Guest: Parag Shah
Host: Audrey Lin
Moderator: Rahul Mehta
Rahul: Those of us who know Paragbhai, as he is lovingly called in the community here in India, know what kind of exacting standards that he sets for himself in his self-inquiring journey. This business-minded brain has moved from ROE, "return on equity," to critically examining himself, whether it is actually returns on the ego that he is working on. As he keeps reminding us, his method has moved to "return on equanimity."
As I was reading the comments on the Awakin Call's page, I saw Deven's comment. Deven is a dear friend of the community here in India, who knows Paragbhai for a while. He says, "As a friend, I can say that while Paragbhai may talk on return on equanimity, he knows that in equanimity there are no returns."
Indeed that is an oxymoron in itself--to be having returns and equanimity in the same phrase. The frame of this inquiry that Paragbhai holds is indeed an inspiration. The very fact that he can present this very different kind of ROE theme to all of us makes me inspired to see what I might have and how I can turn that edge around and make that strength in my journey of self-inquiry.
So, Paragbhai, keep inspiring. I'm eager to host you and moderate this discussion.
Audrey: We also received a comment from Sangeeta Kankaria: "Sir, you and Mitaji are a great inspiration to me. I have learned a lot from you and Mitaji in the Awakin Circle that you host. They play an important role in my life. Still on the journey and a lot more to learn."
We are very excited to learn from you, Parag. Thank you. So, Rahul, I'll pass the baton to you.
Rahul: A brief introduction to Paragbhai. Only a few of us will know that Paragbhai dropped out of the conventional education. Probably, that was his strength, not to be bound by the bounds of modern educational systems. He was born in a diamond business family in the city of Surat north of Bombay. He carried on with his family business for almost all his life.
The diamond business is a very different kind of business in the sense that there is this feeling of community in the entire industry because they hail from the same region of India. And Paragbhai has been, in a way, a leader of that community. In fact, a lot of modern innovations of this diamond business has been birthed through Paragbhai through his persistent effort in bringing the community together.
I'm told that if there is someplace that any intern would like to learn about the techniques of diamond polishing, the best training center for that is in Surat in Paragbhai's office and at his factory.
So he has been, in a way, an institution builder even in his industry. Apart from the traditional role of actually running his own business, he has done a lot of work to bring the business community together. After a few years, let's say a couple of decades of running his business, the question of what next arose in Paraghbai's mind. From that inquiry was, one, the school of Fountainhead Paraghbai started, is very mainstream, but yet a different kind of school in Surat, which has around 1,500 students as we speak today. I have been to that school, and I should tell you it feels different. It feels different in design. It feels different in a way the student relate to the teachers as well. As you walk the corridors and the way some of the students approach you and even talk to you break into a conversation, one gets a feeling that this is a different kind of school, even the way the school is designed.
I remember the first time I walked the corridor of the school, and the corridors would go zigzag, and the classrooms would not be of a rectangular shape. It would be of some obnoxious shapes. The two-plex would not be really in a straight line. It would be hung in a different kind of fashion. I remember asking Paraghbai why does this look so different. Why is this corridor not straight. Of course, he broke into an explanation. He is a student of design and architecture, and he said that we don't want students to be straight-jacketed into thinking that this is how a school should be, this is how a student should be, even if they think differently, even if the corridors.... So the corridors need not be designed as straight. The classrooms need not be rectangular. And yet they would retain the essence of being a classroom. So that's something which is remarkable that I found in the school. I could sense that is Paraghbai's contribution to that school. One can also see his varied interest, whether it is in the form of his being an organic farmer--he has a 10-acre-farm next to the school and the kind of knowledge would have on farming would just be the idea of Fukuoka's methods, do-nothing farming, in which he has engaged the school which is right next to this farm. The leadership style that he brings the wisdom of the farm that he brings as leaderships style inputs to the school is in itself a treat to witness.
So many different facets of Paraghbai and I'm so eager for this conversation to unfold. Lately, through his involvement with the ServiceSpace community here in India, he has brought a lot of gifts to this community. He is very present and engaged with the community, with the Surat community. He is a regular Awakin participant, and co-host for the last three years. Surat has been hosting ServiceSpace's "Moved by Love" retreats for the last two years. And one can see that he is indeed the lighthouse to this community, even to the Moved by Love community here in India, he has brought us the gift of his deep interest in J. Krishnamurti's teaching. His involvement in Laddership course is also known to many of us. So I'm honored to introduce Paraghbai on this call. I'm very eager to see how this conversation unfold. Welcome, Paragbhai.
