Archive for December, 2010

Defining ‘success’

December 21, 2010

Success is a magic word. It is a word that inspires, motivates everyone into action. But then, what is success? Can success be defined? It is very abstract and generic level but takes on specific meaning in a context. Success is different for different people. It differs depending on the context. Then, does it make sense to define and discuss on a generic note? I think, Yes and I am discussing it here at a very generic level.

My intention is to bring out certain subtle points which often get overlooked. These points related to how everyone of us look at success. There are certain patterns, irrespective of context, and it helps to understand these patterns.

Success has two dimensions. One external and another internal.

Success from external perspective: External World around defines your success, and that of everyone else. This is often done in comparative than absolute terms. In this perspective, success is defined and measured in terms of certain key parameters. These key parameters are wealth, power, influence, and knowledge.

Wealth is usually considered as amount of money and other assets. These helps to acquire other necessities and luxuries of life.

Power indicates your potential on effecting changes in your own life and that of others. These changes may be positive or negative. That is, it may lead to a pleasant or unpleasant experiences for self and others, as the case may be

Influence, on the other hand, is how others can effect changes in your life. These changes also may be positive or negative, and may lead to a pleasant or unpleasant experiences for self as well as others.

Knowledge holds potential to generate wealth, power and influence. Other parameters are also inter-dependent but not to the level that of knowledge. Again, potential varies depending on the nature of knowledge itself. That is, certain knowledge helps better than others.

Success from internal perspective: Haven’t you seen people hailed as successful yet burning within? More often that not, it is the result of a rat race. Point to ponder is, how dear and important is the goal for you. It is a very personal question. It can be answered only the individual concerned, and it must be. True success, can be (and, must be) defined only from that perspective.

Traditionally, Purushardhas are used to measure success, from internal perspective. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha constitute Purushardhas.

Dharma is from philosophical, social and spiritual standpoint. It stands for righteousness and value based living. It is founded on love and compassion towards others. It is, sometimes, said that world has become too competitive to afford such a living. But my personal experience is that nothing can equal joy coming out of value based living. One does not have to forgo everything else for it. The key is to strike a balance.

Artha is from materialistic and financial perspective. It stands for wealth and related assets. Many philosophical and spiritual discussion slight importance of wealth. Yet the fact remains that it plays a major role in daily life. You need money to acquire knowledge as well as to help others. One needs to work for acquiring and retaining wealth. Yet, it is equally important to realise that money is not everything. That is, money, in itself, cannot buy everything in the world.

Kama is a word used synonymous to lust, especially, in sexual context. But, here, it has a larger meaning. It pertains to all from sensory desires. I have seen many philosophical and spiritual discussions deriding Kama. But its role in life of a common man mandates every serious discussion to accept its influence . It is often these desires that helps one to set goals and work towards it. The real problem is not desire itself but rather too much of attachment to it.

Moksha is a state beyond all these. It is spiritual bliss when one rises above all these.

While these are discussed here at a generic note, it would be meaning only if individuals relate it to their life, analyze and define their success, realign their goals and work towards them. These changes from individual to individual, context to context. That is, the same person may drastically change the relative importance of these over a period of time; say, in a span of ten years


Pilgrimage to Sabarimala, and Bhakti Yoga

December 16, 2010

Just as I mentioned about pilgrimage to Sabarimala representing Karma Yoga, I find that it represents Bhakti Yoga as well.

By any standards, pilgrimage to Sabarimala is not easy task, especially for people like me who are used to luxuries of modern lifestyle. It is just the ardent devotion that helps a person to commence on arduous journey, year after year. Strength of devotion is the only word that I can think of, for explaining my own personal experience related to pilgrimage. I still marvel as to how could I have travelled, by foot, a distance from Erumeli to Sannidanam, which is reported to be about 60 kms, in about 12 hours time! The fact is, experiences, which might otherwise be perceived as hard, fail to dissuade pilgrims.

