Wednesday, August 17, 2011

We Are What We Feed

Extracted from ‘The story of two sons’, Editorial in The Vedanta Kesari July 2011 issue.

Sri Krishn describes in the Gita that there are two types of treasures (sampat) which every human being possesses. He calls them as the ‘Daivi Sampat’ (divine qualities) and ‘Asuri Sampat’ (demonic qualities). The difference between human beings lies in the degree of manifestation of these forces.

Describing the Daivi Sampat, Sri Krishn says,

“Fearlessness, purity of heart, steadfastness in knowledge and Yoga, almsgiving, control of the senses, Yajna, reading of the scriptures, austerity, and uprightness;

Non-injury, truth, absence of anger, renunciation, tranquility, absence of slander, compassion to beings, non-greediness, modesty, absence of fickleness;

Boldness, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, absence of hatred, absence of pride; these belong to one born of divine state”.

As to the Asuri Sampat, Sri Krishn enumerates it thus,

“The persons of Asuri nature know not what to do and what to refrain from neither is purity found in them nor good conduct, nor truth.

They say, ‘The universe is without truth, without a (moral) basis, without a god, brought about by mutual union, with lust for its cause, what else?

Holding this view, these ruined souls of small intellect and fierce deeds, rise as the enemies of the world for its destruction.

Filled with insatiable desires, full of hypocrisy, pride and arrogance, holding evil ideas through delusion, they work with impure resolve.

Beset with immense cares ending only with death, regarding gratification of lust as the highest, and feeling sure that that is all;

Bound by a hundred ties of hope, giving over to lust and wrath, they strive to secure by unjust means hoards of wealth for sensual enjoyment.

“This today is gained by me; this desire I shall obtain; this is mine; and this wealth also shall be mine in future. That enemy has been slain by me, and others also shall I slay. I am the lord, I enjoy, and I am successful, powerful and happy. I am rich and well born. Who else is equal to me? I will sacrifice, I will give, I will rejoice”. Thus deluded by ignorance bewildered by many a fancy, covered by the meshes of delusion, addicted to the gratification of lust, they fall down into a foul hell.

Self conceited, haughty, filled with the pride and intoxication of wealth, they perform sacrifices in name, out of ostentation, disregarding ordinance;

Possessed of egoism, power, insolence, lust, and wrath, these malignant people hate me (the self within) in their own bodies and those of theirs.

Thus the moot question; which of these sampats will grow – the Daivi or the Asuri? The answer is simple and best illustrated with an old anecdote. Young Ramu said to his grandfather, “Tell me a story, Dadu.” “There were two wolves”, began the grandfather. “They lived in the same jungle. And whenever they chanced upon each other, they fought. They fought with such brutish spirit, it frightened everyone. They fought and retreated, and fought and thus went on their lives. Now tell me Ramu, which of these wolves will finally win,” grandfather stopped abruptly and asked Ramu.

Confused the young Ramu could not find a right answer. The grandfather understood his position, and said with a smile, “Of course, the one who is fed most”.

The lesson of this simple story lies in the fact what we feed becomes strong. What is the feeding? The kind of food – physical and mental, that we consume determines which wolf we are feeding.

Valuable lessons on Fear

Two recent events in my life, very insignificant, happened within a few days of each other and opened my insight to a truth and a very powerful lesson. I learnt that I am fearful and I also learnt why I am so fearful. I am always trumpeting in my blog writing and also when advising friends that one should never do anything under the influence of fear, that there is no need for fear, blah, blah. But when I analysed my own actions I discovered how hollow my words were.

