When I was growing up in a government colony, we had a grassy ‘ground’ between the rows of two-storey flats. This meant that in the fifty or so homes surrounding the ground there were enough children to play all sorts of games. The grassy ground was large enough to allow us to play football and cricket. We made our own badminton court in the ground, installed lights and played badminton at night. We also played marbles, gilli danda and many games that involved running and hitting each other with rubber balls. As I remember it today, I played outside every single day after I got back home from school. There was very little money available and so we played with bare minimum equipment which everyone contributed towards.

I see the big expensive playing kits that children carry today and the special shoes and clothes. As if it is not possible to play cricket if twenty people were sharing one bat and one ball and there was no ‘coach’ giving advice. In the huge sports stores that have mushroomed in all cities, every sport has its own special section – badminton shoes are different from tennis shoes. And everything is expensive! In the poorer neighbourhoods children are still playing like we used to play but the intermediaries (product companies and service providers) have wormed their way in and made all of us, rich and poor alike, believe that we need their services.

If we look for intermediaries in the city schools, we don’t have to look beyond the yellow school buses that clog roads and provide the inessential service of picking up and dropping children right outside their homes. The school dresses, the school bags and books, the special water bottles and tiffin boxes, all carry the stamp of the intermediaries. Intermediation looks like something that happens inside all systems as they grow and the money supply inside increases. It seems obvious that at some point intermediation will reduce the efficiency of a system and we have to think whether this has already started happening inside our school system.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt that remembers an older less-intermediated world…

As children, we grew up learning how to make many types of paper planes (ordinary/ fast/ rocket etc.), boats (ordinary/ with a sail/ catamaran etc.), whistles from leaves or paper, string telephones with empty cans, rubber band powered rolling toys, a jumping mouse from a handkerchief, a boat cut out of a plastic tongue cleaner with a blob of soap at the notch behind etc. I can go on adding to this list. Nobody formally taught us any of this but every child knew many such tricks. This was probably because there was a lot of unstructured free time to play, explore, talk to other children and adults, read, get bored, etc. This has now become replaced by the idea that learning is all academic and structured and there is no space for children or adults to discover such things.
– From ‘Learning to learn – Ideas on Implementation

India Wins the 2024 T20 World Cup

India beat South Africa by seven runs in Barbados to win the 2024 Men’s T20 World Cup. I thought it was fitting to have this week’s blog post showcase the confidence that this unbeaten team showed throughout the tournament. The following are quotes from two of the Indian team stars. . . .

Question: aakhri waqt pe gadbad ho rahi thi. Kya acchepan pe vishwas rakhna mushkil ho raha tha? Aur acche logo ke saath accha hona jaroori hai? Aap ho, team ho, Rahul Dravid ho? Kya yeh jaroori hai, Rohit?
Rohit Sharma: Jaroori tho hai. Mai believe karta hoon ki jo likha hai wo hone wala hai. I think yeh likha tha. Lekin obviously aapko pata nahin match ke pehle ki yeh likha hai. Yehi tho khel hai. Yehi game hai. Nahi tho ham log araam se aate. Ki likha hua hai jeetne waale hai. But everything has to fall in place. Aapne dekha ki ham bohut peeche thhe game ke. Eik time pe lag raha tha ke asaani se jeet jayenge woh log. Wicket bhi accha chal raha tha. Unki batting acche se ho rahi thi. Bumrah ka over 18th mei khatam ho gaya tha. Yeh sab cheej jaroori tha plan mei fit hona. Aur jaise aapne bola ki acche logo ke saath accha hota hai. Matlab aapne bol diya ke mei accha hoon. Aur Rahul Bhai bhi. Dekho mei bohut khush hoon Rahul bhai ke liye bhi. Unhone Indian cricket ke liye itna kuch kiya hai. . . . Unhone yeh cheej pe dhyan diya tha jab woh pehle aaye thhe ki hamko ladkon ko bataana hai ki unse ham kya chahte hai. Kyonki gyaara ke gyaara log force hai. Aur woh force agar milke khelenge tho eik bada force ban sakta hai.
– From the 2024 T20 World Cup post match press conference

