Saturday, March 28, 2009

Detaching oneself from desires

What is happiness? Does it lie in acquisition of wealth or satisfying sensory pleasures as we commonly understand? Most people believe so and pursue relentlessly these ends. In the quest for such a ‘happiness’, they lose their virtues and good values. Hankering after material possessions, they fall into bad ways of greed, corruption and insensitivity to others sufferings. Ask any youngster his goal in life and you would get a prompt reply that he wished to become very rich.Attachment does not mean only to wealth. It can be to a woman or a man, to positions of power, to fame and name, Growing attachment destroys the mind pushing the individual deeper into the vortex of desires and in the process adding to the heavy baggage of papa (sin). Happiness is elusive and remains an illusion. Attachment produces desire that is insatiable and unquenchable. The root of all sorrows and grief is in attachment.
The sages have found that lasting happiness cannot be found so long as we pursue these mundane goals. They kept themselves away from worldly objects and pleasures. A guru gave a disciple a thread with several knots and asked him to untie the same. The disciple did accordingly and gave the thread to Guru. He threw it aside and asked what he learnt from the exercise. The disciple said that people should likewise untie themselves from worldly attachments if they wish to realize the purpose of life.Eschewing attachments does not come by easily. It is a difficult process calling forth steadiness of mind and a strong will power. One has to search constantly the heart and endeavour to keep at bay attachments to earthy matters. Sat sanghs, reading of and listening to spiritual subjects and engaging oneself in virtuous activities would facilitate the progress towards the spiritual goal of realizing oneself. One can be part of family and society doing one’s duties at home and work place and yet not get dragged into the quagmire of desires. All the duties should be performed in the name of divine for service to others. The self interest should be totally absent. Like the drop of water on a lotus leaf, one can be a part of the world and yet not belong to it. Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions and reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.
Pray to God that your attachment to such transitory things as wealth, name, and creature comforts may become less and less every day”.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Shed tears for the living than the dead

There was a colleague of mine who passed through very bad time. His mother was very sick and hospitalized. His son had a scooter accident and lost his leg and the job. His daughter whom he had given in marriage to a good man was sent back wanting more dowries. This man was in utter financial straits. He was drawing only one third of his salary as the rest were deducted against loans taken. He sought the help of many friends and relatives. None would come to his rescue. The worry and sheer helplessness killed him with a massive heart attack. On the funeral day the entire office had gathered. All his relatives were there to console his wife and his many children.They eulogized his great qualities and recalled their closeness to him shedding profuse tears for his sudden demise. When the fellow was alive, I remember people avoided him lest he asked for some financial help. A little bit of sympathy and help while alive would have enabled him to tide over the temporary difficulties and helped him live. Instead they snuffed out his life through cruel indifference and denial. It was easier to pay lip sympathy after his death than help when it was needed most. What use is sympathy after death while total unconcern to his plight ruled when he lived? It is a tendency that many of us are prone to. How many old and infirm people are kept in want while living by their children but their obsequies done in pomp and style shedding unreal tears when dead?
Look at the number of posthumous awards. They are nothing but delayed recognition for service and valour.There was a poet in Tamilnadu Subramanya Bharathi. He was a fervent nationalist and freedom fighter. He ignited the people against the foreign oppression and social iniquities through his soul stirring poems. He died in penury, a fugitive from his own state. It was only after his death name and fame came his way. His poems were recognized and he was honoured in many ways.
There is a moral in all these. It is always good to help and recognize the need for help when a man is alive than cry after his death. Help should be given in time even if it is slightly inconvenient by sacrificing one’s wants to some extent. A Good Samaritan would rush to rescue regardless of personal hardships. I have witnessed on many occasions the poor daily wage earner giving alms however small it might be to the sick beggars than the rich who walk past them with scorn and contempt. Life spent for the needy others is a life well lived. Let the tears be spent for the living by alleviating their sufferings instead of storing them for the dead. Let compassion rule our hearts to extend help to the needy when living instead of sympathy when dead that serves them no purpose. Let the good deeds be appreciated and recognized then and there instead of building memorials after they depart from the world.

