Stances of the Soul

  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Part 5

You and I operate from various kinds of pivots from within. Usually, these pivots define our character. This is who we are; this is how we are known to this world; this is how we introduce ourselves to this world. Let me explain.

Go out there, into the rural hinterlands, and you may find a kind and compassionate heart in the form of a pious Christian father or an idealist doctor. Or, a primary school teacher whose heart is not exactly flowing in fulfilment but one that has nothing to complain about. You will see compassion emerge steadily, every day, like the light streaming out of a huge candle lit up in space, from such souls. Such compassion doesn’t ebb; can you see that? Have you seen it first hand?

Go to a busy shopping street. Look out for the keen trader. Just observe how interested he is in what you are interested, what you are looking to buy, and the utility it presents for you. His interest in you doesn’t depend on whether he has the goods that you are looking for; he is plainly interested in what you are interested in and why. Clean curiosity! Such a trader knows much more about customer preferences than what any market survey could capture. He has a good pulse on how it changes with time, and has good guesses on what could have influenced such changes. Just sitting at one place and keenly observing every day!

Though rare, you can still discover a genuine entrepreneur, if you go in search of him. Whether in a board room meeting, or part of a start-up, or busy discussing plans with friends and like-minded people, he seeks to discover that product or service that the market shall genuinely respond to. Simply put, he wonders, ‘Why can’t I find out what the world really needs and wants? That which the world is still unable to manifest as hunger or demand, and is, therefore, unable to ask. Why can’t I perceive that true craving or want of this world of humans, and give it to them even before they ask? Why can’t I sell it at a price such that they regard it, and why can’t that open a new chapter in understanding human wants? Why can’t I become rich that way?’

Even though they are a fast vanishing breed in the modern world, and are being socially railed, a true patriarch still lives on in the hearts of many people. An elder who directly took charge of so many lives in the family, who ensured that we were all disciplined, happy, well-provided for, who was genuinely concerned about what we did, how we spent our time, someone who was willing to sit with us to find out our mind and what our genuine inclinations were, and so on. Someone who always seemed to be carving our next steps in this world, ensuring that we are brought upon responsibility at the right time. Someone who affected so many lives, just out of paternal concern and direct intervention. Of course, to achieve all this, he controlled many things that we did or didn’t do; he sought no one’s permission to intervene or take charge; but, the feeling was always that he was genuinely interested in one’s welfare as well as that of the larger family. That he would be ready to relinquish any prejudice or bias once pointed out. That he had chosen to grow as a better human being by this ownership, and by this daily interaction and working for his family members.

You get the picture, don’t you? Whether the doctor or the entrepreneur or the patriarch, their body and mind rallies around a natural pivot. An anchor within. They seek to pitch themselves there firmly and work steadily in the world, with the world, making genuine, constructive contributions. Adding meaning and sense to this world. Yet, within them, they are anchored on one such pivot.

Of course, to anchor oneself firmly in such natural pivots, one needs a natural response from this world, a response that authenticates and assures the soul that it is indeed perched rightly. Therefore, success, regard, acceptance, recognition—all these become important.

Many such natural anchors exist in this universe—natural landings. The point of it being natural is that you and I don’t need to erect such a landing by our will and accumulated effort; that such a landing or anchor exists, and that one simply stumbles upon it. We need not struggle to artificially craft our identities out of thin air! That is the moot point. Therefore, if you are not too desperate, and if you are looking for such a natural landing for the soul, then that is the path for organic success in the world outside. That is how you could be a good chef, anchored naturally within, and operating fully with respect to this world, grounded, and not desperate to gain much wealth as Ambani or achieve as much fame as Michael Jackson. You are yourself, you find adequacy, and you find success and recognition being yourself, at your door, at a natural, healthy pace.

And, this is not just about being successful. Discovering such a natural stance of the soul also settles all forms of desperation once for all. That is when you can end negative energy, and find cascading positive energy from within, that deals with the world fully. Only then can you be an asset to this world. And, you can shower bounty to this universe for a long time to come. Finding yourself this way is indeed the way to find your kind of success and recognition in this world. Also, you bring a breath of fresh air, because your identity announces a new possibility to this universe, something to aspire for, something inspiring. An original tale to tell the next generation!

Please remember that these are real identities because they seem to have discovered their moorings. Just to illustrate the point, consider the case of you being a Chartered Accountant by profession, and that you may show good skill at your work. You may also have found success, wealth, and acceptance from the world around you. That acceptance only seems to indicate that the world is fine having a Chartered Accountant, and that it can employ his service. But, the world doesn’t care to find out whether being a Chartered Accountant is indeed your natural landing. This is why it is said that secular education, that gained by going to schools and colleges, doesn’t discover for us that kind of a landing. The true stance of the soul! You must seek that by yourself, find it, find genuine response for that from the world, and find natural authentication. Else, you may be blessed with the greatest of opportunities: you may be in the right circumstance and amongst the right people, but, since you are not yet in your natural landing, you will have to forfeit the whole thing with time, or continue tolerating a mediocre existence.

Find the natural stance of the soul, and erect a true identity here. That becomes an asset to this universe, that indeed gives, that is happy giving, that creates genuine harvests of welfare, bounty, and well-being.

