A sunrise conversation today with a wise monk in India is the seed of the following short series of posts on pragmatic undiscussed aspects of the human predicament--not simply the where's, what's, and who's but the how's and why's.
The posts in this series will be shorter and will build around a single term or phrase. Here goes.
Seeing is often just perceiving. Understanding is often just believing. Knowing is often just reaffirming. Teaching, instructing, and communicating are often just preaching and persuading.
That is, what we see is not what is. How we see, what we see, and when we see, depends on how hard we try and whether we want to see it at all.
The ancient Hindu philosophical schools used the word darshan to denote their theology--it wasn't something that was just thought about, it was something that was seen through experience and revelation.
This young artist in Krakow sits daily in front of this famous installation of the renowned painter Jan Mateko. I asked him why. "Our problems are not founded in our inability to see. They are rooted in our lack of desire to make the effort--to see, know, question, and reshape what and how we see. I try to see what I did not make the effort to see yesterday, what I didn't know existed yesterday." Or at least that is what I heard
Bhakti is to make the effort to see, especially that which we think does not effect or exist, and within.
Some days are harder than others. Flowing eyes, a thumping heart, and a drenched, crumpled shirt collar from wiping my face. I don't know how to make it stop. I dont want to it to stop. I miss him, but you don't know how else to articulate it. Two years passed on this day since the guru has gone, and the pain of separation is as fresh as the bright blood flowing from a freshly torn scab
And why wouldn't it be? I knew everything through him: to think, speak, write, sing; to eat, cook, feed; to connect, convince, care; to pack bags, travel, stay put; to wash, mop, bend; to love and to miss
It's hard telling someone that you miss them. I never know how to do so without sounding smug or overly sensitive. Why? My ego. Uttering the three magic words without wanting to hear something in return requires one to submit, to be vulnerable. Try it: I miss you
As soon as you say these words, you want a response. What if I say them and there's silence? No one to hear them, no one to respond? Or perhaps it is that I fail to hear the response?
Premanand explains his predicament. Beloved departed, His promise and my trust broken, body burning from separation, eyes running like the Ganges, letters sent but unanswered, the pain unbearable--how to pass the days and nights in His absence?! The response there all along: Premanand just was unable to hear, to comprehend His ways. The separation was just a means to remind Premanand of their irreplaceble bond
I tossed and turned, unable to sleep, think, and even cherish our times together. Then it dawned on me--I just had to speak-sing to him, to tell him that I missed him. He would respond--in this form or that. With love or more separation. With silence or an epiphany
And he did. Hear it?
Bhakti is articulating your love through words, deeds, and thoughts. Bhakti is knowing that the purest form of love is trust. Bhakti is listening for his response from without or within. He always responds. Bhakti is fine tuning your ability to hear your guru's voice from within
And then I fell asleep...my post left unfinished till sunrise
The grass is always greener on the other side. The Gujarati proverb that comes closest to this famous English saying rolls better off the retroflexing tongue, "Dur thi dungar radiyamna" or "Hills seem greener from a distance, on the horizon"
Back in DAR. Awake since 2 am. Jetlagged. Preoccupied. Stealing thoughts of NYC in the midst of everything else on my mind
I have been trying to understand the distance between our idea of happiness and our perception of other's happiness
Are we happy? Are others happy, happier? Are we really unfortunate or troubled, or does our self-pity get in the way of seeing how fortunate we truly are?
