What does religion mean to you?

Karl Marx famously said “Religion is the opium of the people”. He was really not very off the mark.

To a large section of the people religion is an escape route from the trials and tribulations of life. It is an avenue where one hopes for a solution to their worldly problems.  People secretly wish that their problems are solved. Moreover people hope that this divine power also showers on them objects of desire.

Others spend time singing hymns, bhajans, performing rituals or attending mass. To many doing this creates a “nice, peaceful and easy” feeling.  There is a temporary sense of well being.

There is nothing wrong in singing hymns, bhajans or performing rituals by itself. The issue is that this is done as chore. Once the mild sense of peace wears off, people are back to their mean and nasty ways.

So you will find people who will pray fervently. With equal fervor they will be rude or nasty, the moment they are back to the real world. Jealousy, envy or anger plays an equal part to their religious fervor.

Does this kind of religiosity make sense?

The real meaning and import of religion and all that it stands for is generally missed. All major religions teach key values of tolerance, compassion, kindness or forgiveness.  But none of these are given a thought. Most of the times, the prayers, bhajans or hymns are performed without much reflection, even if it is done with great zeal.

It is more important to reflect on the principles that great religions lay before us. It is absolutely essential that we practice them.

That to me is more important, than all the other customs or rituals of any religion.

So what does religion mean to you?

Is it a panacea for your day to day problems?

Is it a force of habit?

Or is it a blueprint for making you a better person?

Think about it.

Be self-centered, smart and generous!

We often hear people telling us that we need to be selfless. I would personally advocate a strong self-centered view of oneself in life. Even before “Charity begins at home” I would like to state that “Charity begins with self”.

We need to take a long and hard look at ourselves. We need to look at our personal health and personal wealth, our professional and social standing. If we are lacking in any of these fields then we need to address it.

While a self-centered view may appear selfish, in fact it is the smart way to live life. Unless we are fighting fit, we will never be able to help anyone.

Personal health is of paramount importance, so hit the gym, pump irons, cut the fat and sugar. Make sure that you are healthy.

Then work towards making some real money. Personally I don’t think there is anything wrong in wanting to be a multi-millionaire. Go for it!  Be enterprising and identify ways to make wads of money. Focus on your net worth and make plans to triple or quadruple it in equal number of years or less. It is not sinful to make money as long as you don’t compromise on your principles.

Now focus on your professional health. When it comes to professional matters it really requires street smarts and a savvy to deal with your subordinates, peers and superiors. Make all the right moves.  Invest in the right education. Be career conscious. All your bright ideas will come to naught if you do not have the power to execute them. It is possible to rise in your career in a principled way. Be hungry at your work place and never miss out on any opportunity.

Next determine your social health. Make the right moves to move up the social ladder. In this age of social media there are multiple avenues to network. So network all the way. Become an influencer in the social world.

All of the above checks have to be done regularly. This would only happen if you are sufficiently self-centered. You will need to make progress in each of the above fields through a combination of street smarts, common sense and savvy.

With a reasonable amount of time you should be able to achieve a fair deal of the target you set for yourself.

Finally be generous. Make sure that you use all your achievements whether it is wealth, power or influence for improving the plight of those in need. Your impact to the world will be greater only if you have the necessary resources. You can only build your resources  by being self-centered.

Without creating your own resources of wealth, power or influence you will only be able to do “random acts of kindness”. If you really want to make a consistent and regular contribution to the needy, or get involved in some major philanthropy,  the best way to get started is by being self-centered and smart.

So go ahead and do a “Warren Buffet or a Bill Gates”.

Be self-centered, smart and generous!

A yardstick for life!

Is there a yardstick with which we can measure our lives. In his extremely thought provoking and insightful article “How will you measure your life?” Clayton M. Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor,  provides this extremely useful yardstick. He says “Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”

What an extraordinary statement to make? We, as individuals, tend to measure our success in life based on achievement of personal glory, power, personal wealth etc. But what is really required for happiness and enduring satisfaction in our lives is in what way we are able to make the lives of those around us just a little better. This is truly a noble endeavor.

It does not mean that that the only way we can influence others is through charity. While charity can help there are possible several other ways in which we can help others. For e.g we could use our learning to educate. We could provide moral support to those who lack in confidence. We could spend some time in making happy those who are terminally ill or have some debilitating  disease. There are several ways that we can extend our help and care for those around us.

