Today’s Vlog flows from this question that I was asked recently: “Do you believe in God?” And I talk about about why it is relevant to celebrate the Godliness in us – by being Grateful for the Gift of Life! This understanding is key to achieving our Goals!
Viewing time: 3:00 minutes
It’s a big, beautiful world full of kind, compassionate people!
At my Uncommon Leader event yesterday, a member of the audience walked up to me and said, “It must be pretty tough on you and Vaani to be so vulnerable in this big, bad, cruel world. I don’t know if I would have survived the crisis you are faced with.” (To know more about the crisis and why this remark was made, please follow this link: Fall Like A Rose Petal.)
Vaani and I understand where this perspective is coming from. It appears that much of the world is cold, cruel, judgmental and self-obsessed. It also appears that wearing your Life on your sleeve, being transparent, being vulnerable, is an absurd, almost foolish, thing to do. But our experience has just been the opposite. In all the time that Vaani and I have been dealing with this bankruptcy, for about a decade now, we have never come across someone who has exploited our vulnerability. To be sure, we have always been very open about our enduring situation. But this hasn’t made us a target or victim of social prejudices or attitudes. Of course, there have been those who have proceeded against us legally to protect their rights (on account of having to recover from us the monies we owe them); we totally understand their need to have done what they have done. Yes, there have been those who have been judgmental and there are those who have distanced themselves from us only because we are no longer in a certain “league”. But such people have been few. A large majority of people in our circle of influence and who we have come across in the past decade have been, in reference to their specific contexts, forgiving, compassionate, sensitive, loving, understanding and important, in general, all of them have been trusting.
Just yesterday, someone we know came forward to make a generous offer to us. He noticed that we are struggling to earn an income. He said we could market his services as ours, he would deliver on the mandates that came by and we could take the fees that accrued as our own. We need not necessarily pay him any fees, he suggested. What a wonderful gesture! Except that his services don’t fall in our line, zone, of work. Even so, at what point will people offer themselves pro-bono just so that another set of professionals like them, who are going through a tough phase, stand to benefit? Vaani and I are moved beyond words.
This is not an isolated case. Last week at least two people reached out offering to help with any bills that we may have trouble paying. My Book and my several of my blogposts are peppered with examples of how people have come in, some of them rank strangers, unexpectedly into our Life and have helped us onward on our journey.
This experience has taught me and Vaani that God exists – but only through the godliness in the people around us. We have seen this God again and again and again, repeatedly, in the actions and hearts of those people who we have known or who have come into our Life. I believe if we drop our ego, abandon all judgment, and simply, humbly, accept the warmth, love and compassion of people around us, we will only see a beautiful, caring, loving world. This world doesn’t exploit your vulnerability, it does not take; it only gives – and gives unconditionally! Look around you – perhaps you live in this same world!
Celebrate the essence of God than seek God’s physical presence.
The Kerala High Court has overruled a bureaucrat’s decision to allow women to wear churidars at the famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. I believe the bureaucrat K.N.Satheesh, the Executive Officer of the temple, was being very progressive when he made that decision on November 29th. But the court ruling only proves, yet again, that in India we seek to protect and perpetrate gender biases in the name of tradition and culture.
I don’t want to go into the long list of instances of gender bias unleashed against women and their right to worship at religious places in India – Sabari Malai is a case in point, as also the general thumb rule that women having their periods should not enter a temple. Clearly, at the core of all the arguments seeking to protect culture and tradition is a diabolical male chauvinist effort to deny women equal rights.
My view is that God is an over-rated idea. I don’t deny that there is a Higher Energy. And you may call it God. But to box God into a religion, into a place, into a gender, into a socio-religious and culture specific framework and hold humanity to ransom basis tradition and orthodox practices is cruel. If God created the Universe and all of us humans, what right does one set of those humans, the self-styled mandarins who administer and control religions, have to deny other fellow humans the joy of worshipping their creator?
The only way forward for humanity is to abandon the God idea as it exists. And embrace Godliness.
