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.
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 lives. Dharma 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.
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:)
Though he might be said to have gone at a bad time to the forest, in dharma, in truth, no bad time exists – life being as fickle as it is.
The Buddhacarita (Saddharma-pundarika) by Aśvaghoṣa is a famous Sanskrit mahākāvya revolving around the live and exploits of the Buddha. In those days, the āśrama system of living was practiced, where the human lifespan was divided into 4 stages, each approximately 25 years (āśramas). Each āśrama focused on the development of some specific facets of the individual, and aiding fulfilment of his or her duties – Brahmacarya (learning), gṛhastha (household), vānaprastha(retirement) and sannyāsa (renunciation). Of these, the sannyāsa stage was mostly carried out in a forest, away from humanity. The vānaprastha stage was for preparation of going to the forest.
On the surface, this śloka speaks about living life as per dharmā, or the right path, and that there is no good time to begin living this way, given the fragility of life. The latter half of this sentence holds special importance. Two months back, who could have thought that life would come to a near standstill, the whole world would be locked down, and we would be taking permissions to even step out of our homes? Who would have thought that going to the supermarket would be a task in itself, and that birthdays and anniversaries would be muted celebrations within our houses? Or that oil would trade below one dollar a barrel? Or that more than 180,000 people would be dead from a virus, with more than 40,000 dead in the most advanced country in the world?
Yes, life is fickle, and there is no better time than now to actually realise it.
According to research done by Dr. Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, people are really bad at predicting who they will be in the future (your future self). The reason is simple: it’s far easier to remember the past than to imagine the future.
the more you see your “future self”as a stranger, the more likely you are to give your future self the same workload that you would give a stranger, and put things off to tomorrow.
It’s important to get in touch with your future self, by doing things like sending a letter to future you, creating a “future memory,” or even downloading an app that will show you what you look like in the future.
And so, with this realisation, we need to re-evaluate our lives, our priorities and ways of living.
There is no better time, than NOW. If you want to change your life, there is no better time than NOW.
If you wanted to start to learn something, or to drop a habit, or to exercise, or to say I love you – there is no better time than NOW. Be kinder to your future self, realise that whatever you put off today – a healthier lifestyle, a sustained savings plan, a better way of living and thinking – will all affect YOU in the future.
And as the next śloka aptly puts it:
तस्मादद्यैव मे श्रेयश्चेतव्यमिति निश्चयः । जीविते को हि विश्रम्भो मृत्यौ प्रत्यर्थिनि स्थिते ||
tasmādadyaiva me śreyaścetavyamiti niścayaḥ | jīvite ko hi viśrambho mṛtyau pratyarthini sthite ||
Buddhacarita 6.21, by Aśvaghoṣa
Therefore my determination is, ‘I must seek my supreme good this very day.’ For who can rely on lasting life while death stands by?
from Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, written by Jagadguru Adi Śaṅkarācārya
First is enumerated discrimination between the Real and the unreal; next comes aversion to the enjoyment of fruits (of one’s actions) here and hereafter; (next is) the group of six attributes; and (last) is clearly the yearning for Liberation.
Knowing the goal is important, but equally important is knowing the path to get there. Adi Shankara, in his Vivekachudamani (prakaraṇa grantha or teaching manual) has laid out the Sādhana-Catuṣṭaya (Sadhana Chatushtaya) -the four fold path of practice for seeking spiritual liberation. The four disciplines are vivekā, vairāgyā, shat–sampat and mumukshutva. Today, I will look at some aspects of this śloka, in the context of learning and self-discipline, rather than spirituality.
Students have to learn to discriminate between what is important and helpful in their educational pursuits, and onward career development, and reject the rest.
If your aim is to become an engineer, your mind should be focused on seeking everything that is essential towards fulfilling that goal. If you are training to be a classical dancer or a martial artist, your practice should be intense, and your mind should be tuned to recognising the right food, the right amount of rest, and the right knowledge that is essential to complement your practice.
Knowing the right from the wrong requires discrimination, and this is vivekā. The process of rejecting what is unnecessary, and what doesn’t contribute towards your progress towards the goal, is vairāgyā.
