How we are different from regular Tour Guides – 22 Jul 15

I have told you in the past two days how a tour guide came to the Ashram and how he thought to give us a part of his commission. In the very beginning I had already mentioned that we are different from regular tour guides and find exactly this difference very important. I would like to take today’s diary to explain you exactly why.

Having read the blog entries of the past two days, I believe you already have an idea. I mentioned that we don’t ask people for tips, on the contrary, we ask them not to hand out tips to our staff. The reason is equality, fairness. We want people to feel good. This holds true for the people who work here as well as for the people who come here for a retreat, a training or a journey! A part of feeling good is that they pay a fair price for what they get and nobody takes any unfair advantage of them. We want to make more than customers, we want to make friends!

We have started offering tours and trips throughout India when friends asked us to. When we were asked by people who know us and who have been to our Ashram to help them with their planning. They were afraid of getting cheated or had made bad experiences before and trusted us to give them correct information and help.

Out of this, we decided to make our offer and it is until this day my own brothers, Yashendu and Purnendu, who go on these journeys. If they are not here, we don’t offer tours because until this date, we have not found a person whom we can trust enough with our guests. Whom we can entrust the trust of our guests. We actually see it as our duty to save our friends from the kind of commission business which the regular tour guides do all the time!

You cannot imagine how many times my brothers have been offered up to 80% commission of products that their non-Indian travel companions buy! We don’t do this! They will stand with you in a shop and, if you want them to, bargain with the shopkeeper so that you get the best price you can! If you ask them whether they believe a thing is worth the mentioned cost, you will get an honest answer! They will do everything they can to find whatever you are wishing to see or buy at a reasonable cost. It is, apart from others, a big benefit of taking a guided tour through India with us!

At the same time we have a trusted driver for our taxi, so that anybody who wants to go, can go without having to worry. No worries about accidents or not finding the car when coming out from famous sights, no getting lost or getting chauffeured to pre-decided shops where he gets a commission as well!

We do hope that we will one day find a guide whom we can trust as well but until this point, we will simply rely on ourselves. And I tell you, I won’t send any person with a man or a woman whom I don’t completely trust not to be cheating my friends in my country!

And that’s how, my friends, we are different from other people offering guided tours!

What an unreligious Ashram replies to religious Inquiries – 11 Feb 15

I told you yesterday about the way that our Ashram, too, has changed with the changes in me and my family. It has become an unreligious Ashram which people enjoy especially then, if they are not looking for gurus, worship or religion. That doesn't mean however that we don’t get inquiries of such people! What do we tell them?

If you don't have time to read any further, I can tell you the answer in just one sentence: we tell them not to come. I would like to elaborate on this a bit however.

When we get an inquiry, we already see and read a lot about this person from in between the lines. It becomes quite easily clear when a person is not really the right one for us: the language, way of writing and even the name of people often tells that they are religious, and very much so. Certain sects use special names and addresses for other people, including us.

Usually, we simply refuse politely. Not only for our own peace of mind but also for their own sake. We know already that they won’t enjoy their time here! They just won't feel good here and they won't have the experiences which they are looking for!

In our ashram we simply don't have this atmosphere of constant chanting and ceremonies. There are no holy men and no philosophical wisdom is shared that you are encouraged to meditate on.

What these people believe is important in life is something that we don't believe in. And something that we don't provide, which is why they will be unsatisfied if they come here!

On top of that, they just cannot do anything else but tell others about their religiosity, trying to sell their own belief to others as well. Often, these others don't want this and if they are our guests, it just creates unquiet situations among everyone.

So why would we ask them to come? Why would we create a situation of unhappiness? No, we very nicely refuse. Mostly, people understand – and I believe it is the most honest way.

May they stay among themselves and we others stay among ourselves! 🙂

Welcome to our Ashram for a completely non-religious Experience! – 10 Feb 15

I already mentioned that it would have been stupid of me if I had, as someone suspected, always played a role of being religious and then decided to show my ‘real character’, a non-believer and atheist. The idea of this person was that this had financial benefits for me. Again, I would say with an Ashram in a pilgrimage town, it would financially have looked like a better idea to be religious, wouldn’t it?

Really, when turning away from religion, I gave up a well-established business which would have brought many people to our Ashram. I had many followers who would have come regularly and with this background and lineage, the Ashram could have been a place for pilgrims and other religiously interested people. The Ashram would have grown and run well with regular ceremonies, religious activities and so on.

I decided however to be honest with the change that came within me. We had anyway declared that we didn’t approve of people coming to us from sects. I publicly wrote about my way away from religion and god and so people anyway got to know that our Ashram was different. You know what? It actually turned out to be really good.

People now come here and enjoy a religion-free experience at the place where they stay. They experience Indian culture but without religious aspects which would ask them to do things they don’t want.

