What is the recipe for success?

यशोधिगन्तुं सुखलिप्सया वा मनुष्यसंख्यामतिवर्तितुं वा |

 निरुत्सकानामभियोगभाजां समुत्सुके वाङ्कमुपैति सिद्धिः ||

yashodhigantum sukhalipsayā vā manuśyasamkhyāmativartitum vā nirutsakānāmabhiyogabhājām samutsuke vānkmupaiti siddhih

Kavya Prakasha

Success itself is keen to fall in the lap of and embrace a person who is not very keen to be famous, or who is not desirous of attaining pleasure or happiness, or who wants to be the very best (in any field) but the one who performs his duties diligently and selflessly without any undue anxiety about the results of his/her action.

This śloka is from the The Kāvyaprakāśa, a Sanskrit scripture written by Mammaṭa in the 11th century. This work is also termed kāvya-śāstra (‘science of poetry’). According to tradition, part of the text was said to originally have been composed by Bharata, the legendary author of the Nāṭyaśāstra.


Very much in the vein of Karma Yoga, the śloka sheds light on very contemporary thoughts – ambition and competition. 

Our educational system lays emphasis on these two traits in ample measure. Right from the beginning, we are introduced to a sense of ‘I have to be better than everyone else’ – a feeling that we nurture and carry all through our study life, and further into the workplace and the business world. 

How to be successful – there is an industry of self-help books and motivational coaching built around this paradigm, this magical secret of success that everyone is so desperate to find. Be the best, go for the gold – no one remembers second place…a motivational exercise has you staring at yourself in the mirror every morning repeating to yourself – I AM THE BEST…Are you? And how does it matter?


When Mozart made his first composition at the age of 5, was he thinking about whom to beat? Or when Sachin started his diligent practice under Shri. Achrekar, was he concerned with the records he went on to make? I don’t think so. Mozart composed since he loved music, Sachin played cricket because it was his passion. 

I think their single-minded focus on learning, on discovery, on following their passion, led to the flow – the symphony and the beauty of that famous cover drive. 

The rest followed. 


Let us aim to be a bit better than yesterday – a lot better than when we started out, and the best version of ourself, when it is time to leave. 

Work hard, and if you have given it your best, don’t ponder over the result

Arjuna and Karna in the Mahabharata

What is meant to be for you, will never be denied, and what is not meant for you, will never come your way.

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What is my duty in life?

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुण: परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् |
स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेय: परधर्मो भयावह: || 

śhreyān swa-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣhṭhitāt
swa-dharme nidhanaṁ śhreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ

Srimad Bhagavad Gīta 3.35

It is far better to perform one’s natural prescribed duty, though tinged with faults, than to perform another’s prescribed duty, though perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous. 

On the surface, this shloka can be a bit confusing, and easily misinterpreted. What is my prescribed duty? Does it mean that once I am assigned a duty, or a vocation, I cannot change it? What if I grow out of it, and want to do something else?

These are some of the questions that even Karnā (from the Mahābhārata) faced. The son of a charioteer, he faced ridicule and social unacceptance when he wished to train in archery. All through this life, he struggled to prove that he could be the best archer the world had ever seen, but was killed by Arjuna in the epic battle. So was he right, and society wrong? 


Dharma is derived from the verb root dhṛi, which means to “hold, maintain or keep”. But it should also be ḍhāraṇ karane yogya, or “responsibilities, duties, thoughts, and actions that are appropriate.”

Swa means the self, and hence swadharma means the duties and responsibilities, thoughts and actions that are appropriate for us, keeping in mind the situation, maturity and profession in our livesDharma has to always be in accordance to Ṛta, or the natural order of things. The English word ‘right’, owes its origins to Ṛta. Which means, 

swadharma has to be seen in the right context, and not just taken as an unchangeable fact. 


I have studied to be an Engineer – in fact, passed out in the top 3 in my batch, with distinction. And I have not worked as an Engineer for a single day of my life. I found my calling as a consultant, something that interests me, and comes naturally to me. I may have turned out to be a great engineer, who knows, but that would not have come naturally to me. My mental state would have been in conflict, since I would not enjoy what I would be doing, in spite of doing it well. I may not be the best consultant there is, but my mind is aligned to my vocation, and that keeps me at peace. 

