The Hindustan Times Articles

Krishna Instills Confidence

The following “Janmastami article” was published in the Hindustan Times on August 26, 2005: Janmashtami: Who is Krishna? HERE’S A Janmashtami question. Can God manifest mortal characteristics or is he always super-human? According to the Bhagavata, God is Krishna, who sometimes cries, displays genuine fear and is a naughty child. These are some of the activities of the supreme Godhead that are sometimes overlooked. Janmashtami is a time for merriment, so we tend to ignore its deeper theological significance. And many who know Krishna’s stories, take them to be fairy tales. When Yashoda caught little Krishna stealing butter and feeding it to monkeys, she threatened to beat him up. At this point, the scared chlid cried real tears. When his playmates entered the mouth of Aghasura, Krishna followed them into the great snake’s belly because he couldn’t bear to be separated from their company. Krishna had to kill the demon and yet save his friends. This was a difficult task. But after entering the snake, Krishna expanded his body and killed Aghasura. All his playmates were also saved. A doubt naturally arises, “Why would the supreme controller let the boys enter Aghasura’s mouth in the fIrst place?” The Bhagavat’s answer is that the boys had ascertained the peril of entering the snake’s mouth but had decided, “Krishna will save us.” – even if it meant literally rescuing them from the jaws of death. Krishna’s mortal characteristics, even when contemplated, tend not to be thought of as the province of an all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful godhead. This is one of the inner meanings of Janmashtami.

Parallel Worlds

The spiritual world need not be considered far away. The Hindustan Times published this article on November 9th, 2005: Who’s the mother of magic realism WHAT DO C.S. Lewis, Quentin Tarantino and J.K. Rawling have in common? Maybe nothing, but here’s what I think. One, all will have hit the big screen by December 2005; two, all are considered innovators; three, all have written about their characters entering a parallel world. In Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (part of his Narnia series) Lucy. a young girl, mysteriously enters a wardrobe in a new house when she suddenly finds herself in a snowy, moonless land, totally unlike the house she had been exploring. In Kill Bill, Tarantino’s Hollywood blockbuster, Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) opens a paper screen door in Japan only to find herself magically transported into a blue winter wonderland, before starting a lethal sword battle. Harry Potter gets to Hogwarts, the wizard school that’s invisible to ‘muggles’ of this world, by charging through an imperceptible train platform in London’s King’s Cross station, thereby entering into an unseen but real dimension. This is the first time three successful giants of entertainment will have had their wares displayed so dramatically only months apart. All three stories involve the inexplicable existence of fantasy worlds, different from our ‘real’ world, but somehow accessible. If the real world is truly the one we live in – drive cars, walk on beaches, go to work, watch TV, and visit friends – why even consider another dimension? Is it only because unknown, imagined, unexplained, mysterious, mystical, fantasy and sci-fi worlds entertain people of all ages? In Muder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot wrote, Power is present; holiness is hereafter. But what if these magical dimensions were real and we were the fantasy? This is exactly what volumes of Sanskrit literature have been telling us for centuries. For example, in the Mahabharata, we read that Arjuna (a mere mortal) visits the heavenly regions of Svarga, even attracting Urvasi, who falls madly in love with him. In the Ramayana, the vanara Hanuman takes flight like a bird, and enters supra-mundane realms. The sage Vyasa writes in the Puranas of Devahuti, the wife of Kardama Muni. She dives into the lake called Bindu Sarovara where thousands of young girls decorate her elaborately. The Panchatantra and the Hitopadesa brim with stories of animals and birds that speak real words, think and strategize. Few care to realise that there is a reality to ‘other-worldliness’ and that ‘it’ is not so inaccessible, after all.

