Get off that “ledge” and get going…

Last night I watched the 1993 Hollywood action movie Cliffhanger. In the movie, Gabe, played by Sylvester Stallone, is a mountain rescue team member. When attempting a rescue mission, across from a ledge on a mountain top called The Tower, Gabe is unable to save Sarah, whose harness breaks and she falls 4000 feet to her death. Gabe is unable to forgive himself and vows to never attempt another rescue in his Life. In fact, he gives up climbing. Eight months after Sarah’s funeral, Gabe comes to pick up his belongings from his girlfriend Jessie’s place and asks her if she too will go with him. Jessie is livid and distraught that Gabe’s gone into a shell and is grieving with guilt. She tries to talk to him, invites him to move on while explaining to him that it wasn’t his fault! But Gabe refuses to accept her point of view. In one final, desperate attempt to make him see reason, Jessie screams at him. She says: “If you don’t forgive yourself, let go and move on, you will be on that ledge forever.
Metaphorically, many of us are on our own “ledges” too. Often times, we make Life choices that backfire or even blow up on our face. It’s important we recognize that making mistakes, judgment errors, is an integral part of growing up. Almost with every wrong call, the realization that it was indeed a wrong call is instantaneous – as soon as it fails or bombs! Within ourselves, we know that it didn’t work out. And we know for sure that it was our __ the individual’s __ mistake. But we will not want to admit it, and instead prefer to grieve with guilt, pretty much like Gabe, because it “feels good” to take the “higher moral ground”. Well to sit on a perch, even if it made from a mountain of guilt and self-soothing morality, is good for a while. But how long can anyone be up there? And how long can anyone be carrying the burden of a past guilt? At one time or the other, you have to climb down, you have to set down your guilt, free yourself, and move on. If you don’t do that, you will be depressive and will suffer endlessly.
Today is Kshamavani– the Forgiveness Day, per the Jain calendar. Mahavira taught that forgiveness begins with the Self. Unless you forgive yourself for your mistakes, your transgressions, your anger and your ego, you cannot forgive others. And if you don’t forgive others you are a breeding ground of more hatred, more anger, more himsa (violence – violent thought). The Jains use a very beautiful phrase to practise and propagate forgiveness: Micchami Dukkadam. It means ‘May all the evil that may have been done be fruitless’.
Today’s a good day to make an intelligent choice. To forgive. Begin with yourself. Let go of all resentment. And let all the himsa in you, turn into ahimsanon-violent thought. Get off that “ledge”, learn to forgive, if possible forget, and move on! You, surely, will live happily ever after!

Acceptance makes dealing with problems simpler

Life is not a problem. But Life is full of them.Intelligent living is to know that Life’s problems cannot be wished away but have to be accepted. Problems can either be solved by you, by applying logic and intellect, or when you can’t solve them, you can allow them to be solved by Life, over time!
Fundamentally, problems become simpler __ even if not easier __ to manage when you accept them. But if you keep denying that there is a problem, then you are creating a conflict with both the problem and within yourself. Because one part of you is forcing you to see the problem and accept it. While another part is forcing you to deny its existence. Out of this denial, fear and insecurity is born.
Denial itself stems from lack of awareness. Denial is when you are arguing with Life. You are arguing because you expect Life to be fair, and so you believe that nothing “out-of-the-ordinary” is going to happen to you. But the truth may well be that “it” has happened to you. Why deny what has happened? Denial is not going to make a problem go away. In fact, it will breed fear, which itself is then a new problem to deal with. Of course,  accepting a problem is not going to make it disappear. But acceptance at least makes you peaceful – and through that inner peace, your ability to deal with the problem, or attempt solutions, is enhanced.
Let’s say, someone is finding no joy in her marriage. She suspects that her spouse is not “involved” in their Life anymore. But she continues to brush that thought away and “endures” the marriage. How happy do you think she will be? Her acceptance of the problem may or may not make the marriage any better, but will surely make her peaceful. This is not just true in this lady’s context, it applies to every situation in Life.
We create more problems for ourselves, in most situations, by wanting things to be different from what they are. Instead simply accept. Acceptance is empowering and liberating. While it may not make Life’s problems go away, it certainly enhances your ability to deal with them!

