Every once in a while, people will remind you that they care. And that compassion still thrives in this cold, seemingly hostile, inhuman world.
Last evening, Chennai had a non-stop torrential downpour for six hours. This was already a city that was struggling to return to normalcy after last week’s floods – caused by an aggressive North-East monsoon. What’s worse, two things that Chennai and Chennaites don’t know how handle are rain and traffic. So, the whole city choked and crawled taking, on an average, 4 hours to move less than 1 km. This, even as it mercilessly pelted from the skies!
|Photo Courtesy: Times Of India/Internet|
We had miraculously found ourselves a cab. And had decided to brave – our decision was made much ahead of the rain intensifying – it to attend a bhajan at a friend’s place to celebrate Swami Sathya Sai Baba’s 90thbirthday. This is an annual affair and is a spiritual fellowship that Vaani and I rarely miss. Understandably, we were also stuck in the traffic and rain. As our cab moved a millimeter at a time, we noticed hapless people returning from work, drenched, waiting at bus-stops for buses that probably would never have come last evening. Several people decided to walk, wading through knee-deep, and rising, water. The traffic cops were resilient and were trying to be helpful, despite being soaked under their rain gear, in a literally helpless situation. Everyone was patient though. Not too many people honked with frustration – something that strangely is a practice that we Indians revel in, when we are stuck in traffic snarls.
Between looking out the window, chatting occasionally with Vaani and listening to some great Bollywood numbers on Fever 91.9 FM, that the cabbie was kind enough to play, I was checking Facebook – often aimlessly.
That’s when this status from a young friend Joe popped up. “Right now on the road, I’ve taken two people into my car. In case any of you have an SUV or any other car capable of wading through knee-deep water in Chennai at this point, now is the time. Go help. #helpchennai” I thought this was an awesome and inspiring gesture! It touched me.
It took us over 2 hours to cross a 700m distance to reach our destination. Our friend Kumar, and his father Ram, had made elaborate arrangements for the post-bhajan prasad (actually a full dinner spread including steaming idlis, hot sambar, bissibelebath and curd rice) to be served. Several people who were expected at the bhajan that evening could not make it. But several people, passing by, hearing of hot food being served, trooped in. They were welcomed with opens arm and fed personally by Kumar, Ram and their family. I just marveled at the spirit of service that thrived in the moment.
A lady who had also made it to the bhajanvenue in an Ola, could not find one to get back home. We discovered she lived in our neighborhood. We offered to drop her back home. It was actually not a drive on the way back; our cab seemed more like a motorized boat and the roads looked like over-flowing canals. We got back home close to midnight and as we went to bed, Vaani and I were both content that, in our own small way, we had been useful.
As I scroll through my Facebook Page and catch up on FM and newspaper updates, I just see how many, many people have come together, stepping out of their comfort zones, to help those who need some warmth, some care and love. All this leaves me feeling human, feeling good.
This is no appeal. I don’t wish to preach. I just make an observation. No matter what we see on TV or read in the papers (#Paris, #Mali, #intolerance, #Beef, #Muzaffarpur, #awardwapsi and such), it is still a very kind, compassionate world out there. The truth is we too can see its magic and beauty – if only we pause to look up from all our ‘busy-ness’! This observation, I believe, is the best way to amplify Swami’s Life’s message: “Love All, Serve All!”
You can’t solve all your problems at the same time. Do what you can do in a given moment, do it well and let go. There is no other way to live Life. This is the only way to be happy.
This is what I have learnt from our guru, our teacher, Swami Sathya Sai Baba. Interestingly, I have never met Swami in my Life. But I have, over the last 7 years, experienced his presence every moment and his teachings have come in at all those crucial times when I have needed them the most.
I remember vividly. It was 8thMay, 2009. A Friday.
Earlier that week, given that we were dealing with the bankruptcy of our Firm, and were unable to repay our creditors, including my immediate family, there had been a showdown with my mother. I had borrowed money from her and had pledged my parents’ property (an apartment in Chennai’s Gandhi Nagar/Adyar area) with a bank. With the turn of events and the eventual collapse of my Firm, and my personal insolvency, I was neither able to return the money I owed my mother nor was I able to redeem their property from the bank.
