“God is not a person. God is a presence.”

In the name of God and religion mankind remains divided. Only when each of us realizes the ‘godliness’ in us will all this strife cease.
I read two interesting stories in the papers today. Both had to do with “controversial” Tweets posted well-known personalities. One is Ram Gopal Varma, the highly-talented film-maker, who’s presently going through a bad run at the box office. Varma tweeted a purportedly derogatory remark against Lord Ganesha, whose birthday it was on Friday. Varma wanted to know what obstacles Ganesha had removed for his devotees in all these years that they had been worshipping him. Naturally, the devotees, particularly Hindus, were up in arms against Varma. Their angst forced Varma to issue an apology for his insensitive remark. The other Tweet was by DMK leader M.K.Stalin who wished everyone a “Happy Ganesh Chaturthi”. This surprised his followers and his detractors alike. Now, the DMK is a “rational Dravidian party” that does not follow or champion any religion or God. So, some of Stalin’s followers lamented that he was “breaching party protocol and tradition”, while others treated his “social, secular greeting” as a “new beginning” for the party. Stalin, for his part, chose not to comment any further – even as the debate continued on whether he had done the “right thing or not.”
I have nothing to say for or against what either gentleman has had to tweet. My point is this – why do we give so much importance to God and religion? Why do we divide humanity on that count?
Down the ages, all through history, God has been seen only from two angles by mankind. There’s one view which says that God is a person, someone high above – who cannot be seen, but who has to be feared and followed. This is where religion came in and made matters worse. Each religion is basically saying this: if you follow our processes, rituals and practices, we will show you the way to God. And so, for lack of any other option, people follow a religion. And, sometimes, they move from one religion to another hoping to find God – that elusive person who apparently has all the answers and solutions people desperately want! The other view challenges this view and invites us to be rational, to be scientific and to apply common-sense and intelligence. It questions the futility of this ongoing search for God. And those who hold this view have successfully maintained – and often argued – that there is no God. These are the atheists. What the atheists have done further, apart from denying that God is a person, is that they have, without any material evidence, denied the presence of God too. What I have understood, primarily from following the Buddha’s teachings and Osho’s, the Master’s, works is that there is also a third view. And that view says – “God is not a person. God is a presence.”
This is such a beautiful perspective. And I relate to it completely. It invites us to consider that God is not someone, God is an experience. In fact, Zen Buddhism says God is in the stillness, in the silence, in the magic and the beauty of all creation. And Osho says, when you shift your focus from searching for God, to experiencing yourgodliness, you become free. I find great value in that insight. As long as you are searching for God, you remain hostage to religion. Irrespective of which religion you follow, your search for God remains incomplete and you are bound by tradition and rituals. You can’t ask why something is being done. You can’t seek. You must just follow. But, through the flowering of inner awareness – often through practising silence periods or any form of meditation – when you awaken to your godliness, you realize that what you seek is within you. Then religion becomes an avoidable process. And God becomes a personal, direct experience.
As I journeyed through Life, I too ended up searching for God all over the place. I have been through rituals, prayers and tried all religions – and have visited several places of worship. But I finally found God in fellow human beings – who through their kindness and compassion continue to touch my Life in myriad, beautiful ways. I find God in every aspect of creation – in a sunrise, in a raindrop, in the chatter of the birds and in the breeze that soothes me on a hot summer afternoon. I find God in my happiness – in my state of “simply being” irrespective of what circumstance I am facing. This is the way, over the last several years, I have come to experience God – and my godliness! When you realize your godliness, and feel God’s presence in everyone and everything, then you are forever prayerful, forever blissful and forever at peace!

Happiness lies in accepting what is!

