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Category: knowledge

Ableknowledge

How much do we really know?

We think we know a lot. Sometimes we feel like we know everything. And that others around us know very little. Especially if there is a new joinee on the team.

It used to boggle my mind, that for the IIT JEE, probably the most competitive entrance exam in the world, the top scorer would often not score even 50%!

It still boggles my mind.

In chapter 7, verse 1 of the Gita though, the Lord says he will give Arjuna the complete knowledge. There will be no doubts. He just needs to set his ego aside.

Isn’t this awesome?

The highest knowledge is that, in which there remains no curiosity, which is not followed by any logic and which leaves no room for imagination.

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RR

Given this is cricket and IPL season in India, one could be forgiven to think this post’s title is the name of one of the prominent teams.

But a new RR I came across.

Maybe an RisR in fact.

The first R for Rejection.

The second R for Redirection.

Because any time at all, when we feel like soemthing did not work out the way we expected, we must always remember that Rejection is nothing more than Redirection.

RR is my new mantra. Hard to follow, but worth trying for mental peace.

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A life of minutes

Many ask why we need to read the same scriptural books again and again.

It’s the same messages only, said in myriad ways.

No anger, no jealously, no greed, no fear, no this no that.

Surely we don’t need to keep reading again and again?

I came across a boardgame called Othello.

Here’s what it said on the box, which is also very relevant for the spiritual repetition we just discussed above:

“It takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master!”

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Machiavelli Neeti

You must have heard of Chanakya Neeti. It is extremely famous in India at least. Chanakya was easily the best kingmaker ever.

All of his laws, rules, suggestions, principles – call them what you will, have been codified into what is called Chanakya Neeti.

There are plenty of books available on the topic. His thought process is truly marvellous.

I happened to be in a restaurant recently that also had a small library. One of the books there was Chanakya Neeti.

I picked it up, but was distraught at the title. Okay not that upset or anything, but it was funny, bordering on silly. It said this bright and bold, up on the cover page itself. “The Machiavelli of India.” Wait, What?!

I quickly did a Google search. Just as expected, Machiavelli was born in the 1400s, while Chanakya was born in 375 BC!

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True Knowledge

We’ve all heard of the story of the dead machine right? One fellow had his machine messed up and just could not manage to fix it. He tried all sorts of things from all sorts of manuals, but no luck. Finally he called the mechanic, who took a look at the machine, fished out his pencil, and then tapped at one corner. The machine immediately sprung to life. So the owner asked for the bill, and he was told 10,000$! Wow, so much for just a tap? “Yes yes”, the mechanic said, “because it’s not the tapping that matters, but knowing where exactly to tap!”

I was reminded of this story on a recent trip to a really really cold place. The heater in the hotel room wasn’t working. After calling up the help desk several times, and them sending housekeeping to replace multiple heaters, nothing was doing the trick. There were no other rooms to move out to because the hotel was full. At dinner, it so happened that I bumped into the owner of the hotel. He enquired if my stay was alright, and I said of course all was good, and also brought up this point on the heaters. He immediately said, “Don’t worry, the room that you are in has electric blankets under the beds. Let me send my person to show you how.” And that’s what he did. It was hidden under the covers, and no one else in the housekeeping team seemed to know about it. A potentially very cold experience turned into a warm one!

In the materialistic world we live in, knowledge is key. In the spiritual world too, only a Guru who has truly experienced the Knowledge, really knows how to take us out of our cycle of births and deaths.

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Chanakya Neeti – part 2 of 3

Some more superb takeaways from Chanakya:

  1. In this universe, everyone wants something because no one is satisfied with his present position.
  2. All faiths are supposed to lead us to our Creator. This undying wish to reach God will survive everything. The only thing that is permanent in this world is faith.
  3. Money buys almost everything, hence it is the real power. The friends and family of a rich person neglect all his shortcomings because of his money. Time is the mightiest of all.
  4. Contentment is the purest form of happiness. Greed is the driving force of sin.
  5. The student, the servant, the traveler, the starving person and the guard should be woken up immediately if found sleeping at the time of work.

