Compassion alone makes living bliss!


One reason everyone struggles with living is that we are too self-obsessed.

The focus all the time is on what you need, what you are going through and what’s in everything that’s happening for you! The you here at times is just the individual or, often times, your family. Look around you. And reflect on the behavior of people in your circle of influence. Spend quality time reviewing how you experience them and how, perhaps, they experience you. With the exception of a few, almost everyone, including you, is self-obsessed. From the neighbor to your maid to your colleague to your manager to your elected representative, everyone is working toward and asking, all the time, “what’s in it for me?”! This is the main cause of unhappiness in the world. This tendency to be self-focused and not be even remotely interested in the welfare of people around you. This attitude is so prevalent that, on the other hand, people don’t want to even allow you to be interested in them!  

Swagat Thorat
I met a man called Swagat Thorat in Mumbai yesterday who reinforced in me the need for us, citizens of this big, beautiful world, to be compassionate. Swagat is a journalist, wildlife photographer and a film-maker. Almost 20 years ago he was commissioned by Doordarshan (the state-run TV channel in India) to do a documentary on students who were visually challenged. The experience of making the documentary exposed Swagat to a whole new world of darkness that we sighted people are unfamiliar with. Swagat was so moved that for several years he tied a blindfold over is eyes to understand the lives of the visually challenged better. He learned Braille and decided to apply his talent__which was in the space of media and communication__and launched a Marathi fortnightly in Braille called Sparshdnyan. Here is someone who can see but has decided to devote his entire Life to help those who can’t see by providing them an equal opportunity to learn and acquire knowledge. The fortnightly is free for visually challenged subscribers and he supports his operations from offering donors the opportunity to gift a free subscription for someone who cannot see. His next project is to launch a Braille daily in English that will be available to the visually challenged community across India. He says he faces huge challenges in bringing out his fortnightly on time but because he has the right motive, the means get taken care of, one way or the other. Sparshdnyan has not missed producing a single issue since its launch several years ago. “I don’t seriously worry about our financial challenges. Because our work is of a higher order. We are not in this for profit. We are into this with a purpose. I was always passionate as a journalist, photographer and filmmaker. Whatever I took up I did it well. I am still passionate. But when I entered the dark world of the visually challenged 20 years ago, it actually opened the eyes of my heart. I felt compassion for these people. So, I simply decided to focus on what I could do, with my limited resources, in my own small way. One thing has led to the other and this entire effort has now become a movement. I know a lot more needs to happen. But I never worry, I never despair. I let my inner core of joy guide me one day at a time, one step at a time, to touch the Life of one visually challenged person at a time,” explains Swagat. (The gift subscription for one visually challenged person annually is Rs.1200 or US $ 24. You can gift a subscription by writing to sparshdnyan@gmail.com or by going to www.braillenewspapers.org)

I find great value in what Swagat has shared with me. All of us have a lot of passion for whatever we do. But passion is such a selfish emotion. So it often results in self-obsession. Not that we should not focus on our lives, our families and provide for financial security or healthcare needs as time passes by. But somehow, several years of being only self-focused, makes earning-a-living a habit that’s difficult to break. So, we hardly see the world around us. We are too consumed by ourselves, our needs, our wants and our problems. Which is why, despite having everything that we need, we feel we are still missing something, searching for it, yearning for it, even as we are unable to define what is it that we are missing! The cause for such inexplicable unhappiness and discontentment is, simply, lack of compassion.

A woman called Kisa Gotami, who was suffering and in great misery, went to Gautama, the venerable Buddha, and asked him to help her bring back her dead son to Life. The Buddha accepted to do this for her provided she brought him a mustard seed from a family which had not seen death ever. Gotami spiritedly went around the entire village hoping to find one family where no one had died and was truly hoping to get a mustard seed from that home. After much knocking on doors and hearing painful, sad stories of death in every home, Gotami came back to the Buddha after four days and said she was NOW willing to accept the reality of her son’s death. She conceded: “Oh, Gautama, how selfish was my grief? I went from family to family and pretended for four long days that there might exist some clan of immortals. I have understood that those mothers alive who haven’t already lost a son are bound to lose one someday. And if they never lose a son, then a son is bound to lose a mother. And how many parents lie buried beneath our feet!” Her passion for her son and her passionate desire to bring him back alive were causing Gotami agony and suffering. The moment she replaced the passion with compassion__for every family in her village__she found peace and happiness despite her unfortunate circumstance of having lost a son.

