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Category: selflessness

Laptop delivery

Here’s an incident which happened a while ago, but quickly taught me the importance of being humble.

In a previous avatar, I was once called by someone from the tech support team. This person told me that my superboss had asked for me to bring his laptop to him, from his desk, to a meeting room where he was sitting then.

Surely this was not my job – delivering laptops!

But (luckily) I didn’t think twice about it, walked across the room, picked up his laptop, and took it to the meeting room where he was. When I knocked and went in, my superboss was surprised too, and said, “Hey, you’re here? I’m so sorry, I didn’t ask you to bring my laptop over, I think the tech support guy misunderstood me. I told him to have someone get my laptop to me, and then have it sent to you for the specific task we discussed today morning.”

I quickly replied, “Not at all a problem sir…”, and then he cut me off and motioned towards another gentleman seated in the meeting room, “Please meet Mr. ABC, who is the owner of a large chain of jewellery stores.” And he invited me to sit down. Turned out that we both spoke the same mother tongue, which led to an interesting conversation. My superboss invited me back to the room a while later as his guest wanted to convey something only in the mother tongue, which he was unable to translate otherwise.

If I’d just thought “What the heck, why should I be the laptop courier?”, surely such an interesting experience wouldn’t have transpired!

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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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Call centric

We’ve all had to call customer care at some point. Something breaks, something is not working, something needs to be returned, some parcel needs to be tracked, some refund needs to be appropriated – the reasons are many.

But do you really like speaking to customer care?

Most of us hate it, don’t we?

But those folks are so polite no?

They say “please”, they say “thank you for calling, have a nice day”, they also say “sorry to keep you waiting for such a long time”

So very polite. But we still don’t like most customer care experiences. Why?

Because these are mostly empty words. The commanding language or flowery vocabulary really doesn’t matter.

The only thing that does matter, is the deep desire to help the other person. If that is there, then nothing else is necessary.

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Rugged

“Your network determines your networth.” This is a quote many of us would have heard. And it’s true, at least anecdotally. We know people with ‘connections‘ tend to have their way – whether jobs, promotions, access to events or to information.

So the ability to network could be called a superpower. However, most people hate it. Even the ones who are good at it. Going to conferences, and putting up a facade of being someone cool with drink-in-hand… nope, not easy.

So what is the gap here? First, a story, that I heard on an Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast. An Iranian refugee in America with next to no money in hand, ended up being a successful VC investor. How? Simply because he focused on improving his own carpet making skills. This in turn led to him being sought out by people. How’s that possible? Here’s how. Back in his home country, he sold rugs. And given these were often collected as pieces of art, it attracted a lot of rich buyers. Said refugee’s knowledge of the rugs led to many interesting conversations that lasted hours, and let to unexpected door openings, one of which led to him becoming an advisor at a VC firm.

The takeaway is not really to become an expert on rugs, but rather to realize that networking is all about what we can offer to the other person. It’s a give, not a take.

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Nimittas – part 1 of 3

There’s a branch of astrology called Nimmita astrology. Nimmita really means ‘instrument’. Astrologers that work on this principle look for cues from the world around us.

For instance, if someone were to come to the astrologer with a question, “Do you think my child will be a boy or a girl?”, and at that very moment there appears a young girl at the door, or the sound of a girl playing or laughing outside, the astrologer considers this ‘an expression of the Lord’ and the ‘girl’ in the scene as a nimmitta, i.e. an instrument, and makes his prediction.

Regardless of whether this approach works or not, Lord Krishna in the Gita asks Arjuna to be a nimmita of the Lord, i.e. to be an instrument of His. Are there any benefits to this? Absolutely, and life changingly so:

  1. No more stress, no more anxiety. Why? Because I am not doing the work. The Lord is working through me, and I am only the instrument. Then why would I be anxious?
  2. My 100% focus shifts from the result, to the quality of effort. Why? Because I am not doing some ordinary work (no matter what the actual work is), but rather the Lord’s own work!

A simple change in mindset and perception can make such a big difference! Putting this into practise isn’t easy. But the more we believe that we are indeed nimmitas only, the more this will make sense and the more life will become easier.

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Magi-cal

Here’s a lovely story I came across called the Gift of the Magi, and I paraphrase: There’s a couple that can barely make ends meet. But it’s Christmas soon, and so the wife wants to get her man a gift, specifically – a gold chain for his most favourite possession – his shiny watch. But she has no money. What can she do?

