Saturday, 28 May 2011

Lessons of love and life: An Education

The English film "An Education" is based on a true life memoir which documents one girl's attempt to make it to the university and the long tangle she finds herself in with an older man, in her final year of school.

The film follows the story of Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan), who is safely middle class and lives in Twickenham, a suburb in London. Her parents, much like Indian parents, have grand dreams of her making it to Oxford.

At sixteen and wide-eyed, top of her class, Jenny falls in love easily--with books, music, ideas and new experiences. She falls equally easily in love with the rakish and much older David (Peter Sarsgaard), whom she first meets on a rainy evening.

That encounter lays the ground for a months long affair of fine-dining, adult conversations and expensive trips. The world that David lays out is infinitely more dazzling to the impressionable Jenny than her current one. David's arrival also presents her family with a choice: Life at university or the comfort of marriage to a wealthy man.

"An Education" wonderfully combines school lessons and life lessons with school exams and a character test, putting its protagonist through the wringer. The film also offers glimpses into one girl's preparations ahead of entering university, which is a topical issue currently as the college admissions are about to begin. The luminescent Carey Mulligan gives a memorable performance that earned her an Oscar nomination.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Connecting With God

Swami Tejomayananda
The Asian Age

In my last article, I dealt with the existence of God. Once we know and accept that He exists, the next question is how do we "realize" Him? Each one of us is endowed with three powers--the power of knowing, the power of desire and the power of acting. It is only when we become aware of our potential powers that desires arise and we want to possess, create or become something. Knowledge creates the desire and this in turn becomes the motivating power behind all actions. The source for all this is the infinite potential within us. Our scriptures refer to this potential as "God".

Once we understand that God is the support and substratum, the Self and the infinite potential in all beings, how can we deny His existence? People are happy when God is far away because His proximity poses a problem. Whether we know, we believe or we understand it or not, God is the power that exists in us. So there is no question of not realizing God; we just have to shed certain notions about ourselves. We talk of realization without the understanding the true meaning of the word "realization". We imagine some strange experience like seeing white or ethereal lights. Also, realization is not an idea that we have to understand later. Neither does it have to materialize nor manifest. We have to accept that it exists.

There are different stages to realization. The first is to accept the existence of God and know that He is there within us. The second stage is an appreciation of His nature, which becomes clearer through the words of the scriptures and the teacher. At the third stage, you realize that God is your own self. We need to understand that God is not some material thing or person, it is our very existence. This is the realization of one's own essence (tattvabhava).

So we can and must realize God or our own true nature and rise from being miserable and complaining individuals. Having established the need to realize God, we must know how it is to accomplished. Krishna says, "Fix your mind and intellect in Me, then you will abide in Me, dwell in Me; there is no doubt about it."

The nature of the mind is to entertain thoughts and the nature of the intellect is Viveka (discrimination). If the mind and intellect are aligned and work together, we can reach our goal towards realization. People say, "if I can realize my dream that is enough. Who has the time to realize God?" We are unable to realize our dreams because we have to stay awake to realize them! The mind entertains various thoughts which by themselves can lead us nowhere without the decision of the intellect.

So, the first step in the thought is to entertain the thought "I want to realize God". The intellect must decide and whatever the obstacles or contrary advice, there should be no wavering from the goal. With such an attitude, other things follow naturally. The mind is the seat of emotions and love. When we love something, an understanding develops. The Lord says, "Where both love and knowledge come together, there will be an abidance and realization of the nature of God." In The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, "Anyone who dedicates all his actions to Me, considering Me as the goal of life, loves Me and has no enmity towards anyone, comes to Me."

He is infinity, the supreme goal of life. An unemployed person seeks employment. Once in a job, he is anxious for a pay raise. He then has visions of becoming a millionaire, billionaire and soon a zillionaire. The search never ends because finite things cannot satisfy us. Knowingly or unknowingly, our natural tendency is for the infinite. We want immortality, even though we are aware of the temporary nature of this body. We do not want to be bound by the limitations of time.

