To learn something, being with a Guru is inevitable. To land up on the truth, one has to unlearn. The role of a Guru in unlearning is equally or more important than it is in the process of learning. Sant Kabir has spoken many Dohas or couplets which highlight the role and importance of Guru’s grace. Kabir was a disciple of Ramananada Swami who was himself trained in two distinct traditions – the tradition of Advaita as well as the Nath tradition which has connections with Tantric Buddhism.
While Kabir never explicitly spoke about his Guru, in many of his couplets or Bhajans, he invariably points his listeners or readers to a Guru. In one of his most famous couplets, he says –
गुरु गोबिंद दोनों खड़े काके लागू पाय बलिहारी गुरु आपनो, गोबिंद दियो बताय
(If I encounter God and Guru both on my way, I will first bow down to the Guru as he is the who showed me where to look for the God.)
In of his other Bhajan, Kabir says :
गुरुजीने दिया अमर नाम, गुरु तो सरीखा कोई नाही अलख भरा है भण्डार, कमी जामे है नाही
(My Guru introduced me to the inexhaustible one – the god. No one can replace a Guru. He opens up the treasure which is beyond all the measures.)
Most of the times, the quest for truth takes the path of knowledge and what ultimately we reach is a pile of dead information which further confuses us. That’s why, Kabir never talks about reading or studying scriptures. On the other hand, the Guru is the one who has walked on the path. He is the one who has found the key and has also unlocked the puzzle of existence using that key. If one wants to unlock this puzzle for oneself, the only way to do it is being in the company of someone who has already done it.
If one reads all the couplets or Dohas of Kabir and goes through many of his Bhajans, the only actionable guidance that he gives to a seeker is finding a Guru and being in his company. Why so much emphasis on being with a Guru?
Whatever we are seeking, whether we call it truth, god, love, reality – it exists within us and not outside. The Guru is the master of this art of going within. Having known the tricks that our mind plays, Guru is the one who knows how to circumvent those. A seeker can carry out this journey on his own but being with a Guru makes the whole journey smoother and shorter!
One of the legendary vocalists of India, Pt. Kumar Gandharva would often say something about Ragas in Indian Classical Music which holds equally true for the absolute truth. As he would say, if you just know trunk of an elephant, you have not known the elephant fully. Knowing elephant fully means being able to recognise it from any angle and perspective. Kumar Ji would often present well known Ragas in perspectives unimaginable to not only listeners but also fellow musicians.
As he would often say, if you just identify an elephant with one of its organs, you are far away from knowing what an elephant is. Once you know what a Raga has to tell, you can go beyond the conventional ‘bookish’ definition of that Raga and unshackle it from the rules. The new perspective might not be as per the definition of that Raga but it will still say what the Raga essentially has to say.
Of course, an artist can take this kind of liberty only after complete understanding of the Raga.
Same holds true for truth and its expression. Roses in a bunch are bound to have different size and shape. The fragrance is essentially the same. When we look at works of different saint or masters, their statements or expression differ but they essentially carry the fragrance of the same truth.
I have been reading Kabir as a little boy and was introduced to Jiddu Krishnamurti during my engineering. Nisargadatta Maharaj, another realised being came into my life much later, in 2016.
Kabir was a 15th century saint who had training in Advaita as well as Nath Panth. Jiddu Krishnamurti was raised under the Theosophical teachings but unlearned and emerged anew. Whereas Nisargadatta Maharaj was a common man with uncommon intelligence who as he would say, sincerely followed what his Guru told him to do.
If we go through teachings of these three saints, we realise that in spite of their different backgrounds and different ways of expression, they were essentially sharing the same fragrance.
For instance, look at these three statements by these three masters :
A Doha (couplet) of Kabir :
कबीर खड़ा बज़ार में लिए लुकाठी हाथ | जो जारे घर अपना चलो हमारे साथ ||
(Kabir stands in the market with a burning stick in his hand. The one who can burn his house, can join me on my way)
Here is a quote from Jiddu Krishnamurti :
Have you not noticed that love is silence? It may be while holding the hand of another, or looking lovingly at a child, or taking in the beauty of an evening. Love has no past or future, and so it is with this extraordinary state of silence.
Here is a statement by Nisargadatta Maharaj :
You may die a hundred deaths without a break in the mental turmoil. Or, you may keep your body and die only in the mind. The death of the mind is the birth of wisdom.
If we relook at the Doha of Kabir above, he says only the one who burns his house can join Kabir on his path (the path of truth). By burning house, Kabir is talking about burning our accumulations; not the physical ones but the accumulations in our mind. Our mind is a storehouse of memories, fears, hopes, and what not. Our first step on the path of truth is burning this junk in our mind; Kabir calls it burning one’s house.
If we read the quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti again, he talks about silence. What is the silence he is talking about? This silence is what follows when one realises that ‘I’ is a fabricated entity. He says love has no past and future. Past and future are products of mind; in present, there is no mind.
Nisargadatta Maharaj says it even more crisply – The death of the mind is the birth of the wisdom. Death of body does not necessarily mean death of mind and death of mind happens without death of the body.
In short, these three masters, in their own words are communicating the same fragrance – our falsely created sense of ‘I’ hinders the direct realisation of the truth. We often debate whether tail of the elephant is really the elephant or the legs! Once we focus ourselves on ‘elephant’, trunk as well as legs are parts of the same elephant. In same way, once we realise that the truth that all masters pointed out is one, the expression no more matters or bothers!
I know, everyone would respond differently to this seemingly simple question. The major length and breadth of 2020 has been occupied by the most unexpected phenomenon : COVID 19. As I go out every morning or evening for the routine walk, I can see a shop or two closing every day and some other shop sprouting with fresh branding and fresh hope.
