Volume 7 - Issue 07
July 2009
Other Articles

HARNESSING THE HEART - PART 19

Living Up to the Challenge of Conscience in Daily Life

 
   

Dear Readers, in this series, we offer you real life stories from contemporary heroes who have demonstrated the courage to follow their conscience when confronted with difficult dilemmas or challenging circumstances in their daily lives. This segment is an ode to the strength of the brave-hearts who chose to listen to the voice of their conscience, thereby abiding by the values of Right Conduct, Truth, Love, Peace and Non-violence, even though the choice had appeared tough .

In our previous issues, we brought you inspiring stories from around the globe. These included the experiences of Mrs. Priya K-Alldis, Mr. Dev Taneja, Mr. C. B. S. Mani, Mr. Karthik Ramesh, Mr. Amar Vivek, Mr. Krish Venkatasubramaniam, Mr. Hiten Morarji, Mr. N. Prabhakar, Mr. Sathya Jambunathan, Mr. U. Pardha Saradhi, A courageous woman executive (Part 11), Mr. Shalabh Mittal, Mr. P. S. Kannan, Mr. Sai Mudigonda, ananonymous charity board member (Part 15), Mr. Vivekananda Sahoo, Mrs. Annapurna Shankar and Mr. Venkataraman Krishnamoorthy [Go to Harnessing the Heart Archives] .

There are many in this world who face morally-sickening circumstances in their professional or personal life, they are tremendously disturbed and disillusioned as they see no way out. Can one single person be conscientious and stand up for what he or she thinks is right, especially when there is hardly anybody listening or if it means jeopardizing one’s life and career? Can one steadfastly execute a new vision when everybody around is ridiculing the idea? What does it take to live up to one’s ideals? Read this riveting life-story of Ms. Preeti Sahoo, and maybe it will give us a clue or two about how we can make a difference if we really decide to.

 

THE ‘C’ FACTOR OF MY CHARACTER

How when you stand up courageously for what you believe in,
 you can turn the world around your life unbelievably.

Ms. Preeti Sahoo

Ms. Preeti Sahoo is an alumna of the Anantapur campus of Sri Sathya Sai University, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Economics in 2006. Later, she worked as a Testing Engineer at a Bangalore based software company for 3 years, and is a certified internal auditor for ISO 9001:2000. A spirited individual, she founded a music group at her workplace and also led the company’s social outreach program into the community. Currently she is pursuing her Masters in Business Administration.

I joined the Anantapur Campus of Sri Sathya Sai University in 2003, but much before that I was fortunate to enjoy the sublime positive influence of a Sai environment right from my early childhood. As a little girl, I was part of the Bal Vikas or Sathya Sai Education in Human Values programme conducted by the Sai Organisation. And today even after I have graduated from the portals of this hallowed University, I cherish the values that this institution instilled in me and continue to strive to stay true to the lessons Baba has taught me.

Bhagavan Baba urges His students to be courageous like the lion. He tells us that the king of the jungle is fearless and majestic, and He expects nothing less from us.

What I learnt from His example and teachings is to never compromise on one’s integrity…and a vital part of my training as a Sai student was to be courageous enough to stand for the right.

Courage Never Compromises on One’s Integrity

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After I completed my Bachelor’s in Economics from the Sri Sathya Sai University, I joined a software company as a Testing/Quality Analyst based in Bangalore.

It was time for the tyre to meet the road. Who would have imagined how much I would be drawing from my three years’ stay in Bhagavan’s University for the strength and clarity to meet life’s challenges, and take decisions in consensus with my conscience’s call.

This beautiful and poignant song composed and sung by Bhagavan Baba (originally in Telugu) has always been the lighthouse to me in guiding my ship in the waters of this life.

 


With Sathya, Dharma, Santhi and Prema
Carry on your life's journey, oh man;
Karma Yoga is your bounden duty;
Remembering the Lord is the great secret
And Sadhana is the devotee's hallmark,
Proceed, oh man, on your life's pilgrimage
With Sathya, Dharma, Santhi and Prema


As I stepped into the world, I realized with great joy that while others outside were busy making ships, my Master had prepared us to be the lighthouses that would guide these ships.

When I joined this software unit, I resolved to practice certain ideals I cherished deeply from my alma mater, integrity being foremost among them. I was determined to earn, by my sincere and hard work, every rupee that I am compensated for in my job.

I would work diligently for each of the forty hours in a week to deserve the 40 hours of pay. While filling my timesheet at the end of each week, I experienced my personal moment of integrity, especially since it is a common industry practice to manipulate one’s timesheets.

