Monday, February 23, 2009

Reflections on VIP darshans

Our family boasts an Uncle who, besides having occupied positions of power and influence in his heydays, is now on the management board of almost all the big pilgrimage centres in South India. Just as one would make travel reservations when embarking on a pilgrimage, it is equally the done thing in our family to notify Uncle and request him to make arrangements for our visit. He takes care of our being met at the station, escorted to well-appointed rooms, then escorted to special VIP darshan, and finally dropped back to the station - in short, a pilgrimage on a bed of roses. Of course, it is very sweet and benevolent of him to extend his special privileges to his family. We made a trip to Mantralaya this past weekend, having dutifully notified this Uncle before starting, and subsequently enjoyed the ensuing royal treatment.

There are 3 courtyard layers around the brindavana - and the general public is allowed only upto the second. The innermost courtyard right around the brindavana can be penetrated only by priests and VIPs. After the darshan, I asked my mother and hubby if they felt any unease about receiving special treatment in front of God when the rest of the people were packed like sheep in the next courtyard, craning their necks trying their best to catch a good glimpse of the brindavana and offer their prayers. My mother subscribes to the argument that it is our own good merit accumulated from past births that allows us to get closer to the shrine, so there's nothing wrong in using it, since we have "earned" it. My hubby assauges his conscience by thinking that since God has extended a privilege to us by granting closer darshan, it is our responsibility to translate that gift into being better people and a greater force for good in this world. I happen to be currently reading Eknath Easwaran's presentation of the Bhagavad Gita and the insights I have been gaining from there do not let me dismiss the issue so easily. The whole war scenario that the Gita is set in is a reference to the battle within, between the forces of selfishness and the forces of selflessness. Right after the darshan, I opened my book for a blessed afternoon reading interlude when my toddler is out of the way napping, and this is what I read:

"Anything we can do to subordinate our profit, our pleasure, and our prestige to the welfare of those around us naturally results in the reduction of I-consciousness, ahamkara, which is the Sanskrit word used for separateness and selfishness."

It struck me that we had been doing just the opposite, however indirectly. We had been using our clout and power and prestige to muscle our way into the best darshan spot available, unheeding of the welfare of those around us. Baba says in His inimitable style, "Love is selflessness and self is lovelessness." We had been trying to get closer to the Lord of Love through our lovelessness. Can it ever be? We might have got physically closer to the shrine but I'm sure we were very far from God in ways that really count. What an irony!

In an effort to identify himself with the lot of the comman man in our country, and to express his solidarity, Gandhi took to wearing a homespun loincloth and travelling only in third class. He saw himself in all and refused to put himself apart or make himself special in any way. We might not be able to imitate the moving example of the Mahatma but we can at least learn from our experience and avoid doing things that make our conscience uneasy. You will not catch me in a VIP darshan again!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why I left Facebook

For a long time now, ever since I have got on Facebook and had many people mostly from my past, friends or not, send me "friend" requests, I have been feeling a vague distaste for this whole social networking culture. That still small voice has been nagging away at the back of my consciousness and I'm finally starting to sit up and take notice. Why does Facebook creep me out? Here is a start:

My friends list is basically a graveyard of people I have had some intereraction with in the past, some memorable, some wholly forgettable. And after they request to add me as a "friend", there is no further interaction forthcoming from them, even ON Facebook! So this whole adding-as-friend business seems to me to be a subtle kind of mutual voyeurism agreement - you peek into my social world and I'll peek into yours, with a still more subtle connotation of "and then let's see who is cooler". Everything you join, do or say reflects on the newsfeed that all the "friends" get to see - so everything that you say or do or join, you do with an eye for how it will look, how it will affect my "cool factor". Quite a Danse Macabre of the ego.

In a recent discourse to His students, Baba said, "I wish that you all be very careful in your contacts and relations with others. If possible, dump your cell phones in a well. You will be happy and peaceful. Better you don’t acquire them at all! Even if you acquire one, establish contact and connection with only those with whom it is desirable. Do not develop unnecessary and undesirable contacts with others. By developing such contacts, you gather news from all and sundry and pass it on to others. Ultimately, you will end up as Narada, poking your nose in all sorts of things. You will not only spoil your mind with unwanted things but spoil the minds of others too! Why all this unpleasantness? Is it not because of your unwanted and undesirable telephonic contacts? Hence, be careful and earn a good name for yourself, your parents, and the institution in which you are studying."
He's talking about cellphones, but He has also described Facebook to a T! The message here is more than clear. In a nutshell, Facebook turns you into a Narada of the worst kind!

Eckhart Tolle once said in an interview - "Transcending the world does not mean to withdraw from the world, to no longer take action, or to stop interacting with people. Transcendence of the world is to act and interact without any self-seeking. In other words, it means to act without seeking to enhance one's sense of self through one's actions or one's interaction with people."
Now we're doing precisely that in Facebook - seeking to enhance one's sense of self through one's actions (like joining groups after seeking what you want to identify with out there) or one's interactions with people (commenting, peeking into profiles, writing on walls, relentlessly acquiring "friends")!!

Someone once said that your past is the ultimate delusion, and Facebook keeps one nicely anchored in that delusion. And it's so insidious that you don't realize it at first. On the surface it is most innocent, hail-fellow-well-met and all that, just keeping in touch with people, what can be nicer? But underneath, your ego is just feasting off the whole thing, revelling in self-preoccupation, muddying your mind with an explosion of unnecessary thoughts and emotions, and taking you far away from the Here and Now. When Here and Now is where life is.

Social networking for the sake of social networking is an ego prop I no longer want to burden myself with.