In which Nithyanand, a Buddha, teaches me to live with ‘anand’ (inner joy) ‘nithya’ (daily)!!!

When you look for things that you don’t have, you remain incomplete. When you look at what you have, including who you have in your Life, you are complete!

Nithyanand – The Buddha
Yesterday, I spent a transformational hour with a young man called Nithyanand, in his 20s, who is visually special (I hate to call him visually impaired). He lives in Korrukkupet (a Chennai suburb). He commutes every day to Express Avenue Mall, where he works at an exhibition tour company called “Dialogue in the Dark” (Google them – go check them out). Nithya, as he prefers being called, says he doesn’t have any problem when I ask him how he “manages with Life on a day-to-day basis”: “Sir, we work on getting oriented to spaces and with basing all our responses to the velocity of sound around us. I take bus # 18 and get to work pretty much without a hitch. When I do have to cross the road, I just wait for a good, helpful soul. The Universe always has such people around. There are so many good people in this world. Someone always comes by to help me.” There’s a joie de vivre about the way Nithya is. He is happy, content and peaceful with the way he is. Actually he truly, simply is. There is no self-pity. There’s no lament. In fact, there’s so much dignity with which he conducts himself – even you don’t feel pity for the young man. You come away inspired. Now, how many times will you come away inspired after meeting a rank stranger for barely an hour?

Much of our grief and suffering comes from lamenting over what we don’t have. This pushes us into a, often subconscious, depressive spiral out of which we rarely climb out. But always, when the focus shifts to what is, the result is magical. The reason why we struggle with making this shift from what isn’t to what is, is that the negative is always seductive. Its reasoning power is far more logical. The good in us rarely speaks. It merely states. It does not profess, it doesn’t argue, it doesn’t convince. Nett Nett, we succumb to the wily designs of scarcity__what we don’t have, what isn’t__thinking. This results in incompleteness. Whereas, with all our quirks, defects, chinks, blemishes, scars and handicaps, we are complete. There’s so much abundance in our lives. Such is the way we have been created. To recognize this complete state of ours, we need to be in a state of total acceptance, we need to be peaceful.

My learning from Nithyanand: when there is peace within, when there is acceptance of the Life you have, the focus will shift to what is. And then the wholesomeness of your Life will become clear to you! This the way, we__you and me__too, just like Nithya, can become a Buddha – and experience ‘anand’ (inner joy) ‘nithya’ (daily)!
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Be mindful: have a ‘serene encounter with reality’!

Whatever you do, do it with total immersion. Enjoy the process of doing what you are doing. That’s called mindfulness. And that’s the key to inner peace.
Doing the dishes, to me, is a meditative practice
Yesterday my daughter, a psychology graduate, caught me dusting a thin layer of dust on top of a cupboard in our kitchen. She quipped, “Dad, cleaning around the house makes you happy, doesn’t it?” I smiled at her. And confessed that indeed it does make me happy. In fact, to me, house-keeping, is a meditative practice. It is not a chore. Yes, it does become a challenge when you have to juggle with your other schedules and have to try and fit in quality time for house-keeping. But I have realized that I am very mindful when I am cleaning up around the house. I go about it calmly, methodically and, however physically strenuous it may get at times, I enjoy the process. I love doing the dishes or cleaning surfaces, I invest time to get the toilets to be squeaky clean and generally love the idea of having a dust-free home environment – something that’s so difficult in Indian conditions and so requires being at it continuously, consistently!
I have discovered that when you are mindful of whatever it is that you are doing there’s great inner peace and joy. And no work or task is menial or burdensome as long as you don’t treat it as a chore. In fact, immersion really means being completely involved in, engaged in, and mindful of whatever it is that you are doing. Of course, it is possible that you may not always like to do some things. But when you don’t have a choice – and you have to also do what you dislike doing – if you choose to be mindful, you will get through that task or activity even more efficiently than when you are resisting it.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, a.k.a Thay, says it so beautifully: “In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” The essence of what he has to say is contained in the last phrase – ‘it is a serene encounter with reality’. Most of the time, almost all of us, resist our reality. We don’t like what we are going through. Or we dislike what we have to do. Or we are so engrossed in dealing with our ‘extended’ realities that we miss the magic and beauty of everyday living. Thay recommends that we must awaken to the reality in each moment. And not just to be stuck with our ‘extended’ reality. For instance, if you keep worrying about your fourth stage cancer and the fact that you will soon die, how will you enjoy a sunrise? So, in this context, your cancer is your ‘extended’ reality. But the more immediate one is the sunrise. Enjoy it, says Thay, because soon it – the moment bearing the sunrise – will be gone. Meditation is really what the art of living is all about – the ability to value each moment, cherish it, be joyful in it and move on to the next moment with undiluted enthusiasm. How can you enjoy a moment when it is painful, you may wonder? What if someone is dead? What if someone’s betrayed you? How will you cope with a moment when you are wishing it away? That’s why Thay prescribes a ‘serene encounter with reality’ – he says, don’t resist, don’t fight, instead accept, what is. Accepting what is, is the best way to gain inner peace. When you accept your reality, you begin to experience joy in the moment.
The human mind is like the human body. It can be trained. I have trained my mind by practicing both silence periods (mouna) and mindfulness – immersing myself in what I do. Over time, I have learnt to banish worry (despite the daunting circumstances my family and I are faced with owing to our grave financial state) and just be in the moment. Often time, cleaning around my house gives me that sense of equanimity. Through my own experience I know that if you immerse yourself in whatever you do, enjoying the process of doing it, being always mindful, you too can be happy, despite the circumstances!

