In this Podcast, I share candidly about how disturbed I had been losing my favorite pen some years ago while, paradoxically, I am very calm dealing with our numbing bankruptcy now! Understanding that everything is transient has helped me stay anchored.
Listen time: 5:36 minutes
Find your center, so you can be unmoved by the turns, tumbles and upheavals of Life.
Someone who listened to my Podcast on Monday asked me how I avoid identifying myself with my problem situation – my bankruptcy. “Don’t you feel deprived and incomplete living the way you are for the past decade,” he asked.
That’s an interesting question. My response is that, yes, there was a time, early on in the bankruptcy (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal), when I felt there was a conspiracy to “pin me down” and “finish me off”. As long as I believed in this conspiracy theory I felt like a victim, I felt like I was hounded. I suffered. This was in the period 2003~2005.
But through daily reflection, in my mouna (silence) sessions, over the next three to four years, I realized that my suffering was self-inflicted. I understood that, undoubtedly, I had a huge problem to deal with. And I had to face it, I had to deal with it. There was no way it was going away merely because I wished it weren’t there. This quality of acceptance helped me to stop suffering. This is how I stopped feeling like a victim.
So, to be sure, our bankruptcy is where it is. There is a lot of pain, it is often intense, but we don’t suffer from it. We make our efforts to claw our way out of our situation but we remain non-frustrated when the results don’t simply add up. Important, we are non-judgmental about our efforts. Just as we are not bitter that things have not worked out for us.
Vaani and I have learnt that there is no conspiracy out there to fix any of us. Life is a cycle. What goes up comes down. And what’s down goes back up again. When we are down in the cycle, we may feel like Life is being unfair. But the way to avoid feeling like a victim is to find our center. As long as we are in the periphery of the cycle, we will be subjected to the up and down movements, to the turns, tumbles and upheavals. But if we are at the center, we will be unmoved.
Finding your center means understanding the true nature of Life. Which is essentially to celebrate its impermanence. Everything, absolutely everything, including Life itself is transient. Everything will change. Everyone will change. And everyone and everything will be taken away. Know that your suffering comes only because you cling on to people and things and expect them to be there forever. When you understand this irrefutable truth about Life, you will be free. You too will then stop identifying yourself with your problems – because you now know that they will, over time, go away. You will stop thinking that you are being victimized. This is how you too can learn to be happy despite your circumstances!
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.