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Month: August 2021

1 – 2 ka 4

Someone asked the tennis legend Martina Navratilova once how she can continue playing so well at the age of 43. Her reply was precious. She said, “The ball doesn’t know how young or old I am. Besides, for 90% of the match, I do not need to focus.”

This is an amazing response on two counts. One, it is the internal content of the person that really matters. Which is why we see so many billion dollar companies being run by 20- or 30-year olds, and not necessarily by septuagenarians alone. While hierarchy, age and respect are important, when it comes to work and giving one’s best, the opinions of the world around us do not matter much.

Two, in our daily work, it might appear that we are working 12-15 hours a day. But is every minute or every hour really that intense and productive? Likely not. Which is why more and more research and experiments seem to suggest that taking walks and breaks and creative time off is better than just sitting at one’s desk for hours on end.

In certain professions, this is easier. Like for Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps – they need to bring their A-game and focus for the entirety of only 1 or 2 minutes. And that will last them 4 years at the Olympics. No comments on the length of their practise sessions though 😃

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Equations – part 2

A few more simple equations:

  1. Visualization + execution >>> execution-only > visualization-only
  2. Health + wealth >> Health > wealth
  3. Distraction = destruction
  4. Spirituality = embracing uncertainty
  5. Pain =/= suffering; suffering is only in the mind
  6. Pain + reflection = progress

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Equations

Some simple equations for life:

  1. Faith > Fear —> Success;
  2. Comfort zone = Failure zone;
  3. Success = giving back to society; Money, status etc. == only by-products;
  4. Starting the day well = day well;
  5. Changing yourself = changing world;
  6. Near birth and near death = don’t care about anyone; At all other times = try to impress everyone. Why?
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Replicating success

Here’s an awesome paragraph taken right out of the commentary to the Narada Bhakti Sutra by Sri Sri Ravishankar.

Until that perfection is achieved, even before the result appears, keep on acting. Keep acting but do not worry about the fruit of action.

Don’t be attached to the result of an action. Do not think you are in control of everything. This is the greatest illusion!

You know, success brings more illusion, because when you are successful, you think you achieved it.

But if someone else repeats all that you did, I tell you, they won’t be successful. This has happened. There is no prototype for success in the world; no, what do you call it … ?

Formula. There is no concrete formula for success. I tell you. This could be a formula. One formula for success: there is no formula for success!

Isn’t this great advice? Not just for spiritual success but material too. Don’t stop acting in the world, but do not expect success, and certainly not by copying others.

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Regressive development

When a realized soul says, “What is the use of education? What is the use of all this advancement and technology? These are all meaningless in the quest to quell the mind.”, it certainly raises some eyebrows. In this day and age of amazing technology, how can someone denounce these life-savers? “I can’t even sit in a room alone for 5 minutes without my phone – God bless the one who invented it”, would seem a reasonable response.

Maybe a slight shift in perspective would help see the world from the eyes of a jivanmukta. Indeed, to live in today’s world as it is, technology and education are important. But what if this world wasn’t the way it is?

If we went back to the olden times, there were no TVs, no cars, no ACs. But them folks still survived, relying on the outdoors and social gatherings. There were no mobile phones, even for long distance calls, but then there really wasn’t any need for going long distance. All needs were met within the village area. Yes trade and commerce and what not helped ‘develop and civilize’ humans, but was that really necessary? All industrial and technology improvements are supposed to have made our lives more efficient, but here we are, more stressed, more depressed and more anxious than ever before. And the great advances in medicine are now mainly to treat cool-sounding “lifestyle diseases”, which probably wouldn’t have arrived if man didn’t venture beyond his means.

This is probably what the self-realized folks really suggest. If all the technology and modernization and education ultimately leads to a worse life than before, then of what good is all this so-called progress?

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Cover page

When we discuss Dale Carnegie’s (DC) amazing book How to Win Friends & Influence People in satsang, participants often ask certain types of questions. Maybe we can call these questions as extremities. Here are some examples:

  1. DC says we need to listen to the other person. But what if the other person keeps on talking and I don’t get to talk at all?
  2. DC says think from the other person’s point of view. But what if the other person doesn’t think from mine?
  3. DC says we need to smile as often as possible. But others aren’t smiling.
  4. DC says develop a genuine interest in the other person. But when do I then get to talk about my interests?

These are all valid concerns. However, our objective must be clearly understood. As the title on the book’s cover page states, this book is useful if you want to win the other person over, befriend them and / or influence them.

If this is the clear focus and objective, then we need to think: Does it matter whether I get to talk or not, or that the other person doesn’t smile or not, or that they don’t see the world from my point of view? Ideally, no!