Wait a minute! Haven’t we always said that true spirituality is a movement that is inaugurated by identity-destruction? Why are we extolling the virtues of identity-formation or erection?

Let us take that up next.

Two kinds of people approach spirituality, seeking the true Gurus, scriptures, and the enlightened masters.

There are those who haven’t yet discovered their natural pivot or stance. Which is most of us. Who are desperate, who remain desperate, troubled by the success of others. Whose minds compare as a matter of routine. Who seek to assert themselves and discover later that it was a false assertion all along. Who continually seek ways and means to rest their hunger and desperation. And, thereby, gain mental peace. Who want God or something sacred to quench and rest the relativity of the mind, to feel cleansed, if not forever, for a significant period of time at the least.

Such of us haven’t discovered our natural pivots with respect to this world, and hence, have achieved no assurance about our identity. We adore and admire the Tendulkars and Lata Mangeshkars, that Avadhāni or this Professor, for the natural assurance and confidence they exude — some settledness within and resounding success outside — a growth of identity that is healthy in terms of both the inner being as well as the outer personality. This is what we admire of the firm, assured identities around us. And yet, these are the very people who exert an extraordinary pressure in our daily lives, to perform or perish. ‘Live and perform according to a standard’ — that is the daily pressure! Because, once Lata renders a song in a particular way, the music composer or director or actor now know such a rendering is possible, and they won’t settle for less. That becomes a gold standard of what ought to be achieved in a song, which creates a pressure on us lesser mortals. Same with Tendulkar on the cricket field. Identical with the moral values erected in public life by Gandhiji. Similar is the case with a Vedic Brahmin or a well-learned Professor.

A girl who sought to emulate her accomplished dance teacher during her teens and youth, realised later in life that while she failed to go anywhere close to her teacher, she also missed being like her good and serving mother! Hasn’t she defaulted on both counts? She sought to be like her dance teacher, rejecting without even a doubt the settledness of her mother as a home-maker (how she used to hate her mother for that settledness!), and now she yearns for that very settledness, in any form. She rues the fact she never valued or sought it as the pivot of life, and how it remained ever elusive.

Having tried our best to emulate admired icons, and struggled right through life, to be like this or that, suffering the humiliation of not matching up anywhere, we end up feeling more distraught and chaotic at a later age. Because, we were merely drinking in inspiration from these very icons at a younger age. But, with age, we seek to rest our minds. We tell ourselves not to chase any such becoming; we are genuinely tired.

Relativity is a strange place to be in. On the one hand, you seek approval from a set of people and standards — from this world essentially — and yet, simultaneously, you refuse to be accountable to any true yardstick of this universe; you just don’t cede any ground for objective evaluation or judgment! Strange, isn’t it?

This is the state of the first kind of people. Most of us belong here. Privately, we are prepared to accept that we are failures, that we couldn’t erect a coherent identity anywhere. We even break down with a confidante. But, when challenged by anyone out there, or when aspersions are cast upon our ability or character, we are not bothered and get easily provoked, and are itching for battle. Else, we withdraw unilaterally. Right through, we are acutely aware of our inadequacy as well as the lack of assurance within. It gnaws at us always, and hence, we are unable to assert strongly or cleanly, neither do we seem to have the grace to abandon all identity-erection efforts. In fact most times, our efforts at cessation of identity creation has only resulted in us erecting subtler stance — more difficult to penetrate or see. Either way, mediocrity never ceases!

You understand this scenario very well, don’t you? Having failed in discovering such natural pivots for our soul, we now wish our children discovered such natural landings, and we are prepared to give our everything to see them find that landing. Hoping against hope that at least they don’t end up like us!

In spiritual parlance, this is described as the affliction from relativity, भवरोग! And, every soul seeks remedies from such an affliction. Spirituality is the natural refuge.

The second kind of people who seek spiritual Gurus, scriptures, and enlightened masters, are those who have discovered some natural landing within, and have found an independent assurance to deal effectively with the world. The truth is that they don’t actually seek these Gurus or scriptures. Let me explain.

It is better not to learn to play the violin at all, than to half-learn it, they say, don’t they? Finding such natural pivots and landings does lend assurance within and acceptance-recognition-success outside. Going forward, this becomes a point of leverage for us in society to influence its ways, or get things done. My word carries value, my thoughts are listened to, and my initiatives are welcome here. In a sense, it is as though society gives me a license! Suppose I have achieved a certain niche in cricket or music, let us say, then I can wield this acceptance elsewhere too. So many use these pivots to rise in politics, for instance.

But, the very fact you have discovered such eminence outside, and you still haven’t lost the assurance you gained while young, makes you closed to everything here. You live in your own world. Rather, a world gets created around you. Space, as though, wraps itself around you. Your admirers and dependents surround you. You get used to an order that appears created for you; even space and time seem to regard you. As I said in Part 1, this is how the world acknowledges your unique identity, when it is as though erected from first principles. As much admiration as your identity evokes, so too space and time seem to respect your presence here, and are willing to serve you. Just for a while. And, that while could be a few years. If you have found a dent of this universe, upon which you perch yourself, that dent does get space to wrap itself around you. Time seems to pause in that space; death and decay seem to have been banished beyond the threshold of your space.