Parag: Thank you, Rahul. Thank you, Audrey. Gratitude for all of you coming together on this call. I feel honored to be sitting here and talking about my life. Thank you. Thank you for hosting me.
Rahul: The conversation wanted you to take us to the initial part of your life. If there is something that comes up that you would like to share before you get into the business, your childhood memories and so on.
Parag: Talking about my childhood.... I have very loving parents. They stay together with us in Surat. I was born and brought up in Surat. There are a lot of stories about my childhood. One person whom I'm deeply grateful for, I have a deep reverence for, is my mother. Whatever I am today, I feel very grateful to her in my life. To talk about my mother, I have yet to remember in my life that she expects something from me. I have yet to remember that, during my exams, during my studies, during my career, during my choice of living in cities or doing business, she's never expected anything from me.
She trusted me wholeheartedly. If I asked for money to buy books, she would give me money. Maybe it was a very small amount, talking about 30, 40 years back. And I would go to the shop and buy something, and I would give her back the change. And she won't count it. Did I do it right or wrong? Somehow I felt that trust does come naturally to me just because I had such a beautiful upbringing in my family through my parents. And I also have three very loving sisters. From a conventional [sense], I was the most spoiled child you can think of.
I have three sisters. One would take care of my wardrobe, the other would take care of my books, and in the morning I would have toothpaste with an [inaudible] I would brush my teeth or I would go to my bathroom.
I still have the same relationship with my sisters. We are so close. One of my sisters stay next to my house, she is my neighbor, today. So my childhood memory of deep trust, loving, caring, and in some sense, let us children do what they want to do. That was the approach that my mother had.
Just want to share one story that is so deep in my heart about my mother...before ten years, we shifted to our new house where we stay currently. From an Indian standpoint, especially in a city where we live, it is a very modern house. So when we shifted here, until then my mother never visited the house to see how it is coming up. I used to take all decisions about construction... I chose everything, how the bedroom should be, how the furniture... everything, even the upholstery, even whatever television they would have in their rooms, so on and so forth. A very dear friend my mother came home after few days; she was quite surprised by the modern architecture and from local context how someone can like such a house. It is a very simple house from an Indian standpoint. She asked my mother, “I know Parag likes this house, but what about you? Do you like this?” In some sense, she was displaying her displeasure looking at the house and [...] what we have done to my house.
And I remember my mother said, very simply, “I like Parag. So the design of the house he built does not matter to me. For me, it is important to like my son, not the house. So, how can it be a bad house if I like my son? - That was her answer.” And that lady told this to me - I was not privy to her conversation with my mother, but she said this to me, and I know she has spoken about this to so many people that this is how a mother thinks for her son. So, these are some very deep memories of my mother and my sister.
Rahul: Wow, beautiful. Just for the other people on the call, Paragbhai is humble about his house but its an award-winning architectural design. It is a bit unconventional, in the sense that there is liberal use of exposed concrete and local stones. For those of you who have not been to his house, the first reaction of an undiscerning eye of seeing exposed concrete blocks being used predominantly in the construction is that the house is still under construction. I can imagine the conversation that would have happened between the two women out there. Wonderful!
Parag: I can see that the seeds of trust and the seeds of family bonding that you spoke about that your parents passed on to you have indeed taken roots in your relationship with your sons - Siddhant and Sumeet. As some of us know, Sumit is in a way on the spectrum of disability and the bond that you enjoy with both of them is amazing. Your daily calls with them, no matter what geography you are in, the way you bond with them as a friend... Indeed, there is this touch of your childhood and the bonds that you enjoyed with your sisters and parents.
I was also very touched to read that you mention about your wife Mitaben’s role in bringing up Sumeet. You mention it ‘as an act of kindness that you will never forget or never be able to comprehend in totality.’
We would like to hear about your journey with each other and as parents of Siddhant and Sumeet.
Parag: Well, Siddhant is a post graduate from Oxford, and he has completed his Masters in Automobile Engineering.And he is a bright young engineer. And Sumit is seven years younger than Siddhant. He is eighteen now, Sumeet, He is on athetosis spectrum, but I would say 70-80% to a normal child and he can live a basic normal human life. I think one very distinct factor, as a father, with both my sons is that, just because I find Siddhant, an able man, there are expectations that he should do this and achieve that. This expectation could manifest in a very subtle way too. We may give it a very noble name that as a father I should be responsible for his life and his well-being, so on and so forth.
