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Category: spirituality

Happiest day of my life

Sometimes I wonder if there aren’t already too many self help and self development books in the world. Hundreds if not thousands. And so many are bestsellers. Amazon is full of them. Many 5-star rated ones too.

All of these push and propel the readers towards hitherto unprecedented economic success.

“Happiest day of my life. I finally bought a Toyota Innova Crysta.”

This was what popped up on my Twitter feed, with the picture of a middle-aged man and his wife, standing next to a brown Toyota, holding on to an enlarged key, beaten in length only by the smile on his face.

Surely he cannot think that his happiness is linked to the car? We know this to be spirituality 101. But our man has probably not read any of the self development books. So he is forgiven.

But what about me? While I’m just a lurker in Twitter shadowland, in my mind, I’m getting super excited and super depressed, alternately, all day long. Some good news – wow super happy, some bad news, wow super sad.

As the wise ancients say, it is important to control one’s reactions in happiness, so that one can control one’s reaction in pain.

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Analogical – part 5 of 5

Concluding post today – with another lovely set of outstanding analogies, enabling us to intimately understand the depths suggested by our scriptures:

25. The Mirror and the Reflection: Just as a polished mirror reflects accurately, a purified mind mirrors our true nature.

26. The Artist and the Artwork: Similar to artists crafting masterpieces, the divine orchestrates our lives with intricate care.

27. The Guest and the Host: Much like guests finding solace in hosts’ homes, our souls discover refuge in the embrace of the divine.

28. The Raindrop and Ocean: Just as raindrops merge into oceans, our individuality merges into the expanse of universal consciousness.

29. The Jewel and the Light: Similar to jewels sparkling in the light, the soul radiates brilliance in the presence of divine knowledge.

30. The Wind and the Sky: Just as wind moves through the sky, experiences flow through the canvas of our awareness.

These analogies, like facets of a diamond, reflect the sophisticated-yet-simplistic wisdom of our ancients. By embracing these insights, we can embark on a transformative journey towards self-discovery and everlasting contentment.

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Analogical – part 3 of 5

Continuing our voyage of scriptural wisdom seen through the lens of popular analogies:

12. The Musical Instrument and Musician: Much like musicians draw melodies from instruments, the divine orchestrates our lives, weaving together the symphony of existence.

13. The Honeybee and Flowers: Just as bees extract nectar without harm, we are required to engage with the world while preserving harmony.

14. The Fire and Fuel: As fire purifies through consumption, the soul burns ignorance and attachments to reveal its radiant essence.

15. The Child and Mother: Akin to a child’s solace in a mother’s arms, we seek refuge in the nurturing embrace of the divine.

16. The Silkworm and Cocoon: Like silkworms breaking cocoons, the Gita guides us to transcend self-imposed limits.

17. The Moon and Reflection: A tranquil mind reflects brilliance, akin to the moon mirrored in a still pond. And even if the pond has ripples, the moon itself is unaffected.

More analogies tomorrow!

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Analogical – part 1 of 5

A journey through the Bhagavad Gita is best undertaken via analogies. They guide us like torches in the night, bridging ancient teachings with contemporary understanding. Here are some illuminating analogies used by several saints and Gurus across various books:

1. The Cow and Its Calf: Just as a cow tends to its calf without attachment, the Gita teaches performing duties without fixating on outcomes.

2. The Potter’s Wheel: Like a potter molding clay, divine forces shape our lives. Surrendering to the Lord aligns us with cosmic rhythms.

3. The Water Drop and Ocean: A drop merges with the ocean, echoing unity; like the individual dissolving into universal consciousness.

4. The Lamp and the Wind: A windless place doesn’t disturb a lamp’s flame. The mind too should remain undisturbed amid sensory distractions.

5. The Snake and the Rope: The Gita warns against confusing the transient with the eternal, akin to mistaking a rope for a snake.

6. The Lotus in Mud: A lotus rises pure from muddy waters, teaching purity amidst life’s challenges.

More analogies tomorrow!

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FortyTwo – part 2 of 2

So what answer did Elon Musk find? In the whimsical universe of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, one finds not just humor and absurdity but also unexpected pearls of wisdom, especially when it comes to spirituality.

It’s a tale where the Earth is revealed to be a supercomputer designed to calculate the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,”. And what is the final answer? Simply the number “42.”

This comically simple answer raises profound questions about the nature of spirituality. The search for meaning, for many, is a lifelong journey.

So much so that Elon himself believes that it’s not about the answer, but about finding the right question. What question about the complex creation we are part of will even come close to having an answer like 42?

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FortyTwo – part 1 of 2

Most of us want to be really rich. Why? So that we can chill and be free, and do what we want without others having to tell us so.

That’s a far off dream for me at least, but someone smartly asked Elon Musk this question. With some $180 billion in wealth that is more than the GDP of many countries, what keeps him ticking? Why does he go to work daily? What is the driving force behind his pursuits?

He answers almost sheepishly in his interview. As a teenager, he tried his best to figure out the purpose of life. He read all sorts of philosophical books and could yet not figure anything out.

Finally he read Douglas Adams’ sci-fi novel The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And what did he learn from that? Did he get the answer to his question?

Continued tomorrow!

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Intellectual difference

Here’s a question that was raised recently. “What is the difference between a sanyasi and a tyaagi?”

Honestly, I had not a clue, even though I faintly remembered reading about it somewhere, or listening to it during some talk.

Lord Krishna discusses sanyaasa and tyaaga in the 18th chapter of the Gita.

According to some experts, sanyasi means one who renounces everything. While a tyaagi only renounces the doership of the action, and of course the fruits associated with it.

Some experts suggest sanyasis and tyagis are effectively the same.

Other experts find other variations.

Which is correct? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Many concepts of spirituality are incredibly esoteric, and can leave the mind spinning. Unless intellectual debate is one’s profession, it’s probably much better to begin giving up doership and the fruits. But maybe that is even harder than simply intellectualizing things!

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Energetically yours

Came across a very interesting thought. It’s not radical or new. But a different perspective on the same thing.

Who is God?

Most will describe him as an old man with a flowing beard. No, not Santa Claus, although he does fit the description.

Said God apparently gets angry when we do bad things. And if we do good things, then he rewards us.

But is that how we have experienced God? Hardly.

A better way to think of this is that God is just energy. He is the energy that created all of Creation. He is also the one that sustains all of it, and eventually leads to destruction and recycling.

So if everything is God’s energy, what are we doing about it? If we do bad things, then God’s energy gets suppressed. But if we do good things, we practice gratitude, we are kind to others, we are empathetic and compassionate, then we automatically become free flowing channels of God’s energy. Isn’t that incredible?

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Sourcefulness

Do we really own anything? All the money of the richest people in the world. Where will that go when they die? In today’s digital currency age, all that moolah can’t even be printed to take to the grave.

Do we really own anything then? Not in the least. We are merely temporary caretakers of Creation. Of what is already Created by God aka the Creator aka Divine Consciousness.

If we truly accept that we are only caretakers, then we would not stress so much about everything. We would be able to give to those deserving and destitute far more easily.

And whatever is left after we give, that too becomes blessed. Because there too it is the same caretaking principle. A branch when cut from the tree, dies in a few days. But a branch which continues to allow divine energy to flow through experiences the bliss of creation.

Every single thing we have is part of a larger cosmic canvas. If we train ourselves to recognize this, we will automatically see all our problems receding, and all the bliss of the Creator flowing unto us.

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Self studying or studying self?

Each life unfolds like a rich tapestry of truths, some steadfast and others transient, reflecting our evolving understanding. Wisdom from the Rig Ved encapsulates this beautifully— ‘Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti’, implying the truth is singular, but the learned describe it in countless ways.

Life, in essence, showcases our judgments— floating like transient bubbles on water’s surface— as reality. Yet, with time, we discern the difference between our ephemeral judgments and enduring truth.

This understanding paves the way for ‘swadhyay’, a profound practice of self-study. It’s not just about immersing oneself in scriptures, but about diving deep within, studying our own ‘self’. As we throw light on our inner consciousness, we unlock our true essence, realizing the singular truth within us.

Swadhyay aids our transformation, shedding light on our evolution— from past notions to growing wisdom, from rigid patterns to adaptive behaviors, from a defined sense of belonging to its dynamic expansion. It facilitates our blossoming, guiding us towards an enlightened state of existence.

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Oh my G

We watched the Bollywood movie Oh My God or OMG again today, just like that. The movie is a profound exploration of our relationship with divinity. It challenges us to rethink our understanding of religion and spirituality, using the protagonist, Kanji, as our guide.

One of the most powerful dialogues in the movie is when Kanji says, “I don’t reject God, I reject the God that you have created.”

This is a stark reminder that God is not a commodity to be bought and sold, but a divine presence to be felt and experienced, and available to all.

Kanji’s journey is a testament to the power of faith, not in rituals or idols, but in the goodness of our hearts. As he says, “God is everywhere, but people say he is only in the temple.” This dialogue underscores the message that God is not confined to places of worship, but resides in every act of kindness and love.

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The Universe’s Blueprint

James Maxwell, renowned for his groundbreaking work in formulating the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, was not just a scientist but also a man of deep faith. He once crafted a model of the solar system, setting it in motion in his study room. A close friend and fellow scientist, who happened to be an atheist, was intrigued by the model. “This is amazing! Who made it?” he asked. Maxwell, with a twinkle in his eye, replied, “Nobody made it. I was working on my table when I heard an explosion. I turned around and saw this had been created.”

His friend scoffed, “How ridiculous! How can this be created by an explosion? Someone must have definitely made it.”

Maxwell, seizing the moment, retorted, “My friend, you are not willing to believe that a little model of the solar system could be created by itself. And you want me to believe that the real universe, consisting of many such solar systems, has come into existence without a Creator. If it is logical to believe that someone has created this model, it is also common-sensical to conclude that the real world must have a Creator too.”

This story serves as a reminder of the intricate design and order of the universe, pointing towards the existence of a Creator. It’s a tale that invites us to ponder on the grandeur of the cosmos and the divine intelligence that might be at play behind its creation. If even those who have deeply studied the laws of the universe, like Maxwell, can hold a space for faith and the divine, why shouldn’t we?

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Scientific spirituality

The world today only believes in what can be proven and replicated.

Several scientists and R&D experts perform countless experiments and these result in new discoveries and inventions and gadgets that ultimately end up in our homes and pockets.

The tech revolution is incredible, and it has helped humanity in unbelievable ways. What was meant only for the kings of yesteryear is now available to everyone.

All thanks to science. And scientists. No one scientist is responsible for everything, but collectively over the years, massive progress has been made.

But yet, there are many things science hasn’t fully understood, including the nature of life itself.

Spirituality has the answer, and maybe is itself the answer. But science appears to always be at loggerheads with spirituality.

This is not the case. The only difference is that technology can be outsourced to scientists. But in spirituality, we are each individually the scientist. The answer needs to be discovered by each one of us.

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Get down

My Guru narrated an outstanding short story on Guru Purnima.

The head of Gita Press likened our lives and creation to that of a vast ocean on which a boat is floating.

We have each been various species of animals and maybe even plants one birth after another. Some 8 million times, maybe more.

Now we’ve finally got a human birth, and are as if on that boat which has come very close to the shore.

If we don’t get off the boat, we will drown, and possibly go back all the way, one specie to another, one birth after another.

All we need to do is to get off the boat. The land is Vaikuntha. We just need to get off. But are we able to?

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Which-sided?

We’re supposed to give up all attachments on the path of spirituality. But what are these attachments like?

1. Our attachment to material things. This is purely one-sided. No matter how much you try, your favorite Rolls Royce will not love you back.

2. Our attachment to other human beings. This can be one-sided and two-sided, although not always at the same time. It’s sometimes a function of necessity. We’re attached more to those who we need more, for the present moment at least. When circumstances change, attachment levels change.

3. Our attachment to God and Guru. This can be two-sided, especially in times of trouble, when we desperately need divine help and blessings to extract ourselves out from a specific situation. But it is at least always one-sided, because God and the Guru are always thinking about us, ever compassionate, ever loving.

Perhaps the more #1 and #2 are given up, the more #3 increases!

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Learning by immersion

One of the best ways to learn a language is supposed to be by immersion. What does this mean?

Instead of learning the vocabulary first, memorizing from flashcards and studying the grammar and so on, imagine you are uprooted and placed in a remote village in the country of the language you are trying to learn! Even to get water or go to the loo, you’ll need to begin speaking the lingo – and hence the immersion!

Another lovely story on immersion (not in verbal languages, but the universal language of spirituality!). A pot with 5 holes needed to be kept full of water. What is the solution for this?

Everyone will answer that we need to plug or cover the holes with various materials. All correct no doubt.

But Sant Gurunanak had the best answer. To immerse the pot itself in water, as that is the only permanent solution! The spiritual analogy of course is that our 5 senses, if they truly need to become selfless and have no attachment, then immersion in the Lord is the only way.

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Butterfly effect

In ancient China, there was a philosopher-mystic named Chuang Tzu. He once woke up in the middle of the night very alarmed. His disciples rushed to his bedside and asked him what happened.

Chuang Tzu said he dreamt he was a butterfly, blissfully fluttering in nature’s embrace, flitting from one flower to the next.

Upon awakening, he was now pondering: Was he a man who dreamed of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being a man? Was he in a dream then? Or was he in a dream now?

Do we know for sure? Perhaps we will never know.

That’s why our Gurus, our ancients and our scriptures ask us to focus on the one true changeless Consciousness. Chuang Tzu’s tale also reminds us to appreciate the beauty of change and find harmony amidst uncertainty.

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The Truth

Came across some lovely lines related to the Consciousness within, in an article recently on Integral Health.

The secret truth behind everything lies in its divinity, this is what makes all evolution possible. To access one's Truth is the key to well-being. It governs every process unwinding in the universe. It has a dynamic power and we must unite with it.
The key to healing, is to allow the Truth's influence to percolate everywhere in our being. Once the inner Agni and aspiration is lit, the fusion begins. However, the fire must be tended to at all times because we are nothing without aspiration.
Every single particle of terrestrial existence contains the Truth at its core. Evolution is the gradual manifestation of this Truth. 
Together with Love, it is the source of our wellness. The Truth has a way of unifying and harmonising the discordant parts of our nature. Illness and disease cannot ultimately persist where Truth resides. Its effect on mind, life and body is instantaneous: it spontaneously harmonises and aligns. Establishing it in our nature is critical to our psychological and physical well-being.
With persistence and patience, the answer will come. The means to this healing is through sustained practice. The process of connecting the body to the Truth brings peace, harmony and equilibrium to our entire being. We are raised to a sublime vibration, which radiates to the world the Truth that shines from within. 
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Shadow monster

A man once achieved success. But he soon felt his sense of achievement dwindling away. And felt that he had to achieve more.

So he ran and ran, faster and faster. But he didn’t like that his shadow was catching up to him all the time.

So what did he do? He ran faster of course! No matter what he did, he couldn’t shake it off.

Of course, he could have just stepped into the shade.

But the man dropped dead soon enough, having tired himself out in the constant search for external perfection.

Life isn’t about that. Life is about finding internal perfection.

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Ness

The ultimate spiritual teaching seems to focus on Nothingness. That nothing we see around us is real. Nothing is truly relevant, because in the long run, we are all reduced to nothing. The 3 gunas sattva rajas and tamas are great, but if you want to attain God you have to go beyond, to nothing. Ego is the root cause of all problems, so give up ego, and become one with nothing.

But is this practical? Not for me at least, nope. The flip side to nothing is everything. Instead of constantly being focused only on ourselves, we can focus on others around us, which will automatically drive down the ego. The Lord might be in nothing, but He sure is in everything as well. Gratitude for everything we have in life is much easier than gratitude in nothing. While creation might seem unreal in a spirituality textbook, everything is real enough to us inside this body.

So its perhaps not Nothingness, but Everythingness that is an easier answer.

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Questioning the basics

In pretty much every field that we begin to learn, we do not question the end.

Take biology. Even today, we don’t understand it fully. And yet, we have biologists and zoologists and all types of medical professionals, who never questioned whether biology exists, but simply began working towards their goal, studying and researching day after day.

Ditto for physics and chemistry and every other field out there.

When changes occur in the understanding, then the learning process is quickly re-adapted.

But in spirituality alone, most non-believers first want to establish the presence of God (ie the end point) and understand Him in entirety. Just as any saint or realized soul would tell us, God is unknowable and unfathomable to the human mind and intellect.

So what’s the way out? Simply going back to the basics, and living a spiritual life, in service of others, not day by day, but second by second.

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Missing link

We all know that hard work is essential for success.

We also know that divine grace is equally essential, because there are so many things outside our control.

Is there a link between the two, ie, hard work and divine grace?

Is there a way to ensure divine grace can be added like a cherry on top of our hard work cake?

Yes indeed, the cream in the cake is nothing but devotion. The cherry gets auto-added, and that’s when the magic happens!

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Spiritual maturity

For one who is spiritually immature, everything that happens in life is classified into either good or bad. Going through tough circumstances, not achieving what was expected, getting an earful from a senior, falling ill, having relationship issues… the list is endless, and all these would immediately go into the bad bucket.

Is life any different for one who is spiritually mature? No, they go through the same trials and tribulations. Or at least so it would seem to a neutral external observer.

