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The Swami and the Children: A Fictional Explanation of the Hindu Culture for You

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Neha Bali.

 

Thank you for downloading this East Rock book.

 

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Address queries on rights and permissions to the publisher East Rock, USA.

Digital edition published worldwide by East Rock, sole proprietor Neha Bali, Las Vegas, NV, USA.

Digital edition derived from the hardcover The Hindu Culture: A Clear and Concise Summary by Mrinal Bali, Copyright © 1997 by Mrinal Bali, ISBN 81-900850-0-X.

 

 

Also by

Mrinal Bali

 

The Hindu Culture: A Clear and Concise Summary for Youngsters

 

 

For my nieces and nephew

Sunaina, Shivika, Shreeya, Kavan

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Epilogue

 

[]Chapter 1

The furor erupted when the children returned home with a new order from their school’s principal: from here on, all students shall wear a pendant of Jesus Christ on the cross, available at the school, and no other religious symbol shall be allowed in school.

The school was an Irish catholic school in the rural northwest Himalayas of India. Education was secondary for the school. Its primary purpose was conversion of the surrounding villages to Christianity. The principal was a new arrival from Ireland. His orders to his school staff were forthright: conversions are slow; step it up.

Within the school’s mountain domain was the Sarovar Campus. Surrounded by snow peaks shooting high into purple skies, the Sarovar Campus housed the engineers of a hydroelectric project under construction in a nearby river valley. The campus was sixty-five acres of an office building, satellite antennae, captive power generation, red-brick cottages for the engineers, a soccer field and a play park of colorful swings and jungle gyms. The campus housed thirty-three families, all Hindus, and their forty-two children who spanned Kindergarten to high school—and who attended the Christian school.

Hindus attending Christian schools is commonplace in India. Most parents of the Sarovar Campus were themselves graduates of Christian schools. Christian schools had existed in India since St Thomas, one of Christ’s very apostles, landed on the Malabar coast of India and founded branches of the Syrian church. Hindus were well aware that conversion, not education, was the overriding purpose of the Christian schools in India, but Hindu parents did not worry.

The Hindu culture is by far the oldest surviving culture of the world. In its life so far, the Hindu culture has been challenged by three of the world’s major religions—Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Buddhism was born in India. Islam had ruled India for nearly a thousand years. Christians had ruled India for nearly four centuries. The Hindu culture had survived.

Yet the Sarovar Campus parents were now agitated at the new order from their children’s school. Christian schools never openly mocked the Hindu culture. Neither did this school—until the new principal arrived from Ireland and took charge.

The parents were furious at the new order from the new principal.

“Those Christian teachers tell our children that the Ramayana is fiction!” yelled one Hindu mother of the Sarovar Campus.

The campus parents convened in the conference room of the main office building. As happens in most gatherings of Indians, the men and women grouped separately at opposite ends of the room.

“The teachers incite the children against the Hindu culture,” said a father. “The children now mock the culture of their birth. My son ridicules the Ramayana. He says Ram was obedient to the extent of foolishness, and Dashrath was a bad father and husband.”

“My daughter says the Hindu culture is all about kings and queens.”

“My children don’t believe that arrows fired into the sky brought down rain and fire.”

“My children make fun of Ganesh. They say he is the accident of a pregnancy gone haywire.”

“My son says the Hindu culture hasn’t served us well in history because we repeatedly got conquered.”

“My children make fun of the pundit who comes to our home on Saturdays for shani puja.

“It’s all this school’s influence. The children are rejecting their culture. The school has to be stopped.”

The mothers wanted to withdraw their children from the Christian school. Which other school was there for the children to attend? asked the fathers. The nearest other school of acceptable standard was a day’s jeep ride away over rough, unpaved roads winding through thick jungles growling with predatory wildlife. The mothers presented an option: they could take the children back to their urban roots and superior schools. The fathers could stay on in this rural hinterland and finish the hydro project. The men rejected this option. After a long and heated discussion, the parents decided to send two fathers, the chief engineer and his deputy, to meet with the school’s principal.

The next morning the two fathers drove to the school in a government vehicle with small authoritative government flags front and aft. In no uncertain words, the fathers told the principal that his religion was his and their culture was theirs and whatever he did with spreading his religion among the local villagers was between him and the locals but leave the campus children alone.

The principal, robed in white with a green cord on his inflated waistline, listened patiently from across his ocean sized desk. He was well aware that in this area, for the children of these engineers, his school enjoyed an absolute and complete monopoly. The principal offered the engineers tea and biscuits, then leaned forward in his chair for emphasis. The school, he said, could not impose different rules for different children. The school’s Christian teaching and new uniform code shall stand as mandated.

The two fathers returned to the campus wringing their hands and shaking their heads. The parents convened again in the conference room. Another long and heated discussion followed.

The chief engineer’s wife was particularly vocal. She pointed an accusing finger at the men. “You are senior government officers building a dam for the government. Why don’t you rattle the government chains at the Ministry of Education? They’ll fix this principal.”

The chief engineer, a gray haired man with a flapping dewlap, shook his head. “The government will intervene only if the school has broken a law. The school has flouted no laws. It’s a private school. It can mandate whatever dress code it wants. The school’s prospectus states that its mission is to increase awareness of the Christian faith. Increase awareness, mind you, not convert. The school increases awareness; the people convert of their own volition. The school does not enforce conversion. That’s within the law.”

The mothers were not convinced.

The chief engineer stood up and raised both hands. The room fell quiet. “If we complain to the government,” said the chief engineer, “the school will get annoyed with our children. Don’t forget that the school would much rather not have our children. The school is for local villagers, sons and daughters of illiterates. That’s who are the easiest to convert. Our children are misfits in that school and, in fact, a hindrance in the school’s ulterior mission. The school would much rather not have our children.”

The discussion wore on, rising and falling in pitch until the parents realized that they were getting nowhere. The conversation faded out.

That’s when one mother, Mrs Burman, pregnant four months with her second child and who had so far sat quietly, spoke up: “The problem is not the school.”

Oh? All heads turned to her.

“The problem is us,” continued Mrs Burman in a calm, soft voice. “The problem is always the teacher, not the students. We parents are not doing a good job of teaching our culture to our children.”

At first there was silence, then the mothers pounced on Mrs Burman. What do you mean? Don’t local pundits visit our homes regularly? Don’t the pundits lecture our children? Don’t we have pujas and kirtans regularly? Doesn’t every house have a temple? Don’t we make our children worship Ram and Krishan? Don’t we make our children read the Ramayana and the Gita even if in English and not in Sanskrit? One mother boasted that her daughter sang Om jai jagdish hare every morning in the shower. Another mother, not to be left behind, announced that her son applied tilak to his computer ever since he saw machinists in a workshop apply tilak to their machines. Isn’t all this the Hindu culture?

Mrs Burman was undeterred. “Obviously our children are rejecting what we are teaching them about our culture. The school is filling the gap with Christianity.”

Another round of protests followed but faded when the parents realized that the woman they were mobbing was not responding.

Mrs Burman maintained her calm. “We need somebody else to talk to our children, somebody who knows the culture better than us and can explain it better to our children. We need the Swami.”

Near the campus was a village, two rows of log huts and thatch roofs on either side of a single street. The street ended at the base of a mountain rock face that shot up off the ground nearly vertically like a cliff. Up the rock face rose a narrow trail, so narrow at places that two adult feet placed heel to toe didn’t fit. The treacherous trail snaked up the rock face and disappeared into white clouds high up. Above the clouds, under brilliant purple skies, the trail ended at a plateau 7,200 feet high.

The plateau was flat gray rock, the size of a basketball court. At one edge of the plateau grew a lone deodar tree. The other three edges of the plateau fell sharply down into deep valleys obscured by clouds far below. On the fourth side of the plateau the rock wall continued up into the sky. Down this wall trickled a perennial mountain brook that fell into a small, circular pool that overflowed off the plateau. Near the brook, at the base of the rock wall, was a cave. In the cave lived a man the villagers called the Swami.

Nobody knew his name. Four years ago he had appeared out of the jungle and walked down the village street and up the narrow trail to the cave. That was before the engineering campus was constructed.

The present Swami was not the first occupant of the cave. The oldest living villager was age ninety-seven. In his lifetime, two other swamis before this one had resided in that cave, and stories of yet other swamis going further back in time had passed down from generation to village generation.

The swamis preferred not to be disturbed. This was the way of the true yogis of the Hindu culture: they withdrew into raw nature. Most never returned to the cacophony of populations: from the cave on the plateau, no swami had ever come back down the mountain.

When a swami occupied the cave, the village assigned food couriers to take food and simple supplies, such as candles and matches, regularly up to the cave. The couriers took care not to disturb the occupant of the cave and left the supplies quietly at the edge of the plateau. Then one day a courier would find the food and supplies untouched at the edge of the plateau, and that indicated that the cave was now empty—that the swami had gone.

No swami died in the cave. The swamis past had all simply disappeared. Each swami left the cave clean and pristine, as if it had never been occupied. The swamis were men not worried about leaving Earth without a trace, but the couriers provided a trace: when a courier found a swami gone, the courier chiseled a vertical line the length of a forefinger on a cave wall. So far, the wall had forty-three lines spanning eight centuries.

The present Swami had lived up there four years. The villagers well remembered when he had passed through the village on the way up. They remembered him for three reasons.

One, his build. His predecessors had been old and gray, short, flabby, head shaved and tonsured, but this Swami was young with a head full of severely curly black hair, no tonsure, clean shaven, majestic six-one height, and a wedge shaped body of broad shoulders, narrow waist and tight muscles that suggested intense athletic regimen.

Two, his attire. His predecessors had worn the traditional saffron colored dhotis. This Swami instead wore a bright blue T-shirt over light khaki shorts and white sneakers without socks.

The third reason, however, lingered the most vividly in the collective memory of the villagers.

Several days before this Swami walked into the village, the teenage children of the village had voiced that a new swami was coming. When the Swami had appeared out of the surrounding jungle, the teenagers had gathered quickly and followed him up the village street.

Repeatedly the Swami had looked over his muscular shoulders, his brow furrowed, visibly puzzled at the children following him. Once he stopped abruptly and turned around to face the children. The children also stopped and fidgeted on their feet and glanced at each other nervously, but they did not retreat or scatter, and when the Swami resumed walking, the children followed him again up the village street to the base of the cliff from where the trail rose up the rock face.

At the cliff the children stopped. They were not allowed on the dangerous trail, but they hung around and watched the tall Swami diminish slowly in size as he climbed higher and higher up the trail into the clouds.

The only people who saw him after that were the food couriers. The village households prepared vegetarian food that stout and sure footed young men of the village carried daily up the trail. They delivered the food and supplies quietly at the edge of the plateau, taking care not to climb up on the plateau and disturb the Swami. Sometimes, though, an inquisitive courier peeked over the plateau’s edge and told the world what he had observed.

The villagers thus knew that the present Swami up in the cave was a physical fitness buff: every alternate day he spot-ran bare feet for thirty minutes, and the days he didn’t run he pumped his muscles with hunks of rocks followed by pull ups at a branch of the deodar tree. The swami wore shorts and T-shirt even in the heavy snows and bone chilling winter winds of the upper Himalayas. His body sensed the cold; his mind did not. Intense meditation had detached his mind from his five senses as a tortoise draws its limbs into the shell. One observation by a courier reported that the Swami was once meditating under the deodar tree while a mountain lion sat nearby licking its paws. Another courier reported that he had seen the Swami levitating in meditation. The locals believed the couriers, and their stories spread across the mountain ranges to villages near and far.

The engineers of the Sarovar Campus, being men of science, did not believe most of the stories: they did not believe the story of the mountain lion and levitation. Some of the younger engineers had once trekked up the challenging trail. Below the plateau they had stopped and hesitated, uncertain how the Swami, who shunned worldly contact, would greet them. The Swami, in his patent blue T-shirt and khaki shorts, had seen them coming up the trail. From the edge of the plateau he waved for the engineers to come on up to him.

The Swami had welcomed them in fluent English, which had surprised the engineers. When the engineers bowed to touch the Swami’s feet, the Swami had stepped back, which had again surprised the engineers. The Swami said he did not deserve the high Hindu respect of touching his feet.

When asked about levitation, the Swami had shaken his head. “You are engineers. You know physics. You know that levitation is not possible with universal gravitation.”

Yet again the engineers were surprised. A Swami who knows universal gravitation?

“About the mountain lion,” the Swami continued, shaking his head again, “I have never seen a mountain lion. If there indeed was one near me, then we both must be making progress toward Brahman.”

That had puzzled the engineers. On the way down from the cave, the engineers had wondered if they had heard the Swami right: Had the Swami, a Brahmana, a man of God, equated himself to an animal? What was the Swami talking about? The Swami had not elaborated, and the engineers had not had a chance to ask him, for the Swami had walked away to the cave, signaling the end of the meeting.

Now in the campus conference room, when the pregnant Mrs Burman said that “We need the Swami to talk to the children,” the engineers who had trekked up to the Swami objected.

