The holy Vaikunta Ekadashi day on 8th January 2017 was a memorable one for me. I happened to visit the magnificent ISKCON temple in Bengaluru and felt I was literally going through the Vaikunt dwar. This holy day is dedicated to the worship of Lord Vishnu. The Vaikunt dwar or the special north side entrance of the temple is opened on just this particular day in a year. The belief is that anyone who goes through this entrance reaches the abode of Vishnu. Being a special day, the temple was crowded but I enjoyed being in the midst of so much spiritual vibration.
The ISKCON temple which is on top of a hill in the heart of the city was opened in 1997 and there are so many deities as we ascend the steps of the temple. You can also have a wonderful view of the city from atop the hill. There is a shrine for Lord Balaji. It is so beautiful that I was transported to Tirupati straightaway. There is another shrine dedicated to Nitai and Gauranga. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is known as Gauranga because of the beautiful golden complexion he had. He is believed to have been an avatar of Lord Krishna himself. The Kirtan tradition began with Chaitanya and this became an important hallmark of the Bhakti movement in India. Nitai is Nityananda Prabhu who appeared at the same time as Gauranga and it is believed that he is an incarnation of Balarama. Together these two great men helped in the spread of Vaishnava Sampradaya in this country.
And of course, as in all ISKCON temples, there is the main shrine with Radharani and Krishnachandra decked in all finery as befits the lord of the universe and his consort. Then there are idols of Krishna and Balarama and this reminded me of their childhood days in Brindavan. A shrine dedicated to Prahlada and Narasimha is also there in the temple. Lord Vishnu took this ferocious avatar to save his child devotee Prahlad. You can read in detail about these legends in my website www.indianscriptures.com
First and formost, the movie is very well made. The concept, storyline and characters are really upto the expectations.
My reason to write about Dangal is, a scene wherein father asks daughters to eat meat for more protien so that they can perform better in wresting. It is again a propoganda of requirement of high protien and encouragement to meat eating.
The reality of Bhogal family is they have been vegetarian all their lives and even girls never had to eat meat to get strength. Because it is an Amir khan movie, nobody is bothered to find out the real fact of such small issues. I found out about it from one of their interviews wherein the girls Geeta and Babita have confirmed that they never had to eat meat to improve their performance.
Friends, please stop the propoganda of protien requirements in our body. The whole concept of protien started by wrestlers in the USA as they have not discovered the strength of pulses.
If you are an office goer and into sitting jobs, you need only two spoons of daal every day which can be adjusted only weekly basis with little larger portion.
A family is such a wonderful place for each one of us to grow and evolve as a person. It takes a lot of love, commitment and effort to keep the family as a unit. The famous American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn says “Your family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing.” It is the older members of the family who sow good ideals which become the norm later on. Children observe and imbibe these ideals sub consciously and fashion their later years to a large extent based on the experiences they have received in their childhood. These are called family values which are cherished by each individual as they are unique to each family and which make the journey through life memorable.
Are there a definite set of values straight jacketed for each family? The answer is an overwhelming no for they are different for each family based on so many factors. What holds good for one individual or family may not find favor with another. These are a set of values that are so unique and cherished by each family. They can be described as a set of rules that the entire family stays true to and follows at all times. Sometimes they can also be unspoken rules but are followed as one does not like to cause hurt to others. Over time these bind the members of the family together and in times of distress, these values help one another to tide over the crisis. The family as a solid unit is a bedrock of support and helps each one to find his or her moorings eventually. The warm love that each member basks in is enough to sustain the members through difficult times.
As I look lovingly at all the members of my family my heart also goes out to those unfortunate ones who come from broken homes or are separated from their loved ones due to whatever reason. As we are so close to the New Year maybe one really good resolution would be to extend a loving hand and heart to someone out there who longs for the warmth of love. Maybe in our own small way we can make this world a better place for such unfortunate ones too.
We love to celebrate in a group, celebrate life, celebrate festivals, generally congregate in temples for puja, bhajan, kirtan, discourse and so on. Buddhists, participate in group chants and meditation. For the Jains, congregating together is more a means to spiritual and karmic development through meditation, offerings, and prayer. Sikhs congregate in temples where they read and sing scriptures and listen to sermons. This is specifically called satsang, which is good company.
