Saturday, March 24, 2012

The greatness of Rama - The Ideal Man.

This week we are doing Rama week on Facebook. Please join us there as well.

Today morning I got up to see a link to a video on the Facebook Page by a member, Varsha Gokhale. The video is from some Indian TV serial on Rāma, and I started to watch it just like any other link. I started watching it with no expectation, after all it is some TV serial, which they are making dime a dozen on bhakti these days. But while watching, so many thoughts ran through the mind, outpaced only by the feelings in the heart, that this post had to be written.

Many times we only use our brain, but sometimes, it is okay to use our heart, and feel things. Even if we are men. Before you see the video, I want to set the right background, for those who do not know the (details of the ) story of Rāma.

Brief storyline.
Rāma is the eldest prince, and his coronation for tomorrow has even been announced. His stepmother Kaikeyī calls due the rain check on the boons her husband had given her for saving his life in the battlefield someday in the distant past. Kaikeyī, brain washed by her hunchback maid Mantharā, asks for Rāma to be exiled (can not enter any human settlement, not just Ayodhya) and the throne for her own son Bharata. Everyone opposes this; Lakṣhmaṇa even suggests taking the empire by force. But Rāma leaves, saying that snatching the throne against elders’ wishes will set a bad example to people.

When Sītā and all the citizens ask to accompany him, he says it is his sentence to fulfill, not theirs. But Sītā follows giving the argument of 'a wife must never leave her husband' (Till death do us part?) and Lakṣhmaṇa becomes his ‘slave’ and hence a master must take his servant.

He spends many years in the jungle, helping people, learning about the land, making bonds with forest dwellers. Sītā is kidnapped by Raāvaṇa by force and kept in Laṅkā. Rāma, who was banished from entering any civilized settlements, with the help of Sugrīva and Hanumān and their army, fights the mighty sorcerer Rāvaṇa and his brothers, his armies, and finally wins. Rāvaṇa was invincible by the boon of Brahmā the Creator not be killed by anyone but humans and animals, so Rāma, the human avatāra of Lord Viṣhṇu, was finally able to kill Rāvaṇa.

The Fire test.
After that, still in the battlefield, he says to Sītā, "I have cleared my name as a warrior who could rescue his wife. Now you are free to go anywhere you wish, and marry anyone you wish." Everyone is shocked by this, for the months long battle with heavy casualties was fought to get Sītā back. Even the Creator Brahmā himself tells Rāma, "Have you forgotten O Lord, that you are Viṣhṇu himself, and have descended to earth only to deliver it of the tortures of sinner. Now that is over, why are you not seeing your own consort Lakṣhmī standing in front of you?"

Sītā, thus humiliated, asks for the pyre to be built and says if she is pure, fire would not harm her. Indeed, Fire God Agni comes and delivers her with a certificate of purity.

Rāma says, "I knew all along, you were pure and will always be and fire could not harm you. But how would I have convinced all these people, who don't understand your divinity? Words would not have sufficed to clear your name."

In later additions to the story over ages, it is further added, that even while she was expecting, upon hearing a washer-man's allegations against Sītā, Rāma sends her to the āshrama of Sage Vālimīki, where she stays and gives birth to twins.

Here is a video, from one of the TV serials in India, the story is after pregnant Sītā has left the palace for āshrama. Sītā is needed for the fire ritual, yajña (यज्ञ). The only way out is to have a statue of hers sitting next to Rāma during the ceremony. Being emperor, of course it has to be a golden status. In the video, he is talking to the sculptor, who is blind. Sculptor requests Rāma to tell how Sītā looks, what is like, so he can make the statue. I agree that much more could be said about Sītā, but for once, look at Rāma, not as divine, but as human, that he portrayed all along.

