Pain always offers a teachable point of view

You appreciate Life’s inscrutability only when you don’t get what you want or when you get what you don’t want!
This is an amazing truth about Life. It is a revelation, a discovery, that often strikes you, dawns on you, when you are in the throes of pain and despair. When everything is going per your aspirations, your desires, you conclude that you are in control, that you are the Master, that it’s all your doing. You matter the most to you in such times – this is how it works: you do well in academics, land yourself a dream job, get married to a person of your choice; you think you managed all of that ‘success’ on your own steam; because of your brilliance, genius and effort. Undoubtedly, you have worked hard and efficiently. There has been your contribution. But to imagine that the design of your Life was woven by you smacks of ignorance, not just arrogance, of the way Life works.
I met a Tamizh movie director, a very successful man, recently. He is smart, intelligent and very creative. He said, “I don’t believe in dreams. I believe in subconscious aspirations, dedicated effort and flawless execution. You make your own destiny.” Poetic words. Makes sense to the rational mind. Except that Life doesn’t always work this way. A very successful industrialist I know, who went bankrupt and has clawed his way back into reckoning, and profits in business, has this learning to share: “When things were going fine, I was thinking it was my leadership, my acumen, my business-sense that were causing my success. When we started losing money and eventually went bust as a business, I found that the same leadership and acumen__mine__were of no use. That’s when I awoke to the reality that Life has a mind of its own.” I have learnt that it’s a good thing to not always get what you want and to sometimes get what you don’t want too. That’s when you learn from Life. The best thing about pain is that it always offers a teachable point of view. And trauma is a good transformation agent, a catalyst.

There’s no rocket science to why we__you and me__awaken only when in pain. Life is best understood by asking the right questions. And we pause to ask questions, explore with curiosity, only when we don’t get what we want – or when we get what we don’t want! Interestingly, the questions we ask may often get us no answers. Just more questions emerge. And the more questions we ask, the closer we are to understanding Life. That’s when we realize that Life is, well, inscrutable! 

Why this ‘kolaveri’ against Sanjay Dutt?

You must have walked their path if you must offer an opinion about someone.
Sanjay Dutt leaving Yerawada Prison in Pune
Picture Courtesy: Internet
I am appalled with the quality of social media/public opinion being hurled at Sanjay Dutt over his release from prison earlier this week. I like Sanjay, the actor. But I love him for the courage he has displayed to face Life, go through a legal process and serve a jail term. Yes, it can be argued that he tried to avoid the jail term as much as possible; he used every legal option available to him. And it can be further argued that while in jail he kept seeking – and getting – paroles. And now, he’s walked out eight months ahead of schedule. So, it’s natural that people ask: will others accused of a crime or prisoners get such a differential, preferred treatment? I guess that question is more relevant when posed to the government and the prison authorities. As far as Sanjay is concerned he only did what anyone in his position will do – which is, explore all legal avenues available to first avoid a prison term and then to reduce it. After all who wants to be in jail?
This is my personal view.
I say this not as a means of offering just yet another opinion. I say this because I have come close to incarceration on more than one occasion. Like Sanjay has admitted to having made mistakes, I too, in the context of the poor financial decisions that I took, have made mistakes. And while there is a realization today of follies having been committed, I did not see anything inappropriate about seeking and utilizing legal counsel to stay away from jail. I believe apart from being a constitutional right, it is also a normal, human urge to not want to go to jail. I can totally relate to Sanjay declaring, upon his release, “It has been a long walk to freedom.” I haven’t had to – so far – face a situation of my physical freedom being taken away. But since I have come close (I share one such episode in my Book ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’; Westland, August 2014), let me tell you, even that is something that I wish no one should ever have to experience. Which is why I salute Sanjay for not running away from the country or hanging himself from a ceiling fan – he could have done either long, long back; and many in his shoes (may) have done that surely! – instead he stayed on, faced the 23-year-process stoically and served a sentence that the highest court in the land ordered him to.
I am not trying to be preachy here. I am just sharing what I deeply feel. I know the pain of being judged by public – and private – opinion. I know what it is to be called a cheat (by my own family). I know what it means to be unable to redeem yourself, your credibility, when Life check-mates you, only because you blinked and made a couple of lousy decisions. Most people who are hanging Sanjay in a public trail have, mercifully, never had to go through a situation that he has faced. Perhaps they would have crumbled long, long ago had they ever had to face one themselves.

Here’s the nub: if you haven’t walked someone’s path yourself, please don’t rush to offer an opinion about them. Please respect the other person’s right to dignity!   

