Category Archives: Reflections

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

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George Bernard Shaw

This is a powerful quote from G B Shaw’s play Man and Superman. Werner Erhard uses this quote often in his talks and why not? In less than 150 words, Shaw manages to highlight the petty mindset of humanity and at the same time calls for finding true joy in making the maximum contribution one can before one dies.

George Bernard Shaw often remarked that he hated Shakespeare and so it is interesting possibility that the remark that life is no “brief candle” is a retort to a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth –

Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Self Help

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We all need help in some or the other way in what we wish to achieve. Right from childhood, someone has helped us to walk, to eat, to read, to write, to speak and to play. We have also been told directly (through instructions) and indirectly (through actions) how to live life, how to understand things, how to draw conclusions and how to make sense of what happens to us.

When we do something wrong, we are told what is right and how to correct it. When we are young, we blindly accept everything we are told by parents and teachers. As we grow up and as our knowledge increases, every new information that comes our way is evaluated on the basis of what has already been told to us. So we start to agree or disagree with new information. To change our mind, we demand more concrete proof.

Once the knowledge is engraved in rules and policies, it is even more difficult to make changes. Many people cannot change their views despite all the proof to the contrary. However, help is always available when someone wants to listen. As the saying goes: You can take the horse to the water but cannot make him drink it. In the same way, help is available when you are thirsty.

Help does not have a specific form. It is not necessary that what helped one person will help another in exactly the same way. It depends on where the person is, in what state of mind, and what he has achieved before. It is a common realization for many people that they find new insights from the same book when they read it the second time and a third time. The book is the same but in the first reading, not all levels of meaning were apparent. As the level of the reader increased, he discovered more meaning in the second reading. In rare instances, if a reader has deeper understanding, he can gain new insights from a book which even the author had not intended to express.

To awaken we need help in different ways again and again. In the final analysis, it is you yourself who has helped you, not anyone else. We can learn immensely from books, movies, stories and metaphors

BOOKS

What is life without books! Reading is our only source of knowledge – knowledge which we cannot experience ourselves. And we must read a lot – different styles, different subjects, even from different ages. The more the variety we read the more our minds open up to new concepts. While it is true that concepts imprison us, it is also true that only through other concepts the road to freedom opens up.

MOVIES

Movies are not just for entertainment. There are some movies that help us reflect on our lives and show us things which the usual movies don’t.

STORIES

The purpose of telling a story is to convey a coded message. While the story can serve to entertain and pass time, it is the responsibility of the listener to grasp the meaning which is woven in the story, even if the story teller does not make it apparent. Stories serve to develop the faculty of attention in the listener.

METAPHORS

Metaphors and analogies are excellent means for explaining a concept. Drawing a parallel from what one already understands, makes it easy to grasp what one does not understand.

I wish you good luck in your endeavor.

 

On the Treadmill of Life

The curious thing about man is that he is always seeking something. He may seek one thing today and another thing tomorrow but he is constantly seeking. The objective of the seeking is always to move from a state of discomfort and dissatisfaction to a state of comfort and satisfaction.

Man is never satisfied with what is – the current experience. As man observes his surroundings and assesses his present situation, in itself and in comparison with others, sooner or later, he starts to experience discomfort and dissatisfaction. Not liking this experience he starts to seek out a state of comfort and satisfaction.

And on this path, he inevitably gets on the treadmill of life which runs with 3 controls – Quantity, Quality and Variety. These are the only three buttons on the treadmill. At any given moment, man perceives that his satisfaction is going to be derived from pushing one of these three buttons.

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At one point, he might think that he needs a higher quantity of something in order to be satisfied. At another time, he might think that he needs a better quality of something in order to be comfortable. And yet at another time, he will seek out a different variety of something to attain satisfaction. A little more sometimes, something different at another time or something better the next time. This is how man runs on the treadmill of life. He keeps running, yet never arrives at his desired destination.

If you look around you, almost every man is on his personal treadmill. And this permeates all his life, in whatever he may be doing.

Consider money – a thing that no man is ever satisfied with how much he has. So he will usually run after more money. When that fails, he will try to invest in different types of money such as Gold or Bitcoins. He will also try to invest in money instruments which promise better ROI – mutual funds, share markets and other financial tikdams.

When it comes to dissatisfaction with his house, a man may try to move into a bigger house or furnish his existing house to give a premium feel or he might just move from one type of house to another – maybe from an apartment to an independent bungalow.

Relationships are always a big source of discomfort, so a man might want to improve the quality of his existing relationship by spending quality time with his partner. Some men might want to associate with multiple partners as that gives them satisfaction while others might want a different partner in their life.

