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Month: May 2021

Oh killer!

A slow-walking saint hit a metal box with his walking cane. He looked down to see what his cane had touched, and realized it was a treasure chest, partly open. He immediately exclaimed “Oh killer!”, and then went along his way.

A few hours later, two men came there from opposite directions, and laid eyes on the chest at the same time. Each knew that the other had seen the treasure too. What to do? They decided to divide the contents amongst them. “Total 100 coins, 50 for you, 50 for me.” Great, that’s settled. Then they realized that the treasure chest itself had not been divided. How to divide it? Not possible. They bickered for a while, and then decided to resolve the matter the following day because it was already getting dark.

One man said to the other, “Hey, it’s getting dark, and we’re both hungry. Why don’t you go to the nearby town, eat some food, and pack some takeaway for me as well? I’ll safeguard your 50 and my 50 till you are back.” The other man retorted, “You think I was born yesterday? I’m not budging from here. If you want, you go and get the food!” The first man relented, went to the town, had his fill and came back with some food. As soon as he arrived, the second man stabbed him with a knife. The bleeding wouldn’t stop, and soon enough he lay dead. The stabber sat down relieved that all the 100 coins were now his, and ate to his heart’s content the food brought to him by the other man. In a short while, he too lay dead, as the food had been poisoned.

Hours later, the same slow walking saint came by, looked at the 100 coins, and the two dead bodies, and exclaimed, “Oh killer!”, and walked on.

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To listen or to speak?

Both Dale Carnegie and my Guru cannot overemphasize the importance of listening as a skill. We are all accustomed to talking non-stop especially in social situations. We love to hear the sound of our own voices. And onc they topic shifts to anything even remotely of self-interest, then the words just don’t stop rolling out!

But listening allows us to win over other people, because if everyone likes to talk, then someone must be there to listen? Listening also builds patience, maturity, concentration and empathy over time.

There is one scenario I’ve seen though, where people love to listen and completely shy away from speaking. This is on the stage. Any formal stage, be it big or small – we often hate the spotlight and the associated stage fright aka butterflies.

However, at least from a satsang perspective, there is no better place to speak – no not after the satsang, but as the main speaker! And the reason is very unique here. If we just listen to satsangs, we will get knowledge. But it may not convert to wisdom or action. In order to make that conversion, speaking is a wonderful tool. When we listen to others speak, we may feel like we are understanding concepts. But when we laboriously sit and prepare for a speech, read up copious information to demystify our scriptures, underline the various important points, search for interesting anecdotes and stories, attempt to figure out the ‘real meaning’ and ‘practical meaning’ and ‘deep meaning’, we will encounter on these abstruse topics some epiphanies that will never leave us for life.

Speak we must, at every satsang opportunity. But prepare we must, too, so that our speaking is easy listening for everyone.

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Hearty speech

Many satsangis under the guidance of my Guru have conducted amazing personal empowerment workshops. Mainly for students, but also for teachers, principals, army officers, corporates and so on.

The experience for conductors has been exhilarating, to put it mildly. The experience for the attendees, specifically the students, has been life changing.

What is critical for conducting a workshop well? We would think the most essential ingredients are a good grasp over the content, excellent communication skills, top presentation style, stage presence, presence of mind, a good voice and other such attributes.

The Guru obviously has a unique viewpoint. He says, yes these are important, but there is one thing far more essential. And that is to harbour great a great and selfless love for the students. He asks conductors to feel the love and nobility – to imagine the poor undernourished students, who have had no opportunities in their lives thus far, and how this program could transform their lives.

It is not oratorical skill from the brain that matters, but genuinely felt love from the heart.

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Sightful

Here’s an awesome story narrated by Morgan Housel who writes for the Collaborative Fund blog.

Dr. Dan Goodman once performed surgery on a middle-aged woman whose cataract had left her blind since childhood. The cataract was removed, leaving the woman with near-perfect vision. A miraculous success.

The patient returned for a checkup a few weeks later. The book Crashing Through writes:

Her reaction startled Goodman. She had been happy and content as a blind person. Now sighted, she became anxious and depressed. She told him that she had spent her adult life on welfare and had never worked, married, or ventured far from home ā€“ a small existence to which she had become comfortably accustomed. Now, however, government officials told her that she no longer qualified for disability, and they expected her to get a job. Society wanted her to function normally. It was, she told Goodman, too much to handle.

