Volume 11 - Issue 05
May 2013
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Posted on: May 10, 2013


satsang with a techie



Part 01 || Part 02 || Part 04 || Part 05 || Part 06 || Part 07 || Part 08

Sairam and welcome to the third episode of “Satsang with a Techie”. This satsang started with an accidental meeting in a restaurant in Bengaluru between two childhood friends, Varun, a techie who lives in Bengaluru and Vivek, an alumnus of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning who has settled down in Prasanthi Nilayam to dedicate his life in the service of Baba.

Following the chance meeting, Varun becomes somewhat curious about spirituality and agrees to come to Prasanthi for the weekend to continue his education in spirituality. Saturday arrives and Varun is in Prasanthi and has His first darshan (this is set in 2009). Varun and Vivek discuss many things after the morning darshan and now the evening session has just begun and two friends are about to pick up from where they left off.

Over now to both of them:

VIVEK: So Varun here we are, almost at the end of your first full day in Prasanthi Nilayam. How do you feel?

VARUN: To be honest, I feel calm, peaceful and quiet. It is an unusual kind of feeling which, I don’t think, I have experienced before, and I must say it is good.

VIVEK: No surprise in that, but do you know why you are feeling that way?

VARUN: I think I do; far less crowd and traffic, and all the irritating hustle-bustle of the Bangalore city. That makes a huge difference you know.

VIVEK: I agree, but is that all? No other difference?

VARUN: Coming to think of it, yes there is another important difference. Over here, the people as a whole are in a different sort of mood; to me at least, they seem to be far away from wheeling and dealing that is right at the centre of the world I live in.

VIVEK: I think you have come close to the point I wish to make. Remember we earlier talked about the separation of Science and Spirituality in Europe starting around the middle ages? That basically split Society right in the middle, Western Society that is.

VARUN: I am not quite able to follow what exactly you are getting at.

VIVEK: You see Varun, during the last few centuries Western Society has become increasingly materialistic. And Bangalore, a city of the East, has now begun to live by Western values! Over here, we still try to stick to our ancient values, and that is behind all the differences you are noticing.

VARUN: Hold on for a minute; I take exception to this charge about becoming materialistic and all that. I mean, don’t you agree that abysmal poverty that once used to be hallmark of India has more or less vanished? How do you think that happened? Because of material progress! How do you think roads, schools, communication facilities, hospitals, etc., are going to appear without material progress? I see a lot of you so-called Spiritual guys blindly decrying material progress, without even taking a minute off to examine how much good materialism has done to removing drudgery, lessening poverty, improving infra-structure facilities and so on? Come on friend, be reasonable!

VIVEK: [laughs]

VARUN: [sounding rather irritated] What’s so funny about what I said? Why are you laughing in that sarcastic and supercilious manner?

VIVEK: Calm down buddy! I am not making fun of you or trying to ridicule you or put you down – all that is your imagination. I am just remembering how so-called passionate advocates of materialism and Spirituality get hot under the collar, when they start discussing such issues.

Relax! There is far more in common between all of us than you and I realise. As a matter of fact, that common aspect is really what true Spirituality is all about. But forget all this for the moment, and allow me please to ask you a couple of simple questions.

VARUN: [sounding slightly mollified] OK, go ahead.

VIVEK: You have seen thousands here today. Did they all look like old fuddy duddys?

VARUN: I wouldn’t say that.

VIVEK: Good! Next, did you not see vehicles moving around here in the Ashram?

VARUN: Yes, I did see vehicles, in fact far more than I had expected.

VIVEK: OK and you must have seen some, especially kids, munching popcorn, eating ice cream, and many of all ages, speaking on cell phones. Did you not?

VARUN: I agree I did, but what is the point you are trying to make?

VIVEK: The point I am trying to make is that Spirituality does not mean just shutting one's eyes, ears and mouth like the famous three monkeys are supposed to be doing – you know that famous icon with three monkeys, don’t you? Spirituality does not mean living just like a Buddhist monk!

VARUN: Alright, I conceded that Spirituality might not mean that; but in that case, what exactly does it mean?

