Today I had lunch with a bunch of young minds from across the country and we were joined by a few from other nations as well. Among the many conversations, we had one short conversation on whether one should try to find what they should do in life and then go into it or figure it out along the way. This is always a debatable topic and so we did have numerous opinions. While I work a lot in entrepreneurship and encourage a whole lot of experimentation in business, I still belong to the school that one needs to find the direction in life before embarking in life. The earlier we learn this lesson in life the easier it is to make changes to direction in life. But how does one actually go about doing it? Even before that why should one even attempt this route?
In Vedanta there is a repeated mention across scriptural texts on the concept of ‘svadharma’ or one’s own nature. Every human being has an innate tendency. Every individual has an inherent interest towards certain activities or domains. However due to various expectations and attachments in life we are coerced into following what most of the world thinks is the right thing. Hence we find almost every student becoming an engineer and joining similar jobs. While all this seems like the best thing, most of the pleasures are short lived. Life becomes very stressful and strained due to not choosing the right vocation based on our inherent interests.
Why do we not choose to do what comes to us naturally? It is simply because we cannot make do with what our natural interests provide as returns. When we are born to be an artist we must understand that we cannot define timeline based outputs. If this is the case we cannot afford a lifestyle that is like the many who go to work or who go into business. As a result we give up on our interest or close to heart activity and go behind what provides the lifestyle that we want to match.
If we want to lead a happy life then we need to do what comes to us naturally, we need to practice what is our natural strengths and be contended with what that action provides as the result. To make this happen we need to align our lifestyle to enable us practice our natural vocation. Attempting to match what others have in the world is the beginning of giving up our deeply held talents. Over the long term this leads to discontentment and disillusionment. Sorrow, agitations and anger follows. Not recognizing the root cause of the problem we keep trying to solve the symptoms.
So why should one try this approach – for the simple reason that we can gain peace and stay in harmony.
Think about it!
During the course of facilitating workshops for entrepreneurial leaders I have found companies stop short of delving deep into discovering values! The result is poorly identified shallow values. When values don’t mean so much to us, how can we be true to them? Hence this results in value breaches almost every day. Another big reason why this happens is because we are so worried about immediate responses. To ensure that we gain business in the short term we compromise on our deeply held beliefs. This is critical to reflect on considering the fact that the most important outcome of this is – agitations within the entrepreneur or leadership team.
Think about it!
Why is it so difficult for entrepreneurs to define their beliefs? It is because of a shallow purpose. Many times entrepreneurs are not entrepreneurial. They are not sure of what they want. This leads them to be kicked around like a football by all who pay. This will result in short lived, stunted and unsatisfied lives. Being entrepreneurial means not searching for success, but for living what one truly believes in. This requires every individual to figure out what they truly want to do with their lives. Once you decide and figure out what you want in life, write it down somewhere. Read it every time you feel confused over a decision point. If the opportunity is not in line with what you have always wanted to achieve don’t do it. This makes taking decisions in life easy. More importantly there is now at least a reference point to which you can be true.
The world seems to understand the concept of relativity. It is one of the finest fundamentals to recognize the magic of life and living. But a big part of this understanding which distinguishes our level of maturity depends on where we place our reference point. Where is your fixed point, with reference to which you are moving?
Most of the time when we engage in conversations we find everyone wants to speak! There are hardly any listeners. Even more startling is that all of this talking has nothing other than how one is better than most others. Almost without exception most of us will respond with a bigger act of achievement as soon as we hear one in a group. I have found most people can’t stand listening quietly without speaking about their achievements.
It is becoming extremely difficult for anyone today to let go of an opportunity to feel bigger than most others around, if not everyone else. We go to great lengths to make sure this happens. If we are not able to do this in absolute (which is the case in most average human beings in society), then we try to establish this feeling by putting others down. By putting down institutions and people around us we make ourselves look big. This need to feel good and bigger at any cost is the source of most agitations that we experience. The recognition of this fact and questions thereof initiates us into spiritual advancement. But sadly even in spirituality we find there is tremendous competition to prove who is more spiritual than the other! There doesn’t seem to be any end to this madness, at least in the way we understand relativity.
There is a substratum on which the movement is happening, but that cannot be in the world. Now that’s plain logic. The truth is that all changes happen on something that is unchanging, but it takes effort and courage to go beyond our comfort zones and delve deeper to find it out. If we do our life will be full of peace and happiness. But why are we not even making the attempt? It is because of this misguided thought that we can feel peace and happiness once we achieve and live up to our dreams. If we possess and experience, peace and happiness is a given. Bigger, Better, Richer seems to be the mantra and today happier is also getting added to that list. Some people even showcase this in a relative sense and this entices the ignorant.
Truth is fairly obvious. We ignore it just to align with the larger herd of society. The woman (men included), who doesn’t fall prey to this illusion, evolves. Is that not the reason why every prophet in some way was a revolutionary figure?
