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Category: karma

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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Karmic cricket

In a recent cricket test match between India and Australia, the Indian captain Ajinkya Rahane was lauded by even his harshest critics. That the man showed what good sportsmanship is, cannot be denied. However, it wasn’t rosy. In just the match before, a judgement error on his part caused him to run his partner Virat Kohli out. Rahane apologized, but the latter was obviously frustrated and disappointed, and he let it show.

As fate would have it, in the second test, while Rahane was batting really well, it was now his turn to be run-out. But he showed no sign of frustration or anger. Instead, he coolly went over to his partner Ravindra Jadeja (who was responsible for the run out), put his hand on his shoulder, and encouraged him to carry on. What a nice gesture!

For the record, all three players mentioned above are nothing short of amazing, have contributed to Indian cricket by leaps and bounds, and this post is not a relative comparison – only an unbiased description of the facts. To me, there are many things to learn from the sport, including patience, sportsmanship, doggedness, passive aggression, fitness and positivity among others.

One thing stands out though. And that is a reflection of karmic cycle. Each man is facing his own battle, no matter the trend of the war. The team could be winning the match, but the captain might get out for a duck. The batsmen might score the highest total ever, only to be let down by the subsequent bowling attack. Four out of five bowlers might take a wicket-an-over while the fifth might be walloped for 6 sixes. The team might lift the trophy, but for the serial underperformer this might very well be the last match. The possibilities are endless. Each man to himself. We can only do our best, and leave the rest!

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Goal setting 2

In his book Principles: Life and Work, hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio says, “I learned that if you work hard and creatively, you can have just about anything you want, but not everything you want. Maturity is the ability to reject good alternatives in order to pursue even better ones.”

Like we discussed yesterday, it is important to know what we really want. Not what the neighbour’s son wants. Unfortunately, comparisons never stop these days – neither in real life, nor on social media.

But is knowing ourselves easy? It is probably the hardest question to answer. I didn’t say it. Thales of Miletus, one of the Seven Sages of Greece did – “The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.” Aristotle wasn’t far behind when he said “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

One method mentioned in the previously referenced book Your Next Five Moves is to use 4 categories – Advancement, Individuality, Madness and Purpose. You can try out the Personality Assessment Quiz here and see what bucket you fall under.

More than anything, once a goal has been set, it is important to be mentally free from it. Goals are for working, not for worrying. If we enjoy the work, the goal will be achieved automatically – sooner than later.

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Carma

At the valet parking area of a renowned 5 star hotel, the owner of an old and tiny Hyundai i10 was waiting for his car to be brought to him.

He watched, as the valets buzzed about, servicing their guests and deftly moving from car to car. One valet drove up in great style in a brand new Mercedes Benz AMG GLE Coupe. The Coupe owner took the keys and handed the valet a crisp couple of notes. The smile on the valet’s face was telling of his satisfaction.

The compact car owner thought to himself, “Wow these valets have it so good. I can’t even dream of driving these sporty beauties. That Mercedes GLE is a special edition model – just 10 of them in the whole world!”

Little did he know the thoughts running in the valet’s mind. “Oh these rich folks – such show-offs. And having to drive their cars? Back and forth, back and forth, from the reception area to the parking lot, a 100 times a day. Can there be anything more repetitive and boring? With the money I make, I barely make ends meet. My school going son would love it so much if I could own even just a simple car. Even an old dilapidated Hyundai i10 would be perfect.”

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My job or someone else’s?

Verse 35 chapter 3 in the Gita can be confusing. Krishna has said that it is better to do one’s own duty badly than to perform someone else’s duty well. Prima facie, it sounds silly. When I’m able to do someone else’s work well, why should I then waste time doing my own work even if done poorly? Does this not bring down efficiency, productivity and quality of the end result? Granted that this can be a bit controversial, but here’s my take on it.

