Paryushan Dos and Don’ts

Paryushan, the 8-day festival for Jains, started today. I’ve blogged about Paryushan before (Micchami Dukkadam; Paryushan; What to Eat for Paryushan Week).

To me, Jainism is a lifestyle more than a religion. The five main concepts I associate with Jainism are Forgiveness, Contentment, Non-violence, Truthfulness, and Centeredness (detachment or self-control). Needless to say, it is best to follow these all year round. These eight days are set aside for us to go inward and take some rest from the material world we are surrounded by.

Some of the observances for Paryushan in my family are:

  1. Food restrictions. No green vegetables, and of course no potatoes, onions, or garlic, since these are root vegetables. Eat before sunset. Lot of families have variations on the diet they follow. Some families do not eat paneer or fermented food; some don’t eat tomatoes. Consult with the adults in your family for the specific restrictions followed.
  2. Going inward. We do pratikraman in the evenings. If you don’t know pratikraman, I would suggest meditation.
  3. No TV, no radio. Parents would recommend this so that the senses are not outward. Give rest to all your senses (smell, sound, sight, touch). For today’s generation, I’ll need to add: no YouTube. 🙂
  4. No harm by your words, thoughts, or actions. Speak gently; don’t curse. Do not kill insects, escort them out gently.
  5. Listen to knowledge. Immerse yourself in learning about the higher self, and the purpose of life.

Fasting is a big part of Paryushan. In my family we have done fasting some years. When I was a teenager, I have done atthai, an 8-day fast, and a few years ago, a 3-day fast.

Hope folks who are married to Jains and are looking to join in their spouse’s observances (or those who are looking to learn) find this helpful.

We are a Sthanakvasi Jain family. Each family is different; some are strict in their observances, some are not. If you are a Jain, your practices may be slightly different. What do you do in your family special for Paryushan? Please leave a comment below and share.

If there’s anything else you’d like me to write about regarding Paryushan, let me know.

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Mirror Mirror on the Car

About ten days ago, I was backing out Shraddha’s Maxima from our garage at home. Shraddha likes to park very close to the right side wall. While reversing out, the car has to be maneuvered out leftwards with deft use of the steering wheel.

Continue reading

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Kumare: An Unwitting Guru

Guru and self are no different. What you seek is within you.

What you see outside of you, including me, could well be all an illusion.

So said Kumare the “false Guru” to his students, as shown in the movie of the same name.


This movie shows a real-life story where the protagonist, having found many religious and spiritual leaders who weren’t really walking a spiritual path themselves, decides to masquerade as a Guru from India. He wanted to prove that anyone, even a charlatan like him with seemingly no training in Vedic spirituality, could do it. The movie shows how he develops a following of students over time, and how these students interact with their master.

When I read the blurb for this movie, I braced myself for a one-sided cynical approach that heaped criticism on spiritual leaders and Gurus. The movie I saw surprised and moved me. Hats off to Vikram Gandhi for his courage to live the Guru experience. This is no ordinary documentary. Anyone can criticize and talk. Few have the courage to experiment, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Dressed in saffron robes, all he had to do as Kumare was to be happy and love those who came in front of him.

“My name is Vikram Gandhi, and Kumare is my ideal self,” was how he put it after the fact.

Which begs the question: what keeps us from being our ideal self in the first place?

The way the experiment progressed and ended was surprising even to him and his crew, says Gandhi in an interview on YouTube. I don’t think they could have planned it this way even if they had wanted to, particularly the day of “the unveiling”.

My own views on the subject? Having benefited tremendously from my own practice of yoga, kriya, and meditation, I was a tad disturbed by the fake spiritual techniques being taught to the students in this movie, some of whom continue to practice them. I have a Guru and do look up to him, and I do recognize the role that he has had in shaping my life. As he has shared during Guru Poornima gatherings more than once, having a Guru and being a Guru are both important. Being a Guru to someone else does not mean preaching; it only means giving them our unconditional love. So on the surface, I’m not aligned with the core conclusion this movie appears to present, that one does not need a Guru. However there’s more to it than meets the eye. Some of the things Kumare taught his students (like the first few lines of this post) are unwittingly rooted in Vedanta, and the transformations that Kumare brought about in his students were quite real. There’s so much that this movie leaves unsaid.

If you have a spiritual practice or a Guru of your own, watch this movie. You will not be disappointed. (It is available now on a whole range of streaming services in the US including Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

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Daily: Sun Salutations in January

Daily is a powerful practice. Over the month of January, I’ve certainly experienced this… again.

