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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Aasra in huffington post

India melding rapid innovation with ancient traditions to improve life for all

NEW DELHI, INDIA — Greetings from India, where we’re launching our latest international edition, HuffPost India, in collaboration with The Times of India Group and its digital arm, Times Internet (TIL).
India has always held a deeply personal significance to me. When I was 17, I studied comparative religion at Calcutta’s Visva-Bharati University, founded by the writer and artist Rabindranath Tagore. In between studies, I traveled across the country, falling in love with it — a love affair that has continued to this day. And in recent years, as I’ve become increasingly interested in how we can bring more well-being and wisdom into our modern, technology-besieged lives, India has become even more fascinating to me.
Beyond its 1.24 billion people, India is vast in every way — its history, its colors, its food, its spiritual traditions, the stories of its people, its contradictions, and in terms of the challenges it faces. As Patrick French writes in "India: A Portrait":
‘With its overlap of extreme wealth and lavish poverty, its mix of the educated and the ignorant, its competing ideologies, its lack of uniformity, its kindness and profound cruelty, its complex relationships with religion, its parallel realities and the rapid speed of social change — India is a macrocosm, and may be the world’s default setting for the future."
Without question, India is facing huge and unique challenges. While it has vaulted from the world’s 10th largest economy in 2005 to the third largest in 2011 — and is on pace to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by 2028 — 400 million Indians are mired in poverty, and the country is home to 40 percent of the world’s malnourished children.
Inequality in India takes the terrible form of a massive disparity between the privileged and the rest, with a huge deficiency of the basic requirements for a minimally acceptable life for the underdogs of society. The basic facilities of a usable school, an accessible hospital, a toilet at home, or two square meals a day, are missing for a huge proportion of the Indian population.
During this time of massive transition — according to the World Bank, India is in the midst of the largest rural-to-urban migration so far this century — traditional support systems have been weakened, and the pressures are immense. Right now, an average of 371 people in India commit suicide each day — that’s 15 every hour.
"The (multinational corporate) culture has brought about long working hours, lesser time spent with family, more distractions and more reliance on technology," Johnson Thomas, director of the suicide hotline center Aasra, said. In other words, increased stress and burnout, along with less connection to coping resources like family and friends, are having a devastating effect.
This isn’t dissimilar to what’s happened in the West, except here in India it’s happening much more quickly and on a much more massive scale.
And just as in the U.S., hyperconnectedness and overdependence on phones and devices is having a negative impact on Indians’ sleep, resulting in what’s been termed "junk sleep" — sleep that, because of constant interruption or the presence of distractions, prevents us from enjoying the necessary benefits of deep and REM sleep. The problem is especially widespread among India’s young people.
"While it has become common to see pre-teens flaunting cellphones and iPods gifted to them by doting parents," wrote Anisha Francis in the Times of India, "electronic gadgets top the list of causes for ‘unhygienic sleep patterns’…" According to one survey of Indians in 25 cities across the country, an astounding 93 percent of respondents reported being sleep-deprived.
But India has unique resources to meet all these challenges. When people talk about India’s strengths, they often focus on aspects like the tech sector; its educational commitment to science, engineering and computers; and its growing middle class.
Less discussed is what you see all around you when you’re here: how, on an everyday level, Indians organically and effortlessly use the tools and practices of their ancient spiritual traditions. The amazing extent to which these traditions are woven into the fabric of Indian life will go a long way toward helping India meet its many challenges.
For several decades now, many of these traditions and practices have been making their way into Western culture. From the widespread adoption of meditation to the rise of yoga, what was once seen as "alternative" has now become firmly entrenched in the American mainstream.
India’s spiritual traditions are now at the center of a global conversation about what it means to live a good life. The Bhagavad Gita, the fifth-century-B.C. section of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, draws attention to three different kinds of life: a life of inertia and dullness with no goals and achievement; a life full of action, busyness and desire; and a life of goodness, which is not just about ourselves but about others.
It’s that second life that much of our modern lives seems to be based on, but more and more people across the globe are realizing the emptiness of that approach to living. To thrive, we need to combine it with the third kind of life.
Some of our most innovative business leaders have drawn on principles that can trace their origins back to India, finding that yoga, meditation and renewal are a much-needed counterpoint to a Western workplace culture fueled by burnout, stress, sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Consider the book that Steve Jobs asked to be given out at his memorial: not a business manual, not a book about tech innovation but "The Autobiography of a Yogi," by Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the people who helped popularize meditation in the West.
Jobs had spent time in India and was particularly taken with the role of intuition in the everyday lives of Indians.
"The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world," Jobs said. "Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work."
And this power of intuition and mindfulness is increasingly, and conclusively, validated by science. Last October, I traveled to Dharamsala for a small gathering with the Dalai Lama organized by theMind and Life Institute. During my stay, it was impossible not to notice just how deeply a sense of gratitude is embedded in daily Indian life, with every meal starting with a simple prayer, even in the midst of poverty.
People think of the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader, and he is certainly that, but listening to him and many of the monks present, it was fascinating to see the way they are looking to science (specifically neuroscience) to convince a skeptical, secular society of the power of contemplation and compassion to change our lives and our world.
A huge part of India’s potential lies in its ability to rediscover practices rooted in its own past, and to incorporate them into every part of life, including politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi waselected in May on a platform of tackling India’s infrastructure needs and soaring inequality and poverty. But political leadership is about improving lives in every way possible. Last month, Modi appointed India’s first minister for yoga, Shripad Yesso Naik. India already had a department within the Health Ministry focusing on Ayurveda and yoga, not only conducting new research but raising awareness around these practices and their benefits. But Naik’s appointment takes this commitment to the next level, positioning India to be an even stronger global leader on well-being.
"Yoga should not be just an exercise for us, but it should be a means to get connected with the world and with nature," Modi said in a September address at the United Nations General Assembly. "It should bring a change in our lifestyle and create awareness in us, and it can help fighting against climate change." In the same speech he called for the creation of a World Yoga Day.
Technology has disrupted just about every aspect of Indian society, and there are over 240 millionInternet users in India — more than there are in the U.S. And Indians are overwhelmingly using mobile: Of the more than 100 million Indians using Facebook, more than 84 million access it through a mobile device.
Even as India modernizes, it’s taking its ancient wisdom along. This is true even in the world of business. Many leaders are stepping up to make changes in the workplace that can alleviate burnout and help employees tap into their full potential. Nearly a third of employers now offer some sort of stress-relief program, including yoga, tai chi and awareness programs.
And practically everyone I’ve met on my trip here has some form of spiritual practice, and what’s more, they are eager to talk about it — and tweet about it!
While HuffPost India will be reporting on all the challenges India is facing and all that is dysfunctional and not working, we’ll also be relentlessly telling the stories of what is working. To start with, we are spotlighting organizations that are tapping into Indians’ collective creativity and compassion to improve the lives of individuals and communities.
(Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is


HUFFINGTONArianna Huffington is the co-founder, chair, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Huffington is the author of 14 books, including “Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream,” “On Becoming Fearless … in Love, Work, and Life,” 2014’s “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.”
Originally from Greece, Arianna moved to England when she was 16 and graduated from Cambridge University with an M.A. in economics. At 21, she became president of the famed debating society, the Cambridge Union.
Huffington is co-host of “Left, Right & Center,” public radio’s popular political roundtable program, and is a frequent guest on television shows such as “Charlie Rose,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Inside Politics,” “Hardball,” and “Countdown.” She has been named to the Time 100, Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people, the Forbes Most Influential Women In Media and the Forbes Most Powerful Women list.

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