinking destinies. But through psychological and social manipulation, emotions and values are being externalised by endless consumption, accumulation of affluence, external approvals and setting one individual against the other.

The result is an increasingly fragile and ephemeral understanding of ourselves and our environment. The result is that we have lost our connection with Earth. The result is that we are looking at Mars for a new home.

Whether we believe in Zacharia Sitchin or Darwin or some divine origin, the fact is that we are here. In this planet called Earth. This is our home. And to create a world order that’s in perfect harmony, we need to go back to the start, reconnect with our planet, our homeland, and relearn lessons from nature. As the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh rightly said, “Cherishing our precious Earth – falling in love with Earth – is not an obligation. It is a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival.”

And perhaps then, only then can we progress from a struggle to survive to an age of awakening and love. 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The More I Learn, the Less I Know:

It was back in the year 2006, when I worked in a media house in Delhi. One day, a colleague randomly came up to me and said: “You are a Bengali; you must know tantra and black magic.”
Caught off guard and without any knowledge of the connection between Shamanism and Bengal, I had shot back: “If I knew that, don’t you think I would be somewhere else and not slogging my a** here?”

In one of the serendipitous instances when I randomly pick up the right books at the right time, I chanced upon a book at the Oxford Book Shop in Darjeeling a couple of years back. The subtitle of the book - ‘Life Lessons from the Himalayas’ – had caught my attention. Surprisingly (or not so), the story turned out to be about the author’s Shamanistic (Shaiva Tantra) journey in the mountains. Consciously or unconsciously, I was getting drawn to the mysticism around Shamanism and Tantra at that time. A slow read, the book opened up a whole new philosophy to me along with the realization that, way back in 2006, both the colleague and I were not only highly ignorant but also had fallen prey to the popular notion that Tantra was bad as it dealt only with black magic and sex.  

(Shaiva and Shakti) Tantra, as was followed in the East of India and Nepal, predates Vedas. Tantra is not a religion but a heterodox tradition which has been passed on orally by teachers to students chosen by them. Loosely translated, Tantra would mean expansion of your mind for liberation. None of the written materials found till now on Tantra really do justice to what it really is. Distortions to the Tradition started with the brahminical hegemony which saw Shiva (Tantra’s prime ‘deity’) as a low-caste uncouth being as opposed to Vishnu, a typical representation of a brahminical god, fair skinned, erudite and upper caste. But despite their efforts, Shiva remained extremely popular among the people. As a result, they had to incorporate him into the ‘Hindu’ pantheon of gods. Similarly, to show women their rightful place in an evolving patriarchal system and to tame their potency, all representations of Shakti were given secondary positions as wives of the gods. Vilification of the Tradition started perhaps due to its unorthodox philosophy and practices as against some of the ‘Hindu’ teachings, and also perhaps to bring people under the brahminical fold. Unlike other religions which put restrictions on people’s conduct and behavior by terming them good or bad, Shaiva Tantra allows people to experience everything (practical knowledge) but mindfully. The ultimate aim is to understand the self, the interconnectedness of things and balance of nature, and through that free ourselves from our self-created and self-focused rigid confines.

Paintings by Mira

Shaiva Tantra’s Aims of Life:

Dharma: Fulfillment of moral duty (to oneself first); to choose to think, say and do nothing to one’s or others’ detriment; to actively engage in living and loving fully and wisely; and not just for personal gains but to restore balance in oneself, family, society etc.

Artha: The greatest of Earth’s hidden treasure is self-knowledge. It aims to achieve prosperity in our material endeavors but within the confines of Dharma, that is, not for personal gains or through means which harm others. Worldly achievements are not separate from so-called ‘spiritual’ achievements as other religions emphasize; but to be achieved to sustain a society where all can flourish according to their own nature.

Kama: Embrace, heighten, and explore all pleasures accessible to our senses in everyday life. Touch, smell, sound, nature, music, art, dance, friends, alcohol.  And yes, sex! To be fully active in the world and not be enslaved by it. Because only a happy, healthy, and gratified body and mind can attend to other aims of life.

