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Category: faith

On priority

How does one who is completely devoted to and lost in the Lord behave? Maybe there’s more than one way – surely. But here’s what’s on the cover page of the Mukunda-mala-stotra book originally composed by King Kulasekhara and then of course expounded upon by various greats. This specific excerpt is from Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries:

When King Kulasekhara saw the breath-taking beauty of Lord Krishna in ecstatic trance, he lost all the desire to rule his vast kingdom. Later he wrote, "My mind cannot turn from Sri Krishna's lotus feet even for a moment. So let my dear ones and other relatives criticize me, my superiors accept me or reject me as they like, the common people spread evil gossip about me, and my family's reputation be sullied. For a madman like me, it is honour enough to feel this flood of love for Godhead, which brings such sweet emotions of attraction for my Lord"

The very things that we each are craving for – societal approval, name, fame, wealth, status – are being given up in an instant by a great King, simply because he tasted the true nectar of being one with the Lord. We are no kings, so it is all the more important that we have our priorities straight. But is that the case?

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Upstairs

We often have a lot of faith in the man/woman upstairs. Not literally, but the one supposed to be in the heavens. This is good of course. Hardly anything really happens solely because of our efforts. We’re so dependent on other people and things for getting our work done. However, do we take this faith too far, and could it be misplaced?

It’s not uncommon to hear “It’s all in the hands of ‘uparwala’.” (which in Hindi refers to God as the man upstairs).

A new age pharmacy start-up called PharmEasy in India took on this aspect with a catchy advertisement. When an old couple are sitting at home bemoaning their health, and utter “It’s all in the hands of the man upstairs”, momentarily the ceiling caves in with a man sitting in his bathtub and holding his phone with the PharmEasy app. He says, “Why leave it to the man upstairs, when you’ve got the PharmEasy app?!”

People often tend to put off health related concerns and leave it to God. Not just health, but many other aspects too – “I am like this only.” Even when they have the means and opportunity to eat well, sleep well, study well, work well, exercise well and so on. We may not be able to predict the future, but we can certainly prepare for it.

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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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Hanging by a…

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

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

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

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

Too much effort / faith for this much relaxation?

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E.g.b.u

Life is unpredictable. We know this, but often don’t feel it. As long as nothing happens to us, we seem oblivious to all the goings-on around us. Despite the inevitability of death, we still behave and act as though we have been bestowed with the gift of immortality. Perhaps that’s a good thing too, because just having a fatalistic view of life might mean we might never even get out of bed.

Generally speaking, most outcomes in life can be bucketed into four: expected, good, bad and unexpected. Here’s a simple example. Someone (no, not the chicken!) wants to cross the road.

  1. They can cross the road, as expected.
  2. Or they can cross the road and meet a friend – a good outcome.
  3. They can cross the road and meet someone who they owe money to – a bad outcome.
  4. Or they can cross the road and get hit by a truck – an unexpected outcome.

When we think about this, we will realize that each of the 4 outcomes are probable, and not in our hands. Still, from the time we were born, more often than not, we have either experienced only the expected or the good outcomes. We all have developed an intrinsic implicit faith, that things will happen mostly for the good. As Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

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How to be equanimous

One of the mainstays for a liberated life according to the Bhagavad Gita, is samatvam or equanimity. This is also called having sama darshanam or equity in vision, i.e. looking at everything as inherently the same, irrespective of whether it is good or bad, pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow and so on.

To live comfortably and mentally unblemished in the face of criticism, one must begin by eschewing praise. We cannot have the proverbial cake and eat it too. We want equanimity in hardship, but our pleasure receptors shoot through the roof in the slightest hint of praise and recognition.

How can we then practically be equanimous? When the boss says “Wow you’ve done amazing work here, you deserve this promotion!”, do we just scowl at him and walk away? Or do we say “No sir, it wasn’t me.” The boss is then likely to keep the promotion/bonus for himself 🙂

The way prescribed in the scriptures, is ‘surrender’. Surrender with faith, to the divine, or if that’s too abstract, then to the Guru. In Hindi, sur means head. So putting your head under the Guru or ishta devata, offering everything to him or her. Everything means all good and all bad without distinction. So grab that promotion by all means, but mentally prostrate and offer it to your deity of choice. This will keep us grounded, always. Difficult, but worth it.

