Tuesday, July 09, 2013


The question that haunts me perennially is Why
Once again I reflect on this unresolved mystery with a contemplative sigh

Why I seek to do what I seek to do
Why do I hold this goal so dear to me, so true?

Why am I where I am right now
A question whose depth I just fail to gauge somehow

How will we do is a question frivolous and shallow
It can appease for the short term, but long term pains it doesn't mellow

An innocuous little one is the question When
If you answer it without why or what, you are in big trouble then

So there lies just one that really matters
Sometimes it breaks hearts, sometimes our concepts it shatters

The unanswered Why takes away the sheen from the what, the when, the how
But for those who have answered this question, I take a humbling bow.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The truth about Desire

Desire is a self-consuming process. The more one wants, the more one gets consumed and lost in the wants. On the other hand is objectivity - which comes when one stays away from a situation and can take a neutral stand on it. A neutral stand is possible only when there is a distance. But, when you are over-desirous, you are so lost in the want that you cannot detach yourself from the desire. Hence, it is impossible to be objective about something when you are desirous about it.

When a desire arises, one can choose from three options - first one is to work towards fulfilling it, second is to suppress it, while the third is what I will disclose later in the post. So let us start with the first two.

Fulfilling a desire - When a desire arises, a person tries to satisfy or fulfill his desire. For the same, the person puts effort in a particular direction and gives his best to achieve something. This process of putting effort can lead to 2 outcomes - success or failure. In case of failure, the person can get into brooding (and sometimes depression), regret (of not having worked hard enough) or anger on others (if one believes that the fault for this failure lies with someone else). Eventually, the person may decide to give up or start anew to fulfilling his desire and re-enters the loop.

If the person succeeds in attaining the object/person/situation his desire, then what happens next? Then we move on to the next higher desire (Very aptly explained in Predictably Irrational, by Prof. Dan Ariely). This is also the cause of the social loop that we are in. Once you do well in education, then it is about getting the job, then about the promotions, then next higher post and so on. And thus, you get back into the loop of fulfilling the desire. In either case of success or failure, it leads to misery in the end.

The other option is suppression of desire. This can be done to satisfy someone else, or to live in accordance with social customs or peer pressure, or sometimes even to pain yourself so that you can get rid of your desires. Even this leads to regret (of not doing what you really wanted to do), or to blame and anger (over the external people and situations which have forced you to live life in a particular way) and also brooding and depression sometimes if the desire is very strong.

So, the giving in to pleasure-seeking and desire, and the suppression of pleasure-seeking and desire both end up in misery. Then, what is the way out of misery? We all are striving to be happy, are we not? And to do the same, we are trying to satisfy our desires but it isn't working. Even suppressing the desire doesn't work. Ho la! We are stuck.

The third way of dealing with desire can bail us out. The reason giving in or suppressing a desire doesn't work is because in either case, the desire consumes us and remains in our mind. We lose objectivity in the face of desire. The only way out is to be objective about desire. When a desire arises in us, we should be able to look at it and realize, "Aha! A desire has arisen in me!". When we are able to distance ourselves from our desirous thoughts, we can see them neutrally. Then, depending on the desire, you may choose to pursue it (if it benefits society and others), or choose to reject it (if it is only about self-indulgence) without feeling any pinch. If we are not neutral, rejecting a desire become equivalent to suppressing it and that brings pain. If we are not objective, pursuing a desire makes us feverish and that too brings pain.

Hence, there is a need to be objective to overcome desire. The next question is how? How do I detach myself from that which I desire? The idea is to learn detaching yourself from your own thoughts, and to be able to see yourself neutrally. It comes after being in deep states of meditation as you are then able to detach yourself from your mind and thoughts comfortably. Regular practice helps. Also, one must be wise in deciding which goals to pursue. If desires are about one's own self, one's own emotions, one's own indulgences, and you keep giving in, then very soon you will start losing objectivity about your desires and become an indulgent (just the way some people get addicted!).

Also while in a position of authority and dealing with others, don't support their desires or suppress them. Help them evolve above their desires, by supporting them in taking an objective look at their desires.

The reason over lives are so comfortable is because daily people (our milkman, electricity suppliers, maids, etc.) work on commitment and not on their moods and desires. Live a life based on commitments and treat your commitments above your desires.And learn to be objective about yourself. That is how eventually you will be able to handle your desires with ease and be at peace with yourself.

