The Way It Is

We may roughly discern about three phases in UG’s life and ‘teaching’. First, from 1967 to almost late 70s, his approach may be termed as raw, soft, tender and obliging. During this time, the bodily changes in UG were still going on and it was to take another three years for these changes to settle down and let the body fall into a rhythm all its own. The reader will know that these conversations (from 1967-71) are a classic example of that phase, wherein we find UG, referring, though cautiously, to other Sages and their teachings and to certain religious texts approvingly. This was, in a sense, a different UG, unedited UG, who was ‘open’ and persuasive, taking along, or leading the listeners, ever so sympathetically and caringly, on a journey into the exploration of the functioning of the mind and the body, pointing out the irrelevancies of methods and techniques for ‘self-realization’, the unnatural state and its problems, the natural state as a physiological state of being and how it could impact or change the world consciousness and so on.

Second, during 1980s and 90s, he was literally a sage in rage. His words were deep and explosive and cathartic. He was like fire that burned everything into a heap of ash so that a new beginning could be made, without the touch of sorrow. This was also the time when he decided to go ‘public’ by way of giving TV interviews and radio talks in order to reach out to people in the wider world, who may be interested and honest and ready to ‘die’ in order to see things as they are. Some of the statements he made during these days were at once subversive and stunning:

‘Love is war. Love and hate spring from the same source. Cause and effect are the shibboleths of confused minds. Mind is a myth. Feeling too is a thought. Thought is your enemy. Man is memory. Charity is vulgar. Mutual terror, not love will save mankind. Attending Church and going to a bar for a drink are identical. There is nothing inside you but fear. God, Soul, love, happiness, the unconscious, reincarnation and death are non-existent figments of our rich imagination. Freud is the fraud of the 20th century, while J Krishnamurti is its greatest phoney…’

He was like a machine gun that went off every time we tossed a question at him. It was like skeet shooting. He exploded every myth, every frame of thought, challenging the very foundation of human culture. And finally, and invariably, after rejecting and dismissing every idea, he would point out: ‘My interest is not to knock off what others have said, but to knock off what I am saying. More precisely, I am trying to stop what you are making out of what I am saying. This is why my talking sounds contradictory to others. I am forced by the nature of your listening to always negate the first statement with another statement. Then the second statement is negated by a third, and so on. My aim is not some comfy dialectical thesis, but the total negation of everything that can be expressed. Anything you try to make out of my statements is not it.’

It was during this phase that people would call him, especially in the media, a sage in rage, a cosmic naxalite, anti-guru and so on, and this image of him as a raging sage somehow got overemphasized and sort of fixed even in the minds of UG admirers, not to speak of the media and those who had only a vague idea of who he was and his teaching. It only showed, how difficult it was, caught up as we are in a dualistic mode of thinking and being, to understand the non-dual truth (advaya, there is no two) he was trying to convey. The fact, however, is that, like the Buddha, he was merciless yet compassionate. Like the Buddha who knocked off all narratives as mere mental constructs and are a hindrance to come into the state of nirvana, UG, by exploding all our ideas and ideals, not merely pulled the carpet from under our feet, but destroyed the very, apparently secure but false ground on which we stood. He would not allow us to cling to any lie, because a lie is a lie and it falsified our lives. The truth, howsoever hard, shattering and shocking, had to be brought to us.

The last ten years before his death may be characterized as the phase of playfulness and laughter. During this period, he rarely engaged in ‘serious’ conversations; rather, he started to do something else other than answer tiresome questions, for all questions (except in the technical area, which is something else) were variations of basically the same question revolving around the idea of ‘being’ or ‘becoming’ which, nonetheless, amounted to the same ‘becoming’ process, that is, seeking continuity of the self. So there used to be long stretches of utter silence: embarrassing, even exasperating; also, mercifully, a great relief from the burden of knowing. And then he would start playing his enigmatic funny little ‘games’, or invite friends to sing, dance, or share jokes. And the space would explode with laughter: funny, silly, dark, and apocalyptic! At last freed from the tyranny of knowledge, beauty, goodness, truth, and God, we would all mock and laugh at everything, mock heroes and lovers, thinkers and politicians, scientists and thieves, kings and sages, including UG and ourselves!