In the true format of pilgrimage, it is preceded by 41 days of vrata. This helps to prepare devotee to undertake the pilgrimage in terms of physical health, mind control, and spiritual orientation. During this time, devotees adopt practices of Bhakti Yoga like as part of Sravana, Kirtana, Smarana, Paada Sevana, Archana and Vandana. These help pilgrim to keep his mind focused on devotion, away from its usual digressions. Keeping himself in service of others, it also helps him identify himself as a servant (Daasya) and friend (Sakhya) of others (every living being)

Commencement of is marked by a ritual called ‘kettunira’. During Kettunira, coconut is filled with ghee with utmost devotion. This coconut is now called ‘mudra’, which roughly translate to mean ‘symbol. This coconut is a symbol of self, cleared of its routine digressions and focused on God. This is taken in a bag called Irumudi, along with other things required for worship as well as to undertake the journey

Pilgrimage is undertaken as a team, everyone helping one another and spending time in utmost devotion. Hard uphill journey is made easier with the help of team members, and members from other team who volunteers to help. When it gets so hard that we just cannot continue, yet continues, we experience the power of ‘Aatmanivedana’ through the invisible, all-powerful hands. Reaching Sannidanam above holy 18 steps is a special experience in which ego dissolves in the divine glow of self-realization

Practices of Bhakti Yoga

December 14, 2010

As mentioned earlier, Bhakti Yoga appeals to my heart. Also, I find certain specific practices of Bhakti Yoga helping me practise it more effectively. These practices are described in Puranas

I was introduced to some of these puranas in my pre-teens and early teens. It was customary for elders to read such religious books and devote their life entirely to Bhakti Yoga. But my maternal grand father was not able to read in his old age. I used to fill the void sometimes by reading it out for him.

In my view, these puranas encapsulate great philosophical wisdom, presented in the form of story telling. It also embeds, at specific points, certain practices which may be adopted in daily life. That is, it appeals as a simple story on one side. At the same time, it holds gems of philosophical wisdom, as well as specific practices which could be used to adopt these in daily life for a discerning reader.

Of these practices, I have found practices of Bhakti as particularly interesting and effective.

i) Sravana

This is listening stories, songs etc which enhance devotion and devotional experiences. I have personally found these to have a special effect on the mind, instilling confidence

ii) Kīrtana

This is singing in praise of God. It could be as an individual or a group. I have found this helping to break out of inhibitions and stay focused

iii) Smaraṇa

This is thinking about God.

I believe there is only one God, all powerful, ominipotent and all pervasive. I believe that, true to Advaita philosophy, God is within me and in oneness with me. Yet, I find it difficult to think about God without a specific form and characteristics. I think this is where concept of personal God comes in; some form which we can easily connect with

iv) Paada sevana

This is about rendering service. What service? Service of mankind; helping anyone who is in need and whom you can help. The spirit is, Naraseva is Naraayanaseva. That is, serving man is serving God

Many perceive Bhakti Yoga as devotion to the exclusion of everything else. In my view, it is not necessarily so. Prahlada, who is considered to be an epitome of Bhakti, is believed to have lived king, fulfilling his duties in its full earnestness. That is, Bhakti does not call for negation of Karma. Rather it just means devotion to God and a complete surrender to his will.

v) Archana

This is worshiping God. It is generally done with an image of God, or any symbol that represents God. It is done according to some pre-defined rituals

vi) Vandana

This is about paying homage to God. It is also done, in general, to a personal God yet it involve God beyond all confines. That is, God is perceived to be Avyakta (without any form or shape) yet at the same time Vyaktaroopa (with specific form and shape, depending on the personal God)

vii) Daasya

This is about submission in service of God.

Is there difference between Paadasevana and Daasya? In my view, the difference is in the mind. Paadasevana is only an act while Daasya is an attitude. In other words, Paadasevana is an act that is performed and ego might still exist when rendering service. But, in case of Daasya, one declares himself as servant of God and indicates conscious effort to

viii) Sakhya

This is about considering God as a friend.

In this case, one considers everyone is friend, God in everyone and, thus, God is a friend

ix) Aatmanivedana

This is a complete surrender of the self.

This is a stage of experiencing oneness with God whether distinction vanishes, and Bhakti is beyond definitions and relations.

I can perceive what this stage could be but, honestly, I have not reached a stage where I could practice this

Bhakti Yoga vs Karma Yoga

December 13, 2010

Sometimes, Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga are discussed as mutually exclusive practices, as if it is choice between one or the other. In my view, practice of one does not necessarily mean exclusion of the other. Indeed, both can be practised together, though I am personally biased more towards Bhakti Yoga. I think, this bias may be due to my bringing up, or my inherent nature.