Courage is Challenging an Injustice
 
During my stay in this company I accidentally witnessed some uncalled for behavior by senior colleagues which violated all sense of propriety. After having stayed in an atmosphere where conduct and discipline is given paramount importance, it was appalling to witness acts of misdemeanor towards ladies and transgression of professional integrity.

My inner voice clearly told me that I should not allow the situation to worsen as it would bring a bad image to the organization. I felt I had to bring it to the attention of the leaders. After a strong inner affirmation to follow my conscience, I opened up this sensitive issue with few of my close colleagues, who to my dismay, also shared similar accounts of situations that they had either faced or witnessed.

At that moment I strongly felt it was my moral responsibility to raise my concern about this issue with the leadership team and walked into my CEO’s cabin to expose all I had witnessed, and my concerns about the same. Initially the CEO was shocked and unable to take it as they could not believe that a senior employee of an organization could misbehave in the most unexpected manner. But later when they heard all the stories and incidents, they took up the matter seriously and interrogated the concerned employee.

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Sailing through challenges with confidence and inner strength...
 

After having done what I thought was right, even if risky, I was even ready to put in my papers and leave the organization, as I prized my integrity more than monetary security. But I was stopped by others on the Board of Directors as they were very proud and appreciative of my courageous step.

Unfortunately my other colleagues could not talk about the same as they feared loosing their jobs, and hence my director was all the more happy with the fact that I took the bold initiative for the sake of the company’s larger good even at the risk to my own job security.

He insisted I don’t leave the company and mentioned that “As a student of the Sathya Sai University, you are the door keepers of this company”. So happy was he for I had been brave and candid. He further assured me that I should not fear or hesitate to share any other such disturbing situations in future. Shortly, strong action was initiated against the irresponsible employees.

But for the training on strong value system I have received from Baba’s Institute, I would have perhaps not had the courage to fight against the unethical practices and would have chosen to remain a quiet spectator to the injustice.

He insisted I don’t leave the company and mentioned that “As a student of the Sathya Sai University, you are the door keepers of this company”. So happy was he for I had been brave and candid. He further assured me that I should not fear or hesitate to share any other such disturbing situations in future....

There are always a million reasons that tempt us to compromise our integrity and not take a courageous stand for righteousness. Our minds can come up with justifications that seemingly make good sense and let us sleep better at night. But at the end of the day, when we place our rationalizations on a scale next to integrity, we might realize that we sold out something priceless for a measly pittance. There’s nothing more valuable than our good name and the ability to look at ourselves in the mirror each day with a clear conscience.

At the same time, to practice the value of courage requires enormous inner strength. It means to have the inner reserves to initiate and execute noble ideas, and remain unruffled in the face of opposition and ridicule from peers and superiors.

Actually, my journey towards a life of courage began nice and early, right under His care.

Courage to Initiate and Execute Ennobling Ideas

My formative school years were spent at a Catholic school in my hometown. Outside of school, during the same period, we were learning Vedic hymns from our Bal Vikas teacher. In one discourse, Baba said that Vedas purify the heart of not just the one who chants but also the listeners.

The next day our Vice-Principal auditioned the students who knew such prayers. Many students chanted the Gayatri mantra as that was all they knew. But when it was my turn I chanted the Vedas. And as I ended the chanting by repeating the word ‘shanti’ thrice, there was absolute silence for the next two minutes.

Finally, the Vice-Principal said: “I have not heard anything like this before. Please start the prayers from tomorrow with these Vedic chants.” I was happy that my prayer had been answered but at the same time it pained me that among 2000 odd students there were none who knew these ancient prayers which are a part of our rich cultural heritage.

The Vedic tradition emphasizes unity in diversity at the universal level, keeping in mind man’s needs and aspirations, his quest for peace and the link that ought to be established between God and an individual soul.

The mine of Vedic wisdom has unearthed several secrets which Science discovered at a later stage. It has been proven that even when one chants Vedic mantras without understanding their meaning, positive effects are produced on the body. This is the power of the acoustic vibrations generated by the rendering of these hymns. How proud I am of our culture and heritage!

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With right vision and determined courage...

The next day as I stood alone facing the entire school gathered for the morning prayer assembly I strongly felt Baba’s presence around me. As I started ‘Gananam thva…” and then followed with Durga suktam (another hymns adoring the Divine Mother) I was imagining myself standing in Sai Kulwant Hall in His presence and chanting the same.

The students looked at me in awe and from that moment on, a lot of my peers and teachers saw me in a different light. Many of my teachers came and expressed their joy on this new development in the school.

I still remember my history teacher who said: “when you say the Vedas, the entire atmosphere reverberates with the vibrations of the chants, it feels as though the entire environment has been purified.”

