What I learnt chasing Foo Dog figurines

Superstition always leads to fear and worry. Or just the opposite may happen too.

The other day a friend visited us. The conversation hovered on Vaastu and Feng Shui for a while. Then we talked about the merits and demerits of following rituals and believing in superstitions. After my friend left, I reflected, with amazement, on how I had grown out of “investing” in Vaastuand Feng Shui. I have nothing against these practices – I strongly believe they are sciences in their own way – or those who follow them. To be sure, I was, until a few years ago, very superstitious and heavily reliant on Vaastuand Feng Shui to determine how – where and with what – I must live.

Once, while on a three-day trip to Bangkok, Vaani and I spent over three-quarters of a day, in Chinatown, searching for Foo Dog figurines. Foo Dogs are the ancient sacred dogs of Asia who guard Buddhist temples – our Feng Shui consultant had advised us to get those figurines so that our home could be “protected”. Imagine, hunting for Foo Dog figurines in Bangkok, when there are possibly so many more entertaining, enriching, energizing things to do in that amazing city?!


Over time, with the practice of daily silence periods, I realized that relying on “external reference points”, however scientific they are or may have then appeared to be to me, are signs of a weak mind, one that is not self-aware. The ones with courage, I discovered, are the ones that know themselves. And if you know yourself, I soon learned to ask myself, why do you need to lean on a crutch __ a talisman, a figurine, a ring or a number? All these crutches are ostensibly to help you navigate better through Life. But Life is not the issue. It is your fear which is weakening you. And the best way to deal with fear is to look it in the eye and face it! These crutches cannot possibly help you face your demons, your fears. Never!

My evolution and learning has also taught me that what scares you often has the power to liberate you. Almost all of us have a good luck charm, a lucky number, and believe in something, often absurd, that we have been conditioned to. Nobody wants to do anything with the number 13 for instance. Or we prefer our favorite colors or numbers. There’s a view some people hold that if you bang into a piece of furniture when you are leaving to get something important accomplished, you must treat that as an early warning sign of something terrible that’s on its way. People that champion a scientific temperament will reason against this, intensely. And which is why those who want to believe in superstitions and premonitions will resist all rational arguments, however reasonable they may be. But here’s a simpler take. If everything is an event in this lifetime, a mere data point, including your birth and your impending death, and since the soul is imperishable, eternal, then what consequence does a furniture that comes in the way or a cat crossing your path or a mere number have?

In anyone’s Life, three things are absolutely inscrutable:  birth, death and soul. Now birth is without choice, death is unavoidable and the soul is not visible. What else is important when these three dimensions of your Life are beyond your control? When I look back, I feel that being superstitious, being ritualistic and being wedded to mere methods does make you fearful. And lonely. When I let go of whatever was controlling me, I felt free.

Enjoy being liberated. It’s a beautiful world out there. A stumble here, a fall there, a number here and a cat there, nor Foo Dogs figurines at your door, can make no difference to you, if you choose to feel the air in your lungs, being present in this – the only certain, happening, available, magnificent, miraculous – moment of your Life! 

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Forgive, forget, act__but don’t avenge!


This may well sound counter-intuitive. Contradictory too!  How can you forgive and forget, still act, but not avenge? Doesn’t action, or reaction or revenge, come from remembering__and not forgetting__the pain of an injustice, an injury? How can one forgive and act__without avenging?

Let me share some learnings here. One sure learning is that we have made it complex with the way we deal with injustices and injuries in Life! This is not as difficult to achieve or as complex to understand as it sounds.

I met a friend recently after 20-odd years. I knew she had been divorced from her husband (whom I also knew very well__all three of us were colleagues at one point in time) for some years now. So, when we met for coffee, I did not bring up any reference to him, choosing to hold conversation over her son, her work and her interest in my work. Then, after hearing some of what I do and what I plan to do with our business, she quickly suggested that I should meet her ex-husband. I was quite surprised. I had known through common friends that in the years she been separating from her husband, things had been pretty rough for her. And so I had concluded that there might still be much acrimony between them. My first response was one of amazement when she said she would speak to him and re-connect me with him!

