[Welcome to our Awakin Circle. Today we have an unusual speaker. There are traditional speakers who share in a sensational way, who share something extraordinary and amazing and we are rapt with attention. But then there are unusual speakers who share in away that just turns our pointer inward. And when you're in that place in you, and I'm in that place in me, as Ram Dass says, there's only one of us. This evening, we this latter kind of speaker. And the invitation is to not just listen to words, but also listen to yourself along the way. As we do that collectively, maybe something else may emerge. The original plan was to introduce him, but right before the circle, we were having tea and he sang this beautiful song. So we thought why not just start with poetry instead of prose? :) Welcome, Arun Dada.]
Introduction with a song, by Arun Dada:
Mein toh, ek ek karijana, Doi kahe tinhi ko dojakha
Jin nahin pehchana. Mein toh, ek ek karijana;
Ek hi pawan, ek hi paani, ek jyoti sansara
Ek khaak ke, yeh sab bhande, ek hi sarajan haara;
Jaise baadhi, kaashta hi kaate, agni na kaate koi
Sab ghat-antar, wohi vyaapak, dhare saroope soi;
Maya mohe artha dekhi karegi, kahe ko garbara
Hum toh nirbhay bhay; ab kachu nahin vyaape;
Kahe Kabir deewana.
All I see is just one. In everything, all I see is just One.
Whenever I see two, it’s hell because there is no Two; just One.
Just One air. One water. One light.
Everything we see is made of that same soil.
Different forms, but same element. There is just One.
The carpenter can cut wood, but no one can cut fire.
In every being, in every form, it is just that One.
It just manifests itself in different forms.
Why do we see two? We see two, because of the illusion.
The illusion, which is created by reasoning, which is created by the mind.
Kabir says, there is just One.
Nipun: That's really him. Somebody who's tried to embody oneness. His name is Arun Bhatt. Arun is his first name, and in India we refer to him as Arun Dada. (Dada is grandfather).
Maybe I can give you a one-liner for every decade of his life. I'll skip the first decade, except that I think he was mischievous. :) His parents were freedom fighters, who were often in jail -- so growing up, instead of getting a baby-sitter, they would often him take him to jail. In his late teens, he decided that school wasn't for him and he wanted to follow a deeper calling. In his early twenties, he met one of his mentors, really incredible human being by the name of Vinoba Bhave and spend next several decades with him.
Vinoba is largely seen as Gandhi's spiritual successor. When he was on the cover of Time magazine, the tagline read, “I'm here to loot you with love”. He walked from village to village and asked rich landowners, “If you had five kids, what would you do with you land when you pass away? Most would say, "Well, I'd divided up amongst five." He says, "Would you adopt me as your sixth son? And you can give my one-sixth of the land to your landless brothers and sisters in your community.” Just like that, purely on the basis of generosity, more than five million acres were donated. It's larger than entire countries! Absolutely unprecedented feat in human history.
Arun Dada saw the saintly strength of Vinoba. With his wife (Meera Ba, who was actually a very prolific author in her own right), they both dedicated themselves to Vinoba’s many movements to uplift India. Arun Dada walked for decades, every day in a different village, different home, different bed to sleep in. Post India's independence, they started a “Shanti Sena’ -- The Peace Army. Perhaps we’ve heard of it as an intellectual idea -- while you have people who fight with weapons, can we also mobilize those who can defuse violence with love? It’s a very hard thing to do, but Arun Dada was one of those peace soldiers. They actually went to warring zones with nothing but love, and defused incredible tensions -- and I’m sure you’ll hear some of those stories tonight.
On the way here, Audrey asks him a question, "Do you get afraid?" In his gentle way, he quietly adds, "No." "You mean like ever in your life?" He says, "Never." Then, he quickly notes, "But I'll tell you that this grace of fearlessness arises not when you are strong and are not afraid. It’s only awakens when no one else is afraid of you." A dog can be in front of a mouse and say, "Oh I'm strong, I'm fearless". But in front of a bear, the dog is afraid. That's not real fearlessness.
Guri also told me, "Nipun, don't forget to mention this one word in his intro - humility". Here's the guy that if anyone were to do something violent to him, that person would end up looking like a fool. He’d just smiling and say, "Aw, poor guy is violent, out of control, unbalanced. I wish him peace.." That's what he's done, repeatedly. He's transformed so many lives, sometimes people who've done some really atrocious acts, purely on the merits of loving kindness.
It's a real honor to have Arun Dada here. He doesn't do talks in the traditional sense. But he has profound stories and is a man of incredible intellect. So we thought we’ll start by asking him some questions.