The first occasion was when an old friend had come to my office to visit one of my partners. We exchanged greetings from a distance. While leaving, she with her husband was standing and chatting with my partner near the main door for quite a while. I could not bring myself to go and meet them. I was sitting in my room, working on some file but practically paralysed. What would I talk, how would I face them, if I go and talk to them would they be interested or would they be polite politically, or should I simply pass them with a nod of the head and walk on, would that be rude? I could not decide. Somewhere there is still some anger lurking inside me and at that moment this anger also raised its head, to justify the ego. Why should I go and meet her, can’t she come and meet me? So, it became obvious to me later that my fear got the better of me. Now, fear of what? Fear of being slighted, fear of being looked down upon, fear of being a loser, fear of the ego being shattered. I was in fact protecting my ego all the while. The rascal won’t leave me easily, even though identified, marked. Hah!

The second occasion was when I went to Bhubaneswar to attend a conference. From there I went to Kolkata and then took a return flight to Nagpur. The return flight was because I wanted to get back a day early to attend to some work and since no train service was available on the day the conference ended. To save on costs I booked this return ticket through my client organisation and hoped that this matter remained clandestine. However it did not. One inquisitive employee started making enquiries of me and I dodged. I dodged because I wanted to save my face, my reputation. I feared being exposed. But then the obvious was clear to all. It was obvious to me that I was trying to save my ego from blemish, my precious ego that I feared losing. I blamed myself for the stupid act and wondered whether I was worth protecting at all.

Both these incidents made me very unhappy, very close to depression. I could observe my fearfulness and could also see that I was becoming miserable because of that. It was a major failure. How much attachment I had for my ego, how much I loved and protected it, how much importance it had. I realized that this was exactly what I did not want. Then how was it that I did exactly what I did not want to? I could see that I had no control over my mind and my thinking. I spent a whole night in remorse.

Swami Ranganathananda in his exposition on the Bhagwat Gita explains, the atman cannot kill or be killed, it is eternal, it wears the body and the mind like clothes, to discards them when they become old and useless. The first major realisation from this episode, the significance of clothes on our body is there only till it is useful and serves a purpose. To give it any more importance than this is foolish. Similarly our body and ego are temporary and have to serve the atman to liberate itself from the cycle of birth and death. Until that moment of moksh happens the atman keeps changing clothes. When undue importance is given to body and ego, they play around with emotions, create karma and therefore we have to go through its complete cycle of cause and effect. Instead of bringing the curtains down on rebirths, we end up creating more births till all past karma is exhausted. How foolish it is to give importance to body and ego, how counter-productive. How precious is every moment in life to work out a liberation road map, why waste it on fancy emotions and thoughts, which take you in the wrong direction. Second major realisation, it is very essential to retain composure and calmness both is conquest and defeat. To be joyous or depressed belong to the realms of the mind, the ego. To entertain such emotions is to give importance to the ego, which will lead to more karma and rebirths. A balanced disposition, a controlled mind, equidistant from any extreme is the only way to live. Neither should failure bother you, nor should achievements affect you. All these have no real significance when we look at the countless births that we go through, countless events, good and bad, all forgotten and of no value to us today. Why keep rolling is such trivial pursuits which do not contribute to the goal of liberation? Very valuable lessons.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Yeh Bharat Desh Hai Mera

The past two decades after economic reforms were bestowed on the people of this land, have witnessed remarkable transformation. Life has not remained the same, conditions have not remained the same and Indians have not remained the same. Substantial change has taken place in this land. It is said that change is the only changeless thing, therefore change has to happen. When change happens it is mostly on autopilot. Someone gives a direction but to what extent the rest follow would depend on their sole initiative and understanding. Many mould the changing environment to their individual needs and vice versa get molded themselves by new environment. The envisaged change cannot be evenly distributed and cannot be a common phenomenon. Therefore it is often seen in the net result after all the metamorphosis has taken place that while some changes are good helpful and welcome amongst the people, some are hurting. While some people derive maximum benefits, some others miss the bus. But then since the change process once set forth cannot be reversed, everyone has to live with both the good and the bad.

