Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Be thee modest

The other day, I had an interesting experience. I was hearing an important person speak about his organisation. Out of his allotted time of thirty minutes, he spoke for about fifteen minutes about his contribution to the growth of the organisation. The speech was peppered with "I" and "me". I could hear the audience snicker and grumble. The token applause from them encouraged the speaker to boast some more.

At the end of the speech everyone was unanimous in condemning the speaker. They wondered why he had to blow his own trumpet this way. Was it his insecurity? Or was it a wrong value system? In any case, his speech had an exact reverse effect from what he intended.

Many a times, we tend to fall in this trap. We feel that our services are not recognised and we need to publicise it. We feel that others who promote themselves end up getting all the accolades and the rewards. We feel that unless we talk about our achievements, it will be missed out or forgotten.

However, in my view, this is absolutely unnecessary. People do notice even though they may not openly acknowledge or praise the doer. Someone who is actively performing is always recognised. Modestly is a virtue that we should all cultivate. If someone praises us openly the correct response would be to down play our achievement and include others for the recognition. Such a response is agreeable and positive. The more one demurs, the more is the value given to that person.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Give to get

A long time ago, when the barter system was prevalent, there was a trade agreement between two persons. One was a dairy farmer and the other had an orchard of apples. They agreed that every week they will exchange five liters of milk with one kilogram of apples. This went on smoothly for a few months.

One day the dairy farmer went to the king with a dispute. He said "I have been noticing that I am getting less than a kilo of apple each week. My trade partner is cheating me by giving me less than what was contracted for." The king sent for the other guy and asked him for his version.

The orchard owner said " I have been noticing a steady dilution in the quality of the milk that is being supplied to me. What used to be thick and creamy is now thin and watery. As I am getting less, I am supplying less."

This situation is not unusual. Times have changed and we now have the monetary system but people's mindsets are still the same. We all want a good bargain. We want to pay less and get more. "Value for money" is how we describe this expectation.

If everyone wants to get and none wants to give, how will trade happen? The same applies to relationships also. Unless we give, we should not expect to get anything. The more we give, the more we love, the better will our relationships be. Without giving, the relationship becomes bitter.

There is also a joy in giving without expectations. People who are generous realise that giving is indeed more joyful than getting. There is an indescribable pleasure in making others happy. When we give selflessly and unconditionally, we are creating positive circles of joy which makes the world a better place to live.

True test of knowledge

One topic that can be endlessly debated on is "what is knowledge?"

Who can be called as knowledgeable? Is it people with strong skill sets? Or is it people who have a string of degrees? Or is it people who have large number of followers and devotees? Is it the consultants / experts who command a huge price? Or is it people with depth of experience in select areas? Or is it people who hold high positions and have huge power bestowed on them?

What is knowledge? Is it the same as intelligence or smartness? Most of us often confuse information or charisma or articulation with knowledge. Real knowledge is something beyond all this. People who strut around with pride on their knowledge often get stuck for words when asked simple questions like "Who am I?". Knowledge should not be confused with ability to make a living or earn wealth.

My own thoughts on this is as follows. A person can be called knowledgeable if she knows her self. She is able to differentiate between her body and her self and likewise with others. She knows the interconnections between different forms of life. She knows how to live and the purpose of her life. She knows where she has come from and where her destination is.

The true test of knowledge is not in the ability to articulate with conviction. A person who is truly knowledgeable can be identified by her conduct. Such a person is always cool, calm, balanced and unperturbed. She is gentle with all and compassionate. She has love for all beings and is always interested in giving rather than getting. She is selfless. She upholds values irrespective of its consequences.

A persons knowledge level is known by her conduct.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Motives matter

Almost every religion & book on values prescribes people to do good acts and think positive. In order to convince people to do good, they talk about the benefits in the form of better relations with people, better environment, a place in heaven etc. This certainly is good as it encourages otherwise negative, lazy or disinterested people to do good work. We see people practicing charity and doing service etc. to others with high enthusiasm and fervour.

The Sanatana Dharma - also known commonly as Hindu religion - recommends that people do good acts without any motive. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that one should practice Karma Yoga or do actions without any motive or desire. The reason for this recommendation is simple - while actions are in our control, results are not. Moreover, if actions are motivated mainly by results, one can see a reversal in enthusiasm if the desired results are not met.

Actions carried out with a selfish motive are also dangerous. Selfishness usually denotes an interest for gaining something for oneself at the cost of others. As long as one is selfish, one tends to become biased and unfair. One justifies this behaviour by various methods and arguments. The other problem with "selfish good acts" is that it stops as soon as the self interest is served.

Motives do matter even if one is doing a good thing.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Stay focussed

There is a story in the Mahabaratha about Drona, the teacher of all forms of warfare. He was teaching his students on the principles of archery. He called out his first student and asked him to arm the bow and prepare to shoot a distant target in the form of a toy bird. The objective was to hit the birds eye.

To each student, his simple question, before the arrow was released, was "What do you see?". Each student said things like "I see you Sir and my fellow students, I see the sky, the trees, the bird etc." Only Arjuna, who later became a very accomplished and expert archer, said "I see only the birds eye".