Q: How would you introduce Vinoba, to people who don't know Vinoba?
If you do not know Vinoba, but if you know Gandhi, then Gandhi is also successful and Vinoba is also successful. You've successfully understood both. Vinoba said only that person is successful who never comes into the limelight. Vinoba was successful. Gandhi was also successful because everybody understood Gandhi. Vinoba was successful because he did not come in the limelight and he was not seen.
According to the Indian culture, enlightenment is the ultimate destination. Vinoba passed in 1982, but he said that I do not want enlightenment. To leave all of you here while I get enlightenment is not what I wish for. If I go, we’ll all go together. To get there, all our desires -- I want this, I want that, my enlightenment, my freedom -- all the 'my' attachments keep us from being liberated. No kind of enlightenment is possible with such attachments.
Not sure if all of you have read this book called 'Moved By Love', which is Vinoba's autobiography. He's not written it himself, but it’s a compilation of his anecdotes that he had shared previously. In that book he has said that so long as we feel that there is a body, there is an organization, there is money, we are not free of our ignorance. We cannot move towards enlightenment.
There was this one time when I informed Vinoba, I did not ask him. I informed him that I wanted to go into a village, settle down over there and do farming. He said, "You don't have to do this, do farming in Bhavnagar." (Bhavnagar is a small city in Gujarat). To that I said, "Bhavnagar is a city and how am I supposed to do any kind of farming over there? There's cement everywhere!" So he asked, "Somewhere, the city limits might end?" "Yes. Somewhere the city limits do end.” "What is the end of the city limit? How far is it?" "Around six kilometers." "Okay, Six kilometers! Then go walking six kilometers out of the city, do your farming and then come back." "Yes six kilometers out of the city there is definitely a farmland, but that's not mine, that's somebody else's. So, how can I go do farming there?" "You wanted to do farming. You go there, you go and serve somebody else's farm as a farm labor, and then you come back. That way, the person who owns the farm gets free farm labor and you get the gift of doing farming. It doesn't need to be your own farm."
Somebody asked, Vinoba, if you take rebirth, what would you like to be? Vinoba said, "I will not repeat the two mistakes that I did in this lifetime. And what are the two mistakes? The first mistake is I went to school and colleges and wasted a lot of years over there. And the second mistake was, even after that, I spent a lot of time in reading and writing." So then someone asked Vinoba, “so what is it that you're going to do then?” He said, "I'll do farming and I will spend my time in devotion". He was a great intellectual, but he did not have trust in the intellect. There was more trust in devotion. And just to add to that, when he said he would do ‘kheti’ (farming) he said he would work as a farm labor and not as an owner of the farm.
Before coming here (to America), I was in Ahmedabad with a friend. The friend said, I see a lot of photographs of Vinoba, but the one that touches me the most is where Vinoba is picking up small pieces of straws. That is 'Subtle cleaning' - Purification of the mind through external service. What comes out of purification of the mind is not what you will get from accumulation of knowledge. (Here he is using ‘knowledge’ as spiritual information. And, there is a differentiation between knowledge and wisdom). By just increasing knowledge, you're not going to get so much. But you will gain wisdom through purification of the mind. All of us come here and sit in meditation. It is not about how long we sit or how many hours we sit? But how much of our minds have purified should be the deeper intention.
Vinoba offered us a formula to test the purity of our service. He says that you have to remove the ego in our service, to increase the depth of our service. The formula is this: service = actions divided by ego. If you have done hundred acts of kindness and if ego is 10, then you've offered 10 units of service. Let's say you've done 50 acts but the ego is two, then we've offered more -- 25. If you've just done one act of service and your ego is zero? Then the result is infinity. The main work that we have to do is to dissolve the ego. If this much is what we can do sitting over here, then the result is going to be huge.
Q: Can you give us an insight into a day in the life of somebody whose physical circumstances are constantly changing?
[Context to the question: One of the things that Arun Dada did was walk from village to village, for tens of thousands of miles. Then there was the peace army work, where you sowing seeds of love in war-torn areas, where you are also stationed in a particular for a short period. With Bhoodan (Land Gift), Shanti Sena (Peace Army) and more, they just kep moving. When asked, how many kilometers do you think you've walked through doing all these? He says, "It's not 5,000 or 10,000, it’s countless." He's not even keeping track. Yet to be constantly on the move, to not have any stability, really changes you.]
We would stay for the day in a village because that would reduce the burden on the village. Not the burden of food, but your presence. If they understand what we are trying to say, if they understand that in a day, then we move on.