We are also tempted to try something else just because someone you know is more successful doing that. I did too – when I attempted becoming a CFA Charterholder in 2007. The finance field was booming, and CFAs were in high demand. It seemed to be an interesting subject, I would have been able to put my hard work into it and clear it as well, but somewhere along the way, I realised that I would not be truly happy. 

What is the use of clearing yet another exam, getting yet another degree, trying yet another field of work, maybe even being successful, if the mind doesn’t enjoy it?


Swadharma can change, with time, maturity and context of the situation. Bhishma thought that his dharma was loyalty to the throne, and hence he did not intervene when Draupadi was humiliated in public. This was not swadharma, since the situation demanded action, and hence Bhishma had to pay with his life, killed by his own grandson. 


So the next time you are faced with this question – what is my swadharma – you will have to take a step back and look at the situation, and what comes naturally to you, where your mind, body and capabilities are aligned, and more importantly, what is right for you..and then take a decision. 

It is not easy doing something that is unpopular, or that doesn’t pay as much as what others may get, but if it is in line with your capabilities and you feel that it is appropriate for you, then you cannot go wrong. 

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Not my quote, this is by Steve Jobs.

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Two fishes and a frog

As the frog said, “the one with thousand tricks sat on the head of the fisherman, the one with hundred tricks is hanging by the fisherman’s arm and I with only one trick am happily swimming in the water.”

Two fish named Sahasrabuddhi and Satabuddhi made a lake their home. They had a frog as a friend whose name was Ekabuddhi. Every day, they used to meet on the bank of the lake and discuss everything under the sun and disperse at sunset. One day, they saw some fishermen equipped with nets and each carrying a basket full of fish came that way and saw the lake and noticed that it was full of good fish. They told themselves that they should come early the next morning and bait the fish.

The fish heard their conversation and were very worried. Then the frog asked Satabuddhi for advice.

“O Satabuddhi, you have heard what the fishermen were planning. Now tell us what we should do. Should we remain in the lake or go somewhere else.”

Sahasrabuddhi answered the question, “Don’t worry. You should not be scared by just words. 

The learned have said “The world is still safe because the dreams of snakes and wicked men never come true.” 

The fishermen may not even come tomorrow. If they come, I am here to save you.”

Satabuddhi said, “You are a genius. What you say is correct. There is nothing that accomplished men cannot conquer. Remember how Chanakya had killed all the armed Nandas.

“Where one cannot pierce sun and wind, the wits of a resourceful man enter.
One should not leave motherland, for, nothing is happier than one’s own land.”

Then, Ekabuddhi, the frog, said, “Friends, flight is the only thing I know. So, I and my wife will leave this place tonight itself.”

Accordingly, the frog left the lake immediately. Next day, the fishermen came and netted lot of fish, frogs, crabs, turtles etc. and also Satabuddhi and Sahasrabuddhi and killed all of them. 

One of them carried Sahasrabuddhi on his head because he was heavier and slung Satabuddhi to his arm because he was long.

Ekabuddhi showed this scene to his wife and said, “Didn’t I tell you what the fishermen will do? Now, see the plight of Satabuddhi and Sahasrabuddhi. The one with thousand tricks (Sahasrabuddhi) sat on the head of the fisherman, the one with hundred tricks (Satabuddhi) is hanging by the fisherman’s arm and I with only one trick am happily swimming in the water.”

The wise indeed say:
Wisdom is superior to knowledge
.


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Who am I?

मनोबुद्ध्यहङ्कारचित्तानिनाहं

श्रोत्रजिह्वेघ्राणनेत्रे

न च व्योम भूमिर्न तेजो न वायुः

चिदानन्दरूपः शिवोऽहम् शिवोऽहम् ।।

manOBuddhyahankAra cittAni nAham, na ca SrOtrajihvE na ca ghrANanEtrE | na ca vyOma bhoomirna tEjO na vAyu:, cidAnandaroopa: ShivOham ShivOham ||

Nirvana Śhatakam by Ādi Śańkara

I am not the mind, the intellect, the ego or the memory,
I am not the ears, the skin, the nose or the eyes,
I am not space, not earth, not fire, water or wind,
I am the form of consciousness and bliss,
I am the eternal consciousness…


If there is only one composition that you would wish to learn from your heart and mind – it is this.

It is said that when Ādi Śaṅkara was a young boy of eight and wandering near River Narmada, seeking to find his guru, he encountered the seer Govinda Bhagavatpada, who asked him, “Who are you?” The boy answered with these stanzas, which are known as “Nirvāṇa Shatkam” or Ātma Shatkam”. Swami Govindapada accepted Ādi Śaṅkara as his disciple.

