Being human, not being religious, is the way to finding your God

Stop being humanly religious and instead be religiously human.
Religion, at best, is the path, not the destination. If religion could have helped us find God, all of us, you, me, everyone, should have met God and got Her autograph. Why is it that only few have seen God, fewer have experienced God, only a miniscule have KNOWN God and maybe, just a handful, know that THEY ARE God? That’s because, a large mass of humanity is religious, while a minority is spiritual.
To be sure all religions, and there are over 300 of them globally, champion God-realization. And promise the path to God. Not that they are wrong. But we, the followers, have become so obsessed with the path, not even the journey mind you, that we have come to imagine that being religious IS knowing God. To be religious is to be dogmatic, persistently ritualistic, about a faith. The only faith worth being religious about is being human. Most of humanity, however, while obsessing over religion, has completely forgotten what it means to be human. Take the case of Republican Jon Huntsman, who once was in the race for the Amercian Presidential nomination. A principal__political, not principled__charge against him was that he was raising two adopted daughters from other religions: one a Chinese Buddhist and the other an Indian Hindu. Does it really matter? The color of our skin and the nature of a faith that has been__like our birth__thrust upon us, without our asking for it, without choice to us, is not who we are. We are all human. Period. And we are not divided by race, nationality, faith and such as we imagine it to be. We are all one. Period. All of us have the same 5.5 liters of blood. And it is all red in color. All of us breathe the same Life source. What I exhale you breathe. And what you exhale I breathe. When I can breathe in what you breathe out, and live, why can’t I raise a child that happens to have embraced the same faith as you? If I can, why can’t Jon Huntsman? Huntsman and his wife have seven children, including Gracie Mei, 15, who was abandoned at a Chinese vegetable market at two months of age, and Asha Bharati, now 9, who was left to die on an Indian village dirt road the day she was born. A hands-on dad, Huntsman speaks to Mei in Chinese and is encouraging little Asha to learn about and appreciate her Indian culture and Hinduism. Had Huntsman got his party’s nomination and gone on to win the race to the White House, America would sure have shown the world what it means to be human__not just a Democrat or Republican.
Take also the case of a lady who is seeking an alliance for her daughter ‘within the same faith’, despite hating, from the bottom of her heart, the inhuman rituals of her faith that are perpetrated on girl children__a crude form of female circumcision__because she ‘does not know how people outside her faith are’. What would you call people who claim to be upholders of a faith that indulges in an act of violence against girls, and that too innocent children? We could call them terrorists. Terrorism and terrorists don’t belong to one religion. Anyone who kills humanity, kills Life, in physical or spiritual form, is a terrorist. Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), American sci-fi author, puts it so aptly: “If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.”

So true. Let me hasten to clarify that I am neither for atheism nor against religion. I am pleading for us all to just be human. And it begins with each one of us. We don’t have to adopt abandoned children, if we don’t want to, to do this. We don’t have to stop practicing our individual faiths to do this. We just have to stop clinging on to anything that divides us__race, nationality, color or religion. Instead, let’s celebrate being human. And let’s do that without fail, every moment of our lives, from here on__religiously! Believe me, that’s when you will find, just as I have, God!

Say NO when you want to say NO!

