Beware, as you ascend in Life, in career, in society, in name and fame, of the Master Feller – Hubris!
Much is being written and told of former Tehelka Editor-in-Chief, Tarun Tejpal’s rise and fall this past week. Almost everyone who knows him is sure that he was struck by hubris – excessive pride and a presumption that one is infallible! Most observers believe that nothing else can explain why Tejpal, now 50, and one of India’s finest thinkers, editors and writers, would want to allegedly sexually outrage his much junior colleague, who not only is his daughter’s age, but is also her best friend? As one commentator, Vijay Simha, wrote yesterday: “His argument that it was a fleeting consensual encounter suggests that he may be in a state of denial. He may be having difficulty processing the consequences of his actions. Friendly or hostile is not the point. Tejpal simply shouldn’t have been there. A legal victory, which he seems to think he will have, is a mere footnote. The only real authority a human being has is moral. All other forms of authority are fugacious. Tejpal has ceded moral authority.”
Tejpal was once my senior colleague. Indeed, I am saddened by what has happened. But I am not here to preach morality in Life. Let me warn you though about hubris. Because I too have been felled by hubris.
There was a time when everything about my Life was just the way I had wanted it to be. I come for a middle-class background. So, as I grew up, for various reasons, I developed this urge to want to succeed beyond even the wildest imaginations of my family. I wanted name, fame and money. To be sure, I got all of that. By the time I was 35, I had it all. I had built a very successful consulting Firm, I lived in a premium neighborhood, I was famous in the industry we worked in and I had money. Then I made mistakes with the way we chose to grow our business. I was warned that this was not the way to go about growth – by my soulmate and partner, my wife. I was warned by senior advisors who we had on our Firm’s management council. I was warned by my colleagues. But hubris always strikes stealthily. You will never know that you are thinking of yourself as infallible. On the contrary, hubris will wear the mask of humility and complete down-to-earthiness. It will make you believe that you can conquer the world. It will make you think that all those who are offering you sane counsel are wimps. And just when you believe that nothing ever can go wrong with your Life, everything really will! My decisions blew up on my face. My Firm’s fortunes came crashing. And in no time we were bankrupt! All that I had painstakingly built up – from my career to my Firm to my finances – went up in smoke. Everything that I was attached to was taken away from me.
It was very, very, very difficult to accept whatever was happening to me. I resisted. I fought. I cried. I sulked. But Life only got more difficult to face. It hurt me so much that I had failed and fallen. I desperately wanted to let go of the past and I wanted to know how I could be peaceful, happy and content.
That’s when, by sheer accident, actually cosmic design, I stumbled upon my Guru, Eknath Easwaran’s (1910~1999) book Gandhi The Man. Easwaran talks about the evolution of spirituality in the ordinary mortal – who was pretty much like you and me – M.K.Gandhi, eventually making him a Mahatma. Easwaran shares a verse, and I reproduce a relevant part of it below, from the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita that Gandhi meditated on each morning for over 50 years of his Life.
Arjuna asks Krishna: “What are the marks of the man who lives in wisdom, completely established in himself?” (Himself here means ‘his true, real, Self’). Krishna replies:
“….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 hankering 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…”
I too have found great value in meditating on this verse. As I struggled to get over my fall, and my losses, Easwaran’s commentary on learnings from Gandhi’s Life and this verse helped me immensely. I soon discovered that what’s more valuable and enduring in Life are not what we acquire for ourselves in our lifetime but what we will leave behind – by way of a message, by way of creating something that will continue to be useful for generations to come, by way of leaving the world better than we found it!
To be wise, to live intelligently, is not difficult. It is a choice. All of us – you, me, everyone – will be struck by hubris at some time or the other, in our own unique ways. When you understand that Life is far more meaningful than satisfying your sensory pleasures and amassing wealth or seeking fame, you will have built the best armor around you to protect yourself from that wily predator – hubris. But the interesting irony about Life is that – in big or small measure – unless you are felled by hubris, you will never awaken!