Three Mumbaikars share how they learnt to focus on the standard of life vis-à-vis standard of living after being introduced to the ancient knowledge
In 1996, British-born Mumbai resident Daniel Carroll first came to India as the expat manager for a UK consultancy firm. The venture capitalist’s job within the company entailed turning around distressed companies. “Post consulting, I worked in the diamond industry for a couple of years. The company used to hold a Vedanta class at 9 am on a Monday. The class was held in a conference room that was also being used by me as an office. I used to start at 10 am on a Monday after the class finished. One morning, I forgot about the class and walked in to it by mistake. The teacher gave me the choice to take a seat or leave, so I decided to stay. In half-an-hour, I was hooked,” shares Carroll.
So what is Vedanta and why does it seem to resonate so strongly?
“It is a philosophy based on ancient Vedas scripts and teaches the laws of life and living,“ reasons Carroll.The literal translation of `Vedanta’ is end of knowledge. `Ved’ means knowledge, and `anta’ means end.“And living the knowledge is wisdom; India has taught me to find peace of mind and seek wisdom, and not just knowledge,” smiles Carroll, who along with two other professionals, shares how learning the principles of Vedanta changed his life.
We spend a large chunk of our lives studying English, History, Law, Business and Science. But very few of us spend any time understanding the rules of the game called life. Since starting the class, I have had peace of mind through various turbulent situations – I have been a start-up entrepreneur in India during the recession, and I had a close run on mortgage on several occasions. So theoretically, this should have been the most stressful period of my life.But going back to the teachings of Vedanta helped me.
The learning is counter-intuitive and challenges most of your established norms. It forces you to question, analyse and introspect.
Once you have learnt the principles of Vedanta, you learn to become your own observer.Vedanta teaches you to audit every experience and transaction that you have in life. Each time you start getting stressed out, Vedanta teaches you to observe what is happening: what is the desire you have that is unfulfilled that is causing the anxiety? It can be as simple as running late for a meeting whilst being stuck in traffic. Once you learn to analyse the situation, Vedanta teaches you how to manage your emotions to reduce or remove the stress. It significantly reduces life’s roller coaster to make the journey smoother and considerably more manageable.
When you stop trying to chase happiness externally, believing it to be in fame and fortune, and understand that happiness is nothing more than the filter that you look at life through, it makes life a much richer and happier place. Happiness and peace of mind cannot be found sitting in an ashram in Rishikesh, or meditating under a tree on the top of mountain. The biggest challenge that we all face is finding happiness and peace of mind in the madness of Mumbai – learning that if you are not happy with what you have today, you will not be happy with what you get tomorrow.
Vedanta helped me understand that I earmarked success until now by improving my standard of living and buying things. But this happiness lacked universality (not same for everyone) and diminished over time; whereas real happiness is found within.
I have spent my life resisting control and looking for freedom, but the study of Vedanta made me realise that real freedom is `to not do what I feel like doing’. It is a freedom not from people outside, but the freedom from my own self within which causes agitation. My decision making has changed as I understand shreyas (that which is difficult to do but good for me in the long term) versus preyas (that which seems pleasurable now but takes me away from my life’s purpose).
Death became less threatening as I realised that birth is not the beginning and death is not the end of our journey. The `Atman’ is eternal and takes up this life to learn our lessons and shed our vaasanas (patterns) gathered over lifetimes. I learnt that there is no cause without an effect (law of karma) but I have free will to choose how to go through both the ups and downs of life, as both shall pass.
I deeply identified with my limited body, mind and intellect, not acknowledging the vast, infinite essence of my being. Our essential nature is Advait -nondual and absolute; and we are all connected with the oneness of our consciousness (Aham Brahmasmi).Seva (selfless service) would help dissolve our ego to take us from our experience of separateness to oneness.
The concept of oneness and non-duality has significantly helped me in my practice of psychology. Carl Rogers’ principles of non-judgement, unconditional acceptance and congruence form the basis of therapy work. But application of these concepts is not very easy -with the study of Vedanta, I realised I was losing all judgment of people and becoming more accepting. Non-duality helped in accepting both polarities (love hate). And as I was accepting myself more, I was becoming more honest and congruent in my therapeutic presence. I was truly able to offer a safe space where people could express their deepest, darkest sides without worrying about judgments and non-acceptance.
Vedanta has made me reflect on what could be my life’s purpose and helped me find meaning in life through a higher ideal. It has initiated me on my journey of detachment, questioning my illusory thinking, releasing my past patterns. It helped me seek inner peace with tremendous gratitude and equanimity.
Although in a medical institute we are trained extensively on scientific knowledge and technical skill, the most important quality of a good doctor is human understanding.As doctors, we have to be careful not to reduce ourselves to highly trained medical technicians who only mend a human machine that has become diseased. A conscientious medical professional is bound to gradually become humble, despite the reverence and respect that our profession commands, purely because there is so much that medical science cannot explain. There are cases, which the doctors consider, from the medical point of view, hopeless, with no chance of recovery or survival, but they survive. And are there not cases, which the doctors thought are doing well, but suddenly deteriorate and succumb?
With these questions, I approached my Vedanta course last year and was soon ushered into a whole new world of spiritual thinking and seeking; not just following. Even though Vedanta is part of an ancient tradition, its principles are still relevant in today’s world and can lead you in the direction of happiness, harmony, and, ultimately, the knowledge of who you really are.
“It is better to do your own Dharma, even imperfectly, than someone else’s Dharma perfectly,“ Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita. This implies that even though you may sometimes stumble along the way, it’s important to live in your own truth instead of trying to be someone or something you’re not. Vedanta says that when you’re on your path of Dharma, you receive support from within. This means that you develop an inner knowing, your life becomes less of an effort, and your actions become spontaneously correct both for yourself and for the world around you.
To be on the path of self-knowledge requires us to be one-pointed and focused without being rigid. I believe every patient situation that presents itself before me is a teacher and has come into my life as an opportunity for me to learn something more about myself. The tougher the situation, the more I have to spend time in mananam (self-reflection) to look internally and ponder on what within me attracted that difficulty as an opportunity (teaching lesson) in my life.
Vedanta says meditation does not happen on the mat while sitting like a yogi, but meditation can be practised in every moment of “being“ present and aware whilst on the path of practising one’s own Dharma. For me, this has been lifechanging as I see and grab every opportunity of working with patients as an opportunity to do seva (selfless service) towards others and as meditation for myself. The beauty of this is that although I may experience physical fatigue at the end of a gruelling work day, there is barely any mental stress even though I am surrounded by disease and despair. Medical service is then neither a profession nor even a service, but a spiritual practice: sadhana.
Vedanta instilled in me the importance of discipline of the mind; begin to recognise that you are the “role player” in the midst of all the roles you play every day. You can enjoy all the ups/downs and intrigue of the roles, but knowing that the role isn’t you enables you to remain centred, focused and humble. A conscientious doctor with faith in God cannot but realise that he is merely an instrument in the hands of a far greater power and intelligence that is moving him at will, like a puppet. This changes my approach towards each individual to one of sympathy and deep understanding. It also helps to remind myself that the patients I meet are veritable embodiments of God and I try to approach my work like I would approach a pooja – unhurried, ceremonious, meticulous and with devotion.
Since Vedanta, I have in every appointment pointed out to my patients that their physical bodies are perfect creations of God made with precision and that disease is a communication from the body to work on balancing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of one’s being.