“That Swami is an odd one,” said one of the trekkers. “He doesn’t know the Hindu culture. He compared himself, a Brahmana, to an animal. What kind of a swami does that? He doesn’t even look like a swami. T-shirts and shorts. Can you believe that?”

Other parents also objected. “We heard he wore a T-shirt and shorts when he first came through the village four years ago. Obviously our traditions don’t mean anything to him. He’s not a swami. He’s a hippie. He should not be talking to our children.”

Everyone agreed and turned to Mrs Burman, including her husband, who was one of the engineers who had trekked up to the Swami.

Mrs Burman was a quiet woman who preferred not to speak if she could avoid it and, when she did speak, conveyed her thoughts in the fewest possible words. She was by far the most educated woman on campus: master’s in psychology, thesis in crowd psychology. (Her husband was the most educated engineer on campus: PhD, mechanical engineering, Stanford University, India government scholarship.) While the rest of the women delegated household chores to the abundant cheap local cooks and housekeepers, Mrs Burman cooked herself for her family and employed one elderly widow for housekeeping and paid her twice the going rate along with days off and healthcare benefits. On work days, when the men were at work and the children away at school, the women collected and gossiped—except Mrs Burman. She stayed home and read books. She was not well liked by the campus women, and now in the conference room, they did not like Mrs Burman’s insinuation that they had failed to properly educate their children in the Hindu culture.

“We know our culture,” said one woman in the conference room. “We are quite capable of teaching our culture to our children.”

“Unquestioned obedience is the only way the young can learn the Hindu culture,” said another woman. “Historically that’s been the way the young have been taught. That’s how it must be with our children. That school is inciting disobedience in our children. The children analyze too much and question too much.”

Another woman raised her hand, palm out. “We should do what our parents did to us when we questioned our culture—a tight slap.” She whacked the air as a slap. “That’s what this modern generation needs.”

That cast a pall over the conference room. Slapping their children was not an option that most parents in the room were willing to consider. Times had changed.

“In any case,” the chief engineer intervened quickly, “it is known that the Swami does not come down from his cave. The villagers tell me no swami from that cave has ever come down.”

“And we can’t take the children up to him,” said one of the engineers who had trekked up to the Swami. “That trail up to the cave is not safe for even adults, much less children.”

Another engineer stood up. “The trail is all rock that turns wet and slick in clouds. One side is sheer cliff up. The open side is sheer cliff down. Even the locals don’t allow their children on that trail.”

The chief engineer shook his bald head. “The Swami won’t come down. The children can’t be allowed up. That settles it. No point going after the Swami.”

“Local pundits routinely visit us for pujas and kirtans,” said a woman. “The pundits lecture the children. We can ask the pundits to come more frequently and explain more.”

Mrs Burman stood up and adjusted her sari around her pregnancy. The conference room fell silent. “Tomorrow morning,” said Mrs Burman, “I will go to the Swami. He may not come. I will go and ask him anyway.”

Mrs Burman walked out of the conference room. Her husband, startled for a moment by his wife’s abrupt departure, chased after her out of the room.

What a foolish woman! whispered the women left behind in the room. Doesn’t she know that in her condition she shouldn’t strain herself climbing mountain trails? The stupid woman will endanger herself and her unborn child.

The chief engineer’s wife turned to her husband. “You are the boss here. Order that foolish woman’s husband to stop his wife.”

Another woman spoke up. “Yes. We know our culture and can teach it to our children without that hippie in T-shirt and shorts.”

The meeting was over. The parents filed out of the room.

Through the evening, though, a handful of parents continued talking over the campus phone system. The parents acknowledged that they along with the local pundits had somehow alienated their children from the Hindu culture. The parents were not clear why Mrs Burman wanted the Swami and none other than the Swami to talk to the children, but why not try the Swami? He must be a true yogi. Otherwise he couldn’t have survived one night in T-shirt and shorts up there in the frozen Himalayan altitudes. The Swami and his predecessors in that cave had never come down, but it won’t hurt to ask.

The next day was Sunday. “The weather forecast for Sunday is bright and sunny. No clouds. It’ll be a perfect day to trek up to the cave. Even if the Swami declines our invitation, the trek up will be an adventure. The engineers who went up there say the scenery is out of this world.”

“But Mrs Burman should not go. She is in no condition to go.”

The few parents phoning each other around the campus decided that the wives will forbid Mrs Burman from taking the trek.

[]Chapter 2

The Sunday weather forecast was dead wrong.

Sunday dawned with torrential rain and howling gale force winds that shuddered the trees and blew wet leaves thrashing across the Sarovar Campus. The parents called each other.

“This is not the weather to venture out of home.”

“That trail is dangerous even in dry weather. In this downpour the trail will be slick as a soaped marble floor.”

“The wind is strong enough to blow one right off the trail to certain death hundreds of meters down.”

The phones were still ringing when somebody announced that the Burmans’ phone was going unanswered. Where were Mr and Mrs Burman? The chief engineer called the security guard at the campus gate. The guard said Mr and Mrs Burman had just walked out the campus in hooded raincoats.

The chief engineer had had one phone installed at a village shop for campus wives to call in delivery orders. The chief engineer now called the shopkeeper and asked him to hold the Burmans. “Don’t let them pass. I am on my way.”

Word spread that the chief engineer was going to the village to stop the Burmans. The rest of the parents, even those who had objected in the conference room the day before, grabbed their raincoats and hurried after the chief engineer. The children were left in the care of the grandparents living on campus.

From the campus gate a dirt road weaved through the dense jungle to the village. In the intense downpour, the dirt was ankle deep slush. “We must be crazy!” complained a mother but walked on with the rest.

Some distance down the road, the chief engineer, at the head of the pack, raised his hand and brought the parents to an abrupt halt. Ahead of them, a meter-long black cobra chased after a frog hopping frantically away for its life but couldn’t escape. The snake nabbed the frog and slithered off the road into the wet undergrowth.

The parents inched slowly forward, all eyes on where the snake had disappeared into the bush. They caught up with the Burmans in the village. One of the mothers told Mrs Burman about the snake.

“That’s an omen,” said the mother. “This is not an auspicious day. First the weather and then the snake. Let’s go back home.”

Mrs Burman turned her face skyward. “I think the rain is good,” she said. The rain pelted her face. She closed her eyes. Earlier, before leaving home, she had looked out the window and said to her husband, “If we can make it to the cave in this rain, the Swami will not have the heart to say No. He will come.”

The chief engineer approached Mrs Burman. “Please, I can’t let you go on. Let’s all go back home.”

Mrs Burman looked at the chief engineer, then walked away up the street toward where the trail took off up the rocky mountain face.

The chief engineer turned sharply to her husband and in an equally sharp tone said, “This is not an emergency that we must risk that trail in this rain. Can’t you explain that to your wife?”

Mr Burman shrugged his shoulders and scampered after his wife. The chief engineer looked helplessly at the others.

“Let them go,” yelled the chief engineer’s wife loud enough for the Burmans to hear above the rain. “Our duty was to try and stop their foolishness. We tried. Let’s go back home.”

Nobody moved. The parents stood in the village street in ugly dark slush of dirt and animal feces. Then the chief engineer muttered something and followed the Burmans, and soon the rest of the parents followed the chief engineer.

The villagers huddled under thatch awnings and wondered what was up as the parents walked by. The Sarovar Campus had brought an economic boom to the village, so the villagers took a keen interest in campus affairs. Many village men and women worked in the campus and kept an eye on the comings and goings of these city folk. While the parents had stood arguing, a village boy had been sent running to the village chief, a huge hulk of a man who hadn’t yet woken up from the night. His hut was at the end of the village near where the trail took off up the mountain. He cursed and twisted his bulbous lips at the boy’s report. He rolled off the bed, threw a tarp over his head and went out into the rain and street slush. He saw the parents coming up the street, the Burmans in the lead.

Most of this village had converted to Christianity.

Before the conversion, the village school had been a single-room hut with six benches, one bench for each grade, first grade through sixth, taught by one government teacher who circulated between three villages. Most days the teacher did not show up at any school yet punctually collected his government pay at the nearest post office a day’s walk away. Another hut in the village had a red cross on the door, a government clinic, but padlocked. One government doctor rotated between six villages once in two weeks.

(The engineering campus had a clinic and wife-husband resident doctors but only for campus residents. The chief engineer had once suggested that the clinic be opened to villagers. The women of the campus had protested. “It’ll become a filthy place like the village!”)

The Christian school had brought to the region well equipped classrooms and highly qualified teachers resident full time. The school also had an attached medical clinic complete with an outdated X-ray and ultrasound, three resident doctors—a pediatrician, gynecologist, and a general physician—two nurses and a well stocked pharmacy. For Christian villagers, young and adult, the school, clinic, and pharmacy were free. The non-Christian villagers had gladly converted.

The village chief, one of the earliest converts, whose election had then been financed by the Christian school, smiled at Mrs Burman as she walked briskly up the street, but to his surprise, she and the rest of the parents walked right past him as if the rain had obscured him. He stared after them through the rain. He saw Mrs Burman lead the pack onto the trail sloping steeply up the rock face. Behind her, the narrow trail squeezed the parents into single file.

The village chief frowned. They were, of course, going to the Swami, but in this weather? Even the villagers wouldn’t dare that trail in this weather. The howling wind was already rocking the parents unsteady on the trail. What had come over these educated people? And that woman in the lead was pregnant! What had driven the parents to this reckless expedition? What was it that couldn’t have waited for clement weather?

The village chief stared until the last of the parents disappeared up the trail into the gray mist of the rain. He shook his head and returned to his hut fearing that one or more parents may not come back home today. At the awning of his hut he stopped. Something up in the sky caught his eye. Not too away the clouds had parted and the wind was widening the gap even as he looked.

A short time later happened what often happens in the upper Himalayas: the weather changed in minutes. The wind tore the clouds apart into horse tails pasted on a crystal blue sky. Then the wind reduced to a meek breeze. The sun dialed up its brilliant glory and dried the trail. The parents removed their raincoats. A mother who had sided with Mrs Burman threw up her arms and yelled that the Gods had been testing them. The parents had passed the test.

Trails don’t form on their own. Trails are reminders that generations long gone had once walked them. This trail had been carved by past swamis and the village food couriers. Each generation of couriers had widened it a little here, a little there, making it safer for those to follow.

While the true saints of Christianity live in ornate urban palaces such as the Vatican, the true sages of the Hindu culture seek seclusion in pristine nature, away from the distractions of populations. As growing populations invade their secluded hideouts, the sages retreat further, often to mountain havens difficult for the masses to reach. Over time, the remote hideouts of the sages are discovered. The sages are elevated to deities and their havens become pilgrimages.

Pilgrimages are businesses. More the pilgrims, higher the profits. To attract more pilgrims, the trails are widened and made safer. Shops and hotels sprout. That’s how Hindu pilgrimages such as Badrinath, Kedarnath, Amarnath, Vaishno Devi, to name a few, had come about, and this cycle was still on.

Who could say that these parents from the Sarovar Campus were not pioneering pilgrims paving the way to a new pilgrimage—that cave where the Swami lived?

The parents gasped in the rarefied high-altitude air and paused frequently to catch their breath. As far as the eye could see stretched a sea of mountains. The parents cringed from the near-vertical drop of a hundred meters down to the muddy foam of a river angered by the rain. The river snaked across a wide valley at the far end of which was the engineering campus. The children were out playing, the younger children on the jungle gym, the older children on the soccer field. From this altitude the children appeared like ants, completely oblivious to that they had created in their parents’ mind a state of emergency. The parents collected their raincoats and resumed the trek up the mountain. The cave was over four hours away, steep uphill all the way.

On each parent’s mind was a question larger than the surrounding mountains: Will the Swami come for the children?

When the parents reached the plateau, the Swami was standing at the far edge of the plateau, under the lone deodar tree, his back to the parents, gazing out at the sea of mountains stretching to the horizon. He wore, of course, khaki shorts and a blue T-shirt. He lifted a hand high and felt the mild breeze. For a moment he allowed his consciousness to connect to his sense of touch and sense the air temperature. Cold. Then he corrected himself. Not cold. Less heat. There was no such thing as cold, just as there was no such thing as dark. Nature had invented only heat and light. Cold and dark were human terms for less heat and less light.

Few living people knew the Swami’s name. Fewer still knew that he was a college graduate: PhD, particle physics, University of California, San Diego, NASA research assistantship. His guru, himself a science undergraduate, had lived in the ruins of an ancient village in central India and had advised his students to “Go learn science first. Science will give you the foundation to understand the Hindu culture.”