She cuts off her lovely long blond tresses, sells them to a wig maker, and uses the money to buy the gold chain. She cooks food, prepares the table, and awaits her man, bald head and all. Her husband enters, and is shell shocked seeing his bald wife. “Do I not look beautiful to you?”, she asks him.

“It’s not that darling. You are more beautiful than ever.” And then he hands her her gift wrapped present. She opens it, to find a beautiful designer comb that she had always had her eyes on. “But…how could you afford this?”, she asked him. And he pointed to his wrist. There was no watch. He’d sold it off to buy his wife her favourite comb. She too gave him her present – a watch chain, for a watch that no longer existed.

What fools both were, weren’t they? Buying things that they couldn’t even afford, and that too which wasn’t even needed anymore? What would she do with a designer comb when she didn’t even have hair? And what would he do with a watch chain, if he didn’t have a watch?!

Quite the contrary. Both of them were able to demonstrate in action, that they were each able to give up what was dearest to them, simply to spark happiness in their loved one. Isn’t that the ultimate sacrifice?

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People’s choice

There used to be a bunch of highly prestigious awards called the Padma Awards in India. These were given to exceptional achievers in society. But the awards also often only went to the rich and elite.

That has changed, with the new people’s Padma Awards. Now it goes to anyone making waves, with a focus on grassroots India, and nominated by the people. This is an outstanding initiative.

Most of the awardees are uneducated and illiterate. Some were married off early, and some ostracized by society. Many have toiled laboriously and continue to do so. It is not wealth or income of these awardees that decides their inclusion to the list, but rather their quality of impact.

A few examples: A 77-year old retired principal has been changing the lives of destitute children by teaching them to read and write, at a mind boggling cost of 2 rupees (2.7 cents) a year. A 68-year orange vendor who grew up in abject poverty and never had access to education, used all his earnings to setup a school for the kids in his village. A 77-year old woman who had no education is dubbed the ‘Encyclopaedia of the Forest’ having planted over thirty thousand trees and knows everything about the flora of the forest. A 102-year old class 7 dropout (no money to continue further) has been teaching kids and adults basic math and alphabets for many decades, and all for free.

Nothing can be more inspirational than these people who started with nothing but have yet achieved so much. Their secret? Selflessness. Imagine what each one of us could achieve, given the head start we have in life, and if we worked so selflessly!

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Across the road

Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it wanted to get to the other side!

And why did the kitten cross the road? Because someone taped the kitty to the chicken of course!

Okay okay, my apologies, worst joke in the world. But I actually did see the video of a kitty trying to cross the road. Not because it wanted to, but because it just unknowingly scampered into the centre of a 6 lane highway.

So many vehicles, all zooming past at breakneck speed. The kitten obviously had little clue of its bearings. It was afraid, and probably did the worst thing. Instead of trying to run to either side of the road, it just lay down still.

Car after truck after bus after car is seen swerving in last ditch attempts to save the helpless creature. Some drivers expertly manoeuvre their cars to ensure they pass cleanly over the baby.

Until one fellow puts on his hazard lights, stops his car a few feet away from the kitty, steps out, picks the baby up, cuddles it in his arms, takes it with him into his car, and drives away.

Such empathy. And one lucky kitty.

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Measuring excellence

Jim Collins is an author who needs no introduction. In one of his defining studies, he has distilled down the excellence factors for any company, to 3 core elements. These are:

  1. Superior results (the company can be amazing on paper, but it needs to win in the real world)
  2. Distinctive impact (if the company disappeared, would it matter?)
  3. Lasting endurance (not just a one-hit wonder)

While these are amazing insights for companies, I also couldn’t help but realize these are amazing ideals for anyone striving for excellence to try living up to.

  1. Superior results – irrespective of the profession, can our clients feel they always get the best only with us?
  2. Distinctive impact – of course no one is indispensable and all that; but even so, if we disappeared from the earth tomorrow, how many people would miss us? Would we have left behind a legacy? Not for the money we provide others, but the compassion, listening ear, love and warmth?
  3. Lasting endurance – it’s easy to be good to people once or twice, but to do that lifelong? That would be most beneficial, not just to those being helped, but to the doer. A non-stop selfless attitude is no different from the pinnacle of spirituality.
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Creator Groomer

Most of us are working our day jobs, doing mundane stuff, often not liking it much.

And many companies too do not expect their employees to grow beyond a point either.

Seniors want to ensure their own seats are secure, and often happy slave-driving their juniors – and to make sure they do not leave the firm for whatever reason. Everyone is just thinking about themselves all the time.

But I came across a startup recently. The founder wrote an open letter, which to me was quite a lovely way to think about work.