Imagine yourself in his position -

- Heir to the greatest empire of its time, everyone loves you, respects you.
- You are eldest of four brothers, have been recently married to the most beautiful girl in the world.
- You are going to be the crown prince tomorrow.
- Because of the instigation of the hunchback maid of your step mother, she asks you to leave for 14 years of exile and throne goes to your step brother.
- You take everything smiling and leave, even when your mighty bother is ready to fight and take by force, even when your repentant father asks you to imprison him and overrule him.
- You spent life in one long camping picnic, interspersed with fighting demons and fetching water from pure flowing river, taking afternoon naps after a sumptuous lunch made by your dear wife, with whom you spend most of the time, since there is nothing else to do, you discuss matters of polity, culture, relationship, administration and everything.
- She is kidnapped.
- You weep like a madman, asking plants and birds to give you a clue.
- You make some allies.
- You find out she is on an island, trapped by the most powerful demon, who has defeated even the gods.
- You fight, help others, get help, and make the longest man-made bridge out of stones thrown in the ocean.
- You fight the master of deception, master of arms, and sorcery and one by one, with casualties on both sides, win the war.
- You are dying to meet your wife, for who you have done all this.
- You are forced to say to her 'You are free to go anywhere and marry anyone, for I know not what your character has been', while knowing very well that she is pure and you, as the new king, can very well afford to not care about anyone in the world thinks.
- She proves out to be pure, you return to be the king.
- She is expecting, there are rumors, and you once again let her go.
- Now you need a statue made of her for some ritual that requires it.
- And the blind sculptor asks you to describe her to him.


Let us watch the video. (The original video has been removed from YouTube, only the audio is there.) For once leave aside all logic, brains, and feel with your heart, the pain of a man bound by his duties, principle, and yearning for his love of life.

When the sculptor asks to describe Sītā, he starts saying she is the best woman, best daughter, best wife, best daughter-in-law.
And then he quivers with sorrow, remembering that she was expecting when she left the palace. And he remembers all the wonderful time they had spent during their extended forest camping of fourteen years. Imagine today, how much time do we give our spouses in a 24 hour period? Spending all your time together would have made the bond all that much stronger!

Then he describes Sītā to the sculptor in verse. I am giving the Hindi words for those can read, and meaning for those who cannot. Subtitles are also there on the video.
परिचय कर सौन्दर्य सृष्टि सेGet introduced to the creation of Beauty
देख सिया को मेरी दृष्टि सेSee Sītā through my eyes
वरदानी चरणों से गति लेTake nirvāṇa (gati) from boon-giving [auspicious] feet
मूर्ति बनाने की अनुमति लेTake permission to make her statue
कटि कोमल कर-कमल सुहानेSlim waist, enticing hands soft and pink as lotus
बाहों का हार बनाना जानेKnew how to make a garland of the arms
है देदीप्यमान मुखमण्डलHer face has a divine brilliance
गहरे नयन-श्याम, बिन काजलDeep eyes are black without applying kohl
मस्तक पर सूरज की प्रभा हैForehead stands tall and shining like the Sun
केशों में घनघोर घटा हैIn her tresses are the deep rain bearing clouds
हर नाते की हर छवि प्यारीEvery memory of every interaction is dear
मन से देवी, तन से नारीA woman by body, a Goddess by heart
जब यह मूर्ति बना लायेगाWhen you will bring the finished statue
तू भी अमरता पा जायेगाYou too will attain immortality
यज्ञ, मूर्ति रख होगा पूराThe ritual will be complete only with the statue
सिय बिन राम रहेगा अधूराWithout Sītā, Rāma will be always be incomplete.

Listen at 2:15 minutes, when he says 'mastak par sooraj ki prabhaa hai', he pauses at 'mastak par ....' - 'on the forehead...' lost in the memories of her company. I think thanks to the TV serials, we can reach out to him as a human, else his character has been so exalted, we never tend to see his side of the story as a man separated from his wife.

"Sometimes I feel I  know Sītā very well, and the very next moment I think I don't know her at all." - what dilemma, what yearning, what drama!

