Tag Archives: life


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.

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


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.

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’.

Are You Aware of Your Assumptions?


In life we are making assumptions of all kinds all the time. We assume that the milkman will come on time, the product you bought online will turn out to be good, the traffic will be as usual on the way to the office, and the spouse’s mood will be normal in the evening. And because on most days, these things turn out to be according to what we assumed, we tend to take these assumptions for granted.

So when, the next time we are caught in an unexpected traffic jam, we either curse ourselves or wonder how the city life is deteriorating. Next time when the maid does not come on time, we pick up an argument. Next time your boss overlooks your report, you become uneasy and start to worry about your impression.

Assumptions in themselves are not a problem. We need to make assumptions to keep our life running. If we had to live our life without any assumptions, then we would be living in a constant state of panic and fear, not trusting anyone around us.

The mistake we make is that we are not aware that we are making assumptions.

When you sit in a cab, you make an assumption that the driver will take you to the destination you told him. It is possible that the driver will take you somewhere else. The possibility, however small, does exist. And when that happens, you panic, you begin to shout, become angry and later start to wonder why it happens to you only.

There is another assumption at work here – your assumption that the world moves according to how you think it is supposed to work. The truth is that the world moves in mysterious ways and despite all the patterns and laws we have superimposed on reality to make it more predictable, we encounter situations where our assumptions turn out to be false.

To stop taking reality for granted, we need to develop awareness of our assumptions, even when they seem to be serving the purpose.

Reality is not following our assumptions but it is the way it is.

If we observe reality keenly and accept whatever it presents to us, we will be in a better position to navigate through life.

Whenever you are in a situation which makes you suffer, try to discover what assumptions you made about something or someone and instead of blaming the situation or another person, realize that it was merely your assumption.

Alternatively, ask, clarify, investigate and inquire about the cause of the situation. This will help you to update your assumptions. For instance, if you notice that your spouse is in a bad mood, ask what is the problem instead of reacting to the mood. You might think this is difficult to do but who knows it might be another assumption you are nurturing.

The ability to become aware of our own assumptions is a skill that can be developed with some practice. You will realize that your experience of life moves several notches up when you are more aware of what assumptions you are making about your life and are able to realize them as assumptions and not laws of nature. You will then be able to learn every moment and enjoy life every moment.

Does Rain Have A Brain?

It is rainy season. It rains, sometimes continuously for days and sometimes intermittently through the day. The news channels are busy reporting the havoc caused by incessant rains in different parts of the country where normal life is seriously disrupted.


Is the rain doing it on purpose? Does it have a brain so to say? Does it decide where to rain and how much to rain? Does it see from high above the clouds, as it surveys the landscape, and then does it decide on its target audience or target city and then with great precision, commences its attack on unsuspecting people, vehicles, animals, roads and buildings and only stops when it is satisfied that the planned damage has been accomplished?

It seems childish to credit rain with this kind of intentional activity but every now and then we do speak or hear others speak of the rain in this manner. For example, it happens to many of us that we start from home to go to our place of work and we note that it is not raining when we start. But as soon as we are on the road, it rains heavily as if the rain wants to get at us, especially me. And this thought is reinforced by the observation that the rain stops as soon as you reach your destination. Even if you are the most rational person, you might want to credit the rain with a devious brain when you see it doing this the third time in a row.

So does the rain really have a brain that is somehow tracking you and all other millions of people across the country, calculating all the permutations and combinations about how much to rain and on whom to rain; which roads to convert to potholes and which cars to drown? Obviously not. We all know that the rain is a function of the elements of the ecosystem. The hotter the summer, the stronger the rains – because the sun would have evaporated a lot of water from the water bodies and now all of that cannot remain in the clouds so it comes down. Where the rain hits is a function of the wind systems around the world and the tree cover on the land. So without going into the mathematics of the climate and weather systems, it would suffice to say that these are pure elements at work and rain does not care whether it is raining on bare land or on people or on cities or on forests.

Rains simply happen because that’s the way it is. It could not be any other way on that day at that time. If you are frustrated or angry because you got wet, it is not the rain’s fault. And in the same vein, it is not your fault either. Your brain reacts to the rain depending on your mind’s ecosystem – where the wind of your thoughts is blowing when it rains, how much the summer of being lost in activities of daily life evaporated your energy, and how much forest cover you have of your own self-awareness.

