Choose ROE over ROI!!!

Instead of ROI__Return on Investment, focus on ROE__Return on Enlightenment in Life!
Enlightenment is an understanding, not an event. It is an understanding of Life itself__a quiet acceptance of what is. It is a spiritual threshold that anyonecan attain. Somehow we have this misconception, because of most (self-proclaimed) spiritual ambassadors being in monk-like robes, that you need to be a saint to be enlightened. Wrong. Saints are not necessarily spiritual. They may be deeply religious, and therefore, ritualistic or they may even be dogmatic, and therefore inflexible. Spirituality and Religion are two different things. Spirituality really is the flowering of inner awareness; it is an awakening. It helps you understand the true nature and meaning of Life. When you understand the true meaning of Life, you are enlightened.
Understanding the true meaning of Life does not mean that you stop enjoying it. Your enjoyment or sorrow does not change what happens in Life. No matter what or how you feel, you will continue to experience Life. Except that when you understand its meaning, when you are enlightened, you will stop reacting to it. You will just be unmoved. To be unmoved, you don’t need to be sitting under a tree. You could well be on a cricket field. Watch Indian cricket skipper M.S.Dhoni carefully. He understands Life__that what goes up, comes down, that victory and defeat are mere events, that Life goes on, no matter what. So, he stays calm and stoic – almost always. And so you know him as Captain Cool.
Enlightenment and spiritual empowerment do not mean abstinence. You can be essaying whatever roles you are playing in Life__employer, employee, father, mother, husband, wife, citizen, sportsman__and still be enlightened. You can be the Monk who bought a Ferrari and there will be nothing wrong with that! That may well be both ROI and ROE! And you could be doubly richer!

So, work towards a better understanding of Life and you will reap a higher Return on Enlightenment. You will live longer, wiser, healthier and happier!

When we are illuminated from within, we are enlightened

The ability to see Life clearly is what leads us to be illuminated from within, to be enlightened.
A holy Hindu scripture, Brihadanyaka Upanishad, has a prayer with the line that goes “Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya”, imploring the Almighty to lead the prayerful from ‘darkness unto light’. From a state of existing to awakening. From being unenlightened to enlightened. This state, while salubrious to the soul when in prayer, is often, in all practicality, seen as unattainable. And this is why humankind fail to see the huge opportunity to evolve and awaken to this simple truism.
We think enlightenment is for the Buddha, for the fakirs, for the Himalayan Masters. And that those of us who are caught in the worldly web of action, emotion and desires, have to be content with just prayer which sounds pious on the lips but is listless in the heart! And so, we have concluded that several of us will suffer in the dark recesses of our existence. This need not be so. There is a way out. Interestingly, simply, practically, it is possible to lift ourselves from darkness to light. Instantaneously. All we need to do is to see Life with clarity.
Legend has it that when the Buddha was dying, and was about to embark on his ultimate journey, his disciple Anand, was distraught and was crying. He asked the Buddha, “What will happen to me?  Who will guide me now?  Who will show me the light?”  Buddha opened his eyes and uttered his last famous words, “Appo Deepo Bhava”. (Be a light unto yourself!)  “There is no one else on this inner journey.  We are all alone.  We need our own light to show the way,” was the advice the Buddha gave Anand.
Indeed, to find enlightenment, you don’t need anyone, you don’t need a venue, a tree or a religion. You only need yourself. You are the One! You are the only one who can be your own light. What is this light? This light is nothing but clarity in and about Life. To see things as they are. And not to interpret them or try to choose between them. There is always clarity in each moment. And you need not do anything other than just see it. For example, if there is death of a dear one, see it that way. Don’t avoid it or lament it. If there is loss in business, in love, see it as a loss. If there is birth of a child, see the new Life. Don’t reason, don’t justify, don’t exult, don’t gloat. When you see Life for what it is, as it is, choice disappears.
J.Krishnamurthi (1895~1986), the renowned philosopher, calls this choicelessness. This ability to see things as they are. When we have the clarity of this insight, it brings us freedom. Because we are no longer fearful of a choice that may lead to grief or are desiring success and witnessing the bloating of our egos because we chose right. This clarity, this freedom, is the light that can illuminate our souls. When we are illuminated from within, we are enlightened. We would then have passed from darkness to eternal light.

