11 Jun 2015 17:54 IST

Spirituality as a guide to everyday behaviour

Core principles may be compared with exercises at the gym

I met an extraordinary person some time ago who reminded me of the wealth of distress mechanisms available in our Indian way of life.

He was Andy Muffin, a speaker at B-schools, and a spiritual coach too. Over a cup of coffee, he told me about his own life and the experiences that shaped him into the person he is today. He was happily married and doing well in the real estate business till greed overtook him. He borrowed too much, couldn’t sell what he had built, and took to drinking. His wife left him, he fell into debt and had to declare bankruptcy. A drive one night ended in a car crash and he had a near-death experience which wakened him to the realities of life.

He turned to spirituality, rehabilitated himself, became a college professor and taught restraint and common sense along with engineering, his chosen field. Today, he explores blending Indian spirituality with his own brand, and inspires students to strengthen their core — the core of our being so that we do not have to depend on external crutches in times of crisis.

Every great nation and race has its own core philosophy to keep it grounded, and when the storms of change and “progress” rage, those that hold on to these guiding principles stand firm.

India’s spirit of secularism has melded religions and philosophies born here with those that were adopted, making our philosophical fitness equipment even more effective. The need to strengthen our roots, rely on them for grounding while soaring high on global wings is non-negotiable.

We are fortunate in India to be surrounded by core strengthening gadgets. Nine out of ten readers will stop reading this article if it speaks of terms like dharma, karma, and so on, but do read on for a simpler way to look at these principles comparing them to objects we use in a fitness studio.

The Dharma Reebok Ball

Sanatana dharma, or eternal values, is the original name of Hinduism. Dharma can be explained as a set of rules of behaviour laid down by the Hindu scriptures, which makes sure we stay on the path of righteousness. It’s a sort of fusion of moral laws and spiritual discipline, and when you stick to these codes, you’re observing universal laws which will keep you fulfilled.

In simple terms, dharma means doing what is right, not merely for yourself, but in the larger contexts of family, society, country, the world and the universe itself.

It means that all your decisions have to be taken with reference to the greater good. Like balancing on the big rubber Reebok ball, which we do at most gyms today, and feeling wobbly at first while you do core exercises in a gym, it is practice which keeps you fit.

The Pancha Bhoota abs workout bar

As an extension of these universal laws, Indian philosophy is rooted in a Single Reality which manifests in many forms, each of which is deserving of reverence. The Hindu scriptures remind us that there are five basic elements — wind, water, fire, earth and space, called Pancha Bhoota in Sanskrit — and all facets of creation are combinations of these. In fact, our bodies are also a product of the same five.

Leading our lives in harmony with the five elements respects Nature and reduces our swollen ego, knowing we are a small part of the vast creation, much like crunching up towards an abs workout bar — the pain is a ‘nice’ pain as it works our midsection to bring it back in shape!

The Shanti Gripper

Hinduism, like other world religions, recognises peace as the absolute objective of life. Indian philosophy teaches us that peace is within each one of us, and to dwell on it, thought-provoking chants are recommended.

Prayers in Hinduism often end with the chanting of the words Om Shanti thrice — peace from natural disasters, people around you and your inner thoughts. The Shanti Gripper, like gadget that you grip and release often to strengthen your wrist and fist, uses chanting, prayer, meditation and mind-strengthening grippers to get a ‘grip on life’. The pressures and conflicts of the commercial world become more manageable.

The Karma Elliptical

Again, a basic tenet says karma or actions set off a cycle of cause and effect. It isn’t only our deeds that produce karma, according to Indian sages, it is also our thoughts, our words and the things others do under our orders. Indian philosophy says that the effects of karma influence our present, and also impact our past and future.

Let us practise weighing our thoughts, words and deeds in order to shape a better today and a brighter tomorrow. What goes around, comes around, much like the EFX machine at the gym, which effectively burns calories as we step up and down on it. Increasing resistance is key in both the machine and in performing ‘right’ actions.

The Maha Yagna Circuit

Just as circuit training involves doing different kinds of exercises for different parts of our body, so too we are expected to serve different aspects of the world for the overall good.

Yagna is the worship of the different elements that make up Creation and Nature, reminding us to put back what we take out, so that the balance of the universe isn’t disturbed. This is vital to harmonious living and the five Maha yagnas or daily duties are prescribed acts in Hinduism is revering the five elements — God, scriptures, forefathers, humans, plant and animal kingdom.

In today’s world, we could do our bit for the five offerings like this: Some daily prayer (to build relations to the Divine), funding spiritual education institutions (to revere scriptures), contributing to geriatric care (to revere forefathers), being kind to your fellow worker (for human contribution), and contributing to green causes (for plants and animals).