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Month: November 2020

Birthday of the truly timeless

Today marks Guru Nanak Jayanti. It is perhaps the most sacred festival in Sikhism. It commemorates the birth of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. During most of my childhood and youth, I would consider this birthday just another blessing – thanks to the additional holiday each year. But having read about Guru Nanak’s life and teachings in the book Ten Companions of God by J.P Vaswani, there are a lot of lessons for me to learn from.

Initially started as an offshoot of Hinduism, many core principles in Sikhism remain intact. The focus is on service, to humanity as a whole, and specifically to those in need. The underlying belief that the Supreme is One, is also similar. Many Sikhs greet each other by saying “Sat Sri Akal”. Sat is the Truth. Not like a spoken truth/lie, but referring to the only changeless Truth. Sri confers respect on Kal. And Kal refers to time, and a-Kal is the timeless. Thus there is only one True Timeless permanent fixture (aka God), and that is what Sikhs remember, when they greet each other.

There are 3 outstanding tenets Guru Nanak preached.

  1. Vand chako – Share whatever we have, and always be in the service of others
  2. Kirat karo – Be duty bound, work hard and and earn an honest living
  3. Naam japo – Meditate on God

So simple, yet so profound.

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Acronyms of a liberated soul

Just a fun post this one (aren’t they all!). Here’s how a liberated soul might react to some common acronyms:

ICYMI – In Case You Missed It – “There is nothing to miss, because nothing ever was.”
BRB – Be Right Back – “How can you be so sure? It is all a play of the Supreme”
AFAIK – As Far As I Know – “We know nothing. Even Saraswati says she knows less than 1% of all creation.’
G2G – Got To Go – “What is the hurry? In a 100 years from now, none of us will matter”
BTW – By The Way – “All ways lead only to Him.”
YOLO – You Only Live Once – “Couldn’t be further from the truth.”
OMG – Oh My God – “Why do you exclaim only in times of need? There is nothing besides God”
IMHO – In My Humble Opinion – “I have no opinion, it is all God’s plan and His doing only”
IDK – I Don’t Know – “Yes, you are right on that one”
LOL – Laughing Out Loud – “I’ll join you, because life is fun.”
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions – “What is Brahman, Aatman, Paramatman, Maya, Moksha?”
DIY – Do It Yourself – “Who else will? You came alone, you will go alone.”

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Feeling good

Here’s an incident narrated by a good friend. She and her family went to a car showroom to buy a car. They had a budget in mind. The salesman came over and began his pitch. When my friend and her family then began to discuss options amongst themselves, they spoke in their mother tongue. As luck would have it, this was the mother tongue of the salesman as well. He immediately switched over to that language, figured out exactly what they wanted, and told them about precisely the car that would fit their needs, and budget. My friend says their family booked the car the very same day.

Here is my learning from the salesman’s actions. If I listen well enough, and make the other person feel comfortable (like by using their own mother tongue, or even by just smiling, and genuinely caring for the other person), then I will always improve my chances of getting the best possible outcome (here, a quick sale).

A few days ago, I had a bank job to take care of. Going to the bank during Covid19 is avoidable. Why there are still offline forms to be filled for ‘change of address’, when the whole world is going digital beats me. Sensing my discomfort, my relationship manager quickly and voluntarily offered to send a branch courier person to my house pick up the form.

These may be small things, but they go a long way in building relationships. Over time, we may forget the specifics of what someone did for us, but we will not forget how they made us feel.

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Shock and awe

We rarely learn or remember anything simply by reading. And certainly don’t learn if we are told we are wrong, or if we just come across the ‘correct answer’. We only learn when we are surprised or shocked by what we read; when our jaw crashes into the floor. We often pick up things to read with plenty of preconceived notions. But if something completely shakes or rattles our understanding, that’s when the maximum absorption happens.

We’ve discussed previously my Guru’s unmatchable not-to-be-missed Amazing Simple Gita purports (free, click to download pdf) and also Thiruvalluvar’s amazing Kural book (also recommended by my Guru). Here below are just a few statements from these that have had this shock-and-awe treatment on my life and learning experience, leaving an everlasting positive imprint.