The teacher used this as an example with his students to explain the importance of focus. In order to be successful and accomplish ones goals, one has to have the same intensity of Arjuna. When one is distracted by other things, it is easy to miss the target.

Staying focussed is easier said than done especially when the mind is so fickle and there are so many distractions around. Yet, champions have a special ability to de-focus from the distractions and concentrate on the core objective. Imagine a Vishwanathan Anand playing chess or a Sachin Tendulkar batting and you will realise the importance of focus.

One may be playing multiple roles in life or having multiple interests For example, one may be a student and also be a sportsperson & a budding musician. In order to be successful, one has to forget the other interests while pursuing or practicing each of these disciplines. If such a focus is achieved, one can scale great heights.

What does this have to do in a blogspot of values? Even while pursuing values, one has to have the same level of concentration, a single minded purpose and commitment in order to ensure that there are no slip ups in the journey. Being focussed on ones objective and goal is the sure way to be successful in life.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Appreciate & Encourage Values

I had read a story in my childhood which made a deep impact on me. It was about a group of boys playing cricket and accidentally breaking a window in the neighbourhood. While most of the boys ran away and hid themselves, there was one brave and honest boy who stood his ground and admitted his guilt when the house owner came enquiring. The owner was, who was normally an irritable man, was impressed with the boys sense of responsibility and truthfulness that he forgave him. I had resolved, after reading this story, that should a similar situation happen to me I will be like the boy and set an example for others.

Now when I look back I realise that, in this story, both the boy and the house owner are exemplars in different ways. The house owner is also to be lauded for encouraging the boy to live a life of values. It is common place to find people who punish people who confess thereby making them feel that honesty is not the best policy. Rare are those people who rise above the immediate temptations and focus on what is good for the long term.

It is indeed difficult to practice living a life of values in today's world. I read about a person who resolved to speak only the truth for a period of three months. He made enemies, lost friends and even strained his relations with his family by merely being truthful!! Everyone intrinsically understands and acknowledges the need and importance of values. However, people want flexibility in practice especially when their interests are affected.

It is therefore very important to have people who rise above short term needs and who encourage / motivate / appreciate people who practice values. People who live a life of values are usually not successful and walk a lonesome path. They are motivated by an inner urge and commitment. We should strengthen their resolve by appreciating them and overlooking any minor transgressions that they might make.

Do you agree? If yes, do you commit yourself for the same?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

You are your best friend

Are you someone who loves the company of friends and hate being alone? Well, then you are not the only one. I can very well relate to you. Many years ago,I found myself in a foreign country on work and spent almost 18 months away from family and friends. At that time, I had felt overwhelmed by the sense of loneliness. So desperate had I become that I quit my job before the contract expired and returned back home!

There are zillions of people who crave to have someone around them and feel lost when they are all by themselves. Such people feel comforted by the presence of others near them and have the overpowering need to reach out and communicate. It is not just about talking with or hearing others but also about feeling secure and nice with the mere presence.

It is but natural that when there are two people there are many shared moments of togetherness and happiness. There are also moments of disagreements and disappointments. Two people can have two or more views on any subject leading to debates and sometimes arguments which can sometimes lead to anger or frustration.

If there is anyone who is always near you and with you, it is you yourself. You are your best friend who is never apart - even for a moment. You know yourself better than anyone else. You accept yourself as you are without any complaints or concerns. You know everything that you think and you are in total agreement with your thoughts. You seldom argue with yourself. You empathise with yourself more than anyone else. Hardly anyone can love you or care for you as much as you do.

Despite this, why do we shy away from our own company? Why do we feel uncomfortable with ourselves?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Master your senses

There is a tale in Srimad Bhagvatam on how different creatures fall prey due to their different addictions. The firefly gets consumed by the very flame it gets attracted to. Yet, it continues to literally play with fire due to the desire to enjoy the sight of something bright. The fish cannot control its tongue and sense of taste and hence gets ensnared by the hook which tempts it to bite.

Likewise, the deer is trapped by hunters by playing soft music for they know that the deers have a weakness for the sense of hearing. The bee which is attracted by the smell of the lotus gets entrapped inside and dies. The mighty elephant gets trapped by hunters by exploiting its weakness for the sense of touch. They bait the animal with a tame female which leads it to the trap.

Each of these creatures gets into trouble because of excessive attraction to one sense only. What can we say about humans who indulge each of the senses? We want to keep entertaining our eyes and ears endlessly at the cost of precious sleep. We want to keep tasting delicious variety of food /drink all the time to the detriment of our digestive system. We want to enjoy the pleasures of touch through massage etc. irrespective of the consequences. We use perfumes, deodorants etc. to pander to our sense of smell without caring for the environment.

Have we ever considered what this can lead to? Our own sense indulgence will lead to our loss. Someone who is excessively fond of hearing music will, over time, find a loss of the hearing faculty due to excessive exposure to sound. Likewise, someone who is, without rest, straining the eyes by watching TV / movies / Computer might find his eyes becoming less sharp.

Any form of obsession or excess will have its negative effect on us. The true purpose of our senses is for protecting our life and for essential activities. We must not let the desire for pleasure conflict and overtake our senses. We must not let our senses enslave us. Rather, we must master our sense in our own interest. By doing so, we will be able to control our desires and live longer healthier lives.

