Monthly Archives: January 2021

What is a genuine human connection?

In the ten-day Vipassana retreat, Goenka Ji tells us a story about Kisa Gotami. Kisa Gotami was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. Her story is one of the more famous ones in Buddhism. After losing her only child, Kisa Gotami became desperate and asked if anyone could help her. Her sorrow was so great that many thought she had lost her mind. An older man told her to see the Buddha. The Buddha told her that he could bring the child back to life if she could find white mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. She desperately went from house to house, but to her disappointment, she could not find a home that had not suffered the death of a family member. Finally, the realization struck her that there is no house free from mortality. She returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arahat

I had heard this story on previous retreats, but this time it struck a chord with me. What made me emotional was how painful it must have been for Kisa Gotami to realize that her son has died and there is nothing she can do about it. The gut-wrenching realization is almost like a physical ache in your heart.

When things do not go our way, and we want it to happen badly – it is painful to face reality and move on. In the human predicament, situations come and go, what is common is our desire/aversion towards specific outcomes and the joy/pain when that happens. When we recognize that the pain or pleasure is common across everybody – that is a sign of genuine compassion.  

In the story of Kisa Gotami – yes, it is excruciating to have your only son die – there is no denying that. It is even more painful to accept that and move on. You had so many dreams, future built on your son and when he died all that comes crashing – the reality as you imagined it is not going to happen and that is devastating to the human mind. For her to realize that her son has died and she cannot do anything about it – is what I connected with.

Everybody on the planet goes through these life situations. When we see a fellow human being overcome her challenges and face reality – there is a shared understanding of what it takes to accept it. And if we connect at that level, then we are connecting with the human predicament and the ability to transcend it – which is genuine compassion. As long as we identify with the human form, we will have to overcome such situations, and in some ways, that is what we need. Imagine reading a novel where everything goes well, and nothing happens – who would read such a book. The very reason things do not work forever in our lives because it is our destiny to transcend them.

Imagine if we truly understood what connected us as humans – will we still fight over our skin colour or what part of the land we were born? Can you feel the shared connection?

Leap Of Faith or Same Old?

I recently watched the movie – ‘The White Tiger’ on Netflix. It is one of those movies which has more than just a basic storyline. It depicts India, and it’s culture – things that probably most Indians don’t even think about anymore. But it goes a lot deeper than that. I have noticed that when shows or movies are made from the presence and not ego, they resonate more with the audience. The audience might know the reason, but it touches a chord somewhere deep down.

Eckhart Tolle tells us a story about an Indian and another countryman talking. Indian asked the other person – ‘What do you live by?’ He replies, ‘We live by guts.’ And then asks the same question to the Indian. The Indian says, ‘We live by grace.’ In India the illusion of control does not exist – cars can travel on the wrong side of the road, you are supposed to move even if it is red light, it might take you years to get your aadhar card, you have to make multiple trips to the bank to open an account. These things are considered standard in other countries. Nothing works the way it does in India, but it all turns out to be alright in the end.

Having lived in India and watching this movie reminded me that to be human is to be imperfect. And that implies that the life situation we are in is flawed and will not last. If you think you have everything under control now – wait for a few weeks or months or years. The human predicament is called predicament for a reason – it is supposed to be uncomfortable. That is why things we want do not happen, and something we do not want to keep happening – which as Buddha said is the definition of suffering.

All the billions of people on the entire planet – keep experiencing this and still keep going on as if the next thing would be any different. The life situation may change, but it will not last. It’s like a child building a sandcastle and expecting it to last forever. When the first one crumbles – he goes on to create another one expecting the same thing.

We do the same things with our lives – get good grades, get a good job, marry, have children, get another job, move cities, divorce, get laid off, get a promotion but nothing lasts.

Let’s be clear here – I am not saying that you do not do these things. We are born as humans to experience these life situations, but we should remember that these life situations are a portal to what does not change. That is why human life is so precious it is the bridge between the physical and the spiritual world. Only humans have this choice; no animal or tree can exercise this choice.

The irony of the situation – of the billion people only a few will bite and of those who bite only a few will get hooked – because it takes them towards a realm where you do not need sandcastles – you have it all.

Will you take the leap of faith or stick to building sandcastles?

Trickster Mind

For the last eighteen months or so, I had been on the path to get a new role at work in a different profession. I had gotten a couple of interviews but never made it into the second round. Subconsciously, I lived in a world where I want the role but was never going to get it. Third time around, I made it into the second round – and then actually landed the role.  

You would expect an overabundance of joy from me, correct? I did too. Instead, I had fear or more shock as the primary emotion. I do feel joy in spurts and bursts. I was disappointed because I did not get the role, now I am unhappy because I got the role – which is correct? Neither, the truth is I have got a new role – end of the story. A more profound truth is right now my hands are typing on the keyboard as my eyes watch the bunch of words appear on the laptop screen.

Our minds/egos love the vacillation – they need to identify with something it does not matter what. If you watch your thoughts, you will notice what a turncoat the mind is – Hopes to fear, Rags to riches. It contains the entire collection of the shows you can find on streaming these days. And we get caught up in that story and forget about the space in which the story takes place.

