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Month: July 2021

Baby steps

Here’s a new title that got added to my name recently. ‘Uncle’. No, not the kids in the neighborhood who’ve been seeing my grey hair and calling me uncle for years 😂. This time, it’s for real. There are two lovely baby nieces who’ve entered this funny and amazing world we are in.

There’s some cool stuff we can learn being with them. One of the things I struggle with – is managing emotions of other people. If someone gets angry or spews something at me, it’s instinctive almost to react. Either defend or attack, just to say something, anything.

When you’ve got a one month old baby on your shoulder – one of three things are going to be on you sooner than later – peepee, poopoo or vomit. The one thing you just cannot do in such a situation, is to react. The baby is so fragile and needs such delicate handling, that it’s an amazing lesson in just living in the moment and accepting the situation as it is. This is not about not sitting around without cleaning up. Rather it is about taking a pause and letting them emotions settle down, before doing something.

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Qarm& yogA – part 2

The Q&A on karma yoga concludes today.

Question 4 – If there are no qualifications needed, then what is my duty exactly? Because the grass always seems greener elsewhere (ie other’s duties seem better).
Answer to that is verse 35. Whatever you are doing now, that is your duty. If you are speaking in the satsang that is your duty. If you are driving your car that is your duty. Also, our ultimate duty we need to remember, is to attain the Happiness within and eventually enable everyone around us to access it, just like Guruji does. As Krishna says in the 18th chapter, the one who teaches His messages is dearest to Him.

Question 5 – Now that we know our duty, while doing it, how should it be performed?
Answer to that is verse 25 – Selfless work – always working for the welfare of the world. No “what’s in it for me”?

Question 6 – How to work without expecting a result? Should I not be aiming for a goal/target/promotion?
Answer is that there is a difference between goals and results. The Guru says by all means have a goal and work hard towards it, but do not dwell on the result. The distinction is subliminal, yet key.

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Qarm& yogA

Chapter 3 in the Gita is all about karma yoga. Here’s my quick 2-part Q&A on this outstandingly practical chapter.

Question 1 – The Lord says that ‘knowledge’ is superior to ‘action’. Should I not then go in search of ‘knowledge’ first?
Answer to that is verse 3 – two paths are given by Lord K – one jnaana yoga, other karma yoga. If the mind is pure, then jnaana yoga is fine. But if we are not ready for it, and still have desires and attachments, then action is the only alternative. But the same goal can reached, irrespective of the path – knowledge or action.

Question 2 – When we feel hopeless and helpless sometimes, and become fatalistic, because “in the long run, we are all dead anyway” – then why should I do any work/action at all?
Answer to that is verse 8 – action is superior to inaction. Through inaction, one cannot even maintain one’s own body.

Question 3 – What qualifications do I need? Do I need to be a doctor, lawyer, MBA for karma yoga?
Answer to that is verse 19, purport 2 – also the favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, and which Guruji has also put onto the back cover of his Amazing Simple Gita. “No qualifications needed.”

Intrigued? Continued tomorrow…

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Up the sleeve

There’s a very fun magic show called Penn & Teller: Fool Us that you can watch on YouTube. Unlike usual magic shows, this one is a talent show, but for magicians!

So magicians from all over the world come and perform in front of two of the greatest magicians in the world (i.e. Penn & Teller), and the duo then try to decipher the trick. If they cannot, then they admit they are fooled, and the magician wins a trophy.

Needless to say, the magic acts are entertaining, mind-blowing and superbly crafted. While the entire audience is having fun, the two judges are doing their very best to tear every single movement, every sleight of hand and every misdirection apart. While everyone else is enjoying the trick, these two are doing their ‘office jobs’ in a way. Somewhat takes the fun away, but despite that, they do get fooled – and boy are those fun to watch!

