Inner Life Joy

Experience is a continuous process. It is always there from the time we are born till we die. It is always there from the time we wake up to the time we sleep. It is also there during our sleep. However, the nature of our experience changes during different times of the day and age. Each experience is not the same.

Come to think of it, how do we know we have experienced something? Because it stands out from the rest of the stream of experience isn’t it? We only notice the peaks of experience. If nothing has happened in the past one hour, it does not mean we have not experienced anything.

However, if suddenly there is a loud crash on the road and you are jolted from your sofa, then you say you experienced a loud noise. You may run out to the balcony to see what happened. If you see someone you know has met with an accident, you will experience something more than if you see some stranger involved in the accident.

If life is just a series of events that you experience day in and day out, then are you in control of what experiences you get? It seems not. Is our mind or brain just a box meant to receive sights and sounds and tastes and smells and experiences?

Are our experiences just a reaction to the external world? It does seem so. If it is hot outside, we feel miserable. If it is chilly outside, we feel uncomfortable. If someone says “You are a great person” you experience some emotion of happiness or pride. But if someone says “you are a lousy person” you may experience anger or sadness.

Is our inner life so tightly connected with what we see, hear or feel that we have no control on our own experience? It does seem to be the case. But we never pay attention to this. It seems so natural for us to blame some person or some condition for the experience we are having.

It should therefore come as a big surprise to you if I declare that you can experience any emotion you want in any situation. Since you have never exercised your ability to choose the emotion you want,  it may seem difficult at first. Moreover, the external world is constantly throwing sensory impressions at you and you are constantly experiencing something or the other depending on your prior experiences and habitual tendencies. Further, you are continuously blaming something or someone for your experiences so the thought of being responsible for your own experiences never occurs to you.

To get out of this negative loop, we need to remember that we can choose our experience. The first step in that direction is to notice our current experience. If you notice what you are experiencing right now, then only you will be in a position to replace it with another experience. So the next question is obviously, with what experience would you like to replace your current experience?

It is not worthwhile to imagine replacing a sad experience with a happy one on the flick of a switch. It would seem odd that while others are crying because they have lost someone in an accident and you suddenly burst out happy and laughing. That is not the kind of experience changing I am talking about. What is reasonable to be able to do is that while others are crying, you may not experience that level of anguish. And even if you are crying, you may notice that you are crying. Noticing itself is a big thing. Noticing itself if maintained as pure noticing, will bring about a change in the experience.

If you continue to notice, you do not need to choose another emotion to replace your current experience with. The natural process will automatically bring you to a stable experience. That experience, if practiced, is also known as a equanimous calm or inner joy. This experience when practiced through non-judgmental noticing becomes unshakeable in due course.

Then you will not experience the ups and downs of your earlier emotional roller coaster which was totally under the influence of external events and persons. Now, there is an experience of a constant source of energy and joy underneath your outer appearance and which is not a result of any forced effort. But it is just there and you continue to notice the same.

This inner joy is your true nature. You will know yourself as this inner joy and not be caught up with your name and designation and other egoistic identifiers. There is no name for this inner joy but this is your true nature.

May you find this inner joy. There is nothing more valuable than this in the whole universe.

Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo

Bollywood songs and spirituality – there seems to be no connection between the two. 80% of the song are romantic songs where the male and female actors express their love for each other or grieving songs because they did not get the love they desired. Other 19% are different genres of songs – travel, dance, kids, or situational. Very few, less than 1% songs would be devotional or related to God, Ishwar or Allah.

Now, if you have a spiritual bent of mind, and if you have never turned over this idea in your mind, let me suggest to you that if you replace the lover in the songs with God, most of these so called romantic Bollywood songs can as well be sung for the love of God. Yes, with no change of lyrics but just a change in direction or rather just a change of image in your mind.

Let me share some examples. Listen to these songs and replace the man or the woman with God, Ishwar, Allah or simply a higher power.

सजदे में यूँ ही झुकता हूँ
तुमपे ही आ के रुकता हूँ
क्या ये सबको होता है

हमको क्या लेना है सबसे
तुमसे ही सब बातें अब से
बन गए हो तुम मेरी दुआ

खुदा जाने के मैं फ़िदा हूँ
खुदा जाने मैं मिट गया
खुदा जाने ये क्यूँ हुआ है
के बन गए हो तुम मेरे खुदा

From Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008)

हम तेरे बिन अब रह नहीं सकते
तेरे बिना क्या वजूद मेरा
तुझसे जुदा गर हो जाएँगे
तो खुद से ही हो जाएंगे जुदा
क्योंकि तुम ही हो
अब तुम ही हो
ज़िन्दगी अब तुम ही हो
चैन भी, मेरा दर्द भी
मेरी आशिकी अब तुम ही हो

From Aashiqui 2 (2013)

तू आता है सीने में
जब-जब साँसें भरती हूँ
तेरे दिल की गलियों से
मैं हर रोज़ गुज़रती हूँ
हवा के जैसे चलता है तू,
मैं रेत जैसे उड़ती हूँ
कौन तुझे यूँ प्यार करेगा
जैसे मैं करती हूँ?

