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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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Who can? No one can

We think we do everything with others. That man is a social animal. And that his life depends on those around him. That is true to some extent no doubt.

But ironically, the things that matter, can only be done alone.

No one can eat for you. No one can sleep for you. No one can breathe for you. No one can work for you. No one can feel your pain, certainly not physically. No one can feel your shame, or delight – at least not to the same extent. No one can die for you. No one can meditate for you. No one can practise austerity or charity for you. No one can take on your conscience.

Much of the journey of life is nothing more than a single player game, with no spawning, or reset buttons or additional lives. When we understand this, we will realize that we truly can depend only on ourselves. And spirituality teaches us how to fortify this self-dependence. That we are already complete and perfect as we are.

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2020 has been a rollercoaster year for everyone. Imagine if you could start 2021 on a different, more positive note. Like dividing the year into 4 quarters, and then becoming fluent in Chinese, Portuguese, Korean and Spanish. Fluent, in just 3 months each! Is that even possible?

Scott Young, the author of a book called Ultralearning, did exactly this. He went one entire year without speaking any English – his native tongue.

This is not just about languages. Scott takes this to the next level in so many ways. Despite always being a very average student in school, he completes an entire MIT engineering 4-year course in just 1 year, and that too without classroom coaching, but studying online. If all his techniques had to be distilled into one word, it would be ‘directness’. Directness is the practice of learning by directly doing the thing you want to learn.

How many times do we take up a new project, and let it linger in our minds, rather than in action? As he puts it, “Passive learning creates knowledge. Active practice creates skill.” There are plenty of other examples in his book – which all go to show that we each have no limitations whatsoever – except those enforced on ourselves by our own minds.

So, what are you going to learn in 2021?

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How to be welcome anywhere

Here’s a wonderful practical example of how being genuinely interested in others can bring dividends. This happened to a very close friend-couple of mine.

They had come to use the services of an auto-rickshaw driver a few times over the past year. As the pandemic struck in March and a full lockdown ensued, the income stream for auto and taxi drivers ceased.

The auto driver though, used to keep calling my friend-couple every few days, just to check in on them. When my friends offered him some money to help support him and his family through the tough period, he always refused, saying he was just calling to enquire about their well being.

This went on for a few months. One day, a relative of my friend-couple got the coronavirus and that whole family had to be admitted to a makeshift hospital. Food there was obviously not as good as home food, and so my friends graciously offered to cook food and send it over (so nice of them!). Obvious question then – the hospital is far off, how do they reach the home cooked meals over to that place? By-now-obvious-answer: the empathetic auto driver of course! It was no surprise that he was the first person that came to mind. My friend-couple engaged the driver for the next ten days, and were able to safely deliver the food to their relatives.

In his truly outstanding bookHow to Win Friends & Influence People“, author Dale Carnegie says that taking a genuine interest in others is a sure shot way to be welcome anywhere. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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Magical benevolence

We look for Gurus to perform miracles aka magic tricks. But those are of little use, leaving nothing more than a little smoke once the flame has disappeared. But the real miracles are when the Gurus bring about transformation in the thought processes of those around them. And these may come about from very trivial actions. A few such examples of incomparable compassion that I have witnessed in my 80+ year-young Guru:

  1. Picking up paper / banana peels / tissues from the floor, simply so that no one else has to bend for it.
  2. Personally cutting and serving fruits / food to everyone, even though helpers and volunteers abound.
  3. Not allowing anyone else to clean / wash the dishes, and treating all guests like royalty.
  4. Picking up labourers walking in the scorching heat and dropping them off at their destinations with an AC ride.
  5. Not favouring someone simply because they are family or kin, and doing this openly, brazenly. Family is everyone on the spiritual path, only.
  6. Open house – come anytime for spirituality and help with life, no matter how busy.
  7. Thinking well ahead, for others’ benefits.
  8. Taking problems unto himself and thanking the universe for it, as no one else had to be inconvenienced, and that he would be able to bear the difficulty much more than anyone else.
  9. Never complaining or criticising, no matter the mistake.
  10. Never tired, irrespective the time of day, with the curiosity of a child in learning new things.

These actions and many more have left an indelible mark on me and thousands of others who have observed such selfless services. In the wake of these, what good are magic tricks? Our focus must be on the magician instead.

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Who is being foolish?

The mentor in his/her years of wisdom keeps telling the newbie to build relationships and speak up more.
The newbie doesn’t listen. He thinks his mentor is foolish.
The newbie prefers to sit at his desk and work ‘hard’.
The newbie is doomed to learn only by experience, and not by the wisdom of his mentor.
Who is being foolish?

The parents in their decades of wisdom keep telling their child to study / practise hard.
The child doesn’t listen. She thinks her parents are foolish.
The child prefers to play or watch TV instead.
The child is doomed to learn only by experience, and not by the wisdom of its parents.
Who is being foolish?