Perhaps distance is the filter that taints our ability to experience happiness--to engage with what we have and really are versus what we think others have and are. Distance weakens our ability to appreciate our own beauty and to overvalue that of others. Almost like alcohol's effect on defining a handsome or pretty
What is distance? Ignorance. Ignorance of reality--how the world is and what we are, how the world works and how we must, how troubled the world is and how at ease we are and must learn to be
Personalize our love for others and depersonalize other's hate for us
As my guru once said to me: "Crush the self-pity that weakens your hurt--secure a firm grasp, throw it to the ground, and stomp on it with your self worth, desire to succeed, generosity towards others, and your passion for work and betterment"
Bhakti is realizing that the grass isn't just greener on the other side. It is green where you choose to sow the seeds, nurture and protect its growth, and appreciate its beauty. Bhakti is growing your own patch of green grass and not looking for it elsewhere. Bhakti is realizing that sometimes all you need is a patch and not a meadow. Loss and hatred must give way to gain and love, if you let them. They will
And then it hit me: my life is pretty darn swell. And yours?
If humans are capable of creation, invention, and innovation, they are equally capable of destruction, devastation, and annihilation
My experience at the Auschwitz Concentration and Extermination Camp was difficult to process. I wasn't hit with an immediate feeling of awe or despair. I kept struggling with my thoughts and emotions. Why wasn't I feeling what everyone said I would and society mandated that I should? Was I a terrible, heartless person? Was I racist? Did I lack compassion and love?
It wasn't until I got to this display, in the neatly lined brick buildings surrounded by green patches of grass, that I started to cry.
A person hated and instilled hatred in millions so as to set up a system to effortlessly annihilate millions of human beings. And he convinced millions of others to turn a blind eye. It was this system and itso order that was the initial marker of perceived normalcy in the camp for me. Trauma and death in South Asia and the Middle East or even in the Americas is surrounded by chaos--bloodshots, mobs. The projected order made this experience that much more difficult to understand for me and millions of others. In fact, it is what instilled hope in the victims as they arrived in the camps
As I stared at these wooden support structures that were torn from their owners, I realized that trauma and death were not in order or displacement, but rather in the intentions with which they are projected and implemented
That is, if your love, pride, or generosity are burdensome to others, you are commiting an act of violence. Therefore, love in a way that does not hurt others. Hate others in a way that makes them love and allows them to live. For no one is above love and hate.
As for silence and complacency...they are rooted in one's own desire, greed, and ego. They are the root of the worst kind of violence...known acceptance of a crime. The blind eye.
Bhakti is to love and hate without inflicting violence. Bhakti is to speak up when others are being hurt. Bhakti is to rise above love and hate
Last day in NY
Untimely departures have become my thing, now. And why shouldn't they? We are forced to embrace them in our lives--either our own or of those we admire and adore. Money, power, fame, and love can slow or speed up time, but never stop it. So then why not go about your day with a smile, with everything you have?
The last ten days in NY have been a reminder of what it means to be at peace with this struggle with time--its uncertainty and its shortage, of making decisions about leaving and staying, of loving and at once setting free. Of learning from my first guru
A simple lady, retired, growing old, barely able to sit still apart form working and chore-ing, and yet always at peace with this notion of time. We sat under the Brooklyn Bridge and I asked her if she was okay with my untimely departure this time. She smiled and uttered motherly wisdom, "You come and go as needed, as you please. I have always been okay with it. Nothing has stopped you before. Why is this time any different? Besides, do you think it would make a difference? It's like a show--we all have are eyes on time. And yet IT doesn't care to glance in our direction. Our positions on the stage of life do not affect when and how it raises and closes the curtains, how the props and crew move around us on this great stage, and whether the storyline gets to a point where we are ready to say "the end". Go, get your work done, come back when you can. Being here won't change a thing. In fact, time will call you when it's ready. You won't be able to predict its movement from HERE or THERE." That is at least what I heard
Bhakti is accepting time's autonomy--it makes embracing birth, life, death, sorrow, pain, joy, ecstasy, and happiness all that much bearable. Bhakti is understanding the dance of time. The key? To dance with it. Bhakti is getting past the notion of timely and untimely--things happen in a specific moment because they are meant to, because they are meant to benefit those with faith, because they are "timely" in ways we cannot see or understand--when you become there is no coming or going
You come "home" and you realize things aren't the same. It hits you: The City hasn't changed nor have your loved ones. But YOU have. And that's okay
The more time I spend outside of the USA, the more I realize two very important things:
1) There is no nation like it on Earth: no one values human life, diversity, and personal rights as much this great nation.