Question: Rohit just that catch of Surya. Do you think that this catch is on par with Kapil’s 83 catch?
Rohit Sharma: Arre 83 mei itna accha hua hai. Usko rakho na udhar hi. Bohut badhiya catch thha woh. Yeh bhi apna catch hai. In hindsight if you look at it, every moment that happens, it has its own charm, own way. So, I don’t like to compare it. I’m not a big comparison fan.
– From the 2024 T20 World Cup post match press conference

Interviewer: Was there ever pressure on you because you are the lead bowler? Was there ever pressure on you that your four overs are the key moments and especially today when you came back for the 16th?
Jasprit Bumrah: I don’t look at it like that because, you know, whenever I’m at my peak mindset, I think of one ball at a time and one over at a time. If I think of the overall picture too early, I give in to the pressure and I try too hard sometimes.
– From the interview after winning the Player of the Series award

There is an old article by A.K. Ramanujan titled ‘Is there an Indian way of thinking?’ (Our blog post about it is here). The article argues that western cultures have context-free rules (man shall not tell an untruth) but Indian culture has context-sensitive rules (Man shall not tell an untruth unless angry, excessively joyful, very old, deluded, drunk etc.).

Our T20 win and what I am hearing Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah saying above leaves me wondering – Is there an Indian way of playing cricket? What do you think?

Ramana Maharshi on Mind

Maurice Frydman, who edited and compiled Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Marathi satsang recordings into ‘I Am That’, was also a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Some of his dialogues with the Maharshi are available in a slim book called ‘Maharshi’s Gospel’. The following excerpt about the ‘mind’ is from this book.

Devotee: How can I control the mind?

Maharshi: There is no mind to control if the Self is realised. The Self shines forth when the mind vanishes. In the realised man the mind may be active or inactive, the Self alone exists. For, the mind, body and world are not separate from the Self; and they cannot remain apart from the Self. Can they be other than the Self? When aware of the Self why should one worry about these shadows? How do they affect the Self?

D: If the mind is merely a shadow how then is one to know the Self?

M: The Self is the heart, self-luminous. Illumination arises from the heart and reaches the brain, which is the seat of the mind. The world is seen with the mind; so you see the world by the reflected light of
the Self. The world is perceived by an act of the mind. When the mind is illumined it is aware of the world; when it is not so illumined, it is not aware of the world. If the mind is turned in, towards the source of illumination, objective knowledge ceases, and the Self alone shines as the heart.

The moon shines by reflecting the light of the sun. When the sun has set, the moon is useful for displaying objects. When the sun has risen no one needs the moon, though its disc is visible in the sky. So it is with the mind and the heart. The mind is made useful by its reflected light. It is used for seeing objects. When turned inwards, it merges into the source of illumination which shines by Itself and the mind is then like the moon in the daytime.

D: How can I escape from samsara which seems to be the real cause for making the mind restless? Is not renunciation an effective means to realise tranquillity of mind?

M: Samsara is only in your mind. The world does not speak out saying, ‘Here I am, the world’. If it did so, it would be ever there, making its presence felt by you even in your sleep. Since, however, it is not there in sleep, it is impermanent. Being impermanent, it lacks substance. Having no reality apart from the Self it is easily subdued by the Self. The Self alone is permanent. Renunciation is the non-identification of the Self with the not-Self. When the ignorance which identifies the Self with not-Self is removed, not-Self ceases to exist, and that is true renunciation.

Ramana Maharshi On Silence

Maurice Frydman, who edited and compiled Nisargadatta Maharaj’s Marathi satsang recordings into ‘I Am That’, was also a devotee of Ramana Maharshi. Some of his dialogues with the Maharshi are available in a slim book called ‘Maharshi’s Gospel’. I found out about this book recently and quickly bought myself a copy. Take a look at the following excerpt about solitude and silence and see if you find it interesting.

Devotee: Is solitude necessary for a sannyasin?