But typically what happens is that we lead very self-centered lives. We are in a race to make the most money, grab a chuck of power, look to garner personal glory. We live a life that is self-centered all the time.

We may achieve success by way of fame,power and wealth but in the long run it may not give you as much a glow of satisfaction as helping others lead better lives.

We need to shift the focus of our lives from ourselves to those around us. That way we will lead
a far more fulfilling life!

Sermon on the Mount – Truly sublime

Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3- 5:48) and (Luke 6:20 – 6:49) is truly sublime in its grandeur. The sermon is awe inspiring and truly majestic in its depth, breadth and philosophical import. The sermon is based on the two fundamental pillars of love and mercy.  Christ says that harboring anger against anyone as condemnable as murder itself.  One does not need to commit an act to transgress righteous behavior. Evil thoughts by themselves are themselves heinous. Hence hatred, lust, contempt or jealousy is bad in itself. In fact Christ goes on to say “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”   We have no right to criticize, pass judgments or opinions about others when we are less than perfect ourselves. There is no point criticizing about the “mote” in another’s eye when you have “beam” in your own eye.

The central point of Christ’s teachings is the need to repay with kindness any act of hatred towards you. This is contrary to the tit-for-tat and the eye for an eye we generally tend to react. For he says “for whosoever smites thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” and give, give freely to anybody who asks anything of you. With regard to charity Christ says “thy left hand should not know what thy right hand is doing”. There is no need to trumpet about one’s generosity and one’s kindness. This is similar to the Gita’s teaching which requires us to involve ourselves in charity without any regard to the expectations or fruits whatsoever.

Where the sermon truly sweeps you off your feet is where Christ asks to instead of loving our neighbor and hating our enemy to “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despise and persecute you”.  This is truly contrary to mankind’s years and years of conditioning where we react with animosity towards people we hate. We react with anger to insults and contempt. Christ asks to repay with love and kindness all acts of enmity and hatred.

With regard to forgiveness and mercy Christ’s response to Peter who asks him “how many times should I  forgive my brother if he sins against me. Seven times?”  To this Jesus says “Seventy times seven”. This is clearly a figure of speech and the crux is that we have to forgive and show mercy always and as many times as needed, simply because “so likewise shall my heavenly father do also unto you”. As human beings we err many times in our lives and God forgives us always.

What is really inspiring about the Sermon on the Mount is its all encompassing love and forgiveness that it preaches. Rather than behaving with anger and hatred towards people we hate, as we are programmed to react, we are encouraged to show mercy and behave with love and compassion. It really brings forth our human side of nature. The Sermon on the Mount is truly awe inspiring.

Crafting the future

When we come into this world our Creator in all his omniscience gives us the following three things for free – our lives, the present moment and our individual futures. While our live spans may be limited there is no limit on what we make of our own destiny. We need to be architects of our own future. What we have at any point in time is the present. We need to make judicious investments into the present so that we can harvest in the future. When we talk of “reaping what we sow” we generally intend that our present pathetic state of affairs, is what it is, because of our past actions.

However if look at it from the point of view of the future then we can clearly see that we can be the masters of our own destiny. To quote Abraham Lincoln “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. We can assure ourselves of a bright future if we take appropriate steps in the here and now. Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 habits of highly effective people” states that in the space between stimulus and response we are free to choose our course of actions. By making judicious choices at each juncture in our life we can ensure that our future is on the path we want it to be. Besides we also need to pro-actively sow the seeds for our future like learning a new skill, upgrading our knowledge,making new friends etc.

Every act that we do will have its own reward later. Little did Steve Jobs know that his learning of calligraphy in college would enable him to make a compelling product like the Mac. If we invest in the present we will definitely reap rich dividends in the future. We need to chart our course as we travel through life. We need to plan out actions and set sail bravely into our destiny. As physicist, Sean Carroll of California Institute of Technology says “the past has happened and the future is up for grabs”.