When bored of eating the same dal and rice every day, a man might want to eat a different delicacy to satisfy his appetite. At other times, he might want to simply go on an eating binge to satisfy his desire. Some might want a better quality of rice and dal to feel satisfied.

Same is true of experiences – people choose the place of vacation depending on what they think will satisfy them – more time at the same place, or a more luxurious experience of staying or going off to a new place altogether.

Consider knowledge – some people want more knowledge to feel good, some people want more insights about their knowledge while some people want to acquire knowledge of a variety of subjects to feel good.

People live their life on the treadmill – choice of clothes to buy, choice of movies to watch, choice of a health and fitness program, choice of a company to work for and so on.

Even with organizations, the direction of effort is always determined by one of the 3 buttons. At one time, the organization may want more – more revenue, more profits, more headcount. At other times, it may want better quality – better manpower, better customers, better work-life balance. While at other times, it may look for a different outcome – different business lines, different country to work in, a different CEO and so on.

As the treadmill moves, on one day, quantity will determine our satisfaction, on another day, quality will determine our comfort and yet on another day, variety will decide our level of satisfaction.

As one becomes comfortable with a certain quantity or quality or variety, it becomes a threshold below which there is discomfort. Therefore, man is constantly on the treadmill to seek out more, better or different and pushing his threshold of comfort farther and farther. Eventually, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and man has to expend more effort, time and money to derive the same incremental satisfaction.

Some people are able to observe this circus and want to step off the treadmill. They are attracted to spirituality and meditation as a means of achieving ultimate satisfaction and comfort. But this is a booby trap. People still remain on the treadmill except now they want to do more meditation and yoga, or improve the quality of their concentration or simply try following a variety of spiritual practices. People do not realize that they are still on the same treadmill.

The true escape from this treadmill and the true gateway to satisfaction and comfort is awareness of current experience. Simple bare awareness of the current experience.

Awareness is awareness. There is nothing like more quantity of awareness or a better quality of awareness or a different variety of awareness. And therefore when you are aware, you are not on the treadmill.

With awareness, there comes about a radical change in our perception of things. What seemed desirable and worth striving for no longer seems to be so. Many people are afraid of this state thinking that it will take all the life force and the motivation to perform, away from them. It is not so. People do not realize that it is the treadmill which is making them run and that they are not free to go anywhere else. With awareness, man can be truly free, not bound to the treadmill, not allowing quality, quantity or variety to determine his satisfaction and comfort.

Then, looking at his surroundings with awareness, man experiences comfort and satisfaction in the current situation itself. He has the freedom to create something new, not simply more, better or different.

Micchami Dukkadam – Beyond Forgiveness

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In the Jain community, there is a notion of asking for forgiveness once every year during their Paryushan event. Typically the words are

If I have caused you offence in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness.

While most people exchange those words with each other as a ritual, I wonder if there is any deep feeling attached to the word forgiveness. Many joke about it as an opportunity to start offending afresh, now that the forgiveness is asked for.

To forgive means to stop being angry or resentful towards another for an offence or a mistake committed.

Forgiveness is considered a significant act in many traditions including Christianity where you ask the Father or God to forgive you for the sins you have committed. To forgive others and to ask for forgiveness is said to have health benefits also.

Let’s take a closer look at the whole scope of forgiving and forgiveness. The notion of forgiveness is tightly coupled with being hurt or with some kind of offence or mistake. If there is no mistake or offence or sin, the need for forgiveness does not arise. After all, where is the need to forgive another if he has not done anything wrong to you or where is the need to ask for forgiveness if you have not done anything wrong to anyone.

So essentially, we need to delve a little deeper into the notion of being hurt or offending another, if we have to understand what is forgiveness.

Let’s say A breaks the windshield of B’s car. So the car is hurt and also, B is hurt psychologically. Now if A asks for forgiveness from B, what happens? At the physical level, it is immaterial. The car is not going back to its state before the windshield was broken. The key question is whether the state of mind of B will go back to the state before the event, if B forgives A.

Another example. A says something offensive to B. B is offended. A asks for forgiveness. B forgives. Can the state of mind of B go back to the same state of mind before the event?

In both cases, the state of mind of B has changed irreversibly. The memory of the event, the broken windshield, the associated psychological hurt and the offending words are permanently etched on the memory. That cannot be undone even if B forgives. We often say – forgive and forget. But we cannot really forget anything.

So what does it mean to forgive? It means for B to not carry the hurt feelings for A, to heal B’s own hurt sentiments, to not actively plan a revenge against A. But once the hurt feelings are created, it is very difficult to get over them even with repeated forgiveness.