As an ordinary citizen and lay observer I shall recount some of the amazing changes being witnessed in this country;

Traditions lost: Right from the time of Alexander and then Babur to the Europeans and the English, foreigners have tried to introduce their culture upon the people of this land and succeeded. The Indus and the Ganges river basin civilisations were poles apart from the western counterparts. People here were rich and talented but self-evasive to a fault. The ideals of life as laid down in the Vedas, the Gita and the Ramayana; the altruistic teachings of Buddha, Mahavira and Adi Shankaracharya were of a different standard. Babur in fact hated India and considered this country and its people most ordinary, “Hindustan is a country of few charms” he said in the Baburnama. The only things Babur liked about India were the abundance of gold and silver easy to plunder for which he stayed back. In this land greed and ostentatious display of wealth was looked down upon. The story of Rama and his brothers is one of devoted love, strong principles and sacrifice. The story of Krishn was of righteousness, respect and honour for one and all. Reverence of saints and sanyasis who were innumerable in this land and taking up monastic life by one member from every family by choice was considered normal. In the past, of the four types of human activity, Dharma and Moksha were considered superior to Artha and Kama. But all this is now lost and major erosion has taken place during the past two decades. In today’s India when anyone brings up such thoughts from the past it is at best dismissed as impractical or at worse considered magical like a Harry Potter story. People of this eastern land are no more the people that they were. The invaders have finally successfully decimated him from inside out.

Rural Migration: In the past there had always been migration. The Marwari’s of Rajasthan settled all over the country, the Punjabis went over to Africa and Canada, the Bengal famine and the partition of India were also very strong reasons for migration. In fact the migration story has always been for survival, safety and better living conditions if you leave apart the reason of conquest based settlements. The modern Indian migration story is slightly critical. Mass scale urbanization is taking place and people are moving from rural regions to cities. It is as if an illness or a curse, nobody from the younger generation wants to stay back in their village. The reasons are better school, collage, better job, better housing and better life style. Every city is bursting at its seams, health and hygiene have become issues, cleanliness and order is now passé, mafia type crime has become reality. Transfer of population to urban places has been an age old phenomenon but it had a very slow pace and was never considered an easy option. People in the past who undertook it knew that they would be sacrificing the wonderful comfortable life of the village. With patience, time and efforts over decades, those people have slowly improved their living condition in the city. Today their success is visible to all. Secondly development has not reached the rural regions, which is a failure of strategy and foresight on the part of the government. People have made their conclusion about which side of the bread is buttered and that they will forever miss the development bus if they continue living in the village. Rural migration has become a mass activity and at this scale one can imagine in the next decade only elders will be seen in the villages. That is in case no corrective measures are taken.

Consumerism: The present young generation aged below thirty is spending as well as making their parents spend as if there is no tomorrow. Such a phenomenon was never witnessed in this country before. Of course majority of the population did not have excess money to spend. Those that did have money were always cautious about where and how to spend it. But today in the cities one can see people walking in and out of malls and markets with loads of money and shopping bags. This is not about shopping alone; in fact the attitude towards life has changed, instant gratification has become the key. People don’t believe in maximum diligent usage, stretching the life of a product, recycling, postponing or restricting consumption and saving. All this has become so old fashioned. The today’s generation does not believe in waiting, they want to get everything today and now. Enormous wastage is a direct product and bad effect on physical as well as psychological health of the people due to inadequate digestive ability is a by-product commonly visible. To be able to spend, people have to have spending power. For this they earn, beg, borrow or steal and everyone sees to it that none of the options are left unused. Corruption is equally common in all spheres, all areas, all levels, and all sectors. In fact corruption is accepted as a normal and necessary evil and people have learnt to take it in their stride without any complain. To get their target possession, people would go to any extent, leaving no stone unturned. Very few care to introspect about whether they deserve it or not, very few care to analyse whether they need it or not, very few care to evaluate whether they can afford it or not. What everyone cares for is that they ought to have the thing which they crave for. A person with a cycle wants a bike, one with a bike wants a car, one with a car wants another car; a person with a telephone wants a mobile, one with a mobile wants another with advanced features, one with such an advanced mobile wants an i-pad; a person with a flat wants a bungalow, one with a bungalow wants two; clothes are bought and thrown as if they were toilet paper; hotels and restaurants have become profitable irrespective of their taste and where food is wasted with an expression of birth-right; people who travelled by bus now want to use the ac train compartment, those who used the train now want to use the plane; people who visited temples in the nearby towns now want to visit extremes corners of the country, people who travelled the states now want to go to the America and Europe. Salaries have sky rocketed, employees look for a change in job just for more salary, with a stronger purchase backed demand prices of every ordinary item have also hit the roof and inflation has become a serious concern.