  1. Spirituality is not unhappiness and crying, long face and sorrow.
  2. Renunciation shows maturity, spiritual adulthood.
  3. Death has to come one day, do not die every day worrying about it.
  4. Dharma is nothing but the absence of evil thoughts.
  5. Truth = that which is not evil = even a lie will be on par with truth if it brings unblemished benefits to all.
  6. If a householder lives a dharmic life, this is better even than hermits, and ranks as God.

Aren’t these just mind blowing? There are so many like these, and we can cover more in future posts if you wish. Do please leave a comment below if you like!

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No this acronym is not about partner orientation.

These 6 words make up the most under used and under appreciated phrase in the English language.

“Let me get back to you.”

Oh the number of times I have made terrible decisions simply because I thought I had to give an answer right away. Almost never do we actually need to answer on the spot, apart from maybe a job interview. And then too, we can always take time to think about the ‘longer-term’ questions, such as on salary, benefits, relocation, change of role etc. Because rarely in life is anything so pressingly important.

Here are a few examples. When the husband gets an invite to a party he knows his wife doesn’t like – but he still impulsively says yes. When the boss asks you to finish a project over the weekend, and this weekend is for taking the kids out, but you still impulsively say ‘yes’. When the recruiter asks if you can join immediately, and you know you have a non-negotiable notice period, but still say ‘yes’. The answers to these questions may be driven by impulse, or even by fear – as though taking the time to think will lead to something disastrous – like losing a friend or a job. If it comes to that, it’s probably not the right job or friendship in the first place. On the flip side, our decision making is likely to improve significantly if we take the time to think a little about our decisions.

“LMGBTY please” may also serves as a good replacement for “I don’t know” as it may make us seem less dumb! We (and me for sure) could benefit from using it more often.

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More life more living

If someone was born in 1914, there was only a 1% chance that he/she would survive till the age of 100.

Thanks to medical advancements including the eradication of many deadly diseases, there is now a 50% probability that a child born today lives to a 100. In Japan, this number is 109 years.

Is this good? Indeed, it is wonderful news. But what matters is not the age itself, but the quality of the life we live.

Would we rather die 70 happy and carefree, or 100 stressed and depressed?

We are presented with many choices. The work we do (and the consequent stress we take on), the food we eat, the health we neglect, the exercise we strive to be regular with, the sabbaticals we take (yes, refuelling is a good idea – otherwise we are all just rats in a rat race!), the spiritual practices we so wish we could do, among many others.

The choices we make today, will go a long way towards improving our lives.

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Mind bind

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to topics like fate, free will, destiny, effort, luck, karma etc.

Do I have free will? If so, then how does astrology work? Why do people say I am destined for such and such problem to occur? Do I need to make any effort to change my circumstances?

Lord Krishna in the Gita answers these questions in one fell swoop.

Chapter 6, verse 5. He says that there is only one person responsible for both the highs and lows in one’s life. And that is the person himself/herself. Krishna also clarifies in this that everything depends on the state of one’s mind. If one uses their mind well, they can elevate themselves. If one denigrates themselves, they will fall. Remember the recent Maldives trip? (link)

The Amritabindu upanishad has the final say. Mana-eva kaaranam mokshaaya bandhaaya. The mind alone is the reason, for both liberation and bondage. Said simply, the mind is both the problem, and the solution.

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What makes us different

Name one person from history, who attained infinite peace from his/her:
– money
– title / status
– beauty
– immortality
– relationships
– accolades received from society

Which of these above are permanent features of our lives?

Are we ourselves permanent features?

Are we any different from all those people who have come and gone?

Do we want what is permanently good, or what is deceptively good?

We must think of the consequences of our thoughts, habits, desires and actions – and evaluate if what we want is really what we need.

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What do you want

A king was pleased with one of his subjects, and granted him a boon. “Make a wish, and it is yours.” The man desperately wanted a bigger house to fit his growing family in, so he asked the king for one. “Your wish is my command!” And the king’s men built a big house for the subject.