A suggested starting point: Just look at yourself and find out what are the qualities in which you need to improve. Be objective and start working on them. Self-introspection can be a good starting point to objectivity! Happy detachment! :-)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Choosing your friends

How to choose the set of people around you whom you call your friends and who are the most dear to you? Honestly, friendship is not a matter of pure rational choice, but a matter of the heart. But, sometimes, your emotions mislead you to disappointments too. So, firstly you can choose the set of people you wish to be friends with intuitively. But, at the same time, there is one important thing that can be taken care of to ensure you so not end up disappointed.

The most important thing to take care of while choosing your friends is your personal value system. Some people, who introspect, start developing their value systems and basic philosophy in life which they wish to adhere to. Personal value systems are above people - its one's closest set of personal beliefs which one attempts to follow, irrespective of circumstances and people around. Any person whom you call your friend MUST respect your deepest beliefs and value systems.

I would classify people into 3 categories - people who follow similar beliefs as yours, people who have different belief systems yet are respectful of yours, and people who disrespect your belief system. The first set of people cause synergy. It is a great experience to be around such people as they help you get a better understanding of your own system of thinking. The second set of people are very important to keep around you. They may disagree with your belief systems and help you rectify your course of action with their viewpoints. But, this set of people are not imposing. They acknowledge the fact that although the personal value systems of two people are different, each of them deserves respect and not mockery or criticism because one personally does not believe in the other.

The third category of people who criticize your value systems because of their disagreement with it tend to superimpose their expectations on you - expectations which infringe on your basic values which you hold dear. This third category of people should not be made close friends with because it would lead to a lose-lose situation where both parties are unhappy - one because his or her own value system is not given due respect and the other, because he/she does not find his/her expectations satisfied from the other individual.

Also, an important point to note here is the implementation of one's belief systems. Each individual's belief systems are marred by a number of constraints. For example, I do not like to eat in a place where veg and non-veg food are cooked together, but I dont have an option other than eating in my college mess which cooks both meals together. So, what does one do in this case? Each person who tries to follow his/her value systems strictly might also need to accommodate for such situations irrespective of his/her personal wishes. A friend would be able to understand that the implementation of the belief system is not ideal and may help you to improve on it or will understand the situation instead of making a fuss about it. But, the third set of people would call you a hypocrite because you cannot perfectly implement your belief system.

It is my personal belief that a hypocrite is one who has a belief system which contradicts itself and one who manipulates his philosophy to suit different situations. On the other hand, someone with a consistent value system who finds it difficult to implement his philosophy under all circumstances is not a hypocrite, but is in a sense, constrained by the environment.

If friends start imposing such constraints on you or expect that you adapt your belief systems for them like you adapt them for other environmental constraints, then they are no good. It is good to keep such people as part of the environment instead of keeping them in the close set of people around you. Friends should help you realize any inconsistencies in your basic philosophical premise, if any, and also understand the problems encountered in its implementation.

Your friends will understand and respect your belief systems and will also attempt to understand the difficulties you face in implementing them fully, even if they follow a different value system than your own. Friends need not be similar - but they should be able to respect the differences!

PS: A word of hope - People do change and hence, it is a good idea to not close yourself from anyone. But, you can maintain adequate distance from people till they start respecting your viewpoints and values.

A special thanks to Ramana Krishnan for the enlightening discussion which led to this blog post.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Atheism, redefined

All of us strive to attain certain goals in life and are accordingly driving our life in certain directions. But, what is the purpose behind all these goals and aspirations? As sufficiently elaborated in previous posts, the idea is to achieve inner bliss and happiness.

Also, we have discussed that most sources of joy are temporary and end up making us more miserable than before. The more we achieve the pleasures, the more we crave for them.

Thus, we established that we are seeking happiness, which is everlasting, one which can be only be derived internally and not from external objects. Taking this assumption as the starting point, we would try and look at a new definition of atheism.

We are all seeking eternal happiness. One question that remains to be answered is if this quest is possible. Is freedom from pleasure of the senses and detachment from objects and people a possibility? Is such an ideal state, devoid of any attachment, attainable? Mahavira, Buddha, Adi Shankaracharya and many other saints of the past have attained enlightenment and reached this state of moksha or nirvaana.

Do we believe that the possibility of detachment exists, for some great soul in this world? The question is not of whether you find it possible for you, the question is whether you find it possible for any one - is this state humanly possible - whether it is for Buddha, Mahavira or anyone else. If you believe in the possibility of the liberation of even a single soul, then you are a believer. If you believe that Buddha and Mahavira who were mere mortals attained enlightenment, you are a believer.