What clarity no? Concluded tomorrow!

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Chanakya Neeti – part 1 of 3

Just a few lovely takeaways from The Real Chanakya! (a book published by a Dheeraj Publications, and it does not name an author)

  1. The tongue is the greatest war monger. Silence is another name for tolerance, and a guarantee for peace.
  2. There is no question of putting faith in a bad friend. Even a good friend should be kept away from your personal and business secrets. These secrets can be used against you anytime.
  3. One must always assess oneself frequently. This practice will help the person take corrective actions in time to avoid any crisis.
  4. Troubles should be feared till they don’t come in front of us. Make efforts to avert them. But if they come, forget fear, and fight instead.
  5. A frank person can’t be a cheat because cheating needs secrecy and double talk. Polite talking needs cleverness cultivated through education.

Some more brilliant Chanakya thoughts tomorrow!

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Tree wood

Know the saying “Don’t miss the forest for the trees”? You have surely come across it.

Here’s some forest-for-the-trees questions we get regularly in the satsang.

  1. Did Ravana really have 10 heads?
  2. Is there really a heaven and a hell?
  3. Are there really 7 worlds above and below?
  4. Did Krishna really explain the Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield? What were the others doing then?
  5. Did Rama really cross over to Lanka by walking on floating rocks put together by monkeys?
  6. Did Ravana actually fly to India?
  7. Is it possible that the Vishwaroopa darshanam actually happened?
  8. How did Creation happen?

All of these are amazing questions. However, even the most amazing answers to these questions will not help us transform ourselves and progress on the spiritual path.

When the real transformation begins (work selflessly as worship, i.e. karma yoga), the questions will automatically fall away.

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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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Controller

For those of us with day jobs, a large part of they day goes in working. And with it comes the associated stress and anxiety. Specially when the employer / boss decides that the work you’ve done is not good enough and is communicated in a harsh manner. Or the phone calls that come over the weekend when it’s actually time go camping with your kids. Or the general office politics which are eating into your limelight because you are inherently a ‘non-political’ person.

We also get stressed in other non-work activities, like when we don’t have enough time for family and that plays on our minds, or when we have emergencies, or when we know the neighbour has bought a new car that we certainly cannot afford, or even when a close friend or colleague suddenly gets a massive promotion leaving us many steps behind. “Oh what a stroke of luck” we may think. And that could indeed be the case.

As we well know, there is no dearth of reasons to be anxious. My wife highlighted a piece from a book she is reading on Ayurveda and nutrition which is very interesting. The author says that most of the causes of stress in our lives are outside our control. We can’t control what the boss says, or the colleagues do, or what the neighbours will show off.

According to the book though, there are only two things we can and should control.
1 – Our diet (quality, quantity, timing), and
2 – Our sleep routine (again – quality, quantity, timing)
The author says with incredible conviction, that if these two things alone are sorted in our lives, the rest will take care of itself. Worth a try?

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Luckuidity

Here’s a short story that I came across (surprisingly!) in two different books within just the past week. The first book is called The Great Mental Models by Shane Parrish, while the other is the recently released How to Prevent a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates.

The story goes thus. There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

There could be different takeaways for different people from this. To me, it is a simple yet profound reminder of all the good stuff that I’ve got in my life that I’m constantly and almost unknowningly taking for granted. If I would only stop to smell the roses along the way…

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Too much to read 4

So here’s the last of a series of thoughts on reading. This one involves a little bit of math, but is very simple – just so it drives home the point.

How much should we read? 1000 pages like Warren Buffet? That would be nice, but it would also mean that we would need to pursue reading as a full time job. Nice as it may sound, I’ve never come across such a job description!

A simpler way, is to target just 25 pages a day. This should take about half an hour. Not much at all. If we assume we sleep 8 hours and work 8 hours, we still have 8 hours left in the day. Half an hour in these eight hours is less than 10% of the time spent reading.