I asked her: “If you don’t mind, what led to the two of you divorcing? And how’s it that you both are still in touch?”

She replied: “Well, after the initial euphoria of the physical attraction had died down, we discovered that we could be excellent colleagues but never be good soul-mates. We enjoyed discussing work. But the moment we looked at each other as spouses we found we could not relate with the other on expectations, roles and responsibilities. Our sex Life had virtually ended in a few years of the marriage. But we went on with the charade of a marriage, first for family, then for society and then for our child. Every day was a nightmare__fights, followed by long periods of sulking. I always got the feeling he wanted me out. And I thought he was also interested in someone else. So I became both combative and possessive. This led to more fights. Then, seven years ago, I reasoned to myself, why am I holding him and me, and our son, to ransom in a relationship which is dead? It was so evident that it doesn’t exist. I reckoned that while I demanded him to be my husband, I had long ago refused to treat him as one. He was a doting father. But I could not accept him as my husband. While the early attempts to let go of him and our marriage were complete with mature reasoning, at the execution stage__when it came to speaking my mind__I faltered. Each time I tried, the beast of betrayal consumed me. I wanted to avenge him. But later I realized it was meaningless. It dawned on me that the reason he was interested in someone else was that he was no longer interested in me. So, I forgave myself, forgave him and decided to act! We sat together and agreed that we needed to dissolve this meaningless framework of marriage. We agreed to separate, divorce, while continuing be good colleagues. We are very good friends even now. He’s a good father to our son. He’s remarried and has a child from his second marriage. And there’s so much peace for all of us.”

I am impressed by the mature, practical approach my friend had taken in place of action that could well have been acrimonious, full of pain and suffering for all parties concerned.

My learning is that everyone who has been treated unjustly, unfairly by Life, or by someone, will initially want to dwell in the following two realms:

  • How dare ____________  do this to me? Fill in the blank with he, she, person’s name, company name, team name, Life, country name__whatever suits the context.
  • I will avenge this come what may!

Thinking within these realms is normal. So, relax if you have thought this way! But also know that both these realms thrive in the dark epicenter of your ego. If you are feeling hurt, feeling vengeful, about anyone or anything, it is because of your ego. The ego controls all negativity in you. The antidote for ego is awareness. When you are aware that the nature of Life is inscrutable__that anything can happen, including injustice, to you, you will be unmoved. When you realize that people act unjustly, causing untold suffering and misery to those around them, because they themselves are suffering, you will respond with empathy than react with anger.

Look around. There’s so much injustice that’s happening to you or to people around you! Even before the memories of the gory end Nirbhaya met with have died down, the Suryanelli rape case (of 1996) has come back into focus. If you read the facts of the case, your heart will ache with compassion and grieve with helplessness. If you understand truly how the ‘collective conscience of the Indian people’ led to the questionable trial and redoubtable hanging of Afzal Guru, you will feel your blood boil.

So, in a way, I don’t think either the world or Life is going to get any more just or fair. Every such episode can unleash in you a torrent of anger, anguish, suffering and misery! There’s no way you__or I__can escape being touched by the ripples of everyday Life. But you can, with awareness, refuse to be moved by them. Seeking vengeance always delivers more suffering than there already is. Awareness, on the other hand, delivers forgiveness. Understand the true implication of practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness is for you to feel free, liberated, because it is important you get away from what is causing you the suffering! It is only when you think forgiving someone is letting them go scot-free, that you hesitate, you cling on. Instead, focus on your freedom. Your liberation. Only then can you detach from what or who is causing the injustice and instead focus on the act of injustice itself. When you are free, detached, you are unmoved by the happening. It has touched you and left you unmoved. Like the way a wave touches the shore and recedes. You are then (like the shore) a mere witness, an observer, of your own Life, of people, of events (like the waves) in your Life. You will then be, and in, bliss.

