In the holy city of Kashi – the oldest inhabited in the world, it’s said – there lived a cloth merchant Shivendra with his family of wife and three sons: Vishwa, Shambu and Hara. In a city boasting a hoary history for weaving brocades of silk and gold and cotton, Shivendra thrived in his business; textiles were a passion for him – sourcing top quality material, engaging artisans who conceived both traditional and innovative new designs and wove magic…coupled with his business acumen. Over time, his products became iconic with people coming from far and near to buy from him.
While the going was great, the stress of doing business was slowly getting to him. The sons helping him out observed he was getting slower on his feet, going about with greater effort. He did not go out to meet his suppliers and major customers as often as he did before – it required him to be on his feet longer. His visual acuity also was not as good as before – he was often passing defective material both at input as well as output that merited outright rejection in line with the high standards they had set for themselves.
Worst of all, he was increasingly losing his cool with his family over trivial matters, with vendors and customers during negotiations thereby seriously hurting the business. The sons saw this was more due to his lack of adequate sleep in the nights, an ailment he suffered from as far back as they could remember, rather than an innate part of his makeup. All kinds of mantriks and tantriks were called in to no avail. Reconciled to his lot he gamely carried on. Was it a genetic disorder? His past karma as some observed? Only now, it was beginning to show in ways that perceptibly impacted family life and business too.
The sons were fond of Shivendra, still young in his early sixties. They put their heads together wanting to do something about it. Finally it was decided one of them by turn would go out seeking remedies that must exist in some part of the land while the other two would stay back to help their father and the family. The parents reluctantly agreed after they were convincingly reassured about his safe return within a month or two.
Thus one day Vishwa set out northwards on his horse, adequately equipped. Set to go for the Himalayas in search of holy men (sadhu’s, yogi’s) for a miracle cure, he rode for several days until he reached outskirts of Sitamarhi (about 150 kosh or some 500 kms away by today’s measure), said to be the birthplace of Sita. Still an hour away from the town and it was getting dark, he stopped for an overnight halt at a village, taking shelter in a mandapam (a four or more pillared stone structure) standing by itself in the middle with the shrine it had served disappearing long ago without a trace.
Secured his horse to a tree nearby and settled down to watch idly the happenings in the village. It was just a single street lined with squat houses, about a dozen of them. Men folks were returning home from farms and wherever, the women lighted up lamps in their houses and children back in their pen after play-time. After a while, a kind lady from one of those houses came to him inquiring if he wanted water. Soon another came to him with some roti and sabzi, followed by some fodder for his horse too! Villages in our land were known for their hospitality even to strangers!
In an hour things quietened down further with no one appearing on the street. That’s when he saw an old man – must be in his seventies – emerge from the farthest house on the street, accompanied by a young man. The man walked with firm footing in the failing light, refusing to hold the hand offered by the young man. They came down on the street and walked slowly looking down all the time not missing an inch as if they were searching for something. On inquiry, the young man informed him it was indeed so. Earlier in the evening, his wife had dropped somewhere while walking on the street her diamond nose-ring. So?? Well, the old man was the vaidya (medicine man) revered in the village and had the sharpest pair of eyes. So it was…and truly in a few minutes he found the ring lying partially hidden under a stone!
Vishwa was mightily impressed by what he saw. He requested some time from the old man.
On the following morning, he went up to the vaidya’s house and told him all about his father and family and the purpose of his visit. He wanted some medicine to improve his father’s eyesight so he could as before keep a hawk’s eye on the business.
The old man patiently heard him out, asked a few questions…he then went away to the back of his house and returned after a while with a bamboo canister in his hand containing an herbal potion to be given to his father first thing every morning for a week…no need to continue thereafter. More importantly, he was required to do a few activities without fail to go with the potion and even after, never to be discontinued. Results would begin to show in about four weeks. All this, not before teasing him about the inevitability of ageing.
