Skip to content

Month: April 2021

Chilled out

There’s a simple lesson my Guru taught me once. It’s hard for someone like me to apply – given I prefer to be the silent observer, and rein my emotions in tightly.

One satsang had got over, and there were a few of us standing and talking. I was doing more of the listening, not the talking. There were a couple of people in the group who were cracking jokes one after the other, following up with roaring laughter and in general keeping the spirits of the group high.

Guruji pointed at those happy fellows and told me, “These guys are great conversationalists. These are the people who can strike up conversations anywhere, and build outstanding relationships with the maximum number of people. You need to be like this too. You know why they are able to do it? Because these guys are living in the moment. How can you joke about something in-the-moment, if you are constantly thinking about something that happened in the past, or is likely to happen (or not) in the future?”

Apt lesson for me indeed.

And it is no surprise that “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

The right thing

We discussed wax-on wax-off before from the blockbuster 1980s movie The Karate Kid. It was a good lesson on how focusing on a mundane training process would help Daniel LaRusso the protagonist pick up some cool Karate skills and ultimately beat the backside out of his arch nemesis Johnny Lawrence.

But this was in the past. Hollywood would never let a good story get away, would they? They’ve now (last 3-4 years) come up with a TV series Cobra Kai. This has the same Daniel and same Lawrence, only now 40 years later – with each having their own competing karate dojos – and boy does it make for some fun watching!

A very nice scene takes place after one of the kids get beaten up and the sensei wonders what he did wrong. He laments in fact that he taught them everything right, did everything right, no cheap tricks, no cheating even, and despite that they lost.

To which the sensei’s trusted friend replies, “It’s okay buddy, you’re doing great. Just because you did the right thing but didn’t get the result you desired, doesn’t mean you should now start doing wrong things. A good person does the right thing all the time, no matter the outcome!”

What a powerful lesson.

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Penance

In one of our recent youth satsangs, we had a very engaging discussion on ‘thawam’ from the Kural, which in Tamil means penance / austerity. Is penance only for the likes of Ravana or others who sat and meditated for years together? Or is there some penance possible in our daily lives as well?

Maybe waiting in a line for 14 hours to get one’s hand on the next latest and greatest iPhone could be considered penance. But that would only be scratching the surface. To some, penance is minimalism, such as getting rid of all gadgets (including aforementioned iPhone) and spending time with nature instead. They may also spend much lesser money than others – never eating out, never traveling – being extremely frugal. But where does one draw the line? Does one also stop wearing clothes, taking bath, not sending the kids to school, not visiting a doctor for a medical emergency? Surely penance is about frugality, not miserliness.

Great men and women have said (and experienced) that nothing worth having comes easy. Which means penance is a part of all success worth having. It also begs the question, why is penance so hard? The answer is that it’s not hard. It’s very easy in fact, if one TRULY wants something. Most struggle with this, because they want something (like success), but do not want to work for it.

It’s one thing to do penance for our own benefit. But the truly great people – like my Guru, they observe penances solely for the benefit of others. He observes fasts or chants 21,000 ashotrams for other people’s health – sometimes people who he has not even met! As Thiruvalluvar says, “How fire refines the gold, the pain of penance refines the person.” What more can one ask for?

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Bricked

Here’s a nice story that was narrated in one of our weekly satsangs.

A brick layer’s job to build a temple paid 1 rupee per brick.

One person laid bricks grudgingly, always complaining that 1 rupee was too little money, that there were no jobs available and that this brick laying is so hard.

The second brick layer in the same temple said his job was good because he was able to make a steady wage to feed his family and educate his children.

Brick layer 3 said, “Wow am I lucky – I have been chosen to serve the Lord and build a temple. And what’s more, I’m even getting paid 1 rupee per brick for it!”

Same work, different attitude. Which one in your view do you think brings success?

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Ritualistic pride

When doing a puja, homa (havan) or other ritual, the doers often become conceited. “Oh look I just performed a huge yagna and see how many people attended, and see what amazing catering I arranged” etc. Even if the havan was done on a small scale, ego can creep in. But it’s helpful to really think what aspects of the homa or puja were done by “the doer”.

How about these?