In conclusion, let us remember the words mentioned in The Bhagavad Gita: "Having known this, nothing remains to be known". In this state, even mountain-like sorrows cannot disturb you. You attain a state of indescribable and inexplicable peace. So we must know this Truth, here and now, without any further delay!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Existence of God

Swami Tejomayananda
The Asian Age

The existence of God is a very popular and fascinating question and has been asked from time immemorial. Various people over the ages have conclusively tried to answer this timeless question but it still keeps coming up. To answer this question conclusively, we will have to examine this question from various angles.

In the present day and age of the Internet, with the advancement of science and technology and an information explosion, it may interest one to know that there is even more information on one topic--God. Even God would be surprised and amused at this!! God reigns supreme, whether or not we believe in His existence. The atheists endorse it by not believing and the believers by surrendering to God. The former do it by disproving His existence and the latter by trying to establish it.

The question that therefore arises is, "Does God really exist?" Believers take the knowledge in the Vedas or the scriptures of other religions, as their support, whereas the non-believers are sustained by their own logic. But logic is a peculiar thing--it can be used for both to support and nullify and is, in the end, inconclusive. Even in a court of law, mere arguments are never entertained without supporting evidence. People generally have an idea or a concept of God, which may or may not be commonly accepted. It is this notion that they refute and hence their arguments cannot be accepted. A systematic approach would be to refer to the scriptures or books that refer to the word "God" and check its use and then find out how it has been defined.

The Upanishads refer to the word "God" as Ishwara, Bhagavan, Brahman and so on. They explain the concept and if after studying these works, we conclude that we do not believe in God, it is acceptable. Both the believers and non-believers need to have clarity of the concept.

The Taittirya Upanishad says, "That from which all beings are born, That by which all beings are sustained and That unto which they merge back is Brahman." This beautiful statement means if there is a creation, a product or effect, the effect must have a cause. Everyone has to accept this at some point of the discussion. There may be a dispute about the nature of the cause. Something cannot come out of nothing. So, if the whole creation is the effect, there has to be something in the origin, the cause. Something exists and That self-evident being has to accepted. It is this existence or pure being which is perceived as God--the fountainhead.

Let us examine this point without taking recourse to the Upanishads. Take the example of government officers, ministers or secretaries. Each officer has the power to do so many things. They are all part of the collective government power. The government is not seen but its decision are implemented through these functionaries who function because of the total power of the government. Even a peon in the office wielding the powers allocated to him, proves the existence of the government.

These days, we have several workshops and seminars taking place with very interesting and catchy titles. One such title which is drawing much interest is "P to P" (Performance to Potential). Most of us will agree that we have infinite potential. Despite this, we find that some of us fail while some succeed. The reason is that they do not work to their maximum potential. What is this potential? Do we know the potential of the earth, the water, the sun or other energies? Their potential cannot be described in sentences and hence we can conclude that their power is infinite. That infinite potential is called God.

Now that we know He exists, the next logical question is--can I realize God? A better way to ask this question would be by rephrasing it and asking: is it possible to realize or manifest my infinite potential? We are continuously manifesting some of our potential and therefore we are able to achieve what we want. So the answer is--Yes, it is possible to realize God! If one is able to, the true end of all human ambitions and aspirations is gained.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Get A Life:

Swami Tejomayananda
The Asian Age

Man has always craved happiness. All material sciences and fields of activity are geared towards achieving this one goal. Whatever we do, or even what we renounce, is meant only for happiness. But despite the goal being one, happiness still seems to elude us. It is not that we lack comforts in life, we do have moments of happiness; all is not misery and sorrow. Despite experiencing and knowing moments of happiness, there is no contentment, peace or fulfilment in life. We say that we have pleasures and comforts, but something is missing and not knowing very clearly what we want, we go through nameless sorrows.

If we want to be happy in life, the first prerequisite is good health. If we are unhealthy, weak or suffering from some pain or disease, any joy of life means nothing. Then there are our addictions, whether smoking or drinking. People drink to someone's health and destroy their own! Can we say that such people really love their bodies or care for them? The Bhagavad Gita says that the practice of yoga or meditation becomes a happy experience for a person who is moderate and disciplined in his habits of eating, sleeping, exercising and work. Such a person becomes a happy man.

