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Month: February 2021

Over and over

A question arises, “Why should I keep doing the same things over and over?” Why read our scriptures daily. If we’ve read it once, that should be enough no? Or why participate in satsang as many times as possible? Why not just listen to one lecture once and then implement and chill?

Marcel Proust, one of the greatest French authors of the 20th century said “”The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

As the story goes, a child asked his grandpa why he was repeatedly reading the Gita. To which grandpa asked the child to fetch water from the nearby river, but in a basket. The child did as instructed, but obviously much of the water leaked out through the gaps in the basket. The grandpa asked the child to go and get water, again and again, and each time most of the water had leaked out. Finally, when the child was frustrated, the grandpa asked his grandson to look at the basket closely. This child remarked, “Wow, the the basket has now got cleaned so nicely!”, exactly like how the mind would need to be cleaned by multiple readings.

My Guru follows this principle very closely, and takes it a step further – adding that reading alone is not enough, but acting upon the lessons learned is critical. Like the Chinese philosopher Confucius once said. “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”.

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Ritualistic

There is only one true reason to perform rituals, as my Guru says. And that is, to purify the mind.

What does purification of the mind mean? At one level, it involves destroying the mind altogether. In a non-violent manner of course. We all know our monkey-minds are always going off on tangents, ever seeking more and more. What if this mind could come under control? Very difficult? I agree!

At another (and maybe more easier, and more tangible) level, purifying the mind involves broadening its scope. For most of us, our lives revolve only around ourselves – our wants, needs, desires. But what if we could include others, friends, family, acquaintances, strangers – eventually the whole world, especially all the good people – into our vision of goodness? What if we could desire good for all?

Herein lies the beauty of my Guru’s recommendations. Do the rituals you like, but perform them for the larger benefit of society. Chanting some shlokas? Excellent, chant for mother earth. Doing charity? Wonderful. Keep aside 10% of your income, no matter how small. Use the remaining 90% – invest it, let it compound – have it your way. But the 10% that you’ve decided to give away – that will begin to purify your mind. Because the human mind has been trained for countless generations to simply do everything it can to survive and sustain. There is more to life than that though. As the ancients tell us, the real magic happens when the ego melts away. That will happen when we truly believe that nothing belongs to ‘us’, and the mind merges with the universal mind.

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Turning a new leaf

Here are a few examples.

  1. The great Saint Valmiki was previously a dacoit. Daaku Ratnakar was his name, and he lived under the false impression that all his nefarious activities were supported by his family members. The same family when questioned though, told him that they would take none of his bad karma from said activities. “You are the father, it is your duty to provide for us, and if you loot or plunder to feed us, that is your headache.” Moved immensely by this, he went into deep meditation and transformed into a saint and the author of the Indian epic Ramayana.
  2. Alfred Nobel, the creator of the Nobel prize, was originally the creator of dynamite. He also owned several hundred factories that manufactured explosives and munitions for use in warfare. He had over 300 patents to his name including for designs for nitro-glycerine detonators, blasting caps and a smokeless gunpowder called ballistite. In 1888, Nobel’s brother Ludvig Nobel died from a heart attack. One French newspaper mistakenly believed that it was Alfred Nobel who had perished, and it wrote a scathing obituary, branding him a “merchant of death” who had grown rich by developing new ways to “mutilate and kill.” Alfred was so jarred by this unexpectedly early posthumous review, that he had to make amends, resulting in large donations to charity and the institution of the now famous Nobel prizes.
  3. In the world of investing, a new focus is ESG – Environment, Social and Governance – with an attempt to be conscious of the impact of one’s financial decisions. Interestingly, some of the torchbearers in this field are precisely those that made their corpus from exactly the opposite – plundering the earth’s resources, benefiting from child labour and other malpractices.

True change can indeed happen. The catalyst can be outside us, or inside – in the mind. It is up to us to decide what we want, and how badly we want it.

