Demystifying work and prayer

All of us work hard. And almost all of us pray. Many of us wonder also if prayer works. Especially when our prayers are not ‘answered’. Consider this: if you make your work, your prayer, you will neither need to work nor pray!!!
Think about it. Life will be so simple and blissful. Let’s demystify two myths that the world has been conditioned to. 1. The first myth is that work is drudgery. That it is something you to do earn a living. Rubbish. Work is everything you do. Whatever you are immersed in, you are working on it now. You are working at your computer now. You are working on your facebook Page now. If you get up and go for a bath, you are working on cleaning yourself up. When you eat, you are working on your appetite and so on. Work therefore is everything we do living and not only what we do to earn a living. 2. The second myth is that prayer is asking something from God. That it is a method. That it is a practice. That it is a dialogue. Every religion has made prayer a ritual with their prescriptions and standard operating procedures. The reality is that prayer is about being immersed, being alive, and, in fact, just being. So, being in the present moment, engaged with Life, living, and totally immersing yourself, mindfully, in thought, body and soul with whateveryou are doing, is prayer.

Offer whatever you do to Life, in gratitude. If you are cooking, cleaning, sweeping, making a presentation, making love, preparing a report, tending your garden, drinking, eating, whatever, make it an offering to Life. That’s when work becomes prayer. And Living becomes praying. And then you don’t need to ask anything from Life. All the answers are there in front of you, within you. When you reach this state of awakening, you stop treating Mondays as manic workdays and weekends as leisure days. Every day is fun. Each moment comes alive. And Life becomes meaningful. Blissful. 

Stop becoming and start being

What have we done to our lives?
We have become so mechanized. So robotic. We are trying to constantly ensure our incomes go up, our families are provided for and yet we are not even bothered if we are happy? In fact, our unhappiness has become so much a part of us that we have stopped knowing that we are unhappy. We imagine that running the household, driving the kids to school and back, preparing reports and presentations, taking the annual vacation, IS Life! Is that really so?
Step off this treadmill. For a second. Take a brief moment. Focus on a flower in your neighborhood, in your garden, in a vase in your home. Just find a flower this morning. Look at it intently. Examine every aspect of its creation __ the color, the shape, the texture. Feel its pollen with your fingertips. Smell it. And ask yourself, how often have you stopped, even paused, to look in the direction of this flower? How you have chosen to ignore this flower represents the way you live your Life. You are doing everything else except living, my friend. When you are in front of the mirror, getting ready to rush to work, you have time to examine that pimple on your forehead, the dark circles beneath the eyes, or to certify the quality of your shave. But you don’t have time to look into your own eyes and ask yourself how are you?
As people we are becoming more and more efficient. There’s an App, an application, for everything on our smart-phones. From music to medical tests to running our schedules to buying stuff. Our phones can get us anything and everything we want. Despite all this efficiency, why are we still so lost? What are we searching for? What are we trying to complete in us?  Ask anyone__yourself to begin with__as to what will make them happy, and you would hear people express it differently of course, but most will say that they would like to live a different Life from what they are leading currently. Then why is it that nobody is willing to make that change in the way they live?
Remember: to go back to being who you are really are, you must stop becoming something. Our entire efficiency race is about becoming: successful, rich and, eventually, happy__as if it were some destination. How would your Life be, if you just focus on being happy, being rich, being the way you are __ with WHATEVERyou have? Have you ever tried that? To find your Self, you must stop running this rat race, and make the journey within. Pause. And dive within. Listen to what, Osho, the Master has to tell you this morning: “Constantly remember that you are not here in Life to become a commodity; you are not here to become an utility, that is below dignity; you are not here just to become more and more efficient — you are here to be more and more alive; you are here to be more and more intelligent; you are here to be more and more happy, ecstatically happy.”
 
And that you will surely be, my friend, when you stop becoming and start being! 

Death is a celebration: accept it when it comes calling!

