So one more year has come to an end. That one micro-second when one year finishes and another year starts seems momentous, doesn’t it? Yet it is no different from the millions of micro-seconds that we have lived so far. We greet this new micro-second with cheers and wishes, hopes and dreams..and if one is particularly foolish like myself, resolutions that won’t last a week! I wonder, why do we cheer the unknown to come instead of grieving the end of one more period of one’s life? One starts life with endless possibilities but as moments pass the possibilities become fewer and fewer until at the last moment of our life there is only one possibility left. So while the world lights the skies with fireworks and parties its way into the New Year, I am sombre, looking back at what might have been and what is not.
2015 was such a hard year for so many people. I grieve for the all the people killed and maimed by terrorism and fundamentalism whether in Paris, Nigeria, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Philippines, Yemen, Kenya or the innumerable other places which have seen such incidents. At the start of 2015 they too would have cheered and hoped and made resolutions which they did not keep. What happened to all those wishes when the terrorists blew them up? Did they disappear from the earth or are those wishes hanging heavily like overladen clouds? I grieve for all those affected by natural disasters, be it in the floods in Chennai, Malawi or Mozambique, the drought in Ethiopia, the heat wave in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, earthquakes in Nepal and Chile, wildfires in Canada, California and Australia, landslides in Burma, avalanches in Afghanistan or innumerable other such incidents. Did they not receive good wishes at the start of 2015? If they survived the disasters, will they ever heal from what 2015 did to them? I grieve for the earth itself which we continue to treat with careless abandon, filling landfills with toxic or non-biodegradable waste, filling the air with carbon and other emissions, filling rivers and water sources with even more waste. As polar bears struggle in melting ice caps, fish struggle with low oxygen levels in the water and animals struggle with disastrous changes in their habitat, shall we still cheer the start of 2016 or grieve over all that we could have done but didn’t in 2015? We humans selfishly follow agendas for individual interest at the cost of collective well-being, whether by killing rhinos for their horns, enslaving women for their bodies, using poverty as a weapon against the poor and in so many other ways that I despair of it all. All one can feel is shame that one is part of the same human race which does so much harm to itself and its environment.
Yet here is 2016, whether we want it or not. At the start of the year hope springs eternal, does it not! So I shall set aside all the grief of that which has passed and hope for joy and contentment in the future, not just for myself but for all of us who call earth our home. And I invoke the prayer song written by the Kanchi Paramacharya, Jagatguru Chandrasekharendra Saraswati and tuned by Shri Vasant Desai. On Oct 23 1966 M.S.Subbulakshmi sang it in the United Nations. This immortal song is as meaningful in today’s times as it was then. Please do read the translation in the footnote below, there is good advice for us all. May 2016 bring us all wisdom to follow the path recommended by the Paramacharya.
A much older M.S. sings the same song in the video below :
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Poetry: Kanchi Paramacharya, Jagatguru Chandrasekharendra Saraswati
Music : Vasant Desai
Raga : Ragamalika – Yamuna Kalyani and Kapi
Language : Sanskrit
in Raga Yamuna Kalyani
मैत्रीम् भजत अखिल हृज्जेत्रीम् (= हृत् जेत्रीम् )
आत्मवदेव परानपि पश्यत (= आत्मवत् एव परान् अपि पश्यत)
युद्धम् त्यजत स्पर्धां त्यजत
त्यजत परेषु परेष्वक्रममाक्रमणम् (=परेषु अक्रम आक्रमणम्) ||
in Raga Kapi
जननी पृथिवी काम दुघास्ते (=दुघा आस्ते)
जनको देवः सकल दयालुः
दाम्यत दत्त दयध्वं जनताः
श्रेयो भूयात् सकल जनानाम् ||
maitrIm bhajata akhila hRjjEtrIm
AtmavadEva parAnapi pashyata
yuddham tyajata spardhAm tyajata
tyajata parEshu akramamAkramaNam
jananI pRthivI kAmadughAstE
janakO dEvah sakala dayAluh
dAmyata datta dayadhvam janatAh
shrEyO bhUyAt sakala janAnAm
Win over (jEtrIm) all hearts (hRt) by practising (bhajata) friendship (maitrIm).
Think (pashyata, literally look) at others (parAn) exactly (Eva) like you think of yourself (Atmavat).
Forsake (tyajata) war (yuddham), forsake (tyajata) competitiveness (spardhAm),
forsake (tyajata) sudden (akrama) attacks (Akramanam) on others (parEshu).
Mother (jananI) Earth (pRthivI) exists (AstE) like a wish (kAma) fulfilling cow (dughA) (reference to kAmadhEnu).
