A Street Puppy’s Guide to Indian Religious Wisdom

Posted on February 28, 2021

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During the COVID lockdown, blog reader ‘doctorhari’ co-wrote a book with Iniya, the fourteen year-old girl whose writings have featured in ‘Reader’s Write’ in a couple of times. The book is titled ‘A STREET PUPPY’S GUIDE TO INDIAN RELIGIOUS WISDOM’. It’s a short, funny, thought-provoking as well as provocative primer on Advaita. Rather than presenting as dry, philosophical truths, they have tried to weave the truths within the current sociopolitical context. And it’s narrated by a dog! 

It has just come out through Leadstart Publishers.  The amazon link for the book is:

https://www.amazon.in/dp/9354382436/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_fabc_7PRAKS7XXAGRW29PNCSB

Here is an excerpt:

Okay, first things first, you have to acknowledge I am special. At  least in the sense that I am a subversion of centuries of scientific understanding.

But before I describe my unique predicament, I wish to  briefly express my thoughts on the topic of religion with you.

Did I say wish? Scrap that. It is a pressing inner need really – a need to express thoughts on the Hindu religion, thoughts that are thrusting themselves from within, demanding articulation. And which, I realise, is bizarrely unconnected to the situation I’m finding myself in. 

First, those thoughts. The Hindu religion is India’s greatest strength and is superior to all other faiths of the world, asserts the zealous right-wing. No, it is the country’s lasting curse that promotes irrationality and oppression, argues the liberal left-wing. The right-wing calls those liberals, colonised and deracinated. The liberals call the right-wing, bigots and hate-mongers. 

Who do you side with in this argument? What are your thoughts? 

If you ask me, though there’s no way I can do it right now, I feel like letting out a big, lazy yawn to both the sides. 

It’s not that I am areligious, I am a deeply religious person. I have, in fact, spent a good two decades of my last life studying this religion and its philosophy. And also practising and teaching it. 

The argument doesn’t interest me because I see both sides to be appallingly clueless and ill-informed when it comes to the essential core of this religion. 

What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain.

Oops! I’m jerked out of my reverie by the sudden movement of my mother. 

Dear mom! If you don’t mind, can you please settle down in one place and let me think in peace?

In case you are wondering, let me tell you, being in a womb is  not at all easy. Your limbs hit against a solid muscle wall whenever you try moving them. You are soaked in the red of your mother’s  protective yet constraining uterus and the complete darkness  around. And also, in a deep silence – except the rhythmic beating  of your mother’s heart and the occasional muffled sounds of  the world outside. The last thing you need at such a time is an  annoyingly hyperactive mother as mine who seems to like flaunting  her ability to move when I can’t, tossing me around quite a bit.

Where were we? Religion as the cause of societal polarisation, yes. To take a step back and get at the very root of the issue, have you ever wondered why mankind created this institution called religion? Was it a tool for human morality? Was imagining a big  daddy or mummy up in the sky watching over us, a prerequisite  for you and me to act morally? Or was it just a social tool that  helped strangers come together and cooperate?

Perhaps it served and is serving those functions. However, all  that, to be objective, is just the outer aspect of religion. A moral  scaffolding human society was built on.

And when you take Hinduism, that moral scaffolding-part looks unbelievably complex. The religion has no single messiah to accept, no single religious scripture to follow and no clear, prescribed path to adopt. It just looks like an expansive mash-up  composed of many eclectic, unrelated sects, each with its own, unique set of practices and beliefs.

But is it just that? Definitely not. 

A colourful beaded necklace has a thread that runs through and unites all the beads, a thread that is barely visible to naked  eye. Likewise, when it comes to Hinduism, underpinning all those varied, eclectic sects, there  are some sublime philosophical traditions.

Surprisingly, not  many Hindus are aware of or terribly interested in these. At least not  from a practical viewpoint.

This book is about one of those philosophies. A philosophy  expounded by illustrious seers and saints like Swami Vivekananda,  Adhi Shankara and Ramana Maharishi. A philosophy embodied in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutra. The  philosophy of Advaita.