Death is not something negative. There’s no point in you fearing it. It is the only constant about Life!
Ever since my father-in-law’s passing away a few days ago, there have been scores of rituals that the family is being asked to follow. I am not ritualistic but in the context of the extended family’s preferences, I am having to live with whatever’s going on. I find it particularly ridiculous that people want to ‘purify’ our living space (my father-in-law passed away at our home). The reason given is that the ‘negativity of death’ needs to be driven out of home so that we can live without its ‘ghastly shadow’ looming over us. So, we will go through an elaborate ritual that will, in the sweltering heat of Chennai, leave all of us drained and consume a full day! This is apart from the several days of rituals that my brother-in-law has undertaken to perform as part of the obsequies.
I see all this as avoidable. I am not saying that rituals don’t have meaning. They may be very well-intentioned. But I would much rather celebrate the departed person’s Life than conduct rituals. For instance, my father-in-law was a career teacher. It would warm his soul surely if an endowment to educate needy children was set up in his name and memory. My wife and I had set up one in my mother-in-law’s memory a few years ago – but owing to our bankrupt situation, we have had to pause the activities. If we had the means, this is what we would like to do for my father-in-law too. And let me hasten to add that rituals don’t come cheap anymore – and rightly so; after all priests are also knowledge workers and so their time and inputs must be duly compensated. But the moot question is – do we want to do something that no one enjoys, understands or will remember or do we want to invest in a creating a lasting legacy that will remain a celebration of the departed person’s Life?
Also, how can a navagraha homam (an elaborate ritual to appease the nine planets) drive away the shadow of death; how can it ‘purify’ a living space of death’s ‘influence and negative energy’? Also, why is death seen as a negative event or energy? The unalterable reality is that death is always an integral part of every Life. The moment you are born, your death is waiting for you. The truth is we are all speeding towards our death – albeit at different speeds. You can’t escape death. You can’t avoid it. You can’t postpone it. It is your most logical, inevitable, destination. And death may perhaps not even be an end. As the proponents of the law of karma believe, death may just be the beginning of yet another, unknown, journey. By fearing death, by imagining it to be a negative aspect of your Life, you are only being immature and unintelligent.
I also find the entire gamut of rituals very discriminative and gender-biased. I had a rather ugly debate with the priest when he would not allow my daughter – my father-in-law’s only grandchild available at the time of the last rites being performed at my place – to light the fire to be taken to the cremation ground. The priest’s argument that women must not participate in the funeral rites and that they must not visit the crematorium did not cut any ice with me or with my wife and daughter. They did go to the crematorium to see off my father-in-law. And I am proud that they went ahead and did what they believed in!  
My personal view is that the only necessary process to be undergone when someone dies is the act of cremation or burial. Beyond that we must ideally spend every resource in celebrating that person’s Life. Investing in rituals because you hope to drive away or keep at bay the influence of death is a redoubtable choice. As Osho, the Master says, “Death is not an enemy. It is a friend. It is an absolute necessity for Life to be.” Isn’t it beautiful? It surely inspires me to live Life celebrating death and accept it when it comes calling!

Peel off the unnecessary layers to discover yourself!

Unmask yourself. And you will find pure joy, unadulterated bliss, with no expiry date, limitless, in a nano-second.
You are not father, son, husband, brother, sister, mother, wife and daughter. You are not an engineer, doctor, CEO, writer, lawyer, student, gardener, cook, cleaner, pilot, whatever. You and I are not what we yearn for, or toiled, to become. You__and I__are a free spirit. You are because you can breathe. When your breathing stops and someone declares you dead, they will pack you off and cremate or bury you. Kabir, the 15thCentury weaver-poet, describes this so matter-of-factly: “While you are busy perfuming your body with sandalwood, someone else is chopping the wood for your funeral…you forget that when you die, they will truss you up with a rope, just like a common thief, and put you on the pyre to burn…can’t you see that Rama is the only truth says Kabir…” When you are gone, gone too will the engineer or brother or wife or CEO. But what about the energy that powered you? Has it perished and been consecrated like you? Or is it free – and out there in the cosmos!