Well, this one observation sums up what the coronavirus has done; for many of us, it has completely shattered or at least slowed down what was going right whereas for some few, it has opened new doors.
As I do weekly mentoring calls with the participants of ‘Unlock Your Self the Kabir Way‘, a course on Kabir that I teach (this course was started as a result of COVID-19 in the first place!) I realise how the pandemic has positively as well as negatively affected so many of us. since the course is woven around the wisdom of Sant Kabir, often, the participants ask how would have Kabir responded to a pandemic like this.
We believe that many of the problems that we face today did not exist when Kabir lived. Loss of jobs due to artificial intelligence, addiction to cellphones, large number of people turning homeless due to a lockdown, forceful sterilisation of animals; these problems are in a way contemporary, born out of progress(?) of humanity and technology. Would Kabir’s wisdom be inadequate or incapable of solving these multi layered problems?
If we read the words of Sant Kabir, we realise that he has actually touched a large number of issues like untouchability, orthodoxy, religious hatred etc. in his couplets. But it would be a grave mistake to conclude that these problems is what defines the scope of the solution that Kabir has offered.
Kabir had a very integral approach towards problems. Rather, if we study Kabir’s work and dive within with that understanding, we will realise that the core problem is just one. The numerous problems that we face are just manifestations of the one core problem. And since there is just one problem, there is only one solution. What’s that one problem and what’s the one solution?
In one of his Nirguni Bhajans, Kabir says :
पांच पचीसों पकड़ मँगाउजी एक ही डोर लगाऊंगा |
I will catch the five and twenty five with a single rope.
The word five could mean five senses. These five senses give birth to twenty five problems. If we keep the numbers aside, Kabir is simply highlighting the fact that all the problems that we face are actually born out of disturbances created by the five senses in our mind. As per Kabir, tackling each problem independently is not going to help. One needs to understand the plain simple fact – the problem is because of the ripples created in our mind by these five senses. For example, we get disturbed when we see something that we do not like or when we see cruelty around. We are disturbed when we hear something that is unpleasant to us. Whatever could be the problem, it creates ripples in our mind through our senses.
As per Sant Kabir’s wisdom, as long as the ripples exist in the mind, whatever the mind does to solve the problem, it will rather add to the problem. The first step, the very essential condition for a solution to come up is lack of these ripples.
That is why Kabir is talking about the one rope- that one rope is awareness. In order to act on a problem, we need a firm ground, a ground which is untouched by the problem. If there are ripples in the mind, the ripples will distort the way the problem is perceived and the response of the mind would also be distorted.
Once we understand this, it is very easy to understand why most of the solutions offered to the problems we face are skewed.
It is very easy to wrongly conclude that by awareness, Kabir means only being aware when you are solving the problem. That’s how generally all the commonly available solutions are. Have a flu? Take a pill and get rid of it. Have inequality? Pass a new legislation and get rid of it.
Interestingly, such solutions give birth to many more problems. The legislation, which is proposed as a solution gives birth to ten more problems – is it drafted fairly, will it be executed properly, will it cause innocent people to suffer?
We have arrived from one problem to infinite problems because of our own solutions. Had we followed Kabir’s approach – awareness, our problems would have been fewer and simpler to deal with.
So, the solution cannot be a ‘use and forget’ kind. When awareness becomes uninterrupted, we realise the most profound fact of the life :
घट घट में राम रमैय्या
In every body, the lord lives.
If we look at all the problems that exist – for humans, animals, environment etc. they are all born out of our belief that we are a separate entity from the rest of the world. This separateness gives rise to all the ripples in our mind. The ripples of insecurity lead to hoarding, the ripples of greed lead to extremely skewed distribution of wealth, ripples of dominance leading to use of this planet as a resource to be exploited.
If we had ingrained this solution of awareness, most of the problems that we are facing, including the coronavirus pandemic, would have not born in the first place. But that does not mean that the solution of awareness is ineffective against the crisis.
If we all look around, we are all panicked or challenged by the pandemic and the suffering it has caused. At the same time, we are doing very little to actually help someone or even ourselves. All our frustration is coming out in the most worthless manner it could – on social media.
If we listen to Kabir, be aware of the situation, observe how it has been playing with our minds, how it has further strengthened our sense of being ‘separate entity’ and with that understanding look at the problems being faced by us as well as people near us, we will be far better at dealing with this crisis!
साधारण चार वर्षांपूर्वीची घटना. अनेक वर्षांनंतर माझा गाण्याचा कार्यक्रम होता. मी आठवीत असताना माझं गाणं शिकणं बंद झालं. दहावी, त्यानंतर बारावी आणि मग नंतर अभियांत्रिकीचं शिक्षण; या सर्व व्यापात गाणं तसं मागेच पडत गेलं. अभियांत्रिकीचं शिक्षण संपलं आणि मग सुरु झाली नोकरी. नोकरी चांगली असल्यामुळे आणि माझे वरिष्ठ फारच समजूतदार असल्यामुळे गाण्याचा घरीच थोडा थोडा रियाझ करायला वेळ मिळू लागला. एक- दोन वर्ष असंच सुरु होतं. दोन वर्षांनी मी राजीनामा दिला आणि अजून मन लावून रियाझ करण्यास सुरुवात केली.
