Living with awareness of your impending, inevitable death makes you live better

The truth is that we don’t have much time.    

This morning we attended the memorial service of a friend’s mother. She had passed away at a Senior Citizens’ Home where she lived the last few years of her Life. So the inmates at the Home had arranged this service to share their experiences of living with her and knowing her.

It was a dignified event. No one cried. Or delivered flashy eulogies. And despite the searing heat – the venue was non-air-conditioned – the energy in the room among the inmates of the Home was so compassionate; it was simple yet beautiful in a very unique way. One of the administrators of the Home, herself a senior citizen, made a significant point: “Ultimately each of us has to go join the Maker. So, the only prayer we must have is to be able to live well and depart, when our time comes, without suffering.”

I absolutely love this perspective. Even if we can’t really order a perfect – suffering-free and instantaneous – exit for ourselves, I think that we can experience equanimity in each moment when we start living with complete awareness of our impending, inevitable death.

your-time-is-limited-so-dont-waste-it-living-someones-life-steve-jobs-1-728As the Dalai Lama points out, the problem with all of us is that we think we have too much time. So because we don’t see our Life as a limited period, soon-to-expire, offer, we go on postponing living, loving and happiness. We seem to have time for everything else – for fighting, for grieving, for worrying, for working like zombies, for being angry, for feeling jealous, for investing and creating wealth (which we cannot take away with us) and for sitting on our fat egos, but we don’t have time for ourselves, for living fuller and happier lives? Think about it – how much more bizarre can it get?

Even so, I don’t think any of us consciously chooses to squander our lives. Often times a large portion of our Life remains unlived because we think we can be happier and live better when all our problems are solved. It’s a very faulty logic that we employ to kid ourselves. But bringing death into the picture can dramatically alter things for you. Consider this – How would you live your Life if you knew you only have until tomorrow morning to live? What would you do? Who all would you call? And what would you tell the people that you have hated, fought with or remain estranged from? Remember, death is not a distant eventuality. It is right here, around the corner. Living your Life well, your way, in the time you have left here is the best choice you can make for yourself!


Dear Sri Sri, I planted a tree for you…!

An open letter with love, compassion and a ‘jadoo ki jhappi’ for Sri Sri Ravishankar
Dear Sri Sri,
I must begin this letter with a confession. I am no follower of yours or of anybody else.
I am just a student of Life, learning from everyone around me.  I am just another fellow voyager – who believes totally in what the Dalai Lama so beautifully advocates – and practices – “responsible visitorship”. He reminds us that we are all mere tourists, visitors on this planet; our lifespans are a mere 100 years max compared to how long the planet has been and will be around. So, he says, we must act responsibly towards our inner and outer ecosystems and live meaningfully.
I understand spirituality to be simple and undemanding. It is the flowering of inner awareness. Period. An awakening that invites you to consider responsible visitorship and meaningful living. So, to me, anyone on the spiritual path, and that I imagine includes you and your organization Art of Living (AOL), must make an earnest attempt to live meaningfully and demonstrate responsible visitorship. If anyone is not making this earnest attempt, then, to me, they are not on the spiritual path. Period.
Around the same time that you and your organization Art of Living have refused to consider the sane counsel of the National Green Tribunal and are forging ahead with ‘your’ idea of preserving and promoting ‘world culture’, the people of Bhutan, have welcomed the country’s newborn Prince with planting 108,000 trees, each sealed with a prayer, for the heir to the kingdom’s throne. That, dear Sri Sri, is responsible visitorship. That is how, as I understand, culture is built, nurtured and protected.
So, I planted a tree for you. I planted it with love and compassion; I am sending you this open letter with my ‘jadoo ki jhappi’for you to receive my innermost energy and yearning for doing what is most compassionate for our world.
The word culture, again as I understand it, is best explained with the way the word appears in Tamizh: kalacharam. This word, kalacharam, is made up of two words kalai and acharam. kalai means art and acharam means discipline. The ‘art of living together in a disciplined manner’ is kalacharam, culture. And the art of living, dear Sri Sri, surely involves responsible visitorship!
I don’t think the world, most certainly not India, needs another culture festival. What the world needs is peace – both in our inner and outer ecosystems. Two of the world’s greatest musicians and singers, MS Subbalakshmi Amma and John Lennon, in their own way, left behind their soul-stirring reminders to what the world needs. Here’s a fusion of their Maithreem Bhajata and Imagine rendered by two contemporary artistes – Akhila Ramnarayan and Vedanth Bharadwaj. I am sending you this fusion single as well. Perhaps, after the dust settles down on your festival, and on the marauded plains of a beautiful river, this song – ironically and painfully titled ‘Pipe Dream’ – will invoke reflection and awakening.
I ask nothing of you dear Sri Sri or of Team AOL. I ask nothing of nobody. I have no hidden agenda, I practice no religion and support no political thought – and I am no foreign hand. I, however, make an earnest attempt towards responsible visitorship every single day, even while dealing with my own, often imponderable, real-world challenges ( So I guess I have earned my right to write you this letter.
All I have is love and compassion for you Sri Sri. The least I could do was plant a tree for you.
I feel immensely blessed I could do that.
With a ‘jadoo ki jhappi’,
AVIS Viswanathan, Chennai