Fearful, fast and furious: Someone said that these days we see more religion but no spirituality. The degree of fear in every individual has increased by many units. People have extreme fears of losing, of failure, of loneliness, of not having, of poverty, of being branded an unsuccessful, but nobody fears losing health or losing mental peace. To overcome their fears people flock to bargain with the gods or the godmen, undertake fasts and conduct rituals. Here too the attitude is so pathetic, as if people believe that by spending money on some external agency they can overcome their obstacles. These day’s temples are becoming rich and one gets to see bigger and more lavish temples being constructed. Without spirituality these would become places of doom rather than places of happiness.

People have become impatient, short tempered and intolerant. Newspapers provide ample examples of such trends on a daily basis right in the morning. Conflict in the name of religion, conflict in the name of caste, conflict in the name of power, conflict in the name of survival, conflict in the name of money, conflict in the name of ego, conflict in the name of jobs, conflict in the name of road space, all these stuff have become regular and unavoidable. Now day’s it no more requires a hindu-muslim context to start a riot. Recently at Nagpur, the Muslim community was at fighting amongst themselves over the place for burial of a saintly person Baba Mustafa who had died, curfew was imposed for several days and matter was finally decided by the Supreme Court. The Kaph panchayats follow their own rules of inter-personal relations and same gotra marriage is considered more than a sin. Honour killing as the term suggests is the only honourable exit available for a family against their daughters marrying outside their caste. Marriages don’t work anymore and the percentage of divorce has increased to match that of the western world. Every caste category wants a reservation proportion marked for them in school, collage, jobs. Road rage, loud honking and accidents due to speed are too common. Everybody wants to reach their destination fast and it is always the fault of the other driver. Everybody wants a good piece of land, the builder, the industrialist, the dalal, the politician, everyone. They have all become so focused on getting it out of the clutches of the farmer. The irony is that this same farmer toils to produce food for all these people. Farmers commit suicide when the burden of loan becomes too heavy and weather becomes too dry to sustain agriculture. Every conflict goes to the courts and today the courts have so much back log of cases to hear and decide that an ordinary citizen cannot expect justice to be delivered within their lifetime.

Virtual world - the new life; Internet and mobile telephony, two important developments under modern information technology has changed the way of life for youngsters in school collages and workplace, the manner in which communication is conducted. Short message service, tweets, emails, chats, v-cons, eclassroom, elibrary, ebooks, webinar and video game; have put an end to talking and meeting. Had this been a long distance communication it would still be acceptable. However even office colleagues post a ‘Hi’ message over the internet chat but do not acknowledge a greeting physically. It is difficult to see kids play games like hide and seek, marbles, and such others. They play games which will earn money like cricket, tennis, billiards, chess and when tired they are fiddling with the video game. Movies have gone animation and it is easier to imagine and create a fabulous story using computer tools. So we have even the Ramayana converted and if one may say so, trivialized into cartoons. Television soaps and serials have captured the kids and the ladies and converted them into zombies. Even if the story gets unrealistic the loyalty does not falter. TRP has emerged as a modern concept with an economic significance capable of making and breaking careers. My guess is that we are just seeing the tip of the virtual world today. This thing is going to get bigger, fancier and very powerful in days to come.