Nothing can prevent you from realizing your True Self except you

This morning’s Times of India reports that the Akal Takht, the highest temporal Sikh body, bans Sikhs from keeping the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book and the “living, active Guru” of the Sikhs, in homes that also have bar counters in them. I don’t quite see merit in such a sanction.
Sikhism, as I have known and understood, is one of the world’s youngest religions, founded only around the 15th Century. It is not a religion that draws upon one line or school of thought. It is inspired by Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism and several others. It is also the only religion that is not built on the teachings of a single Guru, but is based on the teachings of 10 Masters, with the Guru Granth Sahib, being the final and ever-living Guru. To me, it is not even a religion – it is a beautiful confluence of various streams of wisdom. Which is why Sikhism, and the Guru Granth Sahib, are very contemporary and very relevant even today. Nanak, the founding Guru of the Sikhs, said that ultimately what __ or the only thing that __ matters is The Truth. And The Truth, he said, was unspeakable. Which is why he, and his successors, sang it. Which is why the Guru Granth Sahib is in verse, containing 1430 angs (limbs or literary sections), actually hymns, complied and composed between 1469 and 1708.
Perhaps, by virtue of their religion being so young, or maybe their upbringing is based on practical and liberal tenets, I have found Sikhs to be very fun-loving, friendly and caring. They live Life to the fullest. They are never self-obsessed and choose always to get involved, and to serve whenever they get an opportunity. They are also the only set of people on the planet who can laugh at themselves. The innumerable Sardarji jokes that we come across is strong evidence of this. No other community will be so tolerant if they were to be the butt of so much global ribbing and ridicule. So, when a stricture is passed on such a wonderful people, it does shock and surprise.
I have another personal reason and learning to share. Understanding and realizing The Truth that Nanak sang about, and that which every spiritual path will take you to, does not require abstinence. In fact, intelligent living does not demand anything from you. It only wants you to be. To live in the moment and experience the Now. This will happen, only after a person’s quest for inner peace, through pursuing material matters of the world, draws no result. Only when seeking outside is futile, does man consider seeking within. That’s when, as Nanak taught, and Sikhism preaches, the individual sees the panj chor (Five Thieves) of ego, anger, greed, attachment and lust, as distracting from being on The Path. So, in essence, each one of us has to find our ways to get on to The Path – through experience, through stumbling, through falling and through learning. No religious diktat exists nor can any direct anyone to The Path, unless, she or he really wants to be on it. Whatever dos and don’ts abound around us, are the handiwork of the mandarins that want to control, using the name of religion, and causing fear of retribution by an external God, to coerce the masses into submission.
Simply, nothing outside can distract you or prevent you from realizing your True Self – and the Godliness in you – except you! As Nanak himself has sung it so beautifully: “As fragrance abides in the flower, as reflection is within the mirror, so does the Lord abide within you. Why search for Him without?”

On the futility of hating

When Nina Davuluri won the Miss America pageant on Sunday, the celebrations were marred, shockingly, by some hate tweets, and as some view it, racist comments. Obviously, those comments led to more hatred against the haters on social media. And, surely, this morning’s newspapers in India led with Davuluri’s crowning on Page 1, playing up, alongside with the young lady’s triumph, the misplaced hatred for and racist comments against her.
That brings us to a simple yet important question: why do we hate someone or something? To be sure, each of us is strongly opinionated. Some of us express ourselves rabidly – of late on social media – while others keep their views to themselves. But, without doubt, we have experienced hatred for someone, whom we cannot get along with (often not even stand the sight of) at some time or the other. The question is why?

The fundamental reason why we hate is because we are not aware of the oneness of all creation. It is when we see each person as different from ourselves do we even have the urge or temperament to compare, and therefore, to dislike, or in some cases, hate. Separateness comes from the ego. When the ego is driving you not to look at the core of your creation, but at the fringes – when you look at nationality, community, family background, social or economic standing, color and such. Instead look at the core of all creation – especially among us humans – you will find that there is no separation, no difference. All of us are alive because of the same Life source powering us. We may have different stories, different upbringings, different education, different approaches to Life and even speak different languages – but we are all one! An evolved person will not let the ego drive her or his Life. Such a person will look beyond the differences, and go to the core and celebrate it. Then Davuluri’s win is your own win. As much as the loss of lives in the Washington D.C naval base shoot-out is your own loss.

