Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Penultimate Slokas in Raja Yoga - II

Due to the biological circumstance, women may feel (deservedly so) a little superior to men; they may think that they hold exclusive privilege (the key) to creativity due to the act of procreation. In the larger meaning of “creation”, many individuals tap into the fountain of creative energy: The exceptional inventor (Nikola Tesla), the laboratory scientist (Dr. Rosalind Franklin), the anonymous Indian sculptor (ex: Trimurti of the Elephanta Caves), the poet (Pandita Jagannatharayalu), the soul stirring musical composer (Kshetrayya), the prodigious mathematician (S. Ramanujan) and a number of people who produce fine arts and utilitarian products. At one time or other they all must have come in contact with that “vital energy and ebullient spirit”. Who knows what form the Mother (Parvati) takes when She wants to reveal Herself to the devotee?
The words woman, Vaisya (merchant), or Sudra should not be construed as derogatory epithets here. When Lord Krishna is inherently present in everything, how can anyone (or anything) be other than sacrosanct? Even Sri Trilinga Swamy once commented thus: “Whatever miraculous healing powers I exhibit here, you too have them. You do not realize it or at present you are incapable of using those latent powers.” What Lord Krishna meant by the words woman, Vaisya, or Sudra here in this context is this: These classes of people are often burdened with their prescribed duties; so overburdened with such (tiring physical) activities of mundane life that they may not get opportunity (or time) to fix their attention on Krishna. Yet He is always in close proximity, accessible to all.
We have elegant examples for the three representative candidates here: 1. Putana as a member of the women folk. Whatever evil plans she originally had for Krishna, she did offer her milk (herself) to Him. Thus she came close to baby Krishna and her entire body reeked of sandalwood perfume. Need we have any doubts about her ultimate destiny? 2. In Satyanarayana Vrata story we come across the troubles faced by a Vaisya family. 3. Who can be a better example for the Sudra clan other than the wandering sage, Narada? Due to a minor infraction (while singing devotional songs), Narada was cursed to be born (on the earth) to a Sudra maidservant. Narada comes in contact with learned Narayana bhaktas and after prolonged tapas he gets to see Lord Narayana. So Lord Krishna is telling absolute truth in these two stanzas. His intent in this sloka is clear – “whoever seeks my assistance, he will definitely get the ultimate release from bondage. None is inferior in my eyes be the person a woman, Vaisya, or Sudra.”
        In the succeeding sloka, Lord Krishna talks about Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Some readers may assume (stereotype!) that Brahmins and Kshatriyas are lucky compared to other varnas. But suppose a king (born as Kshatriya) loses his people and kingdom. Then in what way is his lot better than others’? Sri Rama did not have an easy time (certainly not a honeymoon, that happened later in Uttara-Ramayana) in the forest even with Sita and Lakshmana at his side. Similar is the situation of Pandavas during their banishment. As for Brahmins, again the situation is not so rosy; as they say ‘it is not a walk in the park’. A Brahmin could be utterly poor, could be a born with low IQ, or both. We have the examples of Kuchela (= ragged clothes, Sudama), Gangesha Upadhyay, and the grand father of Annamayya (Narayanayya). As for Kshatriya examples both Dhruva and King Ambarisha stand out as exemplary. We can learn a lot from their bhakti and devotion to Lord Narayana. © by the author 2019

