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Category: faith

Chitrakoot

in Madhya Pradesh, India, was one of the places where Lord Rama stayed during his 14 year exile.

It’s astounding that certain elements in the true story still have found no answers to today.

Chitra means beautiful as a painting and Koot means mountain. How could someone stay inside a cave in a mountain for 11 years? Well there was a river that was flowing inside. Not the normal Godavari river, but one called Secret or Gupt Godavari.

Why secret? Because till today geologists don’t know where the water comes from and where it goes!

And there’s also a stream in there that brings fresh water that presumably Lord Rama drank. How would one know its fresh water? Because there are small fish in it!

Plenty of such unexplained miracles in India 😄🙏

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Gardenia

We know this lovely story narrated by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

The exact same garden is visited by 3 different people.

Person 1 is a tourist, and marvels at all the colors on display.

Person 2 is a scientist and starts recalling the various biological names of plants and insects and counting the number of species present.

Person 3 is a staunch devotee of the Lord and sees the Creator Himself there manifested in the immaculate beauty and diversity.

Isn’t this such an outstanding perspective and example? Newton too was sitting in a garden when an apple fell on his head, and that too led to what is nothing less than a divine discovery.

There is indeed divinity all around us. In fact there is nothing else. We just need to acknowledge it and then accept it and then live it.

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Inner voice

There are many spiritual people I’ve come across who have said their meditation takes them to different higher planes. Ones where they get messages from their own Gurus, or where they get answers to questions, learn about karmic exchanges for others, see the future and so on.

I’ve myself seen none of these. I find it difficult to even sit in one place, let alone meditate and keep my mind fixed.

So I asked one of said spiritual people recently about why I have no such divine talent. His answer was relevant and encouraging.

He said to me, “I’m a spiritual healer. So whatever I experience during my meditations or thoughts helps me in my work. In your case too, you would be getting messages to help you, in your own line of work. Maybe you are creative at work, or while making a presentation or in the speed at which you find solutions to problems and so on. All of this is your intuitive power, which is nothing but divinity. If you see it this way, it will only continue to increase.”

We all have this inner voice, but we probably do not pay much attention to it.

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Prayer showers

A lovely Sanskrit couplet I came across recently.

आकाशात् पतितं तोयं यथा गच्छति सागरं।
सर्व देव नमस्कारः केशवं प्रति गच्छति।।

AkAshAt patitam toyam yathA gachchati sAgaram ।
Sarva deva namaskAraH keshavam prati gachchati ।।

It says, that just like all the rain water eventually ends up in the ocean, so too all prayers to various deities eventually end up at the feet of Keshava (i.e. the One Creator, whatever you may choose to call Him).

My Guru says it is very important to have an Ishta Devata, a personal favourite deity. But no matter who you pick and pray to, this? shloka gives clarity on where the message ends up ultimately!

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Bye-byes

Goodbyes are always hard. Unless you are leaving a toxic workplace or a terrible boss.

Even then, there’ll always be some people in the organization that were nice to you, and bidding them adieu isn’t easy.

But the beauty of change, is that when one door closes, another opens up, bringing with it several new relationships and possibilities.

Life on a spiritual level is similar too perhaps. Even at the most difficult time of death, which the Gita speaks about in great detail, the give up of these wordly attachments and cling-ons means that one gets to truly know and meet their Creator. Unless one wants to come back to this cycle of births and deaths of course.

As the poet Rumi noted on his deathbed to his weeping disciple, “Don’t weep, I’m parting ways with this world and getting ready to embrace my greater beloved.”

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Miraculous – part 2/2

Surely the greatest thinkers ever, the rishis who had communion with God Himself, they would immediately realize that the planets are too far to make an impact on humans? And yet they persisted. Writing treatise after treatise on astrology. Not just astrology, but also palmistry, and yoga, and ayurveda, and so many other sciences.

It’s alright if it doesn’t appear to make sense or seems illogical. But we should come to this conclusion after spending enough time studying these subjects, should we not?