VIVEK: I shall answer that question by going back to the famous three monkeys. They are not asking you to shut yourself off or become a recluse. All they are saying is: See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. What’s wrong with that?

VARUN: Look, I have to absorb and digest that, besides placing it in context. But meanwhile, let us get back to what you referred to as the debate between the so-called materialists on the one hand and the so-called Spiritualists on the other.

When did it all start? Why has it become so fierce now and such a polarising issue, if I might say so?

VIVEK: Varun, I must really thank you for restoring focus to our discussion. That split you are referring to began in Europe at the time of the Renaissance. In the following centuries, the separation between Science and Spirituality rapidly increased and by now the divorce is almost complete.

VARUN: Are you saying that you are on one side of the divide and I am on the other?

VIVEK: As far as this issue is concerned, it is something like that.

VARUN: But why did the split occur in the first place?

VIVEK: Ah, that is all connected with the question of what is real and what is not.

VARUN: I don’t quite follow.

VIVEK: The split that we are talking about arose because one set of people argued that physical reality has nothing to do with Spirituality while the other group insisted that Spirituality is the mother while Science is the daughter! Over a period of time, people engaged in Science said physical reality is all that is meaningful because we can see it, experience it and experiment upon it; anything beyond that is pure imagination. People who believed in Spirituality did not accept that, and that is how the divide occurred.

VARUN: These Spiritualists you were mentioning; what was it that they said existed beyond the physical world?

VIVEK: Remember we were discussing aspects of the human Spirit earlier? That’s what they argued existed beyond the world Science was preoccupied about.

VARUN: I am not surprised that they said that. I mean who has seen this Spirit? How can one talk about things one cannot see, touch, experiment upon, etc?

VIVEK: Hold your horses for a minute please! Let me just ask the question: “This so-called Spirit; where did it come from?”

VARUN: You tell me!

VIVEK: Indeed I shall, but in the meantime, do you realise there are many such questions like, “Everyone must be having this Spirit inside. Now, people are different; does that mean the Spirit in different people is also different?”

VARUN: That’s right! There are quite a few questions really.

VIVEK: Questions may be many, but every one of them has answers.

VARUN: Really?

VIVEK: Of course, and the beauty is these answers have been known for several thousands of years. At least in India, all this is ancient knowledge. By the way, I am sure you have heard of the Bhagavad Gita.

VARUN: Yes of course, who has not?

VIVEK: Do you know that the Gita has the answers to the questions that I just posed, and many more like them?

VARUN: You mean to say that answers to the questions Scientists are now asking already exists and have been known for thousands of years? Amazing, I never knew that.

VIVEK: That’s because these days, few bother about such things. They are all too busy to know something about their true nature and where they came from!

VARUN: Have a heart Vivek. You have no idea how tough life is for people like me; I tell you, life for us techies is no picnic.

VIVEK: I agree, but don’t you think you must also know something about what life is all about, the real purpose of life, etc.?

VARUN: What makes you think I don’t know what the purpose of life is?

VIVEK: If you do, do you mind telling me what exactly the purpose of life is?

VARUN: Come on, you must be kidding! Life is all about succeeding, making it good, making plenty of money so that one could have all that one wants, travel wherever one wants, have a good time, etc. Your problem Vivek is that you are holed up in one place and don’t bother about enjoying the many wonderful things this world has to offer.

VIVEK: Let me for a moment say that I do not know much about this world and that you know about it far better than I do. Let us also forget the current economic downturn and go back say a few months before the boom suddenly burst.

Now tell me. At that time, you and hundreds, if not thousands like you, in Bangalore who are techies, must have been doing fine. And your bosses - all highly paid - were holding exciting jobs, and were jetting around the world – Melbourne one day, Moscow the next day and Montreal on the third. With all the money they were supposed to be making, with the jobs they held, the stocks they owned, and the globetrotting they were doing, they must have had a great time. Right?

VARUN: I believe so.

VIVEK: OK, now here is my question to you: How many of these hundreds if not thousands belonging to your tribe are really happy, I mean truly happy?

VARUN: I don’t know what you mean by being happy; I think they all were, and that is why we all were in this business, fiercely competing with each other, trying to go up the ladder, and so on. Incidentally, we seem to have got off-track once more; I thought we were supposed to be in conversation about Spirituality!