What I learnt from Tenzin Gyatso: “Stay Humble, Stay Happy, Stay Human”

Every once in a while, someone will come into your Life and make you sit up and appreciate the value of being human – and being happy.
On my Life’s journey I have met a few people who have had a profound impact on my outlook to Life and have inspired me to be happy. But this morning at the Extra Mural Lecture Series at IIT-Madras, The XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, invited me to look at Life and happiness afresh.
He raised the pitch and perspective to a higher-than-30,000-ft-level saying each of us has a responsibility to make this Century, the 21st Century, the Century of Happiness. And even as he delivered this profound message, he ensured that he gently, beautifully, stirred your soul and made you realize that the real purpose of your creation – and mine – is to be happy!
Tenzin Gyatso: The XIVth Dalai Lama
Picture Courtesy: TIME/Internet
The Dalai Lama began by simply being who he is – he is simplicity personified. He picked up an apple, from a fruit basket that had been given to him by IIT-M Director Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi as a welcome gesture, and kept chomping on it all through his lecture. He said, “I prefer informality. I prefer all of us treating each other as humans. That way there is equality. You know, the moment I start looking at myself as a Tibetan or as a Buddhist monk, then I begin to treat myself with exclusivity. And let me tell you if I start referring to myself as The Dalai Lama – I am the only Dalai Lama in the world which has over 7 billion people – then it gets very lonely. So, I am just another human being like you. I like it this way. This is when we can have a conversation – you and me!”
He made a very strong case for humanity and happiness. He said that all humans, intrinsically, basically, are compassionate. And all human beings want a happy Life – and they have a right to be happy! All destructive emotions – anger, hatred, fear – are secondary. They arise in people only when their idea of happiness is disturbed. Each individual, he pointed out, has a responsibility: to go back to the basic human state of compassion, to have a vision to make this world happier and to develop the patience to attain this vision. “But it is a personal choice,” he reiterated, adding, “That is why the Buddha said, ‘You are your own Master.’ Your happiness is in your hands and in your actions – mental, verbal and physical actions. So, you can go to work on what I have shared with you or you can drop it.”
Tenzin Gyatso: The XIVth Dalai Lama
Picture Courtesy: TIME/Internet
He made us pause and think of religion and its role and purpose. He patiently elucidated what the various religions are trying to say. He led us to understand that each religion, and the multiple philosophies professed by each religion, may appear to be different. But ultimately all of them are promoting human well-being and happiness. Again, he championed that it was an individual responsibility for each of us to stay focused on the bigger picture of what each religion was striving to achieve. “The true meaning of secular is to respect all religions and their followers and respect all those who are non-believers (in religion) too. It is our responsibility to work towards religious harmony among the world’s people. That’s my commitment,” he said.
At 80, The Dalai Lama lives and leads his Life’s message from the front. Not in his spiritual role. Not in its political avatar. To me, he has relinquished both. The political mandate he gave up in September 2011 when he retired from the Central Tibetan Administration. And he is hardly interested in continuing in the spiritual role either, of being a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara – the Boddhisattva of Compassion. In an interview he gave a German newspaper in September 2014, The Dalai Lama has indicated that he is not keen on the tradition of the Dalai Lama, which has stayed for over 5 centuries, continuing any longer. In fact, he spoke about it briefly this morning too. “Even the Dalai Lama institution has become feudal over the years. It’s time for change. Which is why, I prefer dealing with people at a human level not as a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara,” he said.
My family and I – who are together for the first time in 8 years for Diwali – could not have found a more enriching experience on a Diwali morning! Just being in the presence of the man is such a blessing. Here’s someone who has stripped himself of all the trappings of power and exclusivity and has gone to the root of human existence to promote compassion and happiness among the world’s people. I don’t know of too many statesmen and global leaders who have been able to do that or are doing that. Which is why, perhaps, over 3000 of us in the audience at the Student Activities Centre at IIT-M clung on to his every word, having chosen to pause our Diwali celebrations.

