CONVERSATION WITH AIYA (4)
Aiya and Rajiv were with me. We were sitting on the steps at Hanuman-Ghat, near the banks of river Ganga, in Varanasi, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, on that Sunday evening. Let me tell you what had happened.
When I heard Aiya was in Varanasi, I wanted to see him as I was already in New Delhi for some work. Rajiv, my colleague who is also in New Delhi wanted to join me. So we flew to Varanasi for a week-end trip. There first we met Sharma, a relative of Rajiv and a scholar who teaches in Varanasi. We had arranged to meet Aiya at the Hanuman Ghat.
At about 5 PM, we saw Aiya. He was in Varanasi just for one night as part of his random travel across India; it was quite fortunate that we were able to meet him in this holy city.
Sharma suggested that we all should take a bath in the Ganges and go to the Kasi Viswanathar temple for evening darshan. Aiya was not seen to be keen. He sat down on the steps. Sharma, Rajiv and I went into the river. The flow of Ganga was slightly warm at the time; we had few dips and quickly changed to proceed to the temple.
That was when, the unfortunate incident had happened.
A lean man of dark complexion, wearing dirty cloths was walking down the steps; He was unsteady and perhaps intoxicated. We saw him approaching Aiya and suddenly stumbled down. Aiya was quick to extend his hands to hold him; both Rajiv and I rushed and helped Aiya to slowly lay the man down on the pavement. He was definitely drunk; there were stains all over his body; smelling really bad, his body had few cut-wounds. Blood was flowing out from his forehead. I thought he must have fallen somewhere before. Aiya took his shawl and tied on his foreheads to stop the bleeding. I know that yellow-shawl; it was given to Aiya at some grand function. I held the man’s hands and gently turned him to lie comfortably. The mud and the blood stains from his body were also on my arms and the cheeks.
Sharma quickly moved away.
‘Ooops… Drunkard…. These people must be banned from coming near this holy river. Look what he has done to you! OK, ok, quickly go to the river and have a dip again. Wash yourself. Then we can go to the temple. It is getting late’
Rajiv was still moving the man’s legs to lay him straight on the steps.
A passerby stopped.
‘mm… this is Sudalai….he is always like this, poor fellow’.
As he was above to leave, I stopped him.
‘Sir, do you know him…’
‘Yes, yes, he is one of those….’ saying thus he pointed his hand towards the Manikarinka-Ghat where the cremation rituals usually take place.
‘There…. He is one of those who perform the funeral pyres… He does the cremation! That is his life as long as I know of him… … but he is always drunk… never seen him in sober mood. .. In a way, poor fellows, their work is not easy… can you see, at any hour, there is 10 or 20 bodies coming for cremation’.
Saying thus, he quickly walked away.
I looked at him with some sympathy. How he is wasting his life, I thought!
Sharma was totally agitated.
‘mm…. I thought so…. not only a drunkard, but also a shudra…. Untouchable…. I think you all have to have a bath… don’t touch him anymore, come quickly’.
He claimed-up couple of steps and looked back.
Aiya was sitting next to Sudalai who was making some unintelligible noises.
‘Call for an ambulance; Let us send this man to hospital. I think he needs attention’, said Aiya.
Rajiv was making the call while I was trying to remove the mud and blood that ware on my hands with a tissue. People, who were coming to take bath in the river, saw the state of Sudalai and quickly dispersed as if steering away from a bad dream.
Sharma lost his patience.
‘OK, I will see you at the temple. I must go before the arti. See you soon.’ Saying thus, he vanished.
Aiya said to both of us.
‘Let us wait for the Ambulance. You two go and have a bath in Ganga and wash off your dirt’.
Rajiv and I stepped into the river. My mind was disturbed. After a quick dip, we dried with the wet towel itself and changed to another set of dhotis.
We climbed the stairs and stood next to Aiya.
Rajiv was still fuming.
‘I cannot understand why this man is drinking and falling like this. More so, I cannot understand how people, even in the 21st century, look down upon someone as inferior ….’
‘What if you touch someone who is doing work at the cremation grounds…. Do we become impure by that?’
