Archive for June, 2011

IOU – Meaning is Meaningless

June 29, 2011

Basho was born a prince but gave up his life of a king to live a very natural life by the side of a pond, under an ancient tree where he had a small hut. He renounced his kingdom when his father died. The family was worried and urged him to take the throne. They said, “This is not the point. Your father is dead and you have to take care of his kingdom.”

Basho said, “I was waiting for him to die. I wanted to see that everyone dies. Even my father has died. One day I will die and who will take care of this castle and the kingdom? Somebody will take care. Now I cannot remain here, because there is danger of dying any moment. Before I die, I have to know some undying principle as my foundation.”

He was a very loving, joyous and a dancing mystic. He said, “Moor: point my horse where birds sing.”

Let us go to the birds because they are the only people left in the world who are still singing.


Man has dropped singing far away. Now only professionals sing. Have you seen in birds any professional singers…professional musicians…? Birds simply sing just out of sheer joy. It does not matter whether it means anything or not. Meaning is not the point; expressing the joy is the point. “Point my horse where birds sing.”

He always wanted his haikus to be just spontaneous singing like birds…and he succeeded in it. There is no parallel to the haikus of Basho in the whole history of mankind.

It is simply a waste of time and energy to search for ‘meaning’ in everythng we want to express. Expressing from joy never goes wrong. The more we express from joy more joy floods our lives.

Question: Do you still ‘sing’ simply for the sake of ‘singing’ to express the joy of living?


Creative Leadership – What is Excellence?

June 27, 2011

WOW! — The Mouse & The Cat

June 24, 2011

Here is a Zen koan to crack:


The Mouse eats Cat’s food. The Cat’s bowl is broken.


What does this mean?

IOU — Trust & Deception

June 22, 2011

“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” -Frank Crane

I shall try to bring out different perspectives on this important theme of trust and deception through three stories, each having a great moral that possibly enlightens us.

Story 1 (Perspective 1)

This is a story of the Sufi saint Junnaid as told to his disciple:

I was very thirsty and I was going towards the river carrying my begging bowl, the only possession I had. When I reached the river a dog rushed, jumped into the river, started drinking. 

“I watched for a moment and threw away my begging bowl–because it is useless. A dog can do without it. I also jumped into the river, drank as much water as I wanted. My whole body was cool because I had jumped into the river. I sat in the river for a few moments, thanked the dog, touched his feet with deep reverence because he had taught me a lesson.

“I had dropped everything, all possessions, but there was a certain clinging to my begging bowl. It was a beautiful bowl, very beautifully carved, and I was always aware that somebody might steal it. Even in the night I used to put it under my head as a pillow so nobody could snatch it away. That was my last clinging–the dog helped. It was so clear: if a dog can manage without a begging bowl… I am a man, why can’t I manage? That dog was one of my Masters.

Moral: Do we trust ourselves enough? Do we trust our own abilities? Do we trust that all knowledge, happiness are to be found within us? It is matter of trust to start the journey.

Story 2 (Perspective 2)

A disciple went to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, “I shall not continue with my studies of sacred texts – he said. – I live in a small house with my brothers and parents, and never have the ideal conditions for concentrating on that which is important.”

Nachman pointed to the sun and asked his disciple to place his hand over his face, in order to hide it. The disciple obeyed.

“Your hand is small, yet it can completely cover the power, light and majesty of the great sun. In the same way, the small problems manage to give you the excuse you need in order to hinder your progress along your journey.”

“Just as your hand has the power to hide the sun, mediocrity has the power to hide your inner light. Do not blame others for your own incompetence.”

Moral: Again it is a question of trusting yourself. There is no point blaming others. We constantly deceive ourselves not others. Trusting others is not a substitute for hiding our own incompetence and mediocrity. Greed, Hatred and Delusion are the three small hands by which we hide the power and majesty of the sun. If we do so we would always get deceived. Others are not to be blamed.  

Story 3 (Perspective 3)

This is again a story on Junnaid the Sufi saint as told to his disciple.

Junnaid said, “I lost my way in a forest and by the time I reached the nearest village that I could find, it was midnight. Everybody was fast asleep. I wandered all over the town to see if I could find somebody awake to give me shelter for the night, until finally I found one man. I asked him, ‘It seems only two persons are awake in the town, you and I. Can you give me shelter for the night?’ 

“The man said, ‘I can see from your gown that you are a Sufi monk….'” 

The word Sufi comes from suf; suf means wool, a woolen garment. The Sufis have used the woolen garment for centuries; hence they are called Sufis because of their garment. The man said, “I can see you are a Sufi and I feel a little embarrassed to take you to my home. I am perfectly willing, but I must tell you who I am. I am a thief–would you like to be a guest of a thief?” 

