Nov 29, 2023

Book Review: Value of Values by Swami Dayananda Saraswati

 In the course "Foundations of Sanatana Dharma", Prof.Mahadevan mentioned this book title while explaining the principle of Dharma.

K had bought this book many years back and I immediately picked it up from our home library. It has been a thought-provoking read over the last couple of weeks.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati sets the context on how the expression of our life is just the expression of our well-assimilated value structure.

He beautifully explains how we apply values more consistently and more absolutely to others than to ourselves. For eg, we may expect others to be 100% truthful with us, but we may not be 100% truthful to everyone. He calls this a "half-value" where there is a disconnection between what we expect of others (personal value) and what we do (obligatory value).

Whenever we perform an action that is against our values, we create a seed of guilt, that leads to fear and conflict. This also creates a "knower-doer" split. Such a conflicted mind will not be in a state to absorb the knowledge of the self.

In Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita (verses 7 to 11), Bhagavan Krishna lists down 20 qualities that prepare the mind for the knowledge of the self.

Swami explains these 20 qualities, along with their importance and relevance in today's context. Some of them are quite an eye-opener.

Amanitvam indicates the absence of exaggerated self-importance. The demand for recognition and respect from others comes from an inner sense of emptiness or a lack of readiness to accept ourselves for who we are.

Asaktih represents the absence of a sense of ownership, even for our own body. This line struck a chord - "He has the right to maintain it but not to destroy it, a possessive right only to make use of it".

Vivikta-desa-sevitvam is a value that highlights the importance of establishing oneself in solitude. "To be contemplative means to be able to face yourself happily....{if not}, the mind will always require an escape".

Depending upon your life journey, you might observe that you are progressing in certain qualities, while you need to work on certain other qualities. This book provides such clarity and interpretation for us to assess our values in just 150 pages.

Nov 28, 2023

Is Spirituality a retirement hobby?

 Someone told me this recently - "What you are doing now - practicing Yoga and meditation, learning and teaching shlokas, reading spirituality and philosophy books - these activities are best taken up after you cross 60 years. The 40s and 50s are the time to continue working and earning money".

Though I respect their perspective, I have slightly different points of view.

Spirituality isn't reserved for retirement life or senior citizens.

ANYONE (irrespective of their age, gender, financial, cultural, or social background) who would like to know more about themselves, their lives, and the world around them can start their journey towards spirituality.

What you learn through spirituality can help you lead your external lives with ample strength and resilience.

What you do in your 40s and 50s will influence the quality of your life in your 60s.

If you are indoors throughout your 20s to 50s, it is unlikely you will suddenly become an outdoorsy person in your 60s. I have come across people who were completely out of touch with nature and the outdoors during their working lives. In their 60s, though they live close to parks and beaches, they hardly step out of their comfortable homes.

Similarly, if you are completely engaged with the outside world in your 20s to 50s with no time for self-introspection and self-awareness, it is unlikely you will suddenly turn inward in your 60s (unless life circumstances force you to do so).

If one can find balance -

where one can comfortably shift between the outside and inside worlds every day,

where one can adequately spend time outdoors and indoors every day

then the activities that help you go within can be pursued alongside our career demands.

Unfortunately, in today's times, if you bring up the word "work-life balance" or "work-life harmony", it is frowned upon.

Remote work and work-from-home options are being discouraged. 

"I don't mind if you waste 2-3 hours in traffic. I need you to be in the office in front of my eyes for 10 hours. Only then I consider you productive" - is the mindset.

If one expects a 9-5 job, he/she is considered unambitious or lazy. BTW, what is this new trend called "lazy girl" jobs? Men also need balance in their lives. And such an expectation doesn't make him/her lazy.

The other aspect that we tend to ignore is that when an idea inspires us, it will wait for a certain time for us to give due attention. If we ignore it, the idea moves on.

If spirituality and philosophy inspire someone in their 40s,

Why wait till the 60s to pursue that path?

What's the guarantee one will live up to 60 years in the first place?

Even if one lives, what is the guarantee that one would have the physical and mental energies to pursue their interests?

