Author Shubha Vilas talks to Boski Gupta about his choice of writing, his books and how to maintain a balance between spirituality and religion
Indian mythology is in demand. More and more writers are going back in time to search ‘fresh’ ideas for their books. Right from the stories of the Puranas to the battle of Kurukshetra, Indian stories are rewritten and how but author Shubha Vilas doesn’t agree with one point of mythology, and that is the mythology itself. He says it’s is itaihas, history, of the actual events and not a fabricated tale as propagated by British. Excerpts from an interview…
What inspired you to write the Ramayana series?
I have grown up on stories from the Ramayana told to me by my grandmother. So my first inspiration comes from her. Another burning desire was to bring out the epics from the closet and present them in a way that could be understood and appreciated by a larger audience.
How was the experience of writing these spiritual books? Does it make you stronger? Does it drain you?
Many years ago I discovered that my greatest need was to give. And I have made sure that on a daily basis I fulfil my quota of giving by sharing the wisdom that I gain from books that I read and great teachers that I hear from. And when my readers share with me how much they’ve been helped by my books, I consider my day successful. So writing has only given me joy…nothing but pure unadulterated joy!
The series has incorporated many versions of Ramayana… Why not just Valmiki Ramayana?
Valmiki’s Ramayana is the base of the series. But I have taken anologies and poetic expressions from Kamba Ramayana and Tulsidas’s Ramacharitramanas. In addition I have also added background stories from the Puranas and loka pramana. These background stories enhance the understanding of the storyline and the characters of Valmiki’s Ramayana. Of course all this is combined with the understanding from the acharyas or great teachers of the past, in addition to adding my own understanding of the life application of each of the stories. All this is what you see now as the Ramayana – the game of life series.
What motivates you to write?
I strongly felt the need to present an epic like Ramayana to the modern audience in a way they could easily understand and appreciate it. Ramayana has a wealth of learning for us if only it could be presented in a contemporary manner. My only wish is to demonstrate how the ancient epic holds immediate relevance to modern life. And how the wisdom sutras can help navigate and steer the ship of life through stormy seas and clear skies alike. Writing is a very powerful medium to convey a message. The writings of Veer Savarkar was primarily responsible for shaking up the British confidence about their stronghold on India. My desire to serve society with meaningful stories turned me into a writer.
What do you do in your spare time?
People are my passion. I love to speak and inspire people in their lives. When I am not with people I am with books. I have a voracious appetite for reading. And when I am not even with books, I love to think.
What can the past teach the present?
Sadly, the world today is totally involved in a materialistic lifestyle, leaving behind human values. We can learn about these values from every character of Ramayana. Rama’s unwavering persona teaches us how to handle reversals positively; Bharata’s actions teach us how to handle temptations and Sita’s courage probes us to explore beyond our comfort zone. Every relationship in this family drama is a lesson on values.
What the society needs today is not an eye transplant but a vision transplant. An eye transplant grants the gift of sight and a vision transplant grants the gift of direction. Ramayana reveals profound rules of human relationships and conduct – what works, what fails to work and how to navigate through this amazing labyrinth called life.
How important are traditions in today’s modern world when nothing seems to last for more than few minutes? Everything goes viral and becomes famous for some time then it is forgotten.
Fame is a very transient phenomenon. As technology is progressing, the world is shrinking and the span of fame is shrinking even further. But does this affect the fame of Bhagavad Gita? It is eternally popular even after being spoken 5000 years before. Discussed by philosophers and thinkers of every era. And still in the limelight.
The younger generation has no idea of what our sanatana dharma is all about. They are growing up on non-authentic and whimsically twisted books written purely from sales point of view. In such a scenario, what is original will be lost soon. The rituals and traditions need to be understood in the context of philosophy and practical application only then they make sense.
There is repacking needed in terms of the presentation and not in terms of the values. When we decide to compromise the values for the sake of the package, we are actually sacrificing substance for the sake of the shadow. My writing is targeted towards repackaging the stories without diluting the essence.
What can youth of today learn from our epics and history?
