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Category: Guru

Mind bound

Remember Mind Bind from just 3 years ago?

The Amritabindu Upanishad which my Guru keeps referencing (because it is so awesome!) says mana-eva kaaranam mokshaaya bandhaaya. The mind alone is the reason, for both liberation and bondage. Said simply, the mind is both the problem, and the solution.

He recently in a talk beautifully added a couple more rhyming words at the end.

mana-eva kaaranam mokshaaya bandhaaya

mana-eva kaaranam dukhaaya sukhhaaya

mana-eva kaaranam maanaaya apamaanaaya

mana-eva kaaranam sarva vishayaaya!

So simply profound!

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Get down

My Guru narrated an outstanding short story on Guru Purnima.

The head of Gita Press likened our lives and creation to that of a vast ocean on which a boat is floating.

We have each been various species of animals and maybe even plants one birth after another. Some 8 million times, maybe more.

Now we’ve finally got a human birth, and are as if on that boat which has come very close to the shore.

If we don’t get off the boat, we will drown, and possibly go back all the way, one specie to another, one birth after another.

All we need to do is to get off the boat. The land is Vaikuntha. We just need to get off. But are we able to?

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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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Thoughtful fears

Fear doesn’t spring from ciscumstances. Rather it comes from our thoughts.

When we are in deep sleep and a tiger is nearby, we may still continue to sleep blissfully.

But if we have heard rumors of a tiger lurking in the area, then we may not be able to sleep peacefully, even when we know that we are within four walls.

When our thoughts move, trying to piece together a future where uncertainty seems apparent, our fear levels begin to rise. In reality, none of these may come to pass, but the only tangible feeling we are left behind with in the here and now is fear.

It is good to know what we are really afraid of. Is it a situation itself? Or the uncertainty surrounding it?

99.99% of the times, we do not know how to tackle uncertainty. And our lifestyles of today, always wanting more and more, and sooner and sooner, only makes things worse. As my Guru often reminds us, living / thriving in uncertainty alone is spirituality.

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Success comes from where? – part 2 of 2

Yesterday was one take on success and with a couple of examples. All good.

But my Guru provided the real secret behind success recently in a short note he had penned. Pasted verbatim below:

There is only one thing that will catapult you to the skies, and that is MAKE OTHER PERSON WIN. Not once or twice, but all the time, even in a dream! But this is very difficult - Why?  Because we are immersed in ourselves. NO HABIT of praising others. We want praise only for ourselves. We need to praise others every moment. 

That’s the true secret!

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Giving up As and Ds

We know this all too well by now. Giving up attachments and desires are the keys to spiritual success.

Which comes first? Perhaps desire is borne of attachment. We see an object (or person) and keep thinking of it, and how it might bring us happiness. This repeated mental attachment leads to us desiring the object or person. If someone else succeeds first, then it leads to envy and potentially anger. If we succeed, then it leads to pride and greed (because we want more!).

So is it the fault of the desired object or person? Absolutely not! Even things that aren’t good can ambush the mind. Alcohol doesn’t taste good, cigarette smoke is suffocating and sugary sweets are the causes for all sorts of maladies, and so it’s not as though it’s the great qualities of these items that causes us to get attached. Rather, it is simply our minds tricking us into thinking that these objects offer us lasting happiness.

Couldn’t be further from the truth of course.

So what is the solution? To desire attachment to the Lord. That’s the only desire and attachment that is “allowed”. Why? Because instead of pandering to the mind, it purifies it!

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Scripted

There are 1000s of videos today on just about any subject. Spirituality included.

So much so that it’s become a money making business for many.

There are 1000s of paths and suggestions and methods and variations and even Gurus.

What is right?

And more importantly, what is right for you and me?

Because one size never fits all.

A live Guru is ideal, and if you found one, you are blessed. That’s the best way to be able to implement what is given in our time-tested scriptures. Without implementation, no amount of reading or watching videos helps.

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Pay up

Many years ago, I was stuck in a bit of a mess.

I had to literally pay to get myself out of it.

This despite me not having done anything wrong.

“Then why should I be the one paying up?”, I thought, irritably.

My Guru said, “You may not have done anything wrong today, but you either did or didn’t do something in the past which could have prevented you from being in this position in the first place. So take responsibility and pay up. Especially if this payment will get you out of your current predicament, what is there to think about?”

Such sage advice, from a sage no less.

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Guru’s grace

There are millions of people who are God fearing.

Many many more who are God loving.

So many of them are immersed in singing His glories.

Whether through bhajans or temple visits.

Ananya bhakti is supreme, without a doubt.

But my Guru says that having true Knowledge from the scriptures is paramount.

Otherwise we will simply be looking to God to fulfil more and more of our desires within this Maya clad world.

There will be no opportunity to break out of it. Hence scriptures, satsang and Guru, are irreplaceable and mandatory.

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Better-est path

Everyone wants to find the best-est path to liberation. They may not want liberation, but it’s sure fun to know what the right, nay, easiest path is.

So people have intense discussions and arguments over whether karma yoga is better or Jnana yoga is better. Or if bhakti yoga is better-est than the others. A few vouch for raja yoga while others say there is nothing better than kriya yoga. Which is truly the best-est path?

In chapter 12 of my Guru’s outstanding Amazing Simple Gita, he writes profoundly thus:

In all paths, our mind needs to be free of thoughts from the world. If our interest is in the world and it's activities, then no path is easy for us.

Clear as a blue sky!

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“Why Me”s

Every obstacle we face in life tends to be associated with a “Why Me?”. Why am I the one to suffer? Why am I not getting a promotion? Why am I not getting as much as money as my peers? Why am I not as good looking as my friends? Why am I not as famous as my batch mates? Why Me only?

There are infinite more such Why Me questions that are possible.

But if we are living decent and comfortable lives today, if we even have a couple of miracles to count, even just the fact that we are alive (because so many babies don’t make it past their first week in this world), then there is only one Why Me question to ask. And that is:

What did I do to deserve my Guru’s grace? Why did my Guru choose me over so many others who have no Gurus and no direction in life? Why does my Guru look at me with so much love and compassion? Why Me?

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Plus minus equal coincidence

Have been reading one interesting book by a Robert Greene called the Laws of Power. In that, he mentions that he trained a young protégé at one point – a Ryan Holiday – to also become an author. All good.

Then in the newspaper today, I saw an op-ed where someone quoted something written by – you guessed it – Ryan Holiday! Nice coincidence.

But that’s not the reason for this post. The newspaper article said Ryan had an interesting learning on “Plus, Minus, Equal”, that a martial arts trainer used.

To become great he says, each fighter needs to have someone better they can learn from, someone lesser who they can teach, and someone equal who they challenge themselves against. So a plus, a minus and an equal.

The unsaid conclusion of this amazing philosophy, is that one is constantly learning, as one is always a student. Even the best of Gurus, have their own Gurus. Humility is key.

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Silly Con

What comes to mind when you think of Silicon Valley?

Surely all sorts of techie stuff like social networks and software companies and VC funded tech startups.

But the Silicon in Silicon Valley refers to not these outcomes, but the basic material that enables all of this insane computing power, ie silicon chips aka semiconductors.

In Spiritual Valley too, there’s a lot of focus on breathing tricks and yogic realms and revelatory chakras and other mystic stuff. I am no one to comment on these, and great people have attained and demonstrated various powers or siddhis.

But my Guru is very clear. It is important to give up attachments and desires of this material world. These are the basic materials of spirituality. In Metallica’s words, Nothing Else Matters.

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Cattywampus

The Cattywampus was one of the fiercest animals to roam the planet during the Ice Age. I’d not heard of it before, but it was an interesting read. There was a professor who taught his students about the now-extinct animal, and also conduct a spot test thereafter, asking various questions such as the Cattywampus’ color, type of fur, size, diet and so on.

Given all the facts were fresh in their minds, every student answered each question exactly as the professor had just taught. Each student expected a nice 10/10 marks.

But they were shocked when they each got a 0 instead. And so they protested.

The professor’s response? “Yes you answered what I taught, but you did not verify if any of it was true. There is no such thing as a Cattywampus, it’s simply a figment of my imagination!”

This story was featured in a 1991 edition of Readers Digest. Pretty cool way to remind us to each ask questions of the things we see around us. Especially on social media, where there is a lot of fake nonsense. Even Arjuna constantly cross-questioned Krishna. There is nothing wrong in the approach, as long as the questioning is not done from arrogance, but rather a desire to learn.

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Teacher taught

Everything we learn in school is usually one-way communication.

Teacher teaches, student learns.

The more knowledge a teacher shares, the more knowledge a student learns.

In spirituality, it is a bit different.

The knowledge is already inside. Locked up and hidden. The teacher aka Guru comes about, and unlocks the hidden knowledge.

But for this, the Guru needs to be allowed near the student. Not necessarily physically, but especially mentally.

If the ego is a big wall, then no one can come near, not the Guru, not even God.

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What to renounce? – part 2

Here are some examples provided by my Guru in the chapter 18 verse 8 purports related to incorrect renunciation, and I’ve paraphrased them, so any inconsistency is purely my error in understanding:

  1. For an agnihotra or fire worshipper, it doesn’t matter how they light the fire – whether by rubbing sticks or by lighting a match. Using an easier way (the matchbox) doesn’t make this wrong. What matters is the worship and mental state during worship.
  2. Wearing skimpy clothes or wearing 9 yards sari – neither is the former a sign of spiritual delinquency nor the latter a sign of spiritual progress. Outer paraphernalia have nothing to do with purity of the mind. “These vast changes in the world are only on account of the Lord’s wish to remove miseries of the oppressed class called women”.
  3. Bringing food for puja, ordering from outside on account of strain cannot entirely be construed as rajasik. If lethargy or wealthy comforts are involved, yes it is rajasik.

Eye opening aren’t these? What then is sattvika renunciation? More tomorrow…

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Fool who?

In chapter 9 of the Gita, Lord Krishna says that fools think he is just a normal human being (having assumed such a form), whereas he is the all-pervading Supreme Being.

My Guru has an amazing purport that immediately follows this.

“Reading the meaning of this verse, we start looking for fools, Ravana etc. among our relatives or friends. No, He is talking about you and me, because it we who have:
1. Vain hopes (that name, fame, wealth will make us happy, finally!)
2. Futile actions, actions without viveka
3. Futile knowledge – any content that takes us away from the Lord”

What clarity!

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Gamechanged

When I was a child, there used to be many Gita chanting competitions. These still happen today as well, but I’m an uncle now ?.

These contests were a struggle, given my memory power and recitation prowess has been weak at best. Other kids would memorize 18 chapters and 700 shlokas and produce them at will, and I used to watch on, stunned.

Years later when I heard my Guru speak, I realized he changed the game completely. He never once asked his satsangis to memorize shlokas or be able to chant them. Never mind the fact that he himself knew the Gita backwards and forwards, with (even today) the ability to pluck any shloka out of thin air, recite it and proceed to give a 2 hour talk on it.

But to his spiritual seekers? His sole focus has been on application of the messages of these shlokas in daily life. It might seem like this is easier than memorizing and chanting, but do try it out and see if that is the case!

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Good to liberate

We should all do good only all the time. Isn’t it?

Yes of course we should, absolutely, what stupid questions I ask sometimes!

But will this doing good always, lead us to moksha or liberation?

Not at all.

Really! But why?

My Guru explains in his Amazing Simple Gita thus:

“Even a million good actions cannot lead one to liberation. Knowledge of Reality, that you are Brahman, and your world is false, is a must. Ignorance of Reality is the cause of the existence of the World.”

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What if I can’t remember the Lord always?

This is a common question every spiritual aspirant gets at some point. Yes, we need to remember the Lord all the time. But when I’m speaking to my friends, browsing Instagram or Facebook, doing my office work, having dinner with family at a restaurant on Friday night, taking the kids to the park, meeting other important deadlines and so on, it’s practically not possible to constantly keep the chanting of the Lord’s name going on in the background. Isn’t it?

So what to do?

Lord Krishna has already addressed this in chapter 12 of the Gita verses 9 to 12. What does he say?

My Guru explains beautifully in his Amazing Simple Gita thus. “Fix the mind and intellect on Him. That’s the goal. Can’t do it? Okay, try next. Practice meditation. Keep practicing. Can’t do this also? No problem, try next. Be intent on working for Him, and you shall attain Perfection. Still difficult? Relinquish fruits of actions in whatever you do, and peace immediately follows.”

