Talk at VIF Bootcamp: Part 1

Here is Part 1 of the transcript of Shri. Adinarayanan’s talk at Vision India Foundation’s Policy Bootcamp held in June 2017. The talk was about how the the idea of “My India” was realized through personal experiences. 


Utilizing your Full Potential

Tomorrow (16th June) is our 14th marriage anniversary and in these years we have learnt to maneuver through so many situations. So learn how to maneuver and that is a very important cognitive skill, which leads us to diversity of experiences. If we don’t necessarily encounter this diversity that is inherent in our culture, you will see that most of those cognitive skills are not exercised. It is like muscle. Most of the muscles are not exercised, because the platform, the playing ground is not there to exercise those muscles. You are blessed to be born in this land, which gives us scope for a full-fledged development, which many places do not have.

Beyond Utility and Beauty

My wife had gone to Italy for a year on a research program. She had gone to a place called L’Aquila, which is a awesomely beautiful snow-capped ski resort. Beautiful! Right over the door, you will see snow-capped peaks, breath-takingly beautiful. So now the journey from Rome to L’Aquila, I had a shock, when I observed that there were no big trees. It was all mountains, but no big trees. I journey to the Himalayas, awesomely big trees are there. That is what we call a forest. But no big trees when I was traveling in Italy. You know why? Any guess? They keep trees only under two categories – utility or beauty. I could just not take it – utility or beauty. If they don’t see it, and mostly they don’t see it, they look at it as timber. They harvest forests and then replant. Harvest forests for timber and replant. I found it exceptionally violent. That is because of my personal philosophy. What is the violence behind it? If you see something only in terms of beauty and utility, it is purely objective – it is use and throw, that is called consumerist philosophy. Now let us say you are treated only based on your utility value, would you like it? Nobody would like it. You are not just a human resource, but a human being. All that complexity needs to be recognized, through appropriate frameworks. If the framework does not recognize it, it causes tremendous violence on you, that is what the social sciences tell us. And it is very very critical to recognize this. Now this is causing tremendous violence because, utility or beauty, and their idea of beauty was in terms of chopping the trees, not allowing them to  full growth. And this, in mountains and forests! I could not imagine it. Here, we have this idea of diversity. That is very very…this is called the forest philosophy, where we are comfortable with so much diversity. There, let us say, in 1 sq. km area, there would be hardly 20 different species. Now most of us are not exposed to multiple species, mostly only one species (Laughter). In the canteen, I was observing a four-legged species walk in and everybody was like,”Waim!” So that is our response, mostly in terms of a panic attack, but actually you will see, it is not a problem. If you have sufficient exposure to diversity, you will just be okay. You will be okay with everything. It is just a lack of exposure to diversity. So bio-diversity in a sq. km area, in let us say Europe, there would be hardly 20 species. While India, there would be more than 200, or maybe bordering on 2000. That rich biodiversity actually we take it for granted. Because that diversity, not just in terms of bio-diversity, but the diversity of viewpoints, diversity of cultures, all of this becomes very very critical.

India: A Land of Diversity

So many languages, so many cultures, even, see for example, even cooking styles, the place I come from, my mother’s cooking is not the way, the style of cooking does not match with my wife’s home style of cooking and the places are hardly 150 km apart. I am from Thirunelveli, she is from Madurai. But it does not match and every few 100 kms, you will see so much diversity – the cooking styles don’t match. But the fundamental principles are the same. The fundamental principles, I later understood, it is in terms of “Aruchuvai” or six tastes. Six tastes or rasas, six rasas and the ingredients that go into balancing these rasas that go on to balancing your doshas and building up tremendous vibrance – vibrant health. You get this logic, actually you will see, food is medicine. I have not gone to a doctor in more than about 20 years. Once I had to go, I hit my head here and it had to be stitched. I went to a doctor and there was a pool of blood, and it had to be stitched and he said,”I will need to give you local anesthesia.” So I said,”No no. No anesthesia. You just let me know when you plan to stitch and that is okay.” So his hands were shaking when he was stitching, but it can be managed, you know, if you learn the science behind it. Actually all these are discoverable. That is the most awesome part to it.


