Thursday, 19 December 2013

Falling in love with Buddhism...(Part I)

I shouldn’t even be writing this as it goes against the ideals of Buddhism to be attached to labels, nevertheless I decide to put my thoughts into writing. There is something wrong with our conceptual way of looking at things, I had dealt with this long enough to realise that this approach to life leads to a lot of confusion. I went in search of the idealistic set of rules that would tell me how to behave appropriately in every situation, I even thought about how somebody else would handle the situation. Someone saner, wiser and more in control. I looked up to a lot of people and observed their reactions and tried to impersonate them when I had to deal with a similar kind of problem, Of course none of that really worked because there was no clarity. The situation was not the same, the people involved were not the same kind and above all how can I think for others constantly??

Then I ran into Zen Buddhism and I realised where I was stuck..Sure it didn’t happen overnight but the realisation slowly crept in. ‘Do not put anybody above your own head’.’No body can and nobody might save you’.’ Be a lamp unto yourself’  I can cite numerous other lines, the thing is Buddhism believes in the infinite wisdom present in each of us, If only we care to look instead of getting carried away with what the world tells us.

Compassion for the self, for others around us, these are not taught to us . One might as well argue that these cannot be taught but it wasn't even introduced to us so that we could practice with it. We are just told to be good to others and be helpful,but why should one do it?What about the self? Are we supposed to constantly punish ourselves and ‘ act’ noble for the sake of others? I didn't find answers to these nagging questions. May be one feels good at people’s validation of their service and benefaction but these won’t sustain us for long and we eventually get tired of seeking it. Or as a Buddhist might say we find it empty. And the other plausible reason is that we accumulate Karma points based on what we do so it’s best that we do good and avoid evil at all costs. That should give enough motivation to keep people away from wrong doing but it certainly doesn't work. If People really believed in the law of karma there wouldn't be so much suffering caused.( Buddhism might say beliefs don’t really help.) May be there is a way to get around this bad karma that we have accumulated and certain religions promise to do away with your karma if we decide to surrender yourself . All we need to do is repent (ie feel extremely guilty) for our misdeeds and God would save us. What I have realised is that there is a deeper meaning to this. This isn't as simple as feeling guilty and then getting over it and committing the same mistake over and over again with the hope of God saving us. Of course things can be interpreted in many ways so its up to us to decide what works and what doesn't. 

What did work for me was that if we look at ourselves with compassion and gentleness we see how we love our drama and how we keep it going. It isn’t easy to look at this dispassionately it is very scary and confusing at times to watch ourselves do stuff that we know we shouldn't be doing yet we continue to do.  Now It doesn't help to condemn our actions ,We only get frustrated and desperate when we don’t live up to the ideals we have set for ourselves. I haven’t been practising for long but what I do know is that there is another way. It is to be patient with all that we do,( the good,the bad and the ugly) that naturally reflects in our ability to tolerate others around us. Being kind to oneself has a whole new meaning .We see our own insecurities and fears, learn not to judge them and so with everybody else. We let people be who they are without criticising or attacking them not because we are saints but because we see the same stuff in ourselves every day.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Life at the beauty and beast campus

Sometime early this year, I received a selection letter from the Indian Academy of Sciences to which I had applied last year for Summer Research Fellowship. Though I was excited about the selection, I got nervous as soon as I understood that I will be working on a monstrous topic in Physics at a rigorous Theoritical Physics institute in India. The letter in bold letters said that I will be guided by Dr.Sudhakar Panda, a String Theorist at Harish Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad. That is a subject about which I know nothing except for a bit of its History and I had to make up my mind for this little challenge.

Loads of anticipation and planning went on for the next few months. I tried reading the basics of String Theory and Gravity but ended in vain. It was finally the day for the dance. I was accompanied by mom and uncle to Allahabad. Things started getting on my nerves and I couldnt enjoy anything on the way to the campus including the majestic Ganges. The very first sight of the campus panicked me further. Guards with large guns and stern faces dotted the entrance and the eeriely calm realm started ceasing out the life in me. The next minute, we were in the reception area of the Guest House and a pot bellied man approached us with a key.From his unfriendly grin, I could decipher that we had disturbed him from his sound sleep. He led us into a large furnished room that looked super comfortable. After a little nap, we got ready to meet the professor.

I was walking slowly towards the professor's room along with my dear moral supports. I opened the door and saw an old man sitting behind a humongous sized Apple PC and that was my professor. His serene smile and soft words washed away all the panic in me. After discussing the agenda for the next two months, he gave me a 220 page course notes on General Theory of Relativity that forms part of my project on Cosmology . One look at the tensorial equations again put me back into peril. Mom and uncle left back the same day and I was now staying with two other Summer Fellows in a flat. The whole night was spent thinking how I would go about this project.

The first thing I did was to make a count down chart and score off a day as soon as I wake up every morning. Though things looked hectic, I got accustomed to the place very soon. Thanks to my professor, who kept my enthusiam always high. Every Physics discussion would end with some story of great value. I listened to him with awe at all that he said and those words still keep me going. One story that haunts me almost everyday is his encounter with Feynmann.

The serene campus had a rich bird life- Peacocks, pelicans, sparrows, storks and a lot more decorated the campus with their bright plumage. There was not a day when I didn't laze around the campus with my camera. While bird life embellished the campus at broad day light, it was the jackals' turn at night. Time started whooshing past since then. I was amused at people's interests- someone liked eating frogs but not chicken or mutton, someone wanted to do screenplay after getting Ph.D in Physics, someone is a pen enthusiast who doesnt mind spending the whole salary on buying pens and the list goes on. Every week,the project presented new challenges and every week end presented more fun.

Shooting pictures at 'No to Photography' zone at Anand Bhavan, devouring Blue Lagoon ice lollies and momos at a nearby mall, visit to Triveni Sangam, watching the Ganges gleefully from the terrace, naps at the library lounge, late night chats, torrential rain falls and the horrendous thunders made my stay beautiful and a bit adventurous. I used to wake up at 4 in the morning to hear those chirps and watch the sun rise majestically and I spentsome time with just myself under the starry skies at night.

My time at HRI was coming to an end. It appeared as if the end came quicker than expected. The project was done and my mom and uncle were back to pick me up. My guide wished me good luck with another interesting story from his life. As I was ravelling back home, I could do nothing but recollect all those beautiful moments at HRI and I wish I go back to that place sometime.