Philosophy And What It Means To Me.

“Philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.”

Despite having written before about my tryst with philosophy  in my blog, it is still nice to be able to revisit my story from a different perch as it were.

I approach the topic with a historic perspective highly personal in nature as, I am deeply involved in the study of philosophy.  I was not always so and hence this approach.

I was burning both ends of the candle in the late seventies of the last century when a dear friend, concerned about my well being put me in touch with Transcendental Meditation. I learnt it and started practicing it in earnest with amazing results. While practicing, I also studied the first six chapters of the Bhagwat Gita translated and commented on by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

This continued till 1983 when on a dare, I attended a ten day Vipassana camp and got hooked to that form of meditation which I continue to practice till today.  That little adventure also led me to study Buddhist philosophy.

Two  more synchronistic developments that led to further incidents that got me thoroughly involved in Indian philosophy.

While on a business visit to Chennai, another dear friend insisted that I accompany him to a lecture on Vedanta by Swami Paramarthananda. That got me further interested and when the same friend on a visit to Pune requested me to take him to a colleague and fellow Sanyasi of the Chennai Swamiji, I did and met Swami Satswarupananda of Pune.

I not only met him, but became his student and studied Vedanta under him in our Guru Shishya Parampara for fifteen years.

He finally retired to full time sanyasa to Rishikesh after instructing his students in Pune that Shravanam. (Learning) and Mananam (Internalising the learning) were over and the time had come for them to focus on Nidhidyasanam. And that is what I have been doing since the last many years.

In the meanwhile, I also had the privilege of meeting Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the Guru to both the Swamijis mentioned earlier, both at Anaikatti, his head quarters and in Pune during two of his visits.

Having bored my readers with that background, let me now explain what Vedanta, means to me.

In the Vedantic system, one goes through various stages of life with four goals called the Purushartha.. Having crossed the first three fairly successfully, I am at the last stage of my progress to achieve Moksha.

End of my story.

To understand the contents of my post, please do use the links given for various words without which, it will be difficult to.

This is my take on this week’s Friday 4 On 1 blog posts where Conrad, Sanjana, Shackman and I write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been suggested by Sanjana. Please do go over to the other two blogs to see what they have to say on the same topic. Thank you.

A Reason For Being.

Please click on the image for a larger resolution.

The Japanese have a word for this – Ikigai.

Try as I might, I cannot find this particular type of Reason For Being at my present age of three score and fifteen. What possible reason can motivate me to get up in the morning to face another day? I often write about the impact that Viktor Frakl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning had on me some decades ago, and now struggle to find some meaning to his conclusion of the Western kind. He concludes “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

Truth be told, what gets me up in the morning is simply that I cannot sleep after 5.00 am no matter how late I go to sleep because of habit ingrained from boyhood when a martinet of a father insisted that we got up when the crows cawed which was inevitably well before sunrise and day break.

Subsequently, I got into the habit of meditating and yogabhyas in the mornings which continue to occupy my time in the mornings but, those two activities are not the reason for my being.

I look forward to reading the morning newspapers and solving the crossword puzzles in them. Is that the reason for my being? Once I finish those very likeable activities at around 12.00 noon, what will keep me going? The prospect of lunch, the siesta that inevitably follows, the session at the computer to catch up with mail, facebook posts etc?

I wonder what the Japanese will suggest as a word for someone like me!

Which wondering brings me to the Indian philosophical approach to the same situation. It is called Purushartha or The Object Of Human Pursuit. Please do spend some time on the Wikipedia exposition on this concept so that, you can follow my take on life’s purpose in my current stage of development.

The four components, Dharma, Artha, Kaama, Moksha can be compared to a bracelet of three beads with Dharma being the holding string that holds the three otehr beads together. In other words, a morally lived life of acquiring means to enjoy the pleasures of life which hopefully will take one to a stage of satiety and the last stage of seeking freedom from the very essence of life, wanting! Moksha is the ultimate goal for Indians which can be obtained by learning and understanding the highest philosophical ideas. This process is called Shravanam, mananam, nidhidhyasanam, or, learining, understanding and reflecting on the knowledge gained. Quite a bit of my time is taken on this activity and so my Ikigai may well be Moksha!

Meaning / Purpose / Happiness.

