Life = It is what it is

Life can be both an irony and a tragedy at times.  This isn’t the problem. Because such is Life’s nature. The problem arises when you don’t understand Life’s true nature and expect Life to be in a certain way – as you wish it to be!
Prasanna, A R Rahman and Vivek
Picture Courtesy: Internet
This morning’s papers carry the poignant story of Tamil comedian Vivek’s 14-year-old son Prasanna’s untimely death. The boy succumbed to suspected dengue and brain fever after 40 days in hospital. One of the papers pointed out the irony – Vivek has been an ambassador for the Tamil Nadu government’s dengue-prevention campaign! My auto-rickshaw driver amplified another angle to the irony: “Saar, Vivek made so many people laugh their guts out as a comedian. Poor guy, he is now having to cope with such a huge loss.” When I heard the news first, I remembered A.K.Hangal’s immortal dialogue (written by Salim-Javed) in Sholay (1975, Ramesh Sippy): “Jaante ho duniya mein sabse bada bhoj kya hota hai? – Baap ke kandhe pe bete ka janaaza!” It means: “The heaviest burden in Life is a child’s coffin on a parent’s shoulder”.
I am sure everyone today must be sending Vivek and his family a silent prayer and positive energy. Of course, beyond that none of us can do anything. The truth is, when our time comes, each of us has to deal with our own Life situations. This is perhaps why the famous Hindi poet, Harivansh Rai Bachchan (1907~2003), said this: “Jeevan ka matlab hai sangharsh”; “Life is a struggle, a challenge.” It doesn’t mean that Life is only full of pain and challenges. It means that you have to go through your share of challenges no matter who you are and no matter what you have done or not done, no matter whether you think you deserve it or don’t deserve it.
This is where the Buddha’s advice is very relevant. He said this: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Suffering is a human, self-inflicted condition. You suffer when you expect your Life to be any different from what it is, from the way it is. Someone dies and you feel the grief. That’s because your pain leads you to grief. And that is natural. But the moment you ask why should this person die or ask why should this person die now, then you have invited suffering into your Life. Who is going to answer your “whys”? Actually nobody has any answers. So, following any painful event or situation, only when you keep clinging on to the grief, do you suffer.

A friend, a retired Wing Commander from the Indian Air Force, who lost his grandson within a day of the child’s birth, had this to say: “Well, he came, he fulfilled his time on the planet and he went away. That was his design. We can’t do anything but accept his reality.” I agree completely with my friend’s outlook to Life. In fact, the simplest way to live Life is to be prepared for anything – and everything. And let us not ask the “whys”. Just take it as it comes. For it was what it was, it is what it is and it will always be what it will be. 
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What is over is over: don’t cling on to the cocktail of hate, anger and grief!

Separations. Break-ups. Showdowns. Desperate but unsuccessful attempts to control people, situations or events. Whatever. They are all over when you stop responding to them. They are over when you decide they are over.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with someone from my family after many, many years. We have had serious issues between us – at least this person once believed that I had cheated the family and that I was not even worth having a conversation with. She suggested to me yesterday that we must make a fresh beginning. I replied to her that while I have long forgiven myself and have forgiven the others involved in this sordid relationship mess in my family, I just cannot forget what happened. And I did not see a need to start afresh. I said everyone’s happy and peaceful in their own worlds – even though these worlds are distant while we, ironically, live in the same city. I left saying let’s leave things as they are and simply maintain a ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ relationship.
It is perfectly normal to have a relationship problem if you can’t trust or relate to the person concerned. However, you need not carry the anger and grudge in you. It is pointless. Understand that whoever is the one that caused you pain and agony has accomplished whatever he or she set out to. The event is over and out. By expressing anger over the episode, by continuing to direct anger against the person who caused you the hurt, you are only injuring yourself. Sometimes, it may not be just a hurt from a word or an act that someone said or did. It may be from a separation that the pain, the grief ensues. And you want to avenge the person’s audacity to have betrayed your trust, that too with such impunity. You seek justice. And your entire being is consumed by this desire to get ‘even’. Because you feel used and discarded __ as if you were toilet paper.
The cocktail of hate, anger and grief can be depressing, debilitating, lethal. You, and only you, can draw a line. And decide not to continue with stretching this episode and story any more. It is best to remember that dwelling on what is past__including the prime, good times, of a relationship, and pining for those times all over again __ is futile. Harivanshrai Bachchan (1907-2003), the celebrated poet, and father of superstar Amitabh Bachchan, says this so beautifully in his poem, ‘Jo Beet Gayi, So Baat Gayi’. Here’s a translated excerpt:
Jivan mein ek sitara tha,/  there was a precious star in my Life 

