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!

Vedantic Wednesday: Feeling BIG by Making Others feel SMALL

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.

Try it!

Vedantic Wednesday: Nature of Likes and Dislikes

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.