On Narakachaturdashi, the ritual oil bath and cleansing, are also meant as a celebration for the heroic act of Krishna when he released 50,000 Gopis enslaved and oppressed by Narakasura ( the Dark Demon). They welcomed Krishna with diyas lit in his honour and He merged with them.
“yadA yadAhi dharmasya glAnirbhavati bharata…” starts the oft quoted line from Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. It talks about the great and virtuous people who are born on the earth from time to time and who raise the oppressed and exploited people out of their dire predicament. Why is it that a statement like “sambhavAmi yuge yuge” (and I will return in every age) follows and is that really a statement of hope? Deepavali is celebrated to honour and remember the deeds of these great people. But we must ask ourselves what do these people who have been led to a new possibility do? Why does an extraordinary person have to reappear? Why does the golden future turn to lead with unerring regularity? Let us examine the context of the Deepavali just gone by.
The #Metoo seemed to reach a crescendo on FB on the days leading to Deepavali. The outrage was palpable, the hurts shared in the public forum not only allowed a collective catharsis, it reminded many people of their own traumas and insults. It put me in touch with the trauma I have faced at the hands of an obliging cousin (pun intended). This left me with grave doubts about my own sexuality as I grew up and it was much later that I understood what I had been through. Luckily for me I did not internalize the oppressor. But to some extent, I know the inner darkness such abuse creates, the belly of Narakasura that one resides in. I have listened to many women speak about the horrors of molestation they have faced: rape and the silence of internalized shame, family collusion as a powerful relative subtly forces a teenager to endure sexual oppression, lewd advances by colleagues or people in authority. The scars it leaves behind endure for a lifetime. The collusion of those who are around these powerful and ruthless people allows the violence a free reign. The ones who collude are afraid of losing prestige or a tenuous hold they have on the pipes that allow wealth to ‘flow downward’. This is what the followers do; they collude with the powerful, harm the victims with their silence and celebrate the memory of the revolutionary and the savior! They lend a helping hand as Narakasura spreads darkness into the hearts of the next million women.
One of the most difficult situations I have faced in a lab happened in an insAniyat lab that I facilitated. A man in his mid 40’s trusted the process and opened up and spoke about the very deep wounds he had been dealt with through sexual abuse by an uncle. Not only were the wounds unhealed after many attempts to work through with psychotherapists, his family had treated him as a liar when he shared his trauma with them! The impunity with which the exploiters carry on is appalling. We deal with a very small number of people in labs and it takes a lot of compassion as well as skill to help the person work through feelings of shame, victimhood and hurt. The healing cannot take place through just a few encounters. It is only when the person internalizes the capability to observe the self deeply, to observe oneself from the location of a friend (sakhi bhava) and from a meditative state (sAkshi bhava) that healing can begin. The person also needs a community of others who are able to bring in this quality of listening. The internalized trauma shows up in so many ways, an inability to feel ones body, hyper-vigilance with ones emotions, deep insecurities in relationships and illness. Once this ability to listen with compassion is internalized healing begins and it will slowly transform the person. I wondered how an inner lamp of healing light could be awakened in the millions who suffer such trauma? And in the many more who collude and prevent a ‘satyagraha’ against such exploitation? It would be a Deepavali worth celebrating when the collusion stops and every act of violence and indignity is called out and addressed. It is not the victim suffering daily shame, but the perpetrator stopped in his tracks. We will then celebrate Deepavali to honour the everyday acts of valour and integrity.
This is not the only story of darkness I hear these days. As I speak with people who are in the field of the helping professions or political or developmental work across the board I hear an underlying sense of futility and despair. It is also becoming very difficult to have a meaningful conversation with people on the current state of affairs. Stacked on top of the lack of real knowledge, the ‘false news’ is entrenched in prejudices. All this leads to a polarization of the discourse. So called ‘moderators’ of news channels and discussions act like flamethrowers, and the discussants gleefully take the bait. Here also I experience the manifestation of violence, intolerance and use of power. In a recent discussion I saw on u-Tube the person moderating is a well-known media figure. He continuously places binaries in front of one of discussants he has decided is the representative of the Hindu voice. However hard the person tries to get out of these (often ridiculous) binaries, and states his neutrality the moderator keeps making snide remarks. The other person in the discussion watches this drama with a smirk on her face! The whole show seemed like a set up to brow beat and cow down the scholar, who by the way came through with great dignity. It takes some careful listening to see through the provocation, the misuse of authority and the mischief in the kinds of binaries offered. This was abuse of power. In many of these discussions each side seems not only to lack respect for the other, it seems to be convinced that the other side will destroy the nation and the world. The antagonism is thick and oozing with sarcasm, contempt and veiled threat. I wonder if the viewer sees how he/she is complicit in the process? What will it take to enable the viewer to stand up and stop this kind of subtle but powerful tearing up of a ground where discourse can lead to dialogue and insight? I guess the viewer has to understand how the show they are endorsing is a reflection of their own biases and inability to enquire into reality from a compassionate and curious mind. That would be a lamp worth lighting, one that shines on ones own biases and prejudices.
