Art of Living Ashram, Art of Living Stories, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

A profile of a joyous warrior who fights on peacefully amidst adverse and scary events in a lab for living in enlightenment!

I couldn’t help laughing whenever Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji shares the story from the Ramayan in which a stray dog asks Lord Rama to make his attacker the head of an ashram as a punishment! It’s ironical to presume that being the head of an ashram would be such as a tough job that even a dog would consider it to be a harsh enough punishment to be meted out to his tormentor!

As the story goes, the dog had been a head of an ashram in his past life and it was so tough a job that he wished that we would be better off being a stray dog rather than a head of an ashram! And he was born as one!

The moral of the story is that it’s not easy to take care of an ashram! Fortunately, one doesn’t have to take another birth to experience it. Just a posting as the head of Art of Living’s ashram located in Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh would be enough to realize this profound wisdom and become strong enough not wish to be born as a dog!

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This naturally-endowed beautiful ashram has its own ways of teaching most profound wisdom in very chaotic ways!  It’s like Bagavad Gita in action. Profound wisdom of life in the midst of chaos! And chaos inevitably leads to bliss! That’s why I often joke around in AOL circuit that any long-term seva in Arunachal Pradesh is like training in how to live in enlightenment. And that’s what Swami Bhavyatejji, the current head of Art of Living’s Itanagar Ashram, is going through! And in dramatic ways!

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The serenity, the beauty, the remoteness, the isolation of the ashram makes for a heady mix! Just being able to be happy without the creature comforts of a city life itself is a challenging proposition if one has even a little attachment to the material realm! For the sake of clarity, WiFi is a luxury and mobile network as erratic as the human mind! The beauty of the hill on the front and cool breeze from the river behind could become irritating if that’s all what you have to live with all the time!

Swamiji has no choice. He has been tasked by Sri Sri to develop and grow this remote but virgin ashram into one of the most beautiful ashrams of the Art of Living! And if you don’t take in the spirit, that could be a harsher punishment than the dog sought from Lord Rama! In these parts of the world, sometimes even getting a skilled labourer could be tougher than getting into samadhi! The same holds true of getting any type of raw materials! The nearest functioning airport is nearly 500 km away! And until recently, the nearest railway station used to be equally far!

To Swamiji’s credit, he has handled this challenging task like an enlightened soul! The ashram has been transformed beyond recognition. Infrastructural development is visible in every corner of the ashram. The atmosphere too has changed; there is a welcoming vibe that every visitor is noticing! The ashramites breathe easy with a sense of responsibility and commitment! Like a true sevak and sadhak, Swamiji has been putting his heart, head and shoulder into it. Being available and hitting the ground himself (often shedding his attire of dhoti and angavastram and getting into soiled Ts and shorts, he has been making sure that best is being done at the lowest cost.

Local dance to welcome Sri Sri

He also has to deal with land encroachers on all sides of the ashram and secure the boundaries of the ashram. He even had to evict a group people who have settled themselves on the ashram land. The land issues can get very emotive in a place where non-locals are not allowed to own land. One has to manage the anger and emotions of all kinds of people from those who call you a ‘pakhandi’  a gundha to those who threaten you with a dao (sword). He has also to listen with patience to those who come seeking for large donations or to those who want help in getting mega projects sanctioned by the Central government!

And this has become a comfortable routine for Swamiji! And for sure, divine doesn’t like a routine existence!  Last month, a gentleman who owns a plot just behind Gurudev’s kuteer in the ashram started baying for Swamiji’s blood without any provocation. First, his younger brother came and started abusing ashramites, calling them names and threatening with dire consequences! And when Swamaji tried to figure out what’s happening, he too was verbally abused. Without being cowed down and provoked, Swamiji explained to him how we had worked out the approach road they wanted through the ashram land! He looked convinced, yet they appeared hell-bent on scaring us to conceding a significant area of land for the approach road without suitably compensating us as agreed before!

The motives became clear an hour later when the gentleman, who happens to be a local politician, came with a group of supporters and started verbally abusing Swamiji. All attempts by Swamiji to talk out the matter were foiled by flatly saying he wouldn’t talk to a “son of a bitch”. The language used was so unparliamentary that it cannot be reproduced here! Yet, Swamiji kept his cool and refused to be intimidated! Instead of apologetic of his behavour, the gentleman filed a false FIR against Swamiji another ashramite, accusing them of misbehaving with him and sheltering undergrounds elements in the ashram!

The politician returned the same evening with a gang with the intention to provoke us. They even fired a few rounds in the air just to scare us! Yet, we tried our best to reason him out that we are here for social good and a politician like him shouldn’t be fighting with us and differences, if any, can always be sorted out mutually. But to no avail. We went away warning us that if the police don’t take action on his complaint within two days, his goons will cut Swamiji into pieces, saying it is the customary way of delivering justice!