When we master our senses, our lives will become more fulfilling and happy.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Don't trust your mind

I once read a story of a man who, after many days of travel, came to rest under a wish fulfilling tree. The man was tired and thought "The shade and breeze here is perfect and soothing. I wish I had a bed to lie down and rest awhile." Immediately in front of him stood a sturdy bed and soft pillows.

The man was taken aback. He did not know what happened. Confused but happy, he lay down on the bed. Then he mused "I wish I had some people to massage my tired feet." Soon enough, there appeared a couple of people who began pressing his tired legs and helping him relax.

Now, the man thought "Oh, this is great. I wish I had some nice food and drinks to refresh myself." No sooner had he thought of this, there appeared before him a table laden with the choicest of food and drinks. He had his fill with great relish and soon fell asleep.

After a while, he woke up and said to himself "This place is secluded and lonely. What if a hungry man eating tiger comes here?" And that was the end of the man and the story.

Our minds are very strange and seldom in our control. It moves from one thought to another. If at all we share with others all that we think, we will all be branded as insane or lunatics. Such is the kind of fantasies that each of us imagine. Our thoughts are uncontrollably shaped by our moods, our immediate surroundings etc. Moreover, our thinking is shaped by our individual learning and experiences. What we hold as a firm view gets changed based on new learning and exposures. Yesterday, I was sure about something, but today I am not so sure.

Under such circumstances, can we really depend upon and trust our own minds? If anyone says he can trust his mind, he is either supernatural or stupid. We need to have the humility to accept that we have limited knowledge and be honest in admitting that our minds are not in our control. If we choose to go by our own instincts and thinking, we might end up in the wrong path.

We should seek people who have the wealth of real knowledge and who have mastered their minds to guide us. These are the real Gurus who serve as the light houses showing us the right path.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adam & Eve - The original story

Most of us who have exposure to modern education know of the story of Adam and Eve. How many of us know that this story is in fact an adaptation of the original story found in Hindu scriptures? I myself learnt this not very long ago and wish to share this with you. I give below the original Hindu story.

Originally, this was not a story but an illustration to teach on the fundamental philosophy of Hinduism. The illustration refers to Atma (Adam) or Universal soul and Jeeva (Eve) or life as two birds sitting on the same Peepul (Apple) or Fig tree which symbolises the body.

The Jeeva identifies itself with the body and enjoys the fruits of the tree in the form of pain or joy which are the effects of past sins or virtues. The Atma, which is as aspect of the Lord, is beyond this and hence is only an observer and not a participant.

Hindu philosophy tries to draw a distinction between the body and the soul. It tries to teach that while we dwell in the body, we are not the body. We continue to exist even if much of the body parts are lost in some accident. The question "who am I?" if taken to its logical conclusion tells us that "I" am an entity distinct and different from my body.

An enlightened person is one who realises this and does not identify with the body. She is therefore able to handle the differences like joy / pain, honour / dishonour etc. with equanimity.

This illustration is given to seekers of true knowledge in order to show them a way of living life. When one becomes aware of the difference between the body which is transient and temporary in nature and life which is eternal, one starts becoming more balanced and matured in ones approach. Ups and downs in life become easier to bear. The essential inequality among different people / beings begin to disappear and dissolve. One starts become more dispassionate, compassionate and selfless.

One becomes ready for spiritual salvation or Moksh.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The perfect life-partner

One of the reasons why all of us choose life-partners (LP) is because we feel incomplete. We feel that if we have a LP our cup of joy will overflow and we will find the bliss and the peace that we seek. All of us also want a perfect LP- perfect in all senses of the world. Someone who is fun to be with, someone who is good looking, someone who shares our philosophy, someone who is healthy and has good habits, someone with whom we can be ourselves etc. etc.

We therefore choose our LP with a lot of expectations and, alas, we soon discover that our LP is not as perfect as we thought or sought. We start noticing little and subtle differences and over time these can lead to major differences. Even if one does stay together, the feeling of incompleteness remains. Some people then begin to stray or drifting apart or even start looking around.

Actually, our minds are fickle - what seems good at one moment seems poor at another moment, only because the circumstances or our expectations have changed for e.g. when it is hot and sultry, we enjoy a good downpour but we start hating the same downpour if it comes in the way of our outing.

Most of the imperfections that we see are due to our own imperfections and inability to accept reality. If we are a type who sees the negatives more than the positive, we are bound to have disappointments with our LP. Instead, we should focus on the brighter aspects of our LP and ignore everything else.

Life is a mirror. It is like an echo which returns whatever we send forth. If we smile at others they smile back. If we are the silent types, people stop making conversation with us. We should therefore focus on changing ourselves to see a positive impact on our LP.

We should realise that no one is perfect. Life is all about accepting the imperfections and adjusting with it and enjoying it.

If at all we are really seeking the perfect LP, we should choose the Lord Almighty as the LP. The very definition of the Lord is that He is perfect in all respects. In terms of physical attributes, He is the most attractive. In terms of talent or knowledge, no one can beat Him. In strength, He is all powerful. He has no ego. He has no expectations from us and accepts us as we are. Moreover, He is permanent and always with us.