When one looks at the political situation across the world, this process of abuse can be seen everywhere. It screams out at us from the newspapers and news media all the time. The western powers give a fig leaf of a justification and bomb nations whose resources they wish to have an easy and cheap access to. They create blockades that put millions of people into misery. Religious leaders actively feed these wars and the oppression. Can these leaders, the hangers on who rake in the financial benefits of these violations and their followers ever be helped to see themselves in the mirror? Would a religious fanatic or an economic fundamentalist listen to anything except his echo? Is there a lamp waiting to be lit in their hearts?
I recently read a very nice joke, one of the rare occurrences on the whatsapp forwards. It goes some thing like this:
“You are walking down a crowded lane and holding a cup of coffee. There is some jostling, and shoving, and the coffee spills, dirtying the floor and staining your new clean white shirt. You are upset, and blame the crowds for unruly behaviour. Now if you were holding a cup of tea, the tea would have spilled all over. Life is like walking on a crowded lane, sooner or later, life will jostle and shove you, and whatever you hold in your cup will spill. The problem is not life and other people, it is the contents of your cup.”
I have been rumi-nating (pun unintended) on this for a few days, and my mind veered round to the many ways in which mankind has tried to deal with this problem, namely of people holding unsavory things in their cups, jostling and spilling the stuff all over. The end result is not only a world full of all kinds of waste, the world is also full of irate people!
One of the earliest ways was imposing laws and instituting punishments to ensure that people are good and orderly. There are many problems with this attempt. When one looks around, there are a minuscule number of maryada purushOttam ram type of people. On the contrary we find people in all walks of life, particularly in positions of power whose cups are filled with unmentionables. They seem to be very busy using the sceptre and crown that they wear for short periods of time to use their power in extractive, unethical and self serving ways. People in authority with beautiful cups have been very few in all of known history. Just take a look at the nuclear cocktails Trump and Kim are holding (by the way no one has spilled more of this ‘coffee’ than the US presidents)
The other way that has almost an equal claim to antiquity is religion. Using the idea of god, heaven and hell religions have tried to instill goodness in people. This too has failed miserably. All through history we have examples of the most despicable use of religious authority. The dark ages and reformation and the use of the sword to spread the word of peace has been the favourite pastime of most religions. Officially sanctioned use of terror in the name of ones (only true) God still rages in our midst. The misuse of the trust the followers place on priests and cult leaders happens all the time. Stories of Shogyal Rimpoche, Ram Rahim Singh, various Bishops and so on around the world are recent examples. Their cups over flow with the blood of innocents and nonbelievers!
The third way has been walking away from the world and becoming an ascetic. After 14 years of intense sAdhana (this seems to be a popular length of time from ancient times) the person returns. He (most often) is shining with light, talks of peace within and gathers a few dedicated followers. Their cups are filled with joy and bliss. This has worked for a time, especially for those touched directly by the Wise person. But, very soon the ‘teachings’ become dogma, a religion is born and a King feels honour bound to show the depth of his faith. The oasis of peace becomes the well spring of a new form of the same old coffee!
Having clearly seen these failures and partial success, what do you and I do? We live in the world, lead a work-a-day existence and are part of the crowded lane! At Ritambhara we are trying to answer this question, we want to learn from all these attempts, but endeavour to experiment with a new path. We are energised by the statement made by Thich Nhath Hanh who believes that the future will be shown by sanghas that live in the world but are deeply spiritual. We are creating a platform where we will commit to an inner sAdahana, we will help each other to find our ways of acting in the world, being housewives, husbands, professionals and so on (ordinary citizens in short) while discovering a spiritual way, a path with a heart. We begin by looking at cups honestly, examining its contents, and how we keep filling it up with unfailing regularity!
We find that the Mahabharata and Yoga Sutra offers a lot. These we use as guides and inspiration. Would you like to join us? The next few opportunities: Mahabharata Immersion (dates) and Antaranga Yoga - http://sumedhas.org/media/Antaranga_Yoga_Brochure.pdf
My work revolves around helping individuals, groups and organizations discover their Dhamma, and become “the best they can be”. This aligns with my own personal saadhana. I have restated this question for my self as follows: “how can I be in touch with the well spring of my love for the world and my love for my self simultaneously”