This is especially true outside India wherever Indians live. Somehow the community prayers and celebrations give us the feeling of being at home and enjoying festivals with our loved ones. Temples become a meeting point for such activities and we do not feel we are living in a different country. We recreate the same kind of ambience and prepare the same kind of food stuff that we would normally do on such days and exchange with our friends.
Another important point not to be missed during such congregations is if we involve our friends from the local communities, they get to see a slice of India which is unique and different for them. Many of them are so impressed that they plan a vacation to India.
This year we organized the Chopda Pujan at the Sanatan Hindu Union Temple in Kisumu where members from our community participated and conducted the group prayer. This is the first time this event was organized at the temple. It was definitely a special occasion for all of us.
The festive season is always a wonderful time where we spend on clothes, sweets and gifts. Exchanging these with our friends and family and gifting something special to our near and dear ones has always been in our culture. It is also that time of the year when we express our thanks to all those who work for us, our housekeeper, our maid, our cook, driver, cleaner and such others who see that our lives go on smoothly all through the year. It is also that time of the year when all those whom we may not get to see normally like the watchman, postman etc who will come to receive the diwali gift. So it is a season when everyone looks forward to gifts. Employees get sweet boxes or dry fruits, bonus or other such material gifts. What about the homeless, the destitute or those who do not have anyone to care for them. They may be mere numbers in the citizen list but this is also the time when we need to think of such under privileged.
I have been getting many forwards asking people to keep small packets of sweets or clothes which are not very old but which we can give away. These can be kept handy next to our seat in the car or carried in a small bag if we are walking along and we can distribute them to those that always come from the shadows near signals or subways. There is truly something fulfilling when we give with love to the less fortunate in society. I think it is a good move to send such messages on social media and if many likeminded people participate we can bring joy atleast in a few faces.
An excellent opportunity came my way to celebrate Vijaya dashmi by getting a chance to do dashera havan at sanatan hindu union temple today. Truly worth my time and all the efforts. Kudos to the ladies wing for preparing such a delicious food for more than 800 people.
This time we were fortunate to get up and close with power of Shakti and recite various mantra and perform chandi yagna. I think I have started enjoying the ritualistic side of our religion. It is just too fulfiling and changes the aura of our environment. It also teaches us the lessons of life and how much the environment is important to our life. The complete process of yagna is a celebration of various aspects of our life, nature and our emotions.
One might consider this as a ritualistic process and religious. But it is actually a call to the external force which is working above us and purify our body, mind and soul.
Most innovations have come out of cheap alternatives when people worked under great resource constraints but had to innovate to come out of trying situations. This is known as jugaad and is now accepted as a promising alternative which is also cost effective and works well in Indian situations. In the West, scientists sit in expensive labs carrying out their R and D flush with funds to support them. In India or in other third world countries the students, or the farmer or the housewife innovates due to extreme necessity. Management gurus are now recognizing and even applauding these out of the box solutions and call it frugal innovation. How I wish I had such simple machines to make my daily tasks easier.
Jugaad in Punjabi or Hindi literally means a difficult task made easier with cheap innovation. I am quite amazed by some of these innovations. Some are very useful while some are downright hilarious.
The nut sheller which is a simple innovation capable of shelling 50 kg of raw, sundried peanuts per hour.
A simple water lifting device. Image Rediff.com
The bullock operated sprayer is pulled by a pair of bullocks and gets the drive from the ground through a gear box and belt pulley system.Image rediff.com
These innovations especially in farming and agriculture will b e very useful for farmers anywhere in the world.
With the arrival of the festive season, it is raining discounts and bargains everywhere. Festivals are no longer quiet affairs celebrated with close family and friends. Rather it has now become a season to look forward to what the malls and hypermarkets can offer. I feel using festivals to make quick sales is a marketing gimmick that has caught on in recent years. I remember when we were young, not so long ago, we used to look forward to festivals because it gave us time to stay at home or go visiting our friends. It was more quiet and peaceful compared to the glitz and glamour of what it is today. And then there are the online offers. There is something or the other every day so the e-commerce sites announce grand bargains and discounts. Sometimes they offer new gadgets in exchange for old ones- in an ‘as is where is’ condition is what they advertise.