In my personal experience, while I started as a sceptic, the more I read and learned about these fields, the more I realized these teachers-of-yore were onto something. If anything, my initial scepticism helped build even stronger faith later on. Eventually, it has led to acceptance, that 1+1 is not always 2, and that there are many things I will never fully understand.

Here are some interesting books in no particular order that help satiate a bit of curiosity, while also opening our eyes to newer possibilities. 1) The Aghora series, by Dr. Robert Svoboda, 2) Demystifying Reincarnation by Chaitanya Charan and 3) The Autobiography of a Yogi.

Do let me know what you felt after reading some of these!

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Miraculous – part 1/2

In chapter 8 of the Gita, Lord Krishna mentions the existence of seven hells and seven heavens. Really? What is this? Coming from a logical and scientific background, do such things even make sense?

One satsangi said this topic was a complete ‘bouncer’ for him, and why not!

While some of these things may sound fantastic, and I have no way of either proving or disproving them, my preference has just been to keep an open mind. Nobody really understands everything, and to pooh-pooh something just because I don’t understand it doesn’t seem like the right approach to me.

Take vedic astrology for instance. The most common argument against it is that, “Oh how can some planet situated so many light years away have an impact on me?”. My counter to that is, for the rishis and munis that discovered such sciences many thousands of years ago and had such insanely high acumen that they uncovered many secrets of human life – would these same brilliant sages have just decided to ignore the most obvious “planets are too far away from earth” observation?

Concluded tomorrow!

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Directions

We were all set for experiencing the Siddhivinayak Kakad Aarti at 5.30 am. One would have to wake up much earlier maybe 4 am, shower and then reach the temple.

Night owls would consider such trips sacrilege. But those familiar with morning sevas of Indian temples would know this is not such a bad time – given some start at 2 am!

In any case, we were headed to the temple, just on time. Until of course we encountered a road closure. It was tantalizingly close to the temple, while also being far enough that we couldn’t walk to reach on time.

The area wasn’t familiar, and so we didn’t know the bylanes at all. Momentarily, and out of nowhere, in an otherwise deserted street, a car overtook us, as if directed by Someone higher up. The car went ahead, hit the same road closure, took a U-turn, and then proceeded to the take the shortest alternative route to the temple. We obviously followed, quickly, and otherwise would have had zero chance of reaching on time. Divine directions indeed!

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Godliness lonliness

While checking out from a recent hotel stay, the receptionist, a man in his 50s, suddenly asked if I believed in God and in miracles.

Why would he ask me such a thing out of the blue? I really have no clue.

He told me, that two decades ago, he had to go to his hometown, a small village in India.

Due to transportation delays, he only managed to reach at 3 am, and was dropped off in the middle of nowhere, and it was dark, raining and potentially dangerous.

With an infant in his arms, and his wife in tow, he prayed for a miracle. In 5 minutes, he said a man appeared seemingly from nowhere. He managed to find an auto rickshaw for them, negotiated a decent rate, and even rode with them all the way to their final destination.

The receptionist then said, that as soon as they reached their home safe and sound, and stepped out of the auto rickshaw, within seconds, that helpful man was nowhere to be seen. Poof. Gone. He was convinced that man could have been none other than God. What do you think?

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6 months to… part 1 of 3

There’s an outstanding short-book that I just finished reading.

It’s called 6 Months To Live, and written by Dr. Sangeeta Raman Girdhar.

The book is only about 70-odd pages long, and can easily be finished in one sitting, and within the hour.

But the convenient length of the book not the reason everyone should read it.

What the book captures so beautifully, is a combination of 4 things:

  1. What all a loved one goes through when faced with a terminal disease
  2. What the immediate family of this person goes through
  3. What life lessons and spiritual lessons we can each take away, especially if (God-forbid) put in such circumstances
  4. How to deal with cancer, and even make micro lifestyle changes to prevent it

I’m going to share a few powerful takeaways from the book over the next couple of days, but the book has much more than just these, so do consider reading it. The author is my cousin sister, who is an amazing human being. The least I can do is feature her work on FHN! The book is available here.

