Only spirituality can help you live in this world and yet be above it!

Spirituality demands nothing of you. It invites you to just be and to let Life take you on your journey – one moment at a time.  
A whole lot of people out there are confused between spirituality and religion. They think that people who lead religious communities are spiritual. It need not necessarily be so. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness – it helps you understand that all Life is equal just as it is impermanent. When you realize the true nature of Life, you simply want to be (who you are) and don’t want to anymore become (something, who you are not!).
This morning’s papers reported the shocking story of a lady reporter having been asked by members of the Jain community to move to the back row in an auditorium because they didn’t want a woman sitting in the front row, when their munis, their gurus, who are celibate, sat on stage. Rashmi Puranik, a journalist with a Marathi news channel, was asked by members of the Shree Santacruz Jain Tapagachh Sangh to move to a back row at a function organized by the Jain community to felicitate Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for banning beef in the state. The organizers felt that Puranik’s presence would “offend” the celibates. I found the approach of this section of the Jain community outrageous. I would like them to ponder over how their “venerable” saints, the munis, the gurus, were created on this planet if they found the presence of women “offensive”. The way this Jain Sangh behaved with Puranik is not just regressive in the context of respect to women, it is an assault, a slap, on all of humanity. I am glad Fadnavis said what he finally did at the event, but only after Puranik raised a stink over the treatment meted out to her: “We are in the 21st century. All practices that discriminate against women should be stopped. A society progresses only when women get due respect.” Apparently, the Sangh has issued a statement saying the issue had been misrepresented and that Puranik was only asked to join a row meant exclusively for women. I am sorry. But I find that argument too weak and untenable – aren’t you still discriminating on the basis of gender?
But there’s yet another, equally larger, issue that begs clarity here. Which is, the role of religious leaders. These leaders, like the religions they represent, are confusing humanity. Their avowed rituality, their dogmas and their faulty, often illogical, belief systems are in place only so that they can lead and control their followers. Instead of awakening and inspiring people to the right way of thinking, living, working and winning, they are promoting fear and guilt in the garb of championing religious discipline. I, for one, don’t see any value or virtue in celibacy. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to be celibate. And truly no one is. Indulgence need not be with the physical sense and form alone. Those who claim and profess celibacy in a physical sense may have never stopped fantasizing encounters in their minds! And why work hard on suppressing a natural urge when, by being truly spiritual, you can allow it to arise within you and yet remain unmoved by its presence? A truly awakened person is one who can, in the company and presence of a woman, nurture a feeling of compassion and love for her. Trying to claim the same while asking for women to not cross your path is, to put it bluntly, cowardice.
We met our astrologer, Balan Nair, yesterday. A very learned man. A scholar. He’s truly world-class, a subject matter expert and a no-nonsense, no mumbo-jumbo professional. At 82, he has 64 years of experience in seeing how human beings are tossed around in the ocean of worldly Life – samsara sagaram, according to him! Seeing me wear rings on my fingers some years ago, he had remarked: “Sir, you look educated. Do you think a stone can change your destiny?” That’s how practical and evolved he is – for the record, I internalized his message and chucked my rings! So, my wife and I always find his perspectives enriching. Yesterday, he said this to us (referring to the gut-wrenching experience of a bankruptcy that we are still going through as a family and as a business): “Each numbing experience in Life has a teachable point of view. You will learn as long are you have the willingness to learn – and unlearn. Anybody can go to a forest or sit in a cave and become a sanyasi. But the one who can deal with the pulls and pressures, trials and tribulations, and the continuous churning of the samsara sagaram, of this chaotic world, and yet be above it, that person alone is truly spiritual and a real winner.”
That’s a simple, awakening perspective from someone who has seen a lot of Life. I wish those who sit on powerful social or community pedestals, controlling religions and people, learn from this man’s wisdom. Only then can we create a spiritual world that celebrates all of humanity. Only then can we rid ourselves of a dogmatic, ritualistic religious order that divides basis gender and social stature and exploits the vulnerable among us! 

