Saturday, November 15, 2014

We are as happy as we wish to be

I do not know how many of us know the name of our postman who comes to deliver our letters almost daily? No, we hardly talk to him even when he delivers us a registered letter or a parcel. We silently receive the mail and sign in acknowledgement in the form he produces. Our encounter or should I say non-encounter with him is over in a minute or two. He invariably comes on his cycle when the sun is over the head and  is hot. He would visit any number of homes and would not have remembered a single exchange of words worth remembering at the end of the day.
My first encounter with my postman started with a tiff. It was very hot that day and after a heavy lunch, I had dozed off. My wife was away. The postman had rung the bell twice or thrice. I opened the door with a frown on my face at the disturbance. He had a registered parcel for my wife and asked for her.
 I told him in abrasive tone”she has gone out. You may deliver it to me.”
 Possibly upset with my harsh tone he replied “I would need an authorization letter as per rules.”
“You are very punctilious especially when you know the addressee is my wife” I remonstrated with him.
 He politely replied” I was only doing my duty. Since I know both of you, I would have readily  delivered it to you had you been a little gentle”
It was only then that I noticed he was perspiring heavily standing in the hot sun with a big bundle. I requested him to come in and asked him to sit under the fan. He was hesitant initially but sat down when pressed. I gave him a glass of cold butter milk. I ascertained his name was Radhakrishnan and that he has been on this beat for the last twenty years. He had two sons and one girl and all of them studying.
He was touched by my kind enquiries and said “This was the first time anyone ever invited me into the drawing room and offered me a glass of cold water let alone buttermilk.”
“Do you like this arduous work of going out daily in hot sun or in rains on rainy days?”
 “I have no choice as I need to earn and so I decided to like it. Sorting of the letters was easy once one gets experienced. I have the opportunity to meet all sorts of people though the hazard of unchained dogs and tiresome climbing of the stairs of multi storied apartments poses  me a problem.You see I am getting older”he said with a smile.”
“I understand fully” I said in empathy
“It is not without its joy. I enjoy helping the illiterate with the occasional reading out the post cards. Though there are a few insensitive people making me wait at their doors taking their own time to chain the dogs or open the doors, most of the people are good and happy to see me at their doors.. I have no reason to be unhappy though walking through slushy roads during rainy days is difficult.”
Six months later, I had to get an affidavit urgently from a notary public. I didn’t know of anyone in the locality. The neighbours also could not help. It was then I saw Radhakrishnan in my colony on his beat. When I mentioned about this, he reeled out half a dozen names within a kilometer of my house. It was then I found that he knew well the people who lived in his area and enjoyed being helpful whenever approached.
 It was then the thought occurred to me that how many of us who work in the cool comfort of air-conditioned offices with transport or pick up facility  and yet keep griping about the well paid work little realizing there are people who enjoy their work even in unfavourable circumstances.
I was surprised at Radhakrishnan’s positive attitude and remarked “I am surprised how you like your work which to me does not appear comfortable.”
He laughed and said “Unlike you big officers, I am not chained to a table or a cabin all through the day. I am mostly in the open breathing fresh air and meeting a cross section of people. Most of them cheer up and smile when they see me bringing  a letter or a money order.. At the end of the day I do not have to carry the worries of the office to my home. I have many friends and interests. Life is not about earning money alone. I am quite happy,Sir.”

I realized that the postman had developed a robust and positive outlook towards life. He liked his job, worked efficiently, helped illiterate people, made friends and was cheerful. How many of us could boast of such a privilege? We are as happy as we wish to be.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fostering moral courage

