Travel to places connected with Sri Ramakrishna

January 7, 2014

For a long time I wanted to go to Kolkata and visit places connected to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: Belur math, Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  This became a possibility when a friend called up inviting me for his marriage in Kolkata! I booked tickets but the train was full and I was kept on waiting list (WL).  I could have tried to get the tickets through the emergency booking facility, tatkal but I thought I will leave it to destiny. I will travel only if the tickets get confirmed!  Air travel was possibility but too expensive given my current financial condition. I did not book hotel accommodation thinking that, if at all my train tickets are confirmed, I would stay at an old friend’s house.  I sent a mail to this friend informing of my visit.  This was 21 days before travel.

3 days before travel date my booking status was updated from WL to RAC.  So I could travel but I have to share the berth with another passenger!  There was no mail from my friend with whom I expected to stay in the even that my tickets get booked.  So I call him and tell him that I would be around for 4 days but mostly will be touring places connected to Sri Ramakrishna.  He thinks! and tells me in the most humble way that it will be difficult to accommodate me!   But then he also informs me that Belur math has a guest house and that I could book it.  I did not know about it. There is no information on the Belur Math page about the guest house! I search again but in vain.  He searched and found a page where one could give feedback about the Belur Math website.  In the ‘feedback’ he wrote about my need for a guest room gave my name, email address and phone number.  We decide to wait for a day before taking any other action.  A day later I get a message that my request is forwarded to the Maharaj(Swami) who takes care of matters pertaining to the guest house!  Another day later I get a message from the Maharaj asking me to give arrival and departure details in an attached form.  I am excited. I fill the form. A day left for my travel and no communication from the Maharaj. I consult my friend. We agree that absence of a confirmation mail implies that it is confirmed!  Looking back I can see how optimistically deluded we were.

Location of Belur math guest house

Location of Belur math guest house

The train reached 1 hour late. It is 6:45 in the evening but already dark.  The taxi-wallah takes me to Belur Math and asks where I wanted to be dropped. I had no idea that Belur Math would be such a huge campus.  We went inside the big arch entrance and then I got down thinking I could walk and ask for directions to the guest house.  To my good fortune I crossed a young monk who tells me that if I have not got a confirmation mail then I do not have the guest room.  In fact I am supposed to be carrying a print out of the confirmation! The guest house keeper would not accept me without a printed confirmation letter.  Besides, the procedure is to apply 2 months in advance!

However, since I am single and with only a backpack for luggage the guest house authorities may consider me on compassionate grounds!   The monk takes me to the math office for guest house accommodation.  It is closed. They close at 6:30 pm. Then he takes me to the guest house. It is a small walk outside the math compound on a lane that leads to the ferry ride to Dakshineshwar.  He leaves me at the guest house gate indicating that now it is between me and the guest house keeper.  Here is the google map showing the location of the guest house. It is useful because the guest house building does not have a name board!

As pointed out by the monk, the guest house keeper asked me for a print out of the confirmation e-mail.  I told him I had not received any.  He was visibly unhappy; I did not have a document and I was ignorant of the procedure!  He called up the Maharaj  in-charge of guest house related matters.  I told him I had come from Bangalore, had intimated the math a few days ago about my need for a room, and that I had not received any reply from the math office.  He must have got annoyed,  ‘we also have other works to do’, but quickly recovered and asked me to hand over the phone to the guest house keeper. I was allowed to stay but should vacate the following day.   A single room, probably reserved for monks, was given to me!  I was supremely grateful; I was saved from the trouble of going in search of a guest house that late after 26 hours of train travel. I would have agreed to sleep even in the courtyard!

A board inside the single room accommodation.

Instruction board inside the single room accommodation.

Breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and lunch at 11:30 a.m. are served in the guest house. In the morning I toured the Belur Math campus: temples, museum, Sw. Vivekananda’s room and the place where remains of several of the first disciples were interned.  When I was back for lunch I was told that I was to meet the Maharaj.  Though, it was closing time for the office the Maharaj agreed to meet me immediately because I had decided to pack off late afternoon.  The Maharaj took down my name, searched Microsoft Outlook and gave me the print out of my mail. Then he took asked me to accompany him to meet another monk, his superior.  I sat outside the office, when he went in and spoke to the senior monk.  The senior monk apparently dismissed it; it was not necessary for me to meet him.  There was more good news for me.  I could come back the day after the marriage and another room in some other place could be arranged for me! I was humbled at his efforts to accommodate me even after I had thrust myself on him, though out of ignorance. Truly grateful.

