Category Archives: Spirituality

Jo Bhaje Hari Ko Sada (Power of Sadhna)

Today an era of Indian classical music came to a close with the demise of the legendary and unequaled Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.   I have heard beautiful stories of a humble man who was passionate and completely lost in his music.  He was a true sadhak, true shishya and inspiration to countless around the world.

Guruji wrote a beautiful piece on sadhna and if someone exemplified a sadhak, it would be Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.

One of the Bhimsenji’s most loved songs was the bhajan Jo Bhaje Hari Ko Sada and what an appropriate song it is.  Guruji explained the meaning of this poem in in one of his writings, which I have copied here.  A rendition by Bhimsenji is found at the end.  It is a recorded version which cannot be compared to the live recordings of the same by him, but nonetheless gives you an idea of his mastery.

Here is a wonderful poem by Brahmanand that summarizes what a classical musician must do if they truly want to realize God through their music. Note that this can be applied to any field or work, if one desires to reach that level of mastery in it. This poem has been sung beautifully by Bhimsenji, who is a great model of a true sadhak.

Jo bhaje hari so sada
Wohi param pad payega
Chhod duniya ke majhe sub
Bhaith kar ekant mein
Dhyandhar guru ke charanaka
To prabhu mil jayega

Literal translation:

The one who remembers/praises God always
Will attain the Ultimate goal
Leave the pleasures of the world
Sit alone (in meditation)
Meditate upon the feet of your guru
And you will realize God

The actual meaning of the poem is:

The one who always and fully engages in ones work (this can be any work)
Attains the highest aim
Leave behind worldly pleasures
Sits alone with full concentration
Aspire to follow the path your guru(‘s feet) have walked (upon)
And you will realize God

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Control

Control. It is a the essential to success it seems. In any field or path, control is needed to achieve great heights. Discipline in one’s actions, control over one’s body and mind.

Our monkey mind jumps from here and there, the struggle is to bring it in our control, not be controlled by it. In dance, a good dancer distinguishes herself from the mediocre by having control over her body. Each movement, each limb follows her command. In tabla, I have the cursed blessing of speed. It doesn’t take long for me to play something fast, but to play with precision requires control and even that speed should be of my doing not its own (think of the fast skater in Mighty Ducks). Its common to hear in the beginner class, “My finger (or arm) does that on its own,” to which the response is always, “It’s it your finger, control it.”

One big struggle is for that control. The mind and body to work on your command. Our mind revolts. Of course it does, it wants no master. Providing excuses and excuses, reasons for our defeat. But to gain that control means to first understand the monkeyiness of the body and mind. To recognize, its innate desire to move according to its own will not yours. With focus and determination, constant perseverance, its about making it your own, for one moment, then two, then three and five.

With that control, comes freedom. To execute one’s vision and creativity to the fullest. The ability to move and play as one desires. Coupled with understanding, creativity finds its outlet, unhindered and expansive.

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Beauty and Need of non-English Languages

There was an article a few weeks back in the Times of India on foreigners taking intensive Gujarati language classes in order to be able to read Gandhi for themselves and better understand his philosophy. This came as no surprise.

As a Hindi, Gujarati and English speaker and a student of French and Spanish, I have gotten a chance to explore language. I recall cringing at the English subtitles during songs in Hindi movies as they destroyed the beauty and nuances of the original words. Compared to these other languages, English just does not have the depth, an observation that many multi-lingual friends agree with.

Learning philosophy from Guruji, I am often confronted with this topic. While Guruji is fluent in English, his native tongue is Gujarati (along with Hindi and Urdu). To make it easier for me, he often teaches in English. Being taught in English basically means that Guruji does a mental translation from Gujarati to English before speaking. Many times, as the topics and ideas are complex, I ask Guruji to speak in Gujarati as he can explain the subject with greater ease. When he does this, I am mentally translating the Gujarati into English before comprehending. My first language was Gujarati and to this day, I still speak in Gujarati with my parents, but my vocabulary has been limited to common Gujarati, not inclusive of many philosophical words. With my philosophy classes, my vocabulary has grown, but without a doubt, my learning, particularly in the initial period, was slowed by language.