Aiya was not saying anything.
I asked Aiya.
‘Aiya…. Do you think Sharma was right? Just because we have touched him, we needed to have a bath again?’
Aiya was still quite.
‘Even you have asked us to have a wash in Ganga…. ‘, I said.
Aiya looked at me.
‘I asked you to have a wash because you have mud and blood stains on your body… You must therefore clean yourself! Now you are sparkling clean’, saying thus he laughed.
Rajiv said ‘Sharma did not mean that way. The very reason we have touched this man was good enough for him to consider us impure…’
Aiya said ‘May be that is what he thinks. If so, only his mind is dirty; even 100s of dips in the holy Ganga cannot cleanse such poison. So be assured, he is the one unclean, not you…..’; Aiya laughed again.
‘I have heard this before Aiya. Hindus call certain people as Shudra and treat them as untouchables… Although it is illegal, such mind set still prevails. I think these are real blemishes to Hindu religion’, said Rajiv.
‘Yes…. In the name of jati our religion differentiates people by birth…. How can this be tolerated?’, I also vented my anger.
Aiya look at us both and said, ‘No, it has nothing to do with Sanatana-Dharma or what you call as Hindu religion’.
He paused for a moment and said.
‘Sit down…. This is the best place to discuss this. In these very banks was the incident of such un-touchability in the life of Bhagavan Adi Sankara. When His entourage was confronted with a man like this Sudalai, Sankara and his disciples insisted that the stranger should move away from their path. That incident gave the greatest knowledge to us through Sankara, who concluded that anyone, no matter whether he is a dog-eater or the holy priest, if he has the true knowledge of seeing unity in diversity, then he is truly worthy of adoration as the Guru.’
‘This is Manisha Panchakam, Is it not’, I asked.
‘Yes…. What I am saying is that perhaps Sudalai has given us an opportunity to contemplate the merits and folly of differentiating’, said Aiya.
We both sat down next to Aiya, while waiting for the Ambulance.
‘Shudra is the word wrongly understood. In the Vedas, the authority of Sanatana-Dharma, there is no mention about differentiation at birth. Janma-dhristi or looking for differences owing to birth is absolutely not real; it is never advocated.’
‘Aiya, then how come such practices come about? You told me before that Vedas do talk about Varna dharma in which human beings are differentiated. Are you saying that these are all being misused’, I asked.
‘Unfortunately yes, When those who claim to have mastered these texts, show in their words and deeds, wrong things, ordinary people, who do not understand the scriptures, will naturally think otherwise. For them, scriptures thus become a no-no! So the right way to rectify is to challenge these incorrect interpretations. To challenge, you must first understand the scriptures; only by understanding, one can bring out the right interpretation.’
‘Aiya…. Many of us do not understand Sanskrit or other languages in which these texts are available. What exactly is the concept of Shudra or Brahmana?’
‘Shudra means in Sanskrit, one who is full of shoka or grief. Or one who would remain in grief. What does this mean? This means, those who are doing things as they please for themselves, without any concern for others or norms, are called Shudra, as they would finally be in grief’
‘Like who’, Rajiv asked.
‘Children! All children are Shudra, because they have no idea of right or wrong. They are ignorant. They do whatever the body or mind needs. So we are all born as Shudra.’
‘Am I still a Shudra?’, I asked.
‘Besides Children who are ignorant, anyone who does not bother to learn dharma or righteousness or even after learning, do not adhere to dharma is a Shudra. To them, nothing matters more than their own physical indulgence. They do not bother to learn or practice moral codes. They are also Shudra’.
‘Am I still a Shudra’, I asked again.
‘Well…. At some age, our parents initiate us to education. Parents and the teacher help us to understand the world and the worldly morals. Such a transition, in olden days, is always marked by a specific ceremony…. like baptism in Christianity…. The child is said to be reborn after the transition ceremony. After that, the child is considered to be dvija or twice-born. That is, born second-time with the understanding of dharma. In other words, we are all dvija or twice-born, as we have some level of transition from the ignorant state of Shudra’.