Now we have the science of food, or nutrition, where we look at the nutritional component, but you see the same nutritional component, one person takes it, it has a different effect, another person takes it, a completely different effect. You take an ice-cream, you are okay. Your friend takes it, not okay. Same ice-cream. What went wrong? And hence we need more developed sciences to address this, which I found was already there! You just need to figure it out. For example, my mother, whenever we used to get cold or cough or fever, would not rush us to the hospital or doctor. For example, if I used to get a mouth ulcer, which is very common for students, she would reduce the quantity of pepper in the food. What? How are these connected? Because pepper, each component plays a very important role in balancing the overall tastes. Once you get this logic, actually pepper increases pitta and by reducing pepper, she was balancing my pitta which made the ulcer go away. Now this is the complex science which is available in all Indian households. All our parents automatically follow this. They might not be able to reason out with respect to “Okay, why do I put this much? Why do I put that much?” They might not be able to reason out, but the background sciences are there, accessible to every household. It is best for us to rediscover these and apply it consciously. So coming back to the process of marriage and also the very important idea of beauty because marriage also means, for many people, now evaluate with regard to beauty – how does one look? How do you evaluate beauty? It is not an uncomfortable question. People evaluate beauty. How do you evaluate beauty? See, for example, do I look beautiful?



Beauty is Skin Deep?

The skin is just peeling away, it will be okay. So beauty is skin-deep? I used to have a roommate in college, who used to be very very good looking, but dark, black, jet black but good looking. But he somehow got this complex that  “I am not good looking”. Very tragic. And he used to apply this -at that time there was only this Fair and Lovely (Laughter). Only now they came out with this Fair and Handsome. He would secretly apply it, in the hope that somehow he would be as strong as…look fair. And Handsome. It was tragic. And all of us used to discover it, because you cannot miss it. And he used to go through immense trauma through the whole process. Again to this there are historical antecedents. Don’t you think so? It is visible. Otherwise what is wrong in skin colour? One should be comfortable under one’s skin. What is the big deal? But it is made a big deal, and where did this come from? Again, you need to trace back into history. If you look at the Indian concept of beauty, that is where, the concepts, the principles become very very important. The frameworks that we use to evaluate are very critical. They can cause us suffering or they can liberate us. The frameworks that we use to understand our reality, reason out with our circumstances, can cause us serious misery, serious suffering or can be liberative. And hence the frameworks, the right frameworks become important. Frameworks like “fair and lovely” what will it do to me? I should be suffering and I should not even appear before you, right now. But what to do? Skin is skin, so I am old enough, I am married so, now let it be, I don’t need to impress you (Laughter). I can be balding and with all this daadi (beard) and this jada mudi and I can be perfectly fine with it, because I am under my own skin, but at that age, the concept of beauty, fair and lovely, fair and handsome, can be crippling to your sense of confidence and your self-image. But if you interestingly look at a more evolved framework of the idea of beauty, you know how beauty is evaluated in the Indian sense?

Lakshana: The Indian Idea of Beauty

The idea of beauty is looked at in a much more comprehensive fashion. It is called lakshana – and there are different lakshanas, indicators of beauty at different levels. So the lakshana of the skin is to glow, not colour. A glowing skin is considered beautiful. That is an indicator of health, because, underneath if you are not in vibrant health, your skin will not glow. You might be under a layer of cosmetic, if you have observed movie stars in close range, you would see dark circles, the skin would not glow, it would be tired, lagging, but they make it up – make up for that glow, inherent glow which is an important lakshana of beauty. A very important lakshana of beauty is symmetry. For example, this (span of one’s arms) is considered one vyama, okay? One span, vyama. This (tip of the finger to the elbow) is considered one mozham. Mozham, in Hindi, what do you call it? Gatch, okay. In Tamil, we call it mozham. You know you go to a flower vendor, you ask “Rendu mozham poo kudunga. Give me 2 mozham, or 1 mozham”. You cannot ask “Give me 98.5 cms of flowers” (Laughter). They will be very uncomfortable with that idea. And that also actually leads us, there are so many inherent principles in this, it is very beautiful. So it is not standardized metric, but it is a personal metric. It is called personal mathematics. That is also mathematics, but it is in terms of personalized metrics, ratios. So appropriate ratios, mozham, this is considered one pada. If you observe each person, you would be 8 by 8. If you measure it. 8 pada by 8 pada – 8 in span and 8 in height. If you are 9 by 9, you are considered above human. If you go up, 12 by 12 is very advanced, okay. That relates to cosmology and other lokas and so on, I’ll not touch upon that because some of you might not be comfortable with so many ideas together. But this is a very simple science, you will find this reflected in many ancient civilizations, now how do you measure, see for example, let us say, I will just digress a little bit. There are now these exoplanet discoveries, you know. People are trying to find life in other planets and so on. They are trying to figure out life, how do I measure life? Is that an advanced civilization or should we protect ourselves from that civilization and so on, people are trying to figure out. Mostly in Hollywood movies, you would see, precursors to it, aliens always attack New York or Los Angeles. (Laughter) Which is their universe, it is not wrong. We have started with my universe, so it is okay. Just that we need to have our own universe, okay. How do you evaluate? In the shastras it is given, how to evaluate a life form. That is in terms of ratios. With certain ratios, it is a lower life form. With certain other ratios it is a higher life form. So if you go to any loka, and encounter some life form, you can evaluate with this metric, whether it is a lower life form that you need to protect yourselves from or a higher advanced life form that you can relate to. Okay? So much to do with beauty and symmetry and it is mathematics. This I discovered as I started reasoning out because my friend was suffering with the idea of beauty, but the problem wasn’t with him, it was the problem with the metrics that he was using, the frameworks that he was using to evaluate himself, whether he was handsome or not, while if he had more developed frameworks, more well-reasoned out frameworks like this, there are important lakshanas of beauty, and beauty goes deeper, not just the skin, the glow of the skin matters, the structural components matter, the inner health matters, the character traits that you possess, the attitudes that you possess matter. And hence all of this is given due consideration in the idea of beauty. And that is how even marriage proposals are evaluated. It goes further than that, the idea of beauty extends to the whole family, whether they possess the necessary attitudes and the characteristics that make them a harmonious family. That is how well-developed the idea of beauty is.