But for a spiritually mature person, there is no good or bad to begin with. The two buckets do not even exist. All happenings are seen as is, as they are, with no human filter of good or bad. What seems bad today, might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, in the future. What seems amazing today might be a hidden devil.

Even for the seemingly very bad things which happen to them, the spiritually evolved souls realize that this is all a play of past karma and maya only. And hence they do not categorize those as good or bad either – simply as things that happen and nature taking its course. That’s what is meant by “witness consciousness”.

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Logic of the greatest scientist

Einstein, the greatest scientist of all, had this to say about God:

Your question is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.

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Giving up As and Ds

We know this all too well by now. Giving up attachments and desires are the keys to spiritual success.

Which comes first? Perhaps desire is borne of attachment. We see an object (or person) and keep thinking of it, and how it might bring us happiness. This repeated mental attachment leads to us desiring the object or person. If someone else succeeds first, then it leads to envy and potentially anger. If we succeed, then it leads to pride and greed (because we want more!).

So is it the fault of the desired object or person? Absolutely not! Even things that aren’t good can ambush the mind. Alcohol doesn’t taste good, cigarette smoke is suffocating and sugary sweets are the causes for all sorts of maladies, and so it’s not as though it’s the great qualities of these items that causes us to get attached. Rather, it is simply our minds tricking us into thinking that these objects offer us lasting happiness.

Couldn’t be further from the truth of course.

So what is the solution? To desire attachment to the Lord. That’s the only desire and attachment that is “allowed”. Why? Because instead of pandering to the mind, it purifies it!

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Forgive and forg…

Is this practical? Isn’t spirituality supposed to be practical? Can we forgive and forget everything? Wouldn’t that tantamount to foolishness?

My Guru has a simple solution. He says we must forgive, but not forget.

Why forgive? So that the incident doesn’t consume us anymore, neither mentally nor emotionally. We’ve made peace with what happened.

Why not to forget? So that the same thing doesn’t repeat! If we gave money to a relative and they never returned it, and we “just forget about it”, we will end up giving more money to the same person and find ourselves in the same cycle again.

Hence forgive, but do not forget. That’s spirituality in practice!

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Best of the best

Everyone wants to be the best. That’s what success is supposed to be, isn’t it?

That’s why it’s amazing when we watch parents revel in the joy of their child’s success. They are not directly responsible, but still are present in every moment of that revelry.

But success according to spirituality isn’t about being the best. It’s simply about trying your best.

The achievement is secondary. What matters is that we tried. And with full enthusiasm and vigor.

If success is redefined this way, and linked only to trying our best, imagine what failure would be redefined as! No more linked to the achievement of a goal, but simply a reference of whether we are doing our best within the given circumstances or not.

Even then, if we work with prasaddha-buddhi (results received as a blessing and gift from a higher power) and ishvara-arpana-buddhi (results surrendered to a higher power), success and failure become one and the same.

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Meditating rats

Which God to pray to? What position to meditate in? What shlokas to chant? How many maalas to recite? What time to pray? How many and which all temples to visit? Should one follow a specific spiritual path or explore multiple paths? Can one be spiritual without a traditional concept of God? What happens to consciousness after physical death? Is it better to focus on personal spiritual growth or on serving others? How can one find meaning and purpose in life? Is there a definitive path to enlightenment? What is the role of faith and doubt in spiritual practice? How can one balance material success with spiritual values? Can one transcend the limitations of the physical body and mind? What is the relationship between individual spirituality and organized religion?”

Phew, so many questions, and so few answers.

No wonder then, that a recent comic was so funny, as it read, “I quit the rat race for spiritual well-being and learnt to be content with material wealth.”

Contentment is key ????

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Scripted

There are 1000s of videos today on just about any subject. Spirituality included.

So much so that it’s become a money making business for many.

There are 1000s of paths and suggestions and methods and variations and even Gurus.

What is right?

And more importantly, what is right for you and me?

Because one size never fits all.

A live Guru is ideal, and if you found one, you are blessed. That’s the best way to be able to implement what is given in our time-tested scriptures. Without implementation, no amount of reading or watching videos helps.

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Kshetra and kshetrajna

In chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna brings up two terms to define Creation.

He says there’s the Kshetra, the material world. And the Kshetrajna, us.

This seems easy enough. We know this distinction already. The material world around us is insentient, and so indeed that must be Kshetra. And we are alive and kicking, so we must be Kshetrajna. So what’s the big deal here?

The big deal is, that Kshetra includes not just the material world according to Krishna, but also our body and mind! So the physical and mental aspects of ourselves is also part of this relative insentience – even though maya makes us feel otherwise.

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Matter of

  • Golden hair turns white.
  • Brown hair turns white.
  • Black hair turns white.
  • Red hair turns white
  • White skin turns wrinkly.
  • Brown skin turns wrinkly.
  • Black skin turns wrinkly.
  • Pale skin turns wrinkly.

It’s all just a matter of time. Physical body doesn’t matter. That’s all that matters.

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Herded

Why did we join the school we did?

Why did we join the college we did?

Why did we choose the subjects and majors we did?

Why did we choose the life partner we did?

Why did we choose the job we are in?

Why did we choose to have children?

All these Why’s are not to ask whether we chose right or wrong. There is no right or wrong. But the question is to know whether we thought about these things at all. Much of our lives are based on herd instinct. We do things because everyone else does them.

Surprisingly, in the only thing that truly matters in life, aka self-realization, the herd instinct doesn’t work, because there is no herd.

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So intuitive – part 1 of 2

Have you ever had a feeling about something that turned out to be true, even though you couldn’t explain why? That’s your intuition speaking! In Vedic/Hindu spirituality, intuition is known as the directly perceiving faculty of the soul, and it is a powerful tool that allows us to know the truth about everything without relying on sensory experience or reason.

According to Paramhansa Yogananda, there are three stages of intuition awakening:

Crude intuition: This is the initial stage of intuition awakening. It often appears as a calm, haunting feeling that occasionally turns out to be true. However, this type of intuition can be clouded by distorted reasoning and emotional feelings.

Semi-developed intuition: This type of intuition comes from frequent exercise and using pure reason and calm feeling. It is important because it allows us to distinguish true intuition from false impulses, leading to better decision-making.

True intuition: This is the highest form of intuition, which comes from the soul. It is developed through regular meditation and practice. When our intuition is fully developed, we will stand firm in our knowledge and convictions, no matter what challenges may arise.

That’s the definition anyway. No personal experience to opine on, but concluded tomorrow!

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Auspiciousness

There are auspicious times for everything in Hinduism.

Every God or Deity has a specific time or day of the week to get the best results.

There are auspicious foods as well. Modak for Ganesha for instance.

Specific clothes. Like black for Shani.

Specific food fasts to appease specific Gods.

It might appear that this is all for these Gods. Because God likes it this way, and this way only.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. God doesn’t care about when and where we offer something to Him. He only cares about whether we are connected to Him, preferably always. By extension, all times then automatically become auspicious.

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Alcoholics Actionymous

Everyone knows AA is where alcohol over-indulgers go for rehab. But is joining the program the end of all troubles? I don’t have any experience in this domain, and can’t say for sure – but I doubt it would be any different from most other programs or lessons or coaching or tutorials for anything. There is perhaps some stuff handed on a platter, but there would be no substitute for self-effort.

Why the sudden talk of AA? A podcast I was listening to recently had the guest mention a quote by Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Apparently Bill once said “You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking”.

This seems very simple and intuitive, but it is quite profound. In today’s world, there is an alarmingly high number of armchair scientists, theorists, psychologists, doctors, therapists, and all sorts of other pseudo-professionals. Armed with degrees from FB-college and WA-university, no domain is out of reach.

Is ‘thinking’ important? Of course, without proper thought and planning, one cannot succeed. But action (aka karma yoga) is essential. Especially on the spiritual path, thinking too much can only get in our way. But, by taking small steps towards positive actions, such as being kind to others, practicing gratitude and mindfulness, we’ll find that our thoughts and desires start to align with our actions, leading to a more fulfilling life. And eventually we may just discover our deepest desire – to attain enlightenment – even if we do not consciously desire or realize it!

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SMART

We’ve all heard about SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. This is goal setting 101.

But there’s also a SMART in the non-material realm, which I came across in the newspaper recently.

S for Spirituality.
M for Measurable.
A for Action oriented, like Karma Yoga.
R for Renunciation.
T for time, which is running out.

When do we begin to follow this SMART?

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Fruits of action

We are often told by Lord Krishna in the Gita to give up the “fruits” of our actions. What are these fruits?

We typically tend to associate these fruits with the various results we get. You put in a lot of hardwork, and it resulted in you getting a promotion. And so that becomes your fruit of action.

But is this all there is to it?

The word fruit is emblematic of something far deeper. It indicates the cycle of birth and death, and the incessant repetitive nature of creation and dissolution.

An apple fruit contains within it various seeds, each of which in turn containing the latent potential of not just future trees, but also future apples, future seeds, and future grandchildren-trees!

The fruits of our actions are no different. They contain seeds which propel further action. The promotion of today will lead to a desire for more wealth and promotions for future years, ad infinitum.

These fruits might seems sweet and delicious, but in effect only bind us more and lead to more pain. The only way, as Krishna says, is to renounce the fruits.

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Defining meditation

It’s quite hard to define a word such as meditation. It’s an experience, and surely everyone experiences it differently. A book I came across recently called Steps to Raja Yoga by Swami Atmatattwananda Saraswati has a full chapter devoted to meditation. Here is an excerpt that defines meditation:

Definition of meditation as per the Yoga Darśanam: The sanskrit word for meditation is known as 'Dhyana'. According to Maharşi Patanjali, the founder of Yoga philosophy, meditation is defined as (P.Y.S- 3:2) Tatra Pratyaya Ekat- anata Dhyanam'. Tatra 'there', or in a particular stage. Pratyaya means the content of consciousness or the modifications of the mind. Ekatanata means unbroken stream or uninterrupted thought. When the contents of the mind remain at one point or thought and continue for a long time, the experience is known as meditation. The Sanskrit word Dhyana is also derived from the root word 'Dhyai' which means Chinta' contemplation, or deep thinking in order to achieve the higher level of consciousness. A spontaneous and continued state of the mind focused on any particular process or object is described as meditation.
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In the quest for siddhis

A lot of people, especially atheists, look for proof that God exists. What they are really looking for, are the existence of deities. And the transfer of some Shakti or energy or supernatural power aka siddhis to them or those they know. This will finally “prove” to them the existence of a higher power.

But the existence of a higher power is already obvious no?

Look at creation. Can any one species on this planet, either alone or collectively build all of creation? Nope. Even the starting point would have to be to use creation itself to create. So, disqualified before the game even starts!

Even amongst us, each one of us already has siddhis. Compared to someone who is deaf or blind at birth, those who can hear or see are surely blessed with siddhis. Just the ability to breathe and be alive is a siddhi! Even beyond that, some people have outstanding oratorical skills, or acting skills, or cooking skills, or math skills, or soft skills and so on. These are all siddhis only. If we can devote ourselves to our ishta devatas in gratitude for what we are already good at, then more will come, but it won’t matter, because the mind will already be pure.

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DivINity

The divine is IN us. Here’s a short story from Osho that reiterates this point.

A man approached a Zen master with the desire to become a Buddha. The master, no less than 90 years old, in response, struck the man hard, leaving him confused and hurt.

The man went to an old disciple for an explanation of the master’s actions. The disciple explained that the master’s actions were rooted in compassion, and that the man should consider the master’s age and physical limitations before judging him as cruel and violent. At 90, the master’s hand would have pained more than this fellow’s cheek!

Despite this explanation, the man still sought the deeper meaning behind the master’s actions. The old disciple simply replied, “The message is simple. If you are seeking to become a Buddha, you must understand that you are already one. The master’s strike was a reminder of this truth.”

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HNY HHP – part 2 of 2

Today we look at Happiness and Health.

  1. Health. Physical and mental. Everyone is facing issues of one type or the other.
    1. Sense control or Dama is key. Right food yes, but not just what goes into the mouth but all other inputs as well for the eyes, ears etc. Moderation is critical. 6.16 6.17 of the Gita has Krishna speaking about moderation in everything. Mind you, He doesn’t talk about giving up everything, but about practising moderation. How can we practise this? Maybe have a “1-day off” ritual every month. On that one day alone, we give up something, like social media or TV or certain foods etc. This will only serve to strengthen our mental, emotional and spiritual muscles.
    2. Positive thinking – for mental health, which is a huge contributor to mental health. How? By cultivating positive noble qualities. These are enlisted in the Gita 16.3, called Daivi sampath, or Divine qualities. Examples are no anger, compassion, altruistic, non-critical, forgiving.
  2. Happiness. Where is it? Not outside, but inside each one of us. Spiritual happiness comes “in spite of” vyakti vastu paristhithi, not “because of”, and that is a key distinction.
    1. One practise point is to try and enjoy all work. How? By converting work to worship, and Krishna explains in Chp 18. Do all work with dhriti and utsaaha, perseverance and excitement.
    2. The ultimate spiritual truth, unlimited Ananda is within us, our own true nature. Sat chit Ananda. Like the UPS, it is an Uninterrupted Power Supply.

2023, nay every year henceforth, if we practise these, will be amazing.

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HNY HHP – part 1 of 2

It’s a little late now to be exchanging new year greetings, but bear with me. We had a super satsang session recently, where the speaker laid out a simple road map that anyone can (and everyone should!) follow.

What do we usually greet with? Happy New Year (HNY), and I wish you a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous (HHP) 2023! So the speaker took each of H, H and P, and gave us a quick but structured road map. We’ll cover P today, and look at the 2 Hs tomorrow.

1. Prosperity. Which is doing well, both materially and spiritually. 2 things to do for this.

One is to have focus (hence goals are important). And make them action oriented rather than linked to end results. Instead of saying my goal is to lose 5 kilos, say that my goal is to eat 1 bowl of cut fruits every day and spend 15 minutes exercising. Spiritual goals would include how much time to devote to spiritual practises, how much to devote in the service of others, and how much to donate to the needy. Being focused, as Krishna says in 2.41 of the Gita, vyayvasaayaatmika buddhi, is critical for achieving one’s goal.

Second is to ensure self-effort, with self-confidence. The famous Uddharetaatamnaatmaanam shloka from chapter 6 verse 5 is on point. Be optimistic, be fearless and ensure to have a spiritual diary / audit process to take stock.

Concluded tomorrow with the 2 Hs!

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Negative stripes

Was watching a podcast on YouTube where the guest was a tantric practitioner.

He spoke of the existence of a lot of extra-worldly things. All sorts of beings, many of which are mentioned in our mythological texts and which we take just to be stories or figments of someone’s fantastical imagination.

But this practitioner was convinced that all these are for real, and that he had had personal experiences with such beings as well.

It’s hard to know whether something like this is true or not, whether all these astral planes and 5th and 6th dimensions and such exist or not. But one of the things he said was intriguing. He was talking about a few very “negative energy” beings. The podcast host asked him if these beings were “bad”.

To which this gentleman said that it’s not about bad or good, but just about samskaras or tendencies. A tiger will bite, if you out your hand in its mouth. Does that make the tiger bad?

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Blamer

We all know that old example, where when we point out index fingers at someone else accusingly, three fingers are pointing back at us.

We know this, we understand it, and yet we find it hard to accept any sort of blame. If someone at home or at work says something to us, we instantly curl into a defensive ball like a porcupine.

We behave like Gods with those who are beneath us on the so-called social ladder. But one word of disagreement from anyone above, and poof, we get hurt, crying in our heads like a punctured social bladder.

If we crib and complain about the external world, all we are doing is to make that external world even more real. This is exactly the opposite of what spirituality teaches us about existence.

If we can take ownership of our problems, and look within, and make ourselves perfect, without looking for perfection outside, then all the problems will automatically get resolved.

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Being Human means what?

We’ve all come across spiritual texts and saints who say “just be”.

They say that’s all spirituality is. Just be. No need to do anything. Just be. Whatever is needed, is already within you. Just be.

What does this even mean? Can’t say I’m 100% sure to be honest, but here’s one excerpt from a book on Kundalini Yoga called KY Exposed. A pretty good read I must say, although it seems to be extremely advanced (so waaaaay out of reach for me, but interesting stuff nevertheless):

Being isn't opposed to living life. It doesn't imply that you sit and don't do anything all day long. It does mean that you simply aren't hoping for something to happen. You embrace life as it is, for life is not separated from you! Your body-mind will act and do what it has to do, but inside, you are peacefully reposing in your blissful Self- Awareness.
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Meditation PS

PS here refers to Problem Solving.

Meditation PS? Yes, because most people, me first on the list, struggle with some important stuff.

Like how to keep the mind calm and focused? Answer: it’s not possible, because that is the nature of the mind. Advanced yogis can, but not without deliberate practice, which is what made them advanced yogis in the first place. For most others, even after brief meditative spells, they will crash right back into the plane of desires and attachments.

What to do? Catch hold of your Guru or Ishta Devata. Not physically, but mentally. And try to meditate on topics related to them, if not on them only. This gives some freedom to the monkey mind, while still keeping it on a leash. It helps if we truly recognize and believe that everything we are today, and everything we will be tomorrow, is entirely because of the Guru and/or the Ishta Devata. They are both the same at their core, so choosing one over the other doesn’t matter. If we feel deep down that everything is because of them, then where is the question of our ego, and hence our desires and attachments?

