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Category: spirituality

Hair pulling

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

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

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

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

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Work ethic

Here’s one of my all-time favourite Sanskrit shlokas.

Kaayena Vaacaa Manase[a-I]ndriyairvaa
Buddhy[i]-Aatmanaa Vaa Prakrteh Svabhaavaat |
Karomi Yad-Yat-Sakalam Parasmai
Naaraayannayeti Samarpayaami

It’s not only the chanting of the shloka that is awesome, but when chanted with full awareness of its meaning, the chant becomes… enchanting!

Kaaya is body, vaacha is speech, manas is mind, indriyas is sense organs, buddhi is intellect and aatma is soul. All Sanskrit words which are simple enough to ‘feel’ while chanting. The shloka says that no matter what work we do with each of these body parts, we do it only (sakalam) for others (parasmai). And we completely surrender every such iota of work at the feet of the Lord Narayana.

How brilliant is this? It is karma yoga in a simple shloka form. If I’m feeling tired or bored of work, I just need to remember the millions of unfortunate people who are out of jobs, stuggling to make ends meet. And then I remember this shloka, and with full fervor can work not for my own selfish needs, but only for the welfare of others. And that too, we can place the outcome, at the feet of the Lord. Truly brilliant!

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Calculus

Okay, I admit, I suck at math. I used to hate it in school, and I still don’t find it fun. And calculus? Oh man, I never understood it. It just wasn’t intuitive you know?

There was a point though, when I learned that everything in the world around us, is actually mathematical, to an amazing degree. Like fractal patterns in snowflakes and plant designs and what not. Wow. I also remember how a dog that runs to catch a frisbee in the beach, intuitively does calculus. Same for the archer fish that shoots its prey from underwater, implicitly calculating refraction angles. Pretty amazing instincts.

As one of the senior satsangis says, all of the learning around us is additive. If we study math or history or geography or medicine, we actually become more knowledgeable about those subjects, and hence those ‘add’ to us.

However, a scriptural book like the Gita? It was just a conversation between a charioteer and a warrior. Not much to add to oneself really. Why? Because the Gita is not really a book of knowledge. One could read the meanings of the 700 shlokas maybe in a few hours and come out none the wiser. That is because, the Gita is a book of action. Calculus applies here. The Gita is not additive, it is integrative. Like a spoon of sugar dissolving in the coffee.

The same Gita when read over and over again, and its lessons put into action, can result in the reader being transforming into a better and better person each time.

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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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On priority

How does one who is completely devoted to and lost in the Lord behave? Maybe there’s more than one way – surely. But here’s what’s on the cover page of the Mukunda-mala-stotra book originally composed by King Kulasekhara and then of course expounded upon by various greats. This specific excerpt is from Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries:

When King Kulasekhara saw the breath-taking beauty of Lord Krishna in ecstatic trance, he lost all the desire to rule his vast kingdom. Later he wrote, "My mind cannot turn from Sri Krishna's lotus feet even for a moment. So let my dear ones and other relatives criticize me, my superiors accept me or reject me as they like, the common people spread evil gossip about me, and my family's reputation be sullied. For a madman like me, it is honour enough to feel this flood of love for Godhead, which brings such sweet emotions of attraction for my Lord"

The very things that we each are craving for – societal approval, name, fame, wealth, status – are being given up in an instant by a great King, simply because he tasted the true nectar of being one with the Lord. We are no kings, so it is all the more important that we have our priorities straight. But is that the case?

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Meditative living

Benefits of meditation for 15-20 minutes a day:

  1. More energy during the day
  2. Better mental health
  3. Better physical health
  4. Improved creativity
  5. Anger control
  6. and many others

Imagine life without any meditation – would we get these benefits?

Seen differently, once the meditation is over, we are back again into the same big bad world, and chasing after the same big bad things. Meditation calms us down, and then the world rakes us up all over again. That is the power of maya. It is a cycle. Meditation also doesn’t help beyond a point does it?

Only way is to break the cycle. To mentally give up attachments and desires, irrespective of how one lives physically. That is meditating 100% of the time, i.e. meditative living.

