Thursday, December 26, 2013

Love of the Dark

In the darkest hour hope rains. 
In the darkest night stars shine. 
O dear mine, wake up. Realize. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

You have a choice. Sing with the melodious ones.

ਕਬੀਰ ਮਨੁ ਪੰਖੀ ਭਇਓ ਉਡਿ ਉਡਿ ਦਹ ਦਿਸ ਜਾਇ ॥
Kabīr man pankẖī bẖa▫i▫o ud ud ḏah ḏis jā▫e.
Kabeer, the mind has become a bird; it soars and flies in the ten directions.

ਜੋ ਜੈਸੀ ਸੰਗਤਿ ਮਿਲੈ ਸੋ ਤੈਸੋ ਫਲੁ ਖਾਇ ॥੮੬॥
Jo jaisī sangaṯ milai so ṯaiso fal kẖā▫e. ||86||
According to the company it keeps, so are the fruits it eats. ||86||

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Life is like a photograph

Life is like a photograph; you need the negatives to develop the picture. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A story from Sheikh Saadi

‘When I was a child, I used to pray with my father, my uncles and my cousins. Every night we would gather together to listen to a passage from the Qur’an.
On one such night, while my uncle was reading a passage out loud, I noticed that most of the people were asleep.
I said to my father:
“Not one of these dozy people is listening to the words of the Prophet. They’ll never reach God.”
And my father replied:
“My dear son, look for your own path with faith and let others take care of themselves.
Who knows, perhaps they are talking to God in their dreams.
Believe me, I would much prefer you to be sleeping alongside them than
to hear your harsh words of judgement and condemnation.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Three poems on "Doors" - Kabir, Guru Nanak and Carl Sandburg

I ask for the door
to your home
If you don't 
who will care?
Open the door
show me your face.

- Kabir

Carl Sandburg says in his poem "Doors"
An open door says, “Come in.”
A shut door says, “Who are you?”

Guru Nanak in Japji:

Which is that door
Which is that home
where you sit
and take care 
of everyone!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

As truth and beauty shall together thrive - Shakespeare

Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert; 
   Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
   Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.

This sonnet introduces a variant of the procreation theme, tying it in with predictions of the future made, not through astrology (Astronomy), as would normally be expected, but through taking the youth's eyes as stars in the heavens which foretell the future.

The comparison of stars with eyes is traditional love lore in which the beloved assumes the qualities of everything that is angelic and heavenly. Drayton, Sydney and other contemporary poets made use of it. (See the example from Sidney at the bottom of this page). Shakespeare implies here that the foreknowledge he has from the 'stars' of the youth's eyes surpasses that derived from traditional astrology. He asserts that truth and beauty are doomed forever unless the young man chooses to perpetuate his line by having children.

Ekonkar Satnam and Rousseau

Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one mode of being. — Rousseau

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Never mistake motion for action" - Ernest Hemingway

"You are fortunate. Don't waste this life." Guru Tegh Bahadur

"Never mistake motion for action" - Ernest Hemingway

"O God! Let me not shy away from good action." - Guru Gobind Singh

Advice on Life from Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s Top 9 Words of Wisdom“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”

As you probably know Ernest Hemingway was a writer, journalist and Nobel Prize Winner. Some of his most famous stories include “The Old Man and The Sea” and “The Sun Also Rises”. He also participated in both World Wars and worked as a correspondent during for instance the Spanish Civil War.

Now, here are 9 of my favourite words of wisdom from Ernest Hemingway.

1. Listen.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Learning to really listen to someone rather just waiting for our turn to talk can be a difficult skill to develop. Often we may have much on our mind that we want to say and so listening falls by the wayside.

How can you become a better listener? Here are three tips:

  • Forget about yourself. Focus your attention outward instead of inward in a conversation. Place the mental focus on the person you are talking and listening to instead of yourself. Placing the focus outside of yourself makes you less self-centred and your need to hog the spotlight decreases.
  • Stay present. This will help you to decrease the bad habit of thinking about the future and what you should say next while trying to listen. If you are present and really there while listening then that will also come through in your body language, which gives the person talking a vibe and feeling that you are really listening to what s/he has to say.
  • Be open. Keep your mind open to the possibility that whatever the person is about to say will actually be interesting. If you have already made up your mind that he or she will say something boring then it will be hard to pay attention.

Also, if you really listen then that alone will often provide you naturally with a better and more genuine answer than the clever response thought up while trying to listen simultaneously.

2. Take the first step.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

The thing is if two people or more are waiting for someone else to take the first step then that step may never be taken. Or you may at least have to wait for a very long time.

If you after some time realise that, like in this example, you couldn’t trust the person then at least you have learned that.

By not taking the first step you’ll perhaps never know. So instead of waiting around and trying to figure things out just take first steps of different kinds in interactions. Be proactive.

3. Keep your eyes on where you are going.

“Never mistake motion for action.”

It’s very easy to get lost in busy work. You may spend much time in your in-box or filing and organizing things. But at the end of the day or week, what have you accomplished?

Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean that you are moving in the direction you really want to go. To do that you have to do the things that you know are really important and in alignment with your goals. And not getting lost in busy work.

So, improve your effectiveness and productivity. But, more importantly, never lose your view of your big picture. And take the action and do the things you need to do to get yourself where you want to go.

4. Just do.

“The shortest answer is doing the thing.”

How do you get things done? You take action and do them. You may need to do some planning, but don’t get lost in that stage or in over thinking things. Planning or thinking won’t get you any results in real-life if you don’t take action too.