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PPP model

We hear all the time of the PPP or Public Private Partnership model in infrastructure development. And how this is the most efficient way of building for the future.

Another PPP model came to mind for our own development as I set out for a walk recently.

This PPP is Prayaas Prarabdha and Praarthana.

Prayaas is our own self effort, without which we cannot even wake up from the bed.

Prarabdha is whatever destiny we are born with. It can be changed at least to some extent through the first P, but still needs to be endured in good measure.

And finally Praarthana or prayer. We can put all our effort and more, but without the grace of God and the Guru, it all remains meaningless.

This is the PPP model for our own development. What do you think of it?

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G Force

There’s always a lingering question about “experiences” that one might have on the spiritual path.

Some people say they have visions of various deities. Others get some siddhis? Some receive messages in their dreams. Others discern changes in their mental state – more angry, more heated.

Are such experiences good or bad? Is it even possible to classify them as such?

Came across a very nice analogy to think about this. It’s similar to being on a fighter jet for the very first time. As anyone who’s watched Top Gun will know, the force is so much, that one can quickly feel disoriented.

But is this force of gravity bad? Or is it good? There’s no clear answer, because this is not something that can be classified into good or bad. It just is what it is.

But if you have an experienced instructor pilot with you, they will teach you and prepare you for that moment. Ditto with a Guru for spiritual processes.

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Knock knock knocking on…

…heaven’s doo..oo..oooorr, was how the iconic Guns n Roses band crooned their super hit single many decades ago.

It would seem like getting into heaven is truly a difficult task. Just keep knocking and knocking, but when and whether the door would open, quite literally, “God only knows!”.

A quote from poet Rumi struck me as interesting hence:

I have lived on the tip of insanity wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens! I have been knocking from the inside!

Think about it. This is pretty much what each one of us on the spiritual path is doing. We are knocking on God’s door, but this God is already inside, so we too are knocking from the inside!

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Space exploration

“Last year, I had a life-changing experience at 90 years old. I went to space, after decades of playing an iconic science-fiction character who was exploring the universe. I thought I would experience a deep connection with the immensity around us, a deep call for endless exploration.

"I was absolutely wrong. The strongest feeling, that dominated everything else by far, was the deepest grief that I had ever experienced.

"I understood, in the clearest possible way, that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death. I didn’t see infinite possibilities of worlds to explore, of adventures to have, or living creatures to connect with. I saw the deepest darkness I could have ever imagined, contrasting so starkly with the welcoming warmth of our nurturing home planet.

"This was an immensely powerful awakening for me. It filled me with sadness. I realized that we had spent decades, if not centuries, being obsessed with looking away, with looking outside. I did my share in popularizing the idea that space was the final frontier. But I had to get to space to understand that Earth is and will stay our only home. And that we have been ravaging it, relentlessly, making it uninhabitable."

This is what was said by William Shatner who played an iconic character in the Sci fi TV series Star Trek. The Gita says that not only is space “outside”, but that even the earthly world is “outside” only. The true essence lies deep within each one of us.

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Unity in Oneness

In the 11th chapter of the Bhgavad Gita, Lord Krishna shows his VishwaRoopa Darshanam to Arjuna.

What does Arjuna see?

Countless forms of all types of creatures, and surely all of space and the universe and more.

He sees all types of Gods and Goddesses too.

All of them manifesting in different forms, however very much a part of the same all-pervading shapeless formless timeless Bhagavan.

Despite such unity of the Gods, it is mind boggling that human beings decimate their own unity in the name of God(s).

Let’s pray for a peaceful and united 2023! ??

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Learning from who(m)… Part 3 of 3

The great sage Dattatreya’s learnings, continued and concluded…

9. From a python, he learned the lesson of contentment, because of its eating habits. Eat when hungry and don’t hog.

10. From the ocean, he learned to remain quiet and calm beneath, no matter how many rivers pour into it

11. From the moth, he learned the dangers of ruining oneself, like the importance for the moth of staying away from the fire, of being distracted by the senses

12. From the bee, that he should beg for little food only, from one house to another

13. From the beetle and the worm, he learned the principle that as a man thinks, so he becomes, and hence the need to continuously contemplate on the Atman

There were a few other teachers as well, totaling 24, and interested readers should read the amazing entire story!

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Learning from who(m)… Part 1 of 3

In the Bhagavad Purana, King Yadu is perturbed by his father Yayati’s decision to renounce kingship. So Yadu goes to a forest and meets a realized soul there, an avadhuta, none other than the great Dattatreya.

What he is surprised by more than anything else is how happy this carefree man of the forest is. The Guru then proceeds to tell the King to learn from nature itself. He then explains how he got self realization by observing nature and its teachers. A quick summary follows:

1. From the earth, the quality of patience, forbearance and doing good to others

2. From air, the value of non-attachment and freedom

3. From the sky, the expansive nature of the Self, which is untouched by any object

4. From water, the quality of purity and coolness

More tomorrow…

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Horsing around

Someone I know recently met someone else I know.

One of them took the efforts of finding out that the other person loves horses.

So he gifted him a horse encyclopedia. And that connection just skyrocketed, potentially opening future doors for collaboration.

All’s well that ends well!

And then I saw this quote now:

Just as a horse can be controlled by a bridle, the sensual pleasures and passions can be overcome by knowledge, meditation and power of penance. A well controlled horse that gallops fast reaches its destination safely. And sense organs well controlled by the reins of scriptural knowledge can help in realizing the Self.
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Silly Con

What comes to mind when you think of Silicon Valley?

Surely all sorts of techie stuff like social networks and software companies and VC funded tech startups.

But the Silicon in Silicon Valley refers to not these outcomes, but the basic material that enables all of this insane computing power, ie silicon chips aka semiconductors.

In Spiritual Valley too, there’s a lot of focus on breathing tricks and yogic realms and revelatory chakras and other mystic stuff. I am no one to comment on these, and great people have attained and demonstrated various powers or siddhis.

But my Guru is very clear. It is important to give up attachments and desires of this material world. These are the basic materials of spirituality. In Metallica’s words, Nothing Else Matters.

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Devatas around us

After watching Kantara, everyone wonders the same thing. Are deities or Devatas really a thing? Do they exist around us, physically? Is there a way to experience them? Because our scriptures and mythological stories have tons of such examples. And when we pray, aren’t we praying to deities for their help? Why pray if they aren’t real?

PVR Narasimha Rao, a Vedic astrologer and Sanskrit scholar put up a nice video recently on YouTube where he addresses this question. He says that deities are indeed real, and can be experienced physically as well as internally.

How this is done is a different story – perhaps needing a lot of meditation.

But the question is, even if you experience something, how can you prove it? These are intensely personal incidents of course. But wouldn’t the Devatas themselves want to prove their existence?

Not at all, says PVR ji. Instead, they are like oxygen. Oxygen doesn’t care whether people know about it or not. And even if we don’t know about the oxygen around us, we are certainly breathing it, else life would be impossible. Only a scientist would try to study the air and evaluate oxygen, just like only a spiritual seeker will seek to study himself and his true nature.

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Transitionary

Supple to firm to infirm.

Baby to youth to old.

Each one of us goes through this.

No exceptions.

Everything is short lived.

And still in this short time, we run after only short lived things.

Is this sensible?

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What is this ego?

“I” am the ego. And “I” am filled with pride and arrogance. This is what is ego, is what a simple Sanskrit to English translation would led one to believe.

But is that really it?

When our scriptures talk of ego, they are not referring to pride and arrogance at all. Yes those are bad qualities, but that is not the root cause.

When we say poornamadah poornamidam and give up all our ego to the Homa fire, what ego is that?

The ego here refers to the various identities that we have assumed. As father, as mother, as wife, as son, as daughter, as husband, as employee, as employer and hundreds of other such titles. Lord Krishna clarifies, there is no identity, only Brahman. The rest is maya.

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Rain rain come again

“How to get rid of attachments?” is an oft-asked question by spiritual seekers.

One senior satsangi recently said that we need to know what we are attached to in the first place, before we attempt to wean off them attachments.

So he provided a cool acronym called RAIN.

R for Results, so don’t be attached to the restults of whatever karma we do.

A for Action, so don’t be attached to the action either, like feeling very proud of oneself for going to satsang.

I for “I”, the real ego, putting myself above all else, which is the chief culprit.

N for Non-action, kind of like a counter-point to “A” above, because we can’t be attached to not doing something either. For instance, someone might not go to parties on weekends and feel great about themselves and begin looking down upon those that do go, and getting attached to that inaction.

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Strugglers

All of creation is always struggling.

The deer wakes up and and starts to run, else it’ll be eaten by the lion. The lion wakes up and runs after the deer else it’ll starve

The deer and lion also have struggles within their own communities, for power, for mates, for kids, for food, for a home.

This is true of all animals, insects, plants, and all living organisms.

Humans are no different. But apart from all the external struggles, we also have internal enemies that we constantly struggle with. Insecurities, fears and weaknesses that prevent us from achieving our full potential.

Our scriptures recognize precisely this, and provide every conceivable solution to these struggles.

Our overarching struggle though? To even find the time or inclination to read the scriptures.

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Les perishables

Chapter 7 of the Gita is an interesting one.

In verse 20-22, the Lord says that spiritual seekers can worship various deities. By following the specific rules related to these deities, they will get what they desire.

Then in verse 23, He mentions the words antavattu phalam. Anta is end and Phal is fruit. Taken together, the words refer to perishable desires.

The Lord is trying to convey only one simple truth here. That we should not be running after material desires. Why? Because they are perishable! Would you want to buy a shiny new sports car that you know would be junk in a year?

The 3 core components of life = vyakti, vastu, paristhithi = people, things and situations – all of these are perishable, and yet our desires only revolve around these.

What should we desire that is permanent then? Spiritual growth to reach the Lord.

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TV series

There’s a lot of random nonsensical crap on TV these days. All sorts of Reality TV that is totally unreal, and as scripted and fake as they come.

But there’s also some gems. We found two lovely shows recently.

1. Devlok by Devdutt Pattnaik, where Mr. Devdutt, an acclaimed author (and ex-doctor!) goes into amazing depth on Indian mythology and how to relate those to our daily lives.

2. Ramayana with Amish, where the author travels 5000 kilometers from Ayodhya in India to the tip of Sri Lanka and covers all the key locations visited by Lord Rama during his 14 year exile.

Surely there must be many more such lovely documentaries too. Do share good ones you’ve come across in the comments please!

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Special generalist

The Vibhuti Yoga chapter 10 in the Gita is truly special.

It starts off with the Lord giving examples of his manifestation in Creation. He gives 54 such examples, like Om, Sri Rama, Prahalada, Kamadhenu and others.

But the best example is towards the end of the chapter, where the Lord talks about Himself as being the Ultimate Vibhuti. How so? Because there is nothing else besides him!

Those who fight over the supremacy of their God over other’s Gods, would be reminded by Krishna that there is only God and nothing but God.

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Om Aum ॐ

Om has a special meaning and significance in spirituality. Every satsang typically starts with chanting Om.

  1. Krishna Himself accords great importance to Om in the Gita chapter 10 Vibhuti Yoga. “Among utterances, I am OM” is what He says.
  2. Om is both word and symbol for the Lord himself.
  3. It also represents creation, being the very primordial sound and vibration of the original genesis. It is said that Om also pervades the universe today in the background.
  4. Om is everything and everything is in Om.
  5. Om is also ideal for meditation, to calm the mind down.
  6. Om is great for babies too, whether in the womb or outside.
  7. Om not only helps the mind to get aligned spiritually, but physicaly too, Om is said to activate all 3 parts of body. Aa-oo-mm, each syllable representing the lower, middle and upper portions of the body respectively.
  8. Om is also a beeja mantra, or a seed, that activates the the energy centres in the body.

Is there any scientific evidence for all this? Maybe not, but once experienced personally, no proof will necessary.

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How to define God?

Notice how whenever someone who is a realized soul speaks about God, they only talk in a very generic ambiguous way?

Since I haven’t experienced anything myself, I have no clue how it will be. But this is where the analogy of the salt doll is appropriate.

Said salt doll wanted to test the depth of the ocean. Funny, no? So the salt doll jumped into the ocean, and instantly dissolved.

Can we say it reached the bottom?

Can we say it didn’t?

As Swami Chinmayananda once said, “to define God is to defile God”.

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I’ve got dual citizenship!

Well, well, congratulations are in order, aren’t they?

Who doesn’t want to hold two, or maybe even more, passports?

But I’m not alone. You’ve got dual citizenship too.

There’s two countries that we each keep traveling between. We belong to both. We always have. They are always with us, no matter what.

Our scriptures call them dwandvas. Dualities. Two sides of a coin. Pain-pleasure. Night-day. Sorry-Joy. Nothing is black or white, good or bad. Good leads to bad, and bad leads to good. That is nothing more than constant evolution.

For permanent ananda? We have to give up all passports. That will provide Universal Citizenship.

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Pass the ion

The entirety of the Gita can be divided into just 3 words, if we go by what is in verses 10 and 11 of the 10th chapter.

What are these 3 words?

  1. Passion – which is how we should be working, with passion, aka karma yoga
  2. Compassion – the way the Lord looks at us, the way our Guru looks at us
  3. Dispassion – which is vairagya, or living unattached. Not uninterested, but disinterested.

What a brilliant triad isn’t it?!

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GGG

There’s 3 Gs we need to catch hold of very tightly for spiritual progress.

1. God

2. Guru

3. Gita, aka our scriptures

These in isolation won’t help much unless they are bound by our own self-effort. We will have to ourselves go through the Grind, which can be the fourth G in this package.

God-Guru-Gita-Grind

That’s about as clear as it gets!

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What to renounce? – part 3

So what is sattvika renunciation? That is doing one’s prescribed duty but giving up attachment and fruits.

So I do the work as though my life depended on it, but then do not worry about the results as if I know I’m going to live peacefully anyway.

Can this be confusing? Yes very, and so my Guru has provided various examples in his Amazing Simple Gita in chapter 18 verse 9’s purport:

  1. Manager forgiving the subordinate when the latter is not doing his work is foolishness and has nothing to do with the former’s Sattvik renunciation or prescribed duty
  2. It is foolishness to say it is alright that I did not get my bonus. What you need to do is to ask for and get your due share and then do charity out of it
  3. Doing self improvement workshops for students is the right thing and our prescribed duty
  4. We are duty bound. Duty has bound us, no escape, and so do duty the sattvika way
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Educated guess

When someone says they are educated, what is it that comes to mind?

School, college, university, 12th grade, board exams, coding, chemistry, MBA, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, IIT, IIM, doctor, lawyer, engineer, CAT, UPSC, JEE. These could be a few of the top ones.

All good.

This is indeed what education means today.

What about character building? What about spirituality? Self discipline? Values of love, truthfulness, goodness and nobility?

But is this all?

Today’s education is mostly about living off of others, one-upmanship – always gaining something at someone else’s expense, always wanting more. More and more. The wants never stop.

True education is in our scriptures. They teach us that we should live not for ourselves, but for others.

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Inner voice

There are many spiritual people I’ve come across who have said their meditation takes them to different higher planes. Ones where they get messages from their own Gurus, or where they get answers to questions, learn about karmic exchanges for others, see the future and so on.

I’ve myself seen none of these. I find it difficult to even sit in one place, let alone meditate and keep my mind fixed.

So I asked one of said spiritual people recently about why I have no such divine talent. His answer was relevant and encouraging.

He said to me, “I’m a spiritual healer. So whatever I experience during my meditations or thoughts helps me in my work. In your case too, you would be getting messages to help you, in your own line of work. Maybe you are creative at work, or while making a presentation or in the speed at which you find solutions to problems and so on. All of this is your intuitive power, which is nothing but divinity. If you see it this way, it will only continue to increase.”

We all have this inner voice, but we probably do not pay much attention to it.

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Inner Strength gives what?

If you believe in what our scriptures tell us, then we are not just an accumulation of body-mind-intellect, but rather are divine beings at the core. Not just this, but said divine beings are no different from God Himself/Herself.

If God is within us, then are we tapping into this infinite energy resource whenever things seem to be going south?

Like if we get angry, we might just shout and yell and become red and huffy puffy. Or maybe we can dip into our inner divinity, take a moment, think about our true purpose. What would that divine being inside us do? Is that divine being even concerned about whether someone else thinks less of you?

If we feel nervous about a new beginning, do we just sweat and worry? Or can we tap into that infinite reservoir inside, and calm ourselves down. Because what could possibly go wrong that a divine soul itself cannot see or fix?

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God alone knows?

How difficult is it to attain moksha? Very hard. How difficult is it to attain moksha in this very life then? Infinitely more difficult. But as my Guru always says, “Difficult, but possible.”

In the Katha (Story) Upanishad, a young Nachiketas asks Lord Yama about the Secret Divine Knowledge which is the True Purpose of life. Since Yama had granted Nachiketas a boon, he had no option but to give him this Knowledge.

But Yama also tried at first to distract Nachiketas away from his question. He told him, that even the Gods don’t know about this Divine Secret, so why is a small boy asking questions on these lines!? But Nachiketas was adamant.