We know prevention is better than cure, but generally we destroy the body first and then reach out for all kinds of medicines, cures, psychiatric help and so on. They say, "please take rest". It means that nobody will give you rest. The world is bent upon making you restless. You have to find the time for rest on your own. We need rest, but we also need work. We require feasting, but we also require fasting. There has to be discipline, moderation and the understanding that I alone am responsible for my own health.

The second important thing in life is wealth. However, in India, earning money is considered as a sin. Everybody wants money, but they think it is immoral. Without money, how can you live in the world? If you lead a hand-to-mouth existence, can you really be happy? You will be worried all the time. But that does not sanction making money in any way-- corrupt ways will end only in sorrow, not happiness. We must understand the importance of wealth in life. If we ourselves are poor, how can we help others? So, wealth is required. Do not ignore it, but let it not become an obsession.

In order to acquire health and wealth, discipline is required. People erroneously believe that discipline is bondage. When we are punctual and disciplined, we have more time to achieve what we want. Indisciplined people are always busy, catching up with or finishing pending work. They are unable to do anything on time and are often under stress. There are some people who have a wrong notion that they function more efficiently when under stress. They only end up having a nervous breakdown.

Krishna emphasizes in The Bhagavad Gita: "The one whose mind and senses are under his control, meaning, who is disciplined is a happy person." He then talks about a person who is indisciplined and disintegrated. Such a person has no peace. Where is happiness for the restless man? These two things cannot go together. He is one whose mind, intellect and sense organs re not integrated with each other. Our intellect is convinced of something great, but our mind has different cravings. The senses are extrovert and this conflict is going on in our life between what we know and what we do. In this world, there is sorrow, not because we lack knowledge, but because we do not put it into practice.This is disintegration.

There are some who have oneness in thought, word and deed, but they are wicked through and through. We are not referring to such people. Here the reference is to how our thinking, words and action should be full of sweetness. This is called oneness of thought, word and deed. He who has this is peaceful and happy and other people around him are also at peace and happy with him.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Happiness: A Serious Matter

Swami Tejomayananda
The Asian Age

At an informal gathering, someone asked me: "How do we have fun in life?" "By being serious," I said rather seriously, because the pursuit of happiness is such a serious matter. A superficial approach to anything leads one to trouble. So, the philosophy of "eat, drink and be merry" is a very shallow view of life. Only deeper enquiry will take us to the truth.

Life is constituted of perception and response. We cannot help responding to people, situations and events. A response depends on individual perceptions. Everybody sees the same object but how each one sees it makes all the difference. Perceptions, therefore, can be called as the vision of life and response as an action or reaction that depends on this vision. We consider what we experience with our sense organs as real. No wonder, we find the world enchanting with its infinite variety and matchless beauty. But when we try to understand the same world a little deeply, it becomes very mind-boggling.

This proves that the visible is immaterial and the invisible is far more significant. What is visible is only an appearance and we all know that appearances are deceptive. The one truth that is not visible is subtle and it is this truth that will solve all problems. To see this truth, we need a pure mind and a subtle intellect. This is why we need a noble (sattvik) vision. It helps us perceive that one *TRUTH* which pervades the multiple and diverse world of names and forms. Such a vision can make the difference. It can help us see oneness in the midst of variety; it can protect us from the face of temptation, frustration and fear. Great souls who have attained this vision have worked for unity, integration and happiness of all. Therefore, this answers the question of what fun or happiness is. It is nor in merely gratifying our senses. The happiness experienced as a result of such a noble vision alone can be called true and lasting happiness.

Sadly, many of us lack such a kind of vision. We are stuck either with an extroverted outlook (rajasic vision) or a dull approach (tamasic vision) to life. Lord Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita explains the pitfalls inherent in these approaches. For example, a person with a rajasic vision sees differences while perceiving the world and he considers those differences real. The actions performed by him, therefore, are born either of attachment or aversion. He is happy as long as everything runs according to his tastes and preferences. The moment something goes awry, he becomes agitated and troublesome. A person with a tamasic vision is worse. He is deeply, fanatically and exclusively attached to a particular object, ideology or cause, with the result that even the happiness he experiences reflects his conflict. His happiness is attained by unhealthy means such as fight, addiction, sleep and indolence.