The more we see creation as separate, the more we will be consumed by such wasteful emotions like hatred. At least one intelligent response when you see a chain of hatred being triggered is not to participate, not to respond. Just let it go. One opinion less out there means one moment less in the public lifetime of that form of hatefulness. By choosing to stay away from joining the chain of hatred in a situation does not mean ignoring it or “brushing things under the carpet”. When you feel hatred towards someone or something, focus all your attention on it. Don’t respond to it. But deeply meditate on it. You will then see the futility of your anger, the stupidity of your opinion, the frivolity of your venom, your hatred and through your ‘seeing’, you will see the object of your hate and you as one! It may sound incredible. But try meditating on someone you hate and you will come to this realization soon – perhaps after a few attempts owing to the “extent” of your hatred and your own evolution with the practice of meditation!
The truth is, as the Buddha taught, either you – the real you – exists or hatred does. If hatred is, then you are not. And if you are, then there can be no hatred. The real you, the real me, get suppressed when we are not aware, when we are in the clutches of ego. The moment awareness takes over, the ego cannot survive. And when there is no ego, there’s no hatred, there’s no separateness. Only oneness thrives!

“Stay Simple. Stay Humble.” – the MS Way

The Google doodle today honors M.S.Subbulakshmi (1916~2004) on her 97th birthday. I don’t understand the nuances of music (the ragas, the construct, the delivery style and such) like most others do, but I love music and do know to appreciate when soul goes into producing great performances. And I believe MS’ soul was always on a song. For when she sang, she became the music. There was no more MS. Just the music flowed and swept away all those who listened to her.
M S Subbulakshmi: Humility Personified
As a young boy who took public transport to school, I have waited several mornings outside MS’ home (where the bus stop was located) on Village Road, in Chennai. I remember having seen her on a few occasions, stepping out into the courtyard to water the tulasiplant. I only knew of her then as a great musician that the world adored. It was when she was decorated with the Bharat Ratna (India’s highest civilian honor) that I saw the exceptional human being and the embodiment of simplicity and humility in MS. For all the adulation, praise, rewards and recognition that came her way, she remained unaffected. All she knew was that her soul sang. And she let it sing whenever it felt like it. My impression of this side of MS was validated when, soon after her passing away in December 2004, The Hindu ran a series of tributes. Among them was one by M.Krishnaswami, Chairman of the Sri Thyagaraja Trust. He recalled an incident when the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) had invited MS to perform to commemorate the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s visit to the famous shrine. The morning after her magnificent concert, TTD’s senior officials called on MS and requested her to accept the title of the TTD’s Asthana Vidwan (Court Singer) – a honor no one had ever been offered till that date. She was the first to be offered it. Krishnaswami, who was present at that meeting, reported that MS graciously declined to accept the honor. She told the TTD delegation that it would be improper on her part to accept this title when so many senior musicians, all of them stalwarts, had not been honoured with it. She named Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Musiri Subramania Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, in particular and said she revered these gentlemen and would not be able to accept an honor ahead of them. The TTD Team was touched by her thoughtfulness and decided to honor these senior artistes as well along with MS. That anecdote has left a deep impact on me and has, I believe, contributed to my evolution.
All of us crave for recognition. This craving comes from the feeling that we have created or achieved something and, therefore, we need to be celebrated for it. Nothing wrong with this thinking. Except that it will also be pertinent to remember that our lives happens through us – and not necessarily because of us. Whatever we create is an expression of what we are endowed with. We don’t make the music we render. It merely flows through us. We are but instruments. The stage is “given” to us. The music – the reference here is to any chosen vocation or craft that we pursue and is not limited to music – is “given” to us. We are mere delivery agents. Just as a courier delivery person cannot take credit or responsibility for the quality of communication, she or he is delivering, we too can’t. As long as we understand this truth and remain anchored with it, we will always be grounded – we too then will be unaffected by praise (or criticism) when it comes our way. When we discover how to be untouched by success (or failure), we would have found inner peace and bliss!
Here’s MS’ rendition of Hari Tum Haro…have a great week ahead!

