Become the Buddha that you are born to be

Would you kill anyone? Then why would you kill an animal or bird for you to quench your hunger when there are several other options available?
The case for vegetarianism is neither a choice nor is it religious. It is an absolute necessity on the spiritual path. Just as a space vehicle needs to abandon its payloads at different stages of its journey to reach its destination orbit, so do we need to abandon our ways and methods as we grow up – not just grow old – and learn to live intelligently.
This is not about God and it is not about sinning, it is about winning in Life. The real victory in Life is about conquering ourselves. Go inward. Go find your Self within you. When you understand that there is no difference between you who abets the killing of innocent species, in a way, by being willing to consume them, and those that aid and abet the perpetrators of terror in the world, you will want to reconsider your meal preferences. Being vegetarian is not even a belief. Don’t believe anything. Just feel it. Feel the crudeness in wanting to eat something that has been killed to feed you.
What did Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts do? What happened on 26/11 in Mumbai? And in London, Greece, Indonesia and keeps happening weekly in Pakistan? Some ‘misguided’ few killed innocent living beings to feed their egos, to satiate their dogmatic beliefs that killing is religious retribution. You call them stupid. Then what are you? Feel the cruelty churn within you. Arise. Awake.
I too ate non-vegetarian food until about 11 years ago. And then one day I simply gave it all up. My trigger was my then 9-year-old daughter asking me: “Papa, why do you eat an animal?” I have since discovered that what you did so far need not burden you with guilt. What you will do now is important. When you fly international sectors, especially out of India, you often encounter a meal option called ‘Jain’. Now Jainism is an old religion. All their 24 teachers, who they call ‘thirthankaras’, were warriors and meat eaters. They killed for food. But when they became aware, through their awakening, they converted their primal energy to a deep love for all forms of creation. They even threw out God and prayer. Just as Buddhism did. As Osho, the Master, has said, “When you threw out God and prayer, what’s left of religion? I want you to understand it: the moment God and prayer are discarded, the only thing that is left is to go in. Buddha also was from the warrior caste, son of a King, trained to kill. He was not a vegetarian. But when meditation started blossoming in him, just as a by-product the vegetarian idea came into his being: you cannot kill animals for eating, you cannot destroy life. While every kind of delicious food is available, what is the need to kill living beings?” So, Jainism and Buddhism are not a religion in that sense. They are a means to an awakening. For thousands of years now, Jains and Buddhists are vegetarians. Not because they are a sect or a cult. But because they are aware.
Become aware. Know what you are doing. Go inward. Seek the cause of all creation within__within you. It is the same breath that powers your children and keeps them alive that chicken and lamb and cows and pigs and shrimp and fish__all need to stay alive. Would you want someone to take your childrens’ Life-giving source away? Then why would you want to take away the same source from other creations of Life? Drop anchor, find your Self, become the Buddha that you are born to be!

Genuine teachers are fellow voyagers – they teach you how to face Life!

