Are you the Master or are you enslaved?

Is something possessing you? Or are you possessing something?
I saw a lead story in The Economic Times last week saying the iPhone 6S which launches in the US on September 25 will be available in the Indian grey market for Rs.1 Lakh – instantaneously. When I read the story, I could not help but reflect on the way some people look at Life. (Disclosure: I have never owned an iPhone. Ever since the iPhone launched I have been unable to afford one. My current phone is a basic Samsung smartphone that my friend has helped me acquire.) The fact that grey market entrepreneurs in India are seeing a business opportunity here is evidence that there are people who want to have that phone now. But I wonder why people can’t wait for an official India launch – after all isn’t India a big market for all ranges of phones? Perhaps, allowing logistical and regulatory delays, the iPhone 6S may well be available here by year-end. I am not even talking about the monetary price that people are willing to pay, I guess there is a spiritual perspective, a heavier price that people have to pay actually, to consider here – in reality, isn’t the iPhone 6S possessing these people while it only appears that they are rushing to possess the phone?
The iPhone 6S is but a metaphor. All of us are possessed, in fact enslaved, by our thoughts, by things we have bought and by opinions that we have cultivated. In our trying to build an identity for ourselves, what we have started to focus on is what we want to possess; in wanting more of such possessions we are missing the point that the possession has begun to possess us! And what possesses us goes beyond the material realm. I have a friend who believes that the world must go on appreciating his work – he is world-famous and a legend in his field. But he craves for validation and public appreciation – constantly. When he or his work doesn’t get noticed or talked about, he feels miserable. Now, who’s possessing whom – does my friend possess the attention he gets or does the attention that he doesn’t get possess him?
There’s nothing wrong in seeking attention if you can get it or buying what you want if you can afford it. But to become obsessed with what you want will leave you suffering when you don’t get what you want. It’s a simple truth that you miss – if you own something, you are its Master. If something owns you, it is the Master.

How many Masters do you have? Review your Life – from a ruinous habit to your car to an opinion to your thoughts to a parent to a spouse, anything or anyone can be controlling you. Even if you have one thing or person controlling you, you are living enslaved. To be free, you must stop wanting, stop obsessing. You must let go and simply learn to be happy with whatever you get and whatever there is.  
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Be your own Master, make your Life count

Don’t be a slave of your Life__of this lifetime. Be a Master.

Last week I met a senior manager at a large company, who had given 38 years of his Life to the company, and is serving a post-retirement contract extension presently. He said, “I have been consumed and cooked by my professional focus. It was a journey I did not regret so far. But, suddenly, at 64, I wonder how many more active years I have for me to go see and explore the world; to just stop being a manager and just be myself.”

His “awakening” perspective delivers a big lesson to all of us. This Life has been gifted to us for us to lead it, to live it! Not for us to be enslaved by it. Yet, don’t we run this Life as if it were some kind of a race? Some even call it a rat race. When you reach a point, like the manager here has, you will wonder why did you run the race in the first place? What did you race for or against? Liberate yourself. The biggest freedom movement must be taking place within you, not just in some dictatorial regime in the world. So stop running. Pause, introspect and initiate immediate action.


One way to set yourself free is to break away from your routine and look beyond the predictable. This morning, even though it was a Monday, we took a bunch of managers, who we are coaching, through a Life-changing experience called “Dialogue in the Dark”. It is a personalized exhibition tour in which you experience Life for about an hour in total darkness. The experience humbles you, wanting you to count your blessings. It makes you realize that your other senses are as strong as your ability to see, which you believe naively to be your most indispensable sense. It teaches you that you can and will survive when you are put in a situation. And most importantly, doing it on a Monday morning, helps you to break away from the monotony of your pressure-cooker schedule. Mondays need not be manic, need not mean bad traffic and need not end up leaving you imprisoned in meaningless meetings. They can mean something magical and liberating – if you step off the beaten path! Our guide through the entire “Dialogue in the Dark” experience, Nithyanand, a visually special (I hate to say impaired) person, had this to say, “I can’t see. And I manage pretty well using my other senses.” The way he said this, with total acceptance and with ease, made me wonder if we are indeed living our lives to our fullest. With one sense down, he is. But are we? I came away realizing, yet again, that when you know you can be your own Master, you can and will make your Life count!

Trust the hand that gives

Life is more meaningful when we humbly accept whatever comes our way, while implicitly trusting the hand that has given us this beautiful experience.

