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All the blog posts and comments in this blog are personal views and opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vedanta Society of Providence.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Spiritual Self-Mutilation

by a Friend of Truth

Spiritual progress is said to go along with renunciation, but what reward can we expect from that? What is renunciation and what are the things we should renounce? What does it mean to “renounce the world”? What is so bad about the “world,” which is, after all, God’s own creation?

In everyday life, we can observe that all success requires renunciation: We have to give up pleasurable things we could enjoy now so that we can get something even more pleasurable later. For example, investing money instead of spending it is a form of renunciation. Some people push this principle to an extreme and never come to enjoy their wealth, simply because they had been reinvesting their profit again and again throughout their entire life.

“Spiritual renunciation” is the logical conclusion drawn from this observation. Instead of looking at what feels good now, we try to widen our horizon and ask what will be good later, when I am no more.  In other words, what will be good for others? What is good from God’s perspective of eternity? In contrast  to a greedy miser, however, we try to get a higher form of happiness, we do not want to get just more money, but a pleasure greater than the one money can give: Instead of reinvesting his first billion into some new enterprise, the successful business man might support a charitable organisation.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What is the Meaning of Life? A Simple Answer to a Tricky Question

By Amarram

To be sure, greater people than me have given excellent answers to this question. On wikipedia you'll find a long article on that subject. On top of that, you can get a more or less elaborate answer from virtually anyone you ask. In the end, all of us have to find our own answer in the course of our life...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Spiritual Rewards in Everyday Life

By a Friend of Truth

The ultimate reward every spiritual seeker is pining for is the vision of God, the company of his Chosen Ideal. However, we all make the experience that God is apparently not very generous in this respect – how can we then keep our spirits up?

The worst solution to this problem is the easiest, and perhaps the most common one: Instead of trying harder to reach Him/Her, to correct our course of action, to understand His way of looking at things better and to do what pleases Him rather than us, we paradoxically do the exact opposite and use spiritual titbits to make us believe that we are already having some sort of God vision and are very close to Him.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My Father's Arduous Task

by The Father's Child

I was struck with remorse to look within myself. So much dirt of anger, jealousy and hatred; a strong feeling of greediness for all that's good in the world to be mine. And what's worse, to know that all my ill-feelings arise for objects of the world that isn't permanent. Why, I do listen to Swami's lectures, and am not quite sure where all of that goes in me. May be there's really no point for me to sit and listen and read the various scriptures. What's the feasibility of me developing a love for God in this birth? Despite knowing me for all my worth, my Father says, "Believe that you WILL reach God in this very birth"! He doesn't speak a lie, but here, is he talking sense?

Just as I was spiraling down into the abyss of no-hope, a flickering spark arose in the same dirty mind - how am I able to see the dirt that's covering ME now, whereas I've had many moments in life to contemplate when I sat and fooled myself? How did I not see these flaws, or well, the true colors of my mind, earlier?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Slavish or Self-driven?

by Seeker

The word "slavery" has a negative connotation, largely due to the exploitation (or abuse) associated with it in the past few centuries. However, if slavery is chosen by a person on one's own volition leading to one's own benefit (or for larger good), then it is acceptable and it is sometimes praiseworthy. We indulge in such "slavery" often in life as in the case of an individual bidding the orders of superiors even if it means going against once own conscience: it is seen in armed forces, any organization, a family or in practicing religion also.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Renunciation and Justice - a Problem of a Devotee and an Answer by Swami Yogatmanandaji

by Charlie (Prana) Feldman

This is an email that I wrote to Swami Yogatmananda about a spiritual problem that was concerning me. Swamiji was able to clarify the issue with his reply, which is printed below.  

Dear Swamiji,

I think you once mentioned that while eastern religions accentuate renunciation, western religions accentuate justice. I think that is a major cultural difference between east and west. Even though I grew up with no religious ideal, I had the ideal of justice in the background. Because justice cannot exist without injustice, that ideal seems absurd. Some people realize this and don't bother to advocate for justice at all, and go on to do antisocial things. Examples would be the Yippies, the Gestaltists, the Subgenius, and others. Their goal in life seems to be to play, with the goal being power, but not caring whether they get it or not, since it is all play. I had a mentor in college who took this point of view, so I ended up thinking that this was an unjust world or later, an unjust cosmos.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Grace of Swamiji

by Vithoura Ngo-Phat

Out of the blue
You came back into my life
Lost contact with you since I moved away
Lost contact because, you were retired
And no longer took care of devotees
But your rang my phone unexpectedly
You said with your loving and soft voice
Come back to Massachusetts
But Swamiji, my life and work were here in Maryland


A few months after
Getting a notification
Of a pink slip
Realizing that I would lose my job
I remembered that phone call
Around Christmastime
Looking at the ice storm
Outside of my window
Freezing rain
Glazed ice
Covering green pine trees


Saturday, September 14, 2013

"I'm at a much better place now"?

by  The Father's Child

I hear myself say often, "I'm at a much better place now." Am I really at a better place? I heard a friend of mine say this the other day, and the phrase started circling in my mind. It made me wonder; if we are at a better place, how come, then, that without much change to the environment/circumstances, we still become unhappy, distressed at other times? It hit me then, no we are not in a different place; we are going around in circles around the same place as the center! The center is our object of focus, and we travel on the circumference along happiness, sorrow, despair, distress, anger, misery, and multitudes of such emotions that tire our very existence.

But Father, I really want to be at a better place...drag me out of this orbit. Drag me before I forget that am really stuck now.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What's Life

by BeJoy

They claimed, "It's One!" Unity without division.
Conjured by false ego, these are mere delusion.

But now, Mother! I feel it's got to be Two.
What's life but an endless saga of just me and you!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Your Goal of Life

by Abhijit

I recently found out about your Goal of Life. I know! I know! Who am I to talk about your goals? True, I don't know anything about your goals. But when it comes to your Goal of Life, I just found out about it.