But how much can one go on buying? Of course, every product undergoes change almost on a daily basis. But imagine how we keep accumulating junk cluttering our homes and in a larger sense our earth. Landfills are the greatest problem. There is no way to dispose of the used e-goods. It may take zillions of years for these landfills to be cleared. How much can this earth take on? If this is the story of bringing in junk into our homes then what about our bodies?
There is so much to experiment as far as food goes, new recipes find their way to restaurants and eateries. Our tongue relishes new tastes and one look around we know for sure that the food industry is thriving everywhere.
Wellness experts say it is better to declutter our homes and detox our bodies periodically. Whenever we feel low or negative then throwing out junk from homes brings in fresh air and fresh vibrations. This is a proven tip and I can say that I have experienced freshness and positivity after this exercise. Similarly, it is also good to detox ourselves especially after indulging in all kinds of rich food say after a wedding or celebration or a party. Taking simple, raw foods and plenty of fresh juices and water detoxes our body and gives our digestive system a much-needed rest.
It was such a wonderful and enchanting experience to be there wherever Modiji was there during his trip to Kenya.
He was meticulous about every word he spoke, he ensured that the audience at Kasarani ground in Nairobi get every bit of him the way they wanted. He stole the heart of Kenyans by giving many goodies like Cancer hospital, security, shared the concept of Make in India to Make in Kenya and many more. He refreshed the ties between Kenya and India.
I was also flattered to know that he remembered my website and complimented and signed my both the books – Hindu Culture and Lifestyle Studies and The Veg Africa as this was my second personal meeting with him. Though have shared few words with him on many other occassions.
It is another feather in my cap for getting the compliments for my work and extremely encouraged to take it to the next level.
I am truly thrilled to share what I think and learned from the movie- I am Malala, contrary to my nature of not thinking much about such things.
I will not go into details about her and why she is being written about as everybody knows that. But I want to share what I learned from this movie.
When the movie started, she narrated, “I am different because my father is different otherwise I would have been married with two kids at the age of 17, because they dared to be different I am different.“ This shows how much influence the parents have got on the kids. They can make their future or break it. Something we all need to know and work towards it.
This little girl had courage to speak about what she thinks in front of media at the age of 14 and also dared the local authorities about the injustice towards women education despite the face that she could be killed to do so, which actually almost happened to her.
She truly inspired me to pursue my vision and mission with more vigor and conviction as no situation, no country, no people can stop you if you have courage to stick to your goal.
I was overwhelmed by what she said, ”One child one book one teacher and one pen can change the world.” As I share the same vision of spreading the spiritual education to people across the world.
During my recent trip to the UK, I had the opportunity to visit so many places of interest. I was struck by the pride the English take in showcasing their monuments and priceless treasures. There is a fee for visiting each one of these places and after a guided tour we become so enriched about English history. Glossy brochures are wonderful takeaways that we retain as mementoes of our visit. I was just wondering about the many places that we have in India. If there is a Stonehenge in England, we have wonderful structures where sunlight falls with precision exactly on the same day year after year on a particular spot. At the Gavi Gangadareshwar Temple in Bangalore, the sun’s rays pass through this astronomical wonder and touch the deity as if dipping in obeisance once a year on Makar Sankranthi Day.
The Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple, which is believed to have been constructed by Kempe Gowda, who established the city of Bengaluru, is a cave temple, and on Makar Sankranti day, the sun’s rays pass through the window and touch the Shivalinga. Both scientists and scholars are engaged in a study to observe its architectural importance and astronomical significance. This temple was formed by the natural boulders of hillocks and faces the south-west direction. The courtyard is wide and has large-sized monolithic sculptures placed in certain alignments. Shiva’s symbols, the Trishula and the Damaru, are placed on the southern edge of the courtyard.
There are two large circular discs placed parallel to each other known as Suryapana and Chandrapana, with a diameter of 2 m each. Since these are circular and face the east and west, they are identified as symbols of the sun and the moon. It is believed that such discs are not found in any other temple in Karnataka or south India.
Scientists have identified the significance of the Suryapana and Chandrapana monolithic sculptures. According to their study, these were placed for astronomical observations in the medieval period. The shadow of the Dvajastamba falls on the eastern disc for 40 minutes. It is only recently that scholars discovered that the two discs have been installed in alignment to the summer solstice sunset and that explains the significance of the phenomenon on Makar Sankranti. What an amazing foresight these early day scientists had?
