Today’s Vlog demystifies enlightenment. Anyone can and will be enlightened – when you understand the true, transient, nature of Life!
View time: 3:31 minutes
When you are ready and willing, you will always be pointed in the direction you must take.
“Do we necessarily need a Guru to initiate us into Self-realization,” asked a reader yesterday. I have myself asked this question before; and I keep getting asked this question often too.
We must first understand the meaning of Guru. Guru really means ‘remover of ignorance’ – ‘Gu’ means ‘darkness of ignorance’ and ‘Ru’ means ‘remover, one who removes’. So, as I have experienced and learnt from Life, anyone or anything, that removes your ignorance, or helps you to become aware, or that which awakens you to a truth, is a Guru. So, a Guru is not necessarily a someone who has matted hair, is ritualistic, has a followership and has an ashram or a retreat. To me, a Guru, is a teacher. And since I am really, continuously, learning from Life’s experiences, I consider Life my constant Guru, my ever-present Teacher!
Now, to the next part of the question. I feel the word and the concept of ‘Self-realization’ is over-rated, and therefore, unnecessarily complicated. ‘Self-realization’ is simply the awareness of the transient nature of Life. I have written on writer Shreekumar Varma’s idea of happiness in my Sunday column, The Happiness Road, for DT Next. While conversing with Shreekumar, who is a scion of the Travancore royal family, he shared what his grandmother, the erstwhile ruler of the state of Travancore, used to say about Life: “I once had a kingdom, then I had a palace, then I had a house and now I have a room.” “This awareness”, pointed out Shreekumar, “is key to leading a simple, happy Life – that nothing and no one is going to be yours or with you permanently.”
I will add to his learning that this awareness is what ‘Self-realization’ is. Which is, you are not this body, you are not this human form, you are not the qualifications you have, you are not your position, your title, your bank balance, your relationship, your property, your grief, your worry, your health – you are none of those. In a basic, practical, simplistic context, you are just your breath. Everything and everyone who is around you is with you only because you are alive, you are breathing. Once you die, where does your breath go? It just becomes one with the Universal energy. I wouldn’t even complicate this discourse with the concept of soul, atman, and such – I am just sharing what I understand. To me, everything matters only because of this breath, only because of the fact that I am alive. Life is only jab tak hai jaan! This means, live your Life to the fullest, as long as it lasts. Utilize the opportunity of this lifetime within the lifetime of the opportunity. When you go, you are going to take nothing with you. So, don’t cling on to anything or anyone – practice detachment in every moment. This realization, this awareness is what ‘Self-realization’ really is. As you can see, it is downright simple.
Now, do you need a Guru to awaken you to this truth? The answer is simple. Do you need an alarm to wake up in the mornings or do you wake up on your own? Both possibilities exist. Those who are used to bio-rhythm, will be woken up by their body clocks. Those who need a wake-up call will respond to an alarm. And then, there’s the third category, those who are not sleeping at all, they are pretending to be asleep. They can never be woken up. So, a Guru really steps into your Life when you are ready and willing. As the Buddhist saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And that Guru will not necessarily be a scholar or a religious leader or a God-person. It need not even be a person! A book can be your Guru, a movie can be a Guru, a Life experience can be a Guru. And there can even be a combination of Gurus – different people, things, events coming together to remove your ignorance, to wake you up and to point you in the direction you must take.
A genuine Guru will not advise that you follow him or her, will not insist on any ritual or prayer, will not champion that you fear a God. A true Guru awakens you to understand the impermanence of Life, and therefore invites you to celebrate yourself and to be happy. A Guru is an enabler, who helps you unshackle yourself and sets you free.
