Learn to love yourself


There will be times in Life when the world will convince you that you are a parasite. That you are good-for-nothing. That you are a burden on your immediate family, society and perhaps the planet. People will opinionate, judge you and condemn you. You will find everyone difficult to deal with because people have either formed their opinions or they have no time for you. Either way no one wants to have anything to do with you. In their eyes, you have either failed financially, morally, emotionally or physically. The truth may be different. You may have a story to say. But no one’s listening.

Learn, through such times, and in such moments, to first love yourself. Understand that Life destroys nobody. Life has given you the opportunity and experience of this lifetime. What you are faced with is a part of your own Life’s design. Good or bad, in Life’s parlance an experience is an experience. You label it good or bad basis your definitions of what you want and what you don’t. Your acceptance delivers you joy and your resistance brings you grief. So, if you peel off your responses to an experience, you can detach yourself further from it. Then irrespective of what is happening to you, you remain untouched. When you are so insulated, it is possible to value yourself, love yourself and celebrate yourself, no matter what people say about you and what you are faced with!

The reason why such a simple learning doesn’t easily get understood is because of our conditioning. Over years, you__and I__have been told that how the world views you is important to your survival in society. Right from clothing ourselves to getting good grades through school, to impressing people around us in our teens to work titles on our business cards to flaunting our class of travel, we have become masters of living for the world. There is a bizarre selflessness that governs our existence. But what is the point in being selfless, and living for others, when you are all the time grieving that you are not being yourself and are not able to live the Life that you really want to?

I learned this lesson the hard way. Only after I had wasted much of my early years trying to please many people, working towards being seen as someone ‘nice, good and honorable’. Then, through a series of events, and experiences, I learned that those who seek honesty from others hardly practice it themselves. That to condemn those in distress is sometimes a ruthless pastime that the worthless and insensitive indulge in. I discovered that what other people say or do, about your Life, does not__and should not__make a difference to the way you think, live and work__as long as you are true to yourself. I concluded that in trying to live your Life by someone else’s rules, you are actually punishing yourself.

To be sure, you have not been created to be punished. The purpose of your creation is to enjoy this experience, to be happy, to celebrate, to live. So, don’t try to please others by living a Life for them while dying every minute yourself. Love the Life that you have been given. Begin by loving yourself.


Understand who you are – Know that you are not this body, not your physical assets, not your educational qualifications, not your bank balance, your business title or your achievements, records or feats. So, if you have lost all of them, you have lost nothing. Because you came with nothing. So losing what you never came with, and what you will never go with, is losing nothing! You are above all these material markers. You are the Universal energy that’s powering you and keeping you alive.


Understand that Life is the only God – A lot of your Life’s situations get confounded when you begin to yearn for a savior to come and extricate you from your abyss. The truth is there is no savior. You have to save yourself by applying your common sense. That common sense should tell you that since you are alive, and are being powered by the Universal energy, you have the only God that there is, which is Life, in you!


Understand that unless you live, you can’t do much to change the world – You surely do have dreams. And you dream of leaving the world a better place than you found it. No, you may not want to change the world the way a Gandhi or Mother Teresa did. But your own little world, your family, you do want to have impacted positively in your lifetime. And that you can do only when you survive. Or to use an aviation analogy, you can help others only if you first wear the oxygen mask on yourself!

Despite all the abundance around us, people have stopped counting their blessings. Instead they wallow in their, often self-inflicted, miseries. By giving too much credence to what people have to say about you, you are only allowing yourself to be drowned in that sea of hopelessness and scarcity. Instead break free. Love yourself. Remember this: Life needs you to fulfill your Life’s purpose. That’s why you have been created! When you steel yourself against the depressive sentiments that sometimes the world may heap on you, you will find the ability, the energy, and the opportunity to heal and make a difference__surely, as long as you are alive and, at times, long after you are gone! As Oscar Wilde (1854~1900) has said, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”  

Is there really a God or is that someone “out of office – on vacation”?!


Ever so often, every once in a while, you will find God ‘unreachable’! A much touted omnipotent savior who is simply not traceable when needed the most! Who’s probably fiddling away on his harp, while your home’s burning. Irrespective of what religion you follow, you will find that it’s most prized invention, it’s God, is not available to its followers, including you, to stop injustice, pain, death, separation, disease or loss. When you zoom out, climb to 30,000 feet, and take a holistic view of things happening in this world you live in, you will seriously wonder whether there indeed is a God? Tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, terrorism, malnutrition, AIDS, starvation, water scarcity, lack of education, the rich become richer and the poor get poorer, rape, murder, forgery, betrayal, deceit, the good, the pious suffer while the sinners prosper  __ what is God doing? At a personal level __ you often wonder why you don’t ever get what you believe you deserve? Why do people whom you love have to leave you or die? Why is there so much pain__and suffering__in your Life when all you have striven to be is good, ethical, devout and caring? But despite all this grime, gore, tears and sorrow, look at each new day, look at the sun rise, feel the rain, watch the birds fly away and the butterflies hover from flower to flower or watch a child smile. Now, how’s all this possible? Is there someone who makes all this happen? And is it the same one who simply watches when everything’s going wrong in the world?