Decades back when I was a young boy studying in class 6, there was a heavily built bully in the class. Being the son of the class teacher he ran amuck doing things that pleased him with none bold enough to question him or complain against him. He stole lunch boxes and took away from  school bags of others whatever he desired. He beat the weak boys and frequently pushed a polio affected boy without any provocation. The poor teacher was not aware of the misdeeds of this bully as none informed him.
 It was a hot summer. There was a big earthen pot kept in the corner of the class room. The water boy filled the pot with water each morning before the classes commenced. There was a brass tumbler kept by the side of the pot. The boys slaked their thirst in between the two classes. It so happened one day the bully commanded one boy to fetch him the water in the tumbler. The boy strangely ignored him and after drinking the water returned to his seat.
 The bully roared” how dare you disobey me? If you do not get me water within the next minute, I will make you pay for it.”
 The boy did not budge. All the other boys watched anxiously suppressing their glee at his defiance. The bully got up in anger and thrashed the boy. He took the black board wiper and hit the pot breaking it into pieces with all the water spilling out. It was a little later the class teacher entered and saw the damage. He took the cane in his hand and asked generally who broke the pot. There was a deafening silence.
The bully stood up and said pointing out the boy who refused to give him the water”Sir,he broke  the pot in anger as others were drinking water and he did not get the tumbler when he wanted.”
The good teacher unusually lost his temper  and beat the boy once when there was a sudden shriek “Stop it, Sir”.
 Everyone turned towards the direction of the voice. It was the polio affected boy who stood up.and said “Sir, the pot was broken by your son in anger as that boy refused to bring him water when commanded by your son. He thrashed the boy mercilessly and pushed him down. He is tormenting us daily in several ways.”
The teacher looked at the class and asked the boys “Is it true? You do not have to fear him or me. Please raise your hands if what the boy said is true.”
All the boys,except the bully and a couple of his buddies raised their hands,, and shouted”Yes, sir” in chorus
The teacher full of remorse for his rash behavior rubbed softly the arm of the boy and said “I was rash and should have asked others. I am sorry. Please go to your seat and sit down.”
He called the polio affected boy to his side and affectionately put his arm around him and said “I really appreciate your boldly speaking out the truth. I do not know why all the others did not have the courage you showed.. I am thankful to you and proud of you as my student.
 He called his son near him and caned him thrice telling that he was ashamed of his despicable behavior.
The point of this story is that most of us lack the moral courage to stand up against injustice wherever we see. While the soldiers who fight the war, the firemen who fight the raging fires and the policemen controlling a violent mob are all courageous in the course of their duty, ordinary people remain mute witnesses to the atrocities out of fear. The daring few whistle blowers pay a heavy price for their courage in this unethical system.
 While individually we cannot fight the corrupt politicians, the greedy mafia, the defrauding traders, we should collectively raise our voice of protest at the appropriate times. I have read that ‘moral courage is not just an intellectual exercise. Having the strength to do what is right when faced with difficult decisions is the key to being an ethical leader.”
If the ration shop or a petrol bunk deals with adulterated goods, we must have the courage to appeal to the consumer protection organization. If the auto driver fleeces you, you must stand up for your right and take a public bus than succumb to his unreasonable demand. It is difficult and inconvenient no doubt but we must at some stage learn lessons from great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi or a Nelson Mandela. The latter had said that "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
We should teach our children by personal example in the ordinary daily transactions about the values of integrity and moral character. Even in the sphere of games, how many players have the willingness to walk without waiting for the umpire’s ruling when they know they are out? We must develop the strength to stand up for what we believe. Our actions should be based on our ethical values and willingness to undergo hardships and even face some risks. We should not be willing accessories to manipulative bosses in office, cunning politicians during elections and corrupt bureaucrats in our dealings.

 It is high time that schools set apart an hour for moral instruction to children even from the small classes to build a nation of high moral fibre.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Conquer fear

I have heard a story about Napoleon. When he was a young boy studying in school, one of his classmates complained to teacher accusing Napoleon of having stolen some article of his. The teacher without asking for explanation started beating Napoleon mercilessly. The boy kept quiet and left when the teacher finally stopped hitting. On the second day the boy who had accused told the teacher that it was not Napoleon but someone else who had actually stolen. Struck with remorse the teacher asked Napoleon why he did not protest his innocence but kept quiet when he was beaten.
“I would have told you had you asked me the question before you started beating. To say that I am innocent in the midst of beating would show that I am afraid of the beating and hence lying. I have no fear of beating or anything. That is why I kept quiet”
It was this fearlessness that took Napoleon to great heights.
Fear is one of the major reasons that weaken our endeavour to overcome challenges. Fear is often irrational and mostly a function of the mind. If I confront a snake on my way, the fear is open and either I run away or get it killed. I can secure my home better if there is a genuine fear of being burgled. I can tackle the fear of examination by preparing thoroughly. Open fears are easily overcome by precautions.
It is the hidden fear in the subconscious of the mind that is difficult to conquer. When I was addressing employees of a company, I asked how many of them can walk on a long 20” concrete square beam kept on the ground. Everyone said they can easily do it and some said they can run too. When I asked them how many can walk if the beam was raised to 100 feet high, none replied. When I prodded for answer, a few said they were afraid of falling. I said it is the same beam on which they could walk and a few could even run but the only change is the location. It is the fear of failure that has impeded them from saying yes. It is the same fear of failure that deters us from taking many steps to grow in life. We drag our feet afraid to take even small risks
Some steps to conquer fear could be as below.
Confront the fear by walking into it. If the fear is irrational and is not open, challenge it. You are afraid of being in the dark or being alone in a house, get into dark or stay alone. You may be afraid initially looking for ghosts or intruders where there are none and after a few times, the fear would vanish. One caveat however, it should not be foolhardy like crossing Niagara
Fear of failure. No man is always successful. Everyone fails. Most reputed batsmen do not score centuries or fifties often and do so only 25% of times. If they do not play for fear of failure they would have never become great. Astronauts go to unknown and untrodden places with tremendous risk but of course after training. Many of the achievements would not have been possible but for their conquering fear.
Be fully prepared.When you undertake a job, be it writing an examination, or starting a business or joining a tournament prepare thoroughly. Get all the facts that you need to know and the practice needed. There is no shortcut to success than hard preparation. Learn the ropes or tricks of trade.
Keep in mind law of averages. I am afraid of sleeping directly under the ceiling fan and would position myself slightly away. My daughter smiled at my fear and asked me that in the several decades of my life how many people have met fatal end by fan falling. I was not aware of even a single case. When one can drive a car despite several accidents happening all around, why not sleep under the fan was her question. The fear vanished.
Try repeatedly. Remember Robert Bruce or Edison or Abraham Lincoln. One or two failures should not deter you rather they should goad you to do better.
Have faith in God. Whether you believe or not in law of karma or the power in your stars, have touching  faith in Providence, whatever your religion may be. This faith will greatly facilitate the conquest of fear. You will never  feel alone in your endeavour.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Life is a long lesson in humility