I was back early next day.  The guest house keeper who had by now become friendly gave me the key to a different single room in the same guest house.  I had no sleep the previous night-the marraige got over by 2:30 a.m.  So I slept. A lot.   The guest house keeper told me meet another Maharaj if I wanted to book the car to Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  But before that I wanted to got Dakshineshwar.  However, by the time I came back from Dakshineshwar it was time for the prayer in main temple at Belur Math.  The office closed by the time I was out of prayer hall.   When I returned to the guest house for dinner the keeper was annoyed that I did not meet the Maharaj. How was I to go now? I pleaded. He spoke to the Maharaj and yet again he obliged,  ‘was I ok with joining 3 others in the car to Kamarpukur the next morning?’  Of course, I was. The Maharaj also suggested I stay at Kamarpukur. The accommodation in Kamarpukur could be arranged!

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa source: www.oldindianphotos.in

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
source: http://www.oldindianphotos.in

The car was ready at 7:00 a.m.  The 3 others were a devotee, his mom and nephew from Andhrapradesh. The driver was good at conversation and regaled me with stories related to Sri Ramakrishna’s life.  He was driving devotees since 1974! and knew Ramakrsishna’s life story like the back of his palm.  Among other things he told me the story of Rani Rasmani, which is not in the Gospel (at least not in the English version).  We reached Kamarpukur at 11:00 a.m. after a break for tea-the best tea I had in my 5 day trip, on the way.

The Maharaj in-charge of the Kamarpukur math was happy to note that I had a research background,  ‘more students should pursue science’.  He was aware that the nation highest honour, Bharat Ratna, was conferred upon the leading scientist Prof. CNR Rao.  I informed him that it was possible now to do good research because more funds are allocate for research. ‘Yes, but it is not enough.’ I was surprised.  It is the first time I heard a non-scientist saying that more funds should be allocated for research.  Usually it is the scientists who complain of the lack of funds.  There were others waiting to meet him.  So we decided to meet again but for now I was allotted a room usually reserved for monks!  I was given a special lunch coupon with VIP written on it!  It being a weekend a large number of people would queue for lunch. With the coupon we could skip the queue. It did help me save time.  It was unbelievable. Having a degree in research can also be an advantage. Who could have thought in India!

In Kamarpukur, after seeing the Jogi Shiva temple, Haldarpukur (the pond) and the main temple, which is built in the place where Sri Ramakrishna was born, we went to Jayrambati a few kilometers away.   Holy mother was born here and spent several years after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna.  We attended the evening prayer there and were back before dark to Kamarpukur.  I spent the evening until dinner in the prayer hall where a Maharaj was reading from the Gospel. It was in Bengali language; I tried to follow the language but soon realised that I cannot understand beyond the simple pleasantries in Bengali.

Places to see in Aantpur. Board in Aantpur math

Places to see in Aantpur. Board in Aantpur math

The next day we had breakfast and started for Aantpur as suggested by the driver. It was in Aantpur that the idea of starting the Ramakrishan math and misson occurred to Swami Vivekananda.  The Maharaj in-charge of Aantpur math offered us fruits and asked to leave only after having lunch.  We saw Swami Premananda’s house (now belonging to the math) and the dhuni (fire place) where Swami Vivekananda along with other monks decided on the idea of the math and mission.  We then went behind the house to see the pond that was used by Swami Vivekananda.  There seemed to be ponds everywhere and in fact all along from Howrah to Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  Having spent my childhood in a relatively dry region of Maharashtra I found this much water beyond imagination.

I was back in Belur by early evening.  There was time enough to visit the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar once more.  But before that I met the Maharaj, who had arranged the car, and paid the car charges.  My stay and food in the guest house at Belur Math and Kamarpukur and food at Aantpur was free!  I donated modest amounts for my own satisfaction in all these places.