His point, was that there are so many problems to be solved in the world. And folks working with him were encouraged to take risks, to disrupt, to be fearless, and to build and scale products with impatient optimism.

He also said, that if any of his employees would leave to found another startup, then he would go out of his way to invest in that new business.

Not just that, he would also enable the new startup to access his own set of VC/PE investors. How awesome is that?!

Not just giving jobs, but funding a potential job creator. Not just being a leader, but being a leader groomer! The magic truly happens when one thinks selflessly about others.

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Live in the moment (really?)

Here’s something we hear often. And it is linked to spirituality too. “Live in the present”, “Live in this moment alone”, “Don’t live in the past or in the future”, “the present is a gift” and so on and so forth. There are many variations of these. And they all sound amazing. Liberating too. Marry these words with some spectacular visuals on Instagram or Facebook and that is enough to make even a corpse feel all charged up and alive.

Feeling charged up and alive is indeed a good thing. But ‘living in the present’ needs to be understood well. It is ultimately dependent on the internal qualities or gunas of a person.

If people are sattvik by nature, they are likely to work for others and for a greater cause. Therefore their focus while working – in the true sense – will not be focused on the results of their actions.

For tamasik people however, this is not so obvious. They too may appear to not care about the result. But this apparent lack of caring comes from a deep rooted centre of laziness, inertia and selfishness which precludes them from calling a spade a spade. Their very success comes from denying the truth, and from seeking to avoid the consequences of their actions.

In that sense, the rajasik folks may be better off – as they at least know there is a gap which they need to bridge.

And thus, it is important to understand well what it takes to live in the moment. If we are thinking only about ourselves, jumping from one desire to the next, we may already be many moments ahead, and certainly not in the present.

If one has transcended the ego however, and is working solely for the benefit of the greater good, then living in the moment will come automatically. It is a state of ‘flow’. Nothing needs to be done to achieve it.

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Jumping high

In the Tokyo Olympics high-jump event, the competition was down to two finalists. Both of them jumped exactly the same height of 2.37 metres. And so it was a tie.

The officials had each of them jump again – three more times in fact. But neither Olympian was able to better the 2.37 number.

In the last and final attempt, one of the two contestants had to withdraw because of a leg injury. The other bloke now had a clear path to gold.

But in what would go down in history books as an outstanding example of parasparam bhavayantah (Gita chapter 3, verse 11, nourish one another), the healthy contestant before his final attempt, first checked if he could … wait for it … share the gold with his opponent!

The officials quickly checked and confirmed that it would be indeed be possible. He decided to forgo his final attempt, and in the video, both players are ecstatically seen hugging each other. How amazing is that? We are brought up with the notion that if we win, someone else needs to lose. But life is not a zero-sum-game. If everyone wins, that is the highest jump of them all.

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Baby time

A lot of babies nowadays are raised not by their parents, but by their nannies.

Whether it’s feeding the baby, cleaning the baby, changing diapers, clothing the baby, carrying the baby, burping the baby, talking with the baby – you name it, and it’s done by the nannies.

The rationale is of course sound – couples in nuclear families have to manage the house and their office work. How can they possibly get time to fit a baby in as well?

Nannies get baby duties, while the parents continue to enjoy their favorite pastimes, whether sports, TV shows, movie outings, friend outings, eat outs, music concerts and a variety of other events. “We are still young. If not now, then when?”

Spending time with the baby is most critical during its first few years. If time is an issue, then why have a baby in the first place? As a wise elder in my family remarked, raising children is all about one and only one thing – Sacrifice. The parents would need to sacrifice their lives for the future of their kids. And when done well, when the sacrifice is out of love rather than lack of alternative, it earns the highest blessing.

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Double role

Chapter 2 in the Gita, towards the end, talks of dwandvas, which refers to duality, like two sides of the same coin. This duality is such, that no matter what the situation, the other side will occur as well – whether we like it or not. Life is full of such dwandvas. Night is always followed by day, and day by night. This can never be changed. Pain is followed by pleasure, and pleasure by pain. There is no escaping it. Success is followed by failure, and that failure in turn can lead to great success. Where great joy exists, great pain will follow too.

There are literally countless examples – pretty much everything we see and feel around us. Get too close to somebody? Then the pain of separation will eventually become too much. Love your child too much? One day s/he will have to go away for higher education or marry someone elsewhere. Love your job or role or credentials? One day you will have to retire and all these will become meaningless. Desperately waiting to go on a vacation? Soon the vacation will come to an end and you will be back at work. And thus the cycle continues, on and on and on.