Moksha: To learn to find resolution to apparent contradictions – kindness and cruelty, light and darkness, beauty and suffering, compassion and indifference etc. To understand that all these play a part in the balance of our universe, to develop empathy and dynamic compassion, to realize that we already have all we need to be complete, to be all that we can be.   

Some of the Yamas (vows or restraints on personal conduct):

Ahimsa: The wisdom gained in learning to avoid causing harm to oneself or others by either thoughts or words or actions. Even personal gain at the detriment of another by whatever means – including at the price of your own self-respect and integrity – is considered a form of violence.

Alobha: The wisdom gained by learning to live without selfish ambition. Aspiration in every aspect of life is essential but not at the cost of inner violence of greed, pride, and jealousy. To discover that it is not in taking from others, but by giving to ourselves without thought of personal profit that we truly gain the most.

Asteya: The wisdom gained by learning not to steal – neither by body, nor intellect, nor word. To extinguish the desire to possess something that belongs to others – material wealth, social rank, talents, reputation, appearances etc.

Tyaga: Wisdom gained by learning to release attachment to material possessions. It does not propose a state of poverty which would be unrealistic and miserable, but it encourages us to recognize that the desire to possess is a tireless cycle that can never be fulfilled, and to value only that which is necessary to live healthily and freely.

Brahmacharya: Not sexual chastity as commonly believed. But to resolve the deep conflict that we suffer due to the disparity between our true nature and the familial, social, religious expectations, and beliefs we keep conforming to. The wisdom learnt in seeking to live according to our true nature.

But what I liked the most about the Tradition, is its philosophy of the Shakti (female energy that is the Universe) and the place it accords to women in the society as a result. In the Yogini Tantra, women are encouraged to speak and act with the same social, familial and sexual liberties as the menfolk. Consider some of these excerpts from texts related to Tantric as well as ‘Hindu’ philosophies as it developed over the years.

“Respect and consideration for women mark the very foundations [of the Tradition]. All women are to be looked upon as manifestations of the Great Mother [Shakti]. An offending woman should not be beaten even with flowers. A woman of any age, even a girl, or even an uncouth woman, should be bidden a respectful farewell after salutations.” (Chapter 10 – Kaulavalinirnaya Tantra)

“Women are light-minded. They are the root of all troubles. Attachment towards them should not pursued by wakeful persons who desire liberation. [For] there is none more sinning and more sinful than women.” (Uma Samhita XXIV:3,16)

“One should approach [a] woman and invite her to have sex. Should she refuse to consent, [a man] should bribe her. If she still refuses, he should beat her with a stick or with fists and overpower her, saying: ‘I take away the splendor from you with my virility and splendor.” (Brhadarankyaka Upanishad VI.IV:9,21)

It’s therefore easy to understand why Eastern India, the mountain states and Nepal are societally so different from the rest of the aggressively patriarchal states, why women have a far more equal status and mobility still (even with a high patriarchal influence), and why men there don’t need to be macho to be ‘men’ or women docile and feminine to be ‘women’.  

In 2004, while backpacking in South India, my travel partner and I had come across a Shiva-Parvati statue in Dakhshina Chitra, Tamil Nadu. It had an explanation at the bottom: ‘Shiva denotes all things positive and virile. Parvati is the Shakti or force behind Shiva. Without Shakti, Shiva is impotent’. I had found this concept profound then, but little did I know it was sourced from Tantra philosophy and not from ‘Hindu’ philosophies as we know it.

The more I learn, the less I think I seem to know.

Disclaimer: A lot of the content of this blog post (the teachings and practices) has been taken directly from the book Limitless Sky by David Charles Manners. This is the only book I have read on Tantra, and I realize that I have barely scratched the surface of something far more deep and mystical than just what is in the book.

For those who might want to know more, check: