Thursday, January 2, 2014

A letter to my mentor(s)

Dear Sensei,

As a child my biggest idol was my mother. She has always been a dynamic woman and the reason for my existence in this life! She had conceived me at the late age of 39 and was the only one, even going against the doctor's wishes, who determined to give birth to me, in spite of many health complications. She calls me the sanity of her life... but I feel eternally grateful that she chose to bring me to this world. As a college professor and in phases the single bread earner in the family, she never lapsed in her duties towards me as a mother. Through her strict and yet ever loving ways, she taught me the values of life... love, respect, forbearance, perseverance, courage and determination. 



The lady of our lives... me, my father and my elder brother
Amidst the many trials and tribulations which adorned my childhood, she was truly a 'man' of the house, holding all the scattering threads of the family together. At that time, neither of us were in the practice and sometimes I wonder how my life could have changed if she encountered the Law earlier than she did. But in spite of lacking the practice, she never lacked faith. I learnt from her to smile during difficult times, to add value and happiness to the lives of others and to share whatever one owns freely. Though she was born a decade after your birth, she truly was my first mentor and I take the opportunity of your 86th birthday to thank her and the universe for us having each other in this lifetime.  

I also fondly remember two other ladies who were educators with the spirit of faith and compassion. I studied at a Sri Aurobindo Ashram school which was headed by a dynamic lady Ms. Jaya Mitter, whom we fondly called Jaya Miss! 

Though the school was guided by the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, very similar to Nichiren's Buddhism, she added a modern twist to everything we did at school. Be it setting up one of the first computer labs in the city in those days, to organising huge cultural evenings to expose her students to art and culture, to being the first school to have its own public art gallery, Jaya Miss was simply a towering personality. 


Effervescence
Her boundless energy had her connected to each and every student and each and every member of staff and her overflowing compassion was well guarded by her strict approach to life and its values. She knew how to celebrate the achievements of people, unite them and move ahead together with no one left behind. She also knew how to state the hard truth to drive home the point of truth. She had a special fondness for me, as I was one of those rare male dancers at that time, and mentored me with personal care. 

My third experience of another dynamic woman is the Principal of the school I worked at early on in my fifteen year old career in education. Her name is Madhavi Kapur and she was heading the school at that time... one of the most revolutionarily progressive schools at that time. I learnt the technicalities of being a good educator from her. She had a penchant for catering to the needs of each and every student and ensured that each teacher functioned from that same vision. She knew how to celebrate life, art and culture and brought these elements into the curriculum. Learning was always fun and interactive and yet fiercely personalised and value driven. She taught me the ropes of class management, student assessment and integrated learning. She also taught me that education is for life and not just for passing examinations and thus, needs to be holistic. This echoed with my own school experiences and eventually helped me grow as an educator who always connects with students from the heart. 
Radiant Adi
Her radiant smiles and vibrant energy filled my teaching experience with precious memories, which I truly cherish. True to the name by which we all called her, Adi (elder sister), she was my first mentor in my professional arena. She is a visionary and has since moved ahead in starting her own foundation and her own new school called Aman Setu or the Peace Bridge. You can well understand by now, how strong an influence these ladies have had in helping me choose and shape my career in education.

Around the time that I worked with Adi, I encountered the Law through my mother, who had already begun practising. It was then that I discovered you. In the beginning you were merely a photograph, an entity somewhere far away. But over the last 12 years and more of my faith and practice, your words and guidances have brought you closer to me. I learnt about the hardships you encountered as a child during World War 2 in Japan. I learnt about your fiery spirit when you first took up this faith at the young age of 19, challenging the teachings at first only to better understand it from your your mentor Josei Toda. I learnt about your commitment and faith as you took on the responsibility of taking this life changing practice out of Japan to the rest of the world. 


A mentor of a lifetime and from many lifetimes
As time flew by, you became a real person, someone whom I am yet to meet in person, but somebody with whom I have a daily dialogue. I learnt the tenets of Buddhism from your lectures on Nichiren Daishonin's writings and through your example of fighting the three obstacles and four devils, not just for your own sake, but for the millions of members worldwide and above all your mentor, I learnt the importance of imbibing the values of wisdom, courage and compassion. I learnt how simple and at the same time difficult, it is, to be a good and happy human being. Today you stand proud and tall in the newly erected Soka Gakkai Headquarters and I hope someday to be able to visit the Great Hall of the Vow of Kosen Rufu. I have changed a lot as a person over all these encounters with all of you, my mentors. So in a way this is my salute to all of you. I have changed a lot over the last 12 years of my practice and continue to polish myself further to live up to your vision of your disciples. I also determine that in all my interactions, I must be able to add value to the lives of others through the learning I have gained with my encounters with each of you. Be it the unconditional love my mother taught, hardwork and dedication that Jaya Miss exemplified, passion and compassion that Adi embodies and the ultimate respect for human life that you so beautifully uphold.

Every single day I remember at least one of you, for each of you have touched my hearts in ways that words cannot express or describe. But in my heart, there is an important place each of you have. This undying gratitude to my mentors is my ultimate dedication to you and the Buddhist spirit you edify on this auspicious occasion of your 86th birthday!

