Adhyatma aur prakriti prem

I was again listening to a video of Guruji Ravindra Sharma and a sentence he said struck me this time. He said that someone who is not adhyatmik can have no prem for prakriti. (Around 43:00 of In this video he also talks about soundarya drishti, kala and about the Bharatiya life designed on the foundations of poornata (ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते। पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते॥) I feel the need to see how all these are connected and I want to start by looking at some aspects of it in this post.

For some time now, I have been thinking that my urban landscape in Bangalore is very beautiful. It pulses with the seasons as, for example, the trees put out new leaves and flowers and fruit. The trees look poorna (100% beautiful) through all this pulsing. Even when, for example, the leaves of the Pongamia get their old diseased look before they are shed. Right now, most of the Pongamia trees are full of new bright green leaves that shine brightly in the sun. Just a few days ago these leaves were tiny, delicate, near-transparent, pink-purple new-borns that reminded me of new-born human babies who smile in their sleep. What I mean is that when I pay attention, I am awed by the beauty all around me.

In the video linked above, Guruji also says that in all the years of complicated academics that we spend our childhood on, there is not a single subject that helps develop our soundarya drishti. He says that this is by design and what schooling actually achieves is only two things that lead to our adult-life slave mentality and behaviour:
1. Sitting fixedly in one place without moving for years on end, till our very bones are used to this habit, which limits the work we do as adults also to sitting-work and
2. Quickly adjusting to changing subjects every 45 minutes when a bell rings, which comes in use when we become adults with no lakshya of our own, willing to adjust to anything.
This is a sad state of affairs and the end result is what I notice in my neighbourhood – people who busily go round and round inside parks oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them.

Going by what Guruji is saying we can tentatively hypothesize the following circular relationship:
Kala is a step in adhyatma -> Adhyatma is needed for prakriti prem -> Prakriti prem develops our soundarya drishti -> soundarya drishti is needed in kala -> (back to) kala is a step in adhyatma.
This simple hypothesis is presented here only to show that all these are deeply interconnected. I will look forward to your comments and will edit the circular relation above if you have an argument for a change.

Let me end with a song that comes to mind when we talk about beautiful nature.

When the incredible magic of KL Saigal’s voice comes through the bad recording and its digitally degraded reproduction, we really see that – हाँ, दुनिया रंग रंगीली बगिया है! सचमुच!

My Shadow

I got forwarded a WhatsApp video which showed an American girl talking in a very artificial manner and an American man making fun of her accent and telling her that she was not sounding posh when she put on her fake accent. The conversation with my friend on WhatsApp went like this:

Friend: What do you think of this?
Me: Just some video created to trigger people. Why do you ask and what do you think?
Friend: She is putting on a fake accent which is seen in most of the youth today, not just in English, but also in Hindi and Gujarati. You might have observed this in Kannada as well. This artificial machine like accent emerges largely from the longing to be considered of a certain type. If you carefully see how the youth talks to their parents and friends or unknown but urban looking strangers, you’ll see a clear distinction. Such is the case with written language as well. Do let me know your thoughts about this.
Me: I have no opinion about it. The world has many more problems than the tone that people use. I still don’t understand why you find this so fascinating. In short, I am more interested in why you find it interesting than what the phenomenon is pointing to. 🙂

The conversation made me think about the psychological Shadow, the aspect of our self that is its emotional blind-spot. The part of our self that we hide and don’t acknowledge even to ourselves. The part that we hold in shadow but that comes and secretly kicks us again and again and bewilders us. I think the idea of the shadow helps decipher many of our unconscious responses to the complicated world we live in. For those who haven’t heard about it, here is a brief description of what the shadow is about.

The classic example used is of a young boy who naturally tells a lot of lies even though he knows that his father has a reputation for being truthful. One day his father catches him lying, gives him a hit on his head and shouts at him for being a liar. The boy is traumatized and stops acknowledging the lying part of himself—he holds the lying part of himself in shadow. As he grows up, the way his shadow manifests in his behaviour is that he passionately hates all liars. He has an emotional charge attached to liars that most other people don’t share. You see the connection with the WhatsApp conversation above? The people who work in this area say that by the time we grow up all of us have created many many shadows and this is what we carry around with us as we unconsciously react to external triggers. The good news is that we can work at uncovering our shadows, like the boy in the example above, we get clues to our shadows by our extra emotional response to situations, responses that other people don’t seem to share.

