Life - Life in balance
by Purnima Yogi
The middle path: modus operandiAccept people at face value: Do not assume and presume about the motives of people. Give them the benefit of doubt, believe the best of everybody.
Do not have mindsets:
‘42-year-old IT professional dies while jogging’, ‘12-year-old commits suicide after corporal punishment’, ‘Yet another honour killing in Bihar: Lovers hacked to death’ – average headlines in our daily newspapers these days. On and on, the depressing news reports go. Page after page, day after day, they reflect the gruesome realities of life today. They all point to excesses in behavior and thought patterns that are wreaking havoc in today’s society. Getting stressed out at work and then at exercise. Caning a student in front of the whole class, killing oneself after being unable to bear humiliation, eliminating those who violate feudal rules, passion in the face of probable death.
What happened to good old common sense? Why is man going over the top in all walks of life? Does he not understand that there is something called moderation? A middle path, a golden mean, where there is balance of thought, word and action?
I flip the page of yet another newspaper, and come across an interesting news report. “Not too big, not too small; not too far, not too near; not too hot, not too cold…” What sounded like an advertisement for a weekend resort destination turned out to be the description of planet earth – our permanent residence! The report made me marvel about our beloved home – so innately intelligent, suspended in space at just the right distance from the sun, tilted at just the right angle on its axis, rotating and revolving at just the right speed, with the exact gravitational pull to hold us all down, with the right combination of gases and pancha bhootas in its atmosphere – so perfectly balanced in all respects that it makes life possible. Even a teeny-weeny upset in this combination, and we all go for a spin. Literally!
The balance of life
Come to think of it, since eternity, how perfectly are all heavenly bodies suspended and moving in space. Just right, not colliding with each other, not wanting to occupy another’s space, all engaged serenely in a supreme, divine, cosmic dance of balance!
The whole of the cosmos understands balance – why doesn’t man?
The tricky issue of balance As I warm up to this wonderful theme of balance, I see it everywhere around me, in all realms and dimensions. According to the scriptures, the earth is placed in the middle of seven lower worlds or hells (Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Mahatala, Talatala, Rasatala, Patala) and seven upper worlds or heavens including earth (Bhuloka, Bhuvar Loka, Suvar Loka, Maha Loka, Jana Loka, Tapo Loka, Satya Loka). An embodied soul from Bhu Loka, after death, is sent to any of the other lokas depending upon the preponderance of good and bad deeds in its account. It enjoys heaven or suffers in hell but never stays in any of the worlds permanently. When the credit and debit accounts are almost balanced (49 per cent bad karma and 51 per cent good karma), the soul is embodied again on earth so it can cancel out both, never to be born again. A soul can never find salvation as an angel or demon, but only as a human on earth.
Karma is all about balance. Why doesn’t man understand this basic rule?
Look at the human body – a model of balance and coordination. Its balance of hormones, acids and alkalis, salts and minerals, liquid and solid matter make man possible.
All of nature understands balance. It is built around balance and operates in balance. Why not man?
With all his intelligence, man has the power to upset earth’s ecosystem by polluting it with plastic and poisonous emissions, denuding it of forests and dumping harmful chemicals into its waters. He can alter plants and animals genetically, breed either too much or too little, kill foetuses in the womb and upset the male-female ratio on earth. He can drink too much, party too much, sleep too much, get angry too much, eat too much, work too much, exercise too much, watch too much TV and upset his health irrevocably. Or he can do the same by doing too little of all that.
Ruled by moods
Why does man go overboard in his actions and reactions, deliberately or otherwise upsetting the delicate balance of his body, mind and environment? Why can’t he understand the golden rule that action and reaction are equal and opposite. That, the more he over-does something, the more severe will the consequences be?
Psychologists say that a human being is a bundle of feelings and emotions. At any point in time, most of us are wont to feel one of the three basic states of being – unpleasant, neutral or pleasant. More often than not, though, we battle with the feeling of unpleasantness, which we want to replace as fast as possible with feeling pleasant. In the bargain, we swing between one extreme and the other, totally bypassing the stable, central feeling of neutrality. “If uncontrolled, man’s mood swings like a pendulum,” says counsellor Anuradha Kurpad, “The more it swings to the left, the more it needs to swing to the right to maintain balance. The less the disturbance, the less the pendulum swings away from the centre, which is the point of equilibrium. It ultimately comes to a halt on its own if it is not further disturbed. Similarly, if man does not constantly get agitated by thoughts one after the other in continuous succession, the mind becomes stable and comes to rest.” Needless to add, a stable mind is much more capable of taking intelligent decisions than an unstable one.