A caveat is in order here. The different phases we tend to see in UG’s life is our own reading or interpretation of things, and it could easily change when viewed from a different perspective. And all perspectives, we know, are informed by our expectations or wishes. However, the essential thrust in his approach was always the same. One, he described the way we functioned in the unnatural state, caught in a world of opposites, constantly struggling to become something other than what we are, and in search of non-existent gods and goals. How we all are thinking and functioning in a ‘thought sphere’ just as we all share the same atmosphere for breathing. How and why we have no freedom of action, unless and until the self comes to an end; and why the self, which is self-protective and fascist in nature, is not the instrument to help us to live in harmony with the life around us. Two, preferring the term natural state over against enlightenment, he insisted that whatever transformation he had gone through was within the structure of the human body and not in the mind at all. And he described the natural state as a pure and simple physical and physiological state of being. It is the state of ‘primordial awareness without primitivism’, or the ‘undivided state of consciousness’, where all desires and fear, and the search for happiness and pleasure, God and truth, have come to an end. It is an acausal state of ‘not-knowing’. And he never tired of pointing out that ‘this is the way you, stripped of the machinations of thought, are also functioning.’

~  *  ~

…..UG loves to put all usual revered symbols and concepts (and money too) in the same basket and have a good laugh at man’s illusion in worshipping them as gods, although these gods have never, and will never, deliver the promised goods.

‘We should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh,’ declares Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

With UG you can have several laughs—keep laughing, if you can—at all ‘truths’ humanity holds dear to itself with the fond hope that they would eventually usher in the much-sought-after freedom and happiness without the touch of sorrow.

‘Comedy’ says Lee Siegel, ‘challenges notions of meaning, strives to undermine all hermeneutics and epistemologies, and exposes the ambiguities inherent in any knowing and feeling. In the world of comedy, absurdity itself is the logos. The senselessness of the universe makes comic sense. Laughter expresses the comic understanding that nothing is ever really understood.’ In other words, hasya or comic rasa mocks heroes and lovers, saints and sages. It delivers us from the tyranny of beauty, goodness, truth, and God.

The nirguna poets, the poets of non-dualism, use the technique of metaphor, oxymoron and paradox in their poetry only to turn language topsy-turvy, and try to break rather than construct ideas and images. Names and forms create illusions, yet they use names and forms to demolish them. Apparently, one might think that UG too uses language in the style of these mystic-poets. But that is not so. The mystic-poets, like the deconstructionists today, deconstruct symbols, images and ideas, but they are not finished with the language, not finished with the need to express the inexpressible. There is still that agony, that sense of separation or incompleteness.

With UG, there is nothing to express, for all expressions are false, even to say something is false, is false. There is only rejection, wholly and totally, and there is laughter. There is in him the delightful giggle of Krishna, the drinker of milk, and the attahasa or apocalyptic laughter of Siva, the drinker of poison.

Everything is laughed at and laughed away and at the end of it all what one is left with is emptiness! A considerable number of men and women show up everyday, and keep grinning, giggling, roaring with laughter from morning till late evening. It seems they come there more in anticipation of having a good dose of laughter rather than to be instructed on the right way of living, or the path to liberation. Perhaps, to them, a dose of laughter is more liberating than a bagful of profound ideas.

Actually, profound or spiritual ideas are an anathema there, to be ridiculed and laughed at. Swearwords are the order of the day. One is welcomed not with grace, tenderness or compassion, but with a barrage of swearwords and laughter. UG says jokingly that he learnt to them from Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. It is said that Ramakrishna often swore in his freewheeling conversations with people, and that he laughed a lot, reeling off jokes that inspired much laughter. ‘Laughter was for him,’ writes Lee Siegel, ‘a mirthful expression of freedom-in-bondage, detachment without disinterest, and transcendence-in-being.’

