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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Beginner’s mind

“Beginner’s mind” is an important concept in Buddhism. This is opposite of an expert mind. Beginner’s mind imagines infinite possibilities, since it has an innocent, uncluttered mind, is curious and is open to all ideas.

In contrast, an expert mind is full of what it has learnt which is useful and practical. At the same time, to an extent, it is a closed mind and has a restricted view.

We need both. Expert mind is helpful to deal with the physical universe. An innocent mind is helpful to imagine and relate to other lives and the cosmos.

In their book on Instructions to the Cook, Glassman and Fields compare this to a child learning to walk. The child takes a few steps and falls. Gets up, takes one or two more steps and falls. But she does not go into a funk and says: “I am so clumsy and will never be able to walk”. If children develop that mental attitude – thank goodness, they do not – they will never walk.

It is so with meditation. You will fall, fall again and again. You just have to get up and walk.

You must do so with an open mind and curiosity. That comes only if you let go of all pre-conceived notions of what you are and what meditation is. You have to ask with curiosity – Is that so? Is that who “I” am? Am I sure?

Curiosity is the first component of the Beginner’s mind.

Then comes faith, in yourself, as you are with all your defects. It is self-compassion.

And, determination to practice – in the form of intention to let go of concepts and to meditate every day.

Then comes Attention, initially to breath. Later, to whatever you are doing.

Attention is Focus.

Then comes Awareness, awareness of your breath first.

Then, awareness of whatever is happening to you and in you.

Awareness of what you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are.

Those strengths and weaknesses are compared to the kitchen pantry by the authors of the book on Instructions to the Cook. You may not have all the ingredients in your pantry. You have to cook the best dinner with what you have.

You can replace your weakness with one of your strengths. But you can also use your weakness as a strength, just as you may “use one of the spices to change the flavor of your meal”. 

You may wish to read the book on Instructions to the Cook to understand what meditation is and what it is for.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Cooperation, Collective Welfare, Common Good and Common Purpose

Dear Family and friends,

                just like all of you and so many others, I have been thinking about the stresses piling up on common folks, and particularly on the poor and the vulnerable, all over the world. I summarized the many lessons I learnt during this epidemic about humanity in general and about individuals and nations. If you agree with these ideas, please help spread the message. If you have additional ideas, please share them with everyone.

We, humans, are vulnerable. We, humans, depend on each other for survival. This virus does not care where you are from, whether you are a male or a female, white or colored, or whatever category you want to “pigeonhole” people into.

Some other lessons I learnt were 1.the recognition of who the essential workers are in a society; 2. that most of these workers are women and minorities; 3. This pandemic is taking an undue toll among the poor; 4. The socio-economic divide is made glaringly obvious by this small virus and 5. The most altruistic people of the society are the front-line essential workers.

I also made a list of things I would like to change, if only I had the platform to change. Then, I realized that listing problems and writing solutions are not adequate, if we, as a society, do not agree on a vision. 

Several factors during the past few decades have driven our civilization to a critical point in history. Scientific developments, technological advances and, education of  professionals in every field have contributed immensely to the uplift of millions around the world out of poverty. Rewards for contribution to the society and encouragement and recognition of individuals for such contributions have benefitted humanity in general. More recent developments including rapid travel and instant communication have brought peoples of the world together more than ever before.

At the same time, the social and economic divides have become wider. All kinds of “…isms” are driving people into corners and polar positions, thanks partly to social media. In addition to contending with rapid spread of infections such as the coronal virus, we have to deal with endemic “mental viruses” such as racial bias, gender bias, color bias, caste bias etc.,

This is a good time for the civilization to rethink its purpose, refocus on priorities and reimagine the future. What  should a broad and bold vision look like?  What are the values that should guide our remedies? Can we create a vision we can all agree on?

Here is a personal  point of view

Humanity has reaped the fruits of  socio-political philosophy emphasizing primacy of the individual (personal effort and success, in other words competition), pursuit of happiness and legal rights. It is time we turn our attention to and balance them with a system which emphasizes common purposes of collective welfare, cooperation, spiritual happiness, morality and ethics.

We live in a period in history when competition and pursuit of happiness are emphasized, may be overemphasized. When we compete, the emphasis is on the individual. In our desire to “win”, some of us are likely to use “unfair” means. Even if we win “fair and square” someone else loses. That someone will wait for his/her chance to get even. There will be inequality  and unhappiness. There is bound to be disharmony.

Add to this sense of competition, the fact that the competition is for physical possessions in the “pursuit of happiness”. The word “happiness” is connected in the minds of most people and most often with material happiness. Competition begets more competition because “I want to get what she has” and “I want build a house bigger than his”. More emphasis on individual happiness and individual success leads us to our own private islands. It leads to social isolation, suffering, sadness, depression, jealousy and anger in one group. It leads to anxiety, restlessness, fear and moral torpor in another group. In essence, there is misery all around.

On further thinking, I believe that one other cause for social disharmony is the primacy given to legality over morality and ethics. In settling disputes coming out of competition, conflicts in individual rights and injury caused by relentless pursuit of profits and happiness, the current ethos among a number of people, particularly in business and politics, seems to be that as long as one can get away with the “fine prints” of law, it is acceptable even if it is immoral. Morality and ethics do not seem to matter.

How can we escape this cycle? What are some principles which should form the basis of  a vision for the future?

For a peaceful and just society, competition must be moderated by cooperation.