God (dEvah), our father (janaka), is completely (sakala) compassionate (dayAluh)
Be self-restrained (dAmyata), be charitable (datta), be merciful (dayadhvam). (*from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, see below).
May (bhUyAt) all (sakala) people (janAnAm) be prosperous/blissful/fortunate (shrEya)
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, verses 5.2.1-5.2.3
त्रयाः प्राजापत्याः प्रजापतौ पितरि ब्रह्मचर्यमूषुः—देवा मनुष्या असुराः; उषित्वा ब्रह्मचर्यं देवा ऊचुः, वीतु नो भवानिति; तेभ्यो हैतदक्शरमुवाच द इति; व्यज्ञासिष्टा3 इति; व्यज्ञासिष्मेति होचुः, दाम्यतेति न
आत्थेति; ओमिति होवाच, व्यज्ञासिष्टेति ॥
Three classes of Prajāpati’s sons lived a life of continence with their father, Prajāpati (Virāj)—the gods, men and Asuras. The gods, on the completion of their term, said, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: Control yourselves.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’
अथ हैनं मनुष्या ऊचुः, ब्रवीतु नो भवानिति; तेभ्यो हैतदेवाक्शरमुवाच द इति; व्यज्ञासिष्टा3 इति; व्यज्ञासिष्मेति होचुः, दत्तेति न आत्थेति; ओमिति होवाच, व्यज्ञासिष्टेति ॥
Then the men said to him, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the same syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: Give.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’
अथ हैनमसुरा ऊचुः, ब्रवीतु नो भवानिति; तेभ्यो हैतदेवाक्शरमुवाच द इति; व्यज्ञासिष्टा3 इति; व्यज्ञासिष्मेति होचुः, दयध्वमिति न आत्थेति; ओमिति होवाच, व्यज्ञासिष्टेति; तदेतदेवैषा दैवी वागनुवदति स्तनयित्नुर् द द द इति—दाम्यत दत्त दयध्वमिति; तदेतत्त्रयं शिक्शेत्— मं
दानं दयामिति ॥
Then the Asuras said to him, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the same syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: ‘Have compassion.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’ That very thing is repeated by the heavenly voice, the cloud, as ‘Da,’ ‘Da,’ ‘Da’: ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give,’ and ‘Have compassion.’ Therefore one should leam these three—self-control, charity and compassion.
The present section is introduced to prescribe the three disciplines of self-control etc. Three classes of Prajāpati’s sons lived a life of continence, i.e. lived as students, since continence is the most important part of a student’s life, with their father, Prajāpati. Who were they? The gods, men and Asuras, in particular. Of them, the gods, on the completion of their term—what did they do?—said to their father, Prajāpati, ‘Please instruct us.’ When they thus sought his instruction, he told them only the syllable‘Da’; and saying it the father asked them,’ you understood the meaning of the syllable I told you by way of instruction, or not?’ The gods said, ‘We have.’ ‘If so, tell me what I said.’ The gods said, ‘You tell us: Control yourselves, for you are naturally unruly.’ The other said, ‘Yes, you have understoodrightly.’
The common portions are to be explained as before. ‘You tell us: Give—distribute your wealth to the best of your might, for you are naturally avaricious. What else would you say for our benefit?’—so said the men.
Similarly the Asuras took it as, ‘Have compassion, be kind to all, for you are cruel, given to injuring others, and so on.’ That very instruction of Prajāpati continues to this day. Prajāpati, who formerly taught the gods and others, teaches us even to-day through the heavenly voice of the cloud. How? Here is the heavenly voice heard. Which is it? The cloud. As ‘Da,’ ‘Da,’ ‘Da’: ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give,’and ‘Have compassion.’ The syllable ‘Da’ is repeated thrice to represent in imitation the above three terms, not that a cloud produces three notes only, for we know of no such limitation as to number. Because to this day Prajāpati gives the same instructions, ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give’ and ‘Have Compassion,’ therefore one should learn these three of Prajāpati. What are they? Self-control, charity and compassion. Men should think, ‘We must carry out the instructions of Prajāpati.’ The Smṛti too says, ‘Lust, anger and greed—these are the three gateways to hell, destructive to the self; therefore one should renounce these three’ (G. XVI. 21). The preceding portion is but a part of this injunction, ‘One should learn,’ etc. Still those who can guess the motives of others hold different views on why Prajāpati spoke the same syllable ‘Da’ thrice to the gods etc., who wanted separate instructions, and how they too discriminatingly understood his intention from the same syllable ‘Da.’