This Mark Twain quote was shared by a friend on facebook and led me to muse over it and the result is this post.

In Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl often quotes Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” The “why” is what he calls the meaning of one’s life, which according to Frankl is the patient’s will to strive, succeed, and to live.

Man can also find meaning by suffering. When one is faced with suffering, and there is nothing he can do to change his predicament, the only remaining option is for him to change his perspective, to change the way in which he views the situation. An example that Frankl gives is of a story of a grieving widower who had lost his wife. The man came to Frankl to ask for advice. Frankl asked the man, “What would have happened…if you had died first and your wife would have had to survive without you?” Through this question, the suffering the man was enduring gained a new purpose, he was mourning, but his wife would not have to mourn him.

This story of the widower helped me overcome my own grief of losing my wife and friend of 48 years, but understanding that the relationship was because I was happy in it and the grief was in losing that state of happiness, came about by my study of Vedanta about which I shall elaborate a little later.

I had posted a video post of the Dalai Lama and in commenting on it, Monk had given me a link to one of her old posts that is very interesting on the subject of finding meaning.  She had written it before I started visiting her blog and so was not aware of that post.  Having read it, I was inspired to include the link here for reference, as the subject matter is the same as that of this post.

My regular readers will remember that I am a student of Vedanta. For a Vedantin, ie one who is a follower of the Vedanta system of philosophy, the purpose of one’s life is to find Moksha (Liberation) which is to get released from the cycle of births and deaths. A student of the system, tries to achieve jivan mukti, which is to find the liberation in this life itself. What this implies is that he finds and abides in the happy himself during this life itself. So, the purpose of finding out why he was born is to recognise that he was born to become a jivan mukta.

If all that sounds very mumbo jumbo, simply stated, it is to reach that inner space which is naturally a happy state, but which has been overwritten by other impressions which need to be discarded. The process of discarding those impressions and abiding in the released state is the purpose of, at least, my life.

If you are interested in probing further about your own purpose / meaning, you can try the twenty minute formula that Cheerful Monk shares in her post a link to which I have given above.

Story 8. The Zamindar.


“All of us are going around with an entire story of our lives, completely different from the story of our lives that anybody else would tell. So much of our lives never breaks the surface.” – Claire Messud in The Guardian.

Before I sat down to write this post, I was visiting Facebook when Nick’s post caught my eye and I could not resist the temptation to include it here. Thank you Nick. I wonder what someone who has known me will write about me!

I met Balji Raju way back in 1961 in Hyderabad. He was engaged to be married to Shakuntala who was my then girl friend T’s close friend and classmate. Balaji, a few years older than the three of us, was also studying for his Masters in Hyderabad. Both Raju and Shakuntala were from the same Raju caste and the engagement had been arranged when they were both teenagers. While Shakuntala was staying in a girl’s hostel, Balaji’s family had taken a full house for him to stay and had equipped him with a servant, and a body guard cum driver and a Hindustan Landmaster car for his use. One of my unforgettable impressions of those days was how the driver, Venkaiah would bring hot lunch for Balaji in the car and serve him, while he sat in the back seat. The four of us would often go on double dates to cinemas and on picnics and all was as well as it could be for young people in those good old days.

I attended Balaji’s wedding in Vijayanagaram in 1962 and lost all touch with him till 1968 when I was posted for a few months at Hyderabad. By that time much water had flown down the Musi and both of us were very different people. I had acquired a BA, and an MBA and was working towards a career in a reputed company and was courting Urmeela. Balaji had settled down in Hydearabad as he did not like to live in his village where his father was a Zamindar. Like many such families, his family had extensive urban properties in the cities which were important for them to visit like Hyderabad, Madras, Vijayawada etc. By that time, zamindari had already become a joke with dwindling agricultural holdings, and Balaji was in the process of encashing what he could of his family’s estates and investing in urban properties. He and Shyamala were living in the same house that Balaji had stayed in while studying and were living a life of the idle rich.

I used to meet them on and off whenever I had the time during brief visits to my in laws, but such meetings tapered off due to the short time that I used to spend in Hyderabad and Shaku was not particularly friendly towards Urmeela.

When I was posted in North India, a mutual friend from Hyderabad was visiting us in Delhi and informed me that Balaji was then living in Varanasi. Since it was a certainty that I would visit Varanasi sooner or later, I had arranged to get his address so that I could visit him when I did.

