Let the whole world be happy!

A lot of our suffering can be avoided if we stop comparing ourselves with others!
We have been conditioned to compare. Everything from our growing up years to our adulthood is about comparisons. Some years back a popular Unilever detergent brand Rin ran a TV commercial that had the line: “Bhala uski kameez meri kameez se safed kaise?” It means: “Wonder how his shirt is whiter (brighter) than mine?” That ad was immensely popular and signified how deeply comparisons have impacted our lives in a socio-cultural context. Our education system breeds comparisons at a very early stage when small children, who are barely able to speak, are ranked according to their “academic proficiency”. And as these children grow up and emerge from colleges to take up careers in the real world the comparisons only grow more rabid and vulgar – someone’s better looking than me, someone has a more beautiful wife or a bigger apartment or a swankier car or a better pay packet! The comparisons never seem to cease – what class do you travel by, what car do you drive, where do you shop, where do you dine, where do you educate your child – you go on and on. Soon, unwittingly, you have passed on the “method and malaise” of living with comparisons to the next generation.
Comparing does no one any good. Not to the one who compares nor to the one who is being compared with! In fact, comparison breeds jealousy. And jealousy leads to suffering!
When you understand Life better and think about it deeply you will see great value in my humble suggestion to stop comparing yourself with others. You are you. And the other is different from you. Period. Each Life is unique in creation. And each Life’s journey is different. There may be similarities but nothing is, and really no two lives are, identical. So, why compare something, your Life, that is incomparable?
Whenever you indulge in making comparisons, you can be assured that jealousy will raise its ugly head too. And jealousy is often a silent operator. It is not always very expressive or evident. But it subconsciously chews you up from within. It happens this way – your mind keeps on telling you to look at someone and compare. Soon, a painful pining sets in. “Look at him,” you say to yourself, “he’s having all the good things in Life despite having no scruples.” Or, “I deserve better than her because I have worked harder.” Or, “This is so unfair. I have never hurt a fly. But there’s so much pain in my Life. Everyone’s happier than I am.” All these thoughts, and more, are symptomatic of jealousy eating you up from within. When you are jealous you are obsessed with everyone else’s Life, but yours. How can you be happy then – especially when you are focussed on what you don’t have and what others have? To be sure, happiness comes only when you consider and celebrate what you have!
But you don’t have to despair. You are not alone in comparing, being jealous or being unhappy! Everyone else is living this way too. That’s really what’s making the world sadder and meaner. That’s also why people are suffering all over. The way out of this debilitating and depressive spiral is to stop comparing. The moment a thought arises in you – and be sure it will arise – urging you to compare yourself with another, order that thought out. Just ask yourself: “So what?” And tell or remind yourself: “Let everyone be happy!” Try this approach. It works brilliantly! You don’t have to do this for the sake of others. Do it for yourself. Because only when you are happy with yourself, the way you are, irrespective of how things and people are in the world, can you find inner peace!

From Mind to “No Mind”

Sometimes, just deluged with challenges, you think Life is a series of endless problems. But did you know that all your problems can be solved in a nanosecond? Just stop thinking of them as problems!!! 
There are no problems in Life. Really. There are merely Life situations – like a health challenge, a natural disaster, death of a loved one and failure with career or business or relationships despite all the integrity and effort. But a Life situation is labelled as a problem by the human mind. The mind keeps on churning out thoughts that look at Life situations or events and label them good or bad. We label an event or situation as bad when what has happened is not what we expected or thought we deserved. So, in effect, problems are caused by our thinking, by the mind. Which means if the mind took events and made them look and feel like problems, the same mind can get rid of the problems!
In a very theoretical way, if you can get rid of the mind, you can be free of problems. But this is not wordsmithing or spiritual theory alone. At one level, there is no mind. Mind is an imagination. There are only thoughts, 60,000 of them precisely (as proven by research), that arise within you each day. These are random, often disconnected, individual thoughts. When seen together they create the illusion of the mind. But really they are stand-alone thoughts. Think of this deeply. Someone you love dies. Now, a thought arises in you that says you cannot live without this person. So, you are plunged in grief. But what if this thought did not arise at all? What if the death was seen only as part of the cyclical Life pattern of birth and death? Or you lose your job. A thought in your mind tells you that without a job you will suffer because you will not have money to survive. But were you born with a job or money? What if you can reason out that you can survive the same way as you did when you were a child? Will you then be afraid and fearful of losing that job? So, if you examine Life closely, through these two example situations or through any other that you have encountered, you will find that death or job-loss or whatever else are mere events. The mind, the thoughts that arose within you, has made these events look and feel monstrous. Your mind, clearly, created your problems. Surely, if you had a way of ridding yourself of these thoughts, would you be tormented by these events at all?
So, the key to free yourself from your problems is to develop a temperament to distil your thoughts. You can’t not have thoughts. But you can surely develop the awareness, the discerning ability that reminds you, every step of your way, each time a debilitating thought arises, that Life is not a series of problems. It is just a series of events. Events get labelled as problems by your thinking. If you can remind yourself consistently to take each event, each moment as it comes, then your thoughts become insignificant and powerless. This is the state when there is “no mind” – it has become irrelevant, if not completely defunct! That is when you realize inner peace!

