Sunday, June 24, 2012


Every experience in life, be it good or bad, adds value to who we are. It shapes our future course, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. We become a different person through every experience in life, bit by bit. Often people feel helpless in the hands of 'destiny' almost like a blob of wet clay being shaped by the God-potter. In Buddhism, it is believed that our thoughts, words and actions actually shape our destiny. Thus, the responsibility is placed squat on your face for all you experience and all you go through, good or bad. At the same time, the power to be the potter at the wheel, is also yours... each individual's irrespective of caste, creed, financial security or gender. A simplistic concept and yet very difficult to practise.

As each experience in life contributes to who we are and who we become, whether it is the working of a somewhat vicarious God sitting up there somewhere, or through mere consequences of our thoughts, words and actions, repaying debts of gratitude is a crucial element in Buddhist practice. A humility that is rooted in Japanese culture stems from this Buddhist thought, that by making efforts to repay one's debts of gratitude, we move forward in our evolution into better human beings. A constant reminder of how insignificant we are in the face of the overpowering Universe and its laws. There are many ways in which we pay gratitude, without realising that we are doing the same. These acts are an integral part of social interaction in India and often are done superficially or mechanically as a mere body routine. If one can add the thought to it, then the gesture is that much more valuable.

1. Namaste

The most common greeting in India, with hands joined together, head slightly bent, it is an acknowledgment of the other individual with equal if not more respect. The hands are placed close to the heart chakra, where divinity is believed to reside. It is a salutation used commonly by Hindus and Buddhists and in recent times, has become popular even in Western cultures. It is an act of respect or adulation and thus, in a moment, repaying debt of gratitude for having encountered the other noble soul.

2. Touching feet

This is a humbler version of Namaste, in which we show respect by touching the feet of elders. It requires the body to be bent and the head bowed in a gesture of complete reverence and thus, expressing gratitude. Sometimes, this also is a way to seek blessings from those who have experienced more in life, especially during auspicious occasions.

3. Prayer

In life, we all experience ups and downs. When the going is smooth, we oft forget the omnipresence of 'God' in our lives (for the atheists, God can be interpreted as Good Orderly Direction). When the going gets tough, we remember this super power, and how we need to express gratitude to It and at the same time seek Its intervention in setting things right in our lives. All religions have a regular routine of prayer, the degree of which varies from one to the other. In Hinduism, though daily prayer is a requirement, one can often skip it if one attends the Pujas which happen in regular intervals throughout the year. Be it a visit to a temple or a puja, God is kind and will bless those who express their gratitude for all that they have. In Christianity acknowledging one's sins and confessing about it adds a different dimension to our conversations with God and manifests an interesting angle to the manifestation of God's benevolence.

Whatever faith you may consider, prayer is the highest form of expressing and repaying one's debt of gratitude. Our direct channel is God and sometimes, we may not even meet the individuals for a long time, but through this server, in a way, we are expressing our gratitude to all the experiences we have with different people throughout our lives. However, keeping all this in mind, I believe how we pray (to rocks, trees, money, God, idols, whoever) is each individual's prerogative and how it manifests in each individual's life is a mix of more than 3000 factors! But more of that later.

4. Unconditional love

I believe, that an act of love is far more superior than prayer. An act of unconditional love, that is free of expectations, greed, opportunity or benefits, is the highest form of expressing gratitude. Much like the 'I see you' ritual in the tribe of Navis (Avatar)! When we truly are in that paused frame of giving and receiving this pure emotion of love, we are truly acknowledging the presence of the other individual, in his/her entirety, body, mind and soul. A loving embrace, a caring touch, all convey subliminally the depth of emotions we feel, as if to say "Thank You for being here". It always leaves us satiated, no matter how difficult our circumstances may be at that point of time. It carries no expectations, but to be reciprocated... and yet it can be expressed by one and all, and is learnt instinctively.

Yet, in the humdrum of our seemingly busy lives, racing towards so called progress that is only depleting our natural resources, we tend to forget the power of the human touch and how easy it is to express our debt of gratitude.

It is crucial we lead a life, in which we express our gratitude. From the routine to the emotional, each act carries significance. Once we are aware of the power of expressing gratitude, we will surely emerge a better human being day by day. Use your body to speak your mind, in a respectful way and see the change it brings!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Many in body, one in mind

We all live and work in a fiercely competitive world that is driven at the core by economics. International schools, these days, too are run on a corporate model, following core corporate values. In many ways it contradicts the basic purpose of education: service vs profits, quality vs quantity, community vs individual, students vs parent clients and so on. Amidst such pressures, it is not easy to lead a team in a truly collaborative spirit like the PYP requires. This post is dedicated to one such leader, thus, celebrating the Buddhist value of compassion and exemplifying the principle of Many in Body, One in Mind.

