How To Say No? Ask the Vedas - Common Sense Living Newsletter
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How To Say No? Ask the Vedas

Sep 16, 2014


I came home late after work one night, completely exhausted and ready to just sit down, turn the TV on, and my brain off, when my uncle started a conversation. It was an interesting conversation, things I usually love to talk about - life, faith, philosophy, the world!

But I could feel a mild throbbing in my temple and I knew it was about to develop into a full-blown headache. I needed to get out of that conversation, but I simply couldn't. So I sat there, not engaging fully, and yet not able to say no.

Why was it so hard for me to say no, I later pondered (the next day after my head had cleared)? Would he really have minded so much? Would he have been hurt? Or did I just not want him to think that I was a bad person? I could easily have said, "Uncle, I'm exhausted, can we continue this thread tomorrow?" As easy as all that, right?

But to my chagrin, I couldn't do it. What was I afraid of?

I recently had the great fortune to meet with Dr. Janki Santoke, a Vedanta philosopher, and student of Swami Parthasarathy, who invited me into her home for a warm dinner and heartfelt dose of philosophy.

Dr. Janki had never had much interest in philosophy, until she first heard Swamiji speak, where he said that 'living should be learnt'.

His life's work was translating the ancient philosophy of the Vedas, into a practically applicable foundation for living.

"Living is an art, a skill, a technique. You need to learn and practice it as you would a game or musical instrument."

Having seen people living in confused discomfort well into their late years, Dr. Janki felt inclined to agree with the Swami. People get married, get jobs, get wealth....where are we going with all this?

When questions arose in her, naturally she turned to Swamiji for clarity. Until she decided to live in the Vedanta academy for three years and study under him to imbibe the ancient Indian philosophy into her own life.

I was fascinated to find in my conversation with her, that this philosophy lays out neatly the practical guidelines on which most life decisions can be made, and most dilemmas can be resolved.

I was looking for an answer to the one question that was particularly eating at me in light of my distressing inability to say no, or to understand when and how I should say no - what is my role and responsibility in my relationships with those around me, and with the world at large.

In the video below is Dr. Janki's incredibly straightforward, practical answer to my question, how to say no, which turns out not be such a complicated issue after all.

Ask Jankiji - How to Say No

Dr. Janki questions why we fear saying no. Are we worried about hurting someone else? Are we worried about appearing selfish, wouldn't it be more noble to just say 'yes I'll try?' If we understand our life as being dedicated to a higher, nobler cause, then this question won't arise.

When you know you're doing something that's bigger than an individual - whether you or the person you have to refuse - then you can say no where necessary, because you are confident that you are doing the right thing, not acting out of selfishness. But if your reasons are self-centered, then you will be caught in a dilemma.

The simplicity of this idea, and the clarity with which it's rendered in our ancient philosophy struck me. Philosophy is not just some deep complicated thought meant to show us our purpose in life (although it can do that too). It also gives rise to a set of clear ethical guidelines that can resolve everyday dilemmas.

Talking to Dr. Santoke reminded me that I was asking the wrong questions, focusing in the wrong place. If I had not been thinking so much about myself, my exhaustion, my interest in watching some useless show, I could have focused clearly on the conversation, on my uncle's need, and had a fruitful interaction. The answer is to focus not on yourself, but on something bigger than you.

Questions I'm asking myself on a daily basis - how to deal with life issues, stress at work, quibbles with co-workers, a lack of clarity in my own decisions, a feeling that I have too much to do and too little time - these questions found some logical and useful answers in the words of an inspiring, soft-spoken, Vedanta philosopher.

    Vedanta is the art of right contact. "It is not the world that distresses you but how you contact it", says Swami Parthasarathy. Milton says that the mind is its own place and can make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven. The world troubles you not because there is something wrong with the world but because you don't know how to contact it. Electricity is a great boon if you know how to contact it; it is tragedy if you don't. Since Vedanta is the art of right contact, certain principles need to be followed to facilitate the connection.

If you'd like to learn more about these Vedanta principles, that of unselfishness, non-attachment, the role of the intellect, swadharma and others read Dr. Janki's writing on the subject.

If you have any questions that you need answers to - about life, love, work, spirituality - anything that is on your mind, really, do write in and we will request Dr. Janki to answer them for you.

And of course, as usual, if you have any questions for me, you know where to find me!


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8 Responses to "How To Say No? Ask the Vedas"

P. V. Veeraraghavan

05 Jul, 2016

Beautiful analysis of the problem of saying "no" to friends and relatives and the guidelines are wonderful and a good approach to reach th solution. Thanks MS Anish for sharing 


19 Sep, 2014

Dr, Janki informs me that Swamiji is in Mumbai. His details are on The website also gives the list of classes around the world his disciples take. He is most welcome to attend the classes to get his queries answered.

Like (1)

Ashok Kumar Sethi

18 Sep, 2014

I would like to know more about Swamy Parthasarthy viz., his location and how to contact him. We all are living in this miserable world, full of worldly activities, full of struggles, full of distress and tensions. No doubt, the God fearing person knows the art of living but sometimes the mind does not function properly and way out from worriness is not known. Under these circumstances, the right light needs to be ignited by Guru, which is hardly to find out. Spirituality is such a subject that lot of conversations are needed to update oneself in this arena. Therefore, my requisition may be forwarded to Dr Janki and I would also solicit her to reply to me for some of mine above mentioned hints and quarries.

Jaishankar Jayaraman

18 Sep, 2014

A lovely article Anisa, great work. Many a times we are caught in this catastrophe of saying no. We can actually say "no" without uttering the word "no". Its an art. Please do share more such articles on life matters.

Mahmood Merchant

16 Sep, 2014

Good job, Anisa! Keep up the good work!

Sathyanarayana TS

16 Sep, 2014

what could be the purpose of existence?


16 Sep, 2014

I would like to add to this article. The central theme of vedas is that everything is connected and the world is an illusion. Believe it or not, this makes a person better businessman. Most of the people have their ego attached to their business. If they incur a loss, they become very sad. If they win they become little happy. In fact, they should be completely detached from their business. They should do their business as they are playing the game of chess. Moreover, every businessman should live like poor person for some time. This will relive them from the fear of poverty. I lived like a poor person for short period of time. I realized that poverty, after all, is not that bad.

Like (1)

Raghavan Parthasarathy

16 Sep, 2014

A pretty good topic. Now, we can also see that the truth is not spoken for keeping a person happy.

Like (1)

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