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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Buddha in the Rush Hour – Serenity in Times of Stress

Readers of a certain age will remember the Hollywood classic Quo Vadis, based on an eponymous novel by Polish novelist and Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz. It depicts the struggle of early Christians against Nero’s corrupt Roman regime. The phrase Quo Vadis in Latin means “Where are you going?” and is based on an apocryphal exchange between Peter, who is fleeing Rome to avoid Roman persecution, and the risen Jesus. When Peter asks Jesus, “Quo Vadis,” Jesus answers: “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again.”

The phrase has entered the modern lexicon, and come to symbolize the necessity of performing one’s duties ignoring the pain that one would have to experience while doing so. Paradoxically, our life and our lifestyle have become a perennial source of pain, and we perennially seek to avoid pain. Stress, anger, frustration, anxiety, envy, negativity are emotions that become an integral part of our life, especially as we grow older, and all of these cause pain. We need to develop mechanisms that will help us in overcoming pain without avoiding our duties.

I have not been able to find foolproof pain avoidance solution while living my life just as any normal human being does. Every morning, when I’m, as Pink Floyd has described, “one day closer to death,” and my body and my mind want to ignore the alarm on my cellphone, I’m often reminded of this apocryphal exchange between Peter and Jesus. It always helps put things in the right perspective, and helps me face the world.

Let me hasten to add a caveat here: I’m not a religious person. It’s the symbolism in this exchange that I find appealing and relevant.

Recently, I read a book by my friend Franky Dias aptly titled Buddha in the Rush Hour – Serenity in Times of Stress. It is a slim and simple book that succeeds in giving solutions to avoiding pain in the performance of our duties. The book doesn’t promise to radically transform your life.

All it promises to do is to add a few drops of cool water into a boiling cauldron of rice. Let me quote the introduction to illustrate:

A Few Drops of Water

When I was growing up, my mother used to cook rice in a big black earthen pot on a log fire. If she had to step outside the kitchen while the rice boiled, she would ask me to keep an eye on it. I would sit and watch, fascinated by the crackle of the log fire and the gurgling sound of the rice dancing in the water. Sometimes the foam would rise furiously in the pot and, unless quick action was taken, the rice would boil over, losing a good amount of grain and dousing the log fire. To prevent this, all I had to do was sprinkle a few drops of cold water on the foam as it began rising in the pot. The rice would miraculously settle down and continue its gurgling rhythm within the confines of the pot.

In this book, I will do my best to share some of those cool drops of water with you. In times of stress, they have kept me from boiling over. I hope they will do the same for you.

The book is divided into four parts: Inward Journey, Taming the Ox Reconnecting with Nature, Right View, Right Intention, And but for Taming the Ox, the other sections are replete with anecdotal stories that assist in developing mindfulness. It is a manual for life and living, and teaches the basic rules of living life to its fullest without avoiding pain.

The strength of the book is the second section – Taming of the Ox, which is a collection of poems and paintings of ox herding. The verses are by Kuoan Shiyuan (12th century China) translated by Senzuki Nyogen (1876-1958) and Paul Reps (1895-1990); the accompanying paintings are traditionally attributed to Tensho Shubun (1414-1463, Japan).

There are altogether 10 verses and 10 paintings; the verses are ‘In search of the Bull,’ ‘Discovery of the Footprints,’ ‘Perceiving the Bull,’ ‘Catching the Bull,’ ‘Taming the Bull,’ ‘Riding the Bull Home,’ ‘The Bull Transcended,’ ‘Both Bull and Self Transcended,’ ‘Reaching the Source,’ ‘Return to Society.’

Franky provides a glimpse of his awesome talent by paraphrasing the ten poems into lines that become meaningful in the context of mindfulness. The 10th poem ‘Return to Society’ in its original form is:

Barefooted and naked of breast,
I mingle with the people of the world
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden,
and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life,
Now, before me, the dead trees
Become alive.

Franky interprets this thus:

Buddha is riding the subway,
Buddha is driving the rush hour,
Buddha is smiling on the sidewalk,
creating ripples of serenity.

This is Franky’s second book. The first was the immensely readable novel, The Taste of Water. Read my blog about it here.

And, let me conclude by quoting Voltaire description of the Roman Empire: “This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”

Q&A with Franky Dias:

Buddha in the Rush Hour is a nonfiction book. Why this shift to nonfiction after writing such an evocative novel – The Taste of Water?

The Taste of Water is a book of passion. It is about growing up in India, steeped in mythology, ghost stories, fish curries and the fantastic gossip of a village frozen in time. The book is a romp through history, adventure, the fall from grace and redemption.

Buddha in Rush Hour, on the other hand, is a book of compassion. It springs from a mellow stage in my life. It contains my personal journey, parables attributed to the Buddha, twelfth century Chinese poems and fourteenth century Japanese paintings along with my commentaries.

I am fortunate to have been on a very interesting journey and I felt compelled to take my readers along with me.

It is evident from Buddha in  Rush Hour that you write from personal experience, and are keen to share your personal insights with everyone. Can one’s own personal experiences be replicated by other individuals?

Stress and rush hour are a part of our lives in cities. All of us can do with some tranquility. It is for this reason that the book has resonated with my readers. The feedback has been enthusiastic and positive.

Mindfulness is becoming an industry, did you have an eye on its current saleability that made you write this book? A corollary to this question is that are you trying to be a guru?

The cure appears when the patient is ready. Fifty years ago only thirty percent of the world population lived in cities. Today nearly fifty five percent of the population lives in  cities. In twenty years it is likely to be as high as eighty percent. Cities mean traffic, rush hour, congestion and stress. We are going to need serenity and mindfulness more than ever before.

The book has anecdotal passages culled from your extensive travels, and the underlying theme that emerges is that human experiences are universal and that it is possible to be happy without accoutrements.

Most people, all over the world lead decent, hardworking lives. Their lives do not appear on
TV. The news is focused mainly on exceptions and aberrations. My  book recounts  some of the extraordinary acts of generosity,  kindness and beauty I have experienced during my travels around the world.

I have said in the book that whenever we go on a long hike in the forest we are all equals and our possessions, which otherwise might define us, become our burdens. The less we carry, the better we are likely to fare. The same can be said of world travel. Bare necessities and modest budgets are likely to provide a richer experience compared to packaged and totally predictable vacations.

Which passage of the book did you enjoy writing the most, and why?

The commentaries on the fourteenth century Japanese Ox herding Pictures. I wrote them at the end, just before the book went to the printers. The essence of entire book miraculously appeared in those commentaries..

What do you plan next?

I am working on a children’s novel named Bubble. I am immensely enjoying the process. For instance, I recently learned about a small bird that flies for seventy hours nonstop covering a distance of 2,700 kilometers. This bird weighs only as much as  two teaspoons of sugar. I also read about a river that flows for 1200 kilometers and empties itself into the Kalahari Desert creating vast seasonal pastures and triggering the greatest wildlife migration on earth. I am currently in the wonderful world of exploration and nothing could be more exciting.

You can buy the book here: Buddha in the Rush Hour

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