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Category: Giving

The art of praising

Is praise always good? Yes it is, because it is better than criticising someone or complaining about someone.

But is there a good way and a bad way to praise someone? Yes there is apparently.

An example is while praising kids. Singling out one kid and praising that kid alone for a correct answer is a bad way. Why? Because the kid feels rewarded for his knowledge of that one answer. This is good, but no one knows everything. At the same time, the other kids who may not have have known that one answer will feel left out.

A better way of praising is to acknowledge and call out the behaviour and the effort. Such as commending them for participating in the class. Or praising the effort required to read up before the class. By focusing on the behaviours and efforts, the praise is far more sustainable too. Because it reinforces the need to continue such good behaviour, not just in that one person, but in everyone around them. And while one answer everyone may not know, a behaviour everyone can cultivate and effort – everyone can put in!

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Which-sided?

We’re supposed to give up all attachments on the path of spirituality. But what are these attachments like?

1. Our attachment to material things. This is purely one-sided. No matter how much you try, your favorite Rolls Royce will not love you back.

2. Our attachment to other human beings. This can be one-sided and two-sided, although not always at the same time. It’s sometimes a function of necessity. We’re attached more to those who we need more, for the present moment at least. When circumstances change, attachment levels change.

3. Our attachment to God and Guru. This can be two-sided, especially in times of trouble, when we desperately need divine help and blessings to extract ourselves out from a specific situation. But it is at least always one-sided, because God and the Guru are always thinking about us, ever compassionate, ever loving.

Perhaps the more #1 and #2 are given up, the more #3 increases!

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Great Alex, Smart Alec

Everyone knows Alexander the Great for his Amazing and brutal conquests.

But maybe there’s another reason he is Great. Because he realized that all this materials greatness is of no value.

As he neared his death, he gave a set of 3 instructions to his aides.

1) That the best doctors in the country should walk beside his dead body. Why? To show that even the best medical help cannot prevent death.

2) That his all wealth be laid down from his kingdom to his grave. Why? To show that no amount of wealth earned in this life can be carried into the afterlife.

3) That his hands be left hanging outside his coffin, during the long procession to his grave. Why? Because even he, Alexander the Great, would go back from this world empty handed.

What a brilliant takeaway isn’t it? But here many are, constantly running after more and more wealth. Smart Alec in sight only…

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What comes out of…

Came across this cool clip of Mahatira ji, where he speaks of some superb advice his father-in-law gave him. It relates to what comes out of us human beings.

Everything that comes out of a human, stinks.
Our breath, it stinks.
Our sweat, it stinks.
Our excrement, it stinks.
Our saliva, it stinks.
Our blood, it stinks.
But we can't control any of these.
There's one other thing that does come out of humans which we can control. Our words. 
And most of the time, our words stink too. 

True isn’t it? Is that what we want? Can’t we speak such that we energize others, empower others, encourage others and empathize with others?

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Flow of Gold

We may have all heard of the famous Kanakadhaara stotram. Kanaka refers to gold, while dhaara is its flow.

Whenever someone is impacted by financial troubles, the remedy suggested is this beautiful ode to Goddess Lakshmi. But why will she give us gold or money? Spirituality asks us to give up attachments and desires. Here on the other hand, we are asking for more?

A quick background is helpful to contextualise this: Adi Sankaracharya, as a young Brahmin boy, went to a poor lady’s house for alms for his lunch. The lady, mired in poverty, offered him the only possession she had – a single amla (gooseberry) fruit. Sankara was touched by her kindness and selflessness and sang 22 stanzas in praise of Goddess Lakshmi, which is now known as the Kanakadhaara stotram.

The Goddess appeared before him and asked why he had remembered her. Sankara implored her to reverse the lady’s fortunes by granting her riches.

But Goddess Lakshmi refused! She said the lady’s fate was bound to poverty due to karma from her prior births. Sankara pleaded for the Goddess to absolve the lady’s past sins and change her fate, saying that she has surely transformed spiritually now, given she gave away the only thing she had! Goddess Lakshmi was pleased and granted Sankara’s request, showering the lady’s house with golden gooseberries, aka the flow of gold.

To get some, we have to give some, or maybe give all!

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Giving and SV – part 4 of 4

The superb writings on Giving by Swami Vivekananda concludes below:

1. Ask, therefore, nothing in return; but the more you give, the more will come to you.

2. The quicker you can empty the air out of this room, the quicker it will be filled up by the external air; and if you close all the doors and every aperture, that which is within will remain, but that which is outside will never come in, and that which is within will stagnate, degenerate, and become poisoned.

3. A river is continually emptying itself into the ocean and is continually filling up again. Bar not the exit into the ocean. The moment you do that, death seizes you.

4. Be, therefore, not a beggar; be unattached.

Such amazing wisdom in these writings. It’s up to us to follow to whatever extent we can!

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Giving and SV – part 3 of 4

Giving is living, and so more gems from Swami Vivekananda are below:

1. None is there that will not be compelled, in the long run, to give up everything.

2. And the more one struggles against this law, the more miserable one feels.

3. It is because we dare not give, because we are not resigned enough to accede to this grand demand of nature, that we are miserable.

4. The forest is gone, but we get heat in return. The sun is taking up water from the ocean, to return it in showers.

5. You are a machine for taking and giving: you take, in order to give.

We are machines for giving, isn’t this an outstanding perspective?! Concluded tomorrow…

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Giving and SV – part 2 of 4

More gems from Swami Vivekananda on giving.

1. Learn that the whole of life is giving, that nature will force you to give.

2. So give willingly, because sooner or later, you will have to give up.

3. You come into life to accumulate. With clenched hands, you want to take.

4. But nature puts a hand on your throat and forces your hands open. Whether you will it or not, you have to give.

5. The moment you say “I will not”, the blow comes and you are hurt.

Continued tomorrow…

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Giving and SV – part 1 of 4

Swami Vivekananda was probably one of the most articulate realized-souls ever to be born. Apart from various topics, he specifically focused on the importance of giving. Giving as a virtue, and giving as a necessity. Here are some outstanding statements of his:

1. Give what you have to give. It will come back to you.

2. But do not think of what will come back to you from your giving now. However, it will come back multiplied thousandfold.

3. The attention must not be on what will come back.

4. Yet, have the power to give. Give, and there it ends.

Continued tomorrow…

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Sacrificial paradox

Was reading an interesting article by Sri Sri Ravishankar, about the paradox of sacrifice.

Of course we know that sacrifice is a good thing, because we are doing it for others, and it helps build selflessness. Sacrifice is also the foundation of yagna.

But sacrifice can only come from love. The example Sri Sri gives is of a mother who was scheduled to watch a movie, but then her child falls sick. Does she sacrifice the movie to nurse her child? Apparently she does, but in reality, it is not a sacrifice at all. The mother couldn’t care less about the movie because all her attention is on her child.

So love is key, and one can only sacrifice something they value (such as the movie). If there’s no love, there’s no sacrifice.

As Sri Sri concludes, for a wise man, there is nothing higher than the love for God. If that is his greatest love, then how can he sacrifice God? That is the paradox of sacrifice.

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50th best – part 3 of 3

This impact of the restaurant in question. How did they manage it going forward? What did they do better?

The owner, one Will Guidara, settled on something he called “Unreasonable Hospitality”, and who then further wrote a book on it as well.

One of the simpler examples he gives on the podcast with Simon Sinek is how he and his team figured out a way to know who is arriving at the restaurant, so that they are always greeted by their names. “Hi Mr and Mrs Smith, welcome to our restaurant.”, so that there is never any need to wait at the counter and give your name. Everyone loves being called by their name. But how do they know it’s Smith and not Roger or John or someone else? They’ve found a way!

