Movies to Watch.

If you’re looking for a slick Hollywood pot boiler, then skip this one. This is a film without a taut story. So, if you want a good story, you’re hunting in the wrong place. The Tree of Life. Does the plot move around a magical tree that materializes over night on the front lawn? Nope!

Even the word ‘movie’ is deceptive here. Yes, there are moving images, but more like a montage or a series of montages tracked onto some stunning music with occasional whispered monologues. It is these precious strands of thought, whispered to the great consciousness, that bring cohesion to the images. And the audience listening to those familiar silent prayers become that Universal Consciousness: listening, witnessing as Life unfolds its dramas.

Life. The very word implies death. Life carries with it the shadow of death. Each character must deal with the reality of death: the death of one’s friends, family members, one’s own death, the death of childhood; each phase of life implies death on some level for the new to flourish…the endless cycle of birth and death, the wrath of Nature and the unexpected renewal and blossoming of life.

The film begins with death…and of living in the shadow and memory of one who has died. “Where were you, to let a boy die? Let anything happen?” is the mother’s anguished cry to God. “Will you die too?” asks the distraught son of his mother. Life rolls on two wheels, made clear as the film opens, “the Way of Grace and the Way of Nature”. The mother, played by Jessica Chastain, ever kind, loving and forgiving, symbolises the Way of Grace. She holds the family together. She is perfectly cast – a delicate beauty much like a wisp of passing life.

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The camera closes up on Brad Pitt, the father, as the mother’s voice over reveals, “Nature only wants to please itself, get others to please it too…likes to Lord it over them.” A good introduction to what is to follow…the typical, earning male stereotype, Lord of the Manor, who takes it upon himself to tirelessly ‘educate’ his young sons. Of course he is well meaning, but it comes at a painful price (for his family!).

Are you patient? Has life delivered its lessons of Patience to you? Can you make sense of your life? Have you even tried? Perhaps this is what director Terrence Malick is asking us, the audience. He has done his best to capture the incomprehensible unfolding of life with individual beliefs, confusions, doubts and questions posed by the actors given roles to play in this grand scheme called ‘Life’. Are we not actors struggling to make sense of our lives and although we are so minuscule compared to the vastness of the Universe are not our concerns real and felt and lived?

If these are your concerns: Who am I? Where am I going? What am I doing here? What is all this about? Then this is the movie for you! It unfolds slowly, like huge waves forming and dissolving in slow motion, the movements of Nature merging with the movements of Man.

There are many pauses, slow dissolves, the screen goes black momentarily, reminders of life and death, of the mind going blank, stories beginning, ending and merging one into the other. An effortless meeting of generations living and gone on the sands of Time. The film captures dramatically the meeting of the river with the ocean, and the meeting of the child with the grown up self, the grown up with its childhood parent, as past, present and future freely mingle as one. The movie ends with a grand embracing of the self, forgiveness, love and joy, a quiet celebration on the shores of a grand ocean of life.

It did strike me that had the family learned the Sudarshan Kriya and practised it along with meditation on a daily basis, there would not be an eternal lifetime of mourning. There would be no space or reason to remain unhappy “when all the world is shining around and love is smiling through all things.” Gurudev (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) would certainly have ensured they imbibe the wisdom that “Life goes on, people pass along. Nothing remains the same.” That is the path of viveka, of discrimination we all live by at The Art of Living.

Given the spectacular and recurring images of water in its varied forms (whether in the form of a gardener’s hose enticingly spraying water on the mother’s feet, an inviting swimming pool, a river flowing wide, the lashing waves of an ocean) I wonder whether Ocean of Life would have been a more apt title. This is definitely a must see film for those of you who enjoy experimental movies, classical music, nature that takes away your breath…and mostly for those of you who, long after the show’s over, like to ponder over that mystery we call life, your life!

Jai Gurudev !!

Radhika De

About Art of Living, Art of Living Projects.

