Archive for May 29, 2010

Scriptures state that the only knowledge worth knowing is the nature of the Self because it is by this knowledge that one can attain salvation — reaching that state from where there is no further return to this world of joy and sorrow. This knowledge confers the state of enlightenment.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna refers to the unenlightened person as one who is yet to transcended the effects of the sense of I and Mine, said Sri N. Veezhinathan in a lecture. A majority of individuals belong to this category and go through the cycle of birth to fulfil the effects of their individual Karma. They fail to perceive the difference between the Self (Atma) and the non-Self (Anatma). In contrast to these people, an enlightened person has perfected the yoga of union with God, that is, he is always steeped in thoughts of God and no worldly pulls attract him. Such a person beholds Him fully in all things and is thus not tainted by any trace of ego sense.

To attain this state of enlightenment, one has to seek refuge in the Supreme Brahman by means of the Higher Knowledge. This knowledge makes us behold the Supreme Brahman who is the Primordial Being and who is the cause of this entire universe with its process of birth, growth, decay and death. The Lord cannot be seen or seized, has no root or attributes, no eyes or ears, no hands or feet; and He is eternal and omnipresent. His effulgent abode is beyond the world of light or illumination caused by the sun, moon, fire or lightning. In fact it is by His power that these are able to illuminate the universe. To Him belongs all the glory in the world.

The Jivatma comprises the gross and the subtle — the body and the Self. At every birth, the Self, carrying along with it the senses and the mind from the previous birth, attains a new body until it reaches the state of enlightenment. Only the realised Self is eligible to reach this abode of the Supreme Brahman.

The Lord explains at length the need to understand the fundamental dichotomy between the body and the soul. Steady determination and striving to distinguish the ephemeral from the eternal are needed on the part of the seeker.

The passage of years

Pranay Gupte

I was not quite 19 when I left shores of my native India for the promise of America, an only child of accomplished parents whose ambitions for their son did not necessarily embrace the possibility of his going away from home forever.

But that’s what happened. It wasn’t as though I never returned to India — but those were occasional visits, mainly on journalistic assignments. I was, however, never to make Mumbai my home again. Never again would I live in my parents’ apartment overlooking the Arabian Sea, never again would I wander aimlessly through the clangorous byways of the city where I was born not long after the British Raj ended. Whenever I visited, there would be a purpose – a story to be pursued, a book to be researched, perhaps an important birthday of a close friend, and, saddest of all, the deaths of my father and mother in the same year, a quarter of a century ago.

The choice to move my home was, of course, entirely mine: I completed college in the United States, I began a career as a reporter and then a foreign correspondent at the New York Times, I became a columnist for Newsweek International, I wrote profiles and investigative stories for Forbes, I produced documentaries for public television, and I published a newspaper on environmental and sustainability issues for more than a decade.

That choice was driven by an ambition to succeed, no doubt a characteristic that I’d absorbed watching my mother develop into an acclaimed academician and a widely published author in Marathi – one of India’s major languages – and my father apply his legal training in the field of banking. There’s a major square in Mumbai named in honour of my mother, and whenever I’m in my native city I make it a point to walk past the plaque in silent admiration of the sheer courage that it took Charusheela Gupte to lift herself out of poverty into the limelight of a public career.

I realize in those moments, and also at other times, that while I am her son, that while I am also the progeny of my father, Balkrishna Gupte, that’s where the linkage stops. They had far fewer privileges than I did while growing up, they had far fewer opportunities to traverse the world, and while their own lives exemplified the enduring values of tolerance and understanding, they never quite got the chance to study intensively how those values played out in societies such as the United Arab Emirates — where I currently live — which exquisitely embroider diversity into their national fabric.

So it would be fair to say that I’ve been far more fortunate than my parents. But it would also be fair to ask, has my life been as fulfilling as theirs? To what extent has my work in journalism and public diplomacy been a catalyst for change in the societies where I’ve lived and worked? Has my life made a difference to those around me?

There are surely those who’d contend that my presence in their lives was less than salutary. My painful divorce would be testimony to that argument. The estrangement between my son — an only child — and myself would also suggest that my parental behaviour might not have been a role model. Along these many years since I first left the shores of Mumbai, so many friendships were lost — lost not necessarily on account of disputes but because of disregard. I rarely apportion blame to others, but I readily accept responsibility for my actions.

I reflect on these matters now because I’m about to attend a very big reunion of my college class in America. I haven’t kept up with very many of my classmates — my loss entirely, to be sure — but I have, from time to time, marvelled at the temporal triumphs of some of them. I also confess to dismay over not having sustained the narrative of our collective youth.

That youth was tested and tried in the cauldron of major social and political upheavals in the United States: my college years coincided with those of the waning years of the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. The bodies of young Americans sent to a senseless conflict were being brought back in coffins; I covered that conflict not in the jungles of Southeast Asia but from Boston Commons, where students staged massive protest rallies. The anthem of our college years was “Fire and Rain,” that haunting composition by James Taylor that has been the soundtrack of my life in the years since.

Where did those years ago? I know where I’ve been, but did I sufficiently recognise the places that I visited, particularly those lodged within myself? Did I ask the right questions, especially of myself? What explained my judgment calls, notably those that proved unwise. Did I love enough? Did I care enough? Did I give enough of myself to those who extended themselves for me? Was I kind enough? Was I considerate enough? Did I show up on those occasions when my presence would have provided solace for those in distress?

So many questions swell within me as my class reunion approaches. But my former classmates aren’t going to be able to address them; they, too, would have their own inner demons and danseuses that inevitably gather force with the years.

I realize that when I see the men and women I went to college with all those decades ago, even more questions will arise about the life I —and they — have led. I realise, too, that no one but myself will be able to offer the answers, at least about myself. There may well be time to put off those answers until another big reunion comes our way. But, at my age, I also realise that I’m really not so sure about that either.