There was an article on BBC a while back on native vs non-native English speakers. It spoke of how native English speakers could not easily understand the English of non-native English speakers, while non-native speakers easily understood the English of non-native speakers, regardless of their nationality or native language. The way native English speakers understand the English is very difficult from non-native speakers and I see this divide very clearly in India and during my philosophy classes.

Guruji is not a native English speaker. In fact, he never formally learnt English. In every day situations, English communication is never problematic. However, there are times during philosophy lectures when I have to ask him to repeat a sentence, as I get thrown off by the grammar or the use of a particular word. The mental process to understand the meaning of the sentence is brought to a small stop because of something that a non-native speaker would probably not even notice.

Just a few days ago, he was speaking to me about the basis of yoga. The topic made its way to the difference between science and spirituality. The difference can be understood through correct understanding of the words vishmay and akarshan. In a Gujarati-English dictionary they are given similar meanings – wonder or surprise. However, the words have very connotations. One has a spiritual dimension, one a physical. English, as far as I know, does not have two separate word that have the same surface meaning, but different nuances – driving home the idea yet again that the English language is limited, particularly in its spiritual/ metaphysical vocabulary.

Even ghazals and poetry in Indic language cannot be justly translated into English. Nor can they be readily understood by a non-native speaker without study. When you think of how the world is rapidly losing its languages and immigrant children around the world, particularly in English speaking countries, are failing to learn their native tongues, there is an important question to be raised about how much of the world’s cultural heritage we are losing.

I have been blessed in this aspect. I was raised in a home where Gujarati was and still is spoken today; I was taught Gujarati by my grandmother and continued to study it and earn academic credit for it through high school and have the opportunity to visit and live in Gujarat where I can practice my Gujarati to this day. I still remember the praise my siblings and I would garner after trips to India on the quality of our Gujarati.

But this is still not enough. My reading skills are on par with a small child and my spelling errors know no bounds. I know that at some point in my journey to learn and explore philosophy, particularly Indian philosophy, I too will need to go the way of the foreigners learning Indic languages. If I want to be able to make my own interpretations and develop my own understanding without an intermediary, who to some degree always inserts their own bias or understanding, I will have to vigorously learn the language. Until then, there shall be some handicap, which I continue to try to overcome by expanding my vocabulary and fluency.

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Astrological Charts (Kundali) – Meaningless or Meaningful

A friend and I were recently talking about marriage and philosophy, etc and of course the inevitable question came up. Its a question I’ve been asked a lot. It makes its way into conversations about dating, marriage, arranged marriage, etc. Do I believe in matching kundalis (vedic birth charts)?

This topic becomes one of contention particularly between Indian immigrants and their first generation children in the west. For many years, my answer was along the lines of Yes, I’ll consider the matching because I’ve seen too many relationships between people with mismatched kundalis fail. I didn’t really have a great reason why to believe or not to believe and since I had seen the power of spiritual practices firsthand in my life, I chose to give consideration to kundali matching.

Now I have more concrete reasons to consider matching vedic birth charts. Many might not be aware, but my Guru (Pandit Divyang Vakil) is not only a maestro of tabla and a brilliant tabla teacher, but also a spiritual healer and guru. His vast expertise is a treasure chest for me and my questions.

Guruji uses many different tools in his spiritual healing including vedic astrology, face reading, palm reading, vastu, tantra, numerology, occult powers, etc. He has stacks of vedic birth charts of his students that he uses, so who better to ask about vedic astrology.

Here is my understanding in a nutshell.

Ancient Indian civilization has given us a plethora of tools to provide guidance and help us make informed decisions. Everything is connected to each other (think butterfly effect) in some form or another, but the vast intricacies can be too much for us to comprehend. Each methodolgy serves as a guide. Sadly today, like with many traditional arts, there are many with minimal or no knowledge masquerading as experts who have at some point tarnished the image of effeciency of these methods.

Kundalis are a highly specific science, a person’s kundali is very particular to the person. It is based on the birth time, birth place and name of the person. Small inaccuracies in birth time (on the order or 1o minutes) can change a kundali. (The debate over what time is needed – ie when the head appears or whole body is out is another topic).

