Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Demonic

child soldier When you think of war, what images come to mind? Perhaps you visualize an army of uniformed soldiers, tanks and armored vehicles traveling in convoy. However, the standoff this time is between a Western army bound by the Geneva Convention and Western values on human rights, and an enemy that includes hundreds of children.

France, which now has around 2,500 troops on the ground, plunged headfirst into the conflict in Mali two weeks ago, after the Islamist groups that have controlled the nation’s northern half since last year began an aggressive push southward. The French soldiers are equipped with night vision goggles, anti-tank mines and laser-guided bombs. However, their enemy includes the hundreds of children, some as young as 11, who have been drafted into the rebel army.

The United Nations children’s agency said late last year that it had been able to corroborate at least 175 reported cases of child soldiers in northern Mali, bought from their impoverished parents for between $1,000 and $1,200 per child. Malian human rights officials put the total number of children recruited by the Islamists considerably higher at 1,000 – and that was before the French intervention.

An estimated 250,000 boys and girls (according to current UN estimates) are taking part in wars around the world at any given time over the last two decades.

These children are already victims. What future do they have?  What kind of an impact such children will have on the world at large. What kind of a world are we leaving behind for the future generation? Who is getting away with funding 1000-1200$ per child? How are they able to recruit thousands of children? How can there be 250,000 children engaged in war? What sense can we make out this?zahedi20120707035841233

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is in a very similar situation, he had to deal with a situation where he had to fight his own cousins and teachers. Krishna’s advise to Arjuna is to fight them but fight without hatred, fight them with love.

A person can be in 3 states – no-thought, thought and thoughtlessness. A person in no-thought is ready to fight, he is just waiting to go (so is the state of Duryodhana), a person in a state of thought is torn between right and wrong (such is the state of Arjuna), and a person in a state of thoughtlessness, one who has transcended all thoughts and realizes that thought itself is useless is able to fight, but fight with love and compassion (such is the state of Krishna).  A child is in a state of no-thought, a saint is in a state of thoughtlessness, is child-like. Both on the surface appear similar.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks at great length on the 26 noble qualities for spiritual development and liberation; and  the demonic qualities that lead to bondage.  In verse 16.6, He says there are two types of men in this world: the divine and the demonic. In  verse 16.7,  He says the demonic do not know the meaning of right action, and do not know when to refrain from acting, and in verse 16.9 He says, feeble of intellect, such self-ruined men cling to their beliefs and commit countless atrocities. They are enemies of mankind, devoted to its destruction.  Such people are in delusion, by the theory of Karma, are in a downward spiral.

Hate the sin, not the sinner.

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Types of Action

Vedanta tells us of 3 types of actions – Nitya-Nimittika-Karmas (obligatory duties), Kamya-Karmas (desire-driven actions), and Nishidha-Karmas (prohibited actions).  Our gunas are the drivers of all actions and the resultant dominant guna at any point of time results in the appropriate action. The Gita says, we should strive toward Nitya-Nimittika Karma, that is superior actions carried out meticulously in the form of obligatory duty and without any expectations for the self from the action.

Quote from the Gita (18.19), ‘Awareness of an act, the accomplishment of that act, and the person accomplishing it are described in the Shankhya system as being of three types, according to the gunas involved. (18.23): That action is sattwic that is divinely inspired, performed with complete non-attachment, without any sense of likes and dislikes, and without any desire for its fruits (Nitya-Nimittika-Karmas)

This is possible if we cultivate and promote the sattwa guna, tame the rajas and get rid of the tamas. Sattwa can be promoted when we are able to identify ourselves with a higher goal, when we are able associate ourselves to a nobler cause.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Nelson Mandela and Annie Besant are few such examples who fought, sacrificed and committed their lives for a noble cause. They were/ are Sattwic individuals who carried out their duties with true divine inspiration.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in 1890. He was a member of the Municipal Council of Pune, Bombay Legislature, and an elected ‘Fellow’ of the Bombay University. Tilak was a great social reformer. He issued a call for the banning of child marriage and welcomed widow remarriage. Through the celebrations of Ganapati Festival and the birthday of the Shivaji he organized people.

In 1897, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was charged with writing articles instigating people to rise against the government and to break the laws and disturb the peace. He was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one and a half year. Tilak was released in 1898.

