Goodness, in ourselves, and in others, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder.

The biggest casualty in Life is trust. And all the problems in the world are because of a trust deficit.
Look at the way we have been brought up. In a real world, with crime, terror, deceit and falsehood, we bring up our children pretty much the same way as we have been. We insist that they don’t speak to strangers, don’t accept eatables from them and don’t leave school unless one of us, parents, picks them up. In our zeal to protect and ensure safety of our children, we are, unwittingly, teaching them not to trust fellow human beings. Nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when, after we, or our children, reach adulthood, we don’t ‘unlearn’ what we have learnt to do__more as a necessity than as a choice. Resultantly, we end up harboring and breeding mistrust all our lives.
A few weeks ago, a friend, a very accomplished businessman who is worth several million dollars, advised me thus: “You should not trust three kinds of people. Don’t trust the three Ms: Muslims, Mangaloreans and Marwaris (the second being a place in Northern Karnataka, and the last being a businessman community from North India).” I was shocked. Here was an educated, successful man, wealthy and civilized, and yet having such primitive, conservative misgivings? But he isn’t the only one with such views. To someone else, it could be three other Ms: Malayalis (people from Kerala), Madrasis (all North Indians call anyone South Indian, a Madrasi) or Mongolians! Or it could be the three Hs: Hindus, Hungarians and the Hungry. Or the 10 Bs and so on. This is endless. And Meaningless. My response to my friend therefore was: “Well you can definitely trust one M: ‘Manithan’!” ‘Manithan’ in Tamzih means human!
Let us get this straight and right: just because we had a few bad experiences with a few ‘unevolved’ people, it does not make the whole human race bad. The number of peace-loving people in the world is far, far more than the small number of misguided, blood-thirsty extremists. There are more mothers around than the draconian mothers-in-law (saas) that Indian brides keep fearing! There are so many, many more people that are willing to help you in Life, at work, on the street, than that are out to cheat you or exploit you. There is so much goodness that’s waiting to be embraced and experienced from fellow humans than all the misery that we see and all the miserable people that we dread. To see the goodness in people, in Life, you need to stop generalizing and extrapolating your past experiences, and simply learn to trust both people and Life!
The 15thcentury mystic weaver-poet Kabir (1440 ~ 1518) says, “The river that flows in you also flows in me.” He championed seeing the oneness in creation and argued that if you could trust yourself, you could trust others. Lalon Fakir (1774 ~ 1890), a singer belonging to the wandering mystic sect, Bauls, criticized the superficiality of religious divisions in the 1850s when he sang these lines:  “Everyone asks: “Lalon, what’s your religion in this world?” Lalon answers: “How does religion look?” I’ve never laid eyes on it. Some wear malas [Hindu rosaries] around their necks, some tasbis [Muslim rosaries], and so people say they’ve got different religions. But do you bear the sign of your religion when you come or when you go?” This, incidentally, was the moot question raised by Aamir Khan’s PK too!
As much as we seem we are divided by religion, community, color of skin, nationality, social standing, education, wealth and whatever, we are still united and one as people. Goodness, in ourselves, and in others, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder. So, change the way you see people. Learn to trust them. And in the event you still are let down and your trust is shattered one more time, treat it as the handiwork of someone unevolved, view it as another exception and not the rule. Trusting, forgiving, moving on, you will have found one sure way to live happily, peacefully!

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To keep humanity alive, we have a role to play