2) And yet, I cannot spend 12 months a year here. It's so stagnant and stale in certain ways. It lacks the breath of dynamism, hunger, and passion that is bubbling in other parts of the world. There is a lack of want driven by a lack of need.
A lesson learned from this short trip to the US: It's time to learn not to think in terms of home and foreign. It's time to realize that one has to learn to feel at home wherever one lands. I often joke about being a global citizen or even a Globalist. A true yogi is a global citizen. Nothing like this Yogi. He or she doesn't have homes--just a home, one in which s/he lives no matter where, when, with whom, and how. The heart, mind, and soul are your home. The rest are just furnishings
Bhakti is roaming like a cloud--settling and pouring where the grounds are fertile. Bhakti is knowing that home is where the heart is. Bhakti is settling like a seed and not like a tree--to soar and plant with a breath of a vernal breeze, and not uprooted in storms
Coming home prematurely after 8 months in Africa and Europe
Farewell, Poland. You have taught me so much in six days--music, bhakti poetry, early modern history and religious community formation, tolerance, hatred in history, love, and survival
Most importantly, you taught me that blame is never black and white. No one is forever guilty, completely blameless, and that bystanders and fencer-sitters are equally to blame as the aggressors. You also taught me that though people suffer from hatred and bigotry, they do not ALWAYS become more understanding. One must work actively to become more empathetic, understanding, and open-minded.
One must turn on their internal lights to see the path clearly in the dark ignorant night. Our conscience is the moon, our guide and guru's voice.
This view from my bed in Krakow reminded me that for every person that hated on my brown bearded face or was afraid of or disgusted by it, I must love two more humans who are different or even disagreeble. I must learn to love until that's all I know how to do. I must follow the moon and find the lighted path of love.
Bhakti is seeing from within--to actively work to see the lighted path in the darkness. Bhakti is loving even when others hate. Bhakti is being vigilant of hatred--not only around you but within yourself. Like darkness, hatred creeps into the heart and mind when you least expect it. For all it takes to start a genocide and extermination is one passing moment of aggression, hatred, and prejudice. I did not experience hate; I only read it's past.
Many of you have asked why I haven't shared any pictures and reflections from my time in Poland this week
It's not that the bhakti well has dried up--after all, I am at the international "bhakti conference." It's not that I'm getting tired or lazy while reflecting on bhakti--after all, eeflecting on bhakti is all that I have left, all I have going for me.
It's not that I am hungry and struggling while in the thick of my liquid fast--after all, the smoothies and red/black currant juices have only gotten better in Europe.
Then why? Perhaps I have been distracted by the plethora of ideas and reflections on bhakti that I have received from my colleagues from the Early Modern North India world. Perhaps it is that there has been so much to share that I don't know where to start. Perhaps it is that the historical narrative of this beautiful city is dark and at once brilliant and hopeful.
I am not sure whether I should celebrate, rejoice, mourn, or remain silent--so much love, hatred, bigotry, care, support, and selfless sacrifice in this city.
This confusion and silence are not a markers of boredom or inactivity, of lack of material and desire, but rather the contrary. Like this beautiful sunset aura in Old Warsaw, my thoughts on Warsaw and Poland are forming and taking shape as I process the country's past of life, love, hope, death, and hatred
The dark and the light have played in the historical skies painting images, and are now playing in my mind.
Bhakti is accepting silence and confusion--for they are often signs of genuine engagement. Bhakti is preferring silence over the alternatives--meaningless rambling and breath-wasting bakwas. Bhakti is admitting that you are confused and don't have all the answers--it's human, humble, and honest.