Last year our friends R & A got us started on a challenge of doing 1008 sun salutations each during the month of January. Not all 1008 at a stretch, but over the whole month. January is the month of uttarayana. It is said that the benefits of doing sun salutations are amplified manifold during this period. Shraddha and I are no strangers to sun salutations; we teach this simple and powerful yoga practice in our Yesplus courses. We embraced the challenge, diligently set about doing sun salutations each day, and kept track in a shared Google spreadsheet.

Sun salutations (surya namaskars) are a sequence of yoga postures that have an array of benefits for the body and mind. My yoga teacher, Shriram Sarvotham, has written a post titled Sun Salutation on his blog where he goes into some depth on the topic. The practice is very enlivening. Here’s a video of Shriram doing sun salutations. My sun salutations don’t look half as good as his. Just watching him doing the practice is a treat. Watch and see what I mean:

This year (2013), we decided to share this challenge with several others in the Austin Art of Living family, and some sixteen people joined in. The challenge was the same as last year — complete 1008 sun salutations during the month of January.

The count of 1008 was set as a stretch goal. For some, this number wasn’t even a serious challenge. For others it was a daunting goal. No matter. The primary instruction was: listen to your body. Everyone got started, did what they could, kept track in the shared spreadsheet, and had a good time.

A shared Google spreadsheet was the medium of our communication. Each day we would enter our counts in it, and we would get to see see how the others were doing. I’d like to think that we were inspiring each other along. The more competitive-minded among us would keep a close watch on the others so as not to get left behind, and were clearly gunning to complete the 1008. Some others were not so goal-oriented, and didn’t care for the count as much as for the joy of the practice. Our personalities and lifestyles were reflected well in the sheet. Some had steady unwavering counts for every day of the month; others did rounds in fits and starts, and consequently did many rounds on some days to “catch up”. Shriram joined us in recording his counts in this sheet, and needless to say his column reflected steady, unwavering, daily practice. 🙂

Every day for me started out the same, with standing at the forward of the edge of my mat with palms pressed together in pranaam, taking a deep breath in, and beginning the sequence. On some days my practice was an invigorating dance that got me sweating as the count crept past a dozen. On some days it was a deep meditative space where it was all I could do to keep my body going without slipping completely inward into a standstill. Some days I was aware of fatigue slowing me down. Knowing that I had to do this all over again in 24 hours, I certainly took care not to over-exert myself.

Altogether it was quite an amazing practice. Several of us did get to the 1008 goal, and some of us fell shy of it but still did several hundred sun salutations in the process. A few people did over 100 on some of their catch-up days! See the screenshot of our spreadsheet below. 🙂

Daily is indeed powerful, as I was reminded in January in more ways than one. Another extremely powerful daily ritual for me is the practice of sudarshan kriya which I’ve been fortunate enough to keep up for several years now. Daily kriya practice is a potent method of bringing about stability and steadiness to the rhythms of the mind and body, and to enable deep experiences of meditation and mindfulness.

If you have other daily practices to share, please do so in the comments.

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Breaking the Silence

Excerpts from an email I just shared with the Art of Living Austin group:

I just attended an intensive silence course with Philip this past weekend at the ashram, along with many others from Austin. I was initially not enthusiastic about the intensive, but now that I’ve gone through it, I’m completely in bliss!

On my recent silence courses, my experience of meditation could usually be summed up as “foggy”. Not this time though. After the initial few meditations, the fog was beginning to clear. I was sitting wide awake and alert through one ‘hollow and empty’ after another, and I was finally getting an experience of clarity in and after meditation. Clarity, stillness, and sattva — I loved every moment of it.

Our mornings began with the divine treat of waking up to Philip’s flute music, followed shortly by a great yoga sequence that he used to lead as part of morning sadhana.

Knowledge was in abundance. On the first evening (before everyone even joined in) he was talking about the course points. Not everyone gets ‘opposite values are complementary’, he said. We understand it intellectually, yet we crave the ‘positive’ and shun the ‘negative’. In that context he also made the distinction between being happy and being free. That really caught my attention. He explained that one can be unhappy and yet be free. Freedom from happiness and unhappiness comes through knowing that opposite values are complementary. Really knowing, that is; not just superficially knowing.

He also talked about success and failure. Success usually comes at tasks that are within our capabilities, and those are not a source of growth. And after a failure, most of us disengage — again, not a means for personal growth. How many of you see at least one area of your life where you are disengaged, he asked us. Many hands shot up, including mine. This was a big eye-opener for me about myself.