Our lives would become fulfilled if we choose to have Him as our life-partner.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Say no to gossip

To some people, one of the greatest forms of entertainment and recreation is gossiping. Chilling out with a friend and sharing juicy tit bits of "news" or even rumours about others gives them great pleasure. Such people feel emptiness in their lives if they do not get a regular dose of such sessions. No wonder that there are so many magazines and periodicals dedicated to sharing such stories about celebrities.

If we think about this, is there any purpose being achieved by such chit chat? Is it helping us in any way? Are our lives becoming more fulfilled or are we progressing towards our goals? For everyone it is a waste of precious time other than people who have made it their career to indulge in this.

I do agree that networking is important and am in no way suggesting that it be done away with. So, even when we network with our close friends, we can always choose interesting and important topics for discussion. Instead of talking about others, we can talk with other on how to make a positive impact on ourselves, our environment etc.

We are all blessed with the same amount of time in a day. How productively we use this time is all that matters. Moreover, our lives itself is uncertain and one never knows which moment is going to be ones last moment. Under such circumstances, we cannot afford to while away our time in idle or malicious chatter.

We need to make a list of our priorities and ensure that adequate time is spent or invested in it. If at all we find extra time in our hands and do not know what to do with it, we can use it to reflect on our lives and ways of improving its quality. If we are keen to improve things or people, let us start with ourselves. I personally feel that praying and contemplating on God is a good way of spending ones time. It can be done anywhere, anytime and anyhow.

Free time is a blessing. Use it wisely. Do not fitter it away.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Universal love without attachments

Universal love is prevalent when one loves everything in the universe. One is filled with a deep sense of affection for everyone and everything. One forgets differences and sees / recognises the same Almighty creator everywhere. The feeling of love is so strong that one wants to sacrifice everything to spread happiness all around. One is seeking nothing for oneself and is completely selfless.

For such a person, there is no enemy and there is no competitor. There is no one to feel afraid of or threatened by. There is no apprehension nor any anticipation. Whether it is another individual or another being, the feeling of love is just the same. Only such a person has true wisdom and knowledge who sees uniformity in diversity.

Yes this mood or this frame of mind can be created by each one of us. It is not impractical or unrealistic. So many holy souls have demonstrated that this is possible. Divine souls like Sai Baba of Shiridi and Jesus Christ have retained this frame of mind even in the most trying of circumstances.

If we look at nature, we find that she is full of love and giving. The sun gives abundant sunshine without making any distinctions, the winds serve to cool things when its gets hot, the earth bears huge amounts of stress without complaints, the trees give shade, fruits, wood etc. Everything in nature is designed to love and sacrifice.

Yet when one loves, one should love without a sense of attachment. Any feelings of attachment ends us diluting love and starts creating expectations. One can be dispassionate only when the sense of attachment is removed. When we love with attachment, we are giving conditional love. Attachment is in reality a manifestation of our ego. With attachment comes disappointment, anger, frustration etc.

People with such a state of mind are rare indeed. They immediately attract the attention of followers and devotees. Even though they desire nothing for themselves, others respond to them with the same intensity of love. Even animals, birds and aquatic creatures approach them without fear or any other negative emotions. Such people have only friends and dear ones wherever they go.

Even though this seems like an impossibility, one should strive to attain this mindset. One can start in a small way with immediate family and neighbours and then slowly extend this to others. Initially there will be hiccups and obstacles, but if one is enlightened & determined and is able to course correct, over a period of time one can, if one so desires, reach this state of bliss and never ending happiness.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Save our Rivers

As part of our visit to Uttranchal on a recent holiday, we went to Gangotri. This is the place where the holy river Ganga has a temple dedicated to Her. The actual origination of Ganga is in a place called Gaumukh which is about 18kms trek from this Gangotri.

From the point of origin till she reaches the plains at Haridwar, the Ganga is clean, pure and fresh. She is a delight to watch as she gushes onwards like a young damsel full of vigour and cheerful spirit. She supports life all along the way and the entire area surrounding her path is fertile, lush green and heavenly.

Unfortunately, people along the path have not understood that the responsibility to keep her clean is in their hands. All through the plains, people use her as a dumping ground for their waste and convert a beautiful river into a virtual gutter. Towns dump their drainage into her and factories dump their effluents without even treating it. People even throw half burnt dead bodies into her. The increased use of chemicals in our every day lives (eg. tooth paste, wasing soap, cleaning soap etc.) eventually finds its way into our rivers.

All of these leads to a the precious and much venerated river becoming dirty and unfit for consumption. The natural and clean mineral rich river becomes like an ordinary drain within a few hundred kilometers of existence in the plains. All this leads to serious damage to vegetation and marine life in and around the river. What a pity that no one has the courage or the commitment to change this!!

The story is no different for the other revered rivers like the Yamuna which resembles a brackish foul smelling drain by the time she reaches Delhi which not too far away from her origin.