Other examples include when a family from Spain had come to dine at their restaurant and never seen snow before. So the restaurant post-dinner booked an SUV to take them on a sled ride through Central Park. Another time, a couple’s flight for a vacation got cancelled and so the restaurant booked out their own private dining room, created a makeshift sand dump and water pool to mimic a beach experience.

Basically just going above and beyond one’s call of duty, and making the expieremce of working with a person just magical. The author says that each one of us can do the same thing at our own work, if we just spend some time to think about what would make the other person happy.

And oh by the way, I think the restaurant in subsequent years was rated not just 50th, but the first amongst those 50, so the best in the world!

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Charity for all

So many people to give charity too. But there’s not enough money to give. Not for one middle-class person at least.

But what are we giving the money for? To help the other person? Or to feel good about ourselves? Perhaps both?

Neither is necessarily good or bad. Here’s a line from a spirituality column in a magazine:

Even the 'charity' given to the undeserving, the scriptures tell us, makes it tamasic and, therefore, harmful to the giver, to the recipient and society at large.

Wow pretty dire consequences it seems! Can we even begin to fathom who is deserving or not? Impossible.

That’s why it’s best to donate to the charity that the Guru has chosen.

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My only interest

One of India’s ace investors, Mr Rakesh Jhunjhunwala (RJ), lovingly called the Big Bull, passed away recently.

While a lot was said about his investing prowess, one exchange between his father and him stood out for me.

When Mr. RJ had setup a foundation in honor of his dad to give back to society, this is what his father told him:

"I have no interest in your wealth. I only want to know how much tax you have paid, and how much charity you have given."

All the focus was on giving back, one way or another. Noble thoughts!

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The art of war

Was reading about a war situation. One family of 6, two parents and 4 of their children, were stuck in their home as war broke out. They thought they were safe, until an enemy missile exploded barely 500 meters away from their home.

They dashed into their car and decided to make a run for the border. Only 5 of them though. Because the eldest, at 18 years of age, decided to stay back and fight for his country.

The other 5 somehow managed to reach the border, staying in all sorts of temporary encampments enroute. With great difficulty, they crossed over into the neighbouring country.

The husband ensured his family was safe, and the next morning began the drive back home, to join his son in the fight. Whether the wife and 3 kids would ever see their husband/father/brother/son again, was a question no one had the answer to…

Meanwhile, what silly tiny immaterial problem in my life was I complaining about again today morning?

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Back scratching

“You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is a common expression.

This also nicely sums up Parasparam Bhavayantah from chapter 3 verse 11 of the Gita, which we have seen a few times before. The principle of helping one another. The understanding that nothing can survive independently.

One neat example is in the world of home deliveries. All these apps now use maps to ensure they deliver groceries or food or parcels in the quickest time possible.

But are these maps they have each created on their own? Not at all! They use Google Maps, for a fee of course. And that’s how Google Maps makes money too, because it’s not like you or I pay anything to Google for using their Maps. Parasparam Bhavayantah in action!

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Give or take

There’s this YouTube video with several million likes.

Its premise is this. The protagonist is out on the street, asking for a few dollars from passersby.

Most avoid him like the plague. Not surprising.

But the catch? He gives 100x back to anyone who gives him any money.

One guy gives a dollar, and gets back 100$. A lady gives 10$ and gets back a thousand!

People are so damn happy when they get the money, totally unexpected.

But there’s just one lady at the end of the video, who not just gives the protagonist some money, but also refuses to take the 100x. “Pay it forward, to someone who needs it more”, she says.

Would have been so good to have more like her, but clearly such people are rare. There are more people that would take a 100x from someone they don’t know. But lesser than those who would not stop to help in the first place ?

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Holy Cow – part 5 of 5

A follow up question or thought could be, “There are so many cows in the world. I cannot help them all. Would my seva even matter?”

It is true that we cannot save all the 300 million cows in the world. But any seva we do to even one single cow, will surely make a world of a difference to that one gentle individual! Such could be the power and impact of our gauseva.

We are taught in the rat race that if we work hard, and get success, then we will be happy. But spirituality teaches us the reverse. Be happy first and then work hard, and this will automatically bring worldly success.

A similar sequence can be extended to cows. The reasoning is not that cows provide milk, which is useful, and hence cows should be worshipped as holy. Rather, because the cow is holy, everything that it produces is also perceived to be so.

If we get the chance to serve this most lovable of creatures, we should certainly grab the chance. It will provide peace of mind and other tangible and intangible benefits that can only be experienced first-hand.

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Holy Cow – part 4 of 5

Yet today, there is so much of cow torture and abuse, largely for commercial purposes.

Many cows are disposed of once they stop giving milk.

Do you know how many cows are slaughtered each year around the world?

300 million. Isn’t that shocking?

How insensitive is it, to chop off the hand that feeds us?

On the contrary, imagine the blessings one would get if provided with the chance to tend to this beautiful, peaceful and loving creature.

That chance is available, with the ability to participate (online in many cases, thanks to technology) in the seva of cows. Where gauseva is 100% seva, and 0% commercial. All cow products are either utilized within the premises or given away for free. And all cows are loved and cared for, no matter whether they continue to give milk or not.

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Measuring excellence

Jim Collins is an author who needs no introduction. In one of his defining studies, he has distilled down the excellence factors for any company, to 3 core elements. These are:

  1. Superior results (the company can be amazing on paper, but it needs to win in the real world)
  2. Distinctive impact (if the company disappeared, would it matter?)
  3. Lasting endurance (not just a one-hit wonder)

While these are amazing insights for companies, I also couldn’t help but realize these are amazing ideals for anyone striving for excellence to try living up to.

  1. Superior results – irrespective of the profession, can our clients feel they always get the best only with us?
  2. Distinctive impact – of course no one is indispensable and all that; but even so, if we disappeared from the earth tomorrow, how many people would miss us? Would we have left behind a legacy? Not for the money we provide others, but the compassion, listening ear, love and warmth?
  3. Lasting endurance – it’s easy to be good to people once or twice, but to do that lifelong? That would be most beneficial, not just to those being helped, but to the doer. A non-stop selfless attitude is no different from the pinnacle of spirituality.
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Creator Groomer

Most of us are working our day jobs, doing mundane stuff, often not liking it much.

And many companies too do not expect their employees to grow beyond a point either.

Seniors want to ensure their own seats are secure, and often happy slave-driving their juniors – and to make sure they do not leave the firm for whatever reason. Everyone is just thinking about themselves all the time.

But I came across a startup recently. The founder wrote an open letter, which to me was quite a lovely way to think about work.

His point, was that there are so many problems to be solved in the world. And folks working with him were encouraged to take risks, to disrupt, to be fearless, and to build and scale products with impatient optimism.

He also said, that if any of his employees would leave to found another startup, then he would go out of his way to invest in that new business.

Not just that, he would also enable the new startup to access his own set of VC/PE investors. How awesome is that?!

Not just giving jobs, but funding a potential job creator. Not just being a leader, but being a leader groomer! The magic truly happens when one thinks selflessly about others.

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C for critical – part 2

No one likes a dictatorial regime – where only one person calls the shots, much to the detriment of everyone else. But we are each dictators in our own rights.

When we receive flak or criticism from anyone, our guard immediately spikes, shoulders tighten, jaws harden, ego fires up, ears shut down, brain freezes – etc etc. exactly like a dictator would quickly shut down his country’s borders to apparently save himself from his enemies.

What do we want in life? Good results? Or good image? Of course both. But these are somewhat contradictory.