As 2015 gathers momentum and we settle down to our routines, the celebrations and hangovers of festivity make way for another year of opportunity, challenge, apprehension and faith. It is just the right time for us to think and reflect on something that will set the tone for the rest of the year to follow. This one is a story from Osho, the Master, that reminds us that when we accept what comes our way, there is joy and fulfillment. Here’s hoping you find it relevant to all that you have experienced or will encounter as you cruise along through the year.

A slave had served his Master faithfully for years. So diligent was he that the Master rewarded him by taking him along on a tour of the Amazon jungles. They camped at night and walked, exploring nature’s pristine beauty, during the day. The loyal slave never failed in his duty to his Master even though the trip was his reward. He would feed his Master, make his bed and keep him warm at nights by stoking the bonfire. Impressed further by his service, one day at lunch time, when they both spotted a big, exquisite, colorful fruit, the Master insisted that the slave have the fruit first. When the slave was shy to take up his offer, the Master said, “My dear son, you have served me well. Go on, eat this rare fruit first, and give me a small portion at the end.” The slave reluctantly agreed. And had a go at the juicy fruit. As he devoured the first few slices, the Master asked him how it was. And the slave replied: “Extra-delicious”. A few more slices later, the Master again asked him how it was and the slave gave the same reply. Big fruit that it was, larger than a pumpkin, the Master got the same reply time after time. Soon, more than three-fourths of the fruit had been eaten by the slave and the Master began to worry that he would not get to taste it. “Slaves will be slaves,” he thought, “Selfish and greedy.” Losing his patience finally, the Master snatched the last slice from the slave and bit into it. He shrieked in horror throwing the slice away. It was the bitterest fruit he had ever tasted in all his life. He looked at his slave in dismay and asked him: “But didn’t you say it was extra-delicious? Didn’t you seem to be enjoying it? How and why, my son? Explain.” “Master,” replied the slave, “All my Life you have looked after me. Whatever you have given me has only enriched my life. So, when you gave me this fruit to eat, its bitter taste did not matter to me at all. I just blindly trusted the handthat gave me the fruit.”


Huge learning there from the slave’s attitude to Life and his Master. There’s great joy in accepting. Let’s stop resisting Life’s vicissitudes and simply accept whatever comes our way! With prayers for a happy, peaceful and healthy rest-of-the-year for you and your precious family….

Be an intelligent master – use technology, don’t get used (read cooked) by it!

Things are incredibly simpler yet why are our lives more complex than ever before?
As I write this my son has reached out to me all the way from Denver, Colorado, in the US. Another young man has pinged me from New Orleans in the US. Yet another has sent me a facebook message from Singapore. And an old school mate, someone who I have not met in 40 years, has written me a note from Canada. All this has happened in just a span of 30 minutes. Can you imagine this being possible just 20 years ago? This is a new era. A simpler era. Where Google, and not Britannica Encyclopedia, is the fountainhead of all knowledge. Where, whether it is about cooking a meal with quinoa or it is about decoding an irritable skin rash or it is a query relating to when was the original “Ocean’s Eleven” movie released, you can source, all that you want, any time you want, in a nano-second – from your smartphone! It is also an era where you can buy a movie ticket, a plane ticket, book a hotel room or order a book or pizza, from your mobile device. And you can also transfer money from one phone to another! You can stay connected with me__or someone who you may have never met in ages or ever__using facebook and twitter__without intruding on their time or privacy!
The world’s so much smaller, so much closer, things are so amazingly simpler, yet, the billion buck question is, why are we, the people, still struggling? Why is it that we still ‘don’t have time’ for our families, our passions and our dreams? Why is it that we are not living fuller, more complete, fulfilling lives, if things have only gotten simpler? The problem is not with science and the technology revolution. It has done its job__made Life simpler. It is we humans who have not learnt to adapt and use technology. I remember reading a piece in The Economist a couple of years ago which describes this state that our race finds itself in and argues its causes fabulously well: “…for most people the servant has become the master. Not long ago only doctors were on call all the time. Now everybody is. Bosses think nothing of invading their employees’ free time. Work invades the home far more than domestic chores invade the office. Otherwise sane people check their smartphones obsessively, even during pre-dinner drinks, and send e-mails first thing in the morning and last thing at night. This is partly because smartphones are addictive…Employees find it ever harder to distinguish between “on-time” and “off-time”—and indeed between real work and make-work. Executives are lumbered with two overlapping workdays: a formal one full of meetings and an informal one spent trying to keep up with the torrent of e-mails and messages. None of this is good for businesspeople’s marriages or mental health.” That piece in The Economist, I remember, advocated digital dieting. A kind of rationing of tech-led work time for freeing up more Life time.
I would recommend we go the extra mile. My two-penny worth: Celebrate Life by celebrating technology. Don’t just cerebrate Life and technology! Here’s how I do it. 1. Wear your Life and your attitude to Life on your sleeve. Let people know__even if it is bosses, clients or children__who you are and how you live and work. 2. Never allow technology to slave-drive you. You can choose, and therefore please do, to be the master. 2. Define your quiet or silence or ‘mouna’ periods. About an hour every day. No voice calls. Just remain silent. Focus on whatever you are doing. Whether it is walking, watching a movie or even preparing a report. Just because you are accessible, need not mean you are available. 3. Check your mails, your text messages, your facebook or twitter account but don’t be trigger-happy. Choose whether and when to respond. Mull over the information streaming in. If it is bad news__a client feedback, an exasperated boss’ rant, a project disaster, a child’s agony__deal with it with patience. Treat the information as an opportunity to spiritually train yourself not to react. If it is good news, don’t exult either. Again spiritually evolve with the opportunity. 4. Flag as favorites some inspirational web pages (such as this one: J!) and visit them each time your mind wavers and grazes on negative emotions __ worry, anxiety, stress. 5. Do all non-core stuff__like paying your bills, transferring money, booking tickets and hotels__online, at times of the week or day when your energy is low. That way you save time for more value creation when your energy is the highest! 6. Take backups of all important data weekly __ phone contacts, mails, computer hard disk data __ that’s a sure and the only way to beat technology letting you down. 7. Remember: An intelligent master is one who can use technology to live a better Life – and not get used (read cooked) by it! So, if you find yourself stressed out by Monday morning 10 AM, know that you are to blame for the complexity that defines your Life. And the only way to make your Life simple, is to simply take charge __ of your Life and the technology you have! You will live happily, healthy, soon, after you become the master again…..!