Our Gurus / ancients in their millennia of wisdom keep telling us to embrace spirituality, meditate, fast, serve society and stay away from material objects and pleasures.
We don’t listen. We think the Gurus do not understand, as “life only happens once, and is to be lived and enjoyed.”
We prefer to party and indulge instead.
We are doomed to learn only by experience, and not by the wisdom of the saints of today and yore.
Who is being foolish?

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What is life?

  1. We are born one day
  2. We are dead another
  3. And in between we go through a variety of experiences
  4. These experiences evoke emotions within us
  5. Some of these emotions lead to learnings

No matter who we are, point 1 has already happened, and we cannot escape points 2 and 3.

Point 4 is in our control, but we tend to be the slave instead. According to our scriptures, liberated are those who only focus on point 5, learning and imbibing wisdom, finally moving from controlled to controller.

That’s about it, isn’t it?

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To rule or not

Not everyone can lead. But those who can, must. Why? Because if leaders don’t lead, then followers will lead. And not everyone is suited to leadership. Leadership is about helping others achieve what they want, while orchestrating collective good outcomes.

This thought can be expanded to other domains as well. If one has a charitable bent of mind, it is most important that s/he strives to earn more wealth. If s/he wants to donate large sums of money, having money to donate is an obvious pre-requisite! If someone is outstanding in soccer or music, then what use is it if their talents are suppressed in the wake of becoming doctors, engineers or lawyers?

There is major dearth of talent in a number of fields, with most people taking the path well trodden. At the same time, several unexpected leaders have emerged, both companies and people, in a wide variety of technology led disruptions. Indeed technology has helped age really stay just a number, while rendering gender and background inconsequential.

The world would be a better place if each one of us did our part with full gusto, in the larger interest of society, unworried by the consequences. Plato had the final say on this, “The heaviest penalty of declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior.

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"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace."

You know these lyrics. They’re from the amazing song called Imagine, by the legendary John Lennon (from The Beatles). When I was a kid, I used to love this song. I still do. But back then, it was all about the music and the tune, and less about the words. Ask me today, and I’ll say its almost entirely about the lyrics, and very little about the music.

My childhood was spent reading tons and tons of books of all kinds. I specifically loved comics – the Amar Chitra Kathas, the Tintins and the Asterix-Obelixes. And one thing I hated were my history books. I had a chance to re-read a few of these recently. And my word, what a revelation it was!

The books were the same and the songs were the same. Even the movies from those days are the same. All taken from a few decades ago. But one and only one thing had changed – decisively and conclusively. And that was me. The same is applicable to you as well. Just like a nuclear physicist will look at a 12th grade physics book and glean so much more from it than the 12th grader it was intended for. Same book, different interpretations.

Unlike (most) other animals on this earth, we are uniquely capable of generating experiences, learning new things and applying these principles, in order to grow ourselves. Imagine if we could do this for our books on spirituality, self-help books, motivational books etc. We could become outstanding versions of our current selves, irrespective of how good we are to start with.

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Sixth sense

There’s an interesting book called God Lived With Them, authored by Swami Chetanananda. It describes the lives and ways of select disciples of the late spiritual master Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

While there can be so many takeaways from the book, one thing struck me as very relevant for practical worldly life. And that is the need to integrate sensibility with spirituality. We have touched on this aspect several times here at FHN. But reading about it as applied by Sri Ramakrishna himself, is quite an eye opener.

The Master is often considered as the greatest Goddess Kali devotee that ever lived. He used to lovingly refer to her as his Divine Mother, and the relationship they shared was surreal. He would very often go into deep states of meditation (called samadhi), and be lost in divinity for hours on end. In this god-intoxicated state, Ramakrishna would be totally unaware of his physical body and surroundings. Even so, he would always instruct some disciples around him to protect his physical body. Why should he do that? Because the Guru’s body is key to benefitting the rest of humanity. And hence the disciples are dutybound to protect their Guru.

We can argue that Ramakrishna was spiritually realized and hence could have taken care of his own body, perhaps through some ‘magic’. But he did not. He was practical and sensible. Just as we should be too, all the more if we have not reached the upper echelons of spirituality.

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The right age

My Guru, at the age of 81, works 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. No this is not like going to office for getting a salary. Rather he works selflessly and tirelessly for others, with zero pay. No bonus, no increments. All assets willed away to charity. Nothing but the future of the world and its good citizens as his sole concern. Yet I have never once seen him complain or display weariness.

Can he control the world around him? Hardly. But himself? Oh his control over his mind is phenomenal. He says he was not always this way. But practise of sacrifice, austerity and charity has made all the difference.

When did he become like that? At age 20? Or 40? Or 60? Or when he started getting white hair? Or after he retired? Or after he had kids? Or after he shifted jobs?

He became like that the moment he decided to, which was well in the prime of his youth. And that is exactly what he and all the other spiritual masters preach as well. While we are busy becoming dizzy in the world, we tend to postpone anything remotely selfless and spiritual to when get ‘older’. Many 70-year olds still give the same excuse!

The decision, and the benefits, are ours.

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