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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Religion-Science Discussion

by Srikanth

This post is a summary and some additional thoughts on the distinction between Religion and Science, based on what Swami Yogatmanandaji presented in class on Jnana Yoga on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015.

Personal verification of truth is the ultimate goal of religion. It begins with belief, but it should and will never get stuck there.
Science is belief on what other scientists have proven is acceptable. So it gets stuck in belief.
Religion has already shown to the world what its goal is and how to achieve it. Further, it lays claim that some people have actually achieved this goal.
The ultimate goal is not given in science, nor there is any effort to do so. The cause and effect relationship that governs it is endless, as a cause for a particular effect was earlier an effect of another cause and so on.  Also, the particular effect now would be a cause for another future effect, ad infinitum.
Religion is a life-transformation. The followers of religion are expected to adhere to the disciplines to better their lives - thereby becoming more peaceful and contented.
Science does not demand any change in one’s life. Having a scientific temperament at an intellectual level with no bearing on life is sufficient and in fact it is encouraged.
Religion deals with the subject (knower) itself rather than the object (known). Although it begins with God as an object to be known, it matures into an understanding of God being the subject itself and everything else as non-existent or dependent on God.
Science deals with the object (known). The knower is always scrupulously told to keep separate from the object studied. However, despite his or her best efforts, the knower is bound to have some influence on the known during this interaction.
Great sages and samaritans, who bring peace to the world, are inspired through religion. Religious groups run many charitable organizations.
Science is not known to cultivate great people who are a blessing to the world by bringing peace and happiness to everyone. Although many scientists may be charitable, they rarely take the plunge in helping the world.
Pursuit of religion brings everlasting peace and happiness.
Scientific discoveries and inventions can only bring intellectual happiness and physical comforts in life.
Religion creates a lot of bloodshed in this world, mainly due to differences in how one views  God and performs religious practices. Usually, the actual motive of religious conflict is for power to control a large population with zero regard for God, but religion is used as the prop to further the agenda of these power mongers.
Have you ever heard of scientists killing each other just because they have different views of their field or do experiments differently to reach the same goal? Sadly, many so-called “sane” and “intelligent” people, even if they are scientists, fall into that trap when it comes to religion.
The charlatans in religion create scandals that bring shame not only to themselves, but also to the religion. Unfortunately, their sincere followers may get disgusted with religion itself.
The charlatans in science bring disrepute only to themselves. Somehow science itself never gets blamed for their malpractices, unlike in religion. Also the followers of such charlatans are not very emotionally traumatized when the charlatans are exposed, as seen in the case of religion.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Thoughts on Reading the Book Jewish Meditation - A Practical Guide by Aryeh Kaplan

by Charles Feldman (Prana)
On page 55, it says: When one repeats a mantra over and over, the mind also becomes habituated to it. Eventually, one becomes able to say it without the words registering in the conscious mind. . . . It is therefore a highly effective psychological means of removing all thought from the mind.
I have often wondered about the psychological means of one-pointedness leading to God-realization. The above paragraph indicates that when one becomes habituated to the mantra, it becomes automatic, and one can enter into samadhi through losing track of the mundane world altogether.
On page 95, it says: The most difficult thing [in having a conversation with God] is to begin. Rabbi Nachman advises sitting down in the place where you meditate and saying to yourself, "For the next twenty minutes, I will be alone with God." This in itself is significant, since it is like the beginning of a "visit." Even if there is nothing to say, it is a valid experience since you are spending time alone with God, aware of His presence. If you sit long enough, says Rabbi Nachman, you will eventually find something to say.
The above paragraph let me know that I am not alone in often not knowing what to say to God, and that it is possible to develop a relationship, just as you would with a person with whom you at first feel shy.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Greatest of All Wonders

By Moomookshoo
The inspiration for this poem comes from Swami Vivekananda's  talks on Maya given in the second volume of the Complete Works and King Yudhishthira's answer to Yaksha's question given in the Mahabharata.