And so Yama beautifully explains the True Nature of ourselves and how we should choose the path of Shreyas over Preyas.

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Why prepping in advance is key – part 1 of 2

We are often told to read our scriptures, heed the advice of the wise, and attend satsangs regularly. After a while, we come to realize that most of the content is the same – seemingly repetitive and boring.

But you know what? In the repetition is where the magic happens!

Consider the stock markets for example. Everyone knows you need to buy low and sell high. It’s the easiest thing to do, right? Wrong. It’s the hardest thing to do, as any experienced investor will tell you, because when the market falls, your portfolio falls with it, and it paralyses one from taking action, even if that is the best time to buy more! Have a look at this often quoted statement in the market:

During these moments, confidence and clarity evaporates and is replaced by pessimism and doubt.

This exactly summarizes why we need to prepare in advance, read the scriptures in advance, practise in advance, attend satsangs in advance, build our key relationships – you guessed it – in advance. Because mental and physical strength is built during practise, not on the battlefield.

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Everyday

While on a road trip recently, the group of us was commenting as to how nice the roads were. Very well maintained, and no potholes and rough surfaces, which meant the ride was super smooth.

As we rode on, a large sign on the highway caught my eye. It said, “Every day is Safety Day. This one gets no special day, or any holidays!”

Not only was it a critical message for drivers, but replace the word Safety with Spirituality, and it’d quickly be immediately relevant to each one of us as spiritual aspirants.

Spirituality isn’t about going to satsang on one given day, or attending a sermon one-off, or thinking about the Lord when we want something or meditating just because we want to reduce our stress levels. Rather, spirituality is a way of life. It has no special days, or any holidays!

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Temple duties – part 2 of 2

In several of the larger more famous temples in India, there are long serpentine queues, often requiring many hours of waiting and jostling to reach the sanctum sanctorum. But almost paradoxically, the time allowed to be spent at the feet of the deity is usually between 3 and 5 seconds. Hardly worth the effort, one would think.

And yet, people do it year after year, religiously, maybe even mindlessly? Surely this must be more than just blind faith. If things do not work out the way you wished for, would you come back the following year?

Much of this has become commercial and business driven. Playing on people’s faiths is easy. Nobody wants to anger a God. But the question is this.

While it is good to go to the large temples, are we regularly visiting the temple down our home street or town? If the Lord is everywhere, are we seeing Him in our parents? Do we treat those around us (who are also His Creation) with respect and love? If we are doing these things, then visiting large temples once a year or whenever is probably not needed? And if we are not doing these basic things also, then what is the point of visiting such large shrines of love and devotion?

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Temple duties – part 1 of 2

On a recent temple-hopping trip, there were some interesting experiences.

1. The priest at the inner sanctum sactorum of a large renknowned temple spoke very sweetly as we approached the deity. He gave us a 2 minute “extra” darshan, asked me to stand on the side, and then said in no uncertain words “take out your wallet and give me the big notes”. Despite literally being at the feet of the Lord, how much time did I get to really think about Him, versus trying to assess the situation after recovering from initial shock?

2. The priest at a small relatively unknown temple, explained the full history-geography of that deity – all without asking, gave extra blessings, and took no money.

3. After we paid for a special darshan queue at a famous temple, we were asked to pay the same amount again at the end, off-the-record, just in order to receive a few flowers and one coconut.

How to think about these things? Does money come in the way of spirituality? Is God really asking for cash from his devotees? Should we stop going to temples altogether?

Thoughts tomorrow!

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Good to liberate

We should all do good only all the time. Isn’t it?

Yes of course we should, absolutely, what stupid questions I ask sometimes!

But will this doing good always, lead us to moksha or liberation?

Not at all.

Really! But why?

My Guru explains in his Amazing Simple Gita thus:

“Even a million good actions cannot lead one to liberation. Knowledge of Reality, that you are Brahman, and your world is false, is a must. Ignorance of Reality is the cause of the existence of the World.”

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One Love

Back in the noughties (only 20 years ago!), the boy band Blue crooned, “One Love is all we need”, and that song became a massive hit.

While that song was about something else too, it is indeed One Love that is the common denominator across all religions.

People fight today in the name of religion, declaring that their own path is Supreme, in isolation, and to the exclusion of every other faith.

But no God ever said this. Only man did.

And humans do this why? Because of their ego.

It’s not about the Lord or the religion anymore, but about “their” God and “their” religion.

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Road to rationality

There are plenty of miracles that happen in our lives, even if we do not necessarily look at it that way. That we are even alive, on the only blue planet in the universe, spinning at 36 km/s, and yet not leaving anyone dizzy – how did the Creator even come up with all this?

Despite several inexplicables (such as those who pass away in one half of the year will only reach heaven while the others will go to hell) in The Gita chapter 8 verses 26 and 27, my Guru has a brilliant and practical suggestion / solution.

1) One path is that if we are already endowed with strong faith, then there is no problem. We fully side with and believe in what our scriptures tell us, and follow accordingly.

2) The other road is one where some of us might question the logic and rationality of such ‘miracles’ and other spiritual setups. To which Guruji’s point is, “Great, this scepticism is good. Anyway this is all a play of maya only. So the faster one transcends this body-mind complex by working on their spiritual sadhanas, the better it is, because one can then sidestep the need to have blind faith in something that the intellect is unable to grasp.”

Which road would you choose?

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So bored with…

One of the challenges with spirituality? It appears to make life, and living itself, quite boring.

Lord Krishna says the world is dukhaalayam (sorrow-filled) and ashashwatam (fleeting), and also to give up desires and attachments and what not.

So a new spiritual seeker could find all this very boring.

But that is not the intention at all. The only reason for all these mentions, is to be objective and realistic in the way we live our lives.

It is similar to a newly married couple. The first year pre and post marriage are the best. Why? Because the couple can only see the best in each other. Which is a great way to live, but is eventually replaced with reality. Smart parents, will advise their kids accordingly, not to deter them from marriage, but to prepare them for it. And so it is, with life, and spirituality.

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Here’s the shortcut

The shortcut is that there is only a longcut.

We all want to evolve spiritually, and evolve fast.

We want to quickly conquer the vices, never get angry, never be greedy or jealous, and never cower in fear.

But there are no quick fixes. Only preparatory fixes. The prep for a war cannot start one day before the war. It’s a continuous process, requiring years and years of prep. Many army / navy / airforce people might prep for decades (and even retire!) without so much as entering a real battlefield. Then why prep? Because that’s the only way to be ready, because we can never predict when the war will begin. Just like in our lives too – we need to be ready in advance. That’s why our scriptures focus so much on satsang and sadhana – so that when a problem strikes, we are ready!

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Karmic simplicity

Here is a simple Karmic truth.

Many people think that spirituality and materialism are poles apart.

But Lord Krishna in the Gita has given a way to make them both the same!

He asks us to perform karma yoga, so that our worldly work will continue on, as the body continues doing all the necessary actions.

And the mind? The mind is attached to God, because all work is done as a service to Him, and hence no karma is accrued.

Thus spirituality = materialism!

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Can we think of the Lord all the time?

A close friend couple (husband + wife) had taken a 1 year sabbatical. This was what they recounted to me.

They planned their sabbatical about 10 months in advance. And they were both working right till the start of the sabbatical.

Initially, they said, it felt so far off, and they would hardly think of it.

But towards the end, as time kept moving forward, and as the time-to-sabbatical reduced from months to just weeks and days and hours, they said that they kept thinking of the sabbatical ever increasingly, even during their office work, which they were anyway doing, and doing well.

We certainly seem to have the capacity to process multiple things at once in our minds. So can we think of the Lord a lot of the time, while also going about our other daily duties? We sure can!

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Bhajan shortcut

In chapter 8 of the Gita, Lord Krishna appears to offer a shortcut to reach Him.

He says, that no matter the kind of life one has led (including very sinful), if one remembers the Lord at the time of death, then such a person would definitely reach Him.

Seems easy enough! So one clever chap who had never been even remotely pious or religious or spiritual in his entire 90 year life, decided to utilise this shortcut. His plan? To make sure that on his deathbed, his near and dear ones play some Krishna bhajans, so that automatically he keeps thinking of Krishna.

On the last day/time, he is on his deathbed, and a Krishna bhajan is played. And then another. And another. Our man cannot stand it any longer, all these alien songs, having never listened to any bhajans in his life. “What is this stuff? It’s so boring. Stop it! Can’t you people just let me die in peace?”. They did stop the bhajans being played, and he promptly passed away.

The shortcut in chapter 8 is not a shortcut. It just appears so. In order to remember the Lord at the time of death, it is necessary to remember Him at every waking moment!

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You have been replaced…

…is a fear each of one us have had at some point.

Whether replaced in a pivotal relationship, or replaced in your job, or replaced from a position of authority, everyone likes the status quo. And the inertia of sitting and lazing around is probably the strongest force in the world!

A new and more recent threat of replacement is one of AI – Artifical Intelligence. We already see so much of computational power around us. Many jobs that were once done by people (ATMs in place of bank tellers; Alexa instead of typists; e-booking instead of travel agents) are all done by computers.

How to survive this? What skills are irreplaceable?

Here is the list, according to a study I came across. 1) Empathy, 2) Emotional Intelligence, 3) Creativity and 4) Unstructured Problem Solving (i.e. not solving via code).

That’s the list. And you know the beauty of these? Each one of these can be developed by us, and strengthened. And forget computers replacing us, if we excel at these, even other people cannot replace us. The hard part? None of these are taught anywhere. Except maybe in satsangs and spiritual books.

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Conflicted

There’s a big conflict in Arjuna’s mind.

He sees a lovely path ahead of him called the Path of Knowledge. Jnaana Yoga.

And then a much tougher one, the Path of Work. Karma Yoga.

Of course he is drawn to Jnaana Yoga. Just “learn” some “knowledge” and run away from the battlefield and be done with all work forever.

But this is only an apparent conflict, borne out of delusion, as Krishna explains to him, and indirectly to us.

There is hardly any difference between the two Paths.

Jnaana Yoga is also a path of work only. Because the true Path of Knowledge gets the individual to realize that it is not work that should be shunned, but only attachment to it and its fruits.

The paths only exist in the mind. To the realized soul, everything is the same.

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Shifting gears

As someone who likes to drive, I’ve always been fascinated by car gears. Some have 4, some 5, some even 6. And there are those that have Reverse gears on the top left, and some on the bottom right. You know what I mean.

But I saw this crazy video recently of a long-haul truck, with wait for it, 18 gears! Eighteen! That is just insane.

But the number 18 is interesting. It is also the number of chapters in the Gita.

And regardless of the vehicle, just like we shift gears one to the next, once the destination has been reached, there is no alternative but to bring it to neutral.

Just as in the Gita, we can go from one chapter to the next and back, but ultimately, we’ve to reach nothing but the neutral state. One of permanent stability and everlasting peace.

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Beyond home and work – part 8 of 8

Continued from yesterday:

How has Satsang helped me?

It has brought discipline to my life.

Satsang has made me less concerned about money – not that money doesn’t matter, but my happiness doesn’t revolve around it as much.

Satsang has given me more peace, and the ability to step back and look at situations more holistically, and not being sad immediately or for too long if something doesn’t happen the way I expect it to.

Satsang has made me a part of larger community – there are so many close friends here in satsang, it is more like a huge extended family.

Very importantly, satsang has brought a noble / everlasting mission and direction to life, beyond just the mundane home and work.

Last but not least, through the Guru’s grace and blessings, satsang brings miracles not just sporadically but daily.

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Beyond home and work – part 7 of 8

Continued from yesterday:

And satsang isn’t just about singing bhajans, or chanting mantras or some other boring sounding stuff.

Then what does satsang help us give up?

Satsang helps us give up our anxiety, our stress, our jealousy, our anger, our greed, our fear.

Satsang helps us do our dharma.

How?

Most people say dharma is religion. No dharma is not religion. Dharma is really the art of balance.

How to balance all the taking with the giving, that is dharma. and that is why satsang helps us in our dharma.

Continued tomorrow…

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Beyond home and work – part 6 of 8

Continued from yesterday:

Imagine you had to setup a justice system, your own justice system. You are the Chief Judge. That’s right. You decide the law. You are the law! Would you favour the ones who are only taking-taking-taking? Probably not, right?

How does this get balanced out? Because at home we are taking-taking-taking, at work also taking-taking-taking – money, bonus, position etc. Then when to give?

That’s exactly what satsang can help with. – to kickstart our giving process, and also the giving-up process. To give-up what? Your money? No, SS doesn’t need your hard-earned money.

Continued tomorrow…

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Beyond home and work – part 5 of 8

Continued from yesterday:

So here is something for each one of us to think about deeply.

Everything we each have succeeded in today, can we really say with 100% confidence that it is all solely because of us? The marks we got in school? Yes we studied of course, but teachers helped, parents helped, someone wrote a question paper, someone wrote a book, someone invented or discovered something that could be written about in the first place – and on and on!

Same for the bonuses and promotions we got at work, somebody trained us, someone recognized us, someone provided us with a job to be, someone invented a computer decades ago, without which much of our work wouldn’t even get done!

It’s not that we should not get credit for our actions, but think about it, and we’ve really just been taking-taking-taking from day 1.

Continued tomorrow…

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Beyond home and work – part 4 of 8

Continued from yesterday:

One-and-a-half hours later, there was still no respite, and people started getting angry and stressed. Some were shouting, others were fighting, some started live-tweeting their frustration, babies were crying – it was just total and complete chaos.

And it was immediately evident, that even outside of home and work, stress and anger can cause the entire day to become unproductive.

Because yes this got sorted and people checked-in and all. But even after the flight was over and we landed at the destination, there were some people arguing with each other about having cut in front of them into the line in the morning and how they have no manners and such!

Continued tomorrow…

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Beyond home and work – part 3 of 8

Continued from yesterday:

It might seem that satsang and its benefits are important in two large parts of our lives, home and office.

This is true of course, but if you draw a Venn diagram, you’ll have one circle with Work, another circle with Home, and the part where both intersect (that post-2020 is called work-from-home!).

But even outside of that, there is life and so much stress and anxiety, and really there is no aspect of life that satsang cannot touch and transform.

I recently had to take an early morning flight. As early as 3 am, there were serpentine queues, with people of all ages waiting to check-in. There were literally 100s of passengers, and just two open check-in counters. Crazy isn’t it?

Continued tomorrow…

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Beyond home and work – part 2 of 8

Continued from yesterday:

For many of us, the question will be, “Really? Is there even anything outside of work and home?” “With weekdays and weekends both just flying past in a complete blur?”

But there still are things that frequently upset us – like:

  • struggling with our workout schedules,
  • not being able to take vacations, or even worse
  • taking vacations but mentally still being unable to relax;
  • or we may have doubts on what the right decision to make is, given a certain set of circumstances;
  • or there may be an inability to maintain true friendships – we may be online all the time on social media, and yet feel extremely lonely and disconnected,

and on and on and on….

Continued tomorrow…

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Classy

As I board a 16 hour flight for a business trip, I see people seated in different parts of the airplane.

The majority are in Economy.

The minority are divided between First and Business.

Everyone reaches the same destination, no partiality there.

But the journey? Vastly different, whether quality of service, legroom or food and beverage options etc.

No different than life outside an aircraft.

The end game is fixed. But the journey is what matters – what we do, what we make of it, and how we impact those around us.

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VVP

This is how the world is deconstructed in the spiritual context.

Vyakti. Vastu. Paristhithi.

Person. Object. Situation.

According to the Gita and other Vedic texts, all of life revolves around these three and the interplay between them.

Why does this matter?

Because it tells us what is important. Or rather what is not.

Can any of these 3 – whether in isolation or in combination – bring us permanent happiness?

The answer is an emphatic No. Hence VVP helps us contextualise what is truly valuable.

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Extreme meditation

Chapter 6 of the Gita is all about meditation. Funny then, that verses 16 and 17 would talk about moderation in food. Is there really any sort of connection?

A very deep one in fact.

A spiritual aspirant may think that “we are all Brahman, we are not the body”. And such a person might decide to eat too much or too little, and in general become careless about his/her health.

As we very well know though, if we are sick, then there is little ability to get any work done – whether material or spiritual (including meditation progress or prowess).

That’s why Krishna makes it very clear in this verse, that extremes won’t do. The body is the tool and vehicle provided to us to achieve our spiritual objectives. The mind might like extremes, especially good ones, but the body thrives on moderation.

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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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Changeless

Change is the only constant. We’ve heard this ad infinitum. Be ready for change. Be prepared for change. Be adaptable.

Yes, it’s all true, and necessary.

And yet, when Jeff Bezos was asked many years ago, “What do you think will change 10 years from now?”, he coolly flipped the question.

“Let me tell you what won’t change 10 years from now. That customers will want discounts. And that they will want fast delivery.”

That’s pretty much what has happened now, many many years later.

Focusing on what won’t change is a stellar strategy. Spirituality says the same thing. There is only one thing that is truly changeless. Nothing else needs any attention.

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Yearning pool

The intense yearning for liberation or moksha is called mumukshatwam in Sanskrit.

What does this intense yearning look like?