I simply love Mother Teresa’s idea of God: “I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.” This is the core idea on which she served humanity, so selflessly, all her Life. Osho, the Master, explains this concept beautifully: “I say there is no God, but there is Godliness. So I destroy God as a person. God is more like a fragrance than a flower.” Essentially, this means, we must celebrate the essence of God than seek God’s physical presence.
But society, tradition, culture, religion, dogmas – all these and more – want you to keep searching for God in a physical form. They want you to go find that form and confirm God’s presence. But the truth is God has never been found; God is still missing! Even so, the folks running religions want you to keep searching so that they can control you. Just imagine, as John Lennon beautifully pleaded in 1971, if we had a world where no one believed in religion and everyone stopped this search for God! Now, who stands to lose? The seekers or the administrators of religion? See, there you already have the answer – this is why the God theory is going on getting propagated. So that you and I can be controlled, generation after generation after generation. Think about it. Why does God, the creator, need propaganda – after all, God created the Universe. And God’s biggest advertisement is this beautiful, bountiful world that we have. Yet, there is so much propaganda about God, important, about fearing God: don’t wear churidars here, don’t enter there, you can’t enter a place of worship when you are menstruating, you can’t eat this, you can’t drink that and on and on. Why? So that that the propagandists, in the name of God, can keep you and me under their thumb.
Tragically, instead of believing in ourselves, and our own Godliness, we tend to, out of fearing God, believe the propagandists. The weaver-saint Kabir tried to awaken us, way back in the 15th Century, when he sang:
“Moko kahan dhoondhe re bande
Main toh tere paas mein
Na teerath mein na moorat mein
Na mandir mein na masjid main
Na Kabe Kailas mein
Na main jap mein na main tap mein…
Kehat Kabir suno bhai saadho
Main toh hoon vishwas mein”
This means, “Where are you searching for me (God)? I am not in a pilgrimage or an idol, nor in a temple or a mosque, not in Mecca, not in Kailash, not in mantras nor in penance…I am in your faith.” What he said then is so, so, true even today. I hope the women who are being denied entry into the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, and the judges of the Kerala High Court, who passed that order disallowing churidars, pause to reflect on Kabir’s verse again. The former then may find solace and the latter may find perspective.
But, clearly, for a better world, the idea of God as a physical presence has to be abandoned. For this we humans must embrace the essence of God, the Godliness in each of us. And this begins with respecting our women first. Because, without women, simply, there can be no humanity.
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Don’t be God-fearing. Be God-loving.
A young friend wrote me a mail from Kerala. She wanted to know if fearing God served any purpose.
I smiled looking at her mail. I was reminded of a conversation I once had with a friend in a dimly lit bar in Saidapet in Chennai some years ago. My friend bought me a few drinks that evening. But he did not drink.
I knew he had had a problem with alcohol in the past. 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 had been off alcohol for years. I asked him if he was enjoying the 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 innermost desire out of the fear that you will be otherwise ‘reprimanded or punished’. 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 with the world or even with Baba, your suppressed desire will explode and you will hit the bottle again!”
That evening, 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 a 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, that we have cultivated in us, of an external God, 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.
So, please 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. It is only when you run scared that you run confused. Where there’s confusion, how can peace prevail?
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The problem with searching for what isn’t there is that it takes you away from what is there!
We recently bumped into a couple who had attended one of my Talks a few months ago. The gentleman said he was very moved by our story and inspired by our ‘courage’. He suggested that we attend an Isha Yoga Program led by a prominent member of Jaggi Vasudev’s team. He felt we need to ‘put into practice a method that can attract abundance and inner peace into our Life’. Both Vaani and I politely declined his suggestion. He was a bit taken aback by our response. Noticing his discomfort, I told him that we had nothing against Jaggi Vasudev personally but we are saying no because we don’t believe that there are any methods to live Life.