In life, we get mixed results because our vision is noble, in that all of us desire happiness, success, harmony and peace. But our conviction is not ripe and that is why we are not clear when it comes to actions and results. Suppose we are informed of a crime committed by someone in some place, we immediately cry for justice, but the moment we are made aware that one of our own relatives is the culprit, we change our response saying: "No one is perfect". We can observe this pattern at an international level too.

A person with a sattvik vision is praised as someone with a balanced view of life as he has eliminated sorrow, delusion and hatred. All of us are seeking that happiness. But we end up with something else because there is a wide gap between we seek, what we do and what we get. That is why the pursuit of happiness is a serious matter. How wonderful it would be if we looked at the vast world as having human beings rather than dividing than on the basis of nationality, creed, regions, race, religion and colour.

A narrow vision is divisive and a broad vision is expansive. But the supreme vision is all inclusive. It alone helps us to transform and transcend.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Why Good People Suffer?

Swami Tejomayananda
The Asian Age

"Why do good people suffer or why do bad things end up happening to good people?" This question seems to be very common these days. It seems as though the good people end up bearing the brunt of all sufferings while the evil doers seem to enjoy life. But if we observe closely, we see that everyone undergoes suffering in some form or the other. Keeping this in mind, our question becomes meaningless. Just because a person is good does not mean that there would be no suffering in his/her life.

But how exactly do we define "good"? In Sanskrit, "sadhu" is the word used to define a good person. The Sanskrit word Sadhu is derived from the root word, "saadh" which means "to accomplish". If we work for ourselves and achieve great things, there is nothing laudable about it but if we help others to achieve their goals then it becomes an accomplishment. It is courtesy to return good for good. But if someone harms you and despite that, you continue to wish that person without expecting anything in return, that is real goodness.

A sadhu bathing on the banks of the river Sarayu once saw a drowning insect. He saved the insect from drowning and was stung on his neck in return. Again, the insect fell back into the river and the sadhu pulled it out of the water and placed it under a shady tree. On seeing this, a bystander asked the sadhu, "Why did you do that?" The sadhu smiled and replied, "The insect did not give up its nature, so why should I?"

How can we achieve this goodness in our lives? To reach any target, we must first have a high stand and then know the goal. Similarly, for achieving goodness, we have a standard of goodness which is known to us because only then can we rise up to the required levels. As long as we see differences in the world around us, true goodness will fail to manifest. This can be achieved only when we become aware of the sama (oneness) with others.

An example will be better to further illustrate this point. Every part of my body is one whole. If the finger accidentally pokes the eye, there is instant forgiveness because of the complete identification with the finger. Now that we have an idea of goodness, let us now see what suffering is. Objective suffering befalls all people, good or bad. Situations leading to suffering could have their roots in their past actions. Objectively, the existence of pain or any other physical handicap cannot be denied but the degree of sorrow this leads to is entirely subjective.

Riches or positions of power do not alone guarantee happiness. People feel miserable about tiny matters. If a person claims that he is good and is suffering while the dishonest person is flourishing; we can be very sure that the person is not good. For a good man, the real suffering is to do something against his convictions. Imagine, a pure vegetarian is faced with a situation of remaining hungry or eating beef, the chances are that the former option would be more acceptable.

All our spiritual practices cannot eliminate suffering but they protect the mind and make sufferings acceptable, just as during the monsoons, we cannot stop the rains but we can protect ourselves from getting drenched by an umbrella or a raincoat. Sarathi, the charioteer says: "A good person never suffers."

By some strange logic, we end up feeling that suffering and enjoyment is related to our past actions. If we observe more closely at the subtle level, we find immediate results of our own actions. The moment a good thought enters our mind, we feel elated and similarly, a wicked thought causes agitation. The real suffering occurs when we lose our goodness. Compromising with goodness is the greatest suffering. Even though superficially, it may appear that the evil doers are flourishing, it should not serve as an excuse to compromise. The problem arises when one does not have an ideal or when one is unable to live up to one's ideals. But the greatest sadness is when one believes that the ideal is not worth living up to and has lost its utility.

Ultimately, a good man will stand by his convictions because, "if you do not stand for something, you will fall for everything."