But when it comes to Sumeet, you know, from day one, because he was on a disability spectrum, we decided as parents that we should live with him on a moment-to-moment basis with him. Which school he should go, which college he will go and what he will do in his life, is too long to think. It is important that we spend a good day with him. And I think that has worked well for us and I think that is a very distinct factor that with Sumeet, I personally and of course as a couple, we have a very different relationship just because we didn't have any expectations. Having said that, if I would have built some expectation based on his condition when he was born or when he was growing up, I would have never been able to imagine what he has achieved today.
And that makes me wonder that as parents, the conventional thinking about visualizing their future and what is good for them and what they should be doing and what they should not be doing, etc. - I deeply question that approach. And the way Sumeet has come up, he has come far beyond our expectation, and I think one person I'm deeply connected on this earth and I would say to my son Sumeet. And his contribution to my life in making me a good father or a good human being is immense - he taught me patience, he taught me to hold space, he taught me not to judge. He taught me what a deep relationship in the space of being feels like.
And both the sons are very close to me, and as a family, we are very close. Including my parents, we are all six adults living in the same house, and we think its grace to be together. Children staying all their childhood with grandparents is great. That has created a lot of love and harmony within our family which is very deeply nourishing to all of us.
On the second question, about Mita’s role. Well, the day Sumeet was born, he was supposed to be a normal child, but there was an injury - an accident on the part of a doctor - at the time of birth. This injury led to a chain reaction which could have led him to live in a vegetative state. And this was the first week of his birth. And of course, it broke us very badly when doctors shared this news with us, and we were completely shattered. I still remember crying on the window sill for half an hour and Mita was on the bed. Sumeet was of course in ICU so we two were alone in that room and we both were crying. And we just didn't have any words to share even or to even help each other or support each other.
And suddenly Mita looks at me and says, ‘Parag, I want a promise from you, and it is about Sumeet. Will you give me your word?’ I said, ‘I will try my best.’
She closed her eyes, and with a very firm tone, she said, ‘Parag, this is the last time we are crying for Sumeet. He has taken birth in our family, and that would be for a good reason, who knows. So at least what we can do is that we will never cry for him. You know, it is a gift from God, and this is the moment - we accept it very gracefully. Whatever can be done scientifically, through modern medicine, we will try our best. Whatever we can do, we will do. Without any expecting any results. Assuming that it may not work but we will still try.’
And somehow, that moment was a magical moment - for Sumeet’s life as well as our lives. And that moment give us courage, and something shifted in us, I would say. And we decided enough - this half an hour of crying was enough. This is a gift from God - there is a reason why he is born to us. Probably we will be able to take care of him - that could be one reason. And that is enough reason. We don't need to think more about reasons. So, let us fasten our seatbelts and do whatever the best we can.
And probably that lead us to Mita getting a very different spring in her footsteps, in her heart. She used to travel to Mumbai 10 days a month, working on Sumit - full day going to speech therapy, physical therapy, rehabilitation therapy and of course I felt I was busy with business and there were so many responsibilities. I was in a very different phase of business growth, and I had a lot of responsibility. And I also loved it in those days - I was ambitious, and I wanted to create a business out of what I was doing and so on and so forth. She gave me all the space.
Was that right or wrong, of course, that is a subject of debate, but she gave me all the space. She used to travel to Mumbai - ten days, fifteen days a month. She gave up all of her work, all her passion. Her only work was Sumit.
And I think that that is something which I cannot forget for the rest of my life. That act of kindness, I don't have words to say what I feel about it. And that went on for seven to eight years.
She would decide our holidays. We used to travel to Florida some nineteen hours one-way flight from Bombay. So we would fly forty hours back and forth for two weeks of physiotherapy in Florida where one of the best locations for dealing with such disability was located. We went there thrice in three holidays for his physiotherapy. And of course, if Mita would not have pushed me, I don’t know if I would have gone to this extent to get his physiotherapy done.
And it did wonders to Sumeet. Probably, there are so many things what she did due to which I can say Sumit is 70-80% normal. I don’t have words to describe more about what I feel about that act. Thank you, thank you for asking this question.
Rahul: Wow, wow what an incredibly moving part of your life and thank you so much for sharing. And silent prayers and a heartfelt hug to Mitaben for her gift to you. I can just see how this gift of acceptance of whatever comes, in a way, was the seed of the Return on Equanimity metric that we spoke about.
And also, the seed of the ability to trust like you spoke about your mother. And I can see that in the way you run your business.