We may begin with some good results which then gives us some name and fame. But can we be right all the time? Can we guarantee the best process and results always? Hardly. Even the best workers may fall wayward. If in such times, one does not seek and implement feedback, then their results will suffer. If the results suffer, how can one maintain or even elevate their good image?

While criticism should not be given as Dale Carnegie says in his book How to Win Friends & Influence People, we on the receiving end of flak can surely train ourselves to look for the message-minus-emotion. Concluded tomorrow…

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Sacrificial – part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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Sacrificial – part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sacrificial

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

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

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

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

  1. Deva Yajna – for the Gods (sun, moon etc). We can pray with gratitude for the presence of all the deities around us.
  2. Pitri Yajna – for our forefathers and ancestors. We are here because of them. Tarpana is good to do where possible.
  3. Manushya Yajna – for our fellow humans. Being charitable, compassionate, loving and kind would be a great start.
  4. Bhoota Yajna – for the other living creatures. Feeding the animals, providing shelter for them.
  5. Brahma Yajna – for the soul inside us. Attending satsang, applying scriptural knowledge, attaining moksha.
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Not just a librarian

We learn and discuss much about giving and its importance. Yet we may be gnawed by doubt at the time of the act. Are we giving away too much? Does the recipient really deserve my generosity? What if s/he uses it for the wrong reasons? What if they turn out to be a fake, a hoax amongst hoaxes?

Meet Mr Palam Kalyanasundaram from South India. Probably around 75 years old now, he worked as a librarian for 30 years, and donated every single rupee he earned from it to charity. 100% of his income – wow what a feat. How did he sustain himself? By waiting tables at a nearby restaurant, and doing other odd jobs.

He was awarded the title of Man of the Millennium by the USA, being the first person in the world to give away his entire earnings for social causes, and given a gift of INR 300 mn. All the money was of course immediately donated to orphanages and to children’s educational funds. He had earned INR 1 mn as pension, which too he donated to the needy.

Mr Kalyanasundaram in an interview has said that there is nothing in this world that is more fulfilling or brings more happiness than donating one’s own hard earned income to charity. When he can do 100%, despite not being a billionaire or millionaire, surely we can do 10%?

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Giving like this

It is one thing to talk about selflessness and empathy and caring for others etc. While it is something else altogether to put this into practice, especially with irredeemable consequences.

85 year old Narayanrao Dabhadkar was immortalized in the last week of April 2021. Having experienced complications from COVID, his family took him to a nearby hospital. As is perhaps well known, oxygen, beds, remdesevir and other important treatment necessities have been in very short supply in India.

The family of this 85-year old man somehow got an ICU bed after running from pillar to post. But while waiting there, Mr. Narayanrao saw out the window and noted a young lady and her kids wailing and begging the hospital authorities to admit her 40-year old husband who was also infected by COVID and in a very bad state. Narayanrao immediately decided to relinquish his bed, and offered it to the lady. His thought process was, “I have lived a wonderful life to 85, now let the younger ones live.” He went home, no bed, minimal treatment, and passed away a few days later.

Many times we think twice about giving up an object that belongs to us. We don’t want to part with or share our living space, money, food, vehicles, books, cutlery, time and so many other things. This man parted with his life. If there is something to learn about selflessness, compassion and empathy, this is the real-life story that teaches it to me. May he rest in peace.

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Train for this

There’s a CCTV video recording that you must watch. It’s hardly 30 seconds long.

It shows one of Mumbai’s railway stations. A blind woman and her young son are walking on the platform next to the train tracks. The boy unfortunately falls onto the tracks, and the blind mother is seen to be screaming for help. A train can be seen approaching from the other side.

Mayur Shelkhe, a pointsman at the railway station, comes running at a pace that would make Usain Bolt proud. He reaches the boy, picks him up, shoves him back onto the platform, and then climbs back to safety, with just milliseconds to spare. A moment late, and this would be end-of-story not just for the child, but for him also. I don’t know which quality was more pronounced – his presence of mind, or his selflessness?

Watching the video is like watching a thriller movie – except that this was real life. What I found more thrilling though, was this. Mayur was awarded INR 50,000 (~670 US$) for his bravery. While it is a very small amount to start with, he still proceeded to donate a substantial portion of this amount to the blind lady and her son, in order that she use it for the child’s education.

How awesome is that? So much for me to learn from. A true hero he is, if there was ever one. Here’s the Video link.

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Tough times

There are times when it might seem like everything is going against us. It is good to take on any adversity head-on though with this one thought that occurs to only the most spiritual of beings – “Thank you God/Universe for putting me in this position rather than anyone else. Because at least I will be able to bear this situation and it’s consequences, while those around me if subjected to the very same thing, may not survive.”

At other times, those close to you might be going through a tough time. This could be deep rooted karmic retribution at play. Who can really tell, except perhaps those who have truly Realized? In any case, it might seem like there is nothing we can do to help alleviate the pain. At least physically, yes.

But mentally, and emotionally? We can do many things. One, paramount, is prayer. A wonderful opportunity to not just pray, but pray for someone other than always selfishly for ourselves!

There’s a brilliant video I came across recently. A barber got to know that his client was diagnosed with cancer. The client’s hair had begun falling, thanks to chemotherapy. As the client begins to get his head shaved, the barber intermittently shaves his own head too. What a lovely way to show that he cares! The client is moved to tears.

The tag at the end of the video sums it up beautifully. “That’s not your barber anymore, that’s your brother.”

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Homemaker charity

There’s a notion that only those who can earn are in a position to be charitable. Here are some ways I came across recently on how to give to charity even if one is not earning:

  1. Change: one could keep loose change aside, accumulate it over time and donate
  2. Tapas aka austerity: Donate money saved because of not buying something else
  3. Jewellery: Donate jewellery we don’t want or need anymore
  4. Celebrations: Instead of having a lavish meal in a 5-star for a birthday / anniversary etc., donate that amount (which can feed many needy mouths). We have celebrated so much in the past, one celebration less will make no difference.

We all came to this world empty handed, and are merely ‘renting’ mother nature’s facilities during our short stay.

This charity isn’t solely about giving, but about giving back. The former comes with ego, the latter when it is given up.

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Free delivery

We are all getting more and more accustomed to food delivery – either on Swiggy or Zomato or Uber Eats and other similar services. We may have even seen many delivery executives zoom past on bikes or mopeds, as they hurry to fulfil their orders on time.

Usually, deliveries are well on time. A few days ago, there was a delivery guy who was about 10 minutes late. So I called him up and checked to see what he was up to, as his geolocation marker on the app had gone stationary. He immediately picked up, and apologized, and said that he got lost a bit and was coming soon. He enquired some directions with me, and then he was on his way he said. Another 8-10 minutes went by, and I was wondering why he would take so long given where his map was showing him.

He arrived a few minutes later at top speed and screeched to a halt, all sweaty. The reason? He was on a tiny bicycle, not a flashy bike or moped. No electricity / petrol to power him up. His legs probably got tired too, with multiple cycling trips this way. But he apologized again, and handed the parcel over with a big smile. Surely this is not his passion or calling – but he is doing this job to earn some side income – likely to make ends meet. But such a person is often at the receiving end of all sorts of abuses – with hungry and angry callers lambasting him.

We can all help such people by not just being nice to them, but also tipping them. And by more than just tiny amounts. One way, is to pay forward to them any discounts we would have received. At least in India, every payment option (credit card, pay later, netbanking etc.) offers plenty of discounts, free deliveries and cashbacks. I try to transfer all such savings/discounts as a tip to the delivery person. It’s the least we can do for their efforts in such trying circumstances (lockdowns).