Shat-sampat loosely translates into six treasures. Every personality development workshop there is surely talks about these six attributes – śamaḥ,damaḥ,uparama,samādhāna,śraddhā and titikṣā.
Śama – keeping calm under any circumstance.
A large part of student life goes in experiencing pressure – the pressure of performance, the pressure of constant exams, the pressure of achieving campus placements and the pressure of landing a good job. Learning how to keep calm is essential – for only a calm mind can think clearly. Nothing is lost if you get less marks, or get a lower rank – you can still make it up, provided you keep your composure, learn from your mistakes, and work harder the next time around.
Dama – The restraint of the sense organs.
Śama is the inner restraint (of the mind), and dama is the external restraint. Our sense organs (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) are the means through which we experience the world. Every product that is sold out there, be it movie, or a device, or food, or clothes – they all in some way engage our senses. This is also why we find it so difficult to control ourselves – we always more more of everything.
Practising dama is critical for self-discipline. Yes, that Netflix series is enticing, everyone has been talking about it – but it may be more prudent to engage your senses in completing your studies for the upcoming exam. This is dama.
Uparama – Upa is above, and rama – is enjoyment. Uparama is a consequence of śama and dama.
Where you go beyond fickle pleasures, and get prepared for a higher state of bliss. No matter how many movies you see, or how many ice-creams you eat (if you like ice-cream that is), there is no end to it. We always want more.
न जातु काम: कामानामुपभोगेन शाम्यति । हविषा कृष्णवर्त्मेव भूय एवाभिवर्धते
na jātu kāmaḥ kāmānām upabhogena śāṁyati haviṣā kṛṣṇa-vartmeva bhūya evābhivardhate
Desire cannot be quenched by the fulfilment of desire. Desire increases by its fulfilment, as when clarified butter is poured over fire it increases the ferocity of the flame; it does not make it cease.
Yoga is an active process and requires pravṛtti , whereas Jnana nivṛtti requires the avoidance of any action. At Uparama, actions also come to a standstill, but attaining wisdom remains the focal point. Uparama occurs as soon as our senses and our minds stop getting distracted and start to truly concentrate on the goal. This is the state you achieve when you enjoy your studies, you immerse yourself in dance and you focus on BECOMING THE PUNCH, in martial arts.
Titikṣā is perseverance, patience, tolerance.
Everything cannot be the way you want it to be. What you can change – change it. What you cannot change – requires tolerance to bear it. Yoga is not about avoiding situations – it is about persevering through them. As a student, or at work, there are many circumstances that are adverse – you cannot control them. Titikṣā is the quality that helps you go through the situation, without suffering or complaining. As the saying goes
“Give me the power to change what I can, the will to bear what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Śraddhā is devotion. śrat – our truth, and dhā – or hold (in the heart). Śraddhā is that deep truth that you hold in your heart – your truth – which may be different from mine and anyone else’s truth. It is what you truly believe in, regardless of your religious practices. Śhraddhā is also used to describe intense devotion – to your God, to your work, to anything that you work hard to attain. As a student, unless you are intensely devoted to your goal, you will not be able to learn. A degree you may achieve though strategic study yes, but knowing the subject and being the best that you can at it comes from śraddhā. There are black belts, and BLACK BELTS – being the latter requires śraddhā.
Samādhāna is intense concentration of the mind. Pure focus – of Arjuna holding the bow, aiming at the target – not the bird on the tree – but just seeing the eye. Learning any skill, or art, requires samādhana – being the best at work, and achieving the flow – also requires samādhana. Meditation helps in building samādhana, and is equally important to the student as it is to a spiritual seeker.
Sama, dama, uparati, titiksha, sraddha, samadhana are the six virtues, the six treasures will help you become calm from the inside, and help you focus your efforts towards your goal. The icing on the cake – the final cog in the wheel, is mumukshutva – or intense longing to reach the goal. That is all what’s required, and it sounds so easy. It is.
The only problem is – your desire to reach the goal should be intense enough.
So intense that it is all you can think of, from the bottom of your heart, from every cell of your body, from every inch of your mind – what you truly desire with such intensity – is always fulfilled. If it isn’t, then you just didn’t want it enough:)
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 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.
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.
Contentment is a very relative word. You may be content in eating rice and lentils, someone else, on the other hand, may want richer food. One may be content with a fan in summer, another may be content just having electricity.