Vivaha Dharma

And hence vivaha dharma, if we look at it, was intelligently evaluated. Now many of us don’t understand or evaluate it appropriately. We look at it as frequency match. Infatuation is pretty okay, but it so happened that, when I was a professor at the university, college life is happening and that too, you watch movies and all of us want to fall in love. This is not wrong. They say falling in love, racing in love, whatever you take it, that is okay, it is a really nice feel. Being in love is an awesome feel. I believe everyone should experience it. There is nothing equal to that, okay. So I used to observe this boy and girl. This boy used to walk…I used to go from my office to my home and he used to go to the hostel. And over a period of time, I saw this boy and girl becoming close to each other. That is a very good thing, just that somehow, I don’t overhear, but somehow the wind god propelled the audio waves and they fell on my ears, and I started observing their points of discussion, they will go like, “You know this person..!” “Han yaar, I know, I know” you know, through mutual lamentation they got together and it proceeded and over a period of time, I used to observe them together, it was okay. But some months later, I observed this boy having a very good time with his friends, hanging out with his friends and awesome time, and suddenly he got this call, and his face was like “Ow!” but he answered,”Hi honey!” (Laughter) This is suffering (Laughter and applause). When one does not understand the principles of relationships, one definitely suffers and it is serious suffering. For most people, they don’t know how to get over that, because it hurts, it is painful.

Foundational Principles

If you don’t understand the underlying principles, then you might be in for a rude shock, that is where educating our expectations appropriately becomes very important. Now, we are educated looking at movies or this is the idea of love, that is a little more like populist way to get educated. I would suggest a little better, more rigorous education on love, you know. Not like a textbook thing, but if you look at the Indian principles of love, it is very very deep, well-reasoned out.


For example, vivaha dharma. Vivaha, the concept of vivaha, I will just wrap it up quickly, if you see the concept of vivaha, one component of it, for example is showing Arundhati nakshatra. Arundhati nakshatra, in Tamil Nadu they say, “Ammi mithichu Arundhati paakanum”. Be like Arundhati nakshatra – actually what does it signify? If you look at it, I have an animation, but it is not working. Arundhati and Vasishta, if you know already, are binary star systems. Binary star systems have this unique thing about them, that they go around each other, go around a common centre of gravity. Now, our ancients did not fix, based on say Earth and sun which is an unequal relationship, because the centre of gravity falls closer to the centre of mass of the sun, not outside the body of the sun. If you look at Earth and moon, similarly it is an unequal relationship, but if you look at a binary star system, you will see that the centre of gravity, is not close to the centre of mass of any of the individual systems, that is very unique about binary star systems, they go around a common centre of gravity. Each person’s role is different, it is unique. But they are united in dharma. So the common centre of gravity is called dharma, and if you look through, if you closely observe the entire ceremony, the logic behind it, you would be thrilled, because it teaches you exactly what is, it educates you with respect to your expectations. Otherwise most of us expect something, we don’t see in the other person. Initially it is good, infatuation, but after it wears out, 24 hours you need to live with that person and it “Kya muzeebat hai” You might start looking at it completely differently. But if the principles are right, and you are educated right, then your expectations are appropriate and hence you would not be disappointed. So the binary star system, the focus was on the central dharma. The dharma was the one that united both in relationship.