Wow, you did not expect that ending to the story did you? It is no surprise that humans are the worst predictors of their own future. Our superpower, nay super-weakness is the ability to isolate exactly one outcome of the future (like more money, fame, here eyesight etc.) that we want, to the exclusion of everything else – often risks – that would automatically accompany that outcome.

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Weight and watch

Is it possible to give someone specific advice without hurting them? Here is one example of how my Guru did it.

One of the satsangis had put on a lot of weight. Obviously this wasn’t good from a health point of view. Of course one could just tell her point blank, “Hey, you are fat, and this is unhealthy, please follow a strict diet and exercise plan, or else you will land up in a hospital one day.”

Although that is the truth, it is also a very harsh way of putting it across.

My Guru instead was generally chatting with the woman, on matters not even remotely related to health or fitness. And he just added at the end, “Hey do you see that other woman over there? She was telling me that she reduced 10 kilos in the last 3 months.” The lady’s ears immediately perked up and she asked, “Oh wow, how did she do that Guruji?” To which he replied, “1 spoon less, 5 minutes early.” (which means don’t do anything drastic like a crash diet because those are unsustainable, instead eat 1 spoon less and hit the sack 5 minutes earlier progressively)

That’s it – zero hurting and zero criticism!

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Tough times

There are times when it might seem like everything is going against us. It is good to take on any adversity head-on though with this one thought that occurs to only the most spiritual of beings – “Thank you God/Universe for putting me in this position rather than anyone else. Because at least I will be able to bear this situation and it’s consequences, while those around me if subjected to the very same thing, may not survive.”

At other times, those close to you might be going through a tough time. This could be deep rooted karmic retribution at play. Who can really tell, except perhaps those who have truly Realized? In any case, it might seem like there is nothing we can do to help alleviate the pain. At least physically, yes.

But mentally, and emotionally? We can do many things. One, paramount, is prayer. A wonderful opportunity to not just pray, but pray for someone other than always selfishly for ourselves!

There’s a brilliant video I came across recently. A barber got to know that his client was diagnosed with cancer. The client’s hair had begun falling, thanks to chemotherapy. As the client begins to get his head shaved, the barber intermittently shaves his own head too. What a lovely way to show that he cares! The client is moved to tears.

The tag at the end of the video sums it up beautifully. “That’s not your barber anymore, that’s your brother.”

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Visual creatures – part 2

We touched upon the importance of visualization yesterday. Here’s a nice example that I saw on the famous TV series called Shark Tank. This is how Wikipedia describes the show – “Shark Tank is an American business reality television series that premiered on August 9, 2009 on ABC. It shows entrepreneurs making business presentations to a panel of five investors or “sharks,” who decide whether or not to invest in their companies.”

As you can imagine, this is a make or break moment for most entrepreneurs, given they could rope in a billionaire ‘shark’ to help grow their business by hundreds of millions of dollars. Sometimes even just appearing on the show, without winning a shark’s investment itself can be free marketing. Also obvious, is that the path is not easy. Just getting featured on shark tank, amongst countless thousands of other businesses, is excruciatingly hard, what with a gruelling selection / elimination process.

One lady who was featured in the 12th season was presenting her product. Once she finished her demo, she also played a video clip from 4-5 years ago. This was back when she had just begun her business, and all she had was a few prototypes of her product. Back then itself, she looks into her phone camera, and records herself speaking to the investors, “Sharks – I’m coming to see you on Shark Tank in a few years, and as you can see, these are my prototypes, and I’m coming to you with my finished product in a few years, with an awesome sales track record too!”

What an incredible way to visualize, record it for posterity, and then work one’s backside off until said goal is achieved!

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Visual creatures

One of my Guru’s most favourite topics is the power of visualization. He loves to help others (young and old) visualize their future dreams and goals. He is of the strongest opinion that it has an undeniable and incredible influence on the final outcome. And through this power of visualization, he has made so many miracles happen – things that otherwise seemed impossible, but happened nonetheless.

This visualization principle is not different from what other sources might teach us. Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret, which became a worldwide phenomenon when it was released, essentially said “The universe will give you whatever you ask it.”

And we know that if we set our minds to something and go after it with single-pointed focus, then rarely can something stop us along the way.

“But how is it possible Guruji, how can we create the future by simply visualizing?” I once naively asked him.

His response was golden. “Deep down, we are all Brahman. All Creation has come from the same Brahman. Why can’t the Brahman inside you create the future that you want then?”

