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Month: November 2021

Problematic

Verse 2.55 in the Gita is an interesting one.

But before that, do we have any problems in life? If no, then you are a jivanmukta. If yes, which should be the case for most of us, then the next questions should be – where do our problems come from?

For everyone who is working, we might unanimously think “Oh all my life’s problems come from my boss”. For those of us who are studying, we might think “Oh these darned exams. I love to study and read, but I so hate giving exams and having to compete in the mindless rat race”. For others, problems come from maybe an irritating sibling, or a friend, or a colleague, or even from certain things not going our way.

So the sources of problems can be multifarious.

But Krishna has a different take. He is saying “Hang on, all your problems, my problems, the world’s problems have only one source. And that source, is an unstable mind”.

And hence verse 2.55 says, “When one thoroughly casts off all cravings of the mind, is satisfied in the Self, through the joy of the Self, he is called one of stable mind.”

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Superior inferior

In the workplace, a common complaint I’ve heard across industries and sectors is that it appears the seniors / superiors / bosses / managers don’t really do much. They also don’t know much. But by virtue of their legacy, having warmed their chairs for many years, they get to be where they are.

How to tackle this? Here are some ways to look at this:

  1. If we are junior to someone else, we cannot control the other person’s current position or future career trajectory.
  2. We can control what we do with our hours put in at work though.
  3. In many cases, a person’s authority in a particular position comes solely because of the title. If an incompetent person is made head of the team, it is still the head only who can take certain decisions, whether bad or good.
  4. If a superior doesn’t ‘deserve’ a role, s/he may hold the position for a very long time, but the impact they will create will be negligible.
  5. If we get a chance to go into that role in say 3 years or 5 years, what would our impact be then? What would we want it to be?
  6. If the impact has to be much better, then we need to start putting in substantial efforts – from today itself.
  7. We cannot control the outcome of tomorrow, but we can control what we learn today, what skills we develop today and what networks we build today. This is most important. And it has never been easier to learn new things and add to ones repertoire – whether via Udemy, or YouTube or Coursera or any other.

As Swami Vivekananda has said, “We find ourselves in the position for which we are fit, and if one has some capacity above another, the world will find that out too.”

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Drive thru

A study recently found that the most stressful city in the world for driving is… you guessed it or maybe not… Mumbai!

Given that I’ve been living and driving here for years, I can only agree, somewhat. Only ‘somewhat’, because Mumbai is very stressful to drive in, but all of India can be really stressful to drive in too.

There’s just so many people, everyone as if waiting to just jump in front of your vehicle when you least expect it. There is also massive congestion, unexpected bovinity in the middle of highways, zero wiggle room, no rules, no lane discipline, no lanes, no signals and in general a lot of peril.

However, there are two things in my humble observation that keeps all this driving insanity remarkably orderly.

  1. Go slow (no scope for autobahn here!)
  2. But keep moving.

Going slow means you get to stop when required and not worry about hitting someone who unexpectedly shows up. By keeping on moving, you ensure that you get to where you want, slowly but surely.

In this hyper-fast age of advancement and spectacular wins and stress and everyone rubbing their own successes in everyone else’s faces, following these two maxims for life in general, could be really really rewarding.

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Nimittas – part 3 of 3

Knowing now that being the nimitta of the Lord is the easy way to moksha, how exactly does one go about this?

Krishna himself gives a clue in verse 11.54, specifying a particular type of devotion or bhakti. Not any bhakti, but ananya bhakti.

Ananya, refers to no ‘anya’, i.e. no other. There is no other, apart from the Lord. This is not of some specific deity necessarily, but could also be of faith in the Creator. If there is such unconditional, indelible love towards the Lord, thinking of only Him 24×7, then that would be ananya bhakti.

Is this practical? Some research suggests we have nearly 40,000 thoughts a day. Where is the space for 24×7 ananya bhakti then!

My Guru says we can start small (remember ‘microsteps‘?). Offer gratitude to the Lord before sleeping, after waking up, before eating, after eating, before working, after working, before leaving the house, after coming back, after sneezing, after coughing, while yawning and so on.

Eventually, everything we do will automatically become associated with the Lord.