The world outside may either find you conceited, or may admire the power you wield. But, you are running a fiefdom, playing God, and seeking rent from your subjects, well-wishers, devotees, and fans. It is only later that you realise such regard and respect for your identity was indeed meant to wilt. Nothing much is achieved for them by celebrating your identity, but you seem to have found a path to heaven, to live on high-waters, for long. Destiny isn’t playing a cruel joke; but you realise it is the nature of universal order to acknowledge your presence, to respect your dominion here. For a while. But, whichever space or Loka you go into, you will have to come back into this mortal world of men and women (क्षीणेपुण्ये मर्त्यलोकं विशन्ति), says the Bhagavadgītā.

This is the fate of the second set of people, who seek spiritual Gurus, and scriptural sanction or authentication, but also ensure that the natural landing they have found is not disturbed. Putting it differently, no scripture or Guru will be allowed to go against the settledness they have discovered. And, since they need not court any of these Gurus or scriptures for either existence or fame (they already have it), the scriptures and what it wanted to say to them remain distant. Putting it bluntly, the world you created itself goes against the very rhythm of the cosmic order. No longer a citizen of God’s world, but living in a creation of your own!

Not willing to be the leaf and the twig of God’s creation, you have sought to be the root and trunk of the world you have erected for yourself, perpetrating the strength of your identity. Consciously or unconsciously, you have chosen the power your identity experiences in its world over the insignificance and anonymity in God’s creation.

Having done this, to court humility or act in a manner that shows you in a humble light is ludicrous, to say the least!

Summing it up, one set of people seek spirituality hoping to discover a strong identity. Most of us belong here. We are the have-nots. Another set, a select few, the so-called haves of this world, remain insulated from spirituality subtly, not overtly, just to protect their identities, and the world they have created.

Naturally, spirituality eludes both. We shall delve deeper…

Let me begin with a hypothetical illustration.

Imagine I am a globe-trotting Swami, running many āśrams across the country and outside; popular for my talks, books, and videos. Apart from these āśrams, my trust runs many social projects like schools and hospitals. I have a huge following of devotees worldwide, and many śiśyās, some who serve me directly, and many who serve my cause across the globe.

Say, my name is Swami Sudheendra and for the sake of illustration, consider that the Medical Director of the Hospital run by my trust, also shares my name. He is Dr Sudheendra. Under some queer circumstances, the Director is arrested. It is very likely that the charges against the Director are false. I know him quite well for many years. My first feeling is that he is being framed. A strange twist of circumstances brought those allegations against him, and he probably couldn’t put up a strong legal defence. The Doctor, my namesake, is arrested and let out on bail.

Take note; my name is involved in this arrest. Newspapers and media are taking my name; no visuals but just my name, let us say. My popularity stems from the masses and not some elite or discerning sections of the populace, remember! You get the picture, don’t you? At least for a few days, thousands of people are liable to think I have been arrested. Of course, in their heart of hearts, they will all vouch for the fact that I am above all such possible poor behaviour, and would want the injustice done to me quickly undone.

But, what about their hearts? The Guru or God they erected in the pedestal of their hearts fell from grace — just for a while, when they heard the news, didn’t he? Of course, he can be restored to his pristine position, but something snaps, doesn’t it? Like a broken mirror? And, even if it gets proved tomorrow that I was innocent all the while, and nothing ever harmed me, what is once broken, remains broken. Do you get it?

Do I know this? Do I know the extent of regard that the average person entertains within himself? And, how heart-broken the common man would be if he found out that all Godmen are essentially frauds at various levels, who are more self-serving than he himself? Do I know this? Yes, of course, I know. Just by the quality of affection that I receive wherever I go, I can discern this regard, and how much it matters to them that I am the way I am.

It is this regard for how I am, what I say, what I urge everyone to stand for; this perception about me is indeed the capital for all my operations in this world. Noble perception!

Ok, if people think of me in one way, which I am aware, and I also consider myself to be as they perceive, then there is not much conflict. As I age, I realise that what I am is much more multi-dimensional, sometimes complicated, and people are likely to continue to have a static regard for me.

Now consider the other side of the story. Upon this static regard depends the fate of all the trusts and everything that I have erected over so many years. I have a reputation; people know me in a particular way. And, that ‘me’ is very successful! People like it, and they expect me to continue being that way, without disturbing it.

You get the picture, don’t you? I enter this world exhibiting qualities that both endear and captivate, and I stand up for certain key issues that matter to people. People love me and throng my lectures or programmes. I grow popular. I enter people’s hearts and find my way into their pedestals. I am worshipped in many hearts and homes. Based on this response, many āśrams and projects are created and sustained. So many are ready to give up their lives and heart-energies to serve these. And, this entire thing is resting on only one thing: my image! That I am a saint of extraordinary depth, a man of truth, a monk of deep renunciation, an emancipated soul that never flags from the goodness of intention, which never wavers on compassion, etc.