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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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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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Advanced beginner

As a kid, going to amusement parks meant having to size oneself up against a ‘bar’. If I was shorter than the bar, then sorry, that ride wasn’t for me, no matter how adventurous it looked.

We always want to be permitted to do what we want. To be what we want to be. No shackles, no limitations.

I came across a spiritual book recently, which needed some permissions to be read. To read a book? Really?

Here’s what the book cover said. “Only for advanced seekers or absolute beginners.”

What an amazing requirement. I don’t know what was in the book, but it certainly makes me want to read it (even though I don’t fulfil the requirements). I’m certainly not an advanced spiritual seeker. And unfortunately, I’m not an absolute beginner either. I’ve read some spiritual books and listened to some YouTube talks, and that means my ego has only risen, rather than crumbled, as would be ideal.

Krishna makes it explicitly clear in the Gita. He needs no status, wealth, name, education or credentials for granting a spiritual revolution unto Him. All he needs is a clean heart dedicated only to Him.

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Devil in the details – part 3

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

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

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

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Devil in the details – part 2

One of the challenges that Lucifer begins to face early on, is that he starts displaying ‘nice’ feelings. Compassion, empathy, love, and some sense of justice even. But these are not supposed to be relevant for the ruler of Hell isn’t it? Something I found out through the series was quite interesting – the Devil is not evil. The Devil only punishes evil. He is in fact a fallen angel. He is only a regulator of punishment that one has brought unto themselves. This reminded me of vedic astrology. Many people condemn and blame the planets. Oh Saturn, or Oh Rahu – the planet is responsible for my misery. But that is far from the truth. We through our own actions are ourselves responsible for what we get (across lives). The planet only serves as an indicator, as a marker in the long journey towards liberation.

Not just devil character, but the reverse is worth pondering over as well, i.e. what does it mean to be God-like? Is it just about having 4 arms, some superpowers and / or being immortal? Hardly. Those can merely be tools. An immortal fool is still a fool only. What matters is what one does with their life.

Being god-like is something we tend to think of in relation to a human form. But every aspect of nature around us is exhibiting god-like qualities, 100% of the time. Look at the trees arounds us. Constantly giving out oxygen – all for free. Animals like sheep give us wool, cows give us milk, dogs and cats give us company and loyalty and so on. At the very least, being a part of the food chain, they each ensure the ecosystem is balanced. Many animals and plants selflessly give not just some by products, but even their entire selves up. Can there be a bigger sacrifice? Maybe this is what being “god-like” really is all about. Not just living, but living constantly for the benefit of others.

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Devil in the details

Lucifer Morningstar. That’s the name of the devil according to the Bible. I learned this from watching a comedy/thriller TV show eponymously called, wait for it, yes, Lucifer! He’s the fallen angel, and is condemned to a life in hell. But that would be quite boring by Hollywood standards, and so they make Lucy as he’s called, take a vacation and come spend some time in Los Angeles.

One scene was especially poignant. A street performer dons the guise of one possessed by the devil, and says several supportive maniacal things to beef up his character. As he prances around to show proof of him being under the control of the ruler of hell, the real devil (dressed as a normal human of course) shows up. A quick demon-face reveal to this street performer by Lucy leads the performer to expectedly freak out to another level. Little did he expect to host the real devil at his performance, despite putting on an act for all his life! He proceeds to scream further about the devil, but the onlookers are unable to distinguish the performance from the real. What all stuff Hollywood comes up with πŸ™‚

The point for me, is that there are so many people around us doing all sorts of outward actions. Some will chant, some will meditate, some will speak of mystic experiences, some will have saints come to them in their dreams and so on and so forth. Do these things matter? Not in the least. And no it is not me who’s saying it. Every spiritually realized soul and scripture eventually says the same thing, i.e. Do not worry or pay attention to outward gimmicks / experiences / performances. The real spiritual transformation only happens deep within oneself.