Contentment brings peace of mind

There is one quality that is sadly missing in most human beings. We are never satisfied with what we have acquired or possessed. We crave for more. There is no peace of mind with the desire to have more of material possessions and sensory pleasures.. It is however not possible to satiate our desires because as soon as one is fulfilled, another springs up in the mind. There is no end to the craving till the last breath of our life. This is the reason why contentment is prescribed as an essential quality for a spiritual aspirant. But we waste our valuable time and health in the pursuit of ephemeral things that will not bring lasting peace or take us nearer the Ultimate. We should assiduously develop the quality of contentment and learn to be satisfied with our lot in life if we wish to avoid the cycle of births and deaths. If we are satisfied with whatever comes our way then we will not fall prey to temptations. It is this trait that will lead us towards liberation from bondage.
Let us remember that contentment isn’t a matter with being content with your situation in life and never trying to improve it. It’s a matter of being content with what you have — but realizing that as humans, we will always try to improve, no matter how happy we are. If we don’t, we have given up on life. Peace is not merely being self satisfied. Being passive and self centred is not desirable. This state should be overcome by service to the needy and hapless in whatever manner possible. Service to suffering is service to God.
Contentment means: to be at home with what we already have and realizing that contentment comes from within and not found from outside. In sum, contentment means reducing our wants, leading a happy contented life, avoiding unnecessary worries, being mentally detached, living simply and sharing with others whatever we have.
We should constantly affirm our contentment mentally and verbally with the words
”Through life's mightiest storms, I am contented, for I hold in my heart God's peace. Lord, as You live eternally at rest in Yourself, so let me live also, contented ever, that I may be worthy of living in Your joy.”


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Apologize and make up

I came to know only after several years of married life that one small apology to my wife did wonders what hours of explanations failed to do. The one sentence”I am sorry, darling, that I hurt you with my words” had a magic charm about it. Years of being together we loved each other very much but also quarreled as much on petty issues. I often forgot the small jobs she gave me like posting a letter, sending a money order to her aged mother or ringing up the AC mechanic. When she found the unposted letter after three days or the unsent MO and asked me, I would say “I was busy and forgot” as if it was an adequate justification for my lapse She would be hurt not for the job remaining undone but for the lack of remorse In the anger of the moment I always spoke to hurt only to regret later. But I knew she would forgive me for anything said or done if I sincerely realized my mistake and said sorry. But ego would often stand in my way to make the first move even If I were at fault. I will wait to see whether she comes around without an apology. But when I see her prolonged hurt face, I would say ”OK, what is it you want? You want me to apologize for hurting you, is it? I never meant it that way. If you still want it, ok here is my apology.” There would be utterly no grace, no sense of remorse, no consideration but just an attempt to repair the damage done. She would quietly tell me, “No, I never asked for an apology nor do I want one. It would be enough if you realized you were at fault and felt sorry for it. What is the use of an apology if there is no sincerity behind it?”
So what are the ingredients for a good apology?
A good apology should be sincere. It should not be a conversational ritual. It is an admission of a fault.
Apology should be voluntary and not as a response to one sought for.
Apology should not be demanded
Apology should be prompt and immediately after the event to ring true and have a disarming effect.
Apology should not be condescending in tone.
Apology should not be on quid pro quo basis.
The person to whom an apology has been tendered should not gloat over the fact but make light of it. An apology should not be construed as an act of surrender or submission. The other person should not be left to feel degraded.
By acknowledging wrongs and seeking forgiveness, there is a renewed affection and trust making lives happy and less of conflict

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The purpose of life

The soul (atma), the real self, is made in the image of God. It does not participate in the activities or the sufferings of the body (jiva). It is only a disinterested witness to the drama enacted by the jiva. Although it is beyond body and thought, it is constrained to the consciousness level of the jiva or the body. The purpose of life is to liberate the jiva from its limited consciousness and thus enable the soul to merge with its higher self or absolute consciousness. Although the soul is a part of the all pervading Supreme Being, it is chained to the mental activity of the body and is subject to cycle of births and deaths unless liberated for a union with the Ultimate.”The soul has to travel with the baggage of a body, till it can remember to dump it.”
You are not the body
You are not the mind
Neither are you the thought
Nor the emotions
You are the I Am
You are the Soul
You are immortal”
I found this mantra by one Master of Philippines which can serve as a reminder of our being the soul and not the body. The repeated chanting it is said would accelerate the spiritual progress. Besides, the practice of “loving kindness and non-injury, generosity and non-stealing, moderation and non-overindulgence, industriousness and non-laziness, accurate perception and correct expression and non-falsehood’ facilitates the body to realize the soul.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The penance of speech