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Fear to become

Have we not feared, every step of our way to today? Those terrible kindergarten days, where we hated being separated from our parents. Moving to a new place, not knowing if we would be accepted in the school there. Joining a sports class, only to be bullied by some of the seniors. Entering the workplace – our very first day at work – the butterflies, the discomfort – is always there. When we are on the cusp of progress, we always have a tendency to look back. Seeing all the obstacles we overcame, we must ideally feel a great deal of strength, knowing that if we go through all this all these years, we can get through anything.

All of this reminds me of Khalil Gibran’s outstanding poem titled Fear. The premise is beautiful. It speaks of a river that has meandered its way through mountains, winding roads, plains, forests, villages and what not. Now the river is in front of the ocean, about to enter it. That’s when it looks back at its journey, and trembles. Seeing such a vast ocean, the river is worried about disappearing into it forever. The rest is too good to paraphrase, so here is the original:

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

I get goose bumps each time I read this.

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Heads up

There is a deep blue pool. There is a person in this pool. He is dog paddling, and swimming toward deeper waters. It all seems fine. He is oblivious to the depth of the water under his feet. Then he starts getting tired. And the water starts to suck him in. The deep end is still quite far away. Even the shallow end is out of reach now.

The pool is filled with nothing but the water of life. We have been drowning in it since the day we were born. Blissfully unaware of its depth, we are flailing in apparent ecstasy, simultaneously burdened by never ending anxieties. Oh how do we free ourselves from these aquatic shackles?

The answer is the rope of adhyatma. A rope of ‘spirituality’, that we can hold on to, as we continue to live our troublesome daily lives. It will allow us to live normally and discharge our duties, while also being aware of the safety line to liberation.

Why it is imperative to embark on the spiritual path at a young age itself – is purely to get a good grip on the rope, else we may have swum too far. Holding on to the rope itself will still need us to be extremely vigilant though.

Another, better solution exists. Instead of a rope, this solution involves a float. Unlike the rope, which we had to hold on to for dear life, the float will hold us instead, keeping our head ever above water. The float is none other than the Guru, to whom we have surrendered.

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Tireless

Here’s a miracle that happened to me recently.

We took on the 5.5 hour drive from Bangalore to Coorg in a self-drive car. The weather was good. Cold, but not chilling. A kind departure from the incessant heat of elsewhere. All was well, until about 3 hours in. We had just entered a little town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The roads were narrow, with plenty of oncoming traffic. A few cows and buffaloes had stationed themselves strategically. A big Toyota Innova behind us, was unable to overtake and get ahead – thanks to all this ‘traffic’. Five minutes of several failed attempts and many horns later, his frustration was clear.

And suddenly, a window of opportunity. He quickly overtook us, and as he did, one of his co-passengers was rolling down his window. That person indicated with his hands that something was wrong. I quickly stopped my car on the side, only to find not one, but two flat tires. On the opposite side of the road was a petrol pump, so I went over to see if someone could help. Nope, no tire guys there. He did point me a few shops away though and asked me to check there. A quick U-turn later, that shopkeeper said a few kilometres away I would find a shop. I explained that I could in no way go that far with two flats. Another man present there suggested another shop just fifty meters away. What’s the name – I asked. “Guru steels”, came the reply. I quickly drove ahead, and lo and behold – a tire shop. It was empty though, and a young chap was manning the neighbouring store. I asked if he could help with the puncture – to which he pointed across the road and beckoned. A frail gaunt man was eating watermelon. He crossed over to our side, gave a big smile, and asked if these were tubeless tires. I said “yes”, to which he said, “don’t worry I will fix these for you.”

Sure enough, in 30 minutes, he had checked both tires, taking them off, dunking them in water, plugging the holes/changing the valves, and having us good to go. The 100 kilometres we drove thereafter to reach our destination, had practically no tire change shops. Okay there were a few, but were closed. And the immediate 40 kilometres after the flats? Absolutely barren land. No people even, let alone shops. It would have been such a mess. But right from the Innova to the watermelon-eating tire changer to the name of the shop to them having the required valves – it was all seemingly planned to divine perfection.

How can I ever repay Nature / God / my Guru / the Universe? I can’t, because nothing can ever parallel such miracles. I can only bow my head down in gratitude, and hope that some day I too get the chance to pay it forward.

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Spiritual Fiction. Or reality?

