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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Life's Amazing Secrets: How to Find Balance and Purpose in Your Life
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Publisher: Penguin Ananda
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"Life is a journey." An expression that you’ve probably heard - and even used - more than a few times considering only last year. And yet, for some reason, the phrase doesn’t seem to have been bereaved of its imaginative power even after centuries of use and misuse. At the moment, we can’t think of any other that is simultaneously so clichéd and so regularly brought into play in major literary and philosophical works as well, both straightforwardly as a quotation and, obliquely, as the implicit backdrop for some other journey-related life metaphor. Perhaps life, indeed, can be best understood as an incessant act of movement through time.
“All of these cars around you,” he writes in the last of its three introductory chapters, “have four wheels equally weighing down on the axle. The loss of air in any one of these wheels can slow you down in reaching your destination; the loss of one can be fatal. Therefore, it’s imperative that your wheels are regularly checked and maintained. Similarly, there are four principles that form the foundation of a happy life.”
These four principles – “four wheels,” as Gopal Das calls them – are our personal life, our relationships, our work life, and our social contributions. The happy life is all about balancing these “four crucial areas of our life,” suggests Gopal Das, while never letting go of the steering wheel: our spirituality. Unsurprisingly, “Life’s Amazing Secrets” – and consequently this summary – is all about how you can achieve that, effortlessly and effectively.
“Just like our tongue can be obsessed with something stuck in our teeth,” writes Gopal Das, “our mind has a default setting to be obsessed about the negative.” The fact is that there are always at least as many positives in any situation – yes, even the worst ones – but we are just not programmed to see them.
Take as a positive example the unbelievable attitude of Mukund and Pavitra Shanbag, close friends of the author, whose daughter Gandharvika was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at the age of four, the fastest growing tumor in humans.
Though the news was devastating to the couple, who often thought and feared the worst, throughout the whole treatment, the Shanbags found solace in the assistance offered by their friends and relatives in Mumbai, the gratitude for whose care is described by Mukund as a beacon of hope and love that guided them and Gandharvika through her disease.
“Gratitude is a state of being that allows us to see the positive,” comments Gopal Das after telling this story. “It comes from realizing that there is good in the world, that some of that good is with us and that those good things are coming from an external reality. That state of consciousness imbibes us with positivity.”
Achieve it the best way by pressing pause to your life and using the few moments gained and hence practice gratitude from time to time. It’s a fairly simple three-step process:
But what if some things are beyond your control? What if there’s nothing you or anyone in this world can do to save the Gandharvika in your life? True to the most famous Buddhist and Stoic practices, Gopal Das suggests wholehearted acceptance in cases such as this. He outlines it in a simple flowchart headlined with the question – “Is this in my control?” If yes, then you can do something about it. If no, then you cannot do anything about it. Gopal Das asks, “Therefore, in both circumstances, why worry?”
Here’s a great story to get us underway on the topic of relationships. Suitably, it involves a married couple and their neighbors. The wife often commented upon the dirtiness of the neighbors’ clothes: even on washday, hanging on the clothesline opposite the couple’s house, they seemed to never been washed to the woman's eyes. “Maybe she should go back to her mom’s home and take lessons on how to wash correctly,” she’d often say to her husband, pointing out the faults of the middle-aged housewife living in the neighboring house.
One day, however, the clothes seemed so clean that the woman was sure that the neighbors must have hired someone to wash them. “You know something, darling?” – uttered her husband, without even getting up from his chair to look at the neighbor’s clothes – “I got up early this morning and washed our windows.”
The moral of the story is obvious and echoes Jesus’ memorable words from his sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:5): “You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” In other words, all of your relationships include (moreover, start with) you. If you’re not perceiving other people properly (and this is especially challenging when you are in constant proximity to them), you can’t really hope for the success of your relationships.
According to Gopal Das, we can perceive people in the following five ways:
See only bad in them and magnify it.
See good and bad, neglect the good and focus on the bad.
See good and bad, and be neutral to both.
See good and bad, choose to focus on the good and neglect the bad.
See the good and magnify it.
The author is realistic and admits that the last type is not only superhuman and reserved for saints and angels, but also impractical in the morally corrupt world of today. The problem is that most people are either the first or the second type of individuals in the list when we all should strive to be the fourth type – not only for the sake of our relationships but for the sake of our own happiness as well.
This, of course, is quite achievable through a 3-step process that consists of mastering the art of speaking sensitively, correcting cautiously, and forgiving full-heartedly. Speaking sensitively is all about recognizing the power of words and thinking about how the other person may feel before we say something.