Tilak was arrested on the charges of sedition in 1906. After the trial, Tilak was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in Mandalay (Burma). Tilak spent his time in prison by reading and writing. He wrote the book ‘Gita-Rahasya’ while he was in prison, his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.

Annie Besant was born as Annie Wood on October 1, 1847 in a middle-class family in London. She was of Irish origin. She also became involved in Indian freedom movement. In 1916, she founded Home Rule League which advocated self rule by Indians. She became the President of Indian National Congress in 1917. She was the first woman to hold that post. Annie Besant died on September 20, 1933 at Adyar (Madras). As per her wish her ashes were immersed in Ganga in Benares.

Annie Besant fought for the causes she thought were right, such as, women’s rights, secularism, birth control, Fabian socialism and workers’ rights. She became interested in Theosophy as a way of knowing God. Theosophical Society was against discrimination of race, color, gender and preached Universal brotherhood. To serve humanity at large was its supreme goal. It was as a member of Theosophical Society of India that she arrived in India in 1893.

Nelson Mandela is one of the world’s most revered statesmen, who led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy. Jailed for 27 years, he emerged to become the country’s first black president and to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Kamya-Karma are desire driven actions.  These are good actions but have are personal desire driven. So, there is attachment, passion behind the action and the outcome of the action result in strong reactions both positive or negative.

Nishidha-Karma, these are actions that are sins and should not be performed. This is where the intellect plays a s strong role, in judging what is right or wrong or what is a sin or not.

(Today Jan 26th, is India’s Republic Day. India attained independence on August 15, 1947 but till 1949 it didn’t have a permanent constitution of its own and instead were functioning under the laws enacted and implemented by the British. And after many amendments the Constitution was approved and accepted on November 26, 1949 that came into force in a full-fledged fashion from on 26 January, 1950. Thus, Republic Day celebration is the moment to remember the coming of the Constitution into effect.)

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Prasna-Uttara-Malika Part-II

Swami Sukhabodhananda in his book on Adi Shankara’s Bhaja Govindam writes ‘The heart of education is the education of the heart’.

According to Swami Sukhabodhananda, Adi Shankara is the most outstanding teacher because his style of teaching was all inclusive (addressed all types of people). That is why he is known as Shankaram – loka Shankaram. This has been his singular most important contribution towards humanity, and to him who has devoted his whole life for bringing about this spiritual awakening, we should bow down humbly.

Continuing with the Prasna-Uttara-Malika (‘A garland of questions and answers’) ..

1. Who is free?

He who is dispassionate.

2. Who is awake?

One who discriminates between right and wrong.

3. Who are our enemies?

Our sense organs when they are uncontrolled.

4. Who are our friends?

Our sense organs when they are controlled.

5. Who is poor?

He who is greedy or not contented. 

6. Who is totally blind?

He who is lustful.

7. Who has overcome the world?

He who has conquered his/her own mind.

8. What is happiness?

Detachment.

9. What should one strive for?

To go on learning as long as one lives.

10. Who is awake?

One who discriminates between right and wrong.

11. Who is deaf?

He who will not listen to good advice.

12. Who is dumb?

He who does not speak kind words when they are needed.

13. What is a person’s most valuable ornament?

His good character.

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ACT of Service and ATTITUDE of Service

After Mother Teresa won the Nobel Price, she told the story of a leper who had rung the doorbell of the mother’s house. It was a leper shivering with cold. Mother asks him if he needed anything from her. She wanted to offer him food and a blanket to protect himself from the bitter cold of Calcutta. He replied in the negative. He showed Mother his begging bowl. He told Mother in Bengali: “Mother, people were talking that you had received some prize. This morning I decided that whatever I get through begging today, I would hand over to you this evening. That is why I am here.” Mother found in the begging bowl 75 paise (2 pence). The gift was small but the tiny gift revealed to Mother the largeness of a human heart. It was beautiful. Even today the 75 paise is on her table.

This is what the Bhagavad Gita teaches us. Most of us are more focused on the ACTS – Praying, Visiting Temples, Fasting, Climbing mountains in the name of service, but  miss out on the ATTITUDE. What the Gita wants us to understand is ATTITUDE of SERVICE is more important than the ACT of SERVICE. If the attitude is misplaced, then the action is hollow, hypocritical; but if the right attitude is there, that in itself automatically translates in flawless action. Action with the right attitude comes effortlessly, action with a misplaced attitude falls short in every aspect.