From M S Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016)

Pick any song you like. See how easy it is to get into a spiritual mindset by simply changing the direction of your love.

What is love? Love is love, if we don’t categorize it as parental love or sexual love or compassionate love. You can love a person, love an animal, love an activity or love a higher force.

All of Rumi’s compositions were about love. For instance this one below

“I want to see you.
Know your voice.
Recognize you when you
first come ’round the corner.
Sense your scent when I come
into a room you’ve just left.
Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.
Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.
I want to know the joy
of how you whisper
“more”

Rumi

Or this one

“This is how I would die
into the love I have for you:
As pieces of cloud
dissolve in sunlight.”

Rumi

So you never thought you could get enlightened by humming Bollywood songs in the shower? I hope you are convinced of the possibility now. You were just thinking of the wrong person all this while.

I particularly like the song – Ae bhai jara dekh ke chalo from Mera Naam Joker, picturised on Raj Kapoor and sung by Manna Dey with music by Shanker Jaikishan. It not only is an entertaining song but also carries a deep meaning, if you care to think about it, as deep as Buddha’s teachings. I don’t know with what feelings the lyricist Neeraj (Gopaldas Saxena) composed this song but I am sure he definitely had some insight. Anyway, here is how this song can be interpreted spiritually.

Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo

ए भाई ज़रा देखके चलो
आगे ही नहीं पीछे भी
दायें ही नहीं बाएं भी
ऊपर ही नहीं
नीचे भी ए भाई

Hey human, be mindful, be watchful, be aware of what you are doing. Do not be distracted by what is on your left or right or up or down. Whatever you do, wherever you go, maintain your awareness. You might trip and fall and hurt yourself or you might hurt others. So be watchful.

तू जहां आया है वो तेरा
घर नहीं गली नहीं
गाँव नहीं कुचा नहीं
रास्ता नहीं बस्ती नहीं

The place where you have come – this earth – is not your home, not your village, city, street or residence. Do not attach yourself to this place and its attractions. It is not what it seems. You may think it is your home or your city but it is not so.

दुनिया है और प्यारे
दुनिया यह एक सरकस है
और इस सर्कस में
बड़े को भी चोटे को भी
खरे को भी खोटे को भी
मोठे को भी पतले को भी
निचे से ऊपर को
ऊपर से नीचे को
बराबर आना जाना पड़ता है

Dear friend, this world can be compared to a circus. And in a circus whether you are young or old, rich or poor, honest or dishonest, the rules are the same. Everyone experiences ups and downs in life. No one is spared. You can desire for a more comfortable life and so you may run after some sort of success or wealth but getting that or having that will not change how life works. You will still face losses sometime and gains sometime, happiness sometimes and grief sometimes.

और रिंग मास्टर के कोड़े पर
कोड़ा जो भूख है
कोड़ा जो पैसा है
कोड़ा जो किस्मत ह
तरह तरह नाच कर
दिखाना यहाँ पड़ता है
बारबार रोना और
गण यहाँ पड़ता है
हीरो से जोकर
बन जाना पड़ता है

And in a circus there is a ringmaster, the one who makes the animals dance to his whip – the whip being hunger, money, and fate. You have to sing and dance to the tune of this whip. With time, a hero may become a joker and a joker may become a hero. It is all a part of this circus.

गिराने से डरता है क्यों
मरने से डरता है क्यों
ठोकर तू जब न खायेगा
पास किसी गम को न
जब तक बुलाएगा
ज़िन्दगी है चीज़ क्या
नहीं जान पायेगा
रोता हुआ आया है
रोता चला जाएगा

So if this is a circus, why are you afraid? Why do you fear failure? Why do you fear death? Unless you experience loss or suffering, you will not know what is life. You will continue to cry all your life that life has not been fair to you. You will complain about other people, the government, the society, and your fate. But you will not experience insight into life if you do not experience the ending of any experience – a relationship or a good phase of life. Because life is characterized by change and impermanence. Everything that starts must end. When you understand this, you will stop complaining and start smiling & accepting what life is.

कैसा है करिश्मा
कैसा खिलवाड़ है
जानवर आदमी से
ज़्यादा वफ़ादार है
खाता है कोड़ा भी
रहता है भूखा भी
फिर भी वो मालिक पर
करता नहीं वार है
और इंसान यह माल
जिस का खाता है
प्यार जिस से पाटा है
गीत जिस के गाता है
उसी के ही सीने में
भोकता कतार है

What an irony it is that dumb animals are more loyal than humans. An animal will suffer the beatings of his master, will stay hungry but will never hurt his master. But a human will hurt the same person whose money he enjoys, whose love he experiences and even whose praises he sings. Humans are the product of this world, they come out of this world, they are born in this world because of this world and yet they speak bad about their life and exploit everyone for their selfish goals.