Nice story. Except, by some measure, the subject didn’t do his homework well. People came to him and told him that he frittered away his golden opportunity. Some said he could have asked for money, gold, ornaments or land. Still others told him to think bigger. The king was obligated to keep his word, and so the subject could have asked for control over the king’s army, or treasury or even his entire kingdom.

One saint came by, and said if there was one thing he should have asked, it would have been the power that enabled the king to give such wishes – the power of generosity and selflessness.

Notwithstanding these remarks, and putting ourselves in the shoes of the subject, what should we ask for? We pray every day. We go to temples, and we ask for money, for status and for other short lived objects and experiences. The Power who we are praying to, has the capacity to give us anything. Instead of praying for that which is Infinite, we are praying for temporary, ephemeral and inconsequential things.

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The Conjuring

Day 1: I’m finally going on a holiday. Next week. To Maldives. After an incessant workload this past year, compounded by the pandemic, and having had no opportunities for breaks in between. I’m so happy!

Day 2: There is no respite from work. Today’s workload has been the worst this whole year. But it is fine. My holiday is coming up, and the workload actually feels light. Happiness abounds.

Day 3: Mentally I’m already in The Maldives. The virtual smell of sand and salt water. Is this paradise already?

Day 4: Something has come up at work. A teammate had to take emergency leave. My trip has to be postponed. There is no alternative. Today, my workload is really less, but it feels like I am doing the entire company’s work singlehandedly. I’m feeling not just angry or dejected, but also tired.

Day 5: But there is a very good learning for me from all this. I have experienced a range of emotions from extreme joy to extreme despair. All these because of The Maldives vacation. But also all these without once setting foot in that country or beginning my vacation. Everything was just playing out in my mind. The actual reality? Irrelevant. Only what my mind was conjuring up mattered. Then why don’t I always conjure up good things?

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The ride of a lifetime

You have read before of the magical benevolence of my Guru (link) – specifically point 4, where he would give a lift to labourers walking in the hot sun. One way to think about this, is that it is wonderful and almost unthinkable for anyone to offer this sort of a service to those with lesser means.

But there is another deeper possibility. In this scenario, the labourers are none other than we ourselves. We are the ones walking in the hot scorching sun of Life – being tossed around from one thorny problem to another. The lush oasis in the distance, is in reality nothing more than a mirage.

The Guru in his infinite compassion, is picking us up in his car, and delivering us from the madness that is our lives, to moksha. What more could one ask for? Nothing. What can one give in return? Also nothing. Because nothing will ever be enough.

And yet what do we often do? We do not even get into the car. We doubt whether the car is even real. We question the driver, and his experience. We do not get in. Even if we do, we stick our heads out the window and keep looking back. Or we open the door, step out and walk away.

There will come a day when we all wished we had got in to the car and stayed in. Why not take the ride from today itself then?

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Sin City

Much is said about sin in the various religious books. Doing bad, it is prophesied, will send one to hell, and doing good will roll out a red carpet to heaven.

The question arises thus – “What constitutes sin?”. Is killing a mosquito a sin? Maybe? Is killing a mosquito – to save your child’s life because she now does not contract dengue – also a sin? Maybe not?

The Gita for one never says what is right or wrong. It only states unequivocally that the consequences of our actions must be borne by us. However it does acknowledge that sins exist (at least in our living world). If what is dharmic is that which is done in the interest of the greatest good, then actions intended at harming even a minority would be adharmic. In chapter 18, Krishna says that if one surrenders entirely to Him, then he would wash away all of that person’s sins. Isn’t that amazing?

To understand the enormity of Krishna’s magnanimity, one must only think of the various rituals that exist – such as homas / havans / pujas / sacrificial fire offerings. When performed comprehensively, each block of 4-5 verses is always followed by verses that explicitly seek forgiveness. Forgiveness that the ritual was performed correctly, that the ladle was held correctly, the mantra was pronounced correctly, that the mind was not wavering and so on and so forth. All this for a 30 minute ritual? Imagine the amount of forgiveness we have to seek then for committing a lifetime of sins! Despite this, Krishna offers a quick-but-permanent-fix to get rid of all sins forever. We just need to surrender entirely to Him. Would it not be worth the effort?