There are compositions that one can give a commentary on, and there are others where you don’t need any guidance, or explanation.

The six verses of Nirvana Śhatakam explain the concept of Nirvāṇa – which means “to extinguish” or “to blow out”.

Extinguish what? Your outer self, the separation that we put in between us and everyone else, and everything else. Ādi Śańkara starts with the physical body, then the subtle body (na ca praNasamjnO na vaI pancavAyu:), then strips away emotions, likes and dislikes, even relationships, and then reveals the inner Self as our true nature.

Nirvana Śhatakam has helped me during tough times…times when I was searching for answers, when I was questioning the purpose of life, and the goodness (or lack thereof) of people around me. I listened to this daily, on my way to work (takes just 10 minutes), and it made a huge difference to my state of mind.

You may not find all the answers, but your questions will surely disappear.

Here is the rest of the composition, without the need for any explanation:)

We are all worthy

अमन्त्रमक्षरं नास्ति नास्ति मूलमनौषधम् ।
अयोग्यः पुरुषो नास्ति योजकस्तत्र दुर्लभः ॥

amantramakṣaraṃ nāsti nāsti mūlamanauṣadham ।
ayogyaḥ puruṣo nāsti yojakastatra durlabhaḥ ॥

Samayocitapadyamālikā

There is not a syllable which is not a mantra; there is not a root that is not a medicine. There is no person who is not able, but rare is the person who knows how to apply his true potential!

Sanskrit is a very advanced and highly systemised language – it is the only language in the world that is arranged by the principles of phonetics. According to Paramahansa Yogananda, God Talks With Arjuna, The Bhagavad Gita, “In a highly simplified description, it may be said that the fifty letters or sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet are on the petals of the sahasrara, and that each alphabetical vibration in turn is connected with a specific petal on the lotuses in the spinal centers (which have a total of fifty corresponding petals…)“Petals” mean ray or vibrations. These vibrations, … are responsible for various psychological and physiological activities in the physical and astral bodies of man.”

Each letter of Sanskrit can be treated as a mantra, if recited in the right manner – with your breath, mind and body in unison. 

But today’s śloka doesn’t limit itself to Sanskrit. Speech is a powerful tool – it defines who we are, and it can also cause manifestations of your thoughts. Science has proved that matter is energy, a series of vibrations, and conversely, a series of vibrations can define matter. Speech is a series of vibrations, and hence we have to be very mindful of what we say. 


amantramakṣaraṃ nāsti – there is no letter that you say, that can not have a powerful effect – all you need is the proper pronunciation. Which also means that there are no useless syllables, or letters. 

nāsti mūlamanauṣadham – there is no plant or food without medicinal value – all we need is the knowledge of Āyurvedā to decipher it. Ancient scriptures found medicinal properties in most herbs, roots and plants –

the humble turmeric that we use so frequently in Indian cooking has only recently been ‘found’ to be a super medicine 

(and hence the turmeric lattes at Starbucks). 

ayogyaḥ puruṣo nāsti – This is a very powerful phrase – there is no one who is without potential, no one who can be called useless. Brain science has demonstrated that at a subconscious level, we have more stored information than we ever thought before. The basal ganglia, or ancient part of our brains, store our experiences and the feelings associated with them, without us even knowing it. This is what kicks in when we have a ‘gut feeling’, or ‘instinct’. 

When we are such a treasure trove of information, without even consciously working on it, imagine the potential we all have when we combine this with conscious effort. 

yojakastatra durlabhaḥ – This is an equally powerful line. It is tough to find a person who can recognise and tap this potential. The potential within oneself, or also the potential within others.

To tap one’s own potential, one has to use introspection – without bias, without thinking of what you want to become – and by focusing on what you can become by applying your knowledge, experience and most importantly, interest. śhreyān swa-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣhṭhitāt– It is far better to perform one’s natural prescribed duty, though tinged with faults, than to perform another’s prescribed duty, though perfectly. 

To tap the potential within others – this needs a Guru. For only a Guru can dispel the darkness (Gu) of ignorance and take you towards the light (Ru).

Only a Guru can bring out your best abilities, your best potential. And yes, it is rare to find a person who can truly introspect, and even rarer to find a true Guru. 