The best takeaway from the Gita ever, don’t you agree?

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Road to rationality

There are plenty of miracles that happen in our lives, even if we do not necessarily look at it that way. That we are even alive, on the only blue planet in the universe, spinning at 36 km/s, and yet not leaving anyone dizzy – how did the Creator even come up with all this?

Despite several inexplicables (such as those who pass away in one half of the year will only reach heaven while the others will go to hell) in The Gita chapter 8 verses 26 and 27, my Guru has a brilliant and practical suggestion / solution.

1) One path is that if we are already endowed with strong faith, then there is no problem. We fully side with and believe in what our scriptures tell us, and follow accordingly.

2) The other road is one where some of us might question the logic and rationality of such ‘miracles’ and other spiritual setups. To which Guruji’s point is, “Great, this scepticism is good. Anyway this is all a play of maya only. So the faster one transcends this body-mind complex by working on their spiritual sadhanas, the better it is, because one can then sidestep the need to have blind faith in something that the intellect is unable to grasp.”

Which road would you choose?

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The meaning of Guru’s grace – part 2 of 2

The next line?

Yaha shruti ved kehta, Guru bina gyaan kaisa?

Meaning: our scriptures ask how we can get True Knowledge if there is no Guru

Gyaan bina mukti kaise, aave teri dhyaan mein

Meaning: without That Knowledge, how will you even begin to comprehend liberation?

Krodh kapat tyaag kijiye, sadguru ki seva kijiye

Meaning: give up anger and deceit and focus on serving the Guru

Sadguru ki sharan lijiye, khel yeh maidan mein

Meaning: surrender to your Guru, and continue playing in this game called life.

To me, this bhajan, reflecting the beautiful Guru-shishya relationship is what is true Grace. Are we worthy of it?

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The meaning of Guru’s grace – part 1 of 2

Can’t explain it better than my favorite Guru bhajan, which happens to be in simple Hindi.

Guru brahma roop jaano, shiv ka swaroop maano

Meaning: The Guru is no different from Lord Shiva Himself

Paapse bachaave Guru, Gnaanko sikhaave Guru

Meaning: The Guru is the one who saves us from sins, while also bestowing upon us the True Knowledge (of the Self)

Brahmase milave Guru, Turiya padh gyaan mein

Meaning: The Guru shows us Brahman through experience via the meditative Turiya state

The rest of this brilliant, enchanting yet simple bhajan will be continued tomorrow!

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Water from where?

Imagine you had a bucket of the world’s purest water. Life-giving, disease-healing, magically-energizing water. And then you put just one teenie-weenie drop of toilet water into it. Would you drink this water?

Absolutely not, right?

This is the outstanding example my Guru keeps giving at every opportunity.

He says that all the bad news and bad events in our lives – like someone died, someone fell ill, you lost your job, you didn’t get the promotion or bonus you were looking for, someone spoke something harsh against you and so on and so forth – that all these would take up just maybe a few days of bad feelings at most.

What do we do though? We spend weeks, months, years and sometimes our entire lives in mental anguish, stress, regret, sorrow and worse. In an otherwise perfect life, we have introduced a few drops of toilet water.

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Bhajan shortcut

In chapter 8 of the Gita, Lord Krishna appears to offer a shortcut to reach Him.

He says, that no matter the kind of life one has led (including very sinful), if one remembers the Lord at the time of death, then such a person would definitely reach Him.

Seems easy enough! So one clever chap who had never been even remotely pious or religious or spiritual in his entire 90 year life, decided to utilise this shortcut. His plan? To make sure that on his deathbed, his near and dear ones play some Krishna bhajans, so that automatically he keeps thinking of Krishna.

On the last day/time, he is on his deathbed, and a Krishna bhajan is played. And then another. And another. Our man cannot stand it any longer, all these alien songs, having never listened to any bhajans in his life. “What is this stuff? It’s so boring. Stop it! Can’t you people just let me die in peace?”. They did stop the bhajans being played, and he promptly passed away.

The shortcut in chapter 8 is not a shortcut. It just appears so. In order to remember the Lord at the time of death, it is necessary to remember Him at every waking moment!

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Pottymouth

One guy I came across has a real potty mouth. Not just cuss words or expletives, but even hurtful and derogatory words were common usage for him. You know some folks are just very angry and irritated by everything around them? Yes, this chap was exactly like that.

It so happened, that one of the times very recently, he shouted at someone for their tardiness, only to realize that the other person had just lost a parent, which was the reason for the delay in the first place.

And then this pottymouth fellow felt really bad, that he gave that poor fellow a tough time, when he was already grieving over the loss of his closest one. What to do now? Because no amounts of sorrys would offer reprieve. “I wish I had been nicer to him on that day”, he said.

But no, that’s not how this works. You cannot pick and choose the time to be a nice person or a bad person. Good and bad are ingrained into our psyche, assuming we are normal people. That’s why my Guru says we need to transform our thinking, our lives in totality, and not just chase after temporary solutions.

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Peace of mind

We are constantly worrying about the future, aren’t we?

How will I perform in a new job? How will I perform in a new family setup? How will my kids do? Will my family be able to cope? Will I be able to deliver my presentation well? Will I be able to get a promotion? Will I clear my impending exams and certifications? Will I be accepted by my peers and colleagues? Will I be able to provide for my family?

And on and on and on these questions go, with hardly any clarity.

And to make matters worse, with each passing day, more and more questions only keep getting added on to the pile.

Then how to get rid of these?

You can’t. That’s the simple answer.

The solution? To keep the mind occupied elsewhere. That’s the only way. I observe this in my Guru. Nearing 80 years of age, he spends not even one waking minute in isolation, thinking and wondering about the future, but is instead always engaged in karma yoga, action here and now. We just need to imitate.

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Scare tactics

My Guru has this very funny joke.

He says that if you don’t like someone for whatever reason, and want to get rid of them, then what is a foolproof way?

  1. just invite that person home for a satsang, and give them a copy of some scriptural book.

    It is quite likely that that person will never come back again.

    And if they do…
  2. Pick up another copy of the same scripture you gave them, and ask them if they read chapter 5 or 6 or whichever.

    That’s a foolproof way right there – so much fun even in spirituality!

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Prayers don’t work – part 2 of 2

Okay, time for the big reveal!

What 5.14 is saying, is that the Lord doesn’t interfere in our karmic world, or our actions and reactions. However, this “Lord”, is nirguna (no gunas, i.e. no qualities), the formless nameless substratum of all existence, aka Brahman, Paramatman etc.

The prayers we offer however, are not to this nirguna Lord, but to the so-called ‘lower’ deities. These deities like Hanuman or Ganesha or Shiva and so on are all part of the same formless “Lord”, but they had also taken up specific forms for specific purposes in this world. It is believed they still exist, albeit in an astral body / energy form, and that is why we pray to these deities for various reasons. Like to Ganesha to get rid of obstacles, to Hanuman for victory and fearlessness and so on.

There are also various rules that have been codified. Such as if there is a 5-syllable mantra like Na-mah-shi-vaa-yah, and it is chanted 5-lakh times with faith and devotion, then the deity will manifest. These rules are all created by the Original Creator aka the nirguna Lord, but he does not participate in them. Neither are we praying to him, because he can’t be encapsulated, not even in words!

This is why my Guru’s trick-question is such an outstanding one.

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Prayers don’t work – part 1 of 2

In verse 5.14 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that the Lord does not interfere in the karma of anyone. That nature alone functions.

Many years ago, my Guru threw this to me as a brainteaser. He asked, “When the Lord is so clear that there is zero interference, and that we each sow what we reap, then why do we pray?”

The answers to this confounding question often go something like, “We pray so that we ask for more faith, more strength, more spiritual awakening etc. etc.”, primarily in an attempt to tie it away from material matters.

However, even these don’t answer it fully, because the Lord says he doesn’t interfere at all, no matter whether for infusing money into our pockets or more faith in our hearts!

What could the answer be then? Revealed tomorrow, after you’ve had the chance to give it some more thought 🙂

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Slippery guidance

On a recent snow trek, we decided to engage a guide. Neither were we good trekkers, nor were we accustomed to the snow. Surely having a guide would be paramount?

The first thing he told us was to change into rubber boots, which he helpfully provided. And then we proceeded to climb.

En route, we saw a group of fellows creating quite the racket. They neither seemed interested in the abounding natural beauty, nor were they dressed for it. They wore slippers or sneakers (on a snow trek!), and our guide mentioned to us that these guys were going to face problems especially on their descent. We watched as the tumbled many a time, not just hurting themselves, but also endangering others.

The path itself was narrow, and given heaps of snow, losing direction was a real risk. No problem with a guide, but a few who were attempting to save a few bucks also found themselves lost.

Krishna says in the Gita that spirituality and the material world is like a forest. One needs a guide (aka Guru) to deliver them to the destination. Great advice.

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White hair

Everyone detests white hair right?

It’s the surest sign of aging, and of course no one wants to grow old.

I got my first white hair pretty early on, and it’s not like we have a choice in this anyway.

But there’s youngsters on social media who actually color their hair white. Apparently it is a fad, a new style trend. It’s odd seeing these people, such young faces coupled with old-people hair.

An ex-boss of mine once told me that white hair is a good thing. Why? Because in business settings, the other person tends to take you more seriously. Would you believe a 50 year old CEO or a 20 year old one? No matter what their actual capabilities are, the mind would naturally gravitate towards the one with white hair.

Lastly, whenever my Guru used to have some outstanding insights on anything, and would see the stunned look on my face, he would casually remark, “the hair on my head has turned white for a reason…”

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Kids on the wall

The Ukrainian President Mr. Zelensky is being celebrated world over for his bravery and selflessness. No one knows what will happen in this terrible ongoing onslaught, but I wish there could be peace instead of war. Just imagine, we are in the year 2022, with mind boggling advancements and comforts in nearly every conceivable sphere, and yet what we see is only more greed and more desire for power.

Mr. Zelensky, when he was elected in 2019, apparently said in his speech, that he didn’t want his photos put up in the offices. “The President is not an icon, an idol or a portrait. Hang photos of your kids instead… “

Just for suspense, I’m not completing the last sentence.

My Guru used to give the following advice to parents, “Stop hanging photos of your kids on your walls at home. Because your kids will start believing that they are the centers of attention, that they are being worshipped in the house. Hang photos of Gods/deities instead.”

Is this contradictory? No no, of course not. Here is Mr. Zelensky’s full sentence. “Hang photos of your kids instead, so that you see their faces each time before you make an important decision (so that you do no wrong).”

My Guru’s tactic was aimed at the kids, while Mr. Zelensky’s message was for the adults.

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Humanize and divinize – part 3 of 3

We discussed two key practically implementable things over the last two days:

  1. Humanize the divine
  2. Divinize the mundane

The concluding masterstroke here, is that there is only one point where both of these intersect and juxtapose.

That sacred point, is the Guru.

Finding it difficult to speak to an idol on your altar because he doesn’t talk back? No worries, because the Guru is a living idol.

The Guru is also the mundane like us, flesh and blood, a part of the elements. And hence divinizing him, to Him, is only a shift in mindset.

In the Guru, humanity = divinity.

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Humanize and divinize – part 2 of 3

Why should we not cut down trees? Because trees give us oxygen, and we need oxygen to survive.

This is a practical view, and a correct one. But it is not the only one. Followers of Sanatana Dharma worship trees as Gods. This will lead them to question a thousand times before cutting a tree down.

Why? Because this is not just a tree anymore, but a manifestation of the Lord.

And if the tree indeed needs to be cut down? Then we could try to contribute more than we consume.

Imagine if we could do this in every walk of life. The fundamental attitude towards the world itself changes. To one of divinizing everything in the world. Every interaction with it is a God given gift, and an opportunity.

Wouldn’t that be awesome? For sure. But there is something even more awesome. Concluded tomorrow…

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Humanize and divinize – part 1 of 3

In chapter 4 of the Gita, Arjuna asks the Lord, “Hey Krishna, how come you revealed this secret of creation and yoga to the Sun God many aeons back, when you were just born a few years ago? Something doesn’t add up.”