Now, back to the situation. Dr Sudheendra is arrested, and the next day newspapers carry the headlines, SUDHEENDRA ARRESTED! What do I do to counter the negative optics? I get my organisers to arrange a spiritual lecture the same day, asking it to be telecast live! Just a routine spiritual lecture which talks of being detached, of giving up all attachments to samsāra, and so on. It is telecast live. More than the content of the talk, the message that was intended to be sent — that I am not that Sudheendra who was arrested — seems to have reached! Numerous calls to the various āśram centres across the globe confirm that.

My devotees are relieved that a ‘spiritual’ accident has been averted — an accident that could have broken the hearts of many and irreversibly damaged the regard that had been built over many years. My śiśyās think that I have done the greatest act of benevolence and kindness. That I have, in one stroke, killed the misperception that would have arisen about me, and simultaneously protected the regard within the hearts of thousands or even lakhs of devotees. Many are crying at this kindness.

Some smart administrators (administrators are rarely theistic, they are administrative at best; hence, they are there only because they have opportunities to administer and manage, but they rarely subscribe to what goes on) who are silently watching these things as they unfold are saying, ‘The prospects of any damage to all these projects has been averted cleverly. Instead of organising a press conference or something akin to that to clarify that this Swami is not the one arrested, this was a tactful way to deal with the situation!’ Many of them have even begun admiring me now!

I hope you are absorbing the entire picture. It is essential to see everything upon which the ‘I’ hinges, and not dismiss it quickly, or sum it up simplistically.

Now it is obvious that I have saved my reputation, and kept the regard with all intact. At least the damage has been minimised. The show can continue.

Let us summarise the situation. What is the whole thing about? Without diminishing its power, we must admit that the entire thing is about ‘self-image’, isn’t it? That image of mine — how true or real it is, one doesn’t know — holds the power of sustenance here, doesn’t it? What does it sustain? It sustains regard in the hearts of thousands, for one. Second, when I stand up as that image, then it is as though all saints of India have been resurrected in the public mind. One good saint almost affirms the sense that all saints are good, doesn’t he? Third, it sustains the regard and respect from within the organisation and sustains all the economics and synergy of activities. It brings people together and involves them better. Every volunteer and inspired worker depends upon this ‘I’; they draw their energies from this, don’t they?

Time to pose some tough questions now. Suppose I find myself wondering, ‘Am I this image? Is it a yes or no?’ Suppose I am indeed this image, then I am accountable to how I am being perceived. Put differently, if I am indeed the way I am being perceived, then, for all inconsistencies either in my attitude or behaviour, I am answerable both to myself, as well as to the world. Bluntly stated, I am accountable. Suppose I think I am not this image, that I am not the person people perceive me to be, though such perception alone brought all the success, then what is the relationship between the real ‘me’ and my image?

Let us start with the idea of detachment. I am a monk, and I have been taught that I am indeed the pure Self, the Ātman, and not this ‘image’. So, I can easily disassociate myself from the image. Now, care to observe me closely. Look at how I use detachment. Not always do I maintain that distance from the image, do I? When things turn hot or awkward, I can easily step out of my image, claiming that I am indeed the pure Self and that I hold no court for the fate of my image. In a sense, I am not answerable for what happens to it. When things are indeed going smoothly, when my śiśyās admire and adore me, when my devotees are pouring encomiums, when rank outsiders find my work very crucial for social change, there I am, enjoying all the adulation that my image receives! You get the lack of integrity here, don’t you?

Consider the idea of surrender now. I am the pure Self; there is nothing called as surrender for the pure Self. The image is the identity that people perceive. That image is created, sustained, and may finally be destroyed by social forces themselves. I am purely the witness, and I merely watch the image do whatever it does. Which essentially means that I am utterly vulnerable to how society deals with this identity. I will do nothing to protect or project my identity. I will neither support nor defend it ever. Neither will I withdraw it or destroy it. I assume no powers over my identity or image. Which means, the very same forces that erected this identity, the image, also have the responsibility to sustain it, accept it, respond to it, draw from it, or if they find it dispensable, they can very well cut through it, throw muck at it, malign it, and even destroy all the power it exudes. You get the idea of surrender, don’t you? Now suppose, I am smart enough to understand this idea of surrender, but use it to enhance the self-image? In other words, I talk about it, push forth this idea of surrender into society and win more regard from the people, but I am finally attached to the response that this image receives, let us say. I can turn vindictive when people laugh at me behind my back, or when they betray me, won’t I? Because, I expect that such a fine ‘me’ that I erect must find regard everywhere!

We will take another example. A contrasting one, actually. Of one who is a severe renunciate. One who doesn’t want an image to ever emerge. What society sees is severity and withdrawal. They don’t have a positive image to either worship or draw energy from. Because, such a renunciate believes the Self or Ātman is one, and it can’t pop out into an image ever. And, every time an image pops out, and it begins enjoying some attention, the pious renunciate, in one violent fit, throws that image forever. He doesn’t disown it, mind you; he destroys it wilfully. When you destroy the image, then you don’t allow a social life to arrange itself around you. You become unpredictable; primarily unviable for any form of collective activity, including teaching spirituality.

You are tailing the intricate lines of what I am attempting to illustrate here, aren’t you?