  • I have not included descriptions of the places here.  Please read here and here for exhaustive and minimal information, respectively of both the places.
  • There is a private lodge in Kamarpukur.  It looks good though I haven’t checked the rooms. Here are the details: Relax Lodge, Ph. no. 03211 244699
  • On a walk around the Belur Math compound I came across a good lodge near the main gate. The rooms are good. They even have AC. It is called ‘Om Plaza’ , Ph. no.  26540378
  • If you want accommodation in the math guest house please contact the math office 2 months in advance.  The guest house is available for devotees. It helps if you come with a recommendation from a monk. For instance, if you are from Chennai you should have met or known the Maharaj in the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai.

2013 in review

December 31, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Water Divination

November 23, 2013

I joined a cousin in inspecting a land to be purchased. Well…not inspection but just to see that the land is physically present and not just on paper. A friend’s acquaintance owned the land. He knew the place and was taking us there in his jeep. We crossed the city limits and were on the highway for nearly 2 hrs when we took a diversion. The road was bumpy and so time slowed.  After an hour or so we were on a narrow road that went between fields and land that was not cultivated.  Our friend spotted a stone and a barren tract along side the road and identified that as the beginning of the land under consideration!

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One view of the tract of land we visited. The branch rotated near the trees seen in the far end of this photograph.

We got down and walked along. In the distance and much nearer on our left were hillocks. Some trees and wild grass interspersed the land. The land was arable but the soil had little pieces of rock mixed in it.  Suddenly, our friend pulled out a branch from a nearby tree. The branch was Y-shaped. He held one arm of the branch in his left hand and the other in his right.  He now walked back a little distance, turned, and started walking towards us with the branch loosely held in his hands and the tip pointing outward. As he walked the branch started rotating in his hand! I couldn’t believe my eyes. If one were to rotate it manually/physically one would have to twist the wrists. It would be a tedious task if at all it was possible! I tried it. As a matter of fact he had not even gripped the arms of the branch. Each arm was light held in the circle/tubular cavity formed by the curving of the fingers in the palm; like when you hold a bicycle arm.  My cousin thought he would give try. He took the same branch and walked the same path.  The branch did not rotate but he felt it trying to wriggle in his palm as if to rotate. He was holding a bit too tight. The friend showed it again. I was skeptical. I took another Y-shaped branch from the tree and walked the same path. Nothing. No rotation. No feeling at all from the branch!  Apparently, it happens only with certain people. I don’t have it in me.

The incident stayed in mind until one day when I chanced upon theDSC_0088 book ‘Brihat Samhita’ by Varahamihira in the Ramakrishna Math library. Brihat Samhita is an ancient(~500 AD) encyclopaedic work in Sanskrit which covers various topics of human interest including architecture, medicine, physiology, zoology and other subjects.  The 54th chapter is entitled Dakargalam which means ‘the exploration of water springs’ or ‘water divination’.  There are about 125 Slokas (verses) describing the signs on land of water being present under ground. The depth to which one has to dig for water is also mentioned.  For instance, Sloka 8 says: in a waterless tract if there is a Jambu tree then water will be obtained at a depth of 10 cubits at a distance of 3 cubits to its north. It further describes what one is to expect on digging up to 5 cubits.

Several types of trees, rocks, presence of ant-hills and other such data have been connected to the depths at which water can be found even in desert regions. Simply incredible!  But, there was no mention of a Y-shaped branch, when held in a particular manner, rotating if there was water underground.  I had seen with my own eyes that the branch rotated in our friend’s hands at a moderate speed if not rapidly. And that too only in a particular patch of land. I wish I had taken a video. I looked up YouTube for videos on water divination. there are several where a person with a coconut placed on his palm walked on a tract of land. The coconut stood up where-ever there is water underground. But no video showing what I had seen. The YouTube links are:

The videos show that the coconut stood up on its own, but it is not clear if they dug  there and found water. Did you come across water divination using a branch of a tree? Let me know if you did.

For those interested in Brihat Samhita, the book is available online here.