VIVEK: No, I have not lost my way, and shall get back soon to what we were discussing earlier. Meanwhile just tell me this. Even during those good times, those golden days, how many of these exalted men of the corporate sector were free from stress? How many of them did not have problems with blood pressure, diabetes, etc.? How many of them tried to take crash courses in meditation, yoga and stuff like that, paying big sums of money I might add, to get some relief from acute tension?

VARUN: I think I know what you seem to be getting at, but grow up man! In these days of globalisation and all that, there is no free lunch! You want a job that is heady, exciting and gives a lot of perks and highs, then there is a price one has to pay. It is all a part of the occupational hazard.

VIVEK: I agree. Things look fine as long as there are no major upsets and the boat does not get rocked. But what happens when the bottom suddenly drops out, as indeed has happened lately?

VARUN: Vivek, the world has changed dramatically since 1980 – surely you know all about that. We live in a different era, the era of globalisation. It is a different world now, and it runs according to entirely different rules compared to earlier times.

You take huge risks and you gamble; you win some, and you lose some. This is a game for the big boys and not kids.

VIVEK: Varun, I am aware of all that but why gamble when the chances of failure and disaster are so high? Is the game worth the candle as they say?

However, there is a higher point and that is where we get back on track. You talk about taking risks, gambling for high stakes and all that. You are able to do all that because of the advantages you have had in terms of education, opportunities, etc. What happens to those who are not as lucky as you have been and who have had to struggle even to survive at the very bottom?

VARUN: Listen, these are age-old questions for which there are no easy answers. You take things as they come and move on. There are winners and there are losers; this is the way it always has been and this is the way it always shall be.

VIVEK: [smiles] I know exactly what you are saying. And this is what is called living in a bubble.

VARUN: I don’t care what you call it but this is what all smart and successful guys do, and I don’t see why I should not emulate what successful people have done earlier and proved that their formula for success actually works.

VIVEK: At last, we have come to the central question.

VARUN: What do you mean?

VIVEK: I mean that we now have to grapple with questions like: What exactly is meant by success? How long would material success that most people are after, last? How long would the bubble into which every successful person tries to withdraw, escape bursting?

VARUN: Are you trying to say that true Spirituality is all about answers to such questions?

VIVEK: Exactly, and to make my point, let me first tell you something about the Surat Plague outbreak of 1994. Do you know anything about that?

VARUN: Never heard of it; in fact, I hardly know anything about plague itself.

VIVEK: In that case I think I should tell you a few things about that incident, because that would help us to understand better what true Spirituality is all about.

VARUN: Frankly, I am sceptical about plague having any connection with Spirituality; it all seems to be so convoluted. But you being my old friend, I am willing to give you a chance.

VIVEK: Before World War II, plague was a dreaded disease, feared almost as much as small pox. Rats were the carriers, and I believe the disease itself was due to bacteria carried by the rats, which thrived under insanitary conditions. It all boiled down to the absence of sanitation and cleanliness.

VARUN: Tell me, was not plague prevalent in Europe also?

VIVEK: Of course it was, but over there they eliminated it long before we were able to do it in India. Back in the thirties of the 20th century, whenever there was a plague outbreak in India it was a wave that swept town after town, city after city claiming thousands of lives.

VARUN: But they got rid of it, right?

VIVEK: Sure they did.

VARUN: Then how did plague break out in Surat in 1994?

VIVEK: For the same old reasons. However, the strain of plague this time was different; it was less virulent. Nevertheless, it was pretty scary all the same.

VARUN: Tell me more.

VIVEK: Sure. The outbreak as such occurred on September 22, 1994. However, there were certain things that happened earlier that greatly facilitated the plague outbreak, when it actually occurred.

VARUN: What were those circumstances?

VIVEK: Well, for two months there were heavy rains in Surat. The drainage system simply could not cope up and just folded.

VARUN: So I suppose that there was water-logging everywhere, choking of drainage, etc.

VIVEK: Correct; in fact, there was much more. Many animals drowned, and that included goats, sheep, and cattle, not to mention hundreds of stray dogs and cats.