Stop wanting to have, simply be!

There is no method to living intelligently. The key is to live, fully, simply “being”.   
There are two ways you can live. Either you can live “possessing” or you can live “being”. Most of us are the “possessing” kind – we are constantly in search of having this or having that. All our having is about having worldly things. It’s focused on material wealth – money, house, car and such. But when you have all the things, chances are you could still be seeking “something” and feeling “empty”. Your Life is full of things, yet you feel an emptiness, a void. But the one who lives “being” – loving what is, being content with what he or she has, that person, feels inner peace and joy. That person understands himself or herself, the true Self, and is possessed by nothing.
A statue of Diogenes and Alexander
in modern-day Corinth, Greece
There’s a story of a meeting between Diogenes (404 BCE ~ 323 BCE), the Greek philosopher, and Alexander the Great (356 BCE ~ 323 BCE). It is said that Diogenes, in his quest for inner peace, had renounced everything. He was like a “fakir” – possessing nothing, except a bowl for drinking water. Then one day he saw a dog drinking water from the river and threw away even his bowl, saying he didn’t even need it from then on!
Alexander came to meet him one day, when Diogenes was bathing in the sunshine by the riverside, and asked him if he, as an Emperor, could do anything for him.
Diogenes said, “Yes! Please step out of the way of the sunshine that is bathing me. Thank You!”
Alexander asked Diogenes what was the point behind doing whatever he was doing.
Diogenes asked him the same question: “Why are you doing what you are doing – conquering the world?”
Alexander replied: “So that, when I become the world’s ruler, when I have the world at my feet, I can rest by a riverside just like you – in peace”.
Diogenes laughed. He said, “That you can do right away. You don’t need to conquer the world for you to do that. Look, this riverbank is wide enough. You can share it with me. And be peaceful. I find your idea stupid that you want to conquer the world and then rest in peace. Look at me, I have conquered no world and I am at peace. So can you!”
In that nanosecond, Alexander, being the intelligent person that he was, grasped the essence of intelligent living. He said, “I agree. But I have come this far in Life. Now, I can’t go back without conquering the rest of the world.”
At least Alexander had the humility to accept the futility behind all his conquests. And before he died, his “awakening” – thanks to his encounter with Diogenes – led him to tell his ministers that his hands should be kept out of his coffin so that people could see that “Alexander the Great came empty-handed and went empty-handed”.
By interpretation, Diogenes is telling you – and me – too that to be clinging on to possessions, to be possessed by what you have – whether it is knowledge or ego or humility or wealth – is futile. You can be absolutely free when you simply be. You may have nothing worldly, but you will have an aura that can touch and energize everyone around you. That kind of energy comes from within. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of God is within you”. The power of such a person does not come from things. Those who are driven by things and accumulating – power, position, property, titles – are, logically, powerless without them. But, as Diogenes’s story teaches us, the one who has nothing, commands great respect and has a great power, to even transform the Greatest Emperor!
You and I don’t have to renounce what we have. We don’t have to be another Diogenes. Let us be ourselves. But let us also stop wanting to have more and more. Instead, let us learn to simply be – happy and content with what is. That’s when we too will be soaked in inner peace!