It is a huge business, for people on this call who may not have met Paragbhai and it will probably never asked you that, but in the range of a quarter billion dollars a year with 2,500 - 3,000 people polishing diamonds in Surat and shipped to the whole of the world - US Europe and so on. And yet, you have time for everything that you want to pursue - without compromising on the quality of your work as a professional and a business owner. I remember the conversation with you when we asked you, ‘How do you find the time for all of this and you question us back - like you always do - asking us - Who owns the business?
Do I own the business or this business own me? If I own the business then finding time to do what I love should be very simple but it would be very different if it were the other way around.
Somewhere, the seeds of what you talked about - the gifts of your childhood from your mother as well as the gift of acceptance that you spoke about from Mitaben somewhere seems to be the guiding principles of you running your business which is this huge machinery to polish diamonds. So, I would also relate that to one of the things you responded to in the Five Questions when you said that somewhere along the way, you felt the emptiness about ownership, especially material ownership and that was one of the big turning points of your life. Maybe take us a little bit in that territory of your material world, your business world and this blinding insight from a few years ago.
Parag: OK. Well, I did my schooling in Surat, and then I shifted to Bombay for my college. During college days, I used to go part time to our diamond business office in Bombay. Something deeply interested me in the way business was being operated in those days. I thought that there are a lot of ways to improve upon this. And I lost interest in my studies, and I came back to Surat, and I spent first ten years of my life (in business) in modernizing the business. The business which had the shape of a cottage industry, to a very modern technology intensive operation - That shift happened in the first ten years when I started working in Surat in the field of manufacturing. And again, the same principle applies everywhere.
You know - I had great people around me. One of my very dear friends is a great engineer and like a father figure in inventing technology globally - sitting into the small town of Surat. Then again, a very good consultant who was very good in management and that created its success. But I can see today that whatever success I felt was mine or probably through my effort ... You know every business, every industry faces tailwinds. In those times, whoever keeps at doing something, the chances of success are much higher and probably that was the phase I was in.
I can claim that I was one of the persons who took technology leadership into diamond manufacturing, but I think that was the phase when that had to happen, and I was probably at the right time in the right place. And that created its own success for ten years and then for another ten years we went on expanding, and as every business will grow, it grew. But beyond one point, I still felt empty. I thought that by doing this, I would achieve and it would be great for me, and it would bring meaning to life and purpose, and all hollow stuff what we talk about in management regarding actualizing your vision, your potential and what not. And it actually happened. But I was still hollow - still there where I was.
And well, one very pertinent question I asked to myself in those days that when I was in industry, most people say 90% would aspire to be in my place. And they would think that if they reached the place that I was, then their life would be made. And I thought I am already there. And I thought I had gone nowhere. And that was a very deep realization that finally, the pursuit of mind would not take you anywhere and then I started losing interest in any activity which would create business growth. And I felt that this is not for me. After probably not even a couple of years - I realized that the entire cycle of a for-profit activity - the inception of an idea, growth and so on - I have done it once and it did not fulfill me. And all the ambitions, all dreams of creating and growing the business, naturally dropped away from me. The realization that you are still empty after achieving whatever you aspire to be.
So I jokingly say this story - this is actually my story. The jokes go like this - that there are two types of accident in life. One accident is when you are not able to achieve much in the material world, and in the end, you think, Man, I was not lucky. This was the reason, or that was the reason and so on. And the other accident happens when you achieve everything that you aspire to, and then you realize, that there is nothing more to do. You are still hollow the way you were. Sometimes, the lucky part is that it comes early enough for you to have still time in your life to do something about it. Else you can easily go in circles doing the same thing.
So that was a deep realization. And today, let me clarify I hardly do anything at the office. I still go to office, but everybody knows that I don't travel for business. I don’t spend more than say four hours at work. So, technically I have taken a backseat and say, if I don't go to the office tomorrow onwards for a month then nobody is going to miss me at the office. That’s what my state is at work. Thank you.
Rahul: That is what you think!
I have seen this ‘Do Nothing’ way of engaging that you probably imbibe from Fukuoka’s farming and many of us know that you got an 8-10 acre organic farm right next to the school that you set up nearly a decade ago. And which is now arguably one of the best schools of Surat. And one can see that the principles of engagement or disengagement or detachment I should say that you spoke of in your business, the same you apply with your engagement with the school that you are available when there's a requirement, but otherwise, you just keep off it. We would like to know a little bit more about that.