Despite huge amounts of money being spent in cleaning the Ganga, nothing much is really happening. There is an urgent need for people to realise the criticality of this and take steps to prevent the pollution of the Ganga. Strong political will coupled with social movement is needed to bring the Ganga back to her days of glory. People living along her banks should be vigilant to prevent any foreign matter being dumped into her.

The good news is that if we can prevent fresh dumping, the rivers have a self cleansing mechanism and, in a short time, we can see a rejuvenated river enhancing the quality of health and life all around.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Plant, Nurture and Protect trees

I was on a holiday recently in Uttrakhand - a state in India famous for its majestic mountain ranges forming part of the mighty Himalayas. The name Himalayas brings into mind pictures of blue mountains thick with crisp cool air, lush green forests, fresh cool water springs, streams and rivers and snow clad peaks. In parts this is true. One does get to see all this and more.

Yet, over the years, I have seen a steady decline of the green cover. This is partly due to the local populace using the timber for building houses, heating homes etc. I also saw an alarming trend of people cutting and burning trees to create terrace farms to cultivate crops. The other thing I noticed was the devastation to the trees caused by the process of road construction. While there are many who contribute to this decline, the work of increasing green cover is sadly left to nature.

Such a destruction of green belt leads to havoc to the environment. Trees support the entire chain of life starting from tiny insects to larger creatures including human beings. With the disappearance of trees, one can see a steady decline of life all around. Landslides occur more frequently and leads to exposing the rocky undersides of the mountains which increases the heat. The snow line starts receding affecting the water supply. The lives of millions of people will be adversely affected in the coming years.

In my view, we are rapidly running downhill towards destruction and only a miracle or a dramatic change of peoples approach can help improve things.

As I reflected on this, one thought struck my mind. For a long time, our society has ignored the person who plants, nourishes and protects trees. Instead, we reward the person who cuts the trees by purchasing the produce from him. One simple way to improve things is to change this equation. Can we start recognising and rewarding the planter or creator and start punishing the cutter / destroyer? If we do this, more people will be incentivised to turn creators.

There are many who love trees and wish they could do something to help. Most however, get distracted and de-focused over time. There are very few who take action and make things happen. Each of us can make a difference. In our respective localities, we can make efforts to help plant, nurture and protect trees. We can cajole, coerce or convince people to support this movement. Terrace farms can be converted into terrace orchards with fruit bearing trees.

Let us make the earth a better place. Lets become creators of a better tomorrow. Lets us give our children and grand children a greener, cooler and better earth to live in.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Love your self

Love your self. This was the advice given by a wise saint to a person who sought his advice on what is the best method of reaching happiness and peace. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Presumably, most of us are doing this without being told to do it. Yet, why is it that there is so much sadness, sorrow and depression in this world? If we are truly loving ourselves, what is blocking our joy?

Many years ago, I was attending a lecture on personality development when the speaker asked us to answer a simple question on "Who am I?". Many of us attempted to answer this by giving our name, our career details, our personal life details etc. Try as we did, we ended up describing ourselves by relating ourselves to someone or something else and was not a proper description. For example, our name is not us.

If we think deeply, as suggested by seers and philosophers, we will realise that we are not the body but only residing in it. A time will come when we will have to exit the body as it becomes frail, weak and unsuitable for us. Yet, most of us falsely identify ourselves as the body and seek to indulge the body by sense gratification. Any pleasant sensation that we get in the body, we presume is pleasant for ourselves. The truth is that our self is not at all affected by what happens to our body. The self, therefore, is not our body. It is also not our mind or our intellect.

The advice "Love your self" is not about loving your body or about being selfish. If we identify our inner self truly, we will realise that it is the same self that is present in all living beings - be it other people or other forms of life. The bodies are different and so are the minds and intellects but the self is essentially the same.

This self is called life by ordinary people. When the life goes away, the same body which was attractive starts rotting and decaying. People start shunning it and want to get get rid of it as soon as they can. The attraction in the body is only due to the life in it. So, celebrate the life that is in you and in others around you. Seers say that it is this life that is a representation of God. When they say love your self, they really mean love God. Love God unconditionally.

Love your self means love your life. Love the self in others. Live life selflessly.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Effort Or Destiny

Does man enjoy success through efforts or is it based on fate / destiny? This is one question that has been debated throughout the world endlessly from time immemorial without reaching any definite conclusions.

There are a set of people who swear by effort and action orientation. The firmly believe that our destiny is in our hands and it is we who can make things happen by having a firm resolve and by taking affirmative actions. They believe in taking charge, planning well and executing right. They feel people who talk about destiny are either cowards or lazy people.

On the other hand, there are people whose experience tells them that there is a larger power which controls things and that things do not always happen the way they are intended to. How else can one explain luck? Or love? Or unplanned events like accidents? There are many people who aspire and study for one profession (like me) and end up in professions very different.

One cannot deny that there is a larger power which makes things happen in ways which are unpredictable. "Man proposes, God disposes" goes an old saying. No wonder then many people use prayer as a method of connecting to and appease that higher power. Yet, it does not seem right to become complacent and give up all efforts and leave things to destiny.

Both the person who swears by effort and the person who leaves things to destiny are subject to disappointments. Sometimes, sincere and focused efforts end up in failures due to extraneous and uncontrollable factors. Similarly, sometimes prayers go unanswered and lead to frustrations. Efforts are necessary to make the world function. If everyone was to leave things to destiny, there would be no bread on the table and no clothes to wear.