At the University of California, a professor at the School of Medicine, Department of Neurosciences, had once attached electrodes to the Swami’s head and graphed his brain’s electrical activity while the Swami sat cross legged on the floor, spine straight and eyes closed in meditation. A printer plotted his brain’s electricals. At first the graph was wild with closely spaced spikes, but as he sank deeper into meditation, the graph smoothed out and sloped down toward the horizontal axis. In a few minutes the graph settled near the axis. The graph did not touch the axis. Neither was that the goal. The goal instead was a straight line, no spikes, not even ripples. A straight line meant perfect control—the brain not flitting from thought to thought, rapt in unwavering concentration. In California, the Swami had never achieved that perfect control, that straight line graph: there was always a ripple, sometimes a spike, denoting interrupted concentration. Now, standing under the deodar tree on the plateau and gazing out over the sea of mountains, the Swami wondered if he had achieved such control, now that he had removed himself from the distractions of humanity.

Just then, the Swami sensed human presence behind him on the plateau. He turned and saw the throng of parents standing with their palms together in namaste.

He recognized a few of the faces, the men who had come up here before and asked him about levitation and the mountain lion. That time he had waved them up to him out of courtesy and curiosity, but he had hoped that their visit would not repeat. Complete solitude was essential for the quest that he had devoted his life to—to achieve the straight-line graph, perfect control over his mind, when no thought could cross his mind without his permission. Less the interaction with humanity, more does one merge into raw nature and less the deviations of the mind. Educated Hindus such as these from the campus should know that, yet here they were again, this time in larger numbers with their women. Can’t these people trek other trails?

The Swami walked across the plateau to the parents and returned their namaste. The men and women would have touched his feet, but the engineers who had come up here before had warned the rest that the Swami forbade touching his feet.

At height six-one, the Swami stood taller than the tallest parent and with muscles that some of the men standing before him envied. Inner peace glowed on his face, but he did not smile. That was deliberate: a smile might convey a welcome, as it had likely conveyed to the engineers who had come before, with the result that they had returned in larger numbers.

“What brings you all here today?” asked the Swami, and he put on a slight frown.

In a few brief words, the chief engineer explained to the Swami their dilemma and concluded with the words: “We think the children will listen to you if you talk to them about their culture. We would have brought the children here, but as you know, the trail is not safe for children. Please come to the campus and talk to the children.”

A long silence followed. In the background, near the cave, the perennial mountain brook, enlarged by the rain from a trickle to a cascading waterfall, splashed into the pool at the base of the rock and gushed out of sight over the edge of the plateau.

The Swami had heard such requests before. In the four years that he had lived up here, Hindu elders from the surrounding villages had already complained to him about the Christian school’s aggressive conversions.

To the campus parents, the Swami said what he had told the villagers: he didn’t think there was anything he could do for them. The Hindu culture is for mature minds. Children can’t understand it.

“Don’t worry, though,” said the Swami. “The Hindu culture is more than 4,000 years old. By some accounts more than 6,500 years old. Either age makes it the oldest surviving culture. You are all educated. You know the laws of survival. The laws of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest apply as much to cultures as to individual life forms. If the culture is fit to continue surviving, it will survive. Christians schools have come before. I am sure some of you attended Christian schools. I did. We stuck to our culture. Let your children also make up their own minds.”

The chief engineer tried again. “We think the children will be in a better position to make an intelligent choice if our culture is better explained to them, better than we parents and the local pundits have explained. We thought we had done a good job, but apparently no. You are a true yogi. The children will listen more to you.”

Another father spoke up. “The local pundits play to our superstitions.” He glanced at the women grouped to one side. His wife frowned. The man turned quickly back to the Swami. “Superstition is not our culture. You are learned in the culture proper. Please talk to the children.”

The Swami shook his head. So far, the exchange had occurred in Hindi. The Swami now switched to English. “The children won’t understand,” he said. “The culture is complex for underdeveloped minds to comprehend. Let their faculty of reasoning mature.”

The Swami speaking English did not surprise the parents, for they had heard from the engineers who had already visited the Swami that he spoke fluent English. The parents stood waiting for somebody among them to say something. Nobody spoke. The Swami turned away from the group toward the cave, signaling the end of the meeting.

That’s when it happened.

The Swami was walking away when, from behind him, he heard a woman’s voice: “Then you don’t know the Hindu culture well enough yourself.”

The parents turned, shocked, to the speaker—Mrs Burman. A yogi such as this Swami not knowing the Hindu culture? What did she mean? The parents gaped at her. Whatever little probability there was of the Swami agreeing to come down to the campus was now lost. If insult the Swami was what Mrs Burman had in mind, why had they bothered to trek half day up a dangerous trail to come up here?

Mrs Burman ambled up to the front of the pack. She felt all eyes on her, but she ignored them. She had not asked the parents along. In fact, this morning when she had walked out of the campus, she had been glad that it was just she and her husband. She had been disappointed when the rest of the parents had come after her, and when she had walked away from them in the village street, she had hoped they would return home. She was a crowd psychologist. She had not wanted a crowd with her. She knew that a crowd would be less effective against the confidence of a man who lived alone in a cave amid life threatening elements and who had narrowed his purpose in life to one sharp focus—master his senses. A crowd would not perturb those senses made as solid over time as the rock they were standing on.

Mrs Burman, a psychologist, had noted what other parents had missed: his use of vocabulary such as “comprehend” and “faculty” and his invocation of the Darwinian laws of survival. This man was educated, and educated men sometimes responded better to a shock approach. She had decided to take the gamble.

The Swami had stopped walking away, but he did not turn around to face the parents. He felt his temples start to heat up—an indication of loss of self-control. The entire purpose of his life was self-control. Instantly the Swami closed his eyes and stopped breathing. The average human breathes twelve to twenty times a minute. The Swami breathed once every three to four minutes. He could hold his breath a long time, and he did, for nearly two minutes, until the heat drained from the temples. Then he breathed deeply and turned, and that’s when he saw the woman now in front of the pack, and that’s also when he noticed that she was pregnant.

His brow furrowed. Really? A pregnant woman had come up that trail? Certainly her husband and the rest of this group must have tried to stop her, but here she was. The Swami breathed in, slow and long.

In a soft voice, he asked Mrs Burman, “Why do you say that?”

Mrs Burman answered promptly, no hesitation. “If you can’t explain something to children, then you don’t know it well enough yourself.”

Again the Swami felt his temples start to heat up, and again he closed his eyes and stopped breathing.

Mrs Burman carefully observed his reaction, and the psychologist in her knew she had struck home. The Swami would come. She knew it now. She tried not to smile.

If one believes the legends of the Hindu culture, the Swami should have cast a shraap, a curse, on this woman who had challenged his wisdom, but the Swami knew that shraaps were myths. Sages, past and present, of the Hindu culture or of any other culture or religion anywhere in the world, had no supernatural powers. They could neither curse nor bless. They were not sons of Gods. They were not born to virgins. They did not restore blind visions or crippled legs with a mere touch. They did not miraculously fill empty cups with unlimited water. They did not rise from the dead and ascend to any heaven. Neither were the sages of yore coming again. They were ordinary humans who had defied the known limits of self-discipline and sacrifice for fellow humans. Making them sons of imaginary Gods and attributing supernatural miracles to them belittled their exemplary human achievements.

The Swami released his breath, slow and long. The mountain breeze, cool and crisp, gusted gently. The breeze was out of the east. The Swami looked eastward, at the sea of mountains stretched to the far horizon. The near mountains were below his altitude; the far mountains appeared higher. Most days the mountains were hazy. Today they stood in sharp relief in the brilliant sun.

Then the Swami’s mind veered in another direction. His memory beckoned him back to his student days at the University of California, San Diego. He remembered a physics professor who often repeated, “If you can’t explain a concept to a middle school kid, you don’t fully understand the concept yourself.” Why? “Because nature is simple; its working is simple; its basics are simple. Understand the simplicity, then test your understanding on a child.”

The professor was the father of twin middle school sons whom he sometimes brought to the classroom and asked his doctoral students to explain a concept to the twins. The Swami was once asked to explain the theory of relativity and was given a day to figure out an explanation. The Swami had wandered the library and consulted many thick books, but the books didn’t help. On the walk back to the dorm, the Swami passed by a ballpark where kids were playing baseball. The Swami, more familiar with cricket, stopped and watched the game, trying to understand its rules, and that’s when the explanation struck him.

The next day in class, the Swami asked the twins, “You, of course, know baseball, yes?”

The boys nodded.

“Imagine,” continued the Swami, “that instead of the ball, the pitcher has in his hand a flashlight. When he swings his arm, instead of throwing the ball, he turns on the flashlight and throws a beam of light . . .”

With that simple setup, the Swami had successfully explained to the middle school teens Einstein’s theory of relativity all the way to space-time curvature. The twins had not only understood but were able to explain it back to the class.

“If you think nature is complex,” concluded the professor to his doctoral students, “then your thinking isn’t straight yet. Keep thinking.”

Standing now before the throng of parents, the Swami acknowledged to himself that this pregnant woman was right: if he could not explain his culture to the campus children, then he did not know the culture well enough yet. He could get upset and send the woman and the rest of the parents away, or he could accept the woman’s challenge and test himself with the children. He knew what his physics professor would have him do. The Swami made up his mind.

He nodded to Mrs Burman and, in English, said, “I see what you mean. Do the children have school on Sunday?”

“No,” she answered, now smiling.

“Then I will come to the campus on Sunday.”

Is there anything you’d like us to tell the children or prepare them for? asked the parents. Would you like us to have them read some chapters of the Ramayana or the Bhagavad Gita?

The Swami thought for a moment. He didn’t have an answer. He had no clue yet how he would address the children. What he didn’t want the children doing, though, was to repeat what had obviously not worked in the past—read more of what they didn’t want to read and, in fact, need not read to know their culture.

Most Hindus attribute the Hindu culture to Rama and Krishna. The fact is that neither Rama nor Krishna invented the Hindu culture. The culture had existed long before Rama and Krishna came along. If he, the Swami, was to explain the culture to the children, he would have to go back to the very roots of the culture, to times well before Rama and Krishna, to the very inception of the culture. No need to give any Ramayana or Gita homework to the children.

“Just follow your normal daily routine,” said the Swami to the parents.

The parents, hands together in namaste, filed past him off the plateau. Mrs Burman came up to him and suddenly stooped and touched his feet. The Swami stiffened. He didn’t know what to say or do, and she didn’t wait for him to bless her. She followed the other parents off the plateau down the trail.

[][] Chapter 3

 

The children revolted.

Another pundit? Aren’t the pundits already frequenting the campus enough?

About the pundits, the high school students had observed several patterns. The fathers did not seek any inputs from pundits, only the mothers did, and the mothers sought only one input: foretell the future. The pundits always foretold a troublesome future and then suggested what rituals, performed at what intervals, could change the troublesome future to a rosy one. The pundits always left wiggle room for themselves in case the future did not turn rosy.

The high school students had formulated a Theory of Pundits: I = RU. Income equals rituals times uncertainty. The more the future uncertainty, the more then rituals prescribed and the higher the pundit’s income.

A prolific source of income for the pundits was the kundali.

A kundali was a record of the positions of the planets at birth. The kundalis were written in Sanskrit, the original language of the Hindu culture. Most pundits had a working knowledge of Sanskrit, but the campus parents, as most modern Indians, could neither speak, read, nor write Sanskrit. The pundits enjoyed a monopoly in Sanskrit, and as any business monopoly anywhere in the world, this monopoly too claimed extortionist prices for its services, and the primary service, again, was to presage the future.

In most Hindu families, seldom was a new endeavor attempted without first consulting the kundali. Most Hindu marriages were arranged, and most marriages were arranged only after matching the two kundalis for a favorable mesh of planetary influences. In the Sarovar Campus, every child had a kundali, and the children mocked the kundalis. “Hey, Mommy, is it in my kundali that I will score a soccer goal tomorrow?” In prior city schools, all middle and high school students had studied Sanskrit in the middle years, and they had resisted the language.

“Why are we studying a language that was?” complained the children.

Even in its heyday thousands of years ago, Sanskrit was the language of a select few Hindus, the Brahmanas, a caste chartered with the preservation and propagation of the culture to subsequent generations. In fact, the Hindu culture owed its very survival to the caste of Brahmanas. The texts of the Hindu culture are vast. Rg Veda Samhita alone has 10,589 verses or mantras. The texts were composed when there was no printing. The only method of preserving the texts across generations was by memorizing them and passing the memory from generation to generation. Memorizing thousands upon thousands of verses in Sanskrit is a monumental task not humanly possible were it not for a segment of the population dedicated to the task—the caste of Brahmanas. Over time, the Brahmanas became self-proclaimed men of God, and to maintain their monopoly as god-men, they kept the original language of the culture, Sanskrit, to themselves, with the result that Sanskrit never grew into a language of the masses.

The campus children argued that if they had to learn a new language, then it should be a computer language, such as Visual Basic or C++. Why learn a language that never was and still isn’t necessary for survival.