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Ritualistic pride

When doing a puja, homa (havan) or other ritual, the doers often become conceited. “Oh look I just performed a huge yagna and see how many people attended, and see what amazing catering I arranged” etc. Even if the havan was done on a small scale, ego can creep in. But it’s helpful to really think what aspects of the homa or puja were done by “the doer”.

How about these?

  1. The deity we are praying to has to make him/herself available
  2. Agni, the fire God, has to function as the medium and carry one’s prayers to the deity
  3. The various ingredients – coconuts, walnuts, other inflammable items, flowers, ghee, water and everything else – does the yagna doer create these items?
  4. The priest who conducts the ceremony – is the organizer the priest? Soes s/he know every single mantra, shloka, chant – not just to recite, but to understand and to feel? Did s/he create those incantations?
  5. Or maybe if it’s a self-chanted self-conducted ritual, then gratitude to our own memory, vocal chords, the guru who taught us the mantras…
  6. How about the free time we were allowed by our family members to devote to the puja
  7. Also the attendees who showed up, and the cooks who prepared all the dishes
  8. A few other things I would have missed here for sure

Without any of these, how would the havan have been a success? Really is there much for us to be proud of then?

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The one formula for success – part 3

Here’s an example of how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – from a conversation between my Guru and I recently.

I had kept a vow for donating some money to Tirupati (a large and famous temple in south India) if some specific important event took place in my life. Like Guruji says, it is very important for everyone to set lofty goals, work towards them, pray for them, and if those goals are achieved, then unabashedly do something in return.

When said event did work out (miraculously!), it was time to keep up my end of the bargain. But I had a conflicting thought. Should I donate to Tirupati? Or should I donate to the cause of my Guru? So I asked my Guru. “If it’s just money, can I not give to your cause Guruji? Why Tirupati? Isn’t God and his money fungible?”

To which he had a wonderful answer, and such an answer is only possible if he put himself in my shoes. Because from his point of view, he has already realized Brahman and moksha and liberation, and to him these material differences do not matter!

But to me as one who is faaaaaaar away from such realized states, he said simply, “What if something bad happens tomorrow? Then it is possible I might connect the dots? That it is because I did not donate to Tirupati as planned but instead gave the money off to another cause, that there was a hole left to be plugged at Tirupati?” Instead my Guru told me to go and happily give to Tirupati, and then also pray to the Lord there to give me more money so that I can donate to the other causes with even more fervour. Win-win?

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Boundless

Here’s a lovely story on giving / kindness/ generosity from the Mahabharatha I came across.

Arjuna once asked Krishna thus, “Why is it that people always say Karna is the most generous person in the world? I too have given away so much to those in need. Why am I not considered so?”

Lord Krishna replied, “I think you will see this better in action for yourself. Tomorrow at dawn, I call upon both you and Karna to have a giveaway contest. You will each start with a mountain of gold, jewellery, ornaments etc. This will give me an opportunity to judge which of you is the better giver.”

The next morning, both Arjuna and Karna began their giving spree. By mid-day, Arjuna was tired, having given away nearly half his mountain, and looked to rest for a few minutes. He asked Krishna how Karna was doing. Krishna told Arjuna that Karna already finished his giveaways and went home! Arjuna was shocked and surprised.

To which Lord Krishna said, “My dear Arjuna, you were asking people to bring their bags and buckets and fill them, and once filled, to go back. Karna on the other hand had no such requirements – he just gave away with no limits or conditions. That’s why his mountain got emptied out in no time. And also why people consider him the most generous person on earth!”

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Youthful charity

The first thing that strikes a young person when it comes to charity is “This stuff is not for me”. Why? Because they are still young, have very little in the bank, and they may want to save up. That argument is absolutely spot on, except that my Guru’s recommendation is to only set aside 10% of income for charity, and not the entire 100% in the bank!

I started giving with my first job back in 2007 – and I was a few months late so maybe I started in June and gave first in December, and missed a few months in between. So I felt it was natural to also add back the 10% for the 6 months in between as well. I didn’t think it was a big deal at all at the time, but I can never forget how happy my Guru was when he knew that I’d added back the 6 months portion as well.

And it took me a long time to understand why – something I’m still learning, that giving is not about the bank balance, nor is it about the cause we are giving to. Rather, it is a way of life. Youngsters can donate more, because they have the benefit of time, and starting early is always a good thing.

Of course we weed to have something first, to be able give. So what I’ve seen over time is that giving to charity has made me more prudent with my finances. Also my experience and the experience of many others who give, is that the more you give, the more you get. The equation slowly changes from “I want more so that I can enjoy more”, to “I want more so that I can give more”. Ultimately, all the giving (with common sense of course) is for only one goal – to come out of the clutches of money – which will aid us in our spiritual growth and purification of the mind.

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Gateway to serve

There is no dearth of rich people in the world. But the number of poor, far outweigh the rich. If you are one of the lucky ones to be in the ‘rich’ group (or at least in the group where you do not need to struggle to make ends meet), then what can you do with your money? Our scriptures say that the only thing one must do is to serve others selflessly. As my Guru notes often, it is easy to find rich people – but very hard to find rich people who are also noble. Money is such a thing, that the more we have, the more it can control and corrupt us. Even the noblest of people can unravel in the clutches of money. The only way to remain noble then is to stay steeped in our scriptures, and consciously apply everything we learn in them and in satsang.

There are of course many rich people who are doing great work for society. One example is Bill Gates. Indeed there may be naysayers or those who feel he is doing this to benefit himself in some way – there is no way for me to know. However, his work has surely impacted poor people’s lives for the better, and he talks about this in his new book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”. He and his wife Melinda began working on global health many years ago, and experts would tell them often about how many kids were dying of diarrhoea. But they didn’t know the source of this diarrhoea. The couple were unable to figure out how to save these kids without knowing the underlying cause. Being rich, and having the ability to spend money as necessary, they were able to fund a variety of global studies to figure out the exact cause of this diarrhoea – which was then identified as pneumonia. And then Mr. Gates was able to further fund a much cheaper pneumonia vaccine than one that already existed and used only by developed countries, which in turn led to saving the lives of millions of kids.

Many times, those who get onto the spiritual path feel that they should not bother about earning money anymore. But money is one of the best ways to help people at scale. Hence a noble person shouldn’t shy away from becoming rich. But one must become rich and not hoard the money, but selflessly help those around in need.

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Kindness cycle

Here’s a real life story that was featured in one of the local newspapers . An old but very kind and selfless doctor, kept his medical consulting practise going despite the threat of Covid. His aim? To ensure that no one who deserved medical help is denied it.

While he did this for many months, unfortunately he also contracted Covid towards the end. This led him to be hospitalized, and even moved to the ICU, where he spent over a month. Needless to say, the hospitalization costs shot through the roof.

As the doctor slowly recovered, the full realization of the exorbitant amount that would hit him on billing day became more and more apparent. How would he arrange to pay for such a large amount? What would his family say? Would he have to borrow, and at this age? The thoughts came fast and plenty.

A couple of days later, as he was getting ready to get discharged, the nurse walked up to him with the bill. Instead of a big 7-digit number, it was only a 3-digit number, just a token of having been there, as though he went to get a simple tummy ache checked. On seeing his confused look, the nurse told him that the head doctor at the hospital had recognized that this now-recovered doctor was his own professor from medical school from whom he had learned many things and also knew well about his selfless service. He and his staff immediately arranged to take care of all expenses and ensured only the best doctors attended to him.

Kindness begets kindness. We only need to learn to see it. Cheers and prayers to all the frontline healthcare workers!