कोणीतरी रियाझ ओझरता ऐकला आणि मेहफिल करणार का विचारलं. उथळ पाण्याला खळखळाट असतोच. अति-आत्मविश्वासाने मी लगेच होकार दिला. जोमाने तयारी सुरु केली. पुढचे वीस दिवस एकच राग. शेवटी कार्यक्रमाचा दिवस उजाडला. संध्याकाळी ६ वाजता गाणं सुरु झालं आणि आयुष्यात पहिल्यांदाच, मला धडकी भरली. आवाज थरथरू लागला. तानपुरा ऐकू येईनासा झाला आणि स्वर सापडेनासे झालेत. त्यादिवशी मी कशीबशी वेळ मारून नेली. एकंदर गाणे चांगले झाले आणि नंतर रंगले देखील परंतु, ‘या भीतीचा, या थरकापाचा उगम कुठे होतो?’ हा विचार अनेक वर्षे मनात होता. त्यानंतर अनेक कार्यक्रम झालेत, अनेक वेळा ते भय आणि तो थरकाप होता, अनेक वेळा तो नव्हता; थोड्या अनुभवाने हे कोडं आता उलगडू लागलं आहे. या विषयावरील झालेला थोडा विचार मांडण्याचा प्रयत्न करणार आहे.
मला जर कोणी सांगितलं की समोरची बाग बघून ये आणि त्यात सुंदर काय आहे ते मला सांग, तर मला घाम फुटेल का? मग मला जर कोणी बुजुर्ग जाणकार व्यक्ती म्हणाली की अर्धा तास यमन ऐकवं, तर मग मला घाम का फुटतो? बागेत जाऊन तिथे काय अनुभवलं हे सांगणं आणि मनोविश्वात जाऊन तेथे काय अनुभवलं हे सांगणं या दोन प्रक्रिया सारख्या आहेत की वेगळ्या?
बागेत जाऊन ते सौंदर्य कोणाला सांगणं यात दोन वेगळ्या प्रक्रिया आहेत. पहिली म्हणजे सौंदर्य अनुभवणं, संवेदनशील मनाने ते टिपणं. दुसरा टप्पा आहे मंथनाचा. जे सौंदर्य पाहिलं, ते मोजक्या पण परिमाणकारक शब्दांत, आणि सर्वात महत्वाचं म्हणजे, प्रेमाने कसं सांगणार?आणि खरंतर गायकाचं किंवा कलाकाराचं काम हे निश्चितच जास्त जिकिरीचे आहे. बागेत सौंदर्य आहेच. ती बाग कोणीतरी फ़ुलवूनच ठेवली आहे. आपलं काम फक्त ते सांगण्याचं आहे. गाण्यात मात्र ही सौंदर्य निर्मितीची प्रक्रिया कलाकाराला स्वतः करावी लागते. स्वतःच्या रियाजात, आयुष्यांतील अनुभवांत, जर हे सौंदर्य जाणवलंच नसेल तर ते व्यक्त कसं करता येणार? हे सौंदर्य आयुष्यात अनुभवलं नसेल आणि ते स्वरांच्या माध्यमातून मांडायची सवय नसेल, तर स्वरमंचावर आपण काय प्रस्तुती करणार? कुमार गंधर्व ‘देखो रे ऊत’ सारखी रचना करू शकले कारण की त्यांनी तेवढ्याच ताकतीचा अनुभव संवेदनशीलपणे अनुभवला होता. ही संवेदनशीलता नसेल, तर कलाकार नक्की त्याच्या श्रोत्यांना सांगणार तरी काय? तानांच्या फैरी झाडणं, बिना प्रयोजनाची आलापी करणं, खर्जापासून अति तयार षड्जाला जात श्रोत्यांच्या कानांत दडे बसवणं म्हणजे एखाद्याने कोणत्याही बागेत ना जात केवळ मनाच्या बाता मारण्यासारखे आहे.
दुसरी पायरी म्हणजे अनुभव सशक्तपणे मांडण्याची. एखादया कुशल स्थपतीशी चर्चा केली की लक्षात येतं की त्यांना वारा, प्रकाश, अवकाश यांचा इतका अनुभव असतो की कशी रचना केल्याने त्याचा तेथे राहणाऱ्या किंवा येणाऱ्या लोकांच्या मनावर काय परिणाम होणार हे त्यांना क्षणांत उमगतं. तसंच, कुशल गायकाची स्वर, राग, भाव, यांच्यावर इतकी पकड असते की कशी रचना केल्याने काय परिणाम साध्य होणार हे त्यांना चांगलेच ठाऊक असते. इथे वर्तुळ पूर्ण होते. सौंदर्य अनुभवलं आहे आणि ते व्यक्त करण्याच्या माध्यमावर देखील पूर्ण प्रभुत्व आहे. सिद्धहस्त कलाकारांकडे या दोन्ही गोष्टी मुबलकतेत असतात.
यातली एखादी एक जरी बाजू कमकुवत असली, तर कलाकाराच्या मनोवृत्तीनुसार खालील शक्यता होऊ शकतात –
अनेक कलाकारांचं गाणं इन्फॉर्मल किंवा घरगुती वातावरणात फारच खुलतं परंतु मोठ्या मंचावर काहीतरी गडबड होते. अशा कलाकारांनी खूप सौंदर्य अनुभवलं असतं आणि त्यांच्या माध्यमावर देखील त्यांची हुकूमत असते परंतु मोठ्या मंचावर काहीतरी बिनसतं – दडपण येतं, मनातील बागेत शिरण्यास अटकाव होतो, ध्वनी व्यवस्था हवी तशी नसते त्यामुळे घरगुती गाण्यात जी रंगत येते ती मोठ्या मंचावर येत नाही; जर सर्व काही मनासारखं असेल तर मात्र मोठ्या मंचावर देखील तोच अनुभव मिळतो.
अनेक कलाकार सुरात असतात, तयारी छान असते परंतु त्यांचं गाणं ऐकून काहीच वाटत नाही, ते मनाला भिडत नाही. अशा कलाकारांची बहुदा मांडणीच्या कौशल्यावर हुकूमत असावी परंतु संवेदनशीलता कमी असल्यामुळे फारसे सौंदर्य किंवा अनुभव त्यांच्याकडून टिपल्या गेले नसावेत.
