Sunday, July 9, 2017

Guru Purnima

Today is Guru Purnima, the day Hindus, Buddhists and Jains pay their respects to spiritual and academic teachers, and one of the most significant days in the calendar. A Guru doesn't necessarily have to be a spiritual master: he or she can be anyone who has made a positive difference in your life; someone who has guided you on the path of wisdom, compassion and righteousness — your school teacher, your parent or your mentor at work — and helped you realise your potential to be a good human being and held a mirror to the perfection within you.

I want to share this lovely Guru Purnima message from the late Indian spiritual teacher and author, Eknath Easwaran, who established the nonprofit Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in California in 1961. It is from Easwaran's The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living: Volume 1. I recommend all his books.



"The word guru means "one who is heavy," so heavy that he can never be shaken. A guru is a person who is so deeply established within himself that no force on earth can affect the complete love he feels for everyone. If you curse him, he will bless you; if you harm him, he will serve you; and if you exploit him, he will become your benefactor. It is good for us to remember that the guru, the spiritual teacher, is in every one of us. All that another person can do is to make us aware of the teacher within ourselves."

Photo: bmcm.org

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Remembering Swami Vivekananda

“We must not only tolerate others, but positively embrace them, and that truth is the basis of all religions.” 

Swami Vivekananda was only 39 when he died on July 4, 1902, at Belur in West Bengal. But in that short period of his life, Narendra Nath Datta, by birth, accomplished more than most people struggle to achieve with twice his lifespan.

At the young age of 30, Vivekananda captivated the hearts of men and women in the United States with his soul-stirring speech at the Parliament of World's Religions in Chicago, on September 11, 1893 — a speech that he, quite unexpectedly, began with the words “Sisters and Brothers of America.” It was to become a household doctrine for the universality of races and religions everywhere.


French writer and philosopher Romain Rolland was so enthralled by the speech that he remarked, “The thought of this warrior prophet of India left a deep mark upon the United States... I cannot touch these sayings of his...without giving a thrill through my body like an electric shock. And what shocks, what transports, must have been produced when in burning words they issued from the lips of the hero!”

Overnight, Vivekananda, the foremost disciple of 19th-century Indian mystic Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, catapulted from a relatively unknown monk to a world-renowned seer. He was, beyond a shadow of doubt, one of the greatest social thinkers, reformers and teachers to walk the earth. He was instrumental in taking Indian spiritual culture and philosophical thought to a global audience, propagating harmony and mutual respect among people of different religious faiths, reviving Hinduism in India and making it stand among the pantheon of world religions, and raising the voice of nationalism against colonial rule.


Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago.

Swami Vivekananda was so far ahead of his time and thought that he galvanised an entire generation, a whole nation, to be fearless and steadfast in faith, live for an ideal, and rest not till the goal was reached. In thought, word and action, the yogi was a revolutionary who believed that we were masters of our own destinies, responsible for what we are and what we wish to be, and that the power to scale the Everest of success was in our own hands. 

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”

Today, 115 years after his death, Swami Vivekananda continues to inspire and motivate, and his teachings — rooted in spiritual regeneration — are as relevant today as they were in his time. Perhaps, more so. These are extracts from that rousing speech he gave over a century ago, their message of universal tolerance holding a mirror to the troubled times we live in.


I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.

I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

If there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development; which in its catholicity will embrace in its infinite arms, and find a place for, every human being, from the lowest grovelling savage not far removed from the brute, to the highest man towering by the virtues of his head and heart almost above humanity, making society stand in awe of him and doubt his human nature. It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognise divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be created in aiding humanity to realise its own true, divine nature.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

It Might Have Been by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

We will be what we could be. Do not say,
"It might have been, had not this, or that, or this."
No fate can keep us from the chosen way;
He only might who is.

We will do what we could do. Do not dream
Chance leaves a hero, all uncrowned to grieve.
I hold, all men are greatly what they seem;
He does, who could achieve.

We will climb where we could climb. Tell me not
Of adverse storms that kept thee from the height.
What eagle ever missed the peak he sought?
He always climbs who might.

I do not like the phrase "It might have been!"
It lacks force, and life's best truths perverts:
For I believe we have, and reach, and win,
Whatever our deserts.