Live simply: don’t try to control the uncontrollable and don’t ignore the controllable

Life really is so simple. It is a whole of two parts: one that is beyond your control and the other that is within your control.

This is the truth of Life. Intelligent Living is about knowing this truth and practicing it, knowing what is beyond and what is within your control. When you try to control what is uncontrollable or when you don’t act on things that are within your control, in both these instances, you experience suffering.

Epictetus, the Greek sage and philosopher who lived between 55 AD and 135 AD, was a great champion of this thinking. His life epitomized this perspective too. Born a slave (something beyond his control), he was able to convince (something within his control) his Master to allow himself education while staying bonded to slavery and loyal to his Master. According to Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens to us calmly and dispassionately. Individuals, however, are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As Universal beings, each of us has a duty to care for all fellow humans, he taught. The person who follows these tenets, preached Epictetus, would achieve happiness and peace of mind. It is said that Epictetus’ Master broke his leg deliberately (something which he couldn’t control) but Epictetus responded with forgiveness and labored on, working and sharing his learnings (something that he could control), perhaps, earning his freedom that way. Epictetus says knowing, understanding and living this truth is the key to success in this lifetime: “If you seek truth you will not seek victory by dishonorable means, and if you find truth you will become invincible.”


Soak in this simple philosophy. Don’t try to control Life. But you can choose to respond by living intelligently though__accepting whatever happens, calmly, dispassionately!

Only when you are ready and willing, will you experience Life’s beauty and magic

For you to see Life’s beauty, for you to experience the miracle of Life, you must be both ready and willing!
There is a famous Sufi story I remember reading.
A young man went in search of a Master. He was ready to go around the world, for he was determined to find the Master, the true Master, the Perfect Master.
Just outside his village he met an old man, a nice fellow, sitting under a tree. He asked the old man, “You look like a wanderer…”
The old man said, “Yes, I am a wanderer. I have wandered all over the earth.”
The man said, “That is the kind of person I was hoping to meet who can guide me. Can you suggest to me where and to whom I should go? I want to be the disciple of a Perfect Master.”
The old man suggested a few addresses to him, and the young man thanked him and went on.
After thirty years of wandering around the earth and finding nobody who was exactly fulfilling his expectations, he came back to his village, dejected and depressed. When he was entering his village he saw the old man again, who had become very old now, sitting under the tree. And suddenly he realized that this old man was the Master he had all along been searching for! He fell at his feet and he said, “Why didn’t you say it to me, that you are the Master?”
The old man said, “But that was not the time for you. You could not recognize me. You needed some experience. Wandering around the earth has given you a certain maturity, a certain understanding. Now you can see. Last time you had met me, but you had not seen me. You had missed. You were asking me about some Master. That was enough proof that you could not see me, you could not feel my presence. You were utterly blind; hence I gave you some bogus addresses so you could go. But even to be with wrong people is good, because that is how one learns. For thirty years I have been waiting for you here, I have not left this tree.”
In fact the man, who was not young anymore, looked at the tree and was even more surprised. Because in his dreams, in his visions, he was always seeing that tree and there was always a feeling that he would find the Perfect Master sitting under this tree. Last time he had not seen the tree at all. The tree was there, the Master was there, everything was ready for him, but he was not willing, even if he was ready.
This is why we don’t often find what we are seeking. Inner peace and happiness. Because even if we are ready to seek it, we are not willing to let it enter our lives. Only when we are ready and willing, both, can we experience Life’s beauty and magic!