Maana woh behad pyaara tha,/ agreed, it was most loved

Woh doob gaya toh doob gaya,/ if that star has set today, then it has set

Amber ke aangan ko dekho,/ look at the courtyard of the skies
Kitne iske taare toote,/ how many of its stars have set or broken away
Kitne iske pyaare choote,/ how many of its beloved have been lost
Jo choot gaye phir kahan mile;/ those stars that have set or been lost, where have they ever been found
Par bolo toote taaron par/ but tell me on the broken, setting stars,
Kab amber shokh manaata hai / whenever did the skies grieve
Jo beet gayi so baat gayi/ what is past is past …

It is important to also remember that this law of change is the law of the Universe. Seasons change. People change. Places change. Relationships change. You want to start afresh in a relationship, do it. You don’t want to, as I decided in this case, don’t do it. Whatever you do, don’t carry grudges and don’t grieve. An irrefutable fact about Life is that each new beginning results only from something ending. So, always, what is over is over. And you must just go on, move on!

Make your work and Life meaningful, make them your prayer!

When your work becomes purposeful, it becomes prayer. When your work becomes prayer, you lose yourself in the work you are doing – and become the work itself!

Kailash Satyarthi
Picture Courtesy: Internet
The other day, I was reading an interview that 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi gave the Times of India’s Nalin Mehta. Satyarthi told Mehta: “Pride, honours and awards don’t matter much to me personally. I am not a saint but I’m driven by spiritualism, not political theories or mere emotions.” Mehta then asks Satyarthi: “Please explain your spiritualism.” And Satyarthi replies: “I am not a religious person. I’ve not gone to a temple or mosque in the last 40 years. I don’t worship in temples because I worship children — by giving them freedom and childhood. They are the true faces of God and that is my strength.”

Satyarthi personifies the “work-becomes-prayer” paradigm. I can completely relate to what he is saying. Most people, in fact almost everyone, work to make a living. Hardly a few, of the world’s seven billion people, work to make another Life or work to make a difference to others’ lives. It is only when you immerse yourself in your work, without worrying about what’s in it for you, that your work becomes purposeful. That’s when it becomes prayer. And unless your work becomes prayer, you cannot create value. You cannot become the work itself. This is evident mostly in the field of art – as Osho, the Master, has famously said, “When the dancer becomes the dance, magic happens!” So, you see that magic when Federer or Tendulkar play, you see that magic when Birju Maharaj dances, when Ustad Zakir Hussain plays the tabla, when Amitabh Bachchan acts, when Asha Bhosle sings or when A R Rahman makes music. The same possibility, to excel and create value, exists in other vocations as well. When you pour yourself into your work, when you offer yourself and your work as an offering to the Universe – you don’t just work, you create value. This is what Satyarthi was explaining as his spiritualism. And what he has achieved, is imminently possible by each of us. We too can create value and make our work our prayer. What we need to do is to stop earning a living and simply live – doing what gives us joy and do it consistently and well.