What if one's health deteriorates due to leading hurried lifestyles that the current jobs demand?

We might have compromised our values and our interests in our 20s and 30s to pursue material goals and meet society's expectations.

40s is the time we reevaluate our priorities.

40s is the time we pursue our soul's desires.

40s is the time we reinvent ourselves.

Nov 27, 2023

Suggestions to my 27-year-old self

 I received this question as a DM - "What advice would you give to girls in their mid-20s, working for MNCs as you have gone through that phase of life?"

My mid-20s are different in many aspects:

No social media (just getting started with FB), no smart phone. So there is no constant pressure to prove myself to the outside world.

Of course, there was pressure to do well in my career - mostly self-imposed - to go up the ranks. And the dreaded question - "When is the good news? When are you starting a family?" status updates from near and dear ones, causing more stress.

From a work perspective, I believe that in the decade of 2000s, employers(especially MNCs in India) were a lot more reasonable in terms of work expectations and timelines. But this has shifted quite a bit in the past 7-8 years due to various factors - growth pressures from investors, competition, uncertain economic situations, all leading to unrealistic project timelines.

Instead of advising girls in their mid-20s, I feel it would be more appropriate if I could travel back in time, meet my 27-year-old self, and share a few suggestions.

  • Do not ignore the delays in your monthly cycles. It is not something to be taken lightly. It is not something to feel relieved about when you are getting the monthly cycle only once every 3-4 months

  • The PMS symptoms you are facing are not normal. Take the help of an expert to understand the root cause of extreme mood swings and painful cramps

  • Motherhood will happen at the right time. Don't get stressed due to peer pressure or random comments from family/relatives/neighbors. Focus on getting your body and mind ready to experience this beautiful (and challenging) phase in your life.

  • Have NO expectations that family members will support you during the phase of motherhood and help you balance your home and career. It is completely up to you and K to plan and decide how you would get back to a job if that's what you want.

  • There will come a time when you will hear a wake-up call to understand your priorities and interests to pursue in your 30s. When you hear it, don't ignore it. I understand it isn't easy to make critical decisions at this juncture, but at the same time, don't keep hanging onto that indecisive state for too long.

  • Management career path may not be the right choice IF you need to plan for time freedom and flexibility in your 30s. IC (Individual contributor) role might give you flexibility and more options to work independently. Evaluate your decision to shift to management based on these criteria as well.

  • Having said that, just go with your gut instinct and the flow. Keep your curiosity alive and try multiple initiatives. 30s is the time when you get opportunities to discover yourself. Do not resist the experiences that come your way.

  • And for God's sake, please put that packet of Lays chips down and go for an evening walk!

Nov 23, 2023

Expression of Bhakti through chanting

 When the outer world feels uncertain, the inner world starts to reflect the same if we aren't aware.

As I reflected, I realized that Bhakti (Devotion to the Supreme) is what has helped me since my childhood to process various uncertainties in my outer world - the sudden loss of my mother, financial struggles in the family, exam pressures during the 10th and 12th board exams to name a few.

To express that Bhakti, chanting had been my go-to way. I didn't know the meanings of the chants but I always enjoyed chanting and listening to them.

The various shlokas/stotras that my Paati (paternal) taught me,

The shlokas that my mom, aunt, and Paati (maternal) used to chant during Navaratri,

The summer classes where I learned a little bit of Vishnu Sahasranamam,

The neighbor aunty who taught me simple devotional songs,

The Sai Bhajans unconsciously learned when participating in Baba Pooja on Thursdays in a neighbor's home,

The Tamil devotional songs that I heard from nearby temples, especially during festive occasions, Aadi month, Ayyappa pandal in Nov/Dec, Margazhi mornings, etc

These were the inputs that went in, consciously or unconsciously during childhood. They have helped me stay positive and have given me mental strength. Paati had a book where there were prayers to be chanted for different occasions.