Someone stopped me yesterday to compliment my beard and said, "But that is only so because you are in this part of the world. It wouldn't work so well for you in NYC or Europe these days." It hit me: Africa has accepted me in ways my own home and civilization have not--a mirror that has shown shades of myself that I didn't know existed.
I looked out at one final sunrise on the beach, and I could tell that the sun, the beach, and clouds were looking back at me. We spoke to each other in the moments of silence created by the dense clouds blocking the sun's rays. We didn't say goodbye, just a smile to say see you in a bit--here or there.
Bhakti is taking a moment to stop amidst the chaos and transition to appreciate life, nature, and those around you--to speak and listen to them--to learn from them. Bhakti is embracing flux and movement with stability and give. Bhakti is accepting change--it is inevitable. Bhakti is embracing ends--a sunset here gives rise to a sun elsewhere. Bhakti is celebrating life and death in the same manner--the end only guarantees another beginning.
I am not sure if this is the half way mark for me in Africa or the end. Things are in bit of a flux, and a trip to NYC seems inevitable. I reflect on sailing, life
I grew up on Long island and yet only went sailing twice or thrice before I came to DAR. Not to say that I am an expert now, but one of my closest friends and guides in DAR has prepared me for the seas--literally and figuratively
Ambassador Roeland van der Geer is a celebrated Dutch academic and perhaps one of the most senior EU diplomats in Africa. To me however he has been a gentle, generous soul always willing to have me "on board." A simple Dutch Calvinist man who prefers the finer things concerning the mind, and the more quotidian in material life. Roeland has helped me navigate the seas, the DAR social community, and of course my mind and time--motivating to focus and yet mingle, to manage days and human relationships
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from my time sailing with the Skipper is that things around us change--we have to, at the least, be willing to embrace and accept that change. His ability to accept and embrace social, technological, cultural, and political change has inspired me
My time with His Excellency has made me rethink my approach to life--the art of subtlety is key. Diplomacy, networking, and performance should all be paced, measured, and organic and at once direct and bold
He reminds me often, "You can't win them all. And that's okay. Let's stay in touch. There's a lot to discuss. Things will get better and worse before we meet again." He says it almost every day, and yet I overlooked the embedded wisdom about adjusting to and tolerating flux--fluid like the waves
Bhakti is realizing that sailing the seas and life are very similar--tumultous, smooth, cyclical, and requiring practice and a good Skipper and crew. Bhakti is embracing flux and change with subtlety and a seam pace--grace is the key to success, even when it takes a lifetime; for there is always the next. Bhakti is the calm in the eye of the storm
Rare click from harbor. It's not New York, but I will miss amazing DAR. Peeps have embraced, loved, taught
And yet it is a tightly knit social web. People love to interact, but often when it suits them. Very few will present you in their social circles, and even fewer will get close to you if you are friends with their mates or enemies
If you know me, you know that I am not good with boundaries and space. Interactions with me are usually direct and intense. I am persistent. Perhaps my ego? That is, I have trouble understanding why someone wouldn't want to have a coffee with me
There were dozens of exceptions--my host family (Subhashbhai, his wife, and their kids/nephews), and some of my closest friends and guides in the diplomat circuit. They let me in and shared their pain, pleasure, and joy. I became a son/brother the day I walked through the door
I share what I learned from balancing this mix of distance and intimacy
1) A young woman today: "How long does it take to have a coffee?" That is, when someone doesn't have time for you for days and weeks straight--it is rarely a time issue. It's most probably a priority or "not interested" issue. Bhakti is knowing that you don't have to "make time" for those you want to be around
2) Stop asking people to meet up. If someone doesn't want to meet, reflect and move on. Don't keep persisting because your ego won't allow you to let go. They will come find you. Bhakti is letting go of those you want to hold on to most. Networking is timing, it's personal. Experiences may vary
3) Don't be vengeful. Even if they haven't returned the favor in the past, try to do your best. Don't be a fool either. Do not go out of your way to do something for someone who is ungrateful/krutagni. Bhakti is being generous and at once pragmatic
4) Don't stop trying to connect because of a few. We are social creatures. Connect, help others connect, forgive those who won't out of insecurity. Bhakti is building bridges
5) Can't win them all. Not being basic intimidates others. Bhakti is being yourself, even if that means being alone
I was so annoyed that there wasn't a single picture from the archives that I could save, use, post. A successful event without a decent picture to boast. And then it suddenly hit me--there was a lesson in it: "informed action" trumps all.