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Nimittas – part 2 of 3

In verse 11.33 of the Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna “nimitta maatram bhava savyasaachin“. Savyasachin refers to Arjuna, but in a roundabout fashion, as the word in Sanskrit means ambidextrous, or one who can wield the bow effortlessly with either hand. The important word as we saw yesterday as well, is nimitta or instrument.

Krishna tells Arjuna that he has already slain all the adharmic enemies facing him on the battlefield, and that all he had to do was to stand up and fight.

This verse is immediately misinterpreted by many, stating that everything is predetermined and how Krishna leaves no chance for free will. How fatalistic and defeatist, they say.

But saying this would be missing the point. Krishna still offers Arjuna a very important choice. He recommends him to get up and fight, but does not force him to. Arjuna had the option of going back home and chilling out if he wanted to. Isn’t that not free will?

All Krishna said, was to be a part of the Grand (aka Karmic) Plan, where dharma would be upheld no matter what. It would benefit Arjuna personally if he would choose to act as the nimitta in that position. But if not, another nimitta would come by, in order to maintain dharma. Wouldn’t we want a similar justice system, where no matter the person playing the role of judge, the wicked get punished?

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Nimittas – part 1 of 3

There’s a branch of astrology called Nimmita astrology. Nimmita really means ‘instrument’. Astrologers that work on this principle look for cues from the world around us.

For instance, if someone were to come to the astrologer with a question, “Do you think my child will be a boy or a girl?”, and at that very moment there appears a young girl at the door, or the sound of a girl playing or laughing outside, the astrologer considers this ‘an expression of the Lord’ and the ‘girl’ in the scene as a nimmitta, i.e. an instrument, and makes his prediction.

Regardless of whether this approach works or not, Lord Krishna in the Gita asks Arjuna to be a nimmita of the Lord, i.e. to be an instrument of His. Are there any benefits to this? Absolutely, and life changingly so:

  1. No more stress, no more anxiety. Why? Because I am not doing the work. The Lord is working through me, and I am only the instrument. Then why would I be anxious?
  2. My 100% focus shifts from the result, to the quality of effort. Why? Because I am not doing some ordinary work (no matter what the actual work is), but rather the Lord’s own work!

A simple change in mindset and perception can make such a big difference! Putting this into practise isn’t easy. But the more we believe that we are indeed nimmitas only, the more this will make sense and the more life will become easier.

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Predictive analytics

Put a picture of a snake and mention the words ‘kaala sarpa dosha’, and this is modus operandi 101 for many pseudo astrologers to make a quick buck. Much of this deep rooted fear is unwarranted, as many of the leading vedic astrologers concur that there is nary a reference to this dosha in tradition and ancient texts.

But oh that fear… what to do? What will happen to me? Many of us are living our lives in constant fear of something that may in all probability not even happen.

It is common in India to go to an astrologer and hope to identify how the future would pan out. This makes sense to an extent, if the native is a new born baby. The chart would indeed be highly indicative.

However for someone who is say 40 years old, does the birth chart have significance? Yes it does to some extent, but the birth chart can only predict life based on, you guessed it, the birth!

But since then, 40 years have passed. Prarabhdha karma is as of the birth time, not beyond. So much of free will, in all these 40 years, could potentially have completely transformed the life of the person… of any of us really! But if we choose to remain rooted to what the birth chart indicates, and surrender to our so-called fate and the subsequently induced fear, then how will our true potential come to the fore?

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L_t o_h_r p_r_o_ w_n

Can you try to figure out the blanks in the title above? Somewhat like guessing the letters in that 90’s show Wheel of Fortune. Sadly, no prizes here though, not a monetary one anyway.

This title above, is what my Guru wrote to me recently. Absolute pearls of wisdom, and clearly I need it šŸ™‚

We think degrees and education beget success. Not so. There is only one thing that is needed. And that is win-win mastery.

Here are his words:

The principle in win-win mastery is these 4 words. 'Let other person win'.

When? Once in a year on their birthday? Or every month? Or week? Or day? Hour? Minute? Second?

Yes every nano-second!

No one can defeat him/her who agrees with you. This appears to be the art of flattery. But it is the quickest way to win life's invisible gold medals, and have practically zero adversaries, zero enemies, even competitors. All gold medals of life will be yours.