Courage to be Oneself with Full Confidence in His Support

My debut into Veda chanting for an entire school assembly evoked a lot of respect and admiration, but there was another side to the experience as well. Many senior students came and confronted me and also started teasing me. They encircled me and started imitating the chants. One of them said, “Stop all this braying. All this is good for nothing. We would be happy if you can sing some rock albums.”

I was taken aback at this reaction but then realized that this is the way God tests us. I never reacted to what they said thereafter and would always smile at them when they threw these barbs. This continued for many days and every time I would react the same way, for in my heart of hearts I believed in the power of the Vedas and knew that it would protect not only the one who chants them but would also transform the listeners.

I also noticed some reservations from teachers who were from different religious background. They felt how can such prayers be sung in a Catholic school! Though they never said anything harsh but it was clearly apparent from the way they talked to me.

Come Christmas and it was time to prepare for Christmas carols. And thanks to Bhagavan Baba, His teachings and my visits to Puttaparthi, I knew almost all the carols even better than the regular Christian students. I was now teaching the students Christmas carols too!

The same teachers who were behaving with me indifferently earlier were now taken by surprise and their antagonism transformed into admiration. The winds of change were now blowing through the corridors of the school.

Many of the senior students who teased and bullied me earlier approached me later and after apologizing, asked if I could teach them the Vedic chants! They wanted to learn Vedas!

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Taking the road less traveled...
 

Our Principal, who was a missionary priest, one day called me and enquired how I knew both the Vedas as well as Christmas carols. I then narrated to him about Baba and His message of love and service to the humanity. He was touched and said he prays that he is able to visit Puttaparthi and meet Baba.

I passed out from my school more than a decade ago, but the tradition of chanting Vedic hymns still continues there. Even when I visit my school sometimes, my teachers remember me as the girl who introduced the Vedic tradition of universality in a Catholic school.

This is but one of the many occasions when I followed my heart with courage and was instrumental in initiating a change movement. I remember another such endeavour when I was at home during a college vacation. 

Courage to Love and Care Selflessly

My mother and I had an opportunity to visit to a Juvenile Detention Centre at Rourkela, Orissa. There we saw children convicted of every possible crime. Interacting with them and observing them, it was not hard to sense that they had committed these crimes in complete ignorance because they did not grow up with a value system that many like me had benefited from.

Another strong reason which motivated them to perform these crimes was the destructive influence of cinema on their gullible minds. I recollected how Bhagavan has been always insisting that young minds should never be exposed to too much television which He says is actually ‘TeleVisham’ or ‘the scorpion’s poison’. The more I heard their stories the clearer it became that all their misdeeds were imitations of scenes from cinemas.

There was such a feeling of guilt amongst the kids that they bowed their head down and sat with deep remorse, wailing in the crushing jaws of reality instead of enjoying life as young children should.

Listening to the redeeming power of Divine love, slowly these children (convicted for various crimes) came out of a depression which surprised even the psychiatrist who used to visit them every week. The doctor acknowledged how wonderful it was that slowly the children were opening to counseling and future rehabilitation. I thanked my Lord – who has shown us the way to a life which courageously depends only on Him and where love can work miracles.

On seeing their pathetic condition, I realized that I needed to do something to allow the narrow confines of their consciousness to expand, and embrace hope and faith in themselves. I started sharing with them the abundant love that God has showered on all of us. Incidents and experiences of Baba’s selfless and unconditional love were slowly bringing about in them a transformation that can be only termed as miraculous.

I also told them, the same friends who misled them into committing mistakes didn’t even bother to come and meet them when they were in jail. They began to understand that the current phase of difficulty they were undergoing was a period to realize their mistakes and realize that it is only God who would be their true friend, and such situations in their lives were just an excuse for God’s entry in their lives.

Listening to the redeeming power of Divine love, slowly these children came out of a depression which surprised even the psychiatrist who used to visit them every week. The doctor acknowledged how wonderful it was that slowly the children were opening to counseling and future rehabilitation. I thanked my Lord – who has shown us the way to a life which courageously depends only on Him and where love can work miracles.  

I remembered fondly an often recited song from my Anantapur days, which is very close to my heart:

“We have a great big wonderful Lord, We have a great big wonderful Lord.
A Lord who loves every one of us, does so much for all of us, a great big wonderful Lord.
He would never, ever ever leave us, He is always standing by, He will pick us up when we stumble, we are the apple of His eye. We have a great big wonderful Lord”

Courage to Attach to Work and Detach from Rewards, Success and Setbacks

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The Anantapur campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University

As Sai students we realized the need to complement each other’s efforts instead of competing as rivals, to truly create the team spirit needed to evoke the much-wished for “chala santhosham (very happy)” response from our beloved Chancellor.