‘Excremental imagery abounds in comedy,’ declares Lee Siegel.  And true enough, UG’s talk is full not only of swearwords, but also disgustingly delightful references to shit, and sex, too. Since we are all shitters from birth to death and are born as a result of sexual intercourse, about which we always appear to be embarrassed and ashamed, the laughter that UG inspires and provokes with his ‘shit and sex talk’ does truly relieve us of that embarrassment and help us realize our humanness. Pray, what else can you be?!

Sometimes, UG refers to our memory (knowledge or data bank) as a ‘shit box’, saying: ‘There are ideas in your stomach… you eat ideas… it doesn’t come out down there but from your mouth as oral shit… There is nothing more to it…’

One evening last September, a charming young director of a hugely successful musical film happened to be present. Somehow the talk veered towards music, and UG suddenly said, ‘When we go to the toilet sometimes we make sound, there is more melody in that sound than all your music put together.’

We all laughed heartily. The film director laughed, too. But I could not say if it was a nervous reaction or one of good humour.

Reference to sex also pervade his talk, particularly when he picks on gods, the messiahs and famous people. The sacred becomes profane, holiness a pile of shit, the virgin birth a dirty joke. Sankara, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed are dismissed in a way that the believers wouldn’t want to hear, even in their dirtiest dreams. ‘God is the ultimate pleasure,’ he would quip. ‘If sex has to go, God has to go first.’ Thus, constantly it seems, he is trying to free us from the ‘burden of the cultural garbage-sack, the dead refuse of the past,’ from the tyranny of religious values and God.

There have been occasions when we have joked and laughed at UG, too. From the heights of Kailash, as Siegel would say, everything becomes comical. What is not generally known is that Sanskrit texts, as much as folk literatures, are full of subversive, comical stories and remarks that provoke laughter at everything we hold dear, at every established, dominant value or idea, at everything considered holy and divine. We laugh at the great triumvirate of Hinduism: Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma; we laugh at the sages as much as the kings, at the so-called idiots or fools as well as the wise ones. And we realize we are actually laughing at ourselves, for we are all that we laugh at, including the gods.

~  *   ~

For more read

The Other Side of Belief: Interpreting U.G.Krishnamurti
The Other Side of Belief: Interpreting U.G.Krishnamurti

My World, My Writing

What is life? Does life have a meaning and purpose? Who or what am I? These are all of course interrelated questions and questions that have troubled human minds from the time the mind, the self or the ‘I’ consciousness emerged on earth.

The various attempts to answer these questions over the centuries may be roughly brought under the disciplines of science and arts. But I’ll talk briefly only about science and literature which has some bearing on the subject at hand.

Both science and literature have created particular images for themselves. While these images may not be antagonistic to each other, yet they are pitched in opposition to each other, usually privileging science over literature.

The popular belief—which is generally propagated—is that science is intrinsically related to the ideas of truth, reality and knowledge, and that it is an objective discipline; while literature is seen as related to fiction, myth and imagination, and that it is a very subjective practice. In effect, science has appropriated the notions of reality, truth and knowledge within its domain and activities.

Literature has been a smug participant in this epistemological game and it seem to have gleefully accepted its role as one dealing with not a real but unreal, fictional world. This idea of literature which stands in opposition to truth is incorrect and needs to be set right.

These ideas or images of science and literature are not only problematic but evidently untrue. The unmasking of these images should reveal that science is in a surreptitious relation with ‘fiction’ and subjective imagination, and it owes a lot to myth and literature which have been the major source of knowledge of life and the world.

As a matter of fact, both science and literature are different modes of describing and understanding the world and both build their discourses on the real, the imaginary and the fictional. The main and only difference between them being that while science is called upon to justify or offer justifications and prove the verifiability of its ideas or theories, literature is not put to such a test.

In other words, literature is not expected to justify what it does, although it is immersed in a complex relation with reality, and it is involved in both producing and perpetuating the knowledge about reality. Hence, as Sundar Sarukkai, a fine thinker, puts it, the writers have to acknowledge their indebtedness to ‘the ideas of reality, knowledge and objectivity, terms which have been excessively appropriated by science. In other words, literature can no longer hide and protect itself within the ambit of the subjective and the fictional, but must take responsibility for what it really does in the space of knowledge.’