Eckhart Tolle tells a story in one of his talks – In Greece, there was a knotted rope which was very complicated. The story was that the person to undo the knot would be a great person. Many came and tried in vain to untie the knot. Then one young boy came and cut the knot with a sword – rumour has it, he grew up to be Alexander the Great.

Sometimes, the only way to get over the mind stories is through the sword of presence. What does that mean? It is hard to explain it in words, so here are some pointers:

  1. Remind yourself – ‘No thought matters absolutely.’ Be it about job, career, food, family, death, politics – it’s just a bunch of words. Be in the NOW.
  2. Treat your mind like a little child – pat its head and nod politely. You cannot be serious about all that little kids talk about, right? Mindfulness always works.
  3. Focus on breath or body sensations – because it brings you to reality. If it’s not happening now – you are living in the dream (what-if) world. Presence is the key.

Easier said than done. When you are in the grips of the story where your career is going down the drain, it is tough to step out of it and say – ‘It’s just a bunch of words.’ The way to get there is to notice every time it happens, even if it is hours after it happened. Because every time you become aware, you are de-personalizing the mind. The mind is not you anymore at least for that brief second. And then there will come the point when you will laugh at the stories that mind builds up and watch them as they arise and pass.

Trick Question: Which thought of your mind matters absolutely?

What Matters Most?

When you read a book, do you wonder about the blank spaces around the words? Do you wonder about the blank pages on which the letters appear?

When you enter a room, do you think about the space in the room? When you use the furniture, do you think about the space in which it exists?

When you watch a film, are you aware of the screen on which it is playing? When you see the actors in the movie, do you realize that they are people?

Let’s bring it all home with a story. One of my friends got laid off from a toxic job and not the best fit for her. She was miserable in that role working long hours in a thankless role. When she told the news to her parents and in-laws, their reaction was, ‘Wow, that is amazing!’ and ‘Good riddance – such great news!’. My friend is a little upset about it even though she knows its the best direction for her.

Her parents and in-laws are happy because they care about my friend, not her life situation. They care about what matters most – the person behind the job, the blank space behind the words, the person playing the role.

Think about how much of our life we spend thinking about our life situation and not life itself. There is nothing wrong in thinking about a life situation, but we have to keep life in perspective. As a human society, we have become so life-situation centric that the real meaning of life is non-existent.

Why is the space in which it all exists so essential? Because it is the only constant – life situations will come and go. The little or big Me (ego) will grow bigger and then deflate itself. The entity we call ‘I’ will play many parts or actors in various plays. If we remember the space/entity, we will not identify ourselves with the actor or the life situation. That gives us breathing space to choose – to be aware that its all a play and we are all actors. It is not the essence of who we are.

If you knew that the life situation playing currently in your head where EGO is the main actor – ‘I am so busy’, ‘I will never get the promotion’, ‘COVID has ruined our lives’, is just that – plays, then will you be unhappy? We will play the role with gusto, knowing that it’s not who we are.

How do we keep in touch with space, person, and not identify with roles or thoughts? An easy way is to be in your body – if you are walking your dog, but your mind is thinking about work, what is real and what is fantasy? It is ok to think about the future or past as long as it is practical. Another way is to keep reminding yourself – ‘Is this a problem that is happening right now?’

Will you be aware of the blank pages or space next time? What about now?

Lost In Russian Dolls?

Have you ever seen a new-born baby? For the first six months or so they have no idea of who they are, they are not aware of their legs and arms. One of my nieces used to pull her hair as a baby and start crying – unable to tear her hand and stop the pain.

Babies live in the NOW – there is no concept of past/future or self/I. They do have minimal basic desires and wants like milk/sleep/food. They have no great desires or plans – a baby does not think when I drink milk twenty-four times a day I will become a millionaire or other ridiculous cravings/aversions that we tend to get as we grow up. For the baby, there is nothing except the present moment.

As we grow up, we get to know the mind-based concept of time. And with time comes the need to get somewhere, the desire to meet our plans or the aversion towards something happening. And we leave the present moment and start to live in the future and past. The conditioning becomes stronger.

Another thing that happens as we grow up is our sense of ME. We start creating a picture of who we are, what people should think about of me, what society should think of me? And we go about making that image to our liking. A baby does not think – my dad should think of me as pretty or my brother should look up to me. When we grow up this self-image becomes so ingrained that we are not even aware of it.

The society, media and other factors are all egging us to live in the future/past or create an ‘Ideal self-image’. The TV ad that tells you that if you use their aftershave lotion, you will find love, the news piece about a spiritual coach, the interview with an actor/actress with a so-called perfect body.

Nowhere people tell you that the practically impossible to live in the future or the past. My body is right now sitting on a couch, typing these words in the keypad. I can’t skip to the next weekend – but my mind starts thinking about the following weekend, and I have lost touch with reality. I can think about it all I want – the weekend will get here when it is NOW.

We/our minds keep jumping away from the present moment all the time – into past or future or dreamland. There is nothing wrong with planning. We do not stop at planning; we derive a sense of self from something happening or not happening in the future, which becomes futile.

Like the nested Russian dolls, we have lost sense of who we are or where we are. There is so much depth to the present moment that we never explore because we are so busy looking at the outer covers – its paints, designs. A big part of understanding the depth is the acknowledgement of the inevitable is-ness of the present moment.

Where are you right now?