The Isha philosophy has somehow never appealed to me personally. Nor has any other. In the past, people, out of sheer compassion and love for us, perhaps even concern, have recommended various approaches to us to help us ‘solve our problems’. Someone said that we must follow Buddhism, another said we must try or Pranic Healing or Reiki, my former secretary said we must embrace Christianity, a friend suggested we meet a Pir Baba at a mosque on Pycrofts Road (Chennai) who would look at eggs and tell us how to get rid of the ‘evil spirit that had gripped us’. So, the suggestions have been plenty. But we have consistently declined embracing any method, any practice.
Not that we haven’t tried anything ever. We did pujas, pariharams, went on pilgrimages to various shrines, across religions, wore rings on all fingers, fasted on specific days each week and followed several, several, methods and practices. But none worked for us – forget solutions, we didn’t even feel the peace we were desperately seeking! What I am going to say now applies to Vaani and me. There is no suggestion that anyone must agree with us or that it will work for others. After years of trying various approaches, we have realized that Life cannot be methodized. This understanding alone has worked for us. So we love it. And religion, practiced in a God-fearing, ritualistic, mindless, divisive manner, as it is done today, doesn’t work. At least it doesn’t work for us.
They say religion is for those who want to go to heaven. And spirituality is for those who have been to hell. Vaani and I have been to hell, are in hell, and are loving it here. Because if a problem-ridden Life is hell, then, no one is ever going to be living a problem-free Life. So, in a sense, we are all in hell already. Instead of loving what is, and learning to deal with it or work on changing it, we clearly don’t want to merely pine for – and suffer for – an aspirational state.
Spirituality is an inner awakening. It is understanding the divine, the godliness in you. And realizing that everything about your Life, including this lifetime is impermanent, except your divinity, or as every scripture points out, except your true Self. As Osho says, there is no God, just godliness. Or as German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (1844~1900) asked so thought provokingly: “Which is it, is man one of God’s blunders or is God one of man’s blunders?” So, spirituality inspires us to live our temporary, soon-to-expire, human lives, intelligently, beautifully, happily. On the spiritual path there is no religion, there are no methods, no mantras, no practices. There is just an awakening; an empowering awareness that there is no logic to Life, just magic, everywhere, in every moment, in everyone!
I am reminded of Baal Shem Tov (1698~1760), the mystical Rabbi, who implored his followers to drop all rituals, all methods and all practices and simply trust Life. He used to say: “Trust Life, trust God, and whatsoever has been given to you, enjoy it! Enjoy it with such deep gratitude that every small thing matters and becomes holy, becomes sacred, becomes God.”
If you think about Life deeply you don’t have any other way to look at Life than with gratitude. This whole Life is a gift. The experiences that you have been through and are going through are unique gifts – that teach you and awaken you – too. When you realize this you will wonder why did you ever complain about Life, why did you have to struggle with and suffer in Life, instead of celebrating it!
Because you think you have to ‘solve this problem of Life’, it has come to mean a set of things that you don’t have or keep aspiring or searching for. Which is why you are looking for methods, which is why an external resource, a God, or religion, or ritual, is seen as a possible panacea. But are you at peace with your Life, are you happy, despite being religious, despite practices and rituals? To be sure, this search is futile because there is nothing, no one, to be found; there is nothing to be solved. You miss this simple truth about Life because while you are running amuck chasing what isn’t there, you never feel grateful for what is there, for what you have!
Life is happening in every moment. If you are not present in each moment you will miss the most spectacular show in, and of, your “entire lifetime”! You may define some moments of your Life as good and great and several others as plain drudgery. That’s perhaps because you don’t see the blessing in each moment. If you pause to look, every leaf looks beautiful in the sunlight, and differently beautiful in the darkness of the night, every cloud has a silver lining and everything around you, in you, is a miracle! What method do you need to see all this? What practice can help you see what is evident? How much more abundance do you need than what is and that which you don’t already recognize? When you do awaken to Life’s magic and beauty, you will stop searching for methods and start living with gratitude!
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Don’t mourn the dead, celebrate their Life instead!