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Blindspots

Just because something is invisible to the eye, or appears beyond our comprehension and perception, does not make it non-existent or fraudulent. Take the example of gravity. Despite all the advancements in science and technology, we still do not understand the process behind why people drinking tea simultaneously at the North and South poles have no problem keeping the liquids in their cups. Take also the human body – with a plethora activities going on inside at any moment – digestion, cognition, respiration etc. all of which we tend to be blissfully unaware of.

The same is said to be true of Consciousness. It is very much there – the fabric underlying all Creation. There for everyone to experience, if scrutinized closely, yet immediately unavailable to any. This is not a paradox, as author Sam Harris of the outstanding book Waking Up (which delves deep into the topic of human consciousness) puts it. He goes on to describe an optic blindspot that each one of us has, and something I never knew of. Apparently the optic nerve passes through the retina of each eye, creating a small region in each visual field where we are effectively blind. He further adds that most people in human history have been totally unaware of the optic blind spot. Even those of us who know about it go for decades without noticing it. And yet, it is always there, right on the surface of experience. Here’s a simple experiment you can try yourself!

So, can we experience this Atman / Brahman / Consciousness within us? Yes, with some training / effort / meditation. As Harris puts it, “The self that I am discussing throughout this book—the illusory, albeit reliable, source of so much suffering and confusion—is the feeling that there is an inner subject, behind our eyes, thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experience. We must distinguish between the self and the myriad mental states—self-recognition, volition, memory, bodily awareness—with which it can be associated.

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Money thoughts

A few things to keep in mind about money/wealth/status, which everyone craves so much:

  1. No one cares about your wealth as much as you do. Others don’t admire your possessions. They only imagine themselves having said possessions.
  2. The more money/wealth/status one displays, the more the envy/jealousy/hatred that is likely to build up against them. Some of the richest people in the world live very frugally.
  3. Money and wealth are good, as long as we control them and not the other way around.
  4. Wealth brings freedom, because it can buy time. One can then choose what to do with their time, rather than live by the rules of someone else. This is an end goal for most, rather than a starting point.
  5. Spirituality helps build wealth, as it emphasizes reducing desires and sense pleasures, which in turn reduce expenses. Savings can then be invested. Wealth is the gap between what you have and what you want or spend.
  6. You can only really afford something, if you can buy 2 or 3 or 4 of the that same thing.
  7. It is important to teach your kids to be self sufficient. Giving them big allowances now will allow you to see them happy today, but they will struggle in the future, unable to understand the value of money, and left without survival skills.
  8. What amount of wealth / money you desire is something only you can decide. Comparisons will only hurt.
  9. The happiness from giving is infinitely more than that from getting.

What are your thoughts on money?

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The two Ps

There are two somewhat interlinked concepts in Hinduism.

One is prarabdha or that portion of our karmic balance that we are to experience in this life. Our birth into a good pious, self-sufficient and contented family is such an example. If we have this, we are lucky. Because many do not have even this.

The other, is purushartha. Which refers to the efforts put in by an individual, to achieve his goals. The goals have been divided into four – dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kaama (love) and moksha (liberation). These are loose translations, but in effect provide goals for us to live by and pursue. The ultimate goal is moksha of course, and achieving it dharmically, while having requisite artha and family life is considered ideal.

The problem arises when people are bestowed with excellent prarabdha, but fritter it away due to lack of or undirected purushartha. Being introduced to a satsang, finding a Guru, or rather a Guru finding you, having the company of noble and wise people, having the luxury of a good primary education etc. are nothing short of great karmic gifts – because we in our current lives hardly did anything to deserve these. And yet, people are unable to make time for an hour of satsang, or a week of seva to the Guru or some other means of giving back.

Everything we got, on a platter as it were, is prarabdha. Because there are so many people out there putting 10x the efforts getting 0.01% of the results you and I get. Prarabdha is gotten already, but purushartha is what we do with it. i.e. Destiny versus free will.

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Animal king

We know who the king of the jungle is, right? He’s the strongest, fastest, largest and cleverest animal of them all.

Wait, I thought ‘strongest’ was the elephant. And ‘largest’ animal should be the blue whale? And ‘cleverest’, the fox? The fastest surely is the cheetah. But none of these guys are the kings!

