Incorporation day special – Cool peeps and the wise books, ISKCON’s gift to me!
A white wall plastered with yellow sticky notes. The yellows were more than the whites on the wall. Each note had only a few words. Words that pushed me to do good and be good. “Speak only the truth”, “Authentic False acceptance”, “Discipline trumps regret” were some of the messages I wrote for myself. My small room on the top floor of my B school hostel was a museum for my friends. Everyday they would see a new piece of self-motivation broadcasted on its wall.
I was brought up in the spiritually rich culture of Bhakti Yoga, where virtuous values were instilled through everyday acts. Since childhood I revered people with a strong character. I wished to be like one of them. Strong character meant having all the cliché noble values – speaking the truth, selflessness through service, standing up for the right, resisting short term temptation for the longterm win et cetera et cetera. As a child, Rahul Dravid was my favorite superstar, and I liked my shirt to always be tucked in (I still like that!). As I grew up, the world outside my home hit me hard and I changed. Like every teenager I conformed to what was cool, in vogue and popular in college.
Rebel was in, never saw no kin.
YOLO was the song, and nothing seemed wrong.
Have fun today, there is no tomorrow.
Don’t overthink, be a Kilimanjaro!
This phase lasted long, and shaped who I am. But as I was forced by circumstances to accept responsibilities, life took a U-turn. In my late 20s, when I had to show up as a “man”, I started to miss my childhood self. I learnt I was more comfortable being what I was taught to be as a kid. Character, integrity, discipline, service and courage is what I naturally valued. The only ‘tiny’ issue was that I was nowhere close to who I wanted to be. I had moved away quite a distance. And the struggle to develop my ideal self resulted in the infamous yellow wall in my hostel room. I tried many ways to develop myself – motivational speakers, personal coaches, psychometrics, guided breath meditation, self-help, and of course the
self-didactic yellow sticky messages. All of it helped but none was sustainable. Their impact was palpable to others but was not deep enough for me. My habits changed, but my heart wasn’t transformed. These change in habits were good on the outside but artificial and painful on the inside.
They saw me as noble and bright,
nice to all, not looking to bite.
Far from their vision, I knew my own plight,
envy, insecurity, temptations chained me tight.
Very often, I spoke to myself all night,
regretting my choices, I knew they were not right.
I just wanted to be a nice person. The nice with all those cliché noble values I aspired as a child. But perhaps I had walked too far away and there was no going back. Life moved on and I learnt to compromise with who I became.
After years of being away, my job moved me back home. I was back into the spiritual set up I grew up in. I had returned with my own life experiences and an independently developed mindset. This mindset would often be at loggerheads with the homely spiritual values I grew up with. While I struggled to manage this conflict of values, I almost accidently bumped into two new sets of friends. Seemingly innocuous, I had no clue these friends were going to turn my life upside down. The first set of friends were peeps like me, the same background, same education, same colloquial language, but a different world view – a view embellished with the layer of spiritual wisdom. The second set of friends were my spiritual books – friends that I had since childhood but never understood, till now. These two sets of buddies marked my real home coming.
These two friends perfectly complemented my personality type. The first set of friends made spirituality ‘cool’ and relatable – just like how my teenage and college self would have wanted it to be. The second set made spirituality reasonable and scientific – just like how my grown-up-welleducated self wanted it to be. One thing led to another and over time I started following the spiritual and scientific process of Bhakti Yoga. Over months, I absorbed myself in my newfound interest. I started enjoying it thoroughly. Every word of the books was deep and logical, every meeting with friends was blissful and satisfying. I was encountering epiphanies every single day. With this newfound passion, for months I forgot to pay attention to my ambition of trying to be a better self – that cliché noble man. When I did pay attention, I realized that unknowingly all this while I had come much closer to who I wanted to be. I could sense good qualities transforming me everyday. It was almost physical, like a big ball of virtue pierced me and pasted itself over my heart, mind and thoughts. I tried to build a deeply stronger self for months, but I never could. Now when I made no attempt, I was feeling better about myself each day.
When I realized this, I tried finding an answer to how this was happening. Many justifications, inquiries and readings later I found the answer in the fifth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam (a spiritually rich yet simple book detailing the soul, God, creation and the cosmos). “All good qualities manifest progressively in one who has developed pure devotional service.” This was the eureka moment for me. A moment of revelation and deep reflection. The commentator of the book, Srila Prabhupada further explained – the process of Bhakti Yoga was in itself enough, and no other extrinsic attempt was needed to develop good qualities. Perfected good qualities weren’t even the attempted output of Bhakti Yoga process but a mere side effect! This was, and is still, one of the biggest revelations from the Srimad Bhagavatam for me. Since long, I inadvertently chased the goal of developing virtues, only to now find out that virtues are a mere by-product of the process of achieving the real goal of life – love for God. Love which is not a romantic sentiment but an objective act of service.
I wanted to be that nice person but not superficially for cheap popularity. I wanted to be nice from my heart, and finally I started to feel that happen. As I notice myself now, I recognize the noise of loud temptations settling down, the fire of envy dozing out, the sense of insecurity being replaced by the faith of belongingness. All of this is happening to me because of the presence of my two sets of buddies – the ‘cool new’ spiritual peeps and the ‘wise old’ spiritual books.
While providence had me accidently bump into these friends, that may not be the case for all. These two friends are out in the open – anyone who wishes to approach them can just walk into a neighborhood ISKCON temple. Today, on the incorporation day of ISKCON, I shout out a big echoing heartfelt thank you to Srila Prabhupada – the Founder Acarya of ISKCON. Sitting in a small room, behind a small desk, with his small group of associates, Srila Prabhupada with his large heart, conceived a large movement, which is continuing to transform the society at large, half a century after its incorporation. ISKCON has gifted many people, many profound things – chants, peace, philosophy, person God, soul food and alike. But to me, it gifted cherished life changing friends – cool peeps and wise books that are helping me build the cliché noble self I always wanted to be.
Author Name – Anunay Arora