Merciless or Manly

November 14, 2013

Self_coverIn the Sunday talk on Subhashitamala (literally, garland of proverbs) Swamiji mentioned the book, Self-Help by Samuel Smiles. The next Sunday I was early to the Math and looked up the library for this book.  It is an old book; a 1859 publication.  I flipped open the book for cursory reading and the words India, uprising and Nicholson caught my eye.  It was the chapter entitled Energy and Courage.  I had just finished reading The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple, which was full of details on the 1857 uprising, alternately called the Sepoy mutiny, and my memory was fresh.

I found the description of Brigadier General John Nicholson in The Last Mughal and  at contrast.  John Nicholson played an important, possibly crucial role in subduing the Sepoy mutiny in Delhi.  Samuel Smiles is all praise for John Nicholson.  He is described as the finest, manliest and noblest of men.  He is among the modern heroes of India with no precedence and quotes Montalambert (a contemporary of Smiles) that they ‘do honour to the human race’.  As an illustration of his sustained energy and persistency, Smiles cites his pursuit of the mutineers: ‘when he was in the saddle for twenty consecutive hours, and travelled more than 70 miles.’TheLastMughal

On the other hand, Darlymple introduces Nicholson as one who had personally decapitated a local robber chieftain and then kept the man’s head on his desk.  He was something of a legend among the British during the uprising because among other ‘manly’ qualities he had a merciless capacity of extreme brutality.  There were few among the British troops ‘who remained immune to the hero-worship of this great imperial psychopath.’

 War times change the definition of qualities.  Do they? A soldier could be described as merciless or manly depending on the side one takes: the winners’ side or the losers’.

Rafi’s songs in the ‘Last Mughal’ by Darlymple

October 28, 2013

TheLastMughal  The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple is an empathetically written book about Bahadur Shah Zafar, Delhi and the 1857 mutiny.  In this wonderfully thorough book Dalrymple also mentions two popular poems attributed to Zafar. These were set to tune and used in the movie Lal Qila. (Darlymple mentions the movie  and also the singer Mohammad Rafi). I could not resist looking up tube for the songs and to my delight found them. Here are the youtube links:

1. Lagta Nahin Hai Dil Mera

2. Na Kisi Ki Ankh Ka Noor Hoon

Wonderful songs.  However, the spoiler comes from the experts! Apparently, there is not enough evidence to suggest that these were indeed written by Zafar.  The available book of poems by Zafar does not have these two.  One wonders why would it get into the public psyche that the poems were by Zafar if they were not by him.  After all he never did propaganda for his poems.  He died the death of a common man, unknown to anyone.

Kanjilal and Sanyasa Diksha

October 27, 2013

Today at Ramakrishna Math, a junior swami gave the lecture.  The following anecdote is from the notes I took during the lecture.

Kanjilal was a householder devotee of Sri Ramakrishna and frequented the Belur math.  During those visits he spent time conversing with Swami Brahmananda and other monks.  One day he asked Swami Brahmananda for sanyasa diksha. Swamiji told him that sanyasa was not for him. However, he kept asking time and again for sanyasa. Eventually, Swamiji obliged but told him that he would be given the Kaul Sanyasa diksha and not the Dashnami Sanyasa that the Ramakrishna order follows.

The date for the sanyasa was fixed. It was an amavasya. The time was middle of the night or past midnight.  Someone who knew the procedure was called to perform the rituals.  The time to offer the bali came.  However, when the bali was offered out of nowhere two huge jackals came picked the bali and threw it in the ganges river. This was a bad omen. The bali should not be touched by anyone and here it was thrown into the ganges! So the ritual was called off. Swami Brahmananda remarked to Kanjilal that he had warned him that sanyasa was not for him.

However, later after Swami Brahmananda passed away, he got sanyasa under the grace of Holy mother and Swami Sharadananda.

