Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: Many lives, many Masters by Brian L Weiss M. D

“ We go through many stages when we are here. We shed a baby body, go into a child’s, from child to an adult, an adult into old age. Why shouldn’t we go one step beyond and shed the adult body and go to a spiritual plane? That is what we do. We just don’t stop growing; we continue to grow. When we get to the spiritual plane, we keep growing there, too. We go through different stages of development. When we arrive, we are burnt out. We have to go through a renewal stage, a learning stage, and a stage of decision. We decide when we return, where, and for what reasons. Some chose not to come back. They chose to go on to another stage of development. And they stay in spirit form... some for longer than others before they return. It is all growth and learning...continuous growth. Our body is just a vehicle for us, while we’re here. It is our soul and our spirit that last forever.”- pg 140, Many lives; many Masters

As much as you may not want to connect it with teachings of the eastern parts of the world, you are forced to believe that there is a strong influence. I would like to bring to mind that Brain Weiss’ book was first published in 1988, quite a few years after the heat and dust had settled down, post the hippie movement which dug deep into not only narcotics and LSD, but the eastern religions too, in order to find answers to a society that seemed to have no ‘deeper meaning” of life and thereafter. By the ‘80s the revolution and the change it brought across the globe had kind of settled in and eastern thought married and matched with the church, albeit the latter was deeply hurt and rebellious about it. Also do not forget, around the mid-seventies, out of the soil of India arose her “sons of religious revolution” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and a much more outspoken one, the inimitable Acharya Rajneesh. Their voices and meditaions rocked the world and their followings began to influence all thought around religion. It is mainly Christianity that was hit, not only by these infamous two, but already shaken by the hippie movement, it was not difficult for those who were standing swaying in doubt of the entire society, to find a crutch in the words and methods of spiritual practice of both, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Acharya Rajneesh, who spread their thoughts of eastern religion, to an “Amreeka is a big hole” as Mahesh Yogi announced at the music festival, Woodstock.

Given this background, I would hardly want to shy away from the fact that even if one did not convert to the mala and the robe, one could not be really far away from the ideas of eastern religions, sowing their seeds in western minds. In this light therefore, the book makes enormous sense.

Catherine is an extraordinary attractive woman who worked as a laboratory assistant in the hospital where Brian L Weiss is Chief of Psychiatry and she earns some extra money modelling swimwear. She is the middle child of a conservative Catholic family. Her elder brother, three years older than her was athletic while her younger sister was the favourite of both parents.

Please to note: We already have a recipe for what may be called an attention grabber, who because she was sandwiched between an athletic brother and a younger sister who took all the attention in the family, would perhaps try to fulfil her need for attention in other ways in later life.

At the time she sees Weiss, Catherine is having anxiety moments which are so severe that she is burdened with fears – of water for she feels she is going to drown in it; she was afraid of swallowing pills because she feels she will choke; she is afraid of airplanes, darkness and she is terrified of dying. Thus, in the recent past she has often slept on a walk-in closet in her apartment. She suffers insomnia for two to three hours every night and when she sleeps it is fitful. Also the sleep-walking she did in her childhood were returning back to her rapidly, which then added to her depression.

As usual she was given the treatment that went by the book. Her condition changed marginally. It is then that Weiss who had been using hypnosis on some of his patients, if he felt they needed it to go deeper into the reason for the fears, began to use the same on Catherine, with her consent. The miracle begun to happen as Catherine slipped from one life to another she had been passing through in her 86 past lives which she recounted with a fair amount of vivid detail. What is interesting though is not only the content of that lifetime but the manner of death in that lifetime – sometimes drowning in water (read fear of water in this life), her throat being slit and many other forms of death. What is amazing is, as she recounts these deaths, she seems to overcome the fear of death in life this time. As the therapy goes on, both therapist and patient find they are able to see deeper meanings to everything that has and is happening to them in their lives here now.