They call him ‘His Holiness’. But I won’t call him so. As he chomped on his apple, and kept repeating how delicious it was, he taught us the value of being humble, being happy and being human. To me, therefore, Tenzin Gyatso is just a happy, humble, human being! And so he inspires me to be one myself! 

Make a difference before your Visa for this lifetime expires

Never conclude that you are too small to make a difference.
A lot of the problems we face as individuals, as nations or as a world today can be solved if only each of us understands the value of our contributions. To be sure, there is no problem that’s unsolvable in this world. But solutions don’t get found or implemented because we are steeped in scarcity thinking. “What can I, who am a small fry, do about this?” is the most debilitating question we can ask ourselves.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzing Gyatso, often quotes an African proverb that says, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.” He should know. Because for the last several decades he has been, in exile, leading the Tibetans’ right to self-determination against an oppressive Chinese government, and has now come to represent the universal right to freedom and human dignity. He lives by this credo: “As long as space will exist and there will be need to alleviate the suffering of living things, may I be around, may I be useful.” It is a philosophy worth internalizing.
Look around you. See the waste, the garbage being generated, even as the ecology is being senselessly destructed, every moment that we humans inhabit the planet. See the pain and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in just your neighborhood, they are dying of disease, loneliness, hunger and emotional trauma. See the values-crisis that the world is grappling with. It is not just the economy that is struggling. The way we live has become so self-centered and irresponsible. It is time for action. We must be inspired by the girl on the beach who continues to throw the star fish back into the ocean so that they can live and believes that to each one that she throws back, she’s making a difference. (Watch the video here of this beautiful story!). On a spiritual plane, the Masters say, when even one member of a family, looks inward and finds a deeper meaning to Life, there’s a ripple effect on everyone connected. The whole family begins to radiate the positive energy and starts seeing abundance and opportunity in everything. On a practical plane, if you start behaving more responsibly __ for instance, stopMping the use of plastic, not drinking and driving, maybe ride a bicycle instead of driving to work, reaching out and helping someone in need__you will have made a difference. So look around you, see what’s within your reach, in your control and work on it.
We are all on a single-entry, limited tenure Visa on Planet Earth. The key is, when we pass on, we must be able to answer the following questions: “As long I was on the planet, was I useful? Did I make a difference?” The Dalai Lama and the girl in the video can answer ‘yes’ to those questions. Can you?

Be smarter than your smartphone – use all your features!

We are all endowed with equal potential at the time of our creation. But most of us lead our lives completely ignorant of this endowment.
Just knowing you have potential unlocks it for you. You are like the smartest of smartphones in the market that has several, unique in-built features. But if you instead choose to remain technology phobic or even technology agnostic, you will end up merely using the smartphone for voice__which is its commonest use. And so you will be deprived of benefiting from its various other value-added features like internet access, blue-tooth and video-conferencing! Who is to blame for your inability to use the smartphone efficiently? Are you to blame or is it the manufacturer who is to blame? Now, step back and think about your Life. You spend so much time worrying and complaining that you don’t have the ability to do things that you want to do, and often end up blaming the Creator, your manufacturer!!! This is the reason why you don’t make progress and find yourself in a rut!
Liberate yourself. Know that you are just as endowed as anybody else. Just as the most successful, the most wise and the most caring, most peaceful people you know of in the world: If you think Mark Zuckerberg is endowed, so are you; If you think Indra Nooyi is endowed, so are you; If you think the Dalai Lama is endowed, so are you; If you think Rajnikanth is endowed, so are you. Know that everything that you need is already with you and everything that you seek is within you. Go, discover your true potential. Be smart. Smarter than your smartphone – use all the features that you are endowed with! That’s when you will create your own world in this same world that you think you have to live in!