This is DC’s decades and countless experiences’ worth of rare wisdom neatly encapsulated into a 200 page book. The real question we must be asking ourselves is – how better can I apply the learnings of this magical book to my life?

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Intelligentsia

Many great self-realized souls have said time and again that an education is of the least importance to attaining moksha or liberation. While it has the instant advantage of levelling the playing field for everyone – no matter the status, wealth, profession or credentials in the material world, it is still not easy. To some extent, having education and knowledge is helpful because it is only because of these that we may even become aware of the existence of a spiritual path.

But this too isn’t necessarily true. A beggar who has lived by the side of a temple throughout his life, might imbibe the devotion he sees in the various pilgrims that make their way to that sacred place. While the pilgrims may be done with their temple rituals in a matter of minutes, the beggar’s circumambulations would continue for life, with little else to care for.

For the intelligent and educated ones, the logical brain gets in the way of all spiritual progress. Many of the biggest frauds around us, the biggest blow ups, the biggest failures – they aren’t caused by a lack of brainpower – but rather due to excess intelligence leading folks to tell themselves that they are unconquerable.

As Richard Feynman once said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

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From raags to riches

Raaga in sankrit refers to attachment. This attachment is considered to be one of the greatest barriers to spiritual evolution. Why so? Because if we are attached to our own body, our own families, our own this and that, then there is no scope for appreciating the one true Consciousness, which is everywhere at once.

The requirement then is to get rid of this raaga. This is called vairaagya or detachment. Defining it is easy, but actually living it is nearly impossible. Just play with a cute baby for a few hours, and you’ll find yourself attached, and thinking of the baby many times a day “Oh so cute!”.

As my Guru recently commented:

  1. Bhakti or devotion, means inseparable pain when away from the Lord. Which them implies needing to give up everything else, i.e. devotion begins when raaga ends.
  2. Parents believe that giving their children a lot of wealth would tantamount to their welfare. But no, their welfare is in their vairagya or detachment to the wealth.
  3. Someone did something bad to you. That is over. Now forget about it. Don’t replay it a 100 times for 100 years. If we are mentally at peace, then vairagya becomes easy.
  4. Supremely detached fellow is giving hundreds of thousands to charitable organizations but is fighting for a few rupees with the roadside vegetable vendor.

All worth pondering over deeply.

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Pretty girl

On the theory of relativity, Einstein once said “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.”

And so time is a matter of perspective. We often hate office and work, but love vacations. It might seem like the 12 hours we spend a day at work just drags on forever, while the 24 hours in a vacation goes off in a jiffy.

Satsangs are similar too. At times, they may feel boring. Almost like we have heard the same things (messages, quotes, stories) over and over again. And to find even that 1 hour a week would be the hardest thing in the world. Why waste an hour when we can do something else – like catch a movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

If we have spent countless births stuck in Maya, the thought to ponder over is, will just an hour a week suffice, to get us out of it? We will have to fall in love with satsang, just like Einstein’s pretty girl, if we wish to make tangible progress. Eventually, every waking minute will become a satsang, just like a Guru’s life.

As Guruji says, satsang is the most noble place, because it is a zero-liabilities place. There are no downsides to satsang, only humongous benefits.

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Lost plot

Many professions today do not practically need the depth and breadth of our prior education. Primary school, high school, junior college, senior college, bachelor’s, master’s, post doctorals – the list goes on.

But do we apply all of what we learn in our daily work? Hardly. What our bosses need is mostly just to focus on getting small bits and pieces done at the right time. Ownership, responsibility, dedication, meeting deadlines, being a team player – yes these are often substantially enough to differentiate a good employee from a bad one.

But even doing this is difficult at times. The focus is often on the things that do not matter. Like trying to do something to perfection, when it has been clearly communicated that a rough framework would suffice. Or when one has been asked to use something off-the-shelf, only to find out later that the person tried to reinvent the wheel. These smaller errors are unrelated to the work itself, but are enough to let the one in charge know that the doer has lost the plot.

A similar plot loss happens in spirituality too. All that is required is for one to realize the Divinity deep within. It is an internal exercise. The Gurus say that one must simply watch the mind, and prioritize the Real over transient. But many seekers love to delude themselves, and resort to a plethora of practices and meditations to attempt to quiet the mind. The mind is like a schizophrenic monkey on steroids. Can it really be quietened? The only sustainable way the Gurus say is to give up all attachments and desires.

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3-pointer

When we talk basketball, the first names that come to mind are usually Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal or Stephen Curry. Each of these players has really proven themselves on the court, and have amazing records to boot.