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Dominos Pizza recently launched a new pizza. My first reaction was “What kind of a weird combination is this?” The same reaction I observed in some of my colleagues / friends / family members as well when it came up for discussion.

The combo was that of pasta and pizza. Or rather pasta on top of the pizza. Who even came up with such an idea?

Of course we know things like “Do not judge a book by its cover” or “Beauty is only skin deep”. But I still couldn’t help but wonder who would have thought up putting this portmanteau of a dish together.

Having tried the pasta-pizza though, I was really surprised at how good it tasted. Not only did each individual dish retain its own flavour, but their synergistic convergence was drool inducing, and had me thinking about eating more slices long after the box had been emptied and thrown away.

So it is, that the whole can always be greater than the sum of its parts, as long as each ingredient gives its best to the mix. This is relevant for people as well. Instead of bringing up ego battles when two stalwarts come together, it is far more beneficial if they work together for mutual and wider benefit. The same goes for us. We each have many many wonderful things to contribute to the world. Why should our ego be one of them?

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Being nobody

There is only one difference between us and God. That difference, is the ego. The feeling that “I am”.

In material life, all success comes from “I am”. I am – an engineer, a charter holder, an accountant, an architect, a tennis champion, a saxophonist, a movie director, an Oscar winner, an artist, a photographer.

In spiritual life, only failure follows “I am”.

Swami Premananda, one of the foremost disciples of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, was once told by a younger monk that Premananda was lucky because his Master had “made him great.”. To which Premananda immediately responded: “No! The Master did not make us great, he made us ‘nobodies.’ You also have to become ‘nobodies.’ Wipe out all vanity from the mind. The Master used to say, ‘When the ego dies, all troubles cease.’”

Practically for us, is it possible to live a life giving up our ego completely? Not at all. We will only be trampled underfoot. However, one can give their ego up to their Guru. This would mean doing as the Guru says, no questions asked. This path too is very hard, but at least the Guru is there to take care of us, acting as a safety net at all times. Practising this form of ego deposition at the Guru’s feet is not easy either, but it is perhaps the easiest of the various spiritual paths on offer.

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Why I’m (not) incompetent

As toddlers, when we wanted to speak better, we were surrounded by those who spoke well, and just kept repeating the same gibberish over and over. Today as an adult language learner, if we are in the company of a native speaker, we feel incompetent.

Where we previously studied and memorised many lists for many exams, today we feel incompetent. If someone at the workplace has better ideas than us, or gets promoted, we feel incompetent. Even at home, if a sibling or a cousin achieves more than us, we feel incompetent.

Incompetence is not jealousy, although it could stem from it. Incompetence is only an excuse to doing better, not a solution. It is this very same feeling of incompetence that leads to depression. Despite having everything, an unsolicited and unnecessary comparison to peers throws life off track.

What if we were to just accept the situation and let go? We are not very good at something? Okay so be it. If we can try to improve, then great, otherwise also great. In the long run, values matter more than skills, because skills can be outsourced and values cannot. Incompetence in values can and must be fixed. Peer comparison in skills is a waste of time, but trying to be the best most-humane person? Always a good thing!

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An article published recently talks of the most bankrupt man in London. He’s the brother of a steel magnate. The steel magnate himself is doing well. A few years ago, this steel magnate wedded his daughter off at a staggering cost of 40 million pounds. FORTY million pounds, for the wedding of just one person. Wow.

Not to be outdone, his brother and now the most bankrupt man, upped the ante. He married his daughter off at a cost of – wait for it – 50 million pounds. Surreal!

Most people could fund 6 generations with that much money. But fine, if someone’s got the money, they are free to spend it the way they want right? Sure they are. But if that person had 50 million to spend on a wedding a few years ago, and has somehow become bankrupt today, what does that tell us? Perhaps a few business decisions went wrong, some error in judgment, a few articles mention fraud as well. I have no idea of the specifics.

But I can’t help but wonder, why the basics are so hard to follow. We all know speed kills, and so does greed. Then why would someone spend so lavishly on something, especially when they can’t afford it. If social status is so important (throwing a big wedding), then doesn’t bankruptcy demolish that very same social status? Being wealthy is great, but why rub it in other people’s faces?