Maharshi: Solitude is in the mind of a man. One might be in the thick of the world and yet maintain perfect serenity of mind; such a person is always in solitude. Another may stay in the forest, but still be unable to control his mind. He cannot be said to be in solitude. Solitude is an attitude of the mind; a man attached to the things of life cannot get solitude, wherever he may be. A detached man is always in solitude.

D: What is mauna?

M: That state which transcends speech and thought is mauna; it is meditation without mental activity. Subjugation of the mind is meditation; deep meditation is eternal speech. Silence is ever- speaking; it is the perennial flow of ‘language’. It is interrupted by speaking; for words obstruct this mute ‘language’. Lectures may entertain individuals for hours without improving them. Silence, on the other hand, is permanent and benefits the whole of humanity. By silence, eloquence is meant. Oral lectures are not so eloquent as silence. Silence is unceasing eloquence. It is the best language.

There is a state when words cease and silence prevails.

D: How then can we communicate our thoughts to one another?

M: That becomes necessary if the sense of duality exists . . .

D: Why does not Bhagavan go about and preach the Truth to the people at large?

M: How do you know I am not doing it? Does preaching consist in mounting a platform and haranguing the people around? Preaching is simple communication of knowledge; it can really be done in silence only. What do you think of a man who listens to a sermon for an hour and goes away without having been impressed by it so as to change his life? Compare him with another, who sits in a holy presence and goes away after sometime with his outlook on life totally changed. Which is the better, to preach loudly without effect or to sit silently sending out inner force?

Again, how does speech arise? There is abstract knowledge, whence arises the ego, which in turn gives rise to thought, and thought to the spoken word. So the word is the great-grandson of the original source. If the word can produce effect, judge for yourself, how much more powerful must be the preaching through silence! But people do not understand this simple, bare truth, the truth of their everyday, ever-present, eternal experience. This truth is that of the Self. Is there anyone unaware of the Self? But they do not like even to hear of this truth . . .

Rushing through life

I was recently on a superfast night train from Bangalore to my hometown in Kerala. I got up just before dawn and stood looking out of the door watching the land slowly wake up from sleep. The train was travelling very fast as we raced through the monsoon-wet, lush-green landscape. Nearby, streams wound their way through fields in which herons and storks waded. In the distance, the mists rolled down from the tops of green hills into the folds and valleys below. Here and there, in the morning coolness, the smoke from wood-fires was rising over red-tiled roofs as people started going about their daily business. It was all very serene and beautiful!

And we were rushing through all this at 130 kmph!

The streams and fields and hills in the distance were all talking to some deep, hidden part in me, inviting me to stop and stay, but I knew that this could never be. My long education is in rushing through and I would not know what to do if I find myself standing near the streams or fields or hills in the distance. I have a strong suspicion that human beings are designed to stand near streams and fields and hills and watch interestedly as the sun and moon and stars and people rise and set. I have a strong suspicion that this is where happy fulfilled lives can be lived. But, in my case, it reminds me too much of how small children were taught to swim in Kerala. When I was young we were thrown into the pond and we learned to swim and we learned to love swimming. The thought scares me. I think I will continue to rush through life at 130 kmph!

(Excerpt from Hind Swaraj by Gandhiji as an afterword:)

EDITOR: . . . . Railways accentuate the evil nature of man. Bad men fulfil their evil designs with greater rapidity. The holy places of India have become unholy. Formerly, people went to these places with very great difficulty. Generally, therefore, only the real devotees visited such places. Nowadays rogues visit them in order to practise their roguery.

READER: You have given a one-sided account. Good men can visit these places as well as bad men. Why do they not take the fullest advantage of the railways?

EDITOR: Good travels at a snail’s pace. It can, therefore, have little to do with the railways. Those who want to do good are not selfish, they are not in a hurry, they know that to impregnate people with good requires a long time. But evil has wings. To build a house takes time. Its destruction takes none. So the railways can become a distributing agency for the evil one only. It may be a debatable matter whether railways spread famines, but it is beyond dispute that they propagate evil.