One magician participant said something very awesome. He said he had practiced the very trick he presented for over ten years. Not just that, but he also videotaped himself performing the same trick, nearly a hundred times, and from a hundred different camera angles. And each time, he would make improvements, sometimes minor, sometimes major, but each one contributed to his final act – which Penn & Taylor commented as “absolutely flawless”. Hard work + technology = Smart work = Success!

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Lights out

Today morning, the electricity went off. Poof, kaput, gone. Some maintenance work yada yada will be back in 12 hours yada yada said one whatsapp message.

I quickly switched from wifi to mobile hotspot and continued to work. A couple of video calls, and a few other normal calls, plenty of emails, several powerpoint slides, some excel sheets and a few more emails later, my laptop battery started to give way.

A few hours later, and my phone was dying too. Dusk had set in. Darkness all around, except my phone screen. And then that was gone as well. No this is not a horror story.

No screens, no calls from work, no deadlines, no TV, no music, no noises, only darkness. But it was beautiful. We sat together and talked – with zero distractions. It was free flowing, and chilled out. Not a care in that moment. Such simple pleasures of life. Going with the flow.

And the lights momentarily came on as the fan whirred back to life. Deadlines, phone calls, work, screens, distractions – everything was back. Back to normal. But our normal is quite abnormal, isn’t it?

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The Great Debate

People of science argue that there is no God. Because science is based on logic. And logic can be proven. And repeatedly so.

People of faith argue that there is a God. Logic is irrelevant to them. Why? Because their own personal experiences have taught them that miracles can and do happen – and if its a repeatable non-coincidence at their times of greatest need – then who cares about logic.

The science folks argue that if God exists, then why do you need technology to improve lives. Why have cutting edge medicine to save lives. Why use computers and mobiles and other amazing inventions? God didn’t invent those did he? Man did. The faith folks argue that the substratum for any ‘inventions’ were not invented by any man or human, but are divine gifts, of which we are mere renters.

This is a never ending debate. But it needn’t be so.

All the ancient scriptures describe God in the same way. As the spark of Consciousness that resides deep within each one of us. Not just us humans, but in all living beings. Not just living, but also inanimate things. Basically everything there is, is just an expression of this Consciousness, but in a multitude of forms. It is this Consciousness spark in humans that is known as intuition, that sometimes results in amazing solutions to problems, that results in great advancements in technology and so on. Seen this way, there is no debate.

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Struggler

Everyone is constantly struggling. Someone wants to change their job. Someone wants to have the same job that this other person is so desperate to leave. Someone wants more money. Someone with a lot of money wants to know how to invest it best. Someone wants more recognition. Someone wants more love and legitimacy in their relationship. Someone wants a family. Someone wants a child. And on and on and on. The struggles are never ending.

Everyone thinks their baby days were the best. No office tension. No home tension. No need to do anything. Just cry, and you can be assured of full service. But is it that easy?

Babies cry for the weirdest reasons. Could be a little gas in the tummy. Or a sudden loud sound. Or hearing another baby nearby cry. Or not knowing how to go to sleep. Or hunger. Or tiredness. You name it. And their cries are really loud. Because that’s the only defence/weapon that human babies have in their arsenal.

And the other end of the spectrum? As an old person, maybe touching 100, are they free from struggles? Despite presumably having lived happy lives, having had great careers, made name and fame, having wonderful large grand and great-grandchildren, they might struggle for basic physical needs – like getting up for a glass of water maybe.

Life moves fast, and we each are going from one end of the spectrum to the other at breakneck speed. And this struggle is constant – during every step of this ephemeral spectral move. When one struggle ends, the next begins.

However, as every spiritual text would tell us, the struggle really is only in the mind, as is the victory over it. We know this, yet we struggle. That is the biggest struggle.

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Substantial

My Guru was giving a discourse on the Bhagavatam recently. In that, sage Narada happens to be traveling and reaches the world in its current state, i.e. Kali yuga. What is the sum and substance of this age? That the substance has gone from everything. The Guru explained it beautifully thus.