We are all different... many in body
A true leader needs to recognise the beauty of unique and different personalities, look for their strengths and tap into them. Leadership should not be about standardising the work force through strict rules and norms, but letting each individual blossom to their true potential. When one works in a diverse team, be it multicultural or multi-ethnic, this understanding is crucial in building and developing the team. As each of us have a different mission in life, it is important to first recognise, acknowledge and appreciate that. Then the rest can follow.

We are all the same... one in mind
A team always works towards a common goal. As common mortals, we too all strive towards the common goal of happiness, peace and security. Unless, each individual in a team, community or society at large realise the commonality of our mission and hence, our lives, harmony can never be attained. Our government with its cabinet full of selfish ministers looking after their own interests, is a perfect example of this principle not applied. A leader is expected to make each of its team mates realise this vision of a common goal, however big or small their contribution in achieving it. Empathy is a useful quality in helping bridge the gaps and making each individual feel important and wanted. A team with this high value of self worth often delivers the best of their abilities, as they share the vision of the leader/mentor/teacher. This unites them in mind, thought and thus, action... making it a simplistic but a very practical approach.

Many in body, (yet) one in mind
The real challenge of a leader is however, to acknowledge the above two concepts and marry them together. Most leaders would have the ability to use one or the other of these two ideas in their management. But what sets apart good leaders from the rest is this understanding that though a team needs to be focused on a common goal, it cannot be achieved at the cost of sacrificing individual personalities, talents and abilities. This is where Rima's compassion and practicality found a perfect match in the way she dealt with all of us! Rima has the innate ability to sense and see through each individual's inner landscape, respecting it deeply on one hand, and utilising their strengths not only to help the individual, but also, to help the team grow. Any organisation with such balanced leaders will do well, with high levels of employee satisfaction, as colleagues are not pressurised to deliver through fear psychosis, strong rules, harsh behaviour or bullying. Such leaders can osmotically bring out the best in every one, stir in the soup the larger picture and serve high quality performance, hot and tasty!

L to R: Malini, Monica, Rima and I
If we want to see change in organisations, communities and society at large, it is imperative that we all celebrate our uniqueness and yet guide people towards a common vision of good. This definition of good can change over time, but the spirit of many in body and one in mind, will remain the key to human management success!

This post, like my other ones, tries to exemplify a Buddhist concept or principle. More can be read on this concept here. This post is also dedicated to an exceptional person, Rima Singh, who has not only been a great friend, but also a great mentor, and the most humane boss I could ever dream of! The opinions expressed in the blog are mine only and in no way should be associated with any organisation or community. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bird Parenting

We as humans have a lot to learn from birds. The power of flight, the larger picture perspective, the physicality and maybe 'emotionality' of surviving harsh circumstances and the fact that men have to impress the women! Above all, what impresses me most is the way birds parent. We all know that the selection of a perfect mate is a big deal with animals and so with birds. The male always has to impress the female, among other contenders, be it through their physical appearance, strength, agility or some special skill! Finally, the female selects the father to be and the wait begins for the eggs to be laid. Meanwhile the couple hunt for a nesting ground, a safe place to lay their eggs and let them hatch, away from predators of the new born hatchlings!

Through this process, one notices certain values in birds which make them good, strong parents. It would be worthwhile to reflect if these values were to be applied to human parenting what difference it would make.

The home is where the eggs are
A bird's nest is a simple engineering marvel! Unlike modern day couples, who want a Jacuzzi in their exorbitant flats, a bird looks for safety of the nest. A firm ground, a cool setting and a safe and secure home is what a bird's nest is all about. It is going to be the abode of a family to be and that is all that matters! Humans, on the other hand, spend hours working to earn enough to build a home comfortable enough. And when the time comes for the light of children to glow, the parents hardly have the time to glow in that love... the home remains dark and soulless!

Roles are shared and fair
Birds often surprise us in the way they break human stereotypes. Male and female birds share equal roles and play both parts of being a protector and the food finder. They take turns at housekeeping, guarding their eggs, and at fending for food for the hatchlings. A fair and equal relationship between male and female. This is changing in human relationships as women have become more demanding of their husbands and many men opting to be the home maker... but the stereotypes none the less continue to exist!

Patience and perseverance
Till the eggs are hatched, a mother often spends hours going through the pains of warming her eggs. This could be compared to the 9 months that a human mother too carries her embryo... in fact much longer than birds have to do this job. 

