Priceless? And wishes for a great new year…

No, I am not a visa salesman. Another year has come and gone (or nearly so) and I’d like to think they are both priceless for each of us (not priced less!).

I’d like to wish you erudition and information – but we seem to have too much of it anyway. We also have InternetEverywhere, TimeNowhere and PeaceAnywhere but here!

What we need therefore seems to be not more information but a means to transform all that information into wisdom. To do that, it seems to me we need to learn to unlearn – a skill that will I trust befit the title of this piece.

What do we do to unlearn you ask – here’s a little list I hope will do the trick for starters…

1. Read a book, bungy jump (!) or watch a video that pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes no sense logically (of course i don’t mean anything like the “dumb and dumber” movie). Here’s an osho video for instance that while in no sense educational, breaks stereotypes. The thought of an Indian mystic with a Japanese name and a hundred rolls-royces, discoursing to a suited man on jacuzzis and designer wristwatches  – has me in splits every time while becoming open to the fact that we haven’t seen it all yet!

2. Get inspired through an example of sheer courage – A terminally ill man (and one of scientific temperament at that) delivering a heartwarming and inspirational lecture on achieving childhood dreams – this is one of my all time favorites. Talk about Randy Pausch’s courage and compassion in the face of death – lots of unlearning lessons (how’s that work eh?) on how long faces, strong coffee and sailor language isn’t the only antidote for pressure-cooker situations.

3. Deciding on our stand on religion – do you want to be curious about religion or a policeman (or women) for religion? A lot of Indians were affronted (justified no doubt as they observed this to be an insult to their culture and beliefs) when the USSR recently banned a translation of the Bhagavad Gita – I continue to wonder however on how many of those protesting had read even a bit of this great book. The gita is the most pragmatic course in self unfoldment that i know of – and its hero, Sri Krishna sizes us up, diagnoses our particular condition and delivers specific solutions – all within 800 short verses (need a working manual for mass customization, anybody?). The curious would have found multiple paths (and signposts) to a better life – using the intellect (the path of knowledge), emotion (through devotion), societal (through service to others) etc. and picked up skills to still the mind, become responsive to our body’s responses…. The police(wo)man would have been left with a political adversary and a troubled mind.

4. Relate to the fact that social media = discovery. We can discover friends, hobbies, skills, vocations, places and -what the heck – even life. No age is too aged for a plunge into this world.

5. Finally management (had to bring that in somewhere!). Where resources are limited, we need to be aware of how we are using them, else we risk running out of the already limited resource. This is especially so when we are dealing with things that are unlimited by their very nature. Time and money for instance are limited – the things we can use them on (information, gadgets, travel, emotions) are unlimited. When we treat them as we would when we enter a fancy restaurant with limited cash (and no credit cards), all is generally well.

6. Most important – we need to distinguish between what we “care” about and what we “lust” for. The difference is really simple – we care about things/ people for their benefit and our mutual growth together (you care about your spouse or children for instance) while we lust for things for enhancing our own ego (buying a Ferrari not because we are a car connoisseur but because our competitor bought one – make sense?). Care gives us purpose in life and does not follow the diminishing curve (over time value goes up actually), while lust gives us ego trips and (mostly!) lighter wallets and a sense not being fulfilled. The lesson here – unlearn lusty habits (while strengthening the “care” ones!).

And that brings me full circle. Life reminds us it’s priceless everyday, and here’s wishing everyone a year that will make us priceless as well (and no I don’t mean we’ll go to work for visa!!….)

Prudence?

I heard it said somewhere recently that “we should take loans or debt only to finance those things whose value would appreciate”. This to me is a very profound thought, and while I search for the source, it’s worth meditating in our usual irreverent way on this statement.

Value on deeper reflection could be on at least four dimensions – financial or material value, emotional, mental or on the spiritual levels – let’s take a look at each of these using the thought above as a lens.

If we are in a developing country, we would perhaps say that we should invest in real estate but not in cars. We look back at our sub-prime crisis however and tighten our grip on the money. ltcm and books like the black swan question the wisdom of trusting our financial investment bankers with the dollar as well. So really there seems no adequate material investment that guarantees appreciation!

On the mental level, we can invest on education. Take a loan (read time and money) to see the world or enroll for an advanced degree in college. The degree in itself may not guarantee a better job and financial riches (especially in today’s world where “hot” courses become obsolete in the blink of an eye), but the exposure to different points of view, knowledge and culture (if traveling is on the agenda too) is sure to make one more successful. Frijtof Capra’s ability to compare Hinduism and Taoism with particle physics certainly was helped by oriental travel and advanced education (not to mention some pretty spaced out thinking and substance use!). Ditto the late (and great) Steve jobs – whose course in calligraphy, experiments with Tao, a garage startup experience and his computer skills made his contribution so potent. Excellence does seem to require investment on the mental level.