The next day a police team arrived at the ashram with a Magistrate to take cognizance of the complaint! When the truth was seen, they couldn’t but laugh at the pettiness of the politician. They all felt if actions need to be taken, then it should be against the politician for trespassing into the ashram and spoiling the tranquility of the place! And when an assessment to this effect was filed by the Magistrate, the politician reportedly tried to put political pressure on the officers to take action against Swamiji. When that didn’t happen, a portion of the compound wall of the ashram was damaged under the cover of darkness!

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And by the next morning, the administration ordered the deployment of police protection in the ashram for the safety of Swamiji and ashramites. Though we didn’t feel the need of police security, they insisted on it, saying the past records of the politician cannot be taken for granted. A team of 4-5 police personnel patrolled the ashram round-the-clock for a week! They ensured the damaged portion of the compund wall was re-erected without any disturbance!

The things are quiet now, though no formal settlement has taken place! We hope with time, this gentleman will also see reasons and recognize the solace we are bringing to the people of Arunachal Pradesh through Sudarshan Kriya and other activities!

Though scary, these episodes undoubtedly instilled us the feeling of being protected all the time. It reaffirmed in us the wisdom to accept and moved on! And, if this isn’t training in living in enlightenment, and what would be!  And surely that stray dog knew what it takes to head an ashram!

Jai Gurudev

Rajaque Rahman

Art of Living Wisdom.

Continued from AYURVEDA AND AGNI – 1

Ayurveda says that the Nature or entire Universe is governed and composed by five gross elements (Pancha Mahabhutas) viz. Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. The human body is part of this nature so it is also governed and composed by these five elements. All these elements, more than physical substances, represent the specific qualities and properties associated with these elements.

Agni (or the biological fire of the body) has been given prime importance in Ayurveda from the point of view of health. Agni refers to the universal principle of transformation in all its forms. The Agni in human body is responsible for digestion, absorption, assimilation and transformation of food into nutrition and energy. Agni is also responsible for transformation of sensory perceptions and information into knowledge and understanding. Agni is vital for visual perception, skin lustre and regulation of temperature, confidence, courage, enthusiasm, laughter, mental clarity, intelligence and reasoning capacity. Agni is responsible for respiration and utilization of Prana. Agni helps in cellular metabolism (cellular level breathing) and maintains flow of cellular communication. Agni gives us patience, provides strength and maintains lifespan, vitality and vigour.

Ayurvedic Agni

According to Ayurveda each of these five elements is linked with specific sensory organ, specific sensory perception, specific organ of action and specific motor faculty.

In case of Agni this co-relation is as below:

Element SenseQuality SenseOrgan SensoryFaculty Organ ofAction MotorFaculty
Agni(Fire) Form Eyes To See Feet Movement

After looking at this table, one can easily understand why it is necessary to walk for some time every day to keep the vital fire inside burning.

It is said that each part of the human body is associated with a particular God. ‘Padayo Vishnu tishtatu’, meaning Lord Vishnu is present in the feet. Lord Rama is said to be present in the naval region, the seat of Agni (here, referring to the digestive fire). Lord Rama is also one form (avatar) of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu represents the maintenance principle. This again signifies that Agni is vital for maintenance of human body and walking is the best way to keep this Agni alive.

If you really go into the details, originally the Vedic tradition had only fire ceremonies. Fire sustains life. Without fire nothing will move. The first mantra of the oldest scripture known today to mankind, the Rig Veda, is about Agni, the sacred fire. In Vedic tradition, not a day passed without worshipping the Agni.

The fire element which is present in nature in different forms is also present in human body.  When you worship the fire outside, the fire inside also gets rejuvenated. Our ancients knew this secret of life. Now also in many Hindu households there is this beautiful tradition of offering water early in the morning to the Sun. Water element denotes union, love, togetherness, being one with something. Sun denotes the fire element. In many parts of India “Chhath Puja” is performed where fast is kept and rising and setting Sun is worshipped by standing in water up to naval region and offering water to the Sun. Naval region is the seat of Jatharagni (digestive fire inside). Offering water denotes the union. When we worship Sun by offering water it revitalizes the Agni inside us.

“Surya Namaskara” or Sun-Salutation is a beautiful sequence of Yoga developed thousands of years ago. It is said that Sri Krisha used to practice this yoga sequence and taught it to Pandavas. Surya Namaskaras” help in development of Manipur Chakra, (naval energy centre). Sri Krishna was also called as “Padma Nabha” because his naval chakra was said to be the size of fully blossomed Lotus (Padma). The qualities of clarity of mind, self-confidence, bliss, self-assurance, knowledge, wisdom and the ability to make correct decisions are associated with blossoming of the Manipur Chakra. It is the seat of digestive fire. Its mantra is ‘Ram’.

Agni is the fire inside us, the consciousness in us, which is so alive. It is such a great purifier. But the problem is – we do not allow the Agni to do its purification work.