Prudence and Providence

Providence favors the prudent. While this may not be immediately obvious with a little thought we can see that those who are lucky in life are those who make prudent decisions in life. Our lives are a series of choices we make, In all these situations what is required is that we look at the situation objectively and make judicious choices, We need to make sure that we make prudent decisions in our personal life (family and finance), professional life and in the social sphere. Common sense is so uncommon. Below are included some steps that are seem to be obvious but are the ones that we generally tend to ignore

Physical & mental exercise: We need to keep both our bodies and our minds in constant use. Towards this end we need to exercise both physically and mentally. We need to ensure that are brains are active by taking up creative activity like painting, writing, or learning a new technology. Reading good books also ensures that we keep our minds active. This will keep the brain cells happy and ticking for a long time. Similarly we also need to ensure that we regularly do a spot of exercise and get plenty of fresh air. We can add years of life to ourselves by simply following a regular regimen of good exercise. A sound body and mind is very necessary to be able to not only solve the problems that life throws on us but also to enjoy the good fortune that comes our way.

Financial prudence: What is past is over and cannot be changed. What we have at our disposal is the present and a future we need to take control of. The way we can do this is by financial prudence. We need to invest financially in the present so that we are provided for in later years post retirement. We need to save a little regularly over a long period of time. When we invest our time and money in the present we can reap the rewards in our future. We also need to ensure that we guard ourselves against any eventuality. Towards this end we need to make sure that we stash away a small amount of money towards insurance of self and family. Occasional splurging is fine but regular indulgence should be avoided, When trying to buy something we need to make sure that we get what we need and not what we want.

Social prudence: There is more truth to the old worn out saying “a friend in need is a friend indeed” than we are aware of. True friends are hard to come by and can help us in really sticky situations. Common sense dictates that we keep steadily increasing our circle of friends as we progress through life. A healthy social circle will come to our aid during difficulties, help us through depressions and come to our aid when we need most.

These are some prudent steps that we can take during our years in life. If we make sure that we are healthy both physically & mentally, secure our future through sound investments and have a good friend circle we can tide over a lot of life’s problems.These are not one time activities that we do once and then sit tight. At every stage in life we have to take stock of the situation and adjust our approach to our personal, financial and social spheres in life.

In fact, good things will come our way only if we make way for it.

Living from Within

As we travel through the seas of life we are constantly assaulted from all sides by criticisms, anger, taunts, and failures. We tend to get upset whenever things don’t go the way we want it to. We tend to react to external situations. However the right way to successful living is “living from within”.

What I mean is that we should live our lives from the inside-out and not from outside-in. Hence living from within requires that we be proactive in our lives. We need to constantly act and determine things in the external world. We should drive things rather than being driven by them. We have to live the world from within ourselves.

Many famous people live this way including Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Alva Edison or Mother Teresa. All these people had a burning desire within themselves and they went about achieving them. They were not easily put off by temporary failures.

If we adopt this approach we are bound to enjoy our lives better and be more productive in life. If you are overly depressed or hurt by the external world then it only indicates that you do not have any serious plan of action for yourself. As they say, the world can only hurt you if you allow it to. Why should we allow the external world to dictate our emotions and our thoughts?

We need to be able to creatively and actively involve ourselves in this world and achieve things. We have to have a fire in our bellies to achieve things. We are the master of our own fate. Where we go in life is entirely dependent on the seeds we sow in the present. This will only happen if we live from within.

This way we will not only be successful in our lives we will also be happy with our lives.

via >Living from Within.

Recognizing the force within

Our lives are less than perfect. We would like our lives to be one way but it generally turns out another way. Sometimes our friends are nasty to us, our spouses irritate us, and our bosses tend to ignore us when we are due for promotions or raises. We seem to have a lot of issues all the time. However the important thing is that we should not let these issues perturb us.

We need to look at each issue in its context and address it as we see fit. After that we should not let them continue to bother us. We should not let these petty issues nag us constantly. There is no point in fretting and fuming over trivialities.We need to consciously turn away from these issues and focus on more important things in life.

Deep within us are embedded our fondest hopes, wishes and ambitions. We need to look inward and recognize these dreams of ours and concentrate our efforts in realizing them. Rather than wasting time in worrying about petty things that did not work in ways we wanted we should nurture and works towards achieving things that we can..