In deepest respect,
Abhimanyu/Tipu
3rd January, 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Golden Memories


This year has been a year of spiritual awakening and reckoning… an outcome of our prayers for casting off the transient and revealing the true! As the year draws to an end, my mind, heart and soul are steeped in the spirit of faith, compassion, humanism and spirituality. 3 important holidays in 3 significantly spiritual destinations have made this year truly special. The first happened in July when we went to Pondicherry, a trip we had planned thrice earlier since 2004 and which finally materialised this year. The second trip was to Kolkata for the Durga Pujas which happened in October this year, an experience relived after a gap of 10 years! This post is about our most recent trip to the Golden City of Amritsar, a long desired destination since 2005.

Seat of Martyrdom: the Jallianwala Bagh

The Jallianwala Bagh is a landmark in the history of British India… a scar in the landscape of martyrdom. 1000s of innocent people were indiscriminately killed by the order of General Dyer. 


The garden was originally a ground with a narrow lane for entry and exit. The crowd was trapped inside as all entry and exit was blocked by the British forces as they were gunned down. Many were women and children and they tried to save their lives by jumping into a well on the grounds. 120 dead bodies were recovered later from the well itself. Such was the horror that the grounds had witnessed on 13th April, 1919! The garden was later developed by the Indian Government as a memorial ground of those thousand and above martyrs. An Amar Jyoti burns all day and night, while a memorial tower has been erected at one end of the garden. 

 

The bullet marks on the wall still look fresh as they are marked for viewing. The martyr’s well is now dry standing testimony to the pool of blood and the pile of dead bodies that it was filled with. 


   

A sombre mood descended upon us as we visualised the grounds soaked with the blood of those martyrs. In the museum, a huge painting depicts the tragic scene along with some memorabilia of the past. It was interesting to even find Tagore’s letter of refusal of knighthood in protest of the massacre. 

A serene field today beautifully adorned with trees and open corners, reminiscent of the blood bath that occurred almost a hundred years back… laced with spine chilling winds which silently echoed the terrific cries of the people who lost their lives on that fateful day!

Seat of Sikhism: the Golden Temple

All through school, all that I learnt about Sikhism was about the Gurus and the 5 Ks, namely, Kara (bangle), Kesh (hair), Kacchha (an Indian undergarment), Kangha (comb) and the Kirpan (sword). Moreover, having lived in Gurgaon, I encountered many Sikhs from Delhi and Gurgaon, not to mention the endless jokes one hears about ‘Sardars’ and ethical taunts of their brutal business sense. But Sikhism goes far beyond that. It took me a 3 day visit to the heart of Sikhism, i.e. Amritsar, to realise the depth and profundity of the faith and to feel the heart of the community. Amritsar gets its name from the lake (sar) in the heart of the city which is compared to amrit (elixir of immortality) excavated in the late 16th century! This lake exists inside the Golden Temple, the Mecca for Sikhs! The day we chose to visit the Golden Temple was the coldest day of the season with outside temperatures ranging between 5 to 6 degrees Celsius and the first snowfall taking place in Himachal Pradesh and JnK. Hence, we entered the campus with trepidation and a bit of a chill, as one had to walk bare feet inside the entire campus. To worsen the situation, it had rained the day before and the mats placed for the comfort of visitors, were soggy. Walking on the cold marble that wrapped the golden temple campus in a stark contradiction to the gold, seemed to be the best option. The white entry seemed more like an entry to a grand old British railway station, but right after cleansing our feet, when we had the first sight of the golden shrine, all our anxieties disappeared in its brilliance!


The campus is huge, with the lake in the middle and the shrine in its centre. There were at least 2000 people walking around braving the weather. When we wanted to partake in the communal lunch (langar), we were told at the donation counter that Guru Nanakji always advised his devotees to first enjoy the meal and then visit the shrine. It was when we went to enjoy the meal that we realised why he said so. There were almost a 1000 strong crowd waiting to have the langar. We were all ushered in by volunteers doling out plates, bowls and spoons with the chant of Wahe Guru! In a huge hall, a simple meal of chapatis, dal, kadhi and kheer was served by the innumerable volunteers. What struck a chord was the equalising factor of the meal, as the rich and the poor, the male and the female, the old and the young, all sat together on the floor to enjoy this simple but sumptuous hot meal. We were all at par, be it the volunteers, committed in their sense of service or us, the visitors, some for religious reasons, while some others, like us, just for the experience! The efficiency of service and cleaning up after the batch was done eating, was remarkable. In a militaristic fashion, the mats were swept, the floors watered and swiped! All in a matter of few minutes, the hall was ready for the next lot of people to come and enjoy the meal. At the exit, there were crowds of people, again from all different stratas and ages, peeling peas and onions in preparation for the next round of cooking. What was even more intriguing was that this process of feeding the visitors, which is known to be an average of a 100,000 visitors daily, happened 24/7 round the clock! The langar at the Golden Temple is also one of the world’s largest free kitchens.