Every time I think how you're able to squeeze so much in a day’s time, I think the essence of your ability to manage so many things, the essence of your leadership or laddership, would be very close to the quote from Lao Tzu who said that A leader is best when people barely know that he exists. And when his work is done and his aim fulfilled, they will say that ‘We did it ourselves.’
We would like to know more about this - your engagement with the school, with farming and the principles you put to practice in this
Parag: Well, one thing is constant in my life, and I really mean it - that since my childhood, I am surrounded by great people either my parents and my sisters who are really deeply loved me and cared for me for every small thing. When I was active in business, I had some great people around me. You know the Maganbhai story. Such a person used to work with me and truly brilliant people surrounded me, and somehow I felt that it was my karma to be with good people. And I enjoyed it
It so happened with the school that I met a wonderful couple - great educators by any stretch of the imagination and great people from a conventional educators paradigm. But of course, very sincere, very authentic, very value driven. And I met them and it somehow it so happened that I decided to start the school with them
And it really happened the way we had thought about it.
But still, in those days I thought that school was like service - giving back to society. And given the hollowness I felt while expanding my business, I thought that school might address that hollowness by my doing good to others (through the school).
And I was very passionate, and I'm still very passionate about school, and I worked really hard in the initial days. And the school has come a long way, and it is just not because of me. The people who are running it, the couple is a very dear friend of mine - Vardan and Ankita who run the school. And great team at school and really value driven approach. Beyond that, I would say that it is a great way to give back to society and we even felt that we should expand. India and specially the society needs a good school that encourages innovation and what not.
As I came in touch with the ServiceSpace ecosystem and I also went very deep into J Krishnamurti and his views on education. And in some sense, there were people in front of my eyes within our ecosystem who helped me understand what Krishnamurti was saying. And that deeply touched me, and the whole idea of bringing an impact, or bringing the change or changing the system or making children brilliant or giving back to society through material means, all started feeling hollow in some sense again. That this was not the right route. It was better than the commercial ambitious businessman route. Of course, the school was giving back to society in some sense. From one lens, yes, there is a contribution to society. But beyond that, it also felt hollow. If you start looking at it in a very wholesome way, you realize that the best gift you can give to this world and the best way you can serve yourself and the world is by transforming yourself.
And, that again created a big shift in my life wherein I thought that this (school) is a place where I will go and serve. Whatever is called for in the school from my end - anything - I am more than happy to do it. I don't want to keep any power, but I want to keep all the responsibilities. If at all given to me, I will take that. Whatever, whatever is given to me I will take that. But I don't want to feel or exercise any power in school. And I think I'm able to do that and I feel good about that. That is a good test of me where I don’t want to take any ownership for success at school. I mean that internally. Externally, others will obviously talk about it as my school and give me credit for its success. But within me, I'm very clear today that for the school’s success, I don't want to take any credit. If at all there is any responsibility, I should go and give my shoulder to that
So, this is where the school stands in my life today. I'm deeply committed to anything that is given to me for school. And I don't want to take the front seat in the school. Because it is their (the couple who runs the school) time under the sun - they are doing great work. Sometimes, not coming in the way is also a great way to be and that is what I do at school right now.
Rahul: In the way, it reminds me of a Sanskrit adage that says ‘Jal Kamalvat’ which means the way a lotus flower is to the pond - in a way it is a part of the pond but yet it is different. And the way the dew drop is on the lotus leaf, it is sitting there, and yet it is detached.
It's really beautiful the way you describe as the journey of life, in a way, mirroring from Return on Equity to Return on Ego. And you also hinted at the role of J. Krishnamurti in your life triggering this inquiry of Return on Equanimity or Equanimity per se. I'm reminded of my favorite quote of Krishnamurti which I first heard from you. When you truly begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are under a transformation. So in some sense, the way you describe the journey of your life it seemed like while the focus was on commerce or philanthropy, there was an attempt to change stuff around you. But it was in the last phase where you mentioned your tryst with Krishnamurti that you have even dropped the attempt to change and diverted that flame of attention on just understanding what you are.
I would just love to hear more about your journey with Krishnamurti’s teachings.
Parag: It is a very funny story. Again, it depends on what type of people you are surrounded by. A few years ago, a very dear friend called me and shared a Krishnamurti quote. I told him that to truly understand the quote; you should read J. Krishnamurti’s book The First and Last Freedom which I had read six or seven years ago.