Perhaps the right approach would be continue making plans and taking efforts tirelessly while being prepared for unexpected results. This is what Lord Krishna preached in Bhagvad Gita when he said "Do you Duty without getting attached to the results".

What do you think?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Flexibility - To be or not to be

Sometimes in life we face a difficult situation. Imagine, we have given an opinion about something or have taken a decision. Then, we are confronted by an alternate view or course of action. On top of it, the alternative looks logical or is backed by someone influential. Some of us will readily consider the option and change our stance. Many of us, worry about the consequences of changing our position. We feel that we will end up looking hasty or not intelligent enough if we change our minds.

Flexibility is something that most of us advocate or recommend but when it comes to ourselves, we prefer to be otherwise. What we call as firm mind is seen as and branded as 'stubborn' by others. Inflexible people are seen as closed minded people who have a difficulty in accepting fresh thoughts or ideas. To avoid this, some people (esp. politicians) cleverly refuse to reveal their thoughts till everyone's thoughts are known.

When we are flexible and accomodative, people find it comfortable to deal with us. We have better relationship with our family and friends. Our circle of influence increases and we tend to attract more open communication. We tend to listen with empathy and do not get into 'positions' from where we cannot extract ourselves. Flexible people are solution oriented and want to move forward rather than getting stuck with issues.

There are some situations where flexibility ceases to be a virtue. When we have made a commitment or a promise, we cannot show flexibility in the performance. When it come to a question of values, one should never show flexibility even if it results in us losing out in the short term.

A lot of pressure and stress is generated when values are upheld. Lot of people avoid this and try to take the easy way out. Rather than fight for the truth and pay the price for it, people tend to compromise and dilute standards. Such an approach might look easy and positive in the short term but will have significant impact on the longer term. The sub-prime crisis that hit the world economy in 2008 is a clear and recent example of this.

Flexibility is a virtue except on questions of values.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Laugh a lot

As children, we used to laugh a lot. Every small thing seemed funny and tickled our funny bones. Whether it was the way someone dressed or the way someone spoke, we would find everything funny. And yet our laughter was very innocent and not the least malicious. In fact, our laughter was also infectious as it made others also smile and laugh along with us. In this manner, we ourselves were happy and created a happy world around us.

As we grew older and 'wiser', we started taking things more seriously. We started becoming more analytical and skeptical. Some of us even became cynical. We started smiling less and scowling more. Things that once made us laugh now seemed silly and childish. Some of us even show our 'maturity' by controlling our laughter. We feel that people may take advantage of us if we laugh too much or too often.

Laughing is healthy. The amount of stress that we adults accumulate in our day to day lives needs to be released. Laughter is probably the best and the cheapest way to do it and have fun at the same time. No wonder then that laughter clubs are mushrooming all over. All the pent up frustration and suppressed laughter are released in these clubs without any inhibitions. People feel relaxed after a good round of laughter.
However, it is not necessary to join a club to laugh. It only needs a tweak in our attitude and approach. We can literally laugh our way to good health. When we laugh our body generates and releases a lot of positive and good enzymes which not only makes us feel good but also healthy.

On a different level also, laughter makes sense. If we reflect on this world and all its ups and downs, one can really feel like laughing. Realise that everything around us is temporary and neither good nor bad situations will last forever. Therefore, when life does seem stressful, use this understanding to laugh your troubles away. People who have reached the pinnacle of knowledge will tend to laugh at every situation.

"Laughter is a tranquilliser with no side effects" - Arnold Glasow

"Laughter is the shortest distance between two people" – Victor Borge

"Between the laughing and the weeping philosopher there is no opposition: the same facts that make one laugh makes one weep" - George Santayana

"A young man who has not wept is a savage and the old man who will not laugh is a fool" – Confucious

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Signs of true knowledge

What construes true knowledge? Whom can we call as truly wise?

Is this represented by a string of degrees from reputed colleges and institutions? Or does it reflect on people having depth of specialisation on specific subjects without necessarily having a formal qualification? Better still, do we find it in people who have reached the pinnacle of their respective careers?

Then, there are people who are often recognised for their talents and feted for the same. We also have many guys who have up-to-date information on their finger tips and are consulted widely. There are also some deep thinkers and philosophers who could be considered for this.

The moot question to address is - what is knowledge? Awareness of information or statistics cannot be called as true knowledge however important or vital they may be. True knowledge is beyond all this. It is not based on the respect some people command due to their skills, talents or position. True knowledge is indeed reflected only by the way people behave. After all, knowledge has to get translated into ones character.

A person who is truly knowledgeable will realise that we are all made up of the same elements and a soul and are essentially the same. Differences which are perceived are only a result of our minds working with a delusion. Such a person realises the transient nature of life and is not fiercely competing for personal growth.

Such a person will act and behave very differently. She will have only unconditional love for everyone around. She will be compassionate, kind and helpful. She will be extraordinarily generous and extremely humble. She will be equipoised and calm. She will smile often and have enormous and complete faith in the Lord Almighty.

