Speaker : Whats your name?
Listener : Venugopal.
Speaker : Venugopal, repeat your question for everybody. Which instrument did you initially had a liking for?
Listener : Tabla.
Speaker : But you say that you were forced to play……?
Listener : Violin.
Speaker : And today you say that you are greatly fond of playing the violin.
Listener : And I know it myself.
Speaker : Do you see what is happening ? Venu clearly recalls that at some point in his life there was something that he was attracted to. But then circumstances made him do something else. And today he says that he is greatly fond of the thing which he initiated probably under pressure.
There was a boy who was greatly fond of this girl but because of various reasons, because of parental pressure he married another girl. When he was marrying the second girl, he hated it. He was crying. Today after 20 years, he has 2 kids with that girl. He claims he is greatly in love with his wife and he also says that the best that could happen to him was that he got married to this woman.
Same story? Is that what you are saying? And now the girlfriend comes back to the boy’s life. How does that sound? A good masala movie. Should he go back to his first love? All the young people in the hall would say, “Yes, yes,yes…because he was forced to marry. He did that under pressure. His first love was that one”. And then, there is the more seasoned, more reasonable section of the audience, which says, “No, he is a married man and he has two kids and past is past. You have responsibilities. How can you go back to that woman?” This is the story of our life. It happens with everybody. You have to understand what is happening.
There is a difference between skill and self-realization.
Often, what happens is that we look for appreciation and appreciation comes when we are good at something, when we are skilled at something. Do you understand what skill is?
What is skill? Skill is repetition.
Have you heard of the ‘Ten Thousand Times’ rule. You do anything, you repeat any action for ten thousand times and you will gain a particular proficiency in that skill. Sports persons swear by this. Ten thousand baskets in basketball and then 99% times you won’t go wrong. Ten thousand backhand smashes in tennis and then you know that you are an expert at it.
Somebody makes me play ten thousand backhand smashes and what happens? I become expert at it, I become good at it. This is just the gaining of a skill, I have not understood anything. It is like programming a machine; but now as I am good at backhand smash, what do I start getting from the audience? Every time I play a backhand smash, what do I get from the audience?
Listener : (In unison) Appreciation.
Speaker : And how does it feel? You play a beautiful backhand smash. Great and I start saying that I am in love with playing backhand smashes. Are you really in love with it or is it just a skill that you have mastered out of circumstances? Circumstances forced you to master a skill. I drove my car up to your university and I drive pretty well. I have driven up the hills, I have driven into the deserts, I have driven up the highways, I have driven in small cities. It’s a skill. I drive pretty well. Now, can that become a love of my life? Because I am of particular age, because I have a particular number of driving hours behind me, which happened due to a chance, I have become quite proficient at driving. Just because I have a lot of driving experience behind me. Should I say that I am passionate about driving? Should I say that driving is my life? And I drive quite well.
It’s just a skill that you have acquired circumstantially. Kindly do not confuse it with anything else. It’s not self realization. It’s not what you are and it’s not your love. The mind is such that if it does something over and over again, repeats and repeats and repeats, it becomes attached to that. And then there are memories and such things.
This is the very fundamental of arranged marriage as well. You put any two people together for sufficiently long period of time and they will grow fond of each other, any two people. And after a point they will start claiming that they love each other. They do not love each other, they have become accustomed to each other, they have become attached to each other because they have been living together for a long time. There is no love in this. There is no love in this. Circumstances asked you to do something. Play the violin and now you play it quite well, don’t you? Playing it well may as well be something very, very mechanical. Very mechanical
Listener : Sir, but you do something good only when you enjoy.
Speaker : Doing good and doing in a skilled way are two completely different things.
This camera is recording all that we are speaking very, very skilfully. Isn’t it? Is it missing even a second of what we are saying here? But would you want to say that this camera is in love with recording? Would you want to say that? There is a painter who paints in a skilled manner and he has acquired all of this from the outside. He has great knowledge about the types of canvas to choose, the various colours that can be picked up, the types of brush, the various strokes, the various schools of painting that exist. He has lot of knowledge regarding that. And because he has practiced and practiced and rehearsed for long, his hands have acquired a certain deftness. His strokes have become very efficient.
And then there is another painter who paints in a meditative way. He has no great knowledge of painting. He is not very skilled at painting. But when the brush comes to him, he gets totally immersed in what he is doing. And skill wise his work is not very good. But there is a different quality about what he is doing, a newness about it. That newness is called creativity. There is very little skill but a lot of creativity here.