The magic happens as the reading practice compounds along. 25 pages a day, is 175 a week – which means roughly one book every 2 weeks, and ~26 books or ~10,000 pages a year – an incredible achievement for anyone who wasn’t reading much to begin with!

One important and final tip – do not count searching for the right book as part of your reading time – otherwise you can lose hours just searching for the right material. All the perfect books may not present themselves to you on day 1 itself – but I keep searching Amazon Books for new and upcoming releases periodically, and keep adding those to a wishlist/readlist. Works well. Put the posts ‘Too much to read 1-2-3-4’ together, and this should help us kickstart our reading journeys. Hope you liked it!

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Too much to read 3

A few more thoughts on reading as one of the best habits one can have. I was super lucky because my parents introduced me to reading very early in life, and holidays meant hitting the local libraries and devouring whatever books I could find my hands on. Initially, I used to read only fiction, but eventually I realized that non-fiction is where all the learning and development happens.

But it wasn’t easy – books weren’t available as easily three decades ago as it is today. Certainly not at the click of a button and delivered wirelessly over ‘whispernet’. However, there weren’t as many distractions as today either – perhaps making the act of reading itself more sustainable.

Technology does have a very good flip side though. Not only can we store 1000s of books in a flat e-reader, but we can also look up instant dictionaries, highlight items for future reference, make notes, export key paragraphs and more. And finding specific mentions across books was never easier. Tech is also awesome because of other formats like audio books, podcasts, and so on.

As my Guru says, the way to read a book, is to go in with full reverence to the author. To imagine that the author is himself/herself speaking to you through the pages, and personally sharing with you, decades of inimitable experience, all within just 300 pages! Such an amazing way to think about reading, isn’t it?

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Too much to read 2

Continuing on from yesterday, there is too much to read, but not enough time, isn’t it?

Yesterday’s takeaway was to focus on finding high-quality sources of information in just two categories:
a) your niche
b) general knowledge about how the world really works”

Point ‘a’ we probably are bombarded with inputs (emails, reports, whitepapers etc.) anyway from work. Even if not, we can look for specific books written on these topics (I like to keep looking at new and upcoming releases on Amazon and add them to my wishlist), or blogs that we can subscribe to.

Point ‘b’ most people probably do not focus on much, and this in my view can help each one of us build a serious edge – especially if it can be combined with ‘a’. How can we do this? One way is to read all your childhood textbooks – from grade 1 to grade 12, and then beyond. The wealth of knowledge in them is just outstanding – although we have mostly forgotten everything.

Point ‘c’, which is not mentioned above, is to actively reject all materials that do not fall under ‘a’ or ‘b’. This is very hard to do, as I’ve seen from personal experience. A link from a friend or family member, on to social media posts can lead us unto a clickthrough journey to nowhere.

Point ‘d’ (loosely subsumed under point ‘b’), is to also include reading one post on spirituality, spending just 30 seconds a day. This blog is one way to do that! 🙂

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Too much to read 1

We all know that reading is a good habit. Most hyper-successful people in fact suggest that they got to where they are only because they read a lot. A few hours a day at least. Warren Buffet for instance reads between 600 and 1000 pages – nope not in a month or a year, but every single day! He dedicates 80% of his day to reading.

Which got me thinking. A lot of us read a lot too – nowhere near Mr. Buffet perhaps, but we do get plenty of links on Whatsapp and LinkedIn and we read the news everyday – and there is just so much of information (mostly nonsense). Does that count as reading? What about fiction novels – does that count as reading? We probably know deep down that reading Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys or Mills & Boon don’t count as very productive reading – at least not in the material world as adults – unless we are budding authors.