The children abruptly changed their view of Sanskrit when a high school student stumbled upon a paper on the internet titled Sanskrit and Artificial Intelligence: Knowledge Representation in Sanskrit and Artificial Intelligence, by Rick Briggs, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, California, USA. (http://www.vedicsciences.net/articles/sanskrit-nasa.html?utm_source=feedly) A basic problem with languages is that if the sequence of words changes, the meaning of the sentence changes. For example, “Anita plays chess” conveys different information than “Chess plays Anita.” This is a problem for algorithms of artificial intelligence. In Sanskrit, sentences can be configured to convey the same meaning regardless of the sequence of words. The NASA paper, therefore, discusses that Sanskrit is more suitable for artificial intelligence.

The campus high school students were exploring careers in artificial intelligence. They read the NASA paper intently and started delving into Sanskrit, but without telling their parents, lest the parents hire pundits for Sanskrit tuitions. The parents, unaware of their children’s newfound interest in Sanskrit, continued yelling at the children.

“How dare you mock the language of your culture!” the mothers often yelled. “This is not the purpose of your education!” And the mothers summoned the local pundits to lecture the children again.

Yet another pattern that the children had noticed was the frequency of visits by the pundits. Mothers invited pundits for pujas and havanas every birthday, every festival, most Tuesdays and Saturdays, and of course, on deaths. When a grandmother passed away in one family, pujas were held for five days, a puja for each “meeting” of the dear departed with her dear departed mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, and mother-in-law.

“How do you know they are meeting?” asked the children.

The pundits frowned, and the parents yelled at the children for asking.

“Where are they meeting?” asked the children.

In swarg, heaven, answered the pundits.

“How do you know?”

The pundits frowned, and the parents yelled again.

And now the parents were talking about yet another pundit coming, and this one sounded more primitive than the local pundits because this one lived in a cave somewhere up in the mountains. Worse, he was coming on a Sunday, the one full day of the week off from school. (School was half day Saturdays.) The children noticed that while the parents referred to the local pundits as “pundits,” they referred to the caveman as Swami.

“What’s the difference between pundit and swami?” asked the children.

“A swami knows more,” answered the parents.

“Oh? Then why is he a caveman?”

The parents yelled again.

On Friday, during the snack break at school, the campus children convened to discuss the Swami. They concluded that he would be just another pundit. He too will light a fire and throw smoky materials into the fire. He too will chant Vedic hymns in a defunct language that nobody, not even the parents, understood. He too will tie saffron colored threads on everyone’s wrists and smear red streaks on foreheads. He too will lecture the children on obedience. Then this pundit too will stuff his no doubt bulging paunch with free food and pocket the money. Then it’ll be time to play Sunday soccer.

 

***

 

Saturday night, up on the mountain, on the plateau outside his cave, the Swami sat near a wood fire. The fire was not for warmth. He just liked fire, the dancing orange flames, the gentle crackle of the kindling, the occasional spark shooting out. Behind him splashed the mountain brook. He often meditated to the sounds of that brook, but tonight his thoughts were on the campus children.

Children embrace only what they understand, and therein lay the basic problem that the parents were having with their children. The parents were ordering the children to adopt the culture because it was their ancestral culture. That approach had worked in the past, when children were taught obedience more than critical thinking. That approach would not work today, as it clearly wasn’t working in the campus.

The Swami’s graduate studies were in particle physics, but at heart he was a mechanical engineer, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. At the recommendation of a professor there, he had worked one summer as a sales representative for a small company that manufactured industrial washers and retaining rings. On a Jawa motorcycle, he rode the industrial complex of Delhi and Faridabad, but after two scalding hot summer months on the road, he had secured not a single order for washers or retaining rings.

The professor had asked: “Did you research a prospective buyer before you went to him? Know the buyer.”

Now, forty-one years later, sitting cross legged on the bare ground near the fire, the Swami, having accepted the challenge of selling the Hindu culture to youngsters who were not buying, asked himself the question: Do I know the buyers?

“Know the buyer,” the Swami repeated aloud to the swaying flames. “Know the buyer.”

Who were the buyers? They were children, elementary, middle and high school. Ignore the elementary school children, the Swami said silently to himself. The only culture that elementary school kids need to know is to play and laugh a lot. The real buyers were the middle and high school students, age eleven to eighteen.

“Okay,” said the Swami aloud to the fire, “that’s the buyer’s age group. What else do I know about this buyer?”

There was a time when a child was obedient, when he jumped when the parents called, was seen, not heard, and who was considered spoiled if the rod was spared. Those times were gone. The modern child was an avid questioner, and that was the basic conflict in the Sarovar Campus: the parents demanded obedience, but the children were questioning.

The Swami stoked the fire. Sparks flew. The Swami smiled. Religions flew sparks when questioned, and the questions were more formidable when asked by those with knowledge of mother nature. Today’s child, even the middle schooler, knew more about nature than all the founding sages of the Hindu culture combined.

If the men of God, the Hindu pundits and the Islamic mullahs and the Christian bishops, had their way, they would even today explain lightning as the anger of the Gods. Today’s child, however, knew lightning as the path taken by atomic particles from a charged cloud to the ground. Disease too was once the wrath of Gods, but the modern child knew disease as marauding germs and bacteria and had seen the evidence through powerful microscopes.

What today’s child could not directly see, she could imagine through reason. The modern child was trained in reasoning. Humans had not yet directly seen the atom. Microscopes were not powerful enough yet to make visible something as small as the atom, yet today’s high school student could envision a clear picture of the atom and its character.

Philosophy says there are two sources of knowledge: empiricism and rationalism. Empiricism is knowledge gained through experience. Rationalism is knowledge through reasoning. Today’s child was a trained rationalist.

The Swami stoked the fire again. A shooting spark struck his bare ankle, but he did not feel the burn. He brushed away the tiny coal. He stared into the fire and continued thinking.

Our ancestors had depended on memory and regurgitation of memorized knowledge. The modern child memorized nothing. The modern child could synthesize diverse pieces of knowledge to produce new thought.

And that, thought the Swami, was what made his task with the campus children a tall challenge. The modern child did not blindly accept anything. This buyer was sophisticated. This buyer bought only what made rational sense. How could he, the Swami, explain the Hindu culture to this buyer who demanded logical sense?

Logic and religions had never mixed well. Is there an omniscient, omnipotent God? The answer “Yes” or “No” is belief. The rational answer, thought the Swami, is “Don’t know.” Our knowledge of nature is increasing, not decreasing. As we come to know more, we may someday find out. Those who answer “Yes” or “No” will not be the ones who will find out, for they have already assumed an answer and have no incentive to look further. It is those who answer “Don’t know” who will discover the truth. In the Sarovar Campus, the parents were “Yes” and the children were “Don’t know.”

To the parents, Dashrath of the Ramayana was a principled man who kept his word given to his wife. To the campus children, however, Dashrath was a fool to have given an open promise to a wife whose true nature he had failed to grasp, and then he didn’t have the guts to tell her that his promise applied only to him and did not extend to his son.

To the parents, Rama was a model of an obedient son. To the children, Rama was a weak son who did not confront his father on an unreasonable demand of fourteen years of exile for no fault of his own.

The pundits said Krishna spewed fire from an upheld palm and Rama’s arrows fired into the sky brought down rains. The teachers at the Christian school said Jesus restored vision with a touch and rose from the dead. The children, however, asserted that humankind’s knowledge of nature has advanced over time, not declined. If such feats were possible back then, they should be commonplace now, but they are not.

The Swami inserted another dry kindling into the fire, then as the flames rose, the Swami stood up and walked away a few paces to stretch his legs.

His eyes adjusted to the darkness. The sky above was ablaze with stars. He saw the band of the Milky Way stars like a belt across the sky. Off to one side was the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way’s nearest spiral neighbor, visible as a faint white discus viewed edgewise. The two galaxies were on a collision course. What fireworks that collision would be, thought the Swami. Then a new galaxy would form, explosive at first, then increasingly calm as time balanced the unbalanced forces of the collision.

A fleeting movement closer to Earth caught his eye. Out over the pitch dark chasm beyond the plateau, a wavy sliver of a white haze formed in the darkness like a white bed sheet that swayed for a second in the breeze.

Local villagers thought these were spirits of past swamis. The Swami smiled. The campus parents, the mothers anyway, would believe the humbug of spirits. The children would not, and they would be right. There were no spirits here. Water molecules coalesced around dust particles in a bubble of air colder than the surrounding air and produced a short-lived wisp of a cloud.

The Swami paced the plateau, hands clasped behind his back. He had defined the buyer. Next task: define the competition. Name of the competitor: Christianity.

Christian schools were not new in India. Christianity itself was not new to India. St Thomas, one of the apostles of Christ, had landed in India shortly after Christ and founded branches of the Syrian church on India’s west coast, but St Thomas and after that three centuries of British rule had not tilted India toward Christianity.

Religion is for the insecure. The most insecure are the economically challenged. Christianity in India was for the poor and illiterate.

Poverty and illiteracy suited Christianity. The illiterate do not question a superhuman, omniscient, omnipotent God—the basic assumption of Christianity. Broad swaths of rural India, where most of India’s poverty resided, had been converted to Christianity. Christianity had to expand if it was to survive: church attendance in the west, the geographical bastion of Christianity, was in decline. This was a logical outcome: as knowledge of nature advanced, as in the west, no religion that depends on the ignorance of the masses could survive. If the church had its way, humankind would still be in the Dark Ages, when the discovery of the unknown was suppressed, and it was suppressed because the more we discover the workings of nature, the farther a superhuman God recedes. It was the Christian church that tortured Galileo and put him in house arrest until his death, all because he pointed the telescope skyward and discovered four of Jupiter’s numerous moons—the first visible evidence that not everything in the universe orbited the Earth, which was the Biblical belief. A religion that depends on keeping its followers ignorant had no choice but to expand to the illiterate masses or it would not survive.

Ironically, Hindus funded the Christian expansion. The Christian economic model exploited two aspects of urban India: one, dearth of good schools for urban Indians who could pay well; and two, Indian affinity for things western. St Joseph’s Academy or Waverly Convent sounded more prestigious than Dayanand Vidyalaya or Ramdas Gurukul. Money collected by Christian schools from urban Hindus funded the conversion of rural Hindus to Christianity.

The Swami stopped pacing the plateau. Enough about Christianity! Against any competitor, the Hindu culture must survive on its own merits. If it cannot survive on its own merits, then it must give way to whatever better suits the times.

Another fleeting sheet of silver formed in the distance in the dark. It lasted a split second, like a feeble flash of a distant camera. Spirits of past swamis visiting again? The Swami smiled. No, no spirits. Just another play of water molecules.

The Swami turned and walked toward the cave, past the dying fire. Bed time. He still did not know how he would explain the Hindu culture to the campus children—a logical, rational explanation that conformed with their knowledge, which meant facts only, no speculations such as swarg or nark, heaven or hell, and superhuman, omniscient, omnipotent Gods.

The food couriers kept the Swami well stocked with candles and matches. He lit a candle and stuck it to a ledge on the cave wall. The flame highlighted the short vertical lines scratched in the rock, one line for each past resident of the cave. Someday after he had departed, the villagers would scratch a line for him too on the cave wall.

He already knew how he would depart. He would go just as the past swamis had gone: when came time, he would tidy up the cave, remove all trace of his presence, and walk away deeper into the mountains, where no trails past or present penetrated, and he would stop eating. When his body would have no more energy to walk, he would sit down cross legged, recede into meditation, and never come out of it. That’s the final stage of meditation, which the founding sages of the Hindu culture called samadhi, when the consciousness detaches from the body and never connects back again. Then his body will wither away, but his mind, his consciousness, which is what a person really is, will live on forever in meditation.

Swami Vivekananda, a noted past Hindu sage, summed it up this way:

“It may be that I shall find it good to get outside of my body—to cast it off like a disused garment.” Complete Works of Vivekananda

The Swami lay down on his bed of deodar leaves. Outside the cave the brook had reduced to a murmur. The Swami lay in yoga’s shuv asana, the posture of a dead body: supine, hands on the sides, palms up. The posture induced sleep. He closed his eyes and emptied his brain of all thoughts. The neurons in his brain slowly stopped tangling. He fell asleep.

Unlike most major religions, the Hindu culture is not the product of a single mind. It evolved over many generations of sages. Sometime in the deep recesses of the night, the sages visited the Swami. They appeared in a dream, all split images of himself, same clean shaven face, same muscular build wearing khaki shorts and blue T-shirt. The sages stood in a line, one behind the other, the line receding into dark and distant infinity, as the multiple receding images one sees when standing between the parallel mirrored walls of an elevator. The sages stood stock still; only their lips moved in unison as they spoke together in chorus.

“Don’t complicate your thinking,” said the sages. “We never assumed a God. We turned to nature. Start there. Children are closer to nature than we give them credit for. Have the children observe nature. They will deduce the rest on their own.”

The Swami jerked awake. He had forgotten to extinguish the candle. The flame had reduced to a blue whimper. Wax stalactites hung down from the rock ledge. Outside, the brook continued its murmur. The Swami glanced about the dark cave. He was alone, yet the sages of yore had visited him and talked to him. He knew now what he would do with the children.