When you don’t know what to do, when you feel the most vulnerable, do what gives you inner peace – as long as it won’t hold you hostage in the long run.  
When you go through crisis in Life, or when you start searching for meaning in Life, often times people or practices or movements or communities will come your way. They may have always been there – but it is only through being in a crisis that you may notice them! Just being with such people will give you immense inner peace in the face of all the chaos and turmoil around you. In fact all the anxiety and suffering within you will subside in their presence. And you will want to explore that path, the one that’s helping you anchor within, more. But people around you will warn you that such influences are ‘evil’; they will say that you have lost it or that you will be cheated or that you are headed in the wrong direction. Employ a simple rule of thumb: if you are finding greater inner peace in doing what you are doing, simply do it! I am not championing escapism – through drinking alcohol or doing drugs. I am suggesting exercising a mature, aware choice that helps you gain inner peace.
It is normally through a crisis, or from a sense of listlessness, that the search for the meaning of, and for meaning in, Life begins. This search may lead you to places of worship, to the scriptures, to spiritual Gurus, to a deep study of religion, to practices such as transcendental meditation or yoga, to communities like ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) or to self-help groups that use the scriptures or psychology-based methods and practices for healing and anchoring within. Normally, you end up trying several of these and then choose the one that works for you. And it is not necessary that your choice, your path, may the one chosen for someone else in your same situation. For instance, I know some who became a Buddhist when she wanted to get over her mid-Life career crisis and then decided she needed “no religion” to live her Life. Someone else, a Hindu, in the same situation, found great value in the teachings of Jesus Christ and embraced Christianity. Another person we know, who has a special child, is a devout follower of Swami Sathya Sai Baba. While someone else follows the teachings of Jaggi Vasudev. Each of us has a unique way of making sense of Life. And each person encounters and chooses as catalyst that someone or religion or practice that supports his or her journey the best. Yes the world is full of people who take people for a ride and try to capitalize on their vulnerability. But not all Gurus are crooks and no religion is flawed – just the way religion is practised today is questionable!
But I believe I am blessed. Because I have met only the most wonderful people in Life. Their experiences and their wisdom have contributed to my evolution in no small measure. I have understood that all the scriptures, all the religions, all the teachers and all the Gurus champion the same lesson – Live in the moment and live Life to the fullest! They may speak different languages, they may show different approaches, but the message is the same. So, there really is no problem if you use religion or if you follow a Guru to arrive at that awakening, to learn to live Life without worry and simply be!
The problem arises when you expect others to solve your problems! This is where you get waylaid. This is where the charlatans thrive and operate. This is how your vulnerability is leveraged. No one can solve another’s problems. Every problem, every crisis, every grief, every event of pain and loss has to be faced and gone through in Life. Genuine teachers are fellow voyagers – just like you and me. They have no magical powers. They will not tell you that they can solve your problems. They will only teach you how to deal with a problem. They will help you evolve and mature into a stronger person. In their company, from their teachings, through their grace, you will learn the value of letting go, the power of acceptance and the meaning of just being.
Whoever you choose to guide you, lead you, follow them or embrace such a practice only if it helps you anchor within, with inner peace. Because only when you are peaceful within that you can deal with the chaos and crisis outside!

Know your true Self. Know your God. Be free!

When you know your true Self, you will know God and you will be free!
This morning’s papers run a story saying the famous music composer Ilayaraja’s son, Yuvan Shankar Raja, has embraced Islam. It would have been good had the story merely reported a happening, an event – even though, strictly, that is avoidable! But one paper goes on to speculate if Yuvan’s father had an issue with his choice. And that, I believe, was totally uncalled for. What choices people make with regard to their Life, especially in the context of their religious leanings, is, really nobody’s business!
The story, however, got me thinking on a different plane. There’s often this confusion between religion and spirituality. Most people use these words interchangeably.
Conceptually, they may well be right. But in reality and practice the two take different approaches – albeit to the same end!
Spirituality is the flowering of internal awareness. It is deeply personal, intense and liberates the seeker. You set out on the spiritual journey – seeking God, seeking answers to many existential questions, seeking to know why pain and suffering have to be endured – but you really end up finding yourself, your true Self.
Religion attempts to deliver all of this, but fails miserably. Not because religion is bad or ineffective. In fact, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism, Jainism – you name them, each of them is so beautiful. They are profound and empowering. But the champions of religion, the high priests, are devious and divisive. Promising salvation and deliverance unto an external God, they divide humanity and drive people to becoming mindlessly ritualistic. Which is why people have an issue with other peoples’ religious choices. Think about it: people don’t have an issue with what shirt you are wearing, but why do they get alarmed with the mere mention of your religious preference? All the fanaticism about finding God and trying to establish one religion as superior to another is the cause for all disharmony in the world. Religion doesn’t make your Life any better – it binds you and holds you hostage, making you “fear” God! In fact, the way it is championed and practised today, religion makes bad spaghetti out of a very good concept. The truth is, you – and I – were not born with a religious affiliation. You were born human. You have the same amount of blood – 5.5 liters, just the same as anyone else. And that blood is red in color – for everyone, irrespective of what religion they follow!
It is said that religion is for those who want to go to heaven – and spirituality is for those who have been to hell! There’s a great meaning in that seemingly light-hearted truth. Again it’s a matter of personal choice. If you want to understand Life and experience bliss, if you want freedom from suffering and you want lasting inner peace, then understand your true Self. If you want balms for your pain, if you want just a reassurance that “you will be taken care of”, if you want to “feel good” and bask in the presence of godmen and godwomen – follow the rituals that your religion’s leaders prescribe. Neither path is wrong. Neither approach is right. Ultimately, what works for you is always the best!
I simply love Swami Ramkrishna Paramahamsa’s (1836~1886) words in this context: “Even if you have faith in the 330 million Gods that you worship, and no faith in yourself, there’s no salvation for you!” This really sums it all up. Your search for meaning, be it through a pilgrimage to the world’s holiest sites, or through a simple, inward journey, will ultimately bring you to yourself! Your true Self. In knowing and understanding that Self, you encounter your God. And you will be free!

