Who am I?

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Warning: This blog is written in self introspection and in a philosophic frame of mind. 

I walked into the Conference room with my laptop, charger, notebook, pencil balanced in one hand and a cup of coffee in another. It definitely takes some years of practice to accomplish this, in the process of which I have dropped the laptop, the notebook or the coffee in different combinations. This time I was lucky as I placed everything successfully without an incident on a vacant spot in the table and looked around. I recognized most of the folks in the room and exchanged some pleasantries about the weather and traffic.

It was a training session for the next 3 days. The trainer made us write our names in placards in front of us. I wrote my first name leaving the surname which was like 5 syllables and too much of a challenge for non-Indians. As is usual with these kind of sessions, he wanted us to start with a round of introductions, with a description of ourselves, our job, our location and expectations of the course. The person at the end of the table started and seemingly he was proud of his job as an Enterprise Architect and spent sometime describing his skills at it. There were atleast 7 people before it would be my turn.

I thought about it. I wanted to make my introduction interesting. Something out of ordinary. Who am I? Well, I am a Program Manager – boring! I am a mother of a teenager – interesting but not relevant! I am an artist of sorts –  showing off! I am a woman – quite obvious! I like blogging – sheesh! I was getting nowhere when the third person had already taken on the introductions.

Out of no-where, I remembered a lecture on Hastamalaka-stotram by Adi Shankara I had attended some years back. That lecture was a revelation of sorts as I had already started reading up on Advaita(non-duality) and wanted a simpler text to follow. The story goes like this – when Adi Sankara was informed by the father of a seemingly dull boy to help his son – the Great Saint called the 12 year old boy and asked him who he was. In fact, Adi Sankara’s questions are framed as `Who are you? Whose child are you? Whither are you bound? What is your name? Whence have you come? Oh Child! I should like to hear your reply to these questions.’  (Kind of something the trainer was asking us!!) The boy gave his introduction in 12 verses which contained the entire advaita philosophy. Adi Sankara recognized his immense wisdom and took the boy as his disciple. The boy became known as Hastamalaka – because self-knowledge was for him like the Amalaka placed on the Hasta (as clear as a gooseberry in the hand!) and the 12 verses (which I will quote below in a translation) became known as the Hastamalaka-stotram.

While it may seem like a conundrum, the simplicity of the Truth is so beautiful! Who am I? Who are you? When I think about introducing myself, I limit myself to this body, to the experiences I have had in this body, to the expectations of my surroundings. But I am much beyond the body. I am that! This is my belief – but yet to experience and revel. I believe that I am only using the body to gain that self knowledge but I am not the body itself! Ofcourse how much ever I read Nisargatta Maharaj or Bhagwan Ramana’s works on the same, I am still caught in this Maya or Illusion.

Is this awareness a beginning?

I looked up. It was my turn and I spoke about Program management and my role in the Transformation projects etc etc. The amalaka had slipped from this Hasta maybe to return later 🙂

Hastamalaka Stotram (a translation – source – Internet. You can get the publication from Chinmaya Mission or similar such bookstores for further contemplation)

1. `Who are you? Whose child are you? Whither are you bound? What is your name? Whence have you come? Oh Child! I should like to hear your reply to these questions.’ Thus spoke Sri Shankaracharya to the boy, and Hastamalaka replied as follows.
2. I am neither man, God, yaksha, brahmin, kshatriya, vaisya, sudra, brahmachari, householder, forest-dweller, nor sannyasi; but I am pure awareness alone.
3. Just as the sun causes all worldly movements, so do I — the ever-present, conscious Self — cause the mind to be active and the senses to function. Again, just as the ether is all-pervading, yet devoid of any specific qualities, so am I free from all qualities.
4. I am the conscious Self, ever-present and associated with everything in the same manner as heat is always associated with fire. I am that eternal, undifferentiated, unshaken Consciousness, on account of which the insentient mind and senses function, each in its own manner.
5. I am that conscious Self of whom the ego is not independent as the image in a mirror is not independent of the object reflected.
6. I am the unqualified, conscious Self, existing even after the extinction of buddhi, just as the object remains ever the same even after the removal of the reflecting mirror.
7. I am eternal Consciousness, dissociated from the mind and senses. I am the mind of the mind, the eye of the eye, ear of the ear and so on. I am not cognizable by the mind and senses.
8. I am the eternal, single, conscious Self, reflected in various intellects, just as the sun is reflected on the surface of various sheets of water.
9. I am the single, conscious Self, illumining all intellects, just as the sun simultaneously illumines all eyes so that they perceive objects.
10. Only those eyes that are helped by the sun are capable of seeing objects, not others. The source from which the sun derives its power is myself.
11. Just as the reflection of the sun on agitated waters seems to break up, but remains perfect on a calm surface, so also am I, the conscious Self, unrecognizable in agitated intellects though I clearly shine in those which are calm.
12. Just as a fool thinks that the sun is entirely lost when it is hidden by dense clouds, so do people think that the ever-free Self is bound.
13. Just as the ether is all-pervading and unaffected by contact, so also does the ever-conscious Self pervade everything without being affected in anyway. I am that Self.
14. Just as a transparent crystal takes on the lines of its background, but is in no way changed thereby, and just as the unchanging moon on being reflected on undulating surfaces appears agitated, so is it with you, the all-pervading God.

The Game

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Woof! Woof!