Sathyam brooyath priyam brooyath na brooyath sathyam apriyam,
Priyam cha na anritham brooyath esha Dharma sanatanaha.
The above is a verse in Subhashithani emphasizing the imperative of telling truth in a pleasant manner without hurting anyone. If the truth is unpleasant, it would be better to avoid telling an unpleasant truth. But on no account, one should speak falsehood for the sake of pleasing someone. This is an eternal value to be followed by one and all. The Bhagavad Gita also emphasizes certain guidelines in the matter of speech

anudvega-karaḿ vākyaḿ
satyaḿ priya-hitaḿ ca yat
svādhyāyābhyasanaḿ caiva
vāń-mayaḿ tapa ucyate(Bhagavad Gita-17.15)
“To speak without ever causing pain to another, to be truthful, to say always what is kind and beneficial, and to study the scriptures regularly: this practice is called austerity of speech.” (Bhagavad Gita 17:15)
All of this is tapasya of speech–speech that includes the exercise of thought and intelligence
Besides these there is certain etiquette to be observed in speech Clarity in one's speech without ambiguous talk is essential in a good conversation. There should be no beating around the bush and the speech should be direct to the point.. The tone should vary according to the person to whom spoken to like a gentle and a respectable tone when talking to elders; a vibrant and an energetic tone to someone dear or of the same age group and a sweet and an affectionate tone modulation towards children. There should be warmth in speech and very minimum interruptions. It would be wise to keep silent if the tone of the other turns aggressive and dogmatic...Harsh words are best avoided. A refined language is a hallmark of perfect speech

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A thief of time

All of us are in some way or the other guilty of procrastination. All procrastinations are not bad. Some postponement of a minor work for a more pressing work is justified. You rush to help a needy friend at the hospital and you put off your haircut to another day. Yes, it is justified as a good procrastination.. This word per se is not bad. It depends on what you defer and for what purpose. What is a minor work that can be put off is again relative and varies from person to person. Earning an extra hundred in a day for a comfortably placed man is minor in comparison to the pressing need for the same amount by a daily wage earner.
A good procrastination to my mind is not doing petty things that can wait for a real work of substance. It is a question of sense of proportion. Filing of tax returns by due date or sending the application for a seat before last date is more important than taking out the weeds from the garden or cleaning the cupboard..If we spend time doing relatively unimportant work instead of more pressing ones, we may feel we are busily occupied but we are actually underutilizing our time.
But deferring things for no reason except for laziness is bad and an unhealthy habit. Replying your mails, studying one’s lessons,visiting the doctor or a relative ailing in hospital should not be put off without adverse results sometimes. If you have real work to do, you may have to refuse to attend errands for others even if it is socially inconvenient. You can help only if you have time to spare without damage to your own pressing work. An ability say No to others is a key to avoid procrastination especially if you are short of time.
The definition in Wikipedia for procrastination is “a type of avoidance behavior which is characterized by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. It is often cited by psychologists as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.”This is a bad habit and should be overcome by action.
“The main rule of coping with procrastination is: spend more time on main topics and spend less time on minor topics, despite seduction of various kinds.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Keep good company always

It is strange that individually we are of a particular nature but collectively we become different. When we are part of a mob we derive the characteristics of a mob behavior. I remember as a fifteen year old I had gone to attend a marriage of a relative in a suburban town. In the evening a few relatives and friends went on a stroll to an adjoining park. It was 7pm and getting dark. There were not many in the park. As we were walking on the path, a young girl was seen walking ahead of us alone. She was tall with an attractive figure and must be around eighteen. One of the crowd said” She looks great. Let us quicken our pace.”As the others increased their speed I also kept pace with them. The girl too quickened her pace not to abridge the gap. These people began to accelerate further. The girl started running and the crowd of which I was apart also ran faster.Luckilythe girl reached the road before any harm could come to her. I shuddered to think what would have happened to the girl had she been overtaken. Individually each one of the relatives was good happily married and respectful to ladies. Yet in a crowd they became a part of pack of wolves.He who keeps the company of wolves will soon learn to howl.
Likewise the students who rag the new comers in a sadistic and wicked manner are individually fine specimen. Together they get vicious in nature that is not part of them if they were alone. The communal riots are always the outcome of mob frenzy. The man who throws petrol filled fireball at a crowded bus may be a decent tailor in the adjacent locality getting his stitching business from females of another community with whom he had cordial relations.
The moral is to keep away from the crowd bent upon trouble before you get sucked in unconsciously like the innocent boy in the pack of wolves in the park. In a crowd few act according to their own inner will. It is for this reason our elders emphasize the need to mingle with good men always.
The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” Epictetus

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Imitate wisely

Man is imitative by nature. It is a primal instinct of man to act as others do. Just as children pick up the parents traits, manner of speaking and even the mannerisms, we begin to pick up the traits of others. The familiar you become with others, the more likely you pick up their qualities, phrases and even actions. You may not have the intention to imitate but unconsciously you may tend to do so if you hang around with others for too long. That is why it is very important to choose your friends wisely. If the others are successful you should certainly try to follow them. There is nothing wrong with it. There is specialness in every person with some unique gifts. They can serve as role model for their good qualities. If they are losers with negative attitudes, you should keep away lest you assimilate those qualities.