A truly wise person lives an uncompromising life of values.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Praise me not

In the Srimad Bhagvatam, there is a story of a King called Prithu who ruled the world . He was considered as an avatar or part incarnation of the Lord Himself. The earth was barren then and it was this king who forced the earth to yield food grains, fruits etc. The earth is called Prithvi (in Sanskrit) because of this king. When his subjects, in their joy, came to sing his praises this is what he had to say "Praise me not".

"Praises, while they sound pleasing to the ears, are actually slow / sweet poison. People generally tend to go overboard when praising someone and it soon takes the flavour of flattery. The person being praised gets carried away and starts believing what others say about him. This leads him into a kind of fools paradise where he starts living in an imaginary world."

"Rather than praise, tell me what are my shortcomings. Help me to identify defects which I may tend to overlook or ignore. If you really care for me, tell me how I can be a better human being, a better leader and a better person. Do not lull me into a sense of complacency by speaking positive words. I know fully well that I am imperfect and help me to progress towards perfection."

What a wonderful lesson for each one of us!!

Most of us seek the exact opposite. We crave for positive strokes. We hate critics and criticism. Perhaps we do not have the strength of character, self confidence or mental toughness to face the negative feedback. However, if we cultivate this attitude and welcome criticism and shun praise we could become great indeed.

"Flattery is like chewing gum. Enjoy it but don't swallow it." Hank Ketcham

"If you are not criticized , you may not be doing much" Donald Rumnsfeld

Friday, February 26, 2010

Not mine, not mine

There was once a jobless poverty stricken man. He lived a difficult life on the charity of others and had little to call his own. He had very few friends. One day a friend offered him a tip to invest in a particular share in the stock market which was quoting at a very low price. So, this guy went around and borrowed some money and invested. Very soon the share price reached dizzy levels and he sold it to make a tidy profit after repaying the loan. Often after that he consulted his friend and made investments in the stock markets and in less than a year, he could call himself rich owning a nice house, car and a good holding of shares.

After that he became a regular in the stock markets. He spent his days watching the movements of share prices and his nights in luxury. There came a time when the value of his share holding reached a very high level and he was delirious with joy. Some time after that, the sub prime crisis erupted and the markets started crashing. He was optimistic and was hoping for the prices to recover. However, it kept going down each day making him desperate and miserable. On some days there would be a slight improvement and he would smile but then the prices would fall and he would frown.

In many ways, his happiness or sorrow seemed to be directly linked to the share prices. He had forgotten that he was once a pauper with nothing of his own. Now he felt that he was losing something.

In many ways we are like this man. A lot of us have days when we feel miserable. It could be triggered by a variety of causes like loss of something or someone precious, break up of a relationship, failure in something that we attempted to do, being unfairly treated by someone etc. When such a time comes, we react in a varied ways. Some of us go into a shell and refuse to communicate, some sob their hearts out, some find solace in sharing their misery with some trusted person, some drown their sorrows by resorting to artificial supplements like wine etc.

When we came into this world we came all alone with no possession and even when we leave this world it will be likewise. We will not be taking our wealth, our relations, our ambitions etc. with us. Everything emerges and dissolves in this earth. Our true happiness does not and should not depend on external matter / events. Ignorance is the root cause of all misery. If we think about it in a dispassionate manner nothing should really make us sad.

The mourning / celebration etc. are all a result of our minds. When we think something nice has happened or is going to happen, we feel happy and vice versa. So, our 'thinking' is really responsible for our state of mind. In other words, we can program our minds to think that everything is fine as it is. We need not worry, fret or fume about things. We can position ourselves as mere witness to the drama unfolding. We can choose to remain uninvolved and blissful.

We should think that we own nothing and that nothing belongs to us. We should keep repeating in our minds the mantra "Not mine, not mine" in order to slowly and steadily disassociate ourselves with everything. This will insulate us from sorrow without preventing us from enjoying what is available. We should treat life like how we go to an entertainment park. We should be aware that we are here for a short time and should learn to live life blissfully without clinging to it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Control yourself !!

We are surrounded by temptations all the time. Our minds get attracted to things that we see, smell, hear etc. Each one of us has our weaknesses and we inevitably succumb to it. Our senses seem to control us and our minds rather than us being in control. We thus lead lives as slaves to our senses. All our actions and thoughts seem to revolve around these temptations and we end up doing many silly and regrettable things to live and re-live the experience.

We sometimes do detestable things when our mind is weak and not fully in control. We become provoked or angry and say harsh words or become violent. Relationships that are built and nurtured over a long time are broken in a fit of momentary madness. We lie and cheat to get sense gratification. We break the trust of those around us. We waste our lives chasing things that would never satisfy us completely or add value to our lives. It is almost like trying to extinguish a fire by pouring fuel.

Most of us do not have a will power so strong that we can give up our secret desires. If we think about it, these desires have arisen in us only due to our encouragement and our experiences. Over time and life times, these become hard coded tendencies and habits which are difficult to break. Even if realise the issue intellectually, we may not take the steps necessary to overcome it. Some of us could be in a denial mode and never acknowledge the problem.