When it rains, you see adults taking cover while children coming out to play and dance. Simply a difference in the ecosystems of your mind.

Rains are an invitation to experience the senses – the smell of the earth, the feel of the water on your body, the sight of the clouds, intermittent sun and the occasional rainbow, the musical sound of the raindrops falling on the ground or even on the tin shed nearby and the taste of the hot tea or hot pakodas during the rains – everything about the rainy season is deeply sensual.

The rainy season stimulates the senses like no other season, if you care to pay attention and not get caught in news reports and thoughts about how the rain is scheming to upset your plans.

Rains are nature’s way of asking you to stop and observe the beauty of creation, the impermanence of everything around us that is continuously ending something and creating something new from that – the greenery with all the flowers that come up after rains, the crops that grow from rains and supply us with food and the rivers that nourish the land until the next rainy season – the power of nature.

So while I have argued from the point that rains do not have brains, I still am crediting nature with an intention in the above paragraph. That’s the way the mind works. Can’t help it!




May the Real Birthday Stand Up


Another birthday. Another year gone by. Another revolution around the sun completed today. Come to think of it, we never imagine ourselves having completed a trip round the sun whenever we celebrate our birthdays – but that’s the truth of the matter. A year has gone by and a year is defined by the time the earth takes to go around the sun. So we are on this gigantic spaceship called earth hurtling into space at incredible speed and once every revolution, we celebrate the event. But what is so exciting about completing one circle around the sun? Of course people wish you – many many happy circles to go (returns of the day) – have a great rotation (day)

A birthday is a very slippery concept if you go a little beneath the skin. We are all made to believe that we were born on the day we emerged from the mother’s womb. But if birth is the same as coming alive then were we not alive the day before we came out of the womb or even a month before that? We were quite alive even then. So when were you really truly born / become alive? There are many possible answers.

  • You are born when you come out of the womb. This is the most widely accepted day as birthday. But here also there are slight complications. What if you are an American baby born in India. If you are born on 16th in India, it is 15th in America. So is your birthday 16th or 15th?
  • You are born when you became a fetus from an embryo – typically around the 9th week after the start of pregnancy. A fetus is recognizable as a human being while an embryo is not. This is the point of debate between those who think abortion is a choice versus those who think abortion is tantamount to murder.
  • You are born when you were conceived. i.e when sperm met egg. Why not? After all, both sperm and egg are living cells with the unique DNA that will determine what color your eyes will be. So if a cell is a living thing, why wait till it becomes a fetus to declare it a person?
  • You are born when your mom and dad thought of making a baby. Every action is born of a preceding thought. So it would not be totally wrong to say that you were not born as a thought first. If they had not thought about it, you would not be born.
  • You are born when your ego is born. Till then you are only a vegetable. Psychologists say that a child develops his ego / personality by the age of 5 which more or less remains the same through the rest of his / her life.
  • You are born when you are told you were born. Till that time you did not even know there was a thing like birthday. People tell you – you were born on 16th and therefore you accept that. So this is the semantic origin of birthday.
  • You are born when you become conscious of yourself. Now this is a tricky proposition. It is very difficult to determine that. Most people live their lives unconsciously and therefore the spiritual masters say that you are truly born only when you die (ego death). And so many people are attempting to give birth to themselves by struggling to kill their ego.
  • You are born when your soul is born. They say that the soul is never born and never dies but only changes bodies as if they are clothes. So unfortunately, your soul can never celebrate its birthday.

Scientists point out that each cell in our bodies is replaced once every 7 years. That means we are a new person every 7 years and must celebrate our birthday only once in 7 years. Too less!

Going further the Meditators say that everything changes every moment, so from that view, we are born every moment and die every moment so every day is a birthday. Too much!

I am sure wise people would have deliberated about all this and coming to a consensus, would have arbitrarily decided one event as the birthday.

Now that the decision is made, whatever it may be, a birthday is definitely a time to feel good. Many people remember you at least once a year and reach out to wish you. It is a nice feeling. There is cake and the snacks and all the friends and family with you as you become the center of attention. Probably that’s the origin of the saying – every dog has its day!

Self Help


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


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 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.


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 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.


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.

Renunciation – The Last Step


The most debated topic when it comes to spirituality is renunciation. No wonder, there are many misconceptions about it.

Renunciation, the way it is understood by most people, is the act of leaving home and family life in order to pursue the spiritual life – to live the life of a wandering hermit in search of the ultimate truth. The central question is whether it is necessary to renounce worldly life in order to achieve enlightenment.