To dissolve this issue of the real Self and the image, there exist only two paths. Not detachment, not surrender, not even abject renunciation. The first is the path of the Buddha, to see through ‘what is not’ clinically. And, the second is the path of Advaita Vedanta, where you see ‘what is’.

For example, to see through ‘what is not’ clinically, we begin by saying, ‘Hello, I am not the Sudheendra they arrested; so why bother clarifying?’ This is not insensitivity, mind you. This is a simple question asked within: “Was I arrested? If not, then what are we talking about?” You dismiss the event itself. This path calls for a lot of straightness. Let me illustrate further. Suppose a devotee expected something of me but was disappointed, and he comes to me to complain. He accuses me of cheating him, betraying his trust, let us say. I would merely look within, check whether I ever intended to satisfy that expectation of the devotee. Clinical examination, mind you! If I never intended, nor did I ever say such a thing to that devotee, I would clearly state it. Straight, without mincing words! Was some trait or template of thought or behaviour within me fanning such expectations within him? If it were, I would immediately apologise. Further, if the devotee is hurt, I would try my best to mitigate the sorrow experienced by that devotee; that sorrow would hurt me immensely. You get the picture, do you?

Suppose, I am genuinely theistic. My focus is always on ‘what is’. Relentless observation and focus on ‘what is’. In the case we began discussing, where the Doctor is arrested, and I end up giving a talk, I accept that there exists a real Self and an image, and a certain set of thoughts, concerns, worries surrounding the relationship between the two. While I ask for the talk to be organised with a certain hesitation, I would make it a point to relate this very incident to the listeners during the talk. This would be the subject of my talk. I would probably say, “Look at what has happened. On the one hand, I was supposed to be doing my best to help the Medical Director find some strength during this tribulation. Instead, I worry about whether my self-image will be dented, and whether it will lose some sheen. Yet, I feel that because I am the same inherently — I have been always — why would anything ever change at all? What do you think? Should I have not been worried about this image at all? Or, should I simply let go all worries and concerns, and stay as the true Self?”

Do you get the sense of integrity that I am pointing out?

Walk into the land of truth with such integrity and purity. Only then can you see what is to be seen. Only then can you dismiss what doesn’t exist, what ought to have never existed.

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There are just two kinds of people whose energies aren’t fundamentally tethered. One is the man of awareness, who has released it off all pivots and stances from within. The other is the rest of us, who seek attention everywhere.

Someone takes me to Math; I go because of the way he invited me to Math; someone takes me to classical music, I go because of the way I got introduced to it by this person. Someone else invites me lovingly to poetry, I go. The sweetness with which someone takes it upon himself to introduce me to things gets me aroused into it; in fact, I am not aroused by or interested in the subject at all. I am stimulated by the way I was made to feel important and the sweetness of the welcome. So, such of us, who can be seduced into anything merely because we are showered with attention and importance, tend to take to poetry, music, philosophy, math, social service, archaeology, photography, and several such things. In other words, we can claim that our energies aren’t tied to this or that pivot; it can indeed go anywhere except that our craving threshold for attention is to be met; as simple as that.

It is in that sense that our energies are universally aroused, curious, or interested; it can be led anywhere. Like the man of awareness, who seems to have no pivots to the way his energy flows. We almost look to call ourselves unconditional!

The rest of humankind is pivoted. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was pivoted to Hindustani music, for instance. He was held by it. He couldn’t be persuaded to love Politics like the way Gandhi or Nehru did. He couldn’t be influenced to love the exactness of philosophy as Śaṅkara or Nāgārjuna did. He couldn’t be persuaded into a love of Physics like Newton or Einstein. You get the idea, don’t you? Bhimsen Joshi discovered a lot of himself in Hindustani music, and Hindustani music discovered vistas within itself through him. He was pivoted there. Like Federer is pivoted to tennis and Lionel Messi to soccer. Each of these men tends to become irrelevant elsewhere. You can’t take a Gandhi to a ball, and get a lady to invite him for a dance, can you? You would respectfully leave him out of such indulgences. While you and I, the universal attention-seekers, the un-pivoted and un-pivotable attention-seekers, may actually pull it off in ballet dance, or in playing cards, or we could find ourselves dabbling in philosophical discussions, or cosying up to an eminent artist and get him to strum his intimate strings! We are the admirers, the fans, the ones who suck up to attention everywhere. Our only condition is that we want to be respected where we go, and accepted. Never denied anything. Always given access. We don’t think anything is beyond us, except that we privately admit that we aren’t as gifted as the other. You get the scenario of the un-pivoted us, don’t you?

In a sense we are lucky; we remain anchor-less, ready to be swept by any local breeze, so long as it assures us safety and gentle handling. We can try anything; we are willing to go through short bursts of uncertainty so long as we are convinced that the ending is worth the journey. Like kids who crave-crowd story-telling uncles and aunts!

Enough of us now. Let us re-begin this discussion on pivots. You can become pivoted in two different ways. Remember that natural landing that I talked about in Part 1?

One is like Gandhi. The other is like any creative artist, like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi or a Dr Rajkumar. Let us understand what I mean.