I volunteer at a local temple, and I see people come to the temple to worship but I only see the ACT in them, because beyond the ACT what one cannot fail noticing is their ATTITUDE towards the temple volunteers, towards the temple priests. I feel sorry for them as they come to the temple to worship and focus,  but they are full of themselves that they have no control of their mind. Instead, the  mind has taken complete control of them. Attitude is important.

In our mythology, we have the stories of Shabari, Sudama, Tukaram and many others who had nothing for themselves, but still only thought of giving something.

It is very easy to lose sight of these what appears to be so simple or trivial but yet are so important to develop the right understanding and right focus.

The question we have to ask ourselves is – Are we GIVERS and or are we TAKERS? Interestingly, our scriptures say NO ONE wants to TAKE from GIVERS, but EVERYONE wants to take from TAKERS. Be a GIVER and see how the world responds and then be a TAKER and see how the world treats you.

It is also important to keep in mind that the teachings of Vedanta are NEVER PRESCRIPTIVE. The emphasis is always on SHRUTI (listening and reading), YUKTI (reflecting, assimilating) and ANUBHAVA (experiencing, trying, experimenting and finding for yourself).

AS YOU THINK (NOT AS YOU ACT), SO YOU BECOME.

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Prasna-Uttara-Malika Part-I

Adi Shankara (686-718 A.D) was an Indian philosopher from Kaladi in present day Eranakulam district, Kerala, India. Shankara travelled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He is reputed to have founded four mathas (“monasteries”), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta of which he is known as the greatest revivalist

At the age of 8, Shankara was inclined towards sannyasa, but it was only after much persuasion that his mother finally gave her consent. He received her consent in a very interesting manner. While bathing in the river Poorna one day, a crocodile caught hold of his leg. Shankara appealed to his mother, who had arrived at Poorna, asking for permission to become a sanyasi. His mother finally gave consent, only to have the crocodile let go of young Shankara. A crocodile had never been found in Poorna ever since.

In Prasna-Uttara-Malika (‘A garland of questions and answers’), Shankara raises and answers some important questions. I have picked a few from that list as a starting point:

1. What is the first and most important duty for a man of right understanding?

To cut through the bonds of worldly desire.

2. What is fearlessness?

Dispassion.

3. Wherein lies strength?

In patience.

4. Who in the world can be called pure?

He whose mind is pure.

5. What deludes a person like an intoxicating drink?

Attachment to object of senses.

6. For one who has achieved human birth, what is the most desirable objective?

To realize that which is ultimate good and to be constantly engaged in doing good to others.

7. What is the obstacle to spiritual growth?

Laziness.

8. What is most to be feared?

To become possessed by your own wealth.

9. Who profits from this life?

A humble person.

10. Who is a loser?

He who is proud.

11. What is the most difficult task for a person?

To keep his/her mind under constant control.

12. What is ignorance?

The obstacle to the unfoldment of the Divine which is within us.

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Jan 21st – Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a United States federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King’s birthday, January 15.

On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   helped lead the fight for desegregation and equal rights. He was arrested numerous times and during one of the imprisonments wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

While studying at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, King heard a lecture on Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent (ahimsa) civil disobedience campaign that he used successfully against British rule in India.

King read several books on the ideas of Gandhi, and eventually became convinced that the same methods could be employed by blacks to obtain civil rights in America.

King was also influenced by Henry David Thoreau and his theories on how to use nonviolent resistance to achieve social change. (See also, on Thoreau –  Contented Living).

Vedanta looks at violence at a much deeper level. First, violence need not be associated with a physical action. Vedanta considers even a negative thought as violence. It also says that violence and attachment exist side by side. A person who wants to be non-violent has to drop the feeling of possession. The concept of ‘mine’ is itself  violence. The moment we say something is mine, we start distinguishing, we start focusing on differences and that gives rise to separateness.

Non-violence can arise only in the mind of a person who does not any more see separation between ‘his own’ people and others.