So, he took this book home at 8 pm that night and started reading it. Next day at noon, he called me and told me that we needed to meet. When I asked him the purpose, he shared that the book you gave me, I finished that book 5 am this morning and he had a lot of questions. He found it to be an amazing book that brought him several insights which he felt changed the way he thought. I was astonished as I never felt that! I promised to meet him during the weekend. And I thought he is going to ask me questions about a book I supposedly read (but maybe did not fully understand). So, let me read this book again else I will look a funny stock in front of him.
Audrey: Given from the business side, to be giving back to the community to education and to Krishnamurti and then from there your childhood experiences - I feel like both of you have taken us through so much on an incredible life journey and we actually have a question that was written in earlier in the week and one of your fellow volunteers Mihir (who is traveling right now and unable to join today's call) sent his best wishes. He had a question that he'd like to ask you which is looking back on your journey so far and all that you've learned from it, what would you tell your 30-year old self? Would you do anything different? And looking forward what would you tell your sixty-year-old self?
Parag: Honestly, I don't know. I don't know. That is a difficult one to answer. I think I would not regret what I did. Neither I am too keen to plan what I'm going to do when I turn sixty after ten years. What seems to me, is that whatever we go through, probably we are meant to go through. So, that is how I look at this question. It is very difficult and little hypothetical to answer this. Thank you, thank you for the question anyway
Rahul: You mentioned attending Gandhi 3.0 in January 2013 as another moment of this big shift apart from the moment when you felt the emptiness of ownership. We also know that in the past three years or so, how you have been involved with the community here and brought us Laddership and Awakin Dialogues on Tuesday mornings wherein a group of people get together and discuss passages from J Krishnamurti and other thinkers. So, just wanted to touch that part that you had mentioned in the Five Questions.
Parag: Well, it was not Gandhi 3.0, but a 3-day "Head, Hands, Heart" retreat in 2013. Nipunbhai invited me to attend, and that was my first retreat. And I had a glimpse and first-hand experience what service means and what joy it brings if practiced with authenticity. That was a glimpse, and probably that service aspect and that first-hand experience of service really touched me in that retreat. In some sense, I started experiencing, feeling and realizing that only when you are other-centered, you are truly self-centered. And that experience changed my life - that retreat changed my life. I have never looked back after that retreat as far as, you know, connecting with the community either at Moved By Love or ServiceSpace. Somewhere it has grown on me; I would like to say. Thank you
Rahul: Wow, beautiful.
As we wait for any other questions, I would like a request for a Mulla Naseeruddin anecdote, Paragbhai. No conversation with you is complete without you offering a Mulla anecdote and us cracking up into laughter with a story which is as humorous as it is deep.
Parag: One very touching story of Mulla that comes to me is of - you know - becoming. So, one day Mulla is cleaning up his cabinet, and he found a magical lamp like in the Alladin story. On rubbing the lamp, a big genie appeared and asked him what can I do for you. And Mulla knew from the Alladin story that this genie could do anything for me. And the first thing that came to his mind was, I want to become like Mohammed - his neighbor.
Now, Mulla’s neighbor Mohammed was a very rich man and lived a very opulent lifestyle, complete with carriage vans, grand home, wore the robes of a king, many wives and Mulla always felt jealous of Mohammed. Mohammed, in turn, had a deep desire to be a king.
So, when Mulla asked the genie that I want to be like Mohammed. And the genie replied, ‘; Sir, you are already there.’Mulla said, ‘I didn’t understand.’ And the genie clarified, ’Sir, you are already Mohammed.’ A puzzled Mulla asked, ‘How? Explain’
So, the genie responded, ‘Mohammed is trying to be a king which he is not. So, he is a full ka pattha (a fool). And you are trying to be Mohammed who you are not. So, you too are a fool like Mohammed, trying to be something you are not. So, you are already there. Why do you want to be Mohammed?’
Audrey: Matthew from Glendale, CA, has a question. "Parag, in your life you feel a quantumness about your work. You are not concerning about earning enough to pay your expenses and the amount of time you work does not affect this. However, I and many people are working jobs that we do not enjoy to pay our bills. Keeping in mind that I and others may not have friends and family as supportive as yours. What advice do you have for us to move to a more enjoyable way of living and earning?”
Parag: Thank you, Matthew. That is an awesome question. I think it is a great question to hold because I am sure it will be very dynamic for every person because the context is very dynamic. I find deep merit in this question. Holding, asking this question in the first place is it's own answer that you feel that you need to do something the way you are doing it right now. I want to give you advice, but I feel that it is a right question to ask and hold and look into it. Probably, the answer will be, "how do I find a way out"? Because the moment we try to answer this in a formula - this is how you can do it - it again really binds you the way your work is binding you. I know this is not an easy or ideal answer but this is the answer that comes to me. I find merit in this question, and you asking this question is the answer to it. Thank you.