For a moment Junnaid hesitated. The thief said, “Look, it is better I told you. You seem hesitant. The thief is willing but the mystic seems to be hesitant to enter into the house of a thief, as if the mystic is weaker than the thief. In fact, I should be afraid of you–you may change me, you may transform my whole life! Inviting you means danger, but I am not afraid. You are welcome. Come to my home. Eat, drink, go to sleep, and stay as long as you want, because I live alone and my earning is enough. I can manage for two persons. And it will be really beautiful to chit-chat with you of great things. But you seem to be hesitant.” 

And Junnaid became aware that it was true. He asked to be forgiven. He touched the feet of the thief and he said, “Yes, my rootedness in my own being is yet very weak. You are really a strong man and I would like to come to your home. And I would like to stay a little longer, not only for this night. I want to be stronger myself!” 

The thief said, “Come on!” He fed the Sufi, gave him something to drink, helped him to prepare for sleep and he said, “Now I will go. I have to do my own thing. I will come back early in the morning.” Early in the morning the thief came back. Junnaid asked, “Have you been successful?” 

The thief said, “No, not today, but I will see tomorrow.” 

And this happened continuously, for thirty days: every night the thief went out, and every morning he came back empty-handed. But he was never sad, never frustrated–no sign of failure on his face, always happy –and he would say, “It doesn’t matter. I tried my best. I could not find anything today again, but tomorrow I will try. And, God willing, it can happen tomorrow if it has not happened today.” 

After one month Junnaid left, and for years he tried to realize the ultimate, and it was always a failure. But each time he decided to drop the whole project he remembered the thief, his smiling face and his saying “God willing, what has not happened today may happen tomorrow.” 

Junnaid said, “I remembered the thief as one of my greatest Masters. Without him I would not be what I am.

Moral: This story has many hidden layers of meanings on trust and deception. How much do we trust? When do we trust? Why do we trust? Who is deceiving whom? What learning opportunities are thrown up in our moments of dilemma of whether to trust or not to trust? How long does it take to trust? What might break trust? How to avoid torment? I leave it to readers to form their own perception on this last story.

Creative Leadership — Question the Unquestionable

June 20, 2011

In the video that follows, Dr. R.A. Mashelkar shares with us three great stories of Creative Leadership for creating ultra low cost products.

He also shares the philosophy of designing and creating such great products.

It starts with a clear Intention.

The next step is to Question the Unquestionable.

And then it is all about combing Innovation + Compassion + Passion.

This appears to be the 3 step magic formula behind all the innovative products that have motivated the house of Tatas – one of the most respected business houses of India.

There is of course a great surprise that comes up towards the end of the video clip. I leave it to you to find it out — a novel perspective on teamwork and how it motivated the life of Dr. Mashelkar.

Wisdom of the Week — Gates to Heaven & Hell.

June 17, 2011

The Zen master Hakuin is one of the rare flowerings. A warrior came to him, a samurai, a great soldier, and he asked “Is there any hell, is there any heaven? If there is hell and heaven, where are the gates? Where do I enter from? How can I avoid hell and choose heaven?”

He was a simple warrior. A warrior is always simple; otherwise he cannot be a warrior. A warrior knows only two things, life and death–his life is always at stake, he is always gambling; He is a simple man. He had not come to learn any doctrine. He wanted to know where the gate was so he could avoid hell and enter heaven. And Hakuin replied in a way only a warrior could understand.

What did Hakuin do? He said, “Who are you?”
And the warrior replied, “I am a samurai.”

It is a thing of much pride to be a samurai in Japan. It means being a perfect warrior, a man who will not hesitate a single moment to give his life. For him, life and death are just a game. He said, “I am a samurai, I am a leader of samurais. Even the emperor pays respect to me.”

Hakuin laughed and said, ” You, a samurai? You look like a beggar.”

The samurai’s pride was hurt, his ego hammered. He forgot what he had come for. He took out his sword and was just about to kill Hakuin. He forgot that he had come to this master to ask where is the gate of heaven, to ask where is the gate of hell.

Hakuin laughed and said, “This is the gate of hell. With this sword, this anger, this ego, here opens the gate.” This is what a warrior can understand. Immediately he understood: This is the gate. He put his sword back in its sheath.

And Hakuin said, “Here opens the gate of heaven.”


Is it the same gate that leads us to either heaven or hell or are there two gates — one for heaven and one for hell?

What are these doors made of? Certainly they aren’t made of wood or steel!

Insight of the Week — How Beautiful Are U?

June 15, 2011
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Some might think this to be weird. They may say, ‘But we all need appreciation to live and continue our good work and improve upon it. We and our work need to be accepted by others to be meaningful.”

That is surrendering ourselves to others, to others whims and fancies. Is that fair? It only brings unhappiness and stops us from doing good meaningful work. Let me illustrate the point by two stories.

The first story:

A novice went to Abbot Macarius seeking advice about the best way to please the Lord.

– Go to the cemetery and insult the dead – said Macarius.

The brother did as he was told. The following day, he returned to Macarius.

– Did they respond? – asked the abbot.

The novice said no, they didn’t.

– Then go to them and praise them.

