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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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

GOD and MAN

By s. chaitanya

Last Saturday, the last of 2012, it snowed 8 inches here in Providence. Late night it stopped but temperatures were dropping more and more. Early morning, when it was still quite dark, I casually looked at the snow in the backyard of Vedanta Society of Providence.  A very unusual thing, close to one of the cars covered with snow, caught my attention.  Wow! Someone had made a snow-man last night! A closer look revealed that the artist has put in a good deal of effort to make the sculpture as perfect as possible in the given situation. The arms were there with gloves, the eyes were well-made and glasses were put on them; a muffler adorned the neck (the snowman wanted to stay warm too!), the mouth held a pipe and so forth.
As Bhagavad Gita says (18/61) , “God, the Creator-Controller-Destroyer is in heart of all beings. …”
That makes everyone crave to create, to control and to destroy. Children and grown-ups, men and women, rich and poor, all like to express the divine creativity etc in their own way. To the extent the divinity is manifest in that individual, the creativity etc of that individual also has the divine expression. And as many scriptural sayings tell that God made us in His Own image, people too take special interest in creating images similar to them. People too want to be perfect as God is perfect.
Of course, logically speaking, this whole link between God and us can be put in a reversed manner too! One can surely say, because we crave to create, control, destroy, our God, our ideal gets pictured as the supreme creator, controller and destroyer. Because we crave for perfection, our god is, by definition perfection supreme, absolutely free from any blemish or defect. Our god has to be, by very definition,  the absolute ultimate of what we wish to be.
That is why Vivekananda has said that it is man who has made god in his own image.

The Opening

Dear Friends,

I am very happy to let you know that a blog of Vedanta Society of Providence has been created. The goal of this blog is to provide a forum to share one's opinions, thoughts and experiences on topics related to spirituality so that the participants can benefit thereby. This blog is open for all who are interested in spirituality irrespective of one's own religious, cultural or national background. To maintain decorum in this forum, I request you to go through the Rules and Guidelines for posting on this blog and follow the same in all your posts. I hope this blog will provide an opportunity for all of us to have a meaningful discussion worth contemplating upon and also implementing in our spiritual journey. May Lord bless us all.

Yours lovingly,
Swami Yogatmananda