On this day of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who so strongly combating racial inequality through nonviolence, based n the teachings of  Mahatma Gandhi, let us pause to reflect on the sacrifices of these two noble men, their faith in non-violence and understand what drives us to be violent and what we need to do to get ourselves to a state of non-violence, both physically and mentally.

Dr. Martin Luther King, J, was particularly struck by Gandhi’s words: “Through our pain we will make them see their injustice”.

Reference: – http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAkingML.htm

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moksha pAtam

Do you know of a game called mokha pAtam? If you  don’t, you should continue reading..

Most of us at some time or the other would have played the snakes and ladder game.  As children, it was a nice game to play with either a friend or siblings or parents or grandparents.

Snakes and Ladders game originated in India, but it was known as moksha pAtam or vaikunthapaali or paramapada sopaanam (the ladder to salvation). The game is associated with the Hindu Philosophy of Karma (destiny) and Kama (desires).

The game has also been interpreted and used as a tool for teaching the effects of good deeds versus bad. The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, and humility, while the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, and theft.

The key messages were that a person can attain salvation (Moksha) through doing good, whereas by doing evil one will inherit rebirth to lower forms of life (karma).

The number of ladders were less than the number of snakes as a reminder that a path of good is much more difficult to tread than a path of sins. Presumably the number “100” represented Moksha (salvation).

Today,  healthcare companies are looking at driving behavior changes through gameification, by leveraging modern technology and gadgets (smart phones and smart devices).  Significant investments are being made to drive new ideas that could help drive better health outcomes.

Isn’t it amazing that several thousands of years back, people did look at games as a medium to build the moral fabric of society? They did not have technology, but the concept was there, and it was presented in simple yet compelling board games.

The entire teachings of Vedanta have been encapsulated  into this game of moksha pAtam (snakes and ladders)!!.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snakes_and_Ladders

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You Minus EGO = God

“Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit,” USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart said. “His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities.”

Armstrong had won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005.

In recent years, and in history we have come across many who have risen to heights through lot of hard work and sacrifice. They dedicate their lives to get to the top. But having gotten to the top, they struggle to remain there. They fall, and often the fall is steep.

Why does this happen? Today all our attention is on Lance Armstrong’s (who at age 16,  began competing as a triathlete) fall from grace, but when we look around it seems to be all pervasive.

So, the question that we need to reflect upon is – what drives this behavior – this urge to win at any price? this urge for false recognition? 

All across Vedanta, the seers keep warning of this rise and fall, repeatedly.  According to Vedanta, our actions are based on the resulting action (resultant) from the convergence of the dominating guna (of the 3 gunas – the Sattwa, the Rajas and the Tamas) in us –  and the dominating characteristic of the physical/gross body emanating from either the body, mind or intellect.  A resultant action of a tamas guna emanating at the the physical body, and a resultant action of someone with a dominant sattwa with a centered intellected,  would be very different. 

Implicit  within the rajas guna, is the EGO. The Indian scriptures talk at length about EGO, and how it is the enemy of  human being. The Ego is like the darkness that eclipses the moon, and it prevents us from getting us to our true Self, which is self-luminous like the moon.

The scriptures tell us, EGO is born out of ignorance. It is the ignorance and the ego that gives us the false notion of individuality and separateness.  This separateness leads us to view each other, as different and the moment we view each other as different, it gives birth to conflict, it gives birth to fear and fear drives selfishness. It is a vicious circle, where one feeds on the other.

Developing a right understanding of the three gunas, and understanding of the body, mind and intellect will carry us a long way in our thinking and refining our qualities, including curbing the EGO (read Matrix of the 3 gunas and qualities).

If we don’t have a good handle on this, then we are bound to come up with actions that could come back to hurt us, like in the case of Lance Armstrong.

The ultimate goal of a human being is to be able to transcend the gross body and the 3 gunas by destroying the EGO,, and connect with the ‘atman’ within. This is the final liberation.

AS YOU THINK, SO YOU BECOME.

Thank you.

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Knowledge Acquisition

Our the past two to three decades, companies have gone global on a large scale,  not only just  to market their products, but companies have also moved a number of their back end operations to locations where it made most economic sense, where there was political stability, and there was a critical mass of  talent pool.