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Rationalizing Greed

The Economic Times

Kubera, the Lord of wealth and the king of Yakshas, is the treasurer of the Gods. One day, he paid a visit to Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, the hermit-God, where he met Lord Shiva's elephant headed son, the corpulent Ganesha. He thought to himself, "Ganesha clearly loves food and Shiva can clearly not afford to him to his heart's content." So as a favour to Lord Shiva, Kubera offered to feed Lord Ganesha one meal. When Ganesha accepted the invitation and entered Kubera's kitchen, the Yaksha king said, "Eat to your heart's content."

Kubera regretted these words. Ganesha's appetite was insatiable. He ate everything that was available in the kitchen and still asked for more. Food had to be bought from the larder and then from the market. But Ganesha was still hungry. "More please," he said raising his trunk. Kubera had to spend all the money in his treasury and buy all the food in the world to feed Ganesha but still Ganesha was not happy. Finally, Kubera fell at Ganesha's feet and begged him to stop, "I apologize for I don't have enough food to satisfy your hunger. Please forgive me." To this Ganesha replied, "You really think food will satisfy hunger?" The difference between you and my father is that you seek to provide more food while He seeks to reduce hunger. That is why I sit in His house and not in your kitchen."

The corporate world is all about increasing the availability of food and not about reducing hunger. It happens at all levels. Rishi is a team leader at a leading BPO. His boss pulled him up after receiving complaints from his team members that he was overworking them. When asked why, Rishi declared, "I need to stretch my bonus." Why? "Because I want to buy a car. Other team leaders had bought cars without overworking their teams. The average bonus was clearly not enough. "I know that, but I want an SUV." When asked why he could not be happy with a smaller car that was easily affordable, he replied cockily: "It does not suit my status. Besides, if the company can have stretched targets, then why can't I?"

The only way to go up in the corporate world is by generating more food. It begins with B-schools where success of both the B-school and its students is measured by the value of placement offers. It continues as rainmakers get faster promotions and demands of shareholders keep rising. A good company is ultimately measured on the basis of its balance sheets and its market capitalization and by the cash it generates to the satisfaction of the shareholders. Naturally, every executive who works in such an organization believes his paycheck should have the same growth rate. Talent retention often involves paying more money and offering ESOPs. It is only a question of time before greed and growth become synonymous.

But food only fuels hunger. We want more and more because there is always a greener pasture out there. We want more and more because of our peers in other organizations, our batch mates in other companies, are earning more. It is through wealth that we value organizations. It is through wealth, we value individuals. Modern industry has created a world where hunger is celebrated, which is why no compensations will ever be fair or adequate and no revenue or profit will ever be good enough.

Rishi's desire for an SUV cannot be explained or controlled rationally. His killer instinct and his demand for more, will sooner or be later be rewarded or encouraged, because that is the value that we are imparting across organizations. Contentment remains a dangerous anti-growth concept in the present day corporate world; it's seen as complacency. The management of a company wants employees to be content with the compensation that is doled out but the management is never content with the revenue earned. Next year; we always want more. This is why, unless a leader takes a firm stand, no matter what Ganesha says, organizations will continue to invest in Kubera's kitchens and no one will seek the wisdom of Lord Shiva.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Crossed Wires: The Conversation

The 1974 English film "The Conversation" directed by Francis Ford Coppola is an atmospheric gem of a movie, which for some strange reason is not as well-known or widely seen as it should be. Between directing the cult classic The Godfather-I and The Godfather-II, filmmaker Francis Coppola filmed this movie. Although the film was released shortly after Woodward and Bernstein broke their legendary Watergate story, it wasn't inspired by that scandal involving wire-tapping. The filmmaker had written the script well before the story that brought President Nixon down hit The Washington Post's front page.

The film tells the tale story of an experienced and skilled private detective, Harry Caul, who bugs rooms, taps, phones and eavesdrops to earn his daily bread. Played persuasively by Gene Hackman, he is a taciturn loner obsessed, ironically, about his own privacy, perhaps because he knows how easily it can be breached.