There’s a story about the great Swami Vivekananda with his Guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa. Apparently the former had this very same question too. So his Guru asked him to take a dip in the Hooghly river in Calcutta (or Kolkata). And then pushed his head down in the water (like the villain would do to a hero in a Hollywood movie, and vice versa in a Bollywood movie!) not allowing Vivekananda to come up for air.

Needless to say, the only intense yearning at that point was for oxygen. Not any money or or material objects.

That was how much intense yearning was required for moksha as well.

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TTSP

This Too Shall Pass

We’ve all heard this hundreds of times, if not more. If something does not go as planned, if it appears that we may have failed in something, and we are really dejected about it, then TTSP comes up immediately.

And it’s truly a great phrase. Everything is indeed transitory.

But this phrase is usually used only for bad times. However, even the good times are equally transitory. The promotion doesn’t last, the bonus doesn’t last, the new car doesn’t stay new for more than a few months.

TTSP is the common thread across all our life experiences. All except one. The true SatChitAnanda.

As Lord Krishna says in the Gita Chp 9 verse 33, “Having come to this transient and joyless human life, constantly worship Me.”

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Spiritual desires

A recent visit to the mountains provided me the opportunity to bump into a Tarot card reader.

We were discussing a few things, generally.

And then I asked her a question. “When will I evolve spiritually? When can I have some spiritual experiences?”

Pat came her answer.

“If you are living in the moment, if you are enjoying your work, if you are happily supporting your family, then that is no different from a spiritually evolved soul. You only need to answer to yourself, if you are living this way.”

Simple, yet profound, no?

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Chanakya Neeti – part 3 of 3

Some more awesome words from Chanakya to close out this 3 part series:

  1. A moneyless man is not poor if he has the knowledge. There is no doubt that brain power is the mightiest power.
  2. Separation from one another should not be turned into a life long sorrow. Give due respect to the law of nature.
  3. Kith and kin get pleased with good food, while the learned ones only require a few good words to be satisfied.
  4. People who are polite and gentle to their near and dear ones, who are compassionate to the deserving, who show no mercy to bad people, who are respectful to scholars, who bravely face the powerful, who display reverence to gurus, parents and spiritual teachers, control the new development.
  5. Mercy and compassion are the mothers of all religions, hence a person having such feelings becomes religious.
  6. A teacher who introduces his pupil to God, leaves an unpayable debt on his disciple.

So amazing isn’t it?

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Daily social

There’s some bad things with social media. We know that.

There’s also some good things with social media. We know that too.

What’s awesome, is that some bad things, can become good things, via social media!

Here’s an example. A temple visit.

Pre-pandemic, going to temples, standing in a long queue, sometimes for many hours, and then ultimately being able to spend a grand total of 2 seconds at the sanctum sanctorum… Wow really futile effort, it would seem.

Now? Many temples after being closed to visitors, have gone digital. Not just in accepting donations, but also in installing state of the art cameras and broadcasting daily aartis as well as other rites. Live, for the whole world to see. And sometimes in such fantastic Ultra HD 4K clarity, that it’s impossible to get this even in the real place. And every day beautiful new dresses and ornamentation for the idol? Check.

Pretty amazing being daily social. Do check out the Siddhivinayak temple Twitter feed if you like!

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Netted

There’s a beautiful description of two of the greatest devotees of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa as given by Swami Ranganathananda in his Bhagavad Gita exposition.

It was said that Maya could never catch either of them. Why? For two opposing reasons.

For the first devotee Narendra aka Swami Vivekananda, he had becomes just too big for the net of Maya. How? Through jnaana or knowledge. The jnaani knows he is the same as The Infinite One, and hence no net however large can contain such a person.

And the other devotee? He was Durga Charan Nag, a householder and a doctor. He was supposed to have been one of the greatest devotees of the Divine Mother. He was so humble, that he would say the Lord is everything and he is nothing. This made him so small that he could easily pass through the Maya net!

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Repetition

My Guru in his Amazing Simple Gita has encapsulated many outstanding truths of life. One such truth comes in chapter 1 itself.

He has written it for all the utopians amongst us. Those who yearn for perfect harmony. For a world filled with peace and laughter.

We have everything already don’t we? Incredible changes in technology mean even some of today’s poor people might have luxuries unbeknownst to the kings and queens of yesteryear.

But still, the kings and queens and rulers of today are themselves discontent. Ever eyeing nearby lands and their resources, with not a care for its people, on they go with their plunder and loot.

Oh why can’t this change? Because of the mind. The mind is one’s own best friend and one’s own worst enemy. Consumed by greed, lust, jealousy and anger, how can this mind think of harmony and peace? No matter the reward, the mind is continuously dissatisfied. As my Guru notes, as long as the mind exists, there exists no respite.

Spirituality teaches us how to subdue the mind, and surrender the ego. When this is achieved, there is nothing but peace.

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Brahman substitution

Here’s something that keeps coming up.

When people take up spirituality for the first time, they are taught that the soul within each one of us is the same, deep down.

That it’s called Brahman and hence there is no real difference between any of us, in our purest forms.

This is meant to help us be equanimous and impartial in our thoughts and actions in the real world.

But questions arise. “If I’m Brahman, and the tiger is also Brahman, then am I supposed to go and hug the tiger?”

As you can imagine now, there are many variations. Substitute ‘tiger’ with any problem in your life, and it’ll feel like the energy is already being drained out.

The answer? Yes you know the tiger is Brahman. But does the tiger know you are also Brahman?

The first requirement is survival, only then, spiritual.

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Humanize and divinize – part 2 of 3

Why should we not cut down trees? Because trees give us oxygen, and we need oxygen to survive.

This is a practical view, and a correct one. But it is not the only one. Followers of Sanatana Dharma worship trees as Gods. This will lead them to question a thousand times before cutting a tree down.

Why? Because this is not just a tree anymore, but a manifestation of the Lord.

And if the tree indeed needs to be cut down? Then we could try to contribute more than we consume.

Imagine if we could do this in every walk of life. The fundamental attitude towards the world itself changes. To one of divinizing everything in the world. Every interaction with it is a God given gift, and an opportunity.

Wouldn’t that be awesome? For sure. But there is something even more awesome. Concluded tomorrow…

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Humanize and divinize – part 1 of 3

In chapter 4 of the Gita, Arjuna asks the Lord, “Hey Krishna, how come you revealed this secret of creation and yoga to the Sun God many aeons back, when you were just born a few years ago? Something doesn’t add up.”

And then Krishna tells Arjuna about reincarnation, and the many births they took before.

Hard to wrap our heads around this concept because there appears to be so little proof. And we don’t remember our past lives either (thankfully so!). The forgetful person that I am, I actually don’t remember much about my current life as well 🙂

In any case, if the Lord has been taking so many births aka avatars, there is something human about Him. Why is he easier to worship as Krishna, and not as some formless being? Because that is how we are able to empathise with Him.

My Guru has a way for this. He says we should constantly be having a conversation with the Lord. Even if it is only one-way. But keep Him updated of all the goings-on in our lives. That will change nothing for Him. But humanizing Him will strengthen our faith.

What about divinizing? Coming tomorrow…

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Temporarily permanent – part 2 of 2

Did you notice the sly switch of words in title from yesterday to today? 🙂

There’s a reason for it.

While Lord Krishna’s message may have got lost in between, the content remained absolutely the same. Absolutely evergreen. So despite temporary disappearances from our collective memories, it still remains permanent.

Why? Because the message is as relevant today as it was 5000 years ago.

But how is that possible? Would the ancients even begin to fathom how hard it is when your post on social media does not get even 10 likes? Or the difficulties presented by not having a charger on hand when the iPhone battery is close to dead?

Obviously they wouldn’t. But that is also precisely the point. No matter the advancement in technology, the underlying problems are still the same. People still get tensed, jealous, angry, stressed, greedy – you name it.

What should we prioritize then – newer technology or time-tested truths?

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Permanently temporary – part 1 of 2

At the start of the 4th chapter of the Gita, the Lord tells Arjuna, “I revealed this yoga to the Sun god, Vivaswan, Manu, Ikshvaku. It got lost by passage of time. The same is told to you now.”

Can you believe it? The most important knowledge in the world, nay not even the world, of all creation. In fact the secret of creation itself…lost!

What does this tell us?

That with the passage of time, everything is lost.

Grandpa plants a seed, three generations later, the kids are okay to cut down the tree to construct their home. Parents save a fortune, only to see it frittered away by the next layer. Bulbs, telephones, car models, women confined to the kitchens – you name it, and it will change.

What do we learn from this? Not to be (too) attached to anything. Because the expectation that we should preserve anything forever, is just foolishness.

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6 months to… part 2 of 3

As mentioned yesterday, today’s and tomorrow’s posts will contain some gems from the amazing book 6 Months to Live (available here).

  1. When some people are faced with a life-threatening illness, they lose all hope and wither away. True strength of character is seen when death is faced eye to eye without blinking, without questioning, without self-pity.
  2. “Not everything that is faced, can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
  3. We talk about angels in disguise…. What disguise? Here was an angel incarnate, whom God had sent to look after us in those trying times.
  4. The above vacations and participation in various family events just proves that cancer is not THE END of everything. You can almost go about your routine life with positivity and enthusiasm.
  5. Moving on is the best tribute you can give your most loved one who is no longer with you in person.

Concluded tomorrow, with some more gems!

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Pecking order

We never say “Oh look, his leg has gone for a walk”, or “hey her hand is making food in the kitchen”, do we? No we don’t, because we always consider everything about a person to be one singular entity.

In the Gita, Lord Krishna breaks it up, and for good reason. He says there is a clear pecking order:

Gross body < sense organs < mind < intellect < HE

This is to say, that it is our body and sense organs that get attracted to sense objects, because they give in to desires.

If we are able to use our intellect to focus the (monkey) mind on to HE, then that would be cool wouldn’t it? No need to worry about desires much then. But how to do it? Through karma yoga, aka the principle that work is worship (remember The secret to success at work?).

Also, this is a step by step process. When we know we are doing something bad, and we want to change it, we immediately try to jettison it, throw it out – and then we struggle with withdrawal symptoms. Whereas My Guru’s approach is always more measured, calibrated and sustainable. How? By aiming for something higher, so that whatever is lower and weaker, will automatically drop off. Work is good, but working selflessly as worship is the highest good.

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Slider

You probably know the story of the 3 old men who were invited into a home. They were love, wealth and success. But they refused to all go in together. So the house owner had to choose which one he wanted. And he chose well, i.e. he picked love. Automatically, the 2 men representing wealth and success followed as well. If he had chosen either of the other two, the home would have only had that chosen one.

This is a nice story, and is probably very true. My thoughts are of a sliding scale, with spiritual success at one end, and economic success at the other.

No doubt, most of us are hankering for economic success. Our every breath is directed towards earning more or reaching higher. While such focus is admirable, does it really give us peace of mind? Even if we wanted a way out, do we have any time left for a spiritual search?

The alternative, at the other end of the sliding scale is better. If we are steeped in spirituality, if we understand the non-permanence of it all, if we realize that all that we seek is within, then the scale itself will disappear. Much like the 3 old men who all traipsed in together, spiritual success automatically brings all other successes with it. But no other success will matter much at that time. Win-win!

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Runaway success

Remember those movies which were underdogs?

So many of them. Unheard of. The lead actors are practically unknown.

The movies? Least expected to do well.

Next thing you know, they become huuuuuge hits.

Massive runaway successes!

There’s a runaway success in the Bhagawad Gita as well.

For example, shlokas 19 to 23 in chapter 4.

They talk about giving up desires, giving up attachments, and maintaining equanimity in all situations of duality (like pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow).

These kinds of shlokas are absolutely successful in making even the staunchest of karma yogis runaway.

Runaway success of a different kind!

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Great falls

Shlokas 36 and 37 of chapter 3 in the Gita are eye-openers.

36 has Arjuna asking Krishna why people sin, despite knowing better. And he’s not asking about normal people. He’s asking about those very close to or even at, the pinnacle of spiritual progress. The jnaana yogis.

A jnaana yogi practitioner truly sees everything as the same – no discrimination. He sees the Atman not just in himself, but also in everyone around him. And he also experientially understands that all of these are no different from paramatma. Even so, our mythology is replete with the greatest of rishis, committing the gravest of mistakes, and falling from glory. So Arjuna wants to know why.

The Lord answers in 37, that this is all only because of our desires. “Desire is a great devourer – a great sinner, this is the enemy.”

My Guru is very clear on this too. It might sound boring. But if you want moksha, then this is the way (channelling my inner Mandalorian!). Not for material objects mind you – so not about praying for promotions and bonuses and topping in exams or begetting progeny, but for moksha alone. He doesn’t advise any maha mudras, or maha mantras, or maha japas, or any kundalini rising, or maha meditations – nothing. The only requirement he says, is to give up desires and attachments – that’s it. Can it get simpler?

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Progressive thinking

The world today in terms of thought process has never been more polarized. Wokeism, gender biases, racial profiling, income inequality, political extremes, and so many other aspects absolutely crowd out not just media headlines but also people’s minds.

Which side to be on? Which side is correct? What does correct even mean? And to who?

These are questions that may never have the right answers, because presented with sufficient background, narrative and rationale anything and everything can be and is being justified.

From a spiritual point of view though, our time here is limited. And how we live it is paramount, not so much what we do.

And how we live it, depends entirely on our state of mind. That is how spiritual progress itself can be measured. And this is exactly what Sri Ramana Maharishi stated over a century ago:

The degree of freedom from unwanted thoughts and the degree of concentration on a single thought, are the measures to gauge spiritual progress.

How to implement such profundity? By dropping attachments and desires. One step at a time…

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Divine eyes – part 1 of 3

In chapter 11 of the Gita, Lord Krishna shows his vishwaroopa darshanam (divine form) to Arjuna.

Arjuna of course is simultaneously flabbergasted, amazed and horrified.

Krishna says he grants ‘divine eyes’ to Arjuna for just a brief period, so that he may see the Truth.

This leads anyone who reads this chapter to wish they too could get such divine eyes. “How lucky Arjuna was!”

Yes he was indeed lucky, but having such temporary vision hardly did much lasting good.

In fact, Arjuna forgot all about the Gita in no time.

What is this temporary vision? Nothing more than internal purification.

We can chant and meditate all we like, but if the mind is still attached to sense objects and continues to have desires, no amount of ‘divine vision’ will help.

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Base rates

There are certain things in life that we would just be biased by. Psychologically. And this will mostly have to do with our upbringing. If we’ve only seen one kind of life, then it would be natural to assume that life in general for everyone is indeed as we have experienced it. For instance, a child born in the last decade, can never understand a world without mobile phones. So much so that s/he thinks that life without phones would be impossible.

A common example that would be asked to test biases is, “James Smith living in the USA is either a librarian or a salesman. His personality can best be described as shy and introverted. What are the odds that James is a librarian”

What is your answer?

James is a Librarian of course, at least a 90% probability. Right? That’s what most people would say. Because librarians are reserved and quiet people while salesmen are all chatty and gregarious. But would your answer change if you knew a fact – that there are 100 salesmen for every male librarian in the US? That means the probability of James being a librarian is just 1%, nowhere near the 90% we were thinking! That’s the base rate.

Base rates apply in spirituality as well. They are here for all to see. How many people got super happy and super rich after they died? Not even 1% of the people. Not even 0.0001% of the people. Because death = bye bye. Yet we crave more and more materiality, all the while ignoring the wise counsel of the gurus and saints who’ve lived this exact life for centuries upon centuries.

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Problematic

Verse 2.55 in the Gita is an interesting one.

But before that, do we have any problems in life? If no, then you are a jivanmukta. If yes, which should be the case for most of us, then the next questions should be – where do our problems come from?

For everyone who is working, we might unanimously think “Oh all my life’s problems come from my boss”. For those of us who are studying, we might think “Oh these darned exams. I love to study and read, but I so hate giving exams and having to compete in the mindless rat race”. For others, problems come from maybe an irritating sibling, or a friend, or a colleague, or even from certain things not going our way.

So the sources of problems can be multifarious.

But Krishna has a different take. He is saying “Hang on, all your problems, my problems, the world’s problems have only one source. And that source, is an unstable mind”.

And hence verse 2.55 says, “When one thoroughly casts off all cravings of the mind, is satisfied in the Self, through the joy of the Self, he is called one of stable mind.”

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Nimittas – part 3 of 3

Knowing now that being the nimitta of the Lord is the easy way to moksha, how exactly does one go about this?

Krishna himself gives a clue in verse 11.54, specifying a particular type of devotion or bhakti. Not any bhakti, but ananya bhakti.

Ananya, refers to no ‘anya’, i.e. no other. There is no other, apart from the Lord. This is not of some specific deity necessarily, but could also be of faith in the Creator. If there is such unconditional, indelible love towards the Lord, thinking of only Him 24×7, then that would be ananya bhakti.

Is this practical? Some research suggests we have nearly 40,000 thoughts a day. Where is the space for 24×7 ananya bhakti then!

My Guru says we can start small (remember ‘microsteps‘?). Offer gratitude to the Lord before sleeping, after waking up, before eating, after eating, before working, after working, before leaving the house, after coming back, after sneezing, after coughing, while yawning and so on.

Eventually, everything we do will automatically become associated with the Lord.