However fair such questioning may well be, it is also futile. Because there’s no point in asking such questions. They have no answers.

Yesterday, my own Life came to yet another precipitous point. In the 30-odd minutes that it took for that crisis to finally blow over, hours after it had kicked in, I discovered that I was in a state of complete inner peace while a storm raged outside. It was one of those moments in Life when the paradox is both stark and soulful! In my moment of solitude, I recollected a friend’s email, which had arrived a few hours ago. Someone in that friend’s extended family had died. And there was an overall pall of gloom and anguish, understandably, in the family. Given my own circumstance, I was able to relate to their grief. Which is when it dawned on me, one more time, that the only truth about Life is what you are experiencing in the present moment. Nothing else counts. If you can encounter inner peace in the throes of a storm, you may have well found God. If you are searching for one in that moment of, call it despair, know that you are moving in the opposite direction. Not only will you not find peace, your search for God__and God’s answers to your whys__will end yield nothing__and in fact may enhance your desperation!

Think of all the reasons why God is relevant. Fundamentally, God is an emotional crutch, a form of security that consoles you, gives you hope and succor. God-bashers make you believe that all such hope is  hot air because why would a merciful, compassionate God create so much hardship and suffering for helpless, hapless, people in the first place? So, those who find hope in God, are the believers. The theists. And those who find no hope in God are the non-believers. The atheists. Atheists say they are free from God. Good point. But being free from something or someone is one thing, and being free for something or a reason is another. If freedom from God has led you to peace and joy, great. If it has not, and you still remain miserable, then, something’s not right. Obviously!

That’s where I would humbly like to offer a different take. A third dimension, if you will. When you are confronted with a dark and desperate situation, and you are drowned in hopelessness, remember that you are still alive. If you are alive it means that the same energy which is powering the cosmos, is powering you too. Which further means that if the whole Universe is a miracle so are you. And if you are a miracle, then you are capable of one too! We miss this simple truth when we are confronted with death, pain and suffering. Instead of dipping into the endless reservoir of cosmic energy within us, we look to external reference points. God too is one such external reference point. In its most identifiable forms, God is an idol at a temple or a church or a tombstone at a dargah. The problem with an external reference point is that its tangibility only makes it unreal. So, when you ask why, wailing in prayer or pouring your heart out at a place of worship, you don’t ever get a reply. Instead, if you go into the world of the intangible, go within, then you encounter the real truth. The real God! So, simply, if you go inward, you will awaken. You will then understand that:

  1. Life happens differently to each of us all the time. It IS inscrutable and it IS always what it IS!
  2. Nothing is permanent. Anything that is created will be destroyed. Anything born will die.
  3. As long as you know you are alive, you are capable of living happily. The choice to live happily__despite your circumstances__is your own.
  4. If you have not known how to live in the moment, you never will have lived. You will have merely existed. If you have only existed, you have not found peace within you. If you have not known inner peace, you will never know God!      

Kabir, the 15th Century weaver-poet, said it so beautifully: “Moko Kahan Dhoondhe Re Bande, Main To Hoon Tere Paas Main…..Na Thirath Main, Na Moorat Main….Na Mandir Main, Na Masjid Main….Main To Hoon Tere Paas Main….” This means, referring to man’s quest for God, “Where are you searching for me? I am near you. I am not in a pilgrimage nor in an idol, not it a temple nor in a mosque, I am near you, in you….”.

Here’s hoping you make that short journey inward. You will find your God at work__and not on vacation or missing in action__24x7, there!

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!

Love yourself to find your God within you!


What you fear will enslave you and what you love will liberate you!

 

You often hear people referring to themselves or others as “god-fearing”. Last night I saw an electronic billboard outside a place of worship that read: “The Fear of God is the Beginning of Wisdom”! Nothing can be more untrue.

What kind of a God is it that wants you__or me__to be fearful? Religion and its self-serving propagators have turned God into a mega-brand that is propped up so that it earns them (the propagators) money and keeps them powerful. The 2012 superhit Hindi film ‘OMG – Oh My God!’, directed by Umesh Shukla and starring Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar, satirically and successfully, challenged the popular concept of God, as the religions and its leaders want us to believe. The movie had an unputdownable awakening feel to it. A Rediff review of the film summed up its message: “A brave and absorbing blend of satire, fable and fantasy that brings our attention to the misuse and commercialization of religion.”

This is indeed true. The most corrupt institutions in society today are the ones that engage with and thrive on religion. The people who run them have their followers in their stranglehold by playing up concepts of sin, retribution and divine punishment. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844~1900), the German philosopher, busted this whole God theory rather forcefully. He declared, ‘God is dead. Now man is free.” Understand this in a less debatable context. You see a snake at your feet. And you freeze, fearing it. You can’t think of anything else but your imminent death. Is the snake scaring you or your thought of it scaring you, crippling you? Anybody who understands snakes will tell you that they don’t harm UNLESS they are harmed. So, if you replace your fear with love and move away slowly you will be free. But no, you will stay frozen, not so much grounded by the snake, but by your fear of the snake! The same argument applies in the context of God. When every scripture (not religion) champions love, compassion and surrender__to the moment, to Life__how and why do we buy this absurd logic of fearing a God? Fear cripples. Debilitates. Love frees, liberates. How can you fear God and be free? When you fear a God__you will be dying every moment that you are alive. You will be enslaved by superstitions, rituals, dogmas and will be looking for an, unavailable, approval of each of your actions. Which is also the reason why you are plagued by anxiety, worry, grief, suffering and stress, DESPITE your being so God-fearing! The irony is that you are suffering only because you are God-fearing! If you are God-loving, your suffering will disappear. Think about it. You were born free. And in your infancy lived free. Don’t you realize that if you have stopped being free it is your fear of God that has made you so?