You are the happiness that you seek. You are always searching for happiness because you think it is a destination – not who you are!
The other day, a friend remarked that it was impossible to be happy and content in today’s world. “The state of our world and nation, and the state of our roads, are in shambles. To the extent that our lives are not in our control at all. How can one be happy when every condition around us is making us unhappy,” my friend lamented.
That’s precisely how we miss the point. If you start imposing conditions on what is, and say your happiness is subject to those conditions being fulfilled, you will forever be unhappy. You will always feel incomplete. You will be left searching for happiness – and you will never find it! To be happy, you have to do nothing. Just exercise the choice to accept whatever is, the way it is, and you will be happy!
A Zen story explains this beautifully. A man came to a Zen Master and asked, “I would like to become a Buddha.” And the Master hit him hard.
The man was puzzled. He went out and asked the Master’s disciple, “What kind of man is this? I asked such a simple question and he got so angry. He hit me hard! My cheek is still hurting. Is it wrong to ask how to become a Buddha? This man seems to be very cruel and violent!”
And the disciple laughed. He said, “You don’t understand his compassion. It is out of his compassion that he has hit you hard. And he is old, ninety years old; just think of his hand – it will be hurting more than your cheek! You are young. Think of his compassion, you fool! Go back!”
But the man asked, “But what is the message in it?”
And the disciple said: “The message is simple. If a Buddha comes and asks how to become a Buddha, what else is there to do? You can only hit him and make him aware that you are it. If a rosebush starts trying to become a rosebush, it will go mad. Because it is already the rosebush.”
So, this way, Zen teaches us that we are already the happiness, the Buddhahood, that we seek. We may have forgotten – because we have got so attached to our desires, our situations. We have started to identify with all material things and with all physical limitations. We have stopped seeing our true Self – seeing who we really are. Zen says we are in a state of slumber, we have forgotten who we are, that’s all.
Nothing has to be done about this. You have only to remember who you are! That’s where Zen comes in handy. It says stop searching. Simply be. Let things be as they are. Don’t try to control your Life or solve your complex problems which defy a human solution. When you accept things for what they are, the way they are, a peace will arise within you. That peace is what happiness is all about. When that peace becomes abundant in you, when you know how to protect that peace in the wake of everyday pulls and pressures, you experience bliss!

Learn to be yourself and at peace!

Allow people to be just the way they are. And you be yourself. This is the only way to be peaceful with the world around you.
If you examine your feelings about others, especially about those who can’t get along much with, you will find that you are continuously wishing they are different from who they are. And this wishing serves up enough grief to make you feel miserable – about the other person and about yourself! But your wishing that someone is different or behaves better is of no use. Because if anyone has to realize it, it is the other person. And as long as that person does not realize this, and does not change, you are going to experience this person only this way. And, resultantly, you are going to continue to feel miserable too. So, the wisest response in any situation when someone else’s behavior is causing you discomfort and agony, is to simply let the other person be. And you too just be – yourself.
A friend, who’s over 25 years older to me, shared his experience of being in a similar situation with me recently. My friend’s brother-in-law and my friend had entered into a property-sharing arrangement several years ago. As time passed, the brother-in-law felt, for no evident reason, that he had been short-changed in the deal. But instead of addressing the issue head-on with my friend, he started to disrupt the peace in the family. For one, he started to ill-treat his wife (who is my friend’s sister). Then he started to spread canards about my friend in the family. Further, he started becoming abusive of my friend in public. Many attempts by my friend to understand what could be the issue were stone-walled by the brother-in-law. For months on end, this “stand-off” between the two continued. Finally, unable to bear the pain – and the misery – one day, my friend confronted his brother-in-law. The brother-in-law admitted that there was an issue – and it had to do with the way “he was cheated in the property transaction”. My friend says that he had no inkling this was the issue. Once he heard this, my friend spontaneously agreed to transfer the entire property in the brother-in-law’s name. “The problem ended right there. In a nanosecond,” recalled my friend.
But a different problem now arose. My friend’s wife said he (my friend) had been “stupid and foolish” to simply give up control over such a valuable asset. She demanded to know why my friend had acted hastily and why she and their children had not been involved in the decision. My friend says he explained his stance thus: “When we entered into the property-sharing agreement, it was a deal that was defined in black-and-white, in unambiguous terms, and agreed upon by both parties. By making it now seem he was short-changed, my brother-in-law is insinuating that I have cheated him. It is not in my nature to cling on to money or assets or wealth at the cost of my name and the family’s peace. He wanted the asset. And unless I gave it to him, he was not going to be at peace. And unless I gave him what he wanted, I was not going to be at peace. I was not foolish. I was just being myself – getting for myself what I valued most – my peace!”
Our lives and experiences with people around us need not be as dramatic. But in each situation that we are exposed to unreasonable people and their pettiness – by way of their tactics and attitudes, it is best to not try to change them. We can’t. Some people know what they want very well. And they will not rest until they get it. In their drive to get what they want, they will trample on people around them, they will vitiate the atmosphere and they will puncture people’s self-esteem. Reason, logic and common-sense will not work with them. It is best to just let such people be. By doing so, I am not even remotely suggesting that you be a door-mat and allow yourself to be pissed on and passed over. No. Turn around, make your point and make sure you are understood and you are being yourself. In my friend’s case he decided to give up control over the property. You decide what ‘being yourself’ means to you. If you are in my friend’s position, and if you would want to fight for the property, please do. By all means. The bottom-line is please don’t suffer someone and their machinations. Or agonize over others’ behaviour. Learn to push such people back, put them in their place and you be yourself and at peace!

