Ah! I see. You are here. Well, thank you.
I suspect you have to come to read about the hardest part of my life. In case, you haven’t read my last post, please do so. Otherwise, this write-up may feel a bit incomplete. Or maybe not, you decide.
To tell you the truth when I wrote that post two weeks ago, I hadn’t imagined that I would make a whole list of what I find hard. Instead, I’d started writing just hoping to get straight to the point which was that all of us are surrounded by three kinds of people. And, by the way, I certainly didn’t expect as many loving, kind, and beautiful comments on my post. (I read every single one of them.) The deep philosophical angle in some of your replies was more insightful than many pithy texts on spirituality. So much so, what I have to say today might come across as rather plain if not disappointing altogether. Much ado about nothing, you may conclude. You will be right too. And yet, I must tell you the truth and share with you the original thought I had on my mind two weeks ago.
It all started brewing as the construction of my new cottage is drawing to a close. Two years ago, I contemplated the idea of building a new place for myself in the ashram. A place where I could hopefully fit in a piano, have a study den, a residence full of natural light with power backup, and some other amenities. I also needed a proper audio room where I can record my work in peace. Whether it’s been recording meditations for Black Lotus or audiobooks for Audible, without a proper recording room, it’s been a real challenge. During the day, you have birds and other creatures of the sky and at night you have crickets and cicadas and whatnot. Not to mention the ever constant and burbling river which is at once divine when I’m not recording. Right now, I rarely meet people in my cottage but we thought the new place could be designed in a way so I could sometimes hold meetings there.
When we worked out the cost, I felt it was going overboard and certainly outside my affordability. When you are a monk, everything is expensive. Besides, when it comes to building a home, I have learned that whatever your original estimate may be, the actual cost of building and finishing will be almost twice as much. In other words, double your budget and throw in a contingency of another twenty percent. Naturally, I had neither doubled the budget nor factored in any outrageous contingency. So, when the foundation began, I asked to reduce the footprint and remove an entire floor. But, my chief engineer, whom I’ve known for years and is very dear to me, asked me to not change anything. “It’ll be done,” he said. This was also the assurance everyone involved in the project gave me. And, they were right. The project should finish in another couple of months. But, if not for these people, there was no way it would have come this far. Who are “these” people, you ask. Who knows, one day, not only may I give you a tour of my place but actually introduce you to the entire team that worked to make this vision a reality.
Where is this discourse heading, you may be wondering? Stay with me. You see, building this cottage involved making a decision every step of the way. Then again, any good leader is expected to make decisions. Decisiveness is one of the most important qualities good leaders possess. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t decide as much as it was if I should go ahead with what I’d decided. That’s because I’m surrounded by three kinds of people. As follows:
You must have the best
0.01 percent of the people I know fall in this category. These souls are very close to me, they are in my innermost circle. Some of them live in the ashram but many of them live in various corners of the world. I can count these people on my fingers. For many years, all they have seen me do is work an average of sixteen hours a day. Monday to Sunday. To them, I’m not just their everything but also someone in a human body who needs rest. Every other imaginable thing and person holds second place in their life. If they get a whiff of anything I may need, they turn the world upside down to make it happen for me.
So, whenever I plan on getting anything, they want the finest for me. Travel, stay, food, facilities, amenities, anything at all, you name it and they want that I should have the best of the best. If I’m thinking of doing this or doing that, getting this or getting that, they tell me that I should not compromise on what I need. They want every convenience and comfort available to me. Sunshine or rain, hell or high water, their spirit of service is peerless. They don’t want to be named, recognized, or known beyond what’s absolutely necessary.
I am really blessed to have such people around me because their love for me is truly unconditional. No doubt, it is also a huge responsibility when people trust you with their life. You can’t take any moment, any word for granted. I even have to joke with care for whatever I say is paid attention to. If I moved one circle out, I am now surrounded by the second group of people. Keep reading.
But, what will the world think?
Like the first group, these folks also care about me deeply. Each one shares a unique bond with me and they too want my life to be comfortable. At the same time though, they don’t want me to challenge their beliefs past a certain point. They are not necessarily in love with me but an image of mine, an idea of me. Besides, they also have an image of their own to protect in the world. They want me to live within the bounds that are supposedly reasonable for a monk. If I choose to do anything unconventional, they sometimes tell me it’s not a good idea because what will the world think of me? For example, it’s almost okay if I raise vast sums of money in charity and then go buy a chopper but, it’s not okay to be honest and conduct a paid event for a monk.