The novice obeyed. That same afternoon, he returned to the abbot, who again wished to know whether the dead had responded.

– No – said the novice.

– In order to please the Lord, behave as they do – said Macarius.

“Pay no heed to the insults of men, nor to their praise; in this way, you shall forge your own path.”

Note: It is same concept is preached in India through the example of Shiva living in the ‘samshan’ (the crematorium).

The Second Story

Once upon a time there was a painter who had just completed his course. He took three days to paint a beautiful scenery. He wanted people’s opinion about his caliber and painting skills.

He put his creation at a busy street-crossing. And just down below a board which read -“I have painted this piece. Since I’m new to this profession I might have committed some mistakes in my strokes etc. Please put a cross wherever you see a mistake.”

While he came back in the evening to collect his painting he was completely shattered to see that whole canvass was filled with Xs (crosses) and some people had even written their comments on the painting.

Disheartened and broken completely he ran to his master’s place and burst into tears. The young artist was breathing heavily and master heard him saying, “I’m useless and if this is what I have learnt to paint I’m not worth becoming a painter. People have rejected me completely. I feel like dying”

Master smiled and suggested “My Son, I will prove that you are a great artist and have learnt flawless painting. Do as I say without questioning it. It WILL work.”

Young artist reluctantly agreed and two days later early morning he presented a replica of his earlier painting to his master. Master took that gracefully and smiled.

“Come with me.” master said.

They reached the same street-square early morning and displayed the same painting exactly at the same place. Now master took out another board which read -“Gentlemen, I have painted this piece. Since I’m new to this profession I might have committed some mistakes in my strokes etc. I have put a box with colors and brushes just below. Please do a favor. If you see a mistake, kindly pick up the brush and correct it.”

Master and disciple walked back home. They both visited the place same evening. Young painter was surprised to see that actually there was not a single correction done so far. Next day again they visited and found painting remained untouched. They say the painting was kept there for a month for no correction came in!

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” -Helen Keller

I agree to what Helen Keller said. Happiness is one such thing — which we can’t see or touch but feel it within our hearts. That is exactly what we mean by living here and now — nothing special but extremely important. 

I leave it to you to form your own perception.

But the important things I want to you to find out are the following:

What stops you from being happy?

Are you too dependent on praise and insult of others for your own happiness?

And I want to end this piece by a question:

Is it time we wake up to review and rethink about present appraisal systems that run in organizations all over the world? Are we making people who contribute their brains and brawns for the society happy enough to be productive?

Creative Leader of the Week — Anupam Mishra

June 13, 2011

Anupam Mishra in his very characteristic eloquent style talks about the ancient ingenuity of water harvesting in India to provide bacteria free potable water to the masses without the help of modern chemicals and modern water treatment facilities.

Of interest to note are the following:

a) The techniques that were used.

b) The application of collective engineering

c) The sense of collective ownership of resources in India which runs in the culture even today

d) Community and culture lead projects based on wisdom and understanding systems and great design thinking ideas that squarely defeat modern engineering ideas.

e) Examples of collective participation and collective contribution to welfare of society.


The understanding of social problems is limited by the social consciousness of a culture and design solutions must be based on the culture of the land to suit the way of life not to change the way of living.

Hope you would enjoy this talk.

The Story of Four Horses

June 10, 2011

Imagine that we are to pick one of the following four horses and train it to be a world class racing horse winning most of the prestigious prizes.

Though all the horses look exactly alike they have the following characteristics.

The first horse just knows what to do and where to go. It does not need any guidance. It can sense what you want and do things accordingly. If you wish it to turn right it would do so. If you wish it to go left it would go left without your asking. All you have to do is to wish. This horse just seems to know your mind so well that little or no effort is needed to guide it.

The second horse moves in the desired direction only when you crack a whip. But the whip need not touch the skin. The sound of the cracking is enough to steer it in the desired direction.

The third horse moves in the desired direction only when the whip lightly touches the skin. A light touch is enough to set it in motion and move the horse the way you want it to move.

However, the fourth horse is extremely stubborn. It moves only when the pain of a whiplash reaches right up to its bones. Till that time it refuses to move an inch in any direction. This horse does not do anything unless it feels the pain deeply enough. 

Which horse would you care to put your money on to win races for you?

Where has it gone?

June 8, 2011

Junnaid was a remarkable saint and a Sufi master. He was constantly learning and getting enlightened from numerous interactions he kept having with people whom he acknowledged as his masters.

Here is one of his stories.

One day, when he went into a small village he saw a little boy carrying a lit candle. The boy was obviously going to the small temple of the town to put the candle there for the night.

Junnaid asked the boy, “Can you tell me from where the light comes from? You have lighted the candle yourself so you must have seen. What is the source of light?” 

The boy laughed and said, “Wait!” And he blew out the candle in front of Junnaid. And he said, “You have seen the light go. Can you tell me where it has gone? If you can tell me where it has gone I will tell you from where it has come from.”

Left me wondering — where did the flame come from and where did it go? Any guess?