Would you have been able to carry out your duties as a noble king, without faltering? Or would you have simply given up everything in disdain and remorse? What would be more difficult, leaving all this, or bearing all this? Not even remarrying, when it was not unusual for kings to have many wives.

Many - who do not understand much about anything, much less understand poetry or the mass psychology of society, or a scripture written thousands of years ago - have maligned Rāma. There is one classic example used by detractors with agendas - of him asking Sītā to take the fire-test (agni-parīkṣhā). Interestingly, he never asked her to take any test. She understood and took the test on her own accord to prove herself innocent. People do not realize that what Rāma did was not a male dominated woman-oppressing action, but he took all the blame of possible allegations away from her and onto himself.

As a husband, as a king, as a leader he took all that personal sacrifice onto himself. We may be angry at him, upset at him for behaving thus, but no one has ever said a single word against Sītā. That is because what Rāma did. Knowingly. It is not easy to do that when you have just won the war and got your wife back, and no one is expecting you to doubt or leave her. He did this as a preemptive action against possible blemish for her later on. Is that not the epitome of manly love? If there really was women’s oppression then any one of Dasharatha, Rāma, Lakṣhmaṇa could have killed the hunchback maid or Kaikeyī the step-mother.

When you have given up a trillion dollar empire at the whims of a stepmother who is under the spell of a hunchback woman, left everything and lived like a warrior monk in the jungle for over a decade, lost your wife to a kidnapper, never took any other woman to your heart or even with your eyes, gathered an army of alliances, fought the war against the most powerful of all being at the time, then, only then, and surely then, you have the rights to decide whatever you think is right.

And anyone who dares to belittle that, is not even a dust particle, wishing to be in the same time-space zone as the greatness of this soul, the perfect man - Maryādā Pusuṣhottama Rāma.

May your life be guided by his examples, and may you seek answers when in doubt, rather than drawing wrong conclusions.

(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved. Check us on Facebook.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ups and downs are part of life - कूप-यन्त्र-घटिका-न्यायः


kūpa-yantra-ghaṭikā nyāyaḥ
कूप-यन्त्र-घटिका न्यायः

At least as far back as the start of the Common Era, a wonderful water-wheel device was made in India for irrigation. It had an ox moving the machine, just like an oil-extraction device. The ox’s movement moved a smaller Ferris wheel kind of mechanism, with buckets instead of seats. At any given time you would find some buckets full of water, some half full, some empty, some emptying, some getting filled.

This is the depiction of life. At any given time, we see people of all levels and states of physical, mental, financial health, sorrow and joy. And with time, a given bucket undergoes the increase and decrease of water. Similarly, a given person also undergoes ups and downs in life. These buckets are wonderful snapshots of life around us. We should not be perturbed too much by the downs, as long as we do our best in a given situation. Just like the good times passed away, so will the bad.

This is also referenced in the classic Sanskrit drama Mṛichchhakaṭikam (The Clay Toy Cart) 10:60 where at the end, the protagonist summarizes the events of the play by quoting this nyāyaḥ.

Another version simply says ghaṭī-yantra nyāyaḥ. In Prabandha-Chintā-Maṇi, ‘O wealth-blinded-stupid person, why do you laugh at someone fallen in trouble? Wealth is not permanent, why is it surprising? Do you not see the buckets of a water-wheel, the empty ones are getting filled and the full ones are getting emptied!’
आपद्गतं हससि किं द्रविणान्धमूढ, लक्ष्मीः स्थिरा न भवतीति किमत्र चित्रम् ।
किं त्वं न पश्यसि घटीजलयन्त्रचक्रे, रिक्ता भवन्ति भरिता भरिताश्च रिक्ताः ॥
āpad_gatam hasasi kim draviṇāndha-mūḍha lakṣhmīḥ sthirā na bhavatīti kimatra chitram; 
kim tvam na pashyasi ghaṭi-jala-yantra-chakré riktā bhavanti bharitā bharitāshcha riktāḥ.

