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.
In the midst of a ‘pre-programmed’ Life, there’s always an opportunity to create value!
Yesterday, while talking to some managers from a publishing company, I invited them to consider leading a more purposeful Life. One of them asked me if Life really has a Purpose. He said, “It seems so meaningless. If you come with nothing and go with nothing, why do you need to be doing anything at all, achieving anything at all, accumulating anything at all, in this lifetime? I see procreation of the human reason as the only reason for being.”
The young man’s point of view is very interesting. From Ramana to Osho to Campbell, several people have addressed this question. What I told the manager, comes from my awareness and understanding of Life.
From a strictly biological and scientific point of view, it appears, that all Life exists to simply transfer information (genes) to the next generation. So, rationally speaking, the true Purpose of Life must be to perpetuate itself. As humans, we__you, me__are just a living organism that has a little more awareness than other living organisms. This is where, in my opinion, spirituality meets science.
I choose my words carefully: spirituality, and not religion, meets science.
Now, if humans are endowed with a little more awareness, why is that so? Of what use can that awareness be? Truly, the awareness is visible, is evident, in the way the human brain develops and works, and has been evolving through the ages. But the truth also is that apart from transferring this evolutionary genetic code to the next generation, each human does not take away anything while leaving this planet. But delve deeper. Obviously creation has a design, a profound thought, which is why the human race is endowed with a greater awareness than all other Life on the planet. This awareness, when it awakens the human, and flowers within, is called spirituality. It is all about Self-Realization. When you realize your Self, you discover these simple truths: 1.Biologically, we will all grow older and eventually perish__albeit per different expiration dates! 2. Life’s repetitive cycles is just about transferring genes to each successive generation. 3. In the midst of such a pre-programmed Life, there’s still the possibility to individually make a difference and create value. When you know how you can make that difference, you will have found your Life’s Purpose, your ikigai, your reason for being. When you are doing anything purposeful, you will encounter joy, you will ‘feel’ the power of this ‘extra’, ‘higher’ awareness that we as humans possess.
Across the human race, just being kind, loving, compassionate and caring, serving, can, and always, delivers this joy. So, to serve can be, and is, a common Purpose to all of us humans. But each of us also derives joy, feels blissful, doing some things more than others. When we know what it is, which is when we lose ourselves in what we are doing, we would have found the Purpose of our creation. This Purpose is beyond wants and desires, beyond wealth and assets, it is about serving, it is about giving up yourself, your profit and prestige, during this lifetime, to meet a higher end that delivers value to the following generations much after you are gone, that makes this world a better place to live in. To Gandhi it was equality and ahimsa, to Mother Teresa it was caring for the uncared, to Kailash Satyarthi, it is to eradicate all exploitation of children, to me and Vaani, it is to Inspire Happiness among all those who care to pause and reflect!
Each human being that gets beyond the insecurities and fears of everyday living, in fact anyone who takes a break from earning a living and even momentarily steps out of the rat race, will find Purpose in their Life. She or he will find that there is an opportunity to create unique value in this ‘readymade’ lifetime of ours. That’s when we will all know that we are not human beings going through temporary, feel good, spiritual experiences, but we really are spiritual beings going through temporary human experiences. And so, we will realize that before this human experience ends, we must have touched a soul, provoked thought, inspired action, wiped a tear, loved, led, cared and created value.
If you can stay tuned to the impermanence of everything, your inner peace will never be disturbed.
For some vague reason Google is threatening to lock me out of my Google Drive account. I was immediately seized with concern for my files and data. A wave of worry swept through me. But a few minutes into the worrying episode, a certain peace arose from within. I said to myself: “Hey! I am not my Google Drive. I haven’t been locked out of Life! Let me figure out a way to deal with this.”
So I got down to working on reaching Google’s Drive Support Team. Interestingly, as I am discovering, searching on Google for an answer works for most stuff, except for any resolution to the problems that pertain to their own policies or inefficiencies. But I have been dealing with all of this calmly. The entire experience is very frustrating, but as I am realizing, responding to Life situations with trained equanimity works very well.
Training yourself in equanimity is simple. First begin with (re)-knowing that you are not this body. You have heard of this from millions of wise folk before. Even so, while you know that this is the intelligent way to live, you conveniently slip into the worrying mode over anything concerning your body. For instance, you know, just as I do and everyone else does, that the body will die one day. Yet you grieve over whatever happens to your body. You grow older, you grieve. You grieve if you lose hair, if your hair becomes grey, if you become fat or if your body is affected by health challenges. Let’s further simplify this. When you feel hungry or thirsty, are you feeling so or is your body feeling so? To be sure, it is your body that is feeling so. The body is like a car. And you are the driver. Can a car drive on its own unless the driver wills it, drives it and leads it? The car needs food and that’s what fuel, oil, coolant and such are for the car. Yet, clearly, the driver has more power, more control than the car. Similarly the real you, is the one you need to be aware of and identify with; and not attach yourself to your body or with your physical identity.
