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Category: karma

6 months to… part 1 of 3

There’s an outstanding short-book that I just finished reading.

It’s called 6 Months To Live, and written by Dr. Sangeeta Raman Girdhar.

The book is only about 70-odd pages long, and can easily be finished in one sitting, and within the hour.

But the convenient length of the book not the reason everyone should read it.

What the book captures so beautifully, is a combination of 4 things:

  1. What all a loved one goes through when faced with a terminal disease
  2. What the immediate family of this person goes through
  3. What life lessons and spiritual lessons we can each take away, especially if (God-forbid) put in such circumstances
  4. How to deal with cancer, and even make micro lifestyle changes to prevent it

I’m going to share a few powerful takeaways from the book over the next couple of days, but the book has much more than just these, so do consider reading it. The author is my cousin sister, who is an amazing human being. The least I can do is feature her work on FHN! The book is available here.

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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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What am I doing?

There are these days, where the questions flow thick and fast. What am I doing? Am I living my life to its fullest potential? How are so many, so successful and so young? How can I find happiness? Will I ever find the answers I seek? Will I ever stop asking questions?

And then I read these awesome few lines from a book called Karma by Acharya Prashant.

To not have the thought that you are diseased is health, and that is Yoga. Yoga is not about feeling special. Yoga is not about being in a great state of consciousness. Yoga is about not having a lot of things that we usually have. Now, what do we usually have? We usually have inferiority; we usually have lack of fulfillment; we usually have a lot of search and seeking; we usually have a lot of questions. Yoga is about not having these. ‘I am already all right. What would I do with achievement? I am already all right. What would I do with medicines and methods? I am already all right. What would I do with questions and their answers?’ That is Yoga. Yoga is not a special feeling, mind you. Yoga is the absence of that which we usually keep feeling. Thoughts are still there, feelings are still there, yet there is freedom from thought and feeling.
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Parts of speech

We all know the parts of speech in English right – noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, interjection, conjunction – maybe I missed a few?

Now guess which of these is the most important? Not the noun, which is subjective (pun-unintended), or the adjective, which is always flowery. Rather, it is the simplistic, yet potent ‘verb’.

Here’s how google defines it: “Verb: This is the most important part of a speech, for without a verb, a sentence would not exist. Simply put, this is a word that shows an action (physical or mental) or state of being of the subject in a sentence.”

A word that shows an action or state of being of the subject in a sentence. So cool, and so relevant to spirituality too, because verbs are the very essence of karma yoga!

The ‘who is doing?’ is not relevant. The ‘what is being done’ is also not relevant. Neither is ‘why are we doing?’. Instead, the highest focus, is on the ‘doing’ itself. It’s not as if the other things don’t matter, but they matter less. The end result isn’t key, the process of doing is more important. Because if the process is done well, then the other things will be taken care of. And before someone disagrees and says the above questions are important – yes, they are. But not ‘during’ the ‘doing’. For those, there can be a separate session of planning, brainstorming etc. all of which are verbs for their own sakes.

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Animalistic

One of the questions that often arises in the minds of spiritual seekers, is whether animals accumulate karma.

A realized soul would say, “Does this even matter? All of these silly worldly questions – how does the answer to this question help one in their spiritual quest for liberation?” And such a soul would be bang on!

However, the question has come indeed, and one answer could be thus, which I came across in Acharya Prashant’s new book titled Karma.

No, animals do not accumulate karma. Because to accumulate karma, one would need to make a choice. A choice of whether or not to do something. Humans have choices – so we can either do a good thing and earn good karma, or the reverse. But animals? Acharya Prashant argues that animals have no choice. A lion kills deer to eat, driven by its natural instincts aka hunger. How far do you think a vegetarian lion would get in life? 🙂

But humans do have a choice isn’t it? To eat vegetarian or not. To exercise or to live unhealthy. To live a noble life or one of plunder. So many choices, so many possibilities, and so much karma.

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Randomly random

Karma. That is what we are constantly accruing. But it is also the name of a newly released book by Acharya Prashant. He’s an IIT-IIM-grad-turned-spiritual-Guru and so I was quite keen to read what he has to say on this topic.

