When you imagine a fighter pilot, what image does your mind conjure up? A calm, composed, intrepid gladiator sitting in a cramped cockpit lined with sleek panels of dazzling dials and blinking lights? Connected to an apparatus for breathing at high altitudes, soaring into the skies in a glistening jet with a streamlined fuselage, which shimmers brilliantly in the dazzling sunlight above the clouds? High thrust with steep takeoffs, carrying deadly payloads? Delta wings and supersonic speeds with seemingly magical maneuverability? State-of-the-art technical wizardry with advanced navigation systems and radar evasion capabilities? Ejections seats and life-saving parachutes?
Yes, probably all this, and much more…
Now, dear friends, let’s brutally cut across to something vastly different, in both space and time. In fact, to a different dimension: the great Rishis and Munis of yore.
What would the idea of an ancient Rishi make you imagine? A solitary ascetic, sitting upright and cross-legged, with eyes firmly closed, in a secluded cave far away from civilization, bound by the perpetual snows of the high Himalayas? A white bearded sage having renounced all worldly ties to meditate and meditate and meditate? A loin cloth and a tiger skin and a wooden bowl, along with a shawl to keep out the freezing cold of the thin mountain air? Hours spent in a state of trance, oblivious of food or water, hunger or thirst, without discernment of any pleasure or pain? Knowledge beyond knowledge, wisdom beyond wisdom, and bliss insurmountable beyond both?
That’s what most of us would probably visualize at the mention of a Yogi.
But how many of us would give serious credence to a purported fusion of these two mental images? Sounds incredible, in fact downright paradoxical, doesn’t it?
But, despite this seeming contradiction, is it really impossible for these two portraits of our imagination to blend?
This confluence is what we find in Richard Bach, my favourite modern-day author. When you read the books written by this 20th century aviator, who was for some time a fighter pilot, you start wondering, “Who is this mystery man? He dons an Air Officer’s suit, yet speaks the tongue of an enlightened mystic.”
His immensely meaningful books, put all together, use flying as a metaphor for his own stratospheric flights into the depths of philosophy, into which he effortlessly lifts his reader as well, as if by magic. As we read one book after another, his ideas keep touching new, constantly receding horizons. His semi-autobiographical works trace deeper and deeper revelations across a lifetime. He describes how he was always fascinated with flight, and that nothing else mattered. He learned to fly and became an Officer in the Air Force. After leaving the military he did almost everything imaginable, connected with flight. He flew vintage planes on the sets of war movies, worked as a flight instructor, wrote for aviation magazines, and also flight manuals, volunteered at airports, and much else. Perhaps the climax was his adventure of taking an old biplane, with no modern gadgetry, into the American mid-west in the scorching heat of summer, selling rides to eager passengers who came out to relish the joy of this novelty on a warm, lazy afternoon, curious about the ancient flying machine they saw in their midst, but confident in the abilities of the man who flew it. In this setting, he had no maintenance support of any kind, and worked with just his tools and his bare hands to keep his ship airworthy, in the manner of the old barnstormers of more than a generation earlier. Having enough money to buy dinner depended on his ability to attract the crowds. But he believes that, in the process, he found new meanings to the cosmos, and a new relationship with its Creator, which is a rare privilege, open only to those who strive.
In his search for the ultimate secrets, he broke all the “accepted” conventions of the society, to live his life the way he pleased. He flew across the farmlands, landed where he liked, cherished his solitude, and had only simple needs. He would sleep in open fields, gazing at the stars, searching for the meaning of life, the purpose of existence. What was the aim of it all? How could it possibly be nothing more than purposeless chance? What lies beyond our ordinary sense perceptions? All these “other worldly” thoughts and experiences, this endless striving to discover “reality”, became the subject of one of his greatest works, “Illusions”. This was the first of his books which I read, and, as a result, I hastened to read the others. I have never quite put this particular book down, learning continuously, and always enjoying it. In “Illusions”, Bach meets an illumined master, a messiah, who imparts him much of the knowledge he yearns for.
The philosophy that Bach builds up in his writings, which span half a century, revolves around the countless thoughts that have exercised the minds of philosophers across the ages: who we are, what are we doing here, why was the universe created, what is our role in it, where do we go from here, what should our goals be, how do we reach them, and many more such unanswered mysteries.
It’s a truly uplifting experience to read the simple, lucid interpretations and explanations given by Bach in his clear, articulate words. A sheer joy to read.
And, in the end, they leave you wondering, is this man a modern-day fighter pilot, or a Rishi coming back from ancient times?
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https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3466296806763257&set=p.3466296806763257&type=3 (pic-1) at link above. An image of Vizag Beach with INS KURSURA, a submarine-museum, at left and TU aircraft museum, at right along the beach Road. Picture above is a download from facebook. (pic-2) INS KURSURA submarine museum on beach side of R.K.Puram beach Road. It is an excellent musuem, worth visiting. I …
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