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.
Krishna, Kishan, Madhav, Banke Bihari, Gopala, Kanhaiya, Ranchhod, Parthasarathy, Ishvara…the many names and the many facets of the personality of the most loved God in the Hindu pantheon – Sri Krishna.
God is all-powerful, controls the Universe – fear God, they say – since He is looking at all your bad deeds and will punish you. Pray to God, else you will rot in hell. Be afraid. Don’t speak ill of Him, be in awe of Him. The fear of God has led many men to do many things – good and bad. The eternal fear of going to hell and being punished by God has kept millions in check – why take a chance of offending the great one?
And then there is Krishna.
The first thing that strikes you about Krishna is his name – the dark-coloured one. In a country currently obsessed with fairness, it is ironical that their most loved God is himself dark. But wait – why him, and not ‘Him’? And how can you call him by his name? Isn’t it supposed to be Sri Krishna?
Well, Krishna means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some love him as Bal Gopal – the naughty kid who loves butter and steals it (maakhan-chor), the natkhat child who loves troubling his mother Yashoda…others love him as Kanhaiya who engages in Ras-Leela with the gopikas of Vrindavan, the eternallover of Radha…yet some others revere him as Narayana – the supreme God who stood in the middle of the biggest armies and delivered the sermon of life – the Bhagvad Gita. They look up to him as their guide – Parthasarathy, their God Ishvara, the supreme Yogi Yogeshwara, the liberator Mukunda, the forgiver of sins Hari, and the Jagadguru – the Guru of all Gurus and of the world.
You can love him, you can also scold him, you can cry with him, you can laugh with him, you can get angry with him, you can worship him…Krishna is your friend, your lover, your guide, your God, your child, your parent…Krishna is what you make of him, and he is always there for you – because he exists within you, as a part of you.
With which other divine personality can you share such a wide range of emotions and feelings? Which other God can you love and adore and revere all at the same time?
In his younger avatar, he is almost every kid who loves to be naughty and playful, in his teen avatar he is the ultimate prankster, and in his adult avatar he is the Chakradhari – the one who has the power to end the Universe if he chooses to. Yet, he is also a Ranchhod – the one who runs away from the battlefield. Krishna is cunning and shrewd – he is not the straight arrow that Rama was, yet he is worshipped more than any other deity.
And the reason is – that he is like me and you. He is divinity in human form, and he is the ultimate expression of the human form. He shows us that it is ok to be wrong, as long as you find the right way…why – he even gives you different ways to the destination, and he doesn’t let you get there alone. Krishna is there as a guide, as a friend, to help you along the way, saving you from the pitfalls and lifting you up when you fall. You have to walk on your own, you have to fight your own battles, he says. Yet he stays with you, starving when you starve, feasting when you feast, suffering when you suffer, and rejoicing when you rejoice. He does not give up on you, even when you give up on yourself. He doesn’t scold you, even when you make a hundred mistakes.
What kind of God is this, who is so forgiving, so personal, so intimate?
And that is why you find yourself drawn to this personality – it starts slowly – after all, you are apprehensive – this is GOD we are speaking about. What if I say something wrong, or do something wrong? What if I don’t follow the right method to worship him? But then he says – even a leaf or a small flower that you offer to me, is the biggest gift I can get. That easy? You find yourself thinking.
You start getting drawn into his world, you start to understand that divinity is not to be feared, but loved, and not just ordinary love – an all-encompassing, all-surrendering love – that others call bhakti. And you start to fall in deeper – so deep that you are no more in his world, nor he in yours...he BECOMES your world, and here is the beauty of it – you become his world too.
And then you forget who you are – or who you thought you are – and realise that you are a part of him – a drop of the ocean that is him, inseparable and indiscreet. You realise that you don’t love him…HE IS LOVE. You realise that you have been searching for him your whole life, while he was waiting, eagerly yet patiently, with a soft smile on his face, flute in hand, playing a beautiful tune that you know is just for you….
Discover your Krishna, love him and worship him and surrender to him. He will stand by you, and help you to fight all your battles, not by picking up his sudarshan chakra, but by empowering you. Make mistakes, he will forgive you. Do good, and he will appreciate you. And when your time has come, he will also make you one with him.
This is my Krishna, and today is his birthday. Happy Sri Krishna Janmashtami!
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?
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.
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.
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 ||
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.
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.’
Group Sadhana for 11 days – Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra, 108 times – for the country, for humanity.
From home, but not alone. We all can – collectively, harmoniously, pray to nature, recognising our true place in the scheme of things. We are just a fleeting glimpse in the unending vista of images – let us be part of nature and not against it.