Stand up for yourself – for no one else may!!

Never confuse your right to be firm with your need to be forgiving in relationships. In fact, you can be both – firm and forgiving.
There’s a warm and compassionate side to each of us. We are, by nature, willing to forgive people for their transgressions. But often times our softer side is viewed and interpreted as our weakness by people who trample upon our emotions or deny us our freedom or even basic, fundamental, human courtesies. In such situations, it is absolutely fine to stand up for yourself, look the someone who is bullying or harassing you in the eye, and say that you will not take this treatment anymore.
I have learned this from Swami Sathya Sai Baba: “In any relationship between two people, one may well be a cow and the other, a bull. There’s nothing wrong in being either. Each has a role to fulfil and each has something to offer the other. But at any time that the bulls starts taking advantage of the cow’s benevolence, mistaking it for meekness, the cow will be well within its rights to assume the ‘avatar’ of the bull. In taking a stance, in your own interest, there is no right or wrong. Just be righteous. The cow need not perpetrate any acrimony, aggression or animosity. But the cow shouldn’t suffer any of these either.”
In essence, while to make a mistake is human, and to forgive such a mistake too is human, to suffer in silence and sorrow is both unjust and inhuman. It is the biggest hurdle to inner peace and joy. So, don’t confuse being compassionate and being firm. They need not be exclusive. Simply, no matter who it is, don’t let anyone take you for granted or play with your self-esteem. Remember: if you don’t stand up for yourself – chances are, perhaps, nobody else will!

Live – ‘knowing’ you will die!

To understand Life, understand the certainty of death. It is the only thing you can be sure of in this lifetime – that you will die! Once you understand death, you will live fully, intensely, celebrating each moment that you are alive!
The conditioning, however, that all of us have had has led us to fearing death than accepting it. Death is presented to us as something that’s horrible, grave and sorrowful. So, we grown up fearing it. And therefore we don’t really live – for how can you live, forever cowering with fear, of a death that you certainly can’t avoid?
There’s an insane political drama playing out in Tamil Nadu politics where Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch M.Karunanidhi has expelled his older son M.K.Alagiri from the party ostensibly because the latter wished for the death (a charge that Alagiri has denied) of the former’s younger son, M.K.Stalin. The brothers have been sparring publicly for a long time now – to the extent that, especially with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) firmly in power, the public at large hardly bothers about this sibling rivalry or the internal challenges that grip the DMK. But a charge from Karunanidhi saying Alagiri was “wishing Stalin’s death” certainly made Page 1 headlines. What I found interesting was not what the father and the older son were saying, but how calmly Stalin reacted. He said: “Everybody who is born has to die someday.” Political analysts don’t see Stalin’s retort as a study in profundity. Nor do I. I see it simply as the truth – stated aptly, appropriately.
Gandhi before his final journey
Picture Source: Internet
Today is also the day, 66 years ago, when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. In a book being published shortly by Roli Books, titled, “My Experiment with Gandhi”, author Pramod Kapoor says that “Gandhi would often say – ‘Death is a celebration…the body falls and the bird within it flies away. So long as the bird doesn’t die, the question of grief should not arise.’” I believe this is the most profound understanding of, and a very beautiful explanation for, death.
So stop fearing death. Rejoice in the awareness that you have of what the end-game is all about. Celebrate that your soul, your true Self, is non-perishable and that it will soon be free – when death consumes your body and ends your current lifetime. If we can understand this truth about death – and Life – you will live, than merely exist!

Of Krishna the Lord, Krishna the seeker – and bliss!

