Life lessons from the dying..

I never give a damn about lessons from life coachs . I believe I know more about life than they do😊. The truth is no one knows a better way to live than those who are going to die. It is also true that most people especially those who live in cities struggle to find a meaning in their lives. Their questions range from general lack of purpose to outright existential.

I am sharing a story here from Shantanu Saha who is a Yoga teacher in Chennai. Hope you will find it useful as I did. 

Read on :

Rooted in the hearts of many Indians is the belief that if you breathe your last breath in Kashi (Varanasi) you attain ‘the fruit of Kashi’— “release from the cycle of rebirth impelled by the law of karma”.
Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan in Varanasi is one of the three guesthouses in the city where people check in to die.
Bhairav Nath Shukla has been the Manager of Mukti Bhawan for 44 years.
He has seen the rich and the poor take refuge in the guesthouse in their final days as they await death and hope to find peace.
Bhairav hopes with and for them. He sits on the wooden bench in the courtyard, against the red brick wall and hears the lessons and regrets of these people.
Bhairav shared 12 recurring life lessons from the 12000 deaths he has witnessed in his experience as the manager of Mukti Bhawan:
1. Resolve all conflicts before you go
Bhairav recounts the story of Shri Ram Sagar Mishr, a Sanskrit scholar of his times.
Mishr was the eldest of six brothers and was closest to the youngest one. Years ago an ugly argument between the two brothers led to a wall to partition the house.
In his final days, Mishr walked to the guesthouse. He was sure he will pass away on the 16th day from his arrival.
On the 14th day he said, “Ask my estranged brother of 40 years to come see me. This bitterness makes my heart heavy. I am anxious to resolve every conflict.”
A letter was sent out. On the 16th day when the youngest brother arrived, Mishr held his hand and asked to bring down the wall dividing the house. He asked his brother for forgiveness. Both brothers wept and mid sentence, Mishr stopped speaking. His face became calm. He was gone in a moment.
Bhairav has seen this story replay in many forms over the years. “People carry so much baggage, unnecessarily, all through their life only wanting to drop it at the very end of their journey. The trick lies not in not having conflicts but in resolving them as soon as one can,” says Bhairav.
2. Simplicity is the truth of life
“People stop eating indulgent food when they know they are going to go. The understanding that dawns on many people in their final days is that they should’ve lived a simple life. They regret that the most,” says Bhairav.
A simple life, as he explains, can be attained by spending less. We spend more to accumulate more and thus create more need.
To find contentment in less is the secret to having more.
3. Filter out people’s bad traits
Bhairav has seen that every person has shades of good and bad.
Instead of dismissing “bad” people outrightly, we must seek out their good qualities. That’s how you’ll help them realize their good side.
Harboring bitterness for certain people comes from concentrating on their negatives.
If you focus on the good qualities though, you spend that time getting to know them better or, maybe even, loving them.
4. Be willing to seek help from others
To know and do everything by yourself might feel empowering but it limits one from using what others have learnt.
Bhairav believes we must help others, but more importantly, have the courage to seek help when we’re in need.
Every person in the world knows something more than us in some respect. And their knowledge can help us, but only if we’re open to it.
5. Find beauty in simple things
Mukti Bhavan plays soulful bhajans and devotional songs three times a day. “Some people”, Bhairav says, “stop and admire a note or the sound of the instruments as if they have never heard it before, even if they have. They pause to appreciate it and find beauty in it.”
But that’s not true of everyone, he adds. People who are too critical or too proud, are the ones who find it hard to find joy in small things because their minds are preoccupied with “seemingly” more important things.