The ‘substance’ has gone means the ‘purpose’ has gone.

Means people are not putting their hearts and souls into what they are doing. There is no love and enjoyment for work. There is no attention to work.

Not just office work. But to most actions.

If one is going to a temple to pray, the substance is lost, because the mind is not on the Lord, but on what we want from the Lord.

How profound! An important message for me, especially on this auspicious day of Guru Purnima. All glories to Him!

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Come again

Many people do not believe in reincarnation. And those who do, can’t prove it.

Some people are totally against it. While some others even speak of remembering their own past births.

Who and how and why to believe?

Reincarnation comes into the picture from a karmic point of view, i.e. the law of karma, i.e action begets reaction.

Think of a justice system, that does not punish one for a crime. Rather, all their good actions and bad actions are separately totalled, and then netted off. If good is greater than bad, then no matter how barbaric the bad (think murders and rapes), the person goes to a ‘heaven’. And that’s that. Case closed. Story over. No rebirth.

Does that sound like a logical justice system? Or would it make more sense for the perpetrator to suffer or enjoy the consequences of each of his/her actions – no matter whether this birth or the next?

Food for thought.

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Sacrificial – part 4

A final post for now on yagna or sacrifice. We saw some of the 12 different types of sacrifice mentioned in the Gita yesterday. Those are all nice no doubt, but the focus must be on the last one, the brahma yagna. The giving up of the ego, the self.

It does not mean just getting up and jumping into the fire. That would be quite useless in reality, as the heat would be too much to take, the burns fatal, and once dead, of what use is all this spirituality? Rather it is all about giving up at the mind level.

This last yagna is so awesome that it is better than any and all of the previous yagnas. One question though here could be – fine, I’ll do some of these sacrifices. Like I’ll give up some good of my liking. There, sacrifice done, now what?

As Swami Paramarthananda puts it, real yagnas need two conditions to be satisfied, otherwise they simply remain physical acts / exercises.
1. The first condition is that it needs the Lord (i.e, bhakti or devotion, maybe faith).
2. The second condition is that it needs a spiritual motive. Otherwise it would just become a material transaction.

Speaking of yagnas – here is an excellent fire homa that anyone can do.

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Sacrificial – part 3

Chapter 4 in the Gita is called Karma Sanyaasa Yoga, and talks of a variety of yagnas or sacrifices, as we’ve seen in the last couple of days.

The list of yagnas is beautiful, mesmerizing and sequenced to perfection.

It starts with physical items. Things like ghee, coconuts and other things one would normally offer into a fire ritual. But those are the easy ones.

Next come giving up the sense organs. What does this mean? Cut off my ears and put it into the fire? Certainly not :). Rather it is attachment to these organs and their perceptions that needs to be given up. What? How can I give up my organs. Seems illogical, until we come to terms with the scriptural end-game. Which is that all creation around us is simply maya, and all the sense organs are doing for us, is to bind us more to this world.

A question that is relevant here is – which part of all this is truly ours? All the money and material possessions we have – in some shape or form belong to the earth. We have maybe taken it, and processed it and converted it, but not truly created anything. If none of this is ours in the first place, what can we really sacrifice?

Oh yes, there is only one thing that is wholly solely ours. And it is called the Ego.

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Sacrificial – part 2

Yagna as we know and saw yesterday, refers to sacrifice. The word and its associated action might seem simplistic. But it has the most profound effect of them all – the unbinding of karma!

The first word of verse 3 in chapter 9 of the Gita is Yagna.

yajñārthāt karmaṇo ’nyatra loko ’yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya mukta-saṅgaḥ samāchara

Here is my Guru’s interpretation of this verse. “Man becomes bound by all actions, other than that done as sacrifice. Without being attached, you perform actions for Him.”

Worried about accruing karma for your actions? The simplest solution is here – do all work as a sacrifice to the Lord.