The king is one who may not be the best at everything, but is able to keep it all together, and exude a level of confidence that no other member of the kingdom is able to.

We think lions and tigers have a chilled out life, sitting cushy at the top of the food chain. But no, they struggle too. The males have to constantly guard their territory and females from other usurper males. The females have to constantly look out for the safety of their kids, not just from said usurpers, but also from the father lion who might kill the babies seeing them as a threat to his status. When it comes to food, most hunts end in failure, with mom and babies having to go to bed hungry for days together – and so it is not as easy as it seems.

Nature never has it easy on anyone. That’s the cycle of life. One has to work hard to earn their living, or at least to sustain their lifestyle. This is a universal truth, applicable in past lives, this life, and the next.

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True greatness

Traditionally, we equate greatness to money, wealth, fame, riches, cars, bungalows, yachts, CEOs, Chairmen, senior management, foreign travel, foreign vacations, first and business class, limousines and a variety of other things.

But Martin Luther King Jr. had the final word on this.

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

He understood that greatness wasn’t about oneself, but how much one could use themselves for others.

No different from what Lord Krishna states in the Gita. As my Guru observes in the purport after chapter 13 verse 26 in his Amazing Simple Gita, “Many missions have realized that if we keep only the goal of realising the Lord we will tend towards laziness with only arguments and discussions. Prabhupad for example made it very clear that devotion means devotional service, chanting sixteen malas, trikala pooja etc is important but afterwards what will we be doing – we should be doing seva (service), spreading this knowledge, making more and more people noble and good.”

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Jail time

We envy the lucky. Here are some thoughts running through the minds of these oh-so-fortunate people:

Looking in the mirror, I wish I had a better nose, two dimples and sharper features.

At work, with my boss and colleagues and employees, am I really fitting in? Or am I just being tolerated?

With the spouse – not much in terms of common topics it seems. And those days of courtship from two decades ago…gone!

When I wake up in the morning, why do I feel lethargic? Why do Monday morning blues haunt me?

My kids are happy and well trained, but they have no time for me.

Is there really a difference between the lucky and the not so lucky? Is luck always good? Are the lucky (and envied) truly free? Or are they too, prisoners of their thoughts?

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Meditation and thoughts – 3

We looked at meditation and thoughts over the last couple of days. Much is written and said about supernatural experiences, lights, out of body experiences and other fantastical stuff. Here’s a gist of how my Guru looks at this subject.

His questions are: Can you be calm when your peer makes 5x your salary and drives a Ferrari? Can you stay placid when your boss throws a fit, and expects you to clean up? Can you be equanimous in the face of nonsense peddled by many many unavoidable people around you? What is the use of meditation and magical experiences, if these leave you completely untransformed? Still the same jealousy, anger, pride, hatred et al.

Hence, my Guru’s focus has always been not on meditation, but on living a meditative life. It is not about sitting and closing one’s eyes for 60 minutes, especially not if the remaining 23 hours are spent on ungodly pursuits. His goal is to infuse godliness into every waking moment. Transform from a material person living a spiritual life, to a spiritual person also happening to live a material life. And hence a spiritual person asking for a promotion and a raise is alright because his nobility will ensure he uses his wealth primarily to give back to society.

How can one spiritualize themselves? By doing the true tapas. By holding God steady in their minds. For the atheistic and agnostic, by not holding themselves only in their minds, but holding the service of others steady in their minds. Unflinchingly. The beauty is that this can be equally hard or easy for both a commoner and a king.

Swami Chinmayananda was once asked how many hours in a day one should practise meditation. His answer? 24 hours.

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Meditation and thoughts – 2

Continuing on from yesterday, here are some more ideas on meditation that I came across, and which have helped my practice.