How you feel depends on how you see, and think about, Life!

Nothing ever is as bad as we make it out to be. Every moment happens just the way it was designed. It is the way we perceive each moment or event in our lives that dictates how we feel about it.

For instance, some of us perceive a dark room as an opportunity to let fear take over. How would a visually impaired person deal with darkness? Or we eat at a restaurant and lament about the quality of the food; we carry the aftertaste of that experience all day, cribbing relentlessly. How would a person who has been starving for days have reacted to the food had you bought it for her? A malfunction in your car’s air-conditioning makes it unbearable for you to ride in it. Wouldn’t someone who travels by a bus or local train daily, packed like a sardine in a can, consider a ride in your car a pleasurable experience? One sure way to change perceptions is to metaphorically ‘refresh’ the situation almost the way you would press the ‘refresh’ icon on your browser. Compel yourself to consider the positives in it each time you are confronted with an agonizing situation. Watch how your feelings transform magically, like your webpage gets refreshed instantaneously allowing a new newsfeed (if on facebook!) to show up.

It is not without reason that we have all be taught the adage, ‘every cloud has a silver lining‘! All perception is relative. Change the way you see, and think about, something. Be sure, you will change the way you feel about (most things in) Life!

Postpone worrying, not happiness

Learning not to worry does not mean you are irresponsible. It means you are sensible!
Worrying is a dangerous occupation. It robs you of the present. One simple way to learn to avoid worrying is to know, to understand, to accept that whatever is due to happen will happen. No matter what. Your worrying about something is not going either make it happen or prevent it from happening.
As you grow and evolve, chances are you will learn this fine art of not worrying. But people around you will not necessarily be at your same level, on the same wavelength. They will keep reminding you that because you are not worrying about something, a grave misfortune is due to follow. Or they will chide you for being irresponsible. Please don’t pander to such views. Worrying cripples you and induces fear. Not worrying is not being irresponsible. In fact, when you stop worrying about something and focus, you will find ways to deal with that something.
Most of us postpone happiness because we are busy worrying. But try this when a worry arises in you the next time. Examine the worry intensely. Ask yourself if your worrying about that specific situation is likely to solve it. Obviously, as you will be quick to realize, it is not. So, do the next best thing – postpone the worry. And concentrate on doing something more productive with your time. Do this over and over again. Day after day. In some time, for sure, you will be happier than you have ever been.

A Sufi parable and a Sunday lesson

Don’t identify yourself with your problems and feelings. Stay detached. And you will be in peace.

Junaid, a famous Sufi mystic, was in the market-place with his disciples. He always coached his disciples using real-Life situations.