What about the Jantar Mantar in Delhi which is also a good example of an astronomical observatory constructed by medieval rulers in India.
The Castles in UK are so lovely, quiet and neat. People speak about these monuments almost in reverence. That is because from a young age citizens are taught to respect their heritage and they feel everyone not just the government has a role to play in preserving these symbols of culture. India has its fair share of opulent palaces and grand forts. But it is our inland visitors who don’t think twice before dirtying the place or throwing garbage here and there or worse scratching the walls with sharp things. Why is it that our Indians cannot take pride of their rich legacy? Maybe our schools should start educating children on these basic things first.
We have the best of everything but we do not know how to advertise it or use it to raise revenue. Our stepwells and cave structures cannot be found elsewhere. I was reading about Rani ki Vav the other day. It is known as the queen of stepwells as its name indicates. It is an intricately constructed step well situated in the town of Patan in Gujarat, India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in memory of Bhimdev I (AD 1022 to 1063), the son of Mularaja, the founder of the Solanki dynasty of Anahilwada Patan about 1050 AD by his widowed queen Udayamati and probably completed by Udayamati and Karandev I after his death. A reference to Udayamati building the monument is in Prabandha Chintamani composed by Jain monk Merunga Suri in 1304 AD. The well is a marvel of underground sculpture and splendour with ornate interiors and long flights of steps interspersed with multi-storeyed mandaps or pavilions. The stepwell was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late 1980s, when it was excavated by the Archeological Survey of India, with the carvings found in pristine condition. The minute and exquisite carving of this vav is one of the finest specimens of its kind. I was filled with wonder when I read about this. We need to publicize these wonders, get people to visit them and most importantly our countrymen should take great pride in all that our country offers.
We have always been fascinated by the mysterious and the unknown. There is an element of curiosity within each one of us, wanting to know answers to many things for which we may never get one straight answer. Like the seven blind men describing the elephant, people have an opinion on every matter, sometimes it may be right, sometimes may not be. It is a point of view. You are wondering what I am getting at.
Have you gone to bed and woken up after a terrible nightmare where you feel you have lost the power to scream for help or yell, cannot move your legs and hands, you are paralyzed with fear with some devilish creature about to pounce and devour you. Suddenly you break into a sweat, your breathing becomes so hard and then of course you wake up with a start and a jolt. For a moment you are still unsure where you are. And slowly reality dawns, you come back to your senses and feel the reassuring presence of familiar objects around you. Sounds all too familiar, is it not? All of us go through such experiences sometime or the other. I too became so fascinated with the subject of dreams and started looking up for information on the subject. This is what I found.
There are so many desires that we have each day. To fulfill each one is really impossible or maybe even one life time may not even be enough for this. So maybe we try to fulfill these desires in our dreams where we feel we are actually leading a parallel life. Another interesting explanation I came across was that every day we see so many things, meet so many people and go through so many experiences. All these get recorded in the sub conscious. They are stored in a folder somewhere in the corner of the brain. But the strange thing is that the ones that manifest in our dreams are the ones that stand out, maybe out of fear, anxiety, something we desire so much etc. Another point is that the human brain cannot create original images. The strangers we see in the dreams are likely to be people whom we have bumped into at some point of time in our life. These must have been stored in our sub conscious memory. So all those we see in our dreams should be people we have seen somewhere at sometime may be even in the distant past. What a fascinating thing our brain is to bring out these in the form of images.
What about color, have you checked that out. Do you dream in black and white or in color. Scientists say it can be in both, I hope to remember to check this one next time I get a dream.
So many studies have been carried out on dreams, so I guess it is a universal fascination. One study says we forget 95% of our dreams. We dream during REM periods (which is when we have Rapid Eye Movement in our sleep) which can range anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour long. In the course of one night this happens multiple times. This means we can even have 5 to 7 dreams in one night itself. A very recent study conducted by a group of scientists from Harvard Medical School made quite a stunning revelation. They say that dreams are not any random series of abstract images or sights but they are real events that take place in an alternate universe. These they say can be accessed during dream like states. Now that’s one whale of an idea!
But the most unique kinds of dreams are those that carry a message or give a peek into the future, these border on the para normal. They may hold a key to the future as has been reported. Two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, he dreamt of a funeral at the White House. American novelist Mark Twain dreamt of his brother’s body in a metal coffin, shortly before he was killed in a boating mishap. After the Titanic sank, many people reported that they saw visions of an impending disaster at sea. These are like premonitions.