Meditate on this śloka whenever you feel low, or think that you are worthless. The smallest parts of existence, every cell in your body, has a function, and is important for you to live a healthy life. Everything in this Universe has a reason for being, and we as humans have been given far more capabilities – we need to recognise them, harness our potential, and work towards a better life, a better society, and a better future.

We are in everything, and everything is in us

आत्मौपम्येन सर्वत्र समं पश्यति योऽर्जुन |

सुखं वा यदि वा दु:खं स योगी परमो मत: || 

ātmaupamyena sarvatra samaṁ paśhyati yo ’rjuna

sukhaṁ vā yadi vā duḥkhaṁ sa yogī paramo mataḥ

Bhagavad Gīta 6.32

 I regard them to be perfect yogis who see the true equality of all living beings and respond to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were their own.

If you stick out your tongue at a baby, she would stick out her tongue as well. In fact, all babies learn through mimicking. Have you also noticed how your own heartbeat races when you see Virat Kohli at the crease, poised to take the winning shot in a cricket match? Or when someone yawns, you feel like yawning as well? 

Turns out, this mimicking of actions and feelings is due to the presence of ‘mirror neurons’ – the brain cells that activate when we see someone doing something. For example, if you see someone smile, the mirror neurons in your brain light up – and the same neurons light up when you smile as well. Christian Keysers, a leading mirror neuron researcher says ” what happens is that when we witness others’ facial expressions, we activate the same in our own motor cortex, but we also transmit this information to the insula, involved in our emotions. When I see your facial expression, I get the movement of your face, which drives the same motor response on my face, so a smile gets a smile. The motor resonance is also sent on to your own emotional centers, so you share the emotion of the person in front of you.”

In other words – we are able to feel what others feel. 


Now comes the fun part. Neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran says that the only reason you feel that you have a distinct identity is because your pre-frontal cortex – the most recently evolved region of the brain – inhibits your mirror neurons. For example, lets say that you see someone cutting vegetables and accidentally slice her finger. Your mirror neurons would immediately activate – but your pre-frontal cortex examines signals from your own finger, and determines that all is well. If your fingers were anaesthetised, and unable to send an OK signal back to your brain, you would feel the same pain as her!

Daniel Goleman, in his book – Social Intelligence – the new science of human relationships, concludes that “examination of the sense organs tells us that the senses, though wondrous as they are, are limited. Only a short section of light is visible to the human eyes and many frequencies that other species hear elude our ears. Our perceptions do not always depict reality. We tend to take things like air and water for granted until we are starved of them. Realization of significance of ordinary things is real knowledge or enlightenment. Our senses—designed for survival—tell us that creatures are separate but new knowledge of mirror neurons shows that creatures are wirelessly connected through emotion and thought.


In short, we are more deeply connected to each other, that we realise. 

What science says today, the scriptures have been saying for thousands of years. The distinction of I, the identity that we carry, is unreal and limited. 

We are a collective consciousness, and we ought to start seeing ourselves in everybody, and everybody in ourselves. 

When we see ourselves in every living being on the planet in this manner, it is natural to be compassionate to all. You feel what others feel, and to think negative of others is to think negative of your own self. This kind of realisation can only lead to postivity – a world where we are more at peace with everyone and everything, and in turn, with our own self. 

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What is Yoga?

This article first appeared on – https://www.rohitghai.com/21-day-sadhana-challenge-day-15/

This seemingly simple question is quite difficult to answer actually. Answers differ – it depends on who is asking the question, and who is being asked. 

Put this question to a traditionalist…and he would surely mention the ‘union’, the melting of consciousness, and a lot more. As a Neo-teacher of yoga, and the most likely answer would involve a lot of ‘posturing’, with a bit of pop spirituality in between. But ask Google, and that’s when it hits the pits. Beer yoga, wine yoga, rage yoga, lamb(??) yoga…the list of quirks is endless. 

So what is yoga?

Is it Hatha yoga, which by some is interpreted as a symphony of asanas, strung together so as to deliver the tunes of fine health (sometimes, in 20 days, or your money back). Of course, there exist many serious practitioners of Hatha Yoga, but most of them are lost in the cacophony of downward dogs and fire breaths. 

Then there is Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and many many more. 