It is not absence of waves that makes an ocean. Vast surface of ocean is bound to be shaken by the winds yet it is quiet in its depth. Equally, my experiences in everyday life do shake me up. Ocean may not look great without waves and life may not be a great experience without these emotional experiences.

It is my experimentations with Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga that help me transcend these turmoil into depth of tranquility. But my preference is to Bhakti Yoga. My mind and intellect is in a continuous effort to comprehend and control the incomprehensible but my heart is willing to accept its limitations and surrender to the will of higher power, in realization that it is nothing but myself

I prefer to live, and to be known for living, as a simple human being with all related limitations; limitations imposed by mental perceptions and the related emotional turmoil, rather than as a super human who has risen above all this. That makes me more inclined towards Bhakti Yoga as it appeals to the human heart rather than to its intellect.

Essence of Bhakti yoga

December 11, 2010

Karma yoga presents a way of practical living.

It might look apparently straight forward and simple. Yet adopting it is very hard in day to day life. In my experience, key challenges in living by Karma yoga is that setting the right goal, having the strong conviction, retaining the self-belief in hard times and working towards the goal set. It is easier said than done in the face of conflicts of interest that we deal with in everyday life.

In comparison, adoption of Bhakti yoga is much easier. Bhakti is sanskrit word standing for devotion, generally to a specific form of God. Spiritual practice of this devotion is Bhakti yoga. I think, it is best explained by famous words from Bhagavat Gita Sarvaan Dharmaan Parityajya Maam Ekam Saram Vraja. These words are spoken by Lord Krishna. It is a promise from God that you can forget everything else and just come to me. That surrender includes distinction between happiness and sorrow, love and hatred, … even right and wrong

Bhakti yoga, for me, is living with a total trust in God, and total surrender to the will of God.

Naranathu Branthan, and Karma Yoga

December 7, 2010

I had heard the story of Naranath Branthan, a legend from folklores of Kerala, during my childhood days.

Naranath Branthan was known to be a strange man who works hard entire day, everyday, pushing a big rock to the top of a hill. The rock was so hard, and the hill was too steep that even as he pushes the rock up, it slips down a few steps. Yet when he reaches the top eventually, he rolls it down laughing, he himself coming down with it at times

This story is somewhat similar to that of Sisyphus of Roman mythology. Key difference here is that action was not imposed as punishment as in the case of Sisyphus but rather an act of his own will.

This act looked ridiculous to onlookers, and they called him mad (Branthan), unaware of the message behind this apparently meaningless act. Popular interpretation of this strange behavior is that he is making fun of mundane human life wherein we work hard day long in the hope of a bright future, without being conscious of death which is ever too close. Though I have heard this interpretation quite many times, I could never reconcile to it. I consider it as a defeatist argument.

I believe in human spirit and human effort. I believe in compassion without which philosophy, and even life itself, is meaningless. I think the conventional interpretation misses a fundamental point. A point that life is vibrant spirit. A spirit of awareness. A spirit of pure consciousness. A consciousness full of benevolence and compassion.

Notice that, what Naranath Branthan has done is not to idle his time away or preach but rather act. He has taken up a goal which is hard to achieve, evertday, and work hard to achieve the goal no matter how formidable it looks. Once it is achieved, it is history and, therefore, leave it behind and move to the next goal.

The real problem in life is that we are dragged down by memories from the past and bogged down by fears about the future. What we need to renounce are these baggages, not actions, and live everyday with new life of its own. Live everyday setting new goals and working diligently towards it. A simple recipte for success in everyday life just as modern self-development books and programs suggest, right?

Death is an ever present reality; so what? What we see as truth is not, so what? Goals that we work for every day is transcient, so what? I think the whole point is not to unduly worry about, or be concerned about these, and to live the moment NOW in its full glory.

Live the moment with self-belief and conviction in what we stand for. All great achievers be it Sankaracharya, Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji, Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Einstein, etc have done just that

Words of wisdom: Acting from position of power

December 6, 2010

When we seek out to achieve something, it is better to play from the position of power. It makes it much easier.