I'll share a brief history of Bhoodan with you. Bhoodan started in 1951. After Gandhi passed away, people would gather and they would work on Sarvodaya, which means well-being of all. The prime-minister of the country had invited Vinoba to come to the Sarvodaya Meeting. To that, Vinoba replied, “I'll come to see you, but I'll come walking”. The meeting was in Karnataka and he was in Wardha, which is more than 2000 kilometers away. In Karnataka, a lot of landless people had come together and they were putting out the word that they wanted some land to survive because there was no means for them to survive. Vinoba said, “I'm going to go walking into the villages of Karnataka. I'm going to listen to the people. And then based on what I listen, that is the conversation I will bring to the Sarvodaya meeting.”
In one village we went to a Harijan community (that some referred to as "backward class"). So Vinoba visited and listened to their challenges. They told him, "We don't have violent conflict here, but we have a big rift between land owners and the landless. We have requested the government to give us 80 acres of land, so we can work on it, farm, and survive. Can you pass that message to the government?" So Vinoba said he would speak on their behalf at their next meeting.
During that time, India and Pakistan partition had happened, where many had to abandon their property in Pakistan and migrate to India as landless workers. Government was exploring options, and Vinoba expanded the conversation to say, "No only should people from Pakistan get the land, but all landless people!" Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister at that time, and he agreed to this.
At one point, Jawaharlal Nehru (prime-minister of India) met Vinoba, alongside the landless communities. Vinoba shared how people had still not received their land, and Nehru wondered, "How is that possible? I had given my mandate earlier." And Vinoba laughed and joked, "When a king says something, an entire army moves. When Baba (Vinoba) speaks, his beard moves. And when the Prime Minister Nehru says anything, nothing moves."
Vinoba understood that if he's going to work through the government, there's going to be red tape and bureaucracy. So he found a middle path -- he went directly to the land owners, appealed to their hearts to give to the landless. It all started in one village of Karnataka, where they needed 80 acres of land, but land owner came forward and proclaimed, "I will donate a hundred acres of land." This was the first land-gift that happened in 1951. By the end, 5 million acres of land was donated.
That night when they received a hundred acres of land, Vinoba could not sleep. It was a sleepless night. And he said, "When someone like me, a human like me is asking, people are giving. What does that mean?" He realized it was the power of soul force. Mereley by the power of nonviolence (Ahimsa) this can happen. And that's how this became the largest land transfer movement in the history of the world.
I would imagine that most of us in this room have never met people who have never sold their labor in their whole life. That's like saying that I give to you the way my mother gave birth to me -- just love, no strings attached. Arun Dada decided to live his whole life in that way. He doesn't actually own anything. Literally. No bank account, no security, nothing. It's such a foreign idea for us, and yet the principle of love has been tried and tested for millenia. And Arun Dada is proof of that. In Cypress, for instance, when the Greeks and Turks were warring, he went in to create pace. At some point, two kids come up with a gun pointed straight at his body. It's a very tense region, and he's not local nor does he speaks the local language. But to their threats, he smilingly taps one of the kids on his shoulder as if to say, "Oh, this is not you." Miraculously, the kids drop the gun and he walks on. And on his way back, the same kids come racing to him -- to make an offering of two fist
full of almonds! Now, how do you go from take-at-gunpoint mindset to offering-of-almonds, without any words even? That sounds unbelievable, just like it's unbelievable to see a man who's never sold his labor. How do you survive? How do you take care of a family, with a wife and two kids, in this way?
I remember a Gujarati prayer on hearing this:
Le aa mane game te maaru, pan jo tane game toh taru.
Maaru taru ne gamtu pan,
laav laav kariya sahiyaru
Tu jeete ne thao khushi hoon.
Le ne fari farine haaru
What I like is mine, but if you like it, it is yours.
If we both like something, let's ask together.
Even in your victory, I'll rejoice.
It'll be my delight to lose again and again.
Questioner: How have you integrated surrender of devotion with the knowing of intellect?
There are three forces at play: devotion, wisdom and equanimity. For me, I always give most importance to devotion. It could be different for different people, but I find great value in devotion. Mohammed Paigambar, founder of Islam, recited the Quran was not educated. He would go into the forests and at night, he would feel vibrations -- what he "Wahii". It's just words but a certain kind of communion. So, he would then recite it to his students and then they would note it down. He would also go through it and edit or correct it. That’s how the Quran was written. This is not an intellectual exercise. So, academic qualifications are not important. Without devotion, it's not possible to understand the nuance of the teachings.