Guruji further adds in the purport thus, (with my musings in brackets):
1. This verse sums up karma yoga. (wow, entire karma yoga summarized in this one verse, what more do we need?)
2. All actions, good or bad, bind us to enjoy or suffer, this birth or next. (we know this, having seen karma in detail)
3. The only exception, is action done as sacrifice. This is how to come out of cycle of birth and death. (here is the solution to all our problems – but are we able to practise it?)

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Sacrificial

The word sacrifice in Sanskrit would be yagna. It’s a very important concept and is repeated multiple times throughout the Gita. Krishna also mentions that those who practice yagna, daana and tapa (sacrifice, charity and austerity) are dear to Him).

If we give something to someone, and get something in exchange, that is a transaction.

But if we give something to someone purely for the other person’s well-being, and expect nothing in return, that would be a sacrifice.

There are 5 types of maha yagnas prescribed in the scriptures. How do we practise these?

  1. Deva Yajna – for the Gods (sun, moon etc). We can pray with gratitude for the presence of all the deities around us.
  2. Pitri Yajna – for our forefathers and ancestors. We are here because of them. Tarpana is good to do where possible.
  3. Manushya Yajna – for our fellow humans. Being charitable, compassionate, loving and kind would be a great start.
  4. Bhoota Yajna – for the other living creatures. Feeding the animals, providing shelter for them.
  5. Brahma Yajna – for the soul inside us. Attending satsang, applying scriptural knowledge, attaining moksha.
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Terminal

Social media platforms are often used in funny ways. Facebook and Instagram are no more places to talk about one’s own life – rather it has become a place to sell one’s wares (and very effectively too sometimes). Linkedin is more about sharing one’s personal life than professional life. Twitter was supposed to be for short messages, but I’ve seen ‘threads’ with 100s of posts too.

The first post on my Linkedin feed today morning was another personal one. It was a tragic post. After seeing countless profiles on Linkedin of people who had succumbed to Covid after being tagged posthumously by their friends, this one was different.

This man posted that he only had a few more months to live – having been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He said with utmost gratitude that he’s enjoyed his life of 60+ years and that he’d had no regrets and that this would be his last post.

The comments that followed had people sympathising with him – that their future would be different without him, and that he should live his best life going forward etc. Given how unpredictable life is, these commenters assume that they will be around longer than him. Not a bad assumption to make – but it’s an assumption nevertheless. What if it weren’t true. Would we live our lives any differently? It’s fashionable to say ‘yes’. But if ‘yes’, then why aren’t we living that different life already?

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On paper

Here’s a trend I’ve been seeing. Having sat in on a few interviews for various roles, candidates of various types and thought processes have come through the door.

Many candidates are just amazing on paper. Tech skills, coding skills, math skills, legal skills, business skills – and plenty of certificate courses – you name it, and they’ve got it.

But interpersonal skills? Not a degree of an online course on “Negotiation 101”. But real-world interpersonal skills. Knowing when to speak and when to shut up. Harsh? Yes maybe, but extremely crucial too.

The higher one climbs in an organization, the more the work becomes about ‘getting the work done’ than ‘actually doing the work’. It’s physically impossible for just one senior employee to do all the work. And if it is, then it’s probably inefficient because it hasn’t scaled to potential.

And the higher one climbs up, the more one needs soft skills. Somewhat unintuitively, even to climb up the ladder, one needs soft skills.

Many interviews I’ve seen have ended with the interviewers talking amongst themselves thus, “Great skills… but, terrible attitude, and that’s a big enough ‘but’ to not move forward.

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Growing up

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

An innocuous question. with a range of possible answers.

For very young kids, immediate answers are postman, truck driver, ice-cream van driver or garbage truck driver.

The older ones will link this to some level of so-called professionalism – lawyer, doctor, engineer, scientist etc.

There are other specializations too – which do matter of course.

But the best answers to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” are these:

Generous, patient, loving, kind, polite, dependable, responsible.

Agree?