I don’t doubt their noble intentions nor mind their candor. They tell me loud and clear when they disagree with me. They take those liberties with me as one would with a friend. Their suggestions are well-meaning too. I am rarely given the benefit of the doubt though. If a few instances happen where they feel I haven’t acted in accordance with their idea of a guru or monk, they let me know and move on.
The strange thing is that often their disagreement is on matters entirely concerning my own life. On matters where I have not asked them or anyone else for anything at all and yet due to the bond they share with me or their conditioning, sometimes both, they feel I let them down.
I am really blessed to have these people around me because they give me a reality check from time to time. They remind me that I shouldn’t do something just because I can. They remind me that, guru or not, I am fallible and I must not forget that. Their criticism of me or my decisions is not always wrong either, I say. Step into the outer circle and I’m now greeted by the third category of people.
How can you do this?
Usually, these are the people who have never met me, read my works or attended any of my events. They hear me on YouTube or elsewhere and form a view, which I may add is perfectly fine for everyone has the right to an opinion. Every time I speak on anything they disagree with, they send long, curt and disagreeable emails. Every time I announce anything that has a fee attached, they write in saying how can I charge for anything since I’m a monk? That, it should be free. That, it is my duty to give all my knowledge to the world for absolutely free. That, I should publish everything on YouTube.
I say they have a point. I even empathize with them for I know exactly where they are coming from. There are many spiritual traditions in the world where monks are to lead austere lives. What’s more, my own perspective towards gurus and monks wasn’t too varied while growing up. I was just as quick to judge them. My view began shifting when I spent some time at Naga Baba’s ashram. From putting petrol in Baba’s car to running all aspects of the ashram, it required funds. To get a job well done, you need professionals and they don’t come cheap.
I am blessed to have these friends around, for they remind me that I have a certain duty of care towards my people, the environment, and humanity at large. That, this world is truly interconnected and interdependent. That, even if I am not asking anyone to do anything for me, my words and actions can still be upsetting to some.
Be the other person a skeptic, critic, or supporter, my first instinct always is to at least listen to what they have to say. My father has a big role to play in this mentality of mine because ever since I can recall, he’s always told me that when someone offers you feedback, pay attention. “You may choose to disagree or not act on it,” he’d say, “but, at the same time, it never hurts to reflect on it.” I have found it true under all circumstances. Indeed, that’s how I ever excelled on any path: due to the kindness of others. Due to the wisdom of those who stopped to tell me where I could improve or what I was doing wrong. Whether we agree or disagree is secondary, what’s important is to genuinely hear the other person out, I feel.
And now, I should tell you what’s the hardest thing for me. It is figuring out whom and how much to listen to, it is discovering where I should stop. Are those right who want me to have the best in life or those who tell me what I can or can’t do as a monk? Maybe both are. What is luxurious versus simply comfortable? Where to draw the line? Yes, of course, I should listen to my inner voice and that’s what I do. But, it’s not always as simple as that. The issue at hand is not that there’s conflicting feedback but that I like to do justice everything that’s offered. My love for you is not dependent on whether you agree or disagree with me. A river does not say I won’t irrigate the cacti but only the lotuses. When the chief purpose of my life is the welfare and happiness of those around me, it’s not always easy to make a decision when you know it upsets some people. So, how do I decide? Simple; I stick to my principles.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that it’s the hardest thing at all times, but it is at times. I hope you enjoyed the second post in the me-me-me series.
Oh, and you know how children can simultaneously be the most endearing and daunting aspect of their parents’ lives? Well, the three circles of people I wrote about also represent the most beautiful side of my life. You are a beautiful aspect of my life. You make it worthwhile. In my ideal world, Swami’s words, actions, or views should never ever be the cause of your grief in any way. It defeats the purpose of my existence.
Besides, I want you to know one thing: I care about you. More than you’ll ever know. And nothing will ever change that.
It is not possible to clip my wings, so I invite you to spread yours and take a flight with me. Up high and beyond. Into serenity, bliss, and truth.
P.S. Registration for Walk the Dragon will close on 30-Nov.