Something about the old man made Vishwa believe in him. He respectfully thanked the old man for his help, offered him appropriate dakshina (fees) and took leave of him carrying the canister carefully.
All at home were quite happy to see him with his horse back safely – it had been only a month.
He explained his consultation with the vaidya. Happily for him everyone agreed on the new regimen he suggested to be put in place as early as the following morning.
The day began with Vishwa’s mother giving Shivendra the potion first thing in the morning.
It was not just with the potion. Shivendra reached the workplace before anyone else. He threaded every needle and loaded every loom ready for operation. When the workmen arrived at their workplace, they were surprised to see it was all set up ready to go. Shivendra waved them away when they fondly fussed about his straining his eyes needlessly, insisting on doing it again whenever needed during the day. All the same they were enthused and energized by their master ‘soiling his hands’ on the shop-floor like one of them in a new practice that had come to stay. It showed in the output at the end of the day.
Exactly what the vaidya had ordered!
In about three weeks they saw Shivendra doing it in half the time he took to begin with! Things got better where it mattered – he was catching flaws easily in the finished product passed by others. Likewise with the input yarn going onto the looms. The final validation came in by way of fewer customer complaints. And not just at work, it showed in the house kitchen too – his wife was happy and impressed to see him help her in her daily chores by unerringly hand-picking stones and mud-balls clean off the rice that went into the cooking pot,
A couple of months passed. One day, Shambu came up to express his desire to go out for a while like Vishwa did, to do his bit for the family. Vishwa told him how the vaidya he had met, certainly not a day younger than seventy five, had walked effortlessly without any help – he was the man if anyone could help their father with his legs. And it was now in evidence he genuinely cured. So it was agreed Shambu would exactly follow his brother’s footsteps, reach the village and consult the vaidya. It was worth a try.
On day 8, Shambu reached the vaidya’s house.
He was told by a young man, his attendant and household help, master was away on his morning routine to collect fresh herbs from up the hill nearby…he should be back anytime now. Did he hear right? Up the hill? Yes, he did it every day, Not once, but once in the morning and once in the evening – some herbs need picking only in the evening, the attendant told him. He sat down on the thinnai (porch) waiting for the vaidya’s return. In a little while, he saw a light drizzle sending towards the house an old man he rightly guessed to be the vaidya in a hurry without a stumble or slip, Muttering more to himself the ground would turn slushy in no time, he gave a perfunctory nod to Shambu and went in. Giving him a little time to dry himself and settle down, Shambu knocked and entered almost feeling sorry for imposing himself thus on the old man. .
When he identified himself, the old man did not appear to mind the intrusion. Recalling his meeting with Vishwa, he inquired about their father and was happy to learn his patient, unmet, was doing better. So why was Shambu here? If the potion given was exhausted, there was no need for more to be given, he already had said. Thereupon Shambu clarified he had come for a different purpose – it was his father’s problem with his legs and his curtailed movements. The vaidya heard him out patiently, threw a few questions and as before at the end he gave him a bamboo canister containing an herbal potion with same instructions – to be given to his father first thing every morning for a week…no need to continue thereafter. More importantly, he was required to do a few activities without fail to go with the potion and even after, never to be discontinued. And wait for four weeks for the results to show.
On his return, Shambu shared his consultation with the vaidya. With everyone in agreement, the new regimen was rolled out from the very next day.
Once again, the mother was entrusted with the job of giving Shivendra the potion every morning for the week it lasted. At lunch, he had porridge of crushed oats, horse gram and sprouts, sitting next to his horse also feeding on the same though prepared differently along with some green grass. This was to be his largely unchanging luncheon menu, minor tweaking permitted, for three days in a week henceforth. The horse seemed to love sharing the table with the master!
On two other days he went out and met his suppliers and major customers, collecting inputs directly from the field. They too were happy to meet him and be heard. With improved bonding, many irritants of little value were not allowed to get out of hand simply though talking it out, letting them focus their energies on more substantial issues they faced. On one occasion, a supplier in jest remarked Shivendra would do well to tell his wife to guard him against any ‘evil eye’; for he had heard from many in their circles say these days he went about like a young horse, defying his age.