Carry your Zen every minute

Whenever you are completely aware of whatever is happening to you, you are on the road to self-realization, to inner peace. Your awareness need not be only about what you are doing – cooking, walking, breathing, washing, whatever – it is also about how you are feeling – be it pain, sorrow, anger, jealousy or anxiety. Just be fully aware. When you are aware, and immerse yourself in that awareness, you will feel peaceful.
This may sound paradoxical. How can anyone be peaceful while in pain for instance? Or when in grief? Or when angry? Indeed, as long are you have not realized your true self, chances are you will associate your present human form with your circumstances. So, when your body  has a back pain, you think that you are in pain. When the human form of someone whom you loved is dead, you think you have lost that someone. So you grieve. When you are angry, you see the person at whom the anger is directed as different, as separate from you, hence the anger. But awareness changes everything. You understand the true nature of creation. You realize that you are not what you think you are. You are not this human body. You are not your car, your job, your designation, your bank balance, your relationship, your social position. The real you is detached. Is indestructible. The real you cannot be touched by any worldly event or sentiment. When this awareness dawns upon you, it leads you to peace.
Awareness is not an abstract concept. It simply requires diligent practice and training of the mind. What is otherwise called spirituality – the flowering of inner awareness!  The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn (lovingly called Thay by his followers) recommends developing awareness even in our busy lives. He does not advocate any special hour for this practice or training. He simply says – Focus wholesomely on your everyday tasks without getting distracted. Be mindful.
Thay says mindfulness is the way to peace. He often shares a Zen story to illustrate this point. Zen students are with their Masters for at least ten years before they are certified to teach others. Nan-in, a great Zen Master, was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship in record time, had just become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him, Nan-in remarked: “I suppose you left your wooden clogs by the door, outside. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs.” Tenno, caught unawares and confused, had no instant answer. He realized he was unable to carry his Zen every minute. He became Nan-in’s pupil, and studied six more years to accomplish his every-minute Zen.
So, be mindful when having your morning cup of tea – take in its aroma and let the flavor impregnate every pore of your body. Be mindful when walking – take each step with awareness and love. Be mindful while in the shower – feel the water soothe your body and lift your spirits. Be mindful while crossing the road or while being in business meetings. The key is to not let your mind wander. To be sure, the mind will resist. It will want to slip back into a painful past event or rush into the future with worry. Every time you sense that the mind is not mindful in the moment, call it back to focus on whatever you are doing. Over time, the mind will be trained not to go astray.
Each step, each moment lived mindfully is one lived in peace and joy! Through consistently living this way, through carrying your Zen every minute, become the bliss that you seek!

The Intelligent Living Imperative

At the end of the day, each of us has to go. But before we go, we can make this entire earthly sojourn of ours memorable. This calls for intelligent living!
Isn’t a vacation more memorable than routine, day-to-day existence? Now, why is a vacation memorable? Because you let go, you leave your worries behind and engage with your family or friends or even, in solitude, with nature. You know you have invested in the vacation and you feel the need to maximize the tenure of that vacation. Think about it. Why not treat each day as a vacation? You don’t need an exotic locale to holiday. You need the attitude to enjoy each day as you would while on a vacation.
Do the following: 1. Imagine for a moment, you have no worries and you are on a vacation. 2. Play out that attitude at work today. Work in an easy, unrushed, unruffled manner. Savor each moment. Even if you are getting pulled up by your boss, admire the color of his tie or her dress. Look at the opportunity in the feedback. If you are stuck in terrible traffic, look for signs of Life and beauty around you on the road. A young boy helping a blind man cross the road, a child sleeping peacefully on her mother’s lap. If you have to do mundane household chores, do them at your own pace, choosing to do one thing at a time, giving it the fullest attention.
This simple approach can change your Life dramatically. It can make you transform your driving-yourself-and-others-crazy approach to slowly, smoothly, enjoying the miracle called now and the gift called today! Remember: You are not going to live forever. Not me either. To live intelligently, fully, is therefore not a choice, it is imperative.