This is all there is to understanding Life. When you unmask yourself and stand naked, you see the truth. Kabir refers to it as Rama. Shirdi Baba called it Maalik. Jesus called it Father. The truth is that the Self, the atman (in Sanskrit), the soul, is indestructible. When we know this truth, then living becomes so simple. Life acquires an indescribable hue, a beauty that cuts across race, caste, protocol and stays anchored on being human. Khalil Gibran (1883~1931), the Lebanese-American author, has taught this so powerfully: “If a man knew himself, he would know all of mankind. I say if a man loved mankind, he would know something of himself.” To know yourself, therefore, and to become love, capable of loving all, you must unmask yourself. Peel off all your layers. And anchor in the energy that is you. This is where you__and I__and all of humanity will meet and drink from Life’s cup of bliss, together! 

Live Life for what it is: pure and happening.

Life is neutral. It is neither good nor bad.
It is how we view it, use it and live it, that shapes our experiences and therefore our sentiments about Life. A man before entering a city paused at the gate and asked an old fakir, a nomad, “What kind of people live in this city?” The fakir replied with another question: “What kind of people used to live where you come from?” The man replied saying, “Thugs, cheats, venomous creatures, which is why I decided to migrate from that city.” The fakir remarked: “Then you will find the same kind of people here too.” The man went away without entering the city. A week later, another new visitor arrived at the city’s gates and asked the fakir the same question. The fakir asked him to first say what kind of people lived where he came from. The man replied saying, “Wonderful good souls. Peaceful, helpful and kind. I wanted to never leave them but also want to grow my business. Hence I am migrating.” The fakir said invitingly, “Go on! You will find good souls, peaceful, ever helpful and always kind, here.” The man entered the city.
Life is like that city. Always there. Always happening. Good or bad is based on our interpretation of it. Swami Vivekananda asks us, ‘Is fire good or bad? When it warms us during the cold winter nights or when it helps us cook food, we say fire is good. But when it burns down our forests or scalds our fingers, we say it is bad. But is fire changing its properties? Or are we changing our perception basis our experiences?” So it is with Life. Someone somewhere in this world right now is celebrating the arrival of a new baby. And just at this same time, someone else is grieving the loss of a dear one. But isn’t it the same world? So, when Life, that is giving us all these experiences, this discerning ability, when that energy source itself is neutral, why are we clinging on? Why are we attached? Let go of that which is a creation of your mind, this definition of good and bad. Live Life for what it is: pure and happening. Life’s playing in you, for you, right now. Where are you?

Making progress, while just being…

‘Just Being’ does not retard or impair progress. ‘Just Being’ ISprogress.
Many of us see ‘just being’ as inaction. And so imagine that it will breed inertia and make us vegetables. We find logic in this argument and so we feel that staying busy is important. You can be running on a treadmill and you could still be in the same place. Staying busy is just that. It doesn’t get you anywhere. ‘Just Being’, on the other hand, does not mean inaction. It means:
1.     Being in the moment, engaged, mindful. Thoroughly involved. Which is a LOT of action.
2.   Being involved with also DOING what is possible, what is right and doing it well, in that moment, and yet BEING DETACHED from the outcome.
When 1 and 2 are happening simultaneously, where’s the question of passivity or inertia or remaining grounded? You are in flight! You are soaring. Despite the storm, despite the chaos, your sails are filled with grace, energy and momentum!
Vietnamese Buddhist guru Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this so well. He calls ‘Just Being’ non-action, not inaction. “Sometimes if we don’t do anything, we can help more than if we do a lot. We call that non-action. It is like the calm person on a small boat in a storm. That person does not have to do much, just to be himself, and the situation can change,” he says. His prescription for ‘just being’ is mindfulness. He describes it thus: “Mindfulness is our ability to be aware of what is going on both inside us and around us. It is the continuous awareness of our bodies, emotions, and thoughts. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others, and we can work wonders. If we live mindfully in everyday life, walk mindfully, are full of love and caring, then we create a miracle and transform the world into a wonderful place. The object of your mindfulness can be anything. You can look at the sky and breathe in and say, ‘Breathing in, I’m aware of the blue sky.’ So you are mindful of the blue sky. The blue sky becomes the object of your mindfulness. ‘Breathing out, I smile to the blue sky.’ Smiling is another kind of practice. First of all, you recognize the blue sky as existing. And if you continue the practice, you will see that the blue sky is wonderful. It may be that you’ve lived thirty or forty years but you have never seen and touched the blue sky that deeply.”