In our colonized country we carry the burden of many collective shadows on top of all our personal baggage. For example, the emotional charge around speaking Hindi that many North Indians carry seems like an indication of some deep-rooted shadow. I encourage you to think about and become aware of the collective and individual shadows that we carry. May we reclaim all our scattered pieces and become whole again!

On the Bhagavad Gita

“The Gita can only be understood, like any other great work of the kind, by studying it in its entirety and as a developing argument. But the modern interpreters, starting from the great writer Bankim Chandra Chatterji who first gave to the Gita this new sense of a Gospel of Duty, have laid an almost exclusive stress on the first three or four chapters and in those on the idea of equality, on the expression kartavyam karma, the work that is to be done, which they render by duty, and on the phrase “Thou hast a right to action, but none to the fruits of action” which is now popularly quoted as the great word, mahāvākya, of the Gita. The rest of the eighteen chapters with their high philosophy are given a secondary importance, except indeed the great vision in the eleventh. This is natural enough for the modern mind which is, or has been till yesterday, inclined to be impatient of metaphysical subtleties and far-off spiritual seekings, eager to get to work and, like Arjuna himself, mainly concerned for a workable law of works, a dharma. But it is the wrong way to handle this Scripture.

“. . . What the great, the supreme word of the Gita is, its mahāvākya, we have not to seek; for the Gita itself declares it in its last utterance, the crowning note of the great diapason. “With the Lord in thy heart take refuge with all thy being; by His grace thou shalt attain to the supreme peace and the eternal status. So have I expounded to thee a knowledge more secret than that which is hidden. Further hear the most secret, the supreme word that I shall speak to thee. Become my-minded, devoted to Me, to Me do sacrifice and adoration; infallibly, thou shalt come to Me, for dear to me art thou. Abandoning all laws of conduct seek refuge in Me alone. I will release thee from all sin; do not grieve.”

“The argument of the Gita resolves itself into three great steps by which action rises out of the human into the divine plane leaving the bondage of the lower for the liberty of a higher law. First, by the renunciation of desire and a perfect equality works have to be done as a sacrifice by man as the doer, a sacrifice to a deity who is the supreme and only Self though by him not yet realised in his own being. This is the initial step. Secondly, not only the desire of the fruit, but the claim to be the doer of works has to be renounced in the realisation of the Self as the equal, the inactive, the immutable principle and of all works as simply the operation of universal Force, of the Nature-Soul, Prakriti, the unequal, active, mutable power. Lastly, the supreme Self has to be seen as the supreme Purusha governing this Prakriti, of whom the soul in Nature is a partial manifestation, by whom all works are directed, in a perfect transcendence, through Nature. To him love and adoration and the sacrifice of works have to be offered; the whole being has to be surrendered to Him and the whole consciousness raised up to dwell in this divine consciousness so that the human soul may share in His divine transcendence of Nature and of His works and act in a perfect spiritual liberty.”
– From ‘The Core of the Teaching’, chapter 4 of ‘Essays on the Gita’ by Sri Aurobindo

Visit to an organic farm

(A few days ago, I went to the yearly function of a large organic farm near Bangalore. The morning pre-lunch session had many interesting talks about diet, lifestyle, sustainability etc. and it was all very intense and contemplative. At the end, the audience was invited to comment or ask questions and many people spoke up. I missed the opportunity to speak and this post is what I would have said if I had taken the mike that was being passed around.)

First of all I feel very blessed to be sitting here under the trees in the peace that envelops this land. The way you transformed this barren land into this green, natural, tree-filled forest is nothing short of a miracle. All my prayers and wishes are with the team working here. May it continue to be a shining beacon!

My wife and I homeschooled our three children, we lived for some years in a semi-rural area in Kerala, we don’t have any vehicle of our own and in many such ways we also walk our talk of trying to live a sustainable life. I bring this up to establish that the next three paras are not meant to be criticism but friendly advice that you may find useful.