I used to regularly visit a hairdresser named Ramalingam at the erstwhile Taj Residency (now Vivanta by Taj) in Bangalore. I was a lot younger then and had a lot of hair. I was also an angry man – aggressive, impatient and quite rabid. One day, when Ramalingam was working on my hair, I received a phone call from my accountant saying a particular client payment, which was overdue by six months, was unlikely to come in for another week. I just took off on my colleague over the phone – I raved, ranted, screamed and literally shredded my colleague verbally. Ramalingam stepped back as I went ballistic. And when I got off the call, I gestured to him brusquely to continue with his work. As he resumed, Ramalingam whispered into my ear: “Sir, losing your cool like this is no good. This is not the sign of a mature leader. You are a very capable man. But you are letting your anger ruin you. Intelligent living doesn’t call for big intelligence. It requires common-sense. If you can learn to be in this world and yet be above it, untouched by its pulls and pressures, then you are a true, evolved leader.” Ramalingam’s words strangely did not anger me or hurt me. In fact, they gripped my conscience and woke me up from my stupor. It has been over 15 years now. I am still a work-in-progress. But my journey of channelizing my anger and my spiritual quest – both – began that day sitting in that salon chair. I was Arjuna that day and Ramalingam was my Krishna. He was my first Guru – he removed a part of the ignorance that I was steeped in and, set me off on glorious path where I have experienced freedom, inner peace and happiness – despite my excruciating material circumstances. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal)
On this path, whoever I meet now or whatever comes my way, is a Guru. I know I have miles to go, but I know there will always be a Guru to light up the path, every step of the way.
If you think deeply, the journey is the only reward!
We met a friend over coffee yesterday. He was curious to know why we curated free public events across the city regularly. He was one of our guests at the Heart of Matter – Happiness Conversations event last Saturday and his question is justified. He asked: “You didn’t make a naya paisa out of such a high quality event you developed and delivered. Why do you do what you do?” To be sure, we are often asked this question. So, we are never surprised.
For Vaani and me, our Life’s Purpose is Inspiring Happiness. My Book Fall Like A Rose Petal, my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk , the public events we curate, this Blog that I write daily, the value we create for our clients through our Workplace Happiness Firm A V Initiatives, are all part of this journey of living our Purpose. Yes, we do try and monetize whatever we can, whenever an opportunity arises. But we also recognize that not everything in Life is about making money or about being successful in a worldly sense. So, we immerse ourselves in qualitative opportunities, that come our way, where we can inspire people to be happy despite their circumstances. We consider ourselves blessed to be useful even when we are unable to be successful, for the moment, with starting to repay our creditors, climbing out of our bankruptcy and becoming debt-free.
This paradigm shift to being useful, even when there is no money involved, versus always wanting to be successful, has been very rewarding and truly liberating. There’s great joy in simply doing what we love doing, without any sense of wanting to achieve something, to earn something or to prove something. Life is very simple, very beautiful, when you realize that it is the journey that is the reward.
I learnt this lesson way back from a close friend.
My friend is much older than I am; he’s 76. I will call him ABB. He’s the consummate networker, yet he’s a very genteel person – someone who goes out of his way to help people. He has served the Indian Air Force and post his voluntary retirement, he has been a very active member of the corporate circuit in Hyderabad. He’s been an office bearer of many an industry body or management association. And has been a champion of several voluntary causes in South India. I have known him for over 2 decades now. And he has always left me inspired with his energy and enthusiasm. Even so, he’s extremely modest about his achievements and truly believes that he’s just an ordinary person – which is why I have chosen not to name him, but have just used his initials, so as not to embarrass him. Once when I asked him, why he did so much with often no evident returns, he told me : “I am not looking at name or fame. If some work or request comes my way and I feel like doing it, I do it. I have nothing to prove, nothing to achieve, nothing to grab!”
I took away a profound learning from his simple expression: “Nothing to prove. Nothing to achieve. Nothing to grab!” The way we are conditioned – both by our upbringing and through social demands and pressures – we are always doing just the opposite. It is almost as if, if you are not driven, you are wasting your Life. And the word “driven” itself is misunderstood. It has come to mean – prove yourself through your feats, your achievements, your assets, your wealth, your estates. Whereas, we should have been driven by an urge to live fully, to enjoy and celebrate the gift of this lifetime. But in order to prove ourselves, we are postponing living all the time. Osho, the Master, explains the fallacy of living this way and champions living enlightened: “Enlightenment is not an achievement, it is an understanding that there is nothing to achieve, nowhere to go.” Beautiful!
The key to intelligent living lies in internalizing ABB’s and Osho’s philosophy. It means to live Life fully, doing whatever you can with whatever you have in each moment, not really worrying about what you are achieving. When you begin walking, often, the road unfolds on its own. When you let go and live, driven by the urge to live fully, and not by material goals, always, Life takes care of all that it has created. And that includes you – and me! When you realize that Life is not about achieving anything, but is about experiencing everything that comes your way, you can say you are awake, aware and enlightened!
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