And then Krishna tells Arjuna about reincarnation, and the many births they took before.

Hard to wrap our heads around this concept because there appears to be so little proof. And we don’t remember our past lives either (thankfully so!). The forgetful person that I am, I actually don’t remember much about my current life as well 🙂

In any case, if the Lord has been taking so many births aka avatars, there is something human about Him. Why is he easier to worship as Krishna, and not as some formless being? Because that is how we are able to empathise with Him.

My Guru has a way for this. He says we should constantly be having a conversation with the Lord. Even if it is only one-way. But keep Him updated of all the goings-on in our lives. That will change nothing for Him. But humanizing Him will strengthen our faith.

What about divinizing? Coming tomorrow…

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Removing corruption

“How can we get rid of corruption, and how can I prevent myself from becoming more corrupt, as I earn more money?”, was the question asked by a disciple to Sadhguru. I listened to this on a podcast, and found the answer enlightening.

Power corrupts. Isn’t this the famous statement we have all heard so many times? And we look nastily at bureaucrats and politicians as if they are solely to blame. Maybe some of them are, who knows.

However, Sadhguru’s take is different. What does he say?

That people are either corrupt, or not corrupt. It has nothing to do with power. How so?

He links this back to spirituality. Our corruption starts from the moment we identify with ourselves. Not just ourselves, but only ourselves. Because that means we favour only us over someone else. This is the seeds of corruption being sown right there. And then, we get married, have kids, have a large family to take care of and so on. Which means only one thing. More corruption.

The way out? To stop being so self-centered, and to be a citizen of the world. That’s why my Guru doesn’t pray for small small things anymore. His only objects of prayer? Desh (country) and dharma.

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5 point program

In chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna provides an interesting break-up of karma yoga.

This comes in verse 30. Here is how we could break it down for daily application:

1. “Renounce everything to the Lord” = make spirituality a priority in life, which will make life peaceful and content. Let it not just be a 5 minute activity, but the substratum of every waking moment.

2. “Quality matters” = Work in the best way possible; treating it like worship, with the knowledge that this is the highest offering there is. The benefit? We wont slack off or cut corners, irrespective of whether someone is inspecting or not.

3. Niraashi = no aasha, no expectation or hope of a specific outcome = receive the result with grace.

4. Nirmama = no mamakaar = no ‘i’ness = work with the attitude of custodianship; i.e. none of my achievements are possible without the support of those around me.

5. vigata-jJwara = “without fever” = this is not body temperature, but the fever of the mind, i.e. stress and anxiety, which can be eradicated if the above points are followed.

Such a nice and implementable way to live, isn’t it?

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Can we give up desires?

A tough aspect of spirituality is not in reading what is said, but in actually understanding and implementing it.

For instance, Lord Krishna in the Gita often asks Arjuna to give up desires.

Is this practical? If I give up all my desires, I wouldn’t even be able to get up from my bed on a Sunday, let alone on a Monday morning!

Maybe there is something deeper and subtler. This is my Guru’s amazing interpretation.

When Krishna says ‘give up desires’, he actually means ‘give up the cravings in your mind’. Having dharmic desires is fine, but it is critical to cut the umbilical cord between desire and happiness.

Our happiness is always linked to the fulfilment of desires. “Think of a time when you were happy” tends to be accomplishments like “when I won the game, or topped the class, or got married, or had kids, or got promoted”.

But what if everything we did, could start from happiness, rather than end in it? This is possible, and it (too) starts with gratitude.

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Are you a leader? – part 2 of 2

As a leader, what is expected of us? In verse 21 of chapter 3 of the Gita, Lord Krishna says the following.

"Whatever a great man does, other men also do. Whichever standard he sets, the world follows it."

This is a very interesting shloka, and it seems like a motivational quote for one’s goal setting, doesn’t it? We should all have great goals, be great leaders, so that people follow in our footsteps. But that’s not all.

Krishna in this verse is also talking about Himself. Is he subjected to the same rules? He says he is! Isn’t He also constantly working to keep the universe running? Brahma creating, Vishnu sustaining, Shiva destroying, in a sense?

My Guru would be another example – an already-realized soul, but why is he working so hard? Why would he need to do aarti thrice a day? Why would he choose to live his life in a rural setting to help educate the poor? Why would he need to wake up at 5 am daily to do yoga? Why does he work 7 days a week 365 days a year?

Because as Krishna says, “whatever a great man does, other men also do. Whichever standard he sets, the world follows it.” What are each one of us doing? What are we striving to achieve? It is a question we need to answers for ourselves, and honestly.

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Great falls

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh my I

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

The ego needs to be defined to be understood.

What is this ego? Simple.

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

You can easily add another hundred more to such expressions.

As you can see, so much I and my.

My goals...

Might be a good reminder to finish the target, or maybe obliterate it.
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Mentorship

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

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

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

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

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

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Chosen two

In a satsang session a few years ago, my Guru was asked to do a quick recap of the entire Gita.

What better way, than to do it in just 4 minutes? Wow a 4-minute Gita!

He recited 1 shloka per chapter, so 18 chapters, 18 shlokas, with their meanings and application, and all extempore. It was truly a sight to behold.

For only the 2nd chapter, he recited not one, but two shlokas. 2.71 and 2.72.

To say he thinks these are important shlokas would be a massive understatement.

2.71 is vihaaya kaamaanya sarvaan. Vihaaya is giving up, kaamaan is desires, sarvaan is all. And then he recited is backwards. Sarvaan kaamaan vihaaya – All desires give up.

2.72 is similar, stating that one who achieves such state of mind, achieves liberation even at the time of death.

Each chapter has only 1 shloka that he picked. But chapter 2 alone had two. Is it important? Yes, twice as important.

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Nimittas – part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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L_t o_h_r p_r_o_ w_n

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

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

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

Here are his words:

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

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

Yes every nano-second!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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G for …

Who is greater? God or Guru?

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

Which is correct?

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

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

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

Such a profound couplet!

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Confusion, instruction, disciple-tion

Shloka 2.7 in the Gita is a landmark one. Arjuna says, “I’m confused as to my duty. Please instruct me, I’m your disciple.”

There could be so many learnings from this. Here are a few:

  1. Arjuna is confused, after a life full of preparation for this very war. And confusion is alright, especially for mere mortals like us. As long as we understand that we are confused, and are ready to seek help. (More on this, tomorrow)
  2. Humility – on Krishna’s part. He is omniscient, yet never interrupts Arjuna’s lamentation. He never utters a word even, until he is asked for advice. Most people today, with far lesser achievements than Krishna, start spewing solutions without even knowing what the problem is.
  3. Asking for instructions, and to be taken as a disciple, probably means that Arjuna exhausted all of his options. He realized there was no way he was going to arrive at a solution on his own.
  4. The word used here is ‘instruct’. Not ‘advice’ or ‘help’. Advice is surely given for free these days. But this ‘instruction’? It will have to come with clear guidance – a plan, here is step 1, step 2, step 3.
  5. Arjuna is asking Krishna only for instruction. He is not asking for Krishna to magically make this all go away. Arjuna knows that each step needs to be implemented by he himself. No way out. This work cannot be outsourced to a backoffice.
  6. There is also no doubt that Arjuna has about the quality of his teacher – he knows he’s got the best. Just like a Guru. But no, Krishna is a God, isn’t he? How can a Guru be a God? Guru is God only. The difference is only in the eye of the beholder.
  7. Arjuna is clear he wants to be Krishna’s disciple. Not his childhood friend, not his cousin, not his colleague, not his commanding officer as Krishna was only his charioteer. Nope, he had full faith. And that right there was his foundation for success.

Concluded tomorrow!

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Health mantra

A new book I came across recently is called ‘Your time to Thrive’. No points for guessing that it’s a self-help book.

I haven’t read it, and I don’t plan to. Not that the book isn’t good, it’s got rave reviews. But what’s the point of reading all these self-help books if the application in real life (for me) post reading is non-existent?

In any case, most books these days have just one central element, around which 400 pages is spun. This book has something called ‘microsteps’. If anything is scaring your pants off, then don’t try to do it all at once. Do it in, you guessed it, microsteps. If anything seems too hard or daunting, don’t try to achieve it all at once. Achieve it in, you guessed it again, microsteps!

My Guru has been summing this up for decades. “5 minutes early, and 1 spoon less”. This is his golden health mantra. Wake up 5 minutes early, not 2 hours early, i.e. don’t try to wake up at 5 am if you usually wake up at 7. Eventually even the 5 am wake-up would become easy-peasy. And eat 1 spoon less, rather than starve / fad-diet your way to depression.

One microstep after another.

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Astral planes – part 3

  1. What then, about the patal lok, narak lok, various layers of hell, lower worlds, upper worlds, 14 worlds etc.? Maybe they exist, we can never know for sure. But for sure these are all also states of mind. When something nice happens, we are quickly transported to cloud 9, while we would like nothing more than to bury ourselves deep underground if we encounter failure.
  2. Even heaven is said to have an end date. To get moksha, our scriptures tell us we need to come back to human form, so we will have to leave heaven and thus: end date.
  3. Heaven is the greatest place ever no? But then even Indra, the king of heaven, is not one person, but just a position. There are stories of millions like him who have come and gone. So is heaven really the place of all awesomeness that we are thinking of?
  4. Even in said perfect heaven, there will be jealousy and promotions and favourites no? Because not all citizens of heaven are Indra or his consort. There will be people who work for them, and those who work for them and so on. Is it logically possible for everyone in heaven to be always happy? Then is this really a heaven?
  5. My Guruji’s point is very clear. We have to go beyond all this heaven/hell/duality/dwandvas. Krishna is very clear too, that if dwandvas exists, then there is no moksha there.
  6. The very fact that heaven and hell might exist at opposite ends of the spectrum means that dwandvas exists.
  7. The ‘desire’ to get the answer to such questions on astral planes is also a form of desire only. The ‘attachment’ to this very body, and to think whether this astral body will enjoy/struggle in heave/hell, that is also attachment only. So Guruji says we need to break out of the shackles of all our desires and attachments, as this is the only way to break out of this cycle of samsara.

Your thoughts please?

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Hair pulling

A very chubby baby I came across recently had the cutest baby laugh. Gurgling and chirping, it was just a joy to be around. Except when it would pull its own hair. Babies, as we know, do funny things sometimes. They don’t know the exact cause of pain, and because they tend to be fairly (very) uncoordinated, pulling their own hair with one hand satisfies the requirement of the hand to grab onto something. But it also simultaneously causes immense pain.

Now what to do? The only way is for the baby to leave its own hair alone. Even it’s parents can’t do anything at that point, because the grip of the baby is too tight. But it’s a matter of time, and the baby loosens the grip on its own.

Such is also our plight often in life. By keeping gargantuan expectations, we often invite misfortune into our lives. This self-inflicted pain is no different from the baby pulling its hair. And these expectations are not just milestones in professional setups, “achieve sales of x%”, or “drive costs down by y%”, but also expectations related to when happiness should be allowed to flow. It’s almost like we have a stop button inside us. “No, today I have a lot of work, and hence I will not smile even once.” Surely I’m guilty of that many times!

Taking myself too seriously can only end badly. It’s better to be sincere, than serious. As Swami Paramarthananda says, the disciple needs to first identify that a problem exists (with themselves). The Guru thereafter, needs to not only know the remedy, but also be free of the problem!

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Role reversal

Arjuna in the Mahabharata underwent a role reversal. He spent years and years training and performing as one of the greatest archers / warriors that ever lived. But on the day of the Kurukshetra battle, he underwent an unexpected role change.

He saw no foes or enemies, only brothers and uncles and teacher.

He was suddenly not a warrior on that battlefield, but only a family man. Can a doctor perform a high risk surgery successfully on his own child? Very difficult. Why? Because he has entered he operating theatre less as a doctor and more as a father. Can we clinch a business deal if we are constantly thinking about being with family or vacationing?

The pangs of attachment begin to play on the mind, leading to what Arjuna faced as well – delusion.

What is the solution? Before solution, must come acknowledgement of the problem. One the problem is located, the resolver is the Guru. But the resolution happens, only if the ego is surrendered to him.

As Swami Paramarthananda says, the disciple needs to first identify that a problem exists. And then the Guru needs to not only know the remedy, but also be free of the problem!