The late Ravindra Sharmaji of Kalashram used to say – Paap ka ghada hai, usse bharne do – his view being that once the paap ka ghada was full it would break and the human race could then heave a sigh of relief and start all over again. You and I have to realize that our sustainable lifestyle has no effect in the larger scheme of things and when we evangelize it in our circles or with strangers, we are not just being ineffective but also rather boring (my father’s eyes would start closing when I used to talk passionately about sustainability related topics).

Another metaphor that I like is that we inhabit a collapsing building. It is falling apart all around us and there is nothing we can do to stop it. It is of course good to carry steel tumblers everywhere and not use paper cups or plastic straws (or, like me, travel in 3-tier sleeper compartments even when it is very very uncomfortable) but we should not fall into the trap of thinking that this is going to ‘save’ the world or is going to inspire other people to imitate our strange ways. In that respect, almost everyone is much smarter than us. 🙂

In conclusion I want to say that when we – (a) lighten up about our mission of changing the world and (b) see that, like the song says, ‘anand srot beha raha par tu udaas hai, ascharya hai jal mein rehake bhi machli ko pyaas hai’ – then we may find that everything is all right with the world and it is we who were holding the wrong end of the stick. My intention is to make you smile, but if you find yourself becoming angry, please read the first paragraph above again and delete paras 2, 3, 4 and 5 from your random access memory.

With much love and respect to all of you, Arun.

Who Am I?

Sri Ramana Maharshi, in 1902, wrote out the answers to some questions asked by a disciple seeking spiritual guidance. These questions and answers, collected together as ‘Nan Yaar?’ or ”Who Am I?’, give a short introduction to self-enquiry as a path to liberation. The 8 page PDF of ‘Who Am I?’ is available here. The following excerpts may encourage you to read the full document.

Excerpt 1:

Q. What is the path of inquiry for understanding the nature of the mind?

A. That which rises as ‘I’ in this body is the mind. If one inquires as to where in the body the thought ‘I’ rises first, one would discover that it rises in the heart. That is the place of the mind’s origin. Even if one thinks constantly ‘I’ ‘I’, one will be led to that place. Of all the thoughts that arise in the mind, the ‘I’ thought is the first. It is only after the rise of this that the other thoughts arise. It is after the appearance of the first personal pronoun that the second and third personal pronouns appear; without the first personal pronoun there will not be the second and third. By the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ the mind will become quiet. The thought ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts, and like the stick used for stirring the burning fire, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.

Excerpt 2:

Q. What is happiness?

A. Happiness is the very nature of the Self; happiness and the Self are not different. There is no happiness in any object of the world. We imagine through our ignorance that we derive happiness from objects. When the mind goes out, it experiences misery. In truth, when its desires are fulfilled, it returns to its own place and enjoys the happiness that is the Self. Similarly, in the states of sleep, samadhi and fainting, and when the object desired is obtained or the object disliked is removed, the mind becomes inward-turned, and enjoys pure Self-Happiness. Thus the mind moves without rest alternately going out of the Self and returning to it. Under the tree the shade is pleasant; out in the open the heat is scorching. A person who has been going about in the sun feels cool when he reaches the shade. Someone who keeps on going from the shade into the sun and then back into the shade is a fool. A wise man stays permanently in the shade. Similarly, the mind of the one who knows the truth does not leave Brahman. The mind of the ignorant, on the contrary, revolves in the world, feeling miserable, and for a little time returns to Brahman to experience happiness. In fact, what is called the world is only thought. When the world disappears, i.e. when there is no thought, the mind experiences happiness; and when the world appears, it goes through misery.

Learning to learn – Part 2

Part 1 of this post talks about the first of the two books on ‘Learning to learn’. Here are some excerpts from the second book, ‘Learning to learn – Ideas on implementation’.

Excerpt 1:

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) established in 2008 has been giving data driven insights into our education system. The latest ASER report in various places says the following:
“In 2018, ASER returns once again to the ‘basic’ model. A total of 546,527 children in the age group 3 to 16 years were surveyed this year. ASER 2018 is the thirteenth ASER report. ASER 2018 data indicates that of all children enrolled in Std VIII in India, about 73% can read at least a Std II level text. This number is unchanged from 2016. The overall performance of Std VIII in basic arithmetic has not changed much over time. Currently about 44% of all children in Std VIII can solve a 3-digit by 1-digit numerical division problem correctly.”