So what should we read then? Here’s a nice tweet by Shane Parrish I came across, which addresses this:

"While information continues to compound, our ability to digest it is limited. We need to filter. But how?
Invest an abnormal amount of time finding high-quality sources of information in two categories:
a) your niche
b) general knowledge about how the world really works"

How can we apply this? More tomorrow…

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Rich is poor

Know what 80% of the people chose in a research study? See the two options. a) Make US$ 36,000 in a firm where the starting salary was US$ 40,000. or b) Make US$ 34,000 in a firm where the average salary was US$ 30,000. 80% chose the latter. That’s what would make them happy. Can you imagine that? We all want to be happy, but that happiness it seems, is governed not just by our own possessions, but also those of the others around us. i.e. Wealth is relative, not absolute.

I saw that it was the artificial needs of life that made me a slave; the real needs of life were few

William James Dawson

We’ve explored here previously the concept of the hedonic treadmill. We are running on one, where no matter how fast we go, we never seem to reach our destination. And we are often running not even for ourselves, but for others. No wonder then, that happiness is but fleeting.

As Benjamin Franklin wisely observed, “It is the eyes of others and not our own eyes that ruin us. If all the world were blind except myself I should not care for fine clothes or furniture.”

Epicurus said beautifully, “Contented poverty is an honourable estate. Indeed, if it be contented, it is not poverty at all. It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”

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Blindspots

Just because something is invisible to the eye, or appears beyond our comprehension and perception, does not make it non-existent or fraudulent. Take the example of gravity. Despite all the advancements in science and technology, we still do not understand the process behind why people drinking tea simultaneously at the North and South poles have no problem keeping the liquids in their cups. Take also the human body – with a plethora activities going on inside at any moment – digestion, cognition, respiration etc. all of which we tend to be blissfully unaware of.

The same is said to be true of Consciousness. It is very much there – the fabric underlying all Creation. There for everyone to experience, if scrutinized closely, yet immediately unavailable to any. This is not a paradox, as author Sam Harris of the outstanding book Waking Up (which delves deep into the topic of human consciousness) puts it. He goes on to describe an optic blindspot that each one of us has, and something I never knew of. Apparently the optic nerve passes through the retina of each eye, creating a small region in each visual field where we are effectively blind. He further adds that most people in human history have been totally unaware of the optic blind spot. Even those of us who know about it go for decades without noticing it. And yet, it is always there, right on the surface of experience. Here’s a simple experiment you can try yourself!

So, can we experience this Atman / Brahman / Consciousness within us? Yes, with some training / effort / meditation. As Harris puts it, “The self that I am discussing throughout this book—the illusory, albeit reliable, source of so much suffering and confusion—is the feeling that there is an inner subject, behind our eyes, thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experience. We must distinguish between the self and the myriad mental states—self-recognition, volition, memory, bodily awareness—with which it can be associated.

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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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The baby brain

There is a concept called the ‘beginner brain’. Maybe you’ve heard of it. We could also call it the baby brain. It is a super useful concept, and also very easy to apply.

The idea is this. Why do babies learn so much and why do they enjoy it? Because they have no past reference points, of what is good or bad, and what is successful or not. They hence have zero expectations and are able to joyously accept all their experiences as learnings.

Can we do this in our daily lives? We tend to approach all our situations with the ‘expert brain’. Despite knowing the tendencies of an irate boss, can we still go into the meeting room with no expectations? Despite having a world of desires to fulfil, can we still embark on our day to day projects without worrying about the result? And can we respond calmly during the torrid times in our relationships, because we switch on our baby brains and have no expectations from our partner/spouse? Surely these are difficult, and progress will come over time.

But there are a few things we can start off with, to help the process. For example, without worrying about the meeting with your boss, you could tell yourself that every meeting is a new one, with new possibilities, and be grateful that you have a job in such tough times. Instead of being frustrated by your better-half because he/she doesn’t meet your standards, you could view them in new light, acknowledge that they’re just trying to be happy, that you both share good intentions, and they are struggling just like you are. Over time, this practise helps us be more flexible, open, curious, grateful and present in the moment.

Even before that, want to just test what it feels like to have a baby brain? Try brushing / combing / eating with your non-dominant hand. Have fun!

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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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