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Tough life

When life gets tough, we often just want to kick it all off and take a break. But few have this luxury. Here are some things we can do irrespective of whether life has gotten tough or not. It’s hard to practise, but this is what great and successful people have advised and continue to advise.

  1. Smile. That’s it. Easy peasy. But can we smile when we know the world around us seems to be falling apart? And “falling apart” is really taking things to the extreme. Often times it is just one of our life-long dreams hitting a minor speedbump. Many times even smaller and more inconsequential, but which we love to focus on and exaggerate.
  2. Don’t complain. As they say, “Don’t tell people about your problems, because 80% of the people don’t care and the rest 20% are happy you have them!”
  3. Learn. All of life is about growing and becoming better. One day at a time. If we can’t learn from our or other people’s experiences aka failures, then those would only be wasted opportunities.
  4. Give back. Living life for ourselves alone is a huge huge huge burden. But living for improving the life of others, for the country, for the world? While the tasks may be harder, the selfless nature of the assignment will make the burden feel weightless.
  5. ABCs. Attitude, Behaviour, Character – this is what differentiates the best from the also-rans.

Finally, as Guruji always says, modern education and material comparisons can only help us in the material world. But the material world is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Our ultimate goal as human beings should be moksha, i.e. realizing our true nature is not of the body but of the Soul.

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First who, then what

Much of the work in the world is focused on answering the “what”s. What is the solution to this problem? What is the workaround here? What should be my position on this issue? What should I tell him or her? What should I expect from this project? What is our vision? What is the outcome of this strategy? What, what, what, what … that is what is everywhere.

However, the really successful people (think billionaires), they don’t care much about the ‘what’. They only care about the ‘who’. They know there’s a problem. But they also know they cannot solve all the problems in the world on their own. They know that the most optimal use of their time is to get the best person to solve that problem. Who do they want to work with? Who do they like? Who knows this job the best? Who is the one who’ll do this with the least fuss? That’s the important question – it’s always about the who. If the ‘who’ is taken care of, the ‘what’ will sort itself out. If the driver is good, then one needn’t worry about the car heading in the wrong direction.

Similar for spirituality as well. We are often focused on the what. What shlokas should I chant? What mantras work best? What meditation mat should I buy? What scriptures should I read? What seva should I do? What satsang should I join? So many whats.

But all we need, is one who. Who is the right person to answer all these questions? The answer is only one. The Guru. Once that answer is fixed, then all we need to do is to follow his advice. All problems solved.

500th post today by the way. Thank you for reading, and being part of this journey of joint transformation! 🙂

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Ready for battle

Here’s what my Guru says. Imagine you had the world’s best army.

It can achieve anything.

No task is insurmountable for this army.

100 billion in this army. And another 90 trillion. And another 27 trillion.

Yes that’s how awesome this army is. Imagine the scale and the power!

And you really do have this army – it’s no joke.

100 billion brain cells. 90 trillion body cells. 27 trillion hormones. It’s there in each and every one of us.

Are we making the most of it though?

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Devil in the details – part 3

In the superb Hollywood TV show called Lucifer, the (very funny and likeable) Devil himself, walks around Los Angeles in the garb of a human being. He never lies, and in fact goes around announcing to everyone who comes and goes in his life that he is none other than the ruler of Hell. But where are the horns? And the red tail? And the Devil doesn’t wear expensive designer suits now does he? Despite him telling the truth to everyone, no one believes him, and so it really is never a problem for him.

That’s in the reel world, but here’s a parallel in the real/spiritual world as well. Most spiritual seekers are looking for something to ‘happen’ to them. Like in comic books when they show the Buddha was enlightened, they show a halo around his head. So seekers expect they too will see light, or hear some messages from the air, or experience some otherworldly mystical phenomena.

But what if there is really nothing more to spirituality than simply watching your thoughts and actions in an unbiased and detached manner? It doesn’t mean that miraculous inexplicable things can’t or don’t happen. But that is maybe something else? Many spiritual greats forewarn seekers to not be swayed by anything cool they come across on their paths – power et al – as those may be mere distractions. As my Guru repeatedly says, the only thing that is required for spiritual progress is to drop one’s desires and attachments, and turn the mind inward aka toward God. It sounds simple, but its certainly not easy (to do, or to believe, à la Luci).

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Humble prostrations

Here’s how my Guru began his address to the satsangis this year during Guru Purnima.

He called out a variety of different Gurus across all sorts of sects. He mentally and verbally prostrated before all the great Gurus of yesteryear and now.

He paid obeisance to all the great rishis and munis and saints of the past. He also prostrated to Swami Chinmayananda, Srila Prabhupad, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Sadhguru, Sathya Sai, Shirdi Sai and all the other divine personalities. He also said we are prostrating daily to them. Not just to them, but also to their followers!

My Guru is 80+ years of age. He need not prostrate to anyone. But a self-realized soul understands that the age of the body is irrelevant, and that at our cores, we are all divine, and that there really is no difference. I’ve seen him physically fall at the feet of those who are much younger than him as well.

His prayer on Guru Purnima day was not for himself. Rather it was that we must all understand this divine unity within us, and love each other. And that the love must begin from each one of us, and spread outward. What humility, and what a thought!

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Regressive development

When a realized soul says, “What is the use of education? What is the use of all this advancement and technology? These are all meaningless in the quest to quell the mind.”, it certainly raises some eyebrows. In this day and age of amazing technology, how can someone denounce these life-savers? “I can’t even sit in a room alone for 5 minutes without my phone – God bless the one who invented it”, would seem a reasonable response.

Maybe a slight shift in perspective would help see the world from the eyes of a jivanmukta. Indeed, to live in today’s world as it is, technology and education are important. But what if this world wasn’t the way it is?

If we went back to the olden times, there were no TVs, no cars, no ACs. But them folks still survived, relying on the outdoors and social gatherings. There were no mobile phones, even for long distance calls, but then there really wasn’t any need for going long distance. All needs were met within the village area. Yes trade and commerce and what not helped ‘develop and civilize’ humans, but was that really necessary? All industrial and technology improvements are supposed to have made our lives more efficient, but here we are, more stressed, more depressed and more anxious than ever before. And the great advances in medicine are now mainly to treat cool-sounding “lifestyle diseases”, which probably wouldn’t have arrived if man didn’t venture beyond his means.

This is probably what the self-realized folks really suggest. If all the technology and modernization and education ultimately leads to a worse life than before, then of what good is all this so-called progress?

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From raags to riches

Raaga in sankrit refers to attachment. This attachment is considered to be one of the greatest barriers to spiritual evolution. Why so? Because if we are attached to our own body, our own families, our own this and that, then there is no scope for appreciating the one true Consciousness, which is everywhere at once.

The requirement then is to get rid of this raaga. This is called vairaagya or detachment. Defining it is easy, but actually living it is nearly impossible. Just play with a cute baby for a few hours, and you’ll find yourself attached, and thinking of the baby many times a day “Oh so cute!”.

As my Guru recently commented:

  1. Bhakti or devotion, means inseparable pain when away from the Lord. Which them implies needing to give up everything else, i.e. devotion begins when raaga ends.
  2. Parents believe that giving their children a lot of wealth would tantamount to their welfare. But no, their welfare is in their vairagya or detachment to the wealth.
  3. Someone did something bad to you. That is over. Now forget about it. Don’t replay it a 100 times for 100 years. If we are mentally at peace, then vairagya becomes easy.
  4. Supremely detached fellow is giving hundreds of thousands to charitable organizations but is fighting for a few rupees with the roadside vegetable vendor.

All worth pondering over deeply.

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Pretty girl

On the theory of relativity, Einstein once said “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.”

And so time is a matter of perspective. We often hate office and work, but love vacations. It might seem like the 12 hours we spend a day at work just drags on forever, while the 24 hours in a vacation goes off in a jiffy.

Satsangs are similar too. At times, they may feel boring. Almost like we have heard the same things (messages, quotes, stories) over and over again. And to find even that 1 hour a week would be the hardest thing in the world. Why waste an hour when we can do something else – like catch a movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

If we have spent countless births stuck in Maya, the thought to ponder over is, will just an hour a week suffice, to get us out of it? We will have to fall in love with satsang, just like Einstein’s pretty girl, if we wish to make tangible progress. Eventually, every waking minute will become a satsang, just like a Guru’s life.

As Guruji says, satsang is the most noble place, because it is a zero-liabilities place. There are no downsides to satsang, only humongous benefits.

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Qarm& yogA – part 2

The Q&A on karma yoga concludes today.

Question 4 – If there are no qualifications needed, then what is my duty exactly? Because the grass always seems greener elsewhere (ie other’s duties seem better).
Answer to that is verse 35. Whatever you are doing now, that is your duty. If you are speaking in the satsang that is your duty. If you are driving your car that is your duty. Also, our ultimate duty we need to remember, is to attain the Happiness within and eventually enable everyone around us to access it, just like Guruji does. As Krishna says in the 18th chapter, the one who teaches His messages is dearest to Him.

Question 5 – Now that we know our duty, while doing it, how should it be performed?
Answer to that is verse 25 – Selfless work – always working for the welfare of the world. No “what’s in it for me”?

Question 6 – How to work without expecting a result? Should I not be aiming for a goal/target/promotion?
Answer is that there is a difference between goals and results. The Guru says by all means have a goal and work hard towards it, but do not dwell on the result. The distinction is subliminal, yet key.

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Qarm& yogA

Chapter 3 in the Gita is all about karma yoga. Here’s my quick 2-part Q&A on this outstandingly practical chapter.

Question 1 – The Lord says that ‘knowledge’ is superior to ‘action’. Should I not then go in search of ‘knowledge’ first?
Answer to that is verse 3 – two paths are given by Lord K – one jnaana yoga, other karma yoga. If the mind is pure, then jnaana yoga is fine. But if we are not ready for it, and still have desires and attachments, then action is the only alternative. But the same goal can reached, irrespective of the path – knowledge or action.

Question 2 – When we feel hopeless and helpless sometimes, and become fatalistic, because “in the long run, we are all dead anyway” – then why should I do any work/action at all?
Answer to that is verse 8 – action is superior to inaction. Through inaction, one cannot even maintain one’s own body.

Question 3 – What qualifications do I need? Do I need to be a doctor, lawyer, MBA for karma yoga?
Answer to that is verse 19, purport 2 – also the favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, and which Guruji has also put onto the back cover of his Amazing Simple Gita. “No qualifications needed.”

Intrigued? Continued tomorrow…

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Substantial

My Guru was giving a discourse on the Bhagavatam recently. In that, sage Narada happens to be traveling and reaches the world in its current state, i.e. Kali yuga. What is the sum and substance of this age? That the substance has gone from everything. The Guru explained it beautifully thus.

The ‘substance’ has gone means the ‘purpose’ has gone.

Means people are not putting their hearts and souls into what they are doing. There is no love and enjoyment for work. There is no attention to work.

Not just office work. But to most actions.

If one is going to a temple to pray, the substance is lost, because the mind is not on the Lord, but on what we want from the Lord.

How profound! An important message for me, especially on this auspicious day of Guru Purnima. All glories to Him!

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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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Blinded by

There is a medical condition called Anton’s Blindness. It is a real thing. But those affected by it, do not believe it. They think they can see perfectly well. But they cannot, and so when they walk or move around, they bump into objects they cannot see and often hurt themselves.

This sounds exactly like what my Guru would think of me. “Blind fellow, bumping around in the world from one problem to another, and constantly hurting himself. If only he would accept that he doesn’t see the Truth. The Real Truth. That Consciousness that powers everything. And then this acceptance may bring him some solutions. But alas. He is blinded by ignorance, anger, jealousy, greed – you name it. And he seems to enjoy this state of blindness too. What a pity.”

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Angrrr – part 6

Okay okay, last one on anger, I promise! Thought it would be good to round it up with what Thiruvalluvar says about this subject in his Kurals.

A few gems are below:

  1. From anger is born all evil.
  2. Everyone knows that it is bad for oneself to lose temper in dealing with superiors. But where anger is directed against persons in one’s power, it is the worst of all offences.
  3. Where anger may or may not hurt the other party, it simply causes pain to oneself.
  4. Can there be any greater enemy to mankind than anger – which kills laughter and joy (which indeed are the greatest blessings on earth?)

