Spirituality means to live free and live in a let-go!

Nothing is difficult. Nothing is easy. As long as you are willing to experience anything, you will make progress on the spiritual path.
I have often heard people say that spiritual concepts are easy to preach, easier to understand yet they are downright difficult to practice in the real world. The reference here is to practising forgiveness, compassion, detachment and letting go of emotions such as fear, worry, insecurity, anxiety, hatred, grief, suffering and anger. I live in the real world. And I too am challenged by everyday situations where I have to grapple with these emotions. But my awareness helps me immensely. Which is why understanding spirituality is important to make progress on the path.
Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is to know that you came with nothing and will go with nothing. This understanding will help you stay detached. As the Bhagavad Gita says, spirituality will help you to, “live in this world, yet be above it”! Spirituality is not religion. It is not ritualistic, it calls for no abstinence and it does not hold you hostage to isms and preachings. On the other hand, it sets you free, it is personal and it is awakening!
Spirituality opens the doors to experiencing Life as it is, for what it is. Life is nothing but a string of experiences – of love, loss, companionship, separation, pain, joy, success, failure, betrayal, trust, compassion…the list can be endless. Living really means to experience each moment with the curiosity of a child and the spirit of an adventurer. The reason why we find it difficult to accept a spiritual perspective to living, which is living with this awareness, this understanding, is because we connect everything in Life to a material – and therefore impermanent – sense of security! All our fears, insecurities and worries are connected in some form or the other to money or to health or to relationships – all of which are impermanent and perishable. Which is why we say it is difficult to stay detached. Actually, detaching per se is easy. What scares us is what will happen when we become detached. So the idea of living without money is easy and simple. But the fear of living without money consumes us. And so we cling on to that fear and suffer. So it is with messy relationships. And with health situations that are beyond our control. As long as we cling on to something it will torment us. Spirituality means to live free and live in a let-go!  
Now, doing all of this, which is living on the spiritual path, and making progress, is not easy. Yet it is not difficult too. Just learn to be willing to experience anything that comes your way – absolutely anything. If you have to forgive someone – be willing to experience the struggle that forgiving involves and also the bliss that it can deliver! If you have to let go of fear, be willing to face whatever scares you, look it in the eye and be also willing to awaken to the realization that everything that you are scared of losing – including your own Life – is impermanent in any case! This is how you walk on the spiritual path. One experience at a time. One moment at a time. Living and loving each moment as you go along!

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.  

Know your true Self. Know your God. Be free!

When you know your true Self, you will know God and you will be free!
This morning’s papers run a story saying the famous music composer Ilayaraja’s son, Yuvan Shankar Raja, has embraced Islam. It would have been good had the story merely reported a happening, an event – even though, strictly, that is avoidable! But one paper goes on to speculate if Yuvan’s father had an issue with his choice. And that, I believe, was totally uncalled for. What choices people make with regard to their Life, especially in the context of their religious leanings, is, really nobody’s business!
The story, however, got me thinking on a different plane. There’s often this confusion between religion and spirituality. Most people use these words interchangeably.
Conceptually, they may well be right. But in reality and practice the two take different approaches – albeit to the same end!
Spirituality is the flowering of internal awareness. It is deeply personal, intense and liberates the seeker. You set out on the spiritual journey – seeking God, seeking answers to many existential questions, seeking to know why pain and suffering have to be endured – but you really end up finding yourself, your true Self.
Religion attempts to deliver all of this, but fails miserably. Not because religion is bad or ineffective. In fact, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism, Jainism – you name them, each of them is so beautiful. They are profound and empowering. But the champions of religion, the high priests, are devious and divisive. Promising salvation and deliverance unto an external God, they divide humanity and drive people to becoming mindlessly ritualistic. Which is why people have an issue with other peoples’ religious choices. Think about it: people don’t have an issue with what shirt you are wearing, but why do they get alarmed with the mere mention of your religious preference? All the fanaticism about finding God and trying to establish one religion as superior to another is the cause for all disharmony in the world. Religion doesn’t make your Life any better – it binds you and holds you hostage, making you “fear” God! In fact, the way it is championed and practised today, religion makes bad spaghetti out of a very good concept. The truth is, you – and I – were not born with a religious affiliation. You were born human. You have the same amount of blood – 5.5 liters, just the same as anyone else. And that blood is red in color – for everyone, irrespective of what religion they follow!
It is said that religion is for those who want to go to heaven – and spirituality is for those who have been to hell! There’s a great meaning in that seemingly light-hearted truth. Again it’s a matter of personal choice. If you want to understand Life and experience bliss, if you want freedom from suffering and you want lasting inner peace, then understand your true Self. If you want balms for your pain, if you want just a reassurance that “you will be taken care of”, if you want to “feel good” and bask in the presence of godmen and godwomen – follow the rituals that your religion’s leaders prescribe. Neither path is wrong. Neither approach is right. Ultimately, what works for you is always the best!
I simply love Swami Ramkrishna Paramahamsa’s (1836~1886) words in this context: “Even if you have faith in the 330 million Gods that you worship, and no faith in yourself, there’s no salvation for you!” This really sums it all up. Your search for meaning, be it through a pilgrimage to the world’s holiest sites, or through a simple, inward journey, will ultimately bring you to yourself! Your true Self. In knowing and understanding that Self, you encounter your God. And you will be free!