However, the most interesting thing in the book is the voice of the Masters who speak through Catherine, pearls of knowledge, that are so close to what is part of eastern religions – rebirth, death of the body not being the death of the Self/soul etc etc. The philosophy remembered and retained, helps both, Catherine to be free of her fears. She becomes a positive energy everyone would like to be with. She attracts people to her.

The book is an easy read, but get boring sometimes with too many past life stories. But for Weiss who had just transcribed the recordings of those sessions, it was a novel experience. For most of the world too it was and is. Many lives, many Masters has been translated in 40 languages.

I would like to sum up the book, by saying that the uniqueness lies in the book, if you are not used to eastern religions, thoughts and beliefs. For a philosopher, a Buddhist steeped in Buddhist reincarnation stories and the knowledge that ever the Buddha, just before his enlightenment saw all 86, 000 lifetimes of his, like a show reel before his eyes, I was not tickled pink. But I can understand the book’s importance, in the light that it is a new way to conquer fear especially of death which many times is the root reason behind paranoia.

I would also like to add, that I though that Catherine was having all those symptoms to draw attention to herself and that did happen over a long time. Once, she was able to find a therapist who was not only supportive but also converting, so to say, and the power dynamics was shifting towards her as her therapist also began to believe in what his patient was saying about him, her relation with him from past lives, it became apparent that they became equals in as far as the balance of power dynamics between them. That in, itself can be a cure!

Needless to say, getting attention is vital to life, no matter from which quarter of life it may come from – the Physician, the Psychiatrist, the mother, father, whoever!

While the book may rely heavily on eastern thought of rebirth, it particularly is careful to keep away all forms of life, giving priority only to the human lifetime. Hence, while one who is rooted in eastern rebirth theory might believe that all life forms are lives in transition from one to another, thus, reducing the heavy importance given to human life only, Weiss’ book Many lives, many Masters, lacks that possibility because Catherine it seems can remember only her lives in the past which are human form only.

And that does save shaming Christianity, because, Catherine hails from a conservative Catholic background.

Brian L Weiss would hardly like to have crossed the line of control by stepping over and authenticating that in fact, past life theories are true, even if they are recounting only the lives in which (wo)man was made in the image of God.

Publisher: FIRESIDE, Rockefeller Centre, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Author:Brian L Weiss, M.D
Pages: 220; Price: $ 6.95 (Rs 340)
About the author: After graduating magna cum laude from Columbia University and receiving his medical degree at the Yale University School of medicine, Brian L. weiss, M.D, served his internship in New York University’s Bellevue medical Centre and went on to become chief resident, Department of Psychiatry, at the Yale University School of Medicine. Currently, Dr Weiss is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in Miami Beach, Florida, and clinical Associate professor, department of Psychiatry, at the University of Miami School of Medicine. He specializes in the study and treatment of depression and anxiety states, sleep disorders, substance abuse disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and brain chemistry.

About the writer of the review: Julia Dutta is an advertising professional and a journalist. You can reach her at

Monday, August 30, 2010

Neo-Buddhism: Balm over the angst of non-recognition

On 15th August,2010, The Times of India quoted Meena Kandaswamy, Professor in English, in Anna University, Chennai, saying through her blog (see “ I would like to describe myself as a woman writer obsessed with the revolutionary Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s message of caste annihilation…….Dalits are denied the right to land, Muslims the right to homes. We live in a society riddled with minority phobia.”

Indeed, where Meena Kandaswamy is placed, Tamil Nadu, there is another phobia – the fear of being upper (read brahman) caste. People belonging to that community may be bending backwards to prove they are not brahmans, as in Tamil Nadu there is 70% reservations for SC/STs.

In the meantime, Sharmila Rege , Director, Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre, University of Pune, has been equally involved in path breaking work in unearthing the buried histories of Dalits in India. Years of being ostracised by the Brahman community, the Dalits had been living in the outskirts of the village eating left over food by Brahmans and other communities, announcing the dead, burning death bodies, eating animals and doing menial work only, as education was totally denied to them. Their existence was non-recognition only.