Nothing can prevent you from realizing your True Self except you

This morning’s Times of India reports that the Akal Takht, the highest temporal Sikh body, bans Sikhs from keeping the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book and the “living, active Guru” of the Sikhs, in homes that also have bar counters in them. I don’t quite see merit in such a sanction.
Sikhism, as I have known and understood, is one of the world’s youngest religions, founded only around the 15th Century. It is not a religion that draws upon one line or school of thought. It is inspired by Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism and several others. It is also the only religion that is not built on the teachings of a single Guru, but is based on the teachings of 10 Masters, with the Guru Granth Sahib, being the final and ever-living Guru. To me, it is not even a religion – it is a beautiful confluence of various streams of wisdom. Which is why Sikhism, and the Guru Granth Sahib, are very contemporary and very relevant even today. Nanak, the founding Guru of the Sikhs, said that ultimately what __ or the only thing that __ matters is The Truth. And The Truth, he said, was unspeakable. Which is why he, and his successors, sang it. Which is why the Guru Granth Sahib is in verse, containing 1430 angs (limbs or literary sections), actually hymns, complied and composed between 1469 and 1708.
Perhaps, by virtue of their religion being so young, or maybe their upbringing is based on practical and liberal tenets, I have found Sikhs to be very fun-loving, friendly and caring. They live Life to the fullest. They are never self-obsessed and choose always to get involved, and to serve whenever they get an opportunity. They are also the only set of people on the planet who can laugh at themselves. The innumerable Sardarji jokes that we come across is strong evidence of this. No other community will be so tolerant if they were to be the butt of so much global ribbing and ridicule. So, when a stricture is passed on such a wonderful people, it does shock and surprise.
I have another personal reason and learning to share. Understanding and realizing The Truth that Nanak sang about, and that which every spiritual path will take you to, does not require abstinence. In fact, intelligent living does not demand anything from you. It only wants you to be. To live in the moment and experience the Now. This will happen, only after a person’s quest for inner peace, through pursuing material matters of the world, draws no result. Only when seeking outside is futile, does man consider seeking within. That’s when, as Nanak taught, and Sikhism preaches, the individual sees the panj chor (Five Thieves) of ego, anger, greed, attachment and lust, as distracting from being on The Path. So, in essence, each one of us has to find our ways to get on to The Path – through experience, through stumbling, through falling and through learning. No religious diktat exists nor can any direct anyone to The Path, unless, she or he really wants to be on it. Whatever dos and don’ts abound around us, are the handiwork of the mandarins that want to control, using the name of religion, and causing fear of retribution by an external God, to coerce the masses into submission.
Simply, nothing outside can distract you or prevent you from realizing your True Self – and the Godliness in you – except you! As Nanak himself has sung it so beautifully: “As fragrance abides in the flower, as reflection is within the mirror, so does the Lord abide within you. Why search for Him without?”