Which of these two painters is the worthy one? The one who has great skill, practice and experience behind him or the one who is raw, immature, unskilled but paints from a very silent, meditative mind? For the second painter, when he is painting, he is just painting. Painting to him is meditation. Which one is the more worthy one? The second one? Which of these is likely to gather more appreciation from the world? The first one. Now it’s upon you. The ball is in your court. Which one do you want to become?
You become the first one and you gain a lot of riches and a lot of applause. You become the second one, your painting will really not look very good but it will have a particular youthfulness about it, a particular freshness, a raw energy, a vitality. And this second painter may not paint all his life. He does not paint because he is a professional painter. He may even leave painting for years altogether and then come back one day suddenly to painting. He is unpredictable. The first painter is very, very predictable. He is a professional painter. He paints ‘n’ number of paintings per year as professionals do. The second fellow is erratic, unprofessional, raw, less skilled but there is a wildness about his living, the first fellow is all domesticated. As young people which one do you choose? The wild one? He might live in poverty and die in penury. The first one will have lots of riches. The second one will be unknown, unsung. You have to choose.
Listener : The first one.
Speaker(Laughs) : The first one? That is an honest reply at least. Most of us would actually want to be the first one. That is the fact. Most of us are actually like the first one. But you have to ask yourself whether there is something here which makes life worth living. You have to ask yourself whether there is something here which is very, very essential to life? Are you getting it? Remember, life will be uncertain here. You will not know where is the next meal coming from and whether it is coming at all? He will find very little appreciation. He will not know what he is going to do the next day because painting to him is not a profession. It’s not something that he must wake up every day and practice every day as a matter of routine, as a matter of habit. So it’s a scary life this side. Who still wants to come to this side? Anybody? Anybody who still wants to come to this side? You will have a rough ride.
Another listener : But it’s better than if I am not liking it. I may not like it and it has become just duty for me. I may not be liking it but I still need to continue because people are forcing me, because I have to earn money. I will find something to do because I am enjoying it. I am a jolly person. I will do something.
Speaker : History will not remember you.
Listener : Doesn’t matter.
Speaker : You will not get a good wife and a huge fat dowry. Your parents may not be happy. Your friends will call you a loser. Still want to go ahead? And what if one day you wake up and you will find that the other painter’s, the first one, his name is being sung and there is his statue at the crossroads, venerating him as the best painter ever. And your friends will come to you and say, “Learn something from him, see how nicely he paints. Look at the skill of his brush and look at the rashness of your strokes”. He will have 20,000 followers on Facebook and you will have 60 and even that number will keep reducing. As days pass, people will keep unfriending you from their friends list. Want to live such a life? Want to live such a life? You want to or you want to ask a question?
Difficult. Scary? So scary. Does this second fellow go home and seek parents’ permission to do what he is doing? The first fellow will have a huge mansion of his own, a nice big bungalow at the heart of the city. And here, the second one often gets kicked out by his landlord because he cannot pay his monthly rent. You’ve already made up your mind. Safe! (laughing), you don’t have anything to do with the rest of the discussion. Balance between the two (laughing)? How? How exactly?
Listener : I will try to live a skilled life. My profession will be that of which is essential in the world. The world that we live in, it is necessary to live a skilled life but I will try to take out as much time as possible for the thing that I enjoy.
Speaker : But skill is not really in your hand. Skill comes with repetition. Remember, skill comes with repetition. Repetition takes time. Now, either you can force yourself to repeat something.
(Reciting the most mugged up aspect of Sanskrit) Ram,Ramao,Ramah; Ram,Ramao,Ramah. How many of you remember that? So you repeat it a thousand times and you do not forget it entire lifetime. Or, it just gets repeated because out of love you are repeating it again and again. Out of love, it’s just happening. Incidentally again and again. So you become skilled at it. How would you like to acquire the skill? By just repeating it mechanically or doing something in love?
Listener(In unison) : Out of love.
Speaker : Then, skill is incidental. It just happened that I did it so many times that I became skilled at it. I didn’t try to be skilled. My objective was not to be skilled. My objective was to do what I love. It’s incidental that skill came to me. It’s incidental that skill came to me. And when skill joins love, it’s fascinating. But this coming together of skill and love cannot be forced. If it happens it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.
Listener : But violin course in our school was till class 10th. I was really doing it mechanically but there was something in me that I continued playing in 11th standard when we had lot to study. I just took out time to play.
Speaker : You need to find out that what is it about playing the violin that really holds you. Is it the success in generating a particular note, a particular musical sound? Is it the accomplishment or is it so that playing the violin becomes the method of meditation to you? What is it that brings you to playing the violin? What is it that brings you to playing the violin? Do you come to it and look for external validation? Do you come for success? Are you looking at the future? When you are coming to it are you looking to accomplish something? As I said, to generate a particular note or do you to come to it in a wild, raw, unrestrained manner which releases your energy, which expresses yourself. You have to ask that. What attracts me to playing the violin? What attracts me to it? There are two opposite things that can happen when one is performing. Two opposite things. We started the session by talking of influences.