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Nimittas – part 2 of 3

In verse 11.33 of the Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna “nimitta maatram bhava savyasaachin“. Savyasachin refers to Arjuna, but in a roundabout fashion, as the word in Sanskrit means ambidextrous, or one who can wield the bow effortlessly with either hand. The important word as we saw yesterday as well, is nimitta or instrument.

Krishna tells Arjuna that he has already slain all the adharmic enemies facing him on the battlefield, and that all he had to do was to stand up and fight.

This verse is immediately misinterpreted by many, stating that everything is predetermined and how Krishna leaves no chance for free will. How fatalistic and defeatist, they say.

But saying this would be missing the point. Krishna still offers Arjuna a very important choice. He recommends him to get up and fight, but does not force him to. Arjuna had the option of going back home and chilling out if he wanted to. Isn’t that not free will?

All Krishna said, was to be a part of the Grand (aka Karmic) Plan, where dharma would be upheld no matter what. It would benefit Arjuna personally if he would choose to act as the nimitta in that position. But if not, another nimitta would come by, in order to maintain dharma. Wouldn’t we want a similar justice system, where no matter the person playing the role of judge, the wicked get punished?

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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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Predictive analytics

Put a picture of a snake and mention the words ‘kaala sarpa dosha’, and this is modus operandi 101 for many pseudo astrologers to make a quick buck. Much of this deep rooted fear is unwarranted, as many of the leading vedic astrologers concur that there is nary a reference to this dosha in tradition and ancient texts.

But oh that fear… what to do? What will happen to me? Many of us are living our lives in constant fear of something that may in all probability not even happen.

It is common in India to go to an astrologer and hope to identify how the future would pan out. This makes sense to an extent, if the native is a new born baby. The chart would indeed be highly indicative.

However for someone who is say 40 years old, does the birth chart have significance? Yes it does to some extent, but the birth chart can only predict life based on, you guessed it, the birth!

But since then, 40 years have passed. Prarabhdha karma is as of the birth time, not beyond. So much of free will, in all these 40 years, could potentially have completely transformed the life of the person… of any of us really! But if we choose to remain rooted to what the birth chart indicates, and surrender to our so-called fate and the subsequently induced fear, then how will our true potential come to the fore?

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Detaching from the world

This is a recurrent theme in the Gita. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to remain detached from the material world, but to also continue doing his duty to the best of his ability. We know from personal experience that this is easier said than done.

For instance, I would be okay giving my heart and soul into my office work, but that’s also because I’m attached to the results. If I was to be given a zero salary, zero bonus, zero increment and no promotion, would I be able to work as hard? That is probably the real test of my detachment. Ironically, if I can work this way, then all the salary and bonus and promotions will likely find its way to me automatically!

One lovely example of detachment as explained by Sri Ramakrishna is that of a baby’s nanny. The nanny knows very well that the child is not hers. Yet she lovingly takes care of the baby for many years and gives it unending love and care, probably more than it’s mother, who is caught up in the vagaries of her professional life. The nanny may even have her own little children who she is unable to be with. But that does not come in the way of her work.

Even so, the nanny knows very well that the baby is not hers, and that any day her mistress may ask her to pack up and leave. Thus there is constant mental detachment, while physcially she takes care of the baby as her own.

Can I mirror this in my office work? For anything around us where we believe we are getting too attached, we can remind ourselves that we are merely caretakers (like the nanny), and not owners. Because the real owner is the One who created us all.

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Young dung

Often times, new comers, especially youngsters, come to the satsang seemingly in bliss. No, no, not that they’re high or anything, but they can often not see the point of having a satsang or being in one.

“Life is good. I’m working in a good company. I get recognized for my work. I get a monthly salary. I’m interacting with my friends and colleagues and having fun. Everything is fine and dandy. Then why do I need satsang at all? Meditation, liberation, sanskrit verses, detachment, no desires and blah blah blah, my problems aren’t really so big that I need to do all these boring things”, all the youth seem to say.

There can be two ways to think about this.

1. Yes, forget satsang and spirituality and all that. If really someone is in nirvana with the life around them, then so be it! No stress, no anxiety, no peer pressure, no comparison right? Life’s good, and everyone believes you.

2. Maybe one day, some day, hopefully never, there is the off-chance that something in that “perfect life” may not go according to plan. And when that happens, opening up a chapter of the Gita will be too little, too late, and meaningless. Because spirituality is not about knowledge, but about action. And no artist perfected his craft with just the first stroke. That’s why years of practice are necessary, and no different for spiritual success either.

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Happy Diwali aka Deepavali

Best wishes to all the dharmic people of this world.

’tis the festive season, and more specifically it is Deepavali.

Most people know it as Diwali. According to Sadhguru, the original name was Deepavali, but it got corrupted and was modified to Diwali. In any case, what’s in a name?

More important, is the emotion and the rationale associated with this festival of lights.

The lights and the bursting of firecrackers are supposed to physcially alert us in the winter months, rather than slip us into hibernation as most animals do during that season.

But as is always the case, it is also symbolic of something deeper.

While it signifies the dominance of light over dark, it also represents the victory of our inner Self over the darkness of our ignorance / ego.

My heartfelt wish that each one of you enjoys a splendid spiritual transformation journey over the coming year and more!

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Negative stop

A video that was circulating on social media recently caught my attention. A bunch of young girls – probably in their early 20s – had gathered around the Dalai Lama. The question one of them asked him was, “Why do I keep getting negative thoughts?”

The Dalai Lama didn’t have to think much. He said there are two things that lead to this.
1. The first is self-centeredness.
2. The second is that the reality is not truly as we see it (he quotes the Shunyata theory – i.e. nothing exists as it appears).

The girls just giggled and the video cut off. But their expressions suggested they didn’t fully catch the purport of his words. I too had to think for a while, and I’m still not sure I’ve understood fully.

Self-centeredness is the easy one. We look at the world with eyes of relativity. Nothing is taken as is. If someone gets a good bonus, we immediately compare that bonus to our bonus, and the self-centeredness brings in feelings of jealousy, anger and incompetence, all of which can only lead to negative thoughts.

The second point though. Was he talking about maya? Or maybe that we only see the things we want to, rather than as they are? What do you think?

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Confusion, instruction, disciple-tion – part 2

Of course Arjuna said he feels defeated already. Nay, not defeated, but more deflated, like retired-hurt, to use a cricket term. Or maybe a hit-wicket? He didn’t even want to star in the war, the same one for which he had trained all his life!

So he finally came to Krishna and surrendered completely. “Krishna, I’m lost and I’m a mess. Please instruct me. Take me as your disciple. What should I do now?”

But let’s look at the other side of the battlefield shall we? Just days before the Kurukshetra war, the arch villain Duryodhana had a meeting with Krishna too. He was in fact offered a choice – either Krishna, or a massive army. Duryodhana chose the latter, because tens of thousands of soldiers are better than the Lord Krishna no? Or was it because he didn’t recognize that Krishna was an avatar of the Lord?

No, Duryodhana very well knew of Krishna’s true nature. In spite of this knowledge, he chose the army. Not just that, he also told Krishna thus, “I know what I am doing is wrong. I know I am on the wrong side of Dharma. I know I should be choosing you. I know I am a wicked person. But still Krishna, I am unable to do what is right.”

What is the difference here then? Simply one of ‘ego’. Duryodhana was just unable to accept that he needed help. He was unable to surrender to a greater power. Because he thought himself to be the greatest power. Arjuna on the other hand, realized that he was in a situation that he could not solve on his own. What better way then, than to surrender?

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Confusion, instruction, disciple-tion

Shloka 2.7 in the Gita is a landmark one. Arjuna says, “I’m confused as to my duty. Please instruct me, I’m your disciple.”

There could be so many learnings from this. Here are a few:

  1. Arjuna is confused, after a life full of preparation for this very war. And confusion is alright, especially for mere mortals like us. As long as we understand that we are confused, and are ready to seek help. (More on this, tomorrow)
  2. Humility – on Krishna’s part. He is omniscient, yet never interrupts Arjuna’s lamentation. He never utters a word even, until he is asked for advice. Most people today, with far lesser achievements than Krishna, start spewing solutions without even knowing what the problem is.
  3. Asking for instructions, and to be taken as a disciple, probably means that Arjuna exhausted all of his options. He realized there was no way he was going to arrive at a solution on his own.
  4. The word used here is ‘instruct’. Not ‘advice’ or ‘help’. Advice is surely given for free these days. But this ‘instruction’? It will have to come with clear guidance – a plan, here is step 1, step 2, step 3.
  5. Arjuna is asking Krishna only for instruction. He is not asking for Krishna to magically make this all go away. Arjuna knows that each step needs to be implemented by he himself. No way out. This work cannot be outsourced to a backoffice.
  6. There is also no doubt that Arjuna has about the quality of his teacher – he knows he’s got the best. Just like a Guru. But no, Krishna is a God, isn’t he? How can a Guru be a God? Guru is God only. The difference is only in the eye of the beholder.
  7. Arjuna is clear he wants to be Krishna’s disciple. Not his childhood friend, not his cousin, not his colleague, not his commanding officer as Krishna was only his charioteer. Nope, he had full faith. And that right there was his foundation for success.

Concluded tomorrow!

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Astral planes – part 3

  1. What then, about the patal lok, narak lok, various layers of hell, lower worlds, upper worlds, 14 worlds etc.? Maybe they exist, we can never know for sure. But for sure these are all also states of mind. When something nice happens, we are quickly transported to cloud 9, while we would like nothing more than to bury ourselves deep underground if we encounter failure.
  2. Even heaven is said to have an end date. To get moksha, our scriptures tell us we need to come back to human form, so we will have to leave heaven and thus: end date.
  3. Heaven is the greatest place ever no? But then even Indra, the king of heaven, is not one person, but just a position. There are stories of millions like him who have come and gone. So is heaven really the place of all awesomeness that we are thinking of?
  4. Even in said perfect heaven, there will be jealousy and promotions and favourites no? Because not all citizens of heaven are Indra or his consort. There will be people who work for them, and those who work for them and so on. Is it logically possible for everyone in heaven to be always happy? Then is this really a heaven?
  5. My Guruji’s point is very clear. We have to go beyond all this heaven/hell/duality/dwandvas. Krishna is very clear too, that if dwandvas exists, then there is no moksha there.
  6. The very fact that heaven and hell might exist at opposite ends of the spectrum means that dwandvas exists.
  7. The ‘desire’ to get the answer to such questions on astral planes is also a form of desire only. The ‘attachment’ to this very body, and to think whether this astral body will enjoy/struggle in heave/hell, that is also attachment only. So Guruji says we need to break out of the shackles of all our desires and attachments, as this is the only way to break out of this cycle of samsara.

Your thoughts please?

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Astral planes – part 2

  1. How can we understand the sookshma sharira? If we are pinched, we feel pain physically. But is all pain only physical? How about emotional pain? This happens in the mind. And so perhaps doesn’t require a physical body at all, and so the astral body aka sookshma sharira is sufficient.
  2. Is there any use of an astral body? When we perform homas / havans / sacrificial fire offerings, it is believed that the prayers and offerings are carried via the fire to deities who each are astral beings. Said astral beings may also be a part of the same environment / room where the homam is being performed. This is why menstruating women for instance are advised to stay away, as the smell of blood may displease said astral beings. On the flip side though, there are certain temples where only women or rather menstruating women are allowed to visit, so there’s that too. Hollywood movies like Marvel’s Dr. Strange speak of the ability to control one’s astral body at will – and even make it a superhero’s main powers. Perhaps this is really possible? Or maybe only in heaven?
  3. We often expect astral beings and fairies and what not to only be found in heaven. And thus has ensued man’s never ending search for such a hallowed land – the ultimate paradise. But Sadhguru has a nice take. He says that living here and now, when we are doing something willingly, that is only heaven. And if instead we are forced into doing something unwillingly, then that becomes hell! As the saying goes, “A religious person is one who believes in and is afraid of going to hell and a spiritual person is one who has been to hell and back”

Concluded tomorrow…

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Astral planes – part 1

So there are often questions about mystical fantastic things that capture a spiritual aspirant’s imagination. One question is on astral elements, like does an astral body exist? Who is the experiencer of an astral body, if the physical body has been left behind? Will the astral body go to heaven or hell?

Honestly, these are very hard to answer, all the more because I’m also always learning. But here are some of my thoughts.

  1. Does an astral body exist? I don’t know from self-experience, but many scriptural books (like Yoga Vashishtha) have spoken of this in great detail. Many Himalayan masters and mystic Gurus today also talk of it. So who am I to go against them? Also, I’ve seen a few things that would be impossible to explain by simply using the word ‘coincidence’ as a euphemism. So I would certainly not want to write any of this off.
  2. How can I see my astral body? Not sure again, although I’ve read it needs a lot of meditation, dhyaana etc. to experience.
  3. How about what exactly happens to the astral body after death? Well in some texts, like in the Garuda Purana, the various kinds of torture an erring soul will have to go through, have been enumerated.
  4. But who is undergoing this so-called torture in hell, if the physical body is already dead and discarded? It’s the sookshma sharira or the subtle body.

More tomorrow…

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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, à 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 🙂

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, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — 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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Substantial

My Guru was giving a discourse on the Bhagavatam recently. In that, sage Narada happens to be traveling and reaches the world in its current state, i.e. Kali yuga. What is the sum and substance of this age? That the substance has gone from everything. The Guru explained it beautifully thus.

The ‘substance’ has gone means the ‘purpose’ has gone.

Means people are not putting their hearts and souls into what they are doing. There is no love and enjoyment for work. There is no attention to work.

Not just office work. But to most actions.

If one is going to a temple to pray, the substance is lost, because the mind is not on the Lord, but on what we want from the Lord.

How profound! An important message for me, especially on this auspicious day of Guru Purnima. All glories to Him!

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Sacrificial – part 4

A final post for now on yagna or sacrifice. We saw some of the 12 different types of sacrifice mentioned in the Gita yesterday. Those are all nice no doubt, but the focus must be on the last one, the brahma yagna. The giving up of the ego, the self.

It does not mean just getting up and jumping into the fire. That would be quite useless in reality, as the heat would be too much to take, the burns fatal, and once dead, of what use is all this spirituality? Rather it is all about giving up at the mind level.

This last yagna is so awesome that it is better than any and all of the previous yagnas. One question though here could be – fine, I’ll do some of these sacrifices. Like I’ll give up some good of my liking. There, sacrifice done, now what?

As Swami Paramarthananda puts it, real yagnas need two conditions to be satisfied, otherwise they simply remain physical acts / exercises.
1. The first condition is that it needs the Lord (i.e, bhakti or devotion, maybe faith).
2. The second condition is that it needs a spiritual motive. Otherwise it would just become a material transaction.

Speaking of yagnas – here is an excellent fire homa that anyone can do.

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Doing the dishes

Here’s an example of applying learnings from spirituality to the real world.

You have a maid for cleaning utensils. You pay her a salary. You pay her even if she doesn’t come for a few days, like when she took time off to go back to her ancestral home, or when there was a lockdown etc. You also pay her kids’ school fees, and often buy chocolates for them. She knows you are a good person.

One day you need to go out urgently, maybe to the hospital or some such. It’s unavoidable, and so you ring up the maid and request her to come in earlier, only for today, and only by a couple of hours. She replies with some excuse (like she has to cook food at her home) and hence cannot come.

It’s easy to get angry at this point – even if only internally. “I’ve done so much for this maid, and the one day when I have an urgency, she can’t make it?” That she cannot come, is a fact. But how we react to the situation is not yet so, and entirely in our control. We could get angry and spoil the mood of the entire home for the day. Or we could don the kitchen gloves, put on our earphones and listen to music or a podcast while doing the dishes. Two birds with one stone. The solution is in our own hands.

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Spirituality doubts

Here are two simple questions (and answers of course) that can sometimes occur to anyone on the spiritual path.

  1. On the one hand, I’m expected to be spiritual, attain liberation etc. On the other, I’m expected to carry on my duties in my materialistic life? How can I reconcile both of these?

    As my Guru says, we are all filled with so much of rajasik guna that we cannot just relinquish everything, don ochre robes and sit in meditation forever. Instead, we are so much in love with the world around us (maya though it may be) that we leave ourselves no choice but to play in it. The way out (as Krishna told Arjuna as well) is to channelize that rajas in the use of greater good, maximum benefit for maximum people. This will break the cycle of selfish desires and actions, and eventually convert rajasik to sattvik. To summarize, doing one’s duty in life selflessly, will lead to spiritual evolution.
  2. The world is fleeting. Can I really make any changes to it? I’m anyway going to die. How does it matter?

    It is very easy to be fatalistic. But all our scriptures caution against exactly this. Just like a honeybee is not wired to roar like a lion, we too are not wired to be in this world without acting or doing something, i.e. we are not 100% sattvik and meditative by nature. Since we any way have to act in the world, why not do a good job of it, helping the greatest number of people? Certainly possible.
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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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Hair scare

One of the satsangis in a recent youth session narrated a nice short incident.

A Jain monk had shaved his head completely. Nothing out of the ordinary. Someone still asked him why he did it. The monk replied that he too previously had tried everything – oils, shampoos, conditioners, balms – you name it.

The he realized something profound, and said “Shareeri se a-shareeri hone tak sab kuch chutega”, which means – by the time we go from birth to death, everything will have been forgone. That is just the way of life. Youthfulness, energy, black hair, white hair, any hair – everyone will have to leave all these things behind at the end.