There are many interesting things he covers. One for today’s post, is on randomness. He says that the happenings in the material world around us are truly random. That it is impossible to predict the future with any certainty.

There are so many people and creatures in the world and each has its own free will. When all of these interact, in real time, dynamically, how is it possible to ‘setup’ a specific karmic event for any single individual that is supposed to experience the fruits of their past actions?

The thought is sobering, and indeed seems to make sense from the perspective of our limited and miniscule intellect. But for the Creator of everything around us, maybe it is not such a big deal? The author agrees that karmic law exists. However, this is applicable at the level of an individual, by way of his/her reaction to an external stimulus, i.e. two people could react very differently to the same news, for instance.

So is this what the birth chart of a native predicts in vedic astrology? That s/he will be successful during this period, or will get married during this period, and so is perhaps referring to internal emotions likely to be felt by the native? The word ‘likely’ is important, because free will can be exercised in a counterfactual manner.

There are also many great saints who have tweaked the karma of their disciples. Some say that mass fatalities like plane crashes and terrorism are part of ‘community karma’, perhaps engineered to perfection by Nature Herself. How does that fit in here, in a world ruled by free will and chaos? I guess there will always be some things we just cannot understand…

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Distractions galore

Our lives seem to be full of distractions. The mobile phone, the internet, YouTube… Oh there are so many culpable offenders in my fight against distraction. So many things to do, but just no ability to focus on the various tasks at hand.

But maybe distractions are par for the course simply because the work that is done is chosen poorly. The work is chosen only because the result seems favorable. Some money, some benefits, some perks, some power, some something or the other.

Spirituality keeps on asking us to live in the moment. That only means we’ve to love the work, i.e. the process of working, and not the outcome of the work alone. If instead, we are focused on monthly payday alone, of course distractions will plague us. Even the feeblest of winds can get us to alter course then.

If we look at it this way, then maybe distractions are good, even great. If I’m going to work in an organization for the rest of my life/career but still get distracted easily, maybe that work is not something I truly like? What’s the point in doing something if it’s truly not meaningful enough? Note that meaning is only for the doer – what’s meaningful to me might be nonsensical to another.

The alternative of brainstorming, networking and hustling to get to do what you feel is truly meaningful, is not an easy path. And so for most, it is easy to continue to do what they have been, while cribbing about distractions, while letting the void-for-meaning deep within them, grow stronger and stronger.

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Irrelevance

Buying and owning a library of amazing spiritual books – Irrelevant

Reading the latest editions of spiritual and self-help texts – Irrelevant

Listening to spiritual sermons by the best of saints – Irrelevant

Writing books (and blogs!) on spirituality – Irrelevant

Attending live sessions of preachers and spiritually realized souls – Irrelevant

Speaking to small and / or large audiences on the Gita / other spiritual texts – Irrelevant

Ability to read/write/process Sanskrit to access said abstruse spiritual texts – Irrelevant

Chanting or performing great mantras/hymns/shlokas/homas – Irrelevant

Everything superficial is irrelevant in the pursuit of the Self, unless the lessons and takeaways are put into day-to-day implementation. That’s the only way, according to my Guru, does even a modicum of transformation take place.

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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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Come again

Many people do not believe in reincarnation. And those who do, can’t prove it.

Some people are totally against it. While some others even speak of remembering their own past births.

Who and how and why to believe?

Reincarnation comes into the picture from a karmic point of view, i.e. the law of karma, i.e action begets reaction.

Think of a justice system, that does not punish one for a crime. Rather, all their good actions and bad actions are separately totalled, and then netted off. If good is greater than bad, then no matter how barbaric the bad (think murders and rapes), the person goes to a ‘heaven’. And that’s that. Case closed. Story over. No rebirth.

Does that sound like a logical justice system? Or would it make more sense for the perpetrator to suffer or enjoy the consequences of each of his/her actions – no matter whether this birth or the next?

Food for thought.