For example, if we harbor dreams of becoming an accomplished musician we should spend time practicing and learning to play the instrument better. If we wish to become a writer we could do all that is necessary in learning to write well. We should spend our energies in trying to achieve things that we want rather than frittering away our energies in useless worries and wishful thinking. We should look at where we are in life and where we wish to be and work towards that.

While this may seem obvious, all too often we spend worrying and getting angry about things that we have little control over. We cannot change the way people behave as everybody is different and have their own priorities in life. Rather than being influenced with the way things happen to us we should channelize our entire energy to accomplishing that we always wanted to do. There is an indomitable force that lies buried inside us. We only need to recognize this force and give it shape. If we do this, not only will be more content with our lives but will also accomplish a lot more.

Gita’s middle path

According to the ancient Indians there are 4 goals in any human beings life. They are ‘kama’ or the pursuit of pleasure, ‘artha’ or the pursuit of material wealth, ‘dharma’ or achievement of just ends and ‘moksha’ the attainment of liberation. This was the prevalent idea during the Vedic ages.

However the Gita gives a much more balanced approach to life. The Gita states that kama or desire is the cause of all unwanted suffering. The Gita enjoins us to perform actions in a selfless way without any ulterior motive or the desire for fruits of the action. This is known as “niskama karma” or desireless action. With a little thought we understand the depth of this idea. Clearly unnecessary attachment to the material world bring along with it unnecessary heartbreaks. We are neither supposed to be overjoyed at good tidings nor be heartbroken when something bad happens.

Secondly the Gita requires us to have just adequate material possessions to get on in the world, The Gita does not glorify a life of asceticism nor a life of wanton profligacy. The Gita requires us to follow a middle path where our wants are just met.

The ideal way according to the Gita to live a life filled with sattvic qualities of moderation and charity. The path of right living according to the Gita is life of work, filled with devotion to the Supreme, transcending dualities of pain and pleasure and performing charity without expectation of any reward.

The Gita is truly profound and eternal truth passed to us from ancient times.

Navigating the narrow path

When we are young – good and bad are usually in black and white. However as we grow older we realize that life and values in life are not so straight forward. There are many shades of grey that exist between the good on one side and evil on the other. Oftentimes we have to contend not with just the good and bad but with the good and the good.

We are forced to confront a hierarchy of values of life namely kindness, compassion, honesty, patience, tolerance and humility. How does one decide between two virtues in a situation? We are forced to wrestle between different virtues in a situation. This post looks at typical situations and tries to take a stab at navigating the narrow path between good, better and best…

Honesty is good, Tact is better: While honesty and stating facts as facts makes sense when one is young as we grow older we need to take a smarter approach towards handling different situations. Very often people feel offended when they are told the truth, particularly when they are wrong. They may feel insulted. In these situations we need to be more subtle in telling the truth. We need tact and tell the truth in a more palatable way. So honesty should include a good amount of tact and smarts.

Kindness is good, Indulgence is not: We all know that we have to be kind. So while our innate kindness may want us to part with a few coins to a beggar, it  would it make no sense to constant shower the same beggar with a lot of money, assuming that the beggar is not physically handicapped and can earn an honest living. Similarly while we may want to be kind to our child we should not condone the child’s tantrums. Kindness and discipline go hand in hand. Kindness should be accompanied with dollops of good sense.

Humility is good, Servility is bad: Humility is a very misunderstood concept. We generally think humility is the opposite of pride. We think that humility means that we should try to underplay any achievements of ours. We assume incorrectly, that we must never, ever talk about things that we have done. Actually humility means being able to fully understand one’s strengths and weaknesses and having a realistic view vis-à-vis the world. We must realize that while we may be good there are many who are still better. So humility is being realistic about one’s achievements.  However, we often confuse humility to being very servile. We think that to be humble means to just listen to everything and everybody. This is completely incorrect. So we need to humble but we should never be servile.

Self-esteem is important, Egoism is bad: Self esteem is extremely important. We need to take pride in our achievements. It is fine to highlight our achievements to others provided we are not arrogant. We should never compromise on our self-esteem. We should never be too egoistic in our own self.  Excessive pride can sometimes border on narcissism. We need to have a balanced approach towards our achievements. Our successes should feed out self-pride but never make us excessively proud and arrogant.

While this post looks at different shades of a particular virtue the highest of all virtues is kindness and compassion.  It is always more important to be kind than correct.