When nothing works, try CTRL+ALT+DEL

Last evening I attended the launch of a unique initiative that focuses on providing preventive and curative care for people with diabetes. The program, with special emphasis on women, is the brainchild of renowned endocrinologist Dr.Usha Sriram of ACEER (Associates in Clinical Endocrinology Education and Research) and her team. Dr.Sriram shared a simple prescription for diabetics. She said: “CTRL+ALT+DEL – Control your Lifestyle, Alter your Diet and Delete unwanted/negative influences from your Life. Sometimes, you simply may have to reboot!”
I have found the CTRL+ALT+DEL method particularly inspiring. This is what we have all learned to do with our computers when programs running on them ‘hang’. We decided to use it on our Firm, when our business turned “unresponsive” some years ago. It was bleeding losses quarter-on-quarter and guzzling cash in the form of debt. That’s when we embarked on a strategy that we called ‘CTRL+ALT+DEL’. We closed 6 offices, painfully let go of 38 clients and as many team members. We basically bombed our Firm and ‘rebooted’ it!
Sometimes, Life requires a ‘forced’ pause, especially when it doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere, and possibly, a reboot. So CTRL+ALT+DEL in a Life context means that you review and revalidate every premise that you have been holding as true.
CTRL – CONTROL – the urge to grieve over what has happened or to conclude that there is no way forward and that it’s all over
ALT – ALTER – your focus; stop thinking about what you don’t have – SCARCITY THINKING; instead, look at what you have – ABUNDANCE THINKING
DEL – DELETE – the anxiety to want to solve all your problems at the same time; if you can’t find solutions to your problems yourselves (either personally or through experts), learn to go with the flow of LIFE
Remember: Life is not to be endured or suffered. It has to be enjoyed. Allow no one and nothing to come between you and your enjoying Life! Be obsessed with your happiness. And if you like, be selfish! Because from your inner core of happiness, is born your ability to serve, to be selfless and to make a difference in this world. And in case you are struggling with a listless Life just now, when nothing seems to be working, try rebooting it with the CTRL+ALT+DEL method. It works!
  

Go on, be a ‘Qalandar’

A question on Kaun Banega Crorepati yesterday drew my attention to the immortal Qawwali, made famous to my generation by Bangladeshi singer Runa Laila, ‘Dama Dam Mast Qalandar’. The original Qawwali is believed to have been written by Amir Khusrow, but its Punjabi version was written by a Sufi Master Baba Bulle Shah. Both versions are in praise of the revered Sufi Saint Shahbaz Qalandar, whose dargah is at Sehwan Sharif, near Larkana, in Sind, Pakistan.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s tomb in Sehwan, Pakistan

Shahbaz Qalandar lived in Sind and taught the Sufi way of compassion and inner peace between 1177 AD and 1274 AD. Qalandar is a Sufi title bestowed on those who are considered free spirits, detached from worldly interests and desires, and who are on this planet to serve, to touch lives and to make the world a more caring and loving place.

When I think about it, I am reminded about what Osho, the Master, has said. He explains that the seed of love is in all of us. All of us are created with love. And love is our intrinsic nature. It is because we have all developed worldly attachments, or allowed emotions such as fear, anxiety, work, greed, lust, hatred, anger and jealousy to control us, that our true nature – love – lies suppressed. When we peel off all those negative emotions and when we let go of all attachments, we will see our native state blossom. We then will be free spirits, without any worldly shackles. We too will be mast Qalandars!
Enjoy this beautiful song, celebrate your weekend and think about how beautiful Life will be if you are truly free – unburdened, unshackled. Your true, real Self becomes you, O! Qalandar! What are you waiting for?