On the second night we watched a knowledge video about tattva gyaan, or knowledge of the elements. In it Guruji spoke about the impact that the elements have on our mind and body. Due to the play of the various elements (earth, water, fire, air, space) our emotions and thoughts flow one way or another. Time and place also play a big role. We tend to associate our emotions as being caused by situations or people around us. But once the play of elements is clear, it becomes obvious that the link between the people and the emotions is not — and was never — a causal link. And that’s why we need to have the ‘hollow and empty’ as an experience rather than just as intellectual knowing. In these meditations we observe the breath. Each of the first four elements has traces of all the other three contained it. Hence observing the breath alone is a great source of observing all the elements… and of course space, the hollow and empty space.

Those were just the high points of the video, a gem that’s to be watched in full whenever you get a chance on a silence course. The next night’s video, ‘Freedom and Bondage’, was also very memorable. Guruji talked about how the military, which protects our freedom, does not afford any freedom at all to its soldiers. To cultivate freedom, certain discipline is required. In this video there were also jokes in abundance about freedom and marriage, which are better relayed in person. 🙂 Philip also shared a few stories from his early days, about Maharishi, about his first time seeing Guruji in India with Maharishi, then about his early course experiences and silence course, and so on.

I was reminded that we are quite lucky to have the ashram so close by and to have this body of knowledge accessible to us, and to have regular satsangs as well as thrice weekly long kriya in the Austin area. Philip also pointed out that we are very lucky to have the sangha, the ashram, and the one world family. No amount of money can buy us these things; they are only to be obtained as gifts… from our beloved Guru!

If you haven’t done a silence course yet in 2012, do the next one. It is truly a gift without parallel.

I belong to you all!

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Interpreting Dreams, Making Tea

Early this morning Shraddha was telling me about her dream. It was quite weird, and before we could make sense of it I remembered Guruji’s talk on Five Types of Dreams.

Premonitions are the first type of dream — related to the future. We sometimes get these, don’t we? The second type is from impressions of the past that we’ve gathered in our consciousness; this must be familiar to all. The third is related to our desires and our fears; Guruji says in his talk that these two are both the same thing really. The fourth is related to the energy of the place we are in. When we travel to foreign lands, sometimes even our dreams are strange and foreign. The fifth type of dream is a mixture of all the other four types.

Since the fifth type is the most common, says Guruji, interpreting dreams is usually a waste of time!

I shared all of this with Shraddha and proceeded to tell a story from Guruji’s talk. A saint once told his disciple early in the morning, “I had a dream last night, can you help me interpret it?” The student remained silent. Again the saint asked, “Can you help me interpret my dream?” The disciple then brought a cup of tea from the kitchen and set it in front of the master. Once again the saint posed the question, “So can you help me interpret my dream?” The disciple, without a word, pushed the cup close to the master so that the aroma of the tea wafted into the Master’s nostrils.

Guruji says fools try to find meaning in dreams. Wisdom is in realizing that this reality itself is a dream. The disciple was answering the master without words, that the dream is over, wake up to the reality now; drink your tea! The master was pleased. The disciple had passed his test.

Upon hearing this, Shraddha said, “Will you interpret my dream?” I said of course not, didn’t you hear the story I just told you?” Again she said, “So will you interpret my dream?” With a tinge of annoyance I said, “No.” Again she asked, “Please, will you interpret my dream?” with a mischievous glint in her eyes. Then I realized — all she wanted was for me to go to the kitchen, make our morning tea and bring it to her! 🙂

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Taking for Granted

“Oh my goodness, how do people handle such crazy traffic?! Why can’t they be more disciplined on the road?”

That was my mental reaction on the day I landed in India after the first year and a half of living in the US… notwithstanding that I was born and raised in India.

Fast forward to July 2011, after a decade of living and driving in the US. I arrived back in Austin after a family vacation in Switzerland and Germany. Over ten days, I had driven 2,400 kilometers on European highways. Particularly in Germany I was impressed with how disciplined the drivers were. The very next day, all I could think of during my commute to work was:

“Oh my goodness, why are these slowpokes blocking the fast lane? These guys should learn from the Germans how to yield to faster traffic on highways.”

Isn’t it amazing how fast our mind gets used to something and takes it for granted?

Here’s a viral video from a couple of years ago from comedian Louis CK that’s worth watching, if you haven’t already. It’s titled Everything’s Amazing, and Nobody’s Happy, which has a lot of truth to it. Enjoy! 🙂 (Those on RSS readers, click through to the post for the video, it’s worth it.)

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