I just wanted to say thank-you. My family immigrated from Pakistan during the partion, and I never really understood them until today. Thank you. [Tears]
Questioner: How can we transcend fear and reconnect with life?
Fear is real, but after all that I've been through, if I had summarize my learnings, it would simply be this: I've looked down the tunnel of fear, and have never found it to be real. And those who dedicate themselves in service will be connected. Society will honor, revere and take care of those who serve it. This is the essence of the learnings of my life -- if you serve others, you will be taken care of.
Questioner: You were married for 57 years, and your wife just passed away in 2016. What was changed since then?
Absolutely nothing has changed. We had the same purpose and outlook on life, and that stays the same.
Questioner: How would Vinoba meet Trump?
He would certainly meet Trump. Vinoba never thought anyone was bad. Everybody comes with their own journey, but inside everyone is made of the same essence.
Questioner: What brought you to Vinoba? What kind of a teacher was he?
I did not go to Vinoba because I was attracted to his work. I went to escape college. But as I worked with him, understood him, read his books and experienced him, I saw the merit in what he was saying. After listening to Vinoba, people in the village would queue up to give land. I used to wonder why people gave him land -- maybe because he's a saint? But even when I went into villages, even very very interior villages of Bihar, I noticed that people would line up to give me land too! A simple man, a simple volunteer like me. I saw how it was love that moved people.
One time, some politicians had come to meet Vinoba and request his blessings. He would give them the blessings. One day, I went to him and gave a long lecture, "These politicians sweet talk you, but they have other agendas on their mind." Vinoba heard my ramble and just saying, "Arun has become all knowing! He knows the intentions of these politicians."
This is how Vinoba taught.
A woman came to Vinoba and said that whenever she listens to devotional music, she forgets herself and becomes completely engrossed in a state of deep contemplation. Vinoba shared how when he was young, he used to eat sweet yoghurt and lose himself too! But then the yoghurt went all over his face. It's wise to pay closer attention. All the senses are external and superficial, and we have to not get distracted so we can move beyond the inputs of the sense organs.
Questioner: How did Vinoba handle opponents?
Vinoba faced many adversarial episodes. Once in Bihar, during the Bhoodan movement, the trustees of the temple asked him to visit. He told that he would come with whoever is with him, even if they from other religions or castes. They agreed. However, when they went, the fundamentalist got worried that Vinoba might destroy their traditions. So they came and physically attacked Vinoba! He seriously hurt his ear drum, which was injury he subsequently retained for a long time. When the media came asking questions, he just said, "I came here to see God but I got blessed with a touch of God!" Vinoba saw everything as a play of the divine.
Questioner: What does devotion mean to you?
Devotion means service.
One of the first stories I remember of Arun Dada -- Three Magical Words
-- involved an angry neighbor, who at one point physically hit him such that his eye glasses flew off in the nearby river. And Arun Dada responds, "Brother, you can even take my eye out but what you're doing is not right." Over time, that young man not only becomes his close friend, but offers him security: "If anyone bothers around here, you let me know. Even if it's 10 people, I'll take care of them myself." And Arun Dada asks him, "Just ten?" Then he adds, "If you use violence, you can just handle ten people. But if you are deeply equanimous and allow love to arise in you, entire armies will bow to you."
What an honor to have had been with Arun Dada today. When people asked Vinoba about marketing his ideas, he would confidently say, "The winds carry this message, the bird chirp this song, the rain spread this love." And today, we've all received a bit of that goodness, and may it spread the way it needs to. We'll close with a song by Arun Dada.
mere piya mein kachhu nahin jaanuu
chhuppa chhuppa mein tho chaaha rahin
mere piya mein kachhu nahin jaanuu
mere piyaa tum kitnay suhaavan
tum barasoon jivi mehaa sawaan
mere piyaan tum amara suhaagi
tum paayen mein bahu badh bhaagi
mein tho pal pal byaah ha rahii
mein tho chuppa chuppa chaaha rahin
mere piya tum amara suhaagi
tum paayen mein bahu badh bhaagi
mein tho pal pal byaah ha rahii
mein tho chuppa chuppa chaah rahii
mere piya mein kacchu nahin jaanu
My dear beloved I do not know anything
I just love Thy silently
My dearbeloved you are so radiant
Thy beauty overflows like the monsoon clouds
And I am silently cleansed through Thy showers
My dear beloved you are eternal
Having Thy is my great fortune
And every moment feels like a union
I just love you silently
My dear beloved I do not know anything
I just love Thy silently
[See also Helen's post-circle post: Mini Earthquake of the Mind