From Becoming to Being

Being alive is a gift.  To experience Life as it is, is a blessing. And just being is an art!
But many of us miss this opportunity. We don’t see Life as a gift. This is so because there is a continuous effort to become something. The process of becoming, truly, is at the core of all human stress and strife. But there’s no point in blaming anyone. That’s the way we have been raised. We have been told that if we accept status quo we will lose the game of Life. So, there’s always a rush to move from one thing to another. From one state to another. All such movement is measured by how much more we have made or earned or saved or created.
No one seems to be satisfied with the way she or he is. At times, society reminds you that you need to become something that you are not to be more acceptable. For instance, many of the clubs in India, mostly those that were founded in the days of the British Raj in India, even now will not allow you inside without proper footwear or collared shirts. So, if you landed up there wearing your sneakers, jeans and a round-collared tee, you will turned away. The club does not want you to be who you are but wants you to become what you are not – a “prim and proper”, old-fashioned, colonial! This applies to the emotional side of Life too. Someone who has lost her husband must look mournful. She cannot smile. She must be crying. But what if she is relieved her husband is dead, after years of suffering – like the mother in the Hindi film The Lunchbox? The mother merely says she is hungry and wants aloo parathawhile sitting beside her dead husband’s corpse. She just wants to be. But she must drop the way she is and become “serious” about the loss of her husband, at least this is what her daughter seems to be thinking!
But what’s the point of becoming this or that? To become something you have to stop being something or someone else. Is such becoming worth it?
Life’s not a 100-metre race. It is not only about how much money or assets you have. It is about how much time you have left on the planet and what you intend doing with and in that time. If your career is costing you a relationship, is it worth it? If your relationship is costing you your bliss, is such a relationship worth it? These and many more difficult questions need answers. You may not always find your answers either. But in asking such questions, you will find yourself thinking more in terms of simply being, than wanting to become something!
Pause and reflect. Think deeply about your Life. Has all your effort to become made you happy? It might have made you successful and wealthy. But has it made you happier? If the truth is that you believe you could be a lot happier than you currently are, stop becoming or wanting to become and simply be. Just being is a surer way for you to feel happy than trying to become something or someone that you simply are not!

Life is a cosmic joke!

There are three kinds of laughter in Life. One is when we laugh at others. The other is when we laugh at ourselves. And the third is when we laugh at Life itself. As we progress through Life, it is important for us to graduate from one form of laughter to another.
Osho, the Master, used to tell the story of the three laughing Buddhas of China. In China, they are simply known as the three laughing monks. And they did only one thing: they would enter a village, stand in the market place and start laughing. They would laugh with their whole being and suddenly people also caught the infectious spirit and soon a laughing crowd would gather. The whole crowd would be laughing just because of the three of them.
All of China loved them, respected them. Nobody had ever preached that Life must be just a laughter and nothing else. The monks were not laughing at anyone in particular. They were simply laughing as if they had understood the cosmic joke. And they spread so much joy all over China without using a single word. People would ask for their names, but they would simply laugh. So that became their name — the three laughing monks or Buddhas. 

Then they grew old. And soon one of the three monks died. The whole village, where they were staying at that time, thought that when one of them had died, the other two monks would surely weep. The whole village gathered around the dead monk but everyone was looking at the other two with shock and awe. Because the two monks were standing beside the corpse of the third and laughing their guts out.

When the dead monk’s body was put on the funeral pyre, then the villagers realized that the remaining two monks were not the only ones who were laughing, the third who was dead was also laughing. He had asked his companions not to change his clothes. It was a tradition that when a man died they changed his dress and gave a bath to the body. So the third monk had told his colleagues, ‘Don’t give me a bath because I have never been unclean. So much laughter has been in my Life that no impurity can accumulate in me. I have not gathered any dust. Laughter is always young and fresh. So don’t give me a bath and don’t change my clothes.’ 

Just to respect the dead man’s wishes, they did not change his clothes. And when the pyre was lit, suddenly they became aware that he had hidden some Chinese fireworks under his clothes and they had started going off. So the whole village laughed and the other two monks said: ‘You rascal, you are dead, but you have defeated us once again. Your laughter is the last.’ 

The story of the three monks, the laughing Buddhas, reminds of the cosmic joke. There’s no point, literally, with this lifetime of ours. All we do, between birth and death, is to work harder than ever before, earning-a-living. And then we will all die – such is the nature of creation. So, once we get the cosmic joke, the pointlessness of Life itself, we don’t laugh at anyone – not others, not on oneself. We simply laugh at Life.
If we can get to this stage of laughing at Life, we will have found the way to happiness and inner peace!