Attain Buddhahood – by witnessing Life

Treat everything that’s happening in Life as not happening “to” you, but around you, and you will always be at peace! This is the witness state – Buddhahood, if you like. This way you will be in a perpetual state of equanimity within you, despite whatever turmoil that is going on in your external world. Just like the way it is at the eye of a storm. The storm is raging with all fury, all around, but at its eye, in the center, there is no turmoil. Through your witness-state you too can attain this level of inner peace.

Consider this: someone insults you. And you get drawn into that drama. This leads to an ego-play. He says something. You retaliate. He hits back. And you attack again. This goes on. And on. But what if you had let that insult pass? What if, like a lotus flower, you had not let the water (the insult) stick to you? What if you had continued to live in the muck (the dirty pond in which the lotus blooms, metaphorically, the turmoil-ridden world) but chosen to rise above it, untouched, unblemished?

This is true of, and possible, in every situation. Be it a conflict or a temptation or just a Life event__like a lay-off or a death or a break-up__happening to you! This does not mean that Life is to be resisted. But  means, in fact, that it has to be experienced dispassionately. Without getting embroiled or entangled in it.

Here’s a story from Buddhism. A bunch of drunk people picked up a prostitute and stripped her naked. They wanted to rape her. But they were so drunk they fell asleep – tired and exhausted by the high alcohol content in their blood. The woman escaped from their clutches by the time they woke up. Shocked at their loss, the men began to search for her. There was only one way out of the place they were in and on that way they found the venerable Buddha meditating. They did not know who this man was, but decided to ask him about the naked woman because from where the Buddha was sitting, there’s no way anyone could have gone past without him seeing her.

“Did you see a naked woman pass by sometime ago,” asked one of the men roughly.

“You are late. You should have come 10 years ago,” replied the Buddha, smiling, calmly.

The men looked at each other. Totally shocked. Is this man mad, they wondered? One of them even asked the Buddha to explain his “weird” reply.

The Buddha explained patiently: “Well, 10 years ago, I would have been distracted by someone walking in front of me. But now I have learned not to get involved. I surely saw someone go past here. But whether it was a man or a woman, whether naked or clothed, I did not notice, because I was looking for nothing.”

Buddhahood is not something sacred or the exclusive prevail of those who get to sit under a Bodhi tree. Buddhahood awaits you and me too. If only we can learn, through continuous practice, the art of choosing to simply witness Life, without getting embroiled in it, of learning to distinguish that events happen “around” us and not “to” us!

Your suffering is up to you!

There’s no way you can avoid pain in Life. But you can choose not to suffer.

How Life deals with you is not in your hands at all. Anything can happen in Life. Absolutely anything. This morning’s Hindureported the ghastly story of a man, who’s legitimately owned house in Bengaluru, was razed to the ground and demolished by a group of vandals, even as the police looked on as mute spectators, without intervening, in a case of illegitimate, extra-constitutional action in a property dispute. Obviously the man and his family will be greatly pained by the shocking turn of events. In their case, it was their house that was razed to the ground in a flash. In someone else’s Life, a landslide or a tsunami can cause similar damage. Or someone may lose a bread-winner to death or lose a job and be rendered unemployed for months on end. Life is unpredictable. Just as pain in Life is inevitable.

How we respond to Life determines whether we suffer or not. In Buddhist thought, there’s a teaching that says that when you get hurt, say, by an arrow, that is pain. The arrow hitting your arm, it hurts. Pain. However, there is a second arrow, which is your reaction to the arrow, the getting angry, the planning revenge, or the sorrow, the grief that follows, that is beyond pain, that is suffering. The venerable Buddha said, “Pain in inevitable. Suffering is optional!”