And when they get old, they realize that those “small” things are the real gifts of life, and they regret missing on so much of them.
6. Acceptance is liberation
Most people shirk away from accepting what they are going through. This constant denial breeds in them emotions that are highly dangerous.
Only when you accept your situation you become free to decide what to do about it.
When you are not in denial of a problem you have the strength to find a solution.
Indifference, avoidance, and denial of a certain truth, Bhairav believes, cause anxiety; people develop a fear of that thing.
Instead, accept the situation so you are free to think what you want to do about it and how. Acceptance will liberate you and empower you.
7. Accept everyone as the same
The secret to Bhairav’s unfazed dedication towards his demanding job can be understood via this life lesson.
He admits that life would’ve been difficult if he treated people who admit themselves differently, based on their caste, creed, color, and social or economic status.
Categorization leads to complication and one ends up serving no one well.
“The day you treat everyone the same is the day you breathe light and worry less about who might feel offended or not. Make your job easier,” he says.
8. When you find your purpose, do something about it
To have awareness about one’s calling is great, but only if you do something about it.
A lot of people, Bhairav says, know their purpose but don’t do anything about it.
Simply sitting on it is worse than not having a calling in the first place.
Having a perspective towards your purpose will help you measure the time and effort you need to dedicate to it, while you’re caught up in what you think you can’t let go or escape.
Take action on what truly matters. That’s what keeps the fire burning deep inside you!
9. Habits become values
Building good habits happens over time, with practice. And those habits, over time, become values.
Bhairav recommends cultivating good habits to be able to house good values.
“It’s like building a muscle; you have to keep at it every day.”
Till one doesn’t consistently work towards being just, or kind, or truthful, or honest, or compassionate, every single time he is challenged, one cannot expect to have attained that quality.
10. Choose what you want to learn
In the vastness of the infinite amount of knowledge available to us it is easy to get lost and confused.
“The key lesson here is to be mindful of choosing what you deeply feel will be of value to you,” he says.
People might impose subjects and philosophies on you because it interests them, and while you must acknowledge their suggestions, the wise thing to do is delve deeper into what rejoices your own heart and mind.
With a smile on his face he says, “In the last days of their life a lot of people can’t speak, walk or communicate with others with as much ease as they could, earlier. So, they turn inwards. And start to remember the things that made their heart sing once, things that they cared to learn more about over the course of their life, which enriches their days now.”
11. You don’t break ties with people; you break ties with the thought they produce
You can seldom distance yourself from people you have truly loved or connected with in some way.
However, in any relationship, there is a certain mismatch of ideologies that might cause people to stop communicating.
This never means you are no longer associated with that person. It simply means that you don’t associate with a dominant thought that person brings with him/her, and to avoid more conflict you move away.
This is why we still love some people who we broke up with so long ago, even though we cannot understand why.
The divorce, Bhairav affirms, is with the thought and never with the person. To understand that is to unburden yourself from being bitter and revengeful.
12. 10 % of what you earn should be kept aside for dharma
Bhairav doesn’t define Dharma as something religious or spiritual. Instead, he says it is associated with doing good for others and feeling responsible about that.
A simple calculation according to him is to keep 10 percent of your income for goodwill.
Many people donate or do charitable acts towards the end of their life because death is hard on them.
In their suffering, they begin to empathize with others’ suffering.