The aura of the place was mystified further by the foggy morning and the golden hues of the temple compensating for the lack of the sun! To add to the atmosphere, there were songs continuously floating in the air. These songs, known as Gurvani, are the teachings of Guru Nanak, set to melody and chanted in tune, making the prayers merge with the human spirit in such a free and easy manner. Tears welled in our eyes frequently to note the spirit of humanity that was so omnipresent. It didn’t matter what backgrounds of age, caste, creed, colour, religion and economic strata people came from, as all were embraced, welcome and catered to at this serene place of worship. Moreover, the essence of faith was hands-on through its commitment to service. More than a hundred volunteers were working round the clock, keeping the premises sparkling clean, rolling out carpets for people to walk on, and cooking and serving food. In its simplicity and in its basic human gesture of doing good to others in the most practical fashion, the devotees were continuing to garner endless bags of good fortune, over generations. Probably one of the reasons, why their entire community, scattered across the globe, are so prosperous and so tightly knit.

We returned that evening to view the temple at night, in all its glittering golden splendour. This time, we stood in the line, after a tiring day, for almost half an hour to see the inner sanctum. What struck us the most was the civility of all visitors there. Even though we were standing in a crowd of 700 people queued up on the causeway to enter the shrine, not one person’s body touched the other’s, not one person was talking loudly or chatting, not one person pushed anybody else. Very different from many experiences I have had in Hindu places of worship were a hype is created simply by egging people to do their darshan ‘quickly’! Here, it was just a mixed throng of true devotees and visitors like us. On my right stood a man, who obviously looked like he was settled in Canada or the US (a large population of Sikhs exist there), with diamond ear studs on both his ears. To my left stood an aged poor looking man, who was probably a local. With us, in between, it represented the quilt of humanity. Amidst that silent waiting, songs drifted through the air, and all the Sikhs who knew them by heart, sung along in quiet hums. Again a moving experience, in the nature of its connectedness to faith and in the remarkable conduct of ordinary human beings around us! This community is otherwise known for its loud and crass behaviour in Delhi and elsewhere, but here, they were spiritually transformed! No photography was allowed inside the shrine, and one could only capture mental visuals of the golden ceiling fan, the golden ceiling and the golden mike stands inside. What was even more remarkable was the fact that this was another faith (like Nichiren's Buddhism) which had no idol worship… the centre of devotion were the teachings in the form of the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib which is a compilation of teachings by Guru Nanak. One could stay on inside as long as one wanted, by finding a corner to sit and sing the prayers or by simply standing and observing. Just the way a sighting of this kind should be!

   

As we left the place with endless soul stirring emotions and memories, our eyes had opened to the true tenets of Sikhism which celebrated humanity and the common thread that binds us all together, above all!

Seat of Patriotism: the Wagah Border

The Wagah Border interestingly is named after the village in Pakistan’s Punjab, while the name of the bordering village in India is Attari. Interestingly, this border is more commonly referred to by the name of its Pakistani counterpart. At a distance of 28 kms from Amritsar, the Attari Joint Check Post, is the line along which India was partitioned in 1947. As we set off from the Golden Temple to witness the flag lowering and Beating Retreat Ceremony on the coldest afternoon of the season, we were filled with mixed emotions. We were lucky to have VIP passes which gave us access to a closer view of the gate that exists at this border. As we reached just on time, we had to sit on the pavement, as the VIP gallery was already full. We waited with bated breath for the beginning of the ceremony. To our right, were thousands of Indians, in the ordinary seating area. Patriotic music blared, frothing up a frenzied sense of patriotism. Songs from Hindi movies, which had a patriotic feel to it brought the crowds dancing on the streets… fading the significance of the ceremony in the background. There were many BSF jawans managing the crowd with their strict orders, while a crowd cheerer went on building up the hype with chants of Vande Mataram and Hindustan Zindabad. Across the border, a similar routine took place with chants of Jhule Jhule Pakistan! The ceremony entailed the marching of jawans to the gate and shaking hands with their Pakistani counterparts. Vigorous marching by, characterised by the ferocious kicks, filled my eyes and mind with a sense of nationalistic pride. 



As the gates opened, the crowds cheered in a climactic high pitch. Soon it was time for the flag lowering, a choreographed dance of ropes, cloth, hands and emotions! As the two flags of the 2 countries intertwined and were lowered, my eyes welled with the moving power of a myriad thoughts. This one stretch of land demarcated the boundaries between the two nations, and many tales told by many people of the painful partition played like a feature film in my mind. At the same time, the jawans instilled an enormous sense of pride, as one was reminded of their endless service to the nation, ensuring we all lead peaceful and secure lives. At the same time, seeing the crowd in its patriotic fervour made me wonder of how long this effect would last! Were these not the same people, who had to be stopped by the jawans from breaking their queues while entering the border? Were these not the same people who littered the area with plastic plates and cups, outside the entry, in an uncaring fashion? Did these people truly understand the pain of the families who were separated in 1947 in a most violent manner? Did these people really feel the pain of the families which lost their sons and daughters to fights across the line of control? The air was biting cold, the atmosphere exhilarating with the energy of the crowd on both sides, and the aura decorated with the true grit and sense of patriotism that the BSF jawans exhibit, day in and day out. It made me wonder on the true meaning of feeling love and patriotism for one’s nation… is it by merely celebrating it at the border, or is it by celebrating it in every action we take as citizens?



Though the experience was unforgettable and emotional, I choose the latter, as my commitment to my homeland.