An intelligent wife / husband / child / parent / grandparent each can' win, if they brush aside one major obstacle called ... Ego. Yes, the root cause is ego. Watch only one person in life, who's name is MY EGO.
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Running for what?

A podcast I was listening to recently had Allyson Felix as the guest of honour. I had not heard of her before, but she came across as a really nice human being. And that is not to say she’s not famous – she’s the most decorated US track athlete in Olympic history, having won 11 medals – breaking Carl Lewis’ record of 10.

What really struck me was how she found her passion. Most Olympians and sportspersons we meet seem to be born into their sport. Of course there will be a few exceptions (like Allyson), but by and large, it would appear like these exceptionally talented people found their calling very early on, like in their early school days.

And this is something many of us struggle with on a daily basis. We see start-up founders make hundreds of millions, while we feel aimless and lost. We see people who’ve found their calling, while all we seem to end up with are calls from spammers. How to find this passion then? Should we give up?

Here’s what Allyson said that I really liked. She said that most of her peers who found their passions early on, became such hardcore specialists (in a specific sport or activity), that by the time they turned 30, they were already burned out. Whereas in her own experience as a 35 year old medallist, she only entered her sport well into college! Till then, she was just enjoying other sports like basketball that she really liked, but was nowhere near good as in running. I think this is a great lesson for me – no need to struggle to find a passion and get burned out or stay dejected. Instead just enjoy the work I am doing, and live in the now, today, forever happy.

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Control freaks

Control, control, control. Everyone wants to control.

Boss wants to control his employees. Big boss wants to control the mid level bosses. Junior fellows try to exert control over the new recruits, who in turn try to control the interns.

Employees in general hate the upper echelon control freaks. And so they want to start-up, be their own bosses. Only to realize, that there too, the control lies with the customer, because as we all know, customer is king.

Even the CEO lives a shackled life, his doings controlled by the Board of Directors. The Board themselves, are controlled by the shareholders. The shareholders are controlled by the whims and fancies of the market, and at other times by the opulence exhibited by other shareholders.

Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law wonder who exerts more control, while the men of the family think they are in control. What they often control is only the twirl of their moustaches! And the kids? Surely the kids are controlled by the parents no? Spend enough time with a young brat and you will quickly see where the control centre lies. But they too are controlled by schools, exams, the rat race, and life in general.

All in all, the external cannot be controlled. Hence the need to look internal.

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Pet chasing

Imagine a dog or a cat or a mouse. Yes like in Tom & Jerry. You are trying your best to catch the animal, but it is just so quick, darting about – here now, next second hopped onto the wall, and the next onto the tree. Phew, all this running around and chasing is really tiring.

Is there a better way? Yes there is.

How about just sitting quietly, with some pet food. Yummy. No need to chase the animal anymore. The animals love pet food, and so will come right to your lap.

The animal here represents nothing but the whole world. We are constantly chasing after it, looking for one elusive success after another.

Through this entire journey, we forget the most important aspect, which is ourselves.

The pet food is our skills, talents and abilities. If we work on constantly improving ourselves, we don’t need to chase anyone for anything, and instead the whole world will come chasing after us.

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Advisory

So here’s an age old conundrum. Say someone you know well is doing something wrong. Maybe the best friend is making a mistake, with his wasting habits. Maybe it’s the son who isn’t being respectful of his old parents. Maybe it is a newly wed bride who isn’t doing her duties well enough. Maybe its a new mom who isn’t caring for her baby as much. Or maybe a husband is not treating his wife well enough. The permutations and combinations are many, but the question is the same.

“As someone who is seeing these wrongdoings happen, is it not my duty to go and correct them? Or at least tell them what to do?”

While we are caught up in that moment, it might certainly seem like we should do something. But little good comes from poking our noses in anything unsolicited.

Picture this. No one asked for your advice. Yet you went ahead and gave it. The other person didn’t like it, and asked you not to meddle. Or the other person liked it, but didn’t give you any credit. In any case, no one beyond a certain age (say 15) likes ‘to be told’ anything. So your advice, even if the best solution for their problem, results only in friction.