An elderly resident in our apartment block has had a bereavement in her family. Normally, she leads the community navarathri celebrations in the building. But she cried out this year saying she was in mourning. Her choice made me wonder if we should at all mourn our dead.
I often hear people say that when someone passes away, you should not offer prayers for three to 10 days, depending on your closeness to the departed; you should not celebrate festivals, birthdays and anniversaries for a full year and, in some cases, I have noticed people even abstain from visiting ‘big’ temples like Tirupathi or their native shrines. Now, my perspective on this is limited to the way Hindus, particularly TamBrahms, mourn as I am exposed primarily to this culture. I must add here that my views on God and religion are significantly skewed to the journey within, to Godliness and to the religion of humanity. Even so, this is not even about God or religion. This is about, as I see it, the wasted, often dramatic, practice of mourning.
Yes, when someone you know and love dies, you will feel sad. And you can’t and you should not avoid that grief. Hold it and allow it to hold you. It will last for a while. But as it wears off after some time, and it will, let it go. By imposing socially – as dictated by the high-priests of religion – prescribed mourning norms, you are missing the big picture. Death is not a dark, monstrous ‘something’ that must be feared and abhorred. In fact, death is the only constant about Life. It is the inevitable. It is the only certainty you have in Life: if you are born, you will die! And as long as you live, death is your constant companion. It travels with you along the course of your entire lifetime, as a shadow will.
I learnt an important Life lesson from a slum dweller several years ago. One afternoon, I found traffic slowing down on Greenways Road. This was surprising because this is one of the freer thoroughfares in Chennai. In some time, the traffic came to a grinding halt. I stepped out of my car and walked a few metres ahead to find that a funeral procession was winging its way out of the Sathya Nagar slum in the area. As the flower-bedecked cortege of an old man snaked forward, I noticed several people, young and old, mostly men, dancing to the beats to a drum. They were leading the cortege. They danced furiously. And I could make out that several of them were drunk. I had seen this happen on the streets of Chennai many, many times before this one. But this time I was keen to understand why slum dwellers acted in such drunken frenzy while seeing off their dead. So I asked an elderly member of the procession if he could tell me what was going on. He reeked of cheap sarakku (liquor) and was probably in his 70s. He was not dancing; but he was swaying to the drum beats and the effect of alcohol nonetheless. He paused though and answered my question: “Saar, we are celebrating that our man is dead. That he has found viduthalai, freedom, from this earthly existence. He’s gone to a happier, prosperous place. We are happy for him. In celebrating his death, his freedom, we know, ours will come too. Soon!”
I found the man’s perspective to be a revelation. I had not thought of death from that point of view ever.
It is so simple. Celebrate the departed’s opportunity to be free from real world issues, challenges, attachments, bondages, whatever! I extended the thought and have since held the view that our dead must not be mourned but their lives must be celebrated. On the night when my father-in-law died, two years ago, I sat quietly and drank all by myself. I recalled how much I had learned from him and thanked him for his compassion and trust in me – beginning, of course, with his choice to let me marry Vaani, way back in the late ‘80s, even when I was barely out of college, and unemployed! It was a quiet communion and a personal celebration!
As I grow older, I find the rituals that impose mourning very meaningless, in fact, stifling. On the contrary, I find the slum-dwellers’ practice of dancing for their dead, of celebrating their dead, deeply spiritual. Many of them may well be uneducated. But perhaps they are more evolved than us. They surely know what it means to celebrate the lives of those who are gone. So, I believe mourning as a practice must be expunged. Instead we must do all the stuff that our dead would have loved. And through doing all of that, let’s celebrate their Life. As for me, I have advised Vaani and my children to abstain from all rituals and instead host my Death-Day party! I have asked them to play RD Burman-Gulzar-Kishore Kumar songs and hold a toast with the finest whiskeys as my celebration at my death!!!
PS: The image in this Blogpost has been updated in 2020.
Does it make any sense being everyone’s go-to person when people only come to you with their wants – often supporting a morally and financially corrupt ecosystem, that too in your name?