Parents are particular that their children have good company in the school. It is also for instilling the right values, stories of great men and women are narrated to us by our mothers. Example is potent in its influence and the way the parents set an example determines the characteristics of children. The key to success in life would therefore be to choose your friends wisely and surround yourself with capable people of good character, from whom you can learn. A good way to learn from great men would be to read their biographies to know how they lived their life and how they overcame their problems. You should choose some of these great people to be your role models, to imitate them, to inspire yourself from them.

Young people learn through apprenticeships and may appear to be just copying the master. A young boy learning music from his guru will follow him strictly till he acquires certain professional competency. Once he has learnt his craft, he should be original and not imitate his guru. If he does not employ new ideas and strike his own unique path, he will become a failure. Routine imitation is unauthentic, erodes ability to be creative and does not serve either the disciple or the guru. Though the tendency to imitate is inborn, blind imitation can be avoided only by conscious effort and will..“Imitation, if noble and general, insures the best hope of originality”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Treat people with respect:

I have happy memories of my young age as a school boy and I have been influenced by many people in very positive ways. There were many teachers, some strict and some friendly. My maternal grandfather was prominent among those who shaped my young age. He was a disciplinarian and believed in the efficacy of the ferrule and its liberal application. But all of them taught me the imperative need for hard work, discipline, and believing in myself, if I am to succeed in my life. My father was a very gentle person who taught me more by his example than by advice.
I liked my father among the lot. He taught me many things, but the most important things I remember are: to speak softly, to remain unruffled, and to be respectful to all. I vividly remember the last due to one incident that happened. My father was a busy man and had many visitors on Sundays to seek his advice or to take his help. The other days he came home very late from office. I remember on one Sunday about half a dozen people had come waiting to see him. There was one old person in late seventies who was clad in crumpled khadi dress. He was in a dhoti that was worn knee high and wore ordinary chappals but he had come the earliest. Nevertheless I sent the others who were in clean pressed pant and shirt with shining shoes and who looked important .ahead of the old man.
At the end when the old man went in, my father rose from his seat and came towards the old man and touched his feet.”Should you not have sent for me? How long were you waiting, Sir” my dad asked. He brushed the question aside saying it did not matter. They were closeted for more than an hour. My father called me and asked me to prostrate before him to take his blessings. He said “If I am in this good position, it is all because of his munificence and generosity. He is the person who helped me financially to complete my education. He is a very big and rich land lord of our village." The old man patted me and smiled at me.
After he was gone, I confessed to my father my foolishness in making him wait unfairly. He made me sit down and told me “Never go by appearances or apparel. You must treat all people in a fair and impartial manner. The respect you give to them should be the respect you would wish for if you were similarly placed." I still value that bit of advice given on that Sunday evening than all the wealth he left behind for me.


Have a motivational bath daily

We have no two opinions that motivation is important and one needs to remain motivated all the time. But we often witness some people getting really motivated after listening to a good lecture and after a while slip back into their old negative ways? The motivation is obviously not permanent and lasting. I read somewhere a humorous statement that motivation is not permanent just as bathing is not. But we do take a bath daily and a shower with shampoo frequently. We scrub the skin with soap to keep our body clean. The reason we do this is that we accumulate lot of dirt and grime and we wish to get rid of them. By using a scented soap we ensure we smell also well.
Why not apply the same principle to motivation? Whether we like it or not there is a lot of negative stuff found in news papers, seen in media and heard from others. Such undesirable thoughts which are abundant in life today gets settled in our minds if we are not guarded. These in turn impact on our attitudes and make them rigid. Life is full of misery, failures, stagnations, suffering that it would require adequate efforts to remain motivated and to be free from the negatives and demotivations.Just like a daily bath and frequent shampoo shower for the body, we should take a motivational bath daily. To remain motivated we must read and listen daily to something inspiring. Good stories and messages of inspirational nature do good to change our mind. We should take care to mingle to the extent possible only with the right people who can make a difference to our lives. We must remember that we are easily influenced by the people with either positive or negative attitudes.
The gist of this post is: We should daily --read something good-- listen to something good-- and associate with right people. If we ensure these are done our thinking will remain positive and good,