But sometimes the magic can happen off-court too! Giannis Antetokounmpo, just 26 years old, has had a great run off late in the NBA. One wouldn’t call his background a very wealthy one – given his parents were Nigerian immigrants in Greece, and even making ends meet was a challenge.

He was asked recently at a press conference how he keeps his form in check, now that he has been playing so well. His answer is a 3-pointer that any basketball fan would be proud of.

  1. If I focus on the past, that’s my ego
  2. If I focus on the future, that’s my pride
  3. If I focus on the present, that’s my humility.

“And it’s not like I don’t set expectations for my game, but while playing, I enjoy myself and really give it my best shot”

Slam dunk!

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Honest policy

Now most times, when someone comes up and says, “Hey give me your honest feedback on my performance / speech / act / article”, the person on the other side becomes fairly guarded. Should they speak the truth and risk losing an important relationship? Or do they just continue to parade the emperor with no clothes?

This may not matter much in the larger scheme of things in the personal realm. But honesty / transparency are hugely important for company culture. Whether to customers, between employees and management, to shareholders or other stakeholders – admitting mistakes without worry of being censured and the ability to speak freely is quite a superpower. 

The example of Bridgewater Associates, run by Ray Dalio comes to mind. Dalio released some candid feedback he received from one of his employees. “Ray – you deserve a “D-” for your performance today in the meeting. You did not prepare at all because there is no way you could have and still been that disorganized. In the future, I/we would ask you to take some time and prepare and maybe even I should come up and start talking to you to get you warmed up or something but we can’t let this happen again. If you in any way think my view is wrong, please ask the others or we can talk about it.”

And that’s exactly what Mr. Dalio did. He asked the rest of the people in that meeting to rate him on a scale of A to F. Let’s just say the result was closer to F than to A. He immediately published the result for his entire employee base of >2000 people to see.

This is debilitating and extreme honesty to be a recipient of. But its unique culture has been instrumental in helping Bridgewater build itself into one of the world’s largest hedge funds, persisting for over 45 years – when the average life of a hedge fund is only 5 years.

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How to attain spiritual perfection

Here are three most important requirements which were discussed in a recent satsang.

  1. Humility
  2. Compassion
  3. Ananya bhakti (i.e. constant devotion to the Lord / God / Oneness / Consciousness / Paramatman / Supreme Being etc.)

If we attempt to analyse these a bit more:

Humility comes from accepting that neither do we know everything, nor are we the best at anything.

Compassion comes from accepting that there others more needy than us (usually we are the only centre of our attention).

Ananya Bhakti is harder to grasp and practise. It requires more alertness than the other two. It requires the spiritual seeker to bring God into every aspect of one’s life, into every waking moment, into every voluntary thought and action. A good way to begin, is with gratitude for everything that has already taken place and is currently taking place.

Seen differently, 1 and 2 chop away constantly at the seemingly infallible tree that is the ego. And point 3 replaces it with the only Truth that exists.

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Old school

Today’s generation of music is hardly well… music. There’s a lot of masala, a lot of beats, a lot of beep words and a lot of a lot of things. To call them nonsensical might actually be doing them a favour. But who am I to judge right? Some of these music videos have over 500 million views each. Imagine a whole village, a whole town, a whole city, an entire country – all being brought up watching such trash. What will happen to their future?

Step into yesteryear though. Wow, what divnity! Not in every song of course, but more than today for sure. Here’s an outstanding composition I came across from a 1960s Tamil movie called Sumai Thaangi. The lyricist was the renowned Kannadasan – known not just for his amazing poetry but also for his deep philosophical thought.

I’m no Tamil expert, but these words from just the first 4 lines are as if straight from Heaven itself:

Manithan enbavan dheivam aagalaam
[Man can himself become divine] ... really? But how? read on...
Vaari vaari vazhangum bothu vallal aagalaam
[By sharing his wealth, he becomes a philanthropist]
Vaazhai pola thannai thanthu thiyagi aagalaam
[By giving like a banana tree (no part is useless), he becomes an ascetic] 
Urugi odum mezhugu pola oliyai veesalaam
[Like the melting candle wax, he can spread light to everyone]

We may consider our previous generations to be “old school”. But they actually knew the true meaning of life and how to attain it.

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Sadd happiness

There was an awesome lecture given by Swami Swaroopananda that I had the chance to attend a few years ago. I don’t remember much, except that he spoke about another session he once lectured at.

His recounted his question to his audience in that, “Is there anyone here who wants to be happy?” Obviously all the hands had gone up, All except one. Swamiji of course was perplexed. So he turned the question around, thinking maybe the man may have misunderstood. “Is there anyone here who wants to be sad?” The man was the only one to raise his hand. Swamiji asked him “Why do you want to be sad?”. The man replied, “Because being sad makes me happy.”