Monday, April 22, 2019

Penultimate Slokas of Raja Yoga - I

श्री गुरुभ्यों नमः Salutations to Sri Adi Sankara. May I be always guided by divine grace. I seek inspiration from Gayatri mata and let the Mother guide me ever on the path of pure intellect and unbounded kindness. May She keep me free from silly arguments and vapid senseless logic. Rationality without compassion is like a sharp sword, leaving only gaping wounds and bitterness. I’ve looked at the Telugu (poetic) translation of Bhagavad-Gita by Dr. P. V. Satyanarayana Rao; the physician had translated the Sanskrit original Gita with utmost care – all the prose and poetical dialogues in toto while suffering from an incurable ailment during his last years.
32. Whether they are born of sin
Whether they are women, Vaisya, or Sudras
Whoever they be
When they seek (refuge in) me
They all obtain moksha
33. If that is so, what to
Talk about the pious, the Brahmins,
The devout Kings and rishis?
Though you’re born in this transient unhappy world
You too can obtain moksha by praying to me
        “कृष्णं वन्दे जगद्गुरुम् ” Let us first annihilate the idea of “body” with a particular individual. Once we are totally shorn of our “physical and biological individuality”, now we can concentrate on the essence of these two stanzas. At least for once let us traverse beyond the rut of limited understanding and cross the morass of doubts, misunderstanding, or misinterpretation.
        Two issues confront and baffle the modern skeptical (“rational”, doubting Thomas!) reader: a) Rebirth and its associated ‘karma’ phenomena. b) The “varna-asrama” system of Sanatana Dharma and the earlier Hindu societies. Sri Trilinga Swamy (I am fortunate to be born in the same Telugu community) kindly answered all the questions related to rebirth; he, in his inimitable gentle demeanor removed all the pestering confusion of his last disciple, Sri Umacharan. One has to patiently read the biography and pearls of advice of Sri Trilinga Swamy. His writings are readily available to Hindi, Bengali, and Telugu aspirants. Other venerable gurus also must have commented on the irrefutable (rather inscrutable) ‘rebirth’. Looked upon with an unbiased pure intelligence, rebirth appears as the most efficient instrument of the Lord (Eswara): Eswara does not have to keep on generating infinite sets of creatures like a potter – the inviolable ‘karma’ (coupled with the sakti) will keep on producing endless versions of living entities strictly according to their preferences and past deeds. Some times we may not like the outcome (ex: Yama born as Vidura) but it is best to obey, learn, and submit to the eternal dharma.
        Regarding the varna-asrama, the reader can gain a better appreciation if she refers to the writings of Sister Nivedita, Sri Kanchi Paramacharya (see Hindu Dharma), and other scholars. Spread over numerous millennia many societies developed their own distinct cultures, traditions, and faith (variants of very diverse Dharma). The modern individual (encumbered with his own biases and idiosyncrasies) viewing through a narrow slit of time (at best few decades) tries to understand the ancestors, the learned rishis, and their thinking. I would not go into this subject (i.e., varna) here, as it will take us astray. But if I may, point out one important aspect of life. In the US (perhaps it is occurring now in contemporary India too), parents often exhort their children thus: “Yes, you can do anything you put your mind to.” But as we mature in life we come to face the harsh truth. Not everybody can sing as sweetly as Lata Mangeshkar or P. Susheela, even if you practice for decades under the best music teacher.  Some can easily understand the Pythagoras theorem and even prove it readily on a paper napkin. But many will never get the essence of geometry, a theorem, or a rider – even if they spend their entire lives and monies. Similarly some may never learn to love water sports and enjoy swimming without fear. So, we should banish the thought that “all are equal in all aspects and everyone can excel at any (every) activity.”
[Of course miracles do happen some times to save the Sadhaka, to extricate the individual from a sticky predicament! But we must make ourselves noble, deserving for a miracle to intervene.] In the puranas sage Viswamitra, a born Kshatriya (a great rishi who bestowed us Gayatri mantra!) spent many years to become a Brahma-rishi with many pitfalls, sometimes hurting others on the way.  Perhaps our ancestors knew a thing or two about human heredity, innate talent, and predisposition towards to certain abilities. Every society has certain divisions or stratifications; high and low is prevalent across the world. Except in the movie Roman Holiday, the royals do not dine with the commoner normally.   
The reader need not get hung up on the phrase, “yoni”. In the larger universe and in the vast gamut of creation, we see a mix of sexual and asexual propagation. The gardener (or a scientist like Gregory Mendel) comes across the beauty of creation on the pumpkin vine, hibiscus, rose, or jasmine bush. Only in the last half a century we have begun to appreciate and understand human genetics; we are close to witnessing some progress in the area of “stem cell” for human species now, but the phenomena has been around in the plant species for centuries or even longer.  The serious Sadhaka may simply consider all such matters as part of “the holy act of creation” and leave it to the Mother. The maya, the energy, and the birth phenomena belong to Her. She decides how a great sage like Veda-Vyasa is born or how a great poet-dramatist like Kalidasa comes on the stage or how a musical composer like Annamayya strings floral garlands of thousands of melodious songs effortlessly. It is part of Her play in the ever-expanding (increasing entropy!) outward world – an elegant expression of the indescribable Brahman. (To be continued) Copyright by the author 2019 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Emi Sethura Linga Song - Translation

When I think
Fetching some Ganges waters
And do ablutions to Lord Siva
All the fish and frogs in the Ganges
Say full-throated, “These waters are
All defiled, contaminated with (our) spittle.”

When I think
Offering some milk
From the select (brown) cowherds
The young calves bellowed, “All that
Milk is contaminated with our (lips') licking.”

When I think
Performing Your puja heartily
With flowers of Leucas aspera (tummi)

Crores of bees on the branches
Say, “These flowers are all
Desecrated, contaminated with our spittle.”