Christopher Nolan is perhaps one of the greatest Hollywood directors of all time. Partly because his films are so awesome, and partly because his ideas and concepts are so complex that most audiences do not understand a thing – yours truly included. I almost feel foolish watching his movies but I still love them. There was some tesseract in Interstellar, which I just could not fathom. The ending of Inception – a spinning top cliff-hanger – again I could not make head or tail of. Memento was just unbelievable, and then an Indian version called Ghajini was made – which just paled in comparison.

Spielberg is a little easier – like his Avatar movie was way more palatable. Titanic of course was not sci-fi.

Spirituality too can have plenty of sci-fi elements. If one were to read books like Yoga Vashishtam, the Aghora series or Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master or even books on Kundalini shakti etc. (all of which are outstanding books), there would be no dearth of apparent science fiction.

While these are great to read, and also lead me to hope that one day I may experience even a fragment of the True Oneness, my Guru is clinical in his advice. He says only 2 things are needed. Give up desires. Give up attachments. These two are the beejas (seeds) for everything else. The only permanent way to exit from our delusionary state is by realizing the futility of all our worldly pursuits. There is no other way.

Nolan himself has the last say in his most recent movie Tenet, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”

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The ride of a lifetime

You have read before of the magical benevolence of my Guru (link) – specifically point 4, where he would give a lift to labourers walking in the hot sun. One way to think about this, is that it is wonderful and almost unthinkable for anyone to offer this sort of a service to those with lesser means.

But there is another deeper possibility. In this scenario, the labourers are none other than we ourselves. We are the ones walking in the hot scorching sun of Life – being tossed around from one thorny problem to another. The lush oasis in the distance, is in reality nothing more than a mirage.

The Guru in his infinite compassion, is picking us up in his car, and delivering us from the madness that is our lives, to moksha. What more could one ask for? Nothing. What can one give in return? Also nothing. Because nothing will ever be enough.

And yet what do we often do? We do not even get into the car. We doubt whether the car is even real. We question the driver, and his experience. We do not get in. Even if we do, we stick our heads out the window and keep looking back. Or we open the door, step out and walk away.

There will come a day when we all wished we had got in to the car and stayed in. Why not take the ride from today itself then?

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Sin City

Much is said about sin in the various religious books. Doing bad, it is prophesied, will send one to hell, and doing good will roll out a red carpet to heaven.

The question arises thus – “What constitutes sin?”. Is killing a mosquito a sin? Maybe? Is killing a mosquito – to save your child’s life because she now does not contract dengue – also a sin? Maybe not?

The Gita for one never says what is right or wrong. It only states unequivocally that the consequences of our actions must be borne by us. However it does acknowledge that sins exist (at least in our living world). If what is dharmic is that which is done in the interest of the greatest good, then actions intended at harming even a minority would be adharmic. In chapter 18, Krishna says that if one surrenders entirely to Him, then he would wash away all of that person’s sins. Isn’t that amazing?

To understand the enormity of Krishna’s magnanimity, one must only think of the various rituals that exist – such as homas / havans / pujas / sacrificial fire offerings. When performed comprehensively, each block of 4-5 verses is always followed by verses that explicitly seek forgiveness. Forgiveness that the ritual was performed correctly, that the ladle was held correctly, the mantra was pronounced correctly, that the mind was not wavering and so on and so forth. All this for a 30 minute ritual? Imagine the amount of forgiveness we have to seek then for committing a lifetime of sins! Despite this, Krishna offers a quick-but-permanent-fix to get rid of all sins forever. We just need to surrender entirely to Him. Would it not be worth the effort?

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Superpowers

There’s a theory that cockroaches can survive nuclear radiation. That’s truly fantastic – and they have a one-up on us humans. But do you think a cockroach knows and understands this distinct capability?

Did you know that dogs are amazing at math? Throw a frisbee and see how he intuitively calculates the trajectory of the incoming disc, and is able to launch himself at just the right angle and at just the right time. Now try explaining the trigonometry and physics involved to the dog. Woof!

An archerfish can from underwater, shoot a jet of H2O from its mouth – aimed perfectly at an unsuspecting insect perched atop a nearby plant. The insect falls into the water, and…yummy meal! How about engaging the archerfish on a conversation about how it perfectly applies complicated calculus into practise!

As human beings, there are many many things we do not understand (like gravity!), but that doesn’t make them fake or non-existent.

We each too have a superpower. This superpower is lodged deep within us, and is our true nature. Just because we cannot summarily understand who we are, doesn’t mean that we are incapable of harnessing this greatness. It will require some work and some faith.

When one goes within, all the problems of the outside are handled with ease.

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Why we do not achieve?