Learning to live this “complimentary” Life

When you realize that Life is a gift, you will learn to stop wanting to control it!
Last evening our daughter was performing in a dance-theatre production. Several of our friends had bought tickets and had come to cheer her and her dance company. As the show was set to begin, and we walked towards the gates, my wife and I were advised, by a crew member of the dance company, to take the gate further ahead. It, we soon realized, was the VIP gate and offered the best views in the auditorium. Our friends had gone through their respective gates (depending on the denominations of their tickets) and had taken their seats. As we waited for the show to commence, a pang of guilt pierced through me. We seem to have unwittingly deserted our friends, I thought. Then I reasoned to myself that the only option we had – given our current financial situation, we didn’t have the means to buy tickets ourselves – was to celebrate the fact that we have VIP, “parents’ complimentary” tickets that our daughter’s dance company had offered us. So, indeed, the best thing to do was to sit back and enjoy the performance!
Soon the show got underway and I lost myself in it. On the way back home, my thoughts went back to our “complimentary” tickets. And as I kept thinking about them, I suddenly wondered: “Isn’t this whole Life complimentary? Isn’t it a gift we never asked for?” That realization was awakening. And I chuckled to myself. If only we held this awareness consistently in us, I thought, Life would be so much simpler living.
Most of our young adulthood is lost in “building a career” and “raising a family”. Then our middle-age is spent in “settling down” our children. And post-retirement is really about “managing to cope with our health situation” and if we live any longer, most of us treat that time as “waiting for death”.  Very few people actually manage to do both – which is get about issues like career, family, money, dealing with a Life-changing crisis and such and yet live a Life that they love living. This minority comprises those who have really understood that Life is a gift and we must live it fully – learning from each experience and enjoying each moment! Each of us has this opportunity, without doubt, but we must learn to not want to control Life and take it as it comes – one day at a time, one experience at a time.
The episode of our complimentary tickets brought my focus back, yet again, to the complimentary nature of our Life itself. At a physical level, given our financial challenges, my family is able to survive day-after-day only because of “acts of the Universe and the kindness of fellow human beings”. At a spiritual level, we understand that nothing really belongs to us. We are just guests on this planet, who are traveling this journey, this complimentary journey, called this lifetime! So when we came with nothing, when we own nothing, and when we will soon have to leave empty-handed, what’s the point in trying to control anything?

When you understand that this whole Life you have is complimentary, that it is a gift, you too will learn to sit back and enjoy it! Just as the way you would enjoy a show for which you have free VIP tickets! 

Don’t postpone intelligent living anymore

What is yours? What is mine? Everything is so transient.
What is real, true, untouched, eternal is the soul. This concept is so simple and a part of every scripture. But this Truth is lost in the maze of religious brouhaha and communal theatrics. Another reason is that its espousers are all people who have renounced the world, and have taken to wearing orange or maroon or white or black robes, grown flowing beards or matted hair and sit in inaccessible, distant, lonely locales. That too is a way to attain the eternal and to encounter and internalize this Truth. But a simpler, easier, practical way, is TO LIVE IN THIS WORLD and yet BE ABOVE IT.
Enlightenment does not require you to be seated under a tree nor does it champion abstinence, renunciation and running away! Enlightenment requires awareness, it asks for you to open up your soul so that the light can illuminate your Life. And the soul is not some unseen metaphysical dimension to your Life. It is a presence. It is you. It is who you are. Have you seen air? But don’t you believe that there is air in this Universe? Similarly, you must believe that there is a soul, yours and everyone else’s. That everything, including this body of yours, will eventually perish. But the soul, like Life, will go on.
Subhashini Kaul, 43, a former IIM-A professor realized this when she was in her late thirties. So did her husband. Resultantly, both of them gave up their lucrative corporate careers. And decided to find meaning in their lives. While her husband roams railway stations across the country, preferring to be a fakir, Subhashini, has become a ‘sadhak’ (seeker). Her religious views are that the ‘Truth is One’! She’s on facebook and stays connected with like-minded people. “It’s not because of any incident that I turned a sadhak… but I started feeling that all the effort one puts in the materialistic world to get ahead isn’t worth it…God directed me to another way of Life. That was a monkey world where everyone was in the rat race to get ahead. But I blame no one for the happenings in my Life. I have pulled out from all relations. Now, I dance when I want to and sleep when I feel like it. An atheist earlier, now I feel closer to God,” she once told the Times of India.
The God she speaks of, to me, is the One within. The Truth. We don’t have to take such a dramatic step, as Subhashini and her husband took, to renounce the world. We can continue to have our Ferraris, our Single Malts, our First Class Seats….the only thing we must give up is all attachment to any of these. Because attachment brings grief. And detachment is bliss! What happened to Subhashini in her late thirties I believe, happened to me when I was 35. Over time, my awareness has helped me to accept whatever comes my way in Life – unconditionally. You too can get there if you don’t impose conditions on the Life you have.