हाँ बाबू, यह सरकस है
शो तीन घंटे का
पहला घंटा बचपन है,
दूसरा जवानी है
तीसरा बुढ़ापा है

So buddy, this circus is a 3 part show – first phase is childhood, second youth and third old age.

और उसके बाद – माँ नहीं, बाप नहीं
बेटा नहीं, बेटी नहीं,
तू नहीं, मैं नहीं,
कुछ भी नहीं रहता है रहता है
जो कुछ वो – ख़ाली-ख़ाली कुर्सियाँ हैं
ख़ाली-ख़ाली ताम्बू है,
ख़ाली-ख़ाली घेरा है
बिना चिड़िया का बसेरा है,
न तेरा है, न मेरा है

After that, nothing remains, neither mother, father, son, daughter, you and me. Nothing. It is all empty. The house is empty, there is no audience, just an empty nest, which is neither yours nor mine.

Death is the trigger for all spiritual inquiries. Siddharth Gautama, overwhelmed by the prospect of death coming to himself and his family, left everything in his search for the meaning of life and death. In every genuine spiritual teaching, the idea of death is one of the central points for introspection.

Gurdjieff likened humans to goats living in ignorance even while they are being taken to the butcher. How can you enjoy life when you know you are going to die one day and do not know when that day will come. Death is certain but when and how it will come is not certain.

And when life ends, all your achievements, all your wealth, all your legacy – what happens to that? Does it stay with you? Nope. It is all empty. It was empty all along even while the circus was going on. 

To know this emptiness is not the end of motivation for life or the end of the life energy. You may think emptiness is nihilistic but that is only because you have not gone to the very depth. Knowing emptiness deeply, you will no longer be attached. You will in fact be free for the first time. Since there is no you, to rephrase, there will be freedom and an end to suffering. You will not suffer from the ups and downs of life. You will be equanimous in the face of comfort and adversity both. Isn’t that a worthwhile goal, something that every human must aim for?

So, Ae bhai, please, Jara Dekh Ke Chalo! Won’t you?

The Imitation Game (2014)

Director: Morten Tyldum

Alan Turing committed suicide at the age of 42. However, during his short life, he left a big legacy in the form of his contribution in deciphering the German Enigma codes during World War II and laying the foundations of modern computer science. The Imitation Game movie is based on the book Alan Turing – The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

The history of cryptanalysis contains some of the most thrilling and intellectually stimulating stories of people involved in deciphering messages either long lost by civilization or deliberately used during wartime. Alan Turing’s contribution lies in the fact that he took decryption beyond any individual person’s mental powers by employing machines to perform rapid calculations for decrypting messages.

At the height of the World War II, Hitler’s Nazis started to dominate the war using encrypted communications generated from their innovative machine called Enigma. The machine could accept message in plain German and produce an encrypted output which could be transmitted over open radio signals to the various Naval, Air Force and Army leads in the war. Another Enigma machine which was as small as a typewriter was available with the Generals and they could decrypt the messages and act as per those instructions in a coordinated fashion.

Other countries like England and Poland even though they could easily intercept the German messages found it extremely difficult to decrypt them because the Nazis were changing the settings every day. So England decided to bring in the country’s best brains into Bletchley Park and ask them to try to crack the Enigma codes using an Enigma machine smuggled in by the Polish intelligence. 

Alan Turing, who was a maths professor at Cambridge and who used to advocate universal machines capable of solving any problem was also brought in as part of that elite team. They struggled for 2 years at the problem during which Turing worked on building his universal machine, a sort of a programmable computer, the size of a room. The movie brilliantly captures the mood of the time, the efforts of the team and the frustrations of the Head of the unit who thought Turing was only wasting Govt funds.

Although the movie does not delve deep into the mathematics of the encryption or decryption or the settings of the Enigma machine and what exactly they were trying to solve, there were two scenes which struck me as parallels to the nature of spiritual inquiry and enlightenment.

In one scene, one of the team members of Alan Turing who was feeling depressed by the lack of results said that it seemed as if they were not doing anything while millions were losing their lives out there in the war.  He said his brother was supplying food to soldiers, another cousin was a fighter pilot in the air force and yet other friends were all contributing to the war effort in some way while they were just sitting and building some stupid machine.

So in life, if you are in the spiritual search, a search for meaning or enlightenment, it may seem that all the other people in the world are doing something significant out there – like helping the poor, or leading an organization or teaching part time while you are just sitting and watching your mind and your thoughts, doing nothing. It does seem like wasting your life.

But like in the film, everything is not as it seems. What Alan Turing was doing and what he was able to do, some historians quantify that as shortening the war by 2 years and saving 14 million lives. You may ask what if Alan Turing did not succeed? That’s another thing altogether. He was aiming for the impossible. Is it wrong to aim for what seems to be impossible?