Bliss is when you lose yourself to the moment

No job or activity is dull or boring. Something becomes boring only when your attention wavers.
This is what I have learned from my guru, Eknath Easwaran (1910~1999). He has taught “Passage Meditation” as a way to reign in the mind, so that it attends to whatever you are doing and experiencing in the present moment. I have understood, from my own experience, that this is possible. The key is to immerse yourself in whatever you are involved in. It may not always be what you love doing. But if you have to do something, do it with full awareness – lose yourself in the process. When you are lost in whatever you are doing – you are living fully, you are then (in) bliss!
A very accomplished musician once accepted a King’s invitation to perform in the royal court. The King had been inviting the musician for years. But the singer was always elusive and reclusive. Finally he agreed. But he laid down a condition – nobody should nod their head or sway or even move when he sang. The King was a maverick himself. He immediately announced that if anyone violated the singer’s condition, he or she would be beheaded. The people of the land, who were eager to listen to this singer, for it was indeed a-once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity, were taken aback. Many of them felt that the condition stipulated was draconian and could not be fulfilled at all. How can you not nod or move when you hear great music? So, they backed out of attending the concert. Several people, however, still showed up on the morning of the performance. The King had stationed soldiers, who had their swords drawn, all around the royal court. The singer arrived. And he sang. It was magical – he sang with such purity, such class. Everyone in the audience froze. It was not hard to say if they remained unmoved because the singer held them in his spell or if they were that way fearing his condition and their King’s absurd order! Soon, as time went by and the concert became even more blissful, a few heads swayed, then some more and then some others even moved their hands and blew flying kisses to the singer. The soldiers made a note of every person who violated the King’s order. As soon as the concert ended, they rounded these people up separately and looked to the King for his order to behead them – then and there.
The musician however told the King to let these people go.
The King was not amused: “But these are the people who have violated your condition and my order. I don’t understand this!”
The musician replied: “They did. No doubt about that. But they did so only because they lost themselves to the music, in their inner joy! They are the true listeners. They risked their Life for their bliss. Those who did not move were always thinking about the order, fearing for their Life, and worried about the soldiers with their swords drawn. How could these people have even listened to my song, let alone enjoy it!”
The musician told the King that in future, whenever he visited, he would sing only to this select audience.
The import of this story is that when you are totally immersed in the moment, even Life becomes insignificant and inconsequential. When you are engaged this way, worry, grief, guilt, anger, fear – nothing can touch you. Because, in that moment, you are (in) bliss!

Stand up for yourself – for no one else may!!

Never confuse your right to be firm with your need to be forgiving in relationships. In fact, you can be both – firm and forgiving.
There’s a warm and compassionate side to each of us. We are, by nature, willing to forgive people for their transgressions. But often times our softer side is viewed and interpreted as our weakness by people who trample upon our emotions or deny us our freedom or even basic, fundamental, human courtesies. In such situations, it is absolutely fine to stand up for yourself, look the someone who is bullying or harassing you in the eye, and say that you will not take this treatment anymore.
I have learned this from Swami Sathya Sai Baba: “In any relationship between two people, one may well be a cow and the other, a bull. There’s nothing wrong in being either. Each has a role to fulfil and each has something to offer the other. But at any time that the bulls starts taking advantage of the cow’s benevolence, mistaking it for meekness, the cow will be well within its rights to assume the ‘avatar’ of the bull. In taking a stance, in your own interest, there is no right or wrong. Just be righteous. The cow need not perpetrate any acrimony, aggression or animosity. But the cow shouldn’t suffer any of these either.”
In essence, while to make a mistake is human, and to forgive such a mistake too is human, to suffer in silence and sorrow is both unjust and inhuman. It is the biggest hurdle to inner peace and joy. So, don’t confuse being compassionate and being firm. They need not be exclusive. Simply, no matter who it is, don’t let anyone take you for granted or play with your self-esteem. Remember: if you don’t stand up for yourself – chances are, perhaps, nobody else will!