In any situation speak what your heart tells you to. Not what your mind recommends you to.
This will ensure that you don’t leave any situation in Life untouched by your perspective and you live your Life on your terms. Happily. Let’s understand this better. We are forever saying no when we must be saying yes. And saying yes when we must be saying no.
Take an example. You visit someone. And your host asks for coffee, tea or beverages. You wouldn’t mind a coffee. But you end up saying no. Here’s another one. Your boss asks you if it is fine for you to stay back after work to discuss the upcoming budget meetings. You know you have promised to drive the kids around and buy them ice-cream today. You actually want to say no, but you end up saying yes. Right from these simple, often banal, situations to more important, Life-related choices, we are making uncalled for compromises. This is why many of us are perpetually unhappy. Think about it. A large part of your Life has been spent pleasing others__a father, mother, siblings, in-laws, bosses, children, neighbors. You have become a ‘pleasing slave’__one who is addicted to pleasing, being nice, others at the cost of one’s own happiness. It is an addiction. It is suicidal. Resultantly, you are not living your Life. You are just suffering. Stop this nonsense. Now. If you want to work in way that you feel enriched, fulfilled and productive, say what you are feeling, not what is merely ‘appropriate’ in the given situation or context.
We used to work with a client. A large corporate here in India. Their CEO, a wonderful human being, is personally very close to us. We worked with that company as consultants for over a decade. But in those years, we had become part of the furniture in their organization, we had stopped adding value, because we had stopped speaking up, preferring to be “nice” to the CEO who, effectively, is a very poor manager. Finally, some years ago, we quit that engagement. A few weeks ago, the CEO approached us through another common professional source, asking if we would be interested in engaging with the company again. In the period when have not been engaged with the company, the CEO had helped us with many challenges we had been faced with in Life. Yet, despite our deep gratitude to this CEO, we declined to re-engage. The CEO called me. And expressed his displeasure at our refusal. I replied: “I must confess this may be coming across to you as if we are professionally arrogant. But I want you to know Sir that if we don’t operate from our inner core, from joy, we can’t create value in your organization. And your style of working is not compatible with ours. Hence we will not be happy. Being happy is critical to our living. We want to be alive to each moment, not dying, feeling suffocated in an environment such as the one you lead.” I said this with a straight face. It must have been devastating for this CEO perhaps to hear this. But he later sent me a text saying, he appreciated my being honest. Another friend, a world-class entrepreneur, who I had added on my personal Facebook page, started using my wall for promoting his brands. I ‘unfriended’ him on Facebook and sent him a mail saying while I appreciate his genius (he is one), I do not quite accept his treating my personal space as his commercial billboard and also told him that his brands don’t need any of these small-time publicity gimmicks. He wrote back, after several weeks of silence, how much he valued my views.
So, when you speak up and share what your heart is experiencing, you not only enhance your happiness quotient, you also create value in your circle of influence. Now choose: do you want to be in a constant ‘pleasing-mode’ and so be always unhappy or do you want to live happily forever? It’s a no-brainer!

Learn, unlearn from failures and can them!

Welcome failures. Embrace defeats. Celebrate losses. And learn from each of them!
When you have lost, failed and have been defeated, you have nothing more to protect, cling on to or fight to save. You are free. This freedom is what will give you wings. You are now entitled to your privacy. The world doesn’t want failures. So you are left alone. This is the golden hour then. Instead of grieving that no one wants you, experience this moment of liberation. Use this time alone to think, re-think, learn, unlearn, review and to re-energize yourself and your game.
This doesn’t come easy. You will be tempted to wallow in self-pity. It is comforting always to grieve and sulk than to get up, dust yourself and walk. But by brooding over what is over, you are only punishing yourself. Instead forgive yourself for what has happened and how you played. The truth is unless you forgive, unless you let go of that situation in your mind, you cannot move forward. This applies to any situation. You lost a business deal. You lost money. You lost a friend to a misunderstanding. Someone stabbed you in the back or you were let you down. In almost of these situations you respond, subconsciously, saying, “How dare so-and-so do this to me?” Instead respond with a daring to be happy with the situation, with the person that caused the situation, with yourself. Daring to be happy is an uplifting, appropriate and courageous response. It is proof that you have chosen to be happy despite the situation. Whoever said that a failure or loss must be met with unhappiness? It is just the way we have conditioned ourselves to be so far. Break free from such deceiving conditioning.
Here are some reasons why you should be happy in lost or losing situations: Because you have nothing more to lose. Because you have so much to learn from your defeat. Because you have the opportunity to challenge destiny and try winning one more time. Because you have the option of being happy. Because defeat is inevitable in any pursuit in Life. Because defeat, like winning, is impermanent.
Choosing happiness over sorrow, in the face of defeat or failure, does not mean lack of aspiration or lower self-esteem or lacking in will power or failing to reflect and learn. It only means while summoning your will power, when reviewing and learning, when drawing on your self-esteem, you are choosing to do it with a positive frame of mind__being happy__than in grief. So, in whatever situation you find Life has placed you currently, don’t go by your past conditioning. Once you learn from them, can and junk your failures. As the famous campaign for Coke goes, “Open Happiness”!

Be a responsible parent than a possessive one!