The word happiness should include collective happiness and spiritual happiness. Individual happiness must be moderated by universal welfare. Pursuit of happiness should include not only  pursuit of material happiness but also happiness of others and spiritual happiness.

Morality and ethics should matter and, morality must take precedence over legality. Even if the law allows, one should not practice what the “inner light” says is immoral.

Responsibilities and duties of the individuals, organizations and the government should be considered covenants, in which the more powerful in the transaction takes care of the welfare of the weaker participant; and not mere legal contracts, buried in small prints and disclaimers, which can be manipulated by the rich and the powerful.

Great civilizations need lofty ideals to aim for and noble values to be guided by.

Friday, June 12, 2020

More lessons learned

While translating Asya Vamasya Sukta, I used several dictionaries and texts. I also read two interpretations. As you can see, I was trying to translate the great rishi and my main aid was my imagination of his state of mind at that time in history. I did not try to interpret. In the process of learning about the rishi and his suktas, I learnt a few other tit-bits. Here they are.

The cock is a symbol of Vac (speech) in the Vedic writings because the sound a cock  makes, which is ko, koh, Kowh is said to resemble the short, long and protracted vowels in Sanskrit. This is according to Panini himself.

Seven male children of Agni represent the seven principles of manifestation, namely Mind, Life, earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space.

The wheel is a symbol of Dharma (dharma chakra) and, also a symbol of Time because dharma is a counterpart of rta or cosmic order and it is driven by time. One horse chariot is a symbol of time.

Seven sisters may be the same as seven divine mothers, seven rays of the sun (colors), seven scales in music.

 Self-existent creator is called Svayambhu. He is the father principle – dyau, Prajapati, purusha. He projects himself into the female principle – prithvi, viraj, prakriti.

There is a woman principle in each male and vice versa.

Mind is cosmos. Brahman is mind.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 18

            This is the final segment of Asya Vamasya Sukta of Rishi Dirghatamas. I cannot close without paying the highest respect possible to this remarkable ancestor of ours. It is a privilege to be able to say that we are his heirs.  

One other remark. In Mantra 46, I did not give the well-known Sanskrit version of the statement that "There is only one Truth; the wise call it by different names". It is "Ekam Satyam, vipra bahudha vadanti". 

Mantra 48: “The wheel is single. There are twelve fellies (segments of a wheel to which spokes are attached). There are three naves (axles). Who has understood this? Three hundred and sixty spokes are fixed together, and they cannot be loosened.”

The wheel stands for time – cyclic, rhythmic and for a year with 12 months, 3 seasons and 360 days and 360 nights. They cannot be altered; they move with no variation. The poet is struck with the mystery of time and its cyclic occurrence.

Mantra 49: “O Sarasvati, you feed us all the best things from your breast which cannot be exhausted;  giver of wealth and riches and knower of Vasus, please nourish us.”

I think, the rishi is referring to the river Sarasvati, which was an important river in the Vedic days. It must have been a rich source of food and the site of a great vedic civilization at one time. We know that it dried over a period of time and it is believed that people moved east towards Ganga after this major event.

Sarasvati comes from saras meaning water and the word saras comes from the root word sru, to flow. We are also told that in Vedic days, the river Indus was called Sindhu, which means “to flow”. An earlier name for Indus river was susoma. The land of Sindhu became Hindustan in Persian.

Mantra 50: This is an exact reproduction of  Purusha Sukta 10:90:16. Therefore, scholars will argue whether Asya vamasya Sukta was an earlier one, or Purusha Sukta.

Either way, here is the translation of the hymn. “The devas performed yagna by means of yagna. They were laid as the earliest duties or law (dharma). Those great sages attained higher abodes where Sadhya devas dwell.”

The idea of yagna performing yagna or the “egg or chicken” riddle was always part of the Vedic ideas. “Prajapati sacrificed himself in the beginning from which Devas came” say the puranas which came later. Purusha sukta says that. But the seeds of this idea were there earlier, it seems. The rishis also wondered about how the first life started. “Fire is produced from fire; life from life” says Aitreya Brahmana 1:16.

By the time devas attained higher abode or heaven, and the rishis got there, it was already the abode of the Saadhya Devas. Who were they? Sādhya (साध्य) are  devatās who  play important roles in Purāṇic stories. They  were the grand-children of Dakṣa-prajāpati. It is said that ten of the  sixty daughters of the Prajāpati  were married to Dharmadeva. Dharmadeva’s sons by his wife Visva were the Viśvadevas  and the sons by Sādhyā were the Sādhyas. In other words, these devas were already in the higher abode when the rishis were performing sacrifices.

Mantra 51: “The same water moves up and down with the passing of days. The clouds (from above) give life to earth and the fire (from earth, below) give life to heaven.”

The poet seems to emphasize the mutual relationship between humans and the devas (deities). Humans perform sacrifice (agni) and feed the devas. In turn, the devas give rain to earth so humans can grow food for themselves and to send to the devas through agni in sacrifice. This mutual relationship is mentioned in many Vedic and Puranic text.

Mantra 52:  “I pray to/invoke Sarasvan (Surya), who is celestial, golden-winged (rays) bird (Suparnam, divyam, vaayasam), who is growing (bruhantam)  and who is born of waters (apaam garbham) for protection.”

Every word in this hymn can be easily understood. In Vedic Sanskrit, ocean of this earth is arnava and the celestial ocean is sarasvan.  Sarasvan is the sun because he is one who stores water. Vedic texts mention the understanding the rishis had of the sun drying up the oceans by taking the waters up and giving  back as rain.