Speaking to a cow

Though strange, the cow seemed to understand what I said! Surprised? Even I was, earlier today.

As I was walking back from my institute to home, I saw a herd of cows cross the road. Quite common in this part of the country. While a few (lazy/ naughty) were trying to catch up with the herd, a calf was caught up in a fenced enclosure busy eating. When she realised that the rest of the herd were already crossing the road, the little one ran towards the fence only to realise that she was enclosed. As I saw her try hard to try various parts of the fence, even I wondered, how she got in, in the first place? I soon saw that the little gap to get into the enclosed lawn was at the exact opposite end of where she was looking to cross. Without any second thought, I spoke to her “Hey, the opening is there” pointing in that direction. She turned once, saw the opening and turned to run through it. Alas she was free and within a few seconds she ran to join the herd.

I felt glad and kept walking. It was after a few minutes that it occurred to me that I had actually spoken to a cow and more importantly, she had understood it. At least thats what it looked like. Wonderful isn’t it? Not sure if all this is ‘maya’, but I truly felt nice at her intelligence.

I don’t want to use my rational mind (human strength) to analyse this situation. Let me just bask in the little joys of life. They are truly what make life worth living!

Vedantic Wednesday: Is this ‘maya’?

I have been looking for a new arrival book in the library for a week now. A search on the electronic catalogue says ‘available’ but I have not been able to locate it. When I asked the library professional manning the front desk, she said ‘it is at this (identified) location’. Both of us search to no avail. She does some search and figures out that it is a new arrival (cannot be issued out) and hence will be in the new arrival section. She dashes off with a sense of accomplishment only to return disappointed. After all this, she could only say that ‘Someone must have taken it to read. We will have to wait until they put it back’.

Something that says ‘available’ but remains ‘unavailable’ reminded me of the subtle message that philosophy attempts to teach. While this may not be the ideal example for teaching the concept of ‘maya’ – why not use every opportunity to remind ourselves of the elusiveness of this world?

So, is this ‘maya’?

Some humour, some truth! That’s life.


Vedantic Wednesday: Ego

When ‘ego’ lifts its’ ugly head, human beings (man/woman) display certain strange signs:

  • Develop anger at the drop of a hat
  • Not able to accept ‘no’ for an answer
  • Cannot accept an alternate view on anything
  • Become unreasonable
  • Become vengeful
  • Become happy at another’s unhappiness
  • No concept of forgiveness

While noticing these are signs of ego at work, it also has implications on oneself:

  • Become irritable
  • Reduced focus / concentration
  • Internally restless / disturbed
  • Increased stress levels
  • Lack of sleep
  • Erratic moods

And all of these (and more) lead to more of the former list. The cycle repeats itself and eventually becomes a downward spiral leading to a loss of one’s ‘self’. The fall to a state of unhappiness and disturbed living is inevitable. These are beautifully described in Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita as the ‘Ladder of Fall’.

The worst thing is – most of the people who fall into this spiral are people who have read the Bhagavad Gita. Life is full of irony. It is no surprise that sages and saints constantly repeat that the goal of spiritual evolution is to drop the ‘ego’.

I don’t know the ‘ego’ but I know it shows itself all the time. I saw one manifest even today. The problem is not in seeing it in the other – all of us can. The real chance to evolve and become eternally peaceful is in becoming aware of it within oneself. It is the only way to everlasting peace and happiness.

Happy Thinking and Happy Becoming!

Vedantic Wednesday: What should I do in Life?

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!

Vedantic Wednesday: Why we can’t be true?

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.

Vedantic Wednesday: Finding purpose of life – is it the question right?

Every once in a while all of us face this question: “What is the purpose of life?” But the speed with which we hear the question is the same speed at which we forget it. We get back to our daily operational hustle and bustle of life. We are always busy and the remaining time we are exhausted trying to be busy. There doesn’t seem to be an end to this tiring cycle.

When I was listening to a session on ‘branding’ recently I was startled that while people were asking many tips and tricks to build a brand, no one asked the fundamental question – “what should my company / product be remembered for?” Without that question we will end up creating brands anyway. In fact brands will get created anyway if we don’t create them – isn’t it? Does this question then apply to life as well?

The bigger question that Vedanta asks us is “Why should you be remembered?” And I think it is important to think on this very deeply before we appreciate the peace and happiness that can instantaneously descend on us once we reflect on this question. The quest to find meaning is life then almost immediately gets replaced by trying to find why I have an existence? What role can I play in fulfilling this great opportunity handed down to me? How can I make a contribution with whatever skills and knowledge I have to the ecosystem? How much can I give of what I have been given? These then lead us into action. Then it looks like the most important activity of life is figure what is our real nature and how we can put that to use – irrespective of how much it benefits somebody.

Vedanta exposes us to many ways in which we can find this out for ourselves. It looks like tests and other people are not going to tell us this. It is a very personal exercise and experience. We have to go through these ourselves and discover who we really are. This is also the reason why throughout the ‘Vedic’ knowledge base we have self realized people from all walks of life. Is there are clear and loud lesson for us here?

Is it then time for us to change the question? If we don’t change the question we may actually end up finding right answers to the wrong question and wondering why we feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled even after all the achievement!


Vedantic Wednesday: Teaching under a Tree

Yesterday I had the pleasure of conducting classes in a remote location of Tamil Nadu. This was part of a faculty development program on entrepreneurship and the only thing different this time around was the experiment of trying to conduct class at a location close to nature. We went there in the morning by bus and were soon in the midst of hills and thick vegetation. There was only brown and green all around. The air was filled with oxygen and silence. We had hens and goats roaming around, a little brook flowing behind and thatched classrooms. Our first session happened in the classroom. At tea break we sat on the benches under a tree and chatted. I proposed to the group if we could continue our session right there under the tree – the excited group (about 20 of them) agreed instantaneously. We moved a little white board and started.

That was my first ever class facilitated under a tree right in the open. No walls enclosing us, no technology like projectors, computers or speakers – just the 20 of us, a whiteboard, goats and hens.

We went on with our class till end of day. Since it started drizzling we moved back into the class for the closing session of about 30 minutes at end of day. Here are some interesting observations about the session and the experience:

  • Not even once did anyone feel sleepy or drowsy even for a moment
  • The whole class was discussion oriented without any technology distractions
  • There were no inhibitions and no limitations via walls – made us feel open both physically and mentally
  • Though the interactions were intense, they happened in a very light and informal setting

The validation that most of these were heavily influenced by the setting became clear when we found people becoming drowsy during the last 30 minutes when people went back into the classroom. No wonder then that our ancient Gurukula system happened in open spaces! Education needs to be as open as possible for it to deliver greatest value, and there seems to be no better setting to make learning happen than under a tree. Our ancestors (seers with great wisdom) had experimented and evolved these education methods. Hope we don’t lose out on our ancient wisdom.

Look forward to learning and teaching more in such natural settings. Think about it!