Let's say your Goal of Life is Goal-A, whatever that may be. Imagine you achieve that. Just imagine. What next? Life continues...What Next? Well, then you would have to have another goal set, say Goal-B. That makes Goal-B the Goal of Your Life (not Goal-A). That too when fulfilled, will have to replaced by Goal-C. And so on, there is no end to it.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Conserving Energy to Find the Solution

by The Father's Child

I whine a LOT ! Just as I was whining about how life has panned out to my Father, he asked, "Didn't you complain about all this two years ago?" Quite right, but you haven't helped much to alleviate my situation ... except how could I say this outright? He is my Father, and I could tell him without a second thought, but what stopped me was the guilty conscience that I wasn't reporting my problem to him with the idea of self-improvement, but rather to have him wave his magic wand and change the world around me - just so I may tread this dream in all joy rather than tears. My Father doesn't like cowardice and I well know that.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Meditate-a-thon

by Vedanta Society of Providence

Last weekend (6:00 PM Friday, Aug. 23 - 2:00 PM Sunday, Aug. 25), a residential meditation retreat was held in Vedanta Society of Providence. As its name "meditate-a-thon" suggests, this retreat was exclusively dedicated to long hours of meditation with some short readings and breaks (optional) for meals. About 25 people participated in this retreat and their experiences are being shared with others via comments for this blog post.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Comments on Zohar

by Charles (Prana) Feldman

I reserved the book The Zohar Annotated and Explained, which is translated and annotated by Daniel C. Matt, because I knew Swami Y was using this book in his summer Zohar classes. I was curious to read it for myself. Yet after the book was due back in the public library system, whoever had it out didn't return it. Finally, the book came in and I showed it to someone at the Vedanta Society, which led to much hilarity, because I found out that it had been Swami Y who had had the book out, and had tried to renew it but couldn't, because someone (who turned out to be me) had asked to take the book out next.

Anyway, Swami Y suggested I put something on the Vedanta blog about this book. If I wasn't going to write on the blog, I don't know if I would have finished the book, because it is hard to remember the esoteric terms from one chapter to the next. I still don't remember most of them.

It says that the Torah, the Jewish Bible, reveals its secrets only to those who are ready for them. It talks about a number of stories that bible readers are familiar with, but adds a mystical meaning to them. It talks about the sefirot, which
are the ten sparks or manifestations of God. It weaves the Shekhinah, the Divine Mother, into the stories.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Thinking of One's Own Death to Gain Perspective

by Donna Maurer

If I were to say out loud that I try to think of death every day, many people might react by worrying about my state of mental health and wellbeing. More and more, people are saying that they "want to live each day as if it were their last." But that is not exactly the same thing as thinking of death, even though living life in such a way may result from such thoughts. 

I remember an incident that happened a few years ago: A friend and I were walking in the Vedanta Society of Providence parking lot when a car pulled in abruptly with us in its path, leading us both to instinctively jump out of the way. We also had the same verbal reaction: "Not Yet!"

Many times it is the "wake-up calls" that propel us into action: Someone close to us passes away, we have a brush with death or a serious disease, or we watch
scenes of an unexpected tragedy on the news. Oftentimes, people have very strong emotional reactions to such incidents, at least in part I think, because they fear for their own mortality.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Become Like Children

by Gloria Maité

In today’s reading of the Gospel at the Catholic Church, Jesus urges each of us to be like children:

"The disciples approached Jesus and said,
'Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?'
He called a child over, placed him in their midst, and said,
'Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Multiverse - Parallel Universes

By  Kaivalyam

Scientists try to discover life beyond earth by restricting themselves to search for only those conditions that support life as perceived by our human mind. In religion also, we hear about the possibilities of numerous worlds, but this is not restricted to only one idea of a perceived notion of life.

Realm of Transcendence

Have you ever wondered how an ant would visualize your pouring water on it or your destroying its anthill? Of course, as a human being it is difficult to comprehend its perception of such intrusions. Very likely, all that an ant perceives is only a disturbance that potentially endangers its life and it just tries to avoid it. It would not be able to comprehend your entire towering figure and your particular action. So pouring of water or destroying its anthill for an ant could simply be an equivalent of a rainfall or an earthquake for a human being.

The greater the disparities in the states of mind between two creatures, the greater will be the tendency to perceive an action by another living entity as a disturbance. A hierarchy in the states of mind can be proposed: the unicellular organisms at one end and the humans at the other extreme with other creatures in between. We can extrapolate this hierarchy beyond the human mind: What we see as an earthquake or hurricane could actually be an intrusion from another creature at a higher state of mind whom we cannot perceive, just as an ant cannot perceive us in our actions. This could likely be the reason in Hinduism, the natural forces like wind etc. have been given some anthropomorphic qualities. Ultimately, by this extension we reach a single God-head who is superior to everything and controls all.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Most Beautiful Names

By BeJoy

"There is no deity except Allah. To Him belong the most beautiful names" (Qur'an 20:8). Among the various verses of the holy Qur'an, there are mentioned no less than 99 names (or attributes) of God. Talking about the virtues of these names, Prophet Mohammed affirmed that "whoever believes in their meanings and acts accordingly, will enter Paradise" (Hadith - Sahih Bukhari 8:419).

In this holy month of Ramadan, when hundreds of millions are practicing purity and austerities, let us appreciate these beautiful names of God and meditate on them:

1.  The All-Compassionate     (Ar-Rahman)
2.  The All-Merciful          (Ar-Rahim)
3.  The Absolute Ruler        (Al-Malik)
4.  The Pure One              (Al-Quddus)
5.  The Source of Peace       (As-Salam)
6.  The Inspirer of Faith     (Al-Mu'min)
7.  The Guardian              (Al-Muhaymin)
8.  The Victorious            (Al-Aziz)
9.  The Compeller             (Al-Jabbar)
10. The Greatest              (Al-Mutakabbir)
11. The Creator               (Al-Khaliq)
12. The Maker of Order        (Al-Bari')
13. The Shaper of Beauty      (Al-Musawwir)
14. The Forgiving             (Al-Ghaffar)
15. The Subduer               (Al-Qahhar)
16. The Giver of All          (Al-Wahhab)
17. The Sustainer             (Ar-Razzaq)
18. The Opener                (Al-Fattah)
19. The Knower of All         (Al-`Alim)
20. The Constrictor           (Al-Qabid)
21. The Reliever              (Al-Basit)
22. The Abaser                (Al-Khafid)
23. The Exalter               (Ar-Rafi)
24. The Bestower of Honors    (Al-Mu'izz)
25. The Humiliator            (Al-Mudhill)
26. The Hearer of All         (As-Sami)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Intrafaith Meeting

by Seeker

That title may sound a bit strange, and, you bet, it was a typographical error for an interfaith meeting. Usually the word "faith" in "interfaith" is associated with a major religion, and not with a particular sect of a religion. Hence in an interfaith meeting you will see representatives of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism etc., rather than a representative of Shia, Presbytarian, Theravada etc. So in the context of usage of the word "faith" in "interfaith," an intrafaith meeting would comprise representatives of sects within a religion: say, a meeting of Buddhists from Mahayana, Tibetan, Theravada etc. traditions.

You rarely hear about any such intrafaith meetings being held. In some religions, the differences between sects had led in the past and continues to lead even now to bloodshed. In some other religions, although there may not be a violent interaction between the sects, there is enough disharmony that the sects rarely see each other eye-to-eye. So why is it easier to profess brotherly feelings for followers of other religions but not with those from one's own?

I can think of two reasons. Let us look at them, considering Hinduism as an example, noting that the same holds for any other religion too.

1. The underlying fundamentals of all the sects in Hinduism are the same (Vedas) with differences only in practices or interpretation of scriptures, while catering to the same mass of people (largely of Indian origin). Since the same foundation (Vedas) is being interpreted by each sect differently, there is, in some counterintuitive way as a conflict of interest, more of a sense of disunity amongst the sects than they would have if they were having an entirely different fundamental basis. Also, each sect clamors for greater acceptance amongst the masses to have more followers, and this "cut-throat" competition completely contravenes the idea of brotherhood amongst the sects. However, these very sects in Hinduism will easily accept a sect of any other religion, say Christianity, that originated in an alien land, as there are clear demarcating fundamental differences (Vedas and Bible), and also they are prevalent amongst a different geographical/cultural populace.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

आत्मबोधः Atmabodhah - 1

by Srikanth_S

Śri Śaṅkarācārya, the great Vedantic teacher, has written commentaries on some Upaniṣads, Brahmasūtras and Bhagavad Gīta. He also composed numerous devotional songs besides writing short texts such as Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, Ātmabodhah etc. Unlike in commentaries, where he had to confine himself within the precincts of the context of certain texts, in the short works that he authored, he could give unrestrained freedom to his own thought and words on the subject of Vedanta. Therefore, these short texts act as mirrors reflecting that great teacher's mind that help us to realize the Self by using his thoughts and words to guide our lives.

A series of posts in this blog will be put up in next few months pertaining to the text आत्मबोधः Ātmabodhah. It literally means, "Self-Knowledge" (आत्मनः बोधः). It can also mean: "Knowledge alone is Self" (आत्मैव बोधः).

Verse 1

तपोभि: क्षीणपापानां शान्तानां वीतरागिणाम्।
मुमुक्षूणामपेक्ष्योऽयमात्मबोधो विधीयते॥१॥

tapobhih kṣīṇa-pāpānāṃ śāntānāṃ vīta-rāgiṇām।
mumukṣūṇām-apekṣyo'yam-ātma-bodho vidhīyate॥1॥

तपोभि: tapobhih - with self-control, क्षीणपापानां kṣīṇa-pāpānāṃ- without sins, शान्तानां śāntānāṃ - peaceful, वीतरागिणाम् vīta-rāgiṇām - no desires, मुमुक्षूणाम् mumukṣūṇām - liberation, अपेक्ष्य: apekṣyah - desirous of,  अयम् ayam - this, आत्मबोध: ātma-bodhah - Self-Knowledge, विधीयते vidhīyate - intended for.

Meaning
I am composing this Atma-Bodha for those who are desirous of liberation and are purified with self-control, moral, serene, free from cravings of sense pleasures.

Notes
In Vedanta, any scripture should at the outset clarify the four requisites (Anubandha):
1. अधिकारि adhikāri - the qualified student
2. विषय viṣaya - the subject matter
3. प्रयोजन prayojana - the utility of the subject
4. संबन्ध sambandha - the relation between the subject and that particular scripture

The verse states that the a qualified student (adhikāri) should have self-control, be moral, calm-minded, renounce the sense pleasures with intense desire for liberation. The subject matter (viṣaya) is Self and the utility of the subject matter (prayojana) is liberation. The theme of the scripture is the knowledge of the Self (sambandha) [1]. Elsewhere, Śaṅkarācārya talks about the four requisites for a qualified student in Vedanta, usually called साधन चतुष्टयम् sādhana catuṣṭayam:

1. विवेक viveka - discernment between what is real and unreal
2. वैराग्य vairagya - renunciation of desires
3. षट् सम्पत्ति ṣaṭ sampatti - six noble traits i.e. शम śama: control of mind/thoughts,  दम dama: control of sense-organs/actions, उपरति uparati: cessation of desires for objects,  तितिक्षा titikṣā: endurance of afflictions, श्रद्धा śraddhā: firm conviction of one's ideal, समाधान samādhāna: stead-fastness
4. मुमुक्षुत्व mumukṣutva - desire for liberation.

Although tapah is usually loosely translated as austerity, it actually means control of senses and mind with intense focus on the goal of Self-realization. Perhaps tapah is strongly linked to the idea of austerity because self-control is not an easy endeavor for ordinary folk. In this world, everyone does austerity for some worldly goal - parents for children, student for getting education, artists/scientists/sportsmen in their own field etc. However, tapah is not just any ordinary austerity for a worldly goal, it is specifically meant to be those that are performed for Self-realization.