He says those who have the companionship of loved ones, the blessings of unknown strangers, and an all-encompassing goodwill of people, exit peacefully and gracefully.
That is possible when you don’t cling on to everything you have, and leave some part of it for others. 

Meditation camp at Sri Badrika Ashram..

I had attended Om Swami’s Zen Retreat in Bangalore in December about which I had written a post earlier. Another Zen Meditation camp was announced by Swamiji which would be held at the Ashram in the Himalayas. This camp would have Hindi as the language and since it was to be held at the Ashram the 5 star comforts of the Retreat won’t be there.

As soon as I read about the camp I registered. I remember it was some 1 am in the morning when I clicked on the link. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity as I had always wanted to visit the Ashram. Also, since the fees was not much I could afford to donate it in case I was not able to make it for some reason. All Om Swami devotees know that one must register as quickly as possible when Swamiji announces any program. They are few and far between and registration closes typically in a matter of 2-3 days. Everyone wants to be near an enlightened being as much as possible. You can read as much as you want but one line that comes directly from a Guru can have more impact than one can think of. Such is the divine aura of Swamiji that it exudes and touches the heart of everyone who comes near him – educated or illiterate, wealthy or poor, young or old, believer or sceptic.

Something in your heart just tells you- he is the one.

I took a flight from Bangalore to Chandigarh on the 24th  even though the camp was starting on the 25th March. The idea was to be there when everyone has not yet come in so I could possibly get some quality time with Swami ji. I discovered that many other दुष्ट’s had possibly read my mind😊.

The drive from Chandigarh upto Solan was good apart from stretches where four laning work was in progress. From Solan we took the Rajgarh highway. After Giri Pul which is built on the river Giri Ganga there is a U turn after about 10 Kms. This took us on the road to the ashram. It was about 5:45 pm so we were anxious to reach before it gets dark. The road to ashram is unmetalled and it can get really tricky at the bends.

I would recommend faint hearted folks not to sit in front next to the driver.

We reached when it was dark already. The beautiful LED lights looked just awesome, as the temple stood out against the backdrop of mighty mountains.

Once the formalities of registration etc.were completed we directed ourselves to the the dormitory. I keep saying “we” as the devotees I shared the ride from airport had already become good friends – each of us alone on the path  and yet together in the pursuit.

The first site of the dormitory didn’t look bad. It was neat and clean although the way the beds were arranged on the floor it looked like the place would get really crowded. The first night we had the luxury of spreading out a little but on the 25th when everyone came you literally had to struggle for space let alone personal space. Being used to having our own rooms at home or in hotels when we travel, I was amazed how I took to sharing the dorm with 65 other people like a fish takes to water. The person next to me told me I was snoring away barely 30 seconds after I retired to bed. I learnt a big lesson in life – actually we just need a place to lie down and sleep will come. The only condition is that our mind has to be stress free and our body must be tired. It’s that simple actually. I went back to the time when we travelled during our Geological excursions as students. With 30 boys to a room we used to enjoy as hell. Sharing, caring and daring were our mantra those days. Then that carefree nature got lost somewhere on the road to success and achievement.

I am sure everyone else who joined the camp was also used to same level of comfort as me but the way all of us “accommodated” each other was exemplary. It never felt we were missing anything.

My bed is second from right with a blue pillow 😊

In the evening on 24th we were blessed to have Swamiji amongst us during dinner which was a simple meal partaken with all of us sitting on the floor as you do in a Gurudwara or in marriages in the village. I find it really difficult to sit on the floor and eat but on all 5 days I made it a point not to take the chair but to have my meals sitting on the floor. I realised that if I am not comfortable and if I have to ask for more food I tend to eat less which is great for my ever increasing tummy.

Now the big question is can I follow the same at home ?

I must mention here that the food was delicious even though it was simple. The “prasad” bhav with which I had it helped to satiate my hunger with just one serving on most occasions. I admit I cheated a bit with the “halwa”though. Swamji had asked us to eat with mindfulness and I tried to follow it as much as possible although my mind was more fixed on the taste than anything else. It will take some time but trust me I am on my way.

The real “Tapa”however came in the morning ! The meditation class had to start at 6:30 in the morning which meant all 80 of us men had to get ready using just 2 bathrooms, 2 basins and 6 toilets. The fact that the facilities were at a distance from the dormitory also posed a bit of a chalkenge. I prayed to God I don’t get an upset stomach else you can imagine the plight of the situation. Again I had some experience with using “public” facilities from my university and Chinmaya mission days but years of conditioning made this ordeal really a testing one. I learnt how to cultivate patience during times of “urgency” 😊. Once again the way all of us woke up at 4 am and supported each other to get ready on time made an otherwise daunting task quite enjoyable. I was reminded of one quote from Karla in Shantaram – what amazes me is not the pain that crushes us but our ability to endure it. I know she said it in a different context but you would get the drift.

The dormitory and the toilets broke down my conditioning which defined what is “basic” for me. As a student and seeker in my youth I had lived with such facilities and had never thought too much about it but as I grew up and money came things got a bit different. With little bit of prayer and meditation I do everyday, I always knew that I am not a sucker for material comforts. This test was required to confirm my belief that with the right resolve one can always drop what is unnecessary.

The Zen mediation camp was similar to the Zen Retreat in Bangalore except that the classes were in Hindi so I will not bother writing about it again. I have given a detailed account of it here.