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On priority

How does one who is completely devoted to and lost in the Lord behave? Maybe there’s more than one way – surely. But here’s what’s on the cover page of the Mukunda-mala-stotra book originally composed by King Kulasekhara and then of course expounded upon by various greats. This specific excerpt is from Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries:

When King Kulasekhara saw the breath-taking beauty of Lord Krishna in ecstatic trance, he lost all the desire to rule his vast kingdom. Later he wrote, "My mind cannot turn from Sri Krishna's lotus feet even for a moment. So let my dear ones and other relatives criticize me, my superiors accept me or reject me as they like, the common people spread evil gossip about me, and my family's reputation be sullied. For a madman like me, it is honour enough to feel this flood of love for Godhead, which brings such sweet emotions of attraction for my Lord"

The very things that we each are craving for – societal approval, name, fame, wealth, status – are being given up in an instant by a great King, simply because he tasted the true nectar of being one with the Lord. We are no kings, so it is all the more important that we have our priorities straight. But is that the case?

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Upstairs

We often have a lot of faith in the man/woman upstairs. Not literally, but the one supposed to be in the heavens. This is good of course. Hardly anything really happens solely because of our efforts. We’re so dependent on other people and things for getting our work done. However, do we take this faith too far, and could it be misplaced?

It’s not uncommon to hear “It’s all in the hands of ‘uparwala’.” (which in Hindi refers to God as the man upstairs).

A new age pharmacy start-up called PharmEasy in India took on this aspect with a catchy advertisement. When an old couple are sitting at home bemoaning their health, and utter “It’s all in the hands of the man upstairs”, momentarily the ceiling caves in with a man sitting in his bathtub and holding his phone with the PharmEasy app. He says, “Why leave it to the man upstairs, when you’ve got the PharmEasy app?!”

People often tend to put off health related concerns and leave it to God. Not just health, but many other aspects too – “I am like this only.” Even when they have the means and opportunity to eat well, sleep well, study well, work well, exercise well and so on. We may not be able to predict the future, but we can certainly prepare for it.

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Sacrificial – part 4

A final post for now on yagna or sacrifice. We saw some of the 12 different types of sacrifice mentioned in the Gita yesterday. Those are all nice no doubt, but the focus must be on the last one, the brahma yagna. The giving up of the ego, the self.

It does not mean just getting up and jumping into the fire. That would be quite useless in reality, as the heat would be too much to take, the burns fatal, and once dead, of what use is all this spirituality? Rather it is all about giving up at the mind level.

This last yagna is so awesome that it is better than any and all of the previous yagnas. One question though here could be – fine, I’ll do some of these sacrifices. Like I’ll give up some good of my liking. There, sacrifice done, now what?

As Swami Paramarthananda puts it, real yagnas need two conditions to be satisfied, otherwise they simply remain physical acts / exercises.
1. The first condition is that it needs the Lord (i.e, bhakti or devotion, maybe faith).
2. The second condition is that it needs a spiritual motive. Otherwise it would just become a material transaction.

Speaking of yagnas – here is an excellent fire homa that anyone can do.

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Hanging by a…

We al know about the story where one rock climber, in the pitch dark, is super tired and somehow tries to make his way down from the summit. He loses his harness and rope and what not and is hanging on – by a thread literally – for dear life. He prays to God to save him, and momentarily a heavenly voice booms from the skies, “Let go, and you will be fine.” He doesn’t trust the voice of course, and clings on, but by morning he is finished. When others find him, they realize he was dangling just a few feet away from the ground, but he couldn’t see it due to the darkness.

This is a story about the importance of faith. We know this, and its a great lesson.

There are some mountain climbers – and then there are some other mountain climbers who climb vertical rock faces. Like 3000-foot vertical cliffs. Where do they sleep or take a break? By using something called a portaledge. Which is a device apparently made from airline-quality materials, and hangs thousands of feet above the air perpendicular to the rock face. Fancy sleeping in one? Maybe rolling over the side of the bed would take new meaning here.