काही कलाकार असे असतात की त्यांनी सौंदर्य प्रचंड अनुभवलं असतं परंतु ते मांडण्यासाठी जी काही तयारी आणि मनोवृत्ती लागते, ती त्यांची नसते. अशा कलाकारांचं गाणं सामान्य श्रोत्यांना फारसं आवडत नाही परंतु जाणकार लोकं सतत त्यांच्याभोवती घोळका घालून असतात.
सौंदर्याची गाढी अनुभूती आणि मांडणीवर हुकूमत असणारा कलाकार खरं तर लाखात एक!
आणि सर्वात महत्वाचं – काही विरळ कलाकार असे देखील असतात की त्यांचं गाणं (अनुभूती आणि मांडणी) ही फार वरच्या दर्जाची असते परंतु ते सतत मांडणीच्या आणि संवेदनशीलतेच्या अधिकाधिक खोलीत उतरत जातात. गाणं कितीही चांगलं झालं, तरीदेखील पुढची पायरी त्यांना खुणावत असते. त्यामुळे, सर्व काही उत्तम असून देखील ते लोकांसमोर गाणं टाळतात किंवा त्यांना ते फारसं जमत देखील नाही.
या सर्व विचाराअंती असं लक्षात येतं की कलाकार आणि त्याच्या आतील थरकाप आणि भय यांचं नातं फारच गमतीशीर आहे. हे भय कलाकाराला नकोस वाटतं परंतु या भयाच्या सावलीतच कलाकार मोठा होतो. खरंतर हे भय आपल्याला सांगत असतं कि सौंदर्याची अनुभूती आणि मांडणीवरील हुकूमत अजून परिपक्वतेला पोहोचले नाही आहेत. या भयाला चिरडून टाकणे फार सोपे आहे. या भयाला चिरडून, अति आत्मविश्वासाने बेसूर आणि निरस गाणं लोकांसमोर मांडणाऱ्या कलाकारांची कमी नाही.
या भयाच्या ओझाखाली घुटमळून लयास देखील अनेक कलाकार गेले आहेत. हे भय जोपासून, त्याच्या हातात हात देऊन आणि योग्य वेळी त्याला तात्पुरतं बाजूला करू शकतो तो सिद्ध कलाकार!
Life in general is full of diversity. If we observe people around us, there is so much diversity in terms of what we do and how we do it. Some people believe in earning riches for themselves while some get peace by sharing their riches with others. Some choose the path of accumulation while some choose the path of sharing. While we might do whatever we do for different reasons, we essentially exist in two modes: Drushya, the one who is seen and Darshak, the one who sees.
Let us try to simplify this. Take an example of a little three year old child. For most of the times, the child is a Darshak. It likes to watch others. It could spend hours watching cartoons, animated videos, birds and animals around, etc. After some time, the child enters the other mode; it gets an urge to be a Drushya. It would like people to look at it. Children cry to get attention. They often become cranky just to attract others’ attention to them. Most of the times, the child is jumping between these two states.
In fact, this is true for all of us. We are putting up so much of content on social media. Why? Because we like to be seen; we have inner urge to be a Drushya. All our accumulation is rooted in our urge to be a drushya. Quite a lot of times, we help others so that more people look up to us, they talk about us. For example, the politicians, actors, performers love to be Drushya. They want to be seen by people. They want to be talked about.
To be a Drushya, one needs a lot of doing on one’s part. Being Darshak is comparatively very simple. That’s why, most of the people love to be Darshaks. Why is Netflix so popular? Why video content is becoming so much popular? It helps us forget ourselves. We choose to be darshak when we want an escape from ourselves.
There is one more state, which we rarely experience. The third state of being is Drashta. Who is a Drashta? In his commentaries on Ashtavakra Mahageeta, Osho very beautifully explains – When Darshak becomes your Drushya, your state is that of a Drashta. This needs a little elaboration.
Who is the watcher within us? Can we watch that watcher?
Ashtavakra calls this state Drashta which simply means being a witness. When we witness ourselves in different situations and mind states (like angry, greedy, afraid, etc.) we realise that the Drashta or witness within us is free of all these states. These states merely come and pass by; we (can) remain untouched by them.
Kabir calls this Drashta as ‘Ram’. Whenever Kabir mentions Ram in his works, he is not talking about the mythological Ram. He is talking about the Ram (Ramyate iti Ram – the one who is engrossed is Ram) inside us who is wrongly identifying himself with the moods and situations through which the mind goes.
Tibetan saint Tilopa describes Drashta as the one who looks at thoughts in the mind like clouds in the sky. Clouds just pass through the sky; they cannot colour it. In same way, our mental states just come and go and we can remain untouched by them.
When we are either Drushya or Darhsak, suffering is inevitable. When we are Drashta, peace is a possibility.
What is Art? Can I call any expression art? If I can sing beautifully, is that an art? Or, if I can hold a pencil in my hand and draw something captivating, is that worthy of being called an art? Is the final product called art irrespective of taking a look at the process in which it is born? Why some art lives beyond the boundaries of time, language and culture whereas some ‘art’ fades out? What makes art timeless?
Before we talk more about the above mentioned topic, let us try to figure out what ‘timeless’ means. Does timeless mean something that lasts for centuries? Or does it mean something which is equally relevant after centuries? When we talk about any art form or an artistic work of any artist, just survival is not enough; otherwise any piece of stone would be timeless. A singer’s intense rendition, which is neither recorded nor documented in any manner will fade away the next moment; is it not timeless then?
That’s why, understanding what ‘timeless’ means is very important to understand ‘timeless art’. Take example of two saints as a case under consideration – Kabir and Raidas. Both Kabir and Raidas learnt from same Guru. They were Gurubandhus in that sense. Another contemporary and celebrated saint – Meerabai, when met both of them, she chose Raidas as her Guru and not Kabir. Today, Kabir is more well known and can be considered to be a ‘timeless’ saint in the conventional meaning of the word ‘timeless’. What about Raidas? Is he not timeless?