Then another thought struck him, and he smiled. The sages of yore had visited him, a lowly man struggling to emulate his ancestors. The same ancestors had come to him. That meant he was on the right path.

He lay back down in shuv asana on his bed of deodar leaves, still smiling.

[][] Chapter 4

On Sunday morning, the Campus Phones rang as the children called each other about “that cave pundit the parents have been talking about all week.”

“The parents say he’s coming today.”

“They don’t know what time.”

“We’ll have to tolerate yet another lecture from yet another pundit.”

“Yeah, another pundit will tell us how bad we are and why we must be good and quiet and obedient.”

“He’s a caveman.”

“Let’s hope it rains up there today and he doesn’t want to get wet.”

“My parents said the trail is slick in rain. One side of the trail is a sheer vertical drop. Let’s hope it rains and makes the trail real slippery.”

“Rain doesn’t hold up these people. They earn more money when they show up in rain.”

“Yeah, he’ll show up and ruin the one day we have free from school.”

Noon approached. No sign of the Swami. The parents phoned each other. Where is he? He didn’t give a time but shouldn’t he have been here by now if he is to get back to the cave before dark?

The chief engineer called the security guard at the campus gate. “Call me the moment he shows up. He won’t be in typical swami clothes. He will be in shorts and T-shirt. Call me and then escort him to the office building conference room.”

In the conference room the long meeting table and its chairs had been cleared out and a carpet spread on the floor for the children. For the Swami a low dais had been brought in with a gold cushion on it. The mothers had prepared a special lunch for the Swami. The children were to have eaten with him, but now it was lunch time and still no sign of the Swami. The children couldn’t be kept hungry any longer. The mothers hailed the children in for lunch.

The children came in grumbling about to having to interrupt play but also excited that the cave pundit hadn’t showed up. Never before had the children heard their parents fuss so much over a pundit. Who was this guy, anyway? Why was he such a big deal? The children gobbled down the lunch and ran out again to play.

That’s when they saw the man.

He stood near a soccer goalpost, almost as tall as the goalpost, broad shoulders, muscular arms, clean shaven, blue T-shirt, khaki shorts, white sneakers, white gym socks. He held the soccer ball in one hand. His other hand waved for the children to come to him.

The older children looked at each other.

“Who is he?”

“Is that the cave pundit?”

“Can’t be. Pundits wear dhotis, not shorts and T-shirts.”

“Pundits are fat and paunchy. He is not fat and no paunch.”

“No tilak on his forehead.”

“Head not shaved and tonsured.”

“No red threads on his wrists either.”

“He can’t be the pundit. Impossible.”

“Then who is he?”

The man waved again. The younger children followed their older siblings to the man.

The man smiled. “Coming down the trail I saw you playing soccer,” he said in English. “I like soccer. When I was your age, I wanted to play soccer all the time. I don’t have much stamina anymore, but how about we play for a few minutes?”

The children stared at him. Pundits don’t play soccer. The children nodded to him. He could play with them. They assigned him to a team, and the game was on.

In no time, the man commandeered the ball, and thereafter the ball moved as if glued to his feet. Try as they might, the children could not wrestle the ball back from him.

In one of the houses, a mother looked out the window and saw the man playing with the children. She ran to the phone. “He’s here! The Swami is here!” The parents ran out of their homes.

The Swami saw the parents gathering at the edge of the field, but he continued playing. The children were still trying to snatch the ball from him and growing audibly frustrated. After some minutes the Swami stopped juggling the ball.

“You are all looking down at the ball,” he said. “Look into my eyes. Always look at the player’s eyes. His eyes will tell you which way he will move the ball next.”

The children tried again. The Swami let them have the ball and walked over to the parents. The parents tried to steer him to a house for lunch, but he declined. The parents ordered the children to go to the conference room, but the Swami said that won’t be necessary.

The game had stopped. The children stood still, glancing uncertainly at each other and their parents and the Swami. So this was indeed the cave pundit.

“That was fun,” said the Swami. “Playing with you made me feel young again. Come closer so I don’t have to speak louder.”

The children glanced at each other. “Here comes the lecture,” a high school student whispered to another. The children took a couple of reluctant steps closer to the Swami.

“I have some work for you,” said the Swami. “Homework. You have a week to do it. I will return next Sunday for your answer. It’s an easy assignment. You don’t have to read or write anything. You just have to observe. Look around you, here on Earth or out anywhere else in the universe as far as you can see with the naked eye or through a telescope if you have a telescope. Find me something in nature, anything that never, never changes in any situation, under any circumstance. I’ll see you next Sunday.”

The Swami turned and brisk-walked away.

The children stared after him. That’s it? No lecture? No puja? No chanting of verses in a language nobody else understood? No idol worship? No planetary configurations? And, by the way, how come this pundit didn’t have a paunch? How come he wore shorts and T-shirts? How come he played champion soccer? What was going on here? Was this some kind of a trick the parents were pulling on the kids?

The kids didn’t notice that the parents stood just as surprised, but then they woke each other up and scrambled after the Swami. They asked him to stay for lunch. He declined again. He wanted to hike back to his cave before sunset. The parents walked him to the campus gate, and that’s when the parents noticed that a short distance beyond the gate, where the dirt path to the village entered the thick surrounding jungle, stood several village children.

“They followed me through the village,” said the Swami. “They followed me when I first went through the village four years ago. They still follow me. I don’t know why. Today I asked them, but they didn’t answer. They stared quietly back at me and followed me again.”

The Swami left. The village children followed him into the jungle.

That afternoon, the parents called each other, confused. They had expected the Swami to talk to the children about the Hindu culture. Instead he had come and gone at the pace of the mountain wind and given the children a meaningless homework.

“What does finding something in the universe that never changes have to do with the Hindu culture?”

“And he came dressed like a hippie!”

“Yeah. He’s known as the shorts-and-T-shirt swami, but one would think that at least for the children, he would have worn a dhoti.

“Didn’t even stay to eat. What arrogance!”

“Yeah, what a waste of time making food for him.”

Shortly after the Swami left the campus, a local pundit, topless and a white dhoti, hurried into the campus as fast as his swaying paunch could allow. The security guard at the campus gate knew him well as a regular visitor to several campus homes. The pundit struck a beeline to the home of the chief engineer.

Before the Sarovar Campus was constructed and populated with well paid engineers, the local pundits had barely survived on the meager living eked out of the surrounding villages. The Sarovar Campus and multiplied pundit income. The pundit now hurrying across the campus had profited the most because he had won the trust of the chief engineer’s wife. Though some of the other campus wives preferred other pundits, they also patronized this pundit because the boss’ wife swore by him, and of course, more a pundit’s clients, greater his income.

Then came the Swami down from the cave.

Swamis such as this one were the true yogis, the real practitioners of the Hindu culture. So that they could concentrate undisturbed on achieving the one and only objective of the Hindu culture, which by the way was not a God or heaven, the swamis shunned the distractions of human interactions and lived in seclusion. That left the masses to the pundits skilled at capitalizing on the insecurities of the average human.

This Swami had broken the tradition of swamis: he had returned from seclusion into population. Not only that, he had visited the campus—the prime feeding ground of the local pundits. The Swami had thus become a business threat. The pundit who now knocked on the chief engineer’s door had come to assess and control the damage that the Swami may have inflicted on the pundit’s market.

To the pundit’s surprise, though, damage control was unnecessary. The chief engineer’s wife called over a few other wives, and they asked the pundit about the Swami’s assignment to the children.

“What does something that never changes have to do with the Hindu culture?”

The pundit did not know and was equally perplexed, but he was careful not to show it. Instead he diverted his clientele’s attention.

“What never changes,” he said, “is the fact that the sun and the planets influence your course in life.” This language every woman in the room understood. He had their attention. He continued: “As long as you remember that the planets influence us and you perform the necessary pujas and havanas for favorable planetary influence, you and your children”—he emphasized children—“will be protected from adversities.”

The pundit went on to elaborate the extensive training required to decipher planetary influences and their impact on life on Earth—training that he, the pundit, had but the Swami didn’t. The mothers listened and quietly nodded.

When the pundit left, the mothers still did not know what the Swami’s assignment to the children had to do with the Hindu culture.

[][] Chapter 5

While the parents wondered what the assignment had to do with the Hindu culture, the middle and high school children went to the campus phones in their homes and started calling each other.

“This pundit didn’t tell us that we are bad.”

“He didn’t chant Sanskrit hymns. What a relief.”

“He’s a first on both counts. He is the first pundit who didn’t tell us we are bad and the first who didn’t throw Sanskrit hymns at us.”

“Did you see how he played soccer? Man, we couldn’t take the ball from him.”

“We did take it away from him. No pundit wins from us.”

“We did not take the ball from him. He gave it to us and made it look like we took it from him.”

The next day, Monday, the chatter continued at school during the snack and lunch recesses.

“Did you see his body? He works his muscles.”

“No paunch. Flat stomach. Chest bigger than the stomach. Shoulders broader than the waist. That’s an athlete, not a pundit.”

“He must have a gym up in the cave where he lives.”

“A caveman with a cave gym.”

“A pundit who pumps iron. Wow!”

“Hey, iron never changes. Iron remains iron.”

“Iron rusts. That’s a change.”

“Then stainless steel. Stainless steel doesn’t rust. Stainless steel never changes.”

“Metals melt at high temperatures. Melting is a change from solid to liquid. The pundit wants us to find something that never changes no matter what. That’s what he said.”

The search for something that never changes was on.

The parents grew concerned that the children were neglecting school work in favor of the Swami’s assignment, but for now, the parents kept quiet. Never before had they seen their children excited about a pundit or swami. The parents still didn’t understand what the Swami’s assignment had to do with the Hindu culture, but the children had grabbed the assignment and were running with it, and the parents let them.

An elementary school boy took a swig from his water bottle at school and held up the white plastic bottle. “Water never changes. We learned in school that the amount of water on Earth has been constant since water first formed millions of years ago.”

“Water is constantly changing: ice to liquid to vapor and reverse. Water expands and contracts under heat and cold. Water evaporates. Water condenses. Today a water molecule may be in a lake or an ocean. Tomorrow it may be high up in the clouds. The day after tomorrow rain may bring the molecule back down. Water changes all the time.”

“Buildings don’t change. Buildings stand forever.”

“Haven’t you seen the ruins of old buildings?”

“We have all studied wind and water erosion. Even mountains erode to grains of sand. Buildings and mountains are changing all the time.”

A fourth-grader jumped in. “Grass never changes. It remains green.”

“Grass grows. That’s a change. Deprive it of sunlight and it changes color. That’s a change.”

Monday turned to Tuesday and Tuesday to Wednesday. Neglected school work piled up as the search for something that never changes gathered pace. A pattern formed among the children: the younger children suggested something that never changed, and the older children debated it and found something wrong with it.

“The sun never changes. It’s been shining forever and will continue shining forever.”

“The sun is changing all the time. It’s hydrogen fuel is burning into helium. Some five billion years from now the sun will burn out and collapse into a glowing white dwarf like a burnt out piece of coal.”

“Then life on earth will die.”

“Or we will have escaped to someplace else in space.”

“Remember the exercise we did in the physics class?” asked a high school boy. “At an average human lifespan of 70 years and travel speed of the Voyager 2, which is escaping the solar system at over one kilometer per second, the time to reach Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun, is about 848 generations. Forget it. We’re going nowhere from planet Earth.”

“The human body doesn’t change from human to human. Every generation has two arms, two legs, two eyes and so on.”

“We are evolving. All life forms are evolving. We have no idea what we will look millions of years from now. By the time the dying sun’s planetary nebula engulfs the earth, we will likely have evolved into life forms that can survive without water and food as we know it and can also survive intense heat.”

“What’s planetary nebula?”

“Never mind. Keep thinking about something that never changes.”

Thursday came.

Every campus family had two children with the exception of one family, and in that family, the second child was on the way. That was the Burman family. The pregnant Mrs Burman’s first child, a girl of eleven, offered the next suggestion.

“Go back to water,” she said. “Even if water changes state from liquid to ice to vapor and reverse, it still remains water, doesn’t it? I mean, the water molecule itself does not change.”

A high school boy answered: “Molecules break up with energy. In our school lab we have broken the water molecule with electrical energy. Even atoms break up given enough energy. When all the mass of the universe was one hot big lump, there were no atoms. The hot big mass had enough energy for the fundamental particles to run independent. Atoms and molecules were formed only after the hot mass expanded and cooled and lost energy until the fundamental particles didn’t have enough energy to remain independent and coalesced into atoms and then molecules.”

“Listen to me everyone,” said a high school girl. “At the atomic level there is not only change but ceaseless change. We have studied atomic vibration. Atoms close to each other repel each other. Atoms far from each other attract each other.” The girl held up a thumb and forefinger and demonstrated with the fingertips coming together and moving apart. “This is atomic vibration and it happens in every matter anywhere in the known universe. That means at atomic levels there is ceaseless change.”

All conversation stopped.