For whatever reason, best known to her, my mother, with whom I have always had a poor chemistry, imagined that my wife and I were faking a bankruptcy. She said I was a cheat and demanded how I was able to carry on living “flashily” while being unable to repay her. I have had so many arguments with my mother and several showdowns over the years of growing up, of knowing her and being her son. But this time, this showdown was gut-wrenching. The burden of the label she affixed on me, of a cheat, was unbearable. What she said was not so important but what weighed me down was that my own mother, my own biological creator, was saying it without wanting to understand me.
This showdown happened on Monday, 4thMay, 2009. For the next few days I was numb. I was struck by grief. 178 other creditors were chasing me, demanding money. Many of them were harassing me and my family. But facing all of them, and the stresses of having to convince people that I did not have money to repay, I never felt so beaten, so battered. But my mother calling me a cheat, this was something I could not get out of my mind. I hardly slept those next few days. (I have recounted this experience and others in my Book – “Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money”; Westland, August 2014) That’s when, seeing my plight, a friend recommended us to a Sai Bhajan. The host of this Bhajan is a young man who is a messenger of Swami – Swami speaks through him. Given that I am a rational thinker, my friend advised me and my wife to “hang all scientific thinking and reasoning at the door” and simply go in total surrender to a higher energy. At that time, I never had any disrespect for Swami – I always believed he was a great social worker and I felt the work he was doing in the Puttaparthi area was remarkable. But I didn’t, back then, think much of Swami as a guru or even as a swami.
|Swami Sathya Sai Baba|
Yet, convincing myself that I didn’t have anything to lose by following our friend’s suggestion, on Friday, 8thMay, 2009, I attended a Sai Bhajan for the first time in my Life, at this young “messenger’s” house. As the Bhajan was in progress, something happened within me. I simply broke down and cried inconsolably. I remember saying this to myself, “I don’t know you. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know if you are indeed a swami, swami. All I know is that I am not a cheat. And I want you to help me and my family. We don’t know what to do. There is total darkness. There is no way. Please help. If you lead, we will follow.” You can call it a prayer. You can say it was a despondent appeal. Whatever it was, on that day, I couldn’t think of anything else to say or do. My own mother had called me a cheat – it seemed like the whole world had ended for me there. At the end of the Bhajan, my wife and I were invited to ask Swami questions – through the our young host, Swami’s messenger. We went into a private ante-chamber, where we were given vibhuti as prasad in a tiny zip-lock pouch. Words failed me and my wife. This seemed very illogical. Very bizarre. Yet, strangely, it seemed real. And true. Swami spoke through the young messenger: “I am now your mother and father. Your debt is mine. Just let go and be happy.” I had not told the young messenger anything. I had not talked of the issues I had with either my mother or of our bankruptcy and insolvency. But Swami was bang-on! He had addressed the most important issues that plagued us both at that moment. We were dumbstruck by what we heard. And that’s how our journey with Swami began – we simply let him be our coach, teacher and guru.
Over the last 6 years, whenever we have had problems – and we have had huge ones, almost every single day – Swami, through the young messenger, will only reiterate this one point: “Let go! And be happy. Focus on the now. Live in the moment. Tomorrow’s problem, we will see tomorrow. Stop the worrying. Just stop it.” Yet, Swami has never advised or allow inaction. He would always say: “Do what you can, what you must, to solve the problem. Take action. But don’t worry. Worrying is useless. It kills the spirit of all your action.” To be sure, never once has Swami, through the young messenger, asked us to do a puja or say a prayer or conduct a penance – the only thing he’s asked us to quit is, well, worrying! And there’s really nothing irrational about that advice!
Over time, this consistent coaching by Swami has helped us train our mind. I can’t say we don’t worry. But when worry arises like a wave, our awareness, our training, helps us tame that wave. We let go of the worry and move on. I am personally a lot more evolved and anchored as a person, a professional, a parent, a friend, a son, a brother and husband today – than I was just 6 years ago! And that’s because of Swami’s presence in my Life – his teachings and his hand-holding. He’s the guru I have never met, but whose presence I have always felt! To that presence, I offer myself on this Guru Purnima Day and onward…
You wait and you wait and you wait for God to come to you, and when you give up, you find the God that you seek: right within you!
