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Month: December 2021

Tree wood

Know the saying “Don’t miss the forest for the trees”? You have surely come across it.

Here’s some forest-for-the-trees questions we get regularly in the satsang.

  1. Did Ravana really have 10 heads?
  2. Is there really a heaven and a hell?
  3. Are there really 7 worlds above and below?
  4. Did Krishna really explain the Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield? What were the others doing then?
  5. Did Rama really cross over to Lanka by walking on floating rocks put together by monkeys?
  6. Did Ravana actually fly to India?
  7. Is it possible that the Vishwaroopa darshanam actually happened?
  8. How did Creation happen?

All of these are amazing questions. However, even the most amazing answers to these questions will not help us transform ourselves and progress on the spiritual path.

When the real transformation begins (work selflessly as worship, i.e. karma yoga), the questions will automatically fall away.

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Religious matters

World over, people are fighting over religious issues.

Theists fights atheists. But also atheists fight atheists, and theists fight theists!

Followers of one religion fight, abuse and slaughter those of another religion.

But equally, followers within the same religion might fight, abuse and slaughter one another due to perceived ideological differences.

It seems as though one just needs a reason to fight, abuse and slaughter.

Here’s another perspective. What if religion is not about God, but about work. Not any work, but about the work each one of us does.

If we can do our work selflessly, and without expectation of the result, wouldn’t that be the pinnacle of all work? Maybe that’s why work is called worship.

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Call centric

We’ve all had to call customer care at some point. Something breaks, something is not working, something needs to be returned, some parcel needs to be tracked, some refund needs to be appropriated – the reasons are many.

But do you really like speaking to customer care?

Most of us hate it, don’t we?

But those folks are so polite no?

They say “please”, they say “thank you for calling, have a nice day”, they also say “sorry to keep you waiting for such a long time”

So very polite. But we still don’t like most customer care experiences. Why?

Because these are mostly empty words. The commanding language or flowery vocabulary really doesn’t matter.

The only thing that does matter, is the deep desire to help the other person. If that is there, then nothing else is necessary.

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Dying opportunity

Here’s a trend I’ve been noticing on social media off-late.

If someone famous passes away (old age, disease etc.), people post condolence messages.

This is great – a wonderful way to remember someone who made a mark on society.

But the crazy part? These condolence messages are rarely about the one who passed away.

Rather, they start with a joint photo of the person posting the note along with the deceased, maybe a holiday they took together, or a business meeting or family dinner or such.

And then the focus shifts entirely to the one posting the condolence message! Starts with how they met that person, and then moves to how they built their own career, their own business, their own wealth, their own destiny, with links to their products and where to buy etc etc.

There’s so much of commerce in such posts, and even in the wake of someone passing away, these are only seen as an opportunity for self-promotion.

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Memento mori

How did the Ancient Romans manage triumph? Did they let it get to their head? Such a weird question isn’t it?

No, because they actually had a process around it. The process was such, that a victorious general or commander could only enter his home city during a special parade. All the loot and plunder and slaves would be displayed amid great pomp and show.

Bringing up the end of the parade, would be the victorious commander, riding in a chariot.

However, he would not be alone. He would be accompanied in the chariot by an auriga, a slave.

This auriga’s only role during this lavish cavalcade? To continuously whisper the title phrase into the commander’s ears.

“Memento mori, memento mori, memento mori, memento mori…”

“Remember you are mortal, remember you are mortal, remember you are mortal, remember you are mortal…”

What a lesson to be reminded of, at the peak of one’s glory!

And then there are some who gloat, even without achieving any glory… <facepalm>

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Great falls

Shlokas 36 and 37 of chapter 3 in the Gita are eye-openers.

36 has Arjuna asking Krishna why people sin, despite knowing better. And he’s not asking about normal people. He’s asking about those very close to or even at, the pinnacle of spiritual progress. The jnaana yogis.

A jnaana yogi practitioner truly sees everything as the same – no discrimination. He sees the Atman not just in himself, but also in everyone around him. And he also experientially understands that all of these are no different from paramatma. Even so, our mythology is replete with the greatest of rishis, committing the gravest of mistakes, and falling from glory. So Arjuna wants to know why.

The Lord answers in 37, that this is all only because of our desires. “Desire is a great devourer – a great sinner, this is the enemy.”