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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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ABCD work

Here’s a cool little snippet that popped up in my LinkedIn feed a few days ago. It was about how to prioritize things at work. Not that we need to take it too seriously, but the importance of prioritizing itself cannot be overemphasized.

The ABCD principle is Hindi-based and goes thus:

A – Apna kaam, i.e. one’s own work
B – Boss ka kaam, i.e. the boss’ work
C – Company ka kaam, i.e. the company’s work
D – Dusro ka kaam, i.e. other people’s work

Similar to “please put your own oxygen mask first before assisting others”, here too, first do your work, before trying to do great things for others. Of course, nothing is applicable 100% of the times, but this is certainly a good thumb rule to keep in mind.

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Karmic knowledge – part 4

We’ve been discussing karma for a few days now. But given this is such a complex topic, it is worth exploring a bit more. Here’s another interesting example from the Sadhguru book on Karma I mentioned yesterday.

He talks of 5 related examples. In four of them, person A has a knife, and it results in the death of person B. Either the knife hit person B by mistake, or was struck in the heat of the moment, or was a well orchestrated murder and so on. Sadhguru says the karma of person A (knife-wielder) from each of these acts is totally different, even though the end result (death of person B) is the same.

The 5th example he gives does not even involve the killing of person B, but simply the detailed and repeated plotting of person B’s death. According to Sadhguru, the karma accrued in option 5 is far worse than any of the other options. Why? Because he says that it is not the act alone that causes karma, but the level of bitterness and hatred (that person A harbours in his mind), and the fact that the plotting is repeated a million times over. He summarizes by saying that the worst karma is accrued when someone combines negative thought + negative emotion + negative mental action.

What to do then? Simple – always have positive thoughts, and get rid of negative thoughts. And have positive thoughts that are all-inclusive, and not just focused on the three people we love the most (I, me, myself). This way you we not ‘identify’ with our actions – meaning that they are not just self-serving. He concludes decisively, “If your identification were all-inclusive, that would be the end of the karmic cycle.”

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Karmic knowledge – part 3

What then of astrology, free will, destiny etc? Yes, these all exist, and do work – yes even astrology. But it is our own choice whether we wish to be bound by our karma or not.

Even the best of astrologers can only give you an outline of what you are likely to experience in your life at different points. This is a probabilistic science. It is also based on a chart that is drawn up when you are born, based on the place, time and date of birth. It is not re-drawn every day. Since birth, haven’t we each made so many different wide-ranging choices of our free will? Every single day, just the act of getting out of bed is one of free will!

There are indeed some long-standing tendencies / innate habits that have become so entrenched into our lives that we rarely change course. Any one can predict your reactions in such situations – no need for an astrologer, just as your close family members!

Here’s how Sadhguru of Isha puts it in his new book called Karma. “So karma is not some external system of crime and punishment. It is an internal cycle generated by you. These patterns are not oppressing you from without, but from within. Externally, it may be a new day. You may have a new job, a new home, a new life partner, a new baby. You may even be in a new country. But, internally, you are experiencing the same cycles—the same internal oscillations, the same behavioral shifts, the same mental reactions, the same psychological tendencies.”

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Karmic knowledge – part 2

Continuing on from yesterday’s post on Karma – yes if we intend to harm someone, then we get bad karma. Conversely, if our intention is good, then we earn good karma. But what if we don’t intend anything? i.e. our action is unintentional, but has resulted in the other person taking it negatively.

One can only surmise, but here’s a thought experiment. Imagine you are a school teacher. Your intention is to ensure your students learn the most and become the best possible citizens. But let’s say the students have a different goal. They don’t want to study, or even attend class. No matter your good intention, they still harbour irritation and hatred for you. But your intention is still good – so you should ideally get only good karma?