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Morose code

A whole host of startups have emerged that seemed to be aimed at killing the joys of childhood. No more playing after school, no more watching cartoons, no more enjoying with other kids in the neighborhood.

Okay maybe its not so bad. But it’s certainly moving in that direction. The focus on academics has just gotten ridiculously high. Of course education is important, at least from a worldly perspective. Good credentials certainly help in getting jobs, and providing for the family.

But rats that most of us are, does the rat race have to begin at the tender age of 5?

There are now courses that teach kids to code. Some others teach kids ‘junior MBAs’ and ‘junior CEOs’. Putting undue pressure on kids is a dicey strategy, because they need to get to the age of 20 or 30 or 40 without suffering other mental health issues first. Fine, I get that coding has become a very important skill. But just alongside that, there are startups in the domain of ‘no-code’, which (simply put) means that these new age companies want to automate the process of coding itself. If this is the future, what then is the point of learning coding at age 5? Too much is changing too fast, and an inability to keep pace is leading to hundreds of millions of youngsters feeling inadequate, incompetent and helpless.

Laughing in the wind, rain on the face, mud in the shoes, learning values and morals from parents – those are the joys of childhood. Coding, CEO and MBA can wait.

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Physical or mental?

Renunciation is often misunderstood. It is equated with donning ochre robes and heading to the mountains as an ascetic. This physical jettisoning is certainly one form of renunciation. But it is a difficult path, and not suited to most.

If a mosquito starts buzzing around us in the comfort of our air conditioned homes, we get jittery. Simply by wearing ochre robes and going to meditate in a forest, the local mosquitoes over there will not leave you be.

Renunciation at the mind level is very difficult, but is perhaps more relevant. A person who has tamed his mind while living in the world as any of us is called a jivanmukta (i.e. liberated while living).

To some, mental renunciation may seem easier. But is it really so? For instance, it might be very hard for me to physically part with my money (say for a charity). But it is much easier for me to think mentally that I am unattached to the money in my bank account. The real test will be the day when someone needs the money I have ‘mentally’ given away. Will I physically be able to give it away as well?

This is why, ideally, both physical and mental renunciation must go together, as much as possible. As my Guru says, if we begin to give small amounts to charity today itself, then we will find that progressively we are able to share more of our wealth with the needy. The same is true of other physical needs as well. We can slowly but surely reduce our dependence on clothes, accessories, electronics and luxuries because one day we will realize these mean nothing in our quest for happiness. Might as well start small today, because nothing big comes without practice.

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Double century

Going back to the cricket reference that was highlighted here, yesterday’s blog brought up 200 posts! My heartfelt gratitude to you for reading this far. I’m super excited for us all to continue this journey of self-transformation together.

At this meaningful (for me at least!) juncture, I thought it would be useful to highlight some key posts so far, which can help us revisit solutions to our most common questions. So here they are – 10 of them – in no particular order:

  1. When will I become successful? – Link
  2. How can I get rich? – Link
  3. How much is enough? – Link
  4. What is the right time for spirituality? – Link
  5. On free will and choices – Link
  6. Can we improve ourselves? And how? – Link
  7. What is the secret of spirituality? – Link
  8. How can I be unique, successful and amazing? – Link
  9. Am I important? – Link
  10. What is in it for me? – Link

Thanks again for giving this blog your time. If you like it, please spread the word. If you don’t, I’d love to hear your feedback.

Next stop: 300!

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How to remember

When you were younger – in school and college, perhaps you struggled with remembering long answers, facts from history / geography, dates, numbers, specifics, names of people? Even to this day I struggle with these things.

My Guru says there are only two ways to overcome this. 1) Fall in love with the content. 2) Repeat/revise/recall.

1 and 2 are inter-related, because if you really love something, you will keep doing it again and again.

The question to Him then, is how to love a subject you really don’t like? His answer: To visualize that you like it. Keep saying that you like it. Keep thinking it, and keep feeling it. It will automatically happen. Not by some magic, but because that is the only language the brain (aka mind) needs and understands.

This is not very different from how a boy and girl who keep interacting with each other soon fall in love!

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