Until, Dr B R Ambedkar came along.

Rising from their midst, Dr B R Ambedkar went on to do a Ph.D and become a Lawyer and finally the architect of the Indian constitution. He is best remembered today also as the founder of Neo-Buddhism which he used very ably as a weapon against social injustice bestowed upon the untouchables by the brahmans. He is also the father of the Dalit uprising in India.

It would be interesting to note that way back, while India was still under the subjugation of the British, Rabindranath Tagore, had written the famous lines in his poem Apamaanita:

Hey mor durbhaga desh
Jader korecho apomaan
Apomaney hotey hobe shobar shaman

Translated to English it means: Oh my unfortunate country, you will have to face the same undignified treatment in the hands of those your treat without dignity; only then will equality be restored among all.

One might argue that like all big talkers of present day, political parties mainly, the poet too had made no effort personally to make any difference. However, one cannot overlook his contribution to the making of Shantiniketan whose first students were in fact, the very poor, uneducated children of the neighbourhood.

Be that as it may, the real movement of the uprising of the down trodden happened when, Dr B R Ambedkar, having reached a conclusion after much study of all religions, that the way out of a decadent system, rooted in religion of the Hindus, must be wholly and absolutely thrown out of their lives. Only then he believed that the first step to liberation from brahminical subjugation and the regressive caste system would happen. The caste system which existed in India, much before Manu wrote his book Manusmriti, became strengthened by the text which is infamous for both being a text replete with oppressive dictum against women as well as the fact that it documented the divide of Indian society based on the four caste categories –brahman, vaishya, kshatriya and shudras, the last being the lowest caste. Not only that it gave brahmans superiority over all others and thus gave them unquestionable right to work diligently to dehumanise the sudras, under which the ST/ST sections of modern day India fell. The Manusmriti as well as the lawmaker Manu have been under the axe of feminists and psychologists for a long time. For one, the lawmaker seemed to be material fit for the loony bin, and for the text which proved to be a hate document taken too seriously by the brahmans. As a document that proved material for Psychoanalysis’ time-pass and the brahman’s excuse to continue to torture the sudras, it did well when Dr B R Ambedkar burned the text in public as a sign of protest.

Dr B R Ambedkar led by example. He belonged to the Mahar community which also fell into the untouchable caste. In order to throw away, once and for all, the disease ridden, caste based hindu religion, he, on October 14, 1956 converted to Buddhism, which he accepted as the only religion or practice which had no segregation of persons into different castes. Following him, hordes of Mahars turned to Buddhism, the very next day, after his conversion to Buddhism. It was in fact, Dr B R Ambedkar who conducted the mass conversion, in Nagpur. Ever since, Dalits have converted to Buddhism as their way of life. Please note, Dalits do not necessarily include Muslims and other minorities who in India of 2010 may also want to hold the Dalit ticket.

To go back in history, it is important to understand the social context in which we believe Buddha left his home in search for Truth, of that which is beyond, birth and death and the suffering in between. I have read and heard that it was the sight of four afflictions – death, suffering, disease, old age - that happen to all human beings that caused him to give up his home, his wife and his new born child, his kingdom, his aged father, all because he was overwhelmed with the need to find an answer to the end of suffering. It has been said that at that moment there was so much disturbance in his kingdom that he wanted to escape from there. Whatever, be the interpretations and the beliefs, it must be understood that since Buddha himself has not left any written matter in his hand and all that we know of him or what he preached only by way of word of mouth and texts written after he left his body, we must be cautioned that all what we know and read on Buddha and his teachings are at best only interpretations of what the listeners and the writers think they have heard him say.