London Bombings

I wrote this shortly after the bombings on London?s transport system. The Hindustan Times published it on August 3, 2005: Religion is not about bombing THE RECENT London bombings have made me think. The city became the world’s largest in 1825, even though the British empire is now just a history lesson. Yet Oxford still has great snob value. Maybe that is why there’s still a Commonwealth of Nations with governor generals yielding political power in many countries (India excluded, of course). The US-based John Templeton Foundation just allocated Rs 9 crore for a two-year Oxford scientific study to determine the relationship between religion, pain and terrorism, One hopes that the world’s second largest democracy, in supporting this study, will reveal among other things that the recent London atrocities and the WTC destruction were not motivated by Islamic philosophy, but by twisted terrorist sentiments, often around an imagined after-life paradise. Suicide fanatics are occasionally promised unlimited concubines and intoxicants if they give their lives to damage any part of an “evil empire (London and New York have sometimes been characterised citadels of oppression and wanton living). Of little worry to such maniacs is the fact that most of their victims are innocent citizens. The concept that the ‘big eight’ are part of a sprawling rank of global infidelia is undoubtedly on the cards. But terrorists mock real warriors. British newspapers say the Oxford study aims to develop new and practical approaches “for promoting well-being and ultimately maximising individual human potential”. One hopes it wil generate a deeper understanding of religion’s nature; that it will help establish that real religion strives for harmony. Jesus Christ wasn’t called the Prince of Peace for nothing. Although research can be most helpful, thoughtful spiritualists don’t need ‘proofs’ to know that gratuitous killing isn’t part of God’s kingdom.

Simple Living, High Thinking

In relation to this, we can remember the story of Mrgari the hunter. The Hindustan Times published an article I wrote about it, on October 27, 2005: The Lord giveth and taketh away A COUPLE from Chennai decided to live simply – by a stream in a one-room hut. The man, Magari, would forego his occupation of hunting while his wife Madhavi would cultivate tulasi instead of selling baskets. Magari would also give up non-vegetarian food. Others thought the two would starve. But the couple went ahead and built their small house. Narada Muni had instructed them to give all their wealth to Brahmins and told them that Lord Vishnu would ensure that they would never go hungry. Word spread that the hunter had become a Vaishnava. So after the couple built their new house, at least a dozen people came to see them every day. The visitors always brought fruits, vegetables, grain and dairy products — large enough to feed 10 people. Everyday Magari and Madhavi had more food than they required. They gave away the extra bits to many of their guests as they had more than enough by simply depending on God. One day, Narada Muni visited Magari and Madhavi and was happy that they would not even harm ants. It was admirable that the couple had decided to help themselves by depending on God. This story underlines the problems of overpopulation and starvation and the need to find remedies for the same. God has the power to feed a large number of people and to restrict supplies if he wishes. A recent study by the University of California’s Division of Agricultural Science shows that by practicing the best agricultural methods, farmers across the globe can raise enough food to provide a meat-centered diet for a population 10 times greater than the present one. But the study also shows that if people were satisfied with an equally nourishing but mostly vegetarian diet, a population 30 times greater than the current one could be fed. Thus, to move on in life, they need to accept and practice new concepts. By moving into a small hut and by accepting a simple yet happy life, Magari and Madhavi set an example for others. And God saw to it that their larder was always full. Statistics show that the spiritual dimension of supply and demand cannot be ignored. As economist E.F. Schumacher wrote, “Small is beautiful.”

Alexander learnt life’s lessons from a thief

(The following article was printed in the “Inner Voice” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 28 December 2004.) IN ALEXANDER the Great’s conquests, it’s recorded that he pushed east, traversed the Hindu Kush and encountered King Porus. He saw elephants used in battle for the first time. Alexander’s settlement with the Hindu king was that Porus would retain the sovereignty while he would keep the ‘overlordship’. Shortly thereafter, Alexander came upon an Indian thief whom he got arrested and brought before him. A conversation ensued in which the recidivist reminded Alexander, a former pupil of Aristotle, that the renowned chieftain was himself a thief. Alexander, the robber said. was a ‘big’ thief, and he a ‘small’ thief. The story goes that on realising the truth of these statements, Alexander released the thief. What we learn from this story is that we’re all thieves. Every one of us is trying to possess and enjoy people, situations and things we don’t own. A famous song written by Rudy Vallee had recorded numerous times includes these lyrics: “The sweet things in life to you were just loaned, so how can you lose what you’ve never owned”? According to the Gita, we own zero (5.29); i.e. nothing is ours. Everything belongs to God. Alexander, at least momentarily understood that pillaging on a global scale was not so different – from petty pilfering. He was really the big thief trying to possess things which were not his. We think we own things: our vehicles, homes, bodies and minds. The sages say no; that there are higher order laws of the universe and that these unseen laws – unseen like many other laws — govern our actions and control our lives. Awareness and understanding of these invisible forces make us cognisant of deeper knowledge and evokes greater levels of personal satisfaction. We work, save and worry over what’s not ours. Learning to let go is a good beginning. The writer is emeritus member of the Iskcon governing body commission

