Stop being a ‘nobody to anybody’

Sometimes we all see so much pain and suffering around us. And we wonder why is Life so harsh on people?
There is a reason.
Each instance of pain, every suffering fellow voyager through Life, is an invitation to us, an opportunity for us to lift ourselves from this quagmire of self-centered thinking and invest ourselves__our time, resources and efforts__meaningfully. And yet we hurry through Life, squirming at times when we see destitute people on the streets or hear of those who are living in agony and despair, promising ourselves that we will serve the rest of humanity when we have enough for ourselves first, which includes the most priceless commodity, our time!
Mother Teresa always reminded us of the folly in such thinking. She said that the best form of prayer was to serve those who needed love, understanding and caring. “One of the greatest diseases is to be a nobody to anybody. Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them,”  said. The time we have, this lifetime, is really not for merely rearing families, earning an income, planning for our retirement, and worrying about our past, present and future. It will be more meaningful to invest some of our time daily to touch lives__to cause a smile, to give some understanding, to lend a shoulder.
In making a difference to another Life, we will discover the God we so desperately seek. And, believe me, it is not so difficult to make a beginning. There are over 1 billion people that go hungry on the planet daily. Which means even if one of every 5 people feeds a hungry person daily, the hunger crisis can be mitigated. You could be one of those 5 people today! As Mother Teresa exhorted, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” What are you waiting for? Stop being sick__a nobody to anybody. Wake up and make a difference today!

Break free from the tyranny of "I can’t"

The biggest impediment to living your dreams is the view that whatever you want to do hasn’t been done before and/or that you can’t do it.

This is what I call ‘starting trouble’. In the good old days here in India, we used to have Ambassador cars (we still have some of them on the roads). My family too had one. It was already a pretty old car by the time we bought it. And every once in a while, its ignition switch would fail and so we used to bring out a metal ‘handle’ from the boot and literally, physically crank the engine up. Or, if there was help available, we would push the vehicle in neutral gear for a while in a bid to start the engine with a jerk as the gears were switched! Almost all of us are like that old Ambassador car. We have trouble getting started on our journeys. We are willing to die, unknown to us, a million times in the few years that we are alive, doing things we don’t like or love doing, than live the time we have on this planet fully! To livewe need to awaken to the possibility that we too can achieve anything, absolutely anything, that we want.

So, to get started this morning on what can be a turning point in your Life, just consider what Mahatma Gandhi did. His greatest struggle was not about overthrowing the British. It was about ‘How do you make an enslaved race think and feel equal to others when all around there is compelling evidence of the enslaving race’s ‘superiority’?’ Porus Munshi, an innovator, thinker and author, says Gandhi found a way, by showing people the power of satyagraha and ahimsa. When people realized that they too could contribute to the freedom movement, they felt equal!


There’s a parallel here for us to delve into. We are all enslaved by our beliefs, our insecurities, our self-doubts. We must change the orbit of our thinking. The ‘handle’ we must use to crank up our engines is to awaken to the reality that we are all created equal. If you love painting, know that you too can become successful like M F Hussain, if you love writing fiction, you too can be insanely great like J K Rowling, if you love planes and flying, you too can own an airline like Air Asia’s Tony Fernandez, if you want to change the world and serve, you too can become the next Gandhi or Mother Teresa. The key operative word here is love. And that love must be present and continuous – as in a verb! You must love whatever you do and your love for it must make you want to do it again, and again, and again – no matter what the impediments are. So, awaken. Break free from the tyranny of “I can’t”. Know that nothing can come in between you and your dream, unless you allow it to! Take flight, if you love something, go live it! 

Understanding Purpose: an opportunity to create unique value in this ‘readymade’ lifetime

