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
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.