So take action and just try something. Maybe you’ll succeed. Maybe you’ll fail, but if you do then failure can always teach you a bunch of things. The worst thing is not failure, it’s to just sit on your hands and do nothing.

Developing a just do it habit – where you learn to do what you know you want to do despite how you feel or what your thoughts are telling you at the moment – can be difficult. But it’s rewarding not only because you’ll get actual results and – sooner or later – success. It also builds real confidence in yourself, in your capabilities and in your own personal power to achieve what you want in life.

5. Do. Fail. Learn. Do.

“The first draft of anything is shit”

So you have to keep your eyes on where you are going and do the right things to get yourself there. However, you will not always get what you want on your first try. No worries though, if you have the right attitude.

What attitude is that? The attitude of the much younger you. The kid who learned to walk and ride a bike. A younger you that doesn’t put so much value into a failure. But instead just gets up after falling down, learns a lesson or two from what happened and then tries again. And again.

By cultivating that way of thinking about failure – instead of the more usual, more grown up one where you may think that the world will come to an end just because you failed – you can over time achieve some pretty awesome things.

You can read more about how failure can be redefined and be of great help to you in 4 Reasons Why Failure is Pretty Awesome.

6. Find strength through your tough times.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

This is a really interesting point. Because it’s really easy to let yourself fall into a frame of mind where you think that no-one has had it worse than you and that this and this happened and that’s why you are like you are. And of course, some people have had a much worse time than other people.

But I think it’s easy to let yourself fall into a kind of victim thinking where you let your troubles in the past act as reasons why you can’t do something now. But one must remember: that is the past. And people’s problems are rarely as unique as we may think. Everyone has had bad stuff happen to them. People may not talk about it and you may assume that it’s just you that has have these bad experiences.

But as Hemingway says, everyone has been broken in a kind of way throughout their life. It’s kinda unavoidable.

But the question is what you do now. Do you let those old things hold you back and allow them help the ego to build an even stronger victim identity? Or can you let them go and live in the present – as the person you are now rather than who you were – with plans for the future? Everyone has to handle such a thing in their own way. But it is up to just one person to decide on how handle it. And that’s you.

7. Don’t get hung up on the small things in life.

“The man who has begun to live more seriously within begins to live more simply without.”

When you start to take life more seriously you may realize that you can let a whole lot of things just go. You don’t have the patience, time or energy to worry about the small and petty things anymore. You don’t get wrapped up in things that are totally unimportant.

You start simplifying your life because you realise that your time isn’t unlimited. You remove a lot of the less important things to have more time and energy for the really exciting and important stuff.

Have a look at what’s really important in your life. If you are unsure about if it’s really important, try asking yourself: ”Will this matter 5 years from now?”. Then simplify, simplify, simplify. You may be surprised at how much kinda unimportant important stuff that there is in your mind and life.

You may also feel lighter after having done some decluttering because you are no longer bogged down by boatloads of stuff that you have now realized is pretty irrelevant.

8. Don’t let your imagination hold you back.

“Cowardice … is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination.”

Your imagination can really play tricks on you. By thinking about something over and over you and your imagination can come up the most elaborate and horrifying ways that things can go wrong. But if/when you finally take action and do what you wanted to do it may, well… be a little anticlimactic. Even if you fail and things don’t work out the way you hoped for you may think to yourself: ”Is this it?!”. There are no monsters under your bed. And the monsters and disaster scenarios you construct in your mind rarely come into life.

Now, some situations may actually be quite scary and create a lot of pressure within. The best way that I have found to deal with those situations is to reconnect with the present. When you are present you are just focused on what is happening right now. As Hemingway says, you are suspending the functioning of your imagination because your mind is no longer lost in possible future scenarios.

Check out Eckhart Tolle’s books The Power of Now and A New Earth plus 8 Ways to Return to The Present Moment for tips on how develop the habit of being able to step into the now. It can allow you to find a stillness and peace within despite calamity outside of you.

9. Don’t judge.

“The writer’s job is not to judge, but to seek to understand.”

I think this is not just a great piece of advice for writers but for anyone really. Seeking to understand rather than judging is hard but is something that can help you and the people around you a great deal. And this also goes back to the first tip, the one about listening. To be a good listener you must have the intent to understand the other person rather than judging him/her.

Instead of going into interactions or just life with a bunch of judgements that you apply on everything and everyone try acceptance. This is not easy if you are used to making judgements about everything. And the thing is, by making a judgement you can often strengthen you ego. You get a small ego boost and you feel good for a while. But just like with caffeine this wears off pretty quickly and you soon need to judge again to feel good.

Accepting may not feel so appealing or “normal” but I have found that when I just accept things I feel a relief and stillness inside. You just feel good. I’m still working on this though.

Accepting someone’s opinion doesn’t mean that you surrender and let them “win”. Nor does it mean that you need to just sit back and cannot take any action. You can accept and still take action to change something if that is what you’d like to do. Accepting just means that you let that person think and feels as s/he likes without judging it. When you just accept and let your judgements rest it’s easier to really understand each other and connect.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Madness, love and Reason

“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.” —  Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, December 6, 2013

Are you the new person drawn toward me? - Walt Whitman

Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade, this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Where the mind is without fear - Rabindranath Tagore


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

- Rabindranath Tagore

Thursday, October 31, 2013

William Blake singing in joy

He who binds to himself a joy 
Does the winged life destroy; 
But he who kisses the joy as it flies 
Lives in eternities sunrise. 
William Blake

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Today's Message - Namdev's Love

As the hungry loves food, and the thirsty  is obsessed with water, and the fool is attached to his family, I love you!