Rajiv said, ‘well, this may be all logical, but in practice, it is not so. Differentiation still exist as Vedas bring Varna-dharma and call Shudra, Vaisya, Kshatriya, Brahmana etc.’.
Aiya kept quiet for a while as the Sun was throwing its crimson rays on the river which reflected on the steps.
‘Differences do exist in the world and those must be appreciated. If there is no difference, everything will be the same. What fun is there! We all seek differences; in fact, we only seek-out differences! That is human nature’
‘Yes Aiya, when I take my wife to jewelry, even though everything is made with gold, she would take long time to select, as there are so many variations of the ornaments’, said I.
‘Yes, that is the fun part of life. Nama, Rupa or the name and form always vary. These variations make the differences; these differences are what we actually seek out in life’.
‘But the fact that any gold ornament is only gold….’, I said
‘Yes, it only depends on our approach to things! What is our focus, how do we look at things etc. We can look at things for their outwardly names and forms; equally we can look at things for their real nature. One is called karya-dhristi or the looking out for the effect, other is called karana-dhristi or looking out for the cause.’
‘Which is better?’, Rajiv asked.
‘Both are needed. In the transactional world, we survive on differences only. So, karya-dhristi is natural and necessary. But we must realize that underlying the transactional existence is our pure existence – the life principle. For that, we need to look everything with karana-dhristi.’
‘Are you saying that we should look at any object with both karana and karya–dhristi’
‘Absolutely! The true worth is given by the karana-dhristi. The perceived worth is given by the karya-dhristi. Knowing these differences is fundamental in our relationship with external objects.’
‘So how does this relate to the doctrine of shudra’, asked Rajiv.
‘Well, as I said, our scriptures do not talk about differentiation by birth but they do talk about differentiation at three other levels’
‘What are these?’
‘One is based on the perspective of one’s characters, or guna-dhristi. Each of us are different because of our inherent and nurtured characteristics. These create differences amongst us. Some are natural leaders who are willing to even sacrifice themselves for others. Some are simple in their approach, never like to harm any; such differences exist naturally and also nurtured as one learns in life. Differentiation on this basis is essential. Then only they would be able to flourish in their chosen way of life.’
‘What is the next perspective?’
‘Another differentiation is based on the actions or the work we do. Karma-Christi…. Ideally, the job or work we do must reflect our characters. Then only, there will be more success. Nevertheless by the choice of one’s work or profession, we draw differences. ‘
‘Yes, in the west, we have this. Like Baker, Butler, Smith, Miller etc. are deemed to be surnames of those who were in such profession in olden days…’
‘Yes…. In one form or the other, we differentiate people. The last one is only special to Sanatana-Dharma. Here we see the differences based on one’s knowledge. Not just ordinary knowledge but the knowledge on the Supreme… such an approach is called gnana-dhristi or perspective on knowledge.’
‘Please explain Aiya’
‘Ordinarily, we are born to enjoy. To enjoy is our motive. That enjoyment requires the removal of fear and distress and the fulfillment of our needs and wants. A Shudra – remember it could be a child or someone who has no code of conduct – goes about getting his physical and sensual enjoyment without much care and usually ends up in grief’.
‘We all are all like this in the beginning. Let us say this is our first step. Being a Shudra or a bhogi – someone who just wants to enjoy.’
‘Then what happens….. We learn about right and wrong etc…. you mentioned about being twice born or dvija’, said I.
‘Yes, when he understands that there are certain code of conducts to follow….what is known as dharma and if he learns and adheres, he is elevated to the next step. He is now a dharmi or one who follows dharma. We can also call him a ‘vishayi’ one who has objective knowledge and focus.’
‘Like we all are….’ said Rajiv.
‘Yes, most of us are vishayi only, at least most of the times! Sometimes we may even step down to the state of Shudra when we ignore righteousness, either out of ignorance or arrogance’, said Aiya.
‘What is next?’ I asked.
‘Well, when we live in the objective world for material pleasures and the associated grief, at some stage, we begin to question the true value of the objects. We want to know what is true and real, compared to false and unreal. We like to discriminate and find out the truth.’
‘Is it automatic? Do we all reach that stage?’