Pause, Listen, Share! Let’s make the world a better place!!!

Each of our stories is so fascinating. If only we pause to listen to them the world will be so much more a better place to be in.
Yesterday I was moderating a Panel Discussion on building Safer Cities at a Business Conclave. One of the speakers I met there is a fine Britisher named Dr.Andrew Hawkins, a senior management team member at Microsoft. Dr.Hawkins has an amazing, almost incredible, story. His great grandfather was lost in the high seas when his ship wrecked while he was on a voyage through the Indian Ocean. But he miraculously swam ashore, landing at an Indian beach. A group of Indian fishermen cared for him for several months, helped him regain his health and he eventually found his way back to Britain. Dr.Hawkins was very emotional when he said: “I am here, able to speak to all of you, only because a few kind Indians, in a coastal village here, many, many years ago took care of my great grandfather!” Dr.Hawkins finds it so overwhelming that, over three generations later, he should be in the same country that helped his great grandfather rebuild his Life. He plans to come back to India on a sabbatical to locate and reconnect with the families of those fishermen that tended for his forefather and express his family’s gratitude to them.
Hearing Dr.Hawkins’ story reminded me of a beautiful expression, a truth, that I had read some years ago. We are all not human beings going through temporary spiritual experiences, we are all spiritual beings going through temporary human experiences. All the strife and disharmony in the world exists because we don’t notice the divinity in each other. We go around seeking God in temples, churches, mosques and gurudwaras, but we fail to see the God within. You and I are alive because of a Life energy that powers us, that thrives in us. And it is the same. The slum dweller in Dharavi in Mumbai, the President in the White House, the hungry child in South Sudan, the Maori aboriginals of New Zealand and each of the seven billion people on the planet – each of us, has the same energy source. What more evidence do we need of the divinity in us? That makes all of us equal and connected. You inhale what I exhale. And I inhale what you exhale. There can’t be a more evident connect, a more deeper bond between us humans.
Yet, however much social media may have transformed the world by shrinking distances, we continue to be divided by race, religion and nationalities. The distances between us are actually no longer just physical. We are distant because we have stopped being human. We are just not available for each other. We are no longer making an effort to reach out, to understand, to appreciate and celebrate each other. We are lost in our own myopic worlds and are consumed by our challenges. We don’t realize that if share, if we listen, we can learn a lot more and feel a lot, lot more happier and secure. The Dalai Lama, someone who I admire greatly for his simplicity and wisdom, has said this so beautifully, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Here’s hoping you and I make more time for each other and for pausing to share and learn from our stories. That’s the only way we can, together, make this world more caring and leave it better than we found it!
namaste! – The God in me bows to the God in you!  

To be permanently happy, choose to live a different Life

Asking yourself a fundamental question – “What will make me permanently happy?” – can change your Life!

The Times of India (TOI) yesterday had a very profound story, tucked away obscurely, in one of the inside pages. It is the story of a Wall Street finance whiz, Sree Patel. Patel, 35, has decided to dedicate his entire Life and a good part of his $800,000 annual pay package to social causes. He works closely with the Anoopam Mission, an offshoot of the Swami Narayan movement in Mogri, near Anand, in Gujarat. Patel leads the Anoopam Mission in the USA where he continues to keep his day job at Wall Street and spends all his other time in social service. Patel told TOI’s Bharat Yagnik that a hefty bonus of Rs.1.5 crore that he received 10 years ago changed his Life. He wanted to buy himself a Ferrari with that money and he thought that at 25, he had “arrived”. But something, says Patel, made him pause and reflect. “The sports car will give me momentary joy. (But) if someone bumps into it, it will pain me. So what will give me permanent happiness?” – Patel tells Yagnik that this thinking forced him to drop the Ferrari idea. His quest brought him to the Anoopam Mission where his mother had been serving for years. And in serving others, with no expectation of any return, Patel says, he found permanent happiness.

