‘Looking Within’: Life Lessons from Lal Ded

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India has produced some of the world’s greatest religious leaders, sages, saints, philosophers and spiritual thinkers. They were monks, nuns and renunciates, nationalists and reformers. No one religion had a monopoly on them. They range from Mahavira and Buddha, who lived over 2,500 years ago, to medieval saints like Chishti, Avvaiyar and Guru Nanak, to more recent philosophers and religious icons such as Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Saint Teresa and many others. The spiritual and philosophical heritage they left behind is India’s gift to all Indians and the world. In the ‘Life Lessons’ series we publish the essential teachings of some of India’s best-known spiritual teachers, along with commentaries and biographical notes. Each book will be a handy companion to help the reader along the difficult pathways of life. *** Lal Ded (Granny Lal), as Lalleshwari was known, was a Shaiva mystic saint who lived in Kashmir, probably in the fourteenth century. Born into a Brahmin family of Pandrethan (near Srinagar), she is said to have had an early bad marriage and faced many domestic hardships, prompting a turn to spirituality. She renounced her marriage and material life and became a wandering mystic. She shared her wisdom in the form of vaakhs (sayings or utterances). These vaakhs (originally in the Kashmiri language) have seeped far and wide into popular usage and are part of the collective memory—through songs, proverbs and hymns—of Kashmiris of all stripes, through the generations. In these vaakhs, Lal Ded talked about the woes of the human condition, her disillusionment with the world, her anguished search for God, and, ultimately, her realization of God as pure consciousness. She rejected outward rituals, ostentation and extreme asceticism as paths to reach the truth. Her observations on the transience and futility of material pursuits and the emotions they generate, like greed, anger, pride and fear, apply to us all. While her sayings are deeply profound, her humanism makes it easy to relate to Lal and her teachings. Translated and edited by Shonaleeka Kaul, the aphorisms in ‘Looking Within’ represent Lal Ded’s core teachings.

 

About the Author

Shonaleeka Kaul is a cultural historian of early South Asia, specializing in working with Sanskrit texts. She is associate professor in the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and currently visiting professor at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, Germany. She was also the Malathy Singh Distinguished Lecturer in South Asian Studies at Yale University, USA, and the Jan Gonda Fellow in Indology at Leiden University, The Netherlands. She is the author of The Making of Early Kashmir: Landscape and Identity in the Rajatarangini, among other books.

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