Is it possible, not to get hurt at all? As we know, when there is no hurt, there is no need for forgiveness.

We are not hurt psychologically when we are in full awareness and full wisdom about the nature of existence. When we know that a windshield is something that can break, can be broken, when we know that most people act with no awareness of what they say or do, then that knowledge becomes our psychological protection against being hurt or being offended. Nothing can hurt us in that state. Even if someone shoots us, we can be smiling.

Maybe that was the state Jesus was in when he was being crucified. He said – Father, forgive these people as they do not know what they are doing.

You might have noticed that when you are in a certain high state of mind (happiness might not be the right word), you are not hurt by what someone says or does. On the other hand when you are not in a happy state, then you might go around hurting others unintentionally.

So from the perspective of B, the need is to protect oneself from getting hurt which can be done through understanding and awareness of that understanding.

From the perspective of A, merely asking for forgiveness does not cause a transformation in A. It is possible that A will repeat the same mistake again. The transformation in A can happen only when there is a realization of the pain caused to another by one’s actions,  which means, A feels the same pain that B felt. Then there is a genuine repentance of the action, which leads to an increase in awareness.

Only an increase in awareness will make A realize the pain of another and will sensitize him in his actions to prevent hurt or offenses towards another. Then there is no need ask for forgiveness.

So the notion of forgiveness is relevant only in the domain of hurt. But there is a domain beyond hurt which is accessible to human beings in which forgiveness has only a limited role while awareness and wisdom have a primary role.

Alice in Fleetingland

If we look at the world around us minutely, we will notice that things are happening at different speeds. Vehicles on the road are moving at around 60 km/hour. A plane in the sky must be moving at 800 km/hour. People on the streets are walking at their own pace, some are running, some are ambling. If you watch the sun during sunset, you will be amazed at how fast it moves, which actually means how fast the earth is rotating on its axis.

There are some things which change rapidly like the scene on the road and there are other things that change slowly. We usually do not notice those and assume they are permanently there. For example a tree or a bench in the garden seem static. Everyday, you can see them there and we do not notice the gradual changes taking place.

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We can see changes in the tree only when the season changes and we can see the changes in the bench only if it broken or gets disfigured due to constant use. However, we do not appreciate how they are changing even while we are looking at them.

The tree is actually like an extremely slow moving fountain. As sunlight falls on the leaves and water escapes, the branches pull up more water and nutrients from the trunk and roots. We cannot see this happening yet it is happening.

As people sit on the bench, there is wear and tear every moment. Even the flow of wind over the bench, the falling of leaves on the bench will keep affecting the bench very gradually. We all know how the waves created sandy beaches over millions of years.

Everything around us is constantly changing, fleeting every moment. We are also changing. We might see the same face and body in the mirror everyday. Yet we are changing – every cell, every organ is undergoing change. At the microscopic level, the changes are very rapid and mind boggling, if only we could notice or feel.

We usually get fooled by the illusion that things are permanent, as if they are existing in themselves and not as a process of happening. Our senses fool us into believing that the chair we are sitting on is solid and is not changing. Same is true about the people in our life. We start thinking he or she is the same individual everyday, every moment.

But armed with the knowledge about transience, We can become aware of the whole illusion. This does not mean that we get scared because the world is falling apart. On the contrary, you learn to love this creation, the beauty and the mystery of it.

So the wise way to live in this Wonderland is as if Alice.

 

Wake Up!

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Life is a dream. Wake up from this dream.
Come to your senses and get in touch with reality.
What you think of reality is an illusion.
Watch carefully and apply yourself with your full being
to understand in what sense it is called an illusion.
If this is an illusion, is there anything real?
Know for yourself without depending on any authority – scripture or teacher.
Know it without any doubt. Know it directly, not through some explanation.

Prisoners of Philosophy

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Are we truly free or freedom is an illusion? Aren’t we all prisoners of our own philosophies?

You wake up in your house, use a toothpaste of your choice to brush your teeth, a soap of your choice to take bath, drive in a car, walk freely in the market, go to office, travel freely to places of your choice, watch television programs when you want and eat and sleep when you want. Can anyone say you are a prisoner? No way. A prisoner is locked in his cell, gets to eat only limited food, has to do work he cannot refuse to do and cannot do anything to get out the prison. The prisoner and you are not the same. Yet, at the level of the mind, we are all prisoners – prisoners of our own philosophy.