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Diamond wrap

Wouldn’t all the women of this world love to get a beautiful shiny diamond in a tiny box wrapped up in gift paper and love? Maybe some men too? Totally understandable. Diamonds are classy, and are a medium of expressing one’s love – especially popularized by the movies. YouTube too is full of newer and newer videos showcasing a variety of marriage proposals, sometimes in the most unlikeliest / exciting of places (like on a two-seater plane) with nice diamonds.

Okay, enough about diamonds already, you say?

But we’re only getting started! News is out about a rapper who purchased a diamond. Not any diamond, but a 11 carat one. Not any 11 carat one, but a 11 carat pink diamond.

Okay is this a big deal? I don’t know a thing about diamonds honestly, but said rapper has not just bought said diamond, but actually gone ahead and embedded (yes embedded!) it into his forehead. The stone cost him a whopping 24 million dollars, and it took him four years (!) to pay for it.

Of course everyone is free to do whatever they want with their money. However one wonders if there could not have been any other more productive / selfless / charitable way to spend this kind of moolah. But what do I know.

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Bovinity

Stress, anxiety, frustration, irritation. We all go through it.

The biggest challenge is going through life itself. We seem to barely have enough time for work and sleep. Weekends come and go as if a blur.

All of life for everyone around us seems to be nothing more than a rat race. We are constantly running. Towards what? Nobody seems to know. Will the race end? Seemingly never.

The worst part? Even if we win the rat race, we will remain a rat only. Is that what we want? Scurrying and scampering about mindlessly?

One solution – take part in a cow race instead. What? If you haven’t had the chance, then you must see some cows in India. They will be sitting in the middle of a highway sometimes, smaller roads sometimes – but always unbelievably oblivious to the traffic around them. No matter what happens, they do not let the outside world bother them. And because of their gentle disposition as well as their generous nature (sharing their milk for one and all), they are considered not just bovine, but divine as well. May we begin the transformation from rat to cow!

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Ritualistic

There is only one true reason to perform rituals, as my Guru says. And that is, to purify the mind.

What does purification of the mind mean? At one level, it involves destroying the mind altogether. In a non-violent manner of course. We all know our monkey-minds are always going off on tangents, ever seeking more and more. What if this mind could come under control? Very difficult? I agree!

At another (and maybe more easier, and more tangible) level, purifying the mind involves broadening its scope. For most of us, our lives revolve only around ourselves – our wants, needs, desires. But what if we could include others, friends, family, acquaintances, strangers – eventually the whole world, especially all the good people – into our vision of goodness? What if we could desire good for all?

Herein lies the beauty of my Guru’s recommendations. Do the rituals you like, but perform them for the larger benefit of society. Chanting some shlokas? Excellent, chant for mother earth. Doing charity? Wonderful. Keep aside 10% of your income, no matter how small. Use the remaining 90% – invest it, let it compound – have it your way. But the 10% that you’ve decided to give away – that will begin to purify your mind. Because the human mind has been trained for countless generations to simply do everything it can to survive and sustain. There is more to life than that though. As the ancients tell us, the real magic happens when the ego melts away. That will happen when we truly believe that nothing belongs to ‘us’, and the mind merges with the universal mind.

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True greatness

Traditionally, we equate greatness to money, wealth, fame, riches, cars, bungalows, yachts, CEOs, Chairmen, senior management, foreign travel, foreign vacations, first and business class, limousines and a variety of other things.

But Martin Luther King Jr. had the final word on this.

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

He understood that greatness wasn’t about oneself, but how much one could use themselves for others.

No different from what Lord Krishna states in the Gita. As my Guru observes in the purport after chapter 13 verse 26 in his Amazing Simple Gita, “Many missions have realized that if we keep only the goal of realising the Lord we will tend towards laziness with only arguments and discussions. Prabhupad for example made it very clear that devotion means devotional service, chanting sixteen malas, trikala pooja etc is important but afterwards what will we be doing – we should be doing seva (service), spreading this knowledge, making more and more people noble and good.”

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Best friend, worst friend

Remember when as kids, we used to have things like katti and bacchi? Stick your thumb out and that would mean good friend. And stick your pinky finger out and that would become sworn enemy. And a friend of a friend is a friend, and enemy of an enemy is an enemy. But of course, we were kids, so allegiances would change mighty quickly! You want to play soccer and there is only one kid who owns the ball? Everyone wants to be bacchi with him. Kids also are very quick to say (often to the face) “That girl – she’s my friend, but this girl? She’s my best friend” much to the embarrassment of the parents!

Those days are past, and we have outgrown these best friend worst friend monikers. There is still one best/worst friend though for each one of us. And it is not only simultaneously both best and worst friend, but also the same for all of us! Guessed it? The mind!

As verse 6.5 in the Gita says, ‘Elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and not degrade yourself, for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.

How can we make sure that the mind remains our friend, and not enemy? By eventually replacing all desires and attachments with gratitude. If desire comes in between mind and intellect, then they squabble. If there are no desires, and work is done as a service to benefit mankind or at the instruction of the Guru, then the mind and intellect on the spiritual path are best friends!

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Giving advice

If someone comes up to you for advice, the best and only to way give any guidance, should be without expectations. Why?

Here’s someone who wants to know from you whether to do xyz or not. The following 4 outcomes are possible, assuming they follow your advice.

  1. You suggest they do xyz. They do it, and good happens. You were right, but they will attribute it to themselves.
  2. You suggest they do xyz. They do it, and bad happens. You were wrong, and they will attribute it to you.
  3. You suggest they do not do xyz. They don’t do it, and bad happens. You were wrong, and they will attribute it to you.
  4. You suggest they do not do xyz. They don’t do it, and good happens. You were right, but they will attribute it to themselves.

In all cases, you get no recognition. Does that mean we stop helping others? Absolutely not. But when we do so, we must have the best intentions in mind while guiding them, whilst having zero expectations. The end result is not in our control. And so expecting praise in return is foolhardy.

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2021

A simple but important blog post to ring in the new year. Here are five things for me to work on, so as to get the best from 2021.

  1. Every day, all day, be happy and grateful for everything we already have. Success, money, fame will come automatically.
  2. Zero compromise on health (i.e. proper nutrition and exercise) – for if there’s one thing an invisible virus from 2020 has taught us, it is that without a fit body and mind, everything else is pointless.
  3. Give / donate / help generously and selflessly. This is the only way to purify the mind and intellect. (Why? Because it removes the notion of ego / i-i-i)
  4. Join a satsang and / or actively participate in one. Repeatedly dunking the mind in scriptural knowledge as guided by the Guru and applying it in our lives will fast track our spiritual transformation.
  5. Enjoy every single moment, and look at every stumbling block as an opportunity to improve. As they say, there are no failures, only lessons.

Are these easy to follow? Do you have other things you would like to focus on? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. All the best for 2021!

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How to get others to like us

Swami Vivekananda used to say that the allure of a man is predicated on two things. The first is the ability to speak and sway with the spoken word. The second is the inner personality. While we may believe the former to be more important, Swamiji actually gave the latter more importance, saying it contributed over two-thirds to a person’s image.

Irrespective of which is more important, it is clear that we must work on ourselves, rather than expecting the world to accept us. Encouragingly, the acceptance will come unsolicited, if we become the best versions of ourselves.

We can read more, listen to podcasts more, watch more YouTube to pickup new skills or even join classes to increase our overall awareness of various art forms. These are all great, and must be pursued.

But an even better way to improve and completely transform the inner personality, is to serve others selflessly. The service is not rendered for anyone else, but for our own benefit, as it helps keep us grounded in this otherwise age of excesses. We could start simple – by helping someone unasked, once a week. Maybe a friend is going through a tough time and needs someone to listen, or a student needs some math tutoring, or a neighbour is sick and is struggling with cooking and managing their home. Whatever the case may be, anything done for others, with genuine interest in their well being, can surely find us a place in their hearts. This is far more productive and efficient than learning a new skill and attempting to impress someone.