A few more trends: The last twenty years have witnessed a lot many other changes in this country though small but very telling. Women have become more empowered in every sphere of life right from driving lorries, taxis and trains, to becoming porters at railway stations, to breaking the corporate glass ceiling, to holding the remote control over affairs of the country. True we had Indira Gandhi before but she was a one off entity. Today we many more Indira Gandhis. Today even the average Indian women is not contented with being a housewife, she demands and gets financial freedom. However the age old practice of dowry has not stopped and on the contrary has fueled girl child infanticide, thereby skewing the gender ratio in some parts of the country. So we have Kerala women getting married to Haryana men and then the struggle starts for the matriarchal society girl with the male dominant society culture.

In a growing economy jobs are available for asking and sometimes are offered without asking. While the corporate sector feels no embarrassment about stealing manpower from competitors so also the employees feel no fear to jump jobs at the drop of a hat. However the catch is that work pressure has gone beyond the roof. Employees are expected to produce results, finish tasks however herculean they may sound. They are expected to possess a basic intelligence, willingness to work hard, sacrifice personal needs and not succumb under pressure. Salaries and other emoluments have gone ridiculously haywire and there are many samples that draw in crores monthly.

Education in schools and collages has been transformed beyond recognition. 10th and 12th board examinations produce children with 99 percentile marks. IIM and IIT expect students to earn 100 percentile in their entrance examinations. Coaching classes and parental pressure drive kids on a high performance trajectory with huge expectations and stakes. Failures and poor performance normally results in numerous suicides during the results season. Will these kids grow up into abnormal adults having high expectations from society and its groups and creating pressure all around them? Time will tell.

Today this country has a youth majority population with a lot of self confidence. Previously the world recognized the potential and capability of the Indian brain but today it accepts this as a reality. Spirituality is no more the only human export from India to the west but now there are many young corporate leaders, sports champions, musicians, artists, technology engineers, scientists, etc. Today this country also attracts FDI, people with bags of money looking for investment prospects, people with technology and business looking to expand and grow. The world has changed for this country and I literally mean it.

That does not imply that poverty has vanished from this country. It has not. However it has become less. The number of BPL people has increased in number but have shrunk in proportion to the population. The jury is still out on what constitutes a BPL individual but had not people been moving up the prosperity chain the migration from villages into cities would have stopped long back. India and Indians have still not been able to address and tackle the issue of alleviation of poverty as a country and as a government. People continue to struggle till they themselves are able to work better, earn better and live better.

A Hindi film song by a modern time song writer and music director sums it all up; “In dino dil mera, mujh se hai keh raha, tu khab saja, tu jile zara, hai tujhe bhi izazat, karle tu bhi mohabbat.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus is a short poem by a lesser known English poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). It was written in 1875 and first published in 1888. The poem became the source of inspiration in the twenty first century for the great Nelson Mandela when he was held in prison for thirty years.

The poem motivates the reader to face up to all challenges without fear. Circumstances may be cruel, unbearable, unjust, yet they cannot destroy ones inner spirit. This dignity with which one treats own life, cannot be broken or taken away. In the end life has to triumph, even against heavy odds. The eastern philosophy says that we alone are the heirs to our deeds. What we are today is a direct consequence to our past deeds. So let us face our life with pride and humility at the same time. Bad times pass, nothing lasts forever, and it is very important to remember this fact. We should not permit tough circumstances to overpower our rationality nor drown our positive outlook. That is real strength, real character, real power. Tough situations also teaches us how not to hurt and harm others. These are lessons life wishes that we learn when we go through such situations. There obviously must be some reason for that.

For anybody going through a bad phase in life, this poem comes as a source of succor. It is further more comforting that Nelson Mandela actually found this as his motivation to overcome apartheid and also forgive his oppressors. It is a masterpiece which touches chords of emotions deep inside the heart, brings forth courage and transforms the tears of pain into those of pure victory, over circumstance; making light weight of all sorts of heaviness inside.