The fascinating encounters and learnings from teachers, from His Holiness Dalai Lama to former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa, have been carefully preserved in the book, Running Toward Mystery, by venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi. Published by Penguin India, this exemplary work encompasses his views on spiritual disillusionment, science and technology, meditation and the link between Buddhism and the modern world. In an exclusive interview, Priyadarshi talks about his inspiration behind this book. Excerpts: Q: What influenced you to write this extraordinary book with Buddhism and spirituality at the core? A:My students were asking me to write something for almost a decade and initially, people were hoping for a straightforward memoir, but I am too young for that. My work highlights my spiritual learnings from various interactions with teachers.
Q: You have said that spirituality should be approached as a seeker and not as a teacher. What has been the role of the powerful teachers in your life — from the Dalai Lama to Mother Teresa? A:They helped me look at the world differently. What spiritual teachers do at times is give you a different lens for looking at the situation and the world around you. One of the learnings from my experience is that they help us refine our questions so that we ask better and more relevant questions about life and the world. Observing Mother Teresa’s day-to-day work in Kolkata and how she balanced her spiritual life with the ability to manifest a tremendous sense of compassion, was a learning in itself. She could make a slum in Kolkata or a room filled with people suffering from diseases a sacred place where people can learn about compassion. She could transform even the most ordinary of spaces into the most sacred space. With His Holiness Dalai Lama, the key learning was not to take anything at faith. He would always, and continues even to this day, encourage people to ask questions and enquire.
Q: How have you explored spiritual disillusionment in the book?
A: It includes disillusionment with the institutions sometimes that we built around spirituality or religion; such systems can become constraining and confining. There are useful aspects to those systems but we need to promote more in the sense of seeking and curiosity. And not try to utilise building institutions to control how people think or behave and so on. Another aspect of it is the disillusionment when religious or spiritual systems polarise our behavioural patterns, where we adhere to a certain sense of belonging and it poses a kind of animosity towards people who don’t think like us, or believe in the same things and that does violence to our sense of thinking. I witness disillusionment in the fact that everybody wants to be a teacher and nobody wants to be a student; everybody wants to be a guru and not a disciple. The sense that we are not exploring the spiritual world, sheer yearning to learn and grow, but with shallow desires of becoming gurus, influencers or authoritative figures.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between Buddhism and the modern world?
A: The modern world has progressed quite a bit in terms of its scientific and material pursuits and so on. But if you look at how humanity has evolved, then we have not overcome or evolved so much in our emotional experience of the world; the emotions that we experience are the similar kinds of emotions that our ancestors 10,000 years ago experienced, including fear, greed, jealousy and envy. As long as we are trying to regulate emotional states, Buddhism becomes highly relevant as the tools that it provides hold relevance amidst the struggles of the contemporary world. Also, I believe that as long as humans are seeking a deeper sense of meaning, joy and happiness in their life Buddhism will continue to help give them a kind of perspective on what is invaluable. The tools, techniques and the lessons that were given 2,500 years ago have become much more relevant in today’s world. That’s why you see resurgence in mindfulness and meditation techniques in the last 10-15 years.
Q: What are the biographical elements in this book?
A: Such elements are throughout the book. However, the teachings are not just abstract teachings but from encounters and first-hand interactions with certain individuals. It comprises my struggles and journey and is deeply biographical in that manner but I did not want it to be about me. I wanted this comprehensive work to be about the spiritual processes that one experiences. I have talked about how all humans are contemplative by nature, whenever we ponder the meaning of life. Also, whenever we ponder a greater sense of joy and a deeper sense of happiness, we are being contemplative. We don’t need to be religious or even spiritual to ponder such questions. Running Toward Mystery highlights that particular process of pondering, but it is also a process of contemplating one’s journey while being open to the idea of lessons learnt and unpredictable meetings with teachers.
Q: What are the core principles at the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT?