In fever, our body becomes hot. Body activates its defence mechanism. It is burning all those foreign particles and bacteria that have entered the body. When this foreign bacteria or virus goes out of the body, our fever comes down. The purpose of fever is to purify our body. But as soon as fever comes we take medicines to subside the fever. We should remember that fever in a controlled form is good for us.

The fire of fasting (Jatharagni) can purify our blood and remove the toxins from the body. In Hinduism, Christianity, Jainism, Islam and in almost all the religions of the world, fasting and prayer are prescribed for purification. Hunger is connected with primordial survival instinct and it touches the deepest mental impressions (sanskaras) in us. If we do meditations and sincere prayers while fasting, it has manifold effect. It can burn all the rubbish that we collect due to actions of the past. It can burn lot of past Karma. But we never let the fire of hunger to come up. We keep stuffing our tummies before we feel hungry.

The fire of pure love and knowledge (awareness) can purify our entire existence at all the levels. But we never allow that to happen.

Let us again honour that ‘Agni’ or fire inside and outside which sustains our life and gives direction to our life.

             “Om Mahaajvalaaya Vidmahe, 

                                          Agnidevaaya Dhiimahi, 

                                                             Tanno Agnih Prachodayaat”

 

~ Sanjay Sabnis

(With inputs from Vaidya Shrikant Bagewadikar, excerpts from the book “Ayurveda Simplified” by Dr. Nisha Manikantan and talks of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji)

Art of Living Wisdom.

Recently at Pune my wife and I were fortunate enough to meet a renowned master of Ayurveda. He was an elderly gentleman of around 60-65 years with an impeccable reputation as an Ayurvedacharya. It was vouched by many that he can tell the exact number of blocks in your arteries just by checking your pulse (Nadi Pariksha).

We were lucky to get his appointment even though it was one of his ‘off’ days. After doing our ‘Pulse Diagnosis’ (in which fortunately no blocks were declared), we got some time to talk with him. My wife asked him, “How come some people though very old still have a very alert and attentive mind, whereas some people lose the alertness of mind and enthusiasm even at the age of 50 -55 years?”

His answer to this question was an eye-opener.

He explained that, as per Ayurveda the body is made up of seven ‘dhatus’ (seven constituents):

  1. Rasa – Blood serum, lymphatic fluid
  2. Rakta – Blood cells
  3. Mamsa – Muscle tissues
  4. Meda – Fat tissues
  5. Asthi – Bone tissues
  6. Majja – Bone marrow and nerve cells (Brain neurons, spinal cells)
  7. Shukra – Reproductive cells (Eggs & Sperm cells)

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Ayurveda has beautifully explained the process of digestion. Ayurveda says that it is the fire (Agni) element in our body which helps in digestion. The digestion process is similar to a distillation column of a refinery. In a distillation column, different constituents get separated from the feed at different temperatures. Similarly during digestion separation of different nutrients from the food takes place at different intensities of fire (Agni). At low levels of ‘Agni’ the Rasa dhatu is produced. For producing Rakta a little higher amount of ‘Agni’ is required. Mamsa requires still more amount of ‘Agni’. And so on. Shukra requires the maximum amount of ‘Agni’ (energy).

Now with age, if we do not take proper care, this ‘Agni’ gets diminished. Suppose the  ‘Agni’ in our body is just sufficient to convert food to ‘Meda’(fat) but not sufficient to generate ‘Asthi’ (Bones), then there will be accumulation of fats. Bones will not get sufficient nutrition. Bone problems will start. At the same time nutrition to bone marrow, nerve cells as well as reproductive cells will get affected. Brain neurons will start showing degenerative changes. Memory, attentiveness and alertness will reduce.

So the key to good overall health is proper digestion. If you don’t want to lose your vitality with age then you have to keep the fire inside you burning. How to keep this fire burning? The Ayurvedacharya suggested simple lifestyle changes and told that the key to maintain the ‘Agni’ was very simple – keep walking.  .

He said that every day one should take ‘nature walk’ for minimum 45 minutes (at a stretch). Exercise inside a gym or any other type of yoga cannot be substitute for this ‘nature walk’. We have to walk in an open unprotected environment for 45 minutes. He said that the hormones released by the body when exposed to unprotected environment are different than those released under the protected environment.

He also insisted that we can have heavy breakfast and lunch but try to minimize or avoid our dinner. We can have fruits and liquids for dinner. We should keep a gap of minimum 3 – 4 hours between dinner and sleep. We should reduce the intake of wheat because wheat flour produces ‘Gluten’ which is not good for digestion. Roti of Jawar, Bajara, Makai or Rice can be taken in place of wheat roti. We should not drink lot of water immediately before or after meals. Only small sips of water should be taken during meals. Water can be taken 15 minutes before meals or 30 minutes after meal.

I have followed these simple steps since last few weeks and I am already feeling much more energetic and lighter.

This interaction with the Ayurvedacharya compelled me to read some more on Ayurveda and ‘Agni’.

More About ‘Agni‘ in the coming post.

Jai Gurudev

Sanjay Sabnis