Give your children strong values and teach them how to fly.
As a parent, these are your only two responsibilities. Beyond this, they need nothing from you. The tragedy with most parents is they try to define, decide and dictate the lives their children must live. Resultantly, in their impressionable teens, when they develop a certain independent thinking process and feel empowered through it, children revolt against this repression. Generation after generation, it is the same story.  It is not that they don’t want to respect you or don’t appreciate your perspective. It is just that they want their space, they want to be left alone, to discover for themselves from experience__whether good or bad is immaterial to them__what it means to live Life on their terms.
To be sure, you__and I__lived Life pretty much the same way. Through our teens we have also revolted when denied permission, or done stuff secretly, or we sulked in protest. So, does it make any sense for us to grieve that our children behave with us that way today when we are behaving pretty much the same way as our parents did?  The urge to control the lives of our children comes from our tendency to imagine and from an overzealous sense of overprotection. We don’t want our children to get hurt. And we don’t want them to ‘re-live’ the, often banal, lives we have led or ‘go through’ our kind of, often difficult, Life! But why? Unless a child falls down from a bicycle how will she learn the need to balance herself well? Unless he burns his finger playing with a lit candle, how will your child learn the properties of fire?
Going beyond the bringing up stage, age 0~10, when you have a certain, more intensive role as a parent to provide and protect, recognize that your children are completely different, totally unique individuals than you. Treat growing up kids as kids and they will behave like kids__choosing to be always be childish and irresponsible over being prudent. Treat them like adults and they will behave like adults__intelligently, with maturity and grace. The most efficient way in which you can raise children in their teens through young adulthood is to be their best friends first and parents later. Consider this: you have already parented them; giving them, among all other things, a good set of values and guiding principles. Most children therefore in good, educated families are raised with the right set of values. How is it that sometimes you begin to wonder why these kids find difficulty in “continuing to be good”__at home__in the second decade of their lives? It is not that the children have stopped being good. The truth is we have stopped being good parents. We have become obsessed with their safety, their security, their welfare__so much so that we have stopped trusting them. The biggest casualty is trust. Any teenager__just like you and me in those years__will have a crush on someone or will smoke or will drink or will visit a porn site. It is not that the child has a devious design or desire to revolt at this point that is taking her through these experiences. It is her bewilderment with the world, her urge to discover and ‘sample’ all that’s on offer on the world’s menu card. And unless she considers and ‘samples’ all how will she ever be able to choose? When you react to this natural curiosity unnaturally, with the view that it is an avoidable indulgence, when you express shock, embarrassment, grief and anger, at your child’s “transgression”, you are basically telling your child that you don’t trust her. Nothing can wreck a child’s self-esteem more than knowing that her parents don’t trust her. Once that trust threshold is breached, then the child, with all the raw energy it can summon, wants to take you on. Either openly or covertly. And so the famed generation gap, that we once cursed in our teens, reappears in our lives, in our homes.

The right way to deal with your soon-to-be-young-adult teen is to give him or her wings to fly. Have conversations. Honest conversations. Tell them what you learnt from doing the same stuff that you see them wanting to do. Tell them to go ahead do it themselves. But invite them to share notes. Don’t feel embarrassed talking about sex or about liquor or smoking or about anything ‘adult’ with your children. That’s why being a friend to them is critical__being open, available and inviting__always. Remember if you want your children to turn out well, the best way is to not make the decisions for them: right from what they eat to what they wear to what they want to do in and with their lives. This does not mean you should not express your opinion. By all means do that. Just don’t decide for them. Teach them what’s right and what’s wrong, don’t force them to agree with you on either. Teach them forgiveness, don’t insist they do. Teach them the value of money, but don’t demand that they avoid taking risks. Teach them to love, care and be good, don’t expect that they immediately will. Basically, don’t try to live their lives. Trust them and yourself that they are your children. They will be fine. Keep reminding them that the doors to your home and heart are always open for them, 24×7, so that when they do want to come back to share, to confess, to catch up, to just cuddle up, they are always welcome. Being a responsible parent is a good and important part of intelligent living! Responsible parenting means grooming and leading happy, young adults to take over from you at home!!

Eliminate the wanting to be in peace and to be free!

To have wants is not what hurts us. To keep wanting does.
Desire by itself is normal. You see a beautiful woman and you say, “Wow!” That is a normal reaction. If you said, “Gee, what nonsense?” that would be abnormal. You see the waiter at a restaurant taking away your plate, without asking you, while there’s still some food you are finishing over a conversation. Quite obviously, you will want that plate to stay. If you said, ‘By all means, thank you!’, while you were still intent on eating, well, that will be abnormal. So, as long as we live, wants will arise. Who doesn’t want more money? Or a more fulfilling relationship with a companion? Or children to behave well? Or bosses to be more empowering? Or who doesn’t want more comfort in Life __ a bigger apartment, a bigger car, business class travel?
Wants are not lethal. Fueling your imagination basis the want is what is dangerous. You keep thinking about that woman, night and day, and your Life will become miserable. You keep expecting your boss to become more nurturing and dignified, when he clearly is a tyrant, is making your own work Life a drudgery. You continuing to think of a bigger car, pining and lusting for it, when you can’t afford one, is sure to depress you. Don’t, therefore, try to eliminate desire. Eliminate the thinking that continues to dwell on that desire. Eliminate the wanting. Move on.
This does not mean you should not be ambitious. There’s nothing wrong in wanting a more successful, profitable, happy future. But when you have an ambition like that, a vision, a goal, go to work on it. Ambition always is a call for action. Merely wanting, with no follow through action, is a surefire way of inviting suffering in Life. Know also that desires are also contagious. One will lead to another. The big car in your driveway, the woman in your bed, the properties in your name, the money in your account, the desire for more and more will create more and more wanting. Endlessly. And that means more suffering.