A Self-Sufficient Civilization

In 2017 Dr Claude Alvares gave an entertaining, hard hitting talk at NIT Kozhikode about the disconnect between the subjects we study in college and the reality that we inhabit outside the classroom. We are a self-sufficient civilization, said Dr Alvares towards the end of this talk. This and many of the themes he highlights during this talk, I think, will be of great interest to everyone who reads the SIDH blog posts. Hope you like the video and it makes you think in some new directions.

The following are some interesting quotes from the YouTube video that is linked below:

Indian education is a massive transfer of resources. From unemployed people (students) to unemployable people (people running educational institutions).

Best of human beings (who come out on top of the educational rat-race) should be at the service of society not at the service of corporations.

I tell all youngsters to please take a mechanical attitude to their studies. Because if you take a serious attitude to your studies, you will have to be committed. . . . Committed, means committed to a mental asylum! No normal young man would want to study any of the garbage they teach in universities today.

You do whatever needs to be done (for passing your study) but keep your learning in your own hands. The only way to do that is to move around in the learning environment. The learning environment is no longer the university.

If you wasted time in educational institutions and not in learning you will be the loser. The educational institution will give a fresh coat of paint to the buildings and continue. But you will lose out.

(Our country has very strong traditions) Traditions like: feeding people – we share food (unlike europe). Harminder Sahib 70,000 people/day, Dharmasthala 80,000 people/day. Language – 50s and 60s we thought everybody would be talking english- TV was all english. But our languages are still going strong. . . . Look at our respect for our food, language and clothes.

Focus on your strengths. Look at the diversity. Look at the richness. Till 1970 there were 3,00,000 varieties of rice being grown in India. These were all created by peasants and tribals. Rice research institute preserves some 62,000 varieties even today. We have 2500 varieties of brinjals.

About Claude Alvares: (From Wikipedia)

Claude Alphonso Alvares is an Indian environmentalist based in Goa. Alvares is the editor of the Other India Press and Director of the Goa Foundation, an environmental monitoring action group that has filed successful public interest litigation cases. Alvares is a member of the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). He is also a member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes constituted by the Supreme Court of India.

On Inadvertence

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Inadvertence as: a result of inattention. This word comes up many times in Nisargadatta Maharaj’s conversations collected together in ‘I am That’. I have been recently thinking that what Maharaj says about inadvertence or inattention gives pointers to a powerful spiritual practice. Take a look at the following excerpts and see if you agree.

Excerpt 1: (Page 43 of ‘I Am That’ by Nisargadatta Maharaj)

You are in bondage by inadvertence. Attention liberates.

Excerpt 2: (Page 239)

I see what you too could see, here and now, but for the wrong focus of your attention. You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your self. Bring your self into focus, become aware of your own existence. See how you function, watch the motives and the results of your actions. Study the prison you have built around yourself by inadvertence. . . . Once you are convinced that you cannot say truthfully about your self anything except ‘I am’, and that nothing that can be pointed at, can be your self, the need for the ‘I am’ is over – you are no longer intent on verbalising what you are. All you need is to get rid of the tendency to define your self. All definitions apply to your body only and to its expressions. Once this obsession with the body goes, you will revert to your natural state, spontaneously and effortlessly. The only difference between us is that I am aware of my natural state, while you are bemused. Just like gold made into ornaments has no advantage over gold dust, except when the mind makes it so, so are we one in being – we differ only in appearance. We discover it by being earnest, by searching, enquiring, questioning daily and hourly, by giving one’s life to this discovery.