I feel, ‘timeless’ art carries with it the energy to give its experiencer an experience of ‘timelessness’. Actually how many people take that experience and then talk about it does not affect the quality of art.
When you read a couplet of Kabir, it makes your mind stop for a moment. It establishes a direct contact between the reader and the timeless. Same is true about a single note which comes from a musician who has tasted even a bit of truth in his or her life. The purpose of art is to free the mind of sense of time; if we judge art on the basis of how long it lasts, that would be hilarious. In most of the cases, when people realise some art is truly timeless, they try very hard to practice and preserve it which makes it timeless in the normal sense of that word. Buddha’s words are timeless not because they are around even today. Since they were truly timeless, his disciples and then their disciples devoted their lives to practice and preserve it.
Before we explore our topic deeper, I would like to share with you how Osho looked at art. In one of his talks, he very beautifully distinguishes between, science, religion and art. As he describes,
Science is our effort to ‘understand’ the truth.
Religion is our effort to ‘experience’ the truth.
Art is an expression from the one who has experienced the truth.
To be very honest, if one defines art this way, 99.99% (or even more) artists no longer remain artists. Artists who are sincerely practising their art form are actually Sadhaks, the ones who are trying to explore truth from their practice. As per the definition of Osho, true art begins after the experience of truth has happened. If we again go to Kabir as a case under consideration, the Dohas i.e. couplets and various Bhajans or poems of Kabir are his expression of truth. They are not his words while struggling to find what truth is and hence, they can be truly called art.
If we look at what is commonly associated with art, three separate things are being called ‘art’:
The art whose sole purpose is self promotion, getting more money and recognition.
Art to make a living from it. Practised sincerely, but to make a living.
Art practice as a way to self realisation.
If we accept the Osho’s definition of art, none of the above can be called artists. Even the last one, which sounds like a very authentic definition of artist cannot be called art. For the third category, they are practitioners of truth and have not experienced it yet. True art can come from the one who has experienced the truth. The sincere artists, who are dedicated to their art form become ‘walkers on the path’ to become an artist.
How does one become an artist who creates timeless art? I feel that this question itself is flawed. After the experience of truth, can one exist and function as an individual? An experience of truth would be something like what Kabir describes in one of his couplets :
लाली मेरे लाल की जित देखु ऊत लाल लाली देखन मैं चली, मैं भी हो गई लाल
The crux of this couplet is, ‘individuality’ does not remain once a person gets to experience the truth. Rather, letting go the personality is a very first step towards experiencing the truth. If you feel that I am being too idealistic or simply lost my mind, let me bring your attention to the fact that some of the greatest artists, who are known as timeless artists have repeatedly expressed the same feeling.
Take this line from the all time great painter, V. S. Gaintonde :
कलानिर्मिती ही ईश्वरकृपा आहे; वैयक्तिक यशाची गुढी नव्हे.
The above line can be loosely translated as – The process of art creation is a grace from the god. It’s not something an individual can boast about.
Gaitonde himself would regularly listen to the talks by J. Krishnamurti and Shri. Nisargadatta Maharaj and these two ‘timeless artists’ impacted him a lot which is clearly visible in his works. Gaitonde also practiced Zen Buddhism.
To conclude, our common understanding is that the practice of any art is a process to realise the truth. In reality, art is the the matured expression which starts flowing through one once he or she has experienced the truth.
In ecosystem of any art form, one individual can play multiple roles; for example, I am a student of Indian classical music, I perform very rarely and I am an avid listener.
As a listener of this magical art form and after listening to musicians from past three to four generations, I have my views about the current Indian classical music ecosystem based on some observations. Apart from this, as a part of Baithak Foundation we also organise concerts of artists, mostly in schools, for kids.
Most importantly, I am a believer who believes music can change lives. Thus this article, about music, musicians and the overall scenario, is inspired from all the positions that I have mentioned above. I am writing this not because I hate some artists and prefer some others; rather, I am writing this because I love this beautiful art form.
Are we going to wake up only when we need nine stitches?
Is everything alright with the present Indian Classical Music scene? Well, on the surface, yes. Let us ignore the impact of COVID-19 for the time being and consider the situation at the beginning of 2020. You may say, concerts are happening everywhere. Festivals are flooded with audience. Some artists are busy, doing as many as 20+ concerts a month. Even young artists have decent performance opportunities. With Skype and other tools, online teaching is also a source of additional little but steady income. More parents want their kids to learn an art form which creates ample of employment opportunities for the young as well as mid and senior musicians…….wait, wait!
I am not asking about the musicians. I am (right now) concerned about the music. What’s the state of music that is being served? What’s the quality of music being presented, what is the quality of experience that audience has? What is the quality of Taalim that is being given and received by disciples (or students?)
In cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, etc. maybe, things do not look that bad. But what’s the situation other than these few large cities? Let us take an example of Amaravti, a district in Maharashtra. I stayed in Amaravati for a couple of years and when I was living there, I came to know of many musicians who could perform phenomenal music. As cases in considerations, I am sharing two videos here.
First one is a recording by Pt. Manohar Kaslikar from Amaravati, presenting Raga Gaud Sarang:
Second video features Pt. Dinkarrao Deshpande, singing a Natyageet. Some of his full length Raga recordings are also available.
In the 70s and 80s, there were at least 5 musicians of this calibre in Amaravati. Same was the situation for Nagpur, Yavatmal, and other nearby towns and fairly across the country.
What do you think is the current situation in these or similar smaller towns? Many places may have teachers but do smaller towns have musicians and Gurus of the above mentioned calibre?