In my last life, I remember being deeply saddened  and pained at the way this religion is followed by the majority. In a quiet, secluded ashram at the outskirts of the large city I mentioned earlier, I remember devoting my life for seva. It was  the ashram of a not-widely-known Advaitic Guru. He was not a  man of words. I remember serving as his aid, learning and then  teaching the philosophy to as many people as I can, till I was alive.  And I also remember that it deeply touched and transformed  many people’s hearts.

This sharing too, I guess, is a continuation of that. Who  knows? Perhaps this is a promotion of sorts. Perhaps a life of a spiritual Guru is awaiting me on the outside. 

Ah, at last. The red walls around me are contracting, but this  time I welcome the movement. I know it. I am going to be born!  I’m going out! I feel like dancing right now, but I keep still and be  a good child for my mother’s sake.

I feel an intense surge of happiness in these last few moments  of being a foetus. I eagerly look forward to this life. And to the  chance of sharing this wisdom with as many people as I can. 

I come out as a soiled red puddle. And feel the sun on my  face for the first time. Obviously. My tiny eyes plop open and  their hazy vision takes in the wispy clouds that are scattered across the sky.

My life story for this birth, my philosophical sharing can all  wait for a few hours. Right now, I’m too busy enjoying the lazy  warmth on my face and the luxury of the space around me. 

I stretch my legs and smile to myself when they don’t hit a  red muscle wall. 

Ah, this is life!

*

Two Days Later

The birds are chirping their noisy morning melody. A fresh windy day. But nothing cheers me up. I feel like the other  face of the weather that is mercifully absent today. Dark. Gloomy. My head is filled with angry storm clouds.There is an aching  emptiness in my stomach and my heart. But only the former  bothers me right now.

Dear mother and father, I can’t help but get angry with you. Where are you both? Is this the  way you treat your child – someone who is possibly destined to  become a Dalai Lama or something in the future? Or is my life  supposed to begin like this – as an abandoned baby?

Anyway, where were we with our discussion? I was talking  about the easy religion of habit vs the deeper philosophy of this  religion. Now, let us get into that philosophy part.

Yes, I know. A just-born baby wanting to share philosophy  even as it is in a good deal of physical pain and also desperately hungry! Bizarre and farfetched, surely! In response, I can only  quote a famous psychologist for you – ‘A musician must make  music, an artist must paint…if he is to be ultimately at peace  with himself.’ And in extension, a philosopher, that is me, must  philosophise. Especially if that’s the only sense of peace that is  available for him.  So, though my stomach, head and legs are all still  hurting badly, please allow me to get into the first postulate of Advaita. If ritualism is just the starting point of religion, what does  Advaita offer us in addition?

Wait. There’s a big shadow looming over me. And by  big, I mean massive! Who is this big guy clad in a dirty white  veshti? And why is he towering over me? Hey, if you don’t  move away right now you biggie, I’ll chew your head off, I swear.  Grr!

Just as I’m about to turn around, I feel a strong calloused  hand wrap around my middle. I’m shocked. What is this? Am I in  a land of giants? I am too stunned to even protest.

For an awful moment, I’m hanging upside down, the ground  swaying beneath me and my world suddenly losing all sense of  balance.  And then everything is right again, and I settle into the  hands of that big man. 

‘Hello little one, where’s your mother?’ He looks around  saying that. ‘Someone has hurt you really bad, huh? Don’t  worry…don’t worry,’ he strokes my back softly with his other  hand, a warm smile across his lips.

I watch everything in a trance-like state, intoxicated by the  unexpected comfort I’m experiencing.

And then I catch a glimpse of my reflection in one particularly hideous  car.

What? 

No! 

This isn’t for real! 

I am dreaming. That must be it. 

Me, dog? A dog?

No, no. No! I’m not a dog. I’m definitely not a dog. I know  who I am. I am a human. For sure. Why am I caught up in a dog’s  body? What kind of cosmic plan is this? 

‘Bow!’ my anguish escapes as a puny bark as I open my  mouth.

The big man turns his head down and smiles at me, stroking  me softly again.

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