A man was dragging his cow by a rope. Junaid walked up to the man and said, “Wait!”
He then told his disciples: “Surround this man and the cow. I am going to teach you something.”
The man stopped obeyed Junaid  and stopped. He was also interested in what he was going to teach these disciples and how he was going to use him and the cow.
Junaid asked his disciples: “Who is bound to whom? Is the cow bound to this man or is this man bound to this cow?”
“Of course,” the disciples said, “The cow is bound to the man. The man is the Master, he is holding the rope, the cow has to follow him wherever he goes. He is the Master and the cow is the slave.”
And Junaid said, “Now, see, what happens.” He took out a pair of scissors and cut the rope – and the cow escaped!
The man ran after the cow, and Junaid told his disciples, “Now look what is happening! Now you see who is the Master; the cow is not interested at all in this man – in fact, she is escaping.”
The man was very angry. He asked Junaid: “What kind of experiment is this?”
But Junaid was busy explaining the learning to his disciples: “And this is the case with your mind too.
All the nonsense – your memories, fears, anxieties, grief, guilt, all that and more – that you are carrying inside is not interested in you. You are interested in it, you are keeping it together somehow – you are becoming mad in keeping it together somehow. Only you are interested IN it. The moment you lose interest, the moment you understand the futility of it, it will start disappearing; just like the cow, it will escape.”
This beautiful Sufi story teaches us the power of detachment and the futility in identifying with situations and emotions. The more we identify, the more we will suffer. When we fail at something, for instance, we are quick to label ourselves as a failure. Wrong. Failure is an event. It is not a person. Similarly, you make a mistake. It is an event. Don’t identify with the mistake by feeling guilty. Just learn your lesson from the mistake, from the experience, drop the guilt and move on. It’s all a mind-game at the end of the day. The more importance you give to what your mind is saying, it will lead you and hold you hostage. The moment you disregard your mind, it will, like the cow in Junaid’s story, stop leading you. And you will then be free and at peace!  

A lesson in ‘trusting Life’ from an inspiring mother

Trust Life! Know that if you have been created, you will be cared for, looked after and provided for!
Malvika Iyer (L) and Hema Malini Krishnan (R)
Last evening we heard Malvika Iyer speak for the first time! Malvika – remember, I had written (some weeks back) about this young lady with an unbeatable spirit who is also a bilateral amputee – touched our hearts with her story. She left everyone in the audience with the strong message, personifying it in every sense, that the only disability anyone can have is a bad attitude. She attributed all her strength to her mother Hema Malini Krishnan, who, she says, has never made her feel deprived or disabled in any manner. “At home, I was never treated as if there was something missing in my Life, although I don’t have both my hands. I was raised as any other teenager would be in any other home. My mother always told me that I must pursue whatever I believe in and never once did she say, ‘but you can’t do this because you don’t have hands’,” says Malvika. So, naturally, the audience was in awe of Malvika for sure, but they were even more keen to hear Hema speak.
Hema finally obliged. She epitomizes trusting the Universe, the ‘Creator’ as she says, trusting Life, implicitly. “When the bomb blast happened in 2002 that took away Malvika’s hands and changed our lives completely, indeed, we were gripped with fear of the unknown. But I was sure that we will make it. Malvika was just 13 then. But I believed that she would lead a normal Life. Though at that time, her legs were also badly injured. People ask me where my courage and conviction came from. Simple – my point is that if we have been placed in a challenging situation by Life, we will also be given the means – physical, financial, spiritual – to deal with it. I simply trusted the Creator. And I went with the flow. People often ask me what will happen of Malvika after me. And I again answer that I am only an instrument to help Malvika. I am here for a fixed tenure. When my turn is over, Life will arrange another instrument. I know this will happen. I trust the Creator. I have learned to accept what I have been given.”
Everyone in the audience was moved by Hema’s perspective. Her faith is unwavering. And this must be our learning too. 
Most of our worries and anxieties come from wondering how things will turn out in our lives. We survey our own limitations – which are anyway imagined and never logically proven – and conclude that something or the other is impossible. Our perceived impossibilities dictate our attitude. Which is why we are sulking, brooding, complaining and grieving about our lives. Even for a moment, we don’t wish to acknowledge that there’s a higher intelligence that powers the Universe. Our education makes us believe that we are intelligent and creation is dumb. So we ignore the biggest miracle that we are born human, without our ever asking to be created or born, we ignore the fact that the whole, magnificent, inscrutable Universe has been created, by this higher intelligence, ahead of us and we ignore this lifetime’s blessing to explore and experience creation’s myriad miracles. All we are obsessed with is our view of our problems and our view again of our inability to solve those problems. Nothing can be deemed as more foolish an approach to living.
Every time you feel despondent over mundane, or lesser challenging, situations, think of Hema’s trust in the Universe, in her ‘Creator’, that makes us accept her child’s special condition and yet encourages her to inspire Malvika to live a full, complete Life with no limits. Every time you are complaining that you don’t have this or that, think of your attitude as your biggest limitation, your disability. Think of Malvika, who doesn’t have hands but has the zest, the will and spirit in her to live a Life without limitations! Fundamentally, we must learn, despite all our education, not to intellectualize Life. We simply can’t. Life has a mind of its own. And we must simply trust it. There are only two ways to approach Life. If there’s a problem that your education, logic or science can solve, stop worrying about the problem – because it can be solved. And if you are dealing with a problem that your education, logic and science cannot solve, stop worrying about the problem again – because you cannot solve it! Simple. What you cannot solve, trust Life to solve it. And trust Life to give you the strength to deal with the problem if it can’t be solved.
If we pause a moment and look around we will find that our lives are blessed compared to all that people are facing and enduring around us. When you appreciate and value the blessing called this lifetime, you will start living – and you too will start trusting Life.