It is said these are absolutely safe though. And there are so many climbers who get a kick out of exactly this. Personally, this is not for me. Why would anyone do it? I read up a bit, and apparently its because climbers find it relaxing – being secluded up top and the spectacular views of the night sky and surroundings.

Too much effort / faith for this much relaxation?

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E.g.b.u

Life is unpredictable. We know this, but often don’t feel it. As long as nothing happens to us, we seem oblivious to all the goings-on around us. Despite the inevitability of death, we still behave and act as though we have been bestowed with the gift of immortality. Perhaps that’s a good thing too, because just having a fatalistic view of life might mean we might never even get out of bed.

Generally speaking, most outcomes in life can be bucketed into four: expected, good, bad and unexpected. Here’s a simple example. Someone (no, not the chicken!) wants to cross the road.

  1. They can cross the road, as expected.
  2. Or they can cross the road and meet a friend – a good outcome.
  3. They can cross the road and meet someone who they owe money to – a bad outcome.
  4. Or they can cross the road and get hit by a truck – an unexpected outcome.

When we think about this, we will realize that each of the 4 outcomes are probable, and not in our hands. Still, from the time we were born, more often than not, we have either experienced only the expected or the good outcomes. We all have developed an intrinsic implicit faith, that things will happen mostly for the good. As Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

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How to be equanimous

One of the mainstays for a liberated life according to the Bhagavad Gita, is samatvam or equanimity. This is also called having sama darshanam or equity in vision, i.e. looking at everything as inherently the same, irrespective of whether it is good or bad, pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow and so on.

To live comfortably and mentally unblemished in the face of criticism, one must begin by eschewing praise. We cannot have the proverbial cake and eat it too. We want equanimity in hardship, but our pleasure receptors shoot through the roof in the slightest hint of praise and recognition.

How can we then practically be equanimous? When the boss says “Wow you’ve done amazing work here, you deserve this promotion!”, do we just scowl at him and walk away? Or do we say “No sir, it wasn’t me.” The boss is then likely to keep the promotion/bonus for himself 🙂

The way prescribed in the scriptures, is ‘surrender’. Surrender with faith, to the divine, or if that’s too abstract, then to the Guru. In Hindi, sur means head. So putting your head under the Guru or ishta devata, offering everything to him or her. Everything means all good and all bad without distinction. So grab that promotion by all means, but mentally prostrate and offer it to your deity of choice. This will keep us grounded, always. Difficult, but worth it.

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Fear to become

Have we not feared, every step of our way to today? Those terrible kindergarten days, where we hated being separated from our parents. Moving to a new place, not knowing if we would be accepted in the school there. Joining a sports class, only to be bullied by some of the seniors. Entering the workplace – our very first day at work – the butterflies, the discomfort – is always there. When we are on the cusp of progress, we always have a tendency to look back. Seeing all the obstacles we overcame, we must ideally feel a great deal of strength, knowing that if we go through all this all these years, we can get through anything.

All of this reminds me of Khalil Gibran’s outstanding poem titled Fear. The premise is beautiful. It speaks of a river that has meandered its way through mountains, winding roads, plains, forests, villages and what not. Now the river is in front of the ocean, about to enter it. That’s when it looks back at its journey, and trembles. Seeing such a vast ocean, the river is worried about disappearing into it forever. The rest is too good to paraphrase, so here is the original:

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

I get goose bumps each time I read this.

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Heads up

There is a deep blue pool. There is a person in this pool. He is dog paddling, and swimming toward deeper waters. It all seems fine. He is oblivious to the depth of the water under his feet. Then he starts getting tired. And the water starts to suck him in. The deep end is still quite far away. Even the shallow end is out of reach now.

The pool is filled with nothing but the water of life. We have been drowning in it since the day we were born. Blissfully unaware of its depth, we are flailing in apparent ecstasy, simultaneously burdened by never ending anxieties. Oh how do we free ourselves from these aquatic shackles?