We never sought taking individual credit for our collective achievements. This was one stark difference I noticed the moment I stepped into the corporate world. At first it was disturbing to notice this ‘shark eat shark’ nature that persists, where values are trodden each day over performances.

Means have no significance over ends. However, cutting through this screen of perplexing behavior I saw the reason for it and it was – Insecurity, and this occurs at various levels – emotional, physical and so on.

A small incident made me realize that I am all that I could be. I can’t be more than what I am. I am complete. I am not waiting for something or someone to make me complete and whole.

This instance happened once again during my employment tenure with an IT company. I was working on three different projects simultaneously and was completely focused on the work assigned to me. There was a need for me to travel home for a week and by the time I returned, I was told by my manager that there would be yet another girl who would be supporting me in these projects as I was overloaded with work.

Since she was new to these projects, I had to spend long hours in explaining various aspects of our work despite my own looming deadlines. I ended up working later hours many times. I was later told by my manager that I would have to do the knowledge transfer as she would also be working as a second team member in the projects. In about 15-20 days I could help her in understanding the complete process and flow of the project.

Since it was also a recession time, our CEO called for periodic status meetings to update himself on the progress of each team’s respective projects. When it came to the testing team that I worked on, my colleague was asked if I had done the necessary knowledge transfer to her but she was absolutely silent and non-reactive!


Truly, when God closes a door, He always opens another one, that is bigger,
brighter and better.

This came as a surprising shock. It gave an impression to people that I had done nothing in this connection and that everything was done by my other colleague. I tried telling the CEO that I had done complete knowledge transfer but there was no supportive communication from either the girl or my manager.

My manager, who knew everything about my work, appeared to be favouring the other colleague, and hence did everything to underplay my performance and highlight her efficiency. Eventually within a span of a month, I was told by my manager that there was a need for only one testing team member and that I could look for better opportunities outside.

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Righteous action with inner peace - the North pole of our life
 

After having put in all efforts and been a proven performer for the last 3 years on this project, due to my manager’s bias in favour of the new colleague, she bagged all the credit for my work and also the job. I was told by my other office colleagues and friends, to take this up strongly with the manager and higher authorities to retort back and gain my position back in the company.

I tried once to talk to the CEO directly, but his answers to the situation was not convincing enough for me to continue any further or fight for my position and survive in a very uncongenial work environment. The organization had lost its scruples. Hence, I decided to move out of the organization.

I was naturally disappointed; despite working so hard right as a founding team member in that company I was being treated so unfairly. But that did not devastate me.

“When a man dwells in his mind on the object of sense, attachment to them is produced. From attachment springs desire and from desire comes anger."(2.62)[51]

Thanks to my grounding in values and our powerful culture, I took courage from the eternal dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the song celestial, the Bhagavad Gita:

"From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment loss of memory; and from loss of memory, the destruction of intelligence and from the destruction of intelligence he perishes".

Remembering these timelessly relevant lines I never gave way to anger, hurt or disappointment. When something you have built for years is snatched away from you in a most inappropriate manner, it requires you to summon strength from the deep reservoir of detachment and equanimity within, and walk away from the experience without losing the lesson.

"With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the Yogis perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in Yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace.” – Lord Krishna

It looked that I had suffered a setback in my career but such a view was short termed. The people and events that anger and hurt us are the ideal educators to help us learn the lessons that will help us shine - at work, at home and in life. Besides, God is always there!

Over time I realised that, moving away from a full-time job actually gave me a valuable opportunity to fulfill my long overdue aspiration to study further. I finally enrolled in the MBA program. And surprisingly, a few days after I moved out, I learnt that the company had lost the client due to the incapability of both the manager and the other testing member, both of whom were eventually asked to leave the organization.

And for people like me, who have tasted the nectarine sweetness of His Love, certainly there are higher goals to be achieved in life than a more lucrative pay package.  

“Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, offer service to Me, bow down to Me, and you shall certainly reach Me. I promise you because you are My very dear friend.” – Lord Krishna

 

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Courage with confidence - the rainbow path of my life

And my journey with the Loving and Living Lord never found a dead end. It found a new beginning where He chose me as an instrument in His mission of love and service. After having returned to my home town I had the opportunity to play an active role in organizing an inter-state Sri Sathya Sai Medicare conference for doctors.

Truly, when God closes a door, He always opens another one, that is bigger, brighter and better.

Being Courageous the Right Way

And as I carry on my life, my character anchored on this powerful virtue of courage (which I call the ‘C’ Factor of my life because its makes my life feel complete), setbacks are only stepping stones.

I cannot but recollect a beautiful poem attributed to the late Mother Teresa which resonates my life’s experiences:

 


People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest
men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.



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