 Humility is a hall mark of great men. It is only the upstarts that suffer from ego and an inflated opinion of themselves. The greater the position one climbs, humbler one generally becomes. The really great men rarely need the crutches of instant recognition and adulation. Pride is what most men display unwilling to accept what they really are and suffering from illusions of what they really are not. I read that if men were clothed in humility, most would be scantily clad.
 Very few realize that we are in this world for a short period doing what is ordained and instead of taking pleasure in what we do, we attach importance to who did the work. We expect everyone to praise us and our work failing which we nurse bitterness. There is a craving for adulation and recognition in whatever we do. All the anger and frustration would not arise if we are not victims of self pity or self importance.
I have read that the great physicist and mathematician Einstein was embarrassed by the attention and admiration received by him very deservedly at that. He was humility personified when he wrote “There are plenty of the well-endowed, thank God. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque.” 
Contrast this with our own tin-pot politicians and bureaucrats who believe genuinely that all the good that is happening in our country is because of them and keep harping on it.. There is really no  need to prove ourselves to others. Bragging with pride only diminishes the positive feelings others may have for us. Our work or accomplishments would speak for themselves better.
How many of us respond patiently to ordinary men and women either on the roads or offices when they ask us some questions? We are always in tearing hurry. Humility is genuine concern for others, big or small. Humility means being a better listener, being more patient with others, being helpful to utter strangers and letting others have their glory. Humility is in doing great and small acts of kindness without letting others know. Humility is in making peace with other’s imperfections and being more tolerant.

Humility is like underwear, essential, but indecent if it shows

Monday, March 31, 2014

All the faces in the world are mirrors

A good story I read
Long ago in a small, far away village, there was place known as the House of 1000 Mirrors.
A small, happy little dog learned of this place and decided to visit. When he arrived, he bounced happily up the stairs to the doorway of the house.
He looked through the doorway with his ears lifted high and his tail wagging as fast as it could. To his great surprise, he found himself staring at 1000 other happy little dogs with their tails wagging just as fast as his. He smiled a great smile, and was answered with 1000 great smiles just as warm and friendly. As he left the House, he thought to himself, "This is a wonderful place. I will come back and visit it often."
In this same village, another little dog, who was not quite as happy as the first one, decided to visit the house. He slowly climbed the stairs and hung his head low as he looked into the door.
When he saw the 1000 unfriendly looking dogs staring back at him, he growled at them and was horrified to see 1000 little dogs growling back at him. As he left, he thought to himself, "That is a horrible place, and I will never go back there again."

All the faces in the world are mirrors. What kind of reflections do you see in the faces of the people you meet?

Friday, March 28, 2014

God the spider

A nice story I read 
 God can even use a simple spider web to build a wall of protection around His children.
During World War II, a US marine was separated from his unit on a Pacific Island. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and the crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades.
Alone in the jungle, he could hear enemy soldiers coming in his direction. Scrambling for cover, he found his way up a high ridge to several small caves in the rock. Quickly he crawled inside one of the caves. Although safe for the moment, he realized that once the enemy soldiers looking for him swept up the ridge, they would quickly search all the caves and he would be killed.
As he waited, he prayed, "Lord, if it be your will, please protect me. Whatever your will though, I love you and trust you. Amen."
After praying, he lay quietly listening to the enemy begin to draw close. He thought, "Well, I guess the Lord isn't going to help me out of this one.." Then he saw a spider begin to build a web over the front of his cave.
As he watched, listening to the enemy searching for him all the while, the spider layered strand after strand of web across the opening of the cave.
"Ha, he thought. "What I need is a brick wall and what the Lord has sent me is a spider web. God does have a sense of humor."
As the enemy drew closer he watched from the darkness of his hideout and could see them searching one cave after another. As they came to his, he got ready to make his last stand. To his amazement, however, after glancing in the direction of his cave, they moved on. Suddenly, he realized that with the spider web over the entrance, his cave looked as if no one had entered for quite a while. "Lord, forgive me," prayed the young man. "I had forgotten that in you a spider's web is stronger than a brick wall."
We all face times of great trouble. When we do, it is so easy to forget the victories that God would work in our lives, sometimes in the most surprising ways.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What is prayer for?