Point taken.

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DIRFTI

A consultant was engaged to help overhaul a company’s business operations. After a detailed study, they shared all their observations in 6 volumes of books. The company replied that this was unacceptable and asked them to condense the material. The consultant came back with 3 books, then 1, then half, then 10 pages, then 1 page, and finally just 1 line. And DIRFTI is what they came up with – which refers to Do It Right the First Time Itself.

This is one of my Guru’s favourite-est principles. Don’t want to be late for work? Make sure you don’t throw the car keys on the sofa corner the previous day when you come home. Want to find an important book? Keep it back on the bookshelf after using it. Want to succeed in an exam? Make sure you study every day like the exam is the very next day. Feeling lazy to do something properly? Want to avoid multiple trips to correct a stupid error? Make sure it’s done right the first time itself!

This is so important to my Guru that he has written this in bold on the very first page of the Amazing Empowerment Workshop book. The principle doesn’t suggest that one should never make mistakes. But rather than looking at the outcome, it focuses on the process, ensuring that everything is done optimally, thereby expecting optimal solutions as a result. Not very different from what Lord Krishna says in verse 2.47 – Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kada Chana, meaning one must only worry about one’s effort, and not on the end result.

DIRFTI is great, but it is even more great, when done while no one is watching. This will time and again avoid future pain, and provide immediate relief and happiness.

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FTP 30 TAP

To a computer engineer, these might sound like some network transfer protocols. But I’m not one, so I have no idea šŸ˜

FTP and TAP are the difference between sorrow and happiness.

It’s very simple.

30 refers to 30 seconds.

FTP is Fail To Pause.

TAP is Take A Pause (courtesy a satsangi).

There are so many scenarios in day to day life that we come across, where we say or do things that we come to regret later on. It could be an uncontrolled burst of emotion, an angry retort to a loved one or friend or boss (these could be the same person šŸ˜‚), a hasty decision, or just a lazy and unnecessary comment about someone or something.

A 30 second pause will not delay our life. But if it prevents us from saying or doing soemthing reckless, it can surely improve it.

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Degree to lead

What is the difference between a leader and a follower? Is it about brilliance, IQ, strength, awards etc.?

A leader has followers while the follower doesn’t! It’s about as simple as that. Leaders are able to demonstrate a vision and inspire his/her followers.

Contrary to popular perception, leaders aren’t born. Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, talks of level 5 leaders, and mentions the following characteristics – A level 5 leader:

  1. Is unafraid to acknowledge that s/he doesn’t know the answer/solution.
  2. Is unafraid to display their vulnerabilities
  3. Never says no to any new opportunities
  4. Is always keen on learning
  5. Is always humble
  6. Is always looking out for their followers
  7. Is often quiet, reserved, shy
  8. has their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves

Notice that not even one point is about academics, education or credentials. Isn’t this a great equalizer then?

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Homemaker charity

There’s a notion that only those who can earn are in a position to be charitable. Here are some ways I came across recently on how to give to charity even if one is not earning:

  1. Change: one could keep loose change aside, accumulate it over time and donate
  2. Tapas aka austerity: Donate money saved because of not buying something else
  3. Jewellery: Donate jewellery we don’t want or need anymore
  4. Celebrations: Instead of having a lavish meal in a 5-star for a birthday / anniversary etc., donate that amount (which can feed many needy mouths). We have celebrated so much in the past, one celebration less will make no difference.

We all came to this world empty handed, and are merely ‘renting’ mother nature’s facilities during our short stay.

This charity isn’t solely about giving, but about giving back. The former comes with ego, the latter when it is given up.

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Possible?

My Guru keeps giving the example of Roger Bannister (RB). In 1954, RB ran one mile in under 4 minutes.

He was the very first person to do so. His doctors had advised him before the run, that he should not go so fast, otherwise his organs would go all over the place, his body cannot take it and that he would die.

Of course, none of the warnings came to pass, and RB did indeed run the mile in under 4 minutes. What an achievement!

But funnily enough, RB was not the last. After his feat, almost every decade thereafter, someone or the other has been besting his record.

The current title is held by a Moroccan, Hicham El Guerrouj, who completed the mile in 3 mins and 43 seconds!

The actual time taken itself doesn’t matter. But it’s amazing how the human psyche works. Until someone else does it, it is considered impossible. But once it has been done, then there’s a line of people who follow it up, and even better it!