Nepal is a country rich in heritage and tradition. It is endowed with mountains as high as the Everest and plains of the tarai. The Nepalese (Gorkhas to many) owe their origin to various surrounding geographies, be it Tibet or north India. The Shah dynasty which ruled Nepal for most part of its existence could perhaps be from the plains of India. The founder of Nepal Prithvi Narayan Shah drew his spiritual strength from Baba Gorakhnath, from where comes the word Gorkha the founding place of the Shah Dynasty, from where they emerged and unified Nepal as one entity. Since time immoral the brave warriors from Nepal came to be known as the Gorkhas. In India, Baba Goraknath’s name is synonymous with Gorakhpur, the history of Nepal and India being intertwined. Siddhartha was born in Lumbini, in present day Nepal and became Buddha in Gaya in present day Bihar, India. Sita from Janakpur in present day Nepal was married to Lord Rama and spent the rest of her life in present day India. The Pandavas were working in the kitchen of Raja Birat during their Agyatwas in present day Biratnagar in Nepal. In fact if local folklore is to be believed they hid their weapons in the Vijaypur Hill in present day Dharan town in Nepal.

The Gorkhas who were recruited into the British Indian Army have a very rich tradition of Velour from time immemorial. So much so that one of the bravest sons of Free India Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw once commented “If a soldier says he is not scared, then either he is lying or is a Gorkha”. To this day the Chief of the Nepalese Army is the Honorary Chief of the Indian Army and Vice-Versa and they exchange words when they meet. In fact the present day Indian Army Chief is from the Gorkha Regiment.  A Gorkha Officer in the Indian Army spontaneously greets with the salutation Jai Gorakh. In fact recently when a Colonel of the Gorkha regiment made the supreme sacrifice in Kashmir, his young 11 year daughter saluted her dads mortal remains with the Gorkha War Cry” Katar Hunu Bandha Marno Ramro”(its better to die than being a coward) electrifying the already emotionally charged Gorkha troops of his regiment.

A country so rich in tradition with its various tribes and castes and sub-castes, people here have very high kinship within their own tribe or caste group and as a downside of which racial strain with other groups. With the coming of democracy, these differences long swept underneath have started coming to the surface resulting in mushrooming of political parties and interest groups of all shades and colour, many a times pulling in different directions. The Gorakhwani of Baba Goraknath “ Hath na Kariba, Padha na Rahiba, Dhera Dhariba Paon”(Neither be too aggressive, nor to passive, move gently) seems to be fading.

In this present day environment Nepal needs a new wave of spiritual awakening, a call for which was given by the world renowned spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, the founder of the Art of Living Foundation,  when he visited the city of Dharan on 1st March(Fagun 18th Gata) 2013. He said “from now on every 1st of March (Fagun 18th Gata) should be celebrated as Nepali Topi Diwas” so that Nepalese who are fast losing their traditions and pulling in different directions,  to come together under the banner of the Nepali Topi and start moving with a common agenda and direction with pride in their culture and tradition. A people need to be proud about their past to be confident about their future. Societies that have forgotten their roots have had various ills affecting them like drugs, AIDS, depression and divorce.

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Since the clarion call given by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, the Art of Living Nepal along with various other organization like the, Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Red Cross, Udyog Vanijya Sangh, Janjati Mahasangh, Marwari Samaj and many other like minded organizations have been celebrating Fagun 18th Gata as Nepali Topi Diwas each year.  On this day thousands of people from across various towns and cities, wearing their traditional dresses and the Nepali Topi march through the streets singing songs in praise of the Nepali Topi and their country. More and more organizations and people are joining each year, including parliamentarians, senior police officials, college lecturers and businessmen with the custom also spreading to the villages.

Today many calenders across Nepal have entered March 1st (Fagun 18th Gata) as Nepali Topi Diwas. The aim is to instil pride in your own culture along with accepting the good things from other parts of the world, with the overall vision of  what             Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji  says, “Deepen your Roots and broaden your Horizon”. While addressing the United Nations, Guruji   said, “Those who take responsibility do not pray and those who pray do not take responsibility. I pray as well as take responsibility” . This statement becomes important and relevant to emulate since for years Nepal went through exactly the same dichotomy.

Also, what Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji said while addressing the World Culture Festival in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, where people from across the world were presenting their cultural diversity celebrating 30 years of Art of Living ” One Divinity, One Humanity, Celebrating the Diversity is our Sacred Duty” cannot be more true today in the context of the logjam being witnessed.

Jai Gurudev

Samir Jolly

An International Faculty of the Art of Living, Samir Jolly is the son of a Gorkha officer Late Brig S.C. Jolly, VSM.

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