 

 

Asthma and Health

September 10, 2013

He had attacks of asthma from his youth. A few puffs from the inhaler and it used to subside. When the dose from the inhaler did not help he would go to the doctor and get an injection. That always brought down the asthma and he would be healthy enough to go to the office the following day. He is nearing 75 now and the same inhaler or the injection work without fail.
Recently, he had a severe attack and, as he later told me, he could breathe-in only up to the bottom of the throat! He was unable to  talk and conveyed only through hand movements that he should be given oxygen externally. He was admitted to the ICU. A day and half and about 30 injections later he could breathe normally. The BP had shot up. It took a couple more days to stabilize.
Before the attack he had severe abdominal pain and that had yet to subside. It was diagnosed as due to Pancreatis. The pancreas were generating enzymes at a level far exceeding the normal. The excess enzymes were attacking the pancreas. This inflamed the pancreas which put pressure on the intestine (the pancreas are just above the intestine). The gastroenterologist brought the enzyme levels to the upper limit of the normal range in a few more days by intravenous medication. The pain had subsided but not disappeared. It would take a month and treatment from another doctor, a general physician, to disappear completely.
The doctors say that the cause for pancreatis could be genetic. He does not recall any of his relatives having pancreatis. Then they say it could be alcoholism. He never had alcohol! Well, then it could be smoking. Did he smoke? Yes he did. There you go. It could be smoking! He was a heavy smoker; 3-4 cigarette packets a day. But he stopped in his 40’s, i.e. nearly 35 years ago.

He stopped smoking 35 years ago, but there is no sign of its effect on his health or on the occurrence or severity of asthma.  Did stopping smoking really help?! I wonder. I am also reminded of a friend’s grandfather.  He was a farmer. He smoked unfiltered tobacco (wound up in a leaf) all his life.  He died aged 92 perfectly healthy.

Synchronicity with music

January 28, 2013

I check e-mail (gmail) once or twice a day. After going through my mails I often check the tab on Google Reader to see if there are any updates. I have subscribed to the content of several academic journals, magazines, blogs and comic strips. Usually, I read through only one or two of these, so there will always be a huge backlog. But the other day I happened to read a friend’s blog where he mentioned an artist (vocal) of  the Hindustani Classical genre, Pandit Venkatesh Kumar, and linked this article that appreciates him. It caught my interest. I had not heard about this artist as the article rightly pointed out about him being not famous. But now I wanted to listen to his music. I live close by a Univ. campus where music concerts are not uncommon.  So I checked their website and was pleasantly surprised. His concert was due the very next day at a time that was suitable to me! Needless to say, I attended the concert and was impressed. He has an amazing voice and range. Unfortunately, the concert was arranged only for 2 hours.  I dare say that going by traditional concert times he would have just warmed up. There was no doubt in my mind that had it been an all night concert, like a traditional concert would have been, he would have dazzled us with his full potential.

Pt. Venkatesh Kumar (center) supported on Tabla by Ravindra Yavagal and on Harmonium by R. Katoti.Apologies for the blurry picture. I could afford only this picture with my mobile.

Pt. Venkatesh Kumar (center) with R. Yavagal (to his right) for Tabla &  R. Katoti (left) for Harmonium. Apologies for the blurry picture. I could afford only this picture with mobile camera from my seat.

Those familiar with Julia Cameron’s book Artists Way know that she believes those who undertake the 3 week course experience synchronicity. At the end of every week, in the Tasks or in the Check-In’s we are asked to write down the synchronicity that we experienced. Synchronicity did happen to me on several occasions earlier (for e.g. see here) i.e. before I knew about the Artists Way. Then I use to think about it as a kind of Deja Vu. Music being closer to my heart, the urge to describe this particular synchronicity was greater

This got me thinking and I googled synchronicity to learn more. Interestingly, I came across another word that encapsulates this phenomenon. It is Pratityaya Samutpada (Sanskrit).  Pratityaya means interdependence. Samutpada means co-arising. So Pratityaya Samutpada means interdependent co-arising. It is a concept in Buddhism and in lay terms it means that things arise depending on more than one reason or condition. It makes fascinating reading. Wikipedia has more on this including excerpts from the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. But I leave you with this picture that I took at one of the monasteries in Ladakh.

Wheel Of Life or BhavaChakra. Probably, from the Thiksey Monastery.

Wheel Of Life or BhavaChakra.
Probably, from the Thiksey Monastery.