Do you sometimes wonder
What is the greatest wonder?
The ancient world had its seven wonders;
The modern world boasts its own wonders;
The future may bring even greater wonders.
But, curiously enough, we miss the eternal wonders!
Isn't this  the greatest of all wonders?

We look around and find a world of constant change,
Nothing ever remains the same, except that things change.
Yesterday's child is today's  young man,
Only on the way to be tomorrow's old man.
What we today  fondly call "mine", many in the past called  "mine",
And many more will do the same, in the relentless march of time.
The present undoubtedly  is ephemeral,
Yet it feels  reassuringly  eternal!
Isn't this a wonder eternal?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Catching Train at Platform 9&3/4

By Swami Yogatmananda

Humans have a tremendous attraction for the mysterious. We all keep imagining the world that lies beyond ‘this world’ – i.e., the world which we can grasp and measure by our senses. Of course, we are conscious of a lot of things that elude the senses. For example, we all are conscious of beauty, joy, wonder, love, peace as well as their opposites. And of course, the most important and constantly experienced, yet most inexplicable phenomenon of ‘I’! But none of these can be precisely presented in terms of mathematical measurements or logical constructs. The expressions of these emotions can be understood as brain-functions and can thus be reduced to mathematical terms, but not the emotions themselves. The spiritual urge in us therefore wants to go beyond the boundaries of reason, which is truncated by the limits of whole numbers. Mathematical logic, which is also related to set theory, has to work within the whole-number frame-work: we cannot conceive of a set having 5&7/10 objects; it has to have either 5 objects or 6, but not ‘in between’. In arriving at a conclusion using formal logic, we have to go step 1->step 2 ->. . . .  If, for simplification, we put a step between steps 1 & 2, then that becomes step 2 and what was earlier called step 2 becomes step 3. Absolutely no possibility of having step # 1&1/2!

But suppose we can sharpen our basic faculties and are able to actually conceive a logical system that goes in between?

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Quest

By Arunim

I see it sometimes…
The fleeting glimpses
In that moment everything is right
Every pixel perfect

     Then a fog comes down
     Envelopes it all.
     Through it I keep searching…
     Tripping and falling.

I hear it sometimes…
The heavenly song
In that moment everything is right
Every note perfect

     Then a tumult rises
     Drowns it all.
     Through it I keep searching…
     Shouting and screaming.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Surrender and Service to Guru

by Romaharshā ("lady with horripilation")

Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati (also called “Maha Periva,” meaning “a great person” in Tamil), the former head of Kanchi Peetham in Tamil Nadu (India), was known for his simplicity, erudition in scriptures, and more importantly, as a God-realized soul. He traveled across India on foot, camping at various places while his traveling disciples arranged for the daily worship of Chandramouleeshvara (Shiva Lingam handed down the lineage by Sri Sankaracharya). The following is an incident narrated to me by a disciple of the great saint.

Once when in Andhra Pradesh (India), Maha Periva decided to camp for a few days. The disciples, to their predicament, found no bilva trees (whose leaves are used to worship Shiva) around. The next morning, Maha Periva was informed about the unavailability of bilva leaves. Eventually, someone spotted a basketful of bilva leaves outside the camp from an unknown source. That day's worship was done. The same event happened the next day too. On the third day, a 12-year old boy was found to be the source of those leaves. The boy was taken to the saint who thanked him for the leaves. He asked the boy how he knew to pluck the leaves in the right way to be suitable for the worship.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

ABC ... of Life

by Devotee

Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi in India is revered by millions all over the world as a saint or God Himself. His biography can be read in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sathya_Sai_Baba

I had never been a big follower of him - he has his fair share of ardent followers, admirers and detractors too. In fact, more often I was a skeptic of his motives, but so I was about every person who wore an ochre robe. But what I admire most and I have to admit is the serious devotion, goodness, simplicity, moral and spiritual discipline that his devotees imbibed through following him. In fact the reference given below is a testimony to this fact. I had seen numerous such people since childhood: a devoted family  who were poor financially and with a paralytic as the family head, but always had evening aarati and meditation on him at their home; another person who worked in office but distributed Baba’s pithy spiritual and moral short sayings to children of various schools during his off-work hours so as to inspire the children etc. Besides the devotional and spiritual focus, his organization also does a lot of welfare activities: They run schools/colleges, hospitals, build homes, lay water supply network to their home district (county) etc.

