A day of learning

I had a last minute trip that came up this morning. A cab had been arranged and I had a lovely 45 minute ride listening to one of the wisest persons I have met in recent times.

An unassuming man, he has been a driver for 42 years, doing almost daily runs on the Mumbai-Pune highway, first as a trucker and then a taxi driver. The road was his teacher. His words, not mine. “Even people who don’t talk teach me much.”

Once a month, he and his wife go someplace, usually to a temple somewhere out of town and come back recharged. He has a guru in his village who he holds in high respect. He reminded me of Nisargadatta Maharaj, a common man who was an enlightened soul. This man is a warkari, he used to do the annual pilgrimage for many years and listened to stories from fellow travellers. Stories about ancient sages and enlightened masters. One of the things he was told as a young man was to undertake pilgrimages while health still permitted so that he wouldn’t need to burden another.

We spoke through the rear view mirror, his deep set eyes a pool of calm radiance. He’s driven many business leaders, politicians and had much knowledge about human nature, different kinds of businesses and nothing to lose. A karma yogi of the finest mettle. A completely irrelevant tidbit but fascinating piece of information was that the colourful tutti-frutti was made of papaya!

One of the interesting things I have observed in my life is how reflective mornings fade into an intellectual workday. I saw it happening with him as well as we moved from a dialogue on matters related to the spirit to a conversation on sundry life matters. His mastery was his car, personally cared for and maintained. Through the years, his knowledge and expertise deepened with the exposure to different vehicles. As he rightly observed, no one can be a master of all. You need to really be with the subject you have chosen. His happiness with his role in life was a deep contentment, reflected in the excellent condition of his vehicle and driving skills.

We spoke on a wide range of topics from the recent political events to family and work, business and learning. He made some astute observations and was up to speed in terms of infrastructure development all by virtue of his job. I was happy to just ask questions and he obliged easily.

The sense I received from his absolute assuredness was a detachment of the sort I haven’t encountered in person. He played the roles he had been given with no expectations and clarity of purpose. An active life of service without attachment. I found myself humbled and privileged to have made his acquaintance.

Hari Om is how he greets anyone so much so that many call him by that name. I’m just grateful to have had the wisdom of his words.

The day opened into another interesting exploration about menstruation with two unlikely people, a retired brilliant business head for a worldwide brand and a younger second generation engineer. Both men, with none of the usual avoidance of anything to do with periods and a great deal of openness to understand what it means to be female and bleeding.

In a matter of 12 hours, I had a yoga lesson from an unlikely teacher, lessons in business and a heart fill of love in the presence of my firstborn. I couldn’t have asked for more.

One of the beautiful juxtapositions of religion and business. A temple in a tree in the compound of an old business complex.

Finding Guru

The slow re-read of the Bhagwad Gita has been a different experience. It’s been a couple of months since I started and I’ve just arrived at Chapter 4. The opening lines were familiar as I was given these to include in a presentation on yoga about a year ago. In that context, it was about the origin and evolution of yoga. Today, it was interesting to see it in the context of the unbroken lineage from guru to shishya. It implies transfer of the light of experiential wisdom from guru to devoted student.

It is interesting to see how the Sun is the first recipient of this timeless wisdom and continues to fulfill it’s dharma, perhaps that explains the potency of the Gayatri mantra. His son, Manu is given this knowledge and he passes it on to the Raja Rishis, Kings who were also Seers. It percolated to the Sages and in keeping with the cycle of evolution and devolution, wound up being lost. Lord Krishna then goes on to say that he would reveal the same ancient secret to his friend and devotee, Arjuna. I found a mirror in the terms ‘friend’ and ‘devotee’ when Geetaji addresses functions at the Institute. Invariably she says, friends and fellow practitioners of yoga. There’s love and compassion, not the sickly sweet variety but the simple love of a mother who may appear stern. Offerings of Guruji’s teachings in the spirit of yajna, the technique of Karma yoga, Lord Krishna speaks about in the previous chapter.

And coincidence or not, something I read later in the day was from an obscure book I found, a translation of inspired poetry by Sri Muruganar as an offering to his guru, Ramana Maharishi.

I find it hard to ask things to anyone and often feel like a quizzical question mark. So, I read and let the words simmer. Sometimes, connections pop up but I wonder if it’s just an overactive imagination. At other times, I feel I’m on track and it gets validated when I hear or read something that reiterated what seemed to be just my interpretation.

Swami Chinmayananda says, “Therefore, a study of the scriptures by one’s own self is apt to create misunderstanding in the mind of the student rather than a right appreciation of it.”

I ask, where does one find a guru today? We seek in the words the masters left behind but the light can only come from their lotus feet…

Hari Om

Karma Yog

2:45- The VEDAS deal with the three attributes; be you above these three attributes (GUNAS), O Arjuna, free yourself from the pairs-of-opposites, and ever remain in the SATTWA (goodness), freed from all thoughts of acquisition and preservation, and be established in the Self.

2:46- To the BRAHMANA who has known the Self, all the VEDAS are of so much use, as is a reservoir of water in a place where there is flood everywhere.

2:47- Thy right is to work only, never to its fruits; let not the fruit-of-action be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction.

A real Karma Yogin is one who understands: (a) that his concern is with action alone; (b) that he has no concern with results; (c) that he should not entertain the motive of gaining a fixed fruit for a given action; and (d) that these ideas do not mean that he should sit back courting inaction.

– Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on The Gita

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Bhagavad Gita 2:45-47

Writing a few shlokas everyday is a good exercise in bringing my mind to focus. These lines were today’s exercise and I stopped mid-way as the commentary was a clarion call. These three shlokas insist, illuminate and inspire. As I read the explanation for the first of the three, I felt there was an important message to listen to. The subsequent verses reinforced the intuition and I stopped for the day. There is more than enough to ruminate for ever.

Since the last couple of weeks, I have been living two lives. By day I work very hard to get things in order at the place I am working so that I can work fewer hours from June. By night and early morning, I am a hermit, reading, writing, contemplating, practising. My daughter is on a holiday and I have company only on the weekends when my husband visits. It is almost like being on a retreat. I sit for japa and it feels like I am in a forest with just birdsong. I will have a few more weeks of this life and it feels like a blessing to be relieved of my regular household duties for a while.
The shlokas I read today, especially the last one connected very strongly to my japa sadhana. There is change in the practice. For one, I do 24 repetitions now and the more notable one is an ability to stay with the words/meaning as I chant. Reading the commentary before beginning japa has helped to create a mental environment to bring a focus, an attention to the present. Somewhere I suppose I have stopped expecting anything to be visible and am settled into just seeing, observing, witnessing. Everyday there is a reinforcement of the literal meaning and a tentative exploration into the superimposed ideas.
The other day, I was chatting with a fellow practitioner and he mentioned that he wanted to first study the Sutras, then the Gita and so on. My study has been multiple texts, a little at a time and very often I find parallels in them. This helps in understanding some of the thoughts although I still feel it is very much on an intellectual level. But as the book says, my right is only to labour. If I stop to think about it, just the study itself provides immense satisfaction in the heart.

Hari Om