Excerpt 3: (Page 249)

Q: There is no ‘I am’ in sleep.
M: Before you make such sweeping statements, examine carefully your waking state. You will soon discover that it is full of gaps, when the mind blanks out. Notice how little you remember even when fully awake. You just don’t remember. A gap in memory is not necessarily a gap in consciousness.
Q: Can I make myself remember my state of deep sleep?
M: Of course! By eliminating the intervals of inadvertence during your waking hours you will gradually eliminate the long interval of absent-mindedness, which you call sleep. You will be aware that you are asleep.
Q: Yet, the problem of permanency, of continuity of being, is not solved.
M: Permanency is a mere idea, born of the action of time. Time again depends of memory. By permanency you mean unfailing memory through endless time. You want to eternalise the mind, which is not possible.
Q: Then what is eternal?
M: That which does not change with time. You cannot eternalise a transient thing – only the changeless is eternal.

Learning is effortless

Principle 1 of true teaching: Nothing can be taught
All learning happens within the child. No teacher can have direct control over it. The teacher is a helper and a guide. They can only attempt to draw the attention of the student to where the knowledge lies and thus assist him/her to see it.
– From ‘Learning to learn’ (More details and link to buy the book is available here)

(In the Hindi version of the book we changed it to make the same idea clearer:
सिद्धांत 1: समझाना और समझना पृथक प्रक्रियाएं हैं।
शिक्षक समझाने का प्रयास करता है और उसके लिए तर्क विधि का प्रयोग करता है। विद्यार्थी उसे समझने का प्रयास करता है और उसके लिए अनुभव विधि का प्रयोग करता है।)

It was under Pawanji’s close guidance that this small book, ‘Learning to Learn’, was conceptualized and written in 2018 but it lists my name as the author. I bring this up as the prelude to this blog post because what should have been one of the central insights of the book revealed itself to me only last week. Let me explain.

I had gone to Purnapramati school in Bangalore to run the prototype of a science learning program I have recently developed. In this program the learning process described in the ‘Learning to Learn’ book is encoded in the study material. The children learn science by following the written instructions given in the learning material and without any ‘teaching’ input from a teacher. In other words, the program is an effective demonstration of the inherent self-learning ability of children.

While the children were busy with the program, I was talking to the science teachers trying to convince them that their job should be to be inspirational science educators and not people who transact the simple content that is in the NCERT textbook. I was also telling them that although self-learning is natural and, on introspection, may turn out to be how we have learnt everything, but we will still have no confidence in the process. This may be because we have been brainwashed through long experience into thinking that it is teaching (and teaching only) that results in learning.

While this conversation was going on, I had my moment of insight, my epiphany. Nothing can be taught is one aspect of it but the other important aspect is that learning (समझना) is effortless. The children are putting their effort in following a learning process but the learning itself is a natural outcome of this process and is effortless. It will become clearer if we look at the effort of thinking, reading and following the learning process in other ways as an external process (in the realm of doing/gati) and learning or understanding or समझना as an internal process (in the realm of being/sthiti). All effort is in gati. There is no movement or effort in sthiti. Or, again, if we use the Hindi version, समझाना तर्क विधि से होता है (tark implies effort) लेकिन समझना अनुभव विधि से होता है (there is no effort required in anubhav).

I felt that it was only now that I fully understood what ‘Learning is natural’ really meant.

Narayan Ashram Retreat

I have just got back home from the SIDH retreat at Narayan Ashram. This retreat was unique in many ways. Firstly, Narayan Ashram set at an altitude of 9000 feet on the India-Nepal border is very difficult to get to. Our 35 participants arrived in many difficult ways but most of us reached Delhi from our various locations and then travelled by a tempo traveller to the Ashram. It took us 30 hours to reach the ashram and around 24 hours plus a night halt in Pithoragarh to travel back to Delhi. This was one of the most difficult road journeys I have ever done. Of course, once you reach the ashram and experience its tranquillity, its simplicity and its beauty, you forget the difficult journey you had to make to reach there. Established in 1936 by Shri Narayan Swami the ashram was on the old route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra and the many pilgrims and sages who would have passed through must have enhanced its sacredness.

Secondly, it was a longer retreat than the ones we normally conduct. We thought that since it is so difficult to reach we should stay a few extra days. This was useful and helped us get comfortable in each others company and open up our hearts during the retreat. It also helped that the only mobile network that works there was BSNL and that was also down most of the time. So we had practically no contact with the outside world and with no internet, we were cut away from our favourite social media addictions. All the news we avidly consume in our daily lives was unavailable to us and we seem to have managed fine and not experienced the withdrawal symptoms that addicts usually face. Our powerful smart phones worked only as alarm clocks and cameras!