Yet another kind of dream is where many writers have seen storylines unraveled and sometimes whole content given. The famous poem Kublakhan was written by the poet Coleridge after a dream vision. Mary Shelley also wrote her novel Frankenstein after seeing it in dream. Closer home in India, Buddhakaushika Rishi wrote his great work Rama Raksha Stotra after Lord Shiva commanded him to write the verse in a dream. The sage saw the Lord rendering the entire 38 stanzas in the dream and he wrote it at dawn as soon as he woke up. He says it in the stotra itself, Aadhishtavan yathaa swapne—he says. What a great piece of divinely commanded work.
Indian Scriptures is full of amazing and unbelievable tales. An entire temple in South India was built and consecrated in a dream sequence. A unique temple was built by a great devotee of Lord Siva called Pusala Nayanar. He never believed in idol worship or rituals, but loved the lord dearly. Hence he would worship the lord in his mind performing manasa puja. He desired to create a grand temple for Siva but was too poor to build one. He did not get disheartened as he was used to performing mind puja, so he decided to build a temple also in his mind. Step by step the temple grew in his mind and soon a beautiful structure was ready to be inaugurated all of course in his mind. He chose a holy day for the consecration ceremony and installed the deity with all pomp and splendor.
Coincidentally, the Pallava King Kadavarkon had just completed the construction of a grand Siva temple in the capital city of Kancheepuram in South India and had chosen that very day for consecrating the temple he had built. The lord appeared in his dream and instructed him to postpone the date of consecration as he said that he had to be present at his devotee Pusalar’s newly built temple at the town of Thiruninravur on that particular day. The king had to obey the divine decree but decided to visit the temple that the lord had favored over his own. On reaching the place he could not find any new temple nor did anyone have any idea about its construction. The king went straight to Pusalar’s house and was astonished to learn about the temple the saint had built within his mind. He narrated the lord’s appearance in his dream and his preference for the saint’s labor of love over his grand construction.
Isn’t that an amazing story and should you visit Thiruninravur even today there stands a temple that later Pallava kings built in honor of that great devotee. The lord is worshipped as Hrudayaleeswarar meaning the ‘lord in the devotee’s heart’. Now that is what is called a dream temple!!!!!
Manjhi- the Mountain Man, a powerful biopic based on the real life of Dasharath Manjhi opened in cinemas nationwide last Friday. Compared to the fanfare that one sees normally for all big ticket movies, this was low key and why not? The man himself was relatively unknown; no one celebrated his life while he was alive. Yet it has taken a bold director to unearth the story of a real life hero and bring it to the knowledge of the world.
Who exactly was this man? He was a poor laborer who lived in Gehalaur village near Gaya in Bihar. He used to travel far everyday in search of work and his loving wife used to bring lunch for him every day. One day as she was crossing the path taking his lunch, she slipped and fell, injuring herself seriously. Now he had a real problem in his hands. The nearest hospital was nearly 55 km away and she died as she could not receive medical attention. What’s new in this story you may ask? For this is a familiar report we always read in the papers almost every day. And we might forget the story as soon as we have finished reading the report. But not Manjhi. He got up like a man possessed and decided that day that he would not let anyone die for want of medical attention if he could help it. But a great mountain stood between his village and the nearest town that could provide medical care and villagers had to circumvent the long distance to reach the hospital. So he single handedly took a chisel and hammer and started carving a road through the mountain. Fellow villagers thought he was a total lunatic. But he did not care. In fact he said ‘When I started hammering the hill, people called me a lunatic but that steeled my resolve.’
For 22 long years, he worked with determination and a never say die spirit and the result- he dug up a road that could shorten travel from 55km to 15 km to the town that had a hospital. What an inspiring tale. But he died an unsung hero in 2007 though the Bihar government proposed his name for a Padma award. Another inspiring tale is about the jungle man Jadav Moloi Payeng. He was only 17 when there were floods in his village and he saw thousands of snakes washed dead in the waters. He asked the village elders “what would you do if all of us die one day, like these snakes. They just laughed and smirked but I knew I had to make the planet greener,” He went to the forest officials asking them to plant trees. They mocked at him and said ‘you do it if you want’. That was it. Jadav decided to plant trees. For 30 years he planted bamboo saplings in an area that had been washed away by floods. Today, that same land hosts 1,360 acres of Jungle called Molai Forest, named after him, the man who made this possible single handedly!