Rahul: On Matthew's question, I was reminded of one of the retreats a year and a half ago, One of the participants was again, a diamond businessman friend of Paragbhai... who was again a big person in the business community. The question he brought forth to the circle was, "I want to grow in the field of love, but I do not want to let go of the field of business where I am already doing so well. How can I be number one in the field of business as well a number one in the field of love"? He kept asking - and demanding in fact - an answer for that. Everyone he would go to - he first went to Paragbhai and asked this question. Paragbhai would say, just like he expounded today, which it is a "great question to hold." Then Nipun-bhai passing by, and the same question was asked of him, and he said this was a "great question to hold." I remember Suvjibhai’s frustrated reaction, saying "`I want an answer. I don't want a certificate for my question". But, I also remember, Paragbhai’s wonderful rejoin to this. I remember him saying "Suvjibhai, why don't you come with me and become number one is love first, and once you are done with that, you come back to me and I will show how to retain your number one in business"? That was a wonderful thing. Suvjibhai being smart, he said, "I get what you are saying, once I am deep in love with the world, I am no longer going to be bothered about number one in business. So do not fool me.” I was just reminded of that conversation, by the way, as you were responding to Matthew's question.
Audrey: That is a great story. I have a question. This is actually a comment from Swara, one of your fellow volunteers from one of the Laddership Circles you are running. She mentioned that once you decide to do anything, you don't leave any stones un-turned. This includes you having to change yourself at times or go through discomforts. For instance, in some of your volunteer efforts, you had to learn new technology, start using Google voice while you are holding circles. Making sure all the volunteers are tuned in, and it is incredible to see how you have transformed from a leader to a ladder. I am curious to hear your perspective on that. What is the difference - would you say? What is a ladder and the "laddership" sense that we have heard a bit about and what would you say are the difference between a "ladder" and a "leader" and what is your journey then, in that?
Parag: Beautiful question. Thank you, Swara! For asking me this question. I deeply appreciate it. Let me be honest with you. I was reflecting back "how did this happen"? My story with Laddership goes like this, that I was a participant last year and then a volunteer on back to back circles. This year I was part of the anchor team who was also the first pilot mbl circle. Then doing two concurrent Laddership Circles. How did that team happen? There are two reasons- and this sums up their sense of laddership - I feel that change happened because I was deeply laddered... in a very invisible way...and how I am sure about that...If somebody asked me, "how do you know you are laddered if it is invisible"? Everything that I do, I would ask this question. I am not trying to put anyone on the spot or embarrass anyone. But, I would ask this question to myself. "How would Audrey do"? What would Audrey do here to ensure things get done"? It is that sense of laddership. All difficult things that come to me or what seems difficult, the only question I put in front of that is "what would Audrey do in this case"? And I get my answer. Most of the time I go back to work. Sometimes I am still lazy, but I know that I am lazy here. I think that is the essence of laddership for me. When you hold, and when you ask the right questions the answer are already there. I hope I can answer you, Swara.
Audrey: Recently, someone was actually sharing a story about you, Parag. Saying how you are running this 2500 or 2700 person business. Founding this school for thousands of students. A few years you put on a Karma Kitchen -- a pay-it-forward restaurant -- at the school, and it was an experiment in generosity for the students, the teachers, the school community and people would come in and find out their lunch or their meal was paid for by the people before them, and they were invited to just receive the generosity and pay it forward in whatever way they wished. The whole time this restaurant unfolded, you and your wife Mita were in the back doing the dishes and cleaning up after everyone. I see this when you volunteered at some of the retreats that you speak of. That you are the one sweeping the floor or doing the dishes or cleaning up after people or trying to make sure everyone is comfortable or waking up at odd hours to pick up people from the train station. What do you think that shift is from leading in that kind of way versus from a more top down sort of way?
Parag: Sometimes you get sensitized to it, and other times when you actually do it, you see how effective and fulfilling it is. When it comes to leadership, we can use this term- servant leadership. When you actually practice that, you will sense what is right. In some sense, everything I do I learned from people around me; if I was washing dishes at Karma Kitchen, maybe it’s because Jayeshbhai was washing dishes and I learned from him. It is a way to serve our community by being that change. I can go on giving examples for everything you have talked about. I did my first dish in 2013, and I'd never washed a dish in my life. It's a little funny, and I don't think that is a great story but it's a fact; that I never helped to do that. This is what I am being sensitized to.