What is the Purpose of Life?
From a strictly biological and scientific point of view, it appears, that all Life exists to simply transfer information (genes) to the next generation. So, rationally speaking, the true Purpose of Life must be to perpetuate itself. As humans, we__you, me__are just a living organism that has a little more awareness than other living organisms. This is where, in my opinion, spirituality meets science.
I choose my words carefully: spirituality, and not religion, meets science. Now, if humans are endowed with a little more awareness, why is that so? Of what use can that awareness be? Truly, the awareness is visible, is evident, in the way the human brain develops and works, and has been evolving through the ages. But the truth also is that apart from transferring this evolutionary genetic code to the next generation, each human does not take away anything while leaving this planet. But delve deeper. Obviously creation has a design, a profound thought, which is why the human race is endowed with a greater awareness than all other Life on the planet. This awareness, when it awakens the human, and flowers within, is called spirituality. It is all about Self-Realization. When you realize your Self, you discover these simple truths: 1.Biologically, we will all grow older and eventually perish__albeit per different expiration dates! 2. Life’s repetitive cycles is just about transferring genes to each successive generation. 3. In the midst of such a pre-programmed Life, there’s still the possibility to individually make a difference. When you know how YOU can make that difference, you will have found your Purpose. When you are doing anything purposeful you will encounter joy, you will ‘feel’ the power of this ‘extra’, ‘higher’ awareness that we as humans possess.
Across the human race, just being kind, loving, compassionate and caring, can and always delivers this joy. So, that can be, and is, a common Purpose to all of us humans. But each of us also derives joy, feels blissful, doing somethings more than others. When we know what it is, which is when our awareness delivers laser-sharp clarity to us, we would have found the Purpose of our creation. This Purpose is beyond wants and desires, beyond wealth and assets, it is about serving, it is about giving up yourself, your profit and prestige, during this lifetime, to meet a higher end that delivers value to the following generations, to make this world a better place to live in, much after you are gone. To Gandhi it was equality and ahimsa, to Mother Teresa it was caring for the uncared, to Prof.Kachru, whose son Aman was ragged and murdered at a med school in Himachal Pradesh (North India), it is to eradicate ragging from the Indian University landscape, to Al Gore, former US Vice President, it is to awaken the world to the perils of global warming and so on.
Each human that pauses to reflect and gets beyond the insecurities and fears of everyday Life, infact anyone who takes a break from earning a living and even momentarily steps out of this rat race, will find Purpose. She or he will find that there is an opportunity to create unique value in this ‘readymade’ lifetime of ours. That’s when we will all know that we are not human beings going through temporary, feel good, spiritual experiences, but we really are spiritual beings going through temporary human experiences. And so, before this human experience ends, we must have touched a soul, provoked thought, inspired action, wiped a tear, loved, led, cared and made a difference.

Beyond being a Valentine for a day – the “ashiq”, the “mashouka” and “ishq”!

The true meaning of “I love you” is “I will be there for you – no matter what happens”!
Another Valentine’s Day is here. From FM stations to facebook posts to diner offers, the cliché ‘Love’s in the Air’ is going to rule the world today. But do we even understand what loving someone really means? This question has become both necessary and relevant because everything around us – most of all, relationships – has come to be conditional and is evaluated in material terms. I recently heard the story of my son’s classmate whose mother forced her to break-up with her boyfriend because the family was keen that the young lady marry someone who has the same “social status and business background” as them. In another instance, a lady confessed to me that she had to arrange for 100 sovereigns of gold to marry the man she “loved” because his family imposed that steep pre-condition to approve their match. Another friend walked out on her husband, who, according to her, is a “great human being” but is “incapable of bringing home an income”; she confessed to me that “financial security” mattered a lot more to her than companionship. Someone I know says he doesn’t trust his wife but has decided not to “rake up the issue” because she earns a good salary – I know the family and believe that this gentleman’s perception of mistrust arises from the fact that she earns more than him! Unfortunately, our society is not helping make relationships any better – there’s so much pressure on earning a living, on providing, on buying, hoarding, showing off and owning, that loving has become less relevant and least important. Clearly, demonstrating – often time, proving – in material terms that you love someone has overtaken genuinely, simply, loving that someone!
Loving someone really is about being there unconditionally for that person. There is no way I can explain what loving means in English. But, as I have come to learn, understanding the Persian word “ishq” is one way to know what being loving or loving someone means. “Ishq” means loving someone intensely, when you lose yourself in that feeling, when nothing matters, when a certain madness takes over your whole being. This includes the love that one has for all of humanity – the way Mother Teresa had it or the love that one has for divinity – the way Meera had it for Krishna. “Ishq” makes people soul-mates; it goes beyond mind and body and unites both people at a soul level. With “ishq”, there is no lust, just pure, unadulterated, unconditional love.
The word “ishq” comes from the Persian root “a-shiq-a” which is actually the name of an ivy plant. The import is that, just as the ivy, a  climber entwines itself around other plants, the “ashiq” or lover entwines himself intensely around his “mashouka” or beloved, refusing to look at her shortcomings. The same logic applies vice versa too.  When you are loving, when you experience “ishq”, there are no demands, there are no constraints, and most important, there is no concept of time, space or of physical presence. And the simplest way to experience “ishq” is to go beyond the material trappings of any relationship. So, don’t just be content being a Valentine for a day; go on, find your “ashiq”, or “mashouka”, and be in “ishq”, forever! 