In my opinion, the role of religion is just to instill faith in people that such an ideal is possible. All the idols made for God are just human ways of expressing an ideal. The rites and rituals are meaningless if they cant fill one with the belief in the possibility of perfection that lies within oneself. Surprise surprise, but Buddhism is an agnostic religion while Jainism an atheistic one, where there is no belief in the presence of an external God. But, both religions believe in the existence of infinite possibilities within oneself.

It is an unfortunate thing that rites and rituals today have attained more importance than the ideal behind them. An idealist is a very strong believer who believes that she herself can attain this state of perfection. But, there also exist people in society, who believe in the ideal but not in their own possibility of achieving it. Even these are believers.

But, people who do not believe in the idea of such bliss and peace, the one who term themselves practical and realists, are the ones whom I term as atheists. Atheism is the lack of belief, not in God, but in that principle to propagate which, God came into being. God is nothing but a human soul, devoid of attachment, pain or pleasure. Realism or practicality is nothing but a euphemism for atheism.

Thus, all those atheists who dream, who believe in the concept of a "purpose", are believers while all those believers who are "practical" in thinking and who make cuts and corners to achieve their own ends are atheists.

But, can one really be an atheist - a believer in the purposelessness and uselessness of her ownself and that of others. Someone who doesn't believe in a purpose and hence, believes in nothing. If there was ever such a soul on earth, she would be too depressed to live. Thus, all people who commit suicides are atheists, but if you can feel the air coming in and going out of your nostrils, you are still in some sense, a believer :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The seeking of joy

Some days one feels unhappy and miserable. What causes this misery? Frustration, anger, jealousy, greed make one feel low and unhappy. If one was satisfied with life, how could he/she be frustrated, angry, jealous or greedy?

All these emotions are associated with dissatisfaction. But what lies at the core of these feelings is the same as what lies at the core of happiness, harmony, empathy and love - eternal peace. For example, one is greedy because he/she feels that getting that object of desire would make him/her satisfied and content. One is jealous because one feels that getting a particular person/object/skill that someone else has will make him/her more joyous and peaceful.

The need for being self-content makes one go into lower emotions as the person believes he or she is not content right now. On the other hand, the highs are expressions of inner peace. When one is really happy or in love, he/she can hardly find faults with the other because he is so content with his/her own self. The emotion of caring and understanding arises when one is content with his/her own inner emotions and is open to listening to others.

Thus, every low represents the need for inner peace and every high is an expression of the same. Furthermore, there are some highs which represent immediate gratification which represent contentment for a temporary period in time. But, what we seek is of an eternal nature - true solace.

And such solace does not lie in sporadic highs and excitements. That which gets one excitedly happy is what is capable of making a man miserable. Excitement is an expression of a fulfilled desire whereas misery, an expression of an unfulfilled one. They are but the same. True inner peace does not lie in a few moments of excitement and pleasure but is long lasting and is definitely a function of the decisions one makes in life in the longer term.

Thus, the seeking of joy is nothing but the seeking of inner peace which is eternal in nature. To avail of this peace, let us look beyond desires as they can bring misery or temporary bouts of joy, but not ever lasting ones. Let us find true inner solace by looking within and realizing that we need to make decisions for long term peace and yet, be happy in each instant that passes by - irrespective of all the mundane things that go around us! We lie beyond them.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The principles governing individual choices

Any society is constituted by three sets of people - conformists, non-conformists and individualists.

Conformists are those who abide by the rules of the society - explicit or implicit - and believe that the social system and social laws are for their good and try to get them passed on to their future generations.

For example, many-a-times, when students are in school, they abhor the sheer idea of smoking since this abhorrence has been imbibed in them and their parents have passed to them the idea of smoking being a taboo. Such an opinion is formed by a student based on the social imprint of the parent being passed to him/her. The student also recognizes the social repercussions of breaking the code of social conduct. If an individual thus comes to take it for granted that smoking is a bad idea, it is the principle of conformism being put into effect.

The conformist thinks like the herd - or perhaps, lets the herd think for him/her. His/her faith lies in the majority. Such individuals imbibe the good values of their generation to the next but at the same time, carry forward wrong ideas and beliefs prevalent in society. For example, when child marriage or dowry was a common practice, most conformists would agree and stick to these practices believing that what the society thinks is in everyone's best interests irrespective of whether this appeals to his/her individual sense of logic.

The next set of people are the non-conformists whom we encounter frequently these days. Most atheists would fall in this category. Non-conformists reject every idea that the herd sticks to. If the herd says one should not smoke, the non-conformist would make it a point to break this social code and will be happy with the idea that he/she governs his/her life and it is not governed by the masses.