Time alone heals, not money

(The following article was printed in the “Inner Voice” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 12 January 2005.) ASHA RAMANAN, a young mother in Sri Lanka, grieves for her dead 10-year-old son. Rohit Charnak (31) from Chennai is numbed by the drowning of his wife while on holiday in Thiruvananthapuram. The UN-estimated billion-plus dollars in aid don’t touch the lives of people like Asha and Rohit – whose loved ones lost their lives in the biggest recorded disaster in modern history. Earthquake and tsunami deaths are now thought to be in the realm of 14,000 to 20.000 in India alone. The individual sufferings of thousands, whose near and dear ones disappeared in the path of the tsunami, now confront us all. In our 24/7 society, wealth has become the main measure of success and happiness. But when confronted with unexpected and untimely death, money suddenly loses its allure and stature. We are brought to our knees. We want more than words of wisdom to comfort us. Man’s heart softens in the face of severe bereavement. Even the greatest transcendentalists since time immemorial spend quality time seeing to “death arrangements”: funerals, commiseration, prayer and pacification. We all know it is time alone that alleviates the pain and scarring of premature loss in a man’s life. And the gnawing fact is that human suffering is inevitable. Many face personal tsunamis at birth — with dead mothers, missing limbs, disfigured faces and arms that won’t move. Many learn to live with hurts that will not stop, even with unlimited funds. Yet, there’s no immediate solace for the ache that comes with the unexpected death of a child, sibling, spouse or loved one. Money can’t buy happiness even though it can facilitate essential services, rush in medicine and save some lives. Time is the most precious commodity, which we kill at our peril. It holds healing and transformation in its wings. (The writer is emeritus member of the Iskcon governing body commission)

Script Life with good ending

(The following article was printed in the “Inner Voice” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 1 March 2005.) AN ESTIMATED 3.6 billion people in India go to the movies each year. This means that the average adult Indian sees between five and ten films a year. Filmmakers are often called masters of illusion. They have perfected the art of re-creating reality, making it fun to spend an evening in a surreal world, to lose oneself for a few hours to celluloid fantasy. Cinema is an illusion of an illusion and even when they’re good clean fun, movies can hold so much sway on us that the smart dialogues and catchy songs might conceivably become part of our genetic code. Many shastras inform us that the so-called real world we experience is only a fourth of the whole creation. Like a fIlm set or a dream, it isn’t permanent. It isn’t even the largest manifestation of reality, nor is it the genuine article. This phantom world has been referred to as Vipad-Vibhuti, whereas the greater part of creation is known as the Tripad-Vibhuti. An inner voice tells all of us that the material world is a dream. Many ignore, refute or consider this voice as madness. We must however understand that the most substantial part of creation is the spiritual realm. Works like the Bhagavata remind us that when we give in to the demands of our lower urges, we will necessarily be driven by our own minds and engage in the external energy of God. In this way we get eternally distracted. Should I spend my discretionary time having some innocuous and wholesome fun at the flicks? Should I go for a spin and listen to music? Or should I try reading about spiritual knowledge and philosophy? Should I meditate? Perform pooja, chant, or visit temples? It’s the story of our life. What is the ending we want? The choice is ours. The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission

When violence begets peace

(The following article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 20 April 2004.) ‘AAAAARGH’. Tommy swung the big bruiser by the arm and twirled him around. ‘Uuuuuuh’, the large man bellowed, as he lost his balance and crashed against the corner of a shelf sticking out from the wall. The blow on Tommy’s left ear from Edleman’s iron sap was still ringing like a bell in his head. But the fat fellow had lost out, hitting his head on the sharp metal plank. Accounts like this are played out daily in comic books, novels, films and bars around the world. And in 2994 BC iu Kurukshetra, India, at the onset of one of history’s greatest wars, a spiritual dialogue between two people occurred at the centre of the vast array of opposing forces. The speakers were between two armies bent on total destruction. The discussion included a principle of peace that would hold fast for thousands of years. Sports, films and everyday conflicts express our proclivity toward the need to fight in some form or other. At the start of the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita — the name given to this timeless discourse — Krishna speaks of asamshayam or doubtlessness. He explains how to deal with intense moral struggles. He tells Arjuna how to face difficulty in a spiritually intelligent manner. Reading about the Kurukshetra satisfies a need to experience violence. The battle between good and bad is a common enough story. Yet the Gita exercises the deepest principles of right versus wrong. It sheds practical light on how to act and illustrates how devotion to God is a lifelong conversation. It offers the kind of peace that makes violence dull. (The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON governing Body Commission)