A day that was filled with visits to these unforgettable places, left me questioning the human value of life! How much do we value it? What is the value of the lives given by the martyrs of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre or the soldiers who die endlessly on the borders? Is it just worth the frenzied fervour that lasts for an hour? Or is it reduced to a day out in the sun on a winter morning? Or is it glorified by the sense of service that was omnipresent at the Golden Temple? Questions to ponder in the coming years as I discover the Buddha within!

Monday, August 13, 2012

65 years of freedom?

India stands at the brink of completing 65 years of freedom... freedom from British rule, freedom from oppression, freedom from torture by the powerful, freedom from exploitation and freedom from political imperialism!

Yet, as I reflect back on the happenings in the last few months, the following thoughts stare at me, in no order of importance (because they, to me, are all equally important!):

Inflation
Things have never costed more before! Cauliflower at Rs. 100 a kg! During the British rule, our farmers had to pay steep taxes and a lot of the produce from cotton to indigo went abroad and came back as manufactured goods and sold to Indians at a premium. In today's day and age, it is our own people in power who are pocketing the income. Farmers continue to remain poorer, and prices of things continue to rise. How different are conditions from 65 years back?

Anna turns political
At a time when Anna seemed to be the modern 'saviour' giving the common man a chance at truth and justice at an unprecedented scale. So did Gandhi 70 and more years back. He brought hope and united the masses. And then he chose the political path, diluting the larger mission for the people. Anna Hazare's decision to join politics seems to mirror the situation for which Gandhi probably paid with his life! How differently helpless do we continue to remain as a democratic nation?

Tug of War
Lawlessness
Lawlessness has reached mammoth proportions, at least in the part of the country I live in. Daylight robbery in a mall, protests in Mumbai against the Assam riots turning violent, daylight gang rapes, absconding criminals, and corrupt ministers, are just some of the news items that reek of a violent society. How different are these instances from the horrors that Indians on both sides of the existing borders experienced during Partition?

Value of children
On a different note, probably this is an area where things are not only different from the pre-independence times, rather definitely worse! Children getting trapped in drain holes and not getting the proper care required to save their lives, babies being sold in the name of poverty and rampant examples of child labour all around us, just show the lack of any value we as a society give to children. 

Don't break our hearts!
Rights of animals
This too, has probably worsened from the times, when animals were naturally domesticated and looked after in pre-independence India. Cattle and other animals were taken care of as members of the family, looked after and well fed. Today, those animals merely have a commercial value. Moreover, wild animals are drastically losing their natural habitats thanks to merciless urbanisation and human encroachment. A recent incident of an acquaintance leaving his apparently 'naughty'  pet dog in the wilderness to teach him a lesson, is a shocking reminder of how as a nation, we have simply forgotten to value and respect life. 

National Sport?
Hockey is our National Sport and yet we performed dismally in the recently concluded Olympics! Apathy from the government towards nurturing sports in the true spirit, and poor infrastructure and training, are the primary reasons for team sports to perform so poorly. Most, if not all medals we have won have been in individual sports, where the grit, practice and determination of an individual which has got the country a medal! In contrast, we are willing to view every match of the IPL, celebrating a economically driven, marketing-enabled, and celebrity-endorsed spectacle, in which the spirit of sports is celebrated less than brands, companies and a communal competitiveness, making the common people go delirious in a biblically-tranced blindness!

All of these are random thoughts that have been disturbing me over the last year, making me question my significance as a citizen of modern India. We seem to be so effortlessly wasting our resources, our youth and our time in life, in a state of being blindfolded by ourselves! What could be worse for the future of a nation? A nation that fought a bloody battle over years to gain its independence, and yet, today fails to value life, respect women and cherish its strengths! A nation of more than a billion people, which when united in a common aspiration of true development of the country in all its spheres, could achieve miracles. And yet, we continue to sleep through life, like zombies, celebrating each Independence Day in retarded applause!

It is time for a re evolution!



Sunday, July 29, 2012

Teacher Educator Mentor

I recently attended a beautiful, thought provoking session by our school's management consultants Sandeep and Manisha. Though, we were all sulking as it entailed a working Saturday, the session was surprisingly insightful. We began by falling into the traps of their tricky questions, like fish caught in a net, as they asked us 'How intelligent are we?'. As we went through the various aspects of trying to define how intelligent we are and furthermore, quantify it as a rating, most of us realised the futility of this self evaluation! We needed to have understood that when it comes to teaching, it is not about 'How intelligent our students are', but about 'How are they intelligent'! Having experienced this first jolt, all of us (our Primary school team of 60 teachers) became more alert and involved, totally forgetting that it was a Saturday afternoon!

We enjoyed exploring the ethos of teaching remembering multiple intelligences and multiple pathways to learning, two educational beliefs that also form the backbone of our school's vision and mission! At the same time, it was heartening to see the commitment level of most of our teachers in teaching students of today... and embracing in the same hug, the challenges and the rewards. Here is a summary of some of the insights shared, beliefs reinforced and questions planted:

WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE?
What is it and how can one define it? As we see the greatest people in their respective fields, we realise that they all circumstantially evaded the journey of schooling. So does education actually nurture intelligence or streamline children into competitive race-course tracks? What is the purpose of holistic education... to help each child manifest the Buddhahood within and bloom like a lotus in all its natural beauty and glory... or to wither into a well groomed and manicured flower that can merely adorn hotel bedside tables? As teachers is it not our moral responsibility to acknowledge the unique potential and mission of each individual, help them realise it and guide them on the path to manifesting that inner potential, which in Buddhist terms, is nothing but Buddhahood? Should education address the needs of the learner and help him/her connect his inner strengths to the dynamics of the world outside, or the needs of an economically or industrially driven society which needs humanoids to fill in jobs? Having been born in a family of so called intellectuals, and always being reminded (throughout my upbringing) of my ordinariness in 'that department', it was reassuring to find others who believed in an intelligence that went far beyond knowledge and information and celebrated true wisdom.