Each of us has the same opportunity as Patel. To seize that opportunity, we must look up from whatever we are obsessed with doing – day in and day out! Running the rat race is not the real problem. Running it mindlessly is. Earning a living, raising a family, paying bills, growing your asset portfolio, planning for retirement and providing for heathcare costs – all of this, and more, is a full time job. No doubt. Ask anyone on the planet and you will find that in the midst of all this chaotic activity, each one, in his or her own special, unique way, is searching for happiness. Over time, and thanks to some unfortunate conditioning, people have come to believe that happiness lies in acquiring things. So, they go after things – cars, villas, fat bank balances, exotic luxury vacations, gadgets – only to find that after acquiring what they wanted to, they still feel incomplete – and unhappy! The cause of all unhappiness is in the way we define happiness. Happiness is not getting what we want. That is success. Happiness is, simply, wanting what we get. Happiness is also in touching a Life, making a difference and in pursuing something meaningful – and not just materialistic.

The Dalai Lama says this very beautifully. Someone asked him what surprised him most about humanity. And the Dalai Lama replied: “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present. The result being that he is neither in the present nor in the future. He lives as if he is never going to die. And then he dies never having really lived!”  

The true meaning of living is to have lived happily and to leave the world a better place than you found it. And to live that way, ask yourself what will make you permanently happy. Then, go ahead and do whatever it takes, to enable and ensure that you are happy. You will never regret having made that choice to live your Life differently!

Transform from within and when no one’s asking!

Many of us want to change the way we live our lives. But we plead our inability to break away from our ‘worldly’ responsibilities, from our day-to-day challenges and to decide that what we have earned and saved is enough for us to last us for the rest of this lifetime! So, we continue living our incomplete lives, fraught with our insecurities, pining for a better day tomorrow. Each new year or birthday or wedding anniversary there is a resolution. To change. To transform. But it just stays a resolution. And when it is broken, there is more despair, more hopelessness.

For you to truly transform yourself two conditions need to be fulfilled:

  • You must be wanting to change for yourself, not because someone wants you to change
  • Whatever you are changing into gives you joy, then you begin not by thinking about what to do, but by doing it!

Without these two conditions, no personal change or transformation initiative, will succeed. Whether it is kicking a ruinous habit or starting a healthy one, changing your job, learning  a new skill, losing weight, letting a relationship go or reinventing your career. Everything must first happen within you. You must want to do it. Not because there’s money or opportunity or pride or position in it, but because you will be happy doing it. Then transformation becomes possible, and certain, even if it is not really going to be easy. Remember: no amount of resolutions or drawing up deadlines or enrolling into ‘transformation’ programs will be useful unless there’s a hunger within you!

Here’s a good old fable that illustrates this point.

A bunch of disciples invite their Guru to join them on a pilgrimage to take a holy dip in the Ganges at Haridwar. The Guru politely declines. But the disciples insist saying they have gleaned from the scriptures that such a dip in the holy river will cleanse and transform each of them. They believe that if their Guru would bless them and be by their side during this transformational ritual they would be doubly blessed. The Guru counsels them but to no avail. Finally, he advises them to take a bitter gourd as his mascot with them. He advises them to also dip the bitter gourd in the holy river when they bathe. The disciples grudgingly agree and set off on their pilgrimage. A few weeks later they come back and report to their Guru saying how good their journey and experience was. The Guru calls for the bitter gourd. One of the disciples promptly pulls it out and presents it respectfully. The Guru demands that the vegetable be sliced and each disciple taste it__without cooking it. With much difficulty the disciples taste the bitter vegetable, their contorted faces exclaiming with anguish as the vegetable’s juices enter their system. “Did you not dip the vegetable in the Ganges, the Holy River,”asks the Guru, demanding “Why then is it so bitter?” “We did Guruji. But how can bitter gourd stop being bitter because it was dipped in a river, however holy it may be,”reasons a disciple. No sooner had he finished saying it, the moral of the Guru’s abstinence from the pilgrimage dawns on all his disciplines.