Bhagavad Gita states three austerities [XVII, 14-16]: austerity of mind (thoughts), speech and body (actions). The austerity of body includes rituals, respecting the wise, cleanliness, uprightness, continence and non-violence.The austerity of speech includes uttering words that are truthful, beneficial and pleasant. The austerity of mind involves serenity, self-control, pure thoughts, silence [2].

Morality is a requisite trait as it has the foundation of unselfishness implying less assertion of one's ego with greater expansiveness in one's perception of oneself and therefore, a ripe state of mind for Self-Knowledge. Calmness of mind is required for paying good attention to the subject besides having clarity of thought. Renunciation of desires is needed to effectively put into practice what has been heard. The rudder that directs all the actions through these traits towards Self-realization i.e. the quest for liberation, is paramount.

References:
1. Swami Sundarachaitanya's discourse on Atmabodha in Telugu
2. Atmabodhah - Self-Knowledge, An English translation of Sankaracharya's Atmabodhah with introduction, comments and notes, Swami Nikhilananda, Ramakrishna Math, Madras, 1947.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Two Birds on the Tree

by Srikanth_S

Mundaka Upanishad, Third Chapter, Canto-1, verses 1-3 (translation):

Two birds that are ever associated and have similar names, cling to the same tree. Of these, one eats the fruit of divergent tastes, and the other looks on without eating. On the same tree, the individual soul remains drowned (i.e. stuck), as it were, and so it moans, being worried by its helplessness. When it sees thus the other, the adored Lord, and His glory, then it becomes liberated from sorrow. When the seer sees the Purusha - the golden hued, creator, Lord, and the source of the inferior Brahman - then the illumined one completely shakes off both merit and demerit, becomes taintless, and attains absolute equality [1].


Symbolism:


The bound bird is the individual soul who is ignorant of his/her true nature, the free one is God, the tree is the dwelling place (i.e., body-mind complex), fruits - sweet (pleasures) and bitter (pain) - are results of one's actions (karma), helplessness signifies the travails of being in ignorance, the "seeing" towards Purusha (or the free bird) implies turning attention towards God and doing spiritual practice (sadhana) to attain the Lord. Having attained the goal, the sense of individuality is lost completely and one is beyond the effects of karma (both merit and demerit).


I've attempted to depict this symbolism in poetry as follows:


 

Two birds of beautiful plumage perched on the tree,
One bound to the world and the other eternally free.

The free bird, serene, stood still on the tree-top,
Watching the lower one, bound, on the twigs do a hop.

Eating the fruits both sweet and bitter,
Spend its time and resources in a fritter.

The serene transcended both pleasure and pain,
Eating the fruits, the bound remained in chain.

The pain of bitter fruits taught it lessons of regret,
The pleasure of sweet fruits made it forget.

The pain of bitterness made the bound to ponder,
Resolving to reach the serene on the yonder.

Relinquishing its resolve with the arrival of pleasure,
Indulges in eating fruits again to go beyond at its leisure.

But the frequent bitterness in fruits kept it in remind,
To reach the serene as the goal of the mind.

Rises up to reach the serene, it will, only if little by little
At its own pace and measure to prove its mettle.

Approaching the serene it no longer remains bound
It and the serene were always One and so It found.

 
Reference:

[1]. Eight Upanishads with the commentary of Sankaracharya (Vol. 2) - Translated by Swami Gambhirananda

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spiritual Musings

by Charles (Prana) Feldman

Pagans seek freedom from violating taboos. Monotheists seek freedom from sin. Mystics seek freedom from ignorance. Atheists seek freedom from social injustice.

Pagans blame evil spirits and people who are witches for bad things. Monotheists blame the devil and people who rebel against God's covenant. Mystics blame only themselves, because those who don't know are ignorant, and cannot be blamed. Atheists blame the structure of society, and the powerful people who take advantage of others.

Pagans believe that if people violate taboos or practice witchcraft, they bring the wrath of the gods down on people. Monotheists believe that if people rebel against God or are disobedient, they bring the wrath of God upon society. Mystics believe that if people pursue selfish desires, that they themselves will not be fulfilled. Atheists believe that if people are corrupt, they get in the way of social harmony.

Pagans seek freedom to please the gods. Monotheists seek salvation, which is life with God in eternal heaven. Mystics seek unity with God, or nirvana, both of which go beyond duality. Atheists seek the freedom to make the most of life on earth.

We are all seeking freedom. All paths lead to freedom, some sooner than others.

Fanatics of all stripes seem to have incredible faith. This may be due to their focus and concentration on one point alone. Mystics are encouraged to concentrate on one point, but not to push their way on everyone. Fundamentalists suppress doubt, while mystics encourage honest doubt. Suppressing doubt may also contribute to the fanatics' incredible faith. Skeptics encourage doubt and decry blind faith. Skeptics may develop an incredible faith in their own conclusions. Fanatics think nothing of manipulating others to get their way. They believe that the end justifies the means. To the mystics, the means are as important as the ends.

An old idea is that it seems that the wicked prosper, while the good suffer. Mystics believe that we each have our karma, and that those who deliver pleasure or pain to us are just messengers, giving us what we deserve. Pagans and monotheists encourage fear and a victim mode. They believe they are victims of the gods, the devil, and in general, the bad guys. Atheists and skeptics may believe they are victims of religious orthodoxy. Mystics, who internalize their philosophy, don't see themselves as victims. They see themselves as manifestations of God or children of God. Their suffering comes from their own ignorance and desires and samskaras. The way to do away with it is to do away with desires, except the desire to attain God. The world seems real to everyone but a God- or nirvana-realized mystic.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Levels of Delusion

by BeJoy

We are highly deluded beings,
  We call each other Normal.

Some are even more deluded,
  We call them Demented, or Schizophrenic.

Others who are much less deluded,
  We call them Demented, or Wise.