You do, you do your best, and then you move on. Never dwell on what was and what has been--only on what needs to be done.
So then my "admirers" will ask why I posted these images. Because it's a reminder that even when the image is not perfect and the moment is not captured, its effects can last forever in someone's mind and heart. A simple but touching word can affect change. Hence, even my academic talks always have some soteriology built in--philosophy and intellectual exercise for the sake of bettering the current social or human predicament.
In Nairobi, I talked about meaningful engagement with the other despite the difficulties. Pride is not just getting up on a chair and waving your fists, or thinking that your tradition or sectarian affiliation is better than all others. It is actually getting to know your past so that you can better live in the present and better shape the future. If our forefathers could do it, why can't we? We must
Gujarat and its past serves as a model. Bhakti's song in Gujarat is an exemplary case study
Yours truly seen with Dr. Manu Chandaria, the Director of the Nairobi Center, and the Executive VP of Global Centers at Columbia University.
Bhakti is making things stick, but not sticking to them. Bhakti's song is the constant play between tradition and adaptation to shape identity. Bhakti is going through history to get past it--to live in the present and to shape the past. Bhakti is making your research accessible to folks who would rather live and learn without the jargon and theory. Bhakti is not preaching to the choir. Bhakti is doing for the sake of doing and not for the appreciation, approval, or acceptance
#bhakti#song#poetry#music#raga#gujarat#nairobi#africa#columbiauniversity @columbia #lecture#lifelessons#accessible#pictures#moveon#dontdwellonthepast#karma#gita#informedaction#history#literature#india#manuscripts#premanand#terribleimages
We took long pauses in between our conversations of Gujarati history and poetry to stare out at the celestial garden so meticulously tended to by Manubhai's elegant better half. I couldn't decide whether I better enjoyed the view or the conversation. I settled on engaging with both
I have met my fair share of industrialists and wealthy businessmen over the past six months, but Manubhai Chandaria stands out for several reasons. For starters, he is perhaps one of the most prominent business tycoons in East Africa. Born and raised in East Africa, he spent all but six years of his life outside of India. And yet the Gandhian moment and famous Gujarati authors and thinkers have shaped the way he has lived, retired into service, and continues to give at 90. A patron of the arts, literature, and the environment
Though he doesn't claim to be perfect or religious, his work ethic--his willingness to participate, connect with and respect all is the ultimate articulation of bhakti
He was polite, helpful, and meticulous. All things that most men give up on after achieving a certain amount of success and experience. Manubhai worked with Columbia University to organize my talk in Nairobi last week. He called guests, arranged the venue, and even followed up with me about the audio accoustics at the venue and my often indecipherable American accent
When I asked him why he had taken the trouble to host he replied, "People need to hear about bhakti, and from an approach that is objective and yet optimistic. Bhakti has gotten me where I am, why not share?" And so he did
Bhakti is learning to let go and at once hang on--to embrace balance, transitions, phases, next chapters in life. Bhakti is to never accept inactivity, but just the appropriate kind of activity. Bhakti is inspire, encourage, and promote those who follow, for someone once held your hand when you needed it
Perhaps one of the most volatile places on the continent or even in the world, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, looks just like any other idyllic lakeside town in Europe--colorful roofs, large waterfront mansions, and lush green landscapes
It was only after coming back to DAR and speaking to the Italian Ambassador did I realize that I was meters away from perhaps one of the most dangerous towns in the world. My perception changed immediately. Why? My experience had not. What made me want to fear Goma after being hundreds of miles away in Tanzania, but not fear it a few meters away from its shores?
Information and opinions. That is what allows us to form bodies of knowledge. That is what allows us to hate, love, like, dislike, and tolerate. It is what allows us to get by, to succeed, and often fail. It's what one does with that information which sets him or her apart from others.
Bhakti is learning how to process information--not letting it taint your perspective but inform it in ways that still allows for you to openly engage. Bhakti is gaining information, forming knowledge, and still not changing your attitude towards those who have failed and succeeded--not fearing or being overly attracted to them. It is what sets apart good leaders, lovers, and humans from great ones. Wisdom is knowing what's right and wrong with people and still smiling, giving, accepting, and embracing. Wisdom is developing a sense of equanimity towards those you like, love, fear, hate, and respect.
Bhakti is being wise and not just smart or sharp.
Folklore about this small and usually submerged island is as follows. An island where unmarried pregnant woman from Rwanda were sent. Men from Congo would come select their future brides later that night. Those that were not selected would perish in a few days
How life is often the bearer of death?
I spent a few hours in Lake Kivu with my music, my books, and my new friends navigating the boat. I stopped on the island to take pictures but also to remember the women who had given up their lives in order to fight the right to bring another one into this world. Things are never black and white. No matter which side of the argument you support, judging another will only weaken your ability to engage with the situation.
Bhakti is being able to see gray and its 500 shades where others only see black and white. Bhakti is seeing nuance where others only see right and wrong. Bhakti is knowing that the day we stop seeing color, you, I, and the future will be the first to go blind
On a day when societal norms encourage us to celebrate ourselves and life, I tried to celebrate the lessons that we must learn from hatred, evil, genocide--from death.
I have had some pretty incredible birthdays--it is hard to compete with days when your guru has called you and asked you what you wanted for your birthday. And then given it
But today was special--perhaps one of the most reflective and emotional days of my life. I wept, smiled, and even laughed while reading and listening to the memories and stories of the victims and their loved ones. So much to fear, so much to overcome, and at once so much to be thankful for.
The faces of the innocent victims of the Rwanda Genocide made me think of the evil within me as well as the evil beyond. I sat in the rose garden with them, and sang a bhakti pad in Raga Bhairavi--a prayer, a shanti path, an apology for the evil within me.
I is the seed of my-ness. My-ness is the seed of insecurity. Insecurity is the seed of hatred. Hatred is the seed of aggression. Aggression is the seed of violence. Violence is the seed of conflict. Conflict is the seed of murder and genocide. Generations, societies, and civilizations die because we fail to look beyond one letter: I
Bhakti is learning from history and being mindful of how we also contribute to society's problems. Yes, evil must be confronted, but we must remember not to forget that we too have evil tendencies within us. I quote a young lady I met in a coffee shop earlier today. I have little agency over everything around me. I can control myself. I am going to start with reforming myself
Thanks for the birthday wishes, y'all. Your messages reminded me that even when I am alone, I don't have the right to feel lonely. Your love, trust, and encouragement keep me going.
Lessons learned while ordering a cappuccino and pastry. Eyes open, ears sharp, mind attuned, and you can learn lessons from anyone, anytime.
Prepping for the talk tonight.
YT: "Hey there, ma'am. Any of your pastries eggless?" Server: "Yes, the cappuccino for sure." YT: "I was thinking of something more in the case." Server: "Ohh, the chocolate truffle cake, sort of. The top half doesn't. Only the bottom layer." YT: "Okay, let me indulge you. How would you serve me the top without the base?" Server: "Sorry, sir. I don't think I can." YT: "Ma'am, why would you tell me that then?" Server: "Being thorough, sir"
Okay, then. Yogi: 0. The World: 15828593.
Bhakti is learning lessons with a smile and without the need to impart your "wisdom" to others--even when you think that the lesson is for others, there is something in there for you to learn.