Our scriptures teach us how to live life. They present the realities of life in the most exciting manner. Ramayana especially is a magical epic that arms us with valuable tools to deal with the various twists and turns of our own lives. It gives us simple dharmic wisdom along with clarity we often need, and therefore it is absolutely relevant to present life.
Sadly, the youth is totally involved in a materialistic lifestyle, with devastating consequences seen in their emotional health and relationships. Thus the youth will find the relationship portrayals in Ramayana very attractive as it will give them a roadmap to give direction to their own relationships.
Do you think India is too sensitive with its past and mythology? Why can’t we accept logical dialogue when it comes to mythology and divine?
There’s an urgent need to first understand that our epics are not mythology but history. The original sanskrit word for them is ‘itihaas’ which means history. But because the British wanted to disconnect us from our heritage, they termed it as mythology.
When you have a treasure with you, you are naturally possessive about it. It’s not that Indians are sensitive about it but they realise they own something precious. It’s revolutionary knowledge that has power to transform lives. So it is guarded zealously.
Spirituality is the act of getting in touch with your real self in a way that is not artificial. When an egg is broken from outside life is lost and when an egg breaks from inside a life is born. Similarly when someone is forced to accept a path terming it as spirituality, the spirit of religion is lost. But when a person is inspired from within to experience his true nature, the spirit is gained. This is in essence is spirituality. The need to day is to inspire Indians to think and get inspired from within. But for us to think in the right direction, we need a frame work which the ancient epics provide. If somehow through the right packaging, Indians can be inspired to read these epics then they will begin to think in the right direction.
How do you see religion? What has society done (How it sees) to religion today?
People tend to equate religion with rituals and assume that rituals are superficial but being spiritual has depth. The purpose of rituals is to convey our love for God. Just like we put a letter in an envelope so that it reaches its destination; the letter without the envelope will surely get lost whereas an attractive envelope without the letter will have no message. The envelope signifies rituals and the letter is our love for God.
Rituals are like the salt in our food…the right amount is nourishing. Too much or too little becomes unpalatable. So it is with rituals, we need to strike the right balance between external rituals and internal feelings. Religion without philosophy is fanaticism and philosophy without religion is mental speculation. To find the right balance we need guidance that is holistic.
What is open eye meditation? How is this technique different from other meditation techniques?
Open eye meditation is the technique of learning from the world by keeping your eye of observation open. When you are open to life, life opens up to you. The upper limit of your ability to learn is determined by the upper limit of your desire to learn.Open-eyed Meditations is a collection of thoughts about various aspects of life that is purely inspired by observing the world through the lenses of the Vedic epics.
Why ancient Vedic epics? The reason being that there is something attractive about the epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana that has kept them alive century after century. Beyond the storyline, something deeper is waiting to be discovered from these ancient texts. This book is an attempt to uncover the hidden layer of wealth that is cleverly packaged within the commonly known storylines.
What is mindfulness? How can we achieve it while being busy in our daily busy lives?
Compassion, love and satisfaction and all the other positive feelings are all in the present. Whereas lust, greed and other negative emotions are in the past or future in the brain. The thoughts that lead to fear are always anchored in the future. When we are focused on our past or future we are in our thoughts not reality. The suffering only starts when you start comparing the now with the previous. Mindfulness is all about trying to remain conscious of the realities of the present and not get carried away by the mind into the possibilities of the future or the sorrows of the past.
Research shows that people spend 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. The key to mindfulness is practice repetitively pulling back the mind and focus it on one thought, word or action. In fact the word mantra comes from two words, man, which means mind and tra, which comes from the word trayate which means controlling. That which helps control the mind and focuses it on the present is called mantra.
The society, in general, is waking up to the benefits of yoga and meditation. Do you think we are becoming health conscious or is it still a long way?
Yoga simply means to unite. To unite the body with nature is hatha-yoga. To create unity within the mind and the body is pranayama. To create unity with the mind and the soul is gyana. To create unity between the soul and God is bhakti. That is the complete yoga system—unity. This comprises physical, emotional and spiritual health in totality. And this knowledge has been with us since time immemorial. Rest of the world is now waking up to the benefits of yoga now.