My Guru is very clear on this too. It might sound boring. But if you want moksha, then this is the way (channelling my inner Mandalorian!). Not for material objects mind you – so not about praying for promotions and bonuses and topping in exams or begetting progeny, but for moksha alone. He doesn’t advise any maha mudras, or maha mantras, or maha japas, or any kundalini rising, or maha meditations – nothing. The only requirement he says, is to give up desires and attachments – that’s it. Can it get simpler?

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Power of fun

There’s an awesome podcast I listen to often called The Happiness Lab by Dr Laurie Santos. She is a professor at Yale University and conducts a most-wanted course there on… you guessed it, happiness. We discussed this briefly before here at this link.

Despite teaching a course on happiness, she found herself slipping – often caught in the rigour of her day, barely getting time to take a break, or even a breath, as it would seem. “Is that what happiness looks like?”, she kept asking herself. So she decided to have a fun-intervention, aka a fun-tervention.

But she had to figure out what Fun meant first. And she enlisted the help of a Research Expert in… Fun (nice job, no?).

Long story short, there are 3 aspects to fun:
1. Playfulness, i.e. you do something well but without caring for the outcome, you enjoy it
2. Connection, i.e. you are drawn to what you do, you are connected to it, and
3. Flow, i.e. you are in a state where it ‘flows’, and time seems to have stood still

In the things we do daily, are we having fun? Apparently we can train ourselves for it – even if it means looking for fun in the more mundane things in life. And maybe this last part is the real secret.

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Always day 1

Amazon.com has a concept called ‘always day 1’. Jeff Bezos talks about it a lot, and also writes about it in all his annual letters to shareholders.

The idea is this: despite Amazon being an absolute behemoth, their mindset will always strive to remain that of a start-up, i.e. nimble and eager to grow.

We can apply day 1 to our lives too. And I take inspiration from looking at the way babies see the world.

You can tell them the same gaga-googoo thing a hundred times, and they will gurgle their laughter back at you each and every time. Tried peek-a-boo? While doing the act, we may get bored, but babies love it. Every time they see it, they act like it is being done for the very first time. They react to their parents smiling at them as though they’re seeing this wonderful sight for the very first time. In short, it is always day 1 for them.

Imagine if we could go to work each day as though it were day 1. Looking at every negative comment, every rebuke, every failure, as nothing more than day 1. Why is this awesome? Because the bad stuff happened before and that baggage is forgotten, while today is day 1, a new beginning, and a hope for great things to come.

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Avoidable inconvenience

‘Do it right the first time’ is a phrase my Guru keeps using often. Which is to say, don’t compound your mistakes. Make one, and the domino effect begins. We saw this previously here, called DIRFTI.

A few days ago, I had to catch a flight. The website of this flight carrier said passengers needed to carry an RTPCR test.

This is quite a hassle, and quite expensive too.

Speaking with a few friends, it was quickly evident that this is just a rule on paper, and that no one at either the source airport or the destination airport, were checking. Besides, most folks were telling me that Covid cases have reduced substantially, and questioning if this was really necessary.

Luckily, better sense prevailed, and I did take the RTPCR test before leaving.

Not only did they check it at the source airport, they were also disallowing passengers to board the flight, if they didn’t possess the test report. Further, at the destination airport too, the authorities picked out those who didn’t have their reports to do tests right there (another long queue for that).

Either scenario – while not the end of the world – was unnecessary, and would have led to avoidable inconveniences. DIRFTI indeed.

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Egota

Accepting any kind of feedback is hard. We’ve all been there, and we know it.

That’s why a statement a lady made on the venture-capital investment TV show called Shark Tank recently, really caught my attention.

Mark Cuban was giving her some feedback about her product’s packaging. He said that the packaging was good, but not self-explanatory. If a customer picked up that product, s/he just wouldn’t understand it and how to use it and what it’s benefits were.

He tells her he would be keen to invest with her, however, “are you okay with changing your packaging?”

To which the lady replies, “Data over ego. That’s what I believe in Mark.”

Such a cool thing to say! That I might have a view, an opinion, a stance, a preconceived notion even – but if data comes by, if the facts change, if the circumstances change, then I’m willing to open my mind and learn.

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Progressive thinking

The world today in terms of thought process has never been more polarized. Wokeism, gender biases, racial profiling, income inequality, political extremes, and so many other aspects absolutely crowd out not just media headlines but also people’s minds.

Which side to be on? Which side is correct? What does correct even mean? And to who?

These are questions that may never have the right answers, because presented with sufficient background, narrative and rationale anything and everything can be and is being justified.

From a spiritual point of view though, our time here is limited. And how we live it is paramount, not so much what we do.