  1. The deity we are praying to has to make him/herself available
  2. Agni, the fire God, has to function as the medium and carry one’s prayers to the deity
  3. The various ingredients – coconuts, walnuts, other inflammable items, flowers, ghee, water and everything else – does the yagna doer create these items?
  4. The priest who conducts the ceremony – is the organizer the priest? Soes s/he know every single mantra, shloka, chant – not just to recite, but to understand and to feel? Did s/he create those incantations?
  5. Or maybe if it’s a self-chanted self-conducted ritual, then gratitude to our own memory, vocal chords, the guru who taught us the mantras…
  6. How about the free time we were allowed by our family members to devote to the puja
  7. Also the attendees who showed up, and the cooks who prepared all the dishes
  8. A few other things I would have missed here for sure

Without any of these, how would the havan have been a success? Really is there much for us to be proud of then?

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Writers talk

Today is post number 365. It’s been a full year since I started daily-blogging here – and how time has flown! My deepest gratitude to each one of you who has been on this journey with me. As mentioned previously as well, while it might seem like I’m writing for others, the biggest learnings / takeaways / beneficiary have all been very selfishly (for) me. Writing this blog has been fun, but also an eye-opener. Here are some of the reasons I’m realizing why writing is a great way to de-stress:

  1. It helps clear the mind, because things previously in the mind are now moved to paper
  2. It takes effort, and that brings satisfaction
  3. However, despite said efforts, it may not attract a large (or even small!) readership, and that keeps the author grounded and humble
  4. Writing requires reading / listening / being open to new ideas, all of which build confidence and bring internal growth
  5. Many amazing thoughts are forgotten if left to the mind. Re-reading old posts can surprise – nay shock – the writer, leaving them wondering if they really wrote it (in a good way!)
  6. Brings phenomenal discipline. Especially if you write every day
  7. If you have to speak sometime somewhere, then the words come out much better if it is written down previously.
  8. Like I’d noted once here before there can scarcely be a better way for introspection
  9. A side benefit of course, is better linguistics + grammar + vocabulary

Anything I missed out? Feel free to comment…

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

PR / FAQ

PR / FAQ. It stands for Press Release / Frequently Asked Questions.

Surely we’ve all seen these before. When a new service or product is launched, it comes along with a PR / FAQ. The former announces the launch to some detail, while the latter explains some of the nuances that are not immediately obvious.

What is awesome, is that any new product in Amazon (world’s largest company by market-cap ~US$ 1.6 Trn at the time of this writing) begins with PR/FAQ. Begins, not ends. They call it ‘working backwards’. So this is the first step in the creation process instead of typically being the last! They do this because they begin with customer delight and customer experience as the focus. Writing a PR/FAQ upfront highlights to them everything they want the end product or service to feel like, the features it should have, the final look and feel etc. It also gives them full clarity on what the final product should be – right at the start.

This is completely the opposite of what many people set out to do, and I would be the first on that list. When given a task, I prefer to jump right in and begin ‘working’, than pause to think and reflect. This means I might go into several loops of making mistakes, and wasting much time correcting them – mainly because the roadmap isn’t clear.

Starting with PR/FAQ can be applied in many other ways too. For instance, it can help visualize a goal (whether work-oriented, or otherwise) and prepare one’s schedule or timetable and flesh out the details. It can also help with relationships because it gives clarity upfront, rather than postponing important discussions and conversations. The important thing is to begin with customer delight / partner delight / other-person delight, the rest will follow. I also like that when said quickly, it sounds like ‘perfect’ – i.e. “pr/faq” πŸ™‚

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Small to great

We discussed recently how Yudhishthira and Duryodhana went around the kingdom to find good people, and how the latter couldn’t find even one good person, while the former found goodness in everyone.

Do we too become like Duryodhana sometimes?

If we do a self-audit, would we find ourselves cribbing a lot about others, gossiping, talking behind people’s backs, complaining about the company we work for and the bosses, putting down others who got promotions (especially if they didn’t seem to deserve it!) and so on? Oh and not to forget much of the bashing has actually moved online these days – with social media becoming nothing short of the Kurukshetra battlefield (no matter the topic, there will be enough armchair experts to give you a rough time). It’s fine – these are normal, and we are human, so it is bound to happen.

The real problem with such discussions and thoughts though, is that constantly talking about other people’s negative qualities will subconsciously cause us to also become more negative. We not only talk bad about others, but this mindset also pulls us into a deeply self-critical mode. We eventually begin to question our own looks (lack of hair, long nose etc.), our talents, our abilities and capabilities as well simply because that negativity has seeped right in. Having a positive view of things, and celebrating even small joys and victories each and every day is much better than being morose and picking out the losses, even if they outnumber the daily wins 10 to 1. So it all boils down to keeping the mind focused on the good.