Romance Life to see how loving you really are!

Just as you can learn swimming, cycling, writing, you can learn loving too.
Overcoming small irritations and injustices by giving the situation and the perpetrator love, instead of anger, is how you practice loving. A motorist tries to cut past you and creates a small traffic jam but ends up blaming you. Don’t respond with a how-dare-you look. Smile and say it was just an ‘oops!’ situation. At a busy check-out line at a store, someone edges past you and the cashier does not insist that you must be allowed to bill first. Don’t agitate. Smile and say these things happen! Your boss holds you singularly responsible for the team’s poor show though you have put in several extra miles. Don’t grieve. Pray for your team and your boss.
Our daily Life is peppered with several hundreds of opportunities__or call them nanosecond tests__to practice loving. In that nanosecond you have to make a choice. Do you want to respond with anger or practice loving instead? When you practice loving, you learn forgiving__or, as Richard Carlson would say, you learn how not to sweat the small stuff. How you deal with the small things in Life is what determines how you deal with the big things. The interesting aspect of practicing loving is you don’t have to become loving. You are love and you are capable of loving. The only thing that comes with practice is that you become more aware of this capability.
Just like Mother Teresa and Gandhi and now, Narayanan Krishnan, personify love, so can you. Because you are that already. Just that you don’t know it. The love in you doesn’t just need some lemon and honey, it needs practicing. Romance the travails of everyday Life, and see how loving you really are!

Simply be….in love!

Understand that love is just being and that’s more profound than being in love!
The moment you read that first line of today’s Thought, I bet, your mind went to the definition of love as we commonly understand it__an attraction between the sexes! That’s been the whole challenge in the history of mankind. This idea of categorizing and justifying love. To imagine that love is different between man and woman, then different between parent and child, between siblings, between people of the same sex and so on. But that’s a socially convenient way of misunderstanding what love truly is and perpetrating that misunderstanding over generations. We are all guilty of it. When a boy and girl play together as a toddlers and infants we say, “How cute?” When they want to be together as teenagers, we say, “Oh! My God!”
Love, in reality, is a feeling of deep friendship for another__whoever it may be__and wanting to place that person’s interests above your own. It is about caring, not necessarily comforting. It is about being there not about being overbearing. It is about relating and understanding and not so much about the relationship or wanting to be understood. Most people often wonder how people of the same sex can love each other and even seek physical intimacy. There’s this amazing 2010 Indian film ‘Memories in March’ directed by Sanjoy Nag and starring Deepti Naval and Rituparno Ghosh, which demystifies homosexuality, and in my opinion, offers an enlightening perspective on what love truly means. Love is also about serving without seeking returns and without expecting even a ‘thank you’. This is what Mother Teresa taught the world when she cleaned, clothed and fed the sick and the dying for decades on the streets of Kolkata.
All the beauty in this world is lost for you when you start to look at love as conditional, when you demand that you be understood and when you strip it down to a banal physical satiation of the senses. There was a huge uproar in India a couple of years ago triggered by an overzealous Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat’s Chief Minister, and who’s single, over how much Shashi Tharoor ‘loves’ his wife (Sunanda Pushkar – who is unfortunately no more), who was his girlfriend for several years. I believe that even the question is misplaced. How much ever you love a fellow human being is just not enough. Because there is so much more beauty between us human beings that’s capable of having us love each other – more  than all the apparent differences that divide us! It’s fine if you cannot accept this point of view immediately. You may often wonder if it is possible to love your detractor. It is indeed. Just send positive energy and leave that person alone, even if that person has not been amenable to your reason when you tried. Don’t insist that you get even, don’t try to pronounce that person guilty. Just let that person be. And you be too.
Osho, the Master, tells the story of two women:
“Nancy was having coffee with Helen.