I want to point out a steep deterioration which is happening throughout; it might not be visible in cities like Mumbai, Pune or Kolkata, yet. That does not mean that there is no deterioration.
In our holy field of music, some questions are never asked. Forget of asking them, even having them in your mind might be perceived as a crime. In this long piece, I am going to put aside my fears, respect and other things. When one enters a temple, one keeps out the footwear.
I think undue pompousness about tradition, teachers, rules, formalities are like footwear if one wishes to enter the temple of genuine enquiry.
I am not claiming that I am out of the problems that I am about to discuss; I might be a part of them but I am willing to stop and question. Readers are free to share their thoughts through comments on this article or by writing to me on my email.
The music field has become diabetic because everyone is sweet!
Two years back, I was sitting in front of the editor of a leading Marathi newspaper. This newspaper wanted me to cover the famous Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav. They did not want me to do facts reporting; rather, they wanted musical comments and insights.
With lot of excitement, I met the editor. The first thing he told me was not writing anything negative about any artist. To quote, ‘this is a festival and we never say anything negative on festive occasions.’ That was the clause which came before discussing anything else.
Imagine, if every newspaper tells this to their music reporter, all musicians would be maestros, pundits and ustaads.
But, I was not ready to give up so easily. I played my card.
“Okay, I understand, but can I write suggestive?” I asked.
“Means what?” the editor questioned.
“I won’t say what went wrong. I would write about what could have been better,” I answered the query.
I got an approval on that.
With tremendous enthusiasm, I wrote my first piece, taking all care that I nowhere sounded negative or even critical. I only made few suggestions which were very obvious!
Next day, when I checked the paper, those suggestive comments were simply chopped off.
Why? Why cannot someone as a listener point out what was not right? We all understand that for a musician it might be a bad day and one wrong review might spoil his or her career. But there are dozens of musicians who are consistently performing crap for decades. You can’t anymore call a spade a spade. Immediately your ‘knowledge’ and ‘humility’ bear a question mark.
And, a good reviewer can of course mention that it could be a bad day and be as gentle as possible. Today, no organiser will book an artist from reading a newspaper review. There are YouTube Videos, fancy brochures, personal recommendations etc. through which organisers make these decisions.
Frankly, the world of Indian Classical Music has a history of honest reviews. If you do not believe, sharing two reviews written by veteran journalist Mohan Nadkarni – here and here . I am sharing these reviews just as examples of how critical a reviewer could be. I have heard of far more pungent reviews written about artists of the stature of Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and the likes. Many of these reviews were out of hatred; some of them had a point. The point that I am trying to make is, there was no pressure on a journalist that he needs to sound sweet.
Honesty is the new Aprachalit Raga
We often hear many anecdotes about how great maestros of the old time shared their frank opinions about music of fellow musicians. At times, these opinions were born out of a sense of competition and jealousy but, in general, musicians shared what they felt about the music presented. To take this a step further, even accompanists were quite open about sharing their views about the music of the main presenter and vice a versa.
Recently, the only feedback that artists give each other are nice, very good, kya baat hai, bahut badhiya! We never hear something like –
“I liked your performance but the tanpura could be tuned more precisely” or
“I like the vilambit rendition but I found the drut rendition a bit gimmicky which hampered the bhava of the Raga.” Or something as simple as –
“I liked your last month’s performance more than today’s.”
Lack of constructive feedback, from fellow musicians, from accompanists, from audience, from organisers is damaging not only the field of music but also the journey of musicians.
Is Sincerity the Lupta Raga?
Well, for this particular point (by God’s grace) there are exceptions. I request you to prove me wrong by pointing out more and more talented and sincere young musicians. But, I am talking about the overall scene here.
We are always told the stories of dedication, sincerity, riyaz etc. of artists of the yester-years. Keeping aside the details, we can safely conclude that they were utterly serious about what they were doing. We have the story of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Sahab wearing a kurta made of the thread which he used for the javhari of his tanpura and we also have heard the story of Kesarbai Kerkar who would return ticket money of audience in the last rows, if they were not able to hear her clearly. She stopped singing when she had huge following just because she could not sing up to her own standards.
And then, we have musicians who share recordings of concerts where they are out of tune for 90 percent of the time! Being surel is very difficult and is a life long journey. What bothers me is, can a musician not avoid posting it? Don’t post it. I understand, one wants to be ‘seen’ and hence one uploads them. But please, do not DM your audience and tell them how beautifully you have sung. At least be humble!
Many times, artists do not even cut the patches where they have fallen flat on their faces; or record it on better quality devices. At least, learn a bit of technology to ensure the music that goes out is worth a listen.
I am not writing this sitting on a pedestal. I know I am far from being surel. What bothers me as a listener and as a music lover is this casual attitude. It makes me think of a salesman who sales rotten tomatoes with broad confidence on his face. It might be working for artists; but it is damaging the art for sure.
Today, lack of talent is not the problem knocking on our doors as much as the lack of sincerity and the burden of publicity. Somehow, we have lost fresh air which is very essential for an ecosystem to flourish.
One might argue that in spite of all this, the art form is becoming more popular and I am being pessimistic. Well, let me tell you a story.
Let’s hope Indian Classical Music does not end up like that coffee company…….
Once upon a time, there was a company which sold the finest Arabica coffee in the world. Their sales were growing exponentially. Their newly appointed CEO came up with a strategy to take profits up through the roof. He proposed to blend the Arabica coffee beans with the much cheaper Robusta beans. They did trials; some packets had pure Arabica while some had the blend.
Their study showed that most of the people are not able to make the difference and within a month, all the packets going out consisted the blend. The profits increased almost three to four times. Everyone was proud and happy. After 15-20 years, the sales started dropping crazily.