VARUN: Oh my God! You mean to say those carcasses were all just floating around, and no one did anything?

VIVEK: Not till the plague outbreak.

VARUN: What happened when the plague outbreak occurred?

VIVEK: The usual thing – panic!

VARUN: And how did this panic manifest?

VIVEK: The well-to-do packed their bags and fled the city. Seventy percent of the doctors abandoned their clinics and their ethics too I might add, and they too fled.

VARUN: That’s horrible! What happened then?

VIVEK: Some of the rich who were still around, started finger pointing.

VARUN: What do you mean?

VIVEK: These folks simply said: “It is all due to those who live in the slums! Those people simply do not know how to live clean, and the municipality has made things worse by not bothering about garbage removal. This is how it has always been. And when incessant rains came, hell broke loose in terms of piles of garbage rotting, carcasses of dead animals in hundreds floating around, polluting land, water and air… You know how it is!”

Varun, please note that is not what I am saying; I am merely telling you about the finger-pointing that started as soon as disaster hit.

VARUN: It always seems to be that way, does it not? People sleep over problems for years and years, even though the problems are grim and stare in the face. And when trouble comes, instead of doing something to handle the crisis, every one is busy blaming every one else. Why is that?

VIVEK: The answer to your question goes back to what we were trying to discuss earlier. You see Varun, when life becomes a rat-race as you called it, everyone contributes to the problem; but when it comes to finding solutions, every one disowns his or her share!

As someone said: All are guilty but some alone are responsible!

VARUN: And you think that Spirituality has a method for fixing all such problems?

VIVEK: I do.

VARUN: Frankly, I am not able to understand the connection between Spirituality and keeping a city clean. Maybe, you could educate me!

VIVEK: Would be happy to discuss that. In fact, that is the primary lesson of Spirituality, and instead of trying to learn that, people are trying all sorts of short-cuts. I can assure you all those short-cuts would simply not work.

VARUN: Vivek, why don’t you get straight to the point?

VIVEK: You are right, and I should not be wasting time in side comments. OK, let me get straight back to the Surat story. Remember, I have not yet completed it!

VARUN: That’s right. So there was the huge pile of uncollected garbage in the slums of Surat. Then came the heavy and incessant downpour and that created a huge flooding.

VIVEK: And after that, many quit town while a fraction of those who were left behind started blaming each other, even as the drains remained chocked while carcasses were floating all around and rotting.

That’s when the plague broke out. It turned out that this strain was not the same as the very virulent strain that used to attack in the early years and take huge tolls. It was of a different variety, but it sure caused a terrible panic.

VARUN: Before you proceed further, tell me, how many people died due to the Surat plague?

VIVEK: As disasters go, the number of people who actually died was relatively small, only about 45 or so. However, the panic that the outbreak of plague created was enormous; in fact, it was international!

VARUN: International? How come?

VIVEK: You see Varun, Surat has long been an important diamond trading centre, somewhat like Antwerp in Europe. Raw uncut diamonds would be imported and the diamond cutters and polishers of Surat would then painstakingly cut and polish, adding a huge value to the gems. These polished diamonds would then be exported back to the big traders in Europe, from where they would make their way to various jewellery shops all over the world.

VARUN: I guess what you are trying to say is that there was always a lot of money floating around in Surat.

VIVEK: You bet! There really was no shortage of cash in Surat. People might look poor; but almost everyone made a good wage, thanks to the huge diamond trade.

VARUN: Alright, if the city was awash with cash, then how did all the problems arise?

VIVEK: They all arose due to indifference. There was plenty of cash no doubt but what was in short supply was public spirit and civic consciousness.

VARUN: I don’t get you.

VIVEK: Look, many of those who lived in slums were not dirt poor like slum dwellers in the big cities like Mumbai or Bangalore are. In other words, they spent money on TV and stuff like that, but did not bother about local cleanliness.

VARUN: What was the Municipality doing about it? Was it not the Municipality’s job to keep the city clean?

VIVEK: Sure, but that is in theory. In practice, there were two major problems. The first is that people avoided paying Municipal taxes in all sorts of ways. It is not that people did not have money; just that they thought all their earning was for personal enjoyment! Second, almost all the elected officials were busy trying to make money themselves; who had time for civic work? So both the public as well as the officials that were supposed to serve the public forgot their respective duties and responsibilities!

