25 March 2018

Udat Abir Gulaal Lali

A few years back, I heard Udat Abir Gulaal Lali by Girija Devi-ji. Initially, the song did not appeal to me. However, it has now become one of my favourite songs by Girija Devi-ji. I suppose, I found meaning in the song and that changed everything. This post is about that change.

The words are as follows:

Udat abeer gulal laali chhayi
laal bhaya amber laal bhayi jamuna
laal gauwen gopal

mor chandrika laal bhayo re
murli laal vishal
laali chhayi udat abeer gulal
laal shyam laal bhayi radhe
laal laal brijbaal udat abeera gulaal

Source- http://bhajansagar.blogspot.in/2015/04/blog-post.html

As the words suggests, it's a Holi song. The song is about Holi in Braj and how everything is covered in red. The sky is red, River Jamuna is red, Radha-Krishna are red. There are no perceived differences and everything is covered in one shade.

Dharmarajadhvarindra's Vedanta Paribhasha is an introductory text (प्रकरण ग्रंथ) of Vedanta dealing with the valid means of knowledge (प्रमाण). The first section of the text deals with perception (प्रत्यक्ष). In this section, there is a lot of discussion on the point that the substratum (अधिष्ठान) of everything is Consciousness (चेतन). 

The world is a creation of Maya (माया). Maya is indescribable (अनिर्वचनीय), in the sense that it is both real (सत्) and unreal (असत्). We experience the world as true, real and existing. In that sense, Maya is real. However, Vedanta tells us that only Consciousness is true and therefore in that sense, Maya is unreal. 

A natural question arises - If Maya is unreal, then how can it appear to be real?

The substratum of everything in the world is Consciousness. It underlies everything.  To my understanding, Vedanta says (and I also believe this) that when we experience Maya, the 'existence/is-ness' portion of that experience is actually the experience of Consciousness.  For it is only Consciousness that is true and only Consciousness can give the experience of truth/existence. 

For instance, let us take the famous rope-snake example. Assume there is a rope on the floor in a dimly lit room. You enter the room and mistake the rope for a snake. In that moment, you experience the snake and truly believe that the snake is real. However, as soon as you turn on the lights, you find out that there is no snake (in fact there never was a snake) and that there is only a rope. In that sense, the rope exists and the snake does not exist. However, for that brief moment, we experience the snake as existing. The 'existence/is-ness' of the snake is because of the 'existence/is-ness' of the rope. There would not have been a snake, if there wasn't any rope in first place.

Similarly, the experience of the 'existence/is-ness' of the whole universe is the really the experience of the 'existence/is-ness' of Consciousness. The whole universe is an illusion (like the snake) and only Consciousness is true (like the rope). Therefore, in truth, there are no differences and there is only Consciousness.

The opening verse from the Ishavasya Upanishad is as follows:

ईशा वास्यम् इदं सर्वं यत् किं च जगत्यां जगत् ।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुंजीथाः मा गृधः कस्य स्विद् धनम् ।।

Translation (by Swami Chinmayananda ji): All this, whatsoever moves in this universe, including the universe, itself moving, is indwelt or pervaded or enveloped by the Lord. That renounced, thou shouldst enjoy. Covet not anybody's wealth.

To my understanding, the said verse (especially the first part) suggests that the entire universe is covered or clothed by God/Consciousness. The said verse gives another viewpoint to the same conclusion/goal.

For instance, assume that you have a table with scratch marks and spots. Now, place a pristine white sheet over the table. You no longer see the scratch marks and spots. Similarly, the entire universe is full of pairs of opposites. Our mind also has its own set of likes and dislikes (राग-द्वेष). However, the moment we clothe the whole universe with the Lord, the opposites fade away and we only see His presence. In oneness, there is no question of likes and dislikes.

One of my favourite verses from the Upanishads is from Katha Upanishad and it reads as follows:

अणोः अणीयान् महतः महीयान् अात्मा अस्य जन्तोः निहितः गुहायां ।।
तं अक्रतुः पश्यति वीतशोकः धातुप्रसादात् महिमानं अात्मनः ।।

Translation (by Swami Chinmayananda ji): The Atman that is subtler than the subtlest, and greater than the greatest, is seated in the cavity of heart of each living being. He, who is free from willing and wishing, with his mind and senses composed, beholds the majesty of the Self and becomes free from sorrow.

God/Consciousness is in everyone and everything. There is no place that God/Consciousness is not. However, our common complaint is that we don't experience It everywhere. We may believe that God/Consciousness pervades and envelopes everything, but we certainly don't 'feel' it.

This brings us back to Vedanta Paribhasha. The second among the valid means of knowledge is inference (अनुमान). I am not gong into the details and I hope that this very famous example would clarify. 

Assume that you have knowledge that there is no smoke without fire. Now assume that you see smoke (धूम) coming from a mountain (पर्वत). If you know that there cannot be smoke without fire (which was the first premise), your inevitable conclusion on seeing smoke coming from a mountain would be that there is fire on the mountain (पर्वतो वह्निमान धूमात्). Seeing smoke, you infer the existence of fire.