Nakra Svasthaanamaasadya Gajendramapi Karshathi
Sa Eva Prastita Stanaat Sunobhi Paribhooyate

A crocodile can pull down even a mighty elephant within water (which is its position of power) but even a dog could scare it once is away from its position of power

Essence of Karma yoga

December 6, 2010

I have heard many philosophers in India propagating the idea that our every day experience and world around is the great illusion, or Maya. I refuse to believe that the world is an illusion.

My view is, our experience of the world is largely dictated by perceptions of the mind. Often, mind acts as a veil, and therefore perceptions are taken as the truth.

For instance, we perceive that earth is flat as we walk on it. Yet we know that the truth is far away from it. In case of earth we know now the reality through advancement of science but in most other cases, mind deceives effectively.

The truth, and what we perceive as truth, may not be the same
. This act of deception of our own mind, I believe, is the great illusion.

There is no emotion now attached to perception of earth being flat. But remember, that Galileo Galilei (Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution), was convicted for challenging the prevalent geocentic view. With many of our everyday perceptions, there is emotion and a potential for explosion when the perception is challenged

My understanding of Karma, as I have explained in earlier blogs, is to escape from the trap of great illusion through spirited action, directed towards a goal; not to escape from having to act. Karma yoga is not an excuse for idling as some make it out to be

It is not possible for anyone to do nothing at all, and be alive. At the minimum, one needs to breathe. I believe, Karma yoga is beyond just that. It is somewhat like an active state of action without action

When you must anyway act, put your best effort. Nothing worthwhile in the world is ever achieved without such spirited action, and passion is critical for such action.

Karma yoga is about everyday life, where we setting a goal, and passionately working towards it. It is also about holding on to what we believe as right and living by it, yet at the same time appreciating that another person may have diametrically opposite view. Appreciation of a reality that day for me in India is night for some one on the other side of the globe.

Karma yoga, for me, is also about tolerance as much as it is about spirited action

Pilgrimage to Sabarimala, and Karma Yoga

December 4, 2010

I think I went to Sabarimala in 1991 for the first time, if I remember it right. I have been going almost every year since then, barring a couple of exceptions here and there.

It has always been a spiritual experience for me as much as it being religious practice. I have always found the pilgrimage to symbolize the essence of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Sanyasa Yoga; all combined into one, depending on the perspective through which I look at

I shall detail on how I see the pilgrimage as representing Karma Yoga in my point of view, in this blog post, taking up others some other time.

Pilgrimage to Sabarimala represents working towards a lofty goal, ultimate happiness and union with God. Happiness and well-being is not just for oneself but rather for everyone else as well.

Journey commences with a ritual called ‘Kettunira” in which coconut is filled with ghee. It is cleared of its water and it is filled instead with ghee. This coconut is now called ‘mudra’, which roughly translate to mean ‘symbol. This coconut is a symbol of myself, cleared of its routine digressions to stay focused on my goal.

From this moment onwards, my goal is only one, that is to reach the Ayyappan temple at the peak of Sabarimala

Journey is hard due to various factors. One of the factors that make journey hard is uphill climb, barefoot, with a bag containing mudra. Being used to living in the comforts of moden urban life, there are times when I felt I just cannot move on.

When I look around, I see many others as well some of whom are much worse off but still pulling on with undying spirit to reach the destination. I realize that life is not a rat race. It does not so matter how slow or fast I go, what is key is that I move on.

Journey is seldom alone. We travel as a team, helping each other. Achieving goal is better and easier when we are working as a team.

I believe, the recipe for success in everyday life too is likeminded people coming together and working as a team towards their common goal. We see ourselves in every one, and we see everyone in ourselves, and call each other Swami or Ayyappa, in the true spirit of Advaita philosophy.

As we climb the holy 18 steps to reach sannidhanam, we see the message Tat Tvam Asi (That Art Thou). That is, a realization that the God, and ultimate happiness, that we seek are within ourselves, not outside of us.

We submit the ghee in mudra to the God, in total surrender of ego, and burn the coconut shell symbolizing realization of the Self beyond confines of the body and related perceptions

Then, we commence our return journey.

Every goal, howsoever lofty that be, is part of history once it is achieved. One has to leave it behind, and continue the journey to set yet another goal and get going