All of us on the planet aspire to a life in balance – to balance our outgo with our income,
our heads with our hearts,
individual needs with societal needs.
When this delicate balance is won,
We hit the jackpot – happiness
by Purnima Yogi
‘42-year-old IT professional dies while jogging’
‘12-year-old commits suicide after corporal punishment’
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. Caninga student in front of the whole class, killing one self 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 was not understand that there is something called moderation? A middle path, a golden mean, where there is balance of thought, word and action?
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 occupyanother’s space, all engaged serenely in a supreme, divine, cosmic dance of balance!
The whole of the cosmos understands balance – why doesn’t man?
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, JanaLoka, 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’tman 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 fetuses in the womb and upset the male-female ration 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 action sand reactions, deliberately or other wise upsetting the delicate balance of his body,mind and environment? Why can’t heunderstand 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 by passing 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 center, 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 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 every thing else falls in place. But how not to up set 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 Bhagavad gita. Sukhe-dukhe same krutvaalabhaalaabhau 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 annihilation – ‘nothingexists’. Siddhartha Gautama discovered that neither took him to nirvana, and realised that salvation lay in following the majjhimã paipadãor the middle path.
To be in the middle is to be centred, neutral, unbiased, fair and upright, therefore avoiding extremes in thought and behavior. Cominform 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 – itcomes and goes like a wave. If one experiences headache, he will eventually experience a state of non-headache too. Buddha called this impermanenceanicca, 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).
A bottomless pit
An emperor was on his morning walk when he saw a beggar. “What do you want?” heasked him. Being no ordinary beggar, he laughed and said, “I want my begging bowl to be filled with something. Can you?” “Iam an emperor, what can you possibly desire that I cannot give to you?” said the emperor and asked his vazir to fill the beggar’sbowl 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.”
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. Ina 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 possesswhatever’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, Lentand 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 offish 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.
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 thisonce’. He recalls how being unswerving in his resolve helped him to not give into the just-this-once syndrome. “I hadmade 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 onthe team came to me and said, ‘You’vegot to play. Can’t you break the rule just this once?’,” says the professor. “I’m adeeply religious man, so I went away and prayed about what I should do. I got a very clear feeling that I shouldn’tbreak my commitment, so I didn’t playin 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!