Flow in acceptance

To accept Life for what it is does not mean inaction. It means deep, purposeful, insightful action.
Once you understand the transient, impermanent nature of everything, including this “given” Life of yours, you will realize that acting with acceptance is the only intelligent way to live this lifetime – fully, happily! When we are merely responding to Life’s various events, we are actually reacting. This reacting leaves us disturbed and often agonized. But when we are responding with insight, we are flowing with Life – while doing our best in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.
A farmer lived with his family in Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka. Over the two decades of civil war and strife that his country, and particularly his village, witnessed, the farmer lost everything. He lost all his family members in the civil war. The Tamil guerrillas who controlled that part of the country usurped his farmland and converted it into a camp for recruiting innocent children and teenagers into their ranks. The farmer, obviously beaten and devastated by his losses and the violent environment that he was forced to live in, was advised by several people to run away, to escape to Tamil Nadu, or to seek refuge elsewhere. Those who advised him made good their escape from the village whenever an opportunity arose. But the farmer stayed on. One of his responsibilities was to clean a temple that had been built by his forefathers centuries ago. In every generation that preceded him, a member of his family had cleaned the temple, washed the deity and prepared the sanctum sanctorum for the village priest to come and perform the daily rituals. The farmer was the custodian for this task from his generation and he went about this diligently. 8 years ago, the village priest was killed in a cross-fire between the Sinhalese army and the Tamil guerrillas. Ever since, the farmer performed the daily rituals himself. Finally, when the guerrillas were overthrown a couple of years ago, a Buddhist reformist group arrived in the village to help rebuild it and to rehabilitate its residents.
The senior-most monk in group, when he heard of the farmer’s story from some of the other locals who too had survived the years of strife, asked the farmer: “How did you manage to bear all this loss and keep your focus on what you had to do? Were you never overcome by grief and anger? Did you not ask your God if what was happening to you was fair?”
The farmer replied: “Initially I did. I was unable to bear with the stark reality of the situation. Then I thought to myself that eventually I too had to die. It didn’t matter to me if I was to die of natural causes or fall victim to a bullet in a cross-fire. I decided the best way to live was to do what I could do within the circumstances. And that was to serve my village by taking care of the temple premises diligently, just as my forefathers had done for centuries. So, I stayed on accepting my Life for what it was – imagining each day would be my last one!”
No one can control Life. Life and death are two sides of the same coin. So, any attempt to control Life means to have the ability to control death. Which none of us can. So, instead of thinking of controlling Life, if we can flow in acceptance, we will have found the way to live in peace.
Flowing in acceptance means to surrender yourself to the cosmic design. So, surrender, and wear the Life it weaves for you on your sleeve! 

Life never is what could have been or what it will be

The Deepavali spirit was celebrated by Team India yesterday with a spectacular win in the series clinching One Day International at Bangalore against a very strong Australian team. Harsha Bhogle, while delivering the match summary, said that things could have been different had James Faulkner (116 from 73 balls) stayed on. But Bhogle also quickly added: “Cricket is not about what might have been!
And so it is with Life. Life isn’t about what might have been, what was or what will be. It is what it is! And also, whatever happened or is happening, is always for making us better, stronger and happier!
We all do, however, wish that our Life be in a certain way. But Life doesn’t ever really pan out the way we plan. So we get stuck in a past event – grieving. Or worry about a future event – fearing how it will be. Our definitions of good or bad are made from our own perspectives. So if we wish for something and it doesn’t happen, we think it is a bad deal for us. For instance, Rohit Sharma, the Indian opener who scored a brilliant 209 yesterday, was not selected to represent India in the 2011 World Cup. His coach Dinesh Lad says Sharma was shattered when he was not picked up to play for India in that historic tournament. He was really depressed (at) that time when he was dropped from the World Cup squad. But eventually that proved to be the best thing that happened to him. It made him focus on the game a lot more. ‘I’ll come back into the Indian team with a bang,’ he told me. His game changed completely. He started capitalizing on his starts and became a different player,” Lad told Times of India.
Just the same way, invariably, all the events we thought of as setbacks in our Life have contributed to our evolution – emotionally, physically, professionally, financially and spiritually.
To be sure, if you sit down and review your Life, you will agree that everything that has happened in it so far has made you who you are today. Indeed it never could have been any different from what it was. And really your Life cannot be any different from what it is just now.  
So embrace Life for what it is, love what you have and live it fully! Remember: each moment that you wish your Life could have been different or worry about how it will turn out to be in the future, is a moment you have squandered, a moment that you will have not “lived”!