Which his wife duly did, exorcising any evil spells, by performing the prescribed rites, when he carried the supplier’s tale back home.
So some more months passed. While things were a lot better Shivendra still had the occasional bouts of irritation, impatience and anger. The lack of adequate sleep in the nights was telling. Did cause some setbacks in business and loss of goodwill; though not irreparable, a lot of energy and effort went into retrieving the situation whenever it happened.
One day, the youngest son Hara came up to say it was time he also did what he could. This time both Vishwa and Shambu advised him strongly to go back to the same vaidya, citing the successes they have had with his cures. So he set about following the same route as the other two.
It was the tenth day and he was standing in front of the vaidya giving him an update on his father and telling him about his father’s problem of insomnia and how it affected life at home and workplace. This time the vaidya asked Hara questions at length about his father, his personal and professional life. Asking him to wait, he went inside the house.
Half an hour had passed, still no sign of the vaidya. Hara inquired with the attendant. The attendant informed him his master was meditating in his room. Wrong timing, should have come a little later after he had finished his morning prayers, Hara thought to himself.
Another half an hour passed. Hara was pacing up and down impatiently now bordering on irritation. Again when he made inquiries, the attendant told him his master was scribing on palm leaves. Strange, they – his brothers – had never warned him to expect this. What was happening?
And then the vaidya emerged from inside. What, no bamboo canister in his hands? Instead, something wrapped in silk. Hara’s heart sank – may be the vaidya could not find in all this time a cure for the ailment in his books.
As if he read his mind, the old man said there was no easy cure for his father’s ailment. From all that Hara had told him and revealed by meditation, it appeared to be karmic in nature. There was no option but to live with it as he was doing presently. However it is fury could be somewhat mitigated thru medication…
Hara breathed easy.
The old man then asked him to take the package in silk to his father. In it was the medicine that would give him some relief from the ravages of the affliction. Must be handled carefully during the return journey, else the contents could crumble to pieces. This was as best as he could do.
Profusely thanking him and offering a generous dakshna Hara headed back home.
They eagerly gathered around him, though a little disappointed he returned without the all too familiar bamboo canister. With the father’s permission, they opened the package taking great care not to damage the contents. In it there was no medicinal pudi (powder) or potion, but two palm leaves containing a prescription message from the vaidya.
They wondered if it would work. Nevertheless they decided to give it a try, beginning with once a week and stepping it up if it indeed worked. There must be something in what the vaidya said – he had not so far let them down.
It was the first day of their trial. A couple of hours before dinner Hara and his father set out to a neighboring village, much bigger than theirs, a kosh (about 3.5 kms) away. Prayed at the Amman koil (female deity). Came out and distributed food packets they had carried to the poor, handicapped, mentally deranged and destitute that usually collected outside, holding each one’s hands for a moment and possibly looking into his eyes – this part was specially emphasized on those palm leaves (social distancing was not in force then). They indeed felt they were giving out more than the food.
It wasn’t late for dinner when they returned after the good walk. The entire evening had been a wee bit tiring for Shivendra.
Hara found his father…a strange kind of peace on his face, more affable? …usually the first hour was the worst. May be he did catch some sleep after the rather busy evening.
In the evening, assessing the day, the family decided they should do it more often.
Sleep or not, one thing Shivendra certainly gained over the days was awareness and goodwill in the neighboring village with the inevitable rub-off on the business sure to follow.
Two months later with all the gains continuing through sustained efforts…the family was breathing easy and their business back on even keel thanks to the vaidya – he had been awesome, right for the third time and how!
Yes, joy ofgiving (charity) to the less fortunate seemed to be the antidote, satisfying to the soul, for ones inescapable karma…especially the touch and look – that was a brilliant stroke, pure magic.