This is the world’s most open secret but alas nobody gets it. Because we all think we are educated, we are wise and are capable of knowing what’s inside us. And we believe God is notinside us. We know we have a beating heart, we have two lungs, two kidneys, all that and more inside us. How do we know what’s inside us biologically? Because we have been taught so. And what else have we been taught? That God is in places of worship that we must physically go to and pray. But hold on a second. Why do we go some place to pray to some God? So that we find peace, so that we get energy to perform our roles with diligence, so that miracles may happen to get us out of miseries, so that we are able to provide love, warmth, security for our families and such. But all of those capabilities are resident in us. Just as they were resident in the Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or Krishna. No, but I don’t see them, you may argue. Then consider this: do you see your heart, your lungs or your kidneys?
Break free from this belief that the source of solutions, the fountainhead of miracles is outside of you. Go within. Seek within and ye shall find, says the Bible. Swami Sathya Sai Baba was ridiculed and taunted for being a miracle man. But he never claimed to perform miracles. We interpreted them so. He only said, “I know and accept that I am God. The problem with you is that you don’t know and don’t want to accept that you are God.”
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not an atheist. I am an i-theist’!!! You too can discover such clarity in thinking and realize the true nature of your creation. In that moment of awakening you realize the Godliness in you and discover miraculous powers. More power to you on your journey of self-awareness and discovery….!
The more we think we are exclusive, unique and superior, the more there is
evidence that we are connected, inter-dependent and one.
When an actor’s movie becomes a super hit, like Endhiran(ROBOT in Hindi, 2010, Shankar) did, it is easy to assume that Super Star Rajnikant is incredible. That he has caused the success of the film on his own might. But without a credible storyline, music, dialogues or direction, no actor can succeed. And that fact was proven with the flop of Rajni’s most recent Lingaa(2014, Shankar). Ironically, while the Super Star is down-to-earth and is humility personified when accolades are showered on him, and equally non-plussed when his films bomb, we often imagine we are Super Stars, the all-powerful, in-control drivers of our lives.
This is where we get it all wrong. Everything we do and need to live is coming from the toil of so many more people that we hardly think of. You wouldn’t be reading this Thought, for instance, had it not been for the folks that maintain the internet, facebook, your broadband carrier and your electricity provider. Here I am not even talking of developing a sense of gratitude, which we must, but am highlighting how inter-dependent we are in this big, beautiful world. Swami Sathya Sai Baba says it so beautifully, “A coffee-shop owner who has a bad cold walks over to his next-door neighbor, the chemist, to buy a Saridon; and the chemist chooses to go over to the coffee shop for a hot, steaming cuppa when he has a headache.”
So, there’s no one out there who doesn’t need anybody. Look closely at how we are connected and dependent on each other. Celebrate this inter-dependency. Stay humble: because there are a lot of people that are working overtime to make you__and me__successful.
Let It? Yes! We need to move from a state of Let Go to a state of Let It to experience the beauty and magic of Life!
Many people say letting go is tough! Let Go does mean that you are holding on to something and letting go connotes attachment, pain and a struggle to attain detachment! But letting Life do what it pleases is a simple, magnificent way of celebrating Life. Where you don’t become a party to Life’s trials, tribulations, vicissitudes and vagaries, but are just an observer.
Swami Sathya Sai Baba, whom I have never met, but always experienced, taught me this practice of just letting Life do what it pleases. One of his simplest, yet most profound, teachings says: “You just Let It! Let problems come. Let problems go. Let happiness come. Let happiness go. Let debt come. Let debt go. Let grief come. Let grief go. Let death come. Let death go. Just Let It!” I struggled with the concept initially. But soon discovered that only when you are party to something are you in grief. When you are a witness, there is a momentary disturbance, but you are quickly reminded by your soul that you are a not involved! When something goes wrong with your child, you are stressed out. You are anxious. You want a resolution. When something goes wrong with a neighbor’s child, you profess concern, you lend a shoulder, you support but do not get involved or attached. So can you look at your own Life like the way you would look at your neighbor’s? Can you be a mere observer? A bystander? When you are in that state will you realize that this whole lifetime is a celebration.