You may have ‘heard’ this story before.

A group of frogs lived in a very tiny enclosure. The only way to escape, was to jump really high. One brave frog, was sick of his cramped environment. He tried a high jump, but slipped and broke his leg. This became ‘hot news’. “Don’t try to jump out, or else you too will break your leg”, the younger frogs were advised by the elders. Soon this morphed into a mantra and a diktat, “No one should ever try to jump out – it is impossible.”

The mantra was passed on from frog generation to frog generation, and many many years later, there were more frogs, no jumpers and hardly any room. Such was the level of fear. Except when one day, one fellow jumped up and over to the outside. Smooth and clean, like a high jump gold at the Olympics.

All the frogs were shocked. “How did he do it? Did he not hear about the brave one who had valiantly attempted many generations ago and failed?”

The successful frog’s mother spoke from the silence. “My son did not hear, because he was born deaf.”

You may have ‘heard’ this story before.
We have all heard many things before.
But that is precisely the problem.

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Why faith needn’t be about God

When someone is going through a tough time, we tell them “Have faith. All will be well.”

An atheist will consider this to be nonsensical. “There is no God, and therefore I have no faith in Him/Her.”

However, can we re-purpose this faith?

Deep inside us, there is a life force, a spark of consciousness. A spark that differentiates us, from the mere amalgamation of flesh, blood and bone that corpses are. This spark, according to the ancients, is the very essence of life and creation itself. To those who concur, it is also known as God.

If this spark aka Brahman, is the source of all creation, then surely this spark can also create any of the mundane things we run after – wealth, a promotion, a job, a family, a better life? This is also the crux of ‘creative visualisation’ programs.

Our mind currently thinks that everything we want can only be achieved by the body. But this is far from the truth. If this spark is within us, then all we need is to have faith in is in ourselves – the true us, not limited by our bodies.

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The cyclist

The word ‘Peloton’ is probably familiar to exercise enthusiasts, as the company which provides high-tech in-home workout equipment. Late in 2019, the company went public after much hoopla over a pricey multi-billion dollar Initial Public Offering.

The word peloton is also used in professional cycling. It refers to the close-knit formation we see in cycling races. The cyclist in the lead ends up taking the brunt of the wind and air. This helps the cyclists behind him, because the leader cuts the wind drag to them by up to 40%, leading them to conserve significant energy.

Our lives are tough, peppered by all sorts of uncertainties and calamities. Even the spiritual path is fraught with enemies – like our minds – and largely of our own creation.

There is one person in the lead though. Unflinching, he has walked the path and the talk. He has experienced everything there is, and knows all the pitfalls. He is at the head of the peloton, helping us seek and reach the Truth, while conserving our sanity, and shielding us every step of the way.

He is the Guru. The scriptures say, that when the time is right, s/he will enter our lives.

All we need to do, is to follow her/him, with utmost faith.

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Problem Gone?

The plumber came home to fix the leak. “That’ll be $100”. We don’t understand what he does. But we pay him anyway.
Problem Gone.

The technician came home to fix the TV. “That’ll be $200”. We don’t understand what he does. But we pay him anyway.
Problem Gone.

The mechanic came home to fix the car. “That’ll be $500”. We don’t understand what he does. But we pay him anyway.
Problem Gone.

The doctor came home to fix the broken bone. “That’ll be $1000”. We don’t understand what he does. But we pay him anyway.
Problem Gone.

The Guru came home to fix us. “That’ll be free of charge”. We don’t understand what he does. But we doubt him anyway. “Will it work? How can he get rid of all my tensions and stress? Who is he to know my life and give me advice?”
Problem Not Gone.

No Faith = Problem Not Gone.
Faith = Problem Gone.

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The Middle Path

Hardcore atheists and theists are at two extremities. One doesn’t believe in a higher power, while the other submits entirely to it.

Looking back at everything that we have experienced in our lives, is it possible to completely deny the influence of anything except ourselves? My teachers influenced my education, as did my mentors my career.

Conversely, is it possible to leave everything to a higher power? I wouldn’t even get off the bed then!

We keep blind faith in our drivers (a quick snooze at the wheel?), barbers (one knife swipe when our eyes are closed?), pilots (we don’t check their flying capabilities before belting up) and countless others (in math, we started with let’s assume x=1).

We would do well to apportion some faith to a higher power, and some faith to our inner power.

Vedanta teaches us that in reality, there is no difference between the two powers.

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