As a former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas.”

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Bharatha 600BC

There is an awesome board game called Bharatha 600BC, created and released by a company called GoIndia Games. It’s quite unique because such games that are made in India are rare. The map of the game itself is beautiful – featuring ancient India from – you guessed it – 600 BC!

The game makes for fun family bonding time – especially offering a clean hour or three. ‘Clean’ meaning no screen diversions (mobiles, tablets, TVs etc) – wow is that even possible these days?

The board game has plenty of paths to victory – and one can use tact, strategy, battle, speed, rationing (i.e. hoarding) of resources, using special cards – you name it.

One interesting thing that happens when we play with my mother, is that she will never battle, and she will also always ‘give up’ resources for the rest of the family to win. “Oh, how can I battle my own son!”, or “You want resources, here take mine” – much to the groans of others “come on ma, this is supposed to be a competitive game – leave your familial bonds aside!”

While there are groans during the game, one must look behind the curtain. The motherly love kicks in with feelings of compassion overruling everything else – and not just during board games but even otherwise. What if we too can apply such compassion/empathy all the time. Just like the Guru does. Wouldn’t that be the true application of everything we learn in our scriptures?

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Miraculous (escape)!

We were sound asleep. Blissfully unaware of the goings on of the night. A sudden loud crash jolted us awake. What was that?

A slab of granite making up the top of the window sill had just crashed to the floor. No announcement, no warning. Through the darkness, we could see some more slab, hanging precariously.

We tried to go back to sleep. Hardly a few minutes passed, or was it an hour? Another deafening crash, a bigger slab fell this time.

This was a place where we would normally be sitting under in the daytime? Or certainly walking past at least – many times a day. But the slabs never caved in then. How infinitely lucky were we?

A sheer miracle, if there ever was one. Not just tonight, but every night and every day till today. Who knows what all unspeakable things could have happened, but by some divine grace, didn’t?

Life certainly seems to be crumbling around us from time to time, all the time. But if it doesn’t knock us out, and allows us to keep moving ahead, that is nothing less than a blessing and a miraculous escape.

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Nectar for life

Here’s some pointers I found very thought-provoking from a recent speech my Guruji gave.

  • How to get moksha? By living a choice-less existence. Accept whatever comes to you. The goal of life isn’t to become rich or to be educated. The true goal of life is to realize the Self within, and realizing that That Thou Art (tat tvam asi)
  • We are all going to temples which are great energy centres, but always still asking for more and more materialistic things. When will the cravings stop?
  • Each one of us can achieve anything. One person has done 12 PHDs in printing technology, but still not used even 5% of his brain. Einstein used less than 5% of his brain. We can each do anything.
  • But we must always remember, that achieving great material things means nothing to the Lord, and to our progress on the spiritual path. Materialism will not help us see the Self within.
  • The biggest problem in our lives is not related to job, money, health, wealth or relationships. The biggest problem is that we have desires and are deeply attached to everything and everyone. Gita shlokas 2.71 and 2.72 clarify this.
  • Guruji had once said anyone can come and take anything in their house – even the altar. Even the Vishnu paadaas where he was doing puja with great love all the time. No attachments + no desires is the key. Vishnu paadaa is only a symbol. One must give up the whole world, only then can one attain moksha.
  • Sleeping early is a habit, but so is sleeping late. Reading scriptures is a habit, but so is not reading scriptures. Giving charity is a habit, but so is not giving charity. Same for eating and overeating. We must be careful about the habits we cultivate.
Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Open mouth please

Here is a common two-threaded problem we each face at some point. We just had a really rough week at work and want nothing more than to plunge into a soft bed with head hitting a even softer pillow. But your spouse or significant other has just told you that they plan to take you out for a romantic candle-lit dinner. Normally this would be an awesome plan, but not today – all you want is to bury your face in that feathery pillow!

What to do then? Maybe you could go along with the spouse to dinner. But that could leave you totally exhausted. Or else, you could take a rain check. And that could have consequences – partner dejected, you feeling guilty etc. It seems like there are only two choices, and that both are suboptimal.

But are there really only two choices?

No, there is a third. This is called Hamlet’s quandary, i.e. to share or not to share. We often get stuck in this quandary. Instead of trying to resolve this problem on our own, the third option would be to name the dilemma. “Darling I really want to go with you for dinner and I really appreciate you planning this for me on the back of my really rough week, but I’m super exhausted today. Could we figure out something that will work for both of us?”