TEACHING IS A NOBLE PROFESSION
The facilitators also raised the whole perception of "Teaching as a noble profession" and as educators of a progressive education system and an internationally minded school, it was heartening to see the debate. Is the phrase 'noble profession' an oxymoron? What makes a profession noble? We explored in groups, what we felt personally and professionally about this oft used, cliched statement, and each group shared some amazing insights. 'Noble' brings into mind selflessness, giving and sacrificing. Yes, we do all of that as teachers and our best rewards are the joys of seeing our students grow from strength to strength. In the ancient times, when the select few were educated and had the power to educate others, a distinction from other occupations could have been used to demarcate teachers as higher beings. But what adds hypocritical complicacy to the statement is when the word 'noble' is added to 'profession'. A profession implies something specialised and something which also brings in income. And that is where the hypocrisy begins. Do teachers not deserve to earn? How is it different from other professions then? Yes, we shape the future citizens of the world and yes, we not only invest our time and knowledge, but also our emotions. But if these things can be easily accepted by all as a teacher's duty, then why do employees of MNCs earn much more than teachers? Why does the ability to build bridges or create computer programmes garner a higher monetary value than creating good human beings and caring global citizens? Is it wrong to be paid well and appropriately for shaping the future society and future leaders, but absolutely acceptable for others to earn millions of dollars for ensuring profits in a company that is doing nothing remarkably different than what East India Company planned and did in India? Then why do countries and societies demean the value of our contribution in economic terms? On the other hand, if we, as teachers, get paid decently, as we are in international schools, is it something to feel guilty about? Is society the way it is because for generations, the financial rewards of a teacher by its employer has been meagre to say the least and that not all teachers would deliver their best merely on the nobility factor? Is the profession that a prostitute chooses any less noble? Questions that shook the basic foundation of my own value system and put me at peace with the fact that the nobility of a profession is not by its nature, but more determined by the nature of the individual engaged in it. The examples of shocking and most often not noble behaviour by teachers is widely publicised in the media these days with a scary incident being reported every other week... but does it really bother us as much as it would if the stock market crashed or the Sensex dipped many points or the price of gold increased by a few more thousands? 


BECOMING A TEACHER, EDUCATOR AND A MENTOR
The final aspect of the workshop was to help us realise our humanistic mission as teachers. We explored our understanding of the role of a teacher viz a viz an educator and a mentor. In today's world of helicopter parenting, as so beautifully coined and explained by Rachna in her blog on children losing their innocence these days, is it enough being an authoritative fountain head of knowledge? Or do children need more compassionate teachers to help them educate themselves? Or is the role of a teacher much larger to a disarrayed generation that is lost in its life tracks and thus, be the mentor to guide them to finding their own truths? In the PYP, we are all of these rolled into one. Not only do we need to be receptive to the backgrounds and experiences that students bring in to the class room, but also be aware that each child is uniquely intelligent and each child has a unique way of learning. We need to compensate for the role models which may be missing in their lives... lives wrought with broken homes, domestic abuse, ignorant parents, absent parents and the dependence for entertainment and comfort merely on inanimate objects and the digital media! We have to be the parent, the friend, the guide, the sibling and the guru. We need to be role models to these children, as they perceive and imbibe all that they witness around them. At the same time, we need to make them independent learners, who will be able to fit into an ever changing world, wherever they are! The challenges and the responsibilities are immense but the rewards at the end of the day are much larger than a fat bonus cheque. The rewards are rewards of the heart!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Buddhaland


What is the Buddhaland? We hear this often in our Buddhist practice and I have been conscious of it, in concept, from a young age, having been introduced to Louise Hay and her affirmations in my early 20s! In Buddhist terms, it is the land where a Buddha dwells after having vowed to save living beings, completed his own practice, and attained enlightenment. In more practical terms, in the modern times, it is the land where we live and work, creating peace and harmony in our environment through good thoughts, words and deeds. What has however been more puzzling to me is where to find it? In Buddhism, it is simple... the land exists in our hearts and in the physical space where we live and work. Thus, it is rather not about finding Buddhaland but about creating it. 

What is Buddhaland?
After a 3 city holiday, here is an introspection on the 3 cities and in the place where we live... a comparative analysis into what are the factors that go into making a Buddhaland.