Firstly, the entire Gita talks only about how to work, and never once talks about the type of work itself. Therefore, the focus is on us, the worker, and not the work. Secondly, while we may be great at a neighbour’s job, we may not have the ready opportunity to work there. We can certainly try for a job switch – but whether that fructifies or not, may not be in our control.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, karma yoga is all about treating work as worship. It is a means of attaining the Lord – by not just giving up the results, but by also giving up doer-ship. This is only possible when I do work that is comfortable for me, and that plays to my innate nature. I might love being a librarian for instance, because it gives me peace of mind – reading books, comparing them, learning from them. However, it might seem like a low-paying job, and so I might want to use my bookish knowledge to become an author – which might give me money, but leave me unable to tackle the associated fame. Here our focus must be clear – are we doing the job for our love of books? Or for the money?

In the Gita with Krishna talking to Arjuna, the Lord says that Arjuna might make a great saint, but that as a warrior, it is his duty and innate nature to fight. He adds that it is better to die performing one’s own duty than running after another’s duty. If the work we are doing, feels more like play than work, then we are likely in the right profession. Running after someone else’s work might seem attractive at this moment, but could bring much despair in the future.

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Praise the struggle(r)

A new Tamil movie released directly-to-home, i.e. bypassing cinema theatres, as many of the latter are still pandemic-shut. The movie titled Soorarai Pottru translates to ‘Praise the Brave’. It loosely chronicles the life and successes of Capt. Gopinath who launched Air Deccan – India’s first affordable airlines for the common man, from back in the early 2000s.

There were a lot of learnings for me from watching the man’s incessant struggles. (Spoiler Alert!) He is driven by just one goal – to enable the common man to fly. While this might seem normal today, flying was only for the elites back then. The protagonist (an Indian Air Force pilot) himself is unable to reach home in time to see his father on his death bed as he is short of funds to buy his plane ticket. He ends up hitching rides of various kinds, reaching his village by road just as the funeral rites commence.

There is the obvious clique of villains, none of whom want competition for their own elite airlines. Despite all kinds of attempts to derail (or should it be deplane!) progress, the Captain never ever gives up. In the worst of times, he goes so far as to part-create a chance meeting with the President of the country resulting in a lifeline for his carrier. The film also showcases the importance of values, family bonding, goal setting and never giving up no matter the adversity.

While some parts of the movie seemed hyperbolic (probably for cinematic effect), there is no doubt Capt. Gopinath struggled his way to success. And as every struggler would attest to, it is the struggle alone that makes the victory sweet. Just ask the butterfly that came out the cocoon, as the struggle alone makes its wings strong enough for flight.

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Stalled

An 80 year old couple have been running a food stall since the 1980s. They survive each day on what they make selling their food. The pandemic had caused fear towards eating roadside food, and footfalls to the stall had dwindled to nothing. How were these couple to fend for themselves?

A good samaritan comes along, takes a video of the couple, puts it on social media and requests for help. Soon enough, the video goes viral, a lot of money is donated and the stall owner is beaming, business running brusquely.

Cut to a week later, and the stall owner lodged a police complaint against the good samaritan. Why? Because apparently the YouTuber kept most of the funds to himself. The elderly couple also claimed that in recent days, people were not coming as customers, but only to take photos and selfies. The YouTuber on his part has disclosed all his transactions publicly, claiming no malpractice.

What is the truth? I don’t know. But it is indeed amazing how people can find victory in adversity, and soon after, find adversity in victory. Surely I’m culpable too, as I’ve often wanted something to happen, and when that thing happened, the peace of mind that ensued was fickle at best. Something else would come up. And then something else. The cycle is never stalled.

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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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Our actions – part 1 of 2

In the quest for moksha or liberation, one can take many paths. The path of knowledge, the path of devotion, the path of meditation etc. are some of the ways to the same goal. The easiest and most identifiable path in this day and age though, is supposed to be the path of action, also known as karma yoga.