This third more communicative choice, is likely to open up a new range of possibilities and outcomes. This is useful not just at home, but even in the workplace. Like when we have too much work already, but the boss wants us to work on the weekend. Or a client has asked for some important information, but we do not have the resources yet. The bottom-line is this, sharing more with people can increase our vulnerability, but that could potentially result in a much deeper connection with the other person. And this third choice is often overlooked.

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Razor sharp

There are a couple of ‘razors’ worth knowing about. Not the ones we use to cut hair or shave. But some basic principles we can use to make better decisions. The first is Occam’s razor, and the second is Hanlon’s razor. Easy concepts, but useful.

  1. Occam’s Razor: Simple is best. Simple is beautiful. That’s the gist. In an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, we tend to fall for the complicated. If a financial get-rich-quick-scheme sounds complicated and hence attractive, it is probably dubious if not heinous. Likewise when people speak complex jargon, we think they are intelligent. Occam’s razor says that when you weigh alternative hypotheses, the one with the least assumptions should be chosen. Of course, not everything can be simplified as H.L. Mencken said, β€œFor every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” But the idea is to reach the optimal solution with the least confusion.
  2. Hanlon’s Razor: This one is very useful in all sorts of relationships. Maybe we asked someone for some help a few times, and they just don’t get back to us? We immediately get frustrated and think the person doesn’t like us, or that there is some other negative intent. Hanlon’s razor however says that before assuming negative intent, there is probably a viable alternative explanation – like ignorance, incompetence, lack of time or different core-beliefs. By thinking in these ways, the important thing is we transform our minds to having more happier fulfilling relationships. Here too a caveat exists: There are a small section of people who might indeed have ill-intent, and there we need to be careful, of course.

    Finally, if you were wondering why these are called ‘razors’, that’s because using these is likely to help cut through the noise and clutter.

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Super talented

We often think that talent is key. So many amazing talents in American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent and the like. Sure, maybe talent might open a door or two. But at least in the professional world, here’s what I’ve noticed are some “talents” which any one can develop. Also, these are super critical, but also super rare.

  1. Being nice to others
  2. Getting along with people
  3. Intellectual curiosity
  4. Being unaffected by failure
  5. Simplifying the complicated
  6. Patience – with results, with people
  7. Impatience with self-effort
  8. Punctuality
  9. GUDUSUNGU

    These might seem simplistic but they are not easy, and certainly not glamorous. But ask any successful person, and they will tell you these are highly under-rated and way more important than education and degrees and the usual skills we associate with the word ‘talent’. These are not taught in schools or colleges or universities, but the best part is that they can be developed by anyone, for free, at any time, with some mindfulness and self-effort.

So, how talented are you?

Like it? Please share it!
2 Comments

Controller

For those of us with day jobs, a large part of they day goes in working. And with it comes the associated stress and anxiety. Specially when the employer / boss decides that the work you’ve done is not good enough and is communicated in a harsh manner. Or the phone calls that come over the weekend when it’s actually time go camping with your kids. Or the general office politics which are eating into your limelight because you are inherently a ‘non-political’ person.

We also get stressed in other non-work activities, like when we don’t have enough time for family and that plays on our minds, or when we have emergencies, or when we know the neighbour has bought a new car that we certainly cannot afford, or even when a close friend or colleague suddenly gets a massive promotion leaving us many steps behind. “Oh what a stroke of luck” we may think. And that could indeed be the case.

As we well know, there is no dearth of reasons to be anxious. My wife highlighted a piece from a book she is reading on Ayurveda and nutrition which is very interesting. The author says that most of the causes of stress in our lives are outside our control. We can’t control what the boss says, or the colleagues do, or what the neighbours will show off.

According to the book though, there are only two things we can and should control.
1 – Our diet (quality, quantity, timing), and
2 – Our sleep routine (again – quality, quantity, timing)
The author says with incredible conviction, that if these two things alone are sorted in our lives, the rest will take care of itself. Worth a try?

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Foggy

Alan Alda, the American actor and 6-time Emmy and Golden Globe winner once said, “Your assumptions are your windows to the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

This might seem obvious, but its effective implementation is worth its weight in gold.

The real problem is that these windows are not dirtied by others. They are dirtied by we ourselves, after imagining what others are thinking about us.