You must have read the following incident in Mother Teresa’s life. Mother Teresa of Kolkata had a dream. She told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage."
"Mother Teresa," her superiors chided gently, "you cannot build an orphanage with three pennies. With three pennies you can’t do anything!"
"I know," she said smiling, "but with God and three pennies I can do anything!"
She did build an orphanage that is well known housing many destitute.
This is often mentioned to stress the point that spiritual energy is so powerful and that all we need to do is turn toward the energy and ask. The Bible says "Ask and you shall receive." God is waiting and all you need to do is ask even a little bit for help, and it will be there. A lot of people either do not ask or turn their backs said Tim Peering So what are we waiting for? Pray intensely with faith and our prayers would be answered.
 Even in Hindu religion before the chanting or recitation of texts on the glories of Gods/Goddesses, a sankalp or a seeking of specific blessings is made for self or others. Just as a child asks its parents, we ask our Father or the Lord to help us in times of need. Again like our parents, our wishes are granted or denied by God for reasons best known to Him.
To me it seems there are a few elements in prayer.
Prayer should be in total faith and with utter devotion. There should be no shred of doubt. This absolute faith and devotion should always be there and not only when we need things. God is not a Santa Claus with a bagful of goodies waiting to give whenever we press the button. In all the cases I have read, God came to the rescue of the devout, not those who turn devout for specific reason at specific times, when the devotee surrenders to God without clinging to other devices for help. The surrender should be total.
I believe where prayer is for a noble cause or for benefitting the needy sufferers without any strings of self interest, God listens to such prayers as Mother Teresa’s for destitute with three pennies in her hand .There was nothing for  herself. When one wishes to give to the lonely, lost and poor and when compassion and love is the driving force, the connection to God is immediately established. He may not help directly but someone at His command would come your way. His ways are inscrutable.
God does not make deals. It is never a quid pro quo.If you donate in cash or kind to Him at places of worship or break 100 coconuts or rotate bodily on the floor of temple expecting something in return, He is not impressed.A golden crown studded with diamonds is not any bigger than a spoon of water or a plantain fruit. It is the attitude, humility, faith, sincerity and love that draw Him to the supplicant.
 We see candidates praying for a win in election and their rivals praying for the opposite result. Is god really interested in these silly demands? When He does not grant our petty wishes after repeated prayers, we indulge in our remonstration that He is blind to our sufferings or deaf to our pleas or heartless to our pitiable condition.
Why do we pray? Is asking for things the only reason for our prayers? Can there be a self less prayer? Is a prayer for the well being of self, children, friends, and family members is wrong? Not at all, prayer is always good in that we become better persons. But God knows what is to be given when, where and to whom? Is He not omniscient and does He need reminder?
My own take on this is that God answers our prayers if they fit with His scheme of things. Otherwise they remain unanswered. If that be so why do our religions and scriptures require us to pray and what are we supposed to ask for in our prayers? To my mind our prayers should be one of adoration of His many divine qualities and expression of gratefulness for the blessings given. There should be no demand even for liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. He knows when to free you from this bondage. Real prayer is communicating with god by singing His praises and leading a virtuous life according to His teachings. Work is worship. Doing the assigned jobs sincerely and well and leading an ethical life is highest form of worship. Prayer is nothing more than leading our life being aware of His presence all the time in all the things we do in our day to day life and being in communion with him

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Talk less

There is an old folk tale that tells of a man who was walking along a beach. He heard someone calling him. Surprised he turned around and saw no one except a skull mounted on a post. To his great astonishment, the skull said “I only called you”.
The man asked the skull “It is strange to see you mounted here and yet speak. Can you speak again to clear my doubt?”
“Why not?” the skull replied.
 The man, without waiting to know how it came to be planted there, rushed to the king to tell him of the strange spectacle of a talking skull. The king who was busy in a meeting with courtiers stopped it and hurried with the man to the place where the skull was mounted. The man asked “I have come with the king. Please speak to him as you did to me”
The skull remained stubbornly silent despite his persuasions. Enraged the king ordered that the man be beheaded, and his head mounted on a post adjacent to skull.
After they left leaving the man’s head on the post, the skull asked “why did you talk to king unnecessarily?”
When he asked what in bewilderment, the skull said “I had also talked like you and am in this predicament”
The moral of the story is we all talk needlessly and sometimes get into trouble. Most of the things we talk are already known to others as we are not privy to some exclusive news. We all read the newspapers and watch TV and have information only from such sources. We have no extra knowledge to throw greater light say on a missing plane or the outcome of elections, the down turn in economy, the high scale of corruption or the changes in climate unless professionally involved in them.. Yet we repeat the same news we read or listen to others without shedding any new insight or solutions that are anyway beyond our realm. If at the end of the day when one honestly rewinds all the conversations had and evaluates their necessity, one would find that 90% of it if not spoken would not have mattered. When one falls sick and does not talk to others for a week, has there been any big loss to others? Important information find their way whether one likes it or not.
This does not refer to serious discussions that take place in meetings, seminars or conferences where one must pay acute attention to what is being said and speak only where one can meaningfully contribute to the subject. More often than not people talk concurrently or at tangent.
People are normally uncomfortable with silence unless they are busy with some work. At other times when there are no serious thoughts and when mind is not engaged, the mouth readily takes over. Most of us like to hear our own voice and all of us sing while having shower. So talking unsolicited generally on many things under the sun, more often inane, is an interesting past time.
Young lovers talk sweet nothings and where words have no meanings. It is their hearts that communicate with each other and words just demonstrate their love. When young kids talk, there is no meaning except their fondness. Speak from the hearts if you have something to say. If someone wants to hear you because you know the subject well, speak on what you known where your ideas are clear.
This does not mean there is no place for exchange of pleasantries and one should sit morose even in company. Yes, conversation is a lubricant that keeps friendship working well. But much of the conversations we make are meaningless and irrelevant as many lack listening skills. They are usually space fillers when there is a pause in the conversation.
Great sages, spiritual seekers and Mahatma Gandhi laid great stress on ‘maun’ silence and went about their usual work without talking. Silence gave them the strength both spiritual and physical and freed their minds from the mundane to acquiring insights and wisdom. One can start even with an hour of silence daily and gradually increase. It will surely enable one to attune his mind to his inner self better. The bottom line is to talk less.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” Unknown

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Forgive to see the difference