Once you get to that state of self-awareness, self-realization, when you know that you are not this body, when you are not what you think you are, you will be able to handle any ‘real world’ situation. A computer crashing, a job loss, a break-up, betrayal, financial loss, anything! Realize that you are not your qualifications, job, social position, your bank balance, your worry, your anxiety or your fears. You are truly above all of this. When this realization dawns upon you, you are already liberated and a free spirit. This is what equanimity is.
You may not want to believe that you can immediately reach this state. But know that you can be there in a nano-second if you want to. Know also that when you get to this state you will be unmoved. When you are unmoved, nothing – and no one – can disturb your inner peace!
All mistakes offer learnings. Beyond that, they serve no purpose.
Do I ever feel guilty? I was asked this question by someone recently.
Of course, I do. I feel guilty for having made such costly mistakes that led me and my family to this bankruptcy, I feel guilty for failing my parents and my children, and Vaani, and I do feel guilty for our inability to repay the 179 people to whom we owe money (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal ). I sure feel the guilt. For the longest time, until some years ago, I used to carry the guilt. But upon deep reflection, I have set down that burden. My awareness has helped me understand the futility of feeling guilty.
Sometimes we make mistakes in Life that we do realize later were avoidable. In fact, in retrospect, when realization dawns, every mistake seems avoidable. Realization, always, brings guilt in its wake. This is when we must be aware and drop the guilt. We often confuse feeling guilty with a sense of feeling responsible. The truth however is that feeling guilty for long periods of time can be depressing and can cripple us – preventing progress. On the other hand, feeling responsible about or for something brings with it a sense of accountability and helps us take the necessary action to remedy the situation.
But some situations may not be immediately remediable. A friend writes in saying he made a judgment error in quitting his last job. Now, even while he’s struggling without a job for over six months, he’s drowning in a sea of guilt. Without an income and a family to support, he has become depressive and is very scared of the future. He keeps repeating that he should not have quit his last job in a huff. This is what guilt can do to you. It will keep you chained to the past. Also your ego, which will fuel that feeling that you must atone for your sins, will blind you. This way you will miss the completely magnificent present. A situation like the one my friend is facing is unpredictable – it may sort itself out with him getting a job soon or his career can stagnate this way for a long, long time. Holding on to guilt till a situation gets better is wasting a crucial opportunity to live Life fully. Interestingly, feeling guilty about a situation cannot remedy it. Only concrete, constructive action can.
When you feel guilty about something you have done, look at the situation deeply. Ask yourself could you have avoided doing what you did or could you have done something different. Once you realize that you could have avoided doing what you did, first forgive yourself for having done that. Resolve that you will not repeat this mistake again. Then reach out and apologize to all people connected with or affected by your action. Whether they forgive you or not is immaterial – you apologize. If you can’t face them, send them a text message or an email or a note. Beyond this, don’t retain your guilt. Holding on to your guilt pins you down. Drop your guilt instead and move on. Know that everyone makes mistakes. And that mistakes are experiences from which you can learn. As long as you have learnt from it, the mistake you have made, no matter what it was, has served its purpose in your Life.
Life is too short and beautiful to be brooding over and feeling guilty. Instead drop your guilt, come alive, take charge and make every effort to change the situation. No matter how long it takes to turn things around, remember, you have no choice but to be at it. And, without doubt, you can be better at the task of repairing your Life, in any context, when you are free from guilt.
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A Life challenge arrives only so that you awaken from you stupor, from merely existing, and start living!
I was asked a very interesting question by a young medical college student in Chittoor yesterday: “AVIS Sir, why do we need a tragedy or crisis in Life to start living intelligently? Can’t we in the normal course learn to live happily, accepting Life for what it is?”
I thought that was an intelligent question from a very beautiful mind!
Of course we don’t necessarily need a tragedy or crisis to wake us up from our stupor. But the problem is that most of us don’t even know we are steeped in stupor. We imagine that earning a living is what Life is all about. So we run after name, fame, money, qualifications, material things and everything else that is impermanent and perishable. We kid ourselves to believe that we can postpone our happiness, we can postpone who we are, postpone living the Life that we want to live, even while we prioritize other people and things, over ourselves. We miss the most elementary point that Life is a limited-period offer and if we don’t live a moment fully, the way we want to, then we have lost that moment forever.
So, in a way, we are lost but in a bigger way we are pretending we are lost. Don’t we all know that we will die one day for sure – sooner or later? Then why do we choose not to live fully and instead squander our lifetime accumulating things that are going to perish or are not going with us when we perish?