So what if you do not achieve enlightenment? Should you stop the effort? Should you go back to living your regular life and give others the impression you are doing something meaningful while deep down you know the hollowness of it all? Once you are on the spiritual search, there is really no way back. You have to push yourself ahead till you achieve it. And whatever people may say, sitting and doing nothing, watching your mind is the only way it gets done.

The second scene is when Turing actually cracks the Enigma code and is able to deduce the position of the next attack by the Germans, which was targeted on a British passenger ship. The team was ecstatic and was about to call the British intelligence to warn them but Alan Turing stopped them from doing so. They were all angry but gradually the realization sinked in that if they were able to prevent the German attack, it would clearly tell the Germans that their Enigma messages were cracked.

This was a big moral dilemma. If you act on the message, you could save hundreds of innocent lives but if you do that the Germans would shift to another way of encrypting their messages and all the work done by Turning in the last 2 years would be gone down the drain and they would have to start all over again. The Germans should never know that their messages were being read by the Allied forces. But how to use that intelligence if that was not actionable at all? Turing and the British intelligence worked out a camouflage of lies and alternative means which would be presented to the media so Germans would think that their Enigma machines were still safe while the information got leaked through some other sources. The British could not save everyone because doing that would stop the intelligence coming in so they had to choose to allow Germans to win at times and lose at times.

Drawing a parallel with enlightenment, you realize that you did not really attain anything after getting enlightened. During the search, enlightenment meant a lot and you thought you will really find something at the end of it. But when you get it, there is nothing at all. So one Zen master after getting enlightened exclaimed, “The Buddha did not teach anything at all”. And that is a big dilemma for any enlightened person. There is nothing to teach at all and yet when he sees people going about their lives suffering from their petty actions, there is a great urge to teach them about this vast nothingness.

If you really talk too much about emptiness, people think you are crazy and if some people do realize this emptiness, they may think it is too depressing and nihilistic because they do not want to face the truth. So in the end, you cannot help everyone, even your closest family members. You have to allow them to be as they are and experience what life has in store for them. But you can help some at the right time with the right guidance, not less not more.

Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

Alan Turing

Inception (2010)

Director: Christopher Nolan

The first time I saw Inception, I could not figure out the details. I just came out with the impression that it was a superb movie with some plot involving dreams within dreams and stealing and planting of ideas in other people’s subconscious. The image of the falling van frozen midway between the bridge and the river got forever etched in my mind whenever I remembered the movie.

Only on watching the movie the second time after several years could I follow the whole plot. In the movie, Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) gets into the mind of Robert Fischer, heir to a large business empire, to plant an idea (that he must dismantle the business empire) into his subconscious through various layers of a shared dream. The film is stunning with its visual effects and the dream landscapes that really whisk your mind away to another world altogether.

And just like the film The Matrix, there are to be found several tantalizing parallels between real life and the ideas used in the movie.

The pivotal idea of the movie is captured in this quote by Cobb

Our dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake we realize things were strange.

When we dream, it does seem real, isn’t it, as if we are in that world with all its adventures and excitement. While the dream is happening, we are simply sleeping in the real world. Our posture while sleeping or the movement of food in our intestines might create feelings which get visualized as certain emotions or experiences in the dream world. And if in the dream we reach a spot where we are in ‘real’ danger, then than jolts us to wake up. This is same idea that is depicted in the movie – that when you die in the dream world, you wake up in the real world – or one layer up in the subconscious.

In the movie when Cobb’s wife Mal gets too attached to the dream world, Cobb plants this idea in her subconscious. But after waking up into the real world, she still carries that idea around with her and insists on dying, believing that she will wake up into another higher layer of reality. And Cobb could not prevent her from committing suicide.

Due to the inability of our language to express ideas, we have to use the same words to represent vastly different orders of abstraction. “To wake up” is also one such phrase which can have multiple layers of meaning depending on what you are talking about. And one such metaphor that is used in the spiritual teachings, is that – to awaken one must die!

In this case, to die is not referring to the physical death but dying to the attachments of the physical world. And when you die to that, you awaken into the real world. So is there truly such a real world? Is the world we are living in merely a dream?

Gurdjieff’s whole teaching started with the statement that man is asleep and he has the potential to wake up. All his exercises and instructions were meant to help his students awaken to the real. He also wrote a book – Views from the Real World.

Buddha described himself as the Awakened One.

So is there a state of mind, a state of consciousness that these people are pointing to and is that state to be understood in the same way as we understand the state of waking up from a dream?

As a seeker of truth, one must pay attention to these ideas and instead of taking the step that Mal took in the movie, one must use the totem that Cobb used to check whether one is in a dream or in the real world.

What’s the equivalent of the totem in our world? What is it that can tell us without any doubt that we are in a dream and not in reality? I would propose it is self-observation. If one observes one’s mind without judgement, we will at some point realize that whatever we understand of this world is not so at all. And when that understanding takes place, we (so to say) ‘awaken’.

