Jñana Yoga or Karma Yoga, a difficult choice

pics of sadhu and lady at Panchavati Nashik by Arun Shanbhag

At the ghats in Panchavati, Nāshik, I was intrigued by this sādhu pondering the mysteries of sat and asat, while a lady was busy washing her cooking utensils. Verily a juxtaposition of the paths of Jñāna yoga and Karma Yoga. Which path to follow? This is a difficult decision for many to make. If you have not (yet) come across this quandary, consider yourself lucky.


See pics from, Neelkanteshwar Mahadev Mandir, in Panchavati, Nashik

Peigutso Lake towards Saga

Kailash Manasarovar Yatra, Day 6: Peigutso Lake (4,400 m; 14,436 ft) on the Tibetan Plateau


(noticed this in my private posts; edited and posted in Dec 2014)
photos of Peigutso Lake in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag
After lunch and pics of local kids, we headed west along a ravine and climbed a pass. There before us was the serenely beautiful Peigutso Lake. Overcast skies quickly gave way to more dazzling azure skies with bright cumulus clouds and turquoise blue water. The scene hushed us all and we simply stared in silence at the magnificence spread before us.
photos of Peigutso Lake in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag


There at that time, my mind was preoccupied by physical discomfort and I did not appreciate the view as much. It had been a few days without bathroom facilities or showers. It was biting cold and the wind was relentless. In the rarefied air I developed the characteristic high altitude-induced dry cough. While the medication (Diamox) ameliorated some of the effects, the cough and headaches persisted. Despite our sherpas’ best efforts at cooking, I was nauseous and could not get anything down. For most of the trip I survived on honey spread over thick rotis and warm yak milk. And boxes of ladoos and mithai I had carried from Mumbai.

photos of Peigutso Lake in Tibet by Arun Shanbhag

This is a yatra

And so on I complained about material wellbeing. It would have been excusable if I was on an exotic vacation and expected to be pampered. But I was on the most difficult and sacred of all yatras – where it should have been about the “inner journey.” The physical discomfort is essential to force us to divorce ourselves from the comfortable mundane of our lives and turn our minds inwards to pose the trickier questions: What am I doing here on this planet? What is/was my purpose? Who is breathing? You don’t need to arrive at the answers, but to start asking these questions; wallowing in the discomfort of reflection is the entire purpose of a yatra. Many revel in such an opportunity and each such yatra prepares us to reflect more deeply on our inner journey.

Personally, this yatra was a beginning, transition to a new level, turning a key to unlocking more mysteries and ecstasy. I didn’t know it then, but the mental and emotional manifestations of this yatra will continue to unravel over the rest of my life.

(I edited and reposted these two paragraphs in Dec 2014, more than eight years later)

We continued our drive in the valleys between rolling hills, through ravines and water logged streams. We crossed the wide, peaceful Brahmaputra river and arrived at the chinese military base town of Saga. Here in the middle of the barren desert were all the amenities you’d expect in an army town – pool tables, bars, gambling dens and dancing girls. Girls with garish make-up walked the pavement, reminding us once again of the impermanence of material beauty. It was also the last opportunity to buy warm gloves, hats or other cold weather accessories.


Next on the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra: Brahmaputra and Onwards to Paryang
Start of Kaliash Manasarovar Yatra: Rendevous with Sagarmatha (Everest)


Meeting Amma in Boston

Mata Amritanandamayi Amma

Prema rasāmrta varshini mātā amrtānandamayi |
Prema bhakti sandāyani mātā amrtānandamayi ||

Showers us with immortal nectar of love, O mother;
Grant us the capacity for love & bhakti (selfless devotion), O mother Amritanandamayi ||

Two weeks ago, I got the opportunity to experience darshan of Mata Amritanandamay, better known as Amma. What started as a casual email invite, turned into a life fulfilling experience. Below, I have used my tweets to supplement my notes. Continue reading “Meeting Amma in Boston”

Gita Press Bookstore: Karma Yoga in Action

Gita Press Gorakhpur Bookstore

Tucked away on gritty Princess St and across from Parsi Dairy Farm is one of my favorite book stores: Gita Press Ki Dukan (Bookstore of the Gita Press).

See, I came late to this genre of Hindu scriptures. Educated in a convent school, I drank deeply of the Kool-Aid that western writers were the axis around which the Universe rotated. We studied Browning, Byron, Keats and O’Henry, and passed on Dnyaneshwar, Eknath, Kanaka Dās and Tukaram. I knew more about priests and nuns, and zilch about Alvars and Nayanmars. Romeo & Juliet was a Classic, Ramayana a myth. We doted on Shelley, Hemingway and Shakespeare, but skipped Tulsidās, Mirābai, Tyāgarājā and Kālidās. I knew more about St Peter than Bhagwān Ādi Shankarāchāryā or Swami Madhvāchāryā.

Thankfully I graduated and real education could begin. A tiny booklet of Swami Vivekananda’s lectures bought at a railway station was the spark. And what a roaring fire it kindled. Was engrossed in it for days. Followed hungrily by the Bhagavad Gitā, Upanishads, Purānās, commentaries of various masters and Bhakti poetry. I had just scratched the surface. Continue reading “Gita Press Bookstore: Karma Yoga in Action”

Dwijā – The Twice Born

Composite image of fetus overlaid on pic of cosmos by Arun Shanbhag, Who is a Dwija or Twice born?