Gurgaon
A city in Haryana, in which vast tracts of arable land are being swallowed up by urbanisation, the corruption it entails, and the population and related crises it invites. It is called the Millenium City and yet is far from it! A mall city of self centred consumerists and infamously of rapists and murderers! A city where crime doesn't need an excuse, but just happens. Be it an instance of road rage that leads to death, violent anger that leads to the murder of innocent people, or even kidnapping and gang rapes in open daylight from the so called respectable malls! It is also the city of suicides, indicative of the emtpiness in people's hearts. What is most contradictory, is its history. Gurgaon, rather Guru ka Gaon was the forested area where Guru Dronacharya had his school and where the Pandavas had their training. Rich in its natural resources, thickly forested with a large variety of birds and animals, it was a land celebrating the sanctity of the mentor disciple relationship... a stark contrast to what it is today! The forests have been chopped off, the animals have taken refuge in the legally protected Aravali forests (inside which is our campus residence) and the values that are deep rooted in the Haryanvi culture, long lost. Respect for land today has a different connotation...not for its agricultural yield but for the pots full of money it can bring in today if sold to a greedy promoter! Electricity and water are scarce commodities, and public utilities like roads, street lighting and safety do not reflect the high taxes paid by the common man here. So what is amiss? It is the basic sanctity of life... the inner respect that village elders still have in their genes but the common younger public lack. Respect for the environment, public place and above life and people. And respect is that quality what could turn Gurgaon into Guru ka Gaon... alias the Buddhaland!

Mumbai
A sea of people
The economic heart throb of our country is a strange mix of contradictions. Busy streets, busy people, all hustling and bustling to work... be it the common man who is struggling to make ends meet by juggling more than one job a day, or the rich who are striving to mint more money for themselves in a city, where prices go up irrespective of the inflation! And in this survival driven, purposeful humdrum, every individual is engrossed in themselves, their lives, their worries and their pain, so much so that they do not care about what is happening around them. At the same time, the people are all wired together, subliminally, because of their shared struggle. The rich can be seen enjoying their Pav Bhaji at Juhu Chowpatty as comfortably as the not so rich! The public transport too is used by one and all, depending on the need. 

A burst of life force
Everything is shared, including a seat on a train during rush hour. It is like all the citizens in the depths of their hearts care about the other, in spite of any difference there might exist, be it in religion, caste or social and economic status. Everybody is accepted the way they are, be it the youngsters in their funky attire, or the senior citizens walking in sarees and sports shoes in the innumerous well maintained public gardens. Somewhere deep down there is a knowing of everybody being the same and hence, a subliminal respect that breathes in the city life. When needed the same people on the streets who wouldn't look at you twice, will come in hordes to help you if you need so. This quality of balance is what keeps the city ticking with an never before experienced zest for life... striving for better and working with determination towards it.   
Making Buddhaland?

Buddhaland is not a dream, but must be actualised, and one can sense the Bodhisattvas working very hard in the city of Mumbai!

Pune
Pune is the cultural capital of Maharashtra and often called the Oxford of the East! Filled with a burgeoning student population due to its well organised and well proven educational systems, it is filled with a rich vibrancy of character. 
The Orchid School
Though the hometown to the native Marathis, who have long escaped the more cosmopolitan capital of Mumbai for their own reclusive and cocooned life style at Pune, yet, it has a strangely youthful nature that adds a freshness to the city and its appeal. Long stretches of military presence, adds a sense of security and visual treat to the big city traveller. The weahter too is gentle and the environment green and well preserved. A laid-back attitude to life is what characterises a typical Puneite. 
Outside Natural
Roadside Kacchi Dabeli
At the same time the natives clutch on to their culture, through their shopping on Lakshmi Road, their local cuisine spilling into street food carts, their original Ice Cream Parlour chain made from fresh fruits, Marathi theatre throbbing alive in the city scape and the myriad educational institutions that gives it a cultural finesse! The youth too add immense character balancing this rich canvas of people, with their born to be free attitude with most students stepping out of their hometowns into independent college living for the first time at Pune and a desire to achieve more in their coming years. A land that is laden with peace... don't bother, don't get bothered aura... naturally complemented by the greenery and the cool weather. One can see in the Pune of today, urbanisation and consumerism raising its ugly head, but the overall ethos of the city is still strong enough to balance the character of a peace loving city and community. This strong desire for peace and a youthfulness to achieve it is another typical quality that makes a Buddhaland!

Goa
Highway to heaven!
Coconut and jackfruit in every house!
Green and gorgeous... a city gifted by nature... with its rich foliage of coconut and cashew-nut among other flora! Its pristine beaches with its clean sand and wide horizons, metaphorically seem to open the minds of its people. 

Hearts that are expansive are typified by the locals, who would gladly invite you to a Konkani meal! A zeal to enjoy life and nature is not only a character of the large number of tourists who throng Goa through the year, but also an integral element of a native Goan. The influence of the erstwhile Portuguese adds a westernized element to the life style, be it in attire, food or entertainment. At the same time, the sun, sand and surf, seem to create an ethereal feeling of bliss, of living in paradise! 
Pristine beaches of Goa

An inner respect for one another and complete acceptance of each individual as unique, is what makes the tattoo parlour coexist in complete harmony right next to a handicrafts shop, not just physically but also in ethos. A perfect blend of western and eastern ideologies, a love for life and people in its myriad diversities and its unique entirety, a natural respect for splendid nature as manifested in the city as well as its endless beaches, gives being in Goa, an out of the world feel. Could this be Buddhaland? Maybe!