And as the giver of advice, we may think we are being detached by not worrying about whether the other person accepts it or not, acts on it or not. But if that is the case, then we should truly never think of or speak of whether the advice was implemented or not. Are we strong enough for that?

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Scare away

One of the reasons why people run away from spirituality is because of perceived impracticality. Like getting rid of attachments.

Whoa, getting rid of my attachments? This means I should not be attached to my spouse, my parents, my kids, my relatives, my friends… Surely I do not want to let go of all these people. Is this what spirituality is telling me to do? To shun them away? To live a solitary existence?

Absolutely not. This is the perception of impracticality right there, and also why a Guru is so important – because such a person can not only demystify what is advocated, but also apply it to our present times.

“Don’t be attached”, doesn’t mean do not love the people around you. It only means do not be conditional in your approach. If we love (not the romantic type) only one person, then it likely means we are deriving something conditional from that relationship, and that is the reason for the love. This is transactional. It doesn’t free us, rather only binds us even more.

True love, is selfless. Much like God would love each one of us – equally, impartially, or a mother would, her children.

Love is not a finite currency. The more we give, the more we are automatically replenished with.

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How to vacation

Ah vacations! Don’t we all love them? Or at least love the first few days of those vacations? Sure the subsequent few days are often spent worrying about going back-to-school or back-to-work. But there certainly is some bliss to be found in those dream vacays. Here are some thoughts on this topic:

  1. We often think a vacation is for our bodies to get a change of place, and some much needed rest. However, the body gets all the rest it needs if we sleep well at night. So vacations it would seem, are really needed for the mind.Ā 
  2. From a spiritual vantage point, the only time to take rest, is to take rest from always serving ourselves. For serving others, there is no question of rest. Surprisingly, when we work selflessly, we never feel tired.
  3. Just look at our bodies. What if our organs decided to take rest? If the heart decided to stop beating and take rest for 5 minutes. Or the lungs wanted to go on vacation for a week, because it is bored of doing the same thing over and over!
  4. Most human beings want only one thing. And that is the need to feel important, and be recognized and acknowledged. The challenge with being and feeling important, is that we cannot enjoy life and be chilled out. As Bertrand Russel said, “If you’re beginning to think what you’re doing is very important, then you need to take a holiday.”
  5. In the book titled Gurudev, on Sri Sri Ravishankar (founder of Art of Living) by his sister Bhanumati N, a question is asked to him. “Gurudev, when do you rest?”. His answer, “In between lifetimes”.
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Detaching from the world

This is a recurrent theme in the Gita. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to remain detached from the material world, but to also continue doing his duty to the best of his ability. We know from personal experience that this is easier said than done.

For instance, I would be okay giving my heart and soul into my office work, but that’s also because I’m attached to the results. If I was to be given a zero salary, zero bonus, zero increment and no promotion, would I be able to work as hard? That is probably the real test of my detachment. Ironically, if I can work this way, then all the salary and bonus and promotions will likely find its way to me automatically!

One lovely example of detachment as explained by Sri Ramakrishna is that of a baby’s nanny. The nanny knows very well that the child is not hers. Yet she lovingly takes care of the baby for many years and gives it unending love and care, probably more than it’s mother, who is caught up in the vagaries of her professional life. The nanny may even have her own little children who she is unable to be with. But that does not come in the way of her work.

Even so, the nanny knows very well that the baby is not hers, and that any day her mistress may ask her to pack up and leave. Thus there is constant mental detachment, while physcially she takes care of the baby as her own.

Can I mirror this in my office work? For anything around us where we believe we are getting too attached, we can remind ourselves that we are merely caretakers (like the nanny), and not owners. Because the real owner is the One who created us all.

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The happiest animal

In the much acclaimed TV show called Ted Lasso, there’s an amazing scene. Nay there are many many amazing scenes, and dialogues.

In one, a soccer player falls to the ground, is tackled and beaten, and then booed by the rest of the players. Clearly something isn’t right. The player on the ground is dejected. Coach Ted calls him to the side line, and asks him, “Do you know what the happiest animal in the world is?”

“What?!”, exclaims the player in disbelief, little expecting such trivia when there’s so much going on in his head already.