Faith = Knowing that if you are created, you will be provided for

When you can’t find a way forward, when it is absolutely dark, look within. That’s where you will find the light. That’s what is called faith.  
We have, for long, been conditioned to understand faith is what we have in an “external” Energy or object, sometimes a.k.a God. So, in times of crisis, when Life comes to a grinding halt, when you are circumstantially cornered, your faith, as you understand it, also becomes questionable. The external Energy, God, whatever, doesn’t physically come to your rescue – at least not in the way you expect it! And so, you question whether there really is a God? Whether there really is a Higher Energy? We have all gone through these tests. We have all, in a fit of rage, when it appeared that Life was most certainly over, declared that God is blind, that the God-theory is all hog-wash and all your faith has been misplaced. There’s nothing wrong with such a response to Life in trying, and excruciatingly painful and hopeless, situations. It is but natural to vent your frustration especially when matters relating to faith are concerned.
So is keeping the faith a really futile exercise? Actually, to answer this question, you must re-examine how you define faith.
Faith is not what you project externally. Faith is a deeply personal resource which can be found only when you look within. You don’t normally understand this because of the way you approach Life. Consider this: something challenging happens in your Life – you lose your job, you suffer a serious health setback, you lose someone you love, your business is badly hit or any other context. Immediately, the focus, the examination of the event, is through external reference points. Any effort to deal with the situation is also driven by external coordinates. Rarely is there an inquiry within. I remember, when things started going wrong in our business, we went around on pilgrimages for months on end. We went to people who advised us how the apartment we lived in needed redesign (actually, re-engineering!), how our Firm’s name had to be changed and so on. We were taken to someone who advised me to wear rings on my fingers, in both hands. I have nothing against any of these efforts that we undertook or the advice we received. Except, to complete the story, none of these efforts helped our failing business – and we indeed went bankrupt! But I am not bitter or ridden by guilt over what we tried. I am only transparently sharing here, the steps we undertook, to reinforce my point that we always look outside for answers, for solutions. My visits to a very learned astrologer were also part of this external-gratification journey.
However, I am blessed that I found this gentleman, a scholar, a maestro in his craft (the science of astrology). He opened my eyes to my soul!
On one of my visits, I remember asking him: “Sir, how is it that you don’t advise any poojas or special prayers to help mitigate the effects of the time that we are passing through?”
My astrologer, a saintly-looking man, in his 70s then, took a deep breath, and asked: “Saar, I see that you are wearing rings, with stones embedded in them, on your fingers. May I ask you why?”
I replied: “Sir, a famous gemologist advised me to wear these rings. He said they will ward off negative influences of certain planets that are not well disposed towards me.”
My astrologer laughed heartily when he heard my reply. He responded with this profound perspective – something that awakened me: “Saar, kallala vidhiya maatra mudiyuma? Can a piece of stone change your destiny? Also, no planet is harmful. Everyone, you, me, everyone, really goes through certain phases in Life. No stone, no special prayer, or pariharam(remedy; atonement) can change what you are ordained to go through. Astrology is a science, no doubt. Yet, it can only tell you what you are going through and what you are likely to encounter in the future. It can’t alter, or help you escape, your destiny. Keep the faith. Know that if you have been created, you will be provided for. Sometimes, what you are provided for, is not what you want or expect. At such times you have to remember that this is what Life has planned for you – so that you can learn and grow from each experience.”
My inward journey was triggered in part by that unintended discourse. To me, ever since, faith has meant knowing that “if you have been created, you will be provided for.” I am not against religion or an external-God theory. But I will champion any day, from personal experience, that in Life’s darkest hours, the road that you will find fully illuminated, and inviting, is the one that leads you within. Being on that road does not mean that all your problems in the external world will cease to exist. Being on that road, however, surely means that you will be more capable, and feel more confident, of dealing with all those problems. Because that road always leads to inner peace.

Astrology is like a weather forecast: prepares you better if you use it well!

As long as the information you receive is reliable, use any tool to further your decision-making process. But apply your intelligence, gut feel and your FAITH too to make your choices. You may make some right decisions and you may make some decisions that go awry in Life. But whatever happens, you will have learned!

A friend told me yesterday that astrology doesn’t work. And wondered if I believed in it!

