Enlightened Leadership

Is an enlightened society possible or is it merely a daydream? Is it truly possible to come out of the conditioning of  mind and behave responsibly in large numbers?

Creating enlightened societies requires enlightened leadership. It is not possible to grow lotuses on desert land. The circumstances must be changed in order that several people see the value in waking up and becoming mindful of their thoughts, emotions and perceptions.

One of the key drivers of behavior is the reward system. What do we reward in today’s society? We have created this myth that each person is unique and special, and sold an illusion to an entire generation of children. We have made it necessary that for one to be valued, one will have to stand out of the crowd.

It is straightforward to see that such views only bolster the false-ego. The false-ego demands that it is accorded a status of superiority. It has a desire to always be right and engages in activities that enhance its image. Encouraging people, right from their childhood, to actively preserve and nurture their self-image only ends up cranking up the false-ego.

As a consequence of overgrown false-egos, there is frequent conflict. An entire generation is raised without being taught what it means to compromise, to listen, to understand, to reconcile, what it means to live in harmony with other people.

It is clear that the society must begin to acknowledge, if not reward, the activities of those who find ways of promoting harmony and understanding in the society. Leadership is the art of enhancing awareness in societies, in families and at the workplace. It is not merely clinging on to power or trying to look superior to others.

Leaders are those who enable their teams or groups to manifest the inner strength and beauty of their souls. Innovation and freshness are possible every moment of our lives if we stop acting out of our conditioned mental patterns at the drop of the hat. It is impossible for any society or organization to grow without its people growing.

Leadership is all about love. One, who cannot love, cannot lead. Realizing one’s capabilities and finding their use in improving the lives of others, one leads out of love. Such leadership is not about exhibiting one’s greatness over others. Leading with love is a form of service, a form of fulfilling the capabilities invested by God in us.

How do we create such leaders in our midst who can transform the way we live today?

Craving and surrender

To a disciple initiated into the way of surrendered life, the teacher Naṃpiḷḷai taught that one should not give oneself to craving for wealth or other material possessions after surrendering to God.

Craving and surrender are mutually opposite paths. Surrender is the state where one has let go with the understanding that one’s life at the level of mind-body is determined by one’s circumstances and preconditions while life at the spiritual level is enhanced by the grace of God.

Surrender follows from the understanding that we did not will our energies, talents and abilities or even our essential sentience into existence by ourselves. Even the state of surrender is sustained due to the grace or the will of God.

Craving can be seen to be the path that is directly opposed to this view. In craving, one is found to be living in separation, trying to enhance oneself and adding to one’s estimation of oneself. In this case, both the life at the level of mind-body and that at the level of the self are to be carefully controlled and enhanced.

The teacher, Naṃpiḷḷai offers three reasons why craving for possessions is not advisable after surrender:

(i) If one has truly internalized the motivation for surrender, it is easy to see that God, who has brought one to the state of surrender, is unlikely to take one away from this path and push one into the difficulties of craving and frustration. The activity of grace within oneself is a sign of things to come.

(ii) For the individual, this would imply walking away from the true state of existence. It has been seen in previous articles that surrender is a natural way of existence. Having come to the point of surrender and authentic living, one would be walking away from truth again if one would lose oneself to craving. This is best summarized by For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

(iii) In the Śrīvaiṣnava understanding of reality, a life of surrender is considered to bring happiness to God for a soul is gained that is harmony with the divine. In the Purāṇa-s, this is indicated by the descriptions of God sporting with those in harmony with Him. Craving interrupts the divine sport of God and the joy of harmony. To be detached with the bliss of God is to try to thrive as a lotus outside the pond.

On this cool and fresh morning, may we let the grace of God enliven our awareness to watch our thoughts and predilections that cause craving for pleasures.

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The secret stories of a fish-pond

I was at the theme park yesterday organized for fun at the workplace. After taking a few rides for the sake of colleagues, I was wandering around to see if there was something suited for me.

Soon enough, I came across a fish pond with brilliantly colored fish: red, golden, orange, shades of black and grey. It was a sight to behold. Being a park for thrill, there were not many people at the pond and it was quiet. I sat myself by the pond and spent close to two hours watching fish.

I had not known before that watching a fish-pond could be an opportunity for meditation. The fish-pond spoke different stories.

First, the fish, like us, is life. Here were forms of life that kept running into each other all the time. Though the pond was somewhat big, it was limited and the fish could easily traverse the pond several times  in a day. However, none of the fish seemed bored about running into each other or traversing the same pond. Some of the fish were very active and leaped outside water (I don’t know why). It is probably because fish are such organisms that they accept the current condition and are not looking for thrill or excitement, taking life one moment at a time – the present. Outside, there were humans visiting different avenues to thrill themselves bored with their ordinary lives. I couldn’t help smiling at that thought and the pond-keeper must have thought me weird for smiling without apparent reason.