The incredible grace of balance The middle path
It is thus obvious that our state of stability is completely dependent on the state of our mind – it rules our very existence. Take care to not upset the mind and everything else falls in place. But how not to upset the mind?
World Tennis Champion of the 1970s, Arthur Ashe, was diagnosed with AIDS. A devastated fan wrote to him, wondering why God had chosen to visit a bad disease like AIDS on such a fine man. Ashe replied: “50 million children around the world start playing tennis. Five million learn to play tennis. 500,000 learn professional tennis. 50,000 come to the circuit. 5,000 reach The Grand Slam. 50 reach Wimbledon. Eight reach the quarterfinals, four make it to semifinals, two to the finals. When I was holding the Wimbledon Cup, I never asked God: Why me? So why now, in pain, should I be asking Him: Why me?”
What a great perspective to retain in the face of grave adversity! Such a person is described as a sthithprajna – a man with a steady mind – by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. Sukhe-dukhe same krutvaa labhaalaabhau jayaajayau. A sthithapragna is one who is undisturbed in happiness and misery, in gain and loss, and in victory and defeat. Buddha calls this attitude the middle path.
Before he became enlightened, the Buddha too experienced extremes states. Born a prince, he experienced opulence, and found it to be unbearable in the light of all the suffering he saw in the world. Then he renounced all and became an ascetic, indulging in severe penance and austerity for six years. He also struggled to reconcile the Vedantic teachings of eternalism – ‘everything exists’ and annihilationism –‘nothing exists’. Siddhartha Gautama discovered that neither took him to nirvana, and realised that salvation lay in following the majjhimã paipadã or the middle path.
To be in the middle is to be centred, neutral, unbiased, fair and upright, therefore avoiding extremes in thought and behavior. Coming from this space, one can investigate all issues and problems in life objectively, understand the truth thoroughly, come to a reasonable conclusion and act appropriately. Buddha says that the Self is neither permanent, nor does it cease to exist at death. No situation is permanent – it comes and goes like a wave. If one experiences headache, he will eventually experience a state of non-headache too. Buddha called this impermanence anicca, and said that this knowledge would keep man from error and suffering. The master supplemented his teaching by offering the noble eight-fold path for practical living, which includes guidelines for wisdom (right understanding, right intent), ethical conduct (right speech, right action, right livelihood), and meditation (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration).
How can one come to grips with the vagaries of life, and remain equanimous under all circumstances? CR Shashi, a small scale industrialist from Bangalore, battles with crises every single day of his life. “I feel I am fire-fighting all the time,” he says, “I step into my factory and into a world of problems – of labour, machinery, clients and suppliers.” So how does he deal with such pressure? “Well, I believe in Murphy’s Law: ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’! But now I know enough to believe that things will eventually turn out all right. Once I accepted the fact that uncertainty is the nature of business, I stopped getting disturbed every time things went awry,” he says.
"When I was holding the Wimbledon
Cup, I never asked God: Why me?
So why now, in pain, should
I be asking Him: Why me?” Uncertainty is the nature of life, not just business. Acceptance, then, is the critical attitude one has to develop in order to come to grips with life. Once the mind accepts an uncomfortable situation, it can go to the next step of finding the optimum solution to overcome it; if there is no solution in sight, it will wait patiently until the problem blows over. A spiritually inclined person would attribute it to karma, a religious person to God’s will, a positive thinker would survive by telling himself that bad times don’t last and good times are round the corner. Belief in a higher power, belief in tomorrow or confidence in oneself – all work wonderfully in keeping the spirit upbeat at all times.
Often acceptance is mistaken for passiveness, which is as far from the truth as can be. Once, two women, both practicing Buddhists, were riding in an autorickshaw when they were attacked by the driver on an empty stretch. They managed to escape with minimum damage, but were shaken to the core by the experience. Later that day, they asked their teacher what they should have done – what would have been the appropriate, Buddhist response. The teacher said very simply, “You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked the attacker over the head with your umbrella.”