Reality lost in one-dimensional illusion

(The following article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 6 August 2003.) MOVIES. WE all know what they are. We’ve been ‘trained’ that way. In 1905 the word ‘movie’ didn’t exist in the English language, and not long afterward came terms like ‘silent films’, ‘talkies’ and then ‘flicks’. Enriching our communications abilities, we’ve learned what ‘the silver screen’is. ‘Bollywood’, ‘celluloid’, ‘Tinseltown’ (Hollywood), ‘feature film’ and ‘TV mini-series’ are part of the English vocabulary. The Bhagavata says that at root we’re transcendental to material existence, which is compared to a dream in relation to the spiritual dimension. Yet we get very affected by dreams. Motion pictures are an illusion of an illusion, and we’re desperate for illusions. Young and old alike eagerly seek reflections, echoes, mirages, and imitations. Those paying handsomely to hear a man bark like a dog are annoyed to hear an actual dog bark, Japanese scientists have produced a robot with mechanical arms, fingers, legs and a TV camera for a head. This device can read and play, with precision, complex organ music requiring all four extremities. Movies are almost irresistible because they support our tendency to revere frivolity. The desire to escape the humdrum and boredom of modern life shows that we’re dissatisfied with reality. We become absorbed in any kind of virtual realm where we can lose ourselves in dreams and epic nightmares. The word movie signifies much more than ‘motion picture’. It represents a pervasive movie-culture, which has a momentously powerful influence on the world. Every day, about one film, budgeted at between USIO and 200 million dollars, is released on the market. If the same amount of energy and money were expended to inform people about the spiritual world, we’d see a dramatic decrease in anxiety and terrorism and an increase in satisfaction with life as it is. Pleasure would come from knowing there is a real and accessible existence free from the sufferings of life. The desire to escape into a make believe world, to be entertained, is like a child’s natural love of candy and games. But as adults we’re supposed to be endowed with the power to distinguish between play-acting and reality. Education is sometimes painful, but it’s necessary. Remaining naive, blindly trusting with the innocence of a child, should never be at the cost of maturation, wisdom and a deeper understanding of our essential and true role in life. The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON Governing Body Commission.

Real pleasure within reach

(The following article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times, one of India’s largest English language daily newspapers, on 26 April 2004.) LIKE IT or not, we’re controlled by governments, money, politics and intellectuals — mostly scientists — of our time. But a far more pervasive, irresistible and, at times, subtle force governs us: the entertainment industry. ‘Good Clean Fun’ is how Walt Disneyites might characterise it. Theme parks, cute animation, live comedy, movie stars’ lives, and television form part of the mix. This captures the minds and bodies of people of all ages, determining thought and action. The industry has created millions of zombified spectators checking out movies, sports, weather patterns, and minute-by-minute movements of Bollywood celebrities. Billions digest the constant music that feeds our voracious noiseaphilia, holding boredom at bay. Shopping malls, fast food and fashion are also part of the piped-in fIlet of philistine vulgarity. In the rush to inhale such products, the spiritual side of life has been shunted aside, eclipsed. TV and fIlms portray religion as old-fashioned and irrevalent. Themes are processed to make us feel good, rather than think. Transcendental pleasure, on the other hand is within reach, and those fortunate enough to grasp it, are continuously content — internally. Sustained happiness is available with an attitude of prayer, surrender and what the Gita calls sukham, sometimes translated as ‘boundless transcendental happiness’. If we wrench our heads from the TV, we might appreciate our own unique dramas or just be happy being who and where we are. (The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON governing body commission)

Spirit Matters

Spirit Matters

It combines ancient wisdom of the Vedas with practical Western approach and erudition. The articles deal with various subject matters, global problems and issues we face in our day-to-day lives. Spirit Matters views modern challenges from a spiritual and philosophical angle.