What was really different was the setting of the camp and I want to give you a glimpse of the beautiful ashram and my days spent there. The ashram is surrounded by green hills from all sides and the endearing river Giri Ganga flows just below the ashram in the valley. The inspiring Sri Hari Temple with its red roof stands in the middle guarded by a star studded sky at night. The thing about nature is that it can do to you in an instant what loads of books and words cannot in a lifetime. You just become a part of the scenery. The truth that you are nothing but a part of the mountain, a drop from the river and a piece of the sky becomes evident as you have a look at the surtoundings – take a deep breath and close your eyes. That God resonates in each particle of creation – inside and outside of your field of experience becomes easier to comprehend as the universal truth of our existence.

The time I spent listening to the river, gaping at the mountains and talking to the stars has become a part of me – forever. Swamiji’s divine presence and the grace of Sri Hari Bhagwan only helped to make every moment at the ashram a true blessing.

I am sharing a few pictures below with captions so you can share the joy with me.

The way to the ashram

Swamiji arriving for discourse at the temple. Behind him are his disciples Swami Vidyanand and Swami Parmanand.

Me reflecting besides the river

And posing next to it 😊

Sri Hari Bhagwan..

The temple shinning in the glory of morning sun

River flowing in the mountain valley

View from the ashram side

Footloose, quite literally !

Cow mata wanted to eat my phone. I wish she did 😊

Villagers starting a day at work

Wind takes our payers to Bhagwan

I have heard that there is no problem which cannot be solved by the sound of flowing water.For me it was like a meditative state in which I could feel a river flowing inside me. Fell in love with the wind blowing across my face, the chirping of the birds and the murmur of the river. How I wish I could take a piece of this back to the city. I know I can’t but I also know that it will be there whenever I close my eyes and sit in silence.

Now if you are tired of reading this longish post here’s some Herb to freshen you up 😊

अंत मे..

अब मैं कुछ कहना नहीं चाहता,

सुनना चाहता हूँ
एक समर्थ सच्ची आवाज़
यदि कहीं हो। 

अन्यथा
इससे पूर्व कि
मेरा हर कथन
हर मंथन
हर अभिव्यक्ति
शून्य से टकराकर फिर वापस लौट आए,
उस अनंत मौन में समा जाना चाहता हूँ
जो मृत्यु है। 

‘वह बिना कहे मर गया’
यह अधिक गौरवशाली है
यह कहे जाने से —
‘कि वह मरने के पहले
कुछ कह रहा था
जिसे किसी ने सुना नहीं।


~ सर्वेश्वर दयाल सक्सेना

Today is world poetry day. Sharing a poem from one of my favorite writers.

The best things is life

This day, Year 2011

When I checked in my hotel in Hk they told me that the room was not ready.I went out and sat on a park bench.After a while I felt sleepy so I lay down on the park bench with my laptop bag as my pillow.By god what perfect sleep I had….I knew it’s a little odd to sleep on a park bench and all but with the warm sun and light breeze I didn’t really care.
And now I know best things in life are free..

नींद तो दर्द के बिस्तर पे भी आ सकती है मगर,

उसकी आगोश में सर हो ये ज़रूरी तो नहीं …

तब देख बहारें होली की..

जब फागुन रंग झमकते हों तब देख बहारें होली की।

और दफ़ के शोर खड़कते हों तब देख बहारें होली की।
परियों के रंग दमकते हों तब देख बहारें होली की।
ख़म शीश-ए-जाम छलकते हों तब देख बहारें होली की।
महबूब नशे में छकते हो तब देख बहारें होली की।

हो नाच रंगीली परियों का, बैठे हों गुलरू रंग भरे
कुछ भीगी तानें होली की, कुछ नाज़-ओ-अदा के ढंग भरे
दिल फूले देख बहारों को, और कानों में आहंग भरे
कुछ तबले खड़कें रंग भरे, कुछ ऐश के दम मुंह चंग भरे
कुछ घुंगरू ताल छनकते हों, तब देख बहारें होली की