Everything else had paused!
Nothing moved in my vision,
Nothing but my master, the bone and me.
Even as he flung the bone in the air,
I had already left earth.
Ears, jaws, body jumping with me
I had the trajectory.
It was swinging my way.
Slow and sure motion,
I snapped it down and
Descended back on the sand.
I had my target!
Pant! Pant!
I ran up to the Master,
Proud of my possession.
I pranced around
The bone in my grasp.
The Master reached out.
I gave it back and ran forward
Looking back.
Anticipation!
The joy of chasing,
pleasure of fetching,
bliss of the Master’s game.
Wag! Wag!
I was the champ.
Never missing once.
Throw!
Snap!
Fetch!
Relinquish!
Pause! 
Why was the Master walking away?
I ran with the bone,
Behind him.
Begging to throw again.
It was not fair.
He looked at me,
And said kindly.
It is time to chew on the bone!

The Call of Arunachala

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This February, travelling in an overnight bus, sharing cramped space with other devotees, awake due to jetlag and excitement, the forces worked together to guide me on a trip. This was an answer to a call from inside me which was getting stronger by the year. During a brief sojourn at my parent’s home, I made a trip to…
Tiruvannamalai…
The centuries old temple city in Tamil Nadu, Tiruvannamalai, which gives spiritual elation at the very sight of it, lived up to my imagination and expectations even as the bus entered the city. Holding my breath, there was the Arunachala Hills and then the tall Gopurams of the Annamalaiyar temple.
Tiruvannamalai has multiple factors that work together in making it a sacred site – the temple is one of the Panchabootha sthaanangal (five elements) representing the Fire element. The Arunachala Hills are considered Lord Siva Himself. And there is Ramana Ashram where Bhagawan Ramana Maharishi lived and showed the path. The timing of my “pilgrimage” was also to coincide with Full Moon with the intention of doing Giri-pradakshina – circumambulation of the Hills barefoot. All in one day!
True to my intention of searching for the self, I made the trip alone (though the city was thronging with a crowd of over 10000 devotees for the full moon) and the experience permeated me. Most of it is indescribeable, but here are some.

Most of my morning was spent walking around the huge temple complex. The Annamalaiyar temple dedicated to Lord Siva, famous for its tall formidable Gopurams, was built by the Chola Kings as early as in the 9th century AD. Besides offering my prayers, time passed by watching the many Sadhus who were either telling stories or relaxing or meditating, except it was hard not to stare at their detachment from the world (not that they cared!!)
Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagar is credited to have added the Temple Tank and the 1000 pillar hall later to this complex. There were plenty of fish in this tank too!
 
Around 11 am, the Hills guided me on a walk to Ramanashram. Though I have heard much about the sage and his teachings, my first revelation was when around 5 years back, a friend here in Bay Area asked me to make his portrait. The process of making that portrait esp. the eyes (anyone who has seen Bhagawan Ramana Maharishi’s eyes will vouch for that) was a self enquiry by itself. The self-realized Master lived and died in this ashram and I wanted to breath that air. Did I say “I”? I said it again and again..
The ashram entrance displays a big hoarding of places of interest in and around the ashram. It was lunch time and annadhaanam time, the poor were being fed near the tree that dominates the entrance (no pictures of annadhaanam). The 400 year old illupai tree is the first of the flora and the fauna one sees in abundance around the ashram.
 
Seeing the first peacock on the entrance of the Matrubuteshwar shrine in the ashram was like magic. Very soon it was clear that this place was filled with peacocks, monkeys, dogs and cows and all were living in harmony amongst themselves and amongst the devotees who visited. No fear!
The meditation halls were lined with portraits of Bhagawan, photographs of Arunachala Hills and the Temple town and was very serenely quiet. One feels His spiritual presence.
This particular sketch of the Hills in the background and the temple in the foreground catches the eye.
 The samadhis of the cow Lakshmi, deer Valli, dog Jackie and the blessed crow were lined up near the Veda Patashala. They were all blessed by Bhagawan and attained their moksha.
The Nirvana Room is where Bhagawan spent his last days before his Samadhi. Though he left his mortal body due to cancer on April 14 1950 and as his disciples mourned, his teachings have emphasized that he (and us) is not that body and he is always there. “Where can I go? I am here!”
As twilight approached, thousands of devotees crowded the street for the circumambulation of the Arunachala Hills, keeping the hill on the right side. Quoting Bhagawan himself, who explains Pradakshina, the letter ‘Pra’ stands for removal of all kinds of sins; ‘da’ stands for fulfilling the desires; ‘kshi’ stands for freedom from future births; ‘na’ stands for giving deliverance through jnana. Walking barefoot in the outer path is not an easy task and soon my feet were feeling it. The Moon was glowing red and mesmerizing as you can see from the picture above.
Roadside artists were busy and making the most of the crowd. The chalk drawing of Hanumanji was exquisite and so was the man (below) who was dressed as Mahatma Gandhi.
In conclusion, I would like to quote the 102nd verse of the Arunachala Aksharamanamalai, where Bhagawan sings, ‘O Arunachala, the moment I thought of Arunai [the holy town of Arunachala] I was caught in the trap of your grace. Can the net of your grace ever fail?’

I found myself many times in this trip….and now the quest continues…Who Am I?

(In many ways, this visit was a preparation for the testing days after my return back here; knowing to handle the sorrows of my transactional life. I feel blessed by the visit and hopefully many more to follow. )

Hello world!

This is a new world of blogging for me. After years of blogging at Sulekha, making virtual friends, couple of my blogs being published in anthologies and learning the ropes as you may say, I am in the process of moving my old blogs to WordPress.

Hope this opens new doors and I find new friends, new territories and new ideas.

Happy blogging!