Anchor within to find your God


An interesting headline in this morning’s Times of India caught my attention. It read: “More Indians have stopped believing in God – Survey”. The London-datelined story reported that the latest Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism found the number of non-believers in India increasing. As against 87 % saying they were religious in the same Survey in 2005, the percentage has fallen to 81 % in 2012. In other words, a drop of 6 % in seven years!  

This got me thinking again about this whole God debate. And I am expressing, sharing, only my personal views here with no disrespect to your views or beliefs.

Is there a God? And if so, why do so many of us, good, honest folks, have to go through tough times? Why do terrible things happen to good people? Why is there so much pain and suffering everywhere? And why do people who employ deceit always get away with it? If God is indeed the epitome of virtue, as all the world’s religions have always been saying all the time, why is God being a silent spectator to all that’s wrong with the world? I am sure you have asked these questions too. But for lack of any evidence that can lead us to the answer, we end up leaning on our conditioning, and cling on to a crutch that we have labeled ‘God’.

Obviously there’s an intelligent energy that powers the Universe. Otherwise we can’t explain creation and the existence of Life in a simple, easy-to-hold manner. But no one’s been able to conclusively prove that that energy is a person. All the world’s religions will of course have us believe only in this ‘God is a person’ theory. I have come to agree with what German philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche (1844~1900) postulated, that, perhaps, man created God (and it possibly was never the other way round!) to control large masses of mankind through religion. This perspective, when reflected upon, will explain why as a species, we are increasingly becoming more divisive and intolerant of each other.

The real question concerning God is not about believing or non-believing. It is about knowing and non-knowing! The English word ‘enthusiasm’ comes from the Greek language. In Greek, ‘en’ means ‘within’ and ‘theos’ means ‘God’. So enthusiasm really means the ability to invoke the ‘God within’. And that’s the knowing I am talking about. Since we are all powered by the same energy source that powers the Universe, it is imminently possible that the God that we so desperately seek outside of us__through religion and through a place of worship__really resides within us. The only way to ‘realize’ that God, to feel that God, to connect with that God, is to be present in the here and now. And live every moment of this gift called Life enthusiastically.

Interestingly, every scripture in the world, champions just this same perspective: that living in the moment__without clinging on to the past or worrying about the future__while being enthusiastic about the Life that you have been given, loving what is, is the only way to experience God. That’s why you see Godliness in a child or in anyone who’s immersed joyfully in her or his work. A child is present. It never lives in the past. Or worries about anything. It plays with the Life it has, engaged in the moment. So do people who lose themselves to their work. Whether it is a musician or a sportsperson or a chef or a surgeon or even a housekeeper __ when the person is immersed wholesomely in the activity, you will see Godliness in that person.

Even so, possibly God’s existence will continue to be debated forever. But no one will deny that there’s Godliness in all creation __ including in you! We don’t experience this Godliness all the time because instead of anchoring in the God within we make bad spaghetti of this beautiful, even if inscrutable, Life by preferring to be held hostage by the concept of an external God!

As Mirza Ghalib (1797~1869), the legendary Urdu poet wrote memorably: “Sharaab Peene De Masjid Mein Baith Kar…Ya Woh Jagah Bata Jahan Khuda Nahin!” It means, “Allow alcohol in a place of worship or show me a place where God isn’t present!”

Being prayerful is being mindful!


Being prayerful means being alive to the moment. It is not about rituals, hymns and mantras. It is about being thankful for this lifetime and this experience __ as you are living it__at this precise moment!

A lot of time, resources, effort, spirit, and even money, gets invested in trying to be pious. People simply lose their way, their focus and, at times, even their sanity looking for ways to reach “a” God. The mandarins of religion only complicate matters, confounding already confused souls, by championing the concepts of sin, hell and heaven. So the whole industry of religion works on inducing fear in vulnerable minds. Nothing can be more sinful than making God seem unattainable, unwieldy and distant__that too through, and despite, prayer!

First let me share an interesting Zen story I came across that demystifies and demolishes this whole concept of hell and heaven.

Hakuin, the fiery and intensely dynamic Zen Master, was once visited by a Samurai warrior.
“I want to know about heaven and hell,” said the Samurai. “Do they really exist?” he asked Hakuin.

Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, “Who are you?”

“I am a Samurai,” announced the proud warrior.

“Ha!,” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can understand such insightful things ? You are merely a callous, brutish soldier ! Go away and do not waste my time with your foolish questions,” Hakuin said, waving his hand to drive away the Samurai.

The enraged Samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insults. He drew his sword, readied for the kill, when Hakuin calmly retorted, “This is hell.

The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.
And this is heaven,” Hakuin stated, just as calmly.