Whatever you do, do it as an offering to the Universe – from your soul to the cosmos. And you will be at peace with yourself!
T.M.Krishna
Picture Source: Internet
T.M.Krishna continues to amaze me. In a recent interview to Sumana Ramanan of the Open magazine, titled The Argumentative Musician, Krishna has laid bare what he believes in and why he often ends up doing what he does. For instance, at a concert last December, during the famed Chennai music season, Krishna stopped singing an hour ahead of schedule and drove away, much to the chagrin of the organizers and his own rasikasand fans! Opinions flooded the music scene – ranging from how arrogant Krishna had become to his hitting a creative block to the premise that he did so only because it was a free kutcheri(concert). But Krishna told Ramanan: “I had actually reached a point of fulfilment. In that state of repleteness, I felt there was nothing left for me to sing. I may have been able to sing for another hour, but would that have been music…it had nothing to do with the fact that the concert was free…Music is not about delivering a fixed number of hours’ worth of singing, but (it is) about transcending the earthiness of being.” Krishna elaborated further on what drives him: “…I am not doing this (whatever I am doing) for reasons that have anything to do with T.M.Krishna, the performer. I do not even like the title ‘performer’. I am in this because I passionately and insanely believe that music has given me a window into Life that is taking me somewhere…I am not afraid of disappearing from the popular stage.”
For those of you who do not know Krishna well, he, at 38, is regarded as one of Carnatic music’s most outstanding young proponents. His talent is regarded as prodigious and many expected him to walk the predictable path to “glory” in the highly templated Carnatic music industry that thrives on overflowing kutcheris, raving, nodding rasikasand awards and titles being accumulated annually. Perhaps it was Krishna’s personal quest (his seeking the ‘earthiness of his being’), influenced by his schooling with the KrishnamurtBi Foundation of India (founded by renowned philosopher J.Krishnamurti), for finding a deeper meaning to Life, that led him to stop running the “Carnatic rat race”. He stopped playing to the rules long back and has done “crazy” stuff like refusing to sing at paid-for concerts. To many, he’s the enfant terrible of Carnatic music.
I don’t know much about Carnatic music for me to be able to comment on Krishna’s genius. But I firmly believe he’s not being argumentative ever. If anything, he’s spiritually evolved.
Consider what we can learn from him. For one, we are all so conditioned to chasing success – recognition, fame, wealth – in whatever we do, that even if we don’t enjoy what we are doing anymore, we continue to do them because we want to protect our trappings of success, the “fringe benefits” of earning-a-living! In choosing to sing for himself, for his inner joy, not fearing a loss of popularity or demand, Krishna is highlighting the importance of following your bliss. Second, although he hasn’t said so in his interview to Ramanan, Krishna reminds me of what Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the concluding verses of Chapter 9 of the Bhagavad Gita. Here’s my guru Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the relevant verse:
A leaf, a flower, a fruit, or even

Water, offered to me in devotion,

I will accept as the loving gift

Of a dedicated heart. Whatever you do,
Make it an offering to me –
The food you eat or worship you perform,
The help you give, even your suffering.
Thus will you be free from karma’s bondage,
From the results of action, good and bad.

I don’t want to get into the merits or demerits of Karmic theory or the existence or non-existence of God here. The point is very simple. You and I, and Krishna, have been created without our asking for this lifetime. We have been endowed with our own special talent. In Krishna’s case, it is proficiency in Carnatic music (and in writing, as I have come to discover; his book ‘A Southern Music – The Karnatik Story’by Harper Collins was released by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen last month). This Life, therefore is a gift. The talent each of us possesses too is a gift. So, the best way to live the Life given to us is to offer whatever we do to the Universe – freely, without seeking anything in return. When there are no expectations from whatever you do, there can be no agony. And when there is no agony or suffering, you will thrive in your native state of inner peace, joy and bliss! That’s what Krishna of the Bhagavad Gitaprofessed and that’s what T.M.Krishna believes in – and is championing!

Let Go and be Fearless

There is nothing to fear in Life. And, in fact, no one to fear. All you have to ask is – “What am I afraid of?” – and you will be fearless.
Fearlessness comes from a deeper understanding of the Self. Of knowing that everything is transient. Impermanent. This Life, your name, your acquisitions, your fame, your wealth, your relationships and your memories of the Life you have lived – everything, absolutely everything, will become irrelevant, when you die. So, all the feelings of insecurity, anxiety and fear that grip you in everyday Life situations are meaningless. Just let go and accept Life’s transient nature. You too will discover that there’s nothing to be afraid of – and no point in being afraid of anything!
Here’s a popular Zen story on fear that Osho, the Master, used to narrate. A man walking in the night slipped and fell from a rocky path, at the edge of a precipice. Afraid he would fall down thousands of feet, because he knew that just at the edge of the path was a very deep valley, he grabbed hold of a branch of a tree that was growing out of the edge of the precipice. In the darkness of the night all he could see below him was a bottomless abyss. He shouted for help and his own shouts echoed back – there was nobody to hear him or come to his rescue. You can imagine that man, and his night of torture. Every moment there was death below, his hands were becoming cold, he was losing his grip…but he managed to hold on, and as the sun came out he looked down…and he laughed! There was no abyss. Just six inches below his feet there was a rock ledge. He could have rested the whole night and slept well. The ledge was big enough – but instead, because he was afraid of the imaginary abyss and the whole night had been a nightmare.  
Osho says it is entirely up to you whether you want to, metaphorically, cling on to “your branches and spend whole nights in fear” or if you really want to “let go and land on your own feet”. The import here is not to say that you must foolishly plunge into an unknown abyss. What is being said here is that when you can address Life deeply and know that everything that you are afraid of losing, including your Life, will at some point be taken away from you, then you turn fearless and live your Life freely – and fully!
To be sure, fearlessness is not being without fear. In fact, everyone – anyone – will have fear. Fearlessness comes when you can face your fears, and through your understanding of Life, reason with your fears and realize that being fearful is pointless. This understanding will lead you to appreciate Life better – that all that you fear losing will perish including your body, but the real you, your true Self, who you don’t quite think about or relate to, will carry on, as it is immortal and, therefore, fearless!  