Stay passionate by all means. But know that compassion is uplifting. It is liberating. It makes living worthwhile. It alone leads you to equanimity, peace, happiness and bliss__in that order!  


Be cool, bliss will follow!


Be cool. And you will be in bliss!

Sometimes you have no choice but to accept the Life given to you. You have tried everything humanly possible to fix your situation. To solve your problem. But the problem refuses to let go of you. Be cool in such times! Be in bliss.  

 

How can you be cool when someone you love is dying? How can you be cool when your teenaged child is insistent on being in a relationship that you know is ruinous? How can you be cool when your companion is cheating on you? How can you be cool when the world, perhaps your world, is inching towards an apocalypse?  How can you be cool when there is so much injustice around you, when people are being selfish, cold and cruel?

Good questions. But think about it. Sometimes, you don’t have a choice! You simply will have to accept the reality of what is, take a deep breath and attempt a new solution if you can think of one, or simply wait for time to turn. Which is, wait for your time to change! Intelligent living is never about applying YOUR intelligence to Life. It is about being intelligent in letting Life be. There is an ancient Zen saying: “Even in a fire the man who has attained satori remains cool.‘satori’means enlightenment. And this doesn’t mean wearing an ochre robe and growing a flowing beard or shaving your head of. It means being aware of the intrinsic nature of Life!

There’s a story which comes to mind. A wise sage had heard of the Captain Cool legend of the famous King Janaka who ruled from Mithila (present day Janakpur, Nepal) over Videha. Janaka was known for never being flustered with any situation. And so, like Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, he was called Captain Cool. The sage was intrigued by Janaka’s legend and so came calling one day. The King received the sage with full honors and left him in the guest room of his palace and promised to return after attending to important matters in his court. The sage meanwhile bathed and freshened up. He had only his loin cloth on him which he washed and left to dry in the sun. He stitched a small skirt of mango leaves to cover himself and sat in deep meditation. Janaka finished his meetings and came to the sage’s room. When he saw the sage in deep meditation, he prayerfully sat opposite him awaiting the sage to open his eyes. An hour or so must have passed when screams rent the air.  “The palace is on fire and it has started in the kitchen abutting the guest room”, screamed someone. The King remained unruffled. There was a lot of noise and smoke around them but he kept sitting focusing his gaze on the sage. The sage leapt up when he made sense of what people were saying and screamed at Janaka: “How can you remain so cool, when your palace is on fire? Wait! Let me save my loin cloth which I put out to dry and then we both will run for our Life!” Janaka still was non-plussed! When the sage returned in a moment with the loin cloth and the two men rushed out of the burning guest room, the sage again asked Janaka the ‘secret of his coolness’. Janaka replied: “Every moment I am ready to depart from this planet, giving up this lifetime. And I know I will take nothing with me when I go. So, why grieve over anything which is not going with me in any case?”

Indeed. Why grieve, why attach yourself to, over anything that’s not going with you in any case? So, be cool about anything that may happen to you. And surely you will be in bliss!

The key question is: HOW do you want to be remembered?


Face it. At the end of your lifetime, after you are gone, your Life will just be an obituary. The question is how do you want yours to read?

 

This morning, as I woke up in a new city, in a new environment, a mail landed in my Inbox. It is the simplest, most ordinary obituary that I have ever read. At the same time, it is the most beautiful one I have ever read too. Because it captures the essence of Life __ of its inscrutability, of its twists and turns, its ups and downs __ and yet celebrates the spirit of the one who has lived it. It is written by a daughter remembering her mother’s Life. It is titled: “Be Happy while you are Living, because you are a long time Dead!