Your work becoming your prayer does not mean that you will not faces hurdles in Life. Satyarthi too has faced a lot of challenges in his lifelong efforts to deal with child labor in India effectively. But when you work with a sense of purpose that drives you, you remain unfazed. That’s when, despite all odds, you will figure out ways to keep ploughing on. As Harivansh Rai Bachchan has said in his immortal poem, “lahron se dar kar nauka par nahi hoti, kosish karne walon ki kabhi har nahi hoti” meaning “by fearing the waves, a boat can never make progress, those who keep trying can never fail”.

Whatever you do, do it with a sense of purpose. Make your work and Life meaningful. Watch it become your prayer. And feel the magic, as Osho says, of the work becoming you and you becoming your work! 

Soldier on – even if you are beaten and are all alone!

No matter who’s with you, for you, you often have to face Life, and fight its challenges, alone!
On the Kaun Banega Crorepati show last evening, host Amitabh Bachchan shared his personal learning from Life. While at Sherwood College, a residential school in Nainital, in the 1950s, Bachchan said he had to learn boxing. He explained how boxing taught him a lot and prepared him to face Life’s challenges. He said: “Inside the boxing ring you are alone with your opponent. Yes, there are a lot of people around you, but they are all outside the ring. Many of them will be cheering for you, many will be cheering for the opponent too. Many will advise you or have an opinion about you. But no one can play the game for you. Fight you must, and you will have to fight alone. So it is, as I have discovered, in Life too. Life’s challenges have to be faced. And at all times you have to remember, irrespective of who claims to support you or is with you, you are still alone in your fight!”
I found Bachchan’s analogy very powerful and relevant. The word “fight” here is not to be viewed in a negative sense. On a spiritual plane, what I have learned is that there’s no point in fighting or resisting anything. It only causes suffering. But here, in this context, fight really means the act of facing Life. Of staying on, doggedly, despite the circumstances and ploughing on. Sometimes, you will get the feeling that you are up against a wall. That you are not making any progress. At those times you will feel defeated and will not be able to make sense of what you must do. People around you will call you a fool. People will encourage you to give up. At all such times, if you believe in yourself, and have integrity of purpose, you must remember that not turning back and running away from your Life situation is “progress” in a very unique way!  In refusing to budge you are actually moving – perhaps not forward in a physical sense, but definitely inward and upward in a spiritual sense. These will be lonely moments, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months, and years….but you must keep at it, if you believe in whatever you are following!
During these long years of the bankruptcy that my family and I have been grappling with, I have experienced this feeling several times. I can visualize myself as that boxer in the ring, taking blow after blow, unable to roll with the punches at times or even deliver a few at other times. But I refuse to capitulate or give up. I can’t say exactly why I refuse to give up. There may be multiple reasons. I believe a lot in myself and the work we do. My wife and soulmate too shares that belief – so that definitely helps. And so do my two children. But even then, sometimes, you cannot escape that feeling of being alone – up against a formidable Life situation! I for sure do feel guilty at times for taking the decisions I have taken in the past that have led to what we are having to face now. That’s when the feeling of being alone is at its peak. Everytime I feel this way though, I quickly direct my attention to count the blessings in my Life and celebrate the companionship of my wife and children. It always pulls me out from the depths of darkness and hopelessness.
I do recognize that many people in Life may not even have the blessing I have – of a loving, compassionate, understanding and believing family. And they may find themselves alone – beaten by Life! For all of you out there who, like me (and my family), are left numbed by Life’s challenges, here are a few lines to perk you up this Monday morning from Bachchan’s father, the venerable poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan (1907~2003):
Asaflta ek chunauti hai, ise sweekar karo,

Kya kami reh gayi, dekho aur sudhar karo.

Jab tak na safal ho, neend chain ko tyago tum,

Sangharsh ka maidan chhodkar mat bhago tum.

It means:
Failure is a challenge – accept it
Look for what you need to change/improve about yourself/the situation
Until you succeed (in your endeavor) forget about rest and sleep – be at it relentlessly
Don’t run away from the challenge
So there may well be times when you may be alone in Life. Accept it. And Life may well be unreasonable. Face it. Only when you soldier on – can you get to what you dream of and go where no one else has ever gone before!