As I am speaking to you, this process of speaking may influence me and fill up my mind further. How does the mind gets filled up when I am speaking to you? I am speaking to you and my mind can be filled up of your influence. How? I could be looking for your applause. I could be looking for validation in your eyes. And then gradually my mind will become more and more loaded with your opinions, your validation, your certification. Even while I speak, I will wonder whether you are liking what I am speaking. My objective will be to get your sanction. My objective will to please you. This is one mode of speaking.
In the first mode, speaking will load my mind. In the second mode of speaking, as I am speaking, I don’t even know what I am speaking. I speak to you, I look at you, I am deeply connected to you but I am free of your influence. You are not influencing me. I am speaking to you but you are not influencing me. So, speaking has become a process of emptying.
In the first case, speaking will become the process of loading the mind, as if I am hungry, as if I was looking for something, achieving some success and I have come to you to achieve something, to get that appreciation. In the second case, speaking has become a process of regaining my lightness, emptying myself. So, you have to ask yourself, what does playing the violin do to you? Are you looking to become more accomplished? Are you looking to record it and play it to your friends? Are you looking to impress others? Or does it help you become peaceful? Do you play it all to yourself? Does it help you to move into meditation?
In case, the word ‘meditation’ is conjuring up images of a man doing many yogic practices, meditation is not all that. I am not talking of that. When I say meditation, all I mean is a particular attention, silence, stillness.
There is this story which I have heard and narrated many a times. For your benefit, I will narrate it once again. Have you heard of Tansen?
Listener(Everyone) : Yes Sir.
Speaker : What do we know Tansen for? Music. Right? Megh Malhar. Akbar once asked Tansen that I have knighted you as one of the navratnas, the nine jewels of my court and I think that you are the most wonderful singer that can ever be. When you sing, it’s so delightful. But today, I want to ask you that who is your guru. You must have learnt from somebody. Who is your guru? Can you call him here? If you are so good, it’s amazing to think how your guru would be. Tansen smiled and he said that I do have a guru but he will not come to your court. You will have to go and meet him. Akbar said fine. It would be a time well spent and I am prepared to go to meet your guru. How can we do that? Tansen said that you have to spend a lot of time for that. He is very unpredictable. We will go to him. So Akbar waited that night and kept waiting. Tansen came to him post midnight and asked him to come. He took him to the banks of river Yamuna and there was a small hut there. Tansen’s guru lived there. Akbar said that let us proceed to the hut. Lets meet him. Introduce me to him. Tansen said no. There is no point introducing you to him because he does not sing for an audience. You just wait. You sit here and wait. So they both stood behind a tree and waited and waited. The man didn’t come out of his hut and it was dawn and they had to come back empty handed. Akbar said that four hours wasted but I find this exciting. I want to hear your guru sing. Tansen said that we will try again. They kept repeating the same exercise and ultimately one night, at around 4 a.m., just before sunrise, the man came out of his hut. He looked at the sky and the clean flowing waters of Yamuna and he became ecstatic.
The sky was beautiful, just before sunrise. And he started singing. Akbar and Tansen were hiding behind the tree and listening to him. And it is said that as he kept singing, tears kept rolling from Akbar’s eyes. They kept listening to him. The man sang continuously for long. When they came to their palace in the morning, Akbar said to Tansen, I used to think that you are a wonderful singer but you are nothing compared to your guru. You are just nothing. And you rehearse so much. Day in and day out you are busy with your riyaaz. You are always practicing.
And your guru! He does not try to follow any regimen, no schedule for rehearsal. We looked for him for seven continuous nights, he didn’t sing. Suddenly, he comes out and starts singing and there is this beautiful quality about his singing. How does he get that and why can not you have that? When you practice so much, when you are so skilled, why can’t you have that? From where does that man get that quality? A poor man living in a hut, at the river bank.
Tansen said that the difference between me and him is that I sing for you and he sings for himself. I sing because I want to get something from you and the audience. He sings because he already has everything. That is the difference.
You have to ask yourself, why do you play violin? Do you play violin because you want to gain something or do you play violin because you already have everything? Do you play it for others or do you play it for yourself? Is it an object of demonstration for you, a nice picture with a violin in the hand? Looks nice, quite romantic.
What is the place of violin in your life? What exactly draws you to it? You have to ask it to yourself and then you will know.
-Excerpts from a Samvaad session. Edited for clarity.
Watch the session at: What matters more in work – skill or love?
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