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Sunday, November 3, 2002
Books

Words of wisdom from a teacher of ancient truths
R. P. Chaddah

How to End Suffering
by Dolores Wood. Penguin. Pages: 257. Rs 250.

How to End SufferingHow to End Suffering is a tribute to the work and teachings of Sri Easwaran from Dolores Wood. Wood has worked in the fields of journalism and publishing for more than two decades. She came into contact with Sri Easwaran in 1990 when she took up a job with Nilgiri Press, the publishing arm of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, California, founded by Sri Easwaran. Later on she was impressed with the teachings of Sri Easwaran and led many workshops on his teaching programme, Setu (the bridge), as well as on the Eight-Point Programme of meditation of Easwaran who called himself "a teacher of ancient truths, but a very modern man".

Sri Easwaran was born in Kerala in 1911. He graduated with degrees in law and English literature. He remained a Professor of English at the University of Nagpur for 15 years and in 1959 went to the USA on the Fulbright Scholarship. There in America he found his bearings as a spiritual teacher (his grandmother had been a great influence in this regard). In 1961, he established the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and made the USA his permanent home till his death in 1999, teaching the Americans the power of human spirit and how to alleviate suffering through meditation. He has published about 25 books on the various facets of meditation and his work has been translated into many foreign and Indian languages. Though his teachings, books on meditation, the Meditation Center and other aspects of his being a spiritual teacher are widely known in America, in India his work is yet to get the approbation or acclaim reserved for Krishnamurti, Rajneesh or Mahesh Yogi.

 


Sri Easwaran seems to have worked on the premise of Montaigne who years ago said: "A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears". The give-away titles of the 12 chapters - Finding the turning points, Anger, Fear and Greed, Forgiveness, Second half of life, The spiritual element of healing and Helping others etc. give us a peep into his teachings. Wood dwells more on his last teaching programme Setu (the bridge), which Sri Easwaran began when his own life hung in the balance in 1991. His physicians were unable to trace the cause. His 80-year-old body could not continue under the strain, he said. And unless he could function as a spiritual teacher, there would be no reason for him to remain in this life. Sri Easwaran lived for another eight years till 1999. Wood writes at length on the physical body and Setu, the mental body and Setu, complete with allusions and references from the Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads, provided by Easwaran in his various discourses. She also dwells on the two new disciplines of Meditation - Detached Reflection and Determined Redirection as tools for transforming our weaknesses into strengths.

The role models for meditation for Sri Easwaran have been Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. He seems to have imbibed the teachings of Gandhi in the very persona of his being. Easwaran used to relieve the tedium of his teachings by giving examples from everyday life to his students and, once in a while, by giving examples from the world of English literature. "He was primarily a classicist, with deep interests in Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats... Even his method of meditation employed words." Words of wisdom were contained even in the examples he gave to illustrate a concept. Sri Easwaran quoted from W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, "When Larry returns home, he loses interest in a preordained career and a shallow relationship. He begins a spiritual journey to discover life's meaning, and he finds peace of mind." For acting on the insights gained in Detached Reflection, Sri Easwaran developed Determined Redirection.

Sri Easwaran was on a predictable self-discovery mission even when he used to teach in Nagpur University and an opportunity came his way in the shape and form of the Fulbright Scholarship and he found his vocation in the USA as a spiritual teacher. His teachings are not set in the classical mould of spiritual teachers but are given the format of anecdotal modern idiom for clarity, comprehension, realisation and action thereafter. He never used to speak from the mystic mansion of his own making, instead he drew inspiration from the wells of everyday wisdom.

As an aid to the teachings of Sri Easwaran, the writer has given a glossary of Sanskrit terms used in the text along with poetic rendering of Setu passages for Meditation. The book is a modern day guide to meditation detailing all the possible methods of 'how to end suffering'. This reminds me of the oft-quoted words of Helen Keller (1880-1968): "Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it."