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1+1=?

Dominos Pizza recently launched a new pizza. My first reaction was “What kind of a weird combination is this?” The same reaction I observed in some of my colleagues / friends / family members as well when it came up for discussion.

The combo was that of pasta and pizza. Or rather pasta on top of the pizza. Who even came up with such an idea?

Of course we know things like “Do not judge a book by its cover” or “Beauty is only skin deep”. But I still couldn’t help but wonder who would have thought up putting this portmanteau of a dish together.

Having tried the pasta-pizza though, I was really surprised at how good it tasted. Not only did each individual dish retain its own flavour, but their synergistic convergence was drool inducing, and had me thinking about eating more slices long after the box had been emptied and thrown away.

So it is, that the whole can always be greater than the sum of its parts, as long as each ingredient gives its best to the mix. This is relevant for people as well. Instead of bringing up ego battles when two stalwarts come together, it is far more beneficial if they work together for mutual and wider benefit. The same goes for us. We each have many many wonderful things to contribute to the world. Why should our ego be one of them?

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How to be welcome anywhere

Here’s a wonderful practical example of how being genuinely interested in others can bring dividends. This happened to a very close friend-couple of mine.

They had come to use the services of an auto-rickshaw driver a few times over the past year. As the pandemic struck in March and a full lockdown ensued, the income stream for auto and taxi drivers ceased.

The auto driver though, used to keep calling my friend-couple every few days, just to check in on them. When my friends offered him some money to help support him and his family through the tough period, he always refused, saying he was just calling to enquire about their well being.

This went on for a few months. One day, a relative of my friend-couple got the coronavirus and that whole family had to be admitted to a makeshift hospital. Food there was obviously not as good as home food, and so my friends graciously offered to cook food and send it over (so nice of them!). Obvious question then – the hospital is far off, how do they reach the home cooked meals over to that place? By-now-obvious-answer: the empathetic auto driver of course! It was no surprise that he was the first person that came to mind. My friend-couple engaged the driver for the next ten days, and were able to safely deliver the food to their relatives.

In his truly outstanding bookHow to Win Friends & Influence People“, author Dale Carnegie says that taking a genuine interest in others is a sure shot way to be welcome anywhere. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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Inferior Disciple

There is a lovely experience narrated by Swami Rama in his book “Living with the Himalayan Masters“. Here it is, paraphrased below.

Swami Rama’s Guru was a terrific person. Not just in human form, as his powers are described as being almost ethereal. Needless to say, many people would come to his master, requesting for blessings and beseeching him for his grace.

While they would line up to see him, they would also bring with them many things to offer him – gold, valuables, ornaments, fruits, flowers, books and money to name a few.

Swami Rama used to feel small, seeing these presents for his Guru and told him once, “Master, I am unable to provide any of these valuable items to you, does that make me an inferior disciple?”

His Guru shushed him, and told him to give him a bundle of dry twigs. When Swami Rama did, his Guru merely lit a fire, burned the twigs and told him that he had given the best gift of all. He further explained, “Rama, what am I to do with the material possessions all these people have given me? I have no use for them. However, when you gave me your twigs, you gave me everything you had. You gave me your last possessions in this world, and those too have been burned away. You are truly a Swami. What more could I ask for?”

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Warming up

My brother and I had visited Georgia in December last year. This is the country Georgia, not the state Georgia in the US. It is an extremely beautiful country, and during the December winter, some of the places we visited were mostly white, covered in snow. But apparently not as white as it needed to be. We stayed a few nights in a town called Stepantsminda. During that time of the year, the town is supposed to be teeming with people who come for skiing. When we arrived there, it felt more like a ghost town. During a specific hiking trip in the snow that travellers had raved about on online forums, we saw no other people for miles and miles as far as the eye could see. Lots of businesses there had shut shop – because of no visitors – because of not enough snow.

Later, we learned this was on account of global warming and climate change. The winter was quite cold as far as we visitors from the tropics were concerned, but apparently nowhere near necessary for ski resorts to function.

The world is heating up. The ice is melting, and water levels are rising. All those articles and videos we read/see are true. In the last Ice Age, when global temperatures were 4 to 7 degrees cooler than today, the city of Chicago was under 800 meters of ice (like an ice mountain)! We are now racing in the opposite direction – on track to become 3 to 4 degrees warmer than baseline, and already about 1 degree hotter than what is ideal. Every half-a-degree increment from now on could have a devastating impact.

What can we do? We can start small. Each of our actions can be guided by the thought “Do I really need this, or is this just a temporary want? Can I achieve this outcome in a better more sustainable way?” The extra minutes under the shower, the ACs, fans and lights running when not necessary, using too much plastic, driving solo instead of biking/walking/car-pooling among other things all add up. It has to be an individual effort from each one of us, but exercised collectively. The earth is not just a planet, it is our mother that gives us our life. We have only taken, taken and taken more from her since our birth – whether food, or water or oxygen. How can we ever give back to her? And will any amount of giving back ever suffice? Never, and what is done is done, but we can at least reduce the intensity of our taking in the future. Just being mindful of our daily activities is a good starting point.

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Pay it b/f?

We are all familiar with people who ask too many questions. Whether the school nerd or the nosy (and noisy!) neighbour, there is only so much we can put up with. But this post is not about them. This post is about many righteous good people who ask too less. Not just ask questions, but ask for help in general. Because many times, asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness. The misconception backing this thought is, “I want to be seen/known as a self-made individual.”

But we have got to where we are today, both collectively and individually, only by standing on the shoulders of giants of yore. There are phones with 12 GB RAM today, while entire computers from 3 decades ago barely had 12 MB! We would not have flat screen TVs, if someone hadn’t invented a black & white TV in the first place. The very phrase ‘let’s not reinvent the wheel’ presupposes efforts already put in by several others in the past, using which alone, we are here today.

What often stops the aforementioned righteous folks, is their perceived inability to pay back. The fact of the matter is, we will always be indebted to countless others for many things – at work or otherwise. Our parents for bringing us up, our teachers (and specifically the Guru) for imparting their knowledge, our employers and bosses for recognising our potential and enabling us to grow and likewise for friends, family and others. Therefore, it is impossible to pay everyone back. What we can do, and must do though, is to pay forward. Realising how much we have got, we can try to spread the joy, maybe put in a good word for a colleague, offer counselling / mentoring for students from our alma maters, provide books to the local libraries for free, impart our talents / skills to those around us, among other things.

Once we realise that paying forward is just as good as or better than paying back – we will try to gain the most from others, for selfless purposes, and then selflessly distribute forward. Important to remember, that when we pay forward, we too must expect nothing in return, exactly as those who did for us and brought us to this point.

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Reaching out

How many people, from anywhere in the world, are thinking about you this very moment? Chances are, that if you are not a celebrity, then probably no one is. Or maybe one or two of your closest loved ones might be. But that too, just for a few seconds. And no one can be blamed for this apparent lack of caring either. Because lets face it, everyone is busy.

But imagine, if out of this planet of ~8 billion people, at least a few of them had us at the top of their minds. Not for anything selfish, not because they wanted something from us, but just like that, because they really cared. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Sure would. Sadly, there is no foolproof way to make others think of us. But there is one way to at least increase our odds. It is through the power of reaching out. Ever seen a dog wag its tail when his owner comes home after a long day’s work? The dog can barely contain its excitement. People love dogs chiefly because of this outstanding greeting as soon as they get back home. There are literally thousands if not millions of YouTube videos capturing exactly this moment! It can take away the troubles of an entire day. The dog cares for nothing else, except to see his owner. No ulterior motive. Just his need to make his owner feel special.