All the great spiritual teachers have always used some or other ways of inception – to plant the idea of awakening into our subconscious. Gurdjieff called this the Influence C which appears to us in the dream as Influence B and points us towards waking up as opposed to the forces of the dream which are Influence A, which keep us in the dream.

So are you awake or dreaming that you are awake? Am I the person who is saying this to you in your dream like Morpheus talking to Neo in The Matrix?

Madness

Some said she was mad. That she was taken to a psychiatrist in the past was reason enough to declare her mad. And also the information that she went into depression 3 times was supposed to make it clear that she is mad. And it is easy for anyone to believe so, based on the information given, especially if it comes from someone who is close to you and who is ‘clearly’ not mad. Further it is possible, you might hear the same thing from multiple people, which reinforces the notion.

From the above, it would seem that only a person who is not mad can recognize a person who is mad. But if we give it some thought, it would be clear that it would not be possible for a person who claims to be not mad to recognize another who is mad. How does he know? Has he been mad before to know intimately that the other person is mad? Or is he an expert in the field of madness?

Come to think of it, the psychiatrists who treat their patients do not think that they are mad. Then what makes it so easy for us to judge someone as mad. Do we have any checklist for coming to that conclusion? I guess not. So why do we accept so easily that she is mad. Is it that we trust the person who reports it? Do we believe that the person has verified it for himself and has enough proof of the same? Or accepting someone as mad makes us feel superior in comparison? If she is mad, then I am not.

Once I accept that she is mad, then my behavior towards her will be colored by that judgement. I may avoid her. I may be careful in speaking to her. And I will ignore or discount anything she says because after all she is mad. And a mad person can say nothing of significance.

If I am the sort of person who does not think and evaluate the information I receive, then I am happy with the ‘knowledge’ that she is mad. I am only interested in taking advantage of such tips. I would think to myself – Thanks for telling me. It will save my time as I do not have to deal with her now.

But if I am the sort of person who knows, maybe through past experience, that just hearing from someone that she is mad is not enough for me to get a full understanding of the situation, then I will reserve my judgment on her. I will only make a note of the statement that someone made with respect to her and leave it at that. I am in no hurry to accept it as a fact.

If I am never going to meet her, then what is the point of carrying this information with me? And if I simply want to share this information with others then I am clearly acting like the person who simply forwards Whatsapp messages without restraint.

However, if I happen to meet her then I have the opportunity of knowing for myself whether she is mad or not. But in this case, it is difficult for most people to be objective. The previous information gathered from hearsay might lead one to perceive all her behavior as that of a mad person. And in this perception, one forgets that one is not an expert in this field of madness anyway so how can one make a proper assessment?

I can only observe that she is different. She speaks differently, reacts differently, behaves differently. Is that enough for me to come to a conclusion about her being mad?

Do I want her to be normal? What does normal mean anyway? Does it mean like me? Or some ideal I have in mind? Expecting someone to be someone else is like saying I was expecting blue to be green and orange to be red. But blue is blue and green is green. Everything is as it is, despite our wishes about it. A person is far more complex than a color.

What if I allow her to be – allow her to be the way she is. Does it really matter whether we categorize her as mad or not mad? If we do not conclude anything, then there is nothing more to do. The question whether she is mad or not mad is no longer important.

It is easy to label an image of a person in the mind as mad but when you meet a person in the flesh, that description is insufficient to capture the entire essence of the person. So there is no choice but to drop the conclusion, to drop the judgment and let the person go free.

The Bhaaji Sutra (Marathi)

I wrote this sometime in 2003-04 after having attained a significant confidence in having understood the Buddha’s message as well as his teaching style. Further, I was having difficulty in explaining the realization to my family – my mother and father and sister. So I decided to write this “Bhaaji Sutra” – an imaginary conversation of the Buddha with one lay disciple.

I wrote this deliberately in Marathi so they could understand. I don’t remember whether I gave it to them to read but yesterday, my mother shared that she found those pages somewhere in the house and said she liked it very much and would share it with other women at the Buddha Vihar she visits.

I felt good that she found and read the story and also liked it but was disappointed when the writer was more appreciated than the writing and its meaning. It is not easy to teach Buddha’s message.

Meanwhile, you can enjoy the story. Bhaaji in Marathi meaning cooked vegetables.

What is Zen Counseling?

I would define counseling as a process in which one human being helps another to solve a personal problem or discover a direction to solve a troublesome issue. There are many kinds of specialized counseling – relationship counseling, career counseling, psychological counseling, parent-child counseling, teenage counseling, and so on.

In all counseling, it is assumed that the counselor has more experience, more knowledge, more insight about a subject and is therefore in a superior position than the client. One goes to a counselor expecting to receive customized advice or personalized solutions from someone who knows the patterns of such problems and the generic solutions to those. And what does the counselor do? He hears the problems of the client and maps it to some similar problems in his past experiences, searches for an appropriate solution for that and gives that advice to the client.