A team of consultants was hired to find out what was going wrong. The reports from the consultants said that only the people from earlier generations who were addicted to coffee drank coffee. The next generation stopped considering coffee as a drink of choice.
The company realised their mistake. By blending cheap coffee, they made huge short term profits but this new blend could not capture young consumers. They liked other options much more than coffee.
The company immediately banned the blending. It took them a generation or two to get back to their earlier size of consumers.
Let’s hope our rich tradition of music does not end up like this coffee company!
पिसती चक्की देख दिया कबीर रोय। दुई पाटन के बीच साबूत बचा न कोय।।
Meaning : Kabir cries when he looks at these grinding wheels, churning endlessly (Pisati Chakki) and mercilessly, crushing everyone in between them, not sparing anyone.
This is one of the most commonly known Dohas or couplets of Kabir but often, it is misunderstood and misinterpreted. Kabir is talking about the pair of grinding wheels in between which, we are all getting crushed.
What does Kabir mean by these grinding wheels? As per the normal understanding, the grinding wheel which Kabir is talking about is this universe. The earth is the base wheel and the sky is the upper wheel. And we humans are like the grains trapped in between these two, getting crushed endlessly.
So, many people also conclude that Kabir suggests, it is impossible to be happy in this world. This somewhere leads us to inevitability of pain and suffering in life.
Is that really so? The same Kabir, who talks about the shower of bliss, would he just conclude that suffering is unavoidable? We need a completely different approach to understand this Doha and to catch its real essence.
The two wheels necessarily symbolise friction. They convey a sense of constant conflict to me. If there is no friction, i.e. no conflict between these two wheels, the ‘suffering’ would immediately stop. I feel, the wheels Kabir is talking about are reality i.e. what exists and our expectations – how we want the things to be.
If we look at this Doha with this new definition of the grinding wheels, it makes total sense. We are constantly getting crushed by the conflict between ‘what is’ and what we want. A major chunk of our energy goes in fighting with what is and changing it to something that we imagine or some ideal which the society, our parents or we ourselves have given to us.
This is the part where Kabir and Krishnamurti come very close to each other. J. Krishnamurti says, when we know (at a superficial level) that we are violent, we invent a non-existent ideal – nonviolence. Which means, the reality is North Pole and we invent a South Pole which is the ideal. An our life becomes a constant struggle between these two poles.
Acceptance, Krishnamurti says, is the answer and not creating a radically opposite, non-existent ideal. Kabir has put up this problem very nicely. He has explained it very nicely, using a simple metaphor of grinding wheels. What solution does he propose to this problem?
Kabir shares an answer somewhat similar to J. Krishnamurti but in form of another Doha and another analogy.
पाटी पाटी सब कहे, कील कहे ना कोय। जब कोई कील कहे, तो दुख काहे को होय।।
Meaning: Everyone talks about the two grinding wheels and no one talks about the motionless point of pivot which lies at the centre of these two wheels. If one rests there, pain and suffering end.
If you ever have observed the actual grinding wheels, you must have seen the small portion at the centre of the wheels where the movement is almost negligible. The few grains which stay at that spot, remain intact. Kabir is using this analogy to make us move towards our own centres. We are constantly moving out and that’s why the conflict. Can we move in? Can we touch ourselves? Can we, with all our energies look at us and accept us as we are?
A lot has been said and a lot is being said about COVID-19. Experts and stakeholders from different fields- science, medicine, environment, economics, education etc. have been talking about the virus and how it’s going to impact our lives in near and far future. Most of these articles are scientific and data driven in nature while some are based on outcomes of very sophisticated forecasting tools. There are quite a few articles where social implications of COVID-19 have been discussed in great details.
It’s good to clarify right at the beginning that I am not a scientist, not a researcher or an analyst. Though, what people often forget is that we are humans to begin with. We are not the sole residents and owners of the Earth. All these write-ups and articles from these experts take many things for granted which is not the case at all.
This piece is an analysis of root-cause of our miserable situation. It’s not backed by data but it’s based on observations as a human being. I am convinced that we are no rulers of this planet but one of the ‘species’ which is residing it and I will be examining the situation from this perspective. The world is talking about Coronavirus as the only problem, rather it’s just one of them.
I would rather say that virus is not the problem itself. It is actually an outcome, a manifestation of our crazy and self-centred ways of living.
The strange animals called the Humans
Humans are residing on the top of Darwin’s model of evolution. Generally, all the animals and birds take care of the ecosystems in which they thrive. There might be some occasional damage to the ecosystem caused by some creatures but that is generally out of sudden anger or rather a result of direct efforts to survive. Once that trigger is gone, animals move back to their normalcy. Animals are generally full of sense of territory and once they get it, their mischief stops. Human beings violate both of these laws. Along with immediate instincts, human beings are governed by momentous insights and have the unique ability of pursuing their ‘dreams’, ‘ambitions’ and ‘goals’ no matter what.
In the process of creating wealth or safeguarding one’s interest, human beings can happily destroy the ecosystem in which they and many more creatures flourish. Also, like other animals, we fight till we claim our ‘territory’ or whatever the goal is but our notoriety increases drastically after we get what we want.
In short, our journey as humans is fuelled by fear, insecurity and discontent with whatever we have. Once we achieve what we hoped for, our desire is not shunned but it multiplies manyfold. The glass of desire is an absurd one. Once you start filling it, it doesn’t get filled; it starts getting bigger and bigger.
Our acts have always been detrimental to the entire balance of nature and many epidemics that we had, were actually results of we destroying habitats of others. As this article points out, destroyed habitats create perfect conditions for coronavirus and many more pandemics are about to begin in the future.
One of the greatest teachers from India, J. Krishnamurti would often say that ‘to exist is to exist in relationship.’ Without any doubt, we are the creatures on earth who exist in the worst possible way; exploiting everything rather than nurturing it. Over the centuries, we have cultivated toxic relationships with other co-occupants of this planet.