Thus, in many ways, while Buddhism is a subject I too studied, I have preferred to follow what I have heard is the way of eliminating human suffering whether it is me or anybody else. And that is not a social movement but a practice which helps in annihilating the last thread of desire that might even bring me back again to this life of suffering, for if there is birth, then, suffering is a given. This is the traditional form of Buddhism, where the cause of suffering happens to be birth itself, and birth, irrespective of where one has taken birth, or in what caste, community has one thing that goes with all – there is suffering, mental and physical. Only nibbana can release one from that suffering.

Dr B R Ambedkar’s Neo-Buddhism, on the other hand, does not accept nibbana, as there is no where to go, except live this life with dignity. Hence, at the root of Neo-Buddhism, as started by Dr B R Ambedkar, there is social change that has to be achieved to gain that state of liberation from suffering. It is quite understandable that that should be the a priori reason for the birth of the new “religion” – Neo-Buddhism.

What are the basic differences between the two? At the very start we can easily state that while, traditional Buddhism is pitched on liberation from birth and death by attaining nibbana, Neo-Buddhism is about bringing about social change. It is about wearing the mantle of equality right from the start and urging, negotiating Press, public and politicians, policies and Lawmakers to see and enact laws to ensure that the down trodden and those who have been sanctioned against for centuries are seen as equal to all, without any disparity. Therefore to this end, the Dalit movement which began in Maharashtra, with the Mahars, has taken on a massive role in Indian Politics and in day to day conversations and doings in India. This now has more meaning as Dalits are not any more only the Mahars, but include all ST/SC classes across India. Dalits have all converted to Buddhism, but while traditional Buddhism is more involved with the vertical movement of the human consciousness, Neo-Buddhism is passionately concerned with the vertical movement of the once depressed classes and castes, up the ladder. This is resulting in the TN-effect across india. The TN-effect can best be described as a hate campaign against brahmans and a “do-unto-them-what-they-did-unto-us” strategy.

Traditional Buddhism is concerned with the “inner revolution” and hence practice a path of non-violence, while Neo-Buddhism, is militant and rigorous about the “outer revolution” that will bring about social change. Hence, the literature too of the Dalit movement in India, at once is engraved on the angst of non-recognition of their human presence for centuries and at the same time, punctuated with pain and anger, while looking forward to a new dawn.

It is psychologically impossible to bear suppression forever. This is not our natural state as human beings. It is also psychologically impossible that the suppressed will one day not take the same weapon of suppression and strike back at its predator in the same way.
This brings us back to what Rabindranath Tagore wrote in the beginning of the last century –

Hey mor durbhaga desh
Jader korecho apomaan
Apomaney hotey hobe shobar shaman

To be shamed and hit back with equal force is what the brahmans inherited by their own doings in the past. It is not what Dalits discovered as a weapon of retaliation.

In Maharashtra, all homes of Neo-Buddhists have the picture of Buddha and Dr Ambedkar placed side by side. In many homes Dr Ambedkar may be more prominently placed than the Buddha himself, but there seems to be a new arising in other parts of the country like UP, where Kashi Ram and Mayawati are taking things to their own meaningful end. One may see statue upon statue of both these “saviours” strewn across UP where the founder of Neo-Buddhist Dr B R Ambedkar is receding backwards, but certainly remain a part of their day-to-day conversation.

When Buddha began to speak to his following on the new way of life, the Buddhist way, the brahmans were equally disturbed as huge numbers of people left their backgrounds and followed the Buddha. This caused them to act against Buddhists and it became so bad that after Buddha left his body, his followers moved out of India to carry his words and preserve them. Thus, Buddhism grew more out of its country of origin, in fact, it flowered most in Japan.

The Dalit movement began in Maharashtra with Mahar uprising and conversion to Neo-Buddhism. It might have more than one prominent face today who seemingly is leading the way. It may be seen as one of the most powerful movements in the country today, which the brahmans all want to get on to the band wagon, for reasons of vote bank politics, or from being ostracised themselves, but it remains to see how many faces Buddhism will take, as it progresses in the hands of those who have adopted it as a potent religion for bringing in a social change in India. The question is, in the face of such pressure, will brahmans convert to Neo-Buddhism as so many are already seen to patronise it?