A: The centre was founded almost 10 years ago with the simple but audacious idea of nurturing and promoting ethical imagination in our world. Ethical imagination implies that we need more critical thinking and tools to learn about ethics and compassion in our education system, governance system and financial system. Therefore, much of our work and programmes are directed towards this direction to recognise the relevance of promoting such learnings and tools. We have been focusing on developing innovative tools and innovative programmes in promoting conversations around ethical learning.
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The Break of Dawn
Khan Mahboob Tarzi, translated by Prof. Ali Khan Mahmudabad
Penguin Random House, Rs 399
It’s the searing month of June, the rebellion against the British has just begun and Awadh is up in flames. Hindus and Muslims have joined hands to overthrow the foreign rulers and set India free. Some Indian rulers have started to enter into alliances to fight the foreigners, while others have thrown in their lot with them. A young soldier Riyaz Khan saves a group of Britishers from fellow ‘mutineers’ and escorts them safely to Lucknow. In this group is Alice, who falls in love with him and eventually becomes an informer for the rebels. Khan Mahboob Tarzi wrote the novel on the centenary of the uprising. Its English translation is done by Ali Khan Mahmudabad.
Death in Colaba Bay: A Colonial Bombay Mystery
Rupa Publications, Rs 195
Three young girls go missing from a prominent ‘native’ Bombay school. Their families are frantic with worry. Tara Bai, a young widow and heiress, with strong social connections, is an alumnus of the school who agrees to help the grieving parents. Police officer Arun Rao is assigned to the case. Soon, one of the missing girls is found dead on the shores of Colaba. It has uncanny similarities to older cases from Central India involving the royal family of Jaiwar. A chance encounter at the home of one of the victims brings Tara and Arun together who unmask the murderer.
Scare Me If You Can
Tree Shade Books, Rs 350
At a spooky-themed resort in Mahabaleshwar, best-selling author Sivan Singh conducts a workshop on advanced horror writing. On its final day, the nine participants, influenced by their eerie experiences during their stay, along with an enigmatic writer, go all out for the story narration competition ‘Scare Me If You Can’. Jump on board this thrilling roller coaster that promises a screamy ride with mysterious prophecies, sinister sequences, and brutal acts of revenge. The 10 stories are based in different Indian cities, the horror quotient rising with each story. Let your head spin around, as you see everything going wrong and horror becoming a reality.
Sita: Now You Know Me
Rupa Publications, Rs 395
Set in the Vedic times of ancient India, Sita narrates the story of her turbulent life intimately, detailing her deepest despairs, grief and horrors, and her profound love for Ram. This is a spirited and enduring Sita calmly recollecting her transformation at various stages of her life, from an abandoned infant to a cherished princess, a delightful bride to a dissolute hermit in exile, a captive of an enemy to a queen, and culminating as a poor, homeless mother of twin boys in an ashram. Ancient India’s geographical, social, intellectual and cultural portraits accompany Sita gracefully, throughout her journey.
How to survive in a big fat Indian family business
In her new book, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski shares a five-point toolkit to encourage younger generations wishing to enter their family businesses.
In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, Priyanka Gupta Zielinski, the executive director of MPIL Steel Structures Ltd and author of The Ultimate Family Business Survival Guide, shared her insights about the challenges and privileges of family businesses and how younger generations can be more passionate about them. Excerpts:
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: I joined my family business right after completing my education in the US. Quickly, I realised that it was incredibly challenging to work with my own family, especially my father. When the founding generation is still involved in the business, it is still their baby. So while they are very keen to bring in their children, they are not always prepared to do so. At home, we talked about the business all the time, but in the workplace, there are a lot of tensions and conflicts. I had almost reached the breaking point and thought I would have to quit. But I managed to survive, which is why I wrote this book. Younger generations joining family businesses often need a guide or story to rely on.
Q: What are some major lessons you wish to pass on to younger generations and women who may consider joining their family businesses?