(explanation would be needed about karma and soul)
But the best answer was, “To enable you to drive faster”
Give it a thought. For a moment assume you have no brakes in your car then how fast will you drive your car?
It’s because of brakes that we can dare to accelerate, dare to go fast and reach destinations we desire! At various points in life, we find our parents, teachers, mentors & friends etc. questioning our progress, direction or decision. We consider them as irritants or consider such inquiries as “brakes” to our ongoing work.
But, remember, it’s because of such questions (periodical brakes) that you have managed to reach where you are today. Without brakes, you could have skid, lost direction or met with an unfortunate accident.
I am deeply and sincerely grateful to all my priceless BRAKES.“
“If you collect 100 black ants and 100 red ants and put them in a glass jar nothing will happen, but if you take the jar, shake it violently and leave it on the table, the ants will start killing each other. Reds believe that black is the enemy while black believes that red is the enemy when the real enemy is the person who shook the jar. The same is true in society.
Men vs Women
Left vs Right
Rich vs poor
Faith vs Science
Gossip, rumors, etc …
Before we fight each other, we must ask ourselves: Who rocked the jar?“
Was it the end for me vis-à-vis Srirangam? The last of our relations, a dear uncle, sold his huge ancestral house and moved to Chennai. Many in the family always found the house to be a delightfully hospitable base in Srirangam for visiting the huge and holy temple of Lord Ranganatha, besides enjoying the time with my uncle’s affectionate folks.
Strictly speaking, it was not so. A cousin-sister of mine I’m fond of is also living in Srirangam. And, topping it all, very fortuitously our son-in-law happens to hail from Srirangam!
So the connection endures!
Though my cousin would be more than happy to put us up for a few days, during the last couple of visits we chose to stay, with grateful thanks, in our sambandhi’s house, presently unoccupied, equipped with all basic amenities for a comfortable stay, also conveniently located not too far from the temple.
It is a different world out there. No TV, no newspapers or mags, no malls, no traffic snarls, abutting houses, sittng squat, lining the broad streets – trodden by Azhvar’s, Acharya’s and other holy men for over a thousand years – with an occasional vehicle passing by. Can’t remember ever seeing a traffic light in the inner parts of the town. What one sees most are pilgrims – simple folks, their faith unequalled – on the bustling main street rushing towards the temple or leisurely making their way back to their parked buses, happy over their accomplishment, some stopping for coffee and snacks in chotu eateries and some looking to buy mementos from the shops.
Our routine was to set out in the morning by 8-30, have a nice south-indian breakfast at Madappalli served on banana leaf and hasten to join the queue for free or paid darshan at the main sanctum. In about 60 to 90 minutes, we would be (pushed) out after a mere precious minute or two before the Lord.
Achieved big, we would now proceed to have darshan of His consort, at Her own temple located within the same complex.
On the way to and back we would also go to a number of smaller shrines set on the inner perimeter of the huge complex. They are too numerous, some 50+, to be covered all in one visit.
We would return to our place by 12 or 1 noon, thoroughly exhausted, not failing to appreciate the sculptures to be found all around – so much so I was once taken for an antique smuggler looking for a good pick!
Lunch would be again at Madappalli or it would be prasadams of tamarind or curd rice bought at the temple.
Resting for a couple of hours and finishing some chores, we would set out again by about 5, this time for a shorter visit. On some evenings we made it to any of those other temples outside the complex, of comparable vintage, some well outside Srirangam reached by town bus or on hired transport.
A routine we repeated every day of our stay, not getting bored one bit, not wanting anything else. Who cared what happened to the world outside?
The small shrines unfortunately draw only a handful of devotees unlike the bigger ones. Some of them, not readily accessible from the circumambulatory pathway fare even worse – you’ll find them only if you go looking for or you have vowed to visit every shrine in the complex.
We were told – not verified – the archakars (priests) in charge are paid very meagre salary; nothing at all according to some. They are sent some prasadams from the temple kitchen. Otherwise they are left to survive on the plate collection.