We are like that bitter gourd. Our inside is what must change for our external reality to change.

Following a ritual for the sake of doing it or attempting to change the environment around you cannot lead to personal transformation. Even before the physical effects of your transformation emerge, something within you must have changed. The light within you must have come alive, lit up. Its radiance can then show you the way forward. Personal transformation is possible, successful, only when you lead the change, from within, because you want it, are happy doing it and when no one’s asking you to change!

‘Ahimsa’ by you is the way forward for the world!

The way forward for the world is ahimsa. And it begins with you and me.

When something like the Connecticut killings happen, you stop for a brief while, shocked and numb. You mourn and then move on. Your own Life demands you attention and then the next big news story takes over. The candlelight vigils and the debates of gun control abate, while you return to the job of earning a living. It is not that you don’t relate to something that happened several thousand miles away, but you feel you are helpless.

This is precisely where you, me, all of us, must think differently. We are not helpless. We can do something. Beginning first with each of us.

That first step is understanding ‘ahimsa’. In his phenomenally insightful book, ‘Gandhi The Man’, published first in 1973, spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, invites us to consider ‘ahimsa’ in terms of our world family. He goes deep into Gandhi’s thinking and discovers that both Gandhi’s personal transformation, from man to Mahatma, and the key to his political strategy to oust the British from India were built on ‘ahimsa’. Easwaran writes: “’Ahimsa’ is not the crude thing it has been made to appear,” Gandhi tells us. “Not to hurt any living thing is no doubt a part of ‘ahimsa’. But it is its least expression. The principle of ‘ahimsa’ is hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody. It is also violated by our holding on to what the world needs.” So beautiful. Understanding ‘ahimsa’, therefore means, knowing that we must expunge every violent thought and emotion when it rises within us.

To do this, take the second step. Of using ‘ahimsa’ to further the flowering of inner awareness of continuously being loving – a state that each of us is capable of being in. Osho, the Master, says we are unable to be in that state forever, though each of us at various times in our lives will attain that state for a brief while, because we are busy holding on, possessing__things, opinions, negative emotions and debilitating memories of past hurts! Says Osho, “The more you possess, the less you can love. And love is the door. Or, the less you can love, the more you start possessing.” So, the trick really is to let go of anything which is a violent thought. For instance, someone betrays you and you want to get even. Every living moment of your becomes violent because your thoughts are full of anger, revenge, hurt and suffering. ‘Ahimsa’ gives you the ability to forgive, to let go and to become love.

The third step is to take your love and share your love with everyone you connect with. Which goes beyond your immediate family, your immediate circle of friends, your immediate community. Be love and loving to everyone you see, meet, speak to __ at work, on the metro, in the line at the grocers. To everyone, everywhere. When each of us can be this way, be love and be loving, we will be able to change the world too. From possessing to letting go. From hatred to love. From anger to peace.

Enforcing gun control laws and hanging terrorists may only address the problem or perhaps just its symptoms. Only love, and a world that is loving, can address what causes people, and therefore the world, to go violent.  Speaking to students at Danbury, Connecticut, a few weeks ago, the venerable Dalai Lama delivered precisely the same message. “Prayer and meditation without action is not enough to bring peace to a hurting world. Happiness very much depends on inner peace. Inner peace very much depends on happiness. And change in the world begins with each person. “Who should start” to bring peace to the world? The “individual person” … not religious leaders, not the United Nations, but each of us,” he said. “Then, from one person to 10 persons, 100 persons, 1,000. So I think any sort of movement among humanity … must start from the individual.”

Simply, therefore, if the Connecticut killings shocked you too, then let’s go do something about it. Through understanding and practicing ‘ahimsa’, let’s nail every violent thought that may arise in us. Through doing that consistently, let us allow our true loving self to flower from within. And let that love bathe our world in a new light!