So how do we define a common baseline – a minimum requirement for contentment?
चिन्तामपरिमेयां च प्रलयान्तामुपाश्रिता: | कामोपभोगपरमा एतावदिति निश्चिता: ||
chintām aparimeyāṁ cha pralayāntām upāśhritāḥ kāmopabhoga-paramā etāvad iti niśhchitāḥ
Bhagavad Gīta 16.11
They are obsessed with endless anxieties that end only with death. Still, they maintain with complete assurance that gratification of desires and accumulation of wealth is the highest purpose of life.
When we obtain what we want, we experience that relief, that high, for a few days. But then a new anxiety begins. We start worrying about it being snatched away, about us losing it.
Maybe I can draw a few learnings from my own example. About a year and a half back, I bought a shining new, fully loaded BMW 5 Series. Unique blue color, Nappa leather white seats, gesture control – the works. This, I bought by selling off a slightly older version of the same car. I was content…for a few days. Then the problems started.
No, don’t get me wrong. The car drove perfectly – a fine piece of engineering and German expertise. What went wrong was to do with me.
You would know the feeling if you have ever bought a new car. Park it anywhere, and the mind would be on whether someone would inadvertently scratch it, or worse, cause a dent. Every time I went for a movie, half my attention would be on my car in the parking lot. Once done, I would rush to the parking just to check if there was a scratch. Traveling with me was a task in itself – do you have clean shoes? No eating in the car, no drinking water lest it spills – the list was endless. There came a time when I realised that I wasn’t owning the car – the car was owning me.
My ‘The sādhakā who sold his BMW’ moment.
I sold the car, and now I drive an ordinary (but robust) Mitsubishi, with my mind at peace, and no tension of high EMIs. I take good care of the car, but I don’t go crazy about it. I am happier than I was when I drove the BMW, much happier. I am back to being the master. And my wife has started loving me again.
Jokes apart, this was a very big learning. We tend to place more importance on our possessions – house, car, television, even phones and laptops. A large part of our lives goes in first buying, and then upgrading these possessions, often on back-breaking monthly instalments. The two-bedroom flat you bought five years back is too small and too old – and it doesn’t look new anymore. Don’t get me started on mobile phones – a new model every year.
We just can’t stop – the more we get, the more we want.
The śloka draws our attention to this truth of life. Even a king who can possibly have everything that he wants, is still not satisfied. These is no end to our desire for possession, and it’s time we realise that. It is a never-ending road. Contentment comes from the realisation that material possessions don’t make us happy.
I don’t mean to say that we should not have any possessions and live like a sage in a forest – but we should not be tied down by what we possess.
Be it material goods, or be it knowledge. Earn more, learn more, but don’t be bound by it. Attachment is always accompanied by fear of losing. Set yourself free – life is meant to be enjoyed, and not an endless race to accumulate possessions, and worst still, be possessed by them, and not the other way around.
Life is all about choices. From the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to bigger decisions such as the career we choose, to where we live, even our life partners. It is said that we humans are the only beings on the planet who can make a conscious choice – who can think, evaluate a situation and then arrive at a decision. But how many of us truly make conscious choices?
You are browsing Zomato to look for options for dinner tonight. As you scroll through, images of succulent burgers and cheese-filled ‘delicious’ pizzas waltz by. An occasional healthy bowl of salad drops in, but you quickly pass it, since today is a ‘cheat-day’. A burger it is!
These seemingly innocent options may just give you an introduction to Preya and Shreya.
The Kaṭhopaniṣad (Katha Upanishad) says that the human body is like a chariot drawn by five horses, which represent the five senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. We run behind what appeals to these senses, for short-term gratification. This is preya. Attractive, delicious, much like that juicy burger that you got tempted to order. Shreya, on the other hand, is not as appealing, but is good for you – gives you long-term benefits (like the salad you passed by).
Eknath Easwaran describes preya as ‘the passing pleasure that seems pleasing to the senses but soon fades into it’s opposite, is what we choose when we indulge in injurious physical habits or retaliate against others. Shreya, the good that leads to lasting welfare for the whole, is what we choose by cultivating healthy habits…by putting the happiness of those around us first.’