Men like Gandhi seek a truer understanding of everything that confronts as life, and gather a stance over time. A stance is a position, a firm ground, a well-considered and well-thought-out disposition, an attitude born of extensive experience, of course, open to refinement but primarily settled, on which the individual stands and operates. Gandhi worked very hard externally, harder internally. Within himself, he sought to build a single coherent incorruptible canvas gradually, that would answer everything of life, at least for him. And, he was excruciatingly honest in this inner gathering. Very efficient too. Relentless. Of course, the hope was that if that soul-scape answered every issue he faced of life, it should turn out to be a beacon for anyone. Yes, indeed, each one has to work as hard, but at least, there is something to go by. Whether he came face to face with poverty, with ignorance and blindness, with the pitfalls of caste-system, with unmitigated hunger and deprivation, with uninhibited selfishness, with craving for power and the justification for colonising, with elements of culture and nation-formation, whether language was an identity in itself, what constituted the dignity of human being, what indeed was the point of life and struggle, to what avail was all the sorrow and grief that the human being undergoes, what was the purpose of education, why self-employment was existentially right and vital, why truth at all, why celibacy, why self-control, why are we assailed by past sins, why call them sins if they can indeed by alleviated by fasting or sense-starvation, why God, who God, daily life and a life accountable to the scheme of God, issues pertaining to women, nation, monarchy, communism, capitalism, untouchability, humanism, principles of natural justice like crime and natural punishment — to each of this, this noble soul sought to find HIS answers. Every extant explanation and thought out there would be considered and regarded genuinely, but the answer had to be HIS. As though, when the ‘I’ set out, it has to set out as itself. And, when it responded to something, it has to respond as itself. This isn’t about originality so much, but it is about authenticity. And, such a conviction must be deep-rooted, not a casual discourse, such that the conviction actually emerges in action, on its own. This was Gandhi’s life-long tapas!

Today, when we study Gandhi, we may find his stance extreme on various counts. To consider capitalism itself as greed. The belief in pūrvakarma taken to extreme extents. The ruthless and stubborn denial of pleasure. So much of Gandhi’s stance towards life may evoke disregard from our side. But, that is because we pick each of these in isolation. For example, we pick his position on celibacy, and ask, ‘What is wrong with sex? What is wrong in experiencing pleasure? Why can’t sexual pleasure be deemed natural and innocent?’ Then, we find his advocacy extreme. But, care to study the man and his stance fully — the full canvas. And see how he has put everything in perspective. How he has regarded each part of life and given it its place. Of course, the stance that he cultivated over his lifetime, the one he declared as ‘my life is my message’, is indeed limited or does disproportionate justice to a few things over others. But, such a reading can be done by Śaṅkara or Buddha or Vyāsā, men far superior to Gandhi. How can you and I, who haven’t even cared to collect our life and put it on one canvas, call it limited? Every breath of Gandhi carries that flavour of integrity — whether he eats something now, cracks a joke, sets out on Dandi march, or spins his charka quietly in a corner — it is that stance or canvas alone that speaks always. Now, isn’t that an extraordinary effort? Look at the compulsion to regard life!

That is what we call a stance. Gandhi is limited, but who wouldn’t want to be limited so wonderfully? Millions fell at his feet with reverence, not because his stance was perfect, not because they agreed with him every time, but because he cared to collect his entirety on to one canvas, and a canvas that didn’t remain static but learnt continuously right through life. A true stance has enormous integrity, and naturally, all of us will have to bow down to it with reverence.

This is one kind of pivoting in life. Finding a natural ground. To live, exist, operate, find light, find home, find right action and initiative, find happiness and contentment, being with God, etc.

Let us take the second kind. Someone like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Someone like Dr Rajkumar. Someone like Roger Federer.

Their energies flow towards one direction, focussed, sometimes dwelling lightly there, at other times sharply penetrating. That is their home, their lab, their place of leisure, their reclusive hermitage, their workplace. The energies of such men and women don’t have the freedom of open-mindedness; you can’t lead it elsewhere. You can’t ask it to rest for a while too. Or, take a break. You could call it their fixation, their blind addiction, or their altar of devotion. It is their arousal, and their devotional outpouring, at the same time. Something there holds them and refuses to let go. And, of course, they are willing, all the time willing, to go along with its bidding. Sometimes soldierly, some other times like an unabashed lover, at times with a sense of purpose and duty, many times like a contemplative student, they are there, digging, working, drinking, and thinking.