Being the Light

There’s so much brilliance over this weekend as the Festival of Lights, Deepavali, is upon us. Someone wished us for the festive season saying, “May there be Light”!  We may wonder if such a greeting really means anything or is it plain wordsmithing?
Let me share what I think is the essence of this expression.
Almost all our benchmarks for success are material. Even a festival like Deepavali is about wearing new clothes and lighting up our external environment (sadly polluting it with ghastly sound and smoke). So, while there is every effort to brighten our lives from the outside, there is very rarely, and too little, focus on looking within. Which is why despite our houses being illuminated, despite all the new “things” that we buy to decorate our lives with, there’s still an incompleteness in our hearts. There are many of us who continue to be unhappy, Deepavali after Deepavali, year after year! And our lives continue to be dark – with insecurity, anxiety, worry and fear. The only way to really drive away the darkness in us is to find the light within.
You don’t have to search for that light. You just have to look within and you will find it. But how can you look within? Are you to tear your body up and search for your soul? Now, “looking within” is not an abstract concept. I have learned that when we stop being self-centered and start looking for opportunities to serve, we will have begun the journey inward. All our grooming has been to become successful in Life. So, we look outward all the time. And seek success, fame, wealth, and unfortunately, happiness and peace too, outside of us. While we may find everything else outside, be sure, we won’t find happiness and peace through any of our material pursuits. We will be happy only when we shift the paradigm – when we stop trying to be successful and instead be useful!
A classmate of mine is a great example of one who has shifted this paradigm admirably, and has, possibly, found the light within. While all of us chased ‘normal, remunerative’ careers, Ravi invested himself in serving social causes. He hasn’t ever looked for any material returns for himself in whatever he does and focuses only on goading the lethargic bureaucracy and the corrupt political system in India from inaction to action! Getting things done in India can be discouraging, draining and hopeless. But Ravi powers onward, unflaggingly, with the same intensity that he had when he started, over two decades ago, driving social change. And that, to me, is because of him being selfless. There’s never, it appears, a ‘what’s-in-it-for-me’ question in his Life. That sense of selflessness and purpose is really what “finding the light” and “being it” means!
Each of us can be the light too. And therefore find happiness and inner peace. We don’t have to do much. We just have to stop looking outward and seeking satisfaction with what pleases our senses. We have to start by trying to be useful than wanting to be successful alone. We have to look for ways to serve, than merely say that we deserve.  

Remain untouched at the core, Just Keep Walking…!

When something you value falls apart, don’t let the experience touch your inner core.
In one of the papers this morning I saw the painful statement issued by Jignesh Shah, the former non-executive vice-chairman of MCX, who is in the middle of the Rs.5,600-crore payment imbroglio at NSEL (National Spot Exchange Limited): “The NSEL crisis has destroyed everything that I have worked hard to build over the past two decades. My loss is not just financial but what has hurt me and my family most is the concerted effort to destroy my credibility and trust for which I have lived by all my Life.” Shah’s example is just a case in point. The question here is not who causes a crisis, or a painful situation, but should always be about how can one work his or her way out of the situation. And the path to getting out of a messy or painful situation can be laid more swiftly, more efficiently, only when your inner core remains untouched.
This happens to all of us all the time. We get stopped in our tracks by what someone did to us or said to us. Suddenly we lose all the momentum we had built because we are socked, and shocked, by what has happened. Let’s say your boss says something harsh at work. Or does something to deny you a fair appraisal. If you allow that event or comment to touch your inner core, you will be in grief. You will lose your peace of mind. And your momentum, your energy levels will be impacted. Your mind will force you to keep thinking about that person and that event – so much so that you will be living in that event, and not in the moment. All this happens because you allowed your inner core to be touched, to be stirred.
There’s a way to remain untouched. Which is to focus on what must be done. If it is a case of unfair treatment at work, look for a new job. If a business crisis has rocked your Life, focus on putting the business back on track. If a friendship you value is in disarray, learn to look beyond that relationship. Remember you can’t control how people will behave or how Life will deal with you. Often times in Life, whatever happens to you may seem to be very unfair. But when did Life promise any fair-play?
So let events and people be just the way they are. You simply move on. Don’t pause to mourn or moan about what happened. That is not going to help. What will help is for you to awaken with the pain that the event brings in its wake, refuse to take it into you, and simply move on! Or  Just, as a Johnny Walker label that stares at me from my bar counter says,  Keep Walking…!