Yet, through all these ifs and buts, one thing comes through clearly – whatever we see is our perception of it. And our perception is after all only a perception and hence, since we as humans create a religion for our own need and I have at least not heard any God say that he has created that religion (if you have, please let me know), be it Buddhism or any other religion, it is the creator’s right, to bring out as many versions and interpretations of the same religion. However, it is equally important to remember that all are only perceptions of what we see the world as or what the need of society at large is. The real truth is: All things and feelings are transitory, forever changing, never one Truth. They vary as perceptions change. What is now is not, in the next the same. And there is no God, not even The Buddha, who has left his body 2600 years ago and who in his talks warned, I am told, his followers – If you see The Buddha on your way, kill him!

But he was talking of the spiritual path, not a social one, per say. Yet, a practicing Buddhist causes change in society outside, because he has changed inside.

To summarise, I would say that although there is on the surface a distinct difference between the purpose of traditional Buddhist practice and Neo-Buddhism, at one level they come together – they both work towards change, one from within and the other from without. But, that is only on the surface. Ultimately, they meet on a common ground – Change! Be it society or be it at the conscious level.

Note: As I have heard the meaning of - If you see The Buddha on your way, kill him - speaks of one who is striving towards nibbana, which is a path, one might start with a teacher for guidance but then it is a very individual one and must be travelled on one’s own steam. Not even a crutch like Buddha is welcome. Therefore, on the path of self-realization, the teacher including the Buddha himself must be done away with finally.

This article is inspired by a scholarly book – Mahar, Buddhist and Dalit by Johannes Beltz Published by Manohar Publishing & Distributors, 4753/23, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110 002 and distributed by: Foundation, 4381/4 Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110 002 Price: Rs 750

The Hindu report on 29th August, 2010, In search of an identity by Ananth Krishnan, Sunday magazine section, page 7, (see link,9467,0,0,1,0 ) even sections of Chinese are taking to the Buddhist path.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Jonang Takten Phuntsok Choeling Monastery, Sanjauli, Shimla

When monk Yonten Gyamtso (see picture above) made his journey to India, he was only a young lad. Travelling on foot, in bitter cold and snow with a friend, he crossed over to Kathmandu, Nepal, via Lhasa, from his home town Amdo, in Tibet. It took the lads afull month, to reach Kathmandu, by foot! From there the two monks travelled by bus to Delhi and then to Shimla. The year was 1996, a year before the inaugeration of the first Buddhist Jonang Taken Phutsok Choeling Monastery in India – Sanjauli, Shimla.

The Jonang Taken Phutsok Choeling Monastery, is the only one of its kind in India, the other being only in Amro, Tibet. It was founded by Lama Jimpa in 1963. It was initially named Sangey Choeling. On 6th July, 1990, the monastery was gifted to The Dalai Lama when he visited it, in Shimla. His Holiness took care of it for seven years and in 1997, H.H. Dalai Lama in order to preserve the practice of Kalachakra or the followers of the six Unions, the intrinsic Tantra and the only school that preserves it in India and Tibet, he appointed H.H. Khalka Jetsun dhampa, head of this Jonang school. In all of India and Tibet, there are only two of these, one here in Sanjauli, the other in Tibet.

The Kalachakra Root Tantra, as taught to a few monks by Buddha on the vulture peak hill, from 7th to 14th century was translated by Tibetian translators and codified them as the standard translation. These are of two types: The translations of Buddha’s words, consisting of 100 volumes and the translations of Indianmasters’ commentaries on these which consist of 200 volumes. These translations consist both of Sutras and Tantras. The Jonang tradition is meditation of Generation Process and Perfection Process of the Six Yogas of Kalachakra (see below).