Before we enter the debate on the pros and cons of renunciation, we must understand some basics about enlightenment. Enlightenment is the same for all human beings. In fact self-realization is about discovering your true self, beyond the illusory person that you think you are. So the question is about the approach – whether leaving family is going to help you to achieve that.

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the situation. We know that we have to be born in a family setting. No human being is born without a mother and a father and if he has grown up to get enlightened, then we can be sure, he or she has spent significant time in the care of the family and society. If there was no family, no society, then there would be no enlightened individuals also.

Society at times or rather at all times is a place full of chaos, where every individual is seeking his self-centered happiness and does not hesitate to harm others and cheat others to get what he wants.  Children are prepared through education to get ready to enter the society and sustain its existence. Customs of marriage and rituals of coming of age are all significant for the sustenance of the society.

One cannot force anyone to exit the society, except as an outcast for breaking some of the agreements of the society. So by default, everyone is condemned to live in the society despite its cruelties. All one can do is to further one’s own goals, hoping one gets through life without serious incidents. The whole desire for enlightenment has no place in this structure. Society does not encourage the seeking for truth. Its existence depends on the illusion of progress and civilization.


When an individual who perceives these illusions promoted by the society, he tries to understand what is going on. He comes across other individuals who talk of a true life, self-realization, etc and he is intrigued. He tries to find answers in the society but quickly comes to the conclusion that nobody knows anything about it.

His mind is boiling with the question and he is not finding any outlet because he has to fulfill the responsibilities of his life. He cannot focus on anything unless he gets an answer and therefore needs time and space to go within to explore. However, life has no mercy. It is unrelenting in its demands for survival and sustenance of the family and societal institutions.

Therefore, the only practical way out for a person is to renounce the family and go off to live alone in search of the truth. This has been happening in India throughout history. All those who had this inner calling have promptly renounced their worldly life and went into the forest. Whether they were successful in their search or not is another question.

The search for one’s true self requires meditation for long periods so if you are sitting and doing nothing while at home, other people will think you are lazy and a shirker. They do not appreciate the inner calling of the person. On the other hand, if you are in the forest, away from the home life, then  there is no one to disturb you in your meditation. You have voluntarily retired from all responsibilities so you can focus singlemindedly on your goal.

The Buddha used to say that going from the home to the homeless life was the fastest way to self-realization. Hundreds and thousands of young men left their homes to join the Buddha’s Sangha. Even today, many people leave their homes and join a spiritual order, whether Buddhism or Christianity or Hinduism.

Point to note is that if a person is leaving home just to avoid the arduous responsibilities, then that is not the right renunciation. It is right renunciation only when the individual’s intention is to realize his true self. Only then is the renunciation a practical choice because there is no other way to live in the society and seek the higher reality.

So the question naturally arises. Is enlightenment impossible without this renunciation of worldly life? It is not impossible. There have been many cases of family people getting enlightened by hearing the teachings of masters.

In fact Gurdjieff actively promoted the fourth way, a way of self-realization while living the ordinary life. He was of the opinion that the situation one finds oneself in in one’s life is the most appropriate situation to start the struggle against sleep in order to awaken.

The truth about awakening is one of conditions. If a man is living in conditions that are conducive to enlightenment, then it will happen whether he is living at home or in the forest. And if the conditions are not suitable, then awakening will give him a slip even if he has renounced worldly life.


So is there a middle way between renouncing and not renouncing? Yes, definitely there is a way for the intelligent person who knows the conditions to be created. These conditions include first and foremost unobstructed time and space for meditation. If a man is able to organize this time wherein he is able to devote time to meditation with the sincere aim of awakening, then he will be in a much better position than a man who has renounced the world and is living troubled with the thought of where to get his next meal in the forest.

True renunciation is the renunciation of the idea of ‘I’. This can be done anywhere. The only problem of living in the society is that others remind you of being you all too often for you to practice the inner renunciation of ‘I’. However, for a person who is able to maintain self-awareness in all his worldly interactions, he will not be troubled. Within his mind, he has renounced while he is still performing ‘self’-less actions in the world outside.

If at some time, the awakened person wants to really change his way of life and live away from society, then the outer renunciation is only a formality. True renunciation has already happened when the person stopped identifying himself with his body and mind.

Therefore, it can be said that renunciation is the last obvious step rather than the first courageous step.