My colleague and I were visiting a rural school near Bangalore. We were sitting on the floor with the children and observing a 1st standard class in progress. A small girl came and sat near my colleague and asked him in Telugu- ‘Do you speak Telugu?’, seeing his hesitation she asked in Kannada, ‘Oh, you speak Kannada.’ My Tamilian colleague speaks very good Kannada and he responded to her question. She understood that he was not a native speaker and switched to fluent Tamil. I am just wondering whether the ASER team will not talk to this miraculous child after 7 years and tell us that her reading proficiency in class 8 is at 2nd standard level…

What the story illustrates is that it is not the child but the system that has failed. Failed to recognize, acknowledge and develop the Self-Learning capacities that she is naturally endowed with.

Excerpt 2:

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. I feel that we need to get these free spaces back or Self-Learning, which I think thrives on these spaces, will probably not work.

(If you are interested in buying copies of the two ‘Learning to learn’ books, please write to me at

North and South

My wife and I prefer to travel sleeper class and not in the AC coaches on the many 12+ hour train journeys we do. We have a simple rule – when we travel anywhere in South India, we buy sleeper class tickets but on North Indian routes we travel by AC. This is because the trains, for example between Kolkata and any place in South India, seem to have twice the number of people the sleeper class compartments can accommodate. It was bad to start with, but in the recent past the Indian railways have been slowly reducing the number of non-AC sleeper coaches and increasing the AC 3-tier coaches. This must be the bright idea of someone high up in the railway hierarchy to reduce the losses made by our passenger trains. The people who suffer are the poor who are forced to travel like cattle and, of course, some people like me and my wife who prefer to travel by sleeper class but are forced to buy AC tickets to avoid the impossible rush.

My wife and I were on a train from Delhi to Visakhapatnam recently and we calculated that Visakhapatnam was not on the especially crowded route and decided to try out the sleeper option. Our train was starting from Delhi at 8 pm and we were to reach Visakhapatnam after a 32-hour journey. Fortunately, we had two upper berths and got into them as soon as the train started moving. The compartment looked all right and we went to sleep reassured that our decision of travelling by sleeper had paid off. At Agra, 3 hours from Delhi, a huge crowd got in and brought back our memories of a nightmare journey on a Kolkata train many years ago. There were five people sleeping on the two lowest berths below us and people sleeping in between them on the floor and all along the corridor as far as we could see. When I went to the toilet at night I had to navigate in between the sleeping limbs and heads. This story had a good ending because the crowd emptied at Nagpur in the late morning and the next 24 hours of our journey was like travelling on our nice South Indian trains.

I wanted to bring this story up to highlight not just the differences in what public transport feels like between North and South India but also to point to something else. It seems to me that there is a difference in the harshness of people’s behaviour between these two parts of our country. To me, the Northern part feels somewhat more threatening than the much gentler Southern part. For example, the rough looking five friends on the two berths below us – their language and the stories they were telling each other are not something I expect to hear anywhere on public transport in South India. Now, I may be overreacting or making generalisations from too little data but what has your experience been? When you travel around, does North India feel more aggressive than the South?

Announcing a two week break

The first post on this blog was written on 23rd November 2020, just over three years ago. The blog has 158 posts that broadly cover the areas of education and modernity. The next post here will appear on 25th December after a two week break.

With many thanks,

Arun, SIDH

Why China Survived Its Dark Ages

In his last week’s blog post, John Michael Greer talked about the reasons for China’s culture continuing more or less intact after repeated collapses, while so many other civilizations rose, fell, and vanished. I thought that the insights in the post were useful for looking at our Indian context. Here are some excerpts to encourage you to read the full post:

Excerpt 1:

During its recorded history, China has been through four major dark ages: during the late Zhou dynasty, 770-226 BC, when the Zhou emperor became a powerless figurehead and warlords fought over the wreckage of the empire; during the long interval between the Han and Tang dynasties, 220-618 AD, another age of warlords when some sixty short-lived dynasties struggled for power; after the fall of the Tang dynasty, 960-1271, another brutal period of war and chaos; and finally the period after the fall of the Ming dynasty, 1644-1949, when China fell under foreign rule, first Manchu and then European, and plunged into poverty and misery as its wealth was stripped away by its foreign masters and its government disintegrated into another round of rule by local warlords.