All in one, one in all. 
Loving one detached to all. 

Like the woman who falls in love with the other man, the greedy man who loves only wealth, and the promiscuous man who loves sex, I am in love with you. 

All in one, one in all. 
Loving one detached to all. 

What you inspire is true love , there is no other duality.  This love never breaks and I'm merged with you through this love. 

All in one, one in all. 
Loving one detached to all. 

Like the love between the child and its mother, so is my mind imbued with you.  You abides within my consciousness. I love you. 

All in one, one in all. 
Loving one detached to all. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013


The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.

william blake

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Celebrating the birth of Guru Ram Das

Guru Ram Das was born on September 24, 1534 to simple God-fearing parents, Hari Das and Anup Devi of Lahore. Known as Jetha meaning the first born, he was a handsome young man. When he grew up he could always be found in the company of religious men. One day Jetha came across a party of Sikhs who were on their way to Goindwal to pay homage to Guru Amar Das. Jetha decided to join them and also travel to Goindwal. Upon their arrival and meeting, Guru Amar Das at once noticed the young Jetha with his pleasant manner and sense of devotion. While his fellow travelers returned to Lahore, Jetha decided to stay and become a disciple of Guru Amar Das. His hard work, and devotion eventually won him the hand of Guru Amar Das's younger daughter, Bibi Bhani. They went on to have three sons, Prithi Chand, Mahadev and Arjan Dev.

Jetha became a trusted disciple of Guru Amar Das. As described previously he successfully represented Guru Ram Das before the Mughal royal court to defend the charges by jealous Hindus that Sikhism maligned both the Hindu and Muslim religions. "Birth and caste are of no avail before God. It is deeds which make or unmake a man. To exploit ignorant people with superstitions and to call it religion is a sacrilege against God and man. To worship the infinite, formless and absolute God in the form of a totem, an image or an insignificant or time-bound object of nature, or to wash one's sins not through compassion and self-surrender, but through ablutions; to insist upon special diets, languages and dresses, and fads about what to eat and what not, and to condemn the mass of human beings, including women, to the status of sub-humans and to deny them the reading of the scriptures and even work of every kind is to tear apart man from man. This is not religion, not is it religion to deny the world through which alone man can find his spiritual possibilities." The Emperor Akbar was greatly impressed by the tenants of Sikhism as explained by Jetha and dismissed all of the charges.

Eventually Jetha was ordained as Guru Amar Das's successor and named Guru Ram Das (meaning servant of God). These events have previously been described.

When the aged ascetic son of Guru Nanak Baba Sri Chand came to visit Guru Ram Das he asked him why he kept such a long beard? Guru Ram Das replied; "To wipe the dust off the feet of holy men like yourself" and then proceeded to perform this supreme act of humility. Sri Chand held his hand and embraced Guru Ram Das saying; "It's enough. This is the kind of character by which you have deprived me of my ancestral heritage. Now, what more is left with me that I could offer you for your piety and goodness of heart?"

Guru Ram Das now eagerly continued the building of the city of Ramdaspur (the abode of Ram Das) by digging of the second sacred pool as he had been instructed by Guru Amar Das. Pilgrims came in large numbers to hear the Guru and to help in the excavation work of the tank. The holy tank would be called Amritsar meaning pool of nectar. Today the city which is the holiest center of Sikhism has come to be know as Amritsar. Guru Ram Das urged his Sikhs that one could fulfill one's life not merely by quiet meditation but in actively participating in the joys and sorrows of others. This is how one could also rid oneself of the prime malady - Ego, and end their spiritual loneliness.

One of the new entries into the Sikh fold at this time was Bhai Gurdas Bhalla, the son of the younger brother of Guru Amar Das. Bhai Gurdas was a superb poet and scholar of comparative religion who would later go on become the scribe of the first edition of the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Amar Das was impressed with Bhai Gurdas's existing knowledge of Hindi and Sanskrit and the Hindu scriptures. Following the tradition of sending out Masands across the country Guru Amar Das deputed Bhai Gurdas to Agra to spread the gospel of Sikhism. Before leaving Guru Amar Das prescribed the following routine for Sikhs;

"He who calls himself a Sikh of the True Guru, He must get up in the morning and say his prayers. He must rise in the early hours and bathe in the holy tank. He must meditate on God as advised by the Guru. And rid himself of the afflictions of sins and evil. As the day dawns, he should recite scriptures, and repeat God's name in every activity. He to whom the Guru takes kindly is shown the path. Nanak! I seek the dust of the feet of the Guru's Sikh who himself remembers God and makes others remember Him." (Gauri)

The standard Sikh marriage ceremony known as the Anand Karaj is centered around the Lawan, a four stanza hymn composed by Guru Ram Das. The marriage couple circumscribe the Guru Granth Sahib as each stanza is read. The first round is the Divine consent for commencing the householders life through marriage. The second round states that the union of the couple has been brought about by God. In the third round the couple is described as the most fortunate as they have sung the praises of the Lord in the company of saints. In the fourth round the feeling of the couple that they have obtained their hearts desire and are being congratulated is described.

Guru Ram Das's first cousin Sahari Mal came to invite the Guru to visit Lahore in connection with the marriage of his son. The Guru being much too busy with his work promised to send one of his sons instead. Guru Ram Das asked his eldest son Prithi Chand to attend on his behalf, but he refused. Prithi Chand feared that his father was perhaps trying to eliminate him in order to install his youngest brother Arjan as the next Guru. Arjan was a great favorite of his father. Mahadev the Guru's middle son was a recluse and excused himself on the ground that he was not interested in the affairs of the world. The Guru therefore asked his youngest son Arjan to attend, which he agreed to do with such grace and humility, that Guru Ram Das was very pleased.