The Bhavachakra(Wheel of Life) depicts the twelve chain of causes that lead to other causes: dependent-arising.

Becoming a Writer

December 27, 2012
Becoming A Writer

Becoming A Writer

Becoming A Writer, by Dorothea Brande, is for all aspiring writers, authors who think they have lost the spark  after their first book and authors who tend to take long intermissions during their writing! It does not teach how to write fiction or the techniques of story writing. Instead it tells us how to condition ourselves on the way to writing fiction. The author dismisses the notion that one has to be genius  to be an author. She believes that every person has a spark within that can be tapped to make him/her the ‘genius’. Towards this end, in chapter after chapter she analyses what we mean by genius and narrows it down in to specific traits. She then gives us a step by step procedure that will lead us to the writer within us. She gives exercises to test and mold ourselves into the stuff that authors are made of.

Among the first things, she strongly recommends that we inculcate a practice of writing in longhand as soon as we get up in the morning. This has to be done strictly before we color the mind with news from the newspaper or any other sources of information; do not even talk. We are to write whatever comes to our mind. These pages may later, when we have followed through the exercises and are ready to write, give us an idea for the story we want to write.  This is then to be followed by doubling our writing output, writing at a fixed time during the day and then by writing at different times through the day. She believes that what we have written in these pages is the material that is genuinely ours and therefore will guard us from imitating our favorite authors. These pages in fact can give us clues as to the writing vocation that naturally suits us.

…the pupil who sets down the night’s dream in Morning Pages or the recasts the day before into ideal form has a chance of become a short story writer.
…A subtler analysis of characters, a consideration of motives, acute self -examination, the contrasting of different characters faced by the same dilemma most often indicate the novelist
A kind of musing introspection or of speculation only sketched in is found in the essay writer‘s notebook….

As i read through the book the image of Dorothea (the author) in my mind took the form of the strict but well intentioned school teacher. She gives stern, potentially discouraging warnings for those who do not follow the exercises recommended by her. For instance:

 If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late.

She does of course take the effort to point out the ways in which the mind may trick us into failing our resolution to write. She also shows how to trick the mind into sticking to the resolutions. For coffee addicts she suggest not to waste time in the morning but have the coffee ready at night in  a flask. so one will not have to postpone work for the stimulant. This book has many more helpful suggestions to train ourselves into becoming a writer. A very useful book and concise too-173 pages.

I got to know of this book from the ‘suggested reading’ of Julia Cameron’s book The Artists Way. Julia comments that its the best book on writing. Those who aware of the Artist’s Way and its popularity will know that Morning Pages (writing in the morning) is the major suggestion by Julia Cameron. Becoming a Writer predates Artists Way by decades-it was first published in 1938-so it is likely that Julia got the idea of Morning Pages from Dorothea. However, while Dorothea is talking only for the writer, Julia has extended it to encompass all artists.

I must mention here that though i picked up this book with great enthusiasm, I dragged myself through the first few chapters hoping to get hooked but in vain. So I skipped to the chapter that would interest me the most-all chapters have catchy titles-and it saved the book. I read the chapter ‘reading as a writer’. I eventually read and re-read the book. Now, I like the book more and think it is worth the effort. I think I struggled through the reading partly because the first few chapters made sense only after I got an idea as to what the book is about. And partly because of the excessively long sentences that Dorothea uses to convey her point. For instance, she has this to say as to who the book is meant for:

So I am going to write this book for those who are fully in earnest,trusting to their intelligence and their good sense to see to it that they learn the elements of sentence and paragraph structure, that they already see that when they have chosen to write they have assumed an obligation to their reader to write as well as they are able, that they will have taken (and are still taking) every opportunity to study the masters of English prose writing, and that they have set up and exigent standard for themselves which they work without intermission to attain.

Here is another jumbo sentence about the usefulness of writing in the morning:

You will discover that now you have a tendency to cast the day’s experience into words,to foresee the use that you will make of an anecdote or episode that has come your way, to transform the rough material of life into fictional shape, more consistently that you did when writing was a sporadic, capricious occupation which broke out from time to time unaccountably , or was undertaken only when you felt that you had a story firmly within your own grasp.