Ups and downs are part of life, endure.
Language notes: कूप-यन्त्र-घटिका न्यायः = kūpa-yantra-ghaṭikā nyāyaḥ | kūpa = a water well. yantra = instrument, machine. ghaṭikā = small vessel.

Photo by Tim Booth

This Maxim has been covered in the book Attitude Shift - Sanskrit Maxims for Contemporary Life and Leadership.

And now the language aspects of the shloka -

kūpa-yantra-ghaṭikā nyāyaḥ

kūpa = well
yantra = instrument, machine
ghaṭikā = small pot. ghaṭa= a regular pot for carrying water
nyāyaḥ= maxim, saying, situational statement. other meaning is justice, but not in this usage.

(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved. Check us on Facebook

Monday, March 12, 2012

Give your best, be of some worth - अलसस्य कुतो विद्या

No effort
then,  No knowledge
then,  No money
then,  No friend
then,  No joy :(
अलसस्य कुतो विद्या अविद्यस्य कुतो धनम् ।
अधनस्य कुतो मित्रं अमित्रस्य कुतः सुखम् ॥
alasasya kuto vidyā, avidyasya kuto dhanam |
adhanasya kuto mitram, amitrasya kutaḥ sukham || (IAST)
alasasya kuto vidyA, avidyasya kuto dhanam |
adhanasya kuto mitram, amitrasya kutaH sukham || (ITRANS)

This is a very popular shloka, subhāṣhita (सुभाषित, subhAShita, well saying), which is misunderstood often. And the main objection seems to be coming from the rather crass assumption that 'no money, then no friends.' Is friendship supposed to be so shallow? This is not ancient Indian outlook; it is supposed to be all spiritual, goody-goody, well wishing for the world kind of 'mush'.

But, one forgets two things here. One, India has been the richest civilization in the world for the longest time. And you can't build civilizations, or corporations only on spirituality. Just like you cannot have a body without proper material care of it like food, medicine, exercise etc. Empires are not built on abstract spirituality. They can be guided by it, but not only by it.

Second, Sanskrit literature is not only about spirituality. Agreed, it is the most stressed topic, and most different from other civilizations, so the 'special' factor is there, which gets more media coverage, so to speak.

When confronted with sayings like this, how should we interpret it? Or should we just trash it?

Let us ponder upon a few aspects of interpretation like context (who said to whom under what conditions) and main point of the saying, the cause and effect chain and the differentiation between theory and reality.

If you do not put effort, you cannot learn anything. And we are not talking about just bookish knowledge in a classroom with uniform and laboratories. Even to be a great painter, machinist, miner, athlete, dancer, car mechanic or what have you, you need to put effort in learning the 'trade'.

Look at a baby. It knows nothing at birth, except wailing. In two years, it has learned more than it will ever learn in a lifetime (proportionately). By age 2, it can stand, run, climb, eat, grasp, talk, make 10 different faces, focus eyes to see, figure out where a sound comes from, and some can even operate an iPad. If a baby were not to put effort, mommy will have to carry him/her around forever!

So, you must put enough effort. What area? What job you will get? That is all secondary. But whatever you choose, put in all you can.

If you go for a job, any kind, permanent or temporary, Fortune 500 or mom-and-pop shop, housekeeping at a motel or a school teacher, the first question that is on the employer's mind is - 'What do you know? What can you do?'

Some are programmers, some technicians, some policy makers, some negotiators, some campaign managers, some maids, some plumbers, some doctors, some drivers - list is endless. But they all are supposed to know their job.

'Knowledge is power' is not over-stated. It indeed is.

Many good-hearted people get an uneasy feeling upon hearing the word money. Money is not important mostly to those who have already acquired enough, at least to cover the basic needs and wants of life. After eating, most people do not feel hungry. But that does not make food unimportant!

Other times, it has got an ill-repute. We think of scandals and corruptions, Occupy Wall Street and $1.6 trillion annually spent on military expenses by the world. Yes, that is $1.6 trillion. Imagine if it was used for development, all economic problems of the world can be solved!