The high school girl’s gaze swept across the other high school students. “Even an atom by itself is changing ceaselessly,” she continued. “Any motion is change. The atom is full of motion. The particles in the nucleus constantly shift and rearrange themselves. Electrons orbit the nucleus. The orbits shift. Electrons jump between orbits. The outer electrons even jump from atom to atom. The atom is the basic building block of matter, and the atom undergoes ceaseless change. That means there is no matter in the universe that does not undergo ceaseless change.”

A hush fell over the children. If they couldn’t find something unchanging, the cave pundit would win. That was unthinkable. They couldn’t let a pundit win no matter what.

“This pundit struck me as serious. He said find something that never changes. That means there must be something somewhere in the universe that never changes.”

That sparked a new round for the search for something that never changes.

“The number of planets doesn’t change. The planets are a constant nine.”

“Astronomers now think Pluto may not be a planet, and we have discovered similar rock masses beyond Pluto such as Sedna and Quaoar.”

“Planetary orbits are constant. Earth’s orbit never changes.”

“All orbits are constantly changing. It’s called orbit decay.”

“A straight line never changes. It remains straight.”

“There is no such thing as a straight line. Nature works in curves and waves, and curves and waves are constantly changing direction.”

“The wavelength of an electromagnetic radiation is constant.”

“Wavelengths change when medium changes.”

By Thursday night the children were worried. They had still not found something that never changes.

“The cave pundit is winning.”

“We can’t let that happen.”

“But we can’t find anything that never changes.”

“The stars never change position. Night after night, year after year, stars stay in the same place.”

“Everything in the universe moves. Gravity is universal. Every object tugs at every other object no matter how far. There is no corner of the universe standing still, and motion is change.”

By Friday morning, the cave pundit was still winning. The children began to despair. In this whole wide universe, they had not yet found anything that never changes.

Later, on Friday, in a high school math class, the teacher introduced the calculus of limits. One problem had the limits zero to infinity.

A campus girl at the head of the class jumped up. “That’s it!”

The teacher paused and glowered at the interruption. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

The girl ignored the teacher and turned instead to her campus classmates in the class. “I think I have found the answer.”

“What answer?” asked the teacher.

The girl started to explain to the teacher but a campus boy sprang to his feet and interrupted her. “Oh, nothing, Sir. She’s excited about something from a game we played at lunch.”

“Sit down both of you,” commanded the teacher, irritated.

The campus children were impediments in the school’s mission: the campus children were the kind who would not convert to Christianity, which created a contrary example for the village children, the kind more susceptible to conversion.

The girl sat down, but after school, the children assembled in the campus soccer field.

“Infinity,” said the high school girl. “That’s the answer. Infinity never changes. Add or subtract something from infinity and the result is still infinity. Multiply something to infinity, the result is still infinity. Divide infinity with something, the result is again infinity.”

“What is infinity?” asked a younger child.

“Something with no limits,” answered the high school girl. “It is without a beginning, without an end.”

The children did not know yet that the high school girl had just described the one and only objective of the Hindu culture almost exactly as the founding sages had defined it more than 4,000 years ago. They named the paramount objective Brahman, pronounced as Brahmaa, the n nasal. Another name for it is Atmaan. (The n is again nasal.) Yet another name for it is Om. Brahman, Atmaan, Om—all three names for the same one and only objective of the Hindu culture. The sages had defined it as:

“This Brahman is without an earlier and without a later, without an inside, without an outside . . .” Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

The high school girl’s application of the math concept of infinity to the Swami’s assignment had come close to the ultimate answer the Swami sought from the children, but the children did not know that yet. The children also did not know that the high school girl had just illustrated that the more education and knowledge one collects, the more sense the fundamentals of the Hindu culture make. That’s why Swami Vivekananda’s guru, Swami Ramakrishna, directed Vivekananda to complete college before learning the Hindu culture.

On the campus soccer field, the high school girl’s classmates were skeptical. “Infinity is a theoretical assumption. I don’t think the cave pundit wants us to find an assumption.”

A middle school student laughed. “Oh, come on, even we in middle school know that infinity can’t be the answer. If you multiply anything by zero, the answer is zero. It doesn’t matter how large or small anything is. Multiply by zero and you get zero.”

“Zero is yet another math supposition. Let’s drop the imaginaries, guys. The cave pundit wants us to find something that exists but never changes.”

The sun dipped behind the mountains. The parents called the children in. The children ignored them.

“Let’s ask the parents. They’ll know.”

A high school boy shook his head. “I already asked my parents. They didn’t help.”

Another student said, “Earlier in the week I heard my parents talking. They didn’t know.”

“Really? Seriously?”

Another high school student nodded. “My parents didn’t know either. They got irritated when I asked them again and again. If they knew, my mother would have told me.”

“Let’s ask the parents again. Tell them we can’t concentrate on school work as long as we don’t beat the cave pundit. They’ll tell us.”

“If they know.”

“Lots of parents in the campus. One will know. Find out and phone the rest of us.”

The phones rang later in the evening.

“The parents are not talking.”

“Yeah. They claim they know but won’t tell.”

“They don’t know.”

“Yeah, they don’t know.”

“Friday is over. The cave pundit is winning.”

“Let’s meet tomorrow in the soccer field.”

The next day was the second Saturday of the month, a school holiday. The middle and high school children woke up early and collected on the soccer field near a goal post. The soccer ball lay untouched at their feet, the ball and their sneakers wet from the morning dew still fresh on the grass.

“We have still not found something that never changes,” said a middle school boy. “You high school guys said you knew everything.”

“Shut up.”

“Millions of things all around us and you know-alls can’t find a single thing that never changes.”

“Shut up, okay?”

“Calm down everyone. Let’s not panic. We’ll find it.”

“There has to be something that never changes.”

“It must be something not far but close by, right here under our nose. Isn’t that always the case? We’re asked to find something and we start looking everywhere except right next to us.”

“Sunday is upon us. The pundit will come tomorrow. What do you expect to find by tomorrow that we couldn’t find all week?”

“Let’s just keep looking, okay?”

The parents lounged in easy chairs in their verandas and observed their children out in the soccer field. All week long, the children had been obsessed with the Swami’s homework. The teachers at school had complained that the children were falling behind in school work. The parents had allowed the children some slack from school work, partly because the parents themselves had no clue about the answer to the Swami’s assignment. The parents too had explored the universe for something that never changed but had drawn a naught, but what irked the parents more was that they still did not know what the Swami’s assignment had to do with the Hindu culture. The parents had called their own parents scattered nationwide, and those parents had consulted their own pundits, but nobody could connect the assignment to the Hindu culture.

On the soccer field, the children continued their search.

“The shape of planet Earth never changes. It’s always the same oblate spheroid flattened at the poles.”

“The shape of the earth is constantly changing. Tectonic plates move. The ocean waters bulge out toward the Moon, which affects Earth’s rotation. All these are changes.”

“I am telling you again. Stop looking far out. Look right here under the nose.”

“Under your nose are your ugly lips that you need to shut tight.”

“Knock it off, guys. Time’s running out.”

“Time is out.”

The discussions continued through the morning, through lunch, through the afternoon until the Saturday sun set. The parents called the children in. After dark the phones buzzed as the children continued their search, now frantic.

“Maybe there is nothing in the universe that doesn’t change. Maybe the cave pundit sent us on a futile chase. The revenge of the pundits.”

A high school boy pointed at a high school girl. “Her idea of atomic vibrations—I think she was right. The atom undergoes ceaseless change and that means all matter in the universe suffers ceaseless change.”

“Let’s be sure about this. Is there any corner of Earth or the universe that we may have missed?”

“Under the nose, man, under the nose.”

“Somebody needs to shut this boy up.”

“Doesn’t matter where we look. Under the nose or out to the quasars, the laws of physics are the same everywhere. All matter is atoms, and since atoms suffer ceaseless change, the entire universe suffers ceaseless change.”

“Is that it, then? Is that the answer we will give the cave pundit—that there is nothing in the universe that never changes?”

“What else? The caveman obviously doesn’t know atoms. Pundits are illiterate. Otherwise the cave pundit would never have asked us to find something that never changes.”

“Let’s think about it some more overnight. Let’s collect early tomorrow morning in the field and talk some more. The cave pundit will fight our answer. We must be prepared to defend from every angle.”

“Let’s get our minds off this assignment. That’ll allow us to think afresh later. Let’s have a soccer match.”

“Don’t tell the parents what answer we have for the caveman. We don’t want an argument with the parents.”

“Good idea. Let’s play now.”

The children started a soccer game.

[][] Chapter 6

Sunday dawned, the children came out early to the soccer field.

“Until the last phone call last night we were on the atomic vibration answer. Is that still the answer? Anybody any fresh thoughts?”

Nobody spoke.

“All right, then that’ll be our answer. Everything in the universe suffers ceaseless change. Agreed?”

Everyone nodded.

“Okay, let’s have a game while we wait for him.”

A few high school girls had brought canvas folding chairs. They settled down at one end of the field near a goal post and opened math textbooks and notebooks and started doing school homework while watching the soccer game. A middle school girl sat nearby on the grass with a sketchbook and started sketching a drawing.

The first game was still on when the Swami walked into the campus. This time the security guard was at his post and alerted the chief engineer. The parents rushed out to welcome the Swami, who was again in a blue T-shirt, khaki shorts and white sneakers.

The children stopped playing.

The girls on the canvas chairs were absorbed in their homework, struggling with a math problem, and didn’t notice the Swami hunching over the chairs from behind and looking at their work.

“That looks important,” said the Swami.

The girls started and stood up. They glanced uncertainly at each other. Then a girl tapped her notebook. “It’s school homework.”

“I know,” the Swami smiled. “No student does math unless the school makes you do it. What’s the homework?”

What would a pundit know about math? “It’s calculus,” said a girl.

“Which calculus? Differential or integral? Must be differential. You’ll study integral calculus in college.”

The children had by now collected near the chairs, and their jaws dropped.

By now the Swami had noticed the girl with the sketchbook, several pencils in her hand.

“What were you sketching?” asked the Swami.

The middle school girl hesitated.

“My mother was an artist. She tried to make me one, but I didn’t take to art. She gave up.”

The Swami laughed lightly. Nobody else laughed or smiled.

“Won’t you show me what you sketched?” The Swami extended a hand, asking for the sketchbook.

The girl opened the sketchbook to a page and gave the sketchbook to the Swami. The sketch was a pencil sketch of a soccer ball on the grass with a goal in the background.

“What an excellent sketch.” The Swami held it up for everyone to see. “I have always thought pencil sketching is so much tougher than painting. Painting enjoys the luxury of unlimited colors and shades. A pencil is only one color. Well done!”

The Swami handed the sketchbook back to the girl. Then the Swami turned to one of the math homework girls. “Let’s see the calculus problem you were doing.”

In short time, the Swami explained the problem to the girls. The silence among the children could sink Mount Everest. The cave pundit knows calculus!

The Swami addressed the children. “Here’s a basic math question for all of you. What is the significance of the equal-to symbol?”

The children looked confused. Significance of the equal-to symbol? A man who knows math doesn’t know equal-to sign? A high school boy answered: “It means the left side of an equation equals the right side.”

The Swami’s curly hair flayed in the breeze. “Tell me in physical terms. Science is our observation of nature, and math is the language we express our observations in. So now, the equal-to sign denotes an observed pattern of nature. What is the pattern?”

The children again glanced at each other. One high school boy whispered to another: “He knows calculus. Who is this guy, anyway?”

“The parents don’t seem to know the answer either. They’re looking blankly at each other.”

“All of them are college graduates. The fathers are all engineers.”

The Swami spoke up. “Your math teachers at school should explain math to you in physical terms. Nature constantly strives for a balance. That’s the most fundamental pattern of nature. It tries to balance all populations, balance all forces, balance all influences. The equal-to sign denotes balance.”

The children stared at the Swami.

The Swami walked over to a boy holding the soccer ball and took the ball from the boy. The Swami held the ball high above his head, then dropped the ball. It bounced a couple times and stopped motionless on the grass. The Swami pointed at the ball. “As long as an unbalanced force acted on the ball, it moved. It stopped where all forces on it balanced and canceled each other out.”

He paused a moment and swept his gaze across the throng of children. Even the little kids playing at the jungle gym had come over.

The Swami continued: “Your parents tell me your school is exerting an unbalanced influence on you and have asked me to try and balance the influence. Not eliminate the influence, mind you, for such challenges will always exist, but balance the influence. So now, have you done the homework I gave you?”

Before the elder children could answer, a sixth-grade boy near the Swami raised his hand. “This Wednesday is my birthday.”

“Oh?” The Swami placed his right palm on the boy’s head. “Happy birthday in advance! What is your name?”

“Raman.”

“Raman, how young will you be on Wednesday?”

“Ten. Will you do my birthday puja?

That surprised the rest of the children—and the parents. The sixth-grade boy had just done the unthinkable—asked a pundit for a puja! That had never, ever happened before.