Bonus tips from my Guru on how to overcome anger:
1. Visualize that you are anger-free, say 2 years from now. Keep visualizing and living that image.
2. Pray, for the person you are angry with. Keep their photo on your altar. This is about changing yourself and your emotions and perception, not the other person.

Radical? 🙂

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Angrrr – part 4

The Gita has two shlokas in chapter 2, viz 2.62 and 2.63 which are known as anger management shlokas.

2.62 states “The wo/man dwelling on sense objects, develops attachment. From attachment springs desire, and from desire (unfulfilled), anger.”

How amazing is this? A step by step deconstruction of anger.

2.63 states “From anger arises delusion, from delusion comes confusion of memory, from that loss of reason, then complete ruin.”

Here’s how my Guru has summarized this in his Amazing Simple Gita purport. “With thoughts come desires. with unfulfilled desire anger ensures, eventually ruin.”

Let’s consider this outstanding perspective. If someone gets angry at us (like a superior at work, or a family member), we think the world has come to an end for us, and that we are scarred for life. But no – the Gita says here that the person who gets angry is the one that will face eventual ruin! So should we really be thinking about what somebody many years ago told us in a fit of rage? Why re-live those bygone words and days today and everyday over and over again? As long as we ourselves do not get angry, we are golden. That should be our goal.

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Middleman

There are so many messengers. So many intermediaries. So many so-called postmen.

Take the case of a delivery person from Dominos, Swiggy, Zomato or Grab. They take food from restaurant A to person A, and then restaurant B to person B and then restaurant C to person C. They carry the food with them, piping hot, tasty pizza, or lovely creamy pasta, or some tantalizingly cold ice cream sundaes. So yummy for the tummy. However, it is not for his tummy – for he is only the carrier, the messenger.

The same goes for a postman. He can carry letters of love and romance and adventure and delight. But none of them are addressed to him.

Likewise for the private secretaries of the king or queen. They may know all the intricate details, but cannot truly experience what their masters revel in.

This is the case for every single messenger there is – whether at home or at work or in politics or in society.

But there is one exception. And that is the Guru. He is the messenger of God, yes. But he is also completely dunked in the Bliss that is Consciousness, and therefore that makes him simultaneously both God and Carrier. Teacher and Creator. The Guru is the only one, who delivers the package as brand new, well after enjoying its contents. If such a messenger exists in our lives, we would do well to take in his message.

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Attitude platitude – part 4

My Guru’s brilliant notes on the ‘importance of right attitude’, continues and concludes below:

5. Start the day and end the day with positive input into your mind. Inspirational messages cause the brain to flood with dopamine and norepinephrine, the energizing neurotransmitters; with endorphins - the endurance neurotransmitters; and with serotonin, the feel-good-about-yourself neurotransmitter.

6. Begin and end the day by reading or doing something positive.

7. Remember, success is a process, not an event.

8. Invest your time in your attitude, and it will pay off in your skills as well as your career. Think about it...

What a brilliant note written by the Guru isn’t it? We are all hankering after skills. But hankering after the ‘right attitude’ instead will in turn bring skills, luck, success, fame, fortune and whatever else one desires!

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Attitude platitude – part 3

Continuing again, my Guru’s typewritten message on the importance of the right attitude.

3. Read something informational or inspirational every day. Reading for 20 minutes at just 240 words per minute will enable you to read twenty 200-page books each year. That is 18 more than what the average person reads! What an enormous competitive advantage ... if you'll just read for 20 minutes a day.

4. The University of Southern California reveals that you can acquire the equivalent of two years of a college education in three years just by listening to motivating and educational cassettes on your way to your job, and again on the way home. What could be easier?

A 2021 reference for point 4 above – we can replace ‘cassettes’ with ‘podcasts’. Many are yet to discover the amazing power of podcasts – but all you need to do is download any podcast player app from your app-store, and then search for and add your favourite channels / topics. It is like having the most successful people on earth talking to you in your ear, as you go about doing your housework or other activities.

Sorry for the digression. Continued (and concluded) tomorrow…

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Attitude platitude – part 2

Continuing from yesterday, my Guru’s typewritten message on the importance of the right attitude.

Perhaps if more people knew how simple it is to develop and maintain a positive attitude, they would invest more time doing so.

So here we go. Five steps to staying positive in a negative world:

1. Understand that failure is an event, it is not a person. Yesterday ended last night; today is a brand new day, and it's yours. You were born to win. But to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and then you can expect to win.

2. Become a lifetime student. Learn just one new word ever day, and in five years you will be able to talk with just about anybody on anything. When your vocabulary improves, your IQ goes up 100% of the time, according to Georgetown Medical School.

Continued tomorrow…

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Attitude platitude

Here are a series of posts which will simply cover what my Guru had written in a single typewritten note a few decades ago. It is so fine in its choice of words and intent, that any modifications I make to it will only worsen it. So here it is, with no further ado:

Harvard and Stanford Universities have reported that 85% the reason a person gets a job and gets ahead in that job is due to attitude; and only 15% is because of technical or specific skills. Interesting, isn't it?

You spent how much money on your education? And you spent how much money on building your positive attitude? Ouch! That hurts.

Now here's an interesting thought. With the 'right' attitude, you can and will develop the necessary skills. So where is your emphasis? On skill building? Or on attitude building?

Unfortunately, 'neither' is the real answer for many people.

Continued tomorrow…

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To listen or to speak?

Both Dale Carnegie and my Guru cannot overemphasize the importance of listening as a skill. We are all accustomed to talking non-stop especially in social situations. We love to hear the sound of our own voices. And onc they topic shifts to anything even remotely of self-interest, then the words just don’t stop rolling out!

But listening allows us to win over other people, because if everyone likes to talk, then someone must be there to listen? Listening also builds patience, maturity, concentration and empathy over time.

There is one scenario I’ve seen though, where people love to listen and completely shy away from speaking. This is on the stage. Any formal stage, be it big or small – we often hate the spotlight and the associated stage fright aka butterflies.

However, at least from a satsang perspective, there is no better place to speak – no not after the satsang, but as the main speaker! And the reason is very unique here. If we just listen to satsangs, we will get knowledge. But it may not convert to wisdom or action. In order to make that conversion, speaking is a wonderful tool. When we listen to others speak, we may feel like we are understanding concepts. But when we laboriously sit and prepare for a speech, read up copious information to demystify our scriptures, underline the various important points, search for interesting anecdotes and stories, attempt to figure out the ‘real meaning’ and ‘practical meaning’ and ‘deep meaning’, we will encounter on these abstruse topics some epiphanies that will never leave us for life.

Speak we must, at every satsang opportunity. But prepare we must, too, so that our speaking is easy listening for everyone.

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Hearty speech

Many satsangis under the guidance of my Guru have conducted amazing personal empowerment workshops. Mainly for students, but also for teachers, principals, army officers, corporates and so on.

The experience for conductors has been exhilarating, to put it mildly. The experience for the attendees, specifically the students, has been life changing.

What is critical for conducting a workshop well? We would think the most essential ingredients are a good grasp over the content, excellent communication skills, top presentation style, stage presence, presence of mind, a good voice and other such attributes.

The Guru obviously has a unique viewpoint. He says, yes these are important, but there is one thing far more essential. And that is to harbour great a great and selfless love for the students. He asks conductors to feel the love and nobility – to imagine the poor undernourished students, who have had no opportunities in their lives thus far, and how this program could transform their lives.

It is not oratorical skill from the brain that matters, but genuinely felt love from the heart.

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Weight and watch

Is it possible to give someone specific advice without hurting them? Here is one example of how my Guru did it.

One of the satsangis had put on a lot of weight. Obviously this wasn’t good from a health point of view. Of course one could just tell her point blank, “Hey, you are fat, and this is unhealthy, please follow a strict diet and exercise plan, or else you will land up in a hospital one day.”

Although that is the truth, it is also a very harsh way of putting it across.

My Guru instead was generally chatting with the woman, on matters not even remotely related to health or fitness. And he just added at the end, “Hey do you see that other woman over there? She was telling me that she reduced 10 kilos in the last 3 months.” The lady’s ears immediately perked up and she asked, “Oh wow, how did she do that Guruji?” To which he replied, “1 spoon less, 5 minutes early.” (which means don’t do anything drastic like a crash diet because those are unsustainable, instead eat 1 spoon less and hit the sack 5 minutes earlier progressively)

That’s it – zero hurting and zero criticism!

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Visual creatures

One of my Guru’s most favourite topics is the power of visualization. He loves to help others (young and old) visualize their future dreams and goals. He is of the strongest opinion that it has an undeniable and incredible influence on the final outcome. And through this power of visualization, he has made so many miracles happen – things that otherwise seemed impossible, but happened nonetheless.

This visualization principle is not different from what other sources might teach us. Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret, which became a worldwide phenomenon when it was released, essentially said “The universe will give you whatever you ask it.”

And we know that if we set our minds to something and go after it with single-pointed focus, then rarely can something stop us along the way.

“But how is it possible Guruji, how can we create the future by simply visualizing?” I once naively asked him.

His response was golden. “Deep down, we are all Brahman. All Creation has come from the same Brahman. Why can’t the Brahman inside you create the future that you want then?”

Point taken.

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(Wo)men

One of the books my Guru suggests we should all read is the Kural by Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar. No he’s not a Tamilian and he cannot read Tamil, but there are English translations (C. Rajagopalachari), so nothing to worry. We’ve discussed this book before a few times. It is a series of couplets, ~1300 of them, with amazing practical takeaways for daily life.

A question that comes to some readers is, why is everything written from a man’s perspective? And why does it sound derogatory to women? Like the ‘Life Partner’ chapter is all about duties of a woman – so men go scot-free?. And the children bit talks only about sons, not daughters. Where is the feminism and equality angle?

How should we understand  this? My Guru says whatever lessons are applicable to a man should also be taken to be applicable to women, wherever relevant, using common sense. Also:

  1. The book was written 100s of years ago. So certain aspects may need to be re-read in that context.
  2. We can combine the lessons from his Amazing Simple Gita – marry it with his purports. When it says a woman must be completely devoted to her husband, we absolutely take it to read the other way as well.
  3. Like the Vashishta – Arundhati stars in our galaxy – where they both go around each other, unlike the Sun in our solar system, where the Sun is relatively stationary and other planets orbit around it. Wedded couples too are supposed to be going around each other, not just one being stationary at a time.
  4. There are negative criticisms too in the Kural. But all of those too, are directed towards men only. Like a person who is speaking harshly is referred to as a man not a woman – so in that sense, both good and bad have been treated equally.

There are some absolute gems in the book – totally not worth missing out on, and certainly not because of this gender issue!

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Chilled out

There’s a simple lesson my Guru taught me once. It’s hard for someone like me to apply – given I prefer to be the silent observer, and rein my emotions in tightly.

One satsang had got over, and there were a few of us standing and talking. I was doing more of the listening, not the talking. There were a couple of people in the group who were cracking jokes one after the other, following up with roaring laughter and in general keeping the spirits of the group high.

Guruji pointed at those happy fellows and told me, “These guys are great conversationalists. These are the people who can strike up conversations anywhere, and build outstanding relationships with the maximum number of people. You need to be like this too. You know why they are able to do it? Because these guys are living in the moment. How can you joke about something in-the-moment, if you are constantly thinking about something that happened in the past, or is likely to happen (or not) in the future?”

Apt lesson for me indeed.

And it is no surprise that “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”

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Penance

In one of our recent youth satsangs, we had a very engaging discussion on ‘thawam’ from the Kural, which in Tamil means penance / austerity. Is penance only for the likes of Ravana or others who sat and meditated for years together? Or is there some penance possible in our daily lives as well?

Maybe waiting in a line for 14 hours to get one’s hand on the next latest and greatest iPhone could be considered penance. But that would only be scratching the surface. To some, penance is minimalism, such as getting rid of all gadgets (including aforementioned iPhone) and spending time with nature instead. They may also spend much lesser money than others – never eating out, never traveling – being extremely frugal. But where does one draw the line? Does one also stop wearing clothes, taking bath, not sending the kids to school, not visiting a doctor for a medical emergency? Surely penance is about frugality, not miserliness.

