Accept your brutal reality – only then can you hope to change it.

However unpalatable the truth may be, once you accept it, you can work on changing it. This applies in all contexts to all of us.
Image Courtesy: Outlook Magazine Website

In a recent issue of Outlook, Tarun Tejpal, founder-editor of Tehelka and a former Managing Editor of Outlook, pays a beautiful tribute to his former boss Vinod Mehta who passed away earlier this month. Tejpal is facing charges of rape in a Goa court filed by a former colleague, a young lady who was also his daughter’s best friend. I have always been a great admirer of Tejpal the writer and the journalist. He was a senior colleague of mine when I was in India Today between 1990 and 1992. So, naturally, I was keen to read what he had to say about another man I greatly admired – who doesn’t? – Vinod Mehta. The tribute was vintage Tejpal – carefully chosen words to describe a man that few people can claim they knew personally and closely; each sentence painting a mental picture of the ‘last great editor’ in the reader’s mind. But what I liked most was Tejpal, with brutal honesty, referring to the six months he spent in prison (in Goa, on account of the rape charges levelled against him). He referred to his incarceration as he would refer to any other aspect of his Life – very matter of fact, ‘you-know-what…it-happened’ type. Now, given the salacious overtone that a rape charge invokes, it is possible that people may rush to conclude that Tejpal is brazen, that he is pig-headed and that he is being cold-blooded in his approach to his Life and the charges he faces. But I see in Tejpal the rare ability to confront and accept a brutal reality – that he is accused of rape; that he has to prove his innocence and until then public and popular sentiment will hold against him; yet his other Life – as a writer, a journalist, a family man, a father, son, husband and brother – must go on. What’s remarkable is that Tejpal, it appears to me, is both ready and willing to face Life squarely and deal with each aspect of it on the merit of the reality that lies in front of him!

To be sure, not many can do that. Most of us, when under pressure in Life, prefer to hide behind the shadows. We are either refusing to accept our realities or even if we accept them, we are unwilling to face people – and Life. When you don’t accept what is, and either keep justifying why things have happened the way they have or keep running away from facing the reality, you suffer. Tejpal teaches us that no matter what, Life has to be faced. In a way, your past actions do cause your realities. Or circumstances, events and people conspire to create them. But no matter how or why things happen to you, unless you accept what has happened as your current, final, non-negotiable, reality, you cannot hope to change it. What comes between you and acceptance is an imagined fear of social judgment, reprisal and ostracism. What- will-people-say almost always clouds the what-can-and-must-I-do-now thinking! The only way to deal with such fears and feelings is to know that no matter who created the mess, the one on whom the mess has arrived alone has to clear it up! And, without doubt, all change, all clearing up, begins with first accepting the mess for what it is.  
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Meant to be or not meant to be – accept both!

What is not meant to be, is not meant to be. Period. Such is Life!
Tejpal arrived late at his mother’s funeral
Picture Courtesy: Indian Express/Internet
Tarun Tejpal’s mother passed away in Goa on Sunday, May 18. Tejpal, who is in a Goa jail facing charges of allegedly raping his junior colleague, moved the Supreme Court on Monday, May 19, seeking interim bail for three weeks. The bail was granted late afternoon yesterday but the paperwork governing his release from jail took an awful amount of time. Resultantly Tejpal could reach the crematorium in Goa only an hour or so after his mother’s funeral pyre was lit by his younger brother Minty. When I read this story in the papers this morning, I just thought of the Family Tejpal. What would have been going on in Tejpal’s mother Shakuntala’s mind when she arrived in Goa to see her son, in jail, although her own health was so fragile – at 87, she was suffering from a brain tumor? What would have been Tejpal’s feelings over being unable to attend his mother’s last rites, despite the best lawyers in the country securing an order from the highest court of the land? The most ideal situation would have been that Tejpal did not do what he allegedly did in an elevator at the Hyatt, Goa, in November last year. Ideally too, it would have been best if he had been available to attend to his ailing mother. And ideally again, if none of that was possible, at least he could have made it on time for her last rites. But that was not to be. And that’s Life! Some things, however hard you may try, may simply not work the way you want them to.
It is important and relevant to know that we can’t always have everything in Life. Some things will remain elusive, incomplete or unfixed – forever. Our grief comes when we don’t accept this reality about Life. We think we must solve every problem, mend every relationship and fix every broken part of our lives. But that’s not the way Life works. There are many aspects of our lives where we cannot get answers to all our whys and why-me questions. Life does not offer any justifications or explanations ever. If we seek any, it will only cause our suffering. To be free of such suffering, the best way to respond to Life is take it as it comes. Whatever comes your way, embrace it. Don’t fight. Don’t resist. Just simply accept your Life, the way it is.
Intelligent living, simply, is about knowing what is meant to be, knowing what is not meant to be, and in accepting both!