Emotional – I guess this translates to investing in things that make us happier emotionally – quality time spent with family and friends, on hobbies, with nature and such things – and simultaneously keeping negative emotions like anger at bay. All religions at their foundation have techniques to help achieve this – a foundation without which one would not have the subtleness or the perseverance to pursue the higher ideals. Investment can simply mean adopting a better work-life balance (which in itself proclaims that wealth need not be material alone), being more receptive and appreciative of one’s near and dear ones, de-cluttering one’s life and undertaking some self-introspection and alignment to one’s ideals. Joshua Becker’s blog on minimalist living and Leo Babauta’s blog zen habits are wonderful life aids toward this end. laughter clubs and other exotic outlets apart from the numerous yoga and pranayama techniques also can help. Interestingly, it takes a healthy body to groom a brilliant mind – so most of the yogic methods advocate taking both hand in hand.

This brings me to an interesting question put forward by an ancient student (probably sitting on the lower branches of a tree to maintain eye-level with his levitating guru!) – I know the many things I need but can you also tell me what for I need them? I know I desire a car for example, or a family or a home – but why do I desire these? The sage (sagely of course and maybe with a cup of milk to his lips) then goes to explain that man has only one need – to be happy or joyful. All the things one desires are because we superimpose happiness on the objects mistakenly. So we long for the car not for the sake of the car, but because we think it will make us happy. Ditto, the house or even the family. The student his head spinning goes after all his desires (we can only imagine they would have been the ancient equivalents of Las Vegas, ferrari’s, cxo jobs and all such sense-driven ego boosters!) and returns after he has exhausted but unfulfilled at his very core – only to find that the happiness is his very nature – a discovery that makes him proclaim some pretty big mahavakya (great truth like “I am he!”) and settle into a great samadhi with a halo on his head. The moral therefore is therefore not that you should go through las vegas to become spiritual but that even if you do you do so to be ome happy – a state that is within you and not in the neon lights and flashy casinos.

If you didn’t realize it, the above was the end point – the fact that appreciation in value should be measured by contentment not by more money, temporary excitements or ego-funfillments. Easy to say, but takes a lifetime (unless you are one of the spiritual supermen!) to achieve…..may good luck shower on us all to experience this in this life itself…

Abbreviated Lives, profound meaning

A tough question today – how many years does a human have to live to make a momentous change on earth? When we say momentous, we mean changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for the better – to let them view the world and lead a life they would never ever have led otherwise.

A little googling reveals a certain number – 33 to be exact – to be very popular. At least three spiritual supermen have changed our view of life forever before giving up their bodily sojourn when they were 33. There may be others as well – and maybe there is another “life tenure” just as popular-  if not more – but for the purposes of this piece, we’ll o no further research.

33 if you really look at it isn’t all that much. When one is a teen or in her early twenties, 33 does seem a very long way to go – and an age where youth begins to fade into middle age. And then before you know it, it comes and whizzes past – leaving one perplexed and not a little dazed! The typical human being would have completed his education, be in his first or second job, and have a wedding, a small paunch and eyes that would have witnessed a few hundred hours of soap operas on tv – to show for his 33 years of life on earth. The three supermen we mentioned earlier however thought differently – and how!

Jesus – His story and teachings compiled as part of the bible,  the most read book (and definitely most published) in the world ever. From a humble birth and an early vocation as a shepherd boy, this remarkable man somehow found the time to codify an approach that helped instill spirituality into the hearts of billions of people over the years. He was instrumental in helping establish a religion,  a moral order and his death by the crucification has made the cross a much revered holy symbol. Interestingly great saints like yogananda paramahamsa have found advaitic parallels in the rendering of the bible, and Jesus’teachings continues to provide solace and new knowledge even today.

Adi Shankara – an advaitic genius – this monk established (or should we say re-established) the sanyasa order in India during a time of declining faith. A precocious child, he devoured the Vedas in no time and set out to find a guru who could take him further. He found Govinda Bhagavadpada and from thereon there was no stopping him in his quest to discover the truth and establish it across his homeland. He wrote commentaries on all the key scriptures and authored treatises, founded mutts and laid foundations for the new sanyasa order at the 4 corners of India (how he managed all this continues to be a mystery) and sang some of the most lilting poems to life man out of his earthly slumber and rush toward a higher life. A very proficient logician, he made many, many scholars see the truth and won them over as disciples. Miracles happened around him – whether it was a crocodile in the waters letting him live when his mother agreed to let him become a sanyasi or when he brought in the river to help his mother’s passage to the heavenly abode. What shankara achieved in 33, most of us could not do in 10 times the period – what a man!

Swami Rama tirtha – Supposing someone argues that these two great men didn’t travel abroad much, nor did they have families who slowed down their impacts – Rama Tirtha is the answer we must spring upon them. He was a mathematician, a poet and a remarkable advaita exponent. He married young as was the custom at the time and left with his family’s concurrence for searching the higher truths. He travelled to Japan, to the US and lectured heavily. His logic and insight endeared him to very, very many. While we have few of his speeches recorded into books – those make for enlightening reading – and are a must read for any seeker irrespective of religion.

Three great men – and tons of material that they have left behind for us to reflect and be inspired by. Why they all chose 33 is a question we cannot answer. It could be a co-incidence for all we know. However, 33 is a very holy number for the hindus – it is the number which denotes the sum total of devas(gods) as enumerated in the vedas . Maybe a good time to say a prayer to them and wish for grace to descend up on us – a fraction of the immense sagacity these supermen had will do wonders for us…