In the Amdo region of Tibet, there are approximately 60 – 80 monasteries with a strength of over 10,000 monks. In India, here at Jonang Taken Phutsok Choeling Monastery, there are about 105 monks and about 10-20 Cub monks(see picture), between the ages of 6-8 years who are from Arunachal Pradesh and Mon Tawang. Out of the total number of students in this monastery, about 30 are from Outer Mongolia.Here in the monastery they learn the Tibetian language, calligraphy handwriting, history of Tibet, epistomology, rituals, instruments for performing rituals, mandala drawing, religious dancing and chanting and of course the scriptures. The meditative practice course is three and a half years’ rigorous retreat of the Six Yogas of Kalachakra Tantra.

To reach Jonang Taken Phutsok Choeling Monastery from Shimla, take a bus to Sanjauli from Bus adda, or Lakkad Bazar. Get down at Sanjauli Chawk, walk backwards towards Dhalli and in less than ten minutes you will see Mata Dhingoo Mandir signboard. The climb is steep over almost 800 steps. Just below the Dhingroo Mata mandir is The Jonang Taken Phutsok Choeling Monastery.

You can also arrive there by car. However, there is no vehicular road to the mandir or the monastery below. Take a deep breath and begin your climb.

To reach Monk Yonten Gyamtso Email:
Cell: 0-9882702611/ 0-9218771798

Six yogas of Kalachakra

Please view more pictures:


Northbank - Rudyard Kipling's house in Shimla

“I don’t know who Amrita Shergil was.” “ Rudyard Kipling? I have heard of him, but.....” “ I don’t know. Was he a writer?” “Amrita Shegil? You mean Maharani Amrit Kaur?” “I don’t know....never heard of her”.

Sorry to disappoint you Readers, but I have come to a conclusion that we as parents, teachers and friends, have failed to disseminate knowledge on local histories to our children. Thus, we have produced a generation between 18 – 21 years, whom we can easily call the “I don’t know generation”. GenIDK, in short is characterised by blank looks every time you ask a question, inability to distract and focus on anything being said because most of them are cannot extricate themselves from their mobile phones. To add to this combination is also absolute complacency.

On my recent trip to Shimla, I found that most adults in that age group were absolutely ignorant of Shimla’s heritage. Or they just do not care! I feel sad that not only is the Government not really concerned about the many heritage buildings in Shimla, the youth too lack any motivation to preserve this heritage. The Viceroy’s Lodge in Summer Hill, which today is one of India’s premier Institutes – The Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, is constantly under threat of being converted to a Congress Party Office as was suggested only recently by Sonia Gandhi!!

Rudyard Kipling’s house, Northbank, has been converted into a Police Office! Nobody there knew that it was at one time Kipling’s house. They did not even know who Kipling was!! Those who professed they knew, pointed out to any old house with a red roof and insisted it was Kipling’s residence. Remember, dear Reader, it is believed that The Jungle Book was conceived here in this house. Finally, having spoken to a historian, I was able to establish the house, or so I think!

Just imagine!!

As far as Amrita Shergil was concerned it was truly pathetic! They had not even heard of her! No body knew which her house was, although it is situated very close to the Himachal University campus! The map in Shimla on Foot by Raaja Bhasin(2007) proved unhelpful in both cases. The text did not explain that the houses were taken over by others, in Amrita Shergil’s case Escorts (see:
--> ) and in Kipling’s house, the The Shimla Police Department.
I feel a desperate sense of loss as I leave Shimla. I am not sure that if I came back even a year from now, then some of the heritage buildings will remain the same.

Thanks to our own lack of interest to see our heritage being passed down and preserved by the next generation in ways beyond the study book.

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NOTE: @Hari Sud, who lived in Shimla has identified on his blog, the real house belonging to Rudyard Kipling, which readers may please view and read HERE  Thank you Hari for bringing it to my notice.

Picture sent on 12 June, 2017 of Kipling's dilapidated house