We frequently complain of difficulty in forgiving and forgetting. This set me thinking about forgiving. Whether it is easy to forgive or not depends on the mental makeup of the individuals. Nearly everyone has been hurt at some stage or the other by the words or deeds of others. It can be one of our own close relatives, friends, colleagues or utter strangers. The level and intensity of hurt may vary. While these can leave one in anger and bitterness, it is only us who suffer finally if we do not practice forgiveness. But one thing we can be sure of that the person who forgives is no more troubled in mind and can have a good night’s sleep. Nursing the hurt and constantly turning in the mind adds only to the misery. “A spark will die of itself if it falls where there is not a blade of grass. Similarly he who has earned the mantle of peace cannot be harmed by evil.” Forgiving brings peace and fosters other positive traits like’ humility, solidarity and gratitude.’ The act of letting go of resentment and the urge for tit for tat can actually let us lead a happy life. ”Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing at someone else: you are the one who gets burned.” Buddha Life becomes a lot easier if one learns to accept an apology not really given.
Do we not forgive our children or spouse for the hurt they cause more easily than we forgive a stranger or even a friend? Why do we distinguish then in the act of forgiving? Is there a trace of selfishness or expectation in forgiving the dear and near? Ponder over the reason to get a better perspective.
Acharya Vidyananda says “The Sanskrit word for forgiveness, kshama, may be traced back to the elements of Ksha and ma, which indicate a knot and a negation respectively.Kshama thus suggests that we must refrain from tying up our minds in knots of resentment Forgiveness is a sign of courage and fortitude; it is not to be confused with the resignation of cowardice.”
While it is conceded that to ordinary people it is difficult to forgive when an extreme injustice or hurt has been caused, it should not be difficult to practice this where the hurts are imaginary or minor in nature. To be always on the lookout for possible hurt will render one friendless. Forgiving doesn’t mean you forget the incident or deny the responsibility of the person who caused the hurt. Forgiving is just excusing the other person of the hurt caused without lessening the wrong. By practicing it in a manner that it becomes our second nature,we would find ourselves free from bitterness and surrounded by friends
Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Mark Twain

Monday, March 3, 2014

What are your three best wishes?

Dream lofty for dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil. James Allen
I had asked a good friend of mine what her three best wishes for her life would be if genii were to ask her. She could not readily answer and I think she bought time from me by telling that let the genii ask me first. Ask the question yourself now. Most of us do not have a ready and clear wish list. We haven’t prioritized them even if we had one. If you had missed your bus, you may wish that another one to come soon. I am not talking about such petty wishes. We are not often in a position to spell out what we want in our lives. We haven’t thought about them. Perhaps it would be nice to write down our wishes, say twenty  and then scan them to prioritize them. Like a child we should not ask for a jar full of candies. We must seek the best. Many of the wishes we had jotted down would be deleted on a second look and some new ones instead may find place. Review daily for a week till you finally settle for three.
Our first task should be to know what we want from our life. There should be a purpose in it. Otherwise we are like a rudderless ship moving in unchartered seas. I read success in anything, even in life,’ isn’t the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.’
 “All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim: have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.’
Let us now spell out our best three wishes initially before we set out accomplishing them

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Let us look up

I read this some where and wish to share with you
If you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet and is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be an absolute prisoner. The reason is that a buzzard always begins a flight from the ground with a run of 10 to 12 feet. Without space to run, as is its habit, it will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.
 The ordinary bat that flies around at night, a remarkably nimble creature in the air, cannot take off from a level place If it is placed on the floor or flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and, no doubt, painfully, until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw itself into the air. Then, at once, it takes off like a flash.
A bumblebee, if dropped into an open tumbler, will be there until it dies, unless it is taken out. It never sees the means of escape at the top, but persists in trying to find some way out through the sides near the bottom. It will seek a way where none exists, until it completely destroys itself.
 Many of us are like the buzzard, the bat, and the bumblebee. We struggle about with all our problems and frustrations, never realizing that all we have to do is look up.
Though God is omnipresent yet the common practice is to look up at sky as we know instinctively God is somewhere beyond the Skies. "Sorrow looks back, worry looks around, but Faith looks up!"

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The choice makes all the difference