 

Here it is.

 

(To protect the privacy of the person who sent it, and the person who’s Life is celebrated here, I have changed the names!)

Leela Rosalyn was born on Thanksgiving in 1955. She never went by Rosayln, her mother always called her Leela after the character in R.K.Narayan’s ‘The English Teacher’. Why her mother did so simply name her Leela to begin with is one of those great unanswerable questions. Leela grew up in Florida just down the road from the Kennedy Space Center and watched man’s quest for the Moon first hand. Her mother was a secretary for NASA and shared exciting stories about the astronauts and scientists she worked with.

When Leela was seventeen she joined the Navy and became a nurse. She served during the end of the Vietnam War and was stationed in Cuba when she met her future husband. He was a Marine pilot and the two fell in love, got married and moved to the El Toro Marine Base in Orange County, California. Leela went back to school on the GI Bill and became a psychologist, alongside her husband. They opened a practice together and had a baby girl, who they named Leela, after her mother. (PS: Two ultrasounds indicated they were going to be having a baby boy and after 27 hours of labor and a C-Section, there was a bit of surprise all around. As no girl names had been selected the couple dazedly named the child with the first name that came to mind!)

Leela was a wonderful mother, patient and understanding with clear boundaries. She raised her daughter to trust herself and not let the voices of others drown out her own. She taught her that hard work, gratitude and service to others often led to a happier Life than lazy indulgence. She showed her that no matter how royally you had screwed up, you could always dig out again if you just kept going.

When her daughter was thirteen, Leela divorced her husband after (he had had) a series of affairs. Now in her forties, Leela began anew. She found a new job, got her own place and proceeded to support her daughter when her ex-husband lost his business. She put her daughter through college and made a new Life for herself. When her daughter moved to a foreign country to teach, she was proud and sad and happy, all at the same time. When she moved back and went to graduate school, Leela helped in any way she could and delighted in having her daughter close once more. The two traveled together, visiting the California Missions, taking the train to Seattle and renting an RV to cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Then Leela developed numbness in her right hand. Dismissing it as carpal tunnel at first, she finally went in to see a doctor and was told the tremor was caused by a tumor in her brain. The tumor was metastatic, meaning it had come from somewhere else. Leela was diagnosed in October 2011 with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. She had a year or so to live.

Leela immediately retired and moved in with her daughter. The two traveled more, went to the spa a lot and generally enjoyed Life. They talked about the Life they had shared, the dog they both loved and the future they would no longer have together. Leela told her daughter to live well, to be strong and to dance, always dance. Leela died on May 29th, 2012. She was an amazing woman, incredibly strong and courageous in the face of death. Her bravery was inspiring to witness and her love was endless. She is gone now, but she is remembered by her friends, her daughter and you.

       Leela, Home

 

Pause a while this morning. How do you want to be remembered after you are gone? The truth is you will be remembered whether or not you want to be. The key operative word here is ‘How’? How do you want to be remembered Once you have that idea, are clear about that, go live that Life from today. Here’s hoping you will live it and inspire others that follow you with a memory that celebrates happiness, peace and love __ and not one of having run a rat race, of being felled by events and people, of pain, suffering and misery, of having lived an angry, bitter and depressed Life!  

 

Make your Life memorable!  Because, as someone has said so wisely, the Life you have lived so far and the one you plan to live, is no dress rehearsal. You can’t be practicing anymore to live. This is it. This is the only and final show. You simply have only this Life to live! Create it. Love it. Live it!


Guts and Glory don’t matter: Experience and Learning do!


Guts and Glory are mere perceptions. The reality is in experiences and in learning from them. It’s through the experiencing and the learning that the soul is enriched.