If you are at someone’s house for dinner, and go the extra mile to put your plates in the sink, or clean the table after the meal, it shows that you care. If you send a book to someone, or flowers or sweets or cook a meal, that can say a lot too. Even just jumping out of your seat to help – maybe to make tea, or pick up a towel from the floor, are small actions that can go a long way in showing those around you that you care. I was once in the audience where the speaker started coughing a bit. And then he continued to speak, and then coughed a little more. And then spoke more. Just the usual coughs, nothing out of the ordinary, and everyone continued to focus on the speaker and his presentation. But one person to my right got up and left the room. He was back 2 minutes later. Where had he gone? He had gone to get hot water for the speaker! Now that is a brilliant example of reaching out! If we truly ‘reach out’ to others, with no malice and no selfishness, their hearts will be warmed, and they will remember us forever. The secret is not in living, but in living for others.

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Now, never, later

A mother was extremely worried about her child. She prayed to God for him. “Oh my poor baby, he’s been having it so hard these days. He deserves so much more. And he’s so good at heart too!”, she thought to herself. The lady had just celebrated her 90th birthday, and her ‘child’, at the age of 68, was on the verge of retirement.

Granted, that parents are perennially worried about their children, and mothers more so. But to what extent is this warranted, one would ask? Especially because on the spiritual path, we are told to keep curbs on our desires and attachments. When should one start enforcing some control?

The right answer will always be ‘now’. Why now? Simple. Because ‘later’ never comes!

We were perfectly happy with our own toy cars and dolls. Until one day the neighbour’s kid showed off her bigger toy. And then we wanted that bigger toy. Then we went to school and found others with so many things we didn’t have. We lived through all that, and then wanted a good education – “top college”, we thought. Getting in wasn’t enough – we had to live up to the competition. Including getting a top job from campus placement, with the best salary. But even that wasn’t adequate, because there were others who were better. And then we started working, and a few peers started getting married and then their kids came about. “How about my own marriage? Will it ever happen?” And you kept hearing all those talks about all the kids in all the parties. Oh isn’t that a different tangent altogether? Kids kindergarten, kids nanny, kids playtime, kids this kids that. Now one would have to desire for them too! All too soon, you’re 65 and about to retire. “I’ll give my desires up soon. I’m almost at the end only. Just one last major one – once I get to see my grandson start going to school, that’ll be it. And my grand daughter too!” The 90 year old lady was going to give up her desires soon as well.

This is an endless loop. Remember, the answer is ‘now’, not later.

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Is money important?

We are all scrambling mindlessly to make money. Or to make more money. Money is such an interesting invention.

For all the bad things in the world, the more the money, the worse it gets. If you are loaded, how does one say “No”, to all the friends that come to borrow and never repay. How does one keep away all the ‘eyes’ on your money. And the potential family feuds, and the rivalries, and even one’s own ego?

For all the good things however, there is quite nothing like money. It can buy time – a good amount of money means one doesn’t need to work as many hours in a typical job. It can also buy health to some extent, quality of life, maybe even a good life-partner! If one is inclined, it also helps in the service of others. Said differently, we cannot donate any money if we do not have any money in the first place.

There is nothing inherently wrong with money. But only as long as we treat it as the means, and not the end. Therefore money has to be a very personalised and calibrated metric. An exercise each one of us must embark on is to figure out for ourselves – how much is enough. This must be personalised, because it will depend on our own personal needs and expenses, without comparative inputs on the size of the neighbour’s car/house/yacht (because that will feature in their own calculation!). We can, however, consider those who live on 1/100th of what we have, but still lead happy lives. Our own ancestors for instance – would have had much lower take-homes, but they managed to raise significantly larger families!

Here is what we must always bear in mind. Money is very very very important. But it is not the most important thing.

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In all fairness

“I will give you 1$. In return, you give me 100,000$. It’s a fair deal.”

No doubt, you scoff and walk away. “How the heck is that fair?”

Later, you visit a temple. You pray, “Dear God, I’m heading for the most important job interview of my life. This is going to be a career defining moment. Please make sure that I get the job.” And then in the donation box, you put 1$ and leave.

Notice the disconnect?

We expect others to be fair to us, but when we ask for divine intervention, we are not ready to give up proportionately.

Life works on the principle of karma. Action = reaction. We need to give, if we expect to receive. And we are always expecting to receive something or the other isn’t it? This in addition to all that we have already received, since the day we were born.

This is not about putting 1$ or 100,000$ in a donation box. The money is only a substitute for the many resources we can give up or share, including energy, time, effort, likes, tears, intent, passion and compassion among other things. Let us be fair.

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The fan

Captain America just gifted his Shield to a fan.
Iron Man and Spider-Man are fighting to outdo each other on sending even better gifts to this fan.
This tiny 6-year old fan, has bowled all of The Avengers over!
But how?

A gnarling German Shepherd chased after a 4-year old girl.
The fan, her brother, with not a trace of hesitation, bravely stepped in between.
All he wanted, was to save his sister.
He succeeded, but also got in harm’s way.

90 stitches later, he still has a smile on his tiny face.

Makes me think – would I at his age – have been able to act so selflessly?
Makes me think – would I at this age – be able to act so selflessly?

Values come from the inside. And the inside has no connection to the size of the outside.
This little fan has a new fan!

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Old is gold?

We feel good when we help others in need. Especially the really destitute.

We may donate old clothes, or old books, an old cycle, old footwear, old blankets or any other items we would have used before.

This is truly fantastic! But what could be even more so?

Donating something brand new. Something that is not a leftover. Specifically buying a brand new dress and donating it. Or buying a brand new book and donating it. Buying a nice pair of shoes and donating it. With the box and wrapping!

We will not just feel good. We will feel great.

Let us think of it this way. If we were at the receiving end, would we prefer the old, or the new?

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What’s in it for me? “You!”

Most people are wired to act only if there is a juicy answer to “What’s in it for me?”

I’ll donate two million to so-and-so University, if you give my daughter an admission there. I’ll work weekends, if i have visibility of a promotion. I’ll babysit your kids if you can give me your Xbox for the weekend. Quid pro quo.

“What’s in it for me?” is important for survival no doubt, in the materialistic and capitalistic world we live in.

But the real magic happens when we do things, despite the answer to “What’s in it for me?” being “Nothing”.

Such as? Maybe sending an old friend a bestselling book as a surprise. Or cooking a meal for your neighbour. Or learning and playing/singing a song for your favourite teacher. Or maybe just taking the time out to visit someone elder to you – who meant a lot to you in your childhood – but who you now haven’t seen in ages. There are some easy ones too – praise someone in public (remember the LAP currency?), donate some clothes or be an agony aunt/uncle (i.e. listen).

If every single interaction we have – with friends, family and colleagues could be this way, we will find:
a) amazing inner satisfaction which leads to peace which in turn leads to long lasting happiness, and
b) that we become the most likeable and remembered person amongst all

Even if this might initially seem like a stretch, we can surely start with just one such deliberate interaction every day. Doing something 100% for the other person, with no expectations whatsoever.

Even if the last many decades of our lives may have been relatively inconsequential to others, taking on this exercise can mean that in one year from today, you will have 365 die-hard fans – who will not just thank you, but always think of you and bless you!