Purushartha: Dharma Artha Kama Moksha

We look at something called purushartha. Purushartha means the meaning or purpose behind human life – dharma, artha, kama, moksha. People when they come together for kama, purely for pleasure, you will see, one scratch and that is it, that is the end of the story. It is very tough. There are places, there are relationships that are based purely on kama, but it does not sustain, because it is skin deep. The skin matters more than anything else. Artha based relationships, people come together for wealth, I used to have an acquaintance, who came for MS, simply for one reason, B.Tech – 1 C, MS – 4 C. Wow! With a B.Tech you get   1 crore in dowry. Dowry, I will not get into it, whatever you think about it, we don’t have the time to deal with it. But 4 crores in dowry for MS was like wow man! I wished at that time that I would have been born in his community. Bad luck! (Laughter) My father-in-law gave me some silver plate and tumbler, and when I got my marriage date wrong, he wanted it back (Laughter) I am bad with dates and numbers. So you know the idea of that relationship if it is not appropriately educated, you will see, kama is not wrong, artha, wealth is not wrong, but if it is not yoked together with something more sustainable, it is problematic, it is short-lived. And hence for it to be long-lived, we need to have the right expectation. Approach it the right way. And this I learnt through this process.

And then, artha also changes, it shifts. Children are considered the most important wealth. Did you know? Wealth. Because the idea of wealth is much more expansive. It is not just material possessions. It is much more than that. Even health is considered wealth. Happiness is considered wealth. But you need to do the right things for earning that wealth, and you need to do the right things to sustain that wealth. That is called yoga kshema. Yoga means acquiring that wealth and kshema means sustaining it through. And that requires intelligent application, without which it does not sustain.


In college, I used to teach computer science as well as yoga, dhyana and so many things. We used to have an open door policy at college. I was in campus, so morning from 4:30 am up to night 12:30-1:00 am, students used to be there, each for their own purpose. Some used to come for yoga, dhyana. Some would play their guitar. Some would hack. I was a Linux hacker. (Laughter) Hacking is not bad. No, not cracking, but hacking. So, you hack the kernel, device drivers and all of that, so there would be people with their laptops, there would be musicians. There would be some day-dreamers, just hanging out. There would be others who come for food, we would cook and eat together. There would be others playing with our children. Whatever they feel is valid for them, we used to accommodate them, it is okay, you know, it is just hanging out together. That was our concept of education. In fact, that is a very simple concept. But, which is exactly what was called Guru – kula. Kula, you know, it is like a family. You just hang out together and in the process, tremendous education happens. It is a very very natural thing. It is not so, what you can say…it is highly intense but not the kind of problems that we face now in the current system of education. This again we figured out is to do with history. You would have heard of the history, some of that at least. The focus on infrastructure and all of that shifted the existing mature paradigms of education that had been going on for thousands of years. You would have heard of Takshashila, Nalanda and so on, but not just those. Those were more formalized. There was so much more, the whole key, if you have heard Sir Ken Robinson on education, he talks about the focus on the learner and the teacher and the taught and the knowledge. The extra stuff, for example this powerpoint, this infrastructure and all of this, these are called accessories. Now the focus on accessories, which is peripheral to the whole idea of education, focus on peripherals have become central, and focus on central has become peripheral. It is like completely reverse logic. It is like the design of society, if you look at, we focus, as society, we respect movie stars more than primary school teachers. Doesn’t it sound odd? Actually odd. Movie stars get the highest focus, and highest pay and the primary school teachers get the lowest pay and the lowest focus. Actually it should be the reverse, which is what Finland and such developed nations are doing, which we already have. Actually you would see that simple things like, like there is a popular anecdote. In the pre-independence era a village boy, a groom was chosen for the village girl. At the last moment the village elders called it off, saying that the boy is unfit because the family does business on food, sells food. Village logic was, you cannot sell food. Food is given as daana, anna daana. Medicine is given as daana, arogya daana. Education is given as daana, vidya daana. You cannot commodify or commercialize these 3 aspects. It was never allowed. But now, those are the top three businesses, okay? So the idea has been reversed, it has been completely reversed and we are facing the consequences. There is not equitable access to food. There is not equitable access to healthcare. There is not equitable access to education. We are struggling with it, because we have gotten it upside down, reverse logic. Unless we fix the logic, the principles with which we approach it, it cannot be fixed, it will only be like patchwork, but it is designed to burst at the seeds. So that is where we found so many students encountering challenges, but instead of working with the system, we started hanging out with them and that naturally lead us to, for example, teaching yoga for so many issues that students face. It was a natural step, because I have been into the yogic practice for more than 25 years. It has been a very very comfortable thing. It has been in the family. Now, when I say yoga, it is not just about sitting like this, this is called asana.