A handful are not deluded at all,
  They are Paramahamsas, the knowers of Truth.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dream on Danger

by Vithoura

Under a dark sky, I stood there in the middle of a circle
In the middle of a field in the countryside
Surrounded by German Shepherd dogs
With ferocious heads and angry eyes
Wearing muzzles
Held by their masters in black suits
Ready to jump on me any time
Shivering from fright
I dared not move
Suddenly, a lady dressed in white saree
Came in the middle of the circle
She took my hands
Together we walked out!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Beliefs of a Spiritual Scientist

by  Kaivalyam

A few days ago I was having a discussion with my friend about science and spirituality. The focus was on the verification process in each field. Science demonstrates a principle through an experiment, and those who have sufficient background can accept the principle as a fact without performing the experiment themselves. On the other hand, spiritual principles cannot be demonstrated objectively to someone else and the onus is on the individual to take up that quest to discover their veracity for oneself. Therefore, spirituality-science debates are irresolvable due to their different verification procedures. Unfortunately this self-experimentation, which is the cornerstone of spirituality, is sometimes discarded and a belief system is adopted thereby making oneself susceptible to the manipulations of charlatans commonly seen these days.

Beliefs with no support of reasoning could lead one astray, but they also form the pillar to be held onto by any spiritual aspirant, as they are the markers that need to be realized in one’s journey. Belief in the statements of great sages (of the not so recent past) that have experienced the Truth and the practices they advocate reaching the same is what constitutes an intelligent belief system. Their experiences given in scriptures are sure to be correct, as they have withstood the tests through ages by various sages later on. The very fact that they exist today confirms their veracity, as those that were not true would have lost their relevance over time. For those whose focus is on principles, such a belief system would suffice to get guided well.

However, if one wants to follow the teachings of a living person (or a person in the very recent past) popularly known to be "enlightened," then a little more caution must be exercised, as their statements have not withstood the rigorous tests over ages. It is not for the ignorant to determine who an "enlightened" person is, and popularity is never a criterion for enlightenment. Also, people tend to make this popular "enlightened" person as a special entity distinct from every one else and begin to worship him/her as a Savior of this world. The idea of prophet, incarnation, messiah etc. is usually attributed to him/her. While some religions claim that there was only one such entity in the past and that was the only one there ever will be, some others have more open minds and accept that these special entities could come anytime anywhere. Now this particular belief leads to personality worship, which by itself is praiseworthy, as it transforms the lives of the followers for the better, but it may sometimes make one overlook the principles that form the basis of spirituality. Regardless of this special entity being actually enlightened or not, which anyway cannot be objectively verified, the same test must be applied to his/her statements and actions too: do they conform to the scriptures that withstood the tests over many ages? Remarkably, through such a test, even if a sincere worship of a charlatan is done, the follower who leads the life following the statements of this charlatan that corroborate with the scriptures will be truly benefited.


So in an experiential subjective field like spirituality, experimentation by every individual is necessary unlike in science where intellectual objectivity is sufficient. Hence in spiritual field this self-experimentation is not only for those with analytical bent of mind, but also for the devotional type.  Spirituality demands everyone, be it a devotee or a philosopher, to be an experimental scientist unlike science - it is therefore, more of a science than science itself.          

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spiritual Thoughts

by Charles (Prana) Feldman

A personal observation:

All major religions have three sets of values: 1) Love and Service, 2) Prayer and Meditation, and 3) Liberation or Salvation.

Sayings from books that I found to be relevant:

From Sri Ramakrishna: The Great Prophet of Harmony, Chapter: "Sacred Memories of Sri Ramakrishna" by Swami Akhandananda: 

"The landlord was the first to ask: 'Sir, He who is the Purna (full) Brahman (the Absolute) has no want in the universe. He pervades all space and time; how is his incarnation possible?' The Master replied, 'Well, he who is the absolute Brahman is the witness and is immanent everywhere. The Divine Incarnation is an embodiment of his power; the power is incarnate somewhere a quarter, somewhere else a half, and very rarely in full. He in whom the full power is manifest is adored as Purna Brahman, like Krishna. And three quarters of the Divine were manifested in Rama" (p. 96).

From Universal Religion and Swami Vivekananda by Swami Tathagatananda (in Swami Vivekananda's 150 Birth Anniversary Commemorative Souvenir by the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Northern Texas):

"If one religion is true, then other religions are true. Thus Vivekananda stated that 'holiness, purity, and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world and that every religion has produced men and women of the most exalted character" (p. 110).
"Unlike the approach of eclectics, syncretists, and sectarian religious imperialists, Vivekananda's concept of universality does not require the creation of a universal religion, because he posits that a universal element can be found in each traditional religion" (p. 112).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Glimpse

by BeJoy

I was sitting alone, thinking about you at the Society, when our friend, Shankar, tapped on my shoulder. We exchanged smiles and he took the seat next to me. Soon, as always, a discussion followed.

"You never seen yourself, except in the mirror," he claimed. A silence followed. He didn't take his eyes off me. Then he leaned forward, and articulated each syllable, as if I didn't quite understand the language, "You have never seen ANYONE, except in the mirror."

That got me thinking again. I have got to know you a few years now. All in the mirror, right? But the other day when you looked deep into my eyes, so lovingly, I thought I had a glimpse! When you smiled at me, so intently, I thought I had a glimpse!

But this is what got me scratching my head, and may be you can help. Was it you I really saw or was it myself?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Weather and Climate

by Kaivalyam
Almost all of us show varied degrees of interest in the weather news. Some of us show interest in it only when an interesting event like a snowstorm, hurricane, rain or cold/heat wave appears either in our hometown or elsewhere, whereas others pay attention to it almost daily even when nothing of unusual consequence is happening (or predicted to happen). These weather conditions, based on their intensity, influence living beings and economies all over the world - from simple changes in planning one's schedule to very dramatic and tragic destruction of life and property.

These weather patterns studied over some years or decades constitute what is called a climate of the place: e.g. what would be the seasons in a year, what the weather in each season usually is, etc. Unlike the changes in weather, the changes in climate appear to be less dramatic as their time-scale is much larger. However, effects of human actions like deforestation, pollution, green-house gas emissions leading to recession of glaciers etc. influence the weather patterns, and if these effects persist for a significant amount of time they lead to climatic changes affecting the ecosystem.