Positive thinking is often mistaken for denial, which again, is as far as the truth as can be. While a positive attitude comes after acceptance, denial is the defence mechanism of an immature mind that is unable to cope with uncomfortable reality. Denial is not accepting that the sun sets. Positive thinking is to be secure in the knowledge that it will rise again the next day. While waiting for the morning, to also accept the dark night that comes before sunrise is equanimity.
A bottomless pit
An emperor was on his morning walk when he saw a beggar. “What do you want?” he asked him. Being no ordinary beggar, he laughed and said, “I want my begging bowl to be filled with something. Can you?” “I am an emperor, what can you possibly desire that I cannot give to you?” said the emperor and asked his vazir to fill the beggar’s bowl with gold coins. As soon as it was poured into the bowl, it disappeared. The vazir went on pouring, and the bowl remained empty. As the amazed emperor looked on, his entire treasury disappeared into the beggar’s bowl. Admitting defeat, the emperor asked the beggar what his bowl was made of. The beggar laughed and said, “The bowl is made of human desire.”
"Having a clear purpose in life is
essential for balance. I remind myself
of the purpose of my life everyday." As the Buddha put it, desire is the root cause of misery, plain and simple. To admire without desiring is the secret of happiness, but the present-day marketing strategy of buy-one-get-one-free does not allow us to consider that option!
Famous American industrialist and philanthropist, Warren Buffett, is as known for his billions as he is for his simplicity. In a recent interview with BBC, Buffett shared his utterly down-to-earth success fundas:
• Stay away from credit cards and invest in yourself
• Money doesn’t create man, man creates money
• Live a simple life
• Don’t do what others say. Do what you feel is good
• Don’t go for brand names. Just wear clothes in which you feel comfortable
• Don’t waste your money on unnecessary things. Spend it on one who is really in need
• The happiest people do not necessarily have the best of all. They simply appreciate what they find on their way
If we can learn to differentiate between need and greed, we can really enjoy window shopping by not wanting to possess whatever’s inside it!
Listen to your body
The human body is a wonderful tool to keep our balance, if only we listen to it. All our organs send us signals when their working is upset by our harmful behavior and thought patterns. If we don’t take corrective measures, they stall. Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body is a wonderful documentation of this truth.
Ancient cultures have always advocated following the golden mean in eating and in everything else. My grandfather, an ayurved pandit, lived up to 86, like many of his generation. He suffered no serious health issues for he lived by the simple principle of eating healthy – Hita Bhuk, Mita Bhuk, Samyak Bhuk – eat meals that are mild, just enough, and timely. An attitude echoed by President Obama, who says, ‘I sit down to eat when I am hungry and I get up when I am still hungry’.
Given man’s propensity to flout this rule, a self-correcting system has been built in by most traditions by earmarking times in the year for fasting like Ramzan, Lent and Ekadashi. An unusually large number of people of Okinawa in Japan live up to more than 100 years, much beyond the average life expectancy anywhere in the world. Their diet follows a concept called Hara Hachi Bu which means ‘eat only until 80 per cent full’! Their diet mainly consists of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, a bit of fish and very little of meat. Hara Hachi Bu was proven to be a success, until, last heard, a McDonald’s outlet was inaugurated there recently!
Clarity of purpose
Acclaimed Harvard Professor, Clayton M Christensen, says that having a clear purpose in life is essential for balance. In his address to the class of 2010 of Harvard Business School (HBS), Christensen says that he is amazed to see more and more of his classmates coming to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. The reason is that they have no clear idea of the purpose of their lives, and therefore do not know how to spend their time, talents, and energy. People tend to allocate these resources for endeavours that offer immediate gratification, like wealth and prestige, rather than to things that matter the most like family, relationships and contentment. The professor says that he reminds himself of the purpose of his life every day. This, he says, has helped him balance work and life beautifully.
Once clarity of purpose is achieved, it is also critical to hold on to it. Come New Year, and I display great clarity of purpose. I religiously make a list of dos and don’ts that I fully intend to implement; one of them not to skip an exercising session, starting that evening. Come evening, and a friend excitedly calls to say she has been blessed with extra tickets for the latest Bollywood blockbuster featuring my favourite star, and my first New Year resolution falls by the wayside.