Let us take the example of Draupadi to unravel the complexity involved. Imagine Draupadi loving Arjuna more; in other words, the man who lived with her in her heart, let us say, was Arjuna. He was the man for her fantasies and dreams; she spent most of her time with Arjuna mentally — I am just considering hypothetically. Don’t you think that when she went to Yudhiṣṭhira’s room, he wouldn’t sense this about her? And, having detected it, with a disarming smile on his lips, won’t he ask her to go and spend the day with Arjuna? Suppose, to avoid such eventualities, Draupadi kept all her five husbands outside of her heart and invoked a positive feeling for them only when she entered their rooms? In other words, her heart adopted Yudhiṣṭhira as a husband only when she entered his room. Only then, she could sit through the various discussions on Dharma that Yudhiṣṭhira wanted to share with her. Suppose, the feeling for Yudhiṣṭhira arose when she crossed the threshold of his room alone, won’t it be artificial? Won’t each of the five husbands reject her for being artificial? Because marriage and companionship is not about doing duty, or adopting a posture, isn’t it? It is about actually living with the other. Within. Then, how did Draupadi — the one blessed with unbound feminine energy, who was blessed with a beauty that could captivate even the finest of men, who possessed the intelligence to join the best of debates, who was talented in every art like dance or music, who was, at the end of it all, a woman whose ability to smell the mood of the man and move accordingly was exquisite, who could quickly enter the heart of her man/men and be part of their difficulty or sorrow, who could easily serve or confide — how did such a woman relate with each of the five husbands so well? How could she make each of them feel that they were very close to her, and that she knew everything of each of them, and that she indeed was their best companion? How could that heart of Draupadi which regarded the wisdom of Yudhiṣṭhira, simultaneously find regard for the gregariousness and power of Bhīma, or the romantic chivalry and sharp focus of Arjuna, or nothing-to-speak-much-about Nakula or Sahadeva? Wouldn’t the heart naturally compare, create a hierarchy, put one above the other, and won’t that cause friction amongst the brothers? In fact, it is said that more than Yudhiṣṭhira, the role of Draupadi in keeping the Pāṇḍavās together was enormous.

Draupadi is an excellent example of how sensitively feminine energies are deployed. She can flood that man with love, and at other times, keep a quiet distance too. To channelise her passions, visceral energies, emotional energies, and the love of her heart, to remain natural and not ever be a put-on, to completely evoke the trust of each of her husbands, to get them to feel so secure about her that they never had to possess her mentally — Draupadi was an extraordinary woman!

In the Praśnopaniṣad, Sage Pippalāda talks of Prāṇa and Rayi, as the fundamental identities of this creation. The stance of Gandhi would be an excellent example of what Pippalāda indicates as Prāṇa — something strong, appearing stiff and hard on the outside, as though sure of itself, the body and mind moving in one conviction. Prāṇa operates as a stance centred in itself. Like Gandhi, independent and drawing direction and action from within. Rayi is when you are collected outside; rather your centre is outside you. And, all your energies flow toward that centre. Like all energies of Bhimsen Joshi flowed towards Hindustani music. Like every ounce of Draupadi flowed towards her husbands.

Whether the stance or pivot is within or outside you, it gives your life an extraordinary direction, sense, meaning, richness, happiness, fullness, and purpose. A sense of having done what ought to have been done. Fulfilment.

We conclude with the next piece.

As described earlier, Prāṇa is a stance in itself, a self-erected or accumulated pivot. If you are honest, readily available for transaction, and non-defensive, then you will see how difficult it is to erect a stance like that, always ensuring that you are not being blind to life. Every transaction that you go through without bias contributes to the creation of that stance.

Rayi is energy; visceral, sexual, passionate, emotional, the great feelings of the heart. And, every flow emanating from you must find a natural altar, the very same altar being your point of arousal, and your compulsive duty. Your very existence depending upon it, that’s your home, where you live, where you can be found always, and you cannot hide it from the world. Meera couldn’t hide her love for Krishna, could she? It is not enough if you found your love and pursued it; your love must be able to summon every energy source within you into it. Only then can it be a full and true flow. This is why it is said that true love reveals you, because you didn’t even know you had so much energy within, not just quantity but even variety.

While every stance or altar of dedication, naturally discovered, is worth a salute and a site for soul-pilgrimage, there is something further that the soul is still to stumble upon.

Consider someone like Rahul Dravid, to illustrate my point. No one can ever dispute, or even raise a shadow of doubt about whether he has given his heart out on the cricket field. Those who played or worked with him will vouch for the fact that his entire energies were out there on the field. You could count the great music composers like Ilayaraja or Naushad Ali in this league too. These men found a natural landing early in life, took time to affirm their position within, sought opportunities from the world outside, and did some great work. No doubts about that!

What after that?

Either you take to mentoring, or continue to dominate your field. As a deeply engaged mentor, you will soon get the feeling that you are meddling with someone else’s life; interfering in the organic growth of the tree, in its flowering, fruiting, the way it weathers bad climate, and so on. It is that plant or tree’s story, and ideally, no one should have the right or necessity to meddle with it. Yet, since you are the accomplished one, invited into someone else’s story, you hesitatingly get involved. At each step, you are unsure and too ready to withdraw. Because, you don’t want to play God here.

Suppose you continue to dominate the field, instead of taking the mentoring route, then you become an overarching banyan tree; you create your fiefdom, and start influencing everything that happens out there. You tend to capture the goings-on in that field, control everything there, or have an opinion about everything, and since you are powerful, your opinion influences. The openness of culture in that field, whether cricket or film music or classical dance, is likely to get stifled because of your presence and domination. It is as though the open Sun that was available to everyone to take nourishment from, or in whose benevolent presence each healthy shoot could achieve eminence, has been snatched away from everyone, and you are becoming some don-cloud, hovering over everything. You get the scenario, don’t you?

Simply put, a time for struggle, a time to achieve, and a time to step into the higher! And, whether you are an elder at home or an accomplished singer, there is a point at which you step out. Often, most of us are nudged out. We have to be made irrelevant, for us even to consider that we have burnt out our dreams, or that our inspirations have become stale.