It is interesting to note that two similar phenomena of different time-scales are seen internally in a person also. A person's thoughts, emotions and actions constitute the weather-like time-scale, whereas a person's character (also technically called "samskaras" or tendencies) constitute the climate-like larger time-scale.  The thoughts, emotions and actions vary dramatically within a few moments in a person, whereas the overall underlying current of character of the person is relatively stable within that time-frame. Just like climate, a person's character is nothing but an aggregate of these weather-like thoughts, emotions or actions over longer time-scale. Akin to the external human intervention influencing the weather patterns and possibly inducing climatic changes, sustained concerted human efforts in directing the weather-like thoughts, emotions and actions over long periods of time can induce changes in climate-like character.

In case of the external weather/climate, a few meteorologists can analyze the various parameters and let the common folk know their conclusions, but an individual must do the analysis oneself in the case of internal weather/climate and arrive at conclusions suitably to direct the efforts for one's own good. A meteorologist has to be well qualified to study the external phenomena and so also an individual must be well qualified to study one's own internal phenomena. This expertise in internal study entails dissociating oneself from one's own mind and observing it objectively, just as a meteorologist would do. The surprising (or maybe not) feature is that most of us hardly give any attention to the internal phenomena, whereas we spend a good amount of time in knowing the external ones. Much more care and attention must be paid to this internal weather/climate since it is always directing our life, and thereby makes us mentally peaceful or otherwise, unlike the external ones that influence us only sporadically and that too supe
rficially.

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Trip to India

by Charlie Feldman

I recently went on a spiritual pilgrimage to India, which was the first trip for which I have needed a passport in 42 years. I went with Ramkrishna Chatterjee, whose parents have a home in Belur. He and his family were very generous with their time, showing me holy sites and even staying at Jayrambati and Kamarpukur, where all four of us traveled together. 

Of the sites I saw, Sri Ramakrishna's room at Dakshineshwar was the highlight of my trip. I was actually sitting in the same room where Thakur spoke with his disciples! I also made a wish when we saw the Kalpataru tree at the Cossipore garden house. At Belur Math, I liked to go sit in Sri Sarada Devi's room at the old Math, where people could meditate for a while. Unlike the main temple, there were usually only one or two other people there, and the sounds of the birds would accompany my meditation. 

At the International Guest House at Belur Math, I met people from South Africa, Japan, the Netherlands, London, Vancouver, Boston, California, and more, showing that this really is an international movement. The main temple at Belur Math always had droves of people coming in and out to give their pranams. 


The brahmacharis at Belur Math sang arati with their beautiful voices. At the Vivekananda Birth Anniversary Celebration, there must have been about 2,000 people present. There were musicians and speakers, including Swami Baneshananda from Germany, who spoke in English. He said that religion thrives in India due to religious freedom, and that while reason can be contradicted by higher reason, and scriptures can be contradicted by higher scriptures, nothing can contradict God-realization.

My two secular goals for my trip were not to get diarrhea and not to get my shoes stolen when I went into a temple, and I was successful in achieving both of those. I did not get to have all the spiritual conversations that I imagined having, as most people spoke Bengali or English that was hard to understand, and the conversation at the International Guest House was mostly light conversation. I thought I would get to talk to the president of the order, but when I went to see him, they sent in five people at a time, and all we could do was make our pranams and leave. I found out later that I would have had to make a special appointment to talk with him. 

Seeing the holy sites and the devotees, and meeting swamis and nuns, is something I will remember for the rest of my life. The Swami at the Baranagore Math was insistent that I should come back again, and he tried to teach me that phrase in Bengali. I don't know if I will make it back again, but this was the trip of a lifetime. 

(The photo accompanying this post is a statue of Swamiji, which I believe was taken outside his ancestral home.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Companionship

by Kaivalyam

In all our life, in every activity, we look for companionship. It can be parents for a baby, a friend for a child, a very intimate person for a youth, spouse when married, children when in parenthood, grand-children in old-age. In professional life, it could be one's fellow-students, employees etc. From time-to-time, we substitute a human companionship by getting engrossed in animals like dog, cat, horse etc. or in inanimate objects like computer, phone, television, etc. Of course, we all choose the company that suits our tastes.

This striving for companionship to suit our temperament is seen in great saints too. There are many notable examples,  such as when Sri Ramakrishna prayed for Keshab Chandra Sen's recovery. Sri Ramakrishna said: "'Mother, please make Keshab well again. If Keshab doesn't live, whom shall I talk with when I go to Calcutta?" [1] His fervent cry to the Mother asking him to send disciples: "In those days there was no limit to my yearning. During the day time, I could keep it under control though the talk of worldly people tormented me. I would yearn for the time when my beloved companions would come to me. I kept thinking what a relief it would be to talk freely and openly to them about my experiences. When the evening worship started, ....I would ... cry at the top of my voice in the anguish of my heart: 'Come to me, my boys! Where are you all? I cannot bear to live without you!'"[2].  Other instances suggest this too, like Shams-e Tabrizi's craving for a worthy companion that led him to Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī and later Rumi's bereavement of Shams' death through his poems Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi.

It always makes me wonder: Why there is this drag of need for companionship? It is so ingrained that we even fail to recognize it. When two friends watch a humorous scene in a movie, they look at each other and then laugh. It is a surprise to see the need to resonate this humor with another person.  The same holds for music concert, sports event or a beautiful scenery etc. With any information that is exciting for one, a need to share it with other is felt - the growing traffic in social forums is a testimony to this. Ironically this blog also fits in as a solution to this need. In any such company, all that the mind is looking for is some reactive impulse from the world for the thoughts and words that are generated within it. Is it possible to create these reactive impulses within one's own mind, thereby obviating the need for any external company? It may sound as though I'm advocating for Multiple Personality Disorder which is characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities that alternately control a person's behavior. But that is not the case.