There are 2 very specific principles of karma yoga, and these often cause much confusion in their applicability.
1. We must give up the fruits of our actions.
2. We must give up the doer-ship of our actions.

What does this even mean? We will explore the first principle now, and the next one in tomorrow’s follow up post.

Let us say we have a bright chance of getting promoted at work. This entails putting in our best work for the next 6 months. How much of our time over the next 6 months goes in actually working, versus in worrying about the result? It is likely that many of us dissipate a lot of our energies stressing about that which is not in our control. We cannot control the promotion cycle or evaluation cycle or the management team that has to vote on the promotions or the macro environment or the overall profit / loss of the company or the number of other candidates that deserve promotions or even whether your recommending officer (i.e. your boss) would still be with the firm! There is only thing we can control however, and this is the quality of our own work.

The first principle of karma yoga drives home precisely this point. Irrespective of what you are doing (studying, giving an exam, working, driving, eating, anything!), focus on doing your best, and forget about the end result. This forgetting about the end result, is called giving up the fruits of our actions. The less the worry, the more the enjoyment of the work at hand, and thereby better the quality of output.

Last but not the least, giving up the result does not mean we say ‘No’ to a promotion if we get it, as that would only be foolish! But we do not need to be mentally ‘bound’ to the promotion either, especially while doing the work. If the promotion does not come through, we can either try for one next time, or look for another role. Part 2 tomorrow!

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Branching out

A man paid a princely sum to buy two falcons. These were special falcons, that could fly higher and faster than any other. When he took them back to his mansion and let them loose, one flew high and fast. The other just went and perched itself onto a nearby tree.

The man tried shooing the sitting bird, shouting at it and prancing around but to no avail. The falcon just wouldn’t fly. He called the seller angrily and asked for half his money back, as only one falcon had taken to the air. The seller calmly said “Tomorrow, I will fix the problem.”

The next day, when the man woke up and came out of his house, he saw both falcons flying high and fast. He was ecstatic, but also puzzled. He immediately called the seller, and asked “How did you make the falcon fly?”. The seller replied, “It was easy, I just cut off the branch on which the bird was sitting.”

A look back at each of our lives would suggest the same thing. Maximum growth has always happened when our backs were to the wall, when the chips were down, and when the branch underneath us was ripped away.

Applied differently, Chapter 15 of the Bhagavad Gita (the best and most practical version here for free!) likens the whole world around us to be an inverted tree. We are at the fringes of the branches, having forgotten the roots where we came from. The tree (creation) is impossible to understand, even though we spend a lot of time trying to. The only way out of this tumultuous inexplicable experience of life is to cut the branches (our attachments, desires, ego) and return to the Source.

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Time travel

Since time immemorial, (wo)man has always enquired about two things.
1. The past, before this life
2. The future, in this same life

Both of these questions can be answered to a good extent, by a good astrologer, assuming accurate birth data are available. Astrology can indeed be useful to help prepare the mind for what is to come – both good and bad.

However, time travelling through astrology can often lead us to not revel in the current moment. Why?

Let us say we need to present a very important deliverable at work. It will take 1 week of intense preparation, and we are absolutely enthused about it, given this could be a career-defining moment. However, if we knew in advance, that the presentation would not be well received, or that a colleague would outdo us, or the manager would change, or the client would not go ahead with the suggestion, it is highly likely we will not put adequate effort into making the presentation in the first place. If we knew in advance that a relationship would not last, we would not get into it in the first place. If an entrepreneur knew their company was going to shut down after 2 years, they would never ‘start-up’ to begin with.

And therein lies the problem. We are conditioned to believe that success is the endgame. But it is not. Learning or growth is the real endgame. And all the actions that bestow so-called ‘failure’ are what toughens us up for the future.

Likewise for the past. What are we going to do by knowing we were a king or a great sage or Krishna’s consort in an earlier life? Spirituality teaches us to eschew all identification with our body/mind/intellect. Liberation comes from renunciation. Why add additional layers from past lives?

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