Arjan now proceeded to Lahore, where his father asked him to remain until called for and to take charge of the needs and education of the Sikhs in Lahore, his ancestral home. After two years of feeling intensely homesick, Arjan composed a poem of love and devotion and sent it to Guru Ram Das. This poem along with another one a few month's later were intercepted by the Guru's jealous son Prithi Chand who made sure his father never received them. Finally Arjan wrote a third poem and numbered it with a 3 and gave strict instructions to the messenger to only hand it over to the Guru personally.

"A moment's separation and it was like an age. When do I see you now, my beloved Lord? My night does not pass, nor do I get sleep, Without seeing the Guru's darbar. I am a sacrifice, I am a sacrifice again to the true darbar of the Guru. 3" (Majh)

Upon finally receiving this poem, Guru Ram Das sensed what must have happened to the earlier two messages so he confronted his eldest son Prithi Chand. At first, Prithi Chand denied everything, but seeing the insistence of the Guru and the consequences of refusal to obey him, he finally confessed his treachery and produced the other two letters. When Guru Ram Das read them, he was moved to tears by the humility and sincerity of his son Arjan's compositions.

Guru Ram Das immediately sent for Baba Buddha to journey to Lahore and to bring back his son Arjan with full honour. The Guru then had Bhai Budhha apply the saffron mark to the forehead of Arjan and declared him his successor. Prithi Chand would not accept his fathers wishes and continued to misbehave and abuse Guru Arjan Dev. Guru Ram Das had to publicly condemn his son Prithi Chand for his actions. Shortly thereafter Guru Ram Das breathed his last on September 1 1581.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My primary music teacher - Pandit Raghunath Prasanna of the Banaras Gharana

My primary teacher of music, my Guruji, was late Pandit Raghunath Prasanna of the Banaras Gharana.  

I studied with Guruji under the ancient Guru-Shishya parampara, which is an amazing gift if ever you could get one.  It is a tradition in which the Guru ties a knot around your hand and makes you his disciple.  Pandit Raghunath Prasanna was one-of-a-kind musician in Delhi and he could have obtained whatever he wanted as fees for teaching, but he chose to teach music to me for free.  He never asked for any money for his instruction during the 10 years I learned from him from the age of 5.  And there were no time limits.  It was learning by experience.  It was teaching with love.  For those who hear love in my music, you know where it comes from now!

His grandson recently visited the US on a tour with several Indian and South African musicians. We had a lot of fun exchanging memories and music. I also obtained some more information on my Guru.  Here it goes:

Pandit Raghunath Prasanna was a doyen of wind instruments both shehnai and bansuri, an innovator and expert in instrument-making.

The title 'Prasanna' have been entitled to Pandit Raghunath by the king of Kuch Bihar. The king honored him as Pandit Raghu Nath Prasanna made audience happy, from then he has been named as "Prasanna" which literally means "happy".

Pandit Prasanna family hails from Benaras, the holy city of India, has been the cultural centre of music and art for thousands of years. The city is completely soaked in the great tradition of the Indian classical music both in vocal and instrumental. Artists from every genre have interacted with this great city and found spiritual solace that amply reflected in their artistic pursuits.

Banaras Gharana of India which known for its shehnai playing for several centuries. The shehnai in this family was earlier strengthen for many generations by Pandit Raghunath’s father Pandit Gauri Shanker, Pandit Tehal Prasad (his grandfather), Pandit Garib Das (his great grandfather). Pandit Raghunath Prasanna obtained his musical training from his father Pandit Guari Shanker, a shehnai player of repute, and gayaki ang from Pandit Dauji Mishra of Varanasi. He was the first person in the family to introduce the art of bansuri.

Pandit Raghunath Prasanna was not only a bansuri player of great merit; he developed various techniques in the realm of flute playing so as to faithfully reproduce the subtleties and nuances of the Indian classical music. In fact, he was responsible to provide a strong base to his Gharana by training his own family members including his son Pandit Rajendra Prasanna globally known for his melodious music. The tools and techniques developed by Pandit Raghunath Prasanna have been widely adopted by many of the Indian bansuri players including his younger brother and disciple Pandit Bholanath Prasanna and his disciple Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasiya, Pandit Rajendra Prasanna, Pandit Ronu Mujamdar and many others.

Pandit Raghunath Prasanna was not only a legendary bansuri and shehnai player. He initiated into the art of bansuri playing from the instrument named Tripura bansuri and took this Tripura bansuri to Indian classical music and then he started Krishna Bansuri. He was an excellent instrument-maker, Ustad Bismillah khan used to call him "Vishkarma"- an Indian God, when saw his quality as an instruments maker.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The cycle of life and death

Each day is a little life; every waking and rising a little birth; every fresh morning a little youth; every going to rest and sleep a little death.

arthur schopenhauer

Friday, August 30, 2013

Weeds are flowers too ...

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them - A. A. Milne

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kabir on Veils

Kabir Aasaa:

Rahu Rahu Ri Bahuriya Ghunghat ...

Stay, stay, O daughter-in-law - do not cover your face with a veil.