By practicing mindfulness, however, one can awaken from the dream of discursive thought and begin to see each arising image, idea, or bit of language vanish without a trace. What remains is consciousness itself, with its attendant sights, sounds, sensations, and thoughts appearing and changing in every moment.
In the beginning of one’s meditation practice, the difference between ordinary experience and what one comes to consider “mindfulness” is not very clear, and it takes some training to distinguish between being lost in thought and seeing thoughts for what they are.
In this sense, learning to meditate is just like acquiring any other skill.
Eventually, it begins to seem as if you are repeatedly awakening from a dream to find yourself safely in bed. No matter how terrible the dream, the relief is instantaneous. And yet it is difficult to stay awake for more than a few seconds at a time.

Conclusion and takeaways tomorrow!

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Meditation and thoughts – 1

To anyone who’s tried meditating, we know it is hard. As beginners, the first thought is, “Are we doing this right?”. And then the thoughts never cease to flow. One after another after another they come, bringing a whole host of memories, both pleasant and unpleasant, catapulting us into the distant future, and suddenly yanking us back again into the past. Is this how meditation is always supposed to be? So many mystic / yogic accounts speak of supernatural states, kaleidoscopic lights, unblemished ecstasy and myriad other things. What to make of it? I don’t know, but here are a few pointers I came across in a book called Waking Up by Sam Harris, that might help in meditation practice.

The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing that we are thinking.
In fact, thoughts of all kinds can be perfectly good objects of mindfulness.
In the early stages of one’s practice, however, the arising of thought will be more or less synonymous with distraction—that is, with a failure to meditate.
Most people who believe they are meditating are merely thinking with their eyes closed.

Continued in tomorrow’s post…

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Time and tide

Apparently there are some 3 billion Gods in Hinduism. There is a God for everything. For getting pregnant, for money, for status – even for getting a visa to work abroad! Having so many Gods allows the religion to be very flexible. If you believe one thing over another, then you can just switch to another God who’s rules and regulations align better to your thought process, nay current requirements.

One God though, that presides over all, is Maha Kaal. He is considered to be Lord Shiva, and also a personification of Time itself, kaal meaning time.

When we’re on the last day of work before a two week vacation, that particular day in the office will just seem to crawl by annoyingly slowly. When we’re in the vacation itself though, the days will seem to slip by agonizingly quickly. “What? It’s the fifth day of our beach vacation already? We need to head back soon, oh no.”

There is a lot to learn from Time In the above all-too-familiar examples, we know that time itself never changed. Only our perceptions of it moved around. We know this, but still struggle with time management. It seems like there is never enough time. But as Maha Kaal will tell us, the speed of Time remains unchanged, only our mind believes so. What can we do?

We can start by acknowledging this truth. That there will never be enough time for doing everything. But there will certainly be enough time for all your priorities. Prioritization makes all the difference.

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Twit quot 1

While there is a lot of bad press associated with social media, there is one big positive that I’ve found. And that is people’s quotes on life / spirituality. Sure, some might be copied off of some other book, maybe even our scriptures, but reading these are just amazing, and make me think. A few are shared here, picked randomly, from Twitter.

You won't lose respect for saying "I don't know". But you will lose respect for making things up.
Don't let money get in the way of wealth
You always have the option of having no opinion.
The mind gives up before the body.
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Left shoe

Years ago, Swedish shoe shops were being looted by a shoe-mafia. This gang would hit the stores in the wee hours of the night. Next morning, the shoe shop owners would find something unique. Only the left-shoe of each pair of shoes would be gone. The right-shoe would still be on display, untouched.

This was a huge mystery. The shoe-mafia went untraced for the longest time.

More importantly, the question on everyone’s minds, was what was the gang doing with only the left shoe? Surely you need the right-shoe as well, to make a pair, so that someone could wear it?

The mystery was solved much much later, when they discovered another shoe-mafia in Denmark. This gang would hit shoe stores of the same type, but steal only the right-shoes of each pair! The two gangs worked together, and that completed the puzzle.

In life too, we are running after many left shoes – money, wealth, status, accolades, cars, yachts, houses etc. These are fine by themselves, but can never be complete without the right shoes – health, diet, exercise, love, spirituality, meditation, family-time etc. The choice is in our hands.