My simple learning from this, is that we don’t need to wait for anyone else. As the saying goes, even Impossible says I’m possible. And we’re each uniquely positioned to do things that no one else can (please see Mosaic Man).

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Know-it-alls

We think we know what’s best for us and what’s worst for us.

A few years ago, some colleagues along with a very senior leader moved to another firm. It was the most awesome move. Probably excellent pay hikes. Certainly improved designations and functional titles. Wonderful, inspiring stuff. To say people were jealous, would be an understatement. People were even wondering why the senior leader took only certain people with him, and why other “better” candidates were left behind.

Cut to today, that firm has shut down. The team, completely disbanded. What seemed like awesomeness at the time, in a few years has completely unravelled. Certain practices at the firm were questionable, which might even leave a blot on the resumes of those who worked there.

Seems like the tables have turned, and this could be the end of the world? It depends. Karma is an endless cycle of ups and downs. Today’s slap on the face is tomorrow’s opportunity. There is rarely a greater teacher than failure.

We think we know what’s best and worst for us. But we be would best off just going through the motions, enjoying the time in it. Everything else is just a perspective – and often not even our own.

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Stark extremes

Here’s how my LinkedIn feed looks like over the last few weeks

  1. Please help me find a job. I have been laid off since Covid struck in March 2020. I am the sole breadwinner. Unable to make ends meet. Please at least like my post and comment in order to maximise reach.
  2. Just got promoted to Senior Partner. All my hard work has finally paid off. Thanks to my family, boss, colleagues, God, dog etc.
  3. My dearest friend of 40 years is no more. He didn’t get oxygen when he most needed it. Alas. What a tragedy. He is survived by his wife and two toddlers.
  4. Here’s my photo of me and my son. He’s growing up fast. Hope I’m able to leave him a good legacy.
  5. Been in financial markets for 30/40/50 years. Never seen a more screwed up situation – economy down, market up, liquidity through the roof.
  6. Here’s baby S. She lost both her parents and both her grandparents to Covid. We are setting up a trust fund for her so that she may complete her education. Please contribute in any way possible.
  7. The last 4 weeks of my life were the worst. Oh the ordeal of Covid – what a disaster. But at least I’m alive and back home from the hospital. My priorities in life have been changed forever.
  8. Just graduated from IIM/Harvard/Stanford/etc. and have received my dream job. Onward and upward.

And on and on it goes. The extremes couldn’t be more stark. Not much one can do, except pray – not just for the sick but also for the brave and selfless front-liners.

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Free delivery

We are all getting more and more accustomed to food delivery – either on Swiggy or Zomato or Uber Eats and other similar services. We may have even seen many delivery executives zoom past on bikes or mopeds, as they hurry to fulfil their orders on time.

Usually, deliveries are well on time. A few days ago, there was a delivery guy who was about 10 minutes late. So I called him up and checked to see what he was up to, as his geolocation marker on the app had gone stationary. He immediately picked up, and apologized, and said that he got lost a bit and was coming soon. He enquired some directions with me, and then he was on his way he said. Another 8-10 minutes went by, and I was wondering why he would take so long given where his map was showing him.

He arrived a few minutes later at top speed and screeched to a halt, all sweaty. The reason? He was on a tiny bicycle, not a flashy bike or moped. No electricity / petrol to power him up. His legs probably got tired too, with multiple cycling trips this way. But he apologized again, and handed the parcel over with a big smile. Surely this is not his passion or calling – but he is doing this job to earn some side income – likely to make ends meet. But such a person is often at the receiving end of all sorts of abuses – with hungry and angry callers lambasting him.

We can all help such people by not just being nice to them, but also tipping them. And by more than just tiny amounts. One way, is to pay forward to them any discounts we would have received. At least in India, every payment option (credit card, pay later, netbanking etc.) offers plenty of discounts, free deliveries and cashbacks. I try to transfer all such savings/discounts as a tip to the delivery person. It’s the least we can do for their efforts in such trying circumstances (lockdowns).

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Hanging by a…

We al know about the story where one rock climber, in the pitch dark, is super tired and somehow tries to make his way down from the summit. He loses his harness and rope and what not and is hanging on – by a thread literally – for dear life. He prays to God to save him, and momentarily a heavenly voice booms from the skies, “Let go, and you will be fine.” He doesn’t trust the voice of course, and clings on, but by morning he is finished. When others find him, they realize he was dangling just a few feet away from the ground, but he couldn’t see it due to the darkness.