Stop complaining, rejoice in the beauty of Life

If you stop complaining, you can see the magic and beauty of Life! 
Having to use auto-rickshaws in Chennai is no easy task. Most auto-rickshaw drivers lack sensitivity. They are rude. They ply only when you agree to pay over the meter. And almost all of them violate every single traffic rule – they break traffic signs and are sure to enter one-ways from the opposite direction! Over a period of time, I have stopped fighting (with) these guys. I greet them with a polite thank you when they stop in response to my call. I begin the conversation saying, “You turn on the meter and I’ll pay you over that amount when I alight at my destination.” As I engage the vehicle for the journey, I do insist that the auto-rickshaw driver goes per my directions and follows all traffic rules – including not speaking on the mobile phone. Nine times out of 10 this approach works. The only time I fail to get an auto-rickshaw driver to buy in is when he is headed in different direction from where I want to go.
This morning, as I flagged down an auto-rickshaw, the driver went past me and stopped in front of a couple who too wanted to engage him. They were within ear-shot of me. I could make out that the driver was haggling with them for a fixed fare as against plying per the meter. The driver refused to take them on board. Instead he backed up and came to me. I went about the conversation the way I normally did. I was calm and firm. The driver agreed to drop me to my destination. And, surprisingly, refused the tip over the metered fare saying, “Saar, I normally get people who refuse to pay me anything extra. Since you started by thanking me and offered to pay me extra, I want to thank you for being nice to me. Please pay me by the meter only.”
This approach has helped me transform not just the way I experience auto-rickshaw drivers. It has also helped me stop complaining about things around me, and in my Life, that I am currently incapable of fixing.
It is so true in India that we have millions of things to complain about. The state of our roads, the power situation, the garbage on the streets, the insensitivity of road-users that compounds our traffic woes, the mosquitoes, the rate of crime, the attitude of law enforcement agencies – these are among the several issues that affect us gravely, and in the face, on a daily basis. And, of course, if you are in Chennai, the auto-rickshaw drivers are sure to leave you irritated and fuming! As I started using auto-rickshaws more frequently, and as I found a way to deal with them efficiently, I found myself complaining less. About everything. I realized that when we have a problem with a situation, we must either fix it – if we can – or simply keep quiet.
Complaining doesn’t help. It only increases our stress levels and makes us bitter with Life. Much of the rage and insensitivity that we see on Indian roads is a result of pent up anger that comes from incessant and unresolved complaining. People who go on complaining about this or that or the other are never at peace. When we are not at peace with our world, and with ourselves, we cannot see the magic and beauty of Life. To be sure, there is beauty in every context or situation in Life that is available for us to see. It is available 24 x 7. Amidst all the ruthlessness we see around us, there is a lot of kindness and compassion which is still there. For all the disrepair that we human beings cause our cities, the sun and the moon and the stars still continue to rise and shower us their grace and brilliance; the birds continue to chirp and make music despite all the cacophony below. But, of course, we will be able to see all this beauty, experience it and rejoice in it, only when we stop complaining.