The only antidote to suffering is acceptance. Total, complete acceptance of whatever is happening to you. When you don’t resist Life, the pain does not cripple you. It is there, but it does not limit you. Suffering cripples, limits and halts you. Pain does not cause suffering. Be sure about this. Suffering happens only when you wish, you desire, that the pain not be there. But how is that possible? Life happens per its own inscrutable design – not because you control, wish or will it to be a certain way. And because Life happens on its own, pain also comes to you on its own. To wish that pain does not exist means to wish that your Life does not exist. That you are not alive. And that, you will agree, is a stupid expectation. So, in effect, your suffering is your own creation – born out of a stupid, impractical desire!

You have a headache. That’s a fact. The headache is the element causing you pain. The moment you ask ‘Why is there a headache?’ or ‘Why am I having a headache?’ or wish, vainly, that ‘the headache should not be there’ – the why, the why me, the wish – those are what cause you suffering. So, the headache does not cause suffering. You cause it. On the other hand, if you accepted the headache as a fact, as a current event in your Life, and don’t desire its absence or don’t ask it questions – the headache, the pain, will last a while and go away. This is the way the way Life works – across all phases and facets.

Know this. Understand this. Appreciate this. Then, you will realize that, to suffer or not, in any context, is truly up to you!  

Why not postpone worrying for a change?

Let’s face it. There’s so much to worry about. Bills to be paid, children to be raised and graduated, parents to be cared for, deadlines to be met, loans to be repaid – the list can go on and on. However much you may try, you cannot but worry. Because there’s so much uncertainty around you and in your Life. But every scripture, every wise soul, every spiritual practice advises you to “Be Happy!” and to “Not Worry!”. How then do you stay free of worry?
The truth is you possibly can’t. Not at the beginning of your spiritual, inward, journey. At best you can postpone worrying.
An old story from the Buddhist scriptures shows the way to do this!

There was once an old lady who cried all the time. Her elder daughter was married to an umbrella merchant while the younger daughter was the wife of a noodle vendor. On sunny days, she worried, “Oh no! The weather is so nice and sunny. No one is going to buy any umbrellas. What will happen if the shop has to be closed?” These worries made her sad. She just could not help but cry. When it rained, she would cry for the younger daughter. She thought, “Oh no! My younger daughter is married to a noodle vendor. You cannot dry noodles without the sun. Now there will be no noodles to sell. What should we do?” As a result, the old lady lived in sorrow every day. Whether sun or rain, she grieved for one of her daughters. Her neighbors had given up trying to console her and jokingly called her “the crying lady.”

One day, she met a monk. He was very curious to know why she was always crying. She explained the problem to him. The monk smiled kindly and said, “Madam! You need not worry. I will show you a way to happiness, and you will need to grieve no more.”

The crying lady was very excited. She immediately asked the monk to show her what to do. The monk replied, “It is very simple. You just need to change your perspective. On sunny days, do not think of your elder daughter not being able to sell umbrellas but think of the younger daughter being able to dry her noodles. With such good strong sunlight, she must be able to make plenty of noodles and her business must be very good. When it rains, think about the umbrella store of the elder daughter. With the rain, everyone must be buying umbrellas. She will sell a lot of umbrellas and her store will prosper.”

The old lady saw the light. She followed the monk’s advice. Over time, she stopped grieving; instead, she was smiling every day. Soon she came to be known in her neighborhood as “the ever-smiling lady.”

