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Category: Giving

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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