What I learnt from Tenzin Gyatso: “Stay Humble, Stay Happy, Stay Human”

Every once in a while, someone will come into your Life and make you sit up and appreciate the value of being human – and being happy.
On my Life’s journey I have met a few people who have had a profound impact on my outlook to Life and have inspired me to be happy. But this morning at the Extra Mural Lecture Series at IIT-Madras, The XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, invited me to look at Life and happiness afresh.
He raised the pitch and perspective to a higher-than-30,000-ft-level saying each of us has a responsibility to make this Century, the 21st Century, the Century of Happiness. And even as he delivered this profound message, he ensured that he gently, beautifully, stirred your soul and made you realize that the real purpose of your creation – and mine – is to be happy!
Tenzin Gyatso: The XIVth Dalai Lama
Picture Courtesy: TIME/Internet
The Dalai Lama began by simply being who he is – he is simplicity personified. He picked up an apple, from a fruit basket that had been given to him by IIT-M Director Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi as a welcome gesture, and kept chomping on it all through his lecture. He said, “I prefer informality. I prefer all of us treating each other as humans. That way there is equality. You know, the moment I start looking at myself as a Tibetan or as a Buddhist monk, then I begin to treat myself with exclusivity. And let me tell you if I start referring to myself as The Dalai Lama – I am the only Dalai Lama in the world which has over 7 billion people – then it gets very lonely. So, I am just another human being like you. I like it this way. This is when we can have a conversation – you and me!”
He made a very strong case for humanity and happiness. He said that all humans, intrinsically, basically, are compassionate. And all human beings want a happy Life – and they have a right to be happy! All destructive emotions – anger, hatred, fear – are secondary. They arise in people only when their idea of happiness is disturbed. Each individual, he pointed out, has a responsibility: to go back to the basic human state of compassion, to have a vision to make this world happier and to develop the patience to attain this vision. “But it is a personal choice,” he reiterated, adding, “That is why the Buddha said, ‘You are your own Master.’ Your happiness is in your hands and in your actions – mental, verbal and physical actions. So, you can go to work on what I have shared with you or you can drop it.”
Tenzin Gyatso: The XIVth Dalai Lama
Picture Courtesy: TIME/Internet
He made us pause and think of religion and its role and purpose. He patiently elucidated what the various religions are trying to say. He led us to understand that each religion, and the multiple philosophies professed by each religion, may appear to be different. But ultimately all of them are promoting human well-being and happiness. Again, he championed that it was an individual responsibility for each of us to stay focused on the bigger picture of what each religion was striving to achieve. “The true meaning of secular is to respect all religions and their followers and respect all those who are non-believers (in religion) too. It is our responsibility to work towards religious harmony among the world’s people. That’s my commitment,” he said.
At 80, The Dalai Lama lives and leads his Life’s message from the front. Not in his spiritual role. Not in its political avatar. To me, he has relinquished both. The political mandate he gave up in September 2011 when he retired from the Central Tibetan Administration. And he is hardly interested in continuing in the spiritual role either, of being a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara – the Boddhisattva of Compassion. In an interview he gave a German newspaper in September 2014, The Dalai Lama has indicated that he is not keen on the tradition of the Dalai Lama, which has stayed for over 5 centuries, continuing any longer. In fact, he spoke about it briefly this morning too. “Even the Dalai Lama institution has become feudal over the years. It’s time for change. Which is why, I prefer dealing with people at a human level not as a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara,” he said.
My family and I – who are together for the first time in 8 years for Diwali – could not have found a more enriching experience on a Diwali morning! Just being in the presence of the man is such a blessing. Here’s someone who has stripped himself of all the trappings of power and exclusivity and has gone to the root of human existence to promote compassion and happiness among the world’s people. I don’t know of too many statesmen and global leaders who have been able to do that or are doing that. Which is why, perhaps, over 3000 of us in the audience at the Student Activities Centre at IIT-M clung on to his every word, having chosen to pause our Diwali celebrations.

They call him ‘His Holiness’. But I won’t call him so. As he chomped on his apple, and kept repeating how delicious it was, he taught us the value of being humble, being happy and being human. To me, therefore, Tenzin Gyatso is just a happy, humble, human being! And so he inspires me to be one myself! 
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Religion makes bad spaghetti of a beautiful recipe called Life!