These are inspiring tales of ordinary men doing extraordinary things but alas we don’t celebrate these men or their feats. Once, when our former President Dr. Abdul Kalam went to Israel, he saw the newspapers full of inspiring stories and he bemused when will India ever get this kind of culture. Our papers are full of sensational stories of murders, of rapes, of bomb blasts and terror attacks, we have forgotten our real heroes who can inspire and motivate us to do something for others. Recently I saw a Facebook post which was to this effect- Do you think you are too small to make a change, then think of what a tiny mosquito can do inside your blanket when you are fast asleep. I think all of us can, if only we apply ourselves to it, until then, let us raise a toast to the Manjhis and Payengs of the world!
The world around us is so full of noise. Sometimes we keep hearing noises inside our heads even though everything is quiet outside. Add to this all the everyday noise. We have become quite immune because we keep hearing it continuously that somehow it has become a part of our life. Let’s just make a list, the fan whirring, the air conditioner humming especially when it is due for a service check, the washing machine swooshing, the microwave setting off the timer alongside the oven- my god we should be the noisiest planet in the whole universe. Now as if this were not enough, we see children and young adults, plugging in to their earphones and either listening to music, making a call or watching a television show.
With so much noise, all we can expect is only cacophony not the least symphony and absolutely no chance of harmony at all in our life. Our ancient lifestyle called for deep periods of introspection and long stretches of silence. If we are continuously engaged in such chatter, we cannot listen to our inner thoughts. It is important to spend some time where we shut down all external noises and just silence our thoughts and sit still. This is called reflective meditation. In the stillness of the mind, we can get insights to many of life’s problems. But the most important thing in today’s world we are so hooked to so many things that tearing away from them is going to be quite a difficult task. I think we need to keep our mobiles away, disconnect with the outer world and most importantly take our mind away from them. No point trying to sit still while the mind is thinking of the whatsapp messages received just then.
Maunvrat is a form of practice that is quite common in many households. Elders observe this as a fast and don’t talk to anyone. Quite a difficult task, I must say. Gandhiji used to follow this practice and would communicate by writing if there was anything urgent to convey. There are so many great saints in our culture who have observed silence as a way of life. Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharishi, the great Saint of Thiruvannamalai is supposed to have given profound messages to his devotees – all in silence. Arthur Osborne who has written the Sage’s biography describes the Maharishi’s habitual silence which communicated more than speech and his intuitive grasp of a questioner’s mind and his simple answers to the most complex questions. All these attracted many Westerners and Indians to his feet. But how do Gurus use silence to influence their disciples. Sri Aurobindo has explained this well in his book Record of Yoga where he talks of Prakamya and Vyapti.
By Prakamya we have perception of another’s feelings; by Vyaptithese feelings are felt striking on our own consciousness or ours are thrown into another. It is possible by vyapti to communicate anything we have in our systems – thought, feeling, power, etc – to another and if he is able to seize and hold it, he can make it his own & use it. The teacher & the guru habitually use this power of vyapti which is far more effective than speech and writing. Every thought, feeling, sensation or other movement of consciousness in us creates a wave or current which carries it out into the world-consciousness around and there it enters in any adhara (support) which is able and allowed to receive it.
Perhaps that is the meaning of the adage Mounam Vyaakyaanam -the Guru preaches through silence as seen in the Dakshinamoorthi picture who is sitting under a tree and giving profound lessons to his disciples through the language of silence.
Sometimes our environment can also help us in achieving the stillness of the mind. There is a great connection between us human beings and trees. In our ancient books, there is a lot of reference to men seeking enlightenment by sitting under trees. The Peepul, the banyan- all these are very significant trees that we come across in books. Great masters have gathered their pupils and given discourses under trees. The Buddha is supposed to have become enlightened under a tree. Maybe the vast expanses, the green foliage the positive vibrations flowing out of the trees all these are factors that help in achieving calmness of the mind. Nature has that unique healing power. Every time I see a sunrise on the beach, go trekking on the mountains or dip my feet in the cool waters of a river, I feel a strange pleasure and I know I am not alone. Just that we have forgotten to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. I strongly feel that Kenya has such serene beauty of nature which can actually give us a lot of opportunities to become one with god. I can feel the difference between advanced countries and Africa in case of spirituality.