Accept your “no-thingness” and give in to Life

Being able to do nothing is freedom. Having no idea of what to do is bliss.
There will be times in Life when you have hit rock bottom, when you are in the depths of treacherous ravine, you see no way out and your mind can’t even think. The harder you try, the more blank you feel your mind is. There are only two kinds of problems in the world. One which you, or anyone you know, can solve and another which no human can solve. What do you do when you are faced with the second kind of problems – which no human can solve, at least not in an immediately imaginable, conceivable time window? Think Michael Schumacher, think MH 370, think of a five-year-old who is struck by a fourth stage cancer! At a practical, human level, this state may be a no-go. Where do you go when you have hit rock bottom and don’t have the means or even ideas to climb back up? But at a spiritual level, every dead-end, every no-go signifies an opportunity to evolve and grow within. Through such evolution, you become free and happy – despite your circumstances.  
In Zen Buddhism, there are koans. A koan is a paradoxical riddle or anecdote without a solution to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment. There are many famous koans. One is: “Find out your original face.” A Master asked his disciple to solve this koan.
The disciple asks the Master: “What is the original face?”
And the Master replies: “The face that you had before your parents were born.”
And the disciple starts meditating on that: “What is your original face?” Naturally, you have to deny all your faces. Many faces will start surfacing: childhood faces, when you were young, when you became middle-aged, when you became old, when you were healthy, when you were ill…. All kinds of faces will stand in a queue. They will pass before your eyes claiming: “I am the original face.” And you have to go on rejecting. The disciple too goes on rejecting all the faces that come in front of him. He goes through this process of rejection over many, many years. Finally, when he’s himself the Master of knowing which is not the original face, he realizes that there is no original face. That there is only emptiness. There’s nothing. When all the faces have been rejected and emptiness is left, you have found the original face. Osho, the other great Master, explains this so simply: “Emptiness is the original face. Zero is the ultimate experience. Nothingness – or more accurately no-thingness – is your original face.”
Similarly, some Life situations are koans. For example, everyone is looking at the Tarun Tejpal episode through the eyes of either Tejpal or the Young Woman who’s filed the complaint against him. But when you look at it through the eyes of Tejpal’s daughters Tiya, who’s best friend the Young Woman is, and Cara or from Geetan’s, Tejpal’s wife, point of view, you will see a koan there. An inexplicable situation with no solution. A legal redemption may still be on the cards for Tejpal. But will there ever be a moral one – in the eyes of his own family?
I have learnt from Life, in my own small, yet eventful, way that a no-go is really the time to let go! I have realized that when you can’t do anything about a situation, when nothing seems possible, when the mind can’t think and no one can even attempt a solution any more, then accept your “no-thingness”. And give in to Life. Let Life take you where you belong. And if Life doesn’t take you anywhere, then perhaps it’s here, in this dark abyss, that you were always ordained to arrive?

You will never awaken unless you are felled by hubris

Beware, as you ascend in Life, in career, in society, in name and fame, of the Master Feller – Hubris!