Excerpt 2:

The most important resource base for any nontechnic society—that is to say, any society that gets most of its energy from human and animal muscle—consists of food and water. . . . The heart of China’s traditional subsistence economy was wetland rice agriculture, which used human and animal manure, nitrogen-fixing water plants, and hundreds of varieties of rice specialized for local conditions to provide a relatively robust food supply come thick or thin. Supplement that with dryland millet and soybean agriculture and animal raising that focuses on small livestock such as pigs, chickens, and pond-raised fish, and you’ve got a means of subsistence that’s impressively resilient. It doesn’t depend on extracting nutrients from the soil, as less sophisticated systems of agriculture do; instead, it systematically puts nutrients back into the soil. This is why there are areas in China that have been producing rice crops regularly for five thousand years.

Excerpt 3:

The old sustainable agriculture that made China so resilient for so long is a thing of the past. These days China uses more chemical fertilizer than any other nation on earth, by a significant margin. That’s not optional—more than a billion Chinese depend for their daily meals on the extravagant yields that only massive use of chemical fertilizers can provide—but it’s also not sustainable. On the one hand, chemical fertilizer feedstocks are mostly nonrenewable resources, and as those deplete, feeding China’s population is going to become more and more difficult; on the other, chemical fertilizers wreck the soil over time, so that an area that’s been farmed using chemical agriculture becomes more and more barren. That promises a very difficult future for China and the Chinese people.

Under-evaluation and Over-evaluation

There is a wonderful short story by Anton Chekhov called ‘Overdoing it’. Here is an extract. . . .

It was dusk by the time the cart drove out of the station. On the surveyor’s right hand stretched a dark, endless, frozen plain. On the horizon, where it vanished and melted into the sky, there was the glow of a cold autumn sunset. The surveyor could not see what was in front as his whole field of vision on that side was covered by the broad clumsy back of the driver. The air was still, but it was cold and frosty.

“What a wilderness it is here,” thought the surveyor, “if, by ill-luck, one were attacked and robbed no one would hear you, whatever uproar you made. . . . And the driver is not one you could depend on. . . . Ugh, what a huge back! He has only to move a finger and it would be all up with one! And his ugly face is suspicious and brutal-looking.”

“Hey, my good man!” said the surveyor, “What is your name?”

“Mine? Klim.”

“Well, Klim, what is it like in your parts here? Not dangerous? Any robbers on the road?”

“It is all right, the Lord has spared us. . . . Who should go robbing on the road?”

“It’s a good thing there are no robbers. But to be ready for anything I have got three revolvers with me,” said the surveyor untruthfully. “And it doesn’t do to trifle with a revolver, you know. One can manage a
dozen robbers. . . .”

It had become quite dark. The cart suddenly began creaking, squeaking, shaking, and, as though unwillingly, turned sharply to the left.

“Where is he taking me to?” the surveyor wondered. “He has been driving straight and now all at once to the left. I shouldn’t wonder if he’ll take me, the rascal, to some den of thieves . . . and. . . . Things like that do happen.”

“I say,” he said, addressing the driver, “so you tell me it’s not dangerous here? That’s a pity. . . I like a fight with robbers. . . . I am thin and sickly-looking, but I have the strength of a bull . . . . Once three robbers attacked me and what do you think? I gave one such a beating that. . . that he died, and the other two were sent to jail in Siberia. And where I got the strength I can’t say. . . . One grips a huge fellow of your sort with one hand and . . . wipes him out.”

The surveyor goes on in this manner till, to his great surprise, Klim rolls off the cart and runs away shouting . . .

“Help! Take the horse and the cart, you devil, only don’t take my life. Help!”

The surveyor then realises that the cart driver is as afraid of him as he is of the driver. It takes two hours of shouting and an explanation before the cart driver agrees to take the surveyor (now not afraid at all) to his destination.

I thought this story highlights how easily and how often we fall into the trap of under-evaluating and over-evaluating ourselves and other people.