In the Vedās, Upanishads, Gita and the Purān, we often encounter the term, Dwijā – twice born (Dwe – two; – born). A person is called a Dwijā, after his thread ceremony.

What two births are implied here? Continue reading “Dwijā – The Twice Born”

Celebrating Rām Navami

photo of 13th century Chola Bronze at Arthur Sackler Museum, Harvard by Arun Shanbhag
Gosvami Tulsidas Ramcharitamanas Ramayana Śri Rām Navami


The Divine Consciousness – manifest or unmanifest, there is no difference
So chant Sages, Puranas, Buddha and Veda.

That which has no attributes, is formless, unseen and unborn
Manifests itself (as Sri Ram) purely out of love for his devotees.


Wishing All
Bliss in Śri Rām’s Grace

M&m and A


Continue reading “Celebrating Rām Navami”

Ganesh Chaturthi

Picture Ganapati Ganesh Chaturthi painting by Arun Shanbhag

vakratunda mahaakaaya kotisurya samaprabhaa |
nirvighna kuru mae deva sarvakaaryeshu sarvadaa ||

With a curved trunk and generous form
Whose splendor matches ten million Suns
Remove obstacles Deva!
In all that I do!

_____
Ganapati Bappa, Mowrya!
M & A

Ganesh Vandana – Tribute to Ganesh

The light of the Sun imbues our existence with life and summons our gratitude and reverence. Daylight breaking over the horizon is a very auspicious time for all Hindus, and heralds the start of a new day. A time for new beginnings, new hopes and possibilities. A pristinely beautiful time to thank the Supreme Being for our good fortune, to pray for the courage and fortitude to face old and new challenges; and to uncover our kinder and compassionate souls in dealing with his children.

What better way to start the day than by appealing to Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of Beginnings. Ganesha, the pot-bellied darling of children all over, is also identified as Vignesh, the Remover of Obstacles, and Vakratunda, One with the curved trunk.

Notes are excerpted from my book, Prarthana: A Book of Hindu Psalms, from the prayer Ganesh Vandana. © Arun Shanbhag 2007


Earlier Ganesh Chaturthi Posts:

Ganapati Flower Sellers:

Tirth Yātra: Temples of Tāmil Nādu

Pics of Kapaleeshwara Temple in Mylapore Chennai by Arun Shanbhag
Even as a child, I enjoyed visiting temples. The prasad was certainly a big draw. I’d stop by random SatyaNarayana Pujas, just to receive of the nectarine prasad. Aarti bhajans were equally soothing. At annual Wadala GSB Ganapati celebrations, while we were enticed by stalls selling bhajiyas and bondas, we first paid our respects to Ganapati, our friend and confidant, with whom we traded future visits for good performance in exams. Continue reading “Tirth Yātra: Temples of Tāmil Nādu”

Uma: Quencher of Thirst

It was a blazing hot summer afternoon in Hampi. As I walked out of the magnificent Vithala Temple, my throat was parched. Even my sweat had dried in this arid North Karnataka summer. The sight of this woman under a bright red umbrella, tending a cooler with drinks was an oasis of bliss to a weary traveler. I ambled over and quickly gulped two bottles of my favorite: Limca! Aaaah! I bought a few more bottles for M and the driver.

She charged me 12 rupees for each. I gave her the money. But ever eager to practice my kannada and engage in conversation, I asked here only jokingly, why it was 12 rupees here, while it was only 10 rupees in the city. She must have been surprised by my heavily accented and rudimentary kannada, and realizing I was joking, she started giggling. I could not keep a straight face and started to laugh too.

I made small talk, asked her name and generally how many drinks she sold in a day. Her name was Uma and she sold about a crate (of 12) each day. I estimated she made 4 rupees profit on each bottle, netting her about 50 rupees a day (slightly more than a dollar)! And for that she had to stand in this heat all day! And some one had to drop her here and pick her up in the evening. And she has not yet eaten! Life is tough! But she had a certain calm about her and I think this pic radiates her inner peace. And her confidence!

As I prepared to leave, I asked her again why it was 12 rupees for each drink: yaakae hutnerdu rupaiya?
Now she really burst out laughing, and I laughed with her. After a few moments she composed herself, then lifted the lid of the cooler, pointed inside and with a twinkle in her eyes mouthed a single word: Ice!

On this blistering hot day, she knew the magic word. For that thirst-quenching ice cold drink, I would gladly have paid twice as much!



I was gifted this small, yet well done bronze of Uma by my cousin brother Ramnath. He has a good eye for art work.

This is Uma (Parvati) as Shivakami – the beloved of Shiva, in a classic tribhanga pose. This is purported to be a late 18th century reproduction of the 11th century piece from the Kulottunga I era. I have had this for several years and I never tire of admiring it. It is small and fits nicely in the palm of my hand. I am drawn to her graceful pose. I am drawn to her exceptional beauty. I am drawn to the inner calm she radiates! And I am drawn to the confidence she exudes!

The craftsmanship is exquisite for so tiny a piece and we have no idea where this statuette resided for the last several centuries. The sharp features suggest she was not used for any puja. Prolly stayed in a noble household.

It is said that the easiest way to reach Shiva is to appease Parvati (or Uma) and have her champion you to Shiva! Perhaps it is that restlessnes in my heart that draws me to her. I certainly thirst for her grace! And every time my eyes fall on Uma, I know my thirst will soon be quenched.

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