In the end, this shall not bring you even half a shell. ||1||Pause||

The one before you used to veil her face;

do not follow in her footsteps. ||1||

The only merit in veiling your face is

that for a few days, people will say, ""What a noble bride has come"". ||2||

Your veil shall be true only if

you skip, dance and sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord. ||3||

Says Kabeer, the soul-bride shall win,

only if she passes her life singing the Lord's Praises. ||4||1||34||

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New Music: Waheguru Simran

This is work in progress still, but this is what I have till now ...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A poem for those artists seeking an Ideal Audience

This poem reminds me of the stranger poems by Walt Whitman.  The poet does not want to talk to a lot of people at the same time.  She just wants to establish an intimate relationship with one.  This is the dream of an artist. To establish a connection with the one who gets the art.  Even if there is only one.  And the one who is reading knows, that there are at least 2 entities with that relationship -- the poet and the reader. 

Ideal Audience
by Kay Ryan

Not scattered legions,
not a dozen from
a single region 
for whom accent
matters, not a seven-
member coven,
not five shirttail
cousins; just
one free citizen--
maybe not alive
now even--who
will know with
exquisite gloom 
that only we two
ever found this room.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why I don't send my song to DJs

Ben Bernanke's excellent commencement speech at Princeton - Video and Text

Chairman Ben S. Bernanke
At the Baccalaureate Ceremony at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
June 2, 2013

The Ten Suggestions

It's nice to be back at Princeton. I find it difficult to believe that it's been almost 11 years since I departed these halls for Washington. I wrote recently to inquire about the status of my leave from the university, and the letter I got back began, "Regrettably, Princeton receives many more qualified applicants for faculty positions than we can accommodate."1 (See note below)

I'll extend my best wishes to the seniors later, but first I want to congratulate the parents and families here. As a parent myself, I know that putting your kid through college these days is no walk in the park. Some years ago I had a colleague who sent three kids through Princeton even though neither he nor his wife attended this university. He and his spouse were very proud of that accomplishment, as they should have been. But my colleague also used to say that, from a financial perspective, the experience was like buying a new Cadillac every year and then driving it off a cliff. I should say that he always added that he would do it all over again in a minute. So, well done, moms, dads, and families.

This is indeed an impressive and appropriate setting for a commencement. I am sure that, from this lectern, any number of distinguished spiritual leaders have ruminated on the lessons of the Ten Commandments. I don't have that kind of confidence, and, anyway, coveting your neighbor's ox or donkey is not the problem it used to be, so I thought I would use my few minutes today to make Ten Suggestions, or maybe just Ten Observations, about the world and your lives after Princeton. Please note, these points have nothing whatsoever to do with interest rates. My qualification for making such suggestions, or observations, besides having kindly been invited to speak today by President Tilghman, is the same as the reason that your obnoxious brother or sister got to go to bed later--I am older than you. All of what follows has been road-tested in real-life situations, but past performance is no guarantee of future results.

1. The poet Robert Burns once said something about the best-laid plans of mice and men ganging aft agley, whatever "agley" means. A more contemporary philosopher, Forrest Gump, said something similar about life and boxes of chocolates and not knowing what you are going to get. They were both right. Life is amazingly unpredictable; any 22-year-old who thinks he or she knows where they will be in 10 years, much less in 30, is simply lacking imagination. Look what happened to me: A dozen years ago I was minding my own business teaching Economics 101 in Alexander Hall and trying to think of good excuses for avoiding faculty meetings. Then I got a phone call . . . In case you are skeptical of Forrest Gump's insight, here's a concrete suggestion for each of the graduating seniors. Take a few minutes the first chance you get and talk to an alum participating in his or her 25th, or 30th, or 40th reunion--you know, somebody who was near the front of the P-rade. Ask them, back when they were graduating 25, 30, or 40 years ago, where they expected to be today. If you can get them to open up, they will tell you that today they are happy and satisfied in various measures, or not, and their personal stories will be filled with highs and lows and in-betweens. But, I am willing to bet, those life stories will in almost all cases be quite different, in large and small ways, from what they expected when they started out. This is a good thing, not a bad thing; who wants to know the end of a story that's only in its early chapters? Don't be afraid to let the drama play out.

2. Does the fact that our lives are so influenced by chance and seemingly small decisions and actions mean that there is no point to planning, to striving? Not at all. Whatever life may have in store for you, each of you has a grand, lifelong project, and that is the development of yourself as a human being. Your family and friends and your time at Princeton have given you a good start. What will you do with it? Will you keep learning and thinking hard and critically about the most important questions? Will you become an emotionally stronger person, more generous, more loving, more ethical? Will you involve yourself actively and constructively in the world? Many things will happen in your lives, pleasant and not so pleasant, but, paraphrasing a Woodrow Wilson School adage from the time I was here, "Wherever you go, there you are." If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won't bring you much satisfaction.

3. The concept of success leads me to consider so-called meritocracies and their implications. We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair. Putting aside the reality that no system, including our own, is really entirely meritocratic, meritocracies may be fairer and more efficient than some alternatives. But fair in an absolute sense? Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate--these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others. As the Gospel of Luke says (and I am sure my rabbi will forgive me for quoting the New Testament in a good cause): "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded" (Luke 12:48, New Revised Standard Version Bible). Kind of grading on the curve, you might say.

4. Who is worthy of admiration? The admonition from Luke--which is shared by most ethical and philosophical traditions, by the way--helps with this question as well. Those most worthy of admiration are those who have made the best use of their advantages or, alternatively, coped most courageously with their adversities. I think most of us would agree that people who have, say, little formal schooling but labor honestly and diligently to help feed, clothe, and educate their families are deserving of greater respect--and help, if necessary--than many people who are superficially more successful. They're more fun to have a beer with, too. That's all that I know about sociology.