In the end, no place is perfect. I have lived for a year at Mumbai, three in Pune and eight in Gurgaon. Every city has its own character and atmosphere, but some cities do naturally lend itself to the establishment of Buddhaland. 
Buddha sun
In the end, it is each individual’s contribution and hence, responsibility to turn any environment into an abode of the Buddha. We have been chanting for the same to be established at our campus from Day 1 and that is our contribution from this corner of the jungle. Here is praying for each of us to be able to be pivotal in transforming their home, work place, building society, neighbourhood and city into a land of pure tranquil light!
Buddhaland is just a blind away...


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ten things I learnt from my mother... a tribute on her 75th birthday!

My mother turns a glorious 75 today and this is a tribute to her spirit. We never get to choose our parents, but we do choose to understand, accept, admire, and respect them. In the last 35 years, I have gone through a journey of doing all of that with my mother! Here is a list of ten things I have learnt from her and will always carry with me all my life:


Open your heart

My mother is emotional to the core and her heart is a softy! Her heart has always been open to learning new things, questioning her own beliefs and embracing new ideas, and above all to helping and caring for people. All through my childhood, I have seen endless visitors drop by and never was anybody grudged and neither did anybody leave without food in their stomach! This open-hearted nature brought her many friends, some opportunist and some genuine, and yet her bitter sweet experiences never biased her.


Strengthen your mind
My mother, being the first girl in the family to study for a Master's Degree, always cherished the opportunity. She sincerely worked day and night to nurture her intellect and thereby topped her course by becoming a Gold Medalist at Jadavpur University, Kolkata! This saga continued once she met my father, an intellectual, historian and author, with whom she continued this journey of learning. I learnt that there is no end to learning and no age for learning either, pretty early in life.

Work diligently
My memories of my childhood are filled with my mother being busy... forever busy! At 75, nothing much has changed... she still continues to be forever busy! An amazing worker, who once determined, would see her objectives to fruition with a zeal so rare these days. Hard working, be it through her days at Loreto College, checking papers of students from other universities, starting a creche at home or manufacturing jams and squashes, whatever she does, she puts in her 100%. This diligence has not only paid her off well, but has kept her young and healthy!


Enjoy uninhibitedly





My mother loves to cook, drink, dance, watch movies and plays and travel to new places. In whatever she dipped her fingers, even work transformed to enjoyment. With this spirit, I grew up with lots of social evenings at home, be it my father's literary friends, or my special birthday celebrations, these are memories etched in my mind and heart. She taught me, that amid the hardest of circumstances, it is important to enjoy life, uninhibitedly. I still remember her taking me out for a tour of our neighbourhood one rainy afternoon through waterlogged streets, just to feel the exhilaration of a Kolkata monsoon! I also remember how special she made my birthdays by serving me special lunch on silverware and baking my delicious birthday cakes at home! She taught me the mantra of work hard, party hard, even before it became a catch phrase!

Respect women 

My mother was fortunate in her times to grow up and encounter strong women. Be it my mother's mother or my father's mother, two exceptionally strong and independent women of their times, or her boss at college, she admired and revelled in her womanhood. She always taught me the importance of respecting and caring for women... a quality which I imbibed over the years of maturing into an adult. She played a pivotal role not only in my upbringing, but also in our family, its handling and management, thereby, exemplifying the power of a woman in a family. 


Be forever youthful
In her youth, my mother was known for her beauty and the length of her hair! She was aptly called Kapalkundala by her friends and inspired many love poems by my father. Now, though the length of her hair may have drastically shortened, it is impossible to guess her age, not only because of all the wonders Oriflame has worked on her face and skin, but also seeing her energy levels and her zest for life! At 75, she is still youthful at heart, which keeps her younger and glowing. Her active and hands on approach to life, helps her continue to strive and add value to other people's lives, not regarding her weak knees! I hope that at her age, I will be half as fit and active!

Meet challenges head on

My mother is fearless! She has always braved whatever challenge life has thrown at her, never giving in to self pity or remorse. Be it work related, financial or dealing with family crises, she wasted no time in getting down to problem solving and fire fighting. There was not even a second when I remember her getting daunted or overwhelmed. A fighter at heart, she would be soon ready with an action plan and get on with fighting the bull by its horns. Not surprisingly, most of the times she would emerge victorious! A spirit to deal with life's good and bad and not escape the situation, is something I learnt by observing her deal with the vagaries of life! 


Never give up
Her fearless character was further blessed with her perseverant nature. This not only helped her tackle difficult situations, but her undying positive approach, sometimes even foolish, made her stronger than others, as she refused to let any situation get the better of her. In modern times, we see so many of us give in to so much stress in our lives and yet I saw my mother cope with all the pressures of her life with a belief that it would be resolved and that she had the power to do so! This self empowering nature is something I have always tried to imbibe, as it was an inherent quality in her which further got nurtured through her practice of Buddhism.


Count your blessings
Like everybody else, my mother too has seen a lot of good times and a lot of bad times! But through it all she taught me one thing... always to count our blessings. She had learnt it from her mother to always look at people around us, when we felt that we were in the worst possible situation. A never-say-die positive spirit actually held her in good stead through many trials, which women from her generation or of her age would not been have been able to brave and emerge victorious! A sense of humility and a sense of gratitude was ever present in my upbringing and I hope I am able to inculcate the same in my daughter.