Make your doing, your being

Whatever you do, immerse yourself in it – and your will be one with it. That’s how you make doing, being!
This past Sunday, I read an article by the enfant terrible of Carnatic music, T.M.Krishna, in the Sunday Magazine of The Hindu. No, Krishna was not waxing eloquent on music. Instead he wrote, provoking thought in the bargain, about how “great sportsmen and artists share a transformational quality”. His piece, ‘Beyond the Boundary’ examined if Sachin Tendulkar’s technique is really an art form. Krishna wrote: “I have watched the phenomenal Sachin Tendulkar almost right through his career, especially in his Test innings… there have been phases in his great innings when he seemed to dissolve into cricket itself…. In this state, not just cricket or sport but Life itself seemed to be one uninterrupted flow…. The man and his bat became one; the ball was not an object that needed to be negotiated, caressed or decimated; the bowler, not an enemy; and his wicket, no point of reference…. What actually happened was that everything merged. Sachin became one with that existence and, as a beholder, I saw Life’s beauty in its most natural self, without any burden of names, identities, action or result…To me, at that instant, even the fact that it was Sachin batting was immaterial. This was an artist lost in his moment of Life, living it to its fullest.
Krishna’s keen observation and perspective there has been simply, beautifully, explained by Osho, the Master, thus: “Forget the dancer, the center of the ego. Become the dance. Dance so deeply that you completely forget that you are dancing and begin to feel that you arethe dance. Dance so totally…because the dancer-dance division can exist only when you are not total in it. The dancer must go until only the dance remains.”  
In the Sufi tradition, dervishes of the Mevlevi order, perform the ‘sama’, or dancing meditation, where they abandon their ‘nafs’or egos or personal desires, by spinning in repetitive circles, symbolic of the planets in the solar system orbiting the sun. The dancer is merely a metaphor that Osho and the Sufis use. You could be a cook, a gardener, a writer, an orator, a clerk, a traffic policeman, a painter, a singer, a truck driver or a nurse. Who you are is immaterial. How you are (being) who you are is important. Of course, choosing to do what you absolutely love doing, is critical for losing yourself – for making your doing, your being! While it may be possible to even immerse yourself while loving what you are doing, your inner joy is always several notches higher when you have chosen to do onlywhat you love!
But your Life may not always pan out that way. As it turned out to be with my father. He is an amazing Carnatic vocalist himself – having been trained for over two decades by an accomplished Guru. But way back in the ‘60s, the pressures of having to raise a family forced him to seek a career in the private sector textile industry, and later with the government. “Financial security and stability” were chosen over “what gave him joy”. I don’t understand the nuances of Carnatic music as much as I should. But over the early years of my growing up, and even now, when he is well past 75, I have found that my dad always lost himself to his singing whenever he was or is having a stressful time. In those times that I have watched him sing to himself at home, I found him immersed in the music. In fact, I believe, he always became the song. On the few occasions when he has performed concerts too, I have found the singer (in him) disappearing and only the song remaining. I cite his example here because you may not often get to make a Life – and living – out of what you love. Yet it is imminently possible that if you still do what you love, even if it is done infrequently, it can help you just be! And that just being is happiness!
As I grew older and my understanding of Life evolved, I have come to realize that when you don’t force yourself to do anything, Life flows through you. The cosmic energy then expresses itself through you. Your doing then becomes your being. That state, when you are in unison with the Universe, is what is also known as bliss! And as you can see, from the expressions of Krishna, Tendulkar, Osho and my dad, that state is imminently attainable!

Get Better from Life, not Bitter

You can either be bitter from Life or better from it.
A key reason why many of us turn bitter, over time, with Life is because we are not able to treat events as events. We hold on to them, analyze them, and regret them, refusing to let go. Let’s say someone says something harsh to you. In reality, it’s just an event. But if you keep mulling over it, wondering why it was said, and what will others – who heard this person say this of you – think of you, then you are surely going to end up feeling miserable. Chewing endlessly on by gone events, holding on to past grudges and painful memories, is a sure way to invite suffering into your Life.
I am reminded of the Zen story of the two monks who were walking in the Himalayas.  
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross the river. The young woman asked them if they could help her cross to the other side.
The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows at their monastery not to touch a woman.
Then, without a word, the younger monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on with his journey.
The older monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. He simply stood there staring as his young colleague briskly walked up the hill. After re-joining his companion, he was still speechless, but seething with rage nevertheless.
An hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed. Then three. Finally the older monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out: “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The younger monk looked at him, startled at first, and then, comprehending the full import of his senior’s question, replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
Unfortunately, many of us, even if we have grown older, like the senior monk, have not grown up. We still carry baggage from our past with us – principally, hurt, regret, resentment and grief. And so we stumble along through Life. Our painful memories enslave us to the past and ensure we stay bitter. And this way we remain unhappy – unable to enjoy the present moment, the now! This is true of a lot of people, a lot of the times.
Siddharth Varadarajan: No Bitterness
Therefore, it was indeed refreshing this morning, to read Siddharth Varadarajan’s (the former editor of The Hindu) views on his unceremonious exit from the paper, following some Boardroom intrigue at Kasturi & Sons Ltd. (KSL – the company that owns The Hindu) earlier this week. An online portal asked him if he was feeling betrayed. And Varadarajan replied: There is no question of feeling betrayed. I came to this job with my eyes wide open. I had a great run as Editor of The Hindu, which is India’s finest paper, and am grateful to the KSL Board for appointing me to the post.
Clearly, whatever be the event that you end up having to face in Life, you have two options. You can be bitter or better from it. If you choose to be bitter, you will miss the opportunity to live fully and to experience the magic and beauty of Life in each moment. If you choose to be better from the experience, you will find yourself soaked in abundance and inner joy!