Tarun Tejpal
Much is being written and told of former TehelkaEditor-in-Chief, Tarun Tejpal’s rise and fall this past week. Almost everyone who knows him is sure that he was struck by hubris – excessive pride and a presumption that one is infallible! Because nothing else can explain why Tejpal, now 50, and one of India’s finest thinkers, editors and writers, would want to allegedly sexually outrage his much junior colleague, who not only is his daughter’s age, but is also her best friend? As one commentator, Vijay Simha, wrote yesterday: “His argument that it was a fleeting consensual encounter suggests that he may be in a state of denial. He may be having difficulty processing the consequences of his actions.Friendly or hostile is not the point. Tejpal simply shouldn’t have been there. A legal victory, which he seems to think he will have, is a mere footnote. The only real authority a human being has is moral. All other forms of authority are fugacious. Tejpal has ceded moral authority.”

Tejpal was once my senior colleague. Indeed I am saddened by what has happened. But I am not here to preach morality in Life. I may hardly qualify to be able to do that. But let me warn you about hubris. Because I too have been felled by hubris.

There was a time when everything about my Life was just the way I had wanted it to be. I come for a middle-class background. So, as I grew up, for various reasons, I developed this urge to want to succeed beyond even the wildest imaginations of my family. I wanted name, fame and money. To be sure, I got all of that. By the time I was 35, I had it all. I had built a very successful consulting Firm, I lived in a premium neighborhood, I was famous in the industry we worked in and I had money. Then I made mistakes with the way we chose to grow our business. I was warned that this was not the way to go about growth – by my soulmate and partner, my wife. I was warned by senior advisors who we had on our Firm’s management council. I was warned by my colleagues. But hubris always strikes stealthily. You will never know that you are thinking of yourself as infallible. On the contrary, hubris will wear the mask of humility and complete down-to-earthiness. It will make you believe that you can conquer the world. It will make you think that all those who are offering you sane counsel are wimps. And just when you believe that nothing ever can go wrong with your Life, everything really will! My decisions blew up on my face. My Firm’s fortunes came crashing. And in no time we were bankrupt! All that I had painstakingly built up – from my career to my Firm to my finances – went up in smoke. Everything that I was attached to was taken away from me.

It was very, very, very difficult to accept whatever was happening to me. I resisted. I fought. I cried. I sulked. But Life only got more difficult to face. It hurt me so much that I had failed and fallen. I desperately wanted to let go of the past and I wanted to know how I could be peaceful, happy and content.

That’s when, by sheer accident, actually cosmic design, I stumbled upon my Guru, Eknath Easwaran’s (1910~1999) book Gandhi The Man. Easwaran talks about the evolution of spirituality in the ordinary mortal – who was pretty much like you and me – M.K.Gandhi, eventually making him a Mahatma. Easwaran shares a verse, and I reproduce a relevant part of it below,  from the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita that Gandhi meditated on each morning for over 50 years of his Life.

Arjuna asks Krishna: “What are the marks of the man who lives in wisdom, completely established in himself?” (Himself here means ‘his true, real, Self’). Krishna replies:

“….He lives in wisdom
Who sees himself in all and all in him,
Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed
Every selfish desire and sense-craving
Tormenting the heart. Not agitated
By grief, nor hankering after pleasure,
He lives free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments,
He is not elated by good fortune
Nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer…”
I too have found great value in meditating on this verse. As I struggled to get over my fall, and my losses, Easwaran’s commentary on learnings from Gandhi’s Life and this verse helped me immensely. I soon discovered that what’s more valuable and enduring in Life are not what we acquire for ourselves in our lifetime but what we will leave behind – by way of a message, by way of creating something that will continue to be useful for generations to come, by way of leaving the world better than we found it!

To be wise, to live intelligently, is not difficult. It is a choice. All of us – you, me, everyone – will be struck by hubris at some time or the other, in our own unique ways. When you understand that Life is far more meaningful than satisfying your sensory pleasures and amassing wealth or seeking fame, you will have built the best armor around you to protect yourself from that wily predator – hubris. But the interesting irony about Life is that – in big or small measure – unless you are felled by hubris, you will never awaken!