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Just starting to pray

When we just start to pray to get time off for our fourth vacation of the year
Let us pray instead for the front-line healthcare workers that get no time off in a pandemic

When we just start to pray for more time to spend with a loved one
Let us pray instead for the soldiers that keep us safe with no guarantee of a return to their own families

When we just start to pray for a bigger and better house for ourselves
Let us pray instead for the destitute living on the pavement

When we just start to pray for a better education or degree
Let us pray instead for that underpaid teacher in primary school to whom we owe much of our success

When we just start to pray for a promotion or bonus at work
Let us pray instead for the family that lost its sole breadwinner

When we get through all these prayers
We will have forgotten everything we wanted
All our troubles will melt away
And we will be left only with gratitude for everything we have

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You’ve nailed it!

Two prosperous neighbouring kingdoms were ruled by two friendly but competitive kings. One day, one of them decided to renounce the world and lead life as a saint. Hearing this, the other king also decided to follow suit.

They each went their own way, with no possessions more than the ochre robes they were wearing. 20 years of hermit-life later, they simultaneously chanced upon a serene river. Both of them decided to take bath there at the same time.

There was only 1 tree in sight with only 1 nail on it, where they could hang their clothes. Both the king-saints started bickering over the ownership of that nail.

An old woman came by and said “Look and learn from the two great kings of these nearby kingdoms – they had renounced everything. And here you two fools are fighting over a silly nail!”

It doesn’t matter if one has physical possessions or not.

True renunciation happens only in the mind.

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Food for thought

We feed the birds and the animals near our house every day.

The food is typically some biscuits, seeds, rice or rusks and the like.

Several birds, dogs, cats and squirrels come up for their fill at different times of the day.

Among many things, there is one thing I always admire about them.

No single bird or animal will ever take all of the food we put out for them.

They always leave behind something for the next in line.

They just never hoard.

What do we have to say about us human beings though?

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Lap it all up

We are all multi-billionaires. Yes we are.

In the currency of LAP. Lavish Appreciation and Praise.

Not only do we have this currency in abundance, but we can also summon it at will.

Think back to how amazing you and your day felt when somebody randomly came up to you, and appreciated your work, praised your singing, commended your speech or complimented your looks.

The return on this currency is infinite. Because while it costs nothing, try using this currency on those around you, and see their reactions. You will leave a wonderful and lasting impression.

This currency can win you things that even real money cannot buy. Such as the hearts of people. In fact, you can wrap the whole world around your little finger!

Do try it out. I guarantee that you will be noticed, and you will be remembered. For all the good reasons.

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learn – earn – yearn

In school and college, it was all about:

  1. winning alone
  2. defeating others
  3. getting the best job interviews, and
  4. bagging the highest paid offer

In the workplace, realisation dawns, that life is about:

  1. winning together
  2. working with others
  3. the ‘best’ job being but a mirage in the mind, and
  4. money being there, but yet never enough

We spend the first quarter of our lives learning how to earn a living. Then we spend next two quarters earning that living. And the last quarter, yearning for whatever was left out.

But we never really live, because we are always focused on the ‘me and the my’, instead of the ‘we and the why’.

‘We’ for inclusivity. And ‘why’ for clarity – why do we have so many things, yet feel empty?

In this age of excesses, less is more. And it comes from more austerity, more self-sacrifice and more charity.

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Could it be

Could it be, that we are asked to show devotion to a deity, so that we forget ourselves for a moment?

Could it be, that we are asked to show sympathy to the destitute, so that we forget ourselves for a moment?

Could it be, that we are asked to show gratitude to a benefactor, so that we forget ourselves for a moment?

Could it be, that we are asked to donate to charity, so that we forget ourselves for a moment?

Yes, it could be.

Because spirituality is all about forgetting ourselves to know our true Self.

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A Pyrrhic victory

If only I had some more money. And then I could step of out this rat race, pay off my debt, retire early, move to a cabin by the sea and live the rest of my life.

Don’t we all have such seemingly simple wishes? Just a little more money. Let my bank account touch US$ [xyz] or US$ [abc]. And that will be it.

In 1999, a Texan man named Billy Bob got divorced, was alienated from his kids and subsequently committed suicide.

The reason? Just two years before, Billy had won US$ 31 million at the Lotto Texas jackpot. Things went downhill from there. What a reason to take one’s life – snatching defeat from the apparent jaws of victory itself!

We are quite dismal at predicting our own futures. Yes I want 50 million dollars, but everything comes at a cost. Will I be able to handle that kind of money? Where will I keep it? Will the attitudes of those around me change once I have it? Will my own mind be at peace? Can I sleep at night? Or stay worried about keeping the money safe? Will people target me / my money? Do I really even need that much money?

We need to honestly answer to ourselves – what do we really need and what do we really want.

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The Shift

A peculiar phenomenon happens in India.

Even those one would consider to be from a very weak economic stratum – like drivers, maids, laborers and others – can often be seen donating to charity, in whatever capacity they can. Even if they may be able to save next to nothing for themselves.

It begs the question, what ‘rich’ really means. Is it measured by the size of one’s bank balance? Or by the size of one’s heart?

Our lack of happiness stems only from one thing. Our thinking that who we are, what we are, what we do and what we have, is all but inadequate.

Perhaps it is time to shift the frame of reference.

Instead of comparing what we do not have with others, we could compare everything that we have that others don’t. Such as family, work life balance, kids, friends, a spiritual support group, healthcare, a job, good food and countless other blessings, that others may be willing to give an arm and a leg for.

This shift is not for economic satisfaction. This is just for mental peace. Which should be infinitely more valuable.

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Tipping point

Eating at a crowded restaurant in today’s locked-down world might seem like a distant reality.

However, dining out is one of people’s favorite pastimes. The good food, the beverages, the ambience, the music, the company and the professionalism of the staff – all contribute to the ideal culinary experience.

Imagine you just finished a wonderful meal. You tip the waiter 20% of the bill amount. He frowns, pockets the money, and hurries away. You are left perplexed, and frown in return.

In a parallel universe however, he smiles, bows and thanks you for your generosity. You are happy, and can’t help but feel light-hearted.

Which do you prefer?

We each have the opportunity to make those around us happy.

Not everything needs to be transactionary (quid pro quo).

It is not the circumstances (tip amount) that should define the reaction (frown/smile). Rather, the reaction can be upheld, despite the circumstance.

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The six-pack

Can we have a world with only good and no evil?

Asked another way, if we put only good, kind and loving humans on a new life-supporting planet, would that be an end to all of humanity 2.0’s problems?

Hardly.

The reason? Our minds.

Hindu scriptures characterize the mind as having six enemies viz. lust, anger, delusion, greed, jealousy and pride.

As long as the mind exists, these six villains prevail. Which is why, one needn’t go far in search of trouble – they exist in our own homes, and within ourselves too!

Is the solution then to get rid of the mind? No, that is not pragmatic.

The six enemies spring forth from self-centeredness. Lust is to satiate physical desire. Anger is from unfulfilled desires. Delusion is from self-aggrandizement. Greed and jealousy come from discontentment. Pride showcases a (k)no(w)-it-all, and goes before a fall.

Moving the attention of the mind from ourselves, to the needs of others, can obliterate the six enemies in one fell swoop.

Once these inner enemies are conquered, no outer enemies remain.

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The Balancing Act

Rich industrialist, or poor farmer. We didn’t choose the family we were born into.

It must be pure chance – an arbitrary allocation.

But if so, would we be happy with such a code of justice, when applied to all aspects of our lives? Surely we do not want the results of our hard work to be arbitrarily assigned to someone else.

The ancients teach us, that life works on the principle of karma.

Karma is any (and every) action. Karmic law is action = reaction, i.e. a balance.

The pleasures we enjoy today – good health, a job, business, money, house, family, food, education – did we really do enough in this life itself to deserve any of them?

We are constantly taking. But it is giving that will (begin to) restore the balance.

The best things we can give? Our time, our wisdom (if any!) and our love. And none of them even cost anything 🙂

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