We also heard these shrines were at one time scattered all around Srirangam. During the times of invaders – 15th/16th century – overrunning the town, these were relocated inside the temple complex, but managed by the original owners. Even today some of them are in the hands of their descendants.
Be that may, these archakars remain as poor country cousins of those serving in the larger temples of the complex.
For our part, I took care to carry wads of ten-rupee notes for offering at least a tenner every time we went to a shrine during our stay. Admittedly a mere flea-bite, but that was as far as I could stretch given the numerous places to visit over the days.
In our visits, one particular shrine and its archakar, R, caught our attention. In his forties, I guessed, he came across as a guile-less person who went about with simple sincerity attending to those few devotees who came in from time to time for darshan. His non-hustling ways moved me to break the norms and offer at the least a hundred every time we went to his shrine, making it as often as we could.
One day, he was not at his station. I made inquiries and learnt about his antecedents. He had left his job elsewhere, coming here at someone’s request. Presently he was away attending to a sick wife – they were childless. Felt sorry for him. Luckily, he returned in a couple of days – he was his usual busy self with no hint of his troubles, giving the opportunity I yearned to offer a more substantial sum on the plate. But all I had on my person at the instant, sadly, was not more than a couple of thousands to give.
Don’t know how it is with you folks, paucity of funds and a sense of spending over the budget are never felt more acutely than when I’m travelling.
May be if I had his bank details, I could help him with more on returning to my base, I thought. This did not happen for some reason I’m unable to recall.
We left Srirangam – and R – as always with a heavy heart, returning to the world we knew and lived.
Fast forward a couple of years.
A few weeks ago, was chatting with Rag now at peace with life after making far more than a pile in his business in Chennai, philanthropy presently his main preoccupation.
He was sharing with me how, in this time of pandemic, he was helping with funds some staff serving the Lord and His temple at the Srirangam day-in day-out from close. Why Srirangam? Well, Rag was born and brought up here.
‘Does that mean you visit the place often?’
‘No, it is all done sitting in Chennai thru my contacts. Why, you want anything from there? Tell me, I can arrange.’
With guilt and shame, I must admit, at the mention of Srirangam, instead of Lord Ranganatha, R popped up in my head.
That’s when I told him about R. And I was curious to know how he was doing and if he was clear of his troubles.
Rag knew lots of people, not R. No issues, he said. He would find out from the sketchy details I had given him.
I left it at that.
A couple of days later, Rag told me he had located R thru his contacts. A sum of Rs 10,000 was personally handed over to him by his contact. And here was a snapshot of him.
I was aghast. Felt guilty and happy at once.
Guilty for causing, though unwittingly, an expense by no means a trifle, to Rag. ‘No bother,’ he assured me magnanimously.
And happy for R. So what if I was not the one who did the good deed.
To think Rag did it unsolicited on a mere casual inquiry! Bless him – he had not even met R and knew nothing about him…Strange indeed are the ways of the Lord in helping His.
Well, I consider myself no less blessed, for good Rag is my cousin! ‘Not all with money are rich, not all without are poor,‘ as they say!
The concepts herein are based on an illuminating foreword written by Late Shri K. M. Munshi to a booklet on Yaksha Prasna, an episode in Mahabharata with deep meanings, published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
While treatises are written on the subject, very simply, Dharma is the defining behaviour of a species, a class, a group…by which it sets itself apart from others.
Like a tiger’s is to hunt a prey, a guru is to teach, guide…why, a thief’s is to steal!
It’s a consistent framework that govern a member’s thoughts, actions, beliefs, methods, measures and principles constituting its integrity.
