Friday, February 13, 2009

Spiritual Quest - Day 1

My trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh, two of the holiest places for Hindus, made me realize how little I know about Hinduism and its philosophy. I know the stories like Ramayana and the Mahabharata but there is so much more to know. I am not a deeply religious person (I went for years without entering a temple) but I want to be spiritual. I have decided to dig deeper into Hinduism and force myself to share atleast one interesting thing that I learn each day.

Let me start off with knowledge acquired on day 1:
  • A prayer that I have learnt to chant as a kid but I never fully understood

    "asato ma sadgamaya
    tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
    mrtyorma amrtam gamaya"


    Lead me from unreal to the real (or untrue to truth)
    Lead me from darkness to light
    Lead me from death to immortality

    How beautiful!!

  • "Prana" is sanskrit for "breath". (I always thought Prana literally meant life)

    Also came across an interesting parable on this matter. According to the upanishads, the 5 senses were having a discussion about which is the most important. They decide the only way to find out would be if they leave one by one and the others experience life without one sense. First, sight goes off for 1 year and once it is back, it asks the others, "how was life without light?". The other senses say, "the world was plunged in darkness. Life was bad but we got used to it and we began to rely on touch, sound etc to fill the void left. Life went on.". Similarly, hearing, touch, taste go out one by one and realize that life continues in their absence. Finally, it is breath's turn to leave. As it starts making its exit, the other senses realize that they too were disappearing along with breath. They realize their folly and accept that breath is the most important of the 5 senses. This is why prana, the word for breath, is often used to denote life. Infact, "prani" is the word used for "creatures". Interesting.


I love the book "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" because so many of the ideas put forth in the book have made an impact on me and they continue to influence my life. My favorite passage from the book is as follows:

"What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism," Kitto comments, "is not a sense of duty as we understand it...duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate `virtue' but is in Greek areté, `excellence' -- we shall have much to say about areté. It runs through Greek life."

Thus the hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Pheacian youthat boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing areté.

Areté implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency...or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself."

I read this at a time when I was at crossroads in my life. I was to make important decisions on my interests, career, future plans etc etc. I was expected to choose my area of expertise and work on it like almost everyone else of my age. The idea that I need to excel not at one or two things that will keep me going, but all things life made a huge impact on my life. I started to give my job my everything for the time that I was in office. I tried my best to excel at interpersonal skills and in the process established many relationships that have added a lot of excitement to my life. I joined a gym to be physically fit and took it to the next level with routine participation in many sporting events in addition to the gym. I realized the importance of lifelong learning and made a very conscious effort to keep myself informed of and interested in things I did not know anything about. I am a much better person today for each of these decisions.

Read the book, it is amazing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nadal - Federer

I caught the Australian Open 2009 final between Nadal and Federer on tv last night. What a game! This is probably the best rivalry in all of sports at this current juncture. Although I knew the result, I was sitting with baited breath watching Nadal and Federer hit one incredible shot after another. It is unbelievable how good both of these players are. Granted Fernando Verdasco played an amazing semi-final but it is clear that Federer and Nadal are above and beyond rest of the competition in world tennis. I really wanted Federer to win but more than that, I wanted to see an amazing game of tennis and it exceeded my expectations.

Watching Nadal in the first round was enough for me to annoint him the champion because he looked invincible, even for Federer. I hope Federer improves certain facets of his game to replace Nadal again at the top of the rankings. It is clear that Federer can no longer just rely on his skill level and elegance to get the better of Nadal. He needs to improve his serve (especially the second) because he gets to deuce on his service game way too often for a top player. I think a marginal improvement (one more point in his favor per game on serve) would do wonders for his overall record.

I think it is time Federer gets a coach as well. He can beat anybody (other than Nadal) by relying on his in game adjustments and ground game. To beat Nadal though, he will have to formulate a new strategy because Nadal's quickness and accuracy negates Federer's biggest strengths quite effectively.

Federer can improve his conditioning as well. It was apparent to anyone who watched the game that Fedex ran out of steam in the pivotal fifth set though Nadal should have been the exhausted one considering he played a thrilling 5 setter with Verdasco just 24 hours earlier. When you are competing against Nadal, who is probably the fittest tennis player ever, you need to be in great shape yourself to have any chance. Federer just wasnt.

Federer is certainly one of the greatest players to ever step on a tennis court and I want to see him return to the #1 ranking and provide more of a challenge to Nadal.