Lord Krishna, in His parting advice to beloved devotee and friend Uddhava, said "Control your speech, mind, organs and the impure intellect with the purified intellect. Then you will no more return to the world". He further said that for the person who has not controlled his mind, speech and intellect, the good work done in the form of vows, charity and austerities leak out as water flows out from an unbaked jar.

Unless we have a control over ourselves, our emotions, our thoughts, our desires and our passions how can we succeed in our ventures? We can achieve this control only by firm resolve and strong discipline. If we can visualise the benefits and imagine our new improved personality without the baggage of temptations, we would find it easier to strengthen our mind. We could also seek external help and facilitation from someone we trust to help us in the process. Hypnosis, meditation and yoga can also work wonders.

Control yourself and enjoy success.

"A learned man's knowledge will be of no avail if he does not have control over his tongue" - Kabir

"Non-control of senses is the path of ruin. Control of the senses is the path of prosperity. A man of self-control can move freely." - Chanakya

"Without controlling ourselves, we can never hope to control others" - Vishwanath Seshadri

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Did you pray today?

What is a prayer? When people say they pray what exactly do they do?

I haven't done a research on this and what I write here is more an introspection and a reflection than anything else. As I understand, most people try to connect with their preferred Deity when they pray. They use this as an occasion to thank the Almighty for blessings received, seek support for resolution of problems and ask for specific desires to be fulfilled.

When we pray, we remember our Lord and acknowledge His supremacy. Some people pray by chanting His names or singing songs in praise of Him. Over time various elaborate processes have been created for conduct during prayer. The simplest prayer is one wherein the eyes are closed, the hands are held together and the mind is focused on the Lord. Of course, there are people who pray with their eyes wide open and lips sealed. One can pray at any location or occasion. Any format is acceptable to Him.

Lord Krishna, in the Bhagvad Gita, says that four types of people pray - the distressed, the seeker of boons, the seeker of knowledge and the wise. While all of these people are on the right path and are dear to Him, it is the wise person who prays without any desires who is the dearest to the Lord.

So, what should one pray for? Asking for material things is pointless because it is short lived. Also, the human mind is such that it never gets satisfied. So, one tends to keep asking for more and more. Moreover, like children, we sometimes ask / crave for things which are not good for us. Our minds are not so evolved as to ask for the rights things and the things that are in our interest.

If one believes that there is an Almighty who is our creator, who is fair & just, who knows everything and who cares & loves all his children, do we need to ask for anything? Does He not know what is good for us and give it to us without our asking? Does He not care for our spiritual and emotional growth and plans our lives accordingly?

Yet, there is something that is beyond even His control. This is our mind and our actions. If at all we should seek anything, it should be a pure mind which is grateful for His grace & mercies. We should also seek His grace to ensure that we never stray from the path of the righteous and always do actions which are right. For without His grace, we can get bewildered and confused and do things which we may regret or repent later.

Most of us pray. Some do this as a matter of routine every day while some pray occasionally. If we truly believe in Him, we should be praying every moment of our lives. Irrespective of what happens to us, we should remember Him. We should especially pray when we good things happens to us for that is the time when we naturally tend to get carried away and forget Him. When we tune our minds in this manner, we can say our mind is one with Him.

Our bodies will die one day but when our hearts are filled with His thoughts and prayers, we merge with the Supreme Lord. So, pray every day and every moment.

"A prayer is not a 'spare wheel' that you pull out when you are in trouble; It is a 'steering wheel' that directs you in the right path throughout your life" - Anonymous

Friday, January 22, 2010

Purpose of education

Most of us, as children, went to school as a matter of routine. We did not think then of alternative methods of learning or even about the purpose of learning. We learnt subjects which were in the curriculum whether or not they would have any future relevance in our lives. After schooling, we chose streams of learning based on our aptitude, constraints etc. Those courses which resulted in great career opportunities and high paying jobs turns out to be the most popular. Come to think of it, education today is more for earning rather than for learning.

I would like to submit that education should help us to learn how to live and not just about how to make a living. Unfortunately, this aspect is grossly neglected in most career oriented courses today. This results in people competing fiercely for high paying positions. We also see unscrupulous methods widely employed by people both in careers as well as professions. People who call themselves as professionals do not seem to think that they need to show integrity in their approach.

For example, we see a nexus between pharma companies, doctors and medical centers whereby doctors prescribe unnecessary tests or medication for their patients who trust them. Perhaps these doctors have spent a lot of money and time to get their degrees and are in a hurry to recover it. Likewise, we see nexus between policemen, politicians, underworld, legal practitioners, media, judiciary etc. If we look around, we find a dearth of basic honesty and are unable to decide whom to trust.

The purpose of education should be to help us understand who we are, what our real goal is and what we need to do to reach there. Career is not the main purpose of our lives. It is only something that we do while we are in this earth to contribute to the sustenance of the society. There is an urgent need for academics to discuss and revamp our education system.

A good education system should lay adequate emphasis on inculcating values into our lives. Integrity should become the foundation on which we build our lives and careers. If the basic platform of integrity is missing, our careers, society and everything will become shaky and will crumble at the slightest of shocks or tremors. A good education system should help in building character and making us spiritual.

Do you agree?