A: Family businesses are a huge resource that they should leverage. They may use it to branch out and bring in their own interests and passions, even steer it in a different direction. The resources already exist and they don’t have to start from scratch. There is a legacy of information which should be taken forward instead of losing it. There is also a lot they can learn from their background. Despite our business moving to the southern and western parts of India, my father draws from a lot of Haryanvi wisdom to work with greater agility and troubleshoot problems. Every state and culture in India has so much to offer and one does not need to look only at Western knowledge — it might actually not be suitable for Indian contexts.
For women, family businesses are an immediate platform and resource to tap into. There is a certain flexibility available to them, regarding when and how they enter it. It is an automatic launchpad, which they can then tailor according to their interests and capabilities and personalities. A woman in her 50s, who has seen the family business, will have a much easier time starting her career there, rather than in a different corporate setup. It caters to young women too. Daughters-in-law joining a family business have a good two-way opportunity, which does not disrupt their careers despite the move from their parents’ to their in-laws. There is support they can enjoy.
Q: But such support is a major point of privilege and this throws up questions of how family businesses encourage nepotism.
A: That is a frequent charge against family businesses and the perception is right in a way since there are privileges and things are handed down. But, say in my case, my brother and I grew up hearing about the business, visiting the workplace, understanding it and being groomed unknowingly. And we really wanted to join it too! In this context, there is also the ‘professional nepot’, as defined by Prof John Davis who is a pioneer in family business management. But if one is neither trained nor interested, it can have an adverse effect on the business and surely a non-family member can do the job better. So, it depends from family to family too. However, family members may be more suited to handle certain situations, especially diffuse tension at work. And there is an element of legacy and longevity associated with them, which tells shareholders that they can count on the business.
Q: Given the fluctuations in the economy due to the pandemic, how can your book help family businesses right now?
A: My book presents a practical, usable toolkit for younger generations, especially for times of scarcity and unpredictable situations like now. Family businesses are used to working against all odds. They have inherent skillsets. With this, I have drawn from my experiences and from academic research to give them five tools they can use. For instance, the metaphor of the multipurpose helmet I have used to show how you have to take on different roles in different situations. The book also tells them to be passionate about things outside of work and learn how to incorporate those.
HOW NEHRU DEFENDED INDUS WATER TREATY
Jawaharlal Nehru signed the Indus Water Treaty with Gen Ayub Khan of Pakistan in 1960. The then Prime Minister defended the agreement in Parliament and explained to its members why it was a good deal for India.
Jawaharlal Nehru had witnessed it all. The bloody Partition, the canal disputes, the exchange of letters with Lilienthal and Black, the droughts of 1957-58 that saw agriculture losses in India as high as 50 per cent, the long years of water negotiations and the uncomfortable task of having to deal with the seven prime ministers in Pakistan who were sacked from 1947 to 1958.
As fate presented, Nehru, a model of democratic leadership, had to sign the Indus treaty with Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military dictator. There could not be a greater irony. But now, in front of the House, Nehru had to respond to the sentiments of the Opposition as well as some of his party members in what probably was one of his biggest defences, on an issue which had bedevilled him for long. Some of his cabinet members had expressed strong reservations over the financial and strategic implications of the treaty. These included the incorruptible and the very austere finance minister Morarji Desai and Krishna Menon, the defence minister, who was being disparagingly referred to as “India’s Rasputin”.
After having patiently listened for almost two hours to the speeches of the members, Nehru rose to speak on the fateful day on 30 November 1960. As the leader of the House, exhilarated as he always was on such occasions, Nehru began a shade aggressively by expressing his disappointment over the members’ view on the issue.
A host of critical questions had been put forward by the House broadly signifying India’s foolhardy generosity, its unnecessary commitments and inability to settle the Partition debts. Concerns over the Kashmir issue, dispute regarding the Rann of Kutch, status of “Azad Kashmir” where the Mangla dam was being constructed by Pakistan while India’s proposal to build a dam over Chenab was put on hold owing to Pakistan’s insidious pressure, were ventilated by the members with a full sense of their responsibility. Nehru had his plate full, had made notes while carefully listening to the speakers and with “passion but not with malice” set about answering it.