O The Great One, Our Superior God, Our Amorphous One

(This is a translation of the Telugu devotional song, “emi sethura linga”, an approximate one at best. In an earlier post here, I have given the original Telugu lyrics. One needs to dwell, ponder, and think on such superb songs to derive the full benefit of bhakti feeling. This devotional song is no exception. I pay my humble homage to Dr. Balamurali for a moving rendition and I bow reverentially to the anonymous composer. The lyricist has condensed the entire, “Siva-tatva” into three simple stanzas. Once while gently plucking the highly aromatic jasmine flowers, I thought of adding one more stanza, but that is for some other time. In the next post we will explore the deeper meaning and subtleties involved. Copyright 2019 by the author)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Inexpensive Dental Care

Brush, Paste, or Powder                                                                                                  

            Often I am saddened when I see young people with missing front teeth or dentures. Of course, acute toothache or severe gum disease needs a visit to the dentist. But many people can immensely benefit from some rudimentary knowledge about routine dental care and hygiene. This article is for the benefit of such folks, people who would like to be self sufficient and self reliant for their own bodily upkeep and health. Healthy teeth are essential for good digestion (masticating), speech, singing, and natural smile. Like the late Prime Minister Sri Morarji Desai some grand parents can munch on walnuts or chew on a fresh stick of sugar cane. Lucky for them! With age and experience one learns a lot about the human body. Every incident need not be a great crisis or catastrophe. The famed physicist and peace lover, Dr. Sakharov was once in extreme pain due to tooth abscess. His physician wife immediately came to his rescue and chided him gently thus: “Dear, it is just a tooth. It won’t kill you.” Her words give us much needed guidance when dealing with matters of health. Some times what is sorely needed in life is “the right perspective” and an ability to learn, persevere in the face of adversity.
My parents and grandmother inculcated good oral hygiene habits in me; I bow to them in reverence. In the village we never had to buy anything for routine daily dental care. In the backyard or street side there are always many options: neem (Margosa indica, వేప), Pongamia pinnata (గానుగ) , mango, or Achyranthes aspera (ఉత్తరేణి ). Once I had to accompany my grandmother on a short trip by walk (about 5 miles) to see our ailing paternal grandmother. We hardly carried any paraphernalia with us (కౌపీన వంతం ఖలు భాగ్య వంత!), as we’re more concerned about the terminally sick grandmother. In the morning as part of daily body purification, my grandmother got hold of a mature mango leaf and brushed teeth with the petiole. I imitated her, chewed the leaf a bit, and used the midrib to scratch the mucus off of the tongue. Gargling with plain water completed our daily routine. Mango leaves are also useful for minor throat troubles (dryness, rough voice) and they are mentioned in Ayurvedic therapy.

Daily Care

            Normally teeth (human as well as animal) can maintain their surface appearance and functionality with minimum external care. With balanced nutrition (calcium, phosphorus, and a little fluoride) in most cases teeth will retain their enamel, physical strength, and inner structural composition. You may not always get these minerals and micronutrients with modern bottled water, so be aware of this important fact. What we can do or supplant is to do a minimum of preventive care. Cavities will not occur if we just gargle with plain water (room temperature) after every meal or after every brownie bite. When gargling is not possible (in travel or public gatherings), one can just swallow a few gulps of water, keeping the act a little furtive perhaps. It seems the body and its organs (this includes the permanent set of teeth) have a way of repairing themselves; that is, if we let them to their own devices. The writer prefers daily morning brushing. We keep good personal hygiene habits for our own benefit as well as for presenting a pleasant appearance to our friends and colleagues. When we talk, ideally one should share a clean fresh breath of air (and of course polite conversation without rancor). Sadly we still come across people who are totally oblivious of their own foul breath (halitosis) or unaware of their own odors (bad manners, etiquette). One can find out easily bad breath by puffing air against palm and smelling ones own exhaled air.  A seed of cardamom, clove, or cumin will temporarily mask bad odor. But if the teeth are healthy and the general constitution is good – then there is no need for cardamom or chewing gum. Usually natural saliva and oral bacteria keeps bad breath in check. Excessively dry mouth is one of the causes of mouth and saliva gland problems.  