The answer is the rope of adhyatma. A rope of ‘spirituality’, that we can hold on to, as we continue to live our troublesome daily lives. It will allow us to live normally and discharge our duties, while also being aware of the safety line to liberation.

Why it is imperative to embark on the spiritual path at a young age itself – is purely to get a good grip on the rope, else we may have swum too far. Holding on to the rope itself will still need us to be extremely vigilant though.

Another, better solution exists. Instead of a rope, this solution involves a float. Unlike the rope, which we had to hold on to for dear life, the float will hold us instead, keeping our head ever above water. The float is none other than the Guru, to whom we have surrendered.

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Tireless

Here’s a miracle that happened to me recently.

We took on the 5.5 hour drive from Bangalore to Coorg in a self-drive car. The weather was good. Cold, but not chilling. A kind departure from the incessant heat of elsewhere. All was well, until about 3 hours in. We had just entered a little town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The roads were narrow, with plenty of oncoming traffic. A few cows and buffaloes had stationed themselves strategically. A big Toyota Innova behind us, was unable to overtake and get ahead – thanks to all this ‘traffic’. Five minutes of several failed attempts and many horns later, his frustration was clear.

And suddenly, a window of opportunity. He quickly overtook us, and as he did, one of his co-passengers was rolling down his window. That person indicated with his hands that something was wrong. I quickly stopped my car on the side, only to find not one, but two flat tires. On the opposite side of the road was a petrol pump, so I went over to see if someone could help. Nope, no tire guys there. He did point me a few shops away though and asked me to check there. A quick U-turn later, that shopkeeper said a few kilometres away I would find a shop. I explained that I could in no way go that far with two flats. Another man present there suggested another shop just fifty meters away. What’s the name – I asked. “Guru steels”, came the reply. I quickly drove ahead, and lo and behold – a tire shop. It was empty though, and a young chap was manning the neighbouring store. I asked if he could help with the puncture – to which he pointed across the road and beckoned. A frail gaunt man was eating watermelon. He crossed over to our side, gave a big smile, and asked if these were tubeless tires. I said “yes”, to which he said, “don’t worry I will fix these for you.”

Sure enough, in 30 minutes, he had checked both tires, taking them off, dunking them in water, plugging the holes/changing the valves, and having us good to go. The 100 kilometres we drove thereafter to reach our destination, had practically no tire change shops. Okay there were a few, but were closed. And the immediate 40 kilometres after the flats? Absolutely barren land. No people even, let alone shops. It would have been such a mess. But right from the Innova to the watermelon-eating tire changer to the name of the shop to them having the required valves – it was all seemingly planned to divine perfection.

How can I ever repay Nature / God / my Guru / the Universe? I can’t, because nothing can ever parallel such miracles. I can only bow my head down in gratitude, and hope that some day I too get the chance to pay it forward.

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Spiritual Fiction. Or reality?

Christopher Nolan is perhaps one of the greatest Hollywood directors of all time. Partly because his films are so awesome, and partly because his ideas and concepts are so complex that most audiences do not understand a thing – yours truly included. I almost feel foolish watching his movies but I still love them. There was some tesseract in Interstellar, which I just could not fathom. The ending of Inception – a spinning top cliff-hanger – again I could not make head or tail of. Memento was just unbelievable, and then an Indian version called Ghajini was made – which just paled in comparison.

Spielberg is a little easier – like his Avatar movie was way more palatable. Titanic of course was not sci-fi.

Spirituality too can have plenty of sci-fi elements. If one were to read books like Yoga Vashishtam, the Aghora series or Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master or even books on Kundalini shakti etc. (all of which are outstanding books), there would be no dearth of apparent science fiction.

While these are great to read, and also lead me to hope that one day I may experience even a fragment of the True Oneness, my Guru is clinical in his advice. He says only 2 things are needed. Give up desires. Give up attachments. These two are the beejas (seeds) for everything else. The only permanent way to exit from our delusionary state is by realizing the futility of all our worldly pursuits. There is no other way.

Nolan himself has the last say in his most recent movie Tenet, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”

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