Then the time came to feed and the keeper threw food into the pond.  The fish that were closest rushed to the spot where the feed had landed to grab a snack. Instantly, all the fish in the pond rushed to the same spot though the food had already been consumed. It is not clear that they actually realized the presence of food. They must be taking the activity shown by their neighbors to infer it. The fish, which had consumed already and left the scene, must have noticed that the activity of their friends and inferred there must more food. They hurried back to the same spot. This set off a seemingly endless flurry of activity with the fish rushing to the spot, leaving it and returning back in a hurry. After some time, they must have realized that there is no food and it is simply fruitless activity. The pond went all quiet.

I was amazed by this sight. It was very much like the working of the mind. The mind is always receptive to drama. Once one thought latches on to drama, a host of other thoughts get agitated. And, they keep feeding off each other to keep the mental agitation going for a while. Then, the mind decides there is nothing interesting left and decides to await the next source of distraction.

In a way, this event in the pond was not very different from what was going on in the minds of people around. They were rushing from one ride to another. Some wanted once more! of the same ride until they felt they had exhausted the experience of thrill in it. Once again, I couldn’t help but smile.

I also noticed that some fish were taking some brief rest at the bottom of the pond, but other fish bumped into them and then they all got agitated. It was like putting a thought to rest only to find it agitated by some event.

At this point, it began to drizzle and the cool breeze carried droplets of rain onto one’s face. I sat by the pond watching the fish, watching the rain create small ripples in it, the fish swimming in and out of those ripples, the trees and shrubs around the pond laughing for having been tickled by the breeze, the water droplets descending and bounding from the graceful leaves as if they were ballet dancers, the sky clearing its throat in thunders. In the words of JK, one couldn’t tell how time flew.

For someone, who falls short of relating to adventure and thrill, the visit was not so bad after all.

Surrender to God

The system of Yoga, which teaches self-realization, offers īśvara-praṇidhāna or meditation on God as one possible way for self-realization. The Gītā, however, emphasizes that not just self-realization but good prosperity of the world and realization of God are also not possible without surrendering to God.

Surrendering is generally considered as something negative. This is the due to the false-ego’s desperation to survive. Whenever we listen to some spiritual teaching and try to act on the basis of it, the false-ego becomes agitated and stages a comeback. In some cases, it stages a comeback by transforming spirituality itself into a race where it can feel good by attaining some goals. The false-ego that feels proud about its own spirituality is the most dangerous foe of a spiritual life.

It is impossible to conquer the false-ego by suppressing it. Letting it be can also turn difficult when the false-ego quickly takes over without warning. Those in the early stages of meditation have a hard time figuring out whether they are really getting into their true being or if they are being deceived by a transmutation of the false-ego. This doubt, in turn, nurtures the false-ego. Good grief!

Surrendering to God does not suppress the false-ego or even just let it be. It creates a state of awareness where the false-ego has no reason to become agitated having ‘let go’. Surrender is not a one-time action but a way of life.

Surrender is also not artificial but a natural way of life. Even in the clearest realization of our awareness, we live in God. What is this sentience? What is this table? What is this universe? All of this is verily the appearance of God. The existence of sentience, the laws of nature, our particular states of being are all part of the existence and the state of God.

As has been explained in previous posts on the topic, non-duality does not imply that one becomes identical to another or to the universe. Non-duality, first of all, implies that we are not independent. The absence of independence is not just for the case of survival (having to depend on air, water, etc.) but for our very existence itself. We do not bring ourselves into being or command any control over what it is to exist as us.

In this sense, non-duality can be understood as the realization that one lives in God. All of our experience is an encounter with God in God. How can one who does not own one’s very existence dream of achieving this or that by oneself? As this understanding emerges, surrender to God comes across as natural. Some teachers say that even the act of surrender is a joke given that one really possesses nothing – not even oneself – to surrender. Surrender is not an action but a state of realization. All goodness: success in this worldly life, self-realization or God-realization result from surrender.

It is true that the mind can be arrested by meditation on any object. However, a form of meditation that is grounded in surrender is not only effective but also true as it corresponds to our real state of existence.  The spiritual advice to surrender to whatever is, is identical to the teaching that advises surrender to God if God is realized not to be some distant entity but as the Self of reality. The Śrīvaiṣṇava system considers surrender to be the greatest secret of life.

Surrender, over the course of time or instantly, changes the mindset that the world exists to be controlled by us and for our sake. Instead, we begin to see ourselves as existing for the sake of God, who is the ground of all reality. We are like the flower which is the fulfillment of the tree, existing due to the tree and nourished by it for its own purpose. This understanding prevents the mind from seeking conflict that follows as a consequence of trying to aggressively manipulate the world according to one’s fleeting state of liking/disliking.