Swami Sathya Sai Baba explains this so beautifully: “Everyone is God. But some are unconscious of their divinity and are conscious only of the body-state, some are partly conscious of it and a few are fully God-conscious. Complete self-surrender and unquestioning love becomes possible when man achieves unswerving faith. Once God is realized there is no question of faith at all, just as there is no question of faith when a man knows himself to only be a man.” Note here that the faith that Swami refers to here is faith in Life __ that if you have been created, you will be looked after, provided for. And he talks of surrender to the Self, not to some external entity __ living or otherwise!

 

 

Drop all your fears. Recognize the value in loving the God you so desperately seek. You cannot find that God by seeking, searching, running from one place of worship to another. Or by wearing stones and rings on your fingers. Or by fasting and abstaining. You can and will find your God only when you find yourself. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek language. ‘entheos’, in Greek, meaning enthusiasm, is a combination of two Greek words: ‘en’ (within) and ‘theos’ (God). ‘entheos’ therefore means ‘the God within’. So, be enthusiastic about Life. Love the Life source within you. That is your God. One whom you don’t need to fear at all. Through this love, and only with this love, will you awaken to freedom and bliss.

Worship Your Divinity!



Recognize how sacred you are and worship your divinity.
There’s so much focus on an external God that we humans have all but conceded that we are mere pawns in this game called Life! While it is important to follow our individual faith and respect the traditions in which we have been raised, it is equally crucial for us not to feel unworthy.  
Just consider you upbringing. You have been told that God is all powerful. That God hates sinners. And that you must keep doing good to stay blessed. So, all along, the reference point is something external. And when things go wrong, as they often do, you believe that your solutions too has to come from an outside source! As you grow up you do get a whiff of wisdom and realize that it is perhaps possible that the energy that powers the Universe, that keeps you alive, is inside of you. And that energy is possibly the God that everyone refers to and is looking for. Yet years of conditioning cannot possibly be dismissed by few moments of epiphany.
Also consider the experiences when you have possibly encountered people who, while appearing to be incapable of divinity (at least as perceived by us), are able to provide phenomenal insights to intelligent living. Your logical, re-doubting mind often wonders if such people have an axe to grind or are charlatans! Fundamentally, while we humans crave that the Gods we worship, in temples and churches and mosques and gurudwaras, open their eyes and grant us our wishes, we have a serious problem believing and trusting when God, finally, speaks, especially in human form!
Seek Within and You shall find
During some specially trying times, a few years ago, my wife and I went to meet a Siddha yogi. We were referred to him by a close friend. When we reached his place, on the outskirts of Chennai, we were quite startled to find him dressed in a lungi and vest, standing outside on the street and smoking a beedi. He politely requested us to go inside and be seated. He took his own time finishing his smoke and later joined us. As soon as he sat down in front of us, he said, “Is your problem your debt?” We were dumbfounded. Startled. Shocked. We had not spoken to him about anything. Nor had we introduced ourselves. And here he was, putting his finger on exactly the same issue that confronted us, our enormous debt and our struggling business! How was that possible, we wondered? But the yogi had no intention to allow us time to marvel at his abilities. He continued quickly, even as I mumbled saying yes, “Sir, your problem is not your debt. Your problem is how you are dealing with your debt. You are hating your debt. So, it bothers you. Instead love your debt. It has come into your Life to teach you something. Learn you lessons. And be sure that when you learn them your debt will go away just the way it came into your Life. All our problems in Life can be solved ONLY when we look within and find our OWN answers.” With that our meeting ended.
We found his answer too simplistic. I remember telling my wife as I got into our car that the man is either too naïve or is a charlatan! Now, when I look back I realize how stupid, fickle and uncharitable I had been. Because the yogi had not called us, we went to him. He did not ask for money. He did not prescribe a tantric ritual or a series of prayers. All he said was look within and advised us to learn our lessons while loving the problem that had invited itself over in our Life! Over the years I have found only his approach working for us. Our problems remain where they are. Even so, our ability to deal with them have grown phenomenally because we have learned to love them and continue to learn from them. The yogi has also become a close personal friend who has taught us another important perspective to Life: “Worship the divinity within you. Face Life. All your solutions, to problems that confound you, are within. Seek within and you shall find them”!
In our case, it was our debt. Your story and your problem situation may be different. But whatever the problem may be, I am sure, this awakening perspective will certainly apply to you too.
It really is as simple as it sounds. Life is not complicated. We make it so by failing to recognize our own divinity!