This morning’s papers are full of pictures of Sachin Tendulkar, his wife Anjali and Telugu superstars Chiranjeevi and Nagarjuna visiting the famous shrine of Lord Venkateshwara at Tirupati yesterday. I have no information if these VIPs got a special darshan at the temple which overtly champions equality and ostensibly administers an efficient, impregnable queue/visitor management process. But seeing those pictures reminded me of my several visits to Tirupati and how, over four years of going there, I was weaned off my desire to go after God!
Almost 15 years ago a friend of mine, sitting at the Westminister bar in the erstwhile ITC Park Sheraton Hotel (it became the Crowne Plaza Hotel last year), told me that if I wanted business success I must take to worshipping Lord Venkateshwara “religiously”. He cited how the country’s top business people unfailingly went to Tirupati to pay obeisance to the Lord. “Have you ever wondered why their businesses are more sucessful than yours or mine,” he asked me, adding quickly: “That’s because they are blessed by Balaji, Lord Venkateshwara.”
I found my friend’s logic unputdownable. And so, on the first day of the immediate quarter that followed, Vaani and I went to Tirupati. We had not been there in over two decades. And so we had no idea of how to secure the tickets for darshan or how the queue system worked. After a lot of traumatic exploration – read running from pillar to post; that was also the non-internet era, so we had to literally scavenge for reliable information – for five hours we got our tickets. As we snaked our way into the Vaikuntam queue complex, we were appalled when, after three hours of barely inching forward, our queue was halted. Even as we were wondering why we were not making progress, we found Anil Ambani and his wife Tina, walking breezily past us in the adjacent, barricaded, queue lane. I was livid. Even then, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) advertised that it practiced an all-are-equal darshan policy. So, I was even more piqued that the TTD was not keeping up its own promise. But I knew I could do nothing to challenge what was going on. So, I did the next best thing. I worked over that quarter and quickly cobbled together a network of influencers within the system who I could tap to have our special darshan “arranged” even at short notice. For the 17 quarters (that is, four years) that followed, Vaani and I got “great darshan, with extra-time in the main sanctum sanctorum”, at Tirupati.
But eventually, we stopped making that pilgrimage to Tirupati for two reasons. One, our own spiritual evolution happened and it clarified to us that the God we seek so desperately is within us. We realized that we found meaning and value in spirituality and not in religion. Two, every visit to Tirupati – or to any place of worship that reeked of crass commercialization (and most places, sadly, are that way) – left me more disturbed than at peace; the behavior of the self-proclaimed representatives of God was appalling, they appeared to be no better than vultures that avariciously pecked away at corpses. During my mouna sessions (daily practice of silence periods) I examined the guilt that was gnawing within me. I realized that I was feeling so because I was literally ‘bribing’ God to give me an appointment; I was imploring God to prioritize me over hundreds of thousands of others who could not afford the ‘bribe’. Over time, mercifully, this guilt transformed into an awakening, a realization that God must not be chased, that God need not be searched for, that God must not be either feared or bribed. And that’s how I weaned myself away from wanting to go see God in a place that’s outside of me. Let me tell you, I have never experienced, in 48+ years, more Godliness and inner peace than I have in the last eight years that I stopped visiting places of worship!
So, this morning, when I looked at the pictures of the VIPs’ visit to Tirupati, all these thoughts came gushing. I have nothing against God, godmen, representatives of God, religion and the many, many people who still believe God resides in places of worship. I only feel sorry for God, as in the human definition and interpretation of God! Being God, I guess, must be pretty stifling. Imagine being God and being locked up in an unventilated, dark place, when you can’t even move! Imagine how you will feel if the only people who come to you are those who never ask you how you are or offer gratitude for what you have already given them, but only ‘want’ something for themselves! Imagine people using your name to divide each other! Imagine having to watch helplessly as ritualistic and gender-biased restrictions are imposed on women even though you created them with the same love and compassion as you created men! Imagine being God, won’t you feel sorry for yourself?