While on a seemingly routine assignment to tape the conversation of a couple wandering about in a public square in San Francisco, where the film is set, Harry and his team overhear them saying something that suggests that their lives might be in danger. The assignment, then, turns out to be not only technically difficult but also sinister. So, besides feeling the usual thrill of having pulled it off, Harry, after a lifetime of trying to remain aloof from all his assignments, begins to feel he should find out more and warn the couple.

It gradually becomes clear that the woman whose conversation he taped is the wife of the corporate boss who gave him the assignment that she is having an affair with the man she was talking to in the public square. It also gradually becomes clear that Harry Caul is harbouring some guilt from a previous assignment in which the information he uncovered led to several deaths. But as he gets sucked into the lives of the characters in the assignment, he also realizes that, shorn of context, snatches of conversations are misleading and things are not what they are made out to be.

The film must be watched in today's time particularly because India's biggest scam in recent times, the 2G Spectrum scam involving Rs. 170,000 crores came to light largely through tapped phone conversations. Earlier in April 2011, another such conversation threatened to discredit lawyer and India-Against-Corruption crusader Shanti Bhushan. The lawyer said it was fabricated. Behind all those conversations lies that anonymous wire-tapper. Watch this movie told in the format of a taut thriller.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The "Sathya" among us

Some people took notice when Sachin Tendulkar, who remains, admirably reined in on the cricket turf, got visibly overwhelmed at Sri Sathya Sai Baba's Samadhi in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh. Some woke up to eminent writers and columnists running amok with their pens and their social responsibilities. But, millions, in India and abroad, Indians and Indians-at-heart have been praying, hoping and grieving for almost a month now.

To them--this is a huge loss. A mortal blow. Mortality--in this case Sathya Sai Baba's mortality--has made a tribe of detractors (like me) some of them, plainly vituperative, negate and ridicule his spiritual stature. The question though, is not whether he was an incarnation of God or just Godly. Surely, one can argue that being Godly-in-deed is actually being an incarnation of God. Universally, in fact, creeds extol the existence of God in man. Established religious systems, as well as those derived from them.

Likewise, a large majority of religions endorse the presence of spiritual Gurus. Guides, saints or pirs who are canonized as navigators in our spiritual journey, exist as part of our common religio-social legacy. The real loss therefore, is that an extraordinary man, who was successful in shepherding so many people by one simple message--service to all. In action too--schools, universities and hospitals were built and have sustained. The multiplier effect of "service" is beyond that, though. In a land where we constantly grapple with sectarian divisions and religious divides and prejudices, people like Sathya Sai Baba foster a creed of universal humanity--or a religion without barriers. It is extremely significant for a country that has been a cradle to some of the greatest religions of the world. It is also significant for a country that has nurtured, imbibed and accepted so many variant religions, with open arms. That is our Truth--or Sathya.

For a rationalist like me, he was always awful and for the believer, he was nothing less than an incarnation of God. The tribe of people belonging to the former will always dismiss him by saying he was simply a magician or a miracle man. For most of his believers of Sathya Sai Baba, he was the faith-healer. He treated them or their kin of incurable diseases where the medical sciences failed.

The most compelling reason for the rationalist to be a Sathya Sai bater has been the holy man's miracle-making process. Didn't Lord Krishna show his omnipresence to the doubting Pandava prince Arjuna when He revealed the "brahmaand" (the universe), by opening up His mouth. The rationalist may dismiss this also as a gimmick. And the rationalist is entitled to his opinion. In my case, I don't dismiss the case as a gimmick. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why Hinduism is considered more as a philosophy than as a religion. Therein lies its beauty.

A rationalist to the core, Narendra became the great Swami Vivekananda only after he met his philosopher-guide Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and his wife Smt. Sarada Devi. But he never ceased to explore beyond the realm of existence and abhorred blind faith and bigotry. But, why do the powerful men and women such as prime ministers, presidents, including the men of letters and those with a scientific bent of mind, let alone hoi polloi bow before spiritual entities? Perhaps, it is somewhere the fear of losing what one loves the most, argues the rationalist.

Now, more than ever, we have to hold on to that thought. Those of us that are following a different belief system--and happy being limited to it--shouldn't be limited by it. Lack of empathy, scepticism, criticism can all find place within the parameters of dignity. How we relate to those in harmony with us, says something about us. How we harmonize with those who we cannot relate to, says everything about us.