Great men and women have said (and experienced) that nothing worth having comes easy. Which means penance is a part of all success worth having. It also begs the question, why is penance so hard? The answer is that it’s not hard. It’s very easy in fact, if one TRULY wants something. Most struggle with this, because they want something (like success), but do not want to work for it.

It’s one thing to do penance for our own benefit. But the truly great people – like my Guru, they observe penances solely for the benefit of others. He observes fasts or chants 21,000 ashotrams for other people’s health – sometimes people who he has not even met! As Thiruvalluvar says, “How fire refines the gold, the pain of penance refines the person.” What more can one ask for?

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Bharatha 600BC

There is an awesome board game called Bharatha 600BC, created and released by a company called GoIndia Games. It’s quite unique because such games that are made in India are rare. The map of the game itself is beautiful – featuring ancient India from – you guessed it – 600 BC!

The game makes for fun family bonding time – especially offering a clean hour or three. ‘Clean’ meaning no screen diversions (mobiles, tablets, TVs etc) – wow is that even possible these days?

The board game has plenty of paths to victory – and one can use tact, strategy, battle, speed, rationing (i.e. hoarding) of resources, using special cards – you name it.

One interesting thing that happens when we play with my mother, is that she will never battle, and she will also always ‘give up’ resources for the rest of the family to win. “Oh, how can I battle my own son!”, or “You want resources, here take mine” – much to the groans of others “come on ma, this is supposed to be a competitive game – leave your familial bonds aside!”

While there are groans during the game, one must look behind the curtain. The motherly love kicks in with feelings of compassion overruling everything else – and not just during board games but even otherwise. What if we too can apply such compassion/empathy all the time. Just like the Guru does. Wouldn’t that be the true application of everything we learn in our scriptures?

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Miraculous (escape)!

We were sound asleep. Blissfully unaware of the goings on of the night. A sudden loud crash jolted us awake. What was that?

A slab of granite making up the top of the window sill had just crashed to the floor. No announcement, no warning. Through the darkness, we could see some more slab, hanging precariously.

We tried to go back to sleep. Hardly a few minutes passed, or was it an hour? Another deafening crash, a bigger slab fell this time.

This was a place where we would normally be sitting under in the daytime? Or certainly walking past at least – many times a day. But the slabs never caved in then. How infinitely lucky were we?

A sheer miracle, if there ever was one. Not just tonight, but every night and every day till today. Who knows what all unspeakable things could have happened, but by some divine grace, didn’t?

Life certainly seems to be crumbling around us from time to time, all the time. But if it doesn’t knock us out, and allows us to keep moving ahead, that is nothing less than a blessing and a miraculous escape.

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Nectar for life

Here’s some pointers I found very thought-provoking from a recent speech my Guruji gave.

  • How to get moksha? By living a choice-less existence. Accept whatever comes to you. The goal of life isn’t to become rich or to be educated. The true goal of life is to realize the Self within, and realizing that That Thou Art (tat tvam asi)
  • We are all going to temples which are great energy centres, but always still asking for more and more materialistic things. When will the cravings stop?
  • Each one of us can achieve anything. One person has done 12 PHDs in printing technology, but still not used even 5% of his brain. Einstein used less than 5% of his brain. We can each do anything.
  • But we must always remember, that achieving great material things means nothing to the Lord, and to our progress on the spiritual path. Materialism will not help us see the Self within.
  • The biggest problem in our lives is not related to job, money, health, wealth or relationships. The biggest problem is that we have desires and are deeply attached to everything and everyone. Gita shlokas 2.71 and 2.72 clarify this.
  • Guruji had once said anyone can come and take anything in their house – even the altar. Even the Vishnu paadaas where he was doing puja with great love all the time. No attachments + no desires is the key. Vishnu paadaa is only a symbol. One must give up the whole world, only then can one attain moksha.
  • Sleeping early is a habit, but so is sleeping late. Reading scriptures is a habit, but so is not reading scriptures. Giving charity is a habit, but so is not giving charity. Same for eating and overeating. We must be careful about the habits we cultivate.
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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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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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Bear necessities

We were recently watching the new BBC Earth series called A Perfect Planet, narrated by the incomparable Sir David Attenborough.

One shot focused on a group of bears that had just come out of hibernation. They were quite skinny and weak, having gone many months without any food.

Hundreds of them had come together at a lake, the largest such congregation of bears in the world. Their objective? To hunt all the salmon that come to the lake shores, and there were plenty of them. However, in this initial period, the salmon are very strong, and the bears are not quick enough to catch them. Most bears fail, and go hungry.

One old, experienced and wise bear though, had a trick up its sleeve. Instead of fishing from the shore, he swims coolly to the middle of lake, and makes a few dives to the bottom. Each time, he comes back up with mouthfuls. These apparently are fish that have just died and been deposited into the lake bed. The wise bear’s excitement is palpable, as much is the anxiety of all the other bears combined.

It always helps to pay heed to the wise.

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Keep company

In Sadhana Panchakam verse 13, Adi Shankara gives the instruction that one must keep the company of knowledgeable people, specifically the Guru. Most people focus on the latter half, i.e. finding the ‘knowledgable One’, i.e. the Guru, and making sure the Guru is the right one for us. Even when we are in dire need of help, materially or spiritually, we only think of estimating / forecasting whether this Guru can really help our cause. Will the Guru make us stop eating the foods we like or watch the TV we crave or visit the pubs we like? If so, then I’d rather change my Guru, because that is infinitely easier than changing my lifestyle.

All the focus though, has to be on the first part of the sentence, i.e. ‘keeping company of’. This looks disarmingly easy, but is extremely difficult. A true Guru might administer some much needed bitter medicine, and in such times, sticking on to the chosen spiritual path might seem not just troublesome, but also unnecessary. While the solution for this problem is introspection, grit and perseverance, the oft-resorted-to measure is Guru-hopping.

From a more materialistic point of view, keeping company with knowledgeable people helps akin to the “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” adage. Hence it is important to choose the people we are around. If we surround ourselves with billionaires, the chances of us thinking lofty, goal-oriented and futuristic increases manifold, as does the chance of success. The question of course is, why would even one billionaire want to spend time with me, let alone five?

‘Billionaire’ is the end goal, as is moksha. It is neither the start, nor the journey. What if we could have lunch with one person smarter than us, every day, or at least twice a week, instead of eating alone, or with the same team members? What if we could cold-write to people for their guidance / mentorship on LinkedIn? What if we could reach out to people seeking to partake in their wisdom? Without doubt the results will come. But taking the first step, and maintaining it (keeping the company going) is in our hands. The rest will follow.

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Luckiest

There’s a Sanskrit word for liberation called moksha. There’s also a Sanskrit word for wanting liberation called mumukshatwam.

Mumukshatwam signifies an intense burning desire for moksha. But even this has classifications – some have a really intense desire while others are more curious than desperate.

It is said that the Guru and the disciple meet when the disciple has a burning desire for moksha.

Many of us are indeed blessed to have a Guru in our lives. But how much mumukshatwam do we have? From my own experience I can say very very little, if any at all. Sad, but true – as I continuously struggle to keep materialism at bay, what with the vagaries of daily life.

But life happens, to each one of us. Despite that, despite not having an intense yearning for liberation, if we still have got a Guru in our lives, what did we do to deserve it? It will remain one of the biggest mysteries to me. It would also be foolish to look such a gift horse in the mouth. And such luck, like any luck, should not be wasted.

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Disastittude

  1. She had worked really hard on her presentation. All of last week. Little sleep and plenty of sweat, and tears.
  2. Now it was ready. All external dependencies, and myriad coordinations, checked and resolved, approvals sought.
  3. Mail drafted, and ready to send. This would put her in the upper leagues. People would take notice.
  4. And then came the phone call. Some of her data points in chapter 3 were incorrect. Taken innocuously from a defunct source.
  5. The correction would take time. Maybe a couple of weeks if not more.
  6. Oh what a bummer. She felt like the world came crashing down.
  7. Irritated. Frustrated. She hated delays. She also hated going back to the drawing board.
  8. Then she realized. This was not a disaster, rather, she was saved from one.
  9. Imagine if her email with the wrong presentation and data had gone out. What a mess that would have been!
  10. It was just a week from annual appraisal day too. Her bonus could have been slashed, and promotion rescinded.
  11. Her frustration abated momentarily, and her gratitude for Divinity’s mysterious ways gushed to the fore.
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The call

On a recent call with my Guru, as always, words of wisdom poured out.

Here are a few things he said, worth pondering over for me.

  1. If child cries, yes the parent can hold it. The eventual problem with that is each time the child will cry if it is not held.
  2. There were no glories for Krishna or Rama during their lives, apart from maybe Hanuman who looked upon them as Gods. Most of the rest of society couldn’t care less. They attained God status well after they were gone. This repeats every generation.
  3. Jalebis (an Indian sweet) cannot be analysed, otherwise it will lose its taste. It needs to be put into the mouth and relished. Don’t over analyse scriptures, rather start putting into practise/action.
  4. Many people promise to give to charity when something good happens in their lives, but very few follow through. Shows they are still attached to money and deluded by it.
  5. All great ideas come from the one same Divine source. Tap into it.
  6. Only when you truly forget yourself and your own selfish needs and truly love the other with no expectations, will the blessings of the Divine come.

So simple, yet so profound!

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Reply

Is there a way to make someone happy and praise them while also keeping the bar high? Here’s how my Guru did it once.

Many years ago, one of the satsangis went to him for advice. The satsangi was a bit nervous, as he told Guruji that this was his first time speaking in public on the Gita, and that he was a little scared. Guruji asked him which chapter was assigned to him. He said, “Chapter 7, Guruji.”

Guruji replied thus:
1. Wow, chapter 7, such a beautiful chapter, I’m so happy you got it! [infusing happiness]
2. You know what? My first talk too was on chapter 7. It is easy, and I know your capability, you can do it. [genuine praise]
3. I also prepared hard for it – I had read the chapter over 500 times, so that my session is worth my audience’s time. [setting the bar high]

Isn’t this such an inspiring reply, and something for us to learn?

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How to be equanimous

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

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

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

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

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Over and over

A question arises, “Why should I keep doing the same things over and over?” Why read our scriptures daily. If we’ve read it once, that should be enough no? Or why participate in satsang as many times as possible? Why not just listen to one lecture once and then implement and chill?

Marcel Proust, one of the greatest French authors of the 20th century said “”The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

As the story goes, a child asked his grandpa why he was repeatedly reading the Gita. To which grandpa asked the child to fetch water from the nearby river, but in a basket. The child did as instructed, but obviously much of the water leaked out through the gaps in the basket. The grandpa asked the child to go and get water, again and again, and each time most of the water had leaked out. Finally, when the child was frustrated, the grandpa asked his grandson to look at the basket closely. This child remarked, “Wow, the the basket has now got cleaned so nicely!”, exactly like how the mind would need to be cleaned by multiple readings.

My Guru follows this principle very closely, and takes it a step further – adding that reading alone is not enough, but acting upon the lessons learned is critical. Like the Chinese philosopher Confucius once said. “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”.

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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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The two Ps

There are two somewhat interlinked concepts in Hinduism.

One is prarabdha or that portion of our karmic balance that we are to experience in this life. Our birth into a good pious, self-sufficient and contented family is such an example. If we have this, we are lucky. Because many do not have even this.

The other, is purushartha. Which refers to the efforts put in by an individual, to achieve his goals. The goals have been divided into four – dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kaama (love) and moksha (liberation). These are loose translations, but in effect provide goals for us to live by and pursue. The ultimate goal is moksha of course, and achieving it dharmically, while having requisite artha and family life is considered ideal.

The problem arises when people are bestowed with excellent prarabdha, but fritter it away due to lack of or undirected purushartha. Being introduced to a satsang, finding a Guru, or rather a Guru finding you, having the company of noble and wise people, having the luxury of a good primary education etc. are nothing short of great karmic gifts – because we in our current lives hardly did anything to deserve these. And yet, people are unable to make time for an hour of satsang, or a week of seva to the Guru or some other means of giving back.

Everything we got, on a platter as it were, is prarabdha. Because there are so many people out there putting 10x the efforts getting 0.01% of the results you and I get. Prarabdha is gotten already, but purushartha is what we do with it. i.e. Destiny versus free will.