What is on literature?

Let’s say literature is all about talking of life, rather, of our living in the world, literature itself being a part of that living, a part of social practice.

Literature speaks in different tongues, different genres, different forms and styles, and over centuries, there have been innumerable, some great, some forgettable, experiments in this process. 

A writer may find the old form—be it in poetry or plays or story telling—inadequate, even constrictive, to say what he or she wants to say; hence the innovations, and the production of new understanding or perceptions of life become possible.

Knowledge is encapsulated in language. And a writer is a fine user of language. Language, or knowledge of reality and the world is not a given, like the natural world, but something humans have produced or constructed through the energies of the body-mind over millions of years. In short, knowledge is a construct. We live, say and do what we say and do within the field of such knowledge.

So then, how does a writer (the writer himself or herself being an embodiment of that knowledge) use this knowledge to talk about the world and living?

Here in comes the question of responsibility, also ability, of a writer.

Whether we write historical novels, poetry, script plays, or produce crime thrillers or science fiction, we are already always talking of life. It is an escapable fact; what else can it be? And, whether we realize and accept it or not we are dealing with notions of reality and truth and through what we write we are constantly adding our bit in the space of knowledge.

If we take for granted the given knowledge as final, unquestionable, then we’ll be reproducing what is already there: the same pictures or images, the same stories of sadness, of tragedy, of joy, relationships, war, murder, love, sacrifice and so on and putting on them the same conventional interpretations, which will be like going round and round in circles, which may be very exciting and even fetch some good money for doing it.

But, when we know that the world is not what it appears to be, that love may not be what they say it is, murder may not be what the legal system says it is, relationship is not what we think it is and fight for, cricket matches or films are not mere forms of entertainment, then, we’ll look for clues, upayas, which should enable us to look at the world differently and talk about it in an open way. In other words, when we see that the world is like a story, rather, a story but a story within a story like circles within circles, and that there are several layers to these stories, some of which may lay hidden, yet to be explored and unfolded, then we would be looking at or perceiving the world differently and writing about it.

Of course, a major portion of our literature is all about the world as it is, but at a superficial level and quite stereotypical or conventional. I have no issues with such literature, simply because that is how things are and they may have a huge entertainment value. But I have in mind writers who think differently and write differently. There are writers, who, like good scientists and thinkers, are involved in the creative process of questioning the given, innovating new forms and styles, and they have produced narratives which have enriched our understanding of life and the world.

It has been my constant endeavour to tread that path, and that in short, has been the burden of my writing: To produce narratives that can offer new insights into life and thereby new ways of experiencing and being in the world.

That said, I’ll end this little talk now by giving you a small passage from my recently published novel: In Search of Shiva.

The fires atop the poles at the four corners of the stage hissed like the mythical seven-headed serpent. In his dark-yellow turban that shimmered like unalloyed joy, Bahurupi stood at the centre, telling his story.

One day, I met Allama Prabhu and introduced myself. Mischief glinted in his eyes when I called myself a storyteller. He already knew about me and I felt truly flattered. And then getting on to my business, I begged him for his story.

He laughed a laugh that was at once mocking and affectionate. He said, ‘Sorry, there’s no story.’

But you know I’m not the type who would take such a reply for an answer. I’m like a gravedigger, who’ll not stop digging until he finds something to play with. So, as I kept persisting and pestering him with questions, at last, Prabhu asked, ‘How will you tell a story? When and at what point does a story begin, eh? There is no point. Forget it. You do not know, you cannot know.’

I said, ‘Prabhu, you are destroying the very ground on which my living is based. You should not be so unkind. Give me a clue or something with which I can begin.’

He stopped me with a wave of his hand, and said, ‘When the sky is the palmyra leaf and wind the story, what will you say and where will you begin?’

I said, ‘Prabhu, that is a beautiful metaphor!’

He said, ‘All stories are metaphors in frames of time and space.’