And how we live it, depends entirely on our state of mind. That is how spiritual progress itself can be measured. And this is exactly what Sri Ramana Maharishi stated over a century ago:

The degree of freedom from unwanted thoughts and the degree of concentration on a single thought, are the measures to gauge spiritual progress.

How to implement such profundity? By dropping attachments and desires. One step at a time…

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Oh my I

Here is what my Guru wrote to me recently on ‘ego’:

The ego needs to be defined to be understood.

What is this ego? Simple.

My view. My idea. I think. I feel. I am sure. I myself. I alone. I have seen. I think I can. My house. My dog. My experience...

You can easily add another hundred more to such expressions.

As you can see, so much I and my.

My goals...

Might be a good reminder to finish the target, or maybe obliterate it.
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4 the long term

A podcast I was listening to this weekend had something very interesting on investing.

The investment expert was asked how he manages to beat the market, to stay ahead of the curve, and deliver superior performance for his portfolio. The approach he articulated was so clear and simple, yet so profound. He said he makes investments into companies, only when he is convinced that his (data-backed) expectations of one of 4 things is better than the rest of the market’s expectations.

  1. The magnitude of cash flows that will be earned by the company
  2. The duration of cash flows that will be earned by the company
  3. The quality of cash flows that will be earned by the company
  4. The use of cash flows that will be earned by the company

It got me thinking that this can be applied to many choices in life. Not ‘cash flows’ per se, but whatever we expect the perceived return to be.

Like if we are unsure of a career choice or a degree choice. Don’t choose computer science (just an example) because everyone else is choosing it. Figure out whether the magnitude (impact) of that education for you will be relevant? For how long, i.e. what duration is it just a passing fad, and you internally despise the subject? What is the quality of this degree in what you want in your life? How can I use it to get what I want?

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Fool

A lovely point was expressed in a recent satsang by a satsangi who had watched a sermon on the Gita.

We are always hankering after the ‘results’ – we want more and more, and often for not even doing much.

The speaker said, that we should never consider ourselves as the ‘doers’. Are we really the doers? What are we really doing? We are at best only facilitating a grand plan that is already in motion. Even the CEO of a company isn’t really doing much – his outstanding vision itself might be borrowed and stitched together from many others. In any case, he is also dependent on all his employees, vendors, stakeholders, all those who invented things till this point, and so on. No one is truly indispensable. So are we really ‘doing’ as much as we think?

If we do not consider ourselves the doers, the benefit of this approach is that we will not demand results either. To be clear, this is for our own peace of mind and spiritual evolution, and not for use on the day of ‘annual performance evaluation’ at work.

The other statement made was that we need to be grateful for whatever we receive. Always. Otherwise, we would each be a great fool!

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Mimetic energy

In a book called Wanting by Luke Burgis, the author explores the concept of mimetic desires. The word mimetic was new to me, and means ‘to imitate’. What does this mean, to imitate a desire? It is effectively nothing but community desire. And what does this mean?

Think of your immediate circle, say your colleagues at work. Most of them might have the same type of education, same type of job, and same type of career aspirations. If many of your friends are raising venture capital for their startups, suddenly you feel like starting up too. If you live in a posh apartment complex, most discussions will centre around what car you drive, what title you hold at work and which (upmarket) school your kids go to. If you live in a posh city, the comparison points are likely to be what plays you watched over the weekend, which top end restaurants you got reservations to, which concerts you attended. Spend time with scientists, and you’ll want a Nobel prize. Spend time with musicians and you’ll want a Grammy. Spend time with writers and you’ll want a Pulitzer. And on and on it goes. Each and every group of people is it’s own little island of mimetic desires.

The challenge with mimetic desires, is that they do not make us happy. They make us want things because others have them, but the happiness buck stops there. Is there an ‘un’-mimetic desire? It may not have a specific name, but these are those desires that come from within. Maybe you love to play the piano, or to go for a drive on the weekend, or for a lazy walk on the beach. These are desires that you’d enjoy irrespective of external approval, and even if no one knew or cared about it.

So it’s really up to us to figure out what we truly desire, to follow that path, and to weed out the mimetics.

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Rugged

“Your network determines your networth.” This is a quote many of us would have heard. And it’s true, at least anecdotally. We know people with ‘connections‘ tend to have their way – whether jobs, promotions, access to events or to information.

So the ability to network could be called a superpower. However, most people hate it. Even the ones who are good at it. Going to conferences, and putting up a facade of being someone cool with drink-in-hand… nope, not easy.