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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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Meditation and thoughts – 3

We looked at meditation and thoughts over the last couple of days. Much is written and said about supernatural experiences, lights, out of body experiences and other fantastical stuff. Here’s a gist of how my Guru looks at this subject.

His questions are: Can you be calm when your peer makes 5x your salary and drives a Ferrari? Can you stay placid when your boss throws a fit, and expects you to clean up? Can you be equanimous in the face of nonsense peddled by many many unavoidable people around you? What is the use of meditation and magical experiences, if these leave you completely untransformed? Still the same jealousy, anger, pride, hatred et al.

Hence, my Guru’s focus has always been not on meditation, but on living a meditative life. It is not about sitting and closing one’s eyes for 60 minutes, especially not if the remaining 23 hours are spent on ungodly pursuits. His goal is to infuse godliness into every waking moment. Transform from a material person living a spiritual life, to a spiritual person also happening to live a material life. And hence a spiritual person asking for a promotion and a raise is alright because his nobility will ensure he uses his wealth primarily to give back to society.

How can one spiritualize themselves? By doing the true tapas. By holding God steady in their minds. For the atheistic and agnostic, by not holding themselves only in their minds, but holding the service of others steady in their minds. Unflinchingly. The beauty is that this can be equally hard or easy for both a commoner and a king.

Swami Chinmayananda was once asked how many hours in a day one should practise meditation. His answer? 24 hours.

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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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Shock and Awe 5

Time again for another Shock and Awe post.

Quoting below from the free Amazing Simple Gita.

  1. When we want anything, our mind starts getting perturbed. Are we getting it? or Not? Our mind is disturbed and finds no peace.
  2. 4 important points for peace:
    1. Give up all desires that come to your mind.
    2. Also give up all attachments.
    3. Give up “I”…the feeling I did it, I was responsible etc.
    4. Give up ‘mine’. The possessions, the feeling of mine which separates you from ‘all’, i.e. the Lord
  3. A person attains actionlessness not by withdrawing from action, but by renouncing fruits of actions

What simple yet splendid takeaways!

An important point, is that all of the above are at the mind level. In the material physical world, we need to behave with common sense. Also, these are ‘destination’ verses, and not necessarily something we can perfect in just a short time.

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Take more stress

The things we are stressed about:

  1. landing a better job
  2. earning more money
  3. finding a good spouse / partner
  4. having a good family
  5. going on a quality vacation
  6. being recognized in society
  7. working to fulfil our kids desires, even if they don’t reciprocate

Nothing wrong with these. Except that we usually spend our entire life, nay lives, trying to fix these.

The only thing the Guru asks us to stress about? Getting moksha or liberation. To keep that as a single pointed focus. And to act with urgency. Why? Because moksha is only possible with human life. And we are supremely lucky to have received a human birth, and that too one conducive to spirituality. Who knows if we will get this chance the next time around?

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Compounding experience

Here are some simple truths my Guru keeps mentioning. They are so easy to apply but we (or I) still do not.

  1. In Hindi, “Viveki ko anadar mat karna, warna zindagi bhar dukhi rahoge“. This means, if you disrespect a wise person, you will be sorrowful throughout your life. Is this easy to understand? Yes it is. His own example is, between a 2 year old and a 6 year old, who is better for life advice? The parent will always tell the 2yo to learn from the 6yo. But introduce a 10 yo, and automatically the 6yo will learn from the 10yo. Life experiences have a compounding effect, and hence an 80yo (especially a wise person like a Guru) will have a better world view than a 40yo.
  2. Benjamin Franklin’s statement on the same point, but just said differently. “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other

My Guru was no doubt referring to me when he said these things. He continues to say them, which also tells me I have a long way to go. As Robert Frost would say, miles to go before I sleep.

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Goal setting 1

Goal-setting is an important aspect of success. “Hitch your wagon to the stars” as my Guru would say. It is essential to have lofty goals, otherwise we will remain as we are, with all our potential remaining just that, never seeing the light of day.

Then there are some who argue against having goals. Because these serve as limits to your brain, they say. “Why have the goal of founding a billion dollar company when you are perhaps capable of founding a trillion dollar company?” Well, even a trillion must pass through a billion first, so it’d be better to start with the billion goal and then recalibrate as necessary.

The challenge many of us face with goal setting is that we do not know where to start. We try to focus on questions such as “How much money should I have by the time I’m 40”, or “How many Boards should I be on before I’m 60” and so on. These aren’t bad ways to come up with goals. But as I’ve been reading in an interesting book called Your Next Five Moves by Patrick Bet-David, he suggests that we need to address ourselves first.

What do we want? No, not even we. More like you, or me, each one of us individually. What is most important to you? Do you want a stable job with a US$ 150,000 pay check? Or do you want a million dollar salary with a big fat bonus? Or do you want to own 25% of a unicorn start-up? Do you want to spend time with your wife and kids every day? Or do you want to consistently clock 120-hour weeks? Or maybe you want to balance work and your social service activities?

Each one of us is built differently, with unique potential. So broad-brushing goals will not work. It is hence important to honestly arrive at our own goals based on a) what we truly want, and b) how much we are prepared to work for it (and not what the neighbour wants or his son has achieved). More tomorrow!

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Fakes and real

Gurus, while realized souls, have physical bodies through which they too experience pain and pleasure like you and me. Even the great Ramakrishna Paramahamsa did not just die easy in his sleep. Instead, he was inflicted by throat cancer for 18 months. The pain was excruciating, and he could not eat, or speak, or even lie down and this tortured him day and night. Despite this, his heart was with his devotees, and everyday he would wait for seekers of God to come so that he could bless them and help them realize God. Did he not have the power to heal himself? Of course he did – as he was a master of Siddhis. But strange are the ways of God-realized men. Even though his close disciples would beseech him to heal himself or pray for his own health, the saint would always refuse. Why? Because his mind was totally focused on God, and he did not want to waste even a single second, by bringing his mind to his body, from God.

There is much fanfare and following in India for those who call themselves Gurus. There are plenty of fakes too, but that is only natural. Is there a way to call out the genuine from the rest?

It is difficult, but not impossible. A tell-tale sign would be – how much the Guru is undergoing pain and suffering for the benefit of his devotees and disciples.

The phoney Gurus might care for their people, but they care for themselves first. The real Guru will have no care about him/herself, and instead have full attention on you/us. They do not care about themselves because they seek nothing material. And the spiritual wealth they have, they want nothing more than to be able to share with us, while also alleviating any of our physical troubles.

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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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Ear here

What do we listen with? Our ears right? Of course, so obvious.

But that’s what we think. In one of his workshops to students many years ago, my Guru had posed this very question to his audience. They all replied “Yes, with our ears.”

To which he turned around, showed his back to the audience and continued his talk.

Needless to say, the crowd was completely disoriented. When my Guru turned around again, he smiled and said, “We listen with our ears, yes, but mostly with our eyes.”

This is a problem I’ve often encountered. Most people are always distracted, and when I speak, I’m not sure if what I’m saying is registering in their minds. Not because they don’t care. But because they are distracted. How do I know? Because I’m as guilty of this as the next person. When my spouse / child / family member / friend / colleague is speaking to me, the least I can do is to look them directly in the eye, and give them the attention they deserve. We can no doubt draw some boundaries – like letting the kids know that daddy’s going to be busy between 7 and 10 doing office work or such.

But if we aren’t 100% present in the moment, we must ask ourselves – what are we thinking about? The past that we cannot change? The future we have little control over? A social media post that is far less important than family?

Time to listen with the eyes.

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Heads up

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

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

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

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

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

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Tireless

Here’s a miracle that happened to me recently.

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

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

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

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

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Shock and awe 2

This is a continuation of the Shock and Awe post from a few days ago. The premise is simple. We only learn when we are shocked or surprised by information – either new, or presented in a different manner. Here are some more such outstanding examples from my Guru’s unparalleled Amazing Simple Gita (life-changing free download!).

  1. It is not the CEO that reaches the Lord. Anyone who is unattached to his position, work, reaches.
  2. If your subordinate is promoted, feel good. No need to resign! (Why?, because “be even minded in success and failure. Evenness of mind is only called yoga.”)
  3. A never ending need, curdles into greed – without our knowledge. Hence our misery.
  4. Seek refuge in equipoise of mind. When this is practised, you seek neither fame, nor wealth nor acceptance from others.
  5. If you do not feel lost or dejected, but feel calm, you have become a yogi.

Aren’t these just mind blowing? So practical. What profundity! Now time to put these into action, step by step, as much as possible.

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Hands on

The year was 1984. An elite group had assembled in a club for a Toastmasters dinner. There were CEOs, MDs, Heads of Departments and many other dignitaries in that audience.

My Guru, who was also present, was suddenly asked to give a short speech there. No he was not the CxO of any multi national organization. He was probably retired at the time, already beginning to renounce everything. So titles and statuses made no difference to him.

A normal person would ask, “Then what the heck did you speak about, to such a distinguished audience, Guruji?”

“Simple”, his unassuming reply. “The one common thing that anyone and everyone is interested in, is themselves. So I discussed palmistry 101 with them. The life line, the head line, the heart line, the money line and so on. Do you think there was even one person in that audience who’s eyes were not glued onto their own palms? Whether CEO or King, everyone is truly interested only in themselves.”

The topic itself was not important. But the focus and theme of communication, i.e. ‘people love themselves’, was so effectively made use of – that not a single person wanted the session to end, even after 30 minutes! Question to myself: when I want to capture someone’s interest, should I talk about my life? Or that person’s?

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Spiritual Fiction. Or reality?

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

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

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

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

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

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Clean up

In the 1980s, my Guru and his wife visited Washington DC. They were staying at the local Iskcon chapter there, paying the 100$-odd fee. Despite no affiliation to that society, the karma yogis that they both were (and still are), they spent all their time being useful to the people there. Guruji’s wife cooked for over 100 people daily, while he washed utensils and cleaned all the toilets. Did anyone ask them to do it? Not at all. Would I do it if presented with the chance? When was the last time I washed utensils or cleaned toilets or cooked for someone else, when visiting a relative’s or friend’s place? Visiting a third-party establishment and performing selfless service is many steps higher. The then President of Iskcon was so impressed by the selfless couple that he beseeched them to move permanently to Washington. Of course that never happened, and thankfully so, else I may have never got to meet my Guru. Even in this matter I can only be selfish!

All spiritual texts carry the same message. Give up attachments and give up desires. If this is done, then ownership of your body and my body and your house and my house and someone else’s toilets ceases to be. Common sense applies of course, but this sort of mental re-programming would aid in spiritual growth as the ego gets progressively subdued.

How does one break free from attachments and desires? By seeing the futility of it all. By realizing that ‘enough’ is only theoretical. It will also help to carve out a part of our lives in the service of others. This physical and mental clean-up will at least partially allow the egotistic ‘I, me , myself’ to be replaced by altruistic thoughts and actions.

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The ride of a lifetime

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

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

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

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

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

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Being nobody

There is only one difference between us and God. That difference, is the ego. The feeling that “I am”.

In material life, all success comes from “I am”. I am – an engineer, a charter holder, an accountant, an architect, a tennis champion, a saxophonist, a movie director, an Oscar winner, an artist, a photographer.

In spiritual life, only failure follows “I am”.

Swami Premananda, one of the foremost disciples of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, was once told by a younger monk that Premananda was lucky because his Master had “made him great.”. To which Premananda immediately responded: “No! The Master did not make us great, he made us ‘nobodies.’ You also have to become ‘nobodies.’ Wipe out all vanity from the mind. The Master used to say, ‘When the ego dies, all troubles cease.’”

Practically for us, is it possible to live a life giving up our ego completely? Not at all. We will only be trampled underfoot. However, one can give their ego up to their Guru. This would mean doing as the Guru says, no questions asked. This path too is very hard, but at least the Guru is there to take care of us, acting as a safety net at all times. Practising this form of ego deposition at the Guru’s feet is not easy either, but it is perhaps the easiest of the various spiritual paths on offer.

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Physical or mental?

Renunciation is often misunderstood. It is equated with donning ochre robes and heading to the mountains as an ascetic. This physical jettisoning is certainly one form of renunciation. But it is a difficult path, and not suited to most.

If a mosquito starts buzzing around us in the comfort of our air conditioned homes, we get jittery. Simply by wearing ochre robes and going to meditate in a forest, the local mosquitoes over there will not leave you be.