I said, ‘So at least you agree there are stories, though we may not know where and how to begin.’

Laughing, he gurgled, ‘Stories within stories within stories, eh? You are a charming liar.’

I said, ‘Prabhu, I tell stories to make a living and pass my time. I have no other talent, you see.’

‘That’s all right,’ he said, with an approving smile. ‘Go and tell your stories. But, remember, you really cannot tell the full story of anyone or anything, not even your own, let alone of someone called Allama.’

~ * ~

My World, My Writing

Mukunda Rao

A paper presented in

Writer’s Meet, March 5, 2011.

Trivandrum.

Welcome !!

I was not too sure If I should do this. My friend Atul asked: Why not? After all I write books in order to share my thoughts and communicate with fellow human beings. Yes, and it’s not as if I’m not on social media. I’m on Facebook though not very active. I live on a farm outside Bengaluru where connectivity is poor. It takes ages to download and upload messages and files here. Halekote, hamlet of Durgadahalli, is where my wife and I live, at the foot of the hills of Devarayanadurga reserved forest.

We are surrounded by about 13 hills. We have two four-legged companions, Shambu and Shikari. Leopards, hyenas and wild pigs make their appearance occasionally, just as peafowls kick up rackets every now and then. And there is silence among the hills, deep and palpable, like the tremendous void between notes.

It’s been five years now, this life here, which ought not to be pitched against life in Bengaluru city, where I was born, raised, educated and lived most of my life. Where I taught English in an undergraduate college for 32 years and then took voluntary retirement three years before my superannuation. So did my wife, Renu, who worked as a consultant in the field of water and sanitation and gender issues. Our son, Sumedh Rao, married to Swaha Das Mohapatra, lives in Bengaluru. Occasionally we visit Bengaluru to see them, and to meet with friends or on some work.

On 21 May 2017, my new book THE BUDDHA: An Alternative Narrative of His Life and Teaching was launched in Bengaluru. Writing continues, also part-time farming. 

I post here excerpts from the book to wet your curiosity and go for the book.

Excerpts from THE BUDDHA

The Buddha: An Alternative Narrative of His Life and Teaching
The Buddha: An Alternative Narrative of His Life and Teaching

What was this Buddha like? How was he different from Siddhartha Gautama, the son of King Suddhodana? Was he a superman? Was he a ‘mutant’, an avatar or a sage like Ramana Maharshi and U.G. Krishnamurti? Was he the dry, humourless person he is often portrayed to be in traditional texts? Did he believe in reincarnation? Did he really start the sangha of bhikkhus and encourage conversions?

~

The Buddha was merciless. He did not bring the dead back to life but taught us to reckon with death as a fact of life and not to escape into beliefs that have no basis in reality. He refused to offer false promises, props or sugar-coated pills to comfort us or allow us any childish desires. He would not allow us to cling to any lie, howsoever consoling, for a lie is a lie and it can only produce false consciousness and thereby conflict and sorrow. The truth has to be brought to us, no matter how hard and unpalatable it is.

~

The discovery that aham, ego, is a self-perpetuating substance and will never cease by itself, is a dead end. This is the core issue one has to come to terms with at some point in one’s spiritual quest. The mind is the only instrument we have in order to probe, to delve deep within, even to reduce thought and try to reach a point of stillness by way of concentration on some object or by intense observation. But the self will not disappear, will not fall dead.

~

What transforms a caterpillar into a butterfly? Some inner device or potential! Similarly, there seems to be some inbuilt device within the human which, when triggered, brings in its wake the death of the divided self and the birth of a new human being, now present in the undivided state of consciousness. However, we are not able to identify the cause that triggers this process of enlightenment, although most spiritual discourses are constructed on the assumption that we know the cause that can bring about enlightenment.

~  ~

Ultimately, nirvana is not something that can be known but something to be lived through. It is not an experience that can be transmitted or shared either. One has to discover this for oneself. So we have to stop here. The understanding is that all attempts at understanding nirvana are an exercise in self-defeat. This is self-knowledge in the sense that knowledge cannot dissolve the divided self, the self cannot find entry into that which is not of the self, into that which is vast, boundless.