Nancy asked, “How do you know your husband loves you?”
“He takes out the garbage every morning.”
“That’s not love. That’s good housekeeping.”
“My husband gives me all the spending money I need.”
“That’s not love. That’s generosity.”
“My husband never looks at other women.”
“That’s not love. That’s poor vision.”
“John always opens the door for me.”
“That’s not love. That’s good manners.”
“John kisses me even when I’ve eaten garlic and I have curlers in my hair.”
“Now, that’s love.”

Explains Osho: “Everybody has their own idea of love. And only when you come to the state where all ideas about love have disappeared, where love is no more an idea but simply your being, then only will you know its freedom. Then love is God. Then love is the ultimate truth.” Here’s hoping your own ideas about love disappear over time and you too, simply, be….!

You are an ‘avatar’ too … created with a specific Purpose!

The key to intelligent living is to look within and find your Life’s Purpose manifest itself in front of you!
Here, take a break. And think about this calmly. There obviously is a reason why you and I have been created as human beings. Else, we could have been created as the swine that spreads the flu. Why be created as the human who gets that dreaded flu? So, let’s stop cribbing and instead celebrate being human. 
The problem with most of humankind is that we lament being human. We say, justifying our limitations and frailties, ‘After all, I am human’. When we look at our creation from that perspective, we miss seeing the limitless power and potential within us. We are so overwhelmed by stories from history that we fail to see our true Self. We have grown up imagining that we are lesser mortals. For instance, when Krishna was born, so we are told, the prison gates opened and the serpent sheltered the baby as the father crossed the overflowing river in pouring rain. When Jesus was born, again as we have been told, the three Kings were guided by a star in the sky. When Nanak was born, I remember reading this in an Amar Chitra Katha edition, those visiting the child found a halo around the baby’s head. But who recorded what they saw when you and I were born? Who tells the stories of our birth? Therein lies the reason as to why we don’t recognize who we are and what we are truly capable of.
Know that if Mother Teresa’s Life had a Purpose, if Swami Vivekananda’s Life had a Purpose, if the Prophet’s Life had a Purpose, so do our lives__your’s and mine. Swami Sathya Sai Baba says it beautifully,”The difference between you and me is that I know that I am God. And you don’t know, or you refuse to accept, that you are God!” We will start living intelligently when we know that each of us has been created as a human with a specific Purpose. We are ‘avatars‘ too….or ‘messiahs’, if you like.

Simply put, your Life’s Purpose will manifest itself in front of you when you stop searching for God outside of you. Being human is to know that the Godlight is within you. When you find it within, you too will ‘awaken’ to a lifetime of loving, serving and living!

Awaken the saint within with gratitude

Gratitude is magical. But only when we look back and see how far we have come in Life. Only when we look at our NOW and see what we have despite whatever we don’t have. And only when we look at tomorrow with a sense of hope.
Remember that even the ability to hope is not stemming from our own abilities. It is coming because we are blessed with that sense of hope by creation. I remember this definition of blessing somewhere. It goes somewhat like this: “If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than a million who will not survive the week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of five million people around the world. If you are able to walk around in your country without fear of harassment, arrest or torture of death, you are more blessed than several hundred million people in the world. If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the people in this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. If your parents are still married and alive, you are very rare.” How true. It is this spirit that gratitude, or thanksgiving, celebrates.
Thanksgiving does not mean waiting for the last weekend of November each year to say your thanks for all that you are blessed with. Thanksgiving must be a daily celebration. Much as we postpone happiness, we postpone gratitude as well. We have in fact made gratitude conditional to our wants being met. I can be grateful if I get what I want, has become the excuse we subconsciously keep giving ourselves.
Remember that Life acts in ways beyond our comprehension. Yet every now and then you will find people who are grateful to Life for the opportunity they have to serve humanity. These are folks who rise above their current realities and problems and look at themselves as solution providers, enablers, who serve because another’s need is more than their own. If Mother Teresa is an ultimate example of selflessness, let us also know that there is a serving saint dormant in each of us. That saint within us will become awakened only when we practice gratitude. In the Bible, the disciple Paul instructs, “In everything we give thanks.” What he means is that it is impossible to know the outcome of each event in our Life. But if we remain grateful for each moment, each experience that we live through, we will find ourselves being happy and peaceful with whatever is.

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.