In our Ashram, you don’t need to get up at 4 am for a ceremony or prayer. We don’t have times of silence. Women don’t have to wear a special sign which would show they are menstruating, so that they get a separate place at meal times. There is no dress code. We don’t have any guru whose daily lectures have to be attended or whose picture has to be worshipped. In the consequence, our guests don’t try to convince others of a certain belief.

You can actually be free to just be you. People can come to our Ashram, go out to town and see all the temples, hear the chants and observe everything that is going on – and then return to a place where they can relax and think about what they have seen.

A place free of anything that reminds you of brainwashing. The only thing that we have is a contagiously positive attitude and love for life.

And yes, without having thought about this before, it is something that people like and which makes them like coming to us. This may of course be the reason that jealous people say strange things. For me however it is an example that you should not be afraid of changes in life! Live with honesty and do effort – it will be alright!

Be honest, be nice, be lovely but don’t fake it! – 9 Sep 14

Yesterday I told you about an incident on Saturday, during our trip to Delhi, when I had to laugh about Indian politeness – a politeness that makes people quite often appear fake while at other times it makes you feel really good.

If you look at our experience in Delhi, you can see that this lady tried to be polite but didn’t mean it at all. She said I should pay whatever I wanted to but when I did exactly that, she was so unhappy that she phoned after we had already left her flat just to get the rest of the money.

Ramona had many similar experiences in the beginning of her time in India. Once on a celebration, she met a woman with whom she then had a nice conversation. She told her that she knew us very well. In the end, this lady invited her to her home. Ramona was very happy and agreed that she would come by as she had not made a lot of contacts yet in Vrindavan. She told us afterwards about this talk and asked us where this woman lived – but we didn’t even know her! She knew even when she said it that Ramona could never reach until her home, because none of us actually were friends with her, although she pretended to be as close as an old childhood friend!

On the other hand, such invitations can also be meant seriously! You can go to people’s homes in this way and they will feed you lunch, dinner, chai, snacks and sweets! Even if their home is untidy and they were not expecting guests, they could welcome you heartily!

Indians are known for their welcoming and helping nature and it is completely true as well. It lies in the nature of a typical Indian person to be not only polite but also invite people, be open, tolerant and feeling with others. So how come there is also this fake politeness, those words that are said to be nice while they are not meant at all?

I believe people know how ‘it should be’. They have this idea that they should be polite and welcoming. That they should invite others and should not ask for money directly, even when selling something. There are those ideas of values and morals and even though people don’t really feel that way, they act according to those unspoken rules, just in order to look nice. They pretend being nice, although their words are just a cover.

While I fully believe that we should be open, welcoming and full of heart towards each other, this is not the right way. If you don’t feel like it, there is nothing wrong in not inviting another person. And don’t confuse someone by telling you don’t mind whatever you pay if you actually want a certain price! This all will create problems for you afterwards!

Be honest, be nice, be lovely but don’t fake it!

Writers: feel honoured when someone copies your Content! – 1 Sep 14

Are you a writer? Maybe not even an author of published books, maybe not even the writer of a blog, just someone who enjoys writing – and puts the results into public from time to time? Yes? Then you may have experienced something that I want to write about today: the shameless copying of our incredibly clever, hilarious and never-before-seen original content.

Yes, it happens. It has always happened in the course of history and it will always happen – but the methods will keep on changing! I have already made plenty of experience with that!

When I was still giving lectures in India, there were people who saw the success and wanted to give lectures like me. The best way? Take notes and do it yourself! In older times – that sounds like I am old but technology has progressed really fast! – there were tape recorders with which people made tapes of their own lectures and sold them. Or of other people’s lectures. Then they would sit at home and learn each word of the lecture along with the tone and emotional expressions. In the end, I am sure there were several people who could give a lecture that sounded just like me. But I always imagined them finishing the lecture and running off the stage as fast as possible, so that nobody could ask them any questions! They would never know an answer!

I didn’t know then and I don’t know now who exactly is using my words. Online however, you sometimes find snippets and sentences which you have the feeling you have read before. You read them and you think ‘I agree from my heart!’ and when you read on, you think ‘Wow, it is as though I have written this!’ and just a moment later you realize: ‘Hey! I HAVE written that!’ Not only one line, not only two, complete blog entries, 600 words and more!

Sometimes I wonder whether I should be happy that they actually took my text as it was – instead of butchering my carefully structured sentences, tearing them apart and inserting mindless additions, claiming the text to be their own after that!

Once I was asked to write the introduction, the foreword to a book. I did. I got a copy of the book. I saw my name. Just the words were not mine! Maybe I should feel flattered though that I am popular enough to have random quotations attributed to my name… He had changed my foreword and added his words. Inside the book however, I found many of my words and of course, he was now the author of this book – and officially of those words as well.

