Pursuit of Happiness

"There is more to life than livelihood"

Dada JP Vaswani on the need to look beyond materialistic pursuits

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Can spirituality and business co-exist?

Spirituality should enter the daily life of an individual. And because business is an important aspect of that daily life, one must blend spirituality with business. Business must run on certain principles and those principles must take cognisance of spirituality. We are increasingly seeing ethics losing their importance in business because of the education that we receive in our schools and colleges. It teaches us to be selfish and selfishness throws ethics out of our lives — this is the reason we are seeing too much turmoil, anarchy and chaos around us. This in itself makes us think, where have we gone wrong? Everyone at every turn of their lives has to make a choice — we need to choose between preya and shreya. Preya is something that gives us pleasure, while shreya is that which takes you to your highest good. Now, the choice is up to you but the hard part is that people nowadays choose preya over shreya. Hence, we need a new type of education; only then can we get back to our ethics. This new type of education should teach us that life is larger than livelihood and that the end of education is not about careers and money but service and sacrifice.

How does one cope with the rising stress levels in an increasingly challenging professional and personal environment?

It is not how long you live but how well you live. It’s better to live one day and contribute to society than to live a 100 years and contribute nothing. One of the reasons why stress levels are high is because we want things to happen in the way we desire. The problem might be the same but you will want to it be solved in one way and I will want it to be solved in another way. This increases the stress. If only we could accept what is called god’s will, there will be no stress. The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Haven’t you heard that god is dead?” If god is dead, then there is bound to be stress and if he is alive, there will be no stress.

Having said that, don’t think of the vastness of the work that you have to handle, think of the fraction that you have to handle. There was a typist who had to type 150 letters on a particular day. The boss came to him and said, ‘You must be very stressed today?’ He replied, ‘No sir, I am not. I think only of the one letter that is before me, I don’t think of the other 149.’ Our problem is that we think of all the 150 letters.

But such focus and attitude doesn’t come easy.

Focusing on the present comes only with practice. As I had said earlier, it all depends on the right type of education. The type of education we have inherited is from the British, who wanted us to be clerks. This kind of education only produces clerks. The solution to all our problems is education.

But isn’t that changing, with a lot of educational institutions positioning themselves as finishing schools that produce leaders?

We need an education that creates leaders. But to lead whom? Our leaders want people to be led. That type of education will only foster egoism. I should be able to lead myself as a leader. In an ancient book, there is a story of a learned man who wants to have vision of god. So, one day in his sleep, he dreams that he would have a vision of god if he visits a particular temple the next morning. ‘Outside the temple, there will be a tree where you will find a man who will show you the way,’ says the voice in his dream. The next morning, the learned man goes to that tree and finds a beggar wearing tattered clothes. He greets him by saying, ‘Good morning’. The beggar replies, ‘I have never had a bad morning.’ The learned one says, ‘May you have a beautiful day ahead.’ The beggar replies: ‘There hasn’t been a day that hasn’t been beautiful.’ The learned man is piqued and says, ‘Who are you?’ To this, the beggar replies, ‘I am a king.’ The confounded learned man then asks, ‘If you are a king, then where are your subjects?’ He replies, ‘My subjects are my five senses and my mind, they obey me.’ In other words, we need leaders who lead themselves and control themselves; only then the change we desire will come about.

How much role does karma play a role in one’s success and how much is due to our own efforts?

Karma is not something that is imposed on you from outside. It is your own, coming back to you. It may be from your previous birth or from a few hundred years back. The laws of karma can be equated to that of a seed. As you sow, so shall you reap. Gurudev Ranade was a very good student but he always used to come second. He desperately wanted to top the class but couldn’t. Then a holy man came to the town and he went to narrate him his grievance. The holy man said, ‘You are doing very well. Continue to study the same way but in addition to that, sit for 15 minutes in a corner and repeat a holy name, whatever you may choose.’ So, Ranade started practicing what the holy man said and in the next examination, he came first. So, one does not know what other factors could play a role in one’s success.