We are all philosophers whether we accept it or not or whether we speak philosophically when we are down a couple a drinks. What we think about our life is our philosophy. It consists of our beliefs, ideas, and assumptions of all kinds. There is no question we live our life with hundreds and thousands of beliefs. Some of them are conscious beliefs and many of them are tacit, hidden below our normal perception. Some beliefs are useful to live in society while some don’t make any sense.

For instance, you do believe that cleaning teeth with a toothpaste prevent bad mouth odor because you have some experience to back it up.

But you do not necessarily believe that the toothpaste will make your teeth sparkle like a diamond as the advertisers would like you to believe. You might have many more things to say about a toothpaste and brushing of teeth and all those ideas form your philosophy.

That was a simple example but as we live life, there are many things which are more complex than a toothpaste. Say for example, your philosophy about your work, how much should employees work in the office, what should be their attitude to work, what you think about your spouse, about men or about women in general, about politics, about economics, health, etc, etc. We all have come to certain conclusions about everything in life and we debate it out with our friends and colleagues. Despite the wide variety of positions and opinions about things and people, everyone believes that his opinion is the right one. We accumulate all these ideas and opinions and then because we are so imprisoned by them that all our actions that follow must be consistent with our previously formulated conclusions, even if we have lot of evidence to the contrary.

Lets say, that your job is not working out. It was good for the first 2 years but then it is no longer enjoyable. Yet because you want to show to the world that you love your job, you continue in it. Same with relationships.

So what starts as a mere opinion in the mind has the power to lock you physically into a pattern of action. Isn’t that living like a prisoner. You might have a choice but the options are limited so it is a pseudo choice. And most of us are happy with that variety. We are happy to live as prisoners because we get to watch a movie once a week or go out on a vacation once a year. And the situation becomes worse because everyone else is also a prisoner of his own philosophy. So very few even thinks of escaping or living a free life.

Life is meant to be lived in freedom. Yet we are afraid of that freedom. We create a pattern in our life. That pattern creates familiarity. In that familiarity, we feel secure and so continue in that. So even though we are free from the beginning, we enclose ourselves in to limited notions and ideologies. The one idea is especially very harmful, which keeps people in their prison is the idea of putting efforts to be free from the prison. There is no more ridiculous thing than that belief.

If you are in an open field, you are free to walk in any direction. Now somebody has created a pattern of roads and you cannot leave the road. In that sense you are prisoner of the road. But at the same time, you are free to wander off the road into the field anytime. That is freedom. You have always been free. The story of being a prisoner of philosophy is told just so that you recognize your eternal freedom once again and not be limited to be on the road forever. Then it does not matter whether you are on the road or in the field, it is just that in the mind you have no philosophy to get bound to. And that is awakening, enlightenment. Here is wishing that all of us live a free life with awareness and insight.

One lives one’s life only to the extent of one’s understanding of what is life

Isn’t this something you observe around you. It does not matter what one says. It does not matter what lofty ideas one has. Observe the way a person lives his life and you will understand what he thinks about life. Compare what you think life is with the way you live your life and see if there is a difference in understanding and action.

Life – A Fancy Dress Competition

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As children we used to take part in fancy dress competitions. I remember having dressed up as an air force pilot in my 2nd or 3rd standard. Sometimes I wonder why we have those competitions – I guess grown ups like to see how their child will look in an uniform or how she would enact a specific role. So fancy dress competitions are somewhat like role plays. You get into the uniform and you kinda get into the character also. Such experiences tend to leave a deep impression. For a long time after that, my dream was to become an air force pilot.

Most fancy dress competitions are a one time event. You participate and once it is over, you return to your normal life. But if I may take a leap into the world of fashion, I pretty much see the same thing there. All fashion is about coming up with new fancy dresses – new materials, new design, new colors, new this, new that.

And then people live an elaborate fancy dress competition – going for a party, choose a party dress – going for a wedding, wear a fancy dress – going for a funeral – wear a plain dress – going to office, wear formals – going on a vacation – wear trendy clothes – and so on and on. Then there is summer fashion, monsoon fashion and winter fashion and spring wear too. Not to forget the festivals which all require a specific type of dress – Navratri, Diwali, Christmas, Halloween, et all.

Hear some women talking and conversations are mostly about what someone was wearing the other day. And why not? The clothes we wear make a statement about who we are. They create an impression in other’s minds about us. So on one hand, we become very conscious about what we wear and how we look and on the other, we tend to draw some conclusions about people based on what they wear and how they look.

Just note what you are wearing today and what made you wear that – what were you thinking? Look at people around you and note what they are wearing and listen to what conclusions your mind draws about them.

So in this real life fancy dress competition, in which we are not supposed to be aware that we are participating or judging, we are actually all participants as well as judges.