Legendary playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856~1950) says in his 1905-released four-act drama, ‘Man and Superman’, “There are two tragedies in Life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” The long third act of the play is Don Juan in Hell and consists of a philosophical debate between the play’s lead character Don Juan and the Devil. Shaw’s play’s third act covers much ground on the debate between desiring and not getting what you want. But the key learning here for us is that we have a choice of journeying through Life, hopping from one want to another or moving from one joy to another. To kill the wanting process, all you need to do is to simply interrupt the thinking that follows a want. Interrupt it with either action to go after what you want or with action to stop the wanting. In either case, replace the wanting with a simple ‘Do I need it now or can I do without it?’ question, and believe me, all will always be well! You will always end up being happy, in joy, with what you have, than live suffering, wanting! Try this test on the next desire that pops up in your head. It works! 

Make a difference before your Visa for this lifetime expires

Never conclude that you are too small to make a difference.
A lot of the problems we face as individuals, as nations or as a world today can be solved if only each of us understands the value of our contributions. To be sure, there is no problem that’s unsolvable in this world. But solutions don’t get found or implemented because we are steeped in scarcity thinking. “What can I, who am a small fry, do about this?” is the most debilitating question we can ask ourselves.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzing Gyatso, often quotes an African proverb that says, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.” He should know. Because for the last several decades he has been, in exile, leading the Tibetans’ right to self-determination against an oppressive Chinese government, and has now come to represent the universal right to freedom and human dignity. He lives by this credo: “As long as space will exist and there will be need to alleviate the suffering of living things, may I be around, may I be useful.” It is a philosophy worth internalizing.
Look around you. See the waste, the garbage being generated, even as the ecology is being senselessly destructed, every moment that we humans inhabit the planet. See the pain and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in just your neighborhood, they are dying of disease, loneliness, hunger and emotional trauma. See the values-crisis that the world is grappling with. It is not just the economy that is struggling. The way we live has become so self-centered and irresponsible. It is time for action. We must be inspired by the girl on the beach who continues to throw the star fish back into the ocean so that they can live and believes that to each one that she throws back, she’s making a difference. (Watch the video here of this beautiful story!). On a spiritual plane, the Masters say, when even one member of a family, looks inward and finds a deeper meaning to Life, there’s a ripple effect on everyone connected. The whole family begins to radiate the positive energy and starts seeing abundance and opportunity in everything. On a practical plane, if you start behaving more responsibly __ for instance, stopMping the use of plastic, not drinking and driving, maybe ride a bicycle instead of driving to work, reaching out and helping someone in need__you will have made a difference. So look around you, see what’s within your reach, in your control and work on it.
We are all on a single-entry, limited tenure Visa on Planet Earth. The key is, when we pass on, we must be able to answer the following questions: “As long I was on the planet, was I useful? Did I make a difference?” The Dalai Lama and the girl in the video can answer ‘yes’ to those questions. Can you?

The enduring relevance and power of Truth and Ahimsa

Truth and Non-Violence are the only two real assets that you possess. Nobody can take these away from you. No recession can erode its market value. They are eternal, importantly, practical, assets that are as relevant today as they were in Mahatma Gandhi’s time.
In fact, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an ordinary barrister at law, a man as trapped in worldly affairs as you and I are, transformed to become ‘mahatma’ (great soul) because he discovered these assets within him. These two transformational tools that are in our arsenal but we don’t deploy them because we think they are outdated concepts that don’t work. Wrong. I have lived, experienced and learned to report that they work. Big time. And are the only two weapons or resources that we need to survive the vicissitudes of Life.
Truth is not just about seeing, saying and doing the right thing. In fact, ahead of that, comes the realization that all Life is equal. This is the whole, the absolute truth. In front of this truth, all else pales in significance, everything is stripped naked. Apply this truth in real Life, in today’s world. You are plagued by worries of job security, of not getting a visa, of an unknown, scary future because you are out of job, of death because you are terminally ill. Now ask yourself why do you want this worry to cede, to go away? So that you can live in peace. To do what? So that you can die in peace. Now, therefore, if there is birth, you agree, you know, that death will happen sooner or later. If all of us have to eventually die, and we know that is inevitable in the future, why worry? Why wonder if we will have a job, a marriage, health and so on? Why not chooseto live in peace even now? The truth is that whoever you are comparing yourself is alsohuman. And so will eventually die too. When you awaken to the reality that all Life is equal, you start valuing Life and begin to live in the present.