The Swami playfully ruffled the boy’s hair. “What a nice invitation. The problem is that I don’t know how to do a birthday puja. Actually, I don’t know how to do any puja.

The children looked sharply at each other. A pundit who doesn’t know how to do a puja?

“But you are a pundit,” said Raman. “All pundits know how to do puja.

The Swami shrugged his shoulders. “Then that means I am not a pundit.”

Raman fidgeted uncertainly on his feet. “Will you come to my birthday party anyway?”

“Birthdays are for young ones such as you and your friends. I am an old man.”

The children laughed, a hesitant laugh. They were still trying to figure out this pundit.

The Swami raised a hand. “All right, back to the homework I gave you. Have you done the homework?”

The girl who had suggested atomic vibration raised her hand. “We hold that there’s nothing in the universe that never changes. I mean, everything in the universe suffers ceaseless change.”

“How far and wide did you look?”

The girl shrugged her shoulders. “Physics is applicable across the entire universe.”

The Swami nodded. “That’s correct. What was your line of thinking that led you to your answer?”

“The atom and its characteristics.” The girl explained atomic vibration.

The Swami nodded and smiled. “Excellent! Proud of you! Your answer is correct. You are right!”

The children shrieked and screamed and high-fived. They had won. The pundit had lost.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” said the Swami. “You can answer any problem if you think from the basics up.”

The Swami allowed the children some more jubilation, then called for their attention. The children fell quiet.

“Here is your next and the last homework,” said the Swami. “Find me something, anything, anywhere in the universe that at present, as you aptly put it, suffers ceaseless change, but something that you can bring under your control and make unchanging. I’ll come next Sunday for your answer.”

The Swami turned and walked away. The parents, again caught by surprise at the Swami’s abrupt departure, ran after him and asked him to stay for food. He declined. The parents walked him to the campus gate.

Beyond the campus gate, at the edge of the jungle, stood a bunch of children from the village, waiting for the Swami. He walked by, nodding to them. They followed him into the jungle toward the village.

[][] Chapter 7

Excited about their victory over the Swami on his first assignment, the children plunged headlong into his second assignment—and soon stopped.

“Wait a minute. Everything in the universe is composed of atoms, and atoms change all the time, then how can anything be made unchanging?”

“Can we control atoms? Can we stop them from changing?”

“We can strip the electrons off an atom, but then it quickly acquires new electrons from the surroundings. We can’t stop the protons and neutrons from rearranging themselves in the nucleus. Mess with the nucleus and fiery things happen.”

The elementary school children drifted away. They had contributed initially to the first assignment, but now the discussion had advanced beyond them. They left their older siblings to fight the cave pundit. On the soccer field were left only the middle and high school students.

“The Swami wouldn’t have given us the assignment unless there is indeed something in the universe that currently changes but can be made unchanging. We have to find that thing. We can’t let the Swami win.”

“Whatever it is we’re looking for can’t be here on Earth. If it was on Earth, as much as humans like to control nature, we would have found it by now and controlled it.”

“How are we supposed to find something out there in the rest of the universe when we are stuck here on Earth?”

“The laws of nature apply uniformly across the universe. That means if there is something out there that we can control, then it must be here on Earth too. The Swami wouldn’t have given us the assignment if it wasn’t here on Earth.”

The parents noticed that the children now referred to the Swami not as pundit or cave pundit but as Swami. The children had developed a respect for the Swami that the parents had never seen from the children for any pundit in either the cities where the children had lived or in this rural hinterland of India.

The parents, however, wondered, as they had wondered about the Swami’s first assignment, what this latest assignment had to do with the Hindu culture. Yet again the Swami had come and gone like the mountain wind without talking to the children about the Hindu culture. The parents had risked that mountain trail to the cave, and he had graciously broken the tradition set by past swamis and come down from the cave, yet he had not spoken to the children about the culture, which is what the parents and requested of him. Instead the Swami had given the children these extraneous assignments unrelated to the culture. The assignments had excited the children, no doubt, but what about teaching them the Hindu culture? The extraneous assignments had pushed the children behind in school work. That had to stop: school work could not be neglected anymore. The Swami’s latest assignment will have to wait. First the children had to catch up with school work.

Monday, Tuesday passed with school work, yet the teachers at school complained that the young minds were not attentive at school: their minds were elsewhere. “What’s preoccupying you?” the teachers asked the children. The children shrugged their shoulders and kept quiet or mumbled vague excuses. They did not mention the Swami. The teachers then phoned the parents. The parents didn’t tell the teachers either, but the parents clamped down on the children: “School work first. The Swami’s assignment has to wait.”

Wednesday evening came as the sun set behind the mountain peaks. School work was still not completely done, but the children took to the campus phones and resumed the Swami’s latest assignment.

“We can control the river. That’s why we’re building a dam—to control the river.”

The girl who had brought up atomic vibration for the first assignment waved a hand to get everybody’s attention. “Look, guys, down at the atomic level, everything—be it water or river or dam or you or me or anything else—is changing ceaselessly and there’s nothing we can do about it. End of discussion.”

Friday evening, dark clouds overpowered the blue skies and thunderclaps echoed off the mountains and linked together to form chains of long deafening roars, but no rain. The children gathered in the office building conference room. The younger children were given the chairs around the conference table. The older students, middle school and up, milled about against the walls and windows. They had brought snacks and bottles of orange juice that the younger children attacked and their older siblings ignored.

A middle school boy said, “But there must be something that can be controlled and made unchanging. The Swami would not have given us the homework if there wasn’t.”

The atomic vibration girl waved a hand again. “Look, guys, if there is an answer to the Swami’s homework then it cannot be anything to do with atoms.”

“If you exclude atoms then you exclude all matter in the entire universe, including all life forms. We are matter too and hence made of atoms.”

“Yes, but try and understand,” said the high school girl. She pointed at a group of high school junior boys, one of them her younger brother, whispering among themselves. “This may be too deep for you rock heads over there to understand, but try. All matter undergoes never-ending change. Then the answer to the Swami’s homework cannot have anything to do with matter.”

Her brother frowned. “We understood you the first time, but as somebody just said, if you exclude matter, then there’s nothing else left to consider. Then we humans are also out of consideration.”

“Let’s think about this. Is there anything that is without atoms?”

“Anything without atoms is not matter, and what is not matter is abstract. That’s not what the Swami asked for.”

“He didn’t say that. He said look for anything.”

“Then let’s talk abstract stuff such as life, feelings, emotions, sentiments—you know, the mushy stuff that girls talk about.”

That triggered an argument between the boys and the girls. The Swami’s homework was forgotten.

The arguments continued at school the next day, Saturday, half day at school. The children were back in the campus by lunch time. After lunch the children wanted to meet in the soccer field, but the parents insisted they first finish homework—not the Swami’s homework but the school’s homework. The campus fell quiet as the children worked on school assignments.

That’s when, in one campus home, came the breakthrough.

A middle school girl was working on an English assignment to compose a written portrait of a person who had affected her life the most. For this middle school girl, that person was her late maternal grandfather. For research, she was flipping through the pages of one of her books that her late grandfather had bought her. Buried in the book was a postcard size black-and-white photograph. The girl paused at the photo.

It showed a room, no windows, an open door in the far wall. Sunlight through the open door fell on the bare wooden floor, in the middle of which stood a rocking chair, the only furniture in the room. Next to the chair was a white rat. The caption at the bottom read: “The rat race is over. The rats have won.”

The girl’s name for her beloved grandfather was Nana Bear. He had talked to her about this photo. “In 1978, when I was a university student in Chicago, I was driving down Lake Shore Drive and saw a neon sign flashing on the Lake Shore Hilton. The sign announced a photography exhibition. I went in. This photo, poster size, was one of the exhibits. I had come to the exhibition from the Ramakrishna Mission where I had attended a lecture on the futility of the human craving for material possessions, but that lecture and so many similar lectures I had heard before and since did not affect me as much as this photo. It changed my life. From then on, I reduced the rats in my life. I reduced my needs and wants. Whenever I wanted something, I looked at that photo and most times than not succeeded in eliminating the want. When you are of age and learn the Hindu culture, you will learn this self-control as pratyahara.

The girl put the photo back in the book. She missed Nana Bear. When Nana Bear had told her this story, the family lived in Dehradun. Nana Bear read her books that he carefully selected, each book in big, bold font for his failing eyes. One entire wall of her room in the ancestral home in Dehradun was bookshelves filled with books that Nana Bear had bought and read to her. One evening in Dehradun Nana Bear went to bed feeling tired and rubbing his chest. He never woke up.

Some of the books were now on shelves in her room in the home in Sarovar Campus. She looked at the books. Every now and then she opened a random book and leafed through it. Nana Bear had hidden messages for her in the books.

“Tadpole, never make weather an excuse.”

“Tadpole, stress is a decision not made. Next time you feel stressed, ask yourself which decision you are not making.”

“Tadpole, look frequently up at the stars. When you do, your head will go up, your chest will come out, your back will straighten—the posture of the proud and self-confident.”

“Believability. This one word sums up all character. Do people believe you when you say something? What is your believability?”

Suddenly Tadpole heard a woman yelling, and the next instant she realized her mother was in her room.

“Can’t you hear?” shouted the mother. “I have been calling and calling from the kitchen. Where’s your mind?”

And that’s when the breakthrough struck Tadpole.

“What is it?” Tadpole snapped at her mother.

The mother glared at her. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that. Come to the kitchen. I need help.”

“Not right now,” said Tadpole and ran to the campus phone instead in the living room.

Her mother chased after her. “What? What did you say? In the kitchen—now!” The mother stomped away to the kitchen.

From somewhere else in the house, her father called. “Do as your mother says.”

Tadpole ignored both her parents and dialed a campus number on the phone. “I think I have the answer to the Swami’s homework.”

The high school boys and girls came over to Tadpole’s house. A light drizzle had started. The veranda of the house filled up with open umbrellas left dripping on the bare cement floor.

“The mind,” said Tadpole. “Your mind. My mind. The mind. A short while ago my mother called me from the kitchen. I didn’t hear her. She came to my room and yelled at me from the door less than three meters away from where I was standing. I did not hear her. I didn’t hear her because my mind was elsewhere. My mind was elsewhere because I put it there. I put it there because I could control it.”

“What is mind?” asked Tadpole’s little brother.

“The thought process, the consciousness.”

“What is consciousness?” asked the little boy.

Tadpole ignored him. “Think, guys,” she said to the other students. “When my mother called me, my sense of hearing did its work: my ear drums vibrated; the auditory nerve conveyed the vibrations to the brain. My hearing organs did their work, but still I did not hear my mother. Why? Because my mind was elsewhere, and it was elsewhere because I put it there. That means I can control my mind, and if I can control it, I can make it unchanging.”

Tadpole and the students did not know yet that she had spoken just as her ancestors had written long ago:

They say my mind was elsewhere, I did not see, my mind was elsewhere, I did not hear. It is with the mind, truly, that one sees. It is with the mind that one hears. Desire, determination, doubt, faith, lack of faith, steadfastness, lack of steadfastness, shame, intellection, fear, all this is truly mind. Therefore, even if one is touched on his back, he discerns it with the mind . . . Brhad-arnyaka Upanisad

In the kitchen, Tadpole’s mother suddenly stopped working and trained her ears at the children talking in the living room. In the bedroom, Tadpole’s father put down the book he was reading and sat up in bed: My God, he thought, the Swami’s assignments were, after all, on the culture.

In the living room, the students continued talking.

“Concentrate your mind—how many times have we heard our parents tell us this?”

“If we concentrate our mind on something, we can shut out the world just as you shut out your mother.”

“Yeah, but the mind is not matter. It has no atoms.”

“So? The Swami didn’t say he wanted us to find something material. He said find anything that changes but can be made unchanging.”

“The mind is constantly changing, one thought after another, one thought after another thought endlessly.”

“And it can be made unchanging. Concentration focuses the mind on one thought or one thing. Makes it unchanging.”

“Matter can’t be made unchanging. Mind can be.”

“Does anyone have any other suggestions?” asked Tadpole. “Is the mind the answer we will give the Swami.”

“The rain may pick up. He may not come.”

“Oh, he will come. Our answer is the mind. Yes?”

“Look, it can’t be anything that has matter. Agree?”

The students nodded.

“Then there is only one thing left—the mind. There isn’t anything else in the known universe to consider.”

“Then our answer is the mind.”

“There’s still time till he comes. Let’s keep thinking. If anyone has other thoughts, let’s hear them. Use the phones.”

The students collected their umbrellas and walked home in the drizzle.

[][] Chapter 8

On Saturday night the thundering clouds released their downpour. Sunday morning dawned dark and dripping wet with the continuing downpour. The children looked out of their homes at the rain and went to the phones.

“He’s not coming. Not in this rain.”

“The trail must be dangerously slick in so much rain.”

“Did everyone think more about our answer?”

“It’s the same—the mind.”

“Let’s wait for him in the conference room. Grab breakfast and let’s meet there.”