I am often asked this question. And my simple answer is the problem is really not with astrology as much as it is with astrologers. Astrology is a science. And it works pretty much like the way computer science or space technology or aviation works, Practitioners of science can do both __ for instance, they make life saving drugs and they make chemical weapons. Similarly, astrologers can be two kinds too. The ones who are like good scientists – precise, reliable, modest and ethical. And the others who are good with their craft but yet are greedy, want to control you so they can fleece you and therefore employ questionable practices and rituals in the name of ‘God’ and ‘religion’.

Obviously, people are free to choose. I am one who likes the truth up front, on the table and completely abhor religion and rituals. So, the astrologers I consult are those who are Masters __ they are as good as Sachin Tendulkar or A R Rahman are in their crafts.

Even so, I have also learned that astrology cannot change your Life. In fact nothing can change your Life’s design. And astrology can’t solve your problems. At best astrology serves as a dashboard __ just as you need to know various parameters to be able to drive your car efficiently, astrology can enable you to lead your Life better. It can help you deal with your problems better. But the aspect of leading your Life __ living it, being present, making choices, taking decisions, all of this is, and will forever remain, ONLY YOUR responsibility.

And this is where Faith comes into play. Faith, again what I have learned, is not about religion. It is about understanding and celebrating Life. It is about being. Being present, than about worrying or fearing, when Life is happening to you! I have learned to simply trust Life, which has given me this lifetime, and trust people who are Masters in their craft, their science, and lead it to the best of my ability. I employ astrology like I do a weather forecast. If I know it is going to be squally, I may prefer being indoors. Or if there are going to be showers, I will be better off carrying an umbrella. Just because the weather forecast says a storm lies ahead, I don’t plunge into a depression. And I sincerely hope no one does too. To be sure, praying to a God is not going to stop a Sandy hurricane from hitting you. A weather forecast and a natural calamity doesn’t mean you stop living. It only means you work on being better prepared. And you learn to accept whatever’s happening with the weather. So it is with you, your Life and astrology. Trust if you will, choose not to if you won’t!

Now you may wonder, and it is quiet logical, as to why and how do you trust someone who knows a science that you don’t. That’s precisely why you need that person. If you knew about something why would you need someone else to guide you? And don’t you trust a doctor, who knows how your heart or kidneys or lungs or liver work better than you do, with your Life when you sign up for a surgery? And don’t you also trust a pilot, whom you have not even met nor demanded to see his pilot’s license to check his credentials, with your Life when you board an aircraft to fly? So, why not trust an astrologer__who, by the way, is no small subject matter expert!

Good astrologers, like good doctors, are not charlatans or soothsayers. They are seers __ they have seen Life and see its inscrutable nature several-fold better than you or I do!

There was a time when, under advise from some quarters, I wore rings with special gems in them, on my fingers to ‘help protect me during my difficult times’. I was not convinced with this. But I still wore them because I thought I was not losing anything by wearing them. On one visit to my astrologer, a 75-year-old veteran, I showed him my rings and asked for his opinion.

He laughed heartily first! Then he asked: “Kallaala vidhi-ya matra mudiyuma, Saar?” ‘Can a stone change your destiny?’

I stared at him curiously. The absurdity of my choice and expectation that a pre-ordained design can be altered by wearing a ring became evident to me in a nano-second! I felt woefully stupid.

Then, he answered his own question: “Bhakti ala matrum mudiyum.” “Only devotion can change it.”

I also understood that the devotion he was talking about was not religious fervor. He invited me to stay devoted to the experience I was going through. He said experience is the ONLY teacher. And the more I resisted the experience of the challenging time I was being subjected to, the more I would suffer. Instead if I embraced it, loved it and devoted myself to the learning process, I may not suffer. Not that I can immediately change my current reality, he said, but I would be able to deal with it infinitely better.

I just loved his perspective and could relate to it completely. So, I put my faith in his advice. Astrology to me is a tool. It helps me take informed decisions. I use it as well as I use my cell phone. And both work on science!

As you can see, my Life goes on __ ridden with squally weather, hailstorms and cyclones, volcanoes, forest fires and earthquakes, but there’s phenomenal inner peace. Occasionally, I go back to astrology to refresh the forecast and my Life’s dashboard, so that I can lead myself and my family onward, on the path, that much better!