But please don’t postpone intelligent living anymore. Because, as the Buddha reminds us, “The problem is that you think you have time!” 

Real achievement lies in knowing that there’s nothing to achieve

When you realize that Life is not about achieving anything, but is about experiencing everything that comes your way, you can say you are awake, aware and enlightened!

I have a very close friend who is much older than I am. I will call him ABB. He’s the consummate networker, yet he’s a very genteel person – someone who goes out of his way to help people. He has served the Indian Air Force and post his voluntary retirement, he has been a very active member of the corporate circuit in Hyderabad. He’s been an office bearer of many an industry body or management association. And has been a champion of several voluntary causes in South India. I have known him for over 2 decades now. And he has always left me inspired with his energy and enthusiasm. Even so, he’s extremely modest about his achievements and truly believes that he’s just an ordinary person – which is why I have chosen not to name him, but have just used his initials, so as not to embarrass him. I was in touch with him recently and he had this to say about Life, at 72, for him: “I am not looking at name or fame. If some work or request comes my way and I feel like doing it, I do it. I have nothing to prove, nothing to achieve, nothing to grab!

I took away a profound learning from his simple expression: “Nothing to prove. Nothing to achieve. Nothing to grab!” The way we are conditioned – both by our upbringing and through social demands and pressures – we are always doing just the opposite. It is almost as if, if you are not driven, you are wasting your Life. And the word “driven” itself is misunderstood. It has come to mean – prove yourself through your feats, your achievements, your assets, your wealth, your estates. Whereas, we should have been driven by an urge to live fully, to enjoy and celebrate the gift of this lifetime. But in order to prove ourselves, we are postponing living all the time. Osho, the Master, explains the fallacy of living this way and champions living enlightened: “Enlightenment is not an achievement, it is an understanding that there is nothing to achieve, nowhere to go.” Beautiful!

Several years ago, as a young business journalist, I had the rare privilege of interviewing R.Thiagarajan, the chairman of the Shriram Group of companies. I had asked Thiagarajan why his Group was structured the way it was – with no “famous or well known” people heading its various companies. Thiagarajan replied: “Fame is not a criteria for creating value. Ownership and passion are. The people in our Group have lots and lots of that.” When I think back about that conversation, I realize how much power there is in knowing the meaning of the word achievement. We associate the word achievement to something material all the time. But real achievement lies in knowing that there’s nothing to prove to anyone, that there’s nothing to achieve in a material sense, and, yet, that we must do everything within our means to live Life to our fullest potential at all times! When you employ this knowledge you end up creating value – Thiagarajan is the most understated leader in corporate India today, yet the Group of companies he leads are the largest and the most profitable in each industry segment they operate in. To be sure, the Group’s various CEOs, like Thiagarajan, are extremely media-shy, modest and relatively unknown.

The key to intelligent living lies in internalizing ABB’s and Thiagarajan’s philosophies. It means to live Life fully, doing whatever you can with whatever you have in each moment, not really worrying about what you are achieving. When you begin walking, often, the road unfolds on its own. When you let go and live, driven by the urge to live fully, and not by material goals, always, Life takes care of all that it has created. And that includes you – and me!

Demystifying Nirvana

Living without enlightenment is like choosing to walk in the dark in your home, without turning the lights on!

We have all been brought up with a romantic view of enlightenment. That it is something special which only the ‘chosen’ few can attain. Wrong. Enlightenment, or ‘nirvana‘, as explained in Buddhism, means simply to blow out__’nir‘ meaning out and ‘vana‘ meaning to blow. So, reaching this stage means to blow out the darkness of ignorance and, consequently, invite the light of awareness to brighten up your Life. Attaining ‘nirvana‘, therefore, does not require us to abdicate the Life we have been given.

One day a rich man came to Gautama Buddha. And calling him the Awakened One, he asked Gautama if he too should give up his wealth, his work and sit under a tree, to understand the meaning of Life and find his true Purpose. “Should I give up everything to find Truth and Happiness,” asked the man. The Compassionate Buddha replied patiently,”Anyone can receive the bliss of finding Truth as long as he follows the path of unselfishness. If you are going to cling to your wealth, then it is better to throw it away than let it poison your heart. But if you do not cling to it, and use it wisely, then you will be a blessing to people. It is not wealth and power that make people slaves, but clinging to them sure does.”