Similarly, in all our experiences of the universe - visible, invisible, gross, subtle, waking, dreaming etc., we have to infer the presence of Consciousness. All our experiences are of Consciousness. It will take effort. But I have faith that it is possible. 

[For some strange reason, this verse makes me extremely happy. Just the thought that everything is Consciousness brings a huge smile to my face.]

That brings us back to Udat Abir Gulaal Lali. Initially, the song was just a piece of music. Now, it is an expression of the powerful message of the Upanishads - that there are no differences, that everything is pervaded by Consciousness and that only one thing is true - Consciousness. The essence in everything is the essence in me. I am the essence. There is only the essence.

PS: I am truly blessed to have had the good fortune of being exposed to Vedanta. No amount of thanks can match what I have received from my Gurus. And yet, I don't know what else to say but thank you.

Source: https://image.freepik.com/free-icon/pranava-om-ios-7-interface-symbol_318-35432.jpg

26 January 2018

Chota Shakespeare

I have always wanted to give an award receiving speech. It's a different matter that I will probably never receive an award. But as the widely popular TV series F.R.I.E.N.D.S. has proved, some of us practice giving these speeches. You've been forewarned. This post is going to be a speech. There's no award. But there's an achievement. This blog has turned 10!

My worst best friend Ahana remarked that the only constant in my life has been my writing. Seeing this blog clock 10 long years, I can't agree more. Over the last decade, I have worked multiple jobs, received multiple degrees, found and lost multiple friendships and relations, travelled to various countries and what not. Yet, this blog and my writing have stayed on. The blog was there when I was giving my board exams, my CAT exam, my LLB entrance and my Bar exam. It was there when I was working on Excel Sheets everyday. It is there when I am working on Word Documents and PDFs everyday.

Perhaps, what is most magical is that I never planned for this to happen. When I started writing in school, I didn't have the slightest whiff that ten years down the line I would still be writing. In fact, I am sure I started writing for some ulterior and materialistic motive of having something interesting on my college application. At that time, it was not about the love of writing or writing for the sake of writing.

I don't remember when that changed.  The blog captured glimpses of my life. It became a time machine. The blog saw my transition from being a theist to an atheist to a theist again. It saw several posts with "I don't know" written in the end. Sermons about the sense of life. In this regard, perhaps, one of the most written subject was that of Death. I suppose any encounter with Death just unsettles you and pushes you into the valley of introspection.

The blog also taught me a fair bit of web designing. When I was in school and college, there was a lot more time at hand and a lot more zeal to experiment with blog themes. I learnt how to add pages, make widgets, conceptualise websites et al. The blog changed from 'Carving a Niche' to 'In Shakespeare's Jeans' to 'Shakespeare's Jeans' to 'Thesaurus' to 'Tales of a Part Time Indian' to [drum roll'Chota Shakespeare'. Later in the life, these web designing skills allowed me to design simple websites for others. Never for money though. My skills weren't that good.

Indeed, this blog is the drawing board of my creative side. It witnessed my creative outbursts - the most of significant of which was Appu's Question. Inspired by Aaron Koblin, I set out to make a visual representation of people's thoughts. I can't imagine redoing that now. And that's one of the most amazing things about that time - I wasn't afraid of trying new things. I was looking at new things, trying new things. I was madly searching for inspiration.

The blog also saw my immersion into politics, especially elections. I started a different blog and wrote on patriotism, civics, faith conversion, cleanliness et al. Government expenditure on advertising was an issue that possessed me and a couple of posts were spent complaining about the criminal waste of public money. Eventually, I gave up - on that particular issue and on politics generally.

Deep down, I am an idealist. I believe that a perfect world can exist. However, the world around us is far from perfect. This blog became my space to vent. I couldn't fathom the reason for the infinite stupidity of humans, myself included (I still can't). But I have come to realise that a reason is not going to help me. The world is not ideal and that is something I need to accept. There is only one thing I can change -  myself.

Often, it is said that writers only write about their life and experiences. Their work is nothing but a reflection of their life and/or life as they view it. I agree. My blog saw my romances, my friendships, my ups, my downs, my hopes and dreams, my reflections and what not.

On pensive and boring days, I go back and read some of my old posts. Without fail, each time, I think to myself - "Rohan, what is this nonsense you've written?" Some of the posts are so bad, that I have even contemplated removing them forever. They are so bad that I can't even read them again. I am glad that a friend of mine counselled me against it. The blog represents an evolution of me. Each post is like a checkpoint. The individual posts might be terrible (even for my eyes), but over a long enough timeline, it represents the phases of my life. This might sound self-obsessed. Nevertheless, it is tad bit beautiful.