In this way, surrender makes life more peaceful and leads to the attainment of meaningful states of life, both worldly and spiritual.

Can fun be enforced?

This is a personal account: of a situation I face presently.

I found work during the 2008-2009 economic recession and things were bad then. Staffing was not always optimal and there was the unspoken expectation in most of business to get more done with less.  This should have been the worst part of my life, right?

Instead, I have some of the best memories from this part of my life. It was hard but it was hard for all of us. We worked together, accommodating, understanding each other, knowing that our personal differences should not lead us to failure during such an important time. We did not party, hangout with each other or complain about our bosses over coffee. We just clicked!

Almost a decade hence, we now face a phenomenon: the culture of aggressively promoting happiness at work. The motivation for this happens to be making the workplace more fun and to promote team-bonding.

For people like me, who are happy by default, this is slowly becoming a challenge to deal with. From bearing labels like joy-killers to fielding questions like what is wrong with you?, it appears that you cannot just stay away from participating in these fun activities.

Answers like, ‘I find work fun as it is and derive satisfaction from my career’ are met with unbelieving eyes. Most team-bonding exercises involve pointless competition. Most fun-outings are conducted in meticulously managed spaces like theme-parks or artificial resorts. If I wanted to be happy outside, I would walk to a forest or go up a hill or sit by a lake quietly – alone or with similar-minded people. Somehow, theme-parks, circuses and resorts fail to make me happy. In fact, I end up feeling a little sad that humanity has to seek after such artificial avenues, that work has to be stressful from which one has to get away once a while to feel normal. However, it is not easy (nor is it right) to state this view bluntly and openly.

Introspective questions like ‘What is stopping this present moment at work – with yourself and these people around you – from being a source of contentment and happiness?’ are extremely powerful but cannot be easily asked. It can be construed very rude and as spiritual people, we must understand that situation also.

There are instances of people doing such fun things not because they enjoy it but because they do not want to be seen as abnormal or only because their boss is also doing it and they don’t to rub their boss the wrong way by staying away.

Some people confide about how they feel uncomfortable about such events or even guilty. If they are having a fun moment, they might as well share that moment with close friends or family, not with office colleagues. It complicates their life that they do not share such moments with near and dear ones.

From my personal experience, I have not noticed that fun events promote better understanding between members of the team. What is understood about each other is usually not relevant to the function of the team. One is more likely to understand the other by working with the other person in an aware manner, understanding strengths and weaknesses and learning how to click as a team. Just like how honeymoons and vacations cannot save marriages, like how pampering kids with attention and cash does them no good, doing such fun events without being aware and attentive while working cannot yield intended results.

As much as it would be wrong to generalize that such managed fun events would promote happiness of all employees, it would be wrong to generalize that such events are utterly useless. It is quite possible that there are those among us who need such events and derive comfort from these events.

This means having to acknowledge that there is more than one way to be happy and that no particular way is best suited for all.

Which takes us to the truth that we can put off happiness waiting for some event to happen, but we can never enjoy happiness fully until we realize it as part of our natural state of being. It can be liberating to be happy without having to grasp at or long for a single new thing, by accepting fully our current state of life.

For those of us who like to find happiness in the quiet or are generally happy, for those of us who think along spiritual lines, this challenge is also an opportunity for learning and understanding. It is a time for creative communication. The worst thing we can do here is to think of others as being crass or spiritually inferior. We must be alive to the need for happiness that lies in every human being and treat the condition with respect. Actions speak louder than words; the way we go about our work and live our lives, the kind of people we turn out to be speak louder than explanations, reasoning and arguments. The fulfillment of a spiritual life lies in its ability to spread happiness to others, just as a flower that enlivens its surrounding with its fragrance.

With the spotlight on us, we have not just the opportunity, but the necessity to live authentically and in that way, we must be grateful for this challenge.

Identity matters

There is this popular slogan that you become who you believe you are. Motivational speakers are often found asking people to believe in themselves. I will take a small diversion from here to a slightly spiritual side.

Mindfulness training enables us to carefully monitor our thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions and experienced events. It involves observing without attachment, judgment or identification.

By becoming aware of our mental lives, we understand clearly who we are not. Mindful moments are those that create the opportunity to be authentically ourselves.

In the philosophy of Viśiṣṭādvaita, it is considered that our true nature consists of two components: (1) essential consciousness (svarūpa-jñāna) and (2) attributive consciousness (dharma-bhūta-jñāna). Essential consciousness is the basic awareness that remains aware in mindful states. Attributive consciousness is an attribute of essential consciousness which is modified by the mind (kind of like the rays of the sun being an attribute of the sun). The mind modifies attributive consciousness in accordance with karma. Phew! Too many concepts!! Let us take a break and try to understand.