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Heaven is the most fair

Our lives are not always a dance on roses. We live amidst sufferings and problems. When we get affected by one problem after the other we often wonder why such tribulations occur to us alone. We ask in a bewildered way “Why me” of all the people. We start bemoaning that life is not fair and that God is not totally impartial. In our bitterness when we see people who are wicked being happy with most favourable circumstances coming their way, we get convinced, wrongly no doubt, that God’s scheme is skewed and not free from bias. We see no reason for innocent people suffering when they have done no wrong.
This confusion would not arise if we believe in the Law of Karma. Simply put, it epitomizes the message that “As you sow, so shall you reap.”The harvesting of the outcomes may be staggered over several Janmas or in the present lifespan itself. Depending upon the nature of karma, good or bad, the effects would manifest in the janma It is believed that if we lead a virtuous life and serve the community for its good, the bad effects of Prarabda karma can be blunted or obliterated. The law of karma is only to make people pursue a path of right actions and accumulate good karmas to assure a bright future janmas.There is no way to get rid of past karma without suffering the punishment due for it. We can minimize its severity by good actions in the present life span.
As long as the bad karmas are allowed to accumulate, man cannot also progress spiritually. The mind will remain impure and undisciplined. Once we set store by this Law of Karma, it would be clear that the happiness or sufferings in our lives are the outcome of our actions in the past and present. We would not blame God for our adversities.We would be conscious of the imperative need for good actions. There is a Chinese saying that “Heaven is the most fair.”We must inculcate this message in our children and young students.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Are we reverent?

I looked at the word reverence in the dictionary and learnt that it means a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe. It is a combination of admiration and wonderment. While we can have awe for even a tyrant or a cruel animal, admiration is reserved only for positive qualities .Reverence, a mixture of awe and admiration, is a virtuous quality. It is however not that simple as proper definition of reverence is difficult. Reverence begins only where there is a realization of our limitations as a human to comprehend things that are external to our control.- God,nature,justice,death to name a few.. Reverence does not belong to religion. It belongs to society or community. When the people live together they secure themselves with some form of rules, regulations, forms of ceremony, and good manners and observance of these is an act of reverence. An arrogant man cannot be reverent as he has no respect for things that are higher than himself. Power without reverence is arrogance, politics without reverence is blind to general good, service without reverence is rebellion and life without reverence is brutish and selfish.

We should not confuse respect with reverence. Respect can be good, bad, wise or silly depending upon the person respected. It would be silly to respect a fool but wise to respect an intelligent youngster. To pay respect to vain men with false fame or tyrants with power is not reverence. Reverence calls for respect only when respect is really the right attitude. We can define somewhat reverence as “the well developed capacity to have the feelings of awe and respect and shame when these are the right things to have. Reverence can be misplaced on wrong things on basis of belief, custom or whatever reason. It is not proper to mock at them if there is sincerity behind such reverence. There is a story related by Mark twain about a Yankee who was shown a lamp burning in a temple in Burma. The priest told him with awe that the lamp had never been extinguished for hundreds of years. “Is that so?” said the Yankee;” well, I guess it’s out now”; and he stooped down and blew it out. Mark Twain remarked that, “True reverence is the reverencing of other people’s reverence. Such an act alone would foster better understanding and tolerance in the world.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Learning from a donkey

Man is a bundle of ego, greedy and is never easily satisfied.He is by nature comfort-seeking and grumbles when there is hard work and starts looking for easy options.The rich contentment and a serene detachment are possessions of only a very small few."No pain,no palm; No thorn,no throne;No gall,no glory;No cross,no crown." said William Penn to fellow quakers referring to the sufferings of Jesus Christ.He was crowned with thorns,was given gall to drink at his Crucifiction, and suffered pain on the cross.The message conveyed is that nothing worthwhile can ever be achieved without effort,struggle and sacrifice, be it in education ,character building, career growth or spiritual progress.
I was reminded of a verse in Subhashithani which reads as below:
अविश्रामं वहेद्भारं शीतोष्णं च न विन्दति
ससन्तोषस्तथा नित्यं त्रीणि शिक्षेत गर्दभात्
(He carries loads without rest, is not deterred by the heat or cold, is always content.These are the three things one should learn from the donkey.)This animal with its poker face devoid of any emotion is the most derided one and a constant butt of ridicule. Called a beast of burden , it has no appealing features with a voice that evokes scorn and contempt.It hurts none unless you go to its rear.It is otherwise a calm animal with no ego and doesn't create a ruckus.Give him the food and shelter, it works tirelessly without grumbling. It never claims recognition for hard work it does.It is always contented and does not fight with others of its ilk.
There is no detraction from dignity if we can learn even from this lowly animal.