The parents too called each other. “Have you heard the children? Now they want the Swami to come!”

The children gobbled down breakfast, unfurled their umbrellas and scooted through the downpour to the conference room in the office building. Office workers had already prepared the room for the Swami’s visit: the conference table and its twenty-four chairs had been moved out. The younger children sat down on the carpet. The older children stood around and huddled together.

The downpour continued. Lunch time came. The parents called the children home for lunch. The younger children left. The older children ignored the parents and stayed in the conference room.

“Once again, is there anything else besides the mind that exists but is not matter?”

“Nothing. We’ve gone through this many times. Drop it now.”

The day wore on past lunch into snack time. The older children finally went home for food. They were eating when the guard called the chief engineer: the Swami was at the campus gate. The chief engineer asked the guard to escort the Swami to the conference room.

The children abandoned whatever they were doing and ran to the conference room.

“He kept his word! He’s here!”

The parents ran after the children.

The Swami was again in blue T-shirt and khaki shorts, drenched and dripping, no umbrella or raincoat. The wet T-shirt and shorts clung to his skin. His curly hair stuck plastered to his scalp. The parents brought him dry towels and dry white T-shirt and shorts, which he changed into in a restroom of the office building but after taking out three orange plastic carabiners from his shorts pockets. A villager who operated a supply truck to the village had obliged the Swami and brought the carabiners from a mountaineering shop in a town. The Swami put the carabiners in a pocket of his new and dry shorts. The parents sent the Swami’s wet T-shirt and shorts for washing and drying. The chief engineer ordered an umbrella brought for the Swami.

The conference room filled up. The parents stood against the wall behind the Swami. The children filled the room in front of the Swami. The middle and high school students stood in the back; the younger children sat on the carpeted floor in front, near the Swami.

A little boy sitting near the Swami launched the meeting: “You came even in the rain.”

The Swami looked down at the boy near his feet and nodded. “Of course. A promise to children must be kept no matter what.” Then his eyes swept the children in front of him. “Did you do my homework? Do you have an answer for me?”

The older children took over the meeting. The older children at the back nodded at Tadpole. She raised her hand.

“We have an answer.”

“Okay, what is it?”

“The mind.”

Slowly, a wide smile spread across the Swami’s face as he thought: Mission accomplished! He remembered what the sages of yore had said to him in his dream: “Have the children observe nature. They will deduce the rest on their own.” The sages had been right. The Swami had taught the children nothing. No lectures on the culture. He had merely asked the children two questions, and the children had deduced the basics of the Hindu culture on their own. Now the children were ready for him to connect the dots for them.

“You got it,” said the Swami to the children. “That is the correct answer.”

A wild frenzy erupted among the children. The older children jumped and high-fived. The younger children stood up and jumped about. They had won again over the Swami.

“Well done!” said the Swami. “How did you arrive at your answer?”

A high school student talked about their deduction that the answer had to be something other than matter or the material universe. Then Tadpole narrated her experience with her mother.

The Swami nodded. “Excellent! Outstanding! Now let’s connect the assignments together.”

The room fell silent.

“We love life,” began the Swami. “We all would like to live forever—be immortal. The quest for immortality is as old as humankind. Our ancestors were not different. They too desired immortality. However, while the rest of humanity prayed for immortality to unknown Gods, our ancestors, more than 4,000 years ago, took a different approach. They reasoned that if immortality was possible, then nature must have created something immortal. If they could find that something immortal, perhaps they could emulate it and themselves become immortal. They began to search the universe for something immortal.”

The Swami paused. His gaze swept the children. All young eyes were on him. Behind him the parents stood still. A few of them were recording the Swami on phones. No sound could be heard in the room. The Swami continued.

“First, however, our ancestors defined immortality. What, after all, were they looking for? What is immortality? Our ancestors defined it as the state of no change. A change has a start and end, a birth and death. Immortality can’t change. No start, no end. No birth, no death. Our ancestors set out to find something in nature that never changes.”

Another pause.

“To the state of no change, our ancestors gave a name: Brahman. Another name for it is Om. In pujas, you have heard both names. Now you know what they denote—the state of no change. Your first assignment was to search the universe for something that never changes. You were searching for Brahman or Om.”

Standing behind the Swami, the parents stood rock still. They did not know what the Swami had just said. A few parents marveled at their children sitting still, mesmerized, frozen in place. No parent could remember the last time the children had paid such undivided attention to a pundit or swami.

The Swami continued.

“You, even at your age, know more about nature than our ancestors did. You know the atom. Our ancestors didn’t. What took you a mere week to conclude, your ancestors took centuries to discover. That’s why the Hindu culture is the work of not one human but of many generations spanning centuries, and most of the time was spent observing nature. Eventually our ancestors concluded, as you did, that everywhere they looked, the universe was changing endlessly. Having exhausted the possibility of finding something that never changed, our ancestors then asked: Is there something that at present changes endlessly but that can be brought under control and made unchanging? That was your second assignment.”

Another pause.

“Since the material universe suffers ceaseless change, nothing material can be immortal. What’s left? Only one thing. In the entire universe, there is really only one thing left that can be controlled and made unchanging, and that is the mind, or the thought process, or the consciousness. By trial and error again spanning centuries, our ancestors discovered that the mind can indeed be made unchanging and hence immortal.”

Another pause.

“You are not your body. The body is basically the same from one human to another. You are your mind, your thinking, your consciousness, which varies from human to human. Therefore, if you make your mind unchanging, you achieve immortality. But how can we make our mind unchanging while immersed in a ceaselessly changing universe?”

From a pocket of his shorts, the Swami pulled out three orange plastic carabiners and twined them into a three-link chain. He held up the chain from one end.

“Here’s what happens. Imagine that this is the universe,” he pointed at the top carabiner held between a forefinger and thumb.

“And this is you.” He pointed at the middle carabiner.

“And this is your mind.” He pointed at the bottom carabiner.

He wiggled the chain. “The universe changes. Your five senses sense the universe. Then your mind reacts to the senses.”

He wiggled the chain again, then again, and this time he kept it wiggling as the children watched as if hypnotized by the wiggling chain. “This is what’s going on every moment of your life. The universe around you changes. Your senses sense the change. Then your mind reacts to the change. Your senses link you to the changing universe, making your mind change too.”

Another pause, during which the Swami kept on wiggling the chain.

“Then how can we make the mind unchanging? The only way to make the mind unchanging is to disconnect it from the senses. Then the senses can go on sensing the ever changing universe, but the mind will remain undisturbed.”

The Swami stopped wiggling the chain. He reached up with his other hand and disconnected the bottom carabiner—the mind—from the chain and held it up. Then he continued wiggling the two-link chain.

“Now the universe can keep on changing and your senses can keep on reacting to the changes but your mind, in your control, remains steady, unchanging.”

The Swami’s gaze swept the children. Then he lowered the carabiners.

“Our ancestors discovered that the mind can indeed be disconnected from the senses. How? By concentration. Concentrate on something, and the mind disconnects from the senses.”

The Swami pointed at Tadpole standing at the back of the room. “You did not hear your mother calling you because you were concentrating your mind elsewhere, and that concentration temporarily disconnected your mind from your sense of hearing.”

The Swami stooped and gave the carabiners to the little boy who had marveled that the Swami had come in rain.

The Swami straightened up. “Concentrate your mind forever, then you have made it steady forever, unchanging, immortal. Then your body will someday wither away, but you, who is really your mind, will live on forever, immortal, as Brahman or Om.”

Another pause. He closed his eyes, then opened them again.

“This is the Hindu culture. The rest of the culture is how to achieve Brahman through the yoga of meditation, which is the art of prolonged concentration.”

The Swami walked several steps toward the conference room door, then turned again to the children.

“At your age, never mind yoga. Leave it for later in life. For now go play soccer. Grow physically strong, and also grow mentally strong with education. Education is the study of nature. Isn’t that what you did for my homework? Isn’t that what you do daily in school? The more education you acquire, the better you will grasp the Hindu culture. You have already illustrated this. You are far more educated even at your age than your ancestors ever were. That’s why you were able to figure out in a mere two weeks what took your ancestors centuries.”

The Swami took another step toward the door, then turned again to the children.

“And now let me leave you with a final thought.

“All major religions of the world spread beyond their place of founding to the rest of the world—except the Hindu culture. Why not the Hindu culture? That’s because we found other cultures and religions striving for the same objective, Brahman or immortality, and by the same method, concentration of the mind. Praying, the chanting of hymns, the rituals performed by pundits here and abroad, are all methods of concentrating the mind. It does not matter what prayer, in what language, and to what God. The Rg Veda Samhita, an original text of the Hindu culture, says Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti: That which exists is one; saints call it by various names. The next time you see somebody praying, ignore his or her religion and respect that person. That person is concentrating, which means striving for the same goal—Brahman. Thus we accept all religions. That’s why other religions could not replace the Hindu culture. Buddhism was born here. Islam and Christianity conquered us and ruled us for centuries. We accepted them, and the Hindu culture survived. You are prime examples of this. You are Hindus, but you attend a Christian school, as did I.”

Outside, the rain had stopped. The Swami turned to the parents behind him and brought his hands together in namaste. “Your children are good observers and thinkers.”

He turned to the children again. “Now I must get back home. If you wonder why people like me live in secluded places, I am a professional seeker of Brahman. I must disconnect my mind from the senses. That is easier achieved when the senses are more at rest. They are more at rest away from public trappings. Now go play soccer.”

The Swami walked out of the room, changed into his own clothes and left the campus.

[][] Epilogue

After his campus visits, the Swami started visiting the children of the neighboring villages.

The Christian school is still there and continues its efforts but with few permanent conversions: most conversions are temporary, to take advantage of its free education and health care.

When came his time, the Swami did not walk away deeper into the mountains as he had planned. One day a food courier found the previous day’s food delivery untouched at the edge of the plateau. The courier found the Swami in the cave sitting cross legged in meditation, his back propped against a cave wall, head tilted to one side and resting on a rock ledge. He had passed away in meditation, in the final stage of the yoga of meditation, called samadhi, where one goes into meditation and never comes out of it. In that stage, the Swami’s mind had left behind the body and passed into immortality in Brahman or Om, forever unchanging in concentration.

The food courier scratched another line on the cave wall.

No more swamis came to the cave. The cave is now a Hindu pilgrimage with a marble statue of the Swami—with six hands, three on either side, and a sun-like halo behind his head with a crown on the head, making him look like a typical Indian God. A steel guard rail makes the trail safe for pilgrims. The trail closes for three winter months of snow. The rest of the year thousands of pilgrims visit the cave. The surrounding villages thrive on the pilgrim economy. Even the water from the mountain brook near the cave sells as holy water.

Many years later, the campus children, grown and with spouses, visited the cave.


The Swami and the Children: A Fictional Explanation of the Hindu Culture for You

In the 4,000-plus years of the Hindu culture, humankind’s knowledge has advanced. Today’s high school student has more knowledge than all the founding sages of the Hindu culture combined. For any religion to continue to survive, it must make rational sense to our educated young. The Hindu culture makes rational sense to the modern young—if the culture is taught the way it was discovered. I know this because I am a retired science teacher who has taught the Hindu culture to our modern young. The Hindu culture was not founded but discovered and discovered by the same process by which our young learn science: observe, explain, test the explanation, and if the test fails, repeat the cycle. This is precisely the process the founding sages of the Hindu culture followed. What the sages sought was immortality, and that remains the paramount objective of the Hindu culture, but instead of beseeching unknown gods for immortality, as the rest of the world was doing and still does, the sages did something novel: they observed nature. The sages reasoned that If immortality was possible, nature must have created something immortal. If they could find it, perhaps they could emulate it and themselves become immortal. The sages defined immortality as a state of no change—a state without a beginning, without an end, no birth, no death. They called the state Brahman (pronounced Bruhm-aa, n nasal). Atmaan and Om are the other two names for it. Everywhere the sages looked, however, they found that the universe suffers ceaseless change. Today’s high school student, knowing the atom, would conclude this nature of the material universe in a minute. The sages took centuries. When they didn’t find something that never changed, the sages then observed nature for something that changes but can be controlled and made unchanging. That brought them to the mind, the consciousness—the only creation without atoms and hence possible to make unchanging. The rest of the Hindu culture is the discovery of methods to make the mind unchanging and merge in Brahman. Instead of teaching our young how the Hindu culture was discovered, we teach our young deity worship. The fact is that first came the culture. Our many deities came later. For example, Rama and Krishna were practitioners of a culture that already existed. This book explains the discovery of the Hindu culture in fictional form based on a true story, narrated in simple yet gripping language for the modern young. There is no finer legacy that a Hindu parent can bequeath to our children. This book is a must gift from every Hindu parent to his or her middle school child.

  • Author: Mrinal Bali
  • Published: 2017-03-14 12:05:12
  • Words: 22009
The Swami and the Children: A Fictional Explanation of the Hindu Culture for You The Swami and the Children: A Fictional Explanation of the Hindu Culture for You