Oh well, it is the bitter fate of a writer. But then again, I think, I should look at it like charity: recently I confronted a man on whose facebook profile I had repeatedly seen my statuses – without my name or a link to my page or website. At first, he regretted having been caught – and promised to change. With the second time, he apologized, ‘It has become a habit’. The third time, the truth was finally revealed:

‘Oh, you know, after I posted your words people actually started believing that I am smart!’ A little bit of charity for the good image of a fellow human?


Why we accept the little Lies of our School Children’s Parents – 18 Aug 14

Whoever has been following my blog knows that every Friday I introduce my readers to a child of our school. For that, we go to visit those children in their homes, make a video of their house and family, have a talk with them and ask them about their situation. Unfortunately we often have the feeling that they are not really telling the truth. Being dishonest, at least about certain topics, is a habit for many people.

Little lies are actually not uncommon. We probably wouldn’t even get to know about many of them wasn’t there always the dishonesty in the financial question. Obviously, when we have a talk with a family, one question is for the breadwinner’s profession and the next one about his salary. How much does he earn and is there any other income for the family?

Now we do have a rough idea about the regular pay scale of their professions. We know how much a rickshaw driver usually earns, a mason, an ox-wagon-driver or a tailor. We have ourselves often employed people of those professions. What the parents of our children tell for their income is nearly always lower than the normal, average amount. We know that, accept their answer and just add a bit in our minds, knowing that doesn’t really make a very big difference.

It really doesn’t. If a person earns about 50 US-Dollar in a month but he tells us he only earns 40 US-Dollar or even only 30 US-Dollar per month, he still remains poor. Earning those ten or twenty US-Dollar more doesn’t make him rich, especially if we know that he has three or four children!

That is how we accept those little lies – but sometimes it just becomes too obvious! Their lies become so unrealistic that nobody would ever be able to live in the little amount that they tell – especially when you are standing in their home and thus can practically see what they spend their money on.

But what to do? We see that they are definitely not rich. We see that they are poor and would not be able to afford good schooling for their children. It does not make any sense to argue with them at that point of time. So we have to accept such lies – but we tell you about it.

Many poor people show themselves poorer than they are, if they think they can get a benefit from it. It is normal and understandable. But interesting as well – a habit of small dishonesties. I think it is the base for being dishonest in bigger and more important matters as well!

Be honest, even if you know the other one won’t be happy about your Answer – 22 Mar 13

In the past two days I analyzed two options on how you can answer a question when you know exactly that the questioner won’t be happy about it. Today I will describe my all-time favourite solution:

3rd Possibility: Be honest

This one is definitely the possibility that most people feel uncomfortable even thinking about beforehand but for which I can guarantee you that you will feel great afterwards!

I am generally very straight-forward about my opinion and believe that you need to be clear. If you tell others who you are, they won’t ever be confused about it and you will have less uncomfortable situations in future. If you are not clear enough, people won’t ever know you well and cannot ever predict what your opinion would be.

So even if someone asks me a question of which I know that he would not like my honest answer, I usually give my honest answer anyway. Then the other one can accept it if he likes. If he happens to agree with me, it is nice but if not, it is also fine for me. We all have the right to have our own opinion, so why should we hide it just to please others? We will never be all of the same opinion anyway, so better be honest about it!

The key point about this solution is your presentation. When I am in talk with someone I generally take care to be clear but not impolite. You have to express your opinion and leave no doubt as to what you think. Make sure the other truly understands what you are saying so that this situation doesn’t occur in future anymore. While you are giving the other person something that may not be very easy to accept, you can pack it in a nice wrapper to make it a bit easier.

In order to do this in a nice way, you may have to say a bit more than just one sentence. If someone asks you for philosophical advice for example and you absolutely don’t agree with the other person’s way of life, his religion and his philosophy, you will already know that your honest answer won’t please the other one. Instead of saying ‘I think what you believe in is stupid’, you can start by explaining what you believe in, describing the differences and the reasons for these differences.

You can always add one information in advance: ‘I know that my ideas regarding this are most probably quite different from yours!’ or something along these lines which makes the other one aware from the beginning that he doesn’t need to expect complete approval now! This will soften the blow of your words, make the impact less hard and the effect less negative.

If, in the end, you nevertheless notice that the other one is very unhappy or even miffed with what you said, just let it be. Your questioner also has to learn that different people have different opinions and that it is all well as it is. It may take some time but ultimately people understand.

Being honest is in my opinion the best of all three options.

Giving unpleasant answers can be avoided by not answering at all – 21 Mar 13

I yesterday started explaining possible ways to answer when you know exactly that the questioner would not be happy about what you honestly think.