The saints overcame this affliction of need for company by absorbing themselves in God. Until that state of mind is reached, the need for company does not vanish. Switching back to the examples given above: Sri Ramakrishna, later on in his life, had the company of Divine Mother with whom he could talk to whenever he wanted to. This mental state of his is very different from a personality disorder (or any human relationship for that matter) as this companionship with Mother is always blissful. Rumi also, later in his life, composed this poem after Shams' death:

"Why should I seek? I am the same as He. His essence speaks through me. I have been looking for myself!"[3]

There are of course saints who denied all worldly and human connections forcibly like Sri Ramana Maharshi. But for almost all spiritual aspirants, the need for companionship is felt always until the goal of Self/God realization is reached. Hence the advice given to us is to keep holy company so that the thoughts dwell on God rather than on any worldly object. When the bliss from within dawns upon us, the need for a companion is permanently gone.

 References:

[1] The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by M. Translation by Swami Nikhilananda
[2] Ramakrishna and His Disciples by Christopher Isherwood
[3] The Essential Rumi. Translations by Coleman Barks

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Silent Answers

by Rana

Swami Yogatmanandaji's lecture on questions in spiritual life ('Do you have a question?', June 17, 2012) was, as usual, insightful and inspiring. However, the best part of it it was carefully hidden – the title. In Zen-Buddhism, teachers use such questions ('koans') to point out the truth to the disciple. Thus, it makes perfect sense that Swamiji gave great answers to the various questions of the devotees but not, at least not directly, to the one he himself had raised: 'Do you have a question?' What could be the answer?

If I have no question, why is that so? Because there is such an abundance of knowledge that all my questions are perfectly answered? In that case, I would have fallen prey to what Sri Ramakrishna time and again criticized pundits (religious teachers) for. Simply because they were able to quote the scriptures in reply to all sorts of questions, they believed they knew everything – and thus never came to enjoy the mangoes they were describing in such detail. So, if I have lost all questions – my spiritual appetite so to speak – something has gone terribly wrong. Needless to add that in today's knowledge society where scriptural wisdom is even to be found on tea bags, a devotee can almost as easily become a pundit as a 'religious professional'.

On the other hand, if I have some questions, I'm not necessarily better off: the answers I get may not be satisfactory; different people give different answers; seemingly true answers could be misleading and seemingly wrong answers might just be very profound; personal questions are certainly relevant in spiritual life, but whom can I trust, who really knows me/himself/God? And finally: which question is worth being asked?

Sri Ramakrishna's approach to these problems can be as surprising for us as it was for his teacher Totapuri. Instead of embarking on lengthy discussions, he just went into solitude and asked his divine mother Kali. It seems that She made all answers flash up in his mind when he approached Her – and waited for a reply instead of suggesting his own reply. Later on, his disciple Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) too made the experience that all the troubling worldly questions drop off in the presence of God. The one important question that remains leads straight to God: Who am I, who are you?

In the Gita, Krishna initially only serves as a simple charioteer and directs the carriage according to the commands of Arjuna. In other words, as long as we hold on to our own answers and opinions, religion is nothing better than a rhetoric toolkit to confirm our passionate mind in what we want to believe anyway. Such reasoning can result in terrible wars. However, the charioteer revealed Himself as the embodiment of religion, peace and bliss once Arjuna started to ask and supplicate Him. Why not give it a try, again and again?

Thank you for this beautiful instruction in meditation, dear Swamiji!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Evolution

by Kaivalyam

While listening to Swami Yogatmanandaji's lecture this Tuesday, where he mentioned about Darwin's evolution theory, a thought struck me which he highlighted a few years ago in another talk. The evolution is seen at two levels - physical and mental. While the Darwinian theory mostly deals with the physical aspect, the reincarnation concept deals with the mental evolution. At the physical level, the species evolve and develop characteristics to respond to nature's challenges. These evolutionary changes in response to natural changes are imperceptible across a few generations but are conspicuous when considered over many generations. The relative pace of external natural changes and internal bodily changes due to evolution is critical for the survival of species. If the natural changes are such that their pace is faster than the rate of evolutionary changes, the species could likely become extinct, being unable to cope with the rapidly changing environment.

Now moving to the mental evolution, which although is very obvious in the life of a single person from an infant to adult, can be seen on a much larger scale in the ambit of concept of reincarnation of a soul (particularized mind devoid of body). A soul with greater need for manifestation of the inner essence of divinity needs those bodies (or external conditions) that its evolved mental make-up could use. Hence it is said that a soul transmigrates from one body to another body that is capable of having a greater field-play for the mind, ultimately to get a human birth where it can manifest the mind's powers to a maximum extent and further taking up better human bodies (or external conditions) to finally reach the goal of Self-realization.

It is interesting to note that the evolution exists at these two levels simultaneously and we are an active participant in them. As living persons now, our bodies are already preparing the genes to pass to our next generation with some small imperceptible changes to help them cope better with nature and at the same time we are also preparing our minds so as to take up a body in the next life with better capabilities for manifesting our inner essence of divinity.

It appears that there is a difference in these two evolutionary paths: at the physical level, we have no conscious role to play if we consider only the internal body changes, while at the mental level, conscious efforts could be put to maneuver ourselves towards a particular direction. Now are both these evolutions co-related? Before I attempt to answer that question, I would like to explore what is the guiding force that drives this evolution. You may call it Nature or God's design or whatever term you may like to use - after all it is only a name with no explanation whatsoever. Now these driving forces, even if assumed that they are different for each kind of evolution, would share a common trait - i.e. drive the entity that they act upon towards perfection or stability. At the physical level, this force responds to natural changes to give a temporary stability (or perfection) to the species, whereas at the mental level, the same force (or a different one if you wish to call it so) strives for perfection of mind (or stability). Since they share a common trait, there is no reason for us to assume that it is not the same force that drives both these evolutions. This driving force is what is called God's power or Shakti or Prakriti by different people.

We must, however, note that our real identity is unchanging and therefore, no evolution whatsoever really exists. These perceived evolutions are readings of the Reality through the lens of mind and sense-perceptions; and these readings are themselves meaningful only on the background of the unchanging Reality.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

She Walks Amongst Us

by Pamela Dee
 
Sarada Devi is not limited to the Vedanta Society, nor available to only the people of Her time. She is the Divine Mother and is all of humanity’s Mother and walks amongst us now. She is as close as our own breath.

