Laughing Buddha - Desperately seeking sadhana
by Poornima Yogi
Zimbabwe’s blind cricket commentator Dean du Plessis bowls audiences for six!’ announced a headline in my favourite newspaper recently. It went on to tell us about this amazing man who regaled audiences with live cricket commentary without ever having known what a cricket pitch looks like – he was born blind. “Mr du Plessis’s accentuated sense of hearing makes up for being sightless,” said the news report, “Wired up to the stump microphones, he can tell who is bowling from the footfalls and grunts, a medium or fast delivery by the length of time between the bowler’s foot coming down and the impact of the ball on the pitch. He picks up a yorker from the sound of the bat ramming down on the ball, can tell if a ball is on the off or on-side, and when it’s hit a pad rather than bat.”
Is it for real, I remember thinking that day. Either this man is kidding or is blessed with this extraordinary ability by the sheer grace of God. To tell who is bowling by the footfalls? Surely, it’s impossible? Well, not really. I discovered for myself that a heightened sense of hearing could indeed be a substitute for vision, but it was not definitely the blessing that it was for the blind commentator – not if you are in earnest pursuit of Nirvana!
It all started when I was feeling particularly inspired by a series of discourses on spirituality that I attended by my guru. Guruji stressed that regular ‘sadhana’ or spiritual discipline was the very nature of a genuine seeker, and sadhana was an imperative and indispensable aspect of spiritual pursuit. Be it yoga, meditation, japa, pranayama, food habits, sleep patterns, non-indulgence in the senses or whatever, regular practice and disciplined effort was the key to success. The ‘Brahma muhurta,’ between 3 and 6 am was highly recommended as the best time for meditation, not just by my guruji but by many realised masters over time. I was also reading Swami Rama’s Living with the Himalayan Masters, and was impressed to note that even as a young seeker, Swami Rama slept just for two hours a day between 2 and 4 pm and reserved the entire night for meditation and other spiritual pursuits.
It seemed increasingly difficult to ignore the aspect of sadhana in my own endeavours of self-discovery. I decided to check out this ‘Brahma muhurta’ for myself, and set a target of waking up in the wee hours to meditate. For a couple of days I woke up at 3 am, only to wake up again at my regular hour after enjoying a full night’s sleep in my ‘meditation’ chair. I surreptitiously advanced the hour to 4 am and did manage to enjoy the peace and quiet of the hour for a while before drifting off into a deeper sleep, complete with blanket tucked around me by my kind husband. Stung by gentle jibes and practical advice by well-meaning family members, I reluctantly admitted that the hour was clearly a bit too wee, and shifted the ‘Brahma muhurta’ to 5 am.
Ah, this seemed to be working. The first day, I determinedly sat erect and started my japa, undaunted by the soft snoring of others cosily curled up. Just as I was settling down into the rhythm, the sound of my mom waking up shattered the silence, with its grand cacophony of a creaking cot, flushing toilet, flip-flopping slippers and the switching on of the coffee percolator. And what a noise the percolator seemed to make – ‘boil, boil, boil’ it went second by agonising second, ‘kutur, kutur, kutur’. In the silence of the early morning, with all the doors and curtains drawn, the noise drummed into my being relentlessly. “Boil, Boil, BOIL, BOIL” the noise grew, enveloped and haunted my ‘Brahma muhurta’ day after day. I started dreading the early morning percolator ritual as, neither able to meditate nor sleep, I landed with a headache each morning. I thus went around the house grumpy and grouchy, banging things and snapping at people. “Mom, I thought you were pursuing Nirvana,” complained my son. “I am, I am,” I said, “But the damn percolator does not let me!” Taking pity on me, mom graciously deferred the coffee-brewing to a later hour, and I settled down to my japa a lot more peaceful.
As the mantra droned on inside me another morning, a distant sound of ‘ooooommmmmm’ penetrated my consciousness. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had heard my Guruji say that as sadhana deepened, one would hear the Dashavidhanada – the ten kinds of ethereal sounds of musical instruments, temple bells, anklets and finally, the omkara. I exulted that I was maybe the chosen one, blessed as I was with this primordial sound so early in my spiritual pursuit, until it shuddered to a halt unceremoniously. It was only the refrigerator on one of its humming bouts.
The mechanics of early morning delivery of milk and paper were the next audio revelations waiting for me, complete with Dolby sound effect. The screeching of the cycle and two-wheelers, in combination with whistling, coughing, shuffling, dragging, revealed if it was the young schoolboy, or the neighbourhood youth Raju from the chai shop, the grumpy newspaper vendor or the elderly owner of the milk dairy who did the honours for the day. “Oh, so the boy is on leave today,” I would say to myself if I heard the huff and puff instead of whistling, or “I wish it was Raju who comes in regularly to deliver the paper. He doesn’t bang the lift door so harshly” I would lament. My mantra japa, in the meantime, would fall by the wayside as my mind drifted from Raju to the paper to the morning’s possible headlines to the breakfast for the day. I would pick it up again, only to drop it with the next assault on my ears.
I now seriously doubt if this Nirvana thing can be achieved in the cosy but noise-ridden residences of city slickers. No wonder that every serious seeker worth his salt ran away to the Himalayas to meditate! Since I can’t do that (not sure I want to either) I guess I will have to learn to hear the music in the noise, like Osho says. The rhythm in the ‘scratch, scratch, scratch...’ of the girl’s broom who sweeps the premises of our apartment, the tempo inherent in my neighbour’s asthmatic cough, the nuances of the early morning ablutions of all and sundry – I battle with all these ‘Dashavidhanadas’ of my external world as I desperately continue to seek the real thing in my internal world.
I don’t know where I am headed, or if I am making any progress at all as I drift off into sleep or fantasy or get distracted – all in the name of meditation. But I am persisting, aren’t I, sending out a strong message to the universe that I am serious about sadhana. That must surely count for something. I think.
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