5. Since I have covered what I know about sociology, I might as well say something about political science as well. In regard to politics, I have always liked Lily Tomlin's line, in paraphrase: "I try to be cynical, but I just can't keep up." We all feel that way sometime. Actually, having been in Washington now for almost 11 years, as I mentioned, I feel that way quite a bit. Ultimately, though, cynicism is a poor substitute for critical thought and constructive action. Sure, interests and money and ideology all matter, as you learned in political science. But my experience is that most of our politicians and policymakers are trying to do the right thing, according to their own views and consciences, most of the time. If you think that the bad or indifferent results that too often come out of Washington are due to base motives and bad intentions, you are giving politicians and policymakers way too much credit for being effective. Honest error in the face of complex and possibly intractable problems is a far more important source of bad results than are bad motives. For these reasons, the greatest forces in Washington are ideas, and people prepared to act on those ideas. Public service isn't easy. But, in the end, if you are inclined in that direction, it is a worthy and challenging pursuit.

6. Having taken a stab at sociology and political science, let me wrap up economics while I'm at it. Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much. However, careful economic analysis does have one important benefit, which is that it can help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data. This insight covers at least 90 percent of proposed economic policies.

7. I'm not going to tell you that money doesn't matter, because you wouldn't believe me anyway. In fact, for too many people around the world, money is literally a life-or-death proposition. But if you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end. A career decision based only on money and not on love of the work or a desire to make a difference is a recipe for unhappiness.

8. Nobody likes to fail but failure is an essential part of life and of learning. If your uniform isn't dirty, you haven't been in the game.

9. I spoke earlier about definitions of personal success in an unpredictable world. I hope that as you develop your own definition of success, you will be able to do so, if you wish, with a close companion on your journey. In making that choice, remember that physical beauty is evolution's way of assuring us that the other person doesn't have too many intestinal parasites. Don't get me wrong, I am all for beauty, romance, and sexual attraction--where would Hollywood and Madison Avenue be without them? But while important, those are not the only things to look for in a partner. The two of you will have a long trip together, I hope, and you will need each other's support and sympathy more times than you can count. Speaking as somebody who has been happily married for 35 years, I can't imagine any choice more consequential for a lifelong journey than the choice of a traveling companion.

10. Call your mom and dad once in a while. A time will come when you will want your own grown-up, busy, hyper-successful children to call you. Also, remember who paid your tuition to Princeton.

Those are my suggestions. They're probably worth exactly what you paid for them. But they come from someone who shares your affection for this great institution and who wishes you the best for the future.

Congratulations, graduates. Give 'em hell.

1. Note to journalists: This is a joke. My leave from Princeton expired in 2005. Return to text

Inspiration for the morning

Hello! Its 4:25am in Chicago where I am visiting this weekend. Here is a wake up call!

What do you really want to do in life? You need to identify it and act on it now. Whatever your goal is write it down and put it somewhere you can see it every morning. Surely, even if slowly, you will achieve whatever you want.

It's time to wake up to who you really are & do what you're meant to do. It's time to sing the song you are meant to sing!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Moderation is Meditation - Bhagwad Gita

Those who eat too much or eat too little, who sleep too much or sleep too little, will not succeed in meditation. But those who are temperate in eating and sleeping, work and recreation, will come to the end of sorrow through meditation.

-Bhagwad Gita

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How can money make you happier -- by spending right ...

Dear Dan,

I have worked very hard for most of my life, and I am getting to feel more secure and comfortable. But I don't feel as happy as I expected, given all my achievements and financial success. I am not one of those hippies who think that money is not important, but it feels like something is missing. What am I doing wrong?


Don't worry. The fact that your financial achievements have not brought you contentment does not mean that you're a hippie. Social scientists have long been troubled by the finding that people basically think money will bring them happiness but it does so less than they expect.

In their fascinating book "Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending," Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton say there are two ways to get more happiness out of our money. The first is to buy less stuff and more experiences. We buy a sofa instead of a ski trip, not taking into account that we will get used to the sofa very quickly and that it will stop being a source of happiness, while the vacation will likely stay in our minds for a long time.There are two possibilities: First, that money cannot buy happiness. Second, that money can buy some happiness, but people just don't know how to use it that way. The good news is that this seems to be the correct answer.

Second, and more interesting, Drs. Dunn and Norton demonstrate that we just don't give enough money away. Which of these would make you happier: buying a cup of fancy coffee for yourself, buying one for a stranger, or buying one for a good friend? Buying a cup of coffee for yourself is the worst. Buying for a stranger will linger in your mind and make you happier for a longer time, and buying for a friend is the best—it would also increase your social connection, friendship and long-run happiness.

So money can buy happiness—if we use it right.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Drone - An original poem


there is a fissure in
your thinking and mine

background music 
is what I am talking about

monotone expression
from ear to ear

a solitary sadness
that is left alone
that is drone

in company
elegant with melody

works well as
mundane contrasts 
with unpredictable shiv

needed embellishment
clarifying home
that is drone

when what you see
is sparkling stars 
in the night

is what I am 
talking about

I-5 Bridge Collapse - An original poem

Bridge collapses
friends again
need not be
for still underneath
a common ground exists