A canned solution can never solve a unique problem.

But most counselors learn only canned approaches and solutions which they offer to their clients – because those solutions are in vogue, in current fashion or currently acceptable.

But let me ask a question. Can one person help another person just by virtue of being another human being? Without being an expert, without being more experienced in any skill or domain? Is there a quality in which every human being in equally skilled? What is the action that every person can do equally well – in all circumstances, always, in any relationship, in any environment, through any means of communication?

Yes, there is this skill, this ability, this faculty which is equal in all human beings – it is not thinking, it is not talking, it is not walking or acting

It is LISTENING.

Anyone can listen, young or old, fair or dark, male or female, today or tomorrow, 10,000 years in the history or 10,000 years in the future, anyone can listen.

Everything else might be different, the way we speak, the way we think, the language we speak or the content of our thoughts. But the way to listen cannot be different in any age for anyone. Every human being can listen.

And with listening, one human being can help another. Anyone can help anyone without any special skills on knowledge or expertise or experience. The power of listening to solve problems is the most under-appreciated power in human beings. In fact, listening is not considered to be of any significance in daily life. I say that almost all human problems arise because we do not listen enough, and we do not listen deeply.

How does listening help another person?

  1. Listening conveys acceptance: As human beings, we are unique in our thoughts, likes, dislikes, experiences and desires. We want others to accept us as we are. Listening to another shows that you accept the other person as he/she is.
  2. Listening does not judge: Given a person’s problem or situation, if we judge that as good or bad, it puts an end to the discussion. Any judgement is a conclusion and stops further conversation. You don’t feel understood if the person listening to you is constantly judging you. But when you listen attentively without judging then the speaker opens up. He/she starts to trust you and opens up more.
  3. Listening gives space: In today’s world, everyone wants to speak and get his thoughts out there in front of other people. Advertisements, slogans, speeches – everyone seems to be speaking and no one seems to be listening. This suffocates the mind. Mind needs space for creativity, for problem solving. But when there is no space, mind reacts, gets into a survival mode and deteriorates into emotional outbursts. When you listen, it gives space for the other person to look at his own thoughts, to unwind, to untie the knots within.
  4. Listening is compassionate: When you listen, you show an interest in the other person. Since you want to know more, you ask questions, you clarify things. All this displays compassion and empathy towards another.
  5. Listening is freedom: In normal conversation, there seems to be a compulsion to say something, to respond with an answer or a suggestion. But when you are listening you are free. You don’t have to respond to any pressure. Listening is therapeutic. Listening is relaxing.

Zen Counseling is based on this power of listening to help other people solve their problems. It combines listening with the fundamental insights and principles of Zen Buddhism to provide a very potent and very effective way to problem solving.

Zen Buddhism considers every human being to be a Buddha.

A Buddha is an awakened one, one whose mind is awake. An implication of this premise is that for any person who as a problem, the solution to that problem is within his own mind. No external answer will suffice.

Therefore, in Zen Counseling, the first rule for a counselor is to consider the client as a Buddha. And the second rule is not to offer any advice.

The Zen Counselor simply listens in a relaxed manner. As the client talks about his / her problem, the Zen Counselor continues to listen. And in this listening process, in the space that is created, in the acceptance and the non-judgmental atmosphere, the client starts to unravel his problem in his own awareness. As the problem becomes clear, the client will start to see the solution emerge.

The life situation of the client, the experiences of the client and the specific attitude and personality of the client determines the solution.

Any solution offered by the Zen Counselor is not going to be effective because it will be colored by his own biases and past experiences or no experiences. Therefore, a Zen Counselor never offers any advice. And that is the power of Zen Counseling.

It is effective in any circumstance, any age, for anyone, young or old, for any problem – career, relationship, finance, goal setting, sometimes even physical pain.

Zen Counseling is the way of the Buddha. It is surprisingly effective in solving problems or helping people find a direction.

Meditation Begins After the Mind is Silent

Meditation today has become a tool, a technique. People talk about meditation as a way of controlling their mind, or calming their mind. There are hundreds of techniques that masquerade as meditation techniques. And there are dozens of teachers teaching meditation and several hundred books on the subject.

Is the goal of meditation really to achieve a silent mind?

It is possible some people might experience a stillness in their mind during meditation as thoughts die down. This is what they assume to be the fruits of meditation. But can they carry that stillness through the day? It is difficult. The daily life once again creates disturbances in the mind, stokes the fires of thought and the mind is once more in chaos. So the person thinks he must deepen his meditation practice and meditate harder, put more effort in his meditation, resolve more strongly to silence the mind, and so on. Then there are those people who cannot achieve any form of stillness of mind during their meditation and they think meditation is useless or they are useless.

In all this merry go round, somewhere the essence of meditation has been lost.