Ponder over the following beautiful lines of Robert Frost from his poem ‘The road not taken’
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While Frost had to contend with one road that diverged in a yellow wood, our path in the journey of life is full of such forks or even with three or more diverging branches baffling us at several stages. As we cannot stand still and stare waveringly at the roads ahead, we are perforce to choose one to proceed further. Once taken there is no looking back in many cases. While we carefully choose the roads with only a hazy picture of where they may lead to, we fondly hope that our choices are such that we can say like the poet “And that has made all the difference.”
In life however things are always not that rosy. The choices are also not in our hands with several externalities deciding them. Take the case of a bright student not financially well placed but who aspires to do medicine and do research in the related field. Since the competition is high with demand exceeding supply and the wealthy can buy the seats, this guy loses out in the race and opts for another course that he least prefers. Likewise a young man who wished to pursue his studies beyond graduation level is sucked into rich family business by family compulsions. Both have disappointments. A third guy got his ambition of an engineering seat through hefty donation but could not cope with the rigour of study and had to drop out.
One former senior bureaucrat Mr. Kutty had put this interestingly in one of his lectures.”We cry over what we lose. Often we cry over what we gain. Two little teardrops were floating down the river of life. One tear drop asked the other. “Who are you?” It answered “I was shed by a girl who loved a man and lost him. And who are you?” Replied the first teardrop:”Well, I was shed by the girl who got him.”
It is sometimes an irony of life that those who realize their ambition and those who fail are equally disappointed with the outcomes. It is only very few who make the right choices and are happy too. Merit does not always play a big role. The wisest do not always run the country, the best deserving do not get recognition, the virtuous do not always succeed and the honest rarely thrives in business. It has got to do with some things more than what the roads they chose had to offer.
Often many avoid roads less travelled due to its unfamiliarity, difficult terrain and uncertain destination and take to boulevards that are well kept and crowded. We witness many talented writers slogging in government offices unsure about writing as a profession, several with a research oriented minds settling for stifling and humdrum positions, capable bureaucrats wasting their years in obscure posts. There could be many justifiable reasons for the choices. May be if circumstances permit they should make mid=course correction and choose something after their heart. I am reminded of a few successful writers, a few activists and officials turned politicians and some successful entrepreneurs change to social reformers in the recent past solely guided by the passion in their hearts. They had the courage to break away from the dull routine however comfortable.
The real test of life is to have the boldness and determination to choose the right fork and where chosen to persist with commitment regardless of how difficult and unpopular the choice is. The presence of an enabling and liberal society, where every individual is allowed to reach his full potential without any imposition of manmade hurdles and where merit is recognized, would be an advantage. It is only then people can choose intuitively what one desires, however uncommon and unique the choice is, and succeed in the path chosen. There is of course the imponderable destiny. It is for us to follow the path of wisdom trusting in God but ‘keeping the gun powder dry’ as Oliver Cromwell told his soldiers.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Refiner of silver

(This was sent to me by a good friend of mine many years back and I wish to share with you as I found it very touching)
Refiner of Silver
“He will sit as a refiner, our purifier of silver”
This verse puzzled some in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.
One of the participants volunteered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study.
That week the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention about the reason for her interest beyond the curiosity about the process of refining silver.
As she watched silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.
The woman thought about God holding us in such a spot and then she thought about the verse that says “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver”
She asked the silversmith, if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.
The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.
The woman was silent for a moment and then she asked the silversmith “How do you know the silver is fully refined?”
He smiled at her and answered “Oh, that is easy, when I see my image on it”
If today you are feeling the heat of fire, remember that God has His eyes set on you and will keep watching until He sees His image in you.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Make oneself trustworthy

I know a person, let us call her Nirmala (or Niranjan), who would be very nice when talking to you. She will listen with rapt attention to all that you say, nod her head approvingly and make sympathetic interjections to goad you to reveal more. She would appear very friendly and give the impression that she is trustworthy. In a trice she would have mesmerized you into pouring your heart out to her in a couple of meetings telling all the things that you would have normally kept to yourself. But for her responsive demeanour and the easy affability, Nirmala is the worst gossip who cannot bottle up anything. She would rush with excitement to whisper to others one by one not just what she heard from you but embroider it with half truths and embellish with imaginary stuff to make up for a good story. She would caution them against revealing to anyone else.

 You would be shocked one of your friends casually commiserating with you in hushed tone about your personal matters. Once bitten, you would be doubly shy of talking to Nirmala. You will avoid her like a plague like so many others whom she had befriended earlier. But she is not deterred and would go for new quarry. She never realized that she is an inveterate gossipmonger detested by all who knew her. Yet she was not able to change herself to earn the trust of the people. She never realized that half truths are nothing but slander and spoilt one’s reputation. The gossip spreads wildly. It is like a feather pillow that is cut open and the feathers allowed flying in all directions. You can never collect all of them back even if you wish to. Apology does not help to restore the damaged reputation or the revealed information private again.

The point is that each one of us is tempted, though not to the extent of Nirmala, but to tell others sometimes what has been told us in confidence. There is a counterfeit satisfaction in showing off that we are privy to some secret and know a little more than what the other person knows. The intention may not be to harm but nevertheless the act of betraying the confidence is bad. It is in us to control the way others respond to us by conducting ourselves in trust worthy manner

“A true friend never breaches the trust of his companion or stabs in his back. He is trustworthy and reliable.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Are you assailed by imaginary fears?

We are always troubled by fear of unknown happening and unable to cut ourselves out of it. It is not always fear about us or about failure of our actions. Our fear concerns those whom we hold dear and love. We are concerned about our parents, spouse, children, close friends, relatives and their health, well-being and happiness. We imagine all the worst fears we see around elsewhere happening to our near and dear. It is not a rational anxiety backed by realistic risks.
A rational fear is a sign of maturity and its awareness tends to keep the risks away. It is an essential part of living sounding us warning at the appropriate times. We do not leave open lamps when we leave the house, we ensure that doors are properly secured, we turn off the taps, and we walk on the platforms and adhere to signals when crossing the road. We are guided in these by fear of accidents or loss.
But unfounded irrational fears are more afflictions of the mind and have no basis. They spoil the present. We pass through much pain by the imaginary fears that have never come true and may not also. There can be unexpected hardships in life. Except for the normal precautions that we take, we must get along with life and be prepared to face the troubles as and when they come
There is this well known story of a slave travelling in a ship who was caught by the fear of the rough sea and started wailing much to the annoyance of other passengers. No amount of convincing him that the ship was safe and it ran absolutely no risk of getting sunk could make him calm down. When his screaming and crying became unbearable, the captain asked that he be thrown out into the sea. The poor chap was lifted bodily and thrown. The sea was rough, the wind harsh and the sun was setting. As he struggled gulping the salty water and was almost drowning, the slave looked up and pitiably pleaded to be rescued. The captain ordered that he be brought back. Once in the ship, he turned unusually quiet and was seen enjoying the blue sky and the stars during the rest of the journey. Exposed to real scare, his irrational fear vanished.
No man’s life is free from problems.”Into each life some rain must fall—but why open your umbrella while the sun is shining?” Faith in God can help overcome this fear of the unexpected.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Being aware of death