Before we proceed any further, something about Varanasi. Many rich Indians used to and still do own ancestral residences there as pilgrimage in the olden days meant a few days spent there during the days when accommodation for pilgrims was in short supply. Hindus would go to Varanasi for various reasons and to be comfortable, many had bought homes there to be used by family and friends on pilgrimage to the holiest of all holy towns of India. To die there and to immerse the ashes there in the Ganges is believed to release one from the cycle of births and deaths. Moksha as it is called here.  The older Hindus would prefer to go to Varanasi to die there.

In late 1980, I did visit Varanasi and found out where Balaji was staying and landed up there in the evening after work. He was living in one such home bought by his ancestors. The ground floor was rented out to two traders and he was living in solitary splendour in the upper floor, cared for by the old family retainer Venkaiah.

It was obvious to me that Balaji was not well but I did not know quite what with. He was gracious in his hospitality and reminisced about our old days together and we parted company. During my next visit to Varanasi in 1983, I met him again and it was obvious that he had deteriorated in health further but I could not find out details as he would simply brush it off joking that his time for moksha was nearing. In our chat that evening I learnt that Shakuntala had left him to live with her parents and was in Hyderabad teaching in a school and after that parting, Balaji had moved to Varanasi to be far away from her.

I met Shankuntala in Hyderabad in 1989 when I heard the full story. Balaji had squandered the entire estate after the death of his parents and was a full blown alcoholic. He had no place to live anywhere and was an emotional drain on Shakuntala who finally took the decision to leave him to his devices. He moved to Varanasi as that was the only property left and he was strapped for cash. He was in no condition to earn a decent living. He had died in 1985 at Varanasi and Venkaiah returned to Hyderabad with the keys to the house to tell the story that he had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Venkaiah had performed the last rites and immeresed the ashes in the Ganges, packed up his meager belongings and come away back to his own family.

Balaji would have been about 45 when he died. What a waste of a life that could have been very different.  Perhaps, he got the moksha that he joked about.


Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where twelve of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Will. The ten other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie, Maria SF, ocdwriter, Padmum, Paul, Rohit, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too! Having given us the topic, will Will or won’t Will?

Calm, peaceful, or tranquil; unruffled: a serene landscape; serene old age.

That is what the dictionary defines the term as. Each word worthy of a post by itself but all of them pointing to a state of being which all of us would dearly love to have.

In the Indian system of yoga, reaching that stage of perfect serenity is called Moksha. The nearest English word for that can be Liberation. Moksha is freedom from all limitations. A person seeking Moksha is called a Mumukshu.

Just anyone cannot become a Mumumkshu. He first needs to have certain characteristics. They are:
1. Viveka : The capacity to discriminate between the permanent and the impermanent.
2. Vairagya : Dispassion to the enjoyments of the fruits of one’s actions, here or hereafter.
3. Six qualities like Sama etc.
4. Yearning for liberation.

The Six qualities mentioned in the third requirment are: Shama, Dama, Uparati, Shraddha, Titiksha and Samadhan.

Shama: Being in control of one’s mind.

Dama: Control of the sense organs.

Uparati: Ability to perform one’s duties (enthusiastically, without any sense of burden).

Shraddha: Faith in the words of Guru, and Scriptures is Shraddha.

Titiksha: The ability to endure the pairs of opposites like heat & cold; pleasure & pain etc.

Samadhan: The ability to stay focused / concentration.

And we think that Serenity is easy to obtain! My spiritual teacher calls this the modern attitude of Instant solutions. Like Instant Coffee, we look to buy serenity off a shelf in some Ashram from some Guru by offering a dakshina.

When one is a Mumukshu, after having acquired the qualities enumerated above, the work starts in earnest. Meditation, reflection, discussions with other seekers, reading, attending classes etc are then taken recourse to.

Even with all these efforts, there is no guarantee that one will reach that stage of Serenity. In our systme, it is assured that being on the path, if one does not reach that stage in this life, s/he will get an opportunity in the next life by being born in a family where the process will be speeded up. If one does reach that stage in one life, that person is called a Jivan Mukta and there are a number of them amongst us, except that we do not recognize them as such.