A goose in a jar, Jai’s death in Sholay, and a lesson in being happy!

When you step back and witness your own Life, objectively, dispassionately, you can then find bliss even in a tragedy or catastrophe.

When you are in the throes of a big crisis, when you don’t see a way out to end it, take a deep breath, step back and watch the situation with the eye and view of an observer. Be a witness. Don’t participate in the situation by thinking, by worrying, by attempting to solve it! Just watch the crisis, your place and role in the situation, and let an awakening happen within you – that enlightens you!

A Zen Master once gave his disciples a ‘koan’ to deal with. A ‘koan’ is a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to encourage them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment.

The ‘koan’ given here was the one of a goose within a jar. When the goose was small, the task was to simply feed the goose. Soon the goose grew big. And was barely fitting in the jar. Now the task was getting the goose out of the jar without either breaking the jar or killing the goose. Disciple after disciple kept thinking of achieving this task by looking at the situations from different angles. Each of them concluded that it was impossible. They saw it possible only if the jar were to be broken or the goose was killed. Now, neither of these actions was allowed. They gave up.

But one disciple persisted. He too was tired of examining the situation from every conceivable dimension. He too wanted to give up. That’s when he concluded that his Master may not have recommended this situation without a reason. In a flash, it occurred to him that the Master was perhaps not interested in either jar or the goose. The Master wanted the disciples to learn something else. He recognized that the jar represents the human mind. And the goose represents you – the individual. He concluded that the Master wanted them all to understand that to experience bliss, the ‘you’ goose must detach itself from the ‘jar’ mind.

So, the disciple rushed to the Master and declared: “Master the goose is ‘out’!”

The Master applauded him: “You are right! You have understood the essence of this ‘koan’. The goose was never ‘in’!”

Zen Masters have taught that the mind is at work 24×7. It is eating you up all day with thoughts of worry, anxiety, anger, fear, insecurity and hatred, among many, many more. Now, in a crisis, unless you realize that you are like the goose in the jar, and stop believing that you were ever stuck in the jar, you cannot feel freedom. For this to happen you have to step away from the problem situation and merely ‘witness’ or ‘observe’ it. If you don’t do this, your mind will continue to hold you hostage and keep you trapped. A mind at work, or being controlled by the mind, means being susceptible to misery. The mind is a procession of thoughts. Like a full length movie. The thoughts are like the characters or the actors or the locales in the movie. The key is to not to identify yourself with these thoughts – the characters or the actors or the locales. Because once you identify yourself, you will get stuck with both the beautiful and the terrible moments in Life – as in a movie.

Dharmendra (Veeru) and Amitabh Bachchan (Jai) in Sholay
As a young boy when my parents took me to watch ‘Sholay’ (Ramesh Sippy, Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Hema Malini, Jaya Bhaduri and Amjad Khan) in a New Delhi cinema hall called Rachna in 1975, I remember I refused to come out of the hall when the movie got over. I was grief stricken that Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) was dead. I had come to identify with him. It was only when my dad sat me down and counselled me that the ‘real’ Amitabh Bachchan was still alive, and this was just a movie, did I understand and, therefore, went home with my parents!

Many of us are in so much grief with our Life situations. This is because all of us are like that goose or like I was after watching ‘Sholay’. Struggling with our ‘jar’ minds. Unless we step back and away, as my dad counselled me, and see that our whole Life is just an illusion, like a movie, we will continue to be miserable. Life happens. And keeps on happening. There were crises, there are crises and there will be crises as we go through Life. Each of those Life crises or tragedies or painful situations will leave us numb and confounded. The only way out, and the only way to find inner peace and happiness, is to stop identifying with anything or anyone.

You are not your problems. You are not your relationships. Identification is the root cause of all misery. And the only way not to identify with anyone or anything is to simply witness Life. Be and behave like a third party. Then, through your awareness, you will discover that there was, is and never will be a crisis. What there always was, is, and will be, is happiness!