For a moment, let’s keep the word meditation aside and look at life in a simple way. If your mind is agitated due to some reason, will you be able to sit quietly for some time? It would be difficult. Thoughts would come and go and suddenly you will find yourself acting on some thought or saying something or thinking even more. Your mind is not silent. This is the normal life. We go through our day from one thought to another, from one action to another, fueled by inner thoughts or external stimulus of what you see, what others say to you, what they want you to do, and so on.

Now supposing, it is early morning or late evening or a time where you are not disturbed and you are all alone. And you are not doing anything special. How long will you be able to sit like that without your mind wandering all over the universe? It is certain that suddenly you will find yourself doing something. Most people don’t like that aloneness with their own minds and want to keep their mind occupied – for instance watching television or watching movies or doing some hobby work.

Is your mind really silent during these activities? No, it is not. It is merely guided by the flow of images and sounds so it does not have to be on its own. The television soap or the movie is telling a story and your mind is following that. If you are working on your hobby, your mind is working on a goal and therefore is seemingly silent.

But as soon as that external support is over, the mind is active once more and starts to wander and feel agitated. This is the normal human state and nothing to worry about. But some people’s minds are too troubled by old memories or habitual emotions that their mind wants to do something about it – to put an end to their suffering.

This is where, the mind starts to believe that meditation will help silence their mind. But this is a big mistake.

Meditation just becomes one of the ways to keep the mind occupied, like TV or movies. The mind wants to struggle with itself and quieten itself. So it goes around like a dog trying to catch its own tail. So for some time, the mind becomes still but as soon as the meditation session is over, its back to the normal monkey mind once again. It’s like you had put a monkey in a suitcase for 20 min and now opened the suitcase. The monkey would go crazy as soon as it is out of the suitcase. Sometimes, the monkey falls asleep in the suitcase but wakes up after some time.

The point is, so long as you have a monkey, there is no meditation.

There is meditation only when there is no monkey mind. This is the meditation after the mind is silent. This is the real meditation. It is sitting quietly doing nothing.

Dogen, before he became enlightened, had a doubt as to why masters even after attaining enlightenment still practiced sitting meditation. He was totally confused and it because a big koan for him. If meditation is to attain enlightenment, then why meditate after you have attained it? And then he cracked the koan and became enlightened.

So if you can understand this point, you will have a completely different view of meditation. True meditation can happen only after you have a silent mind. It will be difficult to accept this view because the mind then has no recourse to silencing itself (keeping itself occupied in other words) but to face the monkey within.

All efforts to silence the mind, including so called meditation are simply the work of the monkey mind. So now how will you attain a silent mind? I will leave you with that question. Best wishes.

May you realize your enlightenment.

Zen Counseling Training

This is a famous zen poem and has been one of my favourites for the many years that I have been studying zen. I really thought I had penetrated to the core of this poem. But that was not true and I realized the true meaning of this poem in the Zen Counselling course I attended during 15 to 18 Aug at the Integral Space, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

The training was organized by Loving Foundation’s Dr Ronak Gandhi, a four times black belt in Zen Archery and who is on a mission to spread love. Zen is not so well known in India and apart from Osho’s followers, not many profess to follow it. There are no zen monasteries to talk about, no zen masters as such, although I remember having been to Bodhi Zendo, a zen monastery near Kodaikanal and met Zen Master Ama Samy, but that’s the exception.

So I was really intrigued with the Zen Counselling course that I came across on Google and instantly felt like I should go there. But I had my reservations. Because I knew I had a deep understanding of zen from my study and practice over 15 years and so had a doubt whether this was true zen. Seeing that the teacher was a Japanese person added to the mystique of the course. After speaking with Dr Ronak, I confirmed my participation.

Kenichi Ishimaru is the founder of Zen Counselling and there are only a few videos with him speaking on You Tube. The thing that caught my attention was the premise of Zen Counselling that every client is a Buddha. And this is a high class understanding, in fact the highest understanding in Zen. So I went for it.

With Dr Ronak Gandhi and Kenichi San and Kyoko

And what a time it was! Those four days with Kenichi San and the 22 fellow students. I solved all my problems, hesitations, mental blocks, diffidence, attitudes towards women and discovered my true way. I learnt more from the live experience of listening to the master, watching his demonstrations and his answers to our questions than in all my readings of zen of the last decade. Kenichi san lives zen and teaches zen. And he does not teach theory because zen is a matter of experience so all the teaching was actually learning through personal experience. 