Corrective feedback has four principles. To become skilled in it, start asking yourself these four questions in any situation you feel the need – or even the entitlement – to correct one’s behavior:
Finally, though arguably the most difficult of these three arts, forgiveness can be learned as well. To become more forgiving, try to:
If you live in a capitalist society, then getting away from the clutches of competitive rivalries is seldom an option: it’s not only everyone’s best route to success and vertical mobility, but it is also the premise of economic progress and nationwide wellbeing. Unfortunately, as you have probably already experienced in your life, most of this competition is unhealthy, either because some people are envious of others or because uncontrolled ambition drives some people.
Gopal Das has nothing against competition, but he fears that most rivalries are bound to deteriorate after some time, leading to much pain and unnecessary suffering. Consequently, the only type of competition he acknowledges as spiritually sound and healthy is the one of you competing with yourself to become a better version of who you were yesterday. In his opinion, Matthew McConaughey said it best in his 2014 Oscar acceptance speech. “It’s me in 10 years” – he answered when asked who his hero was, at 15 years old, by a very important person in his life. When this same person asked him again a decade later if he had become a hero, the 25-year-old McConaughey answered – “Not even close… Because my hero’s me at 35.”
You can’t lose if you are competing with yourself, because even when you think you have, your failures will inevitably function as portals of self-discovery, helping you to understand what your limits are and what is meaningful to you. And there is nothing more important than this because the only life lived properly is the one lived following its purpose.
Knowing this fully well, the Japanese have devised a four-part model called “ikigai” (or a “reason to live”) that should help you discover your purpose. In essence, “ikigai” is all about asking yourself these four questions:
Your life’s purpose is at the intersection of these four answers, and it should simultaneously encompass your passion, mission, vocation, and profession. If you are young enough, sketch a Venn diagram right away and pin it on your corkboard; if you are already older and have not yet figured out your purpose, follow this practical principle of acceptance and optimism: “love what you have to do and do what you love to do.”
“You can be completely selfish, completely selfless or any of the combinations in between,” wrote Lao Tzu once. Millennia after him, Gopal Das rephrases this almost truistic saying in a much more memorable manner: you can be an ice cream or a candle – or something between these objects.
The ice cream philosophy can be summed up in a single sentence: “enjoy it before it melts.” It’s a selfish hedonistic worldview that prioritizes personal enjoyment to the point of completely ignoring the needs of others. The philosophy of the candle, on the contrary, is “give light to others before it melts.” This is the selfless, altruistic way of life of idealists and martyrs. In its less radical version, it is also the life everyone should strive for: just like Lao Tzu, Gopal Das believes that “life is a journey from being selfish to becoming selfless,” that is to say, a process of shifting our attitude from being an ice cream to being a candle.
This is achieved through something known in Sanskrit as “Seva,” or "as a service" to the English-speaking world. The very mentioning of this word associates most people with volunteering, donations, and trips to Africa. This is wrong, says Gopal Das, and can hurt on your personal life and even your future capability to help others. Helping beyond your reach only comes after you’ve helped within it: though it shouldn’t end with them, our circle of selflessness should inevitably start with our family and our closest ones.
And, before that, it should start with you: don’t try to help others as a way to escape from your personal problems and pains. Gopal Das says that “we must have all our wheels balanced as we try to help others.” Otherwise, he says, we may experience something called “compassion fatigue.” Leave it to the saints and the angels to be exclusively selfless; you, a mere mortal, dedicate your life to following the principle of being selfishly selfless.
Even if this is the first time you’re hearing the name of Gaur Gopal Das – who is, by the way, a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) – you should know straight away that there are few, if any, spiritual gurus more influential than him at the moment.
Even though it has failed to reach the heights of his YouTube anecdotes and sermons, “Life’s Amazing Secrets” fully demonstrates why: he is not only religiously devoted to finding the sacredness in life but also, somewhat strangely, almost down-to-earth practical when it comes to business-related matters. At the same time, he is a gifted storyteller, with a storytelling prowess that is bound to quickly pull even the most disinterested readers into the leisurely whirlwind of his simple beliefs and time-checked ideas via almost biblical, if anachronistically-sounding, parables.
Though we did have to make some effort to reconcile the two personas of Gaur Gopal Das’ character, we believe that many people on this planet would be able to understand him almost instantly. If that is the case, allow him to help you – he probably can.
To paraphrase and slightly misinterpret Gandhi, the world changes when you do. Your relationships, your work life, your social contributions – they will all benefit from you finding balance in your personal life and feeling gratitude for the good things in it.
Gaur Gopal Das (born 1973) is an electrical engineer who turned to spirituality in 1996. Since then, he is a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. This book, although well written, is no... (Read more)
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