"I don't pay good wages because I
have a lot of money. I have a lot of
money because I pay good wages." What’s wrong with being undisciplined once in a while, one might ask. All of us are tempted to break the rule under what we call an ‘extraordinary circumstance’. But Professor Christensen says that justification for dishonesty, in all its manifestations, lies in the rationale of ‘just this once’. He recalls how being unswerving in his resolve helped him to not give in to the just-this-once syndrome. “I had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that I would never play basketball on Sunday,” he relates. But a particularly prestigious basketball tournament happened to be scheduled for a Sunday, and so he went to the coach and explained his problem. The coach was incredulous, and so were the team mates, as he was the starting centre. “Everyone on the team came to me and said, ‘You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule just this once?’,” says the professor. “I’m a deeply religious man, so I went away and prayed about what I should do. I got a very clear feeling that I shouldn’t break my commitment, so I didn’t play in the championship game.”
Looking back on that seemingly insignificant decision, says Christensen, resisting the temptation though it was an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ proved to be one of the most important decisions of his life. “Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed,” he says, for what is life but a series of ‘extraordinary circumstances’? A keen sense of personal accountability is what protects an individual from being swayed by temptation. So it’s good to keep our moral compass operating efficiently and accurately to retain a sense of balance.
While having a purpose, ‘have a big vision but a small goal’. It’s all very well to have Bill Gates as a role model, but to get frustrated if one can’t be him is sheer stupidity. The circumstances for Gates to become what he is might be far removed from our own. Go slow at first to go fast!
The principle of reciprocity
Life works on the principle of reciprocity. I experienced it recently when, putting aside reservations and expectations, I impulsively said ‘sorry’ to a neighbour with whom I was not on talking terms for a long time. Unable to bear the unfriendliness anymore, I decided to take the first step towards reconciliation. It was such a relief and pleasure to see her face break into a smile. The animosity built over six months melted as if it had never existed. She too, was eager to end the tension but didn’t know how. Fortunately for us, I decided to get off my high-horse.
The only way to receive something is to give it first, whether in relationships or money. Estranged couples fighting over alimony and child custody could use this attitude. Money too, comes to one who doesn’t hoard it, for like water, money needs to flow. Even the legend on a ` 100 currency notes says ‘I promise to pay the bearer a sum of Rupees One Hundred’. A wonderful message that reminds us that the money in our wallet does not belong to us!
“I don't pay good wages because I have a lot of money, I have a lot of money because I pay good wages,” said Robert Bosch, founder of the Bosch Group. All cultures lay great stress on charity and the idea of give and take too is built into tradition, with the practice of families and friends gathering during festivals and celebrations and exchanging gifts. It breaks down ego barriers, discourages hoarding and encourages spending to keep the economy flowing and market booming. Every purchase we make during festivals sustains the livelihood of people in the supply chain. But money doesn’t stay with spendthrifts either, for a fool and his money are soon parted.
Three gunas, three cravings
Depending on their nature, all six-and-a-half billion people of the world fall into one of the three categories of tamas, rajas and sattva. Tamasic people have base instincts, are overly sense-oriented and prone to inertia. Rajasic people are dynamic, go-getters, restless. Sattvic people have soft, finer feelings, more interested in the workings of the inner world than the outer. All of us are a combination of all three. But even if one of them is highly developed or suppressed, we lose balance and perspective. For example, we cannot do without sleep, but sloth is tamasic. Meditation is sattvic, but a certain amount of rajas is required to propel oneself towards that activity. Once we actively sit for meditation, to fidget and get distracted is rajasic. Being too soft in the outer world is also dangerous, as discovered by the sattvic snake who forgot to hiss and got beaten up in the bargain.
Spiritual master Sri Ramachandraji who advocates the sahaj marg identifies three kinds of cravings a human being needs to fulfil, at the physical, mental and spiritual levels. At the physical level, we satisfy the needs of our senses with food and other inputs; at the mental level, we supply ourselves with interest in arts like music, dance and literature. Our spiritual craving is fed with prayer, meditation and contemplation. There are two ways in which we can fail to balance these three. One – we might ignore one or more of these completely, and therefore become stilted in our all-round growth. Two – we might use the wrong inputs to satisfy these cravings. Over-indulgence of physical cravings like consuming spicy food and alcohol everyday can lead to physical and psychosomatic diseases. Excessive inputs to the mind, like addictions to online networking sites like Facebook, can wreak havoc on the mind and intellect. Getting involved with esoteric sciences that involve sacrifice of living beings, witchcraft and Tantra can be harmful for several lifetimes.