Religion, as it is preached and practised today, divides. Period. There’s an urgent need to refocus on the only religion that is – and matters, humanity!
The amount of intolerance that some people have for others, in the name of religion, is shocking. Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia’s call to his supporters, a couple of days ago, in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, urging Hindus not to allow Muslims to buy land in Hindu localities may or may not end up being classified by the Election Commission as a “hate speech” – but it surely smacks of stoking intolerance. If you thought Togadia is a fundamentalist and there’s nothing surprising about his view, consider those expressed this morning by my well-heeled, erudite friend, who, on facebook, chided a community of south Indian Brahmins for “aping” the north Indian wedding culture by introducing “baaraat, mehndi and sangeet” at their weddings. My friend himself is a Brahmin but belongs to another sub-sect. He posts with reference to the ‘other’ Brahmin community: “We know that your wedding ceremonies suck….Cultural slavery is what you are leading now. You will sacrifice your traditions to imitate the northies. You are encouraging slavery of a different kind.” He even threw in an expletive which made the sentiment he expressed tragically derisive.
Think about it. What’s our world coming to? If this is the way people are going to react – being intolerant of each other’s preferences, practices and opinions, we will soon be left with walled cities and communities all around us.
But there’s still some hope. The famous Shehnai exponent Ustad Bismillah Khan’s (1913~2006) family served some “heart-warming” sentiment yesterday when they politely declined to nominate Narendra Modi for his candidature, when he files his nomination papers from Varanasi on Thursday. Khan Sahab’s youngest son, Nazim, said that his family did not want to propose any candidate for any party. “Hum ko sirf kala aur sanskriti se matlab hai – We are just devoted to art and culture,” he affirmed. Khan Sahab himself, though a pious Shi’ite Muslim, was a devotee of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of wisdom and arts, and used to perform frequently at the Kasi Viswanath temple on the banks of the Ganga. India Todaypaid tribute to Khan Sahab on his passing, saying: “In his lexicon, music was the highest form of spirituality. “How can you call music ‘haram’ (sinful)?” he constantly argued with  orthodox Islamic clerics from Banaras (Varanasi) to Baghdad, adding, “If it is ‘haram’ then let there be more of it.”” People like Khan Sahab were not maestros without reason – they saw humanity as the only religion and music (art, culture) as its only expression.
And here’s another story that shows how humanity is still in safe hands. Vasant Bondale, then 76, was, in July last year, returning to Mumbai from a Scandinavian tour via Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight when he suffered a heart attack, mid-air. The pilots asked the nearest ATC tower – in Karachi – for an emergency landing. The permission was granted. And doctors at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi performed an emergency surgery saving Bondale’s Life. Those who know how much political and religious rhetoric gets thrown across the border by both India and Pakistan will appreciate this story better. An Indian Hindu, on a Turkish airliner, lands in Pakistan and has his Life saved!? Incredible! Bondale’s wife, Nalini, sums it up: “I was not scared of landing in Pakistan as the priority was to save my husband. It was of course on my mind that we had no Visas, but the Pakistani authorities never brought it up. They treated us like family!”  
Simplistically – we have sure heard this before – all of humanity is one big family! And if we have to preserve this family, we have to revisit religion. It’s important we know what religion really is – and understand it the way it should be understood. What I have learnt from Osho, the Master, is that true religion is like science. It is a quest. Science explores the objective while religion explores the subjective. The objective exploration deals with things while the subjective exploration deals with being. And just as there cannot be different variants of science – you don’t have a science that’s different for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs or Christians; the Law of Gravity, for instance, is the same, irrespective of who you are – similarly, the science of being cannot be different for each of us just because we have decided to clothe ourselves with different beliefs. These belief systems have come about because the mandarins that control religion across the world today wanted power – and gullible followers wanted social acceptance. If anyone challenged the power structure, they were ostracized by society. So, people fell in line, and over generations, ‘diktats’ became ‘beliefs’. And people who ‘subscribed’ to beliefs soon became ‘religious’. That’s why – and how – we have a fractious social structure today, controlled by “the religions” – who make bad spaghetti of such a beautiful recipe called Life!
True religion deals with the flowering of internal awareness, the science of just being, which we also call spirituality! The only religion we must champion or align with, therefore, is humanity. Everything else is irrelevant!

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.  

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!