Tend to the babies
A hatchling is often tended to by the parents with loving care. Food being fed in the mouth and parents taking turns to guard their home while the other goes shopping... are all a part of the baby bird's early days. Often there are more than one sibling to share the food with and each are at their greediest best. Sounds human! What changes is when a baby bird learns to fly!

Fend for yourself
Soon, the parents teach their birds to fly, the basic skill of survival. A hard lesson to be learnt as many young birds die in this attempt. But most fighters learn to fly in days, much quicker than a human child would take to learn to walk or swim! Soon, they are ready to fly and the unsentimental parents let them fly... away! A tough call... but often a significant one in deciding the future of the bird... and its survival. 

Human love in contrast is enabling, cocooning the child from the challenges of the real world and when the testing time comes and the now no longer children are unable to cope with the pressures of competition, work pressure, relationships and their demands, parents not only turn back on them demanding more and more, but often driving them away and oft to suicide. 

A simple formula for parenting, which was so naturally demonstrated in front of my eyes recently by a pigeon couple that built its nest in my balcony, opened my eyes! Only if I could fly!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Marriage and Friendship

A friend of mine recently posted on FB, asking whether Friendship was a subset of Marriage or vice versa! An interesting thought that set me on self reflection. In my case the sequence and set arrangement is simple... friendship came first, marriage in between and friendship continues... to be the super set! But why then do we see all around us failed marriages and failed friendships? What is the formula for a successful relationship? My guide in this regard was actually things taught by my parents and very aptly role modelled by them, and in some cases demonstrated by their non compliance of the values. Some of them which I was able to sort, assimilate and imbibe were:

Friendship first
It is important to be a friend to any human being... caring, compassionate and empathetic. Brought up in a home   that was always open to friends and visitors, emphasised to me early on the importance to be there for others. Most friendships are built on a healthy balance of give and take, but what I learnt from the way my parents lived was this: Give without expecting anything in return. Be it the unmeasured rice being cooked for lunch, or meetings with friends at odd hours, even leaving a meal to attend to phone calls... all acts of Buddhist compassion.

Marriage is an agreement
Marriage can be either through love or by arrangement. In my parents' case and mine and all my siblings, it stemmed from a relationship of love. However, witnessing the relationship in my parents unfold taught me things to be done as well as things not to be done. My mother, a victim of marital ignorance, taught me one thing that in a way connects to the above. Be good to your woman and give her all the attention and care she deserves. Marriage is an agreement to live by social norms, to live together in spite of differences, to agree to disagree, to fight and make up, to make adjustments and compromises and when children come into the picture, make sacrifices. And yet, in spite of all its low points, people commit to marriages, almost as mundanely, as buying a cold drink to quench one's thirst on a hot, summer afternoon! Unless, marriage is firmly founded on friendship, the journey that needs selflessness at its core, can often get rough and sometimes dirty. Unconditional love is idealistic and one feels it only for one's own child... but one must strive to give and give in marriage without expecting much in return, to make it successful. Much like one would do in friendship

Do good to others and God will do good to you
An intuitive trust in a super power has always guided my pseudo religious mother and atheist father. Taking religion out of the picture, and replacing it with the beliefs, ideals and thoughts of Tagore would probably be more befitting. I learnt to have faith from my mother, and to question from my father. Together, these qualities, are like a double edged sword... a useful weapon on my inner journey to find Buddhahood. 

Summing it all up, a life without compassion, is a life fraught with the devilish emotions of greed, insecurity, possessiveness, jealousy and hate, which can not only wreck a married relationship, but also do the same to a good friendship! 

An inner journey begins

The Buddha was born and brought up in abundance, wealth and knowledge. Yet, there was a seeking spirit that was overwhelming in spite of his seemingly comfortable circumstances. Maybe we all go through moments, when, like the Buddha, our heart and soul seeks the truth... the truth about our life, relationships and its good and bad circumstances. But not all of us have the courage to surrender all the concrete and oft superficial things in our lives, which we cling on to for succour of an inferior kind, and walk out into the world to seek the truth!

My previous blog of over 7 years was wiped away by MSN, and I felt much like having lost all the wealth of my thoughts and emotions to ordinary experiences! This is my first step out of the home comfort of the mind into the unknown heart and soul... much akin to that fateful night in Shakyamuni's life. Amid the challenges of work, and sharing time with family and friends, I hope I will be able to travel my inner landscape... conversing with the Buddha within... to discover my mission and find my blue print! There may be meditative silences, brief moments of pain, or extensive dialogues on the realities of life. Walk with me if you want, or simply listen to my thoughts!