 

When we watch a movie and admire a hero for the way he or she has fought for justice, against perpetrators of evil or crime or injustice, we come back feeling good. We loved the movie. But don’t really think any of it is real. Because it’s just a story enacted for our entertainment. In real Life when we meet the actor, we do say we admire him or her and their ‘acting’. We know little about who they really are for us to be able to see the person behind the actor.

 

So it is with real Life heroism. Often people look at others around them and call them courageous and celebrate their valor or the stance they have taken in Life on fighting injustice or simply meeting a challenge head on. Someone who has found a deadly disease like cancer is often seen as a champion. Someone who has lived on despite the passing away of a loved one is believed to be very bold. Someone who fights injustice is seen as a ‘fearless’ crusader. And someone who refuses to run away from a seemingly impossible situation is believed to be incredibly resilient.

 

To be sure, everyone who has ever lived has had to encounter fear. Fear spares no one. Interestingly enough though all of us have the ability to be courageous. Because courage is NOT the absence of fear. Courage is what fear delivers when you face up to the fear. Because only when you face up to something, will you realize that it cannot harm you. Only what you run away from chases you, haunts you.

 

 

In a health challenge like cancer, you can feel fearful of death. But as long as you run scared of death, it will torment you. But the moment you discover that death is a non-negotiable eventuality that all of us who are born have to confront, you will no longer fear death. Then you start living. And despite your speeding to death, owning to your personal situation,  you begin to feel blessed that at least you reasonably know how much time you have left to live. And you start investing in the living than obsess with the dying. Fear of death has delivered to you the ability__courage__to live simply because you stopped running away from death.

 

 

So, it is with every Life situation. The more you run away from a problem, the more fearful you will be. When you face it, the problem, even if it doesn’t go away, will at least stop tormenting you. When you stop feeling intimidated by the problem you face, with courage playing a catalyst, faith is born. Faith is the light that drives away the darkness of fear. Remember, darkness cannot drive away light. Only light can eradicate darkness. You cannot project darkness on to anyone or anything. But you can light up a Life, including your own. And faith is that light!

 

Where there is faith, fundamentally in yourself, triumph is certain. You will ultimately prevail. Even if you die, while attempting to get on top of your Life situation, it is a triumph. Because you are now free, liberated from bondage to this world and its worldly attachments, responsibilities, consequences. But often times, the triumph happens again in the real world. And the world will glorify you. The world will see you as successful. True wisdom though lies in knowing that the fans of your success don’t see your struggle or don’t want to see it. They only see the finished product (at least for the moment): the successful you. And that glory can be humbling, relieving, gratifying and, often, heady. Beware of this tricky moment. And stay grounded reminding yourself that all this glory is a mere perception. A perception of the world. The truth is that the experience of getting here has been the reward. Not the material reward that all this glory brought you.

 

Jayakumar, an autorickshaw driver, with his topper daughter Prema! Pic Courtesy: Mid-Day

 

Yesterday India celebrated Prema Jayakumar, daughter of an auto-rickshaw driver from Mumbai,  for topping the national Chartered Accountancy exam. Glory followed suit. Media attention, cash rewards, job offers. And suddenly, overnight, the young 24-year-old, who shares 280 sq-ft of living space with her dad, mom and younger brother (who also passed the same exam this year), is feeling on top of the world. She knows that in a matter of a few weeks or months, she will be able to hoist her family out of the difficult Life they lead and offer them a more comfortable one. In her story, instead of living fearful of the same difficult Life she has led for 24 years, she decided to face her fears, and had the guts, as we see it, to dream big. And her guts led her to her glory. But unless she realizes that what the world sees as her guts is actually her ability to have dreamt big despite her deprived circumstances, and that her glory is only momentary and will fade away once the newness of her story is dead in the public eye, she will get caught up in this perceptional game. (If she indeed does, that’s will be another experience, another learning for her and another story!) The reality for now, in the context we discuss, is that she met Life, faced up to it, and triumphed one phase of it. The entire experience has enriched her. And now, a new conquest, a new experience awaits her.