Methods and Materials

            For young children with milk teeth, a simple wiping of teeth with soft cotton cloth (muslin) is good enough. The tongue can also be mechanically scraped (sort of gentle wiping) with moist cotton cloth. Gargling afterwards will produce good results; plain water or very mild saline solution is all that is needed. These ideas are known to many grand parents and they are also explained in some books (Yoga, naturopathy). In the village we utilized fresh ash and charcoal powder with excellent results. Charcoal powder can be sieved with cloth to remove hard particles. Sometimes we would add a little of sea salt or alum to the charcoal powder. Charcoal gives excellent shine (whiteness) to the teeth and it also removes bad odor. In most situations rubbing teeth with charcoal once a day (preferably right after waking up in the morning) is enough. Obviously preserving healthy teeth is a little easier than caring for decayed (cavities, bleeding) teeth.

Daily Care
            A gentle brushing in the morning and gargling after meals is all that is needed. The neem toothpaste (by Jyothi lab.) or Ayurvedic powder (Dabur Red label or Vico Vajradanti) seems to yield good results. For minor irritations with cavities (or sensitivity) the following home remedies yield some relief: a) Clove oil or plain clove b) sea salt crystal c) munching on walnuts or d) gargling with sesame seed oil. Walnut leaf, twig, and even wild walnuts have beneficial properties for teeth. This is well known in the dental care prescribed by Ayurveda. Here in North America I have come across a number of trees useful for brushing teeth. These range from maple, hawthorn, walnut, spruce, and locust to several wild bushes. In the absence of sesame seed oil (black is preferable), one can just bite the black sesame seeds and wash with lukewarm water later. It seems the body tries to heal minor tooth cavities itself. It is better to leave the body to its own natural ways whenever possible. In some circumstances it is unnecessary to make a benign tiny cavity (black mark) into a bigger hole (i.e., enlarged by drilling) and fill it afterwards.
What is the proof? The writer has used most of these techniques over many decades with excellent results. These simple methods have helped in keeping natural teeth in good condition. Perhaps heredity (genes) also plays a role in healthy teeth, but we have no control on that!

Monday, January 7, 2019

For A Brother (Eulogy)

Poetic Eulogy

You’re inspired by our uncle
Or, was it the push from grandma?
Or, was it a grace from Sarada?
Or, an affectionate gaze from Kanaka Durga,
Whose feet are constantly worshipped by the
Flowing waters of Krishna River?
Literature, be it Telugu or Sanskrit
Came handily to you
For some, proficiency doesn’t
Come easily, without studious hard work
And extreme application
Yet, some are exceptionally fortunate
They memorize and absorb
With a single pass
Like you they effortlessly
Succeed in tests with flying colors

During childhood
You teased and played with me
Many times
You never scolded me
Not even once; due to
Your esteem to mother
Your unique library
And a brand new bicycle –
They both took me to the
Limits of new worlds
The former showed me the
Myriads of Telugu literature
Ancient mythologies,
And Yoga, its secrets
The latter dragged me to the
Sanctum of Mangalagiri Swamy,
Famous for the jaggery syrup!
Chess, Origami paper cranes,
The world affairs – I learnt ‘em all
From you
Your kinship and intellectual
Friendship is a rare gift!

First you did your high school
In the Nrusimha-pura, then
The Bi-lingual Pundit course
In Modekurru, followed by
Diploma in Pundit in Oriental Literature
Then in quick succession
Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts
You accomplished them with
Self-study, achieving high grades
Right from home
Those summer holidays
The evening hours spent with you
They are unforgettable
I used to read haltingly
Fumbling at times the Sanskrit
Original texts of “Mrichchhakatika”,
Kalidasa’s works (sitting in front of you)
Though I later grew professionally
Into a scientist
Perhaps it’s due to your association
I imbibed some talent in
Music and literature too!

Your sharp intellect,
Your language skills and acumen
Your courage, your resolute determination,
Your unbounded affection for cousins
Your steadfast adherence to tradition,
Devotion and application to religion
They’ll remain in our memory forever;
May your soul successfully pursue
Knowledge, wisdom, and may it find
Ample fulfillment with riches and reach
The peak of eternal happiness. Amen!
(Thus I) Submit to Krishna.

(Copyright 2019 by the author, translated from Telugu original. Earlier I've posted this with the Telugu verse at Sulekha. A loss is a loss at any time. Yet some memories and people are unique and special. Spread over several decades I had only intermittent contact with my brother, perhaps never got enough time to share life's burden or exchange feelings. However, as I reflect now it seems we both intuitively understood each other; even the silence between us spoke volumes. As the famed sensitive Telugu lyricist (Aatreya) said, "The living represent (hold) the departed's sweet memories (ఉన్నొళ్ళు పొయినోళ్ళ తీపి గురుతులు)." If this poem conveys even a fraction of such poignant remembrance, then this writer has succeeded!)