Stay engaged with the present when facing Life’s storms

A great way to face any challenge in your Life is to find your center and drop anchor! In other words, it simply means, do not allow the mind to wander into the future with worry or go back to the past in grief or with guilt.
Sometime ago I found myself in a courtroom. I was in the dock, accused of cheating someone. The judge was a very fine man, very methodical, very disciplined. He had a great sense of humor too. His one-liners had everyone in splits – even rival parties presenting their cases in court enjoyed a good laugh. My situation was hardly laughable though. I had no money to repay the creditor who had filed the complaint against me. And it had become apparent that I had to face the consequences of what the law prescribed in such matters. If my petition was dismissed, I was likely to be arrested. And I had nobody in that city who could stand guarantee for my bail application. Even so, I remain engaged with the court proceedings – and heartily enjoyed the laughs that the judge’s comments generated! I sat by the window. It was raining heavily and it was windy too. The rain sprayed on my face and my shoulder, driven by the winds, after landing on the court’s balcony railing. Interestingly, I felt very peaceful as I sat there in that courtroom. The rain peppering my face, the judge’s humorous one-liners, the method to the madness of one judge having to deal with hundreds of cases in a day – all of this left me feeling remarkable and inspired – even if it was ironical I was feeling so, given my predicament!
Metaphorically, and in reality, a storm raged outside of me. But deep within, I felt good, at peace with myself, and engaged in the moment. In that moment, in the now, there was no fear, no anxiety, no worry and no guilt or grief. It was surreal. It was magical.
That’s when I understood the meaning of the phrase, “It is always peaceful in the eye of the storm.” The storms that ravage our lives – a debilitating health condition, a torturous relationship break-up, a business going bust, losing a reputation that’s painstakingly built, the sudden death of someone you love deeply – fill us with worry, grief and suffering. It may seem almost impossible not to worry or to grieve or to suffer. But there lies the best kept secret about intelligent living. In the now, when you are present, and engaged in the moment, there can be no worry. There is no cause for grief. And there isn’t any suffering.
You may wonder how this works. And if this really is true. Let me explain.
The way Life operates is that none of us can control what is happening to us. Life goes on happening. And all we can do is to respond to Life as it happens. Some of the happenings in your Life may shock you and sock you. You can find a million people to blame for your situation or you can even berate yourself for your plight. You can argue with reality – asking why things have happened to you! But be sure that all your fighting, all your resisting, will be completely futile. What I have learned is that Life’s crises are there only to help us find strength from within. That is the only place which is untouched by what goes on outside and that’s where you will be in total peace and feel infinitely secure! The human mind is like a large ship in the ocean of Life. When a storm hits the high seas, an ordinary vessel will be tossed around and may even drown. But modern day ships have stabilizers. They help the ship navigate deftly through rough waters. Similarly, the human mind too can be stabilized by training it to be present in the moment. When it is present in the now, the mind is powerless. The mind works and thrives only in a yet-to-be-born future or in a dead-and-gone past! That’s why worry, grief and suffering don’t affect you in the present moment! And that’s how you, your true Self, can be peaceful, despite the circumstances that you are placed in and despite the storms that will often rip apart your material Life! Finding strength in a crisis situation in Life really means letting go of the past and not worrying about the future – while being aware that everything in Life is impermanent – including Life’s storms!

Accept people for who they are – don’t judge them for what they say!