Isn’t this hilarious? Even the ones apparently seeking destruction and mayhem and chaos and sadness actually want happiness only.

That’s why I like the ‘SADD’ acronym that I concocted from the 2nd chapter of the Gita. Yes, yes, it is indeed a terribly un-innovative acronym and hence I’m totally happy to take the credit :D. Terrible jokes aside, SADD stands for Sense control, Attachments gone, Desires gone, and Dwandvas gone. The first 3 are self-explanatory. The Dwandvas are all around us – pairs of opposites – good/bad, night/day, joy/pain etc. All of spiritual progress is about remaining equanimous in the face of these. We need to be really SADD to be really happy.

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Monetime

A very interesting book called Layered Money that I’m reading traces the evolution of money through time. In the very earliest days of commerce, there was no money – only the barter system. If I had potatoes from my farm, but desperately wanted cotton, then all I could do was to offer my potatoes and hope the cotton farmer wanted some. Of course potatoes were important (still are), but there could be a limit to how many potatoes a cotton farmer could eat.

So people devised ways to get around this. In the earliest days, money wasn’t coins or paper as we know it today. It was mostly seashells. Big and shiny meant richer and wealthier. But of course not everyone lived near a beach, and so that had to change. Iron pieces were then used too – for quite a while. And then unsurprisingly, silver and gold came along the way. People with a lot of gold and silver even today are considered rich.

Alongside that wealth, came human ego. Coins were introduced, and standardized in design and weight. And then coins were embossed with the faces of the kings and queens of the time. Currency notes too had the same features. Many rulers would kill and plunder simply to change the faces on them coins and notes. It was a matter of great personal pride. Coins from hundreds of years ago – of perhaps the greatest kings that ever lived in those times – are but worthless now. That face – completely unrecognizable and irrelevant to those born today.

And now we have digital currencies, like Bitcoins and Ether. Even these aren’t as individualistic as their creators would want them to be, because there are over 9500 cryptocurrencies. And anyone with coding knowledge, can create a new one. Time takes care of all egos.

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Down to earth

One of the biggest challenges facing humanity today is climate change. We’ve discussed this in previous posts. But suffice it to say that we are taking from mother earth far more than we are giving back.

A famous Hollywood actor named Zac Efron has a TV documentary series called Down to Earth where he travels the world trying to find sustainable solutions for humanity’s problems.

One of the studies being done in Sardinia is interesting. There are a bunch of ‘blue zones’, where the locals all seem to live easily beyond a 100 years.

Zac himself has six-pack abs and admits to eating his bodyweight in protein every single day, and having gone months and even years together without touching carbs at all. And these cute centenarian Sardinian aunties and uncles? They barely have much protein – and certainly no whey powder or creatine powder or other supplements. What they do have though, is a really chilled out, but active lifestyle. Lots of walking and very less of stress.

Zac summarizes by saying thus, “I gotta get out of Hollywood man. That place, with all the stress and tension, it’s just not conducive for living. I just gotta get out.”

But we all want more fame and more money and more status even at the cost of a terrible lifestyle right?

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Sweaty

In a recent youth satsang, one of the questions asked was on how to calm oneself down during an altercation. This is surely hard. If someone gets angry at us, then even if we’ve read all the anger management books out there, we may still feel our pulse racing, our hearts beating faster, our teeth and jaws clenching etc. So then what to do?

The answer given by a senior satsangi was on point. He quoted, “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”

We think controlling our emotions is an on-off switch, and can be learned with some tips from a one-hour session. But the crux is to prepare before the game. Well before the game. To in fact be in a constant state of preparation.

Our scriptures suggest a variety of ‘exercises’, whether it is breathing, yoga, giving up desires and attachments, meditating, austerity, sacrifice, charity and several others. It might seem like these are all unrelated and irrelevant to our daily troubles. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Mediterranean Life – is back

We discussed the TV show Mediterranean Life back in April this year. They’re back with season 2, and boy do those landscapes and vistas and balcony views look stunning!

So yet another bunch of families leave their homes and hometowns behind, in the quest for a peaceful Mediterranean lifestyle.

One opening remark by one of the wandering souls struck me deeply. He said, “Wow what sunny beaches. I’m so happy to leave behind all the snow. Yay, no more snow!”

No more snow? I’ve never been to a place while it’s snowing. I don’t know how snow feels. Is it hard? soft? fluffy? I’ve seen many YouTube videos of course, but never had snow falling over my head. But 45-degrees sun? Yes that I’ve seen plenty of.

It’s amazing how what one person is running towards, another is running away from. The bottom line is that people are always running. Standing still might be the best antidote to all our problems. Physically, and mentally.

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