So, you__and I__too can attain ‘nirvana‘ if we recognize that living in this world with what has been given to us is not sinful. Being attached to our worldly acquisitions – including material things, relationships and opinions  is what brings us misery. So, the way to enlightenment is to live in this world and yet be above it. To remain free of all attachments. To invite this awareness requires nothing more than the effort you will need to make to turn on the lights in your home. If you choose not to, despite the fact that you know the layout of your home, you will stumble, trip, even fall, hurting yourself in the process. But the moment you turn on the lights, you move freely. Unrestricted.

Osho, the Master, exhorts each one of us to be a Buddha. “It is just a question of opening your eyes. You are asleep. If you awaken, you too can be a Buddha. There have been many Buddhas before Gautama, many after him and there will continue to be many more in the future,”he says. Buddha really means ‘the Awakened One’. Gautama Buddha’s message simply was ‘Be a Light unto yourself’. Here’s hoping you turn on the light in your Life and live with awareness and in joy hereafter!

Happy Birthday to you…!

Vishaka Hari
Earlier today I had the opportunity to listen to renowned Carnatic and Harikatha exponent, Vishaka Hari, who performed at a friend’s mother’s 80th birthday celebration! What Vishaka said at the end of her performance was inspiring. She said, while wishing my friend’s mother a great birthday: “The actual birthday for us, voyagers through this journey called Life, is not our date of birth. The day when enlightenment is born in us, through the flowering of internal awareness, is when we are truly born. That’s when we really start living.”
I completely agree with her.
Enlightenment is not what you attain because you give up everything and go sit in a cave or under a tree. What I have learned is that enlightenment is when you realize that the light you seek is within you. Enlightenment being fully conscious, aware, of your divinity. Of the Oneness of your creation with the Higher Energy that has created you. This consciousness leads you to understand the frivolity in chasing a material Life – the folly of being attached to all things that are impermanent, including your own Life! When this consciousness is born inside you, there is tremendous clarity. Suddenly you feel sure about who you are, why you are here and what you must do while you are here. It is more than a Eureka moment. It is as if a veil has been taken off, a cataract has been removed – so now you have the ability to see clearly! This happens in each of our lives. At some time or the other. So, in essence, all of us attain enlightenment in our own unique ways – because there’s no way forward without becoming conscious. Without being aware. Without being awake.
You __ or I __ don’t have to do anything special to become conscious or aware. Just be. Feel everything that you experience deeply. Train your mind – through whatever method works for you – to not be caught in a past memory or a future worry and be present, in the moment, in the NOW! When you are fully present, awareness blooms, and through that experience “you” are actually, really, born – to live and not simply exist!

Don’t intellectualize Life, just live it!

You can’t intellectualize Life. You can only live it.

And the best way to live is to see from your soul. From the real core of your being. When you open your soul, you will see the light.

You are really not what you think you are __ you are not your name or body or qualification or your job! You are the Universe’s energy that’s powering you, and is actually powering all of creation. This isn’t complex at all. Every thing that’s happening to you and has happened or will happen in the future, is transient. Which is why in Indian culture, we refer to Life as ‘maya’ or as an illusion. So, in the end, this entire lifetime will be over, this experience you have had will end, but you soul will go on.

All your problems, worries, anxieties, fear, suffering come when you intellectualize Life. I have no money, what will I do? I am starting a new job, what will happen if I don’t fit into the new place’s culture? I have cancer and I will die soon. All these are intellectual responses. You have been conditioned to believe that you need money to live. That you cannot survive cancer. That people are unkind and that you must be wary of them in general. The soul has no such issues. It is impregnable. Nothing can touch it. If you understand your true Self, and see from your soul, you will live Life. And not merely exist.

Swami Ramakrishna Paramhamsa explains this very well. He was asked: “What is the logical, rational support for your illumination?” The question really was to understand what as the evidence for Ramakrishna’s enlightenment. He replied: “I am the argument. If you can understand me, if you can feel me you will know my illumination. It is radiating but your eyes are closed. Now I am not responsible for your eyes. If you want to know me, open your eyes — and not only the outward eyes but the inward too, because my illumination is of the inner.”

So it is with each of us. Our souls are closed. We operate as if our excel sheets and smart phones and our decisions make our lives happen. The truth is that Life makes our lifetimes happen. We don’t! If we accept this reality, Life will be simpler and much, much, much more beautiful!

When you pause for a while and watch lazy raindrops fall rhythmically on water puddles, when you see a baby sleeping peacefully with no care about the world around it, when you hear the bleating of a goat, when you see the sun magically disappear over the horizon, when you reflect on your breathing… those times, your soul will be open. The key is to make this experience consistently repeatable. And that can happen ONLY when intellectualization stops and living begins!