Have faith

Everything above boils down to a five letter word 'faith'! My mother has always been guided by her strong instincts, supported by her hard working spirit and never defeated by her attitude to life. At the core of her personality is faith... in the goodness of life and people, in fairness and justice, in the powers of the Universe and above all in the strength latent in all of us. I have seen her apply all these ideas into practice, during major hardships and rising above them. I always admired this in her and was happy to see this manifest itself in a more channelised way when she embraced Buddhism more than a decade back. Her faith has brought our family together and I am sure, will bring in many more blessings into all our lives.






As I sat down to reflect, a longer list of things is already churning in my mind. I have not elaborated on evidences to support my thoughts, as many of them are painful and personal. But, through it all, I have realised the gift that only mothers can share with their children. Here is wishing you many more glorious such years ahead on your 75th birthday!


P.S. This post is in green, my mom's favourite colour! :D





Sunday, June 24, 2012

REPAYING DEBT OF GRATITUDE

Every experience in life, be it good or bad, adds value to who we are. It shapes our future course, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. We become a different person through every experience in life, bit by bit. Often people feel helpless in the hands of 'destiny' almost like a blob of wet clay being shaped by the God-potter. In Buddhism, it is believed that our thoughts, words and actions actually shape our destiny. Thus, the responsibility is placed squat on your face for all you experience and all you go through, good or bad. At the same time, the power to be the potter at the wheel, is also yours... each individual's irrespective of caste, creed, financial security or gender. A simplistic concept and yet very difficult to practise.

As each experience in life contributes to who we are and who we become, whether it is the working of a somewhat vicarious God sitting up there somewhere, or through mere consequences of our thoughts, words and actions, repaying debts of gratitude is a crucial element in Buddhist practice. A humility that is rooted in Japanese culture stems from this Buddhist thought, that by making efforts to repay one's debts of gratitude, we move forward in our evolution into better human beings. A constant reminder of how insignificant we are in the face of the overpowering Universe and its laws. There are many ways in which we pay gratitude, without realising that we are doing the same. These acts are an integral part of social interaction in India and often are done superficially or mechanically as a mere body routine. If one can add the thought to it, then the gesture is that much more valuable.

1. Namaste



The most common greeting in India, with hands joined together, head slightly bent, it is an acknowledgment of the other individual with equal if not more respect. The hands are placed close to the heart chakra, where divinity is believed to reside. It is a salutation used commonly by Hindus and Buddhists and in recent times, has become popular even in Western cultures. It is an act of respect or adulation and thus, in a moment, repaying debt of gratitude for having encountered the other noble soul.

2. Touching feet





This is a humbler version of Namaste, in which we show respect by touching the feet of elders. It requires the body to be bent and the head bowed in a gesture of complete reverence and thus, expressing gratitude. Sometimes, this also is a way to seek blessings from those who have experienced more in life, especially during auspicious occasions.

3. Prayer

In life, we all experience ups and downs. When the going is smooth, we oft forget the omnipresence of 'God' in our lives (for the atheists, God can be interpreted as Good Orderly Direction). When the going gets tough, we remember this super power, and how we need to express gratitude to It and at the same time seek Its intervention in setting things right in our lives. All religions have a regular routine of prayer, the degree of which varies from one to the other. In Hinduism, though daily prayer is a requirement, one can often skip it if one attends the Pujas which happen in regular intervals throughout the year. Be it a visit to a temple or a puja, God is kind and will bless those who express their gratitude for all that they have. In Christianity acknowledging one's sins and confessing about it adds a different dimension to our conversations with God and manifests an interesting angle to the manifestation of God's benevolence.

Whatever faith you may consider, prayer is the highest form of expressing and repaying one's debt of gratitude. Our direct channel is God and sometimes, we may not even meet the individuals for a long time, but through this server, in a way, we are expressing our gratitude to all the experiences we have with different people throughout our lives. However, keeping all this in mind, I believe how we pray (to rocks, trees, money, God, idols, whoever) is each individual's prerogative and how it manifests in each individual's life is a mix of more than 3000 factors! But more of that later.

4. Unconditional love

I believe, that an act of love is far more superior than prayer. An act of unconditional love, that is free of expectations, greed, opportunity or benefits, is the highest form of expressing gratitude. Much like the 'I see you' ritual in the tribe of Navis (Avatar)! When we truly are in that paused frame of giving and receiving this pure emotion of love, we are truly acknowledging the presence of the other individual, in his/her entirety, body, mind and soul. A loving embrace, a caring touch, all convey subliminally the depth of emotions we feel, as if to say "Thank You for being here". It always leaves us satiated, no matter how difficult our circumstances may be at that point of time. It carries no expectations, but to be reciprocated... and yet it can be expressed by one and all, and is learnt instinctively.

Yet, in the humdrum of our seemingly busy lives, racing towards so called progress that is only depleting our natural resources, we tend to forget the power of the human touch and how easy it is to express our debt of gratitude.

It is crucial we lead a life, in which we express our gratitude. From the routine to the emotional, each act carries significance. Once we are aware of the power of expressing gratitude, we will surely emerge a better human being day by day. Use your body to speak your mind, in a respectful way and see the change it brings!