Another Hakuin Zen story
I don’t think any scripture can simplify these concepts to the extent this simple story has. Being humble, humane and bowing to the God ‘within’ others makes us loving, compassionate and awakens us to the ‘God’ within us too! Being vengeful, unforgiving and refusing to respect another Life makes us miserable and causes all our suffering! So, now you know what is causing you a hellish experience and what can heave you up to ‘your’ heaven!

The question we need to ask ourselves is, of what use are all the religious rituals that we conduct monotonously and mindlessly when we are not mindful of Life’s gifts__the grace, abundance, blessings in our lives__ itself and we continue to still worry, fear and agonize over what the unknown future holds for us?

I am reminded of a conversation that I had with our family priest a few years ago. A self-confessed champion of piety, who called himself a ‘strict Brahmin’, he came to me asking for career advice for his son who was looking to join an IT services company after completing his undergraduate studies in software engineering. He explained that his son had been selected by a leading software company through campus interviews. Yet he claimed he was worried. Our conversation went somewhat like this:

Me: Why are you worried Sir?

Him: I don’t know if IT companies can offer job security the way the government can!

Me: Why would you, a faithful servant of the Lord, for years now, be insecure __ and want to seek security in a government job?

Him: Sir, how can God guarantee job insecurity?

Me: What is God there for then if HE/SHE can’t guarantee you security?

Him: Sir, velayadathengo! Don’t pull my leg, Sir! God can’t come and tell me that my son’s future is assured!

Me: If God can’t tell you that, the one who has direct access to HIM/HER, who else can reach God? Why do you pray then?

Him: Sir, praying to God is my profession. I still need something else to tell me that my Life is on track and that my family and I will be secure!

With due apologies to my family priest, I must confess that this is the problem with praying mindlessly. That ‘something else’ which my priest was looking for__and I hope he found it in his own way subsequently__is ‘mindfulness’. When you are mindful of the present moment, and are grateful for it, that would be prayer enough that would make you realize God!

You will then find God in this blessing__that you have to access facebook and are  able to read a post. You will find God when you feel the air in your lungs. You will find God in the sunrises and sunsets that happen outside your window every single day without fail. You will find God in a child’s smile, in leaves rustling in the night breeze, in a cow mooing and in a dew drop! You will find God in every form of creation that you connect with. You will find God in each moment. And then you will understand and value what being prayerful is all about. You will then realize that such true prayer, of living in the moment, alone can lead you to bliss!

The Universal Prayer to Life


Life is a continuous process of unlearning and learning, repairing and renewing.

Many a time what you think, what you say and what you do may not be in harmony. And that really is the cause for all unhappiness. Or sometimes you may be thinking, saying and doing things in one way but others, often companions, observers, onlookers, will be thinking differently. And they may opinionate differently. This can be another source for unhappiness.

So, in either of these situations, how do you restore the equilibrium? How do you anchor within? How do you come back to being happy?

Some years ago, I would lean on religion for repair and renewal, but while I found such experiences ushering in peace momentarily, the peace at most times didn’t really last. When the experience was over, the hard-won peace was also gone. Besides, I never understood or experienced happiness through religion. Further, through a Life-changing experience that I have been through in recent years, I have lost all interest in religion, as it is preached and practiced today. I find it ritualistic and divisive. In the name of pluralism it alienates us humans from each other. They say spirituality is the flowering of internal awareness. They also say religion is for those who want to go to heaven, and spirituality is for those who have been to hell! I have been to hell and I identify with both these sayings closely. 

I composed this prayer some years ago. It was a fervent plea from me to Life to show me the right way, through the labyrinth of fear, anxiety and uncertainty that tormented me at that time. It has since become a prayer to Life, whom I have come to recognize as the greatest Teacher. That’s why I always spell Life with a capital ‘L’! To me, Life is the Higher Energy that embraces and nurtures all creation. Each day, during my ‘mouna’ (silence periods) session, I pray to Life, reciting this prayer slowly, savoring each word, and relating it to my experiences of the previous day. Since I don’t understand Sanskrit, and since most of Indian Hindu prayers are composed in that language, I have been unable to relate to any of them seriously. English, however, as a medium, helps me internalize each sentiment and embed my daily learnings firmly in my soul!

Teach me, O! Teacher…

Teach me, O! Teacher, each day as I awake and arise, to be humble. To respect another Life and to accept that just as I am entitled to my opinion, others are too. To contribute selflessly and without expectation.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to forgive every act of unkindness and injustice to me. To unlearn and forget what may not be relevant to me as I journey along.

Teach me to conquer anger and to attain that state of ahimsa, when all violence inside me subsides, and true love prevails.

Teach me to avoid hatred and jealousy. To resist ruinous temptations and to employ discretion at such times that I may waver.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to soak in and converse with the silence that engulfs me and for me to discover the real me in it.

Teach me to lead a Life of action, skillfully and selflessly, to live in this world and yet be above it.

Teach me, to remain detached from the fruits of my action and to know that if the motive is pure and the means are correct, in the end it will all be fine if I do my best and leave you the rest.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to be eternally grateful for this Life and this experience!

You too can try it. Learning, unlearning, repair and renewal, on a daily basis, are guaranteed. Peace and joy are both intended and assured outcomes too!