Celebrating Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th. In Western culture, there’s a superstition that Friday the 13th will bring ill luck to people when they attempt anything on this day. Indian culture too has its fair share of superstitions. Don’t continue with your journey (or work) if a black cat crosses your path. Or don’t take possession of a new house unless you first boil milk in it. Or respect a weekly timetable of “bad” 90 minute capsules (rahukalam). And many, many more.
There are normally two kinds of people. Those who follow superstitions and those who don’t. But there’s also a third category: who don’t know which category of people to follow! They often wonder: Is being superstitious good or bad? Is it foolish to be superstitious? Is being superstitious a sign of being too religious?
Let me share my learnings from my experiences of having been superstitious. Firstly, superstition means accepting something __ or even rejecting something __ without having any first-hand knowledge about it or believing (or rejecting) something blindly without verifying. So, in the true sense of the word’s meaning, a believer in God and an atheist, both are superstitious. A believer because, in the normal course, she or he believes so more by following than by seeking (verifying first-hand) and an atheist because, she or he, again rejects blindly without ascertaining if there is a case indeed for no-God! So, theists and atheists, both are capable of being superstitious. Just as scientists are too. Until Liebniz argued that it is possible to have just three digits in the counting system, as opposed to 9, the world of mathematicians was superstitious too. They accepted a 1 ~ 9 count, just as we have all done, without pausing to verify, question, argue or debate. So, the point being made here is that there is nothing wrong in being superstitious if you are comfortable in following something__anything for that matter__without questioning, without verifying.
To me superstitions are an integral part of growing up – of evolving. I once was sitting in front of a very learned astrologer, who, seeing the rings on my fingers, asked me why I was wearing them. I replied saying that a well-known gemologist had recommended that I wear them to “ward off the bad times” that I was faced with. He laughed and asked in Tamil: “Kallaala Vidhiya Matramudiyuma Sir?” (Can stones change destiny?). He then went on to explain: “Sir, don’t accept anything just because you find it comfortable to believe it or to follow it. Not even what I am telling you. Challenge every assumption, ask, seek…and from the answers you get, pick the one which you feel you can relate to the most. Choose that which you feel is the most common-sensical. In doing that you will always be at peace.” I have followed his sagely advise to this day.
So, the question here is not whether a superstition works or not. Or whether it is right or wrong. The question here is have you verified what you are following? Are you convinced of your line of thought and action? If you have done this check, then what you follow is no longer a superstition, it is a belief. And, importantly, if you have chosen to not believe something, it does not mean that someone else believing in it is wrong. Respect that the person may have as much strong evidence to support her or his belief as you have against it.
Bottom-line: any day, any time is good, but no day, no time is better than today, the NOW, to live and to celebrate Life! So, please don’t let anything – not even your beliefs – ruin this non-stop party called Life for you!

Good, Bad, Beautiful, Ugly … this is the Only Life you have

People often have this question: Why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people? And, with some exceptions, they always also ask: And why do ‘good’ things happen to ‘bad’ people?
The questions themselves need review. What is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is subjective. What you may see as the right thing to do may be wrong from another’s point of view. And what you see as wrong, may seem perfectly right to  someone else. I believe that these questions arise because of the ego being active in each of us. For instance, you are ethical, sincere and diligent. Yet, when you don’t get a promotion or a raise, your ego incites you to question the situation. It implores you to see someone else who has managed to get that raise as one who is ‘inferior’ to you on the work ethic scale. This is how this journey of demanding fair-play from Life pans out. To be sure, it did not begin at the workplace. It began at home, in school, when parents or family pointed out to you that ‘Life has not been fair to you’. Over the years, you have only been led by your ego to continue to view Life this way.
Pause and reflect a bit. Did you ask to be born? This Life was “given” to you, wasn’t it? And at the time of birth did Life make you any promises? Did it say your Life will be this way or that? Since there were no guarantees offered, no assurances given, where’s the intelligence in craving for them? The truth is Life keeps on happening. Life sees all its creations as equal. It does not choose its “targets” for “tough examinations” per income or social strata. Life does not see anything as good or bad. Ethics, or the lack of it, make no sense to Life. Whatever Life delivers at your door, you have no choice but to accept it. Your suffering begins only when you refuse or resist the Life that is happening to you!
Religion and the scriptures talk of the Law of Karma. I agree with Osho that this is but a way to ‘console’ ourselves as humanity. The Law of Karma is no scientific law, like say the Law of Gravitation. A ball thrown up in the air__whether in Chennai or Kabul or New York or Sao Paulo or Kyoto or Wellington or Kota Kinabalu or Colombo__will come down. We can argue and verify the Law of Gravitation – it can be examined. But when the Law of Karma says that we will bear the consequences of our actions in a future birth or we are bearing the consequences of our actions, from a past birth, in this one, I am not sure we can verify or examine the case being made. Who has seen an earlier Life or can be sure to experience another one in the future? In my humble opinion (in no manner do I seek to rubbish the Karmic Theory), and in the limited context of my Life experience – this is the ONE and ONLY Life we have. This is it.