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Conversion test

We know that we must curb our desires. Because desires are like itches. The more we scratch them, the more they itch.

So we must then reduce our desires. But can we really reduce them all the way to zero?

How can we live our lives if we have no desires at all? There are two ways, one advanced, and the other super-advanced 🙂

  1. Here’s the advanced way – shubhecha = shubh + iccha = good desires. Desiring good for the country, for society, for others, for family, for the greater good.
  2. And here’s the super advanced way – Leaving all desires to the will of the Guru / God.

However, for most of us, desires will still be part and parcel of our daily lives. Here’s a quick tip. Try and see if the desire can be converted into a duty. If it can, then it is probably a good desire, and worth keeping.

Examples? Wanting to shop every weekend at a mall for luxury items. Desire? Indeed. Can it be converted into a duty? Not really. However, wanting to ensure the kids in your neighbourhood get a good education, and so you desire to organize weekly classes for them. Desire? Yes. Can it be converted into a duty? Most certainly, and your society will thank you for it.

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Single-tasking

Have you ever seen a job description that asks you to work only on a single task? If you have, then please forward it to me so that I can apply 😂.

In this book I’m reading called Beyond the Alphas, the author mentions that the average worker makes between 10,000 and 40,000 decisions – every day!

This is just insane. Apparently we also switch between tasks no less than 300 times a day. For all this talk and requirement for multitasking – is this something that is really even possible? Can I read a book and play a video game, at the very same time? Or can I have a deep conversation with my spouse while also watching TV? That second one I don’t even want to attempt!

Multitasking is only done by computers, that can really run multiple processes in parallel. And when we have computers doing all that work, why should we? Computers don’t get tensed or anxious or stressed, but we certainly do.

That’s why it might be a good idea, to get back to single-tasking, at least on the weekends. To spend 3 hours reading a book, and nothing else. Or an hour of deep conversation, and nothing else. A few hours playing with the kids, and nothing else. Including no phones, tablets or other screens for distraction. Let’s try it out!

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Placebo

We know the placebo effect. For those who are sick, sometimes even just pills that have nothing in them seems to do the trick.

The recent vaccination drives for Covid also has led people to talk about this. “I had no side effects whatsoever. Maybe I was just given saline, who knows, haha.”

There are many other placebos in life too.

Like the presence of a mother for her baby. The baby crawls a few steps ahead, and then turns back to check if the mom is looking. And then crawls forward again. The crawling is done by the baby only, not the mommy.

Keeping the light on, for someone afraid of the dark, is a similar example. What lurks in the dark would lurk in the light too. But the light gives comfort.

On calls, sometimes we can’t hear the other side clearly. And we let them know. And the other party after 5 seconds says, “Is it better now?”, without having done a thing.

Placebos abound, and they are good. Especially from a mental health point of view. Sometimes, many times, we cannot be of any real help. But just being there, even as a statue, if someone really needs us, that passive presence can make all the difference in the world to them.

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Chicken or egg

There’s often a question in my mind. Which comes first. No, not chicken or egg. That nobody knows. But another question.

All of the uber-successful people in the world – and mind you this is a very tiny minority – do not care what the world thinks of them.

For everyone else, their lives are dictated almost entirely by what they think others think of them. What house to live in, what school to send the kids to, what education to pursue, what kind of person to marry, what kind of job to do, what kind of places to travel to, what hobbies to keep and on and on.

But the successful fellas? They couldn’t care less. They only care about what they themselves think, what they feel is right. This comes at a cost, i.e. hearing a lot of no’s, a lot of nays, a lot of opposition and a lot of critiques. They live largely by their own rules.

The way many people rationalize this is – “Hey, that guy is rich, really really rich, so of course he can live by his own rules, and do whatever the heck he wants.”

Which is true to an extent. But the chicken or egg question is – “Did he get rich and can hence live by his own rules? Or did he live by his own rules, and hence got rich?”

What do you think?

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