All of us are certain to die some day. Be he a king or pauper, death is inevitable. It is a leveller. Yet the thought that we too will meet the end one day occurs rarely in our mind. We are afraid of death and the unknown world beyond. We consider it negative, depressing and an unwelcome subject.
 We refuse to think about it and instead search for happiness in material possessions. We get mired in the mundane things to fulfill our desires and gratification of senses. We cling to our loved ones and realize pet ambitions in life. Our valuable life is spent in material pursuits that hardly help us to prepare for the life beyond.
In our busy chase after wealth and fame, there is not much place for others unrelated to us. Unaware that death can be on our doorstep anytime; most of us indulge ourselves in pleasurable pursuits commit wrongs, compromise our conscience and neglect the needy. We lead a pedestrian life without purpose with nothing noble to speak about us after we are gone. Let us leave aside the spiritual aim of life as the liberation from the cycle of birth and death or getting the grace of god. We must answer the question whether our life is intended to be a purely for self gratification or to be lived at least in part for the service of others following a path of right conduct, love and kindness.
I read a story as narrated by Asit M Kaushik in one of his articles. It is a story of “a woman who took her debauched son to meet Buddha. On seeing the youth, Buddha told him that he had just one more day to live. The youngster was shocked, but knew there was little that he could do about Buddha’s prediction. Having realized that time was short, he clung to his mother’s sari, and broke down. He wanted to meet all his family members, friends, neighbours before the end came. With six hours left for his death, he found himself lying on a cot, distraught and disillusioned.
When just three hours were left, Buddha paid him a visit. The youth did not wish to speak to Buddha, but the latter smiled at him and inquired if in the last 24 hours, he had lied or cheated. The youth replied in the negative. Buddha then asked him if he had stolen from or hurt anybody. The youth got irritated and replied how he could possibly think of doing such things when all he was thinking of was death.
Buddha gently patted his head and said “Son, I don’t know who has to die and who has to live, but understanding the ultimate truth can be very enlightening. While you became aware of death only now in the last 24 hours, I have been aware of it for the last 24 years.”

We should be aware of the impermanence of our life and its value to devote each day to right path enriching not only our life but others too to enable us face death calmly without fear when it comes. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014


I wish to share this article  received in my mailbox.
There was a group of 50 people in a seminar.
Suddenly the speaker stopped and started giving each one a balloon. Each one was asked to write his/her name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons were collected and put in another room.
Now these delegates were let in that room and asked to find the balloon which had their name written, within 5 minutes. Everyone was frantically searching for their name, colliding with each other, pushing around others and there was utter chaos.
At the end of 5 minutes no one could find their own balloon.
Now each one was asked to randomly collect a balloon and give it to the person whose name was written on it.
Within minutes everyone had their own balloon.
The speaker began--- Exactly this is happening in our lives. Everyone is frantically looking for happiness all around, not knowing where it is.
Our happiness lies in the happiness of other people. Give them their happiness, you will get your own happiness.

And this is the purpose of human life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hold of tradition

A Zen Master used to meditate along with his disciples in his house. The Master had a cat that used to come running often to the meditation hall and disturb them. So the Master would tie up the cat to his bed in the first floor enabling them to meditate peacefully downstairs. After the Master's passing, his students continued to come to the house to meditate and tie up the cat to the bed.

One disciple who had left for another country returned after some years. When he returned he saw many people coming with cats in their hands to the Master's house. However to his shock, they did not come to meditate but only to tie up their cats to the bed!

This is not unusual. We continue to do many things that were done in the past to keep the tradition going without sparing a thought on their relevance. Either we are unquestioning slaves of habit or attach value to what was done in the past in good faith. Over a period of time the purpose for a custom is lost sight of or not known but we still observe even when the raison d etre is absent. We tend to assume what our parents or grandparents have done should be for a valid reason and do not question its relevance in the changed times. It is out of reverence to our forebears or just blind faith.
I am not talking about our touching faith in God but many mundane things we cling to  more symbolically than really. Everything we do should pass the test of time and relevance. Just because a tradition was followed for decades, it does not become correct. The duration of a custom is not sufficient to lend credibility to it. In Hindu marriages in South India a yoke is placed on the necks of the couple amid chanting of mantra. It is symbolic for the couple to pull through their lives together like the bulls in yoke. Younger generations are often left wondering at this strange ritual.
A tradition should be relevant to modern times. What was done century back when the history and social practices were different have no sanctity now. Many abhorrent things were done in the name of caste, gender and tradition. It required a Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Easwar Chandra Vidyasagar and several social reformers to do away with the evil traditions. We should constantly examine what we do on the touchstone of relevance and time. Colonial practices or archaic laws of 19th century that are prevalent even today have no place  and should be jettisoned. Women should be given their rightful place.
Two families, distant cousins, in the adjacent houses were always quarreling. When a new comer to the village asked one of them for the reason, he said “They are wicked people”. The stranger prodded further asking how they were wicked. He replied “I do not know. Even in my father’s time the two families were quarreling. I learn it was so even in grandfather’s time”
“Do you have any specific reason to quarrel with him except for the past tradition?” the stranger asked. He shyly said none that he was aware of.
The stranger went to the other man’s house and repeated the same questions and got the same answers. He then brought them together for them to laugh at their foolishness and rejoice at their coming together.
We carry not only meaningless traditions, inveterate habits but silly grudges too for long without valid reason. It is time we evaluate them again for their utility and fairness. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Blowing one's trumpet