This is a story about the importance of faith. We know this, and its a great lesson.

There are some mountain climbers – and then there are some other mountain climbers who climb vertical rock faces. Like 3000-foot vertical cliffs. Where do they sleep or take a break? By using something called a portaledge. Which is a device apparently made from airline-quality materials, and hangs thousands of feet above the air perpendicular to the rock face. Fancy sleeping in one? Maybe rolling over the side of the bed would take new meaning here.

It is said these are absolutely safe though. And there are so many climbers who get a kick out of exactly this. Personally, this is not for me. Why would anyone do it? I read up a bit, and apparently its because climbers find it relaxing – being secluded up top and the spectacular views of the night sky and surroundings.

Too much effort / faith for this much relaxation?

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How to be

The grandfather has a blood pressure problem and is trying to get it cured. But it involves staying off a number of foods, which is very hard.

The grandmother has an ownership problem – what with so many activities but getting no credit from the family members.

The father has a time problem – stuck with office work all day, and also having to take nonsense from superiors and others to make ends meet, leaving him stressed and unable to spend time with his family. Not very different from the what the grandfather did once upon a time but not that long ago.

The mother has no life of her own – what with it being entirely devoted to her family. One or more of the kids (or even her husband) is always sick or wanting something else and she ends up always sacrificing, not very different from what the grandmother did once upon a time but not that long ago.

And the kids? Well they are growing up fast. But they too struggle in school, with peer pressure, at home with habits and chores, and with themselves too – having to deal with all sorts of insecurities.

From the outside, it might seem like everyone is always overestimating their problems. It’s easy to tell the grandpa/grandma/dad/mom/kids to just take a chill pill – and that things will settle down. That these are such simple issues that can easily be resolved. But then why do these feel so familiar? Why do we all go through these phases all the time?

It is because we have insufficient control over our minds. And this is not a condescending remark – rather one we should be empathetic about. Hence one of my favourite quotes. “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Hence be kind. Always.”

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P & C

In a recent Netflix comedy show called Derry Girls, there’s an interesting scene. A bunch of high school students from two different schools gets together. Not just two schools, but they are also divided by religion – one being Protestants (P) and the other Catholic (C).

The priest ‘Peter’ wants to bring them to all realize that P & C are just terms or outward labels, and that deep down we are all one and the same. He has two girls on either side of two blackboards, one blackboard titled ‘Differences’ and other ‘Similarities’.

Peter then goes on to ask the combined class what any one similarity could be between them P & C. The first answer is that P are richer while C are poorer. The next one says P are taller. The third one says P sing better, and so on. Soon enough, and much to the despair of the poor priest, the Differences board has completely filled up, with not a single word written on the Similarities one. He tries his best to hint (and then discuss openly) that everyone laughs, loves, lives, cries the same, no matter P or C or otherwise.

But his audience couldn’t care less – because they are completely usurped by their past experiences, having interacted with the other type. Of course the scene is mainly for comedic effect, but it is not too divorced from reality. It is hard to view people as human beings, and far easier to label them. The real magic happens when we tear off those labels though.

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Quick not hasty

Google Pay has a nice ad. It shows people engaged in a variety of transactions, and then using the app to make their payments. The tagline that goes alongside is “Jaldi, lekin jaldbaazi nahin”, which means quick but not hasty. This is an important but often overlooked mode of action.

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine who had come back to his hometown for a break, was telling me that his marriage got fixed. But he had given an ultimatum to his fiancee, that they needed to be married in the following 3 weeks, before he headed back to his place of work. The girl’s side wasn’t so keen on this alacrity. Marriage is one of those things where it is not possible to momentarily reverse one’s decision – it is not a hop-on hop-off bus. While one can understand my friend’s urgency, in the long run, what is a few months here and there?

But we’ve now got used to doing everything at great speed. Instant gratification and all that. And we naturally come to expect this in spiritual progress as well. But as is very nicely described in Tattvabodha, there are four things simultaneously needed for moksha or liberation = a Guru + satsang + scriptures + X. Three of these we can all have. But what is X? It is time. No matter how much of a hurry we may be in, we cannot sidestep the learnings that time and experience unveil to us.

For large important life-changing decisions, quality trumps speed any day, especially if we want to minimize regrets in the future.

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