Change the way you look at people and Life. Fundamentally, it is NOT necessary that all people should understand you.
Don’t expect people to understand you, appreciate you or accept you. Chances are they won’t. And know that it is perfectly fine for them to be that way. A large part of our emotional stress comes when we crave for understanding, appreciation and acceptance. When we offer an opinion or perspective, at home, at work, wherever, we believe it to be a given that our point of view must be understood. In fact, we demand it. We also expect it and feel good when people appreciate our efforts__from something as immaterial as plain praise to a sense of gratitude that people display for actions we may have taken in their interest. And, of course, everyone wants to be recognized and treated with respect and dignity__a social acceptance of sorts__by everyone else. When these expectations are not met, we feel let down. We grieve. And we carry the heavy burden of a certain longing, a sorrow, of a misplaced craving.
There’s a way to set down this burden. Approach people with the awareness that just as you are entitled to your opinion, others are too. Second, have NO expectations from people. You do your part in a relationship well and live with that satisfaction. Don’t expect appreciation or acceptance. Simple. This attitude helps in keeping everyday living uncomplicated and peaceful. Because peace in daily Life is the biggest casualty in the wake of such expectation.
There’s a story from the Life of Adi Sankara (788 CE ~ 820 CE) that I remember. Adi Sankara was always clad in a loin cloth or a dhoti at best. One day a few urchins on the street that he was passing through, who did not know who he was, pelted stones at him and chided him for being “poor” and “robe-less”. Adi Sankara’s disciples were angry and set out to admonish the young boys on the street. But Sankara stopped them and asked them to carry on. One of the disciples was furious that his Master be abused like this and secondly he simply could not comprehend why his Master advocated restraint when all that the boys needed was a sound thrashing. So he asked his Master to explain why he choose to ignore the barbs and the stones. Sankara replied: “To pelt stones at anyone and call people names is the privilege of those young boys and they have exercised it. To accept their stones and barbs or not is our privilege. I have exercised our right not to accept that privilege by choosing not to react and to simply move on!”
Beautiful isn’t it? If we can cultivate this attitude and embed it in the way we approach everyday Life, our inner peace will never get disturbed. This attitude also comes in handy when people accuse you of being hypocritical. I am sometimes asked if I ‘really practice all that I preach’? And at some other times I am told that what ‘I preach’ is NOT ‘applicable in practical everyday Life’. I don’t react. I simply smile and move on. Because I have learnt to have no expectations of understanding, appreciation and acceptance from people. Also, in reality, what I do here, through my daily posts, is to share my learnings from my experiments and experiences with everyday living. I don’t preach. I share in the belief that what worked for me, may help validate someone else’s experience or clarify a point of view in them or, if they choose to disagree with my view, will at least help them be clear about what they don’t want to or must not do in Life! So, what’s the point countering a charge of hypocrisy? People believe people are hypocritical because they don’t believe people in the first place. This is particularly true when people are being judgmental and call someone a hypocrite without wanting to know the full story. And that brings us back to the subject of understanding – or the lack of it in everyday Life! So, the best way to live in peace is to appreciate and accept people for who they are – than for what they say – and to not expect anything from anyone.

Learn to give your Life, Time!

All of us wish we had 28 hour days and 3-day weekends. The truth is, surprisingly, this is possible. Provided we are willing to invest ‘time’ in this wish.
Fundamentally, to achieve this, we must learn to drink from Life’s cup, one sip at a time. And not rush through Life. Agreed that despite our earnings having gone up, and technology having simplified much of our lives, we continue to be faced with a deficit of time. We live in a world where traffic’s getting worse, the home-work-home commute is therefore only getting longer and is a drudgery, meetings are both meaningless and never-ending, targets seem even more unreasonable than they used to, the children are demanding more attention despite their having ‘grown older’ and overall, a sense of racing__from event to event, from crisis to crisis, from chore to chore__ prevails over living! And, of course, weekday mornings are still dreadful.
This, however, is the time to pause, to take a deep breath and go through your morning, day and week, mindfully. This may seem like a stupid, impractical suggestion. But consider it. By running faster and faster, by rushing, you are only going to exhaust yourself. Your energy will remain depleted all day and perhaps all week. Which is all the more reason why you need to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means to focus your attention on whatever you are doing, unmindful of a previous task or an upcoming one. We do just the opposite. While packing the kids away to school, your focus is on your own commute. While on the ride to work, you are already thinking of the 3.30 pm meeting for which you are underprepared. And worry if it will get over in time for you to leave work and get home, because there’s the carpenter coming over at 6.30 pm to fix the wardrobe lock! This prescription, to slow down and yet proceed with focus, isn’t an original one, is definitely not invented by me, nor is it a “cure for our times”. The 12th century Tibetan Buddhist monk, Jetsun Milarepa (1052~1135) had advised thus: “Hasten slowly and ye shall soon arrive.” He championed nimbleness and un-distractedness over rushing, even in those times.
The simple truth about time is that you can have as much time as you want, available to you, provided you are ready to work for and on it. Many of us are armchair wish-makers. We want more time, but we don’t want to make changes to our lifestyles and schedules. We don’t want to analyze our workdays and weeks and decide what’s core and what’s non-core. Without investing time in understanding what’s important and worthy of our time, we can’t expect to find more time in our daily lives!
Get this straight. And know that this aspect about managing your time is non-negotiable. When you do work on time diligently, your Life will become meaningful and an endless experience of ‘leisure’. It was the super-tramp poet William Henry Davies (1871-1940) who wrote in his 1911 poem, ‘Leisure’: “What is this Life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare!” Imagine, if in a packed week, on a crazy  morning, you could just ‘stand and stare’ at people rushing to work! It really is possible. All you have to do is to understand that if you want to have the time of your Life, you must be willing to give your Life, time!