‘Eventually…. When you follow dharma, you will do your tasks diligently, a sort of Karma-Yoga. Only because of performing karma-yoga or leading your life as a karma- yogi, you will attain the next state, known as viveki, the one with the discriminating intellect’.
‘What is the benefit of this?’
‘Well, when you have viveka, you seek out true knowledge. You will question your beliefs. You will want to find out truth in everything. Your perspectives in life slowly change!’
‘Yes, but what do these lead to….’
‘All these lead to another important quality, called vairagyam. It means detachment or renunciation’.
‘Detachment or renunciation? That means, giving up everything and going to the woods?’
‘No, certainly not. Detachment is not giving-up but the ability to disengage. You see, when you are a Shudra or vishayi, you are often filled with passion. You perform your tasks with so much attachment and because of this, at some point you lose your control; you are no more engaged but entangled! Do you understand? In any relationship, be it work, family or anything, you want engagement not entanglement. You must have the ability to handle the situation, no matter what the outcome is. For that, you need to develop a sense of renunciation or become a vairagi, one with vairagyam .’
‘You mean a dislike…’
‘No, vairagyam is not hatred or disliking! In fact, it is controlling the temptation on things you like most!‘
‘That is not easy’, said I.
‘That is not easy for someone who does not have the viveka. That is why we should go step by step, follow dharma, become a viveki etc.! Look, this man who is lying here intoxicated, must have seen many deaths; he cremates every day, all day. Do you think, death will shock him anymore? When you sit here and observe what is going on in the Manikarnika-Ghat, you will begin to question the life, not death! You will not be scared of death anymore, at least such discriminating thoughts would come to you. When such thoughts occupy your mind, do you care about eating a sweet, or buying jewelry? No, at least for the time being you will have the vairagyam. The idea is to develop such steadfast renunciation in all walks of life, and at all times.’
‘You become a vairagi , one who has mastered the art of renunciation. This is the main goal of dvija or twice born.’
‘Can anyone become like this?’
‘Anyone and everyone can and should….’
Aiya stopped for a while before continuing.
‘When the power of renunciation is attained, naturally temptations subside. This means, the vacillations of the mind will reduce, leading to inner peace or shanti. Such a person is called a shanta: or a saintly person.’
‘Aiya, what is the indication of such a person’ asked Rajiv.
‘Such a person treats everyone and everything as equal. It is because, in his mind there is no vacillations. He does not have karya-dhristi and he does not unduly appreciate the differences in the external name and form.’
‘Are you saying, such a person will treat Sudalai same as any other human being’, I asked keeping Sharma in my mind.
‘Of course, with 100% commitment, and naturally’ said Aiya.
‘What is the next step after attaining such peace in the mind?’
‘Well, this is where you are really qualified to aspire to become a brahmana’
‘What…. Like the priestly class!’
‘No, not everyone in a priestly class is a brahmana, even though they are born in families claiming to be brahmana. I already told you such a view exist only in the narrow and wrong view of janma-dhristi.’
‘Then who is the brahmana?’
‘Only those who are the Seekers and Seers of the Brahmam, the Supreme Self are the brahmana.’
‘Seekers and Seers? Who are they?’
‘Well, by the virtue of viveka or discriminating intellect, vairagya or detachment and shanti or inner peace, a person will almost give up karya-dhristi and focus only on karana-dhristi. In other words, he will treat every person equal and inquire only the underlying principles that make this equality. For this, he would devote his life in the study of scriptures and divine contemplation. In the varna dharma, such a person is called vipra: or jingasu, the seeker of truth.’
‘Is wearing the sacred thread a symbol for that?’
‘Well, we are talking about the state where we surpass the physical names and forms. But to answer your question, wearing of sacred thread was a custom in ancient India to mark the transition of a child from a state of shudra to dvija. ‘
‘That means, wearing the sacred thread applies to all men?’
‘Yes, it applied to all men and all women once! There were records to prove such practice. But all these have changed during the course of time, now, to the point where these sacred threads are worn by only certain class of people. But remember, it is only a symbol; it carries no value, if the wearer of the sacred thread does not understand its purpose’.