Get on with the business of living

Live with complete awareness of the true nature of Life – and you will be happy, no matter what you are dealing with.
Understand that one day this lifetime will come to an end. And yet you must live – and not just exist – until that end comes! This awareness is critical for you to live fully, blissfully, in continuous celebration of each moment. Celebration? When each day is a challenge to survive, how can you celebrate each moment? People, events, circumstances, financial issues, health problems, relationships, the traffic, the garbage, the theatre of the absurd – the upcoming Assembly elections (in Tamil Nadu)….do we think with so much chaos around us, we can actually celebrate? How can you even talk of a celebration, you may wonder. Indeed. Yet, it is the imponderables that make Life interesting.
We don’t see Life as interesting because we haven’t been taught to appreciate the unpredictability and inscrutability of Life. That appreciation would make living Life so much easier. Instead we are told that Life is about studying, working hard, earning money and living happily ever after. Had we been told that such a linear progression through Life would be interspersed with a zillion different challenges and that we must embrace them, live through them, learn from them, while being happy, wouldn’t we have been better off? This is the awareness that I have come to experience, understand and believe in.

This awareness is the key to happiness. According to ancient Chinese folklore, a traveler through the mountains came upon an elderly gentleman who was busy planting a tiny almond tree. Knowing that almond trees take many years to mature, he commented to the man “It seems odd that a man of your advanced age would plant such a slow-growing tree!” The man replied “I like to live my life based on two principles. One is that I will live forever. The other is that this is my last day.” The old man’s perspective is so, so beautiful. Look around you. What are the things you would like to complete if you were told today’s your last day here? What are the things you would like to set in motion if you knew you will live forever? Make a shortlist combining actions that are common to these two lists and get started. That’s how you really stop complaining, feeling lost and helpless in the humdrum of everyday Life, and get on with the business of living – fully and happily! 

Go on, be a Buddha today!

To find peace, meaning and happiness in Life, all you must do is to stop searching.
When you are searching, you are missing what’s most apparent. When you just be, just the way you are, you will always find whatever you are searching for.
This has often happened to you or you have seen others go through this: people search for their glasses all over while they have raised them to leave them on their foreheads. They look high and dry, feel exasperated, and then when they are told that they have been carrying them on their foreheads, they feel stupid and sheepish.
So it is with Life too. You are the peace you seek, your Life has a Purpose, and you can be happy only in the present moment. These are unalterable truisms of Life. Also, you are a Buddha. The root word ‘Budh’ means to wake up, to understand. A person who wakes up and understands is called a Buddha. To grasp this wisdom, you don’t need to be a guru. You must just be willing to let the flow of Life take you in its fold. In any situation, allow Life to take over. Just go with the flow.
For instance, this weekday morning, don’t get stressed out if you are running a few minutes late. Watch your every breath, take your very step in peace. Look at your schedules for the day and ask yourself how you will be creating value and making a difference today. Choose to focus on only those items on your agenda where you can make a difference in the first half of the day. At lunch, review how you are feeling. You will be happy. Not because I have told you this. I am no soothsayer. This is no prophecy. You will be happy because you created conditions within you to be happy, despite it being busy day at work, despite the frenetic pace and stress of your working Life. When you stop running, and start feeling your breathing, you live. Most of us are alive, but we don’t think much of it. When you realize you are alive, when you celebrate each breath you take, anything is possible. When you live understanding the peace, meaning and happiness in each moment, you become a Buddha yourself. Go on, simply be, be a Buddha today!

Your ‘Mahamaham’ moment awaits you – not in Kumbakonam, but within you!

A dip in a ‘holy’ river or tank can never ‘cleanse’ you. Pausing, reflecting and awakening alone can.