Guru Amardas: Seva and Langar

Guru Amardas Ji and the Langar

Before meeting Guru Angad, Baba Amar Das was a vaishnava and was ever in search of a competent Guru. At the age of 62 he adopted Guru Angad as his spiritual guide and became a 'fervent and zealous votary and willing server of the Guru.' He served him with all his heart and sacrificed his own comfort for the sake of the Guru. He undertook to fetch fresh water for the Guru's ablutions every night, just after mid-might from the river Beas, which was more than 5 km from Khadur. He performed his duty without fail, whatever the season was. After the Guru had bathed, he used to go to the nearby jungle to fetch fuel for the langar. While doing such selfless service he was constantly repeating in his mind the Name of the Lord.
Although he served the Guru day and night, yet he would never make an even the least mention of his services nor would he eat food from the public funds devoted for the Guru's langar, rather he used to contribute liberally to the Community Kitchen from his hard and scanty earnings of his humble trade in grocery which he collected by the hire of a pony for delivering goods from village to village. Guru Amardas developed langar into a regular institution. The Guru's Kitchen, which by then had attained great significance, shifted with him to Goindwal where he had settled down. He emphasized it as a device for expressing the notion of equality in a practical way.
Guru Amardas maintained the tradition of Guru Nanak's social, political and reformatory actions. The zeal and activities of Guru Amardas in preaching the faith 'combined with his genial habits and affable disposition,' he secured many converts to Sikhism. He was a 'grand old man,' just and wise. Humble and sweet as he was, he attracted many to Goindwal. Not only the followers of new faith, started by Guru Nanak, but also many seekers of wisdom and solace would flock around Guru Amardas on the bank of Beas. Sometimes even some of his old associates, whom he had met and made friends before becoming a disciple of Guru Angad, would come to meet him. His followers and friends used to stay at Goindwal for days together and listen to his sermons.
So long as Sikhism was in its infancy and people used to come to the Guru in small groups, for instructions, a single pangat for the sangat sufficed. But now Sikhism had grown in popularity and its votaries daily increased. So Guru Amardas thought of organizing the langar on an extensive scale. During his Guruship the number of followers increased so much that a situation arose when it became necessary to provide the Sikhs with convenient local centres. It was to meet this need that he introduced the Manji-system. Indubhushan Banerjee has rightly observed that "it can easily be surmised that these manjis were the earliest Sikh sangats, and, in all probability, in each and everyone of them a langar was set up."
In later days we so often find that the sangats were 'not merely places of worship but also wayside refractories which gave food and shelter to indigent wayfarers.' The Sikhs who managed the affairs of various sangats also arranged Langars for them. 'It is important to note that the obligation to maintain the Guru's langar was thus extended in scope and meaning, though it seems almost certain that the maintenance of the local sangats were made a charge on the local people.' Guru Amardas laid much stress on the pangat. The rule of the Guru was "Pehle Pangat Phir Sangat", first eat together then meet together. One point is to be understood that the pangat and sangat were not two distinct institution which was generally named as the sangat. These sangats were distinguished from each other after the names of the areas, towns or some of those prominent Sikhs who looked after these sangats.
It is obvious that the sangat habit had along with that the pangat-pleasure had become vital part of Sikhism. Wherever a Sikh might be, he was associated with the sangat and through that made to realize that a Sikh is not only to look to his individual character and spiritual development but is also 'to share the feelings of his fellowmen who assemble in the form of sangat and pangat. And he is also to shoulder his responsibilities as a part of the corporate body of the Panth.' The position of the Guru was sole and supreme religious head and was a great source of unity and solidarity. The sangat at Goindwal assembled at the feet of the Guru but the local sangats gathered around the word or the Shabad of the Guru. they used to sing hymns of the Gurus which were by then in circulation, written in Gurmukhi Script. This was their spiritual food. The food for the body was provided at the langar. Thus sangat and pangat had a common aim to unite the Sikhs in the name of the Guru. And to maintain these, the Sikhs made all possible efforts and sacrifices.
At Goindwal though the greatest delicacies were served in the Guru's langar, the Guru himself lived on coarse food according to his most ascetic habits. "The traveler, the stranger, the beggar, as well as the follower of the Guru, could gratify his palate with the six physical tastes - sweet, salt, sour, biter, pungent and astringent - of Punjabi cookery." The Guru himself took only boiled rice and lentils. In the coronation ode, Guru Amar Das's langar receives a special mention:
"In thy kitchen (O Amar Das), butter and flour are served (in plenty), everyday."
The Guru's kitchen remained open until three hours after nightfall. 'Every day's collections of grain were milled and baked into bread and distributed free.' What he daily received was daily spent and nothing was reserved for the morrow. Whatever remained, after feeding the people, was compassionately thrown to the beasts and birds; and if anything still remained, the good disciples took it to the river Beas and feasted the fish with it. One day Bhai Budha asked the Guru: "Is it right for the Sikhs to eat the choicest viands and dainty food while you are satisfied with a coarse meal ? Issue an order that only such food as you eat shall be served from your kitchen." The Guru replied: "O Bhai Budha, do you think there is a difference between the Sikhs and me? I enjoy the flavor of what the Sikhs eat. Be certain that what enters the Sikhs' mouth is contributed to the Guru's sustenance." On the occasion Bhai Jetha (later known as Guru Ramdas) was also present. He composed the following hymns summing up the idea expressed by the third Guru:
"As a mother is delighted when her child takes food,
As a fish is delighted when it bathes in the water,
So the true Guru is delighted when his disciples find food."