‘What is the purpose?’
‘The purpose is simply to remind him of his state of evolution. He is a vipra: or the seeker of truth. He is expected to behave in the world as a shanta:, viveki and dharmi.’
‘What happens after this?’
‘Well when you have peace of mind, then you are able to focus on what you want. Since your desire is now truth, you should be able to develop your mind towards such truth. So every easily you are able to take-up meditation, penance, yoga etc. This is where you climb the step of a yogi, the one who has the singular focus on truth.’
‘The yoga classes that I go, do not make me a yogi?’, Rajiv asked with certain anxiety.
‘Certainly not. Those are helpful to shape your body and mind but that is not the yoga that I am talking about. These are the stages of gnana. A yogi becomes a gnani. To him, the karana-dhristi only prevails and he also completely understands the cause. To him everything is not just equal, but the same.’
‘Are you saying a gnani will see himself in Sudalai, who is lying down here?’
‘Certainly…. Only the embodiments differ, the indwelling light is the same. One who has such an approach to all lives in the world is a true gnani.’
‘mmm… What happens after that. To him, if there are no differences, then there is no appreciation of the world, is it not. He cannot enjoy anything because all enjoyment is the function of appreciating differences, is it not?’
Aiya looked intensely.
‘Yes, But that I do not know. A gnani when he remains in such supreme gnana – he is called a jivan–mukta. Remaining in such supreme gnana is called gnana-nishta. It is a state of permanent bliss. Like Shiva! I believe when in such a state, there is only an experience of non-duality.’
Aiya paused for a while with his eyes closed.
Then he said.
‘But who am I to say about this? How can one explain such bliss! But when a jivan-mukta is not in his nishta, he wanders in this world like you and I! To him, there is both karana-dhristi and karya-dhristi, but clearly, as his vairagya is rock solid, perceptual differences make no difference. He is able to serve the lowest of the low as well as the highest of the high in this transactional world, with same esteem.’
‘Aiya…. I do not know at what stage I am. What is that I need to follow these stages of evolution’, I asked looking at Rajiv. He too was intensely looking at Aiya.
‘Well… the foremost is shradda. It is about faith and faithful actions. Without shradda, nothing is possible.’
Saying thus, Aiya looked at the watch. That meant, we must wait for another opportunity to learn about shradda.
By the time, the Sun had already set. There was no sign of Ambulance coming, except a lady with a young lad came running towards us.
‘Swami…. Thank you, thank you! This man falls like this after his work every day, but nobody in this town cares; I usually come to search for him and take him home. He is my husband. You must be new to this place. Swami, thanks for doing this. Here no Ambulance will come to serve poor like us. I will take him home. You please go… ‘.
She looked strong. Her eyes were dry as if she had already poured all her tears into the mighty Ganga. She bowed to us gently and asked the young lad.
‘Hi, take the boat; take these men to the river and show them the Ganga-arti, it is starting now’, saying thus, she took out a small cover and pressed it into my hands and also to Rajiv.
Aiya stood up as if he has to leave.
With a broad smile, Aiya said ‘Go ahead and enjoy the evening; I shall see you in London next month’. Then he walked away.
The little boy was greeting us towards his boat. We simply followed him and in few minutes, we were in the middle of the mighty river Ganga.
It was dark. On the shore, the Ganga-arti had just started.
Then Rajiv’s phone rang. It was Sharma.
‘Hi…. Good that you did not come. The crowd at the temple is too long. I have waited for two hours, reciting Sri Rudram! Yet I could not have the darshan. So, I will go home and see you both there.’
Rajiv switched off the mobile.
He opened the cover that was given by Sudalai’s wife. Inside, there was a crumbled photograph of Kasi Viswanathar!
We looked at each other.
The bells rang. Ganga-arti had begun. The priests were raising the garland of lamps above their heads and brought into circular motions. The glitter of the lights fell on the gentle waves of the dark Ganga and showed as if She is covering the myriad of stars under the river bed.
I was trying to focus on the arti but the tears blurred my vision.
13 Oct 2014