You can expunge the darkness that engulfs your soul, because of debilitating emotions like anger, grief, guilt, fear, anxiety, worry and such, by choosing not to get involved with your Life. It doesn’t mean you should not live, you should not act. Of course you must act and do what you can, and what you think you must, in any given situation! Just don’t get involved. For example, in a fractious family situation, in which I find myself embroiled just now, I made an attempt to speak up and make people see reason. I would have done injustice to my Life and my family if I had not spoken up. The act of speaking up was mine. But the outcome has been Life’s. And it has been disastrous. More insult and ignominy have been heaped on me. The family has been pushed farther away from coming together and being at peace! I don’t grieve the outcome though. I know it is not ‘my’ outcome. Because I let Life lead the outcome. I just let it. And I celebrate the light, the joy, the song in my soul!
This is not at all difficult. It is outright simple. If I can, you too can let it! When you are involved, is when attachment will come. And where there is attachment there will be agony. But if you are a mere witness, an observer, a doer of what you can and what you must, and let Life lead, you will be in a non-stop celebration called your Life! Try it with your Life! Just Let It! Celebrate!
Miracles happen to you only because you need them – and not because you prayed harder or that you deserve them over someone else!
In continuation of my post yesterday on Shirdi Sai Baba, some readers pinged me wanting to know more about the miracles he is known to have created and continues to create in the lives of his followers. Well, the miracles Baba created in his lifetime are well documented and I don’t wish to enlist them here one more time. However, let me share my personal perspective on miracles here.
First, let’s get a better understanding of what is a miracle. The truth is that you are a miracle. I am a miracle. This moment, and your ability to read this post, is a miracle – you are educated, you have a laptop or a PC or a mobile device, have internet connectivity and, above all, have vision (eyesight), which is why you are able to read this post! Isn’t that a miracle? There are millions who don’t have any such luck! You and I are miracles – because, think about it, else, we may well have been created as the swine that gives the flu than be created as the human being that receives the flu! But we are all so obsessed with the rat race that we run, earning-a-living, that we don’t consider any of these as miracles. We simply take everything that we have for granted and keep pining for what we don’t have!
Deepak Chopra, in his beautiful book, ‘Why is God Laughing?’, says that miracles happen when mind-body-soul are in alignment. He says there are three levels of mind-body-soul alignment and hence three types of miracles are possible. At the most basic level of mind-body-soul alignment, he says we can BUY whatever we want to. And that is a miracle. Believe me, the ability to BUY something with money is a miracle. I have, through the years of my family’s financial strife, and the several spells of pennilessness we have been through, known what it means when you can’t afford to BUY even groceries for everyday survival. At the second level of mind-body-soul alignment, says Chopra, when you WISH for something, it often happens. For instance, if on a hot summer afternoon, you wished for a cold lemonade or beer and a friend passing by decides to drop in with some cans for you. This may have happened, in our own ways, at least once in our lives. Chopra says that whenever this must have happened, our mind-body-soul may well have been in alignment. If that alignment can be consistent, at that level, more of what you WISH happens to you or comes to you! At the third, and perhaps highest, level of mind-body-soul alignment, says Chopra, you can actually CREATE whatever you think of or visualize. This means you can CREATE an object or an event or a situation. And this is what the Himalayan Masters (please read Swami Rama’s ‘Living with the Himalayan Masters’ for a better understanding) or Shirdi Sai Baba or Swami Sathya Sai Baba were capable of. In the name of rationality, the less spiritually evolved folks, dismiss this ability to CREATE miracles as “cheap magic”. Fine, so be it. To each one, their own. To me, Chopra’s reasoning is both powerful and true.
So, how does one attract miracles into one’s Life? Is it by praying to someone like Baba or to a Higher Energy? Or is it by following rituals or tantric practices? Actually, if you can just let go of this view that you need to do something about your Life, your mind-body-soul will reach a basic level of alignment for you to be able to attract miracles into your Life. Again, let me reiterate that the most profound miracle of them all is the fact that you are human and are alive. But if you want more “apparent” miracles to happen to you, please let go! You will then attract the right people, the right opportunities and the right energies. Which means you will get the job you want, the companion you have been longing for, the wealth and assets you wanted and everything that you once thought was beyond your reach. So, the password for attracting miracles into your Life is “Let Go!”.
