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A question of answers

He is happy just to walk the path, and who wouldn't, when he can walk in the shadow of one of the greatest travellers of them all? ANJANA RAJAN meets Rajiv Mehrotra, a man who revels in the teachings of the Dalai Lama


One of the reasons for the appeal of the Dalai Lama is his willingness to embrace questioning, to ask for rigorous questioning of the teacher



COMFORTABLE WITH UNCERTAINTY Rajiv Mehrotra at the PSBT office in New Delhi Photo: V.V. Krishnan

What if Prince Siddhartha, when he left on his quest, had failed to gain enlightenment? It is a question Rajiv Mehrotra, noted journalist, biographer and essayist, has often thought about. Luckily for him, he got the opportunity to ask it of the Dalai Lama himself, arguably the living person most qualified to deliver an opinion on the subject. While such a query has no definitive answer, Mehrotra understands that for the Dalai Lama, it is the motivation that decides the merit of the deed, rather than the end result.

"His Holiness is frequently compared to Gandhiji," observes Mehrotra, a close associate of the Dalai Lama. "But for Gandhi, the means and the end were both important. His Holiness says if the motive is strong enough, the end is less important."

Mehrotra, who is secretary/trustee of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has travelled and studied with the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He has just come out with a compilation of the words of his guru, "The Essential Dalai Lama - His Important Teachings", published by Penguin. As the editor of the book, Mehrotra claims no particular credit. He calls himself a traveller after all, one in search of answers.

When it comes to seeking, the Dalai Lama too, though millions may revere him as an incarnation of the Buddha, is ever ready to question, ever alert to the possibility of new discoveries that may require him to alter his worldview.

"One of the reasons for the appeal of the Dalai Lama is his willingness to embrace questioning, to ask for rigorous questioning of the teacher, including himself," feels Mehrotra. "The other aspect has been his position on reason and logic. The great emphasis that you are not limited to what reason and logic agree with, but if science were to disprove it, you would have to change your theory. For example, he says if science were to disprove reincarnation, we would have to find a way out."

Every year he has dialogues with some of the world's most eminent scientists, he adds.

Celebrating diversity

Another reason for the Dalai Lama's appeal, for the world in general and Mehrotra in particular is "his very real celebration of diversity."

The Foundation for Universal Responsibility was established using the funds from the Nobel Peace Prize presented to His Holiness - "he is the first religious leader to have got that kind of award" - and stemmed from such concepts. "It was a dream," recounts Mehrotra, "say, to get the Pope and the Shankaracharya to go to Mecca together."

So far this dream seems too far-fetched, so Mehrotra was the one who had the opportunity of going there with His Holiness.

As a documentary filmmaker and managing trustee of the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, besides other responsibilities, the Oxford and Columbia educated Mehrotra gets a close-up view of two seemingly opposite worlds: that of the spirit, where compassion is a leading virtue, and materialism, where aggression is the norm. How does one reconcile these in practical terms, and what has he gained personally from being in the company of a great spiritual leader who exemplifies equanimity before terrible odds?

Mehrotra, who has earlier authored "The Mind of the Guru: Conversations with Spiritual Masters", has just completed a biography of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, and is currently working on a spiritual biography of the Dalai Lama, smiles the smile of one who has realised that the more you know, the more you know you don't know.

"I do feel I've learnt to live more comfortably with uncertainty and confusion," he ventures.

That's not a bad gift, in a world where uncertainty and confusion abound.

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