Standing from left: Rinkal, Kyoko, Aabhas, Alpana, Meghna, Ridhima, Sanjeev, Ashish, Mona, Shruti, Pankti, Reyes, Dixit, Subodh. Sitting from left: Zia, Geet, Gauri, Antara, Kamalika, Reet, Namrita, Aditi

Zen Counselling is the most powerful technique (if one can call it a technique) to solve any problem of any individual. When an individual has a problem, he suffers. When the problem is solved, he is happy and free. But in contrast to other forms of counselling, in Zen Counselling, the counsellor does not give any kind of advice. The premise is very clear and it is non-negotiable – the client’s problem can be solved only by the client. The counsellor can only support with a few intelligent techniques based on listening, being relaxed and asking questions to clarify the problem. In the process of Zen Counselling, the client solves the problem for himself by clarifying it in his own mind with the support of the counsellor. And I have experienced this magic of solving problems without doing anything, in all my practice sessions.

This experience of Zen Counselling has given me the power and confidence to go out and help others. I had reached a conclusion long time back that people are not listening. And therefore, I always hesitated to speak to anyone about zen and my work on Big Picture Zen. But now with all my problems solved, I am free to talk and free to listen.

I have always been a good listener but that was not enough. But the listening approach that I learnt in Zen Counselling was nothing short of magic. And I realized that the way to another person’s heart is through our ears – through listening. There is no value I can place on this skill and technique. This is priceless. This skill is what makes a real loving human being.

To me, this clarified to me many zen stories and also the way Buddha would have helped people, and not just theoretically but now I can also do it. All the disconnected pieces in my mind have now connected into a whole. Now I can truly see with my ears and listen with my eyes.

Ever since I had my awakening experience around 2003, I have been very keen to share it with others and get others to become curious about it and strive for it. But nobody listened. And I had almost given up. I was also thinking upside down about helping others. The reason I was reading all kinds of books on human psychology was to be able to learn how to help others. But that’s not the real way.

My zen mind was always against learning things to teach others because the end goal was to drop all knowledge. So how can I help someone drop all knowledge by giving him knowledge of any kind – zen or otherwise? I was caught in this koan for many years.

Zen Counselling opened me up to direct experience and then at last, I reached the point where I had nothing to say anymore. This was like a second satori to me. It became a clear fact not a statement of belief that every person is a Buddha. Now knowledge or no knowledge is no hindrance. Everything is perfect as is.

Sitting quietly doing nothing, the Zen Counselor listens relaxed, the client shares his problem and the solution appears by itself

Two Sides of a Coin?

What if I fall?

Oh, but my darling what if you fly! 

Erin Hanson

Essentially this line spells one thing, that there are two sides to a coin. One is the dark one, the negative and scary side, while the other, is the bright one, the positive one that is so encouraging and reassuring. 

Life throws a million chances and opportunities at us just like this one, where we either fly or end up falling. So what is it that life is trying to teach? Is it sheer luck or is there something more to it? The answer probably lies in the way we try to perceive each incident. Every situation can be seen from two sides – the positive as well as the negative. 

For instance when we experience happiness on winning a game or gaining a promotion do we really think of the flip side of it? Probably not, because we are too immersed in the happy moment. The flip side of a win can be that we may have to double the efforts to make sure that we keep winning the game which means more hard work. The flip side of a promotion can be that we must handle greater responsibility and work more at proving ourselves as a worthy choice. We might fail at these things can’t we. On the other side when we suddenly lose someone dear to us, we fall into a grief so deep that we hardly realise that it is strengthening us from the inside and making us resilient to stand up again even when we are hurt. That is a powerful positive side to a bad incident. 

So in effect, what we must learn and appreciate about each experience is that every time it happens, it teaches us something. What use is anything that happens in life, if we do not rise up higher in our understanding and realisation through the experience? Just like a coin even life has two sides and we must accept each with grace. 

We must always remember that the good times come for a price that must be paid and the bad times come with lessons that must be learnt. 

#nehaismNeha Joshi

One fine day, I explained about the two sides of a coin to Neha and asked her to write about it. While, what she has written above summarizes what I explained to her, she did not think about it deeply and thus missed the essence. The two sides of a coin is an oft-used analogy to help people understand that life is not one-sided. It is used especially to advise people who are habituated to look at life from a single viewpoint or who are caught in a specific life situation. The fact that reminding people of this analogy gives them relief is the proof they need that they were stuck in one sided views.

However, the point that this analogy misses is that a coin does not have two sides (surprised!?). It just appears to have two sides. It actually has more than 2 sides. Consider the thickness at the circumference. That’s the third side. Further, if you observe the coin under a microscope, you will see infinitely more surfaces and sides.

So the point is not to jump to the conclusion that life is colorful and not black and white, which is fine to a certain extent. But what is more difficult to do, and what is needed, is to stop counting the colors or the sides.

Now, one might quickly jump to another conclusion (a conclusion is a kind of a solidified hardened view and most people like to jump to it) that we should take life as it comes. Unfortunately, that too is a view that can be countered by its opposite (two sides of the coin view – take control of your life) or the multi-color view of life (experience everything that life has to offer).

While these views can help us in many ways, ultimately, they are mere views. Is it possible to be free of all views? Because only when you can be free of all views, can you see life in all its pristine beauty and know you are ‘that which views’ and ‘that which is viewed’.