The last one (yes, Kundalini) has been abused to almost comical proportions, with ‘masters’ claiming to ‘raise your kundalini’ in six days, and articles written on ’15 ways to raise your kundalini today’. Well, its a pity that the sages of yore were blissfully (yes, pun intended) unaware of these superquick and failsafe methods; they must have been pretty stupid to spend years and years trying to achieve what is now ‘guaranteed in 6 days flat’. Ancient inefficiency?

And yes, do throw a liberal dash of chakra mumbo-jumbo into the mix. Phrases such as ‘chakra balancing’ are popular, probably among auto-enthusiasts who must surely see this as a logical and organic extension of wheel-balancing their Mustang Shelbys. 

There are claims of activating, correcting and aligning these mystical chakras, processes that can solve all your problems and take you from the mundane sufferings of this world, to transcendental experiences…all in 432 Hz on You Tube. After all, the Universe does send you back gifts, based on your karma and now enraged kundalinis. Satisfied? Satiated? Enlightened?


I have been asked on how my yoga is different from what’s being offered by existing yoga studios – do I have a new set of āsanās, or a new `vinyāsā flow sequence’, or new breathing techniques? My answer is simple:

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And what do we take with us?

नामुत्र हि सहायार्थं पिता माता च तिष्ठतः । 
न पुत्रदारं न ज्ञातिर्धर्मस्तिष्ठति केवलः ॥ २३९ ॥

nāmutra hi sahāyārthaṃ pitā mātā ca tiṣṭhataḥ | 
na putradāraṃ na jñātirdharmastiṣṭhati kevalaḥ || 239 ||

Manusmriti 4.239

The Manu Smriti tells us: namutra hi sahayartham pita mata ca tisthatah. na putradarah na jnatih dharmas tisthati kevalah. “When you depart from this world, your father will not come with you, your mother will not come with you, your brother will not come, your sister will not come, your husband will not come, your wife will not come, your children will not come, your money will not come, and even your body will not come with you.” 

Then what will come with you? The verse mentions that your spiritual merit alone accompanies you. 

Everything else remains here – life goes on, the assets that we accumulate pass on to the next generation, or wither away. How many of us can recall (or even know) the names of our great-great grandparents, and their parents? Even our names will be forgotten within 2-3 generations, and that is the truth. 

How we live everyday counts – not towards any credit that we can cash out on when we depart, but towards our growth now.

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Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga, or अष्टाङ्ग (Ashtanga Yoga), is an 8-fold path followed as a discipline in Yoga. Ashta is eight, and anga means limbs.

The eight limbs of yoga are: yamaniyamaāsanaprānāyāma, pratyāharā, dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi.

Yama and niyama are codes of ethical behaviour and restraint. Yama is ethical behaviour, and niyama is the self-discipline that follows our ethical behaviour. For example, to practice ahimsā, or non-violence (yama), one has to practice santoshā, or contentment. The desire to harm usually comes from discontent, doesn’t it? Without going into too much detail at present, let me just say that as good conduct and restraint are the foundations of any moral society, the practice of yamas and niyamas gives a foundation to the journey of yoga.

Āsanā is the third limb of yoga, one that is the ‘most popular’ and has off late become the face of yoga practice. While āsanās are important, over-reliance on postures without understanding (or working towards) the larger goal merely reduces this powerful practice to a sequence of twists and stretches.

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Nature

Why is it that we think of a retreat, of going away from it all, we always tend to go closer to nature?

I am fortunate enough to live in a community that is very close to nature. We have low-rise buildings, larger terraces, trees all over and abundant green spaces. I wake up with the chirping of the birds, and this continues all through the day, until they retire at sunset. A couple of bowls of fresh water, a few pieces of tomato and a smile in the heart is all it takes to connect with these birds. They have nested many times, and I’ve been privileged to see more than a dozen eggs hatch, and young ones being fed by their parents…

We are all extensions of nature – hence the term ‘Mother Nature’. We are born from nature, we live by nature, and when we are gone, we become part of nature again.

This cosmic bonding with nature is why we feel so calm and composed when we are surrounded by nature in it’s abundance. Take a walk in the morning sun, feel the green grass under your bare feet, run your fingers through the flowing water of a stream, hear the sounds of birds and crickets – being in nature, and with nature, is the antidote to any level of stress that you may experience. Being in nature can restore our mood, give us back our energy and vitality, refresh and rejuvenate us.

I just heard about the art of Shinrin-Yoku, or the Japanese art of forest bathing. Shinrin means forest, and yoku means bath.

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