I know this to be true in my own personal experience. I currently work as a Case Manager Supervisor in a large Human Services organization.  We are located in a low income area which can often be dangerous.

When I was first shown to my office 8 years ago, there were 2 bullet holes in the window, which was also protected by bars.  This made me feel somewhat afraid! The very next day, I brought in a picture of Sarada Devi and put it on my bulletin board where She still sits today. I see Her smiling face and continue daily to call on Her for help. Not only for me, but for the clients that come in and are in need of Her loving glance. They are sometimes sick, homeless, hungry, and in need of many services. Our job as case managers is to assist with their health and poverty driven needs. The work at times can feel daunting and overwhelming. But then, I am ever mindful of following Mother’s urging. She says. “Think of me, think of me, think of me!”  I invoke Her and remember her soothing, uplifting and heartwarming call, “Always remember that you have a Mother. Do what little you can. After all, how much can you do? I shall do the rest for you.”

Throughout my workday, I know She is with me, guiding and protecting. I can feel Her in my desk, in my books and papers, and all around me, and yes, smiling out from my bulletin board. I always feel in my heart Her immense love for all of us. I know that if we give ourselves to Her, She will always watch over us, protect us and remove all obstacles that arise.

We are all aware, that like this job, some of our life experiences put us out of our comfort zone. When our kith and kin are in need, no problem, we rush to assist them and do our best to help them. But Sarada Devi implores us, “Learn to make the whole world your own!” Are we as easy to give up our comfort and give out help and love to the sick, poor and down trodden? Especially when they are angry or annoying or unappreciative? Can we go past, not just tolerating someone, but accept them willingly as our own? She teaches us by Her unbounded love, to accept all.

In our own lives we can recognize ourselves as instruments of the Mother’s no matter what duties we are called to do in our lives. But, this happens only with our whole-hearted loving surrender into Her. This is the important thing.

We all, at one time or another, are troubled by the worries and anxieties of day to day life. Yet Sarada Devi has a special message of hope and consolation. We only have to remember that we all have a Mother in Sarada Devi whose gaze is always guiding us and protecting us. My dears, the Divine Mother of the Universe came to live amongst us and is with you right now!!! Please, call on Her!!!

Quotations in this blog post are from  the pamphlet "The Motherhood of God" by Swami Brahmeshananda. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2007.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Saradama, My Mother Divine

By Patricia Blake

Oh, Saradama! Today is your birthday.

Glorious, early morning sunlight, streams through the window, easily finding its way to your photo on my altar, and humbly bowing to your most holy feet.

Even the luminous sunrays cannot compare to your light.

As my eyes drink in the Darshan of your photo on the altar, an overpowering Shakti fills my entire being with love, not an ordinary love, but a love that only the Mother Divine can awaken and eternally keep ablaze, turning the dross into sacred ash.

As I silently sit by the altar, filled with your presence, my heart reminds me of all the years you guided and protected me through the ups and downs of life, sometimes holding me so tight, and sometimes letting me go, knowing, as only a mother knows, that I would find my way.

And yes, indeed you were right.

And today, this is the special day of celebrating your Blessed Life.

Thank you, dear Saradama, for lighting my lamp with your everlasting light and love.

JAI SRI SARADA MA!

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Harmony of Religions

by Charles (Prana) Feldman

For a while now, I have categorized political tendencies as those that seek predominantly either liberty, equality, or solidarity. I have come to believe that we need a balance between the three for the best kind of society.

As I have gotten older, I have turned more to religion for meaning in life, and being a philosopher by nature, I have tried unsuccessfully to categorize religions in a similar manner . . . until the other day. Now I think I have come up with a way to think about different religious tendencies that has made things easier for me to understand.

While all political tendencies seek some form of justice, I think all religions seek some form of unity, usually with God. There are three ways that religions go about seeking unity: through diversity, through hierarchy, and through mutuality.

Hinduism is the main religion that seeks unity through diversity. For most Hindus, it is okay to worship God (or not worship God) in whatever way brings you closer to God (or to your ideal). So Hindus, who mostly believe in an ultimate unity beyond the material world, seek this through a celebration of diversity.

I am generalizing here, but the trend of the Abrahamic religions is to seek unity with God through hierarchy. There is a hierarchy with a separate God at the top, the prophet(s), messiah, or other religious leader(s) at the next rung, then I believe comes humanity, then angels, then other sentient life forms. In this view, and again, this is a generalization, God is the source of all good, so any diversion from the scripture that represents God, is a rebellion or innovation, and thus bad. There are many in the Abrahamic religions who are not “fundamentalists” and who may not follow this view, but the highest ideal of the Abrahamic religions is the all good scripture, which comes from an all good God.

Finally, there is an attempt to bring about unity through mutuality, which represents many Buddhists (especially Mahayana), and many secular “religions” such as Marxism or humanism. In this tendency, people are all viewed as essentially equal and will in some way all support each other, either through leading each other to spiritual liberation or through having the same vested interests in a just society.

Keep in mind that all of these portrayals are generalizations. Hindus may believe in hierarchy (follow the personal God and the guru) and equality (we will all eventually reach the same goal). Liberals in the Abrahamic religions may accept other religions as paths to God and may seek some form of social justice where we are all equal. And Buddhists may look at people as having different karma (making them unequal at the moment) while communists may support a temporary hierarchy with the goal of eliminating all hierarchy.

As in my political view, I think a balance of the religious ideals is best. Diversity is good to allow people to follow whatever path brings each person closer to God or to their ideal. It is best to have a vision of God and to have spiritual teachers who may be higher up in the hierarchy, from whom we can eventually reach their state or reach union with them. And mutuality is important so we will not count anyone out as being important in the scheme of things.

I have always wanted an ideal ever since I have begun to philosophize. It is important to remember that all spiritual or religious paths, whatever their tendencies, seek some form of unity.  When we see that, we can accept the goal of all paths as valid. May we each find that unity in our own way.