Nehru agreed that the events since the canal dispute of 1948 had not been a pleasant period and one of great frustration, but in the same breath humbly submitted that “it is a good treaty for India and I have no doubt about it in my mind”. While assuring the House that close attention was paid to each detail, he tactfully praised the engineers who fought for India’s interest strenuously. As the prime minister, “I got only the broad facts,” noted Nehru and the engineers were the “experts in this matter”.
He came back to the canal dispute explaining that the time and circumstances then were radically different, “It was not a detailed examination; it was a broad approach. I regret to say that that approach was not followed later by the other side, as it often happens”.
The role of the World Bank was a less controversial issue to respond to, given that the House was not categorically vehement about the World Bank’s role except for some pointed observations by (Odia writer Surendra) Mahanty.
For Nehru, the World Bank’s engagement in the negotiations was an ‘ordinary thing to happen’, least of all alarming; “they were not becoming arbitrators or anything”.
Recalling his conversations with Lilienthal and Black on the active support of the World Bank, Nehru said, “It was only a question of an attempt, if you like, at the most, to help in our coming to an agreement between ourselves. They could not impose anything.”
From his disappointment on what he felt was the ‘narrow mindedness’ of the House on the treaty to his explanation of the circumstances of history and the complexities of the issue, Nehru enlightened the House on the question of consulting Parliament. “Are we to come at every step and ask Parliament?”
Allowing the rhetorical question to seep in, he then elaborated, “Very wisely, the Constitution and convention lay down that in such agreements, Government has to stake its own judgement, its future, on it. There is no other way. One takes a risk; maybe that Government may go wrong. But there is no [o]ther way to deal with it.”
However skilfully Nehru tried to separate himself as the carrier of a ‘broad perspective’ from the nitty-gritty of the negotiations that the engineers engaged in, there was an undeniable Nehruvian internationalist mindset to the entire water issue with Pakistan. Nehru’s interest in international problems was well known. His ideals of oneness, though, clashed with the realities of power politics and interest-oriented relations which he understood but adamantly refused to accept. More than a decade ago, he had hoped for an emergence of Asia as an influence on world peace, which soon fell apart.
Later, his famous enunciation at the Bandung Conference in 1955 that laid the foundation for the Non-Aligned Movement, “let us not align ourselves but have a line of our own”, was immediately contradicted by the creation of two military pacts, the SEATO and the Baghdad Pact (later CENTO). On the Indus treaty, having heard the diatribes, he asked the House, “Is that the way to approach an international question?”
And in a pedantic tone expressed, “Something is done because it is considered, in the balance, that is desirable… In such matters there has to be give and take.”
Nehru did regret the fact that the negotiations were long-drawn and that he had anticipated a year at best to reach a settlement. But there was no remorse in stating, “We purchased a settlement, if you like; we purchased peace and it is good for both countries.”
Nehru excused himself from the House as he had to accompany the crown prince and crown princess of Japan who were on a visit to India, but not before he clarified the issue of consultation with the state governments on the negotiations, “Whenever any proposals were put before me, I asked the Commonwealth Secretary [M.J. Desai] . . . Only when he said ‘Yes’, did I look into it… It may be that what the Commonwealth Secretary reported to me was due to some misunderstanding. He thought that they agreed when they had not.”
It is a pity that Nehru did not stay on for the entire length of the debate as Vajpayee raised an important question on the Indus Commission. He cited Ayub, who soon after the treaty was signed had said, “By accepting the procedure for joint inspection of the river courses, India has, by implication, conceded the principle of joint control extending to the upper region of Chenab and Jhelum, and joint control comprehends joint possession.”
The excerpt is from the book ‘Indus Basin Uninterrupted’ (published by Penguin Random House).
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