Thirdly, the participants came from very diverse backgrounds. We had a very learned swamiji, two traditional Sanskrit scholars, five PhDs (engineering, ecology, political science, economics), founding members of two alternative schools, the founder of an ashram working on traditional crafts, a Sanskrit scholar-businessman, a retired banker, two fashion designers etc. Although the ashram provided us with very tasty, simple food, five of our participants were cooking and eating their own food. The ashram only had 4 and 5 bedded rooms, so this diverse group was staying and interacting with each other in a deep manner.

We ran the retreat with a focus on meditative silences and contemplative discussions on quotations taken from the works of Professor A.K. Saran, J. Krishnamurti, Dharampal etc. The objective of the discussions (held in small groups and presented in the main large group) was to look inwards and see the deep assumptions that we hold and, if possible, to break out of them and begin to see things with a little more clarity. I felt that some things that had lain in separate compartments in my mind got connected when I listened to the ongoing discussions. I hope that this has happened, to a smaller or larger extent, for all the participants who came for our Narayan ashram retreat. Swamiji’s blessing to all of us on the last day is an apt way to close this post. He said – “May you learn to dance on the razor’s edge.”

Materialism – The Cult of the Mother Goddess

In a recent YouTube video, Dr Rupert Sheldrake discussed various aspects of matter. At around the 31 minute mark he proposed that Materialism, the worship of matter, was really the unconscious worship of the Great Mother. The relevant excerpt from the video is given below:

“There is a mythological aspect of matter. The word ‘matter’ itself, of course, has the same root as the word ‘mater’ – mother – and the material out of which something is made. The philosophy of materialism says there is nothing but unconscious matter in the universe. Or Physicalism that says there are only unconscious physical processes, basically equivalent to materialism. Materialism is the basis for the most common form of atheism, that the whole universe is made of unconscious matter and there is no God out there, there is no consciousness out there. There is just consciousness, for an unknown reason, inside our brains. And maybe in animal brains as well. That is a very, very restrictive view of consciousness which can’t be explained in terms of a fully material universe. That is the problem with materialism.

“I think what’s less noticed is that materialism has a kind of unconscious mythology, in that it started historically as a rebellion against an extreme form of mechanistic Protestantism. You know, God is the Supreme Engineer and creator of the whole universe. God is the all powerful Emperor who sets the laws of nature. God is the engineer who designed the machinery of nature – and nature is a machine – and then he pressed the start button.

“So it’s very much a kind of male God that atheist materialists were rebelling against in the 17th, 18th and 19th Century, and what they said was “No, no, there’s no God out there, the total reality is matter, matter is the sum total of all things”. Basically it’s saying “We don’t believe in the Great Father, instead we believe in the Great Mother”, so matter is I think a kind of unconscious Cult of the Great Goddess, the mother principle, so it’s just all from the Mother and not all from the Father. Of course, as soon as you put it in those terms, it’s obvious this is an unbalanced metaphor in both directions. You know, if you’re going to use mother and father as metaphorical terms, in a sense they’re co-determinative – you can’t have a father without a mother and you can’t have a mother without a father.

“They’re polar, they’re part of a greater unity, of which they’re polar parts, but I think that materialism when one sees it as the unconscious Cult of the Great Mother – everything comes from matter, everything goes back to matter, matter is the source of all things – it’s basically a Great Mother cult. So hard-nosed materialists who think they’re just being rationalists, are unconsciously believing this, and the fact it’s unconscious doesn’t mean it’s not powerful, it means it’s so powerful it’s emotional power is kind of repressed.”

Our Bharatiya mythology is free from this kind of polarity and we have not had to historically rebel against any Great Father. We can probably drop the materialistic madness as soon as we realize this. The full video is linked below: