A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. ~Oscar Wilde

Posts tagged ‘Philosophy’

Who does the Bhagavad Gita belong to?

DP and MG

It has taken me the better part of two years to complete my first reading of Devdatta Pattanaik’s “My Gita”. I am sure that I will go back to it time and time again, for it is a treatise on the Bhagavad Gita, that ultimate “lifestyle” manual. The current remarkable obsession with “self-exploration, self-examination, self-actualization”, and, apparently, “selfies”, may have had its beginnings in the “self-realization” discussed in the book, through the millenia spanning the composition of the “Bhagavad Gita”.

I have often picked up a “Gita” I purchased while still a fledgling in the thoughtful world, (I still am), but have not got beyond the first verses. It’s heavy Sanskrit text and lumbering translation kept the book on my bedside stack, always as a to-be-read.

Devdutta Pattanaiks’s “My Gita” is not a translation or transliteration of the Bhagavad Gita. Instead it is series of 18 essays on what Pattanaik considers to be the 18 themes of the Gita. It does not cover the Gita sequentially, as the themes he has identified are not isolated by chapter, but rather sprinkled within multiple discourses through the whole collection or “song”. It is important to remember this while reading the book, as it gives it a very different experience to reading the Gita.

To my mind, this book has been about understanding the value of the Gita in my 21st century hectic, and often seemingly rudderless existence. On days I have felt the buzzing of restlessness, the pages have soothed me. On days I felt calm, I have had moments of eye opening wonder.

I am delighted that I can come back to this book time and again in order to calm myself, and experience more moments of blinding understanding. I might even attempt the Sanskrit version again, one day. I just need to understand that I do not need to read either in a linear, consecutive manner. I can open them to any page, and attempt to absorb the wisdom they contain.

Ultimately, while this book is Pattanaik’s take on the Bhagavad Gita, the original, as seen in these essays belongs to all.

Hopefully the few editing oversights have been corrected in future editions of the book.


pictures from the friendly World Wide Web –

  1. Scroll.In
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita



The Last Ten Minutes. Crucial.

Hello! Dear person, who stops during the fourth quarter of a yoga class, rolls up the mat and hot foots it out of the class, because you don’t have time to finish the class! Do you ever stop to think of what you could have missed? I am not talking about the twists, back bends and wind down postures that the rest of the class went through after you left, but the absolute last posture, the pose of the corpse, that you just skipped. Would you like to dwell on why you really, absolutely, shouldn’t have done that?

As a very concerned classmate, may I suggest, that if you are in a hurry, if you have an appointment you cannot avoid or postpone, and thus need to skip part of the yoga session, stop five to ten minutes before you need to leave, and drop down dead? Seriously. Just do five to ten minutes of savasana, and then leave. I promise you, you will be doing yourself a huge favour.

Savasana relaxes your body and after the tension of the various poses after the stretching, twisting, balancing, weight bearing you have jus gone through. A yoga practice session requires physical exertion, mental focus, exercise of will as well as immense concentration. Savasana creates a bridge from such intense concentration to the rest of your day. Even if you are doing a late evening session, you do need to benefit from savasana before you get up, wash up and go to bed. Just as your day will be much more enjoyable and productive if you do incorporate savasana, so will your sleep be much more, wel,l sleep, as well.

When correctly practised, savasana also balances out the mind and body after the intensity of the practice, eases the self into mindfulness and experience of an internal reality, that carries itself into the wakefulness and activity of the rest of the day. Savasana is, as far as I know the only asana that can be practised on its own, say, if you do not have time for a full practise. With all other asanas, a follow up with savasana is indicated.

Here is a discourse on the philosophy of savasana.too tired for savasana

Here is a practical guide to savasana.

Please consider!


image credit: http://muselan.typepad.com/studieswithlaura/savasana/

A Few Conscious Breaths

I watched a TED.com talk recently. It was about Consciousness, partially defining it as that state of  being which we experience once awakening from a dreamless sleep and throughout our awake hours. The state of the brain during this time is consciousness. I enjoyed Philosopher John Searle’s quirky speech very much. I think I agree with most of what he said, and definitely would not put myself up as a dissenter. He has spent a much longer time on the journey than I have, and also, in a much more conscious fashion.

This brings me to my confusion. Is what  we experience which Professor Searle seems to have defined as the “state of not being unconscious” really all that consciousness is? I have no doubt at all that the scientific experiments and knowledge Professor Searle refers to in his lecture are all valid, correct, and reliable.