So, don’t let all this talk of guts and glory, of whatever you do in Life, ever kid you. It’s all hot air capable of blowing your ego bubble. Only so that it can be pricked by Life and circumstance again! Your greatest reward, and your ONLY wealth, is what you have experienced in Life and what you have learned from it! Live with this understanding and focus. And you will be both in bliss and unmoved!


Accept each moment with gratitude and humility!


Accept whatever you get with gratitude and humility. Be grateful for the moment. That’s all there is to Life!

Is that it?

Indeed. This is it.

This moment is all that you__and I__have. Embrace it, immerse yourself in it and you will not have any problem with it and in Life whatsoever!

Bombay Jayashri: Grateful for the moment
The first time, more than a decade ago, I attempted to read Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’, it went over my head. Now, when I look back, I think the book didn’t needed that many pages as it eventually had! Just the title was enough to convey the power of the message, the essence of the lesson it taught! This morning, something I read in The Hindu, amplified this learning one more time. My good friend K.T.Jagannathan, interviewing celebrated Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri, in The Hindu’s op-ed page, asks her of her Oscar nomination for her song ‘Pi’s Lullaby’ from Ang Lee’s 2012 movie ‘Life of Pi’. I quote the relevant part of that interview verbatim.



KTJ: What does this Oscar nomination mean to you? Where do you take-off from here?

BJ: It means so much to me, Indian music and musicians. I feel I have been chosen to represent them all. I really don’t know where I go from here. But I am just grateful for the moment. That’s all I can think of at the moment.
So beautiful. That she should just choose to celebrate the moment and be grateful for it! One can go on and look at the larger impacts the nomination can have in the Life of an artist like Jayashri, for Indian classical music in general and for Carnatic music in particular. One can talk of how India has once again proven to the whole world what we are made of and blah and blah. But the beauty, the joy, resides in the moment. And in celebrating it Jayashri has chosen the more evolved path – of living with what is!

Well, it’s easy to celebrate an Oscar moment the realist may argue. Pointing out that it is so difficult to celebrate a tragedy. Pain. Suffering. Death. How do you celebrate such moments when all you want is for it to go away? A joyous occasion you will want it to linger on, stay longer. And a painful one, you just want it over and done with. How then do you stay in such a moment and what power does it have in our Life?

You stay in a painful moment the same way as you stay in a happy one __ with acceptance. Moments don’t come labeled happy or sad. These labels you give them. Your mind is the villain – it goes on labeling it. A moment becomes sad because you dislike it. And it becomes a happy one when you like it. What if you liked every moment? Then won’t every moment be a happy one? This is the simplest and the easiest way to understand bliss and to attain it. Imagine your Life’s a big status message box, just as the one that sits on top of your facebook Wall. Each moment’s definition is a new status message. All you have to do is imagine that in Life, just as it is presently on facebook, there are no Dislike buttons and all you can do is simply Like each status message, each moment! This technique may not prevent pain from coming your way. But it will eradicate suffering for sure.

For instance, you cannot prevent death in your family or in your circle of influence. The nature of Life is such that the moment birth happens, death is inevitable. So, the best way forward towards peace and bliss, in Life, is to accept death as an inevitable reality. Surely, when a person you know and love dies, there will be pain. Enormous pain. But there will be no suffering because you have ‘liked’, by accepting, the non-negotiable dimension of Life called death! If you have transcended death, if you are no longer running scared of it, what else can move you or trouble you in Life?

Wanting a painful moment to go away IS the cause of your suffering. Replace that want with acceptance. Do away with all disliking and indulge only in liking what is. Because there are no ifs, buts, or logic, in and to Life! It is what it is. Period. And each moment is teaching us the immeasurable value of celebration, patience, faith and acceptance. So, deal with Life’s moments the same way as you would deal with the teacher that taught you in primary school__greet each moment with heartfelt gratitude and immense humility. Bliss and abundance will follow!  

For the musically inclined, here’s the video clip of Bombay Jayashri’s Oscar nominated ‘Pi’s Lullaby’!