Sanchi: I really look up to Parag in how you take care of people around you, yourself, your body, your soul, your work... What are the personal practices that you follow, and secondly, what principles and values do you think young people like us should keep in mind when we are having conversations with our parents about the choices we are making which are not pleasant for them because we are not really choosing to be number one at our work according to them- sometimes? Thank you.
Parag: Coming to personal practices, what I have learned is, it is not about what to do right, it is on how not to waste time on minuscule stuff. It can be spending time on internet, television, entertainment... so I think if you stop wasting your time, I have seen, as a practice, I am left with a lot of time to do a lot of meaningful things. As a practice, I would say I live a very disciplined life regarding my eating and sleeping habits, and I have a lot of time for myself. I think my one very strong personal practice is that I have is lot of time for myself. If you are not able to get time for yourself, then you may be lost in the tsunami of things happening around us. The one thing that comes to my mind is not to waste time on things which are not meaningful.
That is a very interesting question about your dialogue with parents when making choices which they do not approve of. My answer is, however difficult it is, there is no way that I would do anything against the wish of my parents. I could hold that space, patience, and would lead with being the change. I will create enough room in their heart to trust them and create that freedom for me. Otherwise, we will think of serving the world when in a sense we are making someone unhappy. So if you are put in a situation where there are conflicting choices with parents, I think it is about connecting deeply with parents- that is the biggest choice you can take- and then probably taking other choices would materialize very effortlessly. So creating a deep bond with parents and especially when the choices are different. It will look very difficult because we may judge them that their thinking is not aligned with me, but whatever we say, I feel that’s the only choice I would exercise if I want to find a way which in some sense I’m conflicting with my parents. Am I able to answer you?
Audrey: Thank you Paragbhai. Thank you for sharing. Matthew had written another follow-up question to the question he asked earlier about any advice you might have for a more enjoyable way of living in and earning. He wonders, so how do you discover this enjoyment in life? It is unique to each person clearly but would you have any guidance or thoughts you might have, and maybe I would also add to that what do you find enjoyable in life and how do you get to that place for yourself? Basically, what is the secret Parag? (laughing)
Parag: (laughing) Thank you. From a lens of fullness life in itself by default enjoyable. I think the whole process of selecting and rejecting what we consider a good life or desirable life to what is life which is avoidable or which I want to resist to I think that process itself to me it seems like a culprit because whatever we try to desire or whenever we try to defend life as a good life or life which I can enjoy, probably is not going to survive because finally, everything is impermanence. So how do we align with life instead of selecting or rejecting and will make life enjoyable or joyous and I do struggle with the way you struggle with this question. Even though I may know the answer, but deep down I do select and reject life, and this creates its misery too. That is what I have to say. Thank you.
Meghna: It's been such an amazing call to listen to your journey. I have never really known so much about your history and your foundation of what makes you grateful for things and details of so many beautiful moments and experiences with you...your wife, your mother, and your children are really heartwarming. I also had one question. I have over the last one, and half hour it seems like everything is just perfectly in place, everything is by god's grace given to you, shared with you. However, if there was a magic wand that someone gave you and there was something that you would want or had a wish of, what would that be?
Parag: Thank you Meghna. Thank you for your very kind words. If someone had a magic wand, what would that wish be? (laughing) Ok... though I don't have any wish per se just to put in words, is to dissolve the wish maker in me. Thank you.
Audrey: (laughing) That was priceless. :) Thank you. What a wish -- to dissolve, having any wishes! Very fitting for the theme of today's call: "A different kind of ROE" and your return on equanimity. On behalf of our whole ecosystem and everyone on this call, I just want to ask, Parag, is there anything that we could do for you? How can we be of service to you and your incredible journey?
Parag: You're already with your being. That is all it takes! Being deeply connected with such kindred souls in this community. It is such an honor to be a part of it and i feel grateful for what you are doing by just being with me. Thank You.
Rahul: So wonderful to know you, and as Meghna said, so wonderful to learn more about you and incredible perspective you have on life from experiences.
And thank you so much for serving and the many things you do whether it's a business leader or an education supporter and being there for so many of us, being a dishwasher in different communities. So many ways you bring an incredible presence and a lightness and you're always on time to everything even though you have total freedom in your time as you say it is quite amazing to see both the talents of discipline and by civility and the humor. You bring everything to you and the people that you continue to step forward on this path.
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