© Encyclopedia Britannica
Second Take: “No fate can keep us from the chosen way.” In my opinion, this one line perfectly sums up American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s 1917 poem It Might Have Been. Many of us spend our lives dreaming about the things we want to do and the goals we want to achieve. And when we can’t — or choose not to — pursue our dreams, we spend the rest of our lives in regret and feeling sorry for ourselves. We blame our luck or the lack of it; we bemoan our fate for what isn't and what should have been. The truth is we have no one to blame but ourselves. When people with serious difficulties in life can swim against raging currents and climb hostile mountains and taste sweet victory, why can’t the rest of us climb a few rungs of the ladder to reach our destinations? The only way to change It might have been to I made it! is by substituting the proverbial “Impossible” with “I-am-possible”. Then we shall win, and have our deserts too.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dogfathers

© Prashant C. Trikannad
“You want that bone you buried in Rottweiler territory on the other side of the road, you’re going to have to go through us first. Step over that line, mister, and you’re dead meat. Got it?”

I captured these pack of mean-looking, flesh-eating watchdogs, one summer afternoon, as I was taking a post-lunch stroll. And then I ran as fast as I could.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

The weight of the water

It was a pleasant Sunday evening. I was sitting at the kitchen table, having tea and conversation with my wife. I was relaxed and feeling good about nothing in particular. That is, until I got up to rinse my cup at the sink and found there was no water in the tap.

I panicked. “There’s no water!” Mentally, I said to myself, we’ve had it.

My wife said, “Maybe, the watchman shut off the main. I’m sure it’ll be back soon.”

Then I ruined the rest of the evening. For the next half hour or so, I checked the tap several times to see if water had started flowing again. It hadn’t. I rushed down and confronted the watchman.

“There’s no water in the kitchen tap for more than half an hour. Did you shut off the main valve?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Why?”

He pointed to a door on the first floor. “They asked me to, for about five minutes, said the plumber was fixing something in their house. I have already reopened the valve.”

“Oh, good,” I said, and went home. “It’s back,” I told the family, relieved that all was going to be well.

Only it wasn’t. Everyone in the building, except us, seemed to be getting water, even the people who had carried out the plumbing work. I smelled a conspiracy. We had been singled out.

I left the tap on in the hope that water would reappear magically. Minutes ticked by, a whole hour passed, and still no sign of water, not even a drop. I grew more restless. “We’re the only ones who are not getting water. This happens every time those idiots shut off and reopen the valve. Maybe there’s silt in the pipes or an air bubble. What are we going to do?” I muttered aloud, already worrying about Monday morning and the race to get out of the house. It wasn't as if I bathed in the sink.

My wife calmly picked up the phone and called the plumber, who came at once and annoyed me even more with his opening line. “If everyone’s getting water, then so should you. But, don’t worry, I’ll fix it.”

The hell we should, I thought.

Then he did exactly what he had done on previous visits. He proceeded to open the faucet and clean it. No sooner he unscrewed the regulator and the cap at the mouth of the swivel tap, there was a sudden discharge of water into the sink and a sudden spring in my step. Few things in life make me happier than the sight of the Niagara flowing through our taps.

The plumber washed off the dirt that had collected in the regulator and the cap, and screwed them back on. “See, all you had to do was open the cap and clean it just like I did.” I nodded dumbly.

After he left, my wife gently rubbed it in: “That’s the first thing my dad would have done.

I wasn’t too happy to hear that either. But it was only because I had failed to figure out the problem myself. I probably would’ve if I hadn’t overreacted and instead thought it out calmly over a second cup of tea. If the problem was in front of me, so was the solution. I didn’t see it because I was blinded by my adrenaline-charged, nerve-wracking, stress-induced response to what was actually a no-issue.

We often act impulsively out of fear and nervousness because we believe it eases the situation, and also because we’re in denial about the reality of life, that sometimes things can go wrong. But they can also be set right with patience and fortitude, and a little thought for others. There’s no call for turning every event into a life-challenging moment and pretend as if it’s the end of the world.

The next time someone cuts off the water, I’m going to think twice before reacting and not allow the weight of the water to pull me down.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The old banana seller

Come heat or rain, the old man sits sullenly in a plastic chair by the roadside and sells bananas from morning till night. He is unshaven, grim-faced, and wears a soiled kurta and dhoti. A vegetable vendor and flower seller keep him company on either side. 

I see the old man every day and wonder what motivates him to sit like that for ten hours and more. He has a tired and frowning look on his face. Maybe, it's not motivation; maybe it's compulsion born out of a necessity, to feed his family. Then again, maybe, his family wants him out of the house because he has become a burden, or, he has worked hard all his life and wants to remain active till the end.

