In one of the stories that Grandpa Hari Chopra told to his grandson Ashok Kumar Malhotra, a young Buddhist monk has lived a life of reverence and self-discipline but after twelve years still has not seen the Buddha. Resentful about his lost youth, the monk sets off for a drunken bender. On the way he sees a puppy being attacked by maggots and, with a respect for life that stops him from even harming a maggot, he stoops down and starts to lick the maggots away and save the innocent puppy. At which moment, the Buddha appears. The monk is still resentful but the Buddha tells him, “I was always there to greet you but your meditation was overshadowed by your big ego. Only when you saw the puppy’s suffering, you discarded your ego and felt compassion for him. Since I am present in every selfless act of compassion, here I am to greet you.”
Today, Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy (the highest title granted by the Regents) at the State University College at Oneonta. He is the author of more than a dozen books on Eastern and Western philosophy, including an important work on yoga and the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre. His writings on Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism clarified those belief structures for westerners. He founded the Yoga and Meditation Society and edited its journal. He has written about the life and ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. And he is founder and leader of the Ninash Foundation, which has built and supports schools for the poorest children in India. But with a gesture that brings together the breadth of his scholarly interests and good works, Dr. Malhotra reveals where his knowledge began and offers “Grandpa Chopra’s Stories for Life’s Nourishment”. It is a light book of forty parables, starting with simple tales that bear a resemblance to the “Arabian Nights” or the Hindu Panchatantra Tales, the oldest stories in Indian culture. Or Aesop’s Fables, ancient stories that culminate in a moral. Before they went into the book, Ashok Malhotra told the stories to his own grandchildren.
Professor Malhotra grew up in the Punjab in a multi-generational family of fifteen. His father was a dairy farmer with ten cows. Ashok Malhotra tells of his family life in the book’s preface and then goes into greater daily detail in longer essays in the second half of his book.
Life “was an adventure unlike anything you have seen in Bollywood or Hollywood films.” The sounds and aromas of their three-room house permeate the description — even taking a morning shower with one bucket of water shared among the entire family was a careful ritual. Most of the family even seems to have adjusted to the presence of rats and monkeys around their home.
Ashok Kumar Malhotra would go on to graduate from high school, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Rajasthan and then came to the United States (with only $8.00 in his pocket) to earn his doctorate from the University of Hawaii. In Hawaii he began an ongoing relationship with the school’s East-West Center, where he was in residence during April (“This is my second home…where Obama’s parents and Obama got their start.”) He joined the faculty at SUNY-Oneonta in 1967.