If we are able to tune inwards due to the power of silence, then we can feel a bout of energy surging through us. We feel refreshed and also ready to take on the world with a fresh perspective.
The more I travel the more I know that people have started becoming shopaholic. We buy more than we actually need. Many economies of the world are crumbling down due to overconsumption of products. Have you ever thought that we have moved from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market? Sellers want to sell their products no matter what. They would go to any length to create a demand for their products so that they can sell. Increase in online shopping has given an ease and convenience to the consumer who can access anything at the click of a button. Relatively small town consumers too have access to products now with online services and cash on delivery facilities; all these have created a large consumption. While traveling I found that most of historic monuments have got turned into shopping malls. The culture of any country has been lost. There is no difference left from one country to another.
Let’s see the following data and information I gathered while researching the concept of consumerism. It just opened my eyes as to how difficult it is to control our desire to shop.
Buying is a habit – a bad habit
The Americans are compulsive shoppers. A country with a USD 600 billion trade deficit – about 5% of their GDP – is basically importing more junk than it can pay for. And the US has done this for decades. This means that the US government has printed US Dollar bills – which it gives to the Chinese and other exporting countries – and gets plastic toys, furniture, and clothes in return. Once in a while the Chinese send the Americans counterfeit parts for their billion dollar defence programme!
Two years ago, the savings rate of American households had turned negative. Their annual income was not enough to match their consumption. Not only were they busy buying Chinese goods, they were busy buying homes to put all those goods in and now they had a mortgage debt to repay. With jobs shipped offshore unemployment is north of 9%. Furthermore, salaries in the US have not increased over the past decade – with the exception of salaries of the financial sector and the lawyers, amongst others.
If you have visited a typical American home, the first impression that you will get is: Wow! These guys don’t need to buy anything for the next few lives! Yet, the mall is where you need to be – or maybe the online version of it. The in-flight magazines in US planes are full of junk that you never need, but feel that you should buy. The US consumer breaks the myth espoused by advertising gurus who believe that “advertising does not create a want, it merely fulfils a need”. No sensible person would need most of the products advertised in the in-flight magazines, yet the promotions create that “want”.
The first day of shopping is traditionally the day after Thanksgiving, which is always observed on the last Thursday of every November. To make it easier for the ever-consuming Americans to consume, many stores began their “Black Friday” on Thursday itself. People stood in queues and camped in tents for hours to be able to buy more. “Black Friday” allows you to buy limited products at some pretty good discounted prices for a limited time. (As an aside, we have our own version of “Black Friday” in India except that business groups get to buy national assets like coal, gas, iron ore, spectrum and assorted paraphernalia at discounted prices on a daily basis! The astute Indian buyers don’t stand in queues and pitch in tents, though. The well-connected Indian buyer just makes the right phone calls and gets it done.)
Drink rationally, invest rationally
The point is that the solution to an out of control drunkard is not taking him to the bar again and serving drinks on sale. The Americans need to save. They need to pay down their debt. A recent report by the Federal Reserve states that US household debt is USD 11.7 trillion – it declined some 0.5% over the past 3 months. But delinquent payments – people who are paying late or cannot fully pay their debt – have increased and nearly USD 1.2 trillion of loans would be in this category. The good news is that people are buying fewer homes – and renting more. Disillusioned by the myth that home prices can only increase and by the difficulty of getting mortgage loans due to subdued salary levels, the US consumer is renting.
But this is only the beginning of a long, secular trend in the US: there is a need to repair their personal – and national – balance sheets. The US – and European – consumer is dead for all practical purposes and cannot be relied upon as an engine for economic growth for the next 3 years. That music died in 2008. The drunken consumer has already been in a rehab clinic for the past 2 years with muted bursts of activity.
US, Europe, and Japan are in trouble. China has its own economic issues and bubbles to deal with. India has its challenges. The markets will continue to jump around in all directions based on silly news and new silliness. Don’t let these daily, wild gyrations scare you – or enthuse you. And don’t forget to understand your own needs and your ability to take buy and repay for it.
An Author, Researcher, Blogger, Social Worker, Traveler, Avid Reader, Philanthropist