What’s the point of thinking this way? Only to understand and appreciate that this duality is the nature of the world around us. We keep praying to God for many things. Each of those things also comes with the same duality only. We pray for good things to happen to us. But we forget that these good things will by design come with some not-so-good stuff attached. That is the law of life and creation. So if a prayer isn’t answered, maybe we shouldn’t be depressed about it after all?

In any case, there is only one thing that is non-dual. And that singular omnipotent omnipresent omniscient being can be found deep within each one of us.

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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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Old school

Today’s generation of music is hardly well… music. There’s a lot of masala, a lot of beats, a lot of beep words and a lot of a lot of things. To call them nonsensical might actually be doing them a favour. But who am I to judge right? Some of these music videos have over 500 million views each. Imagine a whole village, a whole town, a whole city, an entire country – all being brought up watching such trash. What will happen to their future?

Step into yesteryear though. Wow, what divnity! Not in every song of course, but more than today for sure. Here’s an outstanding composition I came across from a 1960s Tamil movie called Sumai Thaangi. The lyricist was the renowned Kannadasan – known not just for his amazing poetry but also for his deep philosophical thought.

I’m no Tamil expert, but these words from just the first 4 lines are as if straight from Heaven itself:

Manithan enbavan dheivam aagalaam
[Man can himself become divine] ... really? But how? read on...
Vaari vaari vazhangum bothu vallal aagalaam
[By sharing his wealth, he becomes a philanthropist]
Vaazhai pola thannai thanthu thiyagi aagalaam
[By giving like a banana tree (no part is useless), he becomes an ascetic] 
Urugi odum mezhugu pola oliyai veesalaam
[Like the melting candle wax, he can spread light to everyone]

We may consider our previous generations to be “old school”. But they actually knew the true meaning of life and how to attain it.

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Empavert

The world loves extroverts. These people are chatty, gregarious, always have stories to tell, and seem to get along so easily.

Introverts on the other hand, seem to struggle to get along with most, and prefer to be curled up with a book rather than the centre of attention in a pub.

A book called Quiet by Susain Cain explores how introverts are actually very powerful, can think deeply and make massive contributions to the world in their own ways.

But maybe extroverts and introverts as defined by outward behaviour is irrelevant, even though that is what catches the eye. Dig a little deeper, and what may really matter is empathy.

One can make quick and superficial judgements about people looking at how they behave in public (intro or extro). But when someone goes the extra mile, out of the way to do something for someone else, that is the true basis for a sustainable relationship. In this respect, even an introvert could be an extrovert, by thinking about the other person selflessly.

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Sacrificial – part 3

Chapter 4 in the Gita is called Karma Sanyaasa Yoga, and talks of a variety of yagnas or sacrifices, as we’ve seen in the last couple of days.

The list of yagnas is beautiful, mesmerizing and sequenced to perfection.

It starts with physical items. Things like ghee, coconuts and other things one would normally offer into a fire ritual. But those are the easy ones.

Next come giving up the sense organs. What does this mean? Cut off my ears and put it into the fire? Certainly not :). Rather it is attachment to these organs and their perceptions that needs to be given up. What? How can I give up my organs. Seems illogical, until we come to terms with the scriptural end-game. Which is that all creation around us is simply maya, and all the sense organs are doing for us, is to bind us more to this world.

A question that is relevant here is – which part of all this is truly ours? All the money and material possessions we have – in some shape or form belong to the earth. We have maybe taken it, and processed it and converted it, but not truly created anything. If none of this is ours in the first place, what can we really sacrifice?

Oh yes, there is only one thing that is wholly solely ours. And it is called the Ego.

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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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Conversion test

We know that we must curb our desires. Because desires are like itches. The more we scratch them, the more they itch.

So we must then reduce our desires. But can we really reduce them all the way to zero?

How can we live our lives if we have no desires at all? There are two ways, one advanced, and the other super-advanced 🙂

  1. Here’s the advanced way – shubhecha = shubh + iccha = good desires. Desiring good for the country, for society, for others, for family, for the greater good.
  2. And here’s the super advanced way – Leaving all desires to the will of the Guru / God.

However, for most of us, desires will still be part and parcel of our daily lives. Here’s a quick tip. Try and see if the desire can be converted into a duty. If it can, then it is probably a good desire, and worth keeping.

Examples? Wanting to shop every weekend at a mall for luxury items. Desire? Indeed. Can it be converted into a duty? Not really. However, wanting to ensure the kids in your neighbourhood get a good education, and so you desire to organize weekly classes for them. Desire? Yes. Can it be converted into a duty? Most certainly, and your society will thank you for it.

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