So far so good. Now comes the interesting and complex part:
Dharma by no means is unequivocal. It is also not monolithic or static. There are desha dharma (specific to the place one lives), yuga dharma and kaala dharma (applicable to the times one lives in)… There are role and pedigree based ones too, like raja dharma (for kings) and kula dharma (for lineage)! While these are termed as visesha dharma (special and specific), at the lowest level is saamanya dharma (the ordinary, common, non-specific principles like ‘don’t thieve’, ‘don’t tell lies’…).
It is not difficult to visualize principles of dharma taking contrary positions in a given situation – dharma-sankat’s. A man is never one thing. A raja (a king, a leader) is also a manusha (a man, a human being), a pati (a husband) to his wife and many more with different dharma’s prescribed for each (Dasaratha’s example)! This is not all. Even in the same role, often saamanya dharma could conflict with viseha dharma (rishi’s example). And within in the same class too, saamanya or visesha!
And our lives are full of them and living is negotiating through these conflicts, big and small.
Dilemmas such as this are normally resolved by a Guru by his exemplary decisions/actions in a given context – the one strong function of gurukul education, showing the inadequacy of learning merely from books and not watching its roll-out in real. Also the two great epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata – and the multitude of Purana’s bring up a number of scenarios illustrating the application of dharmic principles. Their very purpose, it’s said. Also from the lives of saints and sages of yore and modern-day enlightened souls.
Time for some examples:
One role (raja) versus another (father): This is from sage Valmiki’s Ramayana, Balakanda, Sarga 19. Here sage Viswamitra is pleading with Dasaratha to send young Rama with him to fight the two demons Maricha and Subahu and protect sage’s penances to fruition. The king, extremely fond of Rama, hesitates. Thereupon the sage in his persuasion tells him not to be blinded by paternal affection, it is his raja dharma to protect his subjects and also not to go back on promises made (earlier the king generously promises to give anything he wanted when welcoming the sage to his court).
Saamanya versus visesha: This is in the well-known parable about the rishi (one who has renounced worldly matters) at his ashram (abode) performing meditation in the forest. A deer comes in running to where the rishi is and quickly gets away taking one of the forest routes available to it. Very soon, a posse of hunters also arrive at the spot and ask the rishi if he saw a deer coming that way and which way did it go. The rishi deliberately points wrong way to them. Here the principle of ahimsa (no cruelty to other living beings)overrides the saamanya dharma’s injunction: ‘don’t tell lies’.
In leadership roles where actions have a much broader impact, the principle of ‘Bahu jana sukhaaya, bahujana hithaaya’ (greater good for great many) is often used in conflict resolution. Not to be confused with tyranny of numbers (majority). For instance, consider capital punishment. Killing someone goes against the state’s visesha dharma of having to prevent cruelty to its subjects, the accused in this instance. On the other hand it is in line with the state’s visesha dharma to protect from or prevent crimes against its subjects, possible victims in future at the hands of this accused if let go or others emboldened by him. How best this could be done provides the answer to the legitimacy of state killing anyone. Or take the project of damming a river to provide water all-round the year versus large tracts of village lands going under water in the up-stream catchment area. Requires a close look at the costs and benefits.
Udyoga dharma (dharma of one’s profession) is a modern broad-based need since profession one takes up is no longer related to one’s kula (ancestral family inherited industries like farmer, potter, soldier, blacksmith…) and also because there are some zillion new professions that have come into being in modern societies. Broadly speaking, udyoga dharma could be that:
‘a) A man must perform a honest day’s work.
‘b) He must sincerely and diligently serve the best interests of his customers (internal including the employer and external including the environment).
‘c) An interesting corollary of b is he must constantly hone his skills so he continues to deliver the best.
Another powerful implication of the above is that the service level (b and c) are not adversely impacted by any grievances an employee may hold, genuine or otherwise, in his job! He is called up on to resolve the same independently to the best of his ability.
The straight and simple inculcation and subsequent reinforcement to keep up one’s dharma is the best self-actualizing motivator on a very sound and stable dharmic base scoring over any scheme conceived so far for this purpose.
In fact, it generally applies likewise to performance under all dharmic frameworks.