I read a story about a popular doctor who was noted for his curative skill, patience and helpful nature. He accepted whatever was paid for and treated the poor free. He had however one flaw. He always spoke about his compassionate nature and wished others to praise him.
One day as he was walking with a rabbi, the doctor was proudly telling how he treated poor free. Rabbi said he also did the same.
Surprised, the doctor said he even gave medicines free to the hapless and rabbi replied that he also did the same.
Intrigued the doctor said he even donated money for food in deserving cases. Rabbi replied that he also did the same
The doctor was annoyed and asked rabbi whether he was a doctor like him because he replied always that he also did the same.
Rabbi replied that he was not a doctor. Whenever the doctor talked good about himself, rabbi replied that he also like the doctor spoke to others only about the good he did and never about his faults. That rabbi said was the one flaw in his own character.
Let us ponder for a minute how many of us talk or admit about our flaws to others. We rarely do. We always try to project the brighter side of us and abstain from telling or soften about our negative side. The resume generally exaggerates our capabilities or experience and is silent about our drawbacks. If we really have some achievements, we rarely shut up talking about it. We like to blow our trumpets. Why not if we are good at something some may ask in injured innocence..

No doubt pride gives one a self respect but showing it even when justifiable generally alienates him from the world. Pride unconsciously tends to be a bloated view of one's self be it talent, virtue wealth, family or anything. It often manifests itself in one’s speech and actions. Showing pride in conversation is generally considered a negative trait. This does not mean one should refrain from telling genuine achievements on appropriate occasions like in an interview. But talking about accomplishments even if real just to impress others without a purpose is undesirable Good wine needs no bush is a famous adage.

 Likewise acts of giving are best done silently without fanfare. Many philanthropists donate huge sums  incognito. They hardly talk about it. They feel embarrassed when their identity is revealed. The rain bearing clouds are often silent but it is the rainless clouds that revel in thunder. Imagine how ridiculous it would be for a musician clapping his own hands after rendering a song. The applause should come from the audience. Self adulation is indecent and improper. There is a German proverb”… self-praise stinks, a friend's praise is lame, a stranger's praise sounds."

Sampoorna kumbhaha shabdham na karoti – ardho ghato noonam ghoshamupaiti
vidwaan kuleeno na karoti garvam – gunairviheenaaha bahu jalpayanti
Fully filled pot does not make noise while half filled pot makes lot of noise
Scholars are always humble -while those  lacking good qualities boast a lot.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Prayer sans ego

There is this parable of two men who were granted permission to meet the king at the palace. Both were asked to wait in the richly furnished lounge.
One of them, a very rich man, had come in his finest apparel and other ornaments fit for an audience with royal personage. As he was waiting he surveyed the grandeur of the room comparing it with his own mansion by feeling the texture of curtains, examining the furniture, observing the curios and such. His mind was occupied with thoughts of how to make this audience with king beneficial to himself. He was not called in though waiting for long.
The other guy who sat in the edge of the upholstered chair appeared very poor from the cheap clothes he wore. His face with three days stubble showed no sign of scholarship. His hair was unkempt and he looked dirty. But he was sitting in total calm unconcerned with the liveried men and all the pomp around him. His mind was only on the king he was about to meet. But to rich man’s consternation, the indigent fellow was called in and was with king for a long time. Our rich man finally did not get to see the king at all.
To give a spiritual twist to this story, one can say that only those without the slightest  trace of ego ’I, me or mine’ will have access to God’s grace. Even a tint of ego is a barrier. The external appearance is irrelevant and what matters is the inside.  The matted locks, shaven head or smearing of ashes on the body covered in ochre robes do not make one a devotee.
Likewise knowledge of scriptures, wealth, high position or even good looks has the danger of making a person proud. There will be the pride in the sub conscious that would manifest itself through lack of humility in word, thought or action. We are witness to such important people seeking immediate attention even at God’s shrines and if necessary by peddling their wealth, influence or position negating the very purpose of their visit to shrine.
Prayer is attuning oneself to god by total surrender at His altar in whatever way and form your faith permits. What counts is the attitude of abject surrender to His divinity and supreme power. There would be no place for ego in it. The prayer could be thinking of Him by invoking His presence in our hearts or singing in praise of Him or listening to His divine qualities and glorious deeds. Heart has a dominant role more than mind in this exercise. It is falling in selfless love with god and nothing but a communion with Him. Prayer should be simple and pure with no strings attached. The purpose of such a prayer is for liberation or getting His eternal grace.
While this is the greater purpose, this does not preclude one from seeking His help and blessings during times of trials and distress. It eases one’s mind that he is safe in God’s hands. But this should not be confused with the selfless prayer talked about earlier.