Non-Violence is not just the absence of physical violence as Gandhi discovered. He found, understood, practiced and taught it as ‘ahimsa’. Which when understood from the original Sanskrit implies that ‘when all violence in the human heart subsides, the state that is arrived at is intense love’. None of us is physically violent at most times. We don’t go about hitting each other or killing people. But there is so much violence in our hearts. We hate people, we hate attitudes, we hurl abuses at each other, we swear on the roads, we wish pain and suffering to those who cause them to us. All this, Gandhi classified as violence. And pointed out that when we are filled with so much metaphorical, verbal, emotional violence__hatred__how can we go to our native state of love? From the neighbor who insensitively parks his car outside your garage to the colleague who plays petty politics at work to the tyrant boss who does not regard merit to the government official who demands a bribe from you to the guys on the street who eve tease your daughter, we are hating someone, somewhere, all the time. When so much instinctive, intuitive hatred fills our Life, where is the scope for love to prevail?
Gandhi was inspired by the Buddha’s teaching that ‘when one person hates another, it is the hater who falls ill__physically, emotionally, spiritually.’ Gandhi employed these two tenets of Truth and ‘Ahimsa’__intelligently to first transform himself and then the world. He called this process ‘satyagraha’__which means nothing but ‘truth in action’, and is certainly not some vernacular jargon for describing a protest methodology. Gandhi proved through practice that you can fight any battle, even an army, with just these two weapons. To be sure, he did notsay that we must not fight for our rights, for what is right or for justice. He only said that we fight it with non-violent means and while upholding the truth of our creation as equals. He explained this, in his context, thus: “I do not hate the domineering Englishmen as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. But I can and do hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India.” Gandhi’s philosophy, then and now, remains a game changer.

I have learnt the futility of imagining that we are all created different__and grieving and suffering from comparing, from pining and from staying rooted to an I-don’t-have mentality. I have learnt that violence in the heart is more destructive, more lethal than all the arsenic and all the RDX in the whole world__it burns you day in and day out, and leaves you emotionally charred. I used to be called ‘chiefscreamer’ at work (my colleagues invented this, punning on my work title that says ‘chiefdreamer’) and my choicest vitriolic abuses were even compiled as AVIS-isms by some of my more creative colleagues. But when I discovered the potency of ‘ahimsa’, and practiced it, I now realize that getting angry is an option, not a necessity. And when I do get angry and agitated, an inner alarm goes away, calling me back to attention and mindfulness. These two tenets that Gandhi lived and taught have transformed me and my Life. They can do so to you too. As Gandhi himself claimed: “I have not the shadow of a doubt that any [one] can achieve what I have, if he would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.” 

Firewall your inner peace

Love your peace so much that you would want no one or nothing to disturb it.
Every incident or individual that frustrates you does so because you allow it or them to do so. Be selfish here for a change. Build a wall around you that is impregnable. A wall that is made of intelligence, forgiveness, love and awareness. What frustrates us? People not behaving the way we expect them to. Or when events that we least expected pop up to challenge us, to test us. Or when Life’s not exciting enough, has become a drag and nothings seems to work out. First, employ your intelligence. You are not dumb. You know that people are entitled to their thoughts, behaviors and opinions, just as you are entitled to yours. So, every time you are frustrated with the people, know that, that’s the way people will be. You must therefore rise above and forgive them. Love people and Life for the way things are. Because Life never promised fair play. It is our misplaced expectation that everything must be as we wish which causes us to feel frustrated. Live with the deep awareness that ‘it is what it is’. And additionally, love the peace that you are, that’s within you.
Only when you allow someone permission will they invade the private precincts of your peace. It’s like a wireless network. Unless the network is password protected, anybody with a wireless device will be able to access your network. But if you have firewalled your network, having an access key known only to you, the network will be visible, but inaccessible. So, firewall your peace with love__love for yourself, love for all of humanity. Because when you don’t react to every frustration that comes your way, you are helping those that are frustrating you as well. You are helping conserve precious human energy which would have been lost otherwise in attacks and counter-attacks, reactions and retaliatory actions. Way back in the 17thCentury, Roman Catholic Saint and former Bishop of Geneva, St.Francis de Sales (1567-1622), taught this unputdownable lesson: “Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” Remember: you and I are not chemicals. We can think before we react, if we are aware that our inner peace is non-negotiable, non-tradeable and no one should be allowed to even touch it, let alone disturb it.