I signed up for a mindfulness course earlier this year with my town’s community ed program. It was taught by an ex-Buddhist monk. I had read up a little on the theory by Thich Nhat Hanh and Henepola Gunaratna. I figured I would benefit from some practical advice. The class while it lasted was informative and helpful and I continued the practice until I made a trip home to India at which point I discontinued the practice. I’ve noticed that my sporadic attempts at dieting or exercise also meet their untimely end when I make a trip home. It is ironic considering meditative practices hold such a prominent place in Indian culture and mythology.
I grew up reading Amar Chitra Kathas – Indian mythology narrated in the form of comics. An underlying theme through many of these stories is of sages or rishis who meditated for years often assuming convoluted yogic poses. The power they accumulated could affect natural phenomena and the natural order of the universe finally resulting in one of the principal deities granting the meditator a boon of his or her choosing. Not all meditators had the good of the world in mind and usually, when the boon involved superhuman or supernatural power, absolute power would invariably corrupt absolutely. It was then that Vishnu would assume one of his avatars to rid the world of its scourge. Naturally, the rest of the gods would want to preempt the efforts of these meditators. They would send in their weapon of choice, one of the celestial nymphs – Urvashi, Rambha or Menaka to dance before the meditator, thus breaking his concentration. As an eight-year-old, I could not quite grasp what attractions these nymphs (curvaceous as they were in the illustrations) held for the meditators – given that they could gain some cool superhuman powers if they could just resist opening their eyes and viewing the dance.
I was about eight when I chanced upon a book on Swami Vivekananda at home. It chronicled his life from his birth to the point he attained his samadhi. Apparently, the young Vivekananda was a meditator and this was someone much closer in time than the ancient rishis of yore. So it was on a Sunday afternoon that I decided that the time had come for me to meditate and gain some superhuman powers. I had a Hindi test coming up and I needed all the help I could get. My dad was taking his afternoon nap, my brother had gone out to play and my mother was in the kitchen. I went in and announced to her that I was hereby renouncing all material belongings and I was going to meditate. I was not to be disturbed. The handbook on motherhood probably prepares mothers for such exigencies and she assured me that I would not be disturbed.