Don’t put down others in conversations, it is actually hurting us in the long term and making us agitated. Every time you hear even a small achievement, simply acknowledge and encourage. If you feel the urge to showcase your greater achievement, just remain silent. It is fine if the world does not hear it just now. The best part of this is the resulting peace within us.
One child says she loves chocolates. The other immediately responds saying she hates them. Why these opposing feelings towards the same object, in this case, a chocolate? Where do these children learn what to like and what to hate? Who taught them these?
Adults teach and children learn. Adults act and children learn deeper and faster. Yes, that’s the truth. Every time a child sees their well wishers do something, it makes an impression on their minds. They learn that this is right or wrong and this creates a deep impression on their minds, which almost never changes. The problem is not in learning that a particular object is good or bad, and should be liked or hated. The problem turns into the bigger learning that we must learn to sort things into two compartments – that which we like and those that we hate. As children grow up, you can see these impressions taking enormous forms even while in school. It is not uncommon for us to hear children say, they like someone and they hate someone; someone is on their friend list and there are a few on the enemy list! Can you imagine small primary school children talking about enemies?
This grows and becomes a permanent feature in almost every adult. They all (including all of us) have likes and dislikes. We have them with foods, clothes, music, books, and more importantly people. This division is simply a figment of imagination. Just like the chocolate in the case of the children we discussed in the beginning, the goodness / badness are both not in the object (chocolate) in their case. Similarly as we grow up, this lack of understanding makes us feel that our likes and dislikes are always in the objects and beings around us. Hence we get affected by the nature and actions of the objects and beings that we come in contact with. Either we are happy that they align to our worldviews and like them or we are unhappy that they are not the way we want them to be, and hence dislike them. This constant stream of likes and dislikes makes us happy and sad alternately. We are not even aware that it is our misunderstanding which is actually causing this constant change in our state of mind. If we even get a doubt, we can reach out to philosophy to help us understand how to start walking out of our problem. If we do, our life becomes more peaceful. Vedanta is one such school of philosophy that explains this ignorance.
There are times in life when big questions get raised in our heads. All the knowledge of the world does not seem to help with answers. We feel confused, anxious, agitated and worried about how to handle the situation and how the future will unfold? Under these circumstances one eventually lands up in philosophy. ‘Philosophy’ – the subject that asks and answers the really big questions in life! I once came across a book titled ‘Why business men (women included) need philosophy?” and it’s not surprising that it did not do very well. Why will it? The way we land up in achievement or celebration is not how we land up in philosophy. While the former is always done in groups, the latter is always alone. When you sit back and ask questions like: “Why me?” or “Why are some people more privileged than me?” – Inevitably the worldly knowledge cannot give satisfying answers. An answer that satisfies one person may not satisfy you. Hence, everyman will have to ask the questions to himself and then seek answers.
So should everyone learn ‘Vedanta’? Is ‘Vedanta’ the only solution to all big questions in life? No, not at all! There are many systems of philosophy and one should expose themselves to some or all of them before choosing the school of philosophy to pursue.
Which one should i choose?
- Choose the one that fits your personality.
- Choose the one that you relate to.
- Choose the one that you have access to.
- Choose the one that can address your big questions satisfactorily.
- More importantly – Choose one and stick to it.
At least in philosophy, variety can create more confusions than solutions. Try to avoid it, however tempting. Because ‘philosophy’ should not become entertainment! It can create more ruckus than not having known philosophy at all.
Think about it!
Many people especially the ones who deeply believe in God or God-men profess having witnessed or experienced miracles. The intellectuals normally rubbish these as imaginations and tricks. Both schools of thought are right. While reasoning is what human beings should engage in because of the innate instrument given to them – all scientists (who are worth something in their fields) have declared that there are limits to what reasoning can detail. They sense something deeper but the proof always eludes them. They submit to this greater power that ensures them the intuitive insight and thereby they become extremely humble. They trust this greater force but in most cases they realize this very late in their lives. Vedanta says ask yourself deeper questions early.
What are miracles and to whom does it happen? It happens to people who trust! Be it trust in Gods, God Men, Science, or anything else; it is trust that enables one to see miracles! But how will one develop trust without having seen miracles in the first place. The intelligent mind wants proof before trusting. In this process of searching for proof without adequate development of the intellect or reasoning power, we become critical and doubtful about everything. In fact many times the ability to destroy belief through rational questioning is seen as intelligence. No wonder that in most cases it’s only a calamity or loss that makes one seek miracles.
Which should come first? Seeing a miracle or trust? It’s like the typical “which came first” challenge – there is no right answer. But the truth is, it is a cyclical process. Most people in arts seem to give in to the muse or the divine power or whatever they call it and in the process allow the greatest of works to happen through them. Scientists exploring the outside world take a long time to reach the stage that an Einstein or Bohm reached? Most don’t! So they don’t end up even asking the question.