Each of us has a role to play in rebuilding our world and reuniting humanity.
A relative who lives in Madurai was coming home this week. Since he was visiting us after several years, my wife suggested that he join us for a meal. He accepted the invitation but made a specific request that his meal be cooked by my wife and even the vegetables used for the various preparations be chopped by her. He said he did not like a “non-Brahmin” maid or helper to be involved in the preparation of the meal that he would have. We were appalled at this regressive request. We politely requested him to not eat at our place. Some years back, while performing a pooja for my father-in-law’s 80th birthday, the priest objected to the presence of a north-Indian cook from Bihar in the room where the ceremony was taking place. I called the priest aside and told him politely that he was free to stop the proceedings half-way if he found it difficult to accept a human being as one. I pointed out to the learned priest that my father-in-law who had just come out of hospital then, was looked after for weeks and months while there by a nurse named Abdul and was currently under the care of another one called Mary. But the priest was unwilling to consider any of my secular appeals. Though the ceremony was happening at my residence, as my father-in-law lives with us, I had to “back off”  respecting my brother-in-law’s wishes, who was leading the birthday celebrations for his father.
Such repulsive casteist prejudices and behaviors leave me numb. I somehow don’t get it. How long more is it going to take until we have a world where we respect all human beings as equal? When are we going to stop allowing ourselves to be divided by caste, creed and religion? Nature has not created this planet with boundaries. Bad enough we have nations. Worse that we have states. Sad that we, in India particularly, were victims of caste and religious divisions. But wasn’t that all a vestige of an underdeveloped nation? It is shocking that such thinking is still prevalent in urban society today.
I would like to share a story I read recently. Despite his often-controversial public image, Bollywood super star Salman Khan is a do-gooder. His “Being Human” Foundation supports a lot of people in need. When Salam as shooting for his super-hit film Dabangg on location for several weeks, near Panchgani in Maharastra, sometime in 2009, his car had to cross throngs of school kids every morning. He made a few enquiries and discovered that the kids lived in a settlement about 5 km from their school. In the absence of any public transport, these 200 kids trudged up and down every day. Salman immediately asked his Foundation to donate each of these 200 kids a bicycle so they could ride them to school instead of having to walk. In a few days, all the kids received their bicycles. The day after the bicycles were distributed, one of the kids flagged down Salman’s car as he was proceeding to his shoot. The kid requested Salman to take back his bicycle and instead help his best friend who couldn’t come to school anymore because he had a hole in his heart! Salman was moved by the child’s compassion and asked his Foundation to provide the other child the best medical care. While I do laud Salman and his “Being Human” Foundation, I am moved by and salute the young child’s spirit of sacrifice and brotherhood that helped him look beyond himself and seek support for his ailing classmate.
Here’s another story, from Mother Teresa, the Apostle of Love and Service. She once told a gathering that she was addressing: “One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days,” I took some food and I went. When I finally reached the house where the family lived, I saw the faces of those little children, they were struck by acute hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave some rice to the mother. She divided the portion into two and went out, carrying half the rice with her. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbor’s – they are also hungry.” I was not surprised that she gave – because people who have nothing are generous. But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others.”
I believe anyone who does not see another as a human being needs to be sent for some very urgent counselling. It is not as if divisive tendencies are prevalent only in politics or in religion or in the remote parts of our country and among the uneducated, illiterate masses. The fact that they are striking closer home, in our own families, as is evident from the experiences I have shared here, is very disturbing. The two stories, from the kid in Panchgani and from the hungry woman that Mother Teresa talks about, remind us that humanity is still alive. To continue to keep it alive each of us has a responsibility. Which is to say no to anything and anyone that divides us on national, geographical, racial, religious or caste basis. Only then can we hope to make our divided and decaying world any better.  

Someone’s need is always bigger than your want


Our Life’s stories and experiences may be different. But they often lead us to similar learnings. And through them we understand the beauty and magic of being compassionate, trusting and human.

Some time ago, someone to whom I owed some money called me up. He, a renowned scientist and the CEO of a large cutting-edge biotech company, politely enquired when I could return the money I owed him. I told him in detail about my challenged circumstances and prayed for more time. He immediately enquired about the latest Programs on offer from my Firm and signed us up, over the phone, to deliver two workshops for his team. He said while my repayment to him could wait, I could do well to earn some badly-needed income creating value for and on his team. He said he wanted my “influence” on his team! I was overwhelmed. It was the first time in several months that some work had come by. I was humbled too because rightfully, I was the one who had to be repaying this gentleman because his money was long overdue. But here he was, yet again, stepping up to help me, my family and my beleaguered Firm. We completed the workshops and his team members, I learned, benefited greatly from the experience. Although it was agreed that we would be paid in advance for both workshops, it wasn’t until much after the second workshop that we were paid for it. I did not see any point in making this an issue, although as a Firm we always insist on being paid fully in advance, because of both the circumstances and our relationship with the CEO.

However, the CEO called me up the day after the engagement fees were credited into our account and said, “I am sorry my folks delayed your payment. I am really sorry.”

I was dumbfounded. I said, “Sir, while I can’t say it is okay because of our grave circumstances, I really don’t think you should apologize. You have done more than we can ever imagine or ask for.”

The CEO replied: “AVIS, it’s just a phase you are going through. I know what it feels like to be where you are. Pay me back when able. Hang in there. This too shall pass.”

I was speechless. And was immediately reminded of a story I had read in Learning from the Heartby Daniel Gottlieb.

An old Hasidic rabbi asked his pupils how to tell when night ended and the morning began (which is the time for holy prayers).

“Is it when you see an animal in the distance and say whether it is a sheep or a dog?” asked one pupil.

“No,” said the rabbi.

“Is it when you can look at a tree and say whether it is a fig tree or a pear tree?” asked another.

 

“No,” said the rabbi again.

After trying a few more times, the pupils pleaded with the rabbi to tell them the answer.

Replied the rabbi: “It is when you can look at the face of any man or woman and know that they are your sister or brother. Until then, it is still night.”

What I learned__and we can all learn__from the CEO is a lesson in magnanimity alright. But I also learned compassion. I understood that it is important to see someone’s need as always bigger than our want. There is so much darkness in our lives because we simply have stopped connecting with each other as humans. To be human is a gift. Let’s celebrate it by remaining compassionate, trusting and, above all, human!


Celebrate the Equality in all Creation!


All Life is equal.