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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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Regressive development

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

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

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

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

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Intelligentsia

Many great self-realized souls have said time and again that an education is of the least importance to attaining moksha or liberation. While it has the instant advantage of levelling the playing field for everyone – no matter the status, wealth, profession or credentials in the material world, it is still not easy. To some extent, having education and knowledge is helpful because it is only because of these that we may even become aware of the existence of a spiritual path.

But this too isn’t necessarily true. A beggar who has lived by the side of a temple throughout his life, might imbibe the devotion he sees in the various pilgrims that make their way to that sacred place. While the pilgrims may be done with their temple rituals in a matter of minutes, the beggar’s circumambulations would continue for life, with little else to care for.

For the intelligent and educated ones, the logical brain gets in the way of all spiritual progress. Many of the biggest frauds around us, the biggest blow ups, the biggest failures – they aren’t caused by a lack of brainpower – but rather due to excess intelligence leading folks to tell themselves that they are unconquerable.

As Richard Feynman once said, β€œThe first principle is that you must not fool yourself β€” and you are the easiest person to fool.”

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From raags to riches

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

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

As my Guru recently commented:

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

All worth pondering over deeply.

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Pretty girl

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

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

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

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

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

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Sadd happiness

There was an awesome lecture given by Swami Swaroopananda that I had the chance to attend a few years ago. I don’t remember much, except that he spoke about another session he once lectured at.

His recounted his question to his audience in that, “Is there anyone here who wants to be happy?” Obviously all the hands had gone up, All except one. Swamiji of course was perplexed. So he turned the question around, thinking maybe the man may have misunderstood. “Is there anyone here who wants to be sad?” The man was the only one to raise his hand. Swamiji asked him “Why do you want to be sad?”. The man replied, “Because being sad makes me happy.”

Isn’t this hilarious? Even the ones apparently seeking destruction and mayhem and chaos and sadness actually want happiness only.

That’s why I like the ‘SADD’ acronym that I concocted from the 2nd chapter of the Gita. Yes, yes, it is indeed a terribly un-innovative acronym and hence I’m totally happy to take the credit :D. Terrible jokes aside, SADD stands for Sense control, Attachments gone, Desires gone, and Dwandvas gone. The first 3 are self-explanatory. The Dwandvas are all around us – pairs of opposites – good/bad, night/day, joy/pain etc. All of spiritual progress is about remaining equanimous in the face of these. We need to be really SADD to be really happy.

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Sweaty

In a recent youth satsang, one of the questions asked was on how to calm oneself down during an altercation. This is surely hard. If someone gets angry at us, then even if we’ve read all the anger management books out there, we may still feel our pulse racing, our hearts beating faster, our teeth and jaws clenching etc. So then what to do?

The answer given by a senior satsangi was on point. He quoted, “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”

We think controlling our emotions is an on-off switch, and can be learned with some tips from a one-hour session. But the crux is to prepare before the game. Well before the game. To in fact be in a constant state of preparation.

Our scriptures suggest a variety of ‘exercises’, whether it is breathing, yoga, giving up desires and attachments, meditating, austerity, sacrifice, charity and several others. It might seem like these are all unrelated and irrelevant to our daily troubles. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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The Great Debate

People of science argue that there is no God. Because science is based on logic. And logic can be proven. And repeatedly so.

People of faith argue that there is a God. Logic is irrelevant to them. Why? Because their own personal experiences have taught them that miracles can and do happen – and if its a repeatable non-coincidence at their times of greatest need – then who cares about logic.

The science folks argue that if God exists, then why do you need technology to improve lives. Why have cutting edge medicine to save lives. Why use computers and mobiles and other amazing inventions? God didn’t invent those did he? Man did. The faith folks argue that the substratum for any ‘inventions’ were not invented by any man or human, but are divine gifts, of which we are mere renters.

This is a never ending debate. But it needn’t be so.

All the ancient scriptures describe God in the same way. As the spark of Consciousness that resides deep within each one of us. Not just us humans, but in all living beings. Not just living, but also inanimate things. Basically everything there is, is just an expression of this Consciousness, but in a multitude of forms. It is this Consciousness spark in humans that is known as intuition, that sometimes results in amazing solutions to problems, that results in great advancements in technology and so on. Seen this way, there is no debate.

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