That’s surely the way to live intelligently. Without doubt, even when you are on your deathbed, there will be unfinished tasks and aspirations on your plate. There will be things to do. And there will be stuff to be worried about. Worrying can become an integral part of living if you don’t change your perspective to Life! And worrying about a problem has never solved one! If it did, well, we would have no problems in the world – because isn’t everyone worrying about something or the other all the time?
I have often wondered why bars and lounges have the concept of “Happy Hours”. They offer discounts during certain times of the day or evening almost alluding that the rest of the time you are likely to have been unhappy. Flipping the paradigm, given the enormity of the crises that faces me sometimes, I have created for myself time slots in the week that I call the “Worry Hour”. With so much to worry about, and no immediate solutions often available, I find it a lot more productive to invest time and effort problem-fixing in specific spells so that the rest of the time, I am anchored and at peace with myself! Over time I have discovered that what I can fix, I always end up fixing, and what I can’t fix, stuff that I may have worried myself to death about in the past, often ends up sorting itself out anyway! And outside of my “Worry Hours” I always do only what gives me joy – engage in intellectual conversations with people I relate to, watch movies, go on long walks, read to learn something new or write my blog! Perhaps, you want to try this method too. It works very well when, like most other practices, it is done diligently! So, instead of worrying all the time and postponing happiness, why not choose to be happy and postpone worrying for a change?

Awareness makes all the difference


How much you know or don’t know about something does not make much of a difference to your Life. More often than not, you know enough about almost everything to make intelligent choices. But it is your lack of awareness, while doing simple, small, daily tasks, or activities, that impacts your Life in bigger measure than you can imagine! Awareness makes all the difference between living Life fully, making each day count, and merely getting past one!

For instance, it is common knowledge that:

  

  1. Regular exercise is important
  2. A balanced diet holds the key to a disease-free Life
  3. Smoking and drinking alcohol are injurious to health
  4. Too much work and stress kills
  5. We must save money for a rainy day

Although a large mass of humanity knows these simple tenets of intelligent living, very few actually practice it. The reason why many don’t practice is not lack of intent. Who wouldn’t want to be physically__and financially secure? The reason is that most people begin each day with good intent but simply lose themselves to the ‘doing’ conundrum. Between the morning cup of coffee and the kids being packed off to school to rushing off some work-related mails from your smartphone to 8 AM conference calls with the US West Coast to 10 AM calls with Singapore and 2 PM operations review meetings to more mails to attend to kids to be picked up and rushed to music, dance and sports coaching classes to getting dinner ready or sending off more important mails to packing for tomorrow’s trip to rushing to the grocer’s __ phew! __ where’s the time to think? Forget being aware! So, sometimes, because you haven’t had a meal at a proper time, a third cup of milky, sugary coffee, seems okay. Or when you light up one more time, although you KNOW you are overdoing it, you justify to yourself saying you need to ‘de-stress’. So destroy and de-stress suddenly become synonymous! Not that the protagonists of such a Life do not know the difference. They do. But they are caught in the web of doing__and doing and doing__without, at most times, being aware__of why they are doing what they are doing!  

Awareness has to be cultivated. It is about training your mind to understand the difference between getting wet in the rain and feeling it! So, a person whose level of awareness is high will feel the raindrops falling on her face while rushing off to work than simply worrying about her new laptop bag getting wet! It is about training your mind to feel grateful every time you eat, feeling thankful for each morsel you imbibe while relishing its delicious taste. You know a lot of people have contributed to making your meal delicious. But when you eat without awareness, you are in the doing mode. Your knowing anything is of no use. Because you have no awareness to celebrate your knowing. When you bring in awareness into every small detail in Life, you learn to live fully in each moment, from one moment to another! Through repeated practice, awareness improves. Then you realize, when your alarm goes off, that you are better off working out than sleeping longer. That you are better without lighting up. That you don’t need the one drink for the road. That the dessert only looks good and tastes good but does no good to your diabetic condition. Awareness gets you started. You, only then, start living!

Fundamentally, increased awareness reduces resistance and inertia to personal change. When you begin to change personally, transformation, an orbital shift in your thinking and living, becomes a distinctive possibility. With awareness, you too can be a Buddha. As Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk who lived in 6th Century BC, said: “Buddha means awareness. Awareness of both body and mind that prevents evil from rising in either.”