Karma is simply the conditioning of the mind and body. If you keep flexing a muscle, it gets stronger. This applies to the mind too. If you flex the ‘muscles’ of anger, frustration, lust, etc. in the brain, these forces get stronger too. When they get stronger, they cloud who we really are and make us live in an over-simplified world. I am sad today. She is so wrong. Everyone, including ourselves, is reduced to a very simple identity in our mental judgment.

Karma causes trouble when we react from anger or even from unexamined positive emotions. Parents are usually at the receiving end of the karmic reactions when they despair from either over-pampering their children or becoming too distant and harsh. Such problems arise in other relationships as well. As much as we can train our mind-body to ride a cycle, we can train this system to react angrily, be constantly irritated and become noisily judgmental as well.

The core of the problem exists not in the karmic dispositions themselves – everyone who exists is disposed in some way and experiences different mental states. The problem lies in the identification of who we truly are with this ghost. The reason why this identification occurs is due to the fact that the modified attributive-consciousness is an attribute of the essential consciousness and inseparably associated with it. The color of attributive-consciousness blinds one to the essential consciousness.

The above architecture of consciousness can help one understand & observe from the essential self that the attributive consciousness is being modified by mental experience. It can allow one to anchor oneself in the core of awareness. This situation enables one to avoid misidentifying with everything that is going on in the mind, and obtaining a tinted view of the world.

Mindfulness is not a quick fix solution to all problems. It demands a continuous state of openness, understanding and being in awareness. It is the anti-thesis of responding in harmfully conditioned ways. It is a process of perceiving better and responding with understanding. It is also a mirror to our true identity, and also of others.

This identity matters: not who we believe or tell ourselves we are, but who we really are. It just takes a little courage to give it a try.

Simple Happiness

With all the advancements and progress, it is hard to think that the world may be heading towards trouble. After all, we do have ways of finding solutions to different problems. There is great joy and pride in the triumph of the human mind over the challenges thrown by nature.

Yet, it somehow seems hard to believe that all is well with the world. There are several ways to create joy and to have fun. But, there is an equal measure of disappointment, and feeling lost – a profound unhappiness.

I don’t know if you have noticed it, but entire cities of people can be found to be generally unhappy until something pleasant happens in their lives. There are grumpy faces, tense foreheads and some yelling. We want exciting things to happen in our lives. Forget about lives! We want exciting things to happen even in our jobs. Work must be playful and fun. I know of a few folks who are still trying to find their life’s calling 15 years after college.  Needless to say they are not happy.

If we examine this situation even slightly, it becomes clear that we have no reason to feel unhappy or tense for most of the time. Happiness is always around and can be seen to be our natural condition of being. Even simple events provide opportunity for immense gratitude and happiness. It is the habit of taking things for granted that lies at the root of most sorrow. If we pause and look around, we can find plenty of things to cherish and feel grateful for.

As much as we pride our minds in seeking solutions to problems and pat ourselves on the back for self-reliance, we do not seem to take interest in finding joy within ourselves. Waiting for an occasion to be happy is a terrible waste of life. What is stopping happiness right now? What is stopping the blissful joy that one experiences within oneself?

Knowing oneself is a clear route to joy. Being oneself is happiness. When we discover ourselves as sentient entities who find expression in different bodies, we not only learn to be peaceful with ourselves but also with others.

Taking other people for granted is usually the root cause of trouble. When we see that everyone is a conscious entity at a fundamental level modified by minds and bodies, we find a sense of ‘equal-vision’ (samadarśana) in everyone. We see ourselves in others and others in ourselves. Every single person is full of complexity and depth that cannot be summarized by He is so obtuse or She is so mean. People are not to be reduced as objects from whom we derive pleasure. There is the sacred in all. Even if this is not understood widely, it is good to treat people as stores of sacredness. They might start searching within themselves due to how we treat them.

Self-knowledge that starts within oneself and goes out can make us laugh at life itself. Beneath all the masks we wear is the profound wonder of the soul. The Vaiṣṇava system teaches that the soul, the conscious aware entity, is not just deep but also very beautiful. There is beauty to be found in everyone which is masked by the ignorance of identification with the mind or body. The purpose of spiritual life is not to attain some sense of inert awareness, but to discover this beauty, nay, be this beauty for oneself and others. It is also to see such beauty in others and be an agent of nurturing the expression of spiritual life.

At this level, happiness is simple and always present. Visiting theme parks, going to movies, doing something fun are not necessary. One can always be happy. This is not to say that one must abandon seeking happiness outside. It only appears odd that one should do so when there is so much joy within oneself. Seeking pleasure outside is invariably associated with later disappointment since everything changes. What does not change is the inner beauty of the soul that is always present as presence.