If one is on the spiritual path, one would do well to make peace with the end – well before the end. If despite having all the knowledge in the world, one is still worried about the hair on the head, then of what use is spirituality? We need to leave these things well before they leave us.

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Twit quot 2

Here are some more simple yet profound quotes I came across on Twitter:

The way to forget insults is to not take compliments in the first place.
When in doubt, go for a walk.
Don't worry about being qualified. Everyone is learning as they go.
Reading 1-2 hours a day puts me in the top 0.00001%.
In the short term you are as good as your intensity. In the long term, you are as good as your consistency.

Link to Twit quot 1

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Ritualistic pride

When doing a puja, homa (havan) or other ritual, the doers often become conceited. “Oh look I just performed a huge yagna and see how many people attended, and see what amazing catering I arranged” etc. Even if the havan was done on a small scale, ego can creep in. But it’s helpful to really think what aspects of the homa or puja were done by “the doer”.

How about these?

  1. The deity we are praying to has to make him/herself available
  2. Agni, the fire God, has to function as the medium and carry one’s prayers to the deity
  3. The various ingredients – coconuts, walnuts, other inflammable items, flowers, ghee, water and everything else – does the yagna doer create these items?
  4. The priest who conducts the ceremony – is the organizer the priest? Soes s/he know every single mantra, shloka, chant – not just to recite, but to understand and to feel? Did s/he create those incantations?
  5. Or maybe if it’s a self-chanted self-conducted ritual, then gratitude to our own memory, vocal chords, the guru who taught us the mantras…
  6. How about the free time we were allowed by our family members to devote to the puja
  7. Also the attendees who showed up, and the cooks who prepared all the dishes
  8. A few other things I would have missed here for sure

Without any of these, how would the havan have been a success? Really is there much for us to be proud of then?

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Bharatha 600BC

There is an awesome board game called Bharatha 600BC, created and released by a company called GoIndia Games. It’s quite unique because such games that are made in India are rare. The map of the game itself is beautiful – featuring ancient India from – you guessed it – 600 BC!

The game makes for fun family bonding time – especially offering a clean hour or three. ‘Clean’ meaning no screen diversions (mobiles, tablets, TVs etc) – wow is that even possible these days?

The board game has plenty of paths to victory – and one can use tact, strategy, battle, speed, rationing (i.e. hoarding) of resources, using special cards – you name it.

One interesting thing that happens when we play with my mother, is that she will never battle, and she will also always ‘give up’ resources for the rest of the family to win. “Oh, how can I battle my own son!”, or “You want resources, here take mine” – much to the groans of others “come on ma, this is supposed to be a competitive game – leave your familial bonds aside!”

While there are groans during the game, one must look behind the curtain. The motherly love kicks in with feelings of compassion overruling everything else – and not just during board games but even otherwise. What if we too can apply such compassion/empathy all the time. Just like the Guru does. Wouldn’t that be the true application of everything we learn in our scriptures?

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Nectar for life

Here’s some pointers I found very thought-provoking from a recent speech my Guruji gave.

  • How to get moksha? By living a choice-less existence. Accept whatever comes to you. The goal of life isn’t to become rich or to be educated. The true goal of life is to realize the Self within, and realizing that That Thou Art (tat tvam asi)
  • We are all going to temples which are great energy centres, but always still asking for more and more materialistic things. When will the cravings stop?
  • Each one of us can achieve anything. One person has done 12 PHDs in printing technology, but still not used even 5% of his brain. Einstein used less than 5% of his brain. We can each do anything.
  • But we must always remember, that achieving great material things means nothing to the Lord, and to our progress on the spiritual path. Materialism will not help us see the Self within.
  • The biggest problem in our lives is not related to job, money, health, wealth or relationships. The biggest problem is that we have desires and are deeply attached to everything and everyone. Gita shlokas 2.71 and 2.72 clarify this.
  • Guruji had once said anyone can come and take anything in their house – even the altar. Even the Vishnu paadaas where he was doing puja with great love all the time. No attachments + no desires is the key. Vishnu paadaa is only a symbol. One must give up the whole world, only then can one attain moksha.
  • Sleeping early is a habit, but so is sleeping late. Reading scriptures is a habit, but so is not reading scriptures. Giving charity is a habit, but so is not giving charity. Same for eating and overeating. We must be careful about the habits we cultivate.
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Gateway to serve

There is no dearth of rich people in the world. But the number of poor, far outweigh the rich. If you are one of the lucky ones to be in the ‘rich’ group (or at least in the group where you do not need to struggle to make ends meet), then what can you do with your money? Our scriptures say that the only thing one must do is to serve others selflessly. As my Guru notes often, it is easy to find rich people – but very hard to find rich people who are also noble. Money is such a thing, that the more we have, the more it can control and corrupt us. Even the noblest of people can unravel in the clutches of money. The only way to remain noble then is to stay steeped in our scriptures, and consciously apply everything we learn in them and in satsang.

There are of course many rich people who are doing great work for society. One example is Bill Gates. Indeed there may be naysayers or those who feel he is doing this to benefit himself in some way – there is no way for me to know. However, his work has surely impacted poor people’s lives for the better, and he talks about this in his new book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”. He and his wife Melinda began working on global health many years ago, and experts would tell them often about how many kids were dying of diarrhoea. But they didn’t know the source of this diarrhoea. The couple were unable to figure out how to save these kids without knowing the underlying cause. Being rich, and having the ability to spend money as necessary, they were able to fund a variety of global studies to figure out the exact cause of this diarrhoea – which was then identified as pneumonia. And then Mr. Gates was able to further fund a much cheaper pneumonia vaccine than one that already existed and used only by developed countries, which in turn led to saving the lives of millions of kids.

Many times, those who get onto the spiritual path feel that they should not bother about earning money anymore. But money is one of the best ways to help people at scale. Hence a noble person shouldn’t shy away from becoming rich. But one must become rich and not hoard the money, but selflessly help those around in need.

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Temple motivation

There’s a temple in South India with a Unique Selling Proposition aka USP.

There are 2 columns / pillars, set very narrowly apart.

It is said, that if you have any desires to be fulfilled, you just need to squeeze through them pillars, and your wish will be taken care of.

Needless to say, there is a long line every day of people of varying sizes trying to squeeze themselves into the said gap. It could be because they need a visa to settle abroad, or to pass with flying colours (or at least in black and white!) in an exam they just gave, or if they want more money or a promotion etc.

If however, the outcome of walking through this pillar gap was to get instant moksha or liberation (literally no effort, just walk through and be free) instead of materialistic pleasures, I can’t help but wonder if anyone would even visit the temple at all.

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Disastittude

  1. She had worked really hard on her presentation. All of last week. Little sleep and plenty of sweat, and tears.
  2. Now it was ready. All external dependencies, and myriad coordinations, checked and resolved, approvals sought.
  3. Mail drafted, and ready to send. This would put her in the upper leagues. People would take notice.
  4. And then came the phone call. Some of her data points in chapter 3 were incorrect. Taken innocuously from a defunct source.
  5. The correction would take time. Maybe a couple of weeks if not more.
  6. Oh what a bummer. She felt like the world came crashing down.
  7. Irritated. Frustrated. She hated delays. She also hated going back to the drawing board.
  8. Then she realized. This was not a disaster, rather, she was saved from one.
  9. Imagine if her email with the wrong presentation and data had gone out. What a mess that would have been!
  10. It was just a week from annual appraisal day too. Her bonus could have been slashed, and promotion rescinded.
  11. Her frustration abated momentarily, and her gratitude for Divinity’s mysterious ways gushed to the fore.
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The call

On a recent call with my Guru, as always, words of wisdom poured out.

Here are a few things he said, worth pondering over for me.

  1. If child cries, yes the parent can hold it. The eventual problem with that is each time the child will cry if it is not held.
  2. There were no glories for Krishna or Rama during their lives, apart from maybe Hanuman who looked upon them as Gods. Most of the rest of society couldn’t care less. They attained God status well after they were gone. This repeats every generation.
  3. Jalebis (an Indian sweet) cannot be analysed, otherwise it will lose its taste. It needs to be put into the mouth and relished. Don’t over analyse scriptures, rather start putting into practise/action.
  4. Many people promise to give to charity when something good happens in their lives, but very few follow through. Shows they are still attached to money and deluded by it.
  5. All great ideas come from the one same Divine source. Tap into it.
  6. Only when you truly forget yourself and your own selfish needs and truly love the other with no expectations, will the blessings of the Divine come.

So simple, yet so profound!

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Reply

Is there a way to make someone happy and praise them while also keeping the bar high? Here’s how my Guru did it once.

Many years ago, one of the satsangis went to him for advice. The satsangi was a bit nervous, as he told Guruji that this was his first time speaking in public on the Gita, and that he was a little scared. Guruji asked him which chapter was assigned to him. He said, “Chapter 7, Guruji.”

Guruji replied thus:
1. Wow, chapter 7, such a beautiful chapter, I’m so happy you got it! [infusing happiness]
2. You know what? My first talk too was on chapter 7. It is easy, and I know your capability, you can do it. [genuine praise]
3. I also prepared hard for it – I had read the chapter over 500 times, so that my session is worth my audience’s time. [setting the bar high]

Isn’t this such an inspiring reply, and something for us to learn?

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Successfool

Why material success is important
better quality of life
more amount for charity
more time for social work (i.e. your wealth has brought you freedom)
brings temporary happiness
the world wants you, which is important for getting worldly things done

Why material success is not important
fuels the ego
is only a relative measure versus peers
limits learning (we feel we know everything)
only brings temporary happiness
a world that wants you, capsizes you
has no bearing on spiritual growth

What if we could live physically in the world as though successful, but mentally give up all success to the Lord / Guru / Divine? Win-win!

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How to be equanimous

One of the mainstays for a liberated life according to the Bhagavad Gita, is samatvam or equanimity. This is also called having sama darshanam or equity in vision, i.e. looking at everything as inherently the same, irrespective of whether it is good or bad, pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow and so on.

To live comfortably and mentally unblemished in the face of criticism, one must begin by eschewing praise. We cannot have the proverbial cake and eat it too. We want equanimity in hardship, but our pleasure receptors shoot through the roof in the slightest hint of praise and recognition.

How can we then practically be equanimous? When the boss says “Wow you’ve done amazing work here, you deserve this promotion!”, do we just scowl at him and walk away? Or do we say “No sir, it wasn’t me.” The boss is then likely to keep the promotion/bonus for himself 🙂

The way prescribed in the scriptures, is ‘surrender’. Surrender with faith, to the divine, or if that’s too abstract, then to the Guru. In Hindi, sur means head. So putting your head under the Guru or ishta devata, offering everything to him or her. Everything means all good and all bad without distinction. So grab that promotion by all means, but mentally prostrate and offer it to your deity of choice. This will keep us grounded, always. Difficult, but worth it.

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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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The two Ps

There are two somewhat interlinked concepts in Hinduism.

One is prarabdha or that portion of our karmic balance that we are to experience in this life. Our birth into a good pious, self-sufficient and contented family is such an example. If we have this, we are lucky. Because many do not have even this.

The other, is purushartha. Which refers to the efforts put in by an individual, to achieve his goals. The goals have been divided into four – dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kaama (love) and moksha (liberation). These are loose translations, but in effect provide goals for us to live by and pursue. The ultimate goal is moksha of course, and achieving it dharmically, while having requisite artha and family life is considered ideal.

The problem arises when people are bestowed with excellent prarabdha, but fritter it away due to lack of or undirected purushartha. Being introduced to a satsang, finding a Guru, or rather a Guru finding you, having the company of noble and wise people, having the luxury of a good primary education etc. are nothing short of great karmic gifts – because we in our current lives hardly did anything to deserve these. And yet, people are unable to make time for an hour of satsang, or a week of seva to the Guru or some other means of giving back.

Everything we got, on a platter as it were, is prarabdha. Because there are so many people out there putting 10x the efforts getting 0.01% of the results you and I get. Prarabdha is gotten already, but purushartha is what we do with it. i.e. Destiny versus free will.

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True greatness

Traditionally, we equate greatness to money, wealth, fame, riches, cars, bungalows, yachts, CEOs, Chairmen, senior management, foreign travel, foreign vacations, first and business class, limousines and a variety of other things.

But Martin Luther King Jr. had the final word on this.

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

He understood that greatness wasn’t about oneself, but how much one could use themselves for others.

No different from what Lord Krishna states in the Gita. As my Guru observes in the purport after chapter 13 verse 26 in his Amazing Simple Gita, “Many missions have realized that if we keep only the goal of realising the Lord we will tend towards laziness with only arguments and discussions. Prabhupad for example made it very clear that devotion means devotional service, chanting sixteen malas, trikala pooja etc is important but afterwards what will we be doing – we should be doing seva (service), spreading this knowledge, making more and more people noble and good.”

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Meditation and thoughts – 3

We looked at meditation and thoughts over the last couple of days. Much is written and said about supernatural experiences, lights, out of body experiences and other fantastical stuff. Here’s a gist of how my Guru looks at this subject.

His questions are: Can you be calm when your peer makes 5x your salary and drives a Ferrari? Can you stay placid when your boss throws a fit, and expects you to clean up? Can you be equanimous in the face of nonsense peddled by many many unavoidable people around you? What is the use of meditation and magical experiences, if these leave you completely untransformed? Still the same jealousy, anger, pride, hatred et al.

Hence, my Guru’s focus has always been not on meditation, but on living a meditative life. It is not about sitting and closing one’s eyes for 60 minutes, especially not if the remaining 23 hours are spent on ungodly pursuits. His goal is to infuse godliness into every waking moment. Transform from a material person living a spiritual life, to a spiritual person also happening to live a material life. And hence a spiritual person asking for a promotion and a raise is alright because his nobility will ensure he uses his wealth primarily to give back to society.

How can one spiritualize themselves? By doing the true tapas. By holding God steady in their minds. For the atheistic and agnostic, by not holding themselves only in their minds, but holding the service of others steady in their minds. Unflinchingly. The beauty is that this can be equally hard or easy for both a commoner and a king.

Swami Chinmayananda was once asked how many hours in a day one should practise meditation. His answer? 24 hours.

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Meditation and thoughts – 2

Continuing on from yesterday, here are some more ideas on meditation that I came across, and which have helped my practice.

By practicing mindfulness, however, one can awaken from the dream of discursive thought and begin to see each arising image, idea, or bit of language vanish without a trace. What remains is consciousness itself, with its attendant sights, sounds, sensations, and thoughts appearing and changing in every moment.
In the beginning of one’s meditation practice, the difference between ordinary experience and what one comes to consider “mindfulness” is not very clear, and it takes some training to distinguish between being lost in thought and seeing thoughts for what they are.
In this sense, learning to meditate is just like acquiring any other skill.
Eventually, it begins to seem as if you are repeatedly awakening from a dream to find yourself safely in bed. No matter how terrible the dream, the relief is instantaneous. And yet it is difficult to stay awake for more than a few seconds at a time.

Conclusion and takeaways tomorrow!

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Meditation and thoughts – 1

To anyone who’s tried meditating, we know it is hard. As beginners, the first thought is, “Are we doing this right?”. And then the thoughts never cease to flow. One after another after another they come, bringing a whole host of memories, both pleasant and unpleasant, catapulting us into the distant future, and suddenly yanking us back again into the past. Is this how meditation is always supposed to be? So many mystic / yogic accounts speak of supernatural states, kaleidoscopic lights, unblemished ecstasy and myriad other things. What to make of it? I don’t know, but here are a few pointers I came across in a book called Waking Up by Sam Harris, that might help in meditation practice.

The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing that we are thinking.
In fact, thoughts of all kinds can be perfectly good objects of mindfulness.
In the early stages of one’s practice, however, the arising of thought will be more or less synonymous with distraction—that is, with a failure to meditate.
Most people who believe they are meditating are merely thinking with their eyes closed.

Continued in tomorrow’s post…

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Twit quot 1

While there is a lot of bad press associated with social media, there is one big positive that I’ve found. And that is people’s quotes on life / spirituality. Sure, some might be copied off of some other book, maybe even our scriptures, but reading these are just amazing, and make me think. A few are shared here, picked randomly, from Twitter.

You won't lose respect for saying "I don't know". But you will lose respect for making things up.
Don't let money get in the way of wealth
You always have the option of having no opinion.
The mind gives up before the body.
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Left shoe

Years ago, Swedish shoe shops were being looted by a shoe-mafia. This gang would hit the stores in the wee hours of the night. Next morning, the shoe shop owners would find something unique. Only the left-shoe of each pair of shoes would be gone. The right-shoe would still be on display, untouched.

This was a huge mystery. The shoe-mafia went untraced for the longest time.

More importantly, the question on everyone’s minds, was what was the gang doing with only the left shoe? Surely you need the right-shoe as well, to make a pair, so that someone could wear it?

The mystery was solved much much later, when they discovered another shoe-mafia in Denmark. This gang would hit shoe stores of the same type, but steal only the right-shoes of each pair! The two gangs worked together, and that completed the puzzle.

In life too, we are running after many left shoes – money, wealth, status, accolades, cars, yachts, houses etc. These are fine by themselves, but can never be complete without the right shoes – health, diet, exercise, love, spirituality, meditation, family-time etc. The choice is in our hands.