One of the key components of this globalization entailed, being able to effectively train and transfer knowledge to the local country resources – processes, procedures, methods, documentation, communication, etc.. Different companies tried different models to train and bring the local country resources up to speed. Many companies also deputed one or more of their experienced employees to that country,  for 1-2 years, to work closely with the local talent.

Over a period of time, based on the learnings and experiences from multiple such knowledge transfer and knowledge acquisition initiatives, companies started coming up with frameworks  for knowledge transition and acquisition. These frameworks encapsulated the knowledge transfer process into phases and stages with clearly defined tasks, deliverable and metrics, within each stage and phase. This framework was then used as a guide to drive multiple such knowledge transitions. This is how best practices started evolving.

Many companies learnt it the hard way, they made mistakes, many transitions failed, and some took a much longer time than originally anticipated. If you asked anyone for the reasons for failure, chances are, you would hear them say ‘well this was the first time something like this was being attempted,  we did not have any knowledge base to fall back on, ….’

If we look into our Upanishads, different families of rishis  specialized different sections of the Vedas. The teachings were transmitted orally from father to son, or from teacher to disciple.

The question then is how did this knowledge transition (which is far more complex considering it involved understanding of the matter and spirit) take place?

The interesting aspect that we learn from the Vedanta  is that there is already a very well defined Knowledge Transition Methodology.  This is the process the teacher followed with his students or the father followed with the son in imparting spiritual knowledge. The Vedanta talks of a 3 step robust knowledge transition process- ‘Shravanam’, ‘Mananum’ and ‘Nidhidhyasanam’.

‘Sravana’ means hearing, the emphasis was on listening to the teacher carefully. ‘Manana’ was the phase of reflecting on the the teachings and developing a deep and clear understanding and then was ‘Nidhidhyasana’, which was meditating (in the context of spiritual development and self-realization) but it could also be interpreted as practicing.

Sri Adi Sankara also says in verse 364 of Vivekachudamani, the benefit that we can gain from manana is a hundred times greater than that which we can gain from mere sravana, and the benefit that we can gain from nididhyasana is a hundred thousand times greater than that which we can gain from mere manana.

Isn’t this amazing that our scriptures outlined a methodology, some 4000+ years back?

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Roots of Yoga

Today the word ‘Yoga’ is so broadly used, that one begins to wonder what actually is yoga. The general themes that a majority of the yoga centers appear to market are – 1. learn to de-stress,  2. physical fitness is key to a healthy body and mind and 3. some focus on diet and food. The emphasis appears to be on the physical aspects of yoga – asana

The yoga tradition offers a paradigm for such deep self-examination that working with them can help us create a satisfyingly balanced life at the deepest and most holistic level. I thought it would help us all if we took a moment to reflect on the background and history of yoga, as this perspective is important for those who sincerely wish to pursue on this journey.

The Bhagavad Gita, discusses a number of different practices  that have been termed yoga – Gnana-yoga (Sankhya yoga), the path of knowledge; Karma-yoga, the path of service or action; Bhakti-yoga – the path of devotion; and Dhyana-yoga, the path of silent meditation. Typically, when the term yoga is used without any qualifications, it refers to the path of meditation / Dhyana-yoga.

The origins of Yoga go back to the Vedic period. In the oldest Vedic text, there is evidence of yogi-like ascetics. However, it is in the Upanishads one gets to see the writings of classical yoga that we know of today.

The Upanishads reveal the clear shift from sacrificial rites to philosophical and mystical discourse.

The Mahabharatha, which comprises of 100,000 versus, is the longest epic in the world and preserves significant material representing the evolution of yoga. The epic also exhibits the transition of the Yoga as known in the Upanishads to its more structured/systematized tradition of Yoga as presented in the classical period by Patanjali.

There are about 884 references to Yoga,  focused more around Karma-yoga and about 120 references to Gnana-yoga in the Mahabharatha. Of these 900 odd references to Yoga in the Mahabharatha, there are only two  references to asanas. Neither the Upanishads or the Gita, mention posture in the sense of asanas (i.e. stretching exercises and bodily poses, and Patanjali himself dedicates only three brief sutras from his text to this aspect of the practice.

I hope this provides some perspective on the yoga as we understand today (emphasis appears to be on the physical aspects of yoga – asana) and the real emphasis of yoga as per the epics and scriptures.

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