“A goldfish”, comes the answer from coach Ted, “Because it only has a 10 second memory. Be a goldfish.”

Had a bad day today? No problem, be a goldfish.
Had a good day today? Also no problem, be a goldfish.

Only then can we live in the moment.

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This is the biggest sin – part 2 of 2

We saw yesterday how aham was the biggest sin. This is more from a spiritual angle though. What of the material living-breathing world we live in? Is there an equivalent such mega-sin?

As I thought about this for a few days, only one recurring thought kept coming back. What leads us to live below our potential? What prevents us from achieving what we can, ought to, are able to, but still don’t?

That’s when it dawned that perhaps the biggest sin could be nothing more than the weakness of our own minds. I don’t want to say anything more on this except to just reproduce Swami Vivekananda’s outstanding words on this menace.

Misery dares not approach us ā€“ till the mind is weakened. The weak have no place here, in this life or in any other life. Weakness leads to slavery. Weakness leads to all kinds of misery, physical and mental. Weakness is death. There are hundreds of thousands of microbes surrounding us, but they cannot harm us unless we become weak, until the body is ready and predisposed to receive them. There may be a million microbes of misery, floating about us. Never mind! They dare not approach us, they have no power to get a hold on us, until the mind is weakened. This is the great fact: strength is life, weakness is death. Strength is felicity, life eternal, immortal; weakness is constant strain and misery: weakness is death.

Could there be a bigger sin?

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This is the biggest sin – part 1 of 2

Look at the world around us. So many sins are committed by so many people on a daily basis. The aggregate of sins on a sin meter would hit infinity in no time.

Then look at ourselves. Are we any different?

The countless mistakes we’ve made, well, “by mistake”, those are probably not sins, and can perhaps be forgiven. But even though we made these mistakes unintentionally, they still could have hurt someone deeply right?

And the sins that are committed on purpose – what about those? No respite there.

My Guru though says there is only one real sin. The biggest sin of them all. And we have all committed it. And continue to commit it.

That sin is called aham in Sanskrit. The “I” feeling. The ego. The conviction that I am the body and mind and not the soul.

In front of this sin, all the others are meaningless. If this one sin is rectified, the concept of a sin itself becomes irrelevant.

Concluded tomorrow…

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G for …

Who is greater? God or Guru?

Atheists would say it doesn’t matter.
Consultants would say it depends.
Theists would say God.
A loving disciple would say Guru.
A realized soul would say they are no different.

Which is correct?

Here is what Sant Kabir had to say in my favourite doha (couplets).

Guru Govind dou khade, kake lagoon paay?
Balihari Guru aapne, Govind diyo batay.

If the Guru and God are both standing here, who’s feet should I fall at?
Choose the Guru, because he only imparted the knowledge to even recognize God.

Such a profound couplet!

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Magi-cal

Here’s a lovely story I came across called the Gift of the Magi, and I paraphrase: There’s a couple that can barely make ends meet. But it’s Christmas soon, and so the wife wants to get her man a gift, specifically – a gold chain for his most favourite possession – his shiny watch. But she has no money. What can she do?

She cuts off her lovely long blond tresses, sells them to a wig maker, and uses the money to buy the gold chain. She cooks food, prepares the table, and awaits her man, bald head and all. Her husband enters, and is shell shocked seeing his bald wife. “Do I not look beautiful to you?”, she asks him.

“It’s not that darling. You are more beautiful than ever.” And then he hands her her gift wrapped present. She opens it, to find a beautiful designer comb that she had always had her eyes on. “But…how could you afford this?”, she asked him. And he pointed to his wrist. There was no watch. He’d sold it off to buy his wife her favourite comb. She too gave him her present – a watch chain, for a watch that no longer existed.

What fools both were, weren’t they? Buying things that they couldn’t even afford, and that too which wasn’t even needed anymore? What would she do with a designer comb when she didn’t even have hair? And what would he do with a watch chain, if he didn’t have a watch?!

Quite the contrary. Both of them were able to demonstrate in action, that they were each able to give up what was dearest to them, simply to spark happiness in their loved one. Isn’t that the ultimate sacrifice?

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