VARUN: Shocking, but let’s get back to the crisis; something must have been done after disaster struck. How did that happen?

VIVEK: Mercifully, there were many people of public spirit still left and they all joined together to tackle the crisis. You see, it was not just a case of a huge epidemic breaking out. The Surat crisis became big news internationally, thanks to its diamond connection. All of a sudden, diamond traders from Europe and America who used to come regularly in hundreds simply cancelled their trips.

VARUN: Oh my God!

VIVEK: Not just that; many governments banned flights from their countries to Mumbai or Bombay as it used to be known then, and also prevented flights originating from Bombay from landing in their country.

There was thus a huge snowballing of various factors, and the people of Surat realised that they had better do something not merely to stop the plague from spreading, but also for improving their city.

VARUN: And did it work?

VIVEK: Indeed it did.

VARUN: That is nice to hear!

VIVEK: What happened was that finally, everyone started to work together - the government, non-governmental agencies, civil society, and the private sector. Doctors in public and private hospitals joined hands with the civic authorities. Top priority was given to the cleaning of dirt and debris, disposal of carcasses accumulated due to the floods, pumping of stagnant water, spraying of pesticides, and anti-rodent operations. The people of Surat from all communities started cleaning the streets. Junior doctors worked tirelessly in the public hospitals.

VARUN: Thank God, people woke up finally.

VIVEK: Not only that; within about 18 months, the city changed completely from being a very dirty, garbage-strewn city to one of the cleanest cities in the country.

VARUN: Amazing! Now let us come right away to what all this has to do with Spirituality. Otherwise, we would go on talking endlessly about one social problem after another.

VIVEK: I entirely agree, and that precisely is what I am going to do now. You see Varun, what the Surat episode teaches us, as do so many other examples, is that though individuals may create a bubble for themselves and try to live in it, cut off from the problems of life, the bubble is porous.

VARUN: And it can also burst.

VIVEK: Yes of course.

VARUN: So either way, we cannot insulate ourselves from what goes on around ourselves and must get involved, etc. That’s what you are driving at, aren’t you?

VIVEK: That’s correct, and let me predict that next you would ask, “OK, but it is still not clear how all this is connected with Spirituality?” Am I guessing correctly?

VARUN: You are absolutely right, and how could you guess? Does Spiritual training help you to do mind reading?

VIVEK: [laughs] Nothing of that sort! You see Varun, all these are questions I have been asked before.

VARUN: By whom?

VIVEK: You remember when we met in Bangalore, one of the very first things I told you was that I am involved in radio broadcasting?

VARUN: That’s right, you said something to that effect and after that we drifted away to all sorts of topics!

VIVEK: I am involved in preparing all sorts of radio programs, for listeners interested in Spirituality of course, and in the course of our work, we receive plenty of questions, including like the ones you have been asking.

VARUN: That sounds interesting; you have got to tell me something about that!

VIVEK: I would love to do that, but first take a look at your watch? It is getting to be 9 pm and over here, it’s time for lights off!

VARUN: What?! You must be joking!

VIVEK: No sir, I am not; remember, this is an Ashram, and it lives by a different set of rules.

VARUN: So what happens to our discussion? I thought we had arrived at a critical point.

VIVEK: Don’t worry about that. We still have tomorrow; it is Sunday and I guess you would be around for morning Darshan. We could meet after that, chat for a while, and after that we could have a quick lunch. After lunch, you could push off to Bangalore, back to your world!

VARUN: That’s a deal! So, goodnight for now, and see you again tomorrow after Darshan is over.

VIVEK: Good night, have a nice rest, and God bless you. Jai Sai Ram!

Thus ends the first full day of Varun’s first ever visit to Prasanthi, to learn more about Spirituality and its relationship to the daily world.

The next episode would take us to the Sunday morning session.

As always, your comments are welcome. Please write to [email protected] Thank you. Sairam

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 Part 3 Part 3

Illustrations: Saikaustuv Dasgupta

- Team Radio Sai

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