So what is the gap here? First, a story, that I heard on an Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast. An Iranian refugee in America with next to no money in hand, ended up being a successful VC investor. How? Simply because he focused on improving his own carpet making skills. This in turn led to him being sought out by people. How’s that possible? Here’s how. Back in his home country, he sold rugs. And given these were often collected as pieces of art, it attracted a lot of rich buyers. Said refugee’s knowledge of the rugs led to many interesting conversations that lasted hours, and let to unexpected door openings, one of which led to him becoming an advisor at a VC firm.

The takeaway is not really to become an expert on rugs, but rather to realize that networking is all about what we can offer to the other person. It’s a give, not a take.

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Divine eyes – part 3 of 3

In most visual depictions of the Mahabharata and the Gita, Lord Krishna is shown as though expanding in size and form, until he becomes humongous. So large, that he opens his mouth, and many galaxies are seen inside it. He has myriad arms and legs and heads, and in general is representative of a supernatural being.

But this may not be fully accurate. Because the Lord in his own admission, states that everything is He, and He is everything. So all the empty space around us, all the filled space around us, all the objects, all the living creatures – everything is Him only.

And thus the Lord’s viswaroopa is to be seen as a wake up image for Arjuna (and by extension us). The whole of the 10th chapter where Krishna gives so many examples of his manifestations in the world around us (vibhutis) was not enough to convince Arjuna.

But when he did finally see the True form, not only was he amazed, but also terrified. Why?

Because he saw Krishna as the Creator, but did not expect to see his Destroyer side (all of creation was eventually being destroyed). He had forgotten the lessons he learned in chapter 2 on aham or ego. He was unable to reconcile his friend Krishna, as also the terrible Krishna. But as the Lord himself says, all this is a play of maya. As my Guru says, “Once we are out of ‘body consciousness’, all these will be taken care of”.

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Divine eyes – part 2 of 3

There is another side to this. The ‘divine eyes’ are not some cool sunglasses, but rather a change in perspective of the Lord.

No different from when we expect a Guru to perform miracles like levitation and telepathy, only to realize the real miracle was in his changing our minds!

It is easy to change anything in today’s world if you throw some money at it, but to really deeply change someone’s mind? Ask a parent about their adolescent kids. Or a husband/wife about their better half. “Impossible”, they will say.

And it’s not as though Lord Krishna had been hiding anything from Arjuna. He told him he was the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer, and heck, even the substratum of all Creation!

But Arjuna didn’t really get it. It’s like meeting your childhood gully friend (the one you use to play with in all the dirt and dust, wearing only undies) after 3 decades only to realize he is now one of the richest people in the world. To you, that person is still the same old playmate from your childhood. Only when you see his face in a few magazines do you realize the truth.

And so he requests Krishna for a true-blue view.

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Divine eyes – part 1 of 3

In chapter 11 of the Gita, Lord Krishna shows his vishwaroopa darshanam (divine form) to Arjuna.

Arjuna of course is simultaneously flabbergasted, amazed and horrified.

Krishna says he grants ‘divine eyes’ to Arjuna for just a brief period, so that he may see the Truth.

This leads anyone who reads this chapter to wish they too could get such divine eyes. “How lucky Arjuna was!”

Yes he was indeed lucky, but having such temporary vision hardly did much lasting good.

In fact, Arjuna forgot all about the Gita in no time.

What is this temporary vision? Nothing more than internal purification.

We can chant and meditate all we like, but if the mind is still attached to sense objects and continues to have desires, no amount of ‘divine vision’ will help.

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Mentorship

Ah what would we do without mentors? I have lost count of the number of times a mentor has benefitted me – be it my parents, my wife, my brother, my friends, my teachers, well-meaning colleagues, ill-meaning colleagues, good bosses, bad bosses, friends… you name it. Even though some learning experiences were brutal and demeaning at the time, looking back, those feedback loops are what helped into shaping the person I am today. Of course I’m not a successful billionaire, so this probably doesn’t count for much from a materialistic point of view.

But mentors are super important in life, and especially the specialist mentors, the 1-2 people you can rely on for non-technical guidance in your specialist domain. If you are lucky, such a person can double up as your boss too.

The logical next question is, what if I need to move (presumably to a better workplace), and if I consequently need to leave my mentor / boss as well?

This is summarized beautifully in a dialogue in the hit TV series called Ted Lasso:

A good mentor hopes you will leave.
A great mentor knows you will leave!

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