Surrendering ourselves to god is karma. Karma means actions. Breathing, eating, walking — everything is karma. Arjuna says to Lord Krishna, ‘After hearing [the Bhagavad Gita] from you, I don’t want to fight. I want to go give up everything and go to the forest.’ Krishna replies, ‘If you go to the forest, you will eat something. Even that is karma. On earth, we cannot exist without karma.’ Krishna says, ‘Forget the fruit of your action and focus on giving your best.’

But aren’t we all working towards achieving and enjoying the outcome of our actions? 

The best approach is to do your best and leave the rest to god. Then what you get is for free, because you had left the fruits of your action at the feet of god. There are a 100 ways in which the same thing can be done. Some of the ways are right and some are wrong but only one way is the best: do our best and leave the rest to the lord. If only we understood this, the world would be a better place. And, this way, there will be no stress, worries and anxiety. 

So, what explains disproportionate wealth, where just 3% of the world’s population controls 97% of the its wealth? What is it that the 3% have done to deserve so much over the rest? 

Let’s look at it like this: we both are good friends. We studied together and grew up together but you got an opportunity to go abroad and work there. While working there, you earned in dollars and saved your earnings, while I worked here and earned very less. When you come back, you will have more wealth. So, all this wealth that you acquired, you worked for it. Likewise, at some point or the other, the 3% or their forefathers might have worked harder than the others to have acquired that wealth. 

Not everyone works hard. There are people with no ethics or respect for the rule of the land who end up with phenomenal wealth.

Someone who robs a bank deals with his or her karma. Today, if he or she has wealth, that could be because of his or her actions in his or her previous life. The fruits of karma will come back in some form or the other. Angulimala was a murderer but got converted by Buddha. However, Buddha told him that he has to pay for the crimes that he has committed. When he used to travel out on the streets, people knew that now that he was Buddha’s disciple,  he won’t retaliate. So, they used to throw stones at him. He had wounds all over his body but he accepted it as his karma. No one can escape the results of their own actions. 

Is this also one of the reasons why business families are not able to hold on to their wealth and often splinter away?

It is said that along with wealth come bad habits. These habits create difficulties and we see degradation. There are very few wealthy who live simple and noble lives. I know of such a man, who used to be a judicial commissioner. Whatever salary he got, he gave away 80% and kept only 20% for his personal use. But people like him are few and far between.

Our scriptures say that charity is an act of sacrifice. But charity today is largely driven by the tax regime, which entitles the donor to 100% I-T rebate. Isn’t this a flawed approach towards giving?

Yes, it is flawed. In fact, our scriptures say it is not even your money. You were born naked and nothing belongs to you. There’s nothing that you have, so you cannot do charity. There is no such thing as giving, we are all recipients.

We all yearn for one thing or the other but very few yearn for spirituality. 

The generation in which we are born is a materialistic generation. There are four yugas: sat yuga, treta yuga, dwapar yuga and kali yuga. We are in the last yuga, where people mostly yearn for materialistic things. But the good thing about this yuga is that spirituality will yield results immediately and that is an advantage that no other yuga offered. 

What is the first easy step towards spirituality? 

Easy spirituality is ‘Thy will be done’. Whatever happens has to happen. There’s no point repenting. I went to a house that had three people — two sisters and a father. The father had passed away. The elder sister was reciting one of the scriptures, while the younger sister was weeping and lamenting. The easiest thing is to accept and give gratitude to god. Even if one incurs a loss in business, the best thing is to accept it and thank god for all that he has given you. If you can do that, you will be free of stress and anxiety. The difficult way is the highest form of self-realisation, when you realise that your body is just a garment and nothing else.

Wouldn’t spirituality rob people of the go-getter attitude that is needed in business or in a professional corner?

It is all about personal choices — whether you need this world or whether you need god. Your choices will determine your attitude. Duty must be done but with principles. That will make people gentler and you will then realise that whatever you are running behind is futile. Once this sinks in, your entire outlook towards life will change.