Yet, to me, it seems that consciousness is perhaps, a little more than that. How often do we tell our children to be conscious of the environment as they walk home from school or the playground? How often do we refer to someone’s mannerism as an “unconscious” gesture? Rather than these being incorrect use of the term, I feel that these are an extension of the meaning.

On the yoga mat we take conscious breaths, which as all practitioners of yoga know and experience, is very different in its results from just “unconsciously” breathing. Yet, according to Professor Searle’s definition, everyday standard breathing is also conscious. We know that if we play the piano, a conscious practise of a shorter time can yield far stronger results than a longer time just playing with the mind in a different realm. We certainly have, most of us, experienced sitting “like a zombie” in front of the TV and not taking in the programme at all. Is that conscious behaviour?

It is possible that defining consciousness in the wider sense that is described in the video can detract from the true meaning of consciousness. Perhaps it is important to remember that it is possible to live at least bits and pieces of one’s life in a robotic fashion, and the journey to making it all completely conscious is one of the things that makes life fascinatingly meaningful.

What do you think?

Do you think that it is important to draw a distinction between mere “awakeness” and full consciousness?

Do you think that there is a difference?

Etching The Significance

My daughter  and I went for a walk today. It was a cool morning, with the sun behind the clouds, and beside the river, the geckos had not ventured out. Stepping along the paths and listening to her chatter, I realised, however adult she has become, she is still the little girl with whom I shared the awesome feeling of wonder at the beautiful universe which surrounds us.

 She shares a home with fellow students, and one of her friends was very taken with the festival of Diwali which was recently celebrated by Hindus all over the world.

Certainly one of the more glamorous festivals with lights and fireworks and the ever present sweets, and new clothes, it tickles the curiosity of many people. Even the recently re-elected “leader of the free world” has gone on record wishing the revellers well in televised speeches from the White House. My daughter’s friend was interested in how to say “Happy Diwali” in Indian. My daughter, not having such a fascination, went on to BBC online to glean what was happening elsewhere. And on BBC’s “This week in Pictures, she found this, (Note the picture of the iPad being offered flowers and being prayed to.) 

It outraged her fastidious soul. It took me a while to understand why.

She wanted to know why some people prayed to accounting books at Diwali? Is that not Saraswati Puja (The festival of Knowledge) which is celebrated some time in January February? 

It took me a while to understand her context.

From her childhood, growing up in Australia, being sporadically educated in Indian culture,  she has been taught that the Festival of Lights is the triumph of Good over Evil, the celebration of Rama coming back to Ayodhya after vanquishing the demon Ravana, and here was a  story about praying to accounting books!!!

“Is that not Saraswati Puja?”, she asked.

No… It is Lakshmi Puja. People do pray to Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, during Diwali.

“I like the idea of Saraswati Puja!” she said, eyes open wide and forefinger raised. “you dedicate all your studies and pursuit of knowledge to the Divine. You set all your intentions. And all year that feeling of dedication carries you through!” (Nerd radar out, anyone?)

Yes… her point being?

“You don’t pray to books at Diwali! You don’t pray to books, anyway, it is a symbol!”


She was saying books and I was hearing accounting.

So we had a chat about the belief  that this was the start of the accounting year, and how traditional business men start new accounting books, after dedicating their business intentions to the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi.

So now, of course, she wanted to know how Lakshmi got into the picture. We are from the East of India, Diwali is at the same time as our festival of Goddess Kaali! It is not the start of  a new year for us, and we do not start new accounting books at this time. “We” encompassing the general populace of Bengal.

Once back home, I went on to BBC Online, and found the BBC school offshoot of the website. There were pages of descriptions of the Hindu festival of Diwali, and while they were all correct, I was left cringing at the superficial nature of the definitions. It was all about new clothes, sweets, lights and gambling. All the folklore and none of the philosophy. Kaali does get a mention, so there was that to be appreciative of.

The image of Indian dance and music has become encapsulated in the Western mind as “Bollywood” dance. Similarly, the knowledge of Indian festivals have become condensed into a few traditions that really have nothing to do with what they supposedly symbolise.  There is nothing wrong with this. Living is as much fun and gaiety as it is deep and meaningful. But I am glad that there are people around the globe who understand and love the sublime philosophy that has also taken birth amongst the loud, flashy, colourful, breaking-into-a-dance-at-the-drop-of-a-hat civilisation. Perhaps that is the nature of an all rounded life? It is what we draw in the air around us, and live within. 

How do you celebrate your favourite festival? How important is the symbolism? Would you rather celebrate the rituals only?


 PS Photos courtesy Raka Mitra, my very good friend. 

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