Now, the last thought is the crux. Money is not good, bad or ugly. What you do with it, is. Money is a social contract, promise to pay the bearer in kind. You take money and can buy bread, milk or a gun. The barter system was not scalable for growing economies even as back as 5000 years back!

The highly revered Vishnu and Lakshmi both are divinity of preservation, sustenance and wealth and prosperity. How could resources, things, be bad? But the use can be. As a race, we now produce enough food to feed the whole earth, but still so many go hungry and die.

Now comes the sticky part. How can we say that "No money? No friends!"

When do you make friends? In childhood, when you did not earn or have money; mind was less complicated without far reaching evil plans. You enjoyed someone's company and you were friends. The second time you made friends was as grown-ups when you had something in common - job, hobby, apartment complex, gym, yoga studio, friends etc.

But we make friends among equals. A very rich person (compared to us) did not make us their friend. Nor did we stoop down four economic levels below to make a friend.

But if you look at it, it says 'the poor does not make friends.' Poor is relative. Sure, poor people have friends. But they too are poor, so relatively they are peers, not poors. You may have made a friend in good times, and now you are having a bad time, friends will help. If you slip too much down, and if it is because you are lazy and unqualified, chances are even friends will start leaving you, or replace friendship with charity.

Friends may be with you in your poor times, but you will not make new, richer friends.

This should not need any explanation at all. We all want friends. To talk and share life experiences. That is why we date, marry, join clubs and societies, throw parties etc. That is the real reason for success of Facebook as well.

So, what is the context and who said it?
This is from Chāṇakya Nīti, and Chāṇakya was not interested in mushy spirituality. He was a statesman, economist, administrator first; and had real job to do, real problems to face - of human incompetency, jealousy, animosity, laziness etc. as part of his job.

What is the main point?
Put effort; be of some worth to the society. Only then will society want to give you a share of the pie.
Without pie, no party; without party, no friends.

And now the language aspects -

alasasya = of the lazy;
kuto = kutaḥ = where?
vidyā = knowledge (of anything);

avidyasya = of the un-knowledgeable;
kuto = kutaḥ = where?
dhanam = money, wealth;

adhanasya = of the poor;
kuto = kutaḥ = where?
mitram = friend;

amitrasya = of the without-friend;
kutaḥ = where;
sukham = happiness?

-sya suffix in the words indicates (of)

(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved. Check us on Facebook.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spiritual enlightenment with Facebook

Facebook is based on this mission - gather people in close knit groups, and enlighten them spiritually!


1. Time devours all.
You create a page, and add content for months and years. But by default Facebook only shows last few posts, maybe a day or two if you post a lot. You scroll back for older posts. Now imagine if there are 5-10 posts a day on a page (or your own profile), it is not easy to see what has been already posted, and same topics keep appearing, same questions being asked! Unlike a website, where you can quickly search and see content, index, list of posts etc.

So in a sense, posting on Facebook is like creating a Tibetan or Native American sand-painting or a Hindu kolam (rice-flour painting in front of the house that is created daily), throwing it in the flowing river of Time. The timeline is there, but traversing the timeline is like tracing the Sanskrit literature's history - arduous and time-consuming.

"Time eats all lives, Time kills populations, Time is awake when you sleep, it is difficult to escape Time."

Click to read the full post - Time is insurmountable

कालः पचति भूतानि, कालः संहरते प्रजाः |
कालः सुप्तेषु जागर्ति, कालो हि दुरतिक्रमः ||

kAlaH pachati bhUtAni, kAlaH saMharate prajAH |
kAlaH supteShu jAgarti, kAlo hi duratikramaH ||

kālaḥ pachati bhūtāni, kālaḥ saṃharate prajāḥ |
kālaḥ supteṣhu jāgarti, kālo hi duratikramaḥ ||