Before starting an exam, the book recommends chanting "buddhir balam yasho dhairyam" (Hanuman Shloka). To date, whenever I'm writing any exam, I chant this shloka and thanks to Hanuman ji, I have done well in most of the exams!🙂

Before swallowing a tablet/medicine, the shloka recommended was "abhaamarjadhu govindo". I hate swallowing tablets but this shloka helps me big time, especially during pregnancy when calcium and iron supplements (evlo periya maathirai !!! 😳) need to be taken daily.

In Oct, I was reading "Power of One Thought" and Sister BK Shivani mentioned how the current outer world has become so uncertain. I read that single page multiple times as it was an eye-opener. Around the same time, during Navaratri, I visited a neighbor's golu. After I sang a bhajan, one of my neighbors expressed her concern that the kids of today have little exposure to chants and shlokas. The same thought was running on my mind and as I heard the same from her, I decided to do something. So on a whim, I announced a chanting class for kids in my apartment.

4 kids have joined so far (in the age group of 5-9 years). Along with my daughter, I started the weekly class to share whatever I have learned so far. Short shlokas with repetition, meaning, and stories form the outline of each class. The kids have been super enthusiastic with their questions and active participation.

Paulo Coelho's quote - "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it" - proved true yet again! As I began the chanting class for kids, I came across "Nitya Prarthana", a 12-day chanting workshop conducted by Nirvana Academy. What a happy coincidence! I immediately signed up for it. 

It's been 6 days so far and I'm learning many new shlokas along with their right pronunciation and meaning. Most importantly, I finally understood some of the Sanskrit chanting rules related to anusvara and visarga.

Vijaya ji has been amazing with her clear instructions and beautiful explanations of each shloka. The knowledge sessions are interesting and valuable. She patiently answers all the questions of the participants.

I highly recommend this chanting workshop by the Nirvana Academy. If you or your children are interested, do keep an eye out for the next batch and sign up.

Nov 22, 2023

Foundations of Sanatana Dharma course

 When the controversy around a politician passing remarks on Sanatana Dharma happened a few weeks back, I came across multiple videos from news channels and discussions on YouTube about this incident. Instead of passively consuming content and doing nothing about it, I decided to learn about Sanatana Dharma in depth. I should have done this many years back, but better late than never.

I stumbled upon this online course "Foundations of Sanatana Dharma" on Vyoma Sanskrit Paatashala and this course was conducted by none other than Prof.Mahadevan from IIMB. I attended his Operations Management course 15 years ago and I loved his approach to teaching - simple, crystal clear, and extremely logical. The later batches had the opportunity to attend his other course on Management paradigms through Bhagavat Gita. I so wish I get a chance to do this course sometime!

I was completely immersed in the last few weeks, listening to his 12-week lectures on Sanatana Dharma. When I completed the course yesterday, my eyes welled up. Such powerful wisdom on the principles of life are so beautifully laid out in our scriptures but most of us have not learned them during our childhood.

Professor, with his depth of knowledge and clear explanation, has presented the basic foundational pillars of Sanatana Dharma. His logical breakdown of concepts along with relevant references from numerous scriptures made this course super engaging and interesting.

He presented his arguments convincingly on why multiple births and re-births are the only logical explanation to understand differences in each individual's life - family born into, culture, and background. His brief overview of the available knowledge repository (Vedas, Vedangas, Puranas, Itihasas, etc) showed the vastness of available scriptures that would guide us to realize and know the absolute truth.

The topics on our life's journey, Karma theory, Varna-Ashrama dharma, and Purusharthas were so eye-opening that I was binge-watching the lectures one after another. It is shocking how these fundamental principles have been misinterpreted/misquoted by people who didn't take any steps to understand them in the first place.

I loved the explanation of why Dharma->Artha->Kama needs to be approached in that order and how in today's times, we have reversed the order, with too much focus on our desires first (Kama) and then seeking wealth (Artha) by hook or crook to meet those desires.

Thank you, Professor and Vyoma for this valuable and relevant course. It is much needed for all of us to understand the principles behind Sanatana Dharma in their true intention.

Those who are interested in this course, please check out the course page. It is a free course. All videos are also available on YouTube.

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