Thank you for your service

Today is Veterans Day in the US. It is a day meant to show gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives fighting for the country. Also this is the day to show solidarity with the peace which has resulted from such sacrifices.

Human beings, over several millennia, have evolved as a social species. Providing a service to others has proven time and time again to increase social bonding and increase the general happiness of individuals. Also, as Ben Franklin showed, obtaining a favor from another can be a way to friendship.

Helping another individual without expectation of getting anything in return somehow creates a sense of satisfaction. As Krishna instructed in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2 verse 47:

“karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi”

This can be roughly translated to:

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.”

 – Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2 verse 47

Also, Jesus instructed his followers to reduce one’s ego and to serve others:

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

– Bible, Matthew 23

Those who serve their countries in the armed forces on the battlegrounds do so mainly out of a sense of honor. A typical greeting in the US when meeting a veteran is: “Thank you for your service”. It seems that these individuals are a great example of how to serve. They take on immense risks for the sake of others. So, along with thanking veterans for their service, one could also truly learn from the example of such individuals in today’s world.

On decisions

When making any decision, as human beings, it seems that we tend to overestimate its success.

One tends to assume that the decision will work out and eventually everything will go as planned.

However, on many occasions, one may not have thought out all the consequences. As a result, when the outcome does not work out or when something bad comes about, one gets frustrated and disheartened.

It seems that if the outcome is good, one is elated and if the outcome is bad, one is disheartened.

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi

A rough translation is:

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

As Krishna advises Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 2, verse 47), one should not confuse two separate things:

  • making the decision
  • the outcome of the above decision

The only aspect of the process under one’s control is the action itself.

While making the decision, keeping in mind that the outcome is usually not under our control, it is useful to slow down and break down the decision into smaller components.

Building a tree and assigning values to each component of the decision is a very helpful guide to making any decision. Especially for important and complicated decisions which carry substantial risk/reward, such an analysis can be helpful.

What is the deal with happiness?

The concept of happiness is a relatively recent development. The word, which originated during the Age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, has today become a buzzword which everyone wants to attain.

In the pre-Enlightenment world, human beings were seen more as belonging to some or the other collective. Examples of “collective” could be anything between tribes, religions, castes, villages and communities. By no means has such identification completely gone away. But, the spirit of collective identification has reduced as modernity has progressed. Individuality has become more prevalent.

Today,  one of the most important goals for everyone is to attain happiness. It has been described in various ways. But most of the descriptions converge towards a subjective sense of fulfillment which is different for everyone. The post-modern, fragmented sense of self tends towards solipsism.

As pop singer Sheryl Crowe crooned:

If it makes you happy 
It can’t be that bad 
If it makes you happy 
Then why the hell are you so sad?

On the other hand, it is interesting to see how our previous generations viewed happiness. One place to look for such evidence could be the ancient scriptures of the world.

The word for happiness in Sanskrit is Ananda. In the entire Bhagavad Gita, it is difficult to find a verse in which Krishna advises his discipline, Arjuna, to pursue his own Ananda or happiness.

In fact, the substance of this scripture is that Krishna tries and succeeds in convincing Arjuna to pursue his Dharma (or duty). In this case, his dharma is to prosecute the war against his cousins who had wrongfully taken away his kingdom. He teaches Arjuna that to fight the war is the honorable and courageous thing to do.

In the pre-modern era, a sense of duty, honor and courage were seen as more worthwhile than mere “happiness”. This kind of questioning and examination of some of today’s buzzwords and concepts should give us pause. It should make us think before accepting any status quo.

Expectations

Expecting to succeed seems a sine qua non of any venture. However, it is evident that many ventures, if not most, do fail. So one needs to be ready to not succeed as well.

But what is interesting is that both the highs and lows, when looked at from the outside, look to be caused by the expectations themselves.

If one starts out with a position of equanimity, it appears that, no matter the result, one comes out ahead with having learned something from the experience.

As Krishna advises Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2, Verse 47) a position of detachment to the results is often the best approach.

karmaṇy-evādhikāras te mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr mā te saṅgo ’stvakarmaṇi

A rough translation of this would be:

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not at any time entitled to the fruits of your actions.
Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

The second line of the verse is a reminder that one is not in control of the results of one’s actions. At the same time, a position of detachment should not lull one into not taking action.

Equanimity

It is said in the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 2, verse 47):

yoga-sthah kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva
samatvam yoga ucyate

A rough translation for this is:

Be steadfast in yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty without any attachment. Maintain an even mind in the face of success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.

Here, Krishna is instructing his student, Arjuna, to perform his duty while maintaining an even keel in the face of both success or failure.

Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations (chapter 6), says:

When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.

The practice of equanimity could also be thought of as a practice of not spending one’s energy and time unnecessarily in being ecstatic upon success and morose upon failure, both of which are ephemeral in the long run.

For some, maintaining equanimity in the face of both joy and sorrow may seem like it is a form of unnecessary “repression”. Any form of discipline undoubtedly has a component of undergoing temporary discomfort for long term gain. Such discipline can not only be physical but also mental.

For example, in order to lose weight and gain physical health, one must repress one’s urges to eat twenty cakes a day. Similarly in order to train one’s mind to gain mental health and avoid the trappings of modern day “psychologists”, one must repress the urge to react at the drop of a pin.

 

Sit sit. Walk walk. Don’t wobble.

A zen saying goes like this:

Sit sit. Walk walk. Don’t wobble.

This refers to having a single-minded attitude in our pursuits. When sitting, we should just sit. When walking, we should just walk, and so on. This can mean, for example, being really present when one is with another person and not being distracted by smartphones or social media.

The Bhagavad Gita also has a verse about this topic (chapter 2 verse 41):

vyavasāyātmikā buddhir ekeha kuru-nandana
bahu-śhākhā hyanantāśh cha buddhayo ’vyavasāyinām

A rough translation is as follows:

O descendent of the Kurus, the intellect of those who are on this path is resolute, and their aim is one-pointed. But the intellect of those who are irresolute is many-branched.

This is referring to Krishna’s teaching about Buddhi Yoga, or yoga of the intellect. The advice being given here is to be resolute and single-minded in purpose when it comes to pursuing this yogic path.

In today’s social media and smartphone dominated world, it becomes hard for people to focus on single things. However forgoing focus on the thing we are looking into often means sacrificing having an edge. So, it really behooves one to not let go of the edge and try to cultivate a single minded approach to life.