2. You should live in the present.
And so says a shloka - Past can't be changed, future is not here yet, the wise live in the present (that is they don't spoil their present in lamenting the past or fretting the future)

गते शोको न कर्तव्यो भविष्यं नैव चिन्तयेत् ।
वर्तमानेन कालेन वर्तयन्ति विचक्षणाः ॥

gate shoko na kartavyo bhaviShyaM naiva chintayet |
vartamAnena kAlena vartayanti vichakShaNAH ||(ITRANS)

gate shoko na kartavyo bhaviṣhyaṃ naiva chintayet ।
vartamānena kālena vartayanti vichakṣhaṇāḥ ॥ (IAST)

3. Do good and forget about it.
So, if you have built content over a few years, that is all gone in the darkness of history. No one can give a quick link to a Wall post that ended up in a wonderful discussion a year ago! Most of them won't even come up in a search. Some of the best discussions on Practical Sanskrit that happened last year are buried so deep, you couldn't find them if you wanted to.

4. It is all temporary.
In Page reach statistics, to tell you how many people the Page is actually reaching out to, or how many people are talking about it, it uses a short time period (first 30 day stats only), which means that if a post becomes popular after 30 days it won't matter!

5. You are not the body, but the spirit.
There are so many Facebook contacts that are virtually virtual, contacts through virtual world activity, many you have never seen in real life. But on Facebook where your word, thought is only that reaches out and not the physical interaction, it is truly the spirit that matters and not the body!

6. Why be attached to money? Jagat mithyA (The world is an illusion)
IshAvAsya upaniShad (ईशावास्य उपनिषद् ) opens with - मा गृध कस्य स्विद्धनं 'mA gRidha kasya svid_dhanam' - don't covet, for whose is the money? Implying that you didn't bring anything in this world, so it is not yours to begin with.

To all the friends addicted to Farmville and other games where you can buy a fertilizer or a hint for a dollar - 'the money is not yours to begin with, throw it in the deep well of Facebook!'

The world that you thought to be real as late as five years back, is not real. It is mithyA, illusion. Once you enter the vaikuNTha (frustration free) of Facebook, the veil of false reality removed, you see the truth in the FBville of 800 million souls, happily wondering. They say that in vaikuNTha, the abode of viShNu, there is no body needs like hunger, thirst, pain etc. So is true when surfing Facebook. The hungry of the world should be given an iPod with FB preloaded, and that will solve the hunger problem!

How has Facebook helped you in your spiritual enlightenment?

(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved. Check us on Facebook.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Got friends? Here are four.

Got friends? Here are four.

The first three are friends in this mortal world, but who is our friend even after death?
Dharma. What we do here in this world, that can take us to heaven or hell or to mokSha forever!
If we follow our natural role in the society earnestly, we will have no regrets and no wants remaining, and the one without wants has already attained mokSha!!

In foreign lands knowledge is friend, at home the spouse.
Medicine is the friend of the sick, and dharma, that of the dead.
विद्या मित्रं प्रवासेषु भार्या मित्रं गृहेषु च ।
व्याधितस्यौषधं मित्रं धर्मो मित्रं मृतस्य च ॥
vidyā mitram pravāséṣhu, bhāryā mitram gṛihéṣhu cha |
vyādhi_tasyau_ṣhadham mitram, dharmo mitram mṛitasya cha || [IAST]

vidyA mitram pravAseShu, bhAryA mitram gRiheShu cha |
vyAdhi_tasyau_Shadham mitram, dharmo mitram mRitasya cha || [ITRANS]

And now the language aspects -

vidyA = knowledge
mitram = friend
pravAseShu = in foreign lands
bhAryA = wife (or spouse for modern times)
mitram = friend
gRiheShu = in the homes
cha = and
vyAdhitasya = of the sick
auShadham = herbs/medicine
mitram = friend
dharmo = dharmaH = good deeds, values, principles
mitram = friend
mRitasya = of the dead
cha = and

(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
Practical Sanskrit. All rights reserved. Check us on Facebook.