Sri Ramachandraji says that too much of tamasic (inertia-inducing) and rajasic (excitement-inducing) inputs like the above take us away from our centre, which is sattva (truth, goodness, purity). Sattvic food, music, worship and prayer soothe the body, mind and soul. They help us stay on the right side of life and enjoy a healthy, balanced outlook on everything.
With an immoderate lifestyle, man can upset the balance of seven spiritual centres or chakras, which will reflect in his aura. The aura is nothing but a pulsating energy consisting of bio-rhythmic, biochemical and bio-electrical vibrations of our body and mind. These can be regulated respectively with pranayama and meditation, eating clean, pure and soft food, and dropping negative thoughts and cultivating good thoughts, says Guru Shri Nimishananda.
But “…how do you define moderate?” demands my friend Sahana, a single woman who likes to indulge in the extra masala dosa once in a while, party late into the night and lie around in bed until noon on Sundays. “What is moderate for me might mean self-indulgence to you. What you call moderate looks like austerity to me!” A legitimate dilemma, for which Nisargadatta Maharaj has the answer: “Once you have gone through an (unpleasant) experience, not to go through it again is austerity. To eschew the unnecessary is austerity. Not to anticipate pleasure or pain is austerity. Having things under control all the time is austerity. Both indulgence and austerity have the same purpose in view – to make you happy. Indulgence is the stupid way, austerity is the wise way”.
Pride goeth before the fall
All excesses committed by humans are due to bloated egos. The bigger the ego, the harder it is to train the mind towards moderation. Once, the Vindhya mountain range, situated between the Kerala and Tamilnadu border, felt that it was no lesser than the Himalayas, and decided to grow taller. Anticipating the imbalance on earth if this were allowed, Lord Shiva immediately dispatched Sage Agastya to arrest this phenomenon. The sage duly set down south and reached the Vindhyas. “Oh, mighty mountain,” he addressed, “I am only four feet tall. My short legs cannot carry me across your great height. Will you please oblige me and lower your level so that I can cross over? You may start growing again after I cross you on my way back.” Sage Agastya was a very revered and feared personality, so Vindhya agreed and assumed its original height. The sage crossed over, and settled down on the other side permanently (in a forest in Theni district)! The Vindhya awaits the sage’s return to this day and the Himalayas continue to retain its supremacy as intended by nature!
If the ego is allowed to grow immoderately, it is bound to upset the balance in man and society. Why are nations and religious groups at war? Why do terrorist groups keep proliferating? Why are criminals getting bolder and elected governments falling before they complete their full term? All because of inflated egos. When the imbalance becomes intolerable, nature will find drastic ways of bringing back the balance. As the Lord says – Yada yadahi dharmasya glanirbhavati Bharata…..sambhavami yuge yuge: ‘Whenever adharma is on the rise and dharma on the decline, I shall return to set the balance right’.
Sooner rather than later, surely, dear Lord!
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Subject: thanks for this Article - 10 January 2011
after a long time I have red this type of Article. Its really helped me in understanding my condition and gave me some ideas to cope with my present situations of life. It changed the way i used to take the situation before. I really thanks your organization for this Articles and work of Writing, More...
by: Ajay Kumar
Subject: Thanks - 23 December 2010
Thanks for the article. A good piece of work. I am a middle aged man seriously doubting my reason for existence. Sometimes i do not see why i should stop doing harmful things to myself. If i have no particular reason 4 existence, why should i care? And yet it does not feel right. Help me god. More...
by: Zor Sanga
Subject: Life in balance - 21 December 2010
Thanks for widening my perspective of life. Even though I try to live by the principles of this article,I‘m far from accomplished.
Subject: Pride goeth before the fall - 2 December 2010
I am going through a particularly hard time at the moment and having read this article I now have a greater feeling of hope to help me along my path in life.
by: Nicola Croasdale
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