Adopting a Yogic Life

Asana means sthiram, sukham, iti asanam, That means you are comfortable and at ease. That has become so difficult now. We are not at comfort, not at ease. It is very strange, is it not? Because of the reverse principles. Asana, pranayama, dhyana, it is just to do with being you and accepting everything. And you are just okay with yourself, okay with the world. These principles we started teaching and then we found that, that alone was not sufficient. There were decision frameworks that are important.

How we Started off with Mahabharata Programs

And hence we started looking at, not just philosophy, for example, Bhagavad Gita, but we started looking at Mahabharata, Ramayana. Mahabharata provides a complex framework to be able to accommodate all of this, to hone our decision-making skills. It provides us frameworks, very clear cut frameworks, so we started looking at the Mahabharata and that eventually led us to founding Anaadi Foundation. Anaadi means that which is beyond Adi and Anta – beyond birth and death, because birth and death is to do with this system (body and mind). Through the senses we process this information. You know how thoughts, emotions and desires are processed? Any idea? Or do you process them? Thoughts, ideas, desires – are they processed? What is the background for processing them? For example, through these ears, you process audio signals. Through these eyes you process visual signals. How do you process thoughts, emotions, desires? That is the framework of the chakras. You would have heard of chakras? In fact as a child, parents used to keep this -what is this called? Vibhuti, we keep chandanam, kumkumam, bindi – all of that. You know why it is kept? There was this great saint called Avvayar. Avvayar was called jnanapazham. There are these great saints who are called jnanapazham, because they have attained to the highest fruit of knowledge. And they used to be smeared with vibhuti, all over their body, to signify that they have attained to the highest fruit of knowledge, and what is that highest fruit of knowledge? Their vibhuti signifies that anyhow this is ephemeral, this (body) becomes ash. Now, you hold it in your consciousness constantly, what does it do to you? Most of our time is invested in preserving this (body), holding this. When you understand that, hey, this is temporary, then you get the perspective. Then your actions are always appropriate. It is not overdone. And that is considered the highest fruit of knowledge. It happens with people who are about to encounter death. They know, let us say for example, cancer or in a few months they are going to pass away. There was this awesome Carnegie-Mellon professor, who was affected with cancer and he was about to pass away. The last few months of his life, he was really awesome. Why awesome? Because he was entirely dedicated to others’ welfare. Completely selfless, no selfishness. That is what your understanding of this being temporary does to you. That you are not selfish. You no longer just hold on. You let go. That is considered the highest fruit of knowledge. That is why people are called jnanapazham. These are called prasada, because they are energized in a certain way, and then, you touch it at appropriate points. If you are in a certain state of sensitivity, it will blow you off, you know. These all were technology that were available to everybody. Now there is mobile technology, you don’t need to understand the science of how it works. It just works for everybody. These and more profound things I understood from my own experience, which is what the journey I have tried to present. This has been the idea of India that has been discovered and still going on, which naturally led us to found Anaadi Foundation.

Starting Anaadi Foundation

In 2015 we founded Anaadi Foundation – Anaadi as I said, beyond birth and death, because each of us is that. In the Indian principles, in the Indian way of looking at it, we are beyond birth and death. This (body) is subjected to birth and death. The subtler structures are subjected to birth and death, but not the core you. And hence, when we live inside out, from that core experience, then our lives are completely transformed. It is an awesome life and that is a true blessing. And hence, as part of Anaadi we focus on these core principles. Now we have exposure to science and all these principles, and we have that shraddha in science, because of our constant exposure to science. Similar shraddha is not there for the Rishi Parampara that we have inherited, the idea of India that we have inherited. Shraddha is not there because of our lack of exposure. We think it is too complex to comprehend, but it is just a lack of exposure. If we understand these principles right, then we will see, it is natural thing. It gives you profound complex frameworks to be able to interpret reality in the most appropriate ways. So many possibilities, exciting possibilities, at least I see it that way. That is the reason why we founded the Anaadi Foundation. Exciting possibilities to be here, to act out and hence benefit people within this identity. That is the identity that we are talking of.

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