This is where Shirdi Sai Baba, or any of the world’s greatest teachers, comes in. He teaches Faith and Patience; and in championing Sab Ka Maalik Ek (There’s only one Creator for all of us; one Higher Energy!), he invokes in us the spirit to let go! “Let Go!” means to simply stop wanting to control your Life. It means to live with the awareness that this lifetime, from your birth till your death, is nothing but a series of pre-ordained experiences. Unless you go through all the experiences, your lifetime will not be complete. Letting go, therefore, means to let Life take over and you simply (learn to) accept whatever comes your way. This is how your mind-body-soul get aligned in a special, natural, sub-conscious manner. Then you will notice how things happen to you. You will realize that the miracles in your Life are coming to you, happening to you, not because you have prayed harder or that you deserve them over someone else – they are there simply because you need them and because you have “Let Go!”
When you don’t know what to do, when you feel the most vulnerable, do what gives you inner peace – as long as it won’t hold you hostage in the long run.
When you go through crisis in Life, or when you start searching for meaning in Life, often times people or practices or movements or communities will come your way. They may have always been there – but it is only through being in a crisis that you may notice them! Just being with such people will give you immense inner peace in the face of all the chaos and turmoil around you. In fact all the anxiety and suffering within you will subside in their presence. And you will want to explore that path, the one that’s helping you anchor within, more. But people around you will warn you that such influences are ‘evil’; they will say that you have lost it or that you will be cheated or that you are headed in the wrong direction. Employ a simple rule of thumb: if you are finding greater inner peace in doing what you are doing, simply do it! I am not championing escapism – through drinking alcohol or doing drugs. I am suggesting exercising a mature, aware choice that helps you gain inner peace.
It is normally through a crisis, or from a sense of listlessness, that the search for the meaning of, and for meaning in, Life begins. This search may lead you to places of worship, to the scriptures, to spiritual Gurus, to a deep study of religion, to practices such as transcendental meditation or yoga, to communities like ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) or to self-help groups that use the scriptures or psychology-based methods and practices for healing and anchoring within. Normally, you end up trying several of these and then choose the one that works for you. And it is not necessary that your choice, your path, may the one chosen for someone else in your same situation. For instance, I know some who became a Buddhist when she wanted to get over her mid-Life career crisis and then decided she needed “no religion” to live her Life. Someone else, a Hindu, in the same situation, found great value in the teachings of Jesus Christ and embraced Christianity. Another person we know, who has a special child, is a devout follower of Swami Sathya Sai Baba. While someone else follows the teachings of Jaggi Vasudev. Each of us has a unique way of making sense of Life. And each person encounters and chooses as catalyst that someone or religion or practice that supports his or her journey the best. Yes the world is full of people who take people for a ride and try to capitalize on their vulnerability. But not all Gurus are crooks and no religion is flawed – just the way religion is practised today is questionable!
But I believe I am blessed. Because I have met only the most wonderful people in Life. Their experiences and their wisdom have contributed to my evolution in no small measure. I have understood that all the scriptures, all the religions, all the teachers and all the Gurus champion the same lesson – Live in the moment and live Life to the fullest! They may speak different languages, they may show different approaches, but the message is the same. So, there really is no problem if you use religion or if you follow a Guru to arrive at that awakening, to learn to live Life without worry and simply be!
The problem arises when you expect others to solve your problems! This is where you get waylaid. This is where the charlatans thrive and operate. This is how your vulnerability is leveraged. No one can solve another’s problems. Every problem, every crisis, every grief, every event of pain and loss has to be faced and gone through in Life. Genuine teachers are fellow voyagers – just like you and me. They have no magical powers. They will not tell you that they can solve your problems. They will only teach you how to deal with a problem. They will help you evolve and mature into a stronger person. In their company, from their teachings, through their grace, you will learn the value of letting go, the power of acceptance and the meaning of just being.
Whoever you choose to guide you, lead you, follow them or embrace such a practice only if it helps you anchor within, with inner peace. Because only when you are peaceful within that you can deal with the chaos and crisis outside!