I am not a literary expert. But I do think that my writing has improved because of the blog. The blog allowed me to write annoying rhyming poetry. It allowed me to write really bad attempts at magical realism. It allowed me to write in the vernacular. It allowed me to express, without judgement or fear. It satiated a different part of my brain and personality. Readers may dislike or hate me. But the blog never disliked or hated me. The blog never edited or censured me. In that sense, the blog was the perfect companion and publisher. Perhaps, for this reason, if I do ever write a book, I would probably have to self-publish it (also because no one would want to publish such nonsense). Thank you Blogger, thank you Google!

Though at this point, I must say a few words about the "drafts" in my blogger account that never saw the light of day. I apologise for their fate. These posts represent strands of my mind that for one reason or another did not develop into the fabric of a post. In some, I lost interest. In others, I lacked the effort to pen down my thoughts. Yet, in others, I just wasn't sure. The weird little being that's inside each one of us was just not convinced.

In one of my college interviews, the interviewer asked me the difference between maintaining a diary and maintaining a blog. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember saying that a blogger actively wants to be read. A blogger writes to share with the world. I have never had many followers. Most of the time, my readers were my closest friends. And at other times, complete strangers would comment, which felt like cloud nine. Fortunately, 'being read' was never an incentive for me to write. Obviously, it felt amazing when people read and commented and a bit gloomy when people did not. But I kept on writing shamelessly; never assessing why a particular post was liked and why a particular post was not. But of all my readers, one name does stand out. Thank you Vasudha. You've been a part of this journey since the early days and I am glad you stuck around.

I must add that I was never alone in this journey. Friends (Devna Soni, Ganesh Mehta, Ahana Datta among others) would continually join and leave the blogosphere. The presence of a comrade in the vastness of the world wide web gives you that extra bit of confidence that allows you to keep going. You're not alone buddy. I must thank them for their support and love.

Like all awards, I must thank my family. If it were not for them, I don't think I would have been here. I don't discuss my writing with them. I don't even know if they read my posts or not. But that's immaterial. They have given me immense love and it is because of their care and help that I am who  I am. Most importantly, I would like to thank Maa. I can't express in words the debt I owe to her. She's my everything.

Over the last 10 years, my writing has seen great and not-so great works. All the posts are (not) the same to me. So as a 10 year Anniversary Special, I have picked out some of my favourite posts:

समय का अभाव - http://rohan-chawla.blogspot.in/2017/04/blog-post.html
Untitled - http://rohan-chawla.blogspot.in/2008/08/untitled.html
Say what? - http://rohan-chawla.blogspot.in/2014/03/say-what.html
Information Value - http://rohan-chawla.blogspot.in/2012/12/information-value.html

Here's to another 10!

Thank you, dear reader. Thank you.

Chota Shakespeare / Thesaurus

30 December 2017

Cynic or Believer?

Recently, a dear friend of mine remarked that I was a cynic. I wasn't surprised - it wasn't the first time someone had called me a cynic. Yet, each time, it pushes me in to the throes of self-questioning. More specifically, it makes me wonder if I have the right outlook towards life and the world.

I wasn't always a cynic. In fact, even now, I don't think I am genuinely a cynic. I would probably describe myself as an idealist. Now, I don't want to confuse you with isms and so I will explain that a little more. For the longest time, I believed that the perfect world could be created/existed. That  more often than not, people are nice, follow the law and do the right thing. It is a matter of record that at some point in my life I even wanted to be Prime Minister. As cliched as it may sound, I wanted to be the change I wanted to see. One of my principal motivations for pursuing law was also this. I wanted to fight for people's rights. I wanted to make a difference. I really believed that the world could be made a better place and that I could do it. I wanted to live a life that mattered.

However, my idealism didn't come alone. It came with truckloads of expectations and immense disappointments. Each time I tried, I failed. The more I trusted others, the more I believed in the world, the more I involved myself with the world, the more I lost hope. To be fair, my cynicism is more a product of my unmet high expectations than any negativity in the world. I expected the best from everybody - that they would give their all. Perhaps, I still do. 

I am sure that my current state of mind is a product of several disappointments. While writing this post, I did list them out. However, it started to appear as a long rant and I had to let it go. Suffice to say, that there are several instances and on each of those occasions a warm and gooey part of me died.

However, writing this post made me realise that I was truly blessed. That resurrected some of the warmth and gooeyness. In specific, this year has been a roller coaster and I have come out fine. I finished by law degree. Finally, I travelled to Kedarnath and Badrinath. I bought a new phone. I composed tons of nonsense poetry. I met many wonderful people.  Danced like a crazy at many weddings. If I really try, I will see the immense love that fills my life. 

I am a theist. I am not going to go into details of my belief. At this juncture, it is enough to state that I would like to believe that the world is filled with pure consciousness. The essence of everything and everyone is that consciousness. There is nothing other than pure consciousness. If that be the case, how can I have a grudge with the world, which in essence is pure consciousness. Therefore, my cynicism is directly in conflict with my desired beliefs; and clearly the former has to go.

A New Year is about to start. New beginnings usually bring about some amount of hope and possibility of change. Here's to a less cynical and more grateful and contented new year.

HNY GBU.

Image Source - https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CYsyANSWMAAu7UW.jpg