2nd Possibility: Don’t answer at all

While I completely rejected even considering lying for an answer, I might in some certain situations suggest this option, especially when it is in a situation when you want to be diplomatic with someone who will not play an important role in your life in future. Someone whom you meet once and whom you don’t need to broadly explain your complete philosophy because you know that your words are lost on him – he won’t agree, not even think about what you said but instead simply feel insulted or bad. This is the only situation where you might try this option but beware: it is not as easy as it seems!

You obviously cannot just stay mute, turn around and leave – that would be worse than lying I guess and definitely too rude. You wouldn’t get out of your uncomfortable situation in this way. On the contrary, it would get much worse! No, you need to act a little bit more smoothly than that!

Let me give you an example for one case when I actually used this method, not in order to safe my own feelings but the questioner’s peace of mind. Some months ago we had visitors here at the Ashram who knew me from the time when I was still working as a guru. It was an old lady who had visited my program a lot. She had brought her son, his wife and his children and introduced me as her guru. After some normal small talk, she asked me when I would come in her town for giving lectures again.

I was standing there, three pairs of eyes on me, eagerly expecting an answer, hoping that I would come soon to give a religious program there. I considered my possibilities and while looking into the eyes of the old woman, approaching eighty years, I decided to choose this option to answer. If I told them now that I was non-religious and didn’t even believe in God anymore, it would unnecessarily confuse the old lady and disturb her without reason. “Oh, I am a father now!”, I thus answered and laughed, bending down to pick up Apra. When I came up, the baby on my arm, I continued “This little star is now taking up all my attention!” and I tickled her under her arms. “She has started taking her first steps last week!” I added and all attention was on Apra and her development, the question unanswered and forgotten. No hard feelings and nobody disappointed.

You can start at the topic that the question is about and then just talk past it without ever answering, softly switching over to a related topic which is interesting enough to take the person’s mind off his or her question. Maybe you can make a joke or you get into a controversial topic. You may even ask the other one a question back which you assume he would like to talk about – and of course forget his previous inquiry over it.

This technique is a bit difficult and I have to warn you that it won’t always work. If the other person seriously asked you something and the question is important to him, he won’t let you get away with this! He will ask again and then it would look funny if you tried to distract him again.

The main thing is that you really don’t answer the question. So you need to decide beforehand whether the other person is just being curious and doing small talk or whether he is seriously interested. If the second is the case, forget this option – it won’t solve the problem!

Don’t lie just to please others – 20 Mar 13

In my life it has happened many times that I was asked a question and I knew before that the person who asked would not be very happy about my answer if I replied with full honesty. I know this will happen to you at some point or the other, too, and it is a situation that makes many people very uncomfortable. Let’s explore our options to reply today and in the next days:

1st Possibility: Say a Lie

This is the possibility that probably comes very quickly to everybody’s mind: just say whatever the person wants to hear. It would be a lie and you know that very clearly but this option seems very attractive in that moment.

Especially if you are one of those people who always try to make everyone happy, you have probably already found yourself in such a situation. Let’s think of an example: you and your friend plan on going to the cinema and your friend is enthusiastically saying ‘My sister wanted to see that movie, too, would you mind if she came along?’ You don’t really like the company of your friend’s sister and would much rather have an evening alone with your friend. You don’t want to disappoint your friend though and most of all you don’t want to admit you don’t like her sister! So your answer is ‘Yes, of course, I love your sister!’

You want to make everyone feel good and you just want harmony, so what is the harm if you are not completely honest just this one time? It is okay, you spend a lot of time with your friend anyway, so you can share her with her sister! And shouldn’t you learn getting along with her relatives, too?

You may think this now but later on you will realize your mistake when you don’t enjoy your evening! You might make the questioner happy for now, for a short time but on the long run he will find out that you were not honest. Lies never live long and apart from the fact that they are morally wrong, it will come back to you later and that can get quite nasty.

Additionally to creating problems for someone else, you make yourself unhappy by lying. Even if your conscience allows you to say one lie, you won’t be able to behave accordingly. It is not your truth. If you say ‘Yes, I also love blue!’ but then always choose red, the other one will notice! Or you take care to always choose blue – although you would much rather pick red. The result: you are unhappy, the other one is unhappy, this solution failed.

In our example that would mean that you sit in the cinema and the two siblings are having a blast while you don’t really engage in conversation much. Your friend’s sister asks you something and you, annoyed by the situation and maybe even her, reply impolitely or just not with as much heart as your friend is used to – so she asks what the problem is. She might even get angry with you, after all she asked you whether it was fine to bring her sister, so what is the matter with you? Your evening is ruined.

Lying doesn’t solve anything, it creates more and more problems which you didn’t even have before. So I believe it is best for you and those around you if you don’t choose this option!