Don’t be God-fearing. Be God-loving. That too, love the God, within you. Heed your inner voice. And do only what gives you joy.
My friend bought me a drink the other day. In fact, he bought me a few! But he did not drink. I knew he had had a problem with alcohol some years back. He had struggled to quit it for several years. In vain. Until, as he told me, “Sai Baba appeared in my dream and ordered me to quit.” So, he has been off alcohol all these years. I asked him if he was enjoying abstinence. He confessed that he hated it. But he said he was “scared of Baba’s wrath” if he violated the “order” and so he motivated himself each time to stay away. Which is why, he claimed, he often entertained friends so that he could have the “joy of being in a bar”. I told him, at the cost of sounding rude, that he may have got off alcohol, but he was still “alcoholic in attitude”. I said, “Don’t do anything out of fear. Baba may have given you the right direction – because you indeed had a drinking problem. But there’s no point fearing him. By doing that, you are only suppressing your desire out of fear that you will be otherwise reprimanded. Act freely. Drink responsibly, drink with awareness, and you will never overdrink. By abstaining, and craving, you are only creating a context for you to slip back, one day, when your resolve will break, let’s say when you are angry with yourself or the world or even with Baba, your suppressed desire will explode and you will hit the bottle again!”
My friend politely refused to take my advice. And I appreciate it. To each one their own.
I strongly believe that the human mind tries to trick itself by bringing the fear factor into play in most situations where individual actions require justification in a social context. The mind revels being gripped by fear – of someone or something. Fear of God, especially, is a convenient way to justify decisions relating to personal choice. In fact the whole issue of morality is debatable and is governed by this kind of fear. For instance, many believe that to have an extra-marital affair is a “sin” that “God will never forgive”. Some see eating non-vegetarian as sinful. Others think that drinking alcohol will tantamount to being disrespectful to their religion. And some think of women in their menstrual cycle going into the kitchen or prayer room as sacrilegious. My humble view is that morality is like body odor. It’s intensely personal. And if it is not dealt with properly, honestly, by the individual concerned, it stinks. Period. I don’t see any role for (an external) God to play in any of our human choices – especially those that are driven by our very human, sensory cravings! Therefore, if we drop this fear of an external God that’s in us, we will be free.
The only person you are answerable to is the one you see in the mirror. The only voice you must heed is the one you hear from within. When you operate from the core of loving whatever you do – be it drinking, be it eating meat, be it having an active sex Life with multiple partners, be it choosing to pray to a Higher Energy the way you want to and when you want to – you will experience a great inner peace. Because in doing all of that, and more, you are going with the flow of energy from within you, from your individual Godhead. It is only when you run scared that you run confused. Where there’s confusion, how can peace prevail?
Never confuse your right to be firm with your need to be forgiving in relationships. In fact, you can be both – firm and forgiving.
There’s a warm and compassionate side to each of us. We are, by nature, willing to forgive people for their transgressions. But often times our softer side is viewed and interpreted as our weakness by people who trample upon our emotions or deny us our freedom or even basic, fundamental, human courtesies. In such situations, it is absolutely fine to stand up for yourself, look the someone who is bullying or harassing you in the eye, and say that you will not take this treatment anymore.
I have learned this from Swami Sathya Sai Baba: “In any relationship between two people, one may well be a cow and the other, a bull. There’s nothing wrong in being either. Each has a role to fulfil and each has something to offer the other. But at any time that the bulls starts taking advantage of the cow’s benevolence, mistaking it for meekness, the cow will be well within its rights to assume the ‘avatar’ of the bull. In taking a stance, in your own interest, there is no right or wrong. Just be righteous. The cow need not perpetrate any acrimony, aggression or animosity. But the cow shouldn’t suffer any of these either.”
In essence, while to make a mistake is human, and to forgive such a mistake too is human, to suffer in silence and sorrow is both unjust and inhuman. It is the biggest hurdle to inner peace and joy. So, don’t confuse being compassionate and being firm. They need not be exclusive. Simply, no matter who it is, don’t let anyone take you for granted or play with your self-esteem. Remember: if you don’t stand up for yourself – chances are, perhaps, nobody else will!