If we step on an ant unknowingly, then will we accumulate bad karma? From the ant’s point of view, it has been a massive wrong-doing. From our point of view, we didn’t do anything at all – except take a step forward! Perhaps if we’d tortured the ant to death, then…

Does this also come back to choices and consequences? If you bite your tongue while eating, there is immediate pain – no matter the biting was unintentional or not. So the consequence of the action exists. But whether one incurs sin or not, is a different matter. The best saints are always mindful of their every action – living never for themselves, but always for all living beings around them. With selfish action and selfish intention out of the way, the spiritual path thus becomes clearer. More tomorrow…

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Karmic knowledge

How exactly does karma work? We know the usual quotes about ‘an eye for an eye’, or ‘action = reaction’ and all that as it relates to our karma. But when we observe the world around us, it rarely seems as though those who deserve something (either good or bad) actually get it.

So what exactly is the formula? How does karma work? Is there really a Chitragupta, sitting with his book and pen recording every single action done by every single creature? Seems unlikely. I’ve been trying to find a book that can explain the exact process. Most books and Gurus wholly accept karmic law – and I do too, it makes sense intuitively. But what are the mechanics behind it? I don’t know.

However, there is one interesting book called The Science of Karma by Dr. Niruben Amin, who has catalogued her Guru Dadashri ji’s teachings. Here are a few of the things mentioned in it:

  1. Karma is not about action – but about intent. I might donate money, but if I’m doing it just to curry favour with someone else, rather than to help the needy, then this is bad karma, not good. Actions are only after-effects.
  2. For bad karma we have just created, we can immediately erase it, simply by begging for forgiveness (and never repeating the act) from whichever God one believes in. This is not a carte-blanche for reckless behaviour, but for genuine repentance.
  3. The intention of giving happiness to others binds good karma, while the intention of hurting others binds bad karma.
  4. Good karma is a shackle made of gold, while bad karma is made of iron. But both are shackles, and prevent liberation.
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Tough times

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

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

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

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

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

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DIRFTI

A consultant was engaged to help overhaul a company’s business operations. After a detailed study, they shared all their observations in 6 volumes of books. The company replied that this was unacceptable and asked them to condense the material. The consultant came back with 3 books, then 1, then half, then 10 pages, then 1 page, and finally just 1 line. And DIRFTI is what they came up with – which refers to Do It Right the First Time Itself.

This is one of my Guru’s favourite-est principles. Don’t want to be late for work? Make sure you don’t throw the car keys on the sofa corner the previous day when you come home. Want to find an important book? Keep it back on the bookshelf after using it. Want to succeed in an exam? Make sure you study every day like the exam is the very next day. Feeling lazy to do something properly? Want to avoid multiple trips to correct a stupid error? Make sure it’s done right the first time itself!

This is so important to my Guru that he has written this in bold on the very first page of the Amazing Empowerment Workshop book. The principle doesn’t suggest that one should never make mistakes. But rather than looking at the outcome, it focuses on the process, ensuring that everything is done optimally, thereby expecting optimal solutions as a result. Not very different from what Lord Krishna says in verse 2.47 – Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kada Chana, meaning one must only worry about one’s effort, and not on the end result.

DIRFTI is great, but it is even more great, when done while no one is watching. This will time and again avoid future pain, and provide immediate relief and happiness.

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Animal king

We know who the king of the jungle is, right? He’s the strongest, fastest, largest and cleverest animal of them all.

Wait, I thought ‘strongest’ was the elephant. And ‘largest’ animal should be the blue whale? And ‘cleverest’, the fox? The fastest surely is the cheetah. But none of these guys are the kings!

The king is one who may not be the best at everything, but is able to keep it all together, and exude a level of confidence that no other member of the kingdom is able to.

We think lions and tigers have a chilled out life, sitting cushy at the top of the food chain. But no, they struggle too. The males have to constantly guard their territory and females from other usurper males. The females have to constantly look out for the safety of their kids, not just from said usurpers, but also from the father lion who might kill the babies seeing them as a threat to his status. When it comes to food, most hunts end in failure, with mom and babies having to go to bed hungry for days together – and so it is not as easy as it seems.

Nature never has it easy on anyone. That’s the cycle of life. One has to work hard to earn their living, or at least to sustain their lifestyle. This is a universal truth, applicable in past lives, this life, and the next.

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