A friend feverishly texted me on WhatsApp a few days ago. He’s close to me and believes that the financial challenges that my family and I are enduring, for close to a decade now, is directly related to my past karma– a ‘carry forward’ of sorts of ‘sins committed in a previous birth’. He furiously appealed to me I must make the pilgrimage to the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam and take a dip to ‘wash away all my bad karma, my sins’. “You will see an immediate change in your fortunes,” he insisted. I merely thanked him for his compassionate perspective and offered no justification for my choice not to accept his advice.
Mahamaham – Kumbakonam
Picture Courtesy: Internet
The Mahamaham is a Hindu festival that happens every 12 years in the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. I have no disrespect for the Mahamaham. Nor do I intend questioning its legend that’s drawing several millions in (what they think is) piety. Yet, I sincerely don’t believe a ritualistic dip, however ‘holy’ the site may be, can ever cleanse anyone. In his memorable 2003 classic, Anbe Sivam (Love is God), Kamal Hassan beautifully explains to his co-star Madhavan why the God within us – the Universal Energy that keeps us alive – must awaken for us to realize the magic and beauty of Life. That realization, to me, is the biggest awakening. And only an awakening from within can truly cleanse us.
To be sure, there is a Mahamaham moment waiting for each of us – provided we are ready and willing to understand Life and have seeker’s, a student’s, attitude. And that moment need not be at a temple tank, where millions are crowding with a herd mentality, throwing personal and public hygiene to the wind! My own Mahamaham moment happened in my living room, some time in 2007, when I was having my favorite Royal Challenge whisky, and was utterly bored with two other things I was trying to do at the same time – swap channels on TV hoping to find something interesting and make sense of the English translation of the Sai Satcharita, a book on the Life and teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba. My search for something meaningful on TV drew a blank. And I soon turned it off. My family had long gone to sleep. Even as I poured myself another drink, I tried – but failed miserably – to understand what the Sai Satcharita was trying to say – it will easily rank as among the most horrible works of translation ever, from the original Marathi to English! I put the book away. And I thought deeply about what Shirdi Baba had taught the world in his lifetime. In a Eureka-like flash, it dawned on me that the two principles around which all his teachings were anchored are – Shraddha, Faith and Saburi, Patience. To face Life and to overcome the challenges that you are faced with, I realized that, you must keep the faith and learn to be patient.
Over time, I employed this awakening very constructively, through my daily practice of mouna (silence periods), to understand the impermanence and inscrutability of Life. I learned that this is the only Life we have. And to live this Life well – and happily – we must train our mind to be in the present moment. In the now. I discovered that the way religion is practiced in the world today is that it encourages you and me to fear people (who peddle religion) than inspire faith in creation – that if you have been created without your asking to be born, then the same energy that created you will care for you, will provide for you. When there is fear, how can there be faith? When there is no faith, how can you be patient?   
This clarity is helping me live my Life with total inner peace, despite the storm that rages on outside, in my business, professional and material Life. This clarity makes me believe that a dip in an insanely crowded temple tank will hardly cleanse anything – not even your body, let alone your mind. I am more with Kabir, the 15thCentury weaver-poet, here. He said:
Kabir Man Nirmal Bhaya, Jaise Ganga Neer 

Pache Pache Har Phire, Kahat Kabir Kabir

Translation
Kabir Washed His Mind Clean, Like The Holy Ganges River
Everyone follows behind, Saying Kabir, Kabir
That is, Kabir urges us to remove all impurities from our mind, from our thinking process, thus letting the light of divinity to shine forth. Truly, there is divinity in each of us. That divinity is suppressed, lying buried under layers and layers of grief, guilt, anger, fear and such debilitating emotions. This is why we are searching for God outside of us. This is why we are running to a Mahamaham.

Seriously, you don’t need to wait for 12 years to scramble to a Mahamaham for cleansing yourself. Your Mahamaham moment awaits you if you can simply pause, reflect and awaken to the opportunity of cleansing your mind, of living in the now! 

Asking ‘Why’ of Life never helps!

Everything has its place and everything has a reason. So just accept what is and keep moving on…

When we ask why, we become restless, anxious, fearful and lose the game of Life. Instead when we accept things, people, events, as they are, as they happen, we find peace and bliss irrespective of the circumstance we find ourselves in.

Of course, it is normal for you to want to know why something is happening to you. But know also that Life is unlikely to give you an answer – at least immediately. As Steve Jobs famously said, “You can only connect the dots backwards.” That connection of dots too is, at best, an inference, a derived pattern. Yet, if you can accept the lack of reason in the moment, you can always find your own way to be happy with whatever is, the way it is. But if you keep asking why this and why that, you will find yourself wallowing in grief and agony and you will never be at peace. Life’s ways are at best magical and at worst mystical. Jobs further said, “…so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Simply, never when something is happening, in the present, can you know the why of it. So, trust Life and let things be as they are.


An old Kashmiri story illustrates this best. Once upon a time, a man was resting under the shade of a walnut tree on a hot, sultry afternoon. Just nearby was a pumpkin creeper. The man thought to himself, “Why would God grow pumpkins on a creeper and walnuts on a tree when it should have been the other way round? Pumpkins need stronger support while walnuts do not- how did it not occur to God? Pretty silly!” Just when he was about to leave the shade of the tree and walk away, a walnut fell from above and hit his head. He then realized that had it been pumpkins that grew on such trees instead of walnuts, he’d be dead and that being in the shade of trees would not be safe for tired travelers, like him, at all! He then realized that there’s a lot that God knows that he did not. He concluded that God has planned everything beforehand.



To me, God is Life itself. I see Life as a thinking, intelligent teacher, who gives you each experience with a reason. Every aspect of creation is available to teach you something. Every crisis is a training ground to make you stronger and wiser. Yes, I too do feel lost sometimes. Stumped by Life’s surprises, the trials, the twists and the irrationality of it all! Even so, over the years, I have learnt not to ask why! I have learnt to accept my Life for what it is, the way it is and I keep moving on…