The Chinese character for mindfulness, nian, (pictured here), reveals its meaning. The upper part of the character means ‘now’ and the lower part means ‘heart’. Literally, the combined character means the act of experiencing the present moment with your heart or ‘Just Being’. Just Being’ connects you to the source of your creation, helps you drop anchor and find bliss in whatever you do, wherever you are!

Practice magnanimity: receive, embrace and transform hate into love

Don’t fight anyone, any situation in Life, by struggling, suffering and despairing. Feel deeply, practicing magnanimity, to understand the person, the situation, that is causing you distress. You will eventually prevail with love and compassion, than from fighting and engaging in a battle.
There are so many situations that you__and I__have encountered, and are perhaps even now facing, when people have been unkind to us. When they have schemed against us__in business, in families, at work, in the communities we live in__and have gained an upper hand by embracing falsehood and by using dishonest means. We have been devastated by the unfairness of people’s ways. And have become cold, numb and even turned cynical. We have lost trust in all of humanity perhaps too. We are suffering. Each one of us is. At times, it is not just individuals, but Life itself that has been ‘unfair’. A perfect Life has been thrown asunder by a health challenge or a devastating blow has been dealt to you by death snatching away someone that meant everything to you. You have never quite recovered from that tragedy. You are suffering. In either situation, the one caused by people around you, or the one in which Life dealt with you ‘unfairly’, practice magnanimity. Look at the person or situation deeply. Understand why that person is doing what she is doing. The truth is that a mother-in-law who is causing suffering to her daughter-in-law is actually suffering more. Her actions are actually a manifestation of her suffering. A boss who is trampling on his team member’s self-esteem, causing untold misery on the poor professional, is actually suffering more because of his own Life’s experiences. A rapist who outrages the modesty of a young teenager is actually representative of a mind suffering from a huge inferiority complex and craving for attention and love. The one who causes suffering is already suffering. Know that. And understand that if you respond with wanting to retaliate, avenge, fight, with I-will-teach-you-a-lesson attitude, you will only continue this chain of suffering.
Feeling deeply, practicing magnanimity, is what will break this chain. It may seem difficult and impossible. How can I be magnanimous in the face of deceit, dishonesty and a vulgar display of power, you may ask? I am not Gandhi, I am just a human being, you may argue. The truth is Gandhi was also a human being. A mere mortal. So was Jesus. But they did not suffer like you and I do. They ended their suffering by feeling deeply for those who perpetrated inhuman acts against them. When one side stops fighting, the other side HAS TO come on the path of love, awakening and peace. Hate cannot end hate. A fight cannot end a fight. Feeling can, magnanimity can.
The Buddha taught this to his disciple Rahula thus: “There are four great elements__earth, water, fire and air. Learn from them, Rahula. Whether people pour milk or fragrant liquids, deposit flowers or jewels, or pour urine, excrement, and mucus on the earth, the earth receives them without discrimination. Whether people throw into water things that are pure and pleasant or wash in it things of filth and stench, water quietly receives everything, without feelings of pride, attachment, grievance or being humiliated. Fire has the ability to receive and burn all things, including things of filth and stench, without grieving or feeling humiliated. Air has the ability to receive, carry away, and transform all odors, sweet or foul, without pride, attachment, grievance or feeling humiliated. Why? Because the earth, water, fire and air have the capacity to receive, embrace and transform. The earth can receive excrement and urine because it is immense. It transforms them into flowers, grass, and trees. Water has immense embracing capacity, is ever-flowing, and has the ability to receive and transform whatever it takes in. Fire has immense receptivity and the ability to burn and transform whatever people bring to it. Air has immense embracing capacity and the extraordinary faculty of mobility. If you cultivate your heart so that it is open, you can become immense like the earth, water, fire and air, and can embrace anyone or anything without suffering.”