One night, I saw the banana seller hand over money to a man on a bike. I realised he was paying commission on the bananas he sold. He owned neither the place he occupied nor the bananas he managed to sell. His net earnings must be meagre, just enough to see him through the next day's meal.

When he has no customers, the old man watches people walk past or nods off, his chin resting on his chest. What must his life be like? For a perspective, I have no right to crib about mine.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Alphabet Quotes: T is for Teacher

"I am a teacher. It's how I define myself. A good teacher isn't someone who gives the answers out to their kids but is understanding of needs and challenges and gives tools to help other people succeed. That's the way I see myself, so whatever it is that I will do eventually after politics, it'll have to do a lot with teaching."
— Justin Trudeau

"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child."
— Carl Jung

"The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.' "
— Maria Montessori
 

"There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fills you with so much quail shot that you can't move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies."
— Robert Frost
 

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."
— Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Just Saying

Writing is a struggle. It's like pushing your way through a peak-hour fast train on the Bombay suburban network and sweating it out in a bone-crushing two-hour ride home. If you can make that journey every day, you can write every day.

Death, be not proud by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.


Second Take: As far as spiritual or metaphysical poems go, the 14-line sonnet Death, be not proud (1633) by John Donne is my favourite. The English poet is saying pretty much what every religion preaches — in death, only the body dies and not the soul. The soul — or the Atman, the Eternal Self, in Hindu philosophy — is the essence of existence and is as free as a soaring eagle under a clear blue sky.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Just Saying

You are your religion only if you practice its sacred teaching in letter and spirit. Otherwise you're just a tag.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Alphabet Quotes: S is for Silence

"If silence is good for the wise, how much better is it for the foolish!"
— Ivan Panin, Thoughts

"Choose silence of all virtues, for by it you hear other men's imperfections, and conceal your own."
— George Bernard Shaw

"There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub."
— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"That man's silence is wonderful to listen to."
— Thomas Hardy
 

"Be silent, or say something better than silence."
— Pythagoras

Monday, March 13, 2017

When an ex-journo writes for PR

On my first day at India's largest independent public relations consultancy, I got an unusual piece of advice from a colleague: “Now that you're working for a PR firm, make sure you leave your soul at home.”

I knew what he meant. I wasn't a journalist anymore. I could no longer wear my heart on my sleeve and write stories as I pleased and annoy people. I was a PR man now.

No, technically, that's not correct. I’m not a public relations specialist, just as a teller is not a banker or a compounder doesn't make a doctor. I don't do client-servicing. I write content for people who are into client-servicing. Actually, I ghostwrite.

The transition hasn’t been easy. For several months, I thought and wrote like a journo. I had to change my writer’s perspective on the other side of the print media-public relations divide. And the divide is not a thin line; it’s as thick as a fence.

After nearly thirty years in the penitentiary of newspapers and magazines, you get used to writing in a certain way, you think you have writing privileges, like you own your writing and to hell with everything else.

You own nothing. It’s the PR clients who own everything you write, even the byline that was once your crowning glory. You write in the garb of an invisibility cloak, unseen and unknown to the outside world.

One of the demands of the job is to make the client come out looking good through editorial and influencer based content marketing. This can include a variety of content—pitch notes and press releases, newsletters and authored articles, case studies and white papers, blog and social media posts, internal and corporate communication, events and graphics, audio and video, and so on.

Whichever type you choose, you can’t let negative publicity creep into client content. If you do, it can be construed as a breach of trust, an act of betrayal. That line of writing defeats the purpose of client-servicing, which is protecting and enhancing corporate reputations through brand and image building media campaigns.

So what has been my experience in PR writing so far?

Well, it has been both challenging and satisfying. I realised at the outset that no two clients want the same thing. While the basics of writing are the same, there are many variations in how content is thought out and structured. It teaches you to think and write creatively and imaginatively. For instance, you can adopt a storytelling style for authored articles in the same way as Sunday papers do or you can start a mundane press release with a bang and grab the editor’s attention. PR writing also offers a broad perspective on contemporary issues. The growth of digital payment systems in the wake of demonetisation, last November, is a case in point.

It seems rather odd that I now write for an audience that I once worked closely with—editors and journalists. Without appealing to their news sense first, there’s not a lot you can do to ensure media mileage for a client.