This does not mean you should not act. If Gandhi had not acted on the injustice that was meted out to Indians, we would not have become free as a nation. Action, however, need not necessarily, in this context, connote revenge, violence and acrimony. Gandhi acted with monomaniacal focus, with ‘ahimsa’ (where he championed the absence of violent thought in the first place) as his main theme. Forgiving, forgetting if you can, acting, and not avenging, really means this: keeping the focus, replacing all violent thought with concerted action to change a current reality__that you find hard to accept__into a future state which you believe is the best for all concerned.

This is what my friend did. You too can try this in any situation you are faced with in your Life. Changing your approach to injustice, changes how you feel within yourself. How you feel within has a huge impact on what you will do to make things better. This is what intelligent living is all about __ making your Life better by living it better!

Love yourself to find your God within you!


What you fear will enslave you and what you love will liberate you!

 

You often hear people referring to themselves or others as “god-fearing”. Last night I saw an electronic billboard outside a place of worship that read: “The Fear of God is the Beginning of Wisdom”! Nothing can be more untrue.

What kind of a God is it that wants you__or me__to be fearful? Religion and its self-serving propagators have turned God into a mega-brand that is propped up so that it earns them (the propagators) money and keeps them powerful. The 2012 superhit Hindi film ‘OMG – Oh My God!’, directed by Umesh Shukla and starring Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar, satirically and successfully, challenged the popular concept of God, as the religions and its leaders want us to believe. The movie had an unputdownable awakening feel to it. A Rediff review of the film summed up its message: “A brave and absorbing blend of satire, fable and fantasy that brings our attention to the misuse and commercialization of religion.”

This is indeed true. The most corrupt institutions in society today are the ones that engage with and thrive on religion. The people who run them have their followers in their stranglehold by playing up concepts of sin, retribution and divine punishment. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844~1900), the German philosopher, busted this whole God theory rather forcefully. He declared, ‘God is dead. Now man is free.” Understand this in a less debatable context. You see a snake at your feet. And you freeze, fearing it. You can’t think of anything else but your imminent death. Is the snake scaring you or your thought of it scaring you, crippling you? Anybody who understands snakes will tell you that they don’t harm UNLESS they are harmed. So, if you replace your fear with love and move away slowly you will be free. But no, you will stay frozen, not so much grounded by the snake, but by your fear of the snake! The same argument applies in the context of God. When every scripture (not religion) champions love, compassion and surrender__to the moment, to Life__how and why do we buy this absurd logic of fearing a God? Fear cripples. Debilitates. Love frees, liberates. How can you fear God and be free? When you fear a God__you will be dying every moment that you are alive. You will be enslaved by superstitions, rituals, dogmas and will be looking for an, unavailable, approval of each of your actions. Which is also the reason why you are plagued by anxiety, worry, grief, suffering and stress, DESPITE your being so God-fearing! The irony is that you are suffering only because you are God-fearing! If you are God-loving, your suffering will disappear. Think about it. You were born free. And in your infancy lived free. Don’t you realize that if you have stopped being free it is your fear of God that has made you so?

Swami Sathya Sai Baba explains this so beautifully: “Everyone is God. But some are unconscious of their divinity and are conscious only of the body-state, some are partly conscious of it and a few are fully God-conscious. Complete self-surrender and unquestioning love becomes possible when man achieves unswerving faith. Once God is realized there is no question of faith at all, just as there is no question of faith when a man knows himself to only be a man.” Note here that the faith that Swami refers to here is faith in Life __ that if you have been created, you will be looked after, provided for. And he talks of surrender to the Self, not to some external entity __ living or otherwise!

 

 

Drop all your fears. Recognize the value in loving the God you so desperately seek. You cannot find that God by seeking, searching, running from one place of worship to another. Or by wearing stones and rings on your fingers. Or by fasting and abstaining. You can and will find your God only when you find yourself. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek language. ‘entheos’, in Greek, meaning enthusiasm, is a combination of two Greek words: ‘en’ (within) and ‘theos’ (God). ‘entheos’ therefore means ‘the God within’. So, be enthusiastic about Life. Love the Life source within you. That is your God. One whom you don’t need to fear at all. Through this love, and only with this love, will you awaken to freedom and bliss.