But the long sentences not withstanding this is a useful book, a manual on becoming a writer.
I found, by chance, that this book is available free for download on this website. It is a more recent edition than the one i read. However, I am not sure of the website’s legality. Enjoy!

Does He Know a Mother’s Heart

November 20, 2012

I casually walked into a bookstore and this book caught my eye. Arun Shourie, the author, is a famous name and i have read his book and even attended his lecture long ago.  His lecture was simple but scholarly just as this book, honest, direct and humble. I picked it up wondering who the HE was in the title Does He Know A MOther’s Heart. I read the back cover but was not totally sure that he literally meant GOD. And if so do i want to read it. And it is more than 400 pages! I opened the book to do some random reading and I found Ramana Maharshi being quoted! I am well aware of Ramana Maharshi literature. This book had to be philosophical to quote him. I was hooked. I went to the library and borrowed it.

Shourie’s son cannot walk or stand. He can only see to his left. He can speak but only syllable by syllable. There is no cure. It can only get worse. When a school for spastic children is opened they get him admitted. When his mom is driving him to school they meet with an accident. Both are unhurt but she starts getting tremors and is diagnosed of Parkinson’s disease. Struck by calamities one after another  it is natural to ask ‘why is all this happening to me?’ We resort to God; more so when the situation is entirely helpless like in Shourie’s case. Some look for answers in religious scriptures, become philosophical. Arun Shourie goes through all the scriptures and teachings of saints, philosophers, poets and even scientists and everything that he can lay hands on and looks for answers. Asks more questions; all the questions that any one of us is despair would ask questions like: is God just? If he is then why is there so much suffering? Why has God created wicked people? If Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa were indeed great yogi’s then why didn’t they cure themselves? and so on…

Shourie finds the ‘answers’  and translates them in plain language for the ordinary reader without compromising on the depth.  Through the teachings of the scriptures and of Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, whom he interestingly calls saints who are so unlike-God, he points out how both of them endorsed Prarabdha Karma and Rebirth. But ascribing suffering to the deeds in previous life is an argument difficult to digest. Ironically, both Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa went through excruciating pain prior to their death. Ramana because of skin cancer and Ramakrishan because of throat cancer. They suffered but did not let their pain affect their work and continued to attend to devotees. They were evolved beings who had stopped identifying theirselves with the body. However, how about ordinary human beings what should we do. Let alone continuing the work we cant get over the pain.

Suffering is real. To urge anything that dismisses it as ‘unreal’ is to mock the pain of another. But it was The Buddha, as Shourie’s notes, who did not get into theorising about rebirth, finite or infinite nature of the universe….but taught how to deal with pain.

‘Whether the world is finite or infinite or both; whether it is with beginning and end or not; whether the Tathagtha survives after death or not…’there is birth, there is ageing, there is death, there are sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.’They have to be dealt with, and it is the way to dealt with them that i have set out, the Buddha says.’

Shourie find’s the Buddha’s position the most helpful.  However, he does not discount others. ‘We do not have to take a final conclusive position on the matter’.  He recounts the two times that he met Satya Sai Baba. Once for his son, when his mother pleaded Sai Baba to cure him. The second time when he himself went to Puttaparti and earnestly asked Satya Sai Baba to do something special for Mita Nundy. Mita Nundy had set up the school for spastic children in Delhi. She had been diagnosed of a heart disease (cardiac amyloidosis) and the doctors had given her very little time. She was a devotee of Baba.  Sai Baba gave a shivalinga and said that it will be good for her if she poured water on it and drank the water. It is 25 years now (i.e. until the book was written) and where the doctors had given her little time, she is here. And her spirit is firm as ever.

After reading through the book I read back through parts of it by looking up the index. The index carries names with the context in which they appear. For instance:
Gandhi, Mahatma: on Bihar earthquake being Divine chastisement for sin of untouchability:135-52; on Hitler’s persecution of jews and counsel for jews: 159-86 ….
I liked doing the re-read. As a scientist, I liked the fact that whenever he was quoting be it from the bible or quran or Ramana or Gandhi he gave the appropriate reference.  This book is really one for reference; for your home collection.


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