Therefore, it is because we pretend to be dumb that we find a Life tragedy or crisis awakening. A tragedy or crisis is nothing but an event. Just another event. Just as your graduation is an event or your marriage is an event or your vaccination is an event so is your lay-off or your divorce or your chemotherapy. But only when what you don’t want or what you don’t expect lands up in your Life do you realize that you are not in control of your Life. That’s when you reflect and realize that had you lived your Life more intelligently then when the unforeseen and unwanted happens, when pain arrives in your Life, you can at least console yourself that you lived well and happily until now.
To live intelligently you need nothing but an awareness of your Life being a gift and a limited period offer. But to awaken to this awareness, you sometimes need a reboot, a wake-up call, and that’s precisely what a tragedy or crisis does to you! They shake you and wake you up! But if you are awaken, then you don’t need a wake-up call at all, do you? Even so, you will wake up only when you are really asleep, but if you are pretending to be asleep, you may still not wake up. Think about it – it makes a lot of sense!
Gandhi taught us the power and value of living intelligently!
A friend’s Facebook post caught my attention yesterday and set me thinking! My friend announced that he would unfriend anyone who made racist or unqualified remarks about Gandhi. And sure enough he did what he promised – he promptly unfriended those who shared unfounded sentiments about the great man! I liked my friend’s in-the-face approach. Over the past couple of decades, I have been noticing a disturbing trend. People seem to revel in Mahatma-bashing. From calling him names to questioning his ideology to even doubting his relevance, it almost seems like it is fashionable to shred Gandhi.
I have obviously not met Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But I have studied him – not the Mahatma, not the Father of the Nation, not the political master strategist, but Gandhi, The Man.
My study of Gandhi almost never happened. Way back in 2007, there used to be a bookstore called Connexions opposite my office in R A Puram, Chennai. This was basically a gift store, with a collection of books that the owner personally curated. One afternoon, while browsing through the store, I found Eknath Easwaran’s Gandhi, The Man, staring at me. I liked the way the book defined its purpose – ‘to tell the story of how one man changed himself to change the world’. Around that time I was embracing mouna, the practice of observing silence for an hour daily. I had begun an inner journey, to understand my Self better even as I was asking several existential questions of me, of Life. While the book interested me, I did not pick it up. I had not heard of Eknath Easwaran then. And I didn’t think then that there was anything new a book could tell me about Gandhi, that I didn’t already know!
But just the next day, I read a newspaper interview in which Rajnikanth, yes – the Tamil film Super Star, named two books that changed his Life. One was Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama and the other was Eknath Easwaran’s Gandhi, The Man. I had known of Rajnikanth’s spiritual side, but didn’t quite imagine he would read books. Nor did I ever expect that he would name a rather unheard of book, that I had just stumbled upon the previous day. I rushed back to the bookstore and found Easwaran’s book still there. I bought it!
The book changed my Life.
I had for long been dealing with anger. People on my team called me chiefscreamer – punning on my title, chiefdreamer! That’s how lousy my reputation was. Reading Gandhi, The Man, helped me realize that anger was energy, which when channeled, could be deployed very constructively. I also learned from the book how beautifully Gandhi separated the issue from the people connected with it. He famously said, “I don’t hate the English, but I hate the way the English rule my country.” In a way, he practiced ahimsa, not just as non-violent action, as is popularly perceived, but as non-violent thought. But all of this, I realized, Gandhi ingrained in him thanks to his meditations of the Bhagavad Gita. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita ends with unveiling the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says (presenting here only the relevant extract that Easwaran too shares in Gandhi, The Man):
“…He lives in wisdom, who sees himself in all and all in him,
Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed
Every selfish desire and sense-craving
Tormenting the heart.
Not agitated by grief,
Nor hanker after pleasure,
He lives free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments
He is not elated by good fortune,
nor depressed by bad.
Such is the seer….”
Gandhi, according to Easwaran, meditated on this verse for 50 years every morning and night and devoted all his life to translating it into his daily action. This was the key to his self-transformation.
I have internalized the essence of this verse too. And I have seen myself transform from being stressed out, angry, worried and insecure, to being centered, anchored and at peace with myself and my Life. I am happy with what is. I work daily on continuing to remain unmoved and unfrustrated about all that which happens to me, around me. I owe this transformation in me to Gandhi for leading the way and to Easwaran for telling me, through his book, how Gandhi changed himself first before attempting to share his way of Life with the world. Just for this one reason alone, though there surely are several other reasons, I feel none of us must ever question Gandhi. We don’t have the right to do that unless we have achieved what he had in his lifetime – which is, to be the change that we wish to see around us!