Try responding to a person or situation you are currently grappling with in your Life, with the attitude of the four great elements__earth, water, fire and air. This does not mean that you merely accept, and resign to, a situation that is causing you grief or unhappiness. It means invoking your immense capacity to be magnanimous, to feel deeply, understand and, therefore, transform your current plight into an opportunity for abundant happiness. In fighting, you continue to be unhappy. And suffer. In feeling deeply and embracing with understanding why some people behave the way they do, you become bliss.

Better late than never: Go Home!

Don’t agonize over the external environments that tempt or torment you. Instead go home – to the sacred space within yourself!
Don’t seek solace in the material stuff__your salary, your car, your apartment, your smart phone, your office desk, your visa status and such__which tantalizes you. In fact, even companionship has become materialistic, opportunistic. We met someone who doesn’t want to get married because she’s not sure he’s the right guy, and despite courting him for seven years, she doesn’t want to let him go either because she’s not sure if she will find the right person any time soon! The papers some time ago reported of a Chennai couple’s quest for the sperm of an IIT-ian (a premier engineering school in India) in their effort to ensure that their in-vitro procedure begets them a “brilliant, intellectual” progeny! A lot of humanity is obsessed with these fringe benefits of Life. People are also petrified of ‘what-if’ scenarios. A friend, while he hates the job he is in, does not want to quit it because he is worried that he may not be able to pay his mortgage dues if he moves to a job that he loves because the pay may be less! Many of us are like these people. We swim on the surface and get trapped in the “never-ending waves of desire” or unmet expectations or drown ourselves in wasteful emotions like sorrow, jealousy and therefore endure Life__suffering endlessly.
Life’s to be enjoyed not suffered. Also, Life is never at the surface, where the waves operate. Deep down, the ocean is always calm and beautiful. Life’s never in the external elements that we crave for. Real Life is what we experience from within. Therefore the advice that you go home. Go within, where you will find an ocean of peace, abundant energy and boundless bliss. The road to this home will appear when you stop doing and start being. Stop existing and start living. The Bible says, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Mathew 7:7). But Osho, the Master asks, ‘when was the door locked for it to be opened?’ He declares that it was always open. And he says the tragedy with all of us is that we keep knocking at an always-open door and keep complaining that no one’s there to open it for us! This is Osho’s way of reminding us that we are foolishly obsessed and engaged with all the material, impermanent aspects of Life. He says the door to joy opens inwards, where, our own private space__our sanctum sanctorum, unpolluted, unaffected__awaits us. The Buddha has said, “Go home to the island within yourself. There is a safe island of Self inside. Every time you suffer, every time you are lost, you go back to your true home. Nobody can take that true home away from you.” This was the ultimate teaching the Buddha gave to his disciples when he was eighty years old and on the verge of passing away.
Your true home is within yourself. When you arrive there, fear, insecurity, desire, lust and such crippling emotions evaporate. This is a home that will not be taken away by your bank, because you couldn’t pay your mortgage dues! This is a home where you will not want anything, anymore! And once home, you will wish you had come here, much, much earlier. Am reminded of the 1970 classic by John Denver (enjoy it here ) whose lines go: “….And driving down the road, I get a feelin’, that I should have been home yesterday, yesterday…Country Roads, take me home, To the place I belong, Country Roads, take me home…Better late, than never: Go home!