It isn't uncommon phenomenon to hear elderly people say, "Aaj kal ke bachche humaari sanskriti bhool gaye hai". [The current generation of youth has lost touch with our traditions and culture] But, in fact, there is an underlying conformism in this non-conformism. Non-conformists conform to the belief that they have to non-conform to any conformist idea. They oppose for opposing. They believe they are independent from the herd, but actually are equally dependent on it. They work on the herd mentality, albeit, the task they perform is to oppose it. The rejection of the herd thought is a motivation for them and thus they too are dependent on the herd. Yet, most non-conformists would call themselves individualists as calling themselves a part of the non-conforming "herd" would destroy their sense of individualism.

A lot of people move from being conformists to non-conformists due to development of a rationale and a sense of logic and after being disappointed with the existing frame of thought in the prevalent social system.

The last set of people are the individualists. These people judge each idea on its individual merit irrespective of whether the herd accepts it or rejects it. Their judgement arises from a deep sense of emotional understanding coupled with their rationale. "To smoke or not to smoke is an individual's choice but I do not smoke since it is harmful for my health" is something that you might hear an individualist say.

An individualist might reject certain ideas, notions or practices prevalent in society and yet he/she would not hesitate in accepting the social norms which are for his good. The transformation from a non-conformist to an individualist happens due to high emotional maturity which comes through various experiences in life.

Most revolutions that came about in this world were brought in by non-conformists or individualists. The non-conformist replaced capitalism with socialism while the individualist thought of a third alternative imbibing the good part of both the economic systems.

Individualists look for alternatives which take along all the right ideas and try to strike a balance between the conformist and non-conformist ideas without compromising on the right means and morals. In this process, they develop a highly creative bent of mind coupled with a beautiful understanding of all sets of people.

We are all made up of one or more of these three constituents of conformism, non-conformism and individualism. And we all have a choice - to adhere to the herd, to reject it or to base our decisions on the current frame of reference without being prejudiced for or against the herd. It is, after all, a matter of being in balance!

[This post is dedicated to students of various colleges indulging in use of abusive language, substance abuse, ragging etc as these appeal to their sense of non-conformism. I wont conform to being a non-conformist.]

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Of smoking, drinking et al

Transcendence is what we all seek. It is the need of every individual - to go to a higher plane and observe things unfolding around him without his own self getting affected by any of it. Smoking, drinking et al carry a promise - a promise to dissolve the world around. To give u a kick which would make you float high enough to forget worldly troubles - even if for just that one instant. The need, I re-state, is to transcend.

There are two ways "perceived" to attain the transcendental state - one is to get unaware of whats happening around you, assuming that you have transcended the world. If you are unaware of everything around you, you have transcended the world, is it not? This is like closing your eyes and saying the world doesnt exist. Drinking takes you to a world where your consciousness is not conscious enough to distinguish between reality and illusion. Hence, the roads which seem to be dancing when you dance around! And you seem to lose connect with the world. You seem to have transcended all the problems of the world even if for just some time. Poor ostrich with its face buried in the sand!

The second way is to get deeper and deeper into awareness about yourself and nature. The deeper your awareness within yourself, the more you are cut from the world finally transcending the world! This is real transcendence when the mind shuts itself down and no longer perceives anything! You actually dissolve!

So, we have two "perceived" ways to achieve transcendence - to get unaware of the existence of the world and believe that the world doesnt exist and has been transcended. This is called deluding yourself! And the other way is to get fully aware of yourself, thus bringing about a natural transcendence, which is real - the attainment of a blank mind. So, we can either get unaware of the world or get aware of our own self - that is just the difference there is.

We all want to dissolve into nothing - for nothing is the end of all misery and the hope of all liberation. We can either choose to run away from the problems and roll the garbage under the carpet believing that the problems dont exist anymore, later leading to a stinking room or we can clean the garbage daily. Drinking, smoking just give a temporary dose of relief but actually make the whole carpet stink later in form of a diseased body and a consequently troubled mind. Smoking starts stressing rather than de-stressing. At this point, most people admit that they wish to kick the butt.

The other way is to realize that smoking or drinking does nothing but triggers some chemicals within the body and it is these chemicals, and not the habit of drinking/smoking per se which causes the transcendence. When we realize these body chemicals cause the feeling of transcendence, we can look out for techniques which bring about transcendence by releasing these chemicals without your consuming smoke or alcohol.

And when we realize that there exist possibilities of real transcendence, much beyond running away from the world, within oneself, a smoker or drinker would automatically quit for he has found a better alternative which further improves even physical health! Welcome meditation!