Celebrating creation is our principal religion and only duty! Over centuries, religion, by its opportunistic practitioners pointing to an external God, has made bad spaghetti out of a perfect recipe for equality. Religion singularly has made us forget the divinity in all creation.

When you recognize that all Life is equal, and that you are as much the source of the cosmic energy, that which powers the Universe, as creation itself, then, you will discover the Godhead in you! Then, and only then, will your search for an external God end. When you have found God, why would you need religion?

Let’s do a small exercise to grasp this truth in a nanosecond.

Take an empty (water) glass.

Is the glass really empty? Or does it contain something?

Well, arguably, it contains air.

Now, drop the glass on a hard floor (not carpeted). Yes, just drop it!

It breaks, right?

Now what happened to the air in the glass? Where has it gone? Did it also break or did it go somewhere?

Well, it just merged with the air in the room. In fact, it always was merged with the air in the room in the first place. The glass was merely a container holding some of the air.

So is this, your, body. It is merely a container holding, during a specific tenure, a portion of the air, or the cosmic energy that’s powering the Universe. Isn’t that case strong enough to establish that you and everyone else are equal? Because all of us are powered by the same cosmic energy.

All our problems in the world, between us human beings occur because we identify too much with the human body. Without the body, without the mind, there can be no desire. Without desire, there can be no one-upmanship. Without one-upmanship, how can there be inequality? And without inequality how can there be ignorance? Just this awareness that you are not the body, that you are the God you seek, that you are the Universal energy is so brilliant and so very liberating.

“Desire, ignorance, and inequality—this is the trinity of bondage,” taught Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birth anniversary it is today!

Indeed. We are enslaved by our ignorance of our true Self. We are trapped in our desires. And we are victims of the conditioning that we are an unequal race. The question we must ask ourselves is if you inhale from the same source I exhale into, how can you and I be unequal? If people across the world understood this truth, there would be no problems, no wars, and we will have peace and love everywhere.

Swami Vivekananda further said, over 100 years ago, and it is so true, so relevant, even today: “We believe that every being is divine, is God. Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance; the difference between soul and soul is owing to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.”

By simply worshiping, and celebrating, creation, we will find our God and peace __ both that which we desperately seek and need!

To make the world better, give and forgive!


The world can only be made better by giving and forgiving.

I rediscovered the meaning in practicing this truism again this morning. On the street I saw an old lady stumble and fall on the pavement. She was struggling with the weight of several bags that she was carrying. It was a busy morning. I was rushing off to catch up on work. But I flagged down an auto-rickshaw and requested the driver to pick up the lady from across the road and take her to where she would have liked to go. I gave the driver some money and asked him to call me if he had to go a longer distance and pick up any extra cash from me later in the day or tomorrow. The driver, who belongs to the redoubtable, unreasonable and unruly clan of auto-rickshaw drivers that terrorize public transport in India, replied: “Sir, thanks for giving me the opportunity to serve. I will take care of her, wherever she wishes to go. I will make up the difference in fare, if any!” As she rode away in the auto-rickshaw, a strange sense of peace and joy rose within me. I had had a pretty rough morning and much of it was centered around what we didn’t have and magnified by one individual on my team who was making Life miserable for all of us. Yet this one opportunity to serve, in a sublime and sure fashion, made me feel infinitely better. Re-energized and feeling good that I had been useful, despite my circumstances that had made me momentarily bitter with my Life and world, I forgave my colleague for his transgressions. I realized that if I had to behave the same way as he was doing, it would leave both of us scarred. I resolved to give the situation my understanding. It may not change anything in the short term but definitely makes me feel good and useful as I write this.

Try this approach to give and to forgive. I guarantee that you will feel the same way as I do.

When things get snatched away from you and when you feel betrayed, let down, hurt and pained, the natural response is to protect what’s left with you and to be wary of everything and everyone. But such a restrained existence will only make you hurt more.

The first sense of insecurity in us comes from whether we have enough for our own survival. So it is not that we don’t want to give. We do. But what prevents us from giving freely is the fear that what if we needed what we are giving away and we don’t have enough of it! The truth is we will always have enough and be provided whatever we need by the Universe. To be sure, we will never be denied our own needs. So, give and give freely. Without inhibitions and without expectations.

Forgiving too involves giving of a different kind – your understanding, patience and love. If you understand that we are all the product of the time we go through, you will realize that people behave differently from you because of what they are suffering from and going through.  If someone is causing you pain, you are perhaps inclined to believe that they are conspiring against you. And your reflex action is to hate them. To want to have nothing to do with them. But if you make a sincere effort, you will realize that their behavior is an expression of the anguish within them. What they need is your understanding, and not your hatred. Forgiving does not mean subscribing to someone’s despicable behavior or forgetting what happened. It means just letting go of all the negative energy that may be pent up within you, by giving the person in question your understanding and being compassionate.

When you give and forgive, especially when you are not expected to, you may well not be recognized or celebrated. But you will discover the joy of being human. Isn’t that a celebration enough in itself?