A person’s kundali tells you about the influence of planterary movement on a person’s life. It gives various details about a person, including details about their personality, high and low points in their life, etc. The kundali itself is very scientific (and computer generated nowadays) and is incomprehendible to the common man as its speaks of planets, their locations and more. So results that you get from getting a kundali made are highly depended upon the interpretation of the chart. This is where the master is set apart from the amateur.

A common use of kundalis is to see good and bad periods in a person’s life. I’m sure that there are times that you have felt that nothing is going right, no matter how hard you try. It is likely that your kundali would reveal that you were passing through a negative period (and there are different types), in which it would be difficult to see the fruits of one’s actions. By knowing these kinds of details, a person can make more informed decisions. For example, if the above period was occurring in one’s life, it does not make sense to start a new venture at that point. It would be better to wait the few weeks or months for period to change.

Generally, when two people’s kundalis are matched, they are paired together for over 30 different criteria. Each criteria gives a positive or negative result. A range of positive results is considered a good match. A perfect score is not a good match. As a kundali also can provide an overview of the graph of a person’s life, one can also examine how much trials/tribulations a potential spouse will face.

Like I said before, a kundali is only a GUIDE or indicator, not the final word, which is what many interpret it to be. The accuracy of a kundali is very much dependent upon the details used to make it, its maker and interpreter.

In general, after living in India, my respect for traditional arts (and sadness at its erosion and impending loss) has grown. Vedic astrology is one of the many that can be put in this list. It most definitely has its value and I don’t think it can be passed off as a meaningless belief. It is a tool that has been created by extremely intelligent people to help man make better decisions. It should not be followed blindly, but without a doubt has value.

Would I consider matching janmakshars before marriage? Without a doubt, yes.

Would I heed the advice from the matching? That shall be a matter of circumstance.

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Intuition/ Creativity

Yesterday Guruji was teaching us about what intuition is or the source of creativity and a wonderful line from his lecture has stuck with me.

The cosmic energy whispers to you in the silence between two thoughts.

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Power of Sadhna

An experience from a few months back:

There are places where you go and can feel something different. Often these places become points of pilgrimage. They are places that have become charged with the intensity and heat of someone(s)’ penance. Karl Marx’ chair in the library when he would sit for hours and hours is such a place or places of pilgrimage, be it Mecca or Kailash are other examples.

There is such a place in Ahmedabad, a room that I have spent time in many times, but recently I got a chance to really experience the magic of the room first hand. I had some time to kill and instead of coming back later, Guruji told me to practice in the room. It was the first time I was alone with tabla in the room. Time flew by without me even realizing, one hour became two. Two came close to three when Guruji told me that I would be needed in 20 minutes. This was was perfect because I would finish three hours then. Three hours passed and was not called. Practice was going really well and even though it had been 3 continuous hours, I was not tired. In fact, at this point, my mind was getting tired, but my body and hands were still in form. So I decided to stay put and another 45 minutes later, I was called out. If I had not been called, I could have continued to practice! For the first time, I had spent nearly 4 hours in continuous solo practice without getting up, without breaks, and without having my hands compelling me to stop. It was amazing.

When I came out and shared my experiences, the others just smiled. Its the magic room they said as they have said many times before. Its the room where Guruji and Latifbhai would have long and intense practice sessions, its the room where ustads who came to visit Guruji would teach and interact with Guruji’s students when he used to run tabla classes from home and most important of all – it was the room that had become charged by Guruji’s sadhana as its the place where Guruji himself conducted the majority of his practice over the course of many many years. It is the magic room.

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Aum – The Primordial Sound

Yesterday, the topic of Guruji’s spiritual lecture was the primordial sound Aum. I have heard that description of Aum before – the primordial sound, but the first time I really understood this name was when I heard Guruji speak on Aum. I think of the great things about hearing Guruji speak is that because he has such a breadth of knowledge, he easily shows how one topic is inter-related with others. Aum was related to topics such as creation, absolute reality (Brahma), music, naad (sound), chakras, the different states of the soul and how the mind works.

I have heard he speak on this topic before, but each time, something new is revealed and previous information is digested more thoroughly, so his talks are never a bore.

A fellow disciple of Guruji really described him very aptly in saying that Guruji is a walking encyclopedia. I am reminded of my good fortune to be his student all the time and that feeling is always more prevalent when hearing him share his gyan (knowledge).

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