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Life changing thoughts

In the book ‘How to Change Your Life by Changing Your Thoughts’ written by James Allen, there are some outstanding lines of thought provoking advice. A few highlights:

Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.
Not what he wishes and prays for does a man get, but what he justly earns. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonize with his thoughts and actions.
Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but they are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.
Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results. This is but saying that nothing can come from corn but corn. Men understand this law in the natural world, but not in the mental and moral world.
Blessedness, not material possessions, is the measure of right thought. Wretchedness, not lack of material possessions, is the measure of wrong thought.
The world is your kaleidoscope, and the varying combinations of colours, which at every succeeding moment it presents to you, are the exquisitely adjusted pictures of your ever moving thoughts.
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The secret converter

Years ago we…

… had a problem at work, but today that is a laughing matter
… had a major fight with the other kids at school, but today that is a laughing matter
… had a complaint to your parents from the principal, but today that is a laughing matter
… had an altercation with a close friend, but today that is a laughing matter
… had a major argument with the spouse, but today that is a laughing matter
… had a tussle with the landlord, but today that is a laughing matter
… had an issue with your kids’ schooling, but today that is a laughing matter
… had so many worries about the future, but today that is a laughing matter
… had so much stress and tension about…something, don’t even remember, but today that is a laughing matter

Looking back from today, all those anxieties and worries – everything has been forgotten, and got converted into nothing more than a laughing matter – what a miracle, isn’t it?!

Now that we know and understand everything gets converted into a laughing matter in the future, why not laugh today itself?

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Best friend, worst friend

Remember when as kids, we used to have things like katti and bacchi? Stick your thumb out and that would mean good friend. And stick your pinky finger out and that would become sworn enemy. And a friend of a friend is a friend, and enemy of an enemy is an enemy. But of course, we were kids, so allegiances would change mighty quickly! You want to play soccer and there is only one kid who owns the ball? Everyone wants to be bacchi with him. Kids also are very quick to say (often to the face) “That girl – she’s my friend, but this girl? She’s my best friend” much to the embarrassment of the parents!

Those days are past, and we have outgrown these best friend worst friend monikers. There is still one best/worst friend though for each one of us. And it is not only simultaneously both best and worst friend, but also the same for all of us! Guessed it? The mind!

As verse 6.5 in the Gita says, ‘Elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and not degrade yourself, for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.

How can we make sure that the mind remains our friend, and not enemy? By eventually replacing all desires and attachments with gratitude. If desire comes in between mind and intellect, then they squabble. If there are no desires, and work is done as a service to benefit mankind or at the instruction of the Guru, then the mind and intellect on the spiritual path are best friends!

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Vedic chants

Vedic mantras can be really powerful. There are experiments that have been conducted across the world, which demonstrate how vedic chants including the right intonations, can alter the energies of a place.

Chanted right in a hospital for instance, can not just uplift patients’ moods, but also improve their health. It is also considered a wonderful breathing exercise, given the tempo of chanting and length of the verses.

Even a simple ‘Aum’ or ‘Om’, chanted 3, 7 or 9 times in succession can bring much peace and clarity. No controlled experiments necessary – you may just try this right now!

However, said vedic mantras are not like some magic trick. They work based on certain principles that modern science doesn’t understand. The most important aspect, is that these are aimed at altering and improving our Consciousness. And hence, it is not enough if the sound-speaker in the kitchen is blaring a vedic chant, while I am in another room watching TV. The kitchen might get moksha, but not me!

Likewise, it is in no way sufficient if I chant hymns for an hour a day, only to follow it up with abusive language, extreme desire prompted actions, significant anger and jealousy etc. If I am not mindful about how I live my life, no amount of chanting or prayer will help. On the contrary, it might only make me more conceited – because now I have the feeling that not only am I a good person, but I’m also a great person, owing to my prayers and chants. A fall will be around the corner.

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Right arrows

The relationship we are all used to:

Hard work   ---->   Success   ---->   Happiness

The relationship suggested in our scriptures:

Gratitude   ---->   Happiness   ---->  Hard work   ---->   Success

Which of these do you feel is more sustainable? Which is easier to practise?

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