But, there is a deeper malaise.

We know not how to step out. Nothing else we find to step into, for us to step out of the current stance. This is all what we know, and we are stuck here. What else to do? We keep looking for inspirations elsewhere; we know what it is to be inspired. We know what it is to be held by challenge and excitement. Not let go of an opportunity, struggle to produce the full output, and yet be natural — we know that. We seek new inspirations to life, and we find none. Life is unable to hold us anymore; at least, nothing like the way it seized us back then.

In other words, even if you are the best expression of Rayi, your journey has a shelf life. It does end.

Same with the Prāṇa. Gandhi would have been aware of the inadequacy of his stance most acutely. He would have known that his stance was incomplete or imperfect, and that it didn’t cover every issue of life truly. He would have known this of his stance long ago. Hence, he never claimed perfection; and always remained open to input and ready for a debate. Whatever be the stance taken by the soul, it not only limits the soul but is limited in itself — this is something that he became acutely aware of, during his final years. And, each time a Hindu-Muslim riot broke out, especially during his last years, he would be pained at the severe limitation that his stance posed. He would probably have thought to himself, ‘I have always thought that if India had to go forward healthily, whatever movement it takes must necessarily hinge upon Hindu-Muslim unity. It must be one of the wheels of progress. And, I have failed on this. The nation refuses to recognise the profound importance of such a seed of unity, to be inbuilt in its very ethos. All the good vibes, feelings, the acts of remorse, none of it seems to have worked on this. The heart of both the Hindu and the Muslim is still not cleansed of the poison of mistrust. Since I have taken this upon myself, until I finish it well, God won’t open the next door for me. In a sense, I am stuck. Until I finish what I promised God, He won’t let me in. Even I wouldn’t feel I have earned a place in his shrine. So, I can’t retire from politics and pursue the Sacred Self alone, neither can I push my brethren to shed their hatred, just to let me go’.

The inside story of great men, what they sorrow about, is indeed worth a hear.

It is in this feeling that one is stuck or held, and one seeks a release. Dravid may never want a release from cricket. Bhimsen Joshi may never want a release from Hindustani Music. Gandhi may never want to be released from the heart of India’s matters. Yet, the sense of limitation gnaws at us. And, you know not where to go, what to find, whom to seek, what to do…

Suppose you chance upon the Kaṭhopaniṣad, and the story of Naciketa, what should strike you is this: ‘How did this young boy ask such deep questions of life that eluded even such accomplished men, men of such extraordinary experience, who discovered natural landings and ruled the world for a while?’ How did this boy stumble upon that question, which takes him straight out of limitation, once for all? How did he stumble upon it? Take the Buddha, for instance. Until 29 years, Siddhartha hardly knew death and disease. And, it is not that he was so involved in Facebook or WhatsApp or parties that he didn’t notice people dying or having disease. Of course, he was kept out of all such facts, deliberately. What kind of a King would he have made if he knew not the struggles and deprivations and aspirations of his people? You can imagine the pathetic state of exposure, can’t you? Even so, when he woke up one fine day, he simply strolled across the entire canvas of life, spanning soul distances with such giant strides, that he was face to face with the centre of life within a matter of a few years.

I shall give you one more clue. Pick a book written by or about any of these legends like Gandhi, Dravid, Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Ravishankar, or whoever. Listen to them talk. Listen to those who know them intimately talk about them. It would be inspiring. You can connect with it instantly. Some may care to delineate the context and the struggles there well. You would be instantly motivated. You shall find your life energised. Highly inspiring! A great tale!

Contrast that with this: Pick a book of J Krishnamurti. Pick a commentary of Śaṅkara. Or, read the Bhagavadgītā from the original. You will be all at sea. You know that, don’t you? Why? Why don’t these people inspire our hearts? Even fake motivational Gurus know it, how come these men don’t?

Inspiration itself stems from the tales of great identities. However great the identity, it is still within the net of individuality. Finally, one man’s story! One man’s great story, maybe. Or, one great man’s story, perhaps. Still…

On the other hand, Śaṅkara or JK or the Buddha aren’t talking earnestly about their lives or some ideal life. They talk about the life of this universe. That’s why they are difficult to relate to.

There is something here, sir, that merits our deep concern and attention. Of course, we won’t come to it, until we have seen through our struggles and successes, and the vital limitation inherent in it. To seek a life of utter freedom from all stances and pivots and altars is indeed waking up to purity.

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Sudheendra Chaitanya

Sudheendra Chaitanya is a Hindu monk based in Bangalore, India. After completing Engineering, he studied the scriptures at Chinmaya Mission in 1991, and continued with Mission work until 2005.

He now chooses to spend time with himself, observing life—people and happenings—keenly, and his insights flow out as writings. As a serious investigator into the core issues of life, Sudheendraji connects to people and subjects of life alike…with intimate directness. He has also authored several books. Notable among them are Blooming in the Open, The How, What and Why of I and God and Personal Worship. In a lucid narrative, his writings deliver fundamental insights, ruthlessly searing through conditioned thoughts and beliefs, but nourishing the soul with care.

Sometimes nourishing, sometimes revealing…