These are early days and I’m still learning. And, I suspect, I’ll be learning for much longer. But this much I can say with a degree of accuracy: If you want to retain your PR client and raise your PR retainer, become the client. That holds as true of content marketing as it does of client-servicing.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Children of a lesser humanity

A devastating air strike did not rob Omran Daqneesh of his childhood and his innocence, and almost his fledgling life. What did was shocking indifference and lack of compassion from a world that doesn't care about Syria's humanitarian crisis and its mounting collateral toll, especially its war-ravaged women and children.

The five-year-old boy, who became just another statistically horrific face of the Syrian conflict, outraged people around the world. But to what end?


© Aleppo Media Centre
After rescuers pulled him out from under the rubble of a bombed-out building in Aleppo that was once his home, he was deposited on a chair inside the ambulance (probably for a photo op) — dazed, alone, scared, and gingerly feeling the blood and dust on his cherubic face.

Rescuers said Omran appeared stunned and in trauma, naturally, but he didn't cry. He just sat there, next to two other wounded children, under the stark white light of the ambulance.

Someday Omran will ask—"Why me? What did I do?" He will get no answers.

Hopefully, someone hugged the kid after doctors attended to his injuries and made sure he was okay. That's what he needed, to be held with tenderness and comforted, and assured that everything was going to be all right. Even if it wasn't.

The boy survived and apparently so did his parents and siblings. But will other kids be as lucky?

"No one and nowhere is safe. Shell-fire is constant, with houses, schools and hospitals all in the line of fire. People live in a state of fear. Children have been traumatised. The scale of the suffering is immense. For four years, the people of Aleppo have been devastated by brutal war, and it is only getting worse for them. This is beyond doubt one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times," said Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He described the battle for the Syrian city as "one of the most devastating conflicts in modern times."

Dr Zaher Sahloul, a critical care physician from Chicago who has worked in Aleppo and seen the horrific effects of airstrikes, pricked the world's collective conscience when he told The Guardian, "They are not dolls to cry over and then move on. That is the worst thing, everyone is looking at these pictures, but who will do anything?"

Shedding tears for the wounded and traumatised children of Syria is not enough. "All of us can help by advocating on behalf of the doctors and their patients, refusing to accept their suffering is normal, even if the world can sometimes seem inured to Syria's pain. Every life is precious. Omran has reminded us all of the terrible suffering of the children caught up in this war. Let us not forget them again," Dr Sahloul said.

For the children of Syria, survival and lifelong scars could be a fate worse than death.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Alphabet Quotes: R is for Relationships

"Then clasp my hand with closer hold. True hearts are never unconsoled. They fear not care, nor cloud, nor cold. And smile at growing old."
— Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen, American poet and journalist
 

"I mean, if the relationship can't survive the long term, why on earth would it be worth my time and energy for the short term?"
— Nicholas Sparks, The Last Song

"Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships...the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world, at peace."
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

"Science may have found a cure for most evils: but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings."
— Helen Keller

"Truth is, I'll never know all there is to know about you just as you will never know all there is to know about me. Humans are by nature too complicated to be understood fully. So, we can choose either to approach our fellow human beings with suspicion or to approach them with an open mind, a dash of optimism and a great deal of candour."
— Tom Hanks

Think carefully, speak wisely

Thinking too much about everything we see, hear and experience often results in our overreaction to problems which are sometimes imaginary. It gets us nowhere and leaves us fretting and fuming for no reason. Overthinking drains our mental and physical capacity to deal with situations and make sound decisions and proper judgements. It tempers our power of reasoning. Just as we look before we leap, we need to think before we speak. When we think too much, we are more likely to say something insignificant or hurtful or say things that should best have been left unsaid.

Renowned spiritual teacher and founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation Eknath Easwaran compares our continuous stream of thoughts to bumper-to-bumper traffic. He says, "We can learn not to let one thought tailgate another. Tailgating thoughts are a danger signal. People who are prone to anger—or to fear, or greed, or hostility—allow no distance between one thought and another, between one emotional reaction and the next. Their anger seems continuous—just one anger car after another, bumping into each other on a fast, crowded highway."

Slowing down in thought and word, as Easwaran advises, helps us say the right thing at the right time, and in a measured tone. When we think less, we speak less, and when we speak less, we become more sensitive and receptive to others. We also learn to listen more. It allows us to channel our thoughts into meaningful words and actions, and build harmonious relations with people we interact with.

Takeaway: A mind in overdrive is an accident waiting to happen.