गुलज़ार खिलें हों परियों के और मजलिस की तैयारी हो।
कपड़ों पर रंग के छीटों से खुश रंग अजब गुलकारी हो।
मुँह लाल, गुलाबी आँखें हो और हाथों में पिचकारी हो।
उस रंग भरी पिचकारी को अंगिया पर तक कर मारी हो।
सीनों से रंग ढलकते हों तब देख बहारें होली की।

और एक तरफ़ दिल लेने को, महबूब भवइयों के लड़के,
हर आन घड़ी गत फिरते हों, कुछ घट घट के, कुछ बढ़ बढ़ के,
कुछ नाज़ जतावें लड़ लड़ के, कुछ होली गावें अड़ अड़ के,
कुछ लचके शोख़ कमर पतली, कुछ हाथ चले, कुछ तन फड़के,
कुछ काफ़िर नैन मटकते हों, तब देख बहारें होली की।।

ये धूम मची हो होली की, ऐश मज़े का झक्कड़ हो
उस खींचा खींची घसीटी पर, भड़वे खन्दी का फक़्कड़ हो
माजून, रबें, नाच, मज़ा और टिकियां, सुलफा कक्कड़ हो
लड़भिड़ के ‘नज़ीर’ भी निकला हो, कीचड़ में लत्थड़ पत्थड़ हो
जब ऐसे ऐश महकते हों, तब देख बहारें होली की।


Chaaya Ganguly sings this beautiful nazm by Nazeer Akbarabadi:

Blindfolded Conversations..

Just came back from an event Blindfolded Conversations under the trees. I have no idea why or how I signed up for this event but I landed up at the venue thinking if nothing else I can have nice evening walk at Cubbon Park. When my first “partner”asked what brings you here I was prompted to say I had nothing better to do what else. I told him that I usually never open up even to people I know so I thought if I can speak to a total stranger it will be a kind of challenge for me. Now those who know me would say c’mon you talk so much, you are active on social media and have views on every thing from quantum view of spirituality to politics in UP to Bhojpuri filmi songs how can you have need to open up or have conversation? There is a couplet by Jaun Elia that best describes this dichotomy :

मुस्तक़िल बोलता ही रहता हूँ, कितना खामोश हूँ मैं अन्दर से

I blabber without a pause, how silent am I from within

My kids often tell me Dad don’t you have like a best friend. You are always talking about business or politics or some books but that’s not what you talk to your best friend. They are right I have this heavily guarded shield and probably no one except my brother knows my darkest and deepest side. Even he has limits. 

Anyway, coming back to the event I wanted to explore if my conditioning stops me or is it that I do not want to be vulnerable again by telling someone about myself. I have seen people stoop to such levels I am on the verge of becoming a Xenophobe. My guard is never down. Everyone has their boundaries – you can come this far and no more. Can this psychology be reversed if I don’t know whom I am talking to and yet get a response – one human being to another. No I am not talking about shrinks, they are trained to have conversations and they charge a fee. Been there, done that.

So did I open up finally ? Was I able to drop my inhibition, feel vulnerable again? No I was not. I ended up giving reading advice to both partners – first was a techie probably in his 30s and second was a young girl in last year of her engineering. But yes the event was quite fun and well organized. All of us sat under the trees and were asked to blindfold ourselves. After that the volunteers randomly paired up people. You were not allowed to tell your name, exact profession or age. Basically there was no way to know whom you were talking to and as there were some 200 people there was no way of guessing either. There were a lot of young girls in the group. When all of them started chattering together with one sense organ of mine obstructed, at one point I felt I would have a panic attack !

However, I learnt a few things :

1. I can never open up to anyone और अब ये राज़ मेरे साथ ही दफ़न होंगे 

2. Bangalore is super receptive to new ideas and folks are quite open and friendly. I don’t think you can have such an event so casually in Lucknow or Delhi

3. The organizers made a cool 40000 bucks is 2 hours with almost no investment apart from their volunteers guiding blinded people so they don’t bump into each other 😊

4. Namma Metro takes precisely 13 min from Cubbon Park to Bypanahalli 

On Writing

I have always felt that the depth in what you write doesn’t usually come with the number of words that you use but with the number of words that you are able to delete once you have written/re written.

Words of wisdom from Akash Verma