So much so, that sometimes being blind is better, as shown in the very popular Marvel TV show called Daredevil. The protagonist has superhero abilities, but cannot see. This lack of vision though, gives him much clarity in other walks of life. Contrast that to his best friend and partner – ironically named ‘Foggy’ – who lives by making large (and silly) assumptions and getting himself into trouble.

Scrubbing our windows needs courage and the ability to recognize that we may have been wrong – often publicly. And it’s infinitely better to be wrong and corrected on Step 1 than on Step 100, by which time, it might be too late.

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

The one formula for success – part 3

Here’s an example of how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – from a conversation between my Guru and I recently.

I had kept a vow for donating some money to Tirupati (a large and famous temple in south India) if some specific important event took place in my life. Like Guruji says, it is very important for everyone to set lofty goals, work towards them, pray for them, and if those goals are achieved, then unabashedly do something in return.

When said event did work out (miraculously!), it was time to keep up my end of the bargain. But I had a conflicting thought. Should I donate to Tirupati? Or should I donate to the cause of my Guru? So I asked my Guru. “If it’s just money, can I not give to your cause Guruji? Why Tirupati? Isn’t God and his money fungible?”

To which he had a wonderful answer, and such an answer is only possible if he put himself in my shoes. Because from his point of view, he has already realized Brahman and moksha and liberation, and to him these material differences do not matter!

But to me as one who is faaaaaaar away from such realized states, he said simply, “What if something bad happens tomorrow? Then it is possible I might connect the dots? That it is because I did not donate to Tirupati as planned but instead gave the money off to another cause, that there was a hole left to be plugged at Tirupati?” Instead my Guru told me to go and happily give to Tirupati, and then also pray to the Lord there to give me more money so that I can donate to the other causes with even more fervour. Win-win?

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

The one formula for success – part 2

We saw yesterday how Dale Carnegie says there’s only one thing we need to do to be successful, whether in personal relationships or in a professional setting. And this is to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

Sounds easy. Yes, but very hard to apply, isn’t it? What prevents us from viewing things from another’s perspective?

Adi Shankara in his commentary Vivekachoodamani, says that there is one and only one hurdle. The ego.

How to get rid of this ego? He says that there are 2 pillars to this ego.
1. Selfish desire
2. Selfish action

1 causes 2. and 2 reinforces 1. And the cycle repeats ad infinitum.

How to break out of this? By performing actions for others. Seva. Service. That’s the only way Adi Shankara says. The more we think for (not about) others and work for others, the less time we have to worry about ourselves, and the lesser the ego becomes, automatically.

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

The one formula for success

In his amazing book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie (DC) shares some amazing lessons on how to … well exactly what the book titles says!

It’s not a very large book, but it is divided into 6 parts, and a total of 37 chapters, each addressing one specific focus area for introspection, improvement and application.

Out of all these, DC himself says in part 4 chapter 8, that if there is only one thing that we take away from the entire book, then it is this one formula. Here is that paragraph reproduced verbatim.

If, as a result of reading this book, you get only one thing - an increased tendency to think always in terms of the other person's point of view, and see things from that person's angle as well as your own - if you get only that one thing from this book, it may easily prove to be one of the stepping stones of your career.

Just imagine that. We think success is all about us, our hard work and meeting our targets and what not. Sure these are important, but there are millions of people doing all these things already – but they rarely rise to the top. Because they are too often focused only on themselves. DC has the solution. We only need to implement.

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment

Boundless

Here’s a lovely story on giving / kindness/ generosity from the Mahabharatha I came across.

Arjuna once asked Krishna thus, “Why is it that people always say Karna is the most generous person in the world? I too have given away so much to those in need. Why am I not considered so?”

Lord Krishna replied, “I think you will see this better in action for yourself. Tomorrow at dawn, I call upon both you and Karna to have a giveaway contest. You will each start with a mountain of gold, jewellery, ornaments etc. This will give me an opportunity to judge which of you is the better giver.”

The next morning, both Arjuna and Karna began their giving spree. By mid-day, Arjuna was tired, having given away nearly half his mountain, and looked to rest for a few minutes. He asked Krishna how Karna was doing. Krishna told Arjuna that Karna already finished his giveaways and went home! Arjuna was shocked and surprised.

To which Lord Krishna said, “My dear Arjuna, you were asking people to bring their bags and buckets and fill them, and once filled, to go back. Karna on the other hand had no such requirements – he just gave away with no limits or conditions. That’s why his mountain got emptied out in no time. And also why people consider him the most generous person on earth!”

Like it? Please share it!
Leave a Comment