Guru Amardas took a social step forward. 'No one could gain an audience of the Guru without first partaking of the Bread of Grace at the Guru's Langar. This injunction of the Guru finished all distinction of Verna and Ashram (caste and position). Members of all the four classes of the Hindus were required to take food simultaneously on the same level, sitting together on the same matting, with no distinction whatsoever. this was contrary to the old conservative practice which was popular among the Hindus.' Not only eating together was compulsory for all the four classes but also the preparation of the food in the kitchen was to be done by the members of all the four classes. Even people of other communities were welcome in the Guru's langar. None could question whether the dishes were cooked by Brahman or a so-called low caste. All were treated alike. Apart from promoting social equality, the langar eliminated taboos about chauka- the preparation of food in special enclosure.
Another significant act of Guru Amardas was the construction of a Baoli at Goindwal. This was a deep well with eighty four steps leading down to its water. The construction of a Baoli brought about a great change amongst the Sikhs, for it had multifaced effects on their way of life and thought. While taking bath at the bank of the river Beas the caste prejudices were not shaken to the extent they were shaken when the people of different castes started taking bath in the Baoli. At the Beas the people of high and low castes could bath at reasonable distance, so that their caste prejudice were not distributed. But while taking bath in the Baoli, the people of different castes could not keep that distance. As in the langar while eating together the people had a feeling of oneness, the caste prejudice were shed off when they dipped in the same well and sipped from the same water. Before the construction of the Baoli the water for the Guru-Ka-Langar was brought from the Beas and the devotees had to walk up and down a distance of about 1 km for this purpose. Now with the Baoli at a few steps from the langar, the availability of water became very easy. Another benefit of the Baoli was that fresh and clean water was available throughout the year-even in the rainy days when the river water would be muddy and polluted.
The Sikh chronicles tell a charming story of the Mughal Emperor Akbar visiting Guru Amardas at Goindwal. He got down from his horse and walked a little distance bare-footed in his habitual reverence for all saints. It was pointed out to the emperor that it was obligatory for all the visitors to dine in the Guru's langar before meeting the Guru. So, instead of being taken into the Guru's presence he was asked to sit on the ground with other visitors and share the 'Bread of Grace'. The Emperor, who had adopted a policy of generous tolerance, compiled with this requirement and partook of the Langar. On seeing the Guru, he said: "Holy Sir, I find that your langar feeds hundreds of men and women everyday. I want to offer an estate that will suffice to pay its expenses." The Guru thankfully declined the offer and said: "I have already obtained enough from my creator. The people are my 'lands' and estates. the devotees who come from far and near bring the necessary supplies to the langar. Each day's collections are spent the same day, and for the next day we trust in Him. Enough that daily we get our bread. Enough that we are of the 'poor' and think of the Beloved.
When Raja of Haripur came to see the Guru he had also to take meal at the langar along with his Ranis and some other members of the family, before they could meet the Guru. Once some faithful Sikhs sought the permission of the Guru's daughter, Bibi Bhani, to offer her attire and ornaments, so that she might decorate herself like other girls. In reply she chanted a hymn of Guru Nanak: "All the gold and silver is illusion, and false are those who wear them," and reminded the Sikhs that the best use to which money could be put would be to fill the Guru's langar with corn and supply, the necessities of pilgrims. Guru Amardas was ever pleased with those who served selflessly in the langar. When the disciples from far and near came to meet the Guru he would always instruct them to feed the poor. The Guru so often stressed the need and importance of the service through langar. Hereunder are some stories in brief which are mentioned in the Suraj Parkash by Bhai Santokh Singh, and some of them have been also narrated by Macauliffe in the Sikh religion.
Jodh, a Brahmin, was a cook in Guru Amardas's kitchen. Leaving all pride of birth he served there. Whatever the offering the disciples brought to the Guru were handed over to him and he spent all on feeding others. He never allowed slackness to interfere with his duty and fed the hungry at all times, as many as were present. The Guru was pleased with his service of devotion and bestowed on him the spiritual knowledge and the Naam.
Lalu, Durga and Jiwanda were three disciples of the Guru. they took shelter at the feet of the Master and engaged in his service. One day while sitting near him, they asked the Guru: "We are thy servants; kindly show us the Way." "There is nothing like doing good to others," replied the Guru. "Try to serve the others at all times. This can be done in the following way. Listen and ever remember: Give to the poor and the distressed whatever wealth you possess. Wherever you find a destitute person give food and clothes to him. The greatest of all gifts is to give food at all times. Food gives life to mankind. How can other gifts equal it ?"
One day Ugar Sain, Ramu, Dipa and Nagauri came to the Guru, and prayed for instructions. The Guru in his mercy said: "Whenever a disciples come to you offer food to him..." Similarly when once Gangu, Sohan and Bhangu came to pay homage, they got the following instructions: "Share your earning s with others. The food alone is blessed which is taken after being offered to others." "In the ages gone by men used to perform Yajnas and appeased their gods by oblations burnt in fire. In this age you will get the same reward by offering food to the hungry."
The whole congregation of Dalla village came to the Guru once and prayed for general instructions for their conduct. The Guru through his grace was pleased to say: "On the days of Gurpurabs and festivals like Vaisakhi and Diwali, gather together in some place. Prepare Karah Parsaad and distribute it among the assembly. recite and sing the holy Word of the Guru. If you find anyone devoid of clothes, offer new clothes to him. Give food to the hungry and unite in helping others." Guru Amardas says: "Even if he were a most learned person of world wide renown, he would take care to remember that nothing is polluted in the kitchen. All restricted kitchens are false. Only he is pure."
Teja Singh says that from that time onwards there was no sanctity observed about eating and drinking among the Sikhs, may be gathered from the following story taken from the Dabistan-i-Mazahib: "One Partab mal, a learned Hindu said to his son who was inclined to turn Mohammadan, 'If you want to get freedom in eating you may better join Sikhism, where there is no restriction about food."