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.
Don’t fight Life, don’t resist what is and you will never suffer!
Last evening, I watched a movie on TV called Nil Battey Sannata (2016, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari, Swara Bhaskar, Ratna Pathak Shah, Ria Shukla). It is an endearing film that reminds us that our dreams help us go on, no matter what we are faced with. One of the characters in the film, a young boy named Amar, is very good at Math. When he is asked how does he grasp the subject so well when everyone else struggles with it, Amar replies: “Try understanding it and you will never have a problem. Maths Se Dosti Karke Dekho, Woh Phir Tumhe Satayegi Nahin.”
I found that perspective very empowering in the context of Life too.
One of the main reasons why people struggle with Life is that they don’t understand it. They expect Life to happen the way they want it to happen. They don’t realize that Life does not conform to any pattern, there is no formula to live it, there are no methods to be employed nor can any mantras help. The only truths that are discernible about Life are these: 1. It is a limited period offer that will expire soon. Everything – and everyone – will perish; Life itself is impermanent, transient. 2. You can’t control Life; it simply keeps on happening. So, no amount of wishing can change a reality that has arrived in your Life. Once you understand these simple truths about Life, you will stop struggling with Life. Then there will be no suffering. Yes, there may be pain, because pain is inevitable. But you will not suffer. You will begin to live your Life with the faith that, over time, every challenging phase will pass, that you will be looked after and provided for. You will learn to be patient with what you have, with a great acceptance of your current reality. You will begin to trust the process of Life, even as you are patient with yourself, and with Life itself, even as you work on changing it.
Which is why, after watching the movie yesterday, I was compelled to scribble this learning down on my constant companion, my Post-it pad! “Life Se Dosti Karke Dekho! Woh Phir Tumhe Satayegi Nahin…” “Make friends with Life…then it will cease to be a struggle, it won’t trouble you anymore!” This certainly does not mean that your problems will go away. Your problems will be there, but you will be able to deal with them better – without worrying, without being frustrated, without suffering. In Life’s game you never know what hand you are going to be dealt next, but the more you play it, the more you enjoy playing every hand it deals you, the better you will get at the game itself!
I am reminded of an all-time classic, among my favorites, from Hum Dono (1961, Amar Jeet/Vijay Anand, Dev Anand, Mohd.Rafi, Jaidev, Sahir Ludhianvi) “Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhaata Chala Gaya…” It means, “I partnered with Life and went along with the flow…” The learning is both simple and profound – don’t fight Life, don’t resist what is and you will never suffer!
Everything passes on. Everyone passes on. Live every moment fully, happily, before it too passes on, into eternity.
I woke up realizing it is Rajesh Khanna’s death anniversary today. He passed on this day, in 2012.
His story of superstardom is folklore now. People of my generation grew up watching him mesmerize audiences in film after film! That is, until hubris struck him. With the arrival of Amitabh Bachchan Hindi cinema audiences preferred the Angry Young Man to the romantic hero. Sadly, instead of changing his screen strategy to suit the times, Rajesh grew jealous of Amitabh’s rising popularity. Books by biographers and researchers talk of how he snubbed Amitabh on the sets of Bawarchi (1972, Hrishikesh Mukherjee) – Amitabh did not have an onscreen role in the film (he was only the narrator), but he would hang around the sets courting a young Jaya Bhaduri then. They also talk of Rajesh’s drinking bout one night after coming back from an awards function where the crowds ran past him to mob and seek autographs from Amitabh. It is believed that Rajesh, in drunken stupor, ran up to the terrace of his bungalow Aashirwad, and in pouring rain, kneeled down on the ground, looked up at the menacing skies and cried out, asking: “Why, why me?”
I have loved Rajesh Khanna as anybody else in India has – as an actor who gave us great memories! Memories that have been made even more unputdownable by the songs that R.D.Burman composed for him, and those that Kishore Kumar sang for him! But I will always remember Rajesh Khanna for something else too. I will remember him for this acceptance speech that he delivered at an IIFA Awards event in 2009. There’s a big lesson, in how Life plays the big leveler, in observing him receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from, who else, Amitabh Bachchan – the man who knocked him out of relevance! There’s also a lesson in acceptance and moving on here, in hearing him recite his famous lines from Daag (1973, Yash Chopra) after he receives the Award. I am not sure if Rajesh ever realized the spiritual depth of what he said that night. But the lessons I gleaned from that speech (a reel dialogue mounted perfectly in a real Life context!) will stay with me forever: nothing is permanent and everything will, over time, pass on!
So, this Monday, I meditate on those learnings. I recognize that everything happens through me, and not because of me. Where I am in Life, I know I only have a right to make my efforts, every single day, while staying detached from the fruits of my actions – the Bhagavad Gita’s most basic tenet is now indelibly ingrained in me. I am grateful to Life for teaching me, through my experiences, to be this way. I know and accept that Life happens in phases, and every phase, like everything and everyone, will pass on…my job really is, as Life flows, to live fully, happily, in each moment!