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Best friend, worst friend

Remember when as kids, we used to have things like katti and bacchi? Stick your thumb out and that would mean good friend. And stick your pinky finger out and that would become sworn enemy. And a friend of a friend is a friend, and enemy of an enemy is an enemy. But of course, we were kids, so allegiances would change mighty quickly! You want to play soccer and there is only one kid who owns the ball? Everyone wants to be bacchi with him. Kids also are very quick to say (often to the face) “That girl – she’s my friend, but this girl? She’s my best friend” much to the embarrassment of the parents!

Those days are past, and we have outgrown these best friend worst friend monikers. There is still one best/worst friend though for each one of us. And it is not only simultaneously both best and worst friend, but also the same for all of us! Guessed it? The mind!

As verse 6.5 in the Gita says, ‘Elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and not degrade yourself, for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.

How can we make sure that the mind remains our friend, and not enemy? By eventually replacing all desires and attachments with gratitude. If desire comes in between mind and intellect, then they squabble. If there are no desires, and work is done as a service to benefit mankind or at the instruction of the Guru, then the mind and intellect on the spiritual path are best friends!

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Vedic chants

Vedic mantras can be really powerful. There are experiments that have been conducted across the world, which demonstrate how vedic chants including the right intonations, can alter the energies of a place.

Chanted right in a hospital for instance, can not just uplift patients’ moods, but also improve their health. It is also considered a wonderful breathing exercise, given the tempo of chanting and length of the verses.

Even a simple ‘Aum’ or ‘Om’, chanted 3, 7 or 9 times in succession can bring much peace and clarity. No controlled experiments necessary – you may just try this right now!

However, said vedic mantras are not like some magic trick. They work based on certain principles that modern science doesn’t understand. The most important aspect, is that these are aimed at altering and improving our Consciousness. And hence, it is not enough if the sound-speaker in the kitchen is blaring a vedic chant, while I am in another room watching TV. The kitchen might get moksha, but not me!

Likewise, it is in no way sufficient if I chant hymns for an hour a day, only to follow it up with abusive language, extreme desire prompted actions, significant anger and jealousy etc. If I am not mindful about how I live my life, no amount of chanting or prayer will help. On the contrary, it might only make me more conceited – because now I have the feeling that not only am I a good person, but I’m also a great person, owing to my prayers and chants. A fall will be around the corner.

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Shock and Awe 5

Time again for another Shock and Awe post.

Quoting below from the free Amazing Simple Gita.

  1. When we want anything, our mind starts getting perturbed. Are we getting it? or Not? Our mind is disturbed and finds no peace.
  2. 4 important points for peace:
    1. Give up all desires that come to your mind.
    2. Also give up all attachments.
    3. Give up “I”…the feeling I did it, I was responsible etc.
    4. Give up ‘mine’. The possessions, the feeling of mine which separates you from ‘all’, i.e. the Lord
  3. A person attains actionlessness not by withdrawing from action, but by renouncing fruits of actions

What simple yet splendid takeaways!

An important point, is that all of the above are at the mind level. In the material physical world, we need to behave with common sense. Also, these are ‘destination’ verses, and not necessarily something we can perfect in just a short time.

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Take less stress

A simple principle to follow could be one of inversion. Continuing on from yesterday’s post titled ‘Take more stress’, here are some examples of useful inversion.

The things we are stressed about, and (how to invert them):

  1. landing a better job, (enjoying our current job to the fullest)
  2. earning more money, (living in contentment)
  3. finding a good spouse / partner, (being a good spouse/partner/person)
  4. having a good family, (loving the family you have, and being a dependable family person)
  5. going on a quality vacation, (living every moment like it’s a vacation)
  6. being recognized in society, (working for society)
  7. working to fulfil our kids desires, even if they don’t reciprocate, (allowing the kids to live their own lives, and taking care of your loved ones with no expectations)

On doing these, we will perhaps come to realize what Gandhi ji said, that peace is not a destination, but a path. Moksha is no different, and as my Guru says, available here and now to one and all.

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Shock and awe 4

Here’s another shock and awe post. You know the drill by now. So let’s get right into them jaw-droppers.

  1. The soul is permanent, body is not. All our problems belong to the body. You are the soul, not the body. So why worry?
  2. When the child is born, do not worry about how to enrol her in Harvard. Worrying about end results drain you.
  3. Rituals are necessary and serve a lot of purpose. But merely performing them with no understanding of purpose or having the knowledge of Reality, cleanliness of mind doesn’t take place.
  4. World is dukhaalayam and ashaashvatam – sorrowful and impermanent.
  5. An exalted focus on life gives you dedication and cuts off all distractions.

What incredible thoughts for self-improvement!

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Wake up

In their 2001 hit song Chop Suey, American band System of a Down crooned “Wake up wake up, grab a brush and put a little make up. Hide the scars to fade away the shake-up”. The song was intense to say the least, and while the rest of it is irrelevant, this portion well summarizes how many begin their day – stressed, anxious, shaken-up and somewhat empty inside.

“How do I get rid of stress and anxiety?” is the title of a YouTube video I recently watched. The question was asked by Indian Bollywood celebrity Suresh Oberoi to Shivani didi of the global Brahmakumaris movement.

Her response was crisp, simple, practical and immediately actionable.

  1. Our thoughts and words manifest into the reality around us, albeit with a time lag.
  2. Therefore, we must think and speak positive, not negative.
  3. This positivity can only be generated from within, as we do not have control over what goes on outside.
  4. Do not look at your phone for the first 30 to 60 minutes after waking up. This prevents us from falling into the clutches of the world, which tends to send all sorts of negative ideas and emotions.
  5. Start with gratitude. Before even opening your eyes, feel grateful for your life, healthy body, family, money, opportunities etc. This will over the course of a few days significantly reduce our complaining / criticising behaviour.
  6. Choose and repeat a few affirmations relevant to you. Like “I am enjoying my work, and am very successful”, or “I am very healthy and healed” or “I have amazing relationships” etc.

That’s it. Easy to practise? Found it useful?

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Running for your life

Life is like a treadmill. We just keep running all the time. But we never get anywhere, in the ‘real’ and ‘long-term’ sense. And what if we stop? Try stopping on a treadmill that is rolling fast!

There is a concept called hedonistic adaptation. It too looks at life like a treadmill, and is in fact also called the hedonic treadmill. But not just life, but rather more the mind. That the mind is non-stop running after something or the other. Hedonistic refers to sense pleasures. ‘Adaptation‘ captures the fact that our happiness spikes when something we have been craving for is achieved or presented to us. This happy-spike though, is not permanent. It quickly begins to reduce, and soon disappears, i.e. the mind has already adapted to this new achievement/pleasure and that has suddenly become the new normal.

A key reason why this happens is because our desires are not absolute, but relative. I know a recent billionaire-club entrant, who has now started worrying about how her peers are in the multi-billions.

The ancients tell us that if we want to be happy, we just need to seek refuge in the consciousness seated deep within each of us. But that’s not what appeals to us. We don’t know to be happy, as we only seek to be happier than yesterday. That’s why despite having all the luxuries of life that even kings of yore couldn’t dream of, we are still left wanting.

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Intel inside

Self-styled mystic Jaggi Vasudev (aka Sadhguru) makes an interesting point in one of his YouTube videos. “What we are all always doing, is mistaking our memories for intelligence.”

This is a mouthful and worth delving into. What he is saying is that everything we do is guided by what we have experienced in the past and how that has got embedded in our minds. We remember a variety of things and use those instances to make decisions for the future. We also consider those memories and events as knowledge and use it to not just portray our own IQ but also become judgemental about the IQs of others.

This memory characteristic is also true at the physical level. Our body (and every single cell in it) remembers too. This is why pav bhaji (or biryani or pizza or burger) eaten by you turns into more of you, and not into me or into some other animal or plant or food.

The problem with this memory-to-intelligence approach is that it limits our perception to only what exists in our memory. It also closes us to future possibilities, especially those that we cannot comprehend, based on current memory (which we call knowledge). If we are told that astrology is a baseless science, this sticks to us, and we make no efforts to unearth if this is actually true. This is particularly important when a modicum of faith is required, such as to progress on the spiritual path. Despite the guidance of many thousands of realized masters over many millennia, we are content with mistaking our own lack of experience, for intel-inside.

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The Flow

There is an interesting connection I’ve noticed first hand, between some masters and their science-crafts.

The best guidance from Gurus comes when their only goal is the benefit of those who seek their help.

The best readings from astrologers come when they have no ulterior motives.

The best suggestions from palmists come when they take no money in return.

The best nadi analyses from ayurvedic doctors comes when their sole aim is the patient well being.

The best healings from Reiki practitioners come when they tirelessly want their patrons to be rid of all negative energies.

All of these sciences / skills require a certain amount of intuition. Intuition is nothing but the Lord working through us. Said differently, it is the Consciousness within that delivers the appropriate messages utilising the body as an instrument. When the channel is pure, intuition flows. When the channel is blocked by ego / desire / selfishness, there is little room for anything else.

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Foodies galore

Ah food. The thing that unites people. Across age groups and profiles, everybody loves to to eat tasty food. When the pandemic struck, it appeared that many restaurants would shut down, and delivery startups would be finished. While the ensuing months have no doubt been very hard on this industry, people’s love, nay craving for food has only gotten stronger.

Indeed at the first signs of unlock measures, restaurants and street vendors are teeming with people, almost revenge-binging. The Swiggys, Zomatos and Uber Eats of the world? Already back to pre-covid levels and beyond.

So what do our scriptures say about food? Here are three simple points to keep in mind:

1. The concept of bhiksha, i.e. eat whatever is given. This helps build self control.

2. Even if you don’t like the food, try to savour it and enjoy it. No complaints. The unfortunate soul who was starving would gulp down what is in your plate within seconds.

3. Mentally offer whatever food we receive to the Lord. This reinforces gratitude and reduces ego.

We are certainly lucky, that despite a very hard year, we still have food on our plates. That is more than many can hope for.

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2021

A simple but important blog post to ring in the new year. Here are five things for me to work on, so as to get the best from 2021.

  1. Every day, all day, be happy and grateful for everything we already have. Success, money, fame will come automatically.
  2. Zero compromise on health (i.e. proper nutrition and exercise) – for if there’s one thing an invisible virus from 2020 has taught us, it is that without a fit body and mind, everything else is pointless.
  3. Give / donate / help generously and selflessly. This is the only way to purify the mind and intellect. (Why? Because it removes the notion of ego / i-i-i)
  4. Join a satsang and / or actively participate in one. Repeatedly dunking the mind in scriptural knowledge as guided by the Guru and applying it in our lives will fast track our spiritual transformation.
  5. Enjoy every single moment, and look at every stumbling block as an opportunity to improve. As they say, there are no failures, only lessons.

Are these easy to follow? Do you have other things you would like to focus on? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. All the best for 2021!

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Mind versus Intellect

The human brain is an absolute wonder. We all know this. But Tony Buzan, an expert on the brain, said in his research that we use only 1% of our brains. Anyone thinking that we have now learned “too much”, clearly needs to think again.

While the brain is just one physical organ, Vedanta delineates it into four parts: mind, intellect, memory and ego.

Memory we understand, and Ego we have experienced – especially when speaking to someone who threatens our authority 🙂

The mind and the intellect are more important to decipher, as it helps us understand our weaknesses better. The mind is what helps us think, imagine, ideate. The intellect is what helps us evaluate options. The intellect presents the available paths with rationale, and the (monkey) mind gets to make the ultimate choice.

When not ensnared by attachment or desires, the mind and intellect cooperate and collaborate beautifully, as if they are salsa partners. In times of turmoil, the music stops abruptly.

While these are all understandable for the material world, the mind and intellect are less useful (or practically useless, and actually maybe even deterrents) when it comes to spirituality. The intellect helps with scientific rationality – which only slows spiritual progress. For a deeply spiritual seeker, there is nothing to choose between or think about. It is totally experiential.

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Spiritual safari

A recent tiger safari to Kabini, Nagarhole got me thinking. There was so much more to it, than just looking for a striped wild cat.

The nature reserve forest is beautiful, yet deadly. Looking for the cat, without the aegis of an able guide and dexterous driver, is a fool’s errand. The guide is ever alert, hearing warning calls from Samba deer and langur that normal ears do not pick up. The driver too is trained to pick up sights as he coasts along – paw prints on the sand or fresh dung, among other things.

Despite all this, there is no guarantee of a tiger sighting. Some make multiple trips and tries, in vain. Some may have missed the sighting just momentarily. Others may see all kinds of other animals and get distracted, but the tiger is special. So much so, that only one thing is certain – that an excruciating amount of patience is needed.

The thing with such safaris is, that we can only undertake the journey. Whether the tiger chooses to present itself in front of us or not, is not in our hands. And when you actually get to see a tiger, it is surreal. Of course we can sit at home and watch a live episode on Nat Geo or Animal Planet, but it is not the same. While many have seen tigers in safaris, they go back again and again, to be one with nature and its killer cat.

It is hard to ignore the similarities here to spirituality. The guide and driver are like the Guru. The tiger the Supreme One. And the safari itself, our sadhana.

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Tireless

Here’s a miracle that happened to me recently.

We took on the 5.5 hour drive from Bangalore to Coorg in a self-drive car. The weather was good. Cold, but not chilling. A kind departure from the incessant heat of elsewhere. All was well, until about 3 hours in. We had just entered a little town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The roads were narrow, with plenty of oncoming traffic. A few cows and buffaloes had stationed themselves strategically. A big Toyota Innova behind us, was unable to overtake and get ahead – thanks to all this ‘traffic’. Five minutes of several failed attempts and many horns later, his frustration was clear.

And suddenly, a window of opportunity. He quickly overtook us, and as he did, one of his co-passengers was rolling down his window. That person indicated with his hands that something was wrong. I quickly stopped my car on the side, only to find not one, but two flat tires. On the opposite side of the road was a petrol pump, so I went over to see if someone could help. Nope, no tire guys there. He did point me a few shops away though and asked me to check there. A quick U-turn later, that shopkeeper said a few kilometres away I would find a shop. I explained that I could in no way go that far with two flats. Another man present there suggested another shop just fifty meters away. What’s the name – I asked. “Guru steels”, came the reply. I quickly drove ahead, and lo and behold – a tire shop. It was empty though, and a young chap was manning the neighbouring store. I asked if he could help with the puncture – to which he pointed across the road and beckoned. A frail gaunt man was eating watermelon. He crossed over to our side, gave a big smile, and asked if these were tubeless tires. I said “yes”, to which he said, “don’t worry I will fix these for you.”

Sure enough, in 30 minutes, he had checked both tires, taking them off, dunking them in water, plugging the holes/changing the valves, and having us good to go. The 100 kilometres we drove thereafter to reach our destination, had practically no tire change shops. Okay there were a few, but were closed. And the immediate 40 kilometres after the flats? Absolutely barren land. No people even, let alone shops. It would have been such a mess. But right from the Innova to the watermelon-eating tire changer to the name of the shop to them having the required valves – it was all seemingly planned to divine perfection.

How can I ever repay Nature / God / my Guru / the Universe? I can’t, because nothing can ever parallel such miracles. I can only bow my head down in gratitude, and hope that some day I too get the chance to pay it forward.

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Stairway to Heaven

No this is not about Led Zeppelin’s famous song by the same title. Rather it is about a fabled walkway to heaven. In 1997 a religious cult named Heaven’s Gate believed that there were some aliens in a special spaceship. This ship was thought to be traveling behind a comet heading to Earth. The aliens’ mission? To pick up true believers (i.e. the Heaven’s Gater’s) and take them to paradise.

Many cult members pooled their money to buy an advanced telescope. They were desperate to see the spaceship for themselves. To be sure, they located the comet. But unsurprisingly, there was no spaceship behind it. They took the telescope back to the store for a refund. The salesperson asked if the telescope was faulty. They said yes sir, and that the telescope was broken – because the spaceship didn’t show up through it.

Let us pause and think about that. Is this a level of delusion that appears believable?

The entire of the Bhagavad Gita is premised on one thing, and that is to remove Arjuna’s delusion. The delusion that he was not the body, but the soul. That he was actually free, but had tied himself down through various names and forms and situations and people.

What was applicable to Arjuna, more than applies to us. Aren’t we also deluded in one way or another?

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Shock and awe 2

This is a continuation of the Shock and Awe post from a few days ago. The premise is simple. We only learn when we are shocked or surprised by information – either new, or presented in a different manner. Here are some more such outstanding examples from my Guru’s unparalleled Amazing Simple Gita (life-changing free download!).

  1. It is not the CEO that reaches the Lord. Anyone who is unattached to his position, work, reaches.
  2. If your subordinate is promoted, feel good. No need to resign! (Why?, because “be even minded in success and failure. Evenness of mind is only called yoga.”)
  3. A never ending need, curdles into greed – without our knowledge. Hence our misery.
  4. Seek refuge in equipoise of mind. When this is practised, you seek neither fame, nor wealth nor acceptance from others.
  5. If you do not feel lost or dejected, but feel calm, you have become a yogi.

Aren’t these just mind blowing? So practical. What profundity! Now time to put these into action, step by step, as much as possible.

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