Our mistake is our misconception that we are individuals
Humans are highly ‘individuality’ driven. We have circled down our identities to narrow dots. Secondly, whatever falls out of our circle of identity, we identify it as competition or threat. In nature, life is woven so magically that there could be thousands and lacs of viruses but they won’t kill all of us. In the worst situation, they will kill a tiny fraction of our population. We started looking at everyone other than us as a threat. With the discovery of antibiotics, we started a war with microbes and in turn, affected ourselves by destroying the habitats of ‘good’ bacteria within ourselves. It took us many decades to realise this mistake and now, microbiome research is fostering to study causes and cures for many chronic diseases and disorders.
Yet, we are far from realising that fighting is not the key to exist.
Even now, with the Coronavirus outbreak, we are in fight mode (at this moment, it is absolutely necessary to control the pandemic) which is the only immediate solution. But, it is a ‘short’ term solution. The long term solution could appear only when we rethink about the way we deal with ‘life’ and its balance on Earth.
Flattening the curves
Everyone is talking about flattening the curve so that we can buy ourselves time to manage the situation better and reduce the number of casualties on the way. Flattening the Coronavirus curve is of course the need of time but to ensure our (and of the entire life on the Earth) healthy survival, we need to get serious about many other curves and should worry about flattening them instead.
Population: We are already much more in numbers than we should be in the first place. No population control, no hopes.
Pollution: Our rivers, air, soil, oceans everything is being polluted at a crazy pace. Ultimately, it’s all going to come back to us and hit us badly. We are already out of time; Ecosystem restoration should not be our just first priority but our first three priorities.
Desires: We have already come far ahead of what we had expected from the life. We have done it at the cost of many people who are going through a living hell. As long as we operate from our sense of insecurity and comparison, we might possess all the wealth of the world but still, we would be wanting more and more.
We humans need to learn the art of being satisfied. But, individual and social satisfaction goes against the ‘growth’ driven society. Every effort will be made to make us feel insecure and incomplete. Entire machinery will be put at work of triggering our ‘fear’ so that we buy more, we hoard more and compare more. Once you get in the spiral, getting off is next to impossible. COVID-19 has momentarily stopped the spiral. Better be careful before you step into it again!
Ashtavakra Muni can be said to be one of the most rational sages we ever had in India. We often think that spirituality is very thinly related to rationality. The root of this misconception lies in the fact that we, our relationships and our society primarily works through a false structure. The structure itself is irrational and hence, we often find spirituality irrational. In very simple words, if my ruler itself is bent, I will find every straight line skewed. Some of the fundamental truths which Ashtavakra Muni explains in a very straight-forward language, might appear to be absolutely illogical to us. Yet, I am going to talk about a few of them.
Throughout his Mahageeta, Ashtavakra talks about Sakshibhava (साक्षीभाव) which simply means to be a witness. He calls this witness Drashta (द्रष्टा). Who is witness? A witness is that part of us, or rather that state of being where we just observe things and events without getting affected by them or their outcomes. A witness is concerned about witnessing what is happening and has zero attachment to what happens. Generally, whenever we look at something, we look at it with some sort of attachment. We are concerned more with the outcome as it might either be favourable to us or might also be detrimental to us. When we truly become a witness, Ashtavakra highlights, we move in a state where nothing can affect us; there is nothing favourable and nothing harmful or detrimental.
Osho, in his volumes of Ashtavakra Mahageeta has explained the concept of ‘Drashta’ or witness in a very unique way. With little help from him, I would be trying my best to simplify what Ashtavakra is hinting at when he says be a Sakshi or Drashta.
We normally exist in three states. The first mode of being is a Drishya (दृश्य) which means ‘object of someone’s attention’. In this state of being, we strive to be an object of someone’s attention. Most of us are in this state most of the times. We want to get noticed, we want to be talked about. All of us in some way or the other, keep trying to be an object of people’s attention. Our interactions and updates on social media are a testimony to this thirst of almost all of us. The root of our desire to be a ‘Drishya’ is the hollowness that we find within ourselves. We want people to look at us so that we can portray we have some ‘substance’ and we are not hollow.
The next state of being is Darshak (दर्शक) or the viewer. For someone to be a Drishya, there have to be at least a few Darshaks. While some people try becoming Drishya to fill up their hollowness, some try doing that by being a Darshak. Being a Darshak is far easier than being a Drishya and that’s why, whenever people find a Drishya, they gather around him or her. A Darshak looks at things out of his or her boredom and out of inability of looking within oneself. When a child is bored with one toy, it chases the other; in same way, a Darshak keeps moving from one Drishya to the other.
When a child is bored with one toy, it chases the other; in same way, a Darshak keeps moving from one Drishya to the other.
The third state of being is a Drashta (द्रष्टा), the Sakshi or the Witness. A witness is not an ordinary viewer like Darshak. For Drashta, Darshak is Drishya. Which means, a true witness is no more interested in looking at others. He is no more concerned with what happens outside. He observes how the Darshak in him/her is eluded by the Drishya/s outside.
What Ashtavakra says about being a Drashta, the same thing has been said by Sant Kabir, in a very different language:
बुरा जो देखन मैं चला, बुरा न मिलिया कोई।
जो मन खोजा अपना, तो मुझसे बुरा न कोई।।
(I started searching for the devil but could not find anyone. When I searched inside me, realised, the devil is inside me!)
This is the whole gist of being a witness. Looking at oneself; closely observing how we get dragged away and get attached to what we see around us. Once we start understanding how we attach our personal interests to each and everything happening around us, we start realising how being detached from these things leads us to acceptance.
The outcome of being a Sakshi is to arrive at the magic key to happiness : acceptance.