Renunciation at the mind level is very difficult, but is perhaps more relevant. A person who has tamed his mind while living in the world as any of us is called a jivanmukta (i.e. liberated while living).

To some, mental renunciation may seem easier. But is it really so? For instance, it might be very hard for me to physically part with my money (say for a charity). But it is much easier for me to think mentally that I am unattached to the money in my bank account. The real test will be the day when someone needs the money I have ‘mentally’ given away. Will I physically be able to give it away as well?

This is why, ideally, both physical and mental renunciation must go together, as much as possible. As my Guru says, if we begin to give small amounts to charity today itself, then we will find that progressively we are able to share more of our wealth with the needy. The same is true of other physical needs as well. We can slowly but surely reduce our dependence on clothes, accessories, electronics and luxuries because one day we will realize these mean nothing in our quest for happiness. Might as well start small today, because nothing big comes without practice.

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How to remember

When you were younger – in school and college, perhaps you struggled with remembering long answers, facts from history / geography, dates, numbers, specifics, names of people? Even to this day I struggle with these things.

My Guru says there are only two ways to overcome this. 1) Fall in love with the content. 2) Repeat/revise/recall.

1 and 2 are inter-related, because if you really love something, you will keep doing it again and again.

The question to Him then, is how to love a subject you really don’t like? His answer: To visualize that you like it. Keep saying that you like it. Keep thinking it, and keep feeling it. It will automatically happen. Not by some magic, but because that is the only language the brain (aka mind) needs and understands.

This is not very different from how a boy and girl who keep interacting with each other soon fall in love!

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Magical benevolence

We look for Gurus to perform miracles aka magic tricks. But those are of little use, leaving nothing more than a little smoke once the flame has disappeared. But the real miracles are when the Gurus bring about transformation in the thought processes of those around them. And these may come about from very trivial actions. A few such examples of incomparable compassion that I have witnessed in my 80+ year-young Guru:

  1. Picking up paper / banana peels / tissues from the floor, simply so that no one else has to bend for it.
  2. Personally cutting and serving fruits / food to everyone, even though helpers and volunteers abound.
  3. Not allowing anyone else to clean / wash the dishes, and treating all guests like royalty.
  4. Picking up labourers walking in the scorching heat and dropping them off at their destinations with an AC ride.
  5. Not favouring someone simply because they are family or kin, and doing this openly, brazenly. Family is everyone on the spiritual path, only.
  6. Open house – come anytime for spirituality and help with life, no matter how busy.
  7. Thinking well ahead, for others’ benefits.
  8. Taking problems unto himself and thanking the universe for it, as no one else had to be inconvenienced, and that he would be able to bear the difficulty much more than anyone else.
  9. Never complaining or criticising, no matter the mistake.
  10. Never tired, irrespective the time of day, with the curiosity of a child in learning new things.

These actions and many more have left an indelible mark on me and thousands of others who have observed such selfless services. In the wake of these, what good are magic tricks? Our focus must be on the magician instead.

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Who is being foolish?

The mentor in his/her years of wisdom keeps telling the newbie to build relationships and speak up more.
The newbie doesn’t listen. He thinks his mentor is foolish.
The newbie prefers to sit at his desk and work ‘hard’.
The newbie is doomed to learn only by experience, and not by the wisdom of his mentor.
Who is being foolish?

The parents in their decades of wisdom keep telling their child to study / practise hard.
The child doesn’t listen. She thinks her parents are foolish.
The child prefers to play or watch TV instead.
The child is doomed to learn only by experience, and not by the wisdom of its parents.
Who is being foolish?

Our Gurus / ancients in their millennia of wisdom keep telling us to embrace spirituality, meditate, fast, serve society and stay away from material objects and pleasures.
We don’t listen. We think the Gurus do not understand, as “life only happens once, and is to be lived and enjoyed.”
We prefer to party and indulge instead.
We are doomed to learn only by experience, and not by the wisdom of the saints of today and yore.
Who is being foolish?

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The right age

My Guru, at the age of 81, works 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. No this is not like going to office for getting a salary. Rather he works selflessly and tirelessly for others, with zero pay. No bonus, no increments. All assets willed away to charity. Nothing but the future of the world and its good citizens as his sole concern. Yet I have never once seen him complain or display weariness.

Can he control the world around him? Hardly. But himself? Oh his control over his mind is phenomenal. He says he was not always this way. But practise of sacrifice, austerity and charity has made all the difference.

When did he become like that? At age 20? Or 40? Or 60? Or when he started getting white hair? Or after he retired? Or after he had kids? Or after he shifted jobs?

He became like that the moment he decided to, which was well in the prime of his youth. And that is exactly what he and all the other spiritual masters preach as well. While we are busy becoming dizzy in the world, we tend to postpone anything remotely selfless and spiritual to when get ‘older’. Many 70-year olds still give the same excuse!

The decision, and the benefits, are ours.

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The new www context

Here is a short paragraph taken from Nate Silver’s interesting book called “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction“.

"Information becomes knowledge only when it’s placed in context. Without it, we have no way to differentiate the signal from the noise, and our search for the truth might be swamped by false positives."

This is applicable not just for predictions, but also in our daily lives. We are inundated with data points of all sorts, aren’t we? At work, junior employees often work irritably on specific mundane tasks, without understanding the impact of their overall contributions. Separately, a govt. might enact a variety of structural reforms – but regardless of the reform, some will support and others oppose. Whatsapp messages abound with magical cures for all sorts of ailments, but who is to say for sure? Plenty of images circulate, claiming all sorts of things – but how would one know these aren’t hoaxes?

We face such contextual conundrums even in spirituality. For instance, chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita mentions the caste system. A perfunctory glance would have the reader cry out that Krishna has not just created the disparaged caste system of today, but is also supportive of it! However, a deeper contextual study would expound the underlying rationale – which was to bring efficiency to work by categorizing people based on their inherent abilities, traits and inclinations.

Indeed context is imperative in spirituality, as in life. Our ancients called this “desha, kaala, paristhiti”, which translates to Place, Time and Situation. In today’s world, there is only one person who can consistently and logically interpret and apply the thoughts of our wise ancestors. That person is the Guru. As the Guru says, nothing must be applied without common sense. No size fits all, whether in Work, Whatsapp or Worship.

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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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Why a live Guru is paramount

People often ask, “Is it not enough to read scriptures and get knowledge from them? I read for many hours a day. Why do I need a living Guru?”

A man who had never seen a cow before or drank milk, heard about cows from his master. “White color with brown patches, relaxed animal, four udders for milk, two tiny horns, two flappy ears, a bushy tail and a cow gives white liquid called milk.” Armed with this information, he set out to find this interesting animal, and came upon the statue of a cow. Nearby, some painters were whitewashing the barn. The man put two and two together, and drank up the white colored paint thinking it was milk. To say his stomach went for a toss would be an understatement. When he accosted his master angrily, the master coolly replied “If you had milked the cow yourself, you would have had no trouble!”

Thus there is no substitute to being mentored by someone who has had direct first-hand experience of the Divine.

Further, it is important to be in the physical vicinity of such a Guru. Having a ‘paper guru’, or one who is on the altar in a paper photograph alone, is of limited use. Why? Because knowing our monkey-minds, we might continue to commit all sorts of blunders, and will fool ourselves that everything we are doing is perfectly alright. Having a live guru may not always be pleasant – but only when he points out our mistakes and corrects us, would we be able to get rid of our ego. And as we are well aware, giving up the ego is the most important requirement for spiritual perfection.

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Waking up

Here is a story, which needs an answer from each one of us, so please pay attention.

There are 2 beggars Ram and Shyam sleeping on the road. Shyam starts dreaming. He dreams about him becoming a big businessman, and then amassing a lot of wealth. One day, a band of robbers accosts him, and take away all his wealth. He starts to chase them, and scream out loudly to everyone around to help him. “Help! These robbers are taking away all my wealth. Help! Chase them. Help!”

The dream appears so vivid and so real to Shyam, that he starts screaming in his sleep, “Help me! Chase the robbers. Help me! Catch the robbers!

Ram, who is sleeping next to Shyam, wakes up at the commotion, and realises that his friend Shyam is shouting because of the events in his dream.

The question now to us is, what should Ram do? Should he get up from bed and chase the robbers that Shyam is screaming about? Or should he wake Shyam up and tell him he was just having a bad dream?

No doubt you will agree it must be the latter!

This is exactly what our Guru tells us as well. We are all asleep, and dreaming about more and more materialistic body-driven pursuits. The Guru is trying to awaken us to a reality that is infinitely and permanently blissful. But we prefer to stay dreaming. Do our actions make sense? We must ask ourselves.

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The Matrix

Our scriptures say that all of creation is an illusion. That it is unreal, fleeting and impermanent. As human beings, it must be our one-pointed goal, that we come out of this delusional existence. But this cannot be done alone. We need the guidance of a Guru.

A guru is not a mere teacher. He doesn’t simply help transfer worldly skills, although he may very well impart those too.

The defining characteristic of a Guru is that he is the only one who can dispel the darkness of ignorance.

Ignorance of what? That we are the body, mind and intellect, when actually we are not.

All of this can seem daunting at first. Somewhat like how Neo (played wonderfully by Keanu Reeves) felt, when he was first accosted by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, brilliant!) in cult favourite The Matrix.

But once Neo chose the red pill (unpleasant truth) over the blue, he realised his true nature and purpose.

The choice was his to make, just as it is ours to make. We are all cooped up inside a Matrix world of sorts, ignorant of what the greatest minds ever, have instructed us.

In our case, we think we are all enjoying the blue pill already. But think of all the problems we go through in life, and then have a rethink. Are we really enjoying?

Maybe the red pill is the real blue pill. Time to follow the Guru’s advice.

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What exactly is dharma? – Part 2 of 2

So we continue from yesterday’s post on dharma.

The ancients have given us exceptional guidance. “Desha, Kaala, Paristhithi”, which translates to Place, Time and Situation. No law or diktat can be applicable to everybody, every time and in every circumstance. Hence trying to apply one standardised definition (one size fits all) may not work.

Dharma may also arise from the passion that one shows for one’s work. If we are able to find our true calling, and work as if it were play, then our duty would be implemented dharmically. Hardly anyone truly finds their passion though. Therefore, to start with, we would have to fool our minds into enjoying our work. Soon passion and enjoyment will come automatically.

There are also some universally accepted principles and values that come under dharma. Such as non-violence, truthfulness, cleanliness etc. No matter the caste, creed, race, or gender, these principles apply across the board. Here, we can follow the simple dharmic principle, “do not do unto others, what you don’t want them to do to you”, i.e. practising compassion and empathy.

Further, dharma is also in intent. Is the intent selfish? Is it driven by “what is in it for me?”. Instead of thinking about us, we should be thinking about others. Dharma therefore take shape when there is maximum benefit to maximum people.

As per Vedanta, the dharma of a human being is to attain moksha or liberation. This is somewhat a destination than a journey. However, the journey must be undertaken, with a life lived in accordance to all the above dharmic dictums. The destination will reveal itself automatically.

Finally, even the greatest of yogis and rishis have faltered in upholding dharma. Do we even stand a chance? We certainly do, but for that, we must take refuge in a Guru.

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The cyclist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No firsts among equals

How can we see the Universal Spark / Brahman / Supreme Soul / God / Super-consciousness in everyone?

A disciple was once singing a devotional song in front of my Guru. All the other members in the audience including his co-disciples, just couldn’t take the screeching any longer. Most of them left the room. But my Guru? He just continued enjoying the praises of the Lord. When the song was over, he asked the disciple to sing the song again. And then again. And then he praised him, saying that it was a heartfelt rendition, and that practising more would make him better.

The disciple knew that his singing was terrible, to say the least. When he asked my Guru, how he could enjoy what no one else could, my Guru said, “That is because I look at you as my own child. If your 2-year old son or daughter were to sing, even if totally out of tune, would you not enjoy and revel in the moment?”

Before we can reach the final states of consciousness that Vedanta speaks of, we must first attempt to see those around us as equals. Not from a material status point of view, but as those worthy of our empathy and compassion.

Only if we can see people as our own, can we then treat them as our own. Without this, the higher concepts will remain just that. Conceptual.

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Problem Gone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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