Most days I don’t mind working hard. Everyone who wishes to make an honest living works hard in this day and age. I’m no exception. Sometimes though, I wish to rest. But, there’s always a deadline of one kind or another lurking over my head. A post I need to write, some publisher commitment I’ve to honor, queries I’ve to answer, people I must meet, projects I must work on, the feedback I must give, and so on. I know I’ve said it earlier too: my life as a monk is the exact opposite of what I thought it would be. And for the record, I accept full responsibility. It’s my own doing that my days are absolutely packed. And that’s even after parking myself in a really remote place, avoiding the limelight and interactions, saying “No” to 99% of all invitations. It almost feels like I must plan my retirement (again) or I’ll forever be the hamster in the wheel. While I say this, I must also confess that 50% of my workload is self-imposed and out of choice. Surely, I can tell myself that this is helping the world or letting me do my charity (which gives me immense joy) or that it helps me live in a manner I see fit (mostly). At the end of the day, however, it’s just a story I’m telling myself. I’ve no illusions about the insignificance of what I do in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I realized a while back: nothing matters eventually.
I suppose it’s only natural then, that at times, I question the utility and value of my work and existence. All that I write and all that I say in my discourses has already been said by wiser, smarter, and more intelligent people. My work and voice – is there even a point to it all? I’ve digressed at the expense of your time. Hence, I’ll get back to the reason I started writing today’s post. No, it’s not to share my innermost feelings about my work and workload, although I’ve done that in ample measure today. Instead, it is to share with you the hardest part of my life. My work is not hard, I just have to put in the hours and it gets done. Meeting people is a bit harder but when I see a dejected person break into a smile with hope, I feel I must continue seeing people. My father said to me a few years ago, “Many accomplished people may come and meet you, but you must see to it that you remain accessible to the common folk.” I agreed wholeheartedly. Even now, the process of meeting me is fully transparent and accessible to all and sundry. There is no influence or interference from anyone in my admin team. Even though I find speaking, meeting, and interacting tiring, it’s still not the hardest part of my job. What is? you ask. Before I give you the answer, I must tell you what is harder than even meeting people. Read on.
People kinder than I’ve ever known have offered me with love and care Range Rovers, BMWs, chartered flights, six-figure US$ checks, and farmhouses. Awestruck by their kindness, I managed to politely decline those gifts. For a simple reason: I didn’t do anything to earn or deserve these offerings. Just being someone’s guru or wearing a robe is not good enough a reason. Heck, it’s not a reason at all, let alone a good one. At the most, it’s a mere justification, a twisted argument to something that makes little sense. What comes free makes you fat. When we accept the rewards of something without deserving or earning it first, it dulls our consciousness, it weakens our resolve and it fuels our ego. We start mistaking others’ kindness as some sort of entitlement we just deserve. When love, respect, or power is given to someone without them earning it first, it’ll get to their head very quickly. We don’t help but destroy the potential of the recipient. My philosophy is straightforward: earn whatever you wish to enjoy in life. Be it love, honor, power, or wealth. Earn it if you want it. Freebies will cost you dearly. Karmically and otherwise.
Oh and I don’t mean to suggest that I have never accepted a material gift. Fruits, books, chocolates, gadgets, paintings and more, I’ve had all these. I’ve even accepted monetary gifts from those who are extremely close to me, those whom I’ve known for years and they offered it only and only out of the extreme love they have for me and the bond we share. Last year, 83-yr-old TR Ramachandran, whom I deeply respect and love and share a beautiful bond with, wrote me a check. After a glorious stint with Reader’s Digest India and the Hong Kong Govt, some 40 years ago, he started Tattvaloka at his guru’s instruction and has worked tirelessly ever since for his guru’s cause.
“Swamiji, he said, this is not for the ashram. And it is not for philanthropy. It is for you. You must not say No.”
“Ramachandran,” I joked, “you sound like my father. Please, you know my position on material gifts.”
“It’s not a gift,” he said, “it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for you for quite some time now.”
“But, you’ve taken care of our travel arrangements and that’s more than enough,” I said.
“No, Swamiji, you can’t say no,” he insisted. “You’ve worked so hard for Tattvaloka and given it a new direction.”
“Ah, I see. So, this is payment for my services.” I pestered Ramachandran.
“Swamiji, I can’t argue with you. This is not from Tattvaloka but my personal savings. I won’t let you wiggle out today. You will have to accede to my request.”
Sarala Panchapakeshan, a lovely and competent lady who’s been at the helm at Tattvaloka, said, “Swamiji, Ramachandran has been waiting for this moment.”
It was my support-the-author moment long before we put that feature on os.me. To date, I don’t know what it was about their timing, demeanor or sentiment that I could not put my foot down. They slipped the check into the hands of Vidu Swami, my PA, just outside the room. He rushed in immediately asking if indeed I’d given my consent. (Ramachandran and Sarala, if you are reading this, I remain grateful.) It helped us in getting better recording and streaming equipment and extending my personal charity.
Saying Yes to material gifts is nearly the hardest part of my job but not “the” hardest. Accepting gifts does not give me any joy. And yet, as I shared earlier, there are some very kind people in my innermost circle, who pay attention to every little whim or comfort of mine even when they have a million other things to do. They never cease to surprise me. So, in the order of increasing difficulty (7 being the hardest), here are the difficult aspects of my life:
1. Writing books and posts. As long as I’ve something truthful and meaningful to say, I’ll try and continue writing. (I’ve been busy this year producing audio books for Audible).
2. Events at the ashram (because I’ve to step out of my private space). Virtual events are a boon from that perspective.
3. Events and discourses while traveling (so much time is wasted at the airports, in flights and traveling).
4. Meeting and interacting with people (it’s just not my cup of tea). This man, Om Swami, has come back from the Himalayas but his mind remains immersed in his universe of bliss and consciousness. I continue to live in the Himalayas (albeit rather comfortably, even luxuriously, I must admit).
5. Saying No to gifts offered with love (sometimes people bring it with so much love that I know rejecting it breaks their heart). It’s easier to say no when gifts are being given as part of a ritual or custom, but it’s incredibly hard to turn down a gift without breaking their heart when it’s come from a corner of love.
6. Saying Yes to gifts. Saying yes goes against my principle. I like to work and live within my means. Gifts, big or small, burden and overwhelm me. And yet, once in a blue moon, I am left with no option but to say yes. Particularly, when I am apprised of their offering only afterwards. So, I say this with the utmost honesty, if you love me, don’t offer or get me material gifts. You use them elsewhere, anywhere. I’ll be happier. Your love and sentiments for me are priceless. They tear me up. As for my needs, let me work as you all do.
7. Inability to help. When I can’t pull someone out of their misery, pain and suffering. It’s really hard when I know there’s no hope but I must offer them some. It’s a real dilemma when I know that the truth won’t help but hurt them and yet I must somehow manage it. To hear up close about the challenges and suffering of fellow human beings is gut wrenching at times. It’s the most difficult thing on this list and yet, it’s still not the hardest. So, what is?
The hardest thing about my life is… wait for my next post on 21-Nov for the answer. Any guesses?
And, it’s time for some important announcements.
1. As you know that we have two long virtual events coming up this month and the next. If there’s any question you wish to ask, you can do so by going to the live events or the schedule page. I’ll pick some of the questions to answer in my discourse every day.