Life must be a good mix of reasoning and miracles. To see miracles one needs trust – else we dismiss all miracles. On the contrary one must not accept every incident that can’t be explained as miracles – then the process of reasoning stops. So it is a mutually reinforcing process – one of trusting and one of seeing and experiencing miracles.
Think about it.
Yesterday I had an experience – rare one in so many years of haven flown all over the place. I had a flight back home after my workshop with one stopover. During the first leg of the flight, mid air, we suddenly experienced a terrible shake-up. While the captain did warn us before we took-off about possible turbulence en-route, this was fairly more than a normal turbulence. During those 20 seconds or so, I saw firsthand what happens to people in case of an emergency. For the first time I kept calm. Instead of closing my eyes, i kept it open and looked outside. It made me feel i was being tossed around by someone just for fun! Everyone was shaken. Thanks to the captain (and to God, prayers, etc too) we were again flying smoothly –but most people kept looking at each other in disbelief, disbelief about seeing each other not dead or was it that we were still alive. It was my first experience of scenes that i see only in a movie or read in a book. Scary it is!
The truth is somewhere deep down at those moments and for a few moments after that, we think about the value of life. We think we must drop everything and do what matter the most. But in a few hours we are back to what we normally do in life. We forget that ‘Life is a like a dew drop on a lotus leaf’ and that we experienced it a little earlier. We forget the knocks and shocks of life when they are delivered in small quantities. We don’t take the effort to understand how to live life. We don’t do what we are born to do. Why? Because we misunderstand life! Somewhere deep inside us we fail to understand that what happens to others (death) can happen to us as well. Such little reminders that tell us about the fragility of life is ignored with the dangerous assumption that it won’t happen to me and if it does, i can handle it much better. Both of us fail on occurrence.
I was back home and spent the evening at work. It was only before going to bed; I casually mentioned this to my wife. We had a lovely little chat about the importance of that lesson and discussed how we can narrow our distractions further. These knocks and shocks are only to remind us to get back on track, not to demotivate and make us give up on life. This misunderstanding is what has made us miss the beauty of the subject of philosophy, in particular ‘Vedanta’.
If you are conscious, aware and alert there are many situations in life that give us this message – but we miss it because of our ignorance and distractions. If you learn to stay alive and alert every moment to the happening at that instant, life will be more happening!
This is the central message of Vedanta – learn how to use the time given to you to evolve and reach your kingly state from which you have fallen.
I am writing this blog today because I was given a chance to stay alive – and I hope to do things that fit more closely to what i can contribute. What will I do with everything I accumulate, if 20 seconds mid-air can make everything redundant? What will I do postponing all close-to-heart activities in life, if 20 seconds mid-air can end the journey? Then there must be something more to life. Don’t wait for harsher knocks and shocks as reminders to start living life.
The last week’s Vedantic Wednesday post on “Instability of Life” ( http://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/vedantic-wednesday-instability-of-life/ ) received number of responses, likes and shares. People even wrote back asking how to take this thinking ahead. Here is my humble learning so far on this topic.
The essence of last week’s thought was this: “Life is like a dew drop on a lotus leaf”
But looking at it this way seems so pessimistic. Then why would a great teacher like Bhagavadpada Sankara Acharya give us such a lesson. The man, who in less than 32 years of life on Earth performed more work than even most performing people, could not have written this to share his pessimistic view of life. There is a deeper message for us.
When we understand that life is uncertain we begin to appreciate the importance of not taking it too seriously. When we are advised to take it too seriously the immediate reaction is to give up – but that’s where spirituality and spiritual knowledge is misunderstood. If life is to be lived like a sport (‘Leela’ in Sanskrit) then one needs to learn how to play! When you see children play sports we don’t see them go to a game to lose, but at the same time they don’t go to win either. They go to play. But soon we start feeding them that winning is important. This is the place the fun part of sports is lost and the seriousness of a game comes into picture. When this happens we begin to start experiencing pressure, expectations, happiness and disappointment. It doesn’t stop there, this spreads to all aspects of life. Instead of being a good writer we want to be a New York Times best seller or an Amazon best seller! Instead of being a good businessman, we want to be the most famous businessman, etc.,. The misunderstanding of the statement makes people who achieve things dismiss philosophy and those who lose either dismiss it or use it to justify their pessimism in life. Both are not true. Religion wants you to live life fully, but joyously. We misunderstand, think that life is a race and end up beating ourselves down to stress, disappointments, and sadness.
Life is unstable. But isn’t that what makes life interesting? If you knew what’s coming next all the time, do you think life will be interesting? Never! We get bored even with mundane repetitive actions, then if every next thing in life is predictable and known, we would all become extinct through boredom. Human beings are the only species given the faculty of reasoning and thinking, but we use it for everything other than thinking about how to live? Think about it.
The great acharya is only reminding us about the futility of our actions and urging us to think about our misunderstanding of the truths of life. If we get the message right, we will start re-thinking about the importance of having the right attitude towards life and living.
Have another great week of contemplation and reflection!