Spirituality is a domain full of wisdom – both ancient
and new age. A treatise like Bhagvad Gita alone offers 700 verses. How do you
decide what to believe? Well, I have adopted a simple approach. I don’t believe
in anything no matter how old the scripture or how well-known the spiritual
teacher. I treat every so-called spiritual principle that interests me as a
hypothesis or an assumption. And then I ask a question: Can I test this myself
in a low-cost manner? Following this approach, I have come to appreciate a few
spiritual principles more than others. Here are my favourite five. While some
of these may be ancient, I have mentioned the source through which the
principle reached me:
1. Worry pretends to be necessary1: If
you are like me or my wife, you will have ample of opportunities to test this
principle. Worry means to keep running a bunch of “what if” scenarios repetitively
in the head. Some worries are short term – Will I reach for the meeting on
time? Will I send the proposal by tomorrow as promised? Will our son cycle
safely to school & back? Some worries are long term – Will I continue to
get work? Will I save enough for the old age? Will I be able to take care of my
parents when they need it most? On the one hand, my experience suggests that
worry has helped me in the past to achieve the goals. And when I didn’t worry
enough, things haven’t gone too well. Nick put it well when he asked Eckhart
Tolle, “If I don’t worry about things, how will I pay my bills?”2
the other hand, there is a strong case questioning the role of worry in
achieving goals. It is put forward as follows: There are only three things one
can do in any situation: (1) change the situation (2) remove yourself from the
situation; or (3) accept the situation. Each option may involve a different
action as the next step and worry isn’t one of the useful actions. Worry
doesn’t help me cut through the traffic jam, nor does it help me prepare the
proposal sooner. Different actions do. And that is where the focus should be.
question that I and my wife have found useful in case of worry is to ask
oneself: “Do I have a problem right now? Not tomorrow or five minutes from now,
but right now?”3Anyway, I found this principle relatively easy to get
started with experimentation. Try it out for yourself.
2. Pain is inevitable, suffering is
optional4: I have yet to find a way that will
guarantee pain-free life. Looks like tooth-ache, knee-pain, back-pain, head-ache
etc. are bound to show up once in a while. Some may become buddies as I grow
older. Apart from physical pain, there
are times when I experience thought induced pain. A thought springs up telling
a story as to how I was treated unfairly, say by a customer. And that causes emotional
pain. In short, there is nothing in the experience or a claim from science that
says pain can be eliminated.
is a repetitive thought pattern that sucks up energy in building resistance to
the pain. Some of my commonly experienced stories are – “How could he treat me
like that?” or “Why is this happening to me?” etc. This inner resistance
creates a multiplier effect and that perpetuates the pain. I have narrated my
experience at a silent meditation retreat (Vipassana) where I could see this
pain-multiplier effect. And when the resistance gets dropped or reduced, overall
intensity of pain reduces. It is amazing to experience it yourself and then try
it out every time pain shows up. It may not work every time, but it is a great
3. Whatever you fight, you strengthen, what
you resist, persists5: “Fighting for your right”
is worshipped all over the world. Be it the bloody wars or non-violent fights of
Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. fighting for the right cause is a
virtue many of us admire. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s “Educate, unite and fight”
slogan has inspired generations. Hence, a principle like “Whatever you fight,
you strengthen” is non-intuitive.
way to experiment with this principle is to try to disprove it. Offer
resistance to someone’s idea or behaviour. It could be your spouse or a teenage
son or daughter or your boss or team member and see if that idea or behaviour
gets dropped due to your resistance. Now, see what happens when you offer no
resistance and see what happens. Since this principle is non-intuitive, you
will need a lot of experimentation to check its validity.
4. How you do what you do is more important
than what you do6: On a daily basis, I
interact with various people - Milkman, garbage collector, car wash person, watchman,
newspaper delivery boy etc. On the face of it, it looks as though my work – say
of innovation consulting is more value creating than their jobs. This creates
an impression that what I do is more important than what they do. This
principle questions this assumption. It says – what I do is less important. What
matters is – how I do what I do. For
example, if Hanmantha washes cars with utmost attention and care, then he is
doing a great service to the society no matter how much it contributes to
all can see this principle in our day-to-day activity as well. I sometimes open
a door as though it is merely a means to get into another room; wash dishes or
fold clothes as though it is an activity to get over with so that more
important things can be catered to. This principle questions the underlying assumption
behind this approach. It says that how you do your activities whether it is
opening a door or planning your project matters more than the activity itself.
This principle has significant implications for everything we do.
5. My primary responsibility is my own state
of consciousness7: World around me seems to
be full of injustice, inequality and problems like poverty and corruption. I
have family responsibilities – son’s education, aging parents etc. I run a
consulting business. What is my primary responsibility? I find this principle
useful and non-intuitive. It says that none the things I mentioned is my
primary responsibility. In fact, my primary responsibility doesn’t lie in the
outer world at all. My primary responsibility is my own state of consciousness.
This is perhaps the most non-intuitive principle.
way to go about doing my work is to not worry about how much anxiety or stress
it causes to me and people around me. Focus on the goal and run after it as
fast as possible. Assume that stress is a natural side-effect of becoming
successful. You have to sacrifice something for gaining something etc.
alternate way of doing the same thing is to first pay attention to your own
state of consciousness. If life feels stressful, then first investigate the
thoughts that perpetuate the stress. Question the validity of the thoughts etc.
Always give more priority to this internal observation than external tasks even
if the task involves helping millions of poor people.
3. “Do you
have a problem right now?” – Practicing a Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, page
is inevitable…” - This principle was pointed to me by my friend Zunder
Lekshmanan. Subsequently, I found a
nice article with the same title by Dan Mager.
you fight,…” – A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, page 75.
you do what you do…” – Eckhart’s interview at Stanford University by Dr. James
Doty titled “Conversations
on compassion” by 1:16:37.
primary responsibility…” This quote is from Eckhart in response to a question
from Melissa, Crab Orchard, West Virginia about her worry related to her sister
who is addicted to drugs,
interview with Oprah Winfrey, A New Earth, chapter 3 at 51:50.
I would like to thank my wife Gauri for her review and useful suggestions.