~  ~

According to the Hindu cosmology, God, humans and the universe are not distinct and separate. All is One, tad ekam. The splitting of one into two, into male and female, life and death, is the beginning of the play, the lila of Brahman. In Buddhism, the origin of things is simply and neutrally referred to as the ‘beginningless past’ or ‘root desire’. However, this play or root desire brings in its wake not only joy and wonder but also fear, sorrow, insecurity and lack, because of which there is also a deep yearning to return to the state of primordial unity, the state beyond joy and sorrow. In other words, one can go on with the samsaric play and taste of the joys and sorrows of life, but one would never know the ‘peace that passeth understanding’. Therefore, if the human being has to be free of sorrow and the sense of incompleteness, and enter the state of enlightenment, one has to move beyond the play of dualism.

All major enlightenment traditions in India teach the same thing: desire and ignorance of our true nature are the causes of suffering and death; human beings are constitutively immortal and each person is always already God/Brahman/Buddha. The human is already divine in the sense that the energy or power that created the world (not that one can posit a beginning to creation) is the same energy that is operating in the human being and in all Creation.

Sages are Human Flowers

Buddhism does not consider Siddhartha Gautama as the only ‘Buddha’ or enlightened one, nor does it view nirvana as an exclusive state of being or ‘property’ of a Buddha. It is not fixed in time and space, an exclusive or single historical event. Instead, it is a continuing process through human history even if, for a single human being, his personal ‘history’ comes to an end. Hence, the Buddha’s coming upon nirvana is generally explained as a rediscovery, and his dharma, a re-proclamation. It is so because nirvana or the Buddhadhatu is a natural state, always already there.

Perhaps this is the way to understand the liberation of Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad as well, where these occurrences were not historically unparalleled or one-time events but a ‘rediscovery’, a return to the state of unitary consciousness. And, if one may suggest, Jesus and Prophet Muhammad’s going away to the hills (for about forty days) and what happened to them there can be seen as a ‘death experience’, which is a precondition to liberation. This death, as explained earlier, is the breaking down of the binary self, essential before coming into the state of pure consciousness. Legends and scriptures clothe this event in mystical terms, for example, as a meeting with God or the Archangel.

Like the Buddha, Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad were enlightened masters. There is no need to compare and contrast or even integrate the way these sages lived and what they taught, although one may find several parallels in them. Just as a daffodil or rose gives out its own fragrance, every sage—a human flower, is unique and different in his expression although his essential message is always the same: to end sorrow and lead humanity out of its deeply entrenched sense of separation into the state of undivided consciousness.

~  ~

We are all manifestations of Buddha consciousness, Christ consciousness. This is not the historical Gautama Buddha or Jesus Christ in the sense it is understood in parochial terms; this is life, the fundamental state of every human being. This potential to be a Buddha or a Christ, that is, to be free of conflict and suffering, to transcend the divisive consciousness or samsara, is within every individual and the potential for this state is always present. Divinity is not an external state of being or an external agency. The name we give to that state of tranquillity is secondary.

The individual—every individual—is the question, the answer and the saviour. A sage can come from anywhere and at any time. A sage is he who has realized his potential, who has brought suffering to an end. These are human beings who bring home the wonder and mystery of life, indicating the possibility of ending sorrow, ending the thought structure, the self that is the cause of sorrow. It is in this sense that such sages are the saviours or ‘messengers of God’, not in the orthodox religious and exclusive sense of the term, fixed in time and space.

However, by putting them on a pedestal and worshipping them as gods, messiahs, avatars or bodhisattvas (in exclusive terms), we have misread their messages and created structures of belief and faith that have become the source of conflict, violence and sorrow. This is not going to help and it is not the way to consider these liberated beings. As explained above, their presence enables us to understand that there is a possibility of realizing that state of being. Instead, what we are doing is to imitate their lives and to create this imitation all over the world. And as a result, we create Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims and thereby give rise to division and conflict.

~   ~