Each of the events in our Life have happened because they simply had to happen. There’s no merit in qualifying and further analyzing if we deserve what we are getting or are given. Don’t label anyone or anything or any event as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Don’t compare. Don’t ask why. Life’s happening to you 24/7. Just watch it happen. You don’t like what’s happening to you, learn to accept it. You like what’s happening to you, learn to be grateful for it. The only way to live Life is to liveit happily, for what it is!

Life’s too short…so, “move on” when you can!

I had an interesting experience yesterday. A certain institution, a not-for-profit service provider, who have laid down some very stringent processes for them to be able to run a world-class operation, decided not to allow me to use their services. Apparently, I had failed to fulfil some of their requirements. The service was time-bound and had to be  delivered today (Wednesday morning IST). A senior management member from the service provider’s side sent me a strong email saying they could not deliver me their service because of my inability to have met/fulfilled certain criteria. While accepting their verdict, I told them that I failed to see why they were inflexible. The gentleman got back saying while they were flexible with certain ‘genuine’ cases, they were unwilling to be so with me. He wondered if I would, despite this one time, want to continue to avail of their services. I wrote back a mail saying Life is too short to be breaking up over what they saw as ‘a non-negotiable’ process and what I saw as an ‘inanity’. I wrote why I felt my case was genuine – not so much to influence the service provider’s stance but to merely explain mine! Even so, I offered to continue to avail of their services going forward. The mails between us were officious and terse, with both of us using impeccable English – making the exchange more dramatic than it should have been. After the last mail from me was sent, I forgot about the issue and moved on with other things to do on my plate.
By early evening though, the gentleman who had been corresponding with me, wrote back. He apologized for his stance and felt, after reading my last mail, that my case was indeed genuine. And that he would advise his team to deliver the service that I had requested. He went a step further and called me up. By the time his call came in, I had just finished reading his mail. I answered his call saying I was very grateful for his understanding and deeply appreciative of his offer to provide us with his institution’s service. He said: “Please don’t deify anyone or anything beyond what is necessary. I would like to apologize for what happened. Let us move on.”
Being a not-for-profit organization, that was offering a service which was rare, there was no way I was going to make them accountable for their stance. So, there really was no need for the gentleman to do any of the following:
    
          – Review my case
    – Accept that, despite my non-compliance of their process, there may have been an ‘error in
       judgment’
    – Apologize
    – Pick up the phone and ensure (through that one call he achieved what half-a-dozen emails
      could not) that a bond was built
    – Offer to provide the service  
To be sure, the fault was also mine – owing to a set of circumstances that I was caught in, I was unable to fulfil certain criteria that anyone seeking their service must. Through the gentleman’s conduct, and this experience, I learnt, yet again, the power of “moving on”.
A lot of the time, a lot of people, cling to positions, stances, opinions, that their ego drives them to take. Once on that ego-driven perch, reason fails to apply. Empathy fails to matter. And the ‘I-am-right’ view holds sway. It takes a lot of courage and conviction to climb down from such a stance, accept a mistake and “move on”.
Think of the number of times you have been driven to taking such stances. Perhaps you are still clinging on to such positions. Review your actions and ask yourself if you can really “move on”. If you believe you can, just climb down, own up your mistake and let go of your big, fat ego. Life is short…so, “move on” when you can! Your world will be a much more beautiful and happier place than it is presently!