The Baba had given his teachings as ABC … of Life to a close devotee who presented the same to a large gathering [1]. The gist of that presentation is being given here:

ABC: Always Be Careful,  Always Be Cautious, Always Be Compassionate, Always Be Concerned, Always Be Charitable, Always Be Cheerful, Avoid Bad Company

D: Duty, Dedication, Devotion, Discipline, Discrimination

Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer Young Adult Retreat 2015

by Rishi

I really enjoyed the youth retreat in July. This was my first time coming to the retreat, and I am really glad I came! Every morning was 30 minutes of calming meditation followed by yoga. We had inspiring lectures on the topic, studying the mind, by Swami Yogatmanandaji. All of us youths got to spend time together through a little bit of karma yoga (service) at the center, as well as sharing our thoughts, talents, and experiences with each other. The food and overnight accommodations were beyond exceptional! I would like to thank Swamiji as well as all of the volunteers at the Providence center for this amazing learning and growing opportunity.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Retreat at Rochester

by Srikanth

Narada Bhakti Sutras retreat at Rochester was an enriching experience of devotion attended by about 25 devotees. Swami Yogatmanandaji followed the commentary written by Swami Bhuteshanandaji ("Narada Bhakti Sutras," published in 1998), who delivered lectures on this subject in Japan.

The Sutras do not conform to the literature rules seen in aphorisms that are characterized by their pithiness. The scripture itself begins with the necessary qualities of the student to read the Sutras and then deals with the description of the goal called supreme devotion, which is of a blissful, ever-satisfying and immortal nature; why devotion is superior to other yogas; Gopis of Vrindavan as the ideal devotees who on the face of it seem to be scandalous but their love is divine only because of their awareness of Sri Krishna being God incarnate; and how to practice devotion: both the do's and don'ts.

Narada asserts that the devotion does not require any other accessory like knowledge or other yogas for its inception. Even the definition of God, to whom the devotion is directed, is not necessary, as love is present in every person. The Sutras present the processes to cultivate devotion as applications of other yogas. However, Narada doesn't acknowledge his methods as the mainstays of other yogas, thereby maintaining the tenor of his Sutras where devotion was glorified up to the hilt, sometimes making you feel as though it's a bit of an oversell. He arbitrarily claims the path of devotion to be superior to other yogic paths, only because the goal and the means are the same (love) in the path of devotion unlike in other paths. Also the insinuation that other yogic paths involve pride, and God, therefore, prefers devotion is somewhat preposterous.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reflections on Meditate-a-thon 2015

by Suzanne

I am filled with overwhelming gratitude for our Meditate-a-thon 2015, for our dear Swamiji and all the devotees who made it possible.  It was a precious opportunity that gave me a sorely need infusion of spiritual joy, which is still enveloping me a week later.  I was miraculously able to dissolve subtle blockages toward practice that I had been creating for myself.  It was truly an out of this “world” experience.  I especially enjoyed the meaningful readings and Swami Y's  wisdom teachings, one of which was to simply and effectively, HAVE CONFIDENCE!!!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Yoga Conference at Vedanta Society

by S.

June 21 was declared as International Yoga Day by the United Nations General Assembly. On account of that declaration, events related to yoga were held all over the world. Vedanta Society also observed a 3-day Yoga Conference with workshops that was attended by about 60 people on each day.

A raging debate prevalent in every country: Is Yoga a Hindu technique? Arguments are presented in both ways:  Some non-Hindus say it is a Hindu technique and therefore, it should not be taught in public institutions, while some Hindus also say the same but only to glorify their own religion and many neutrals/agnostics/atheists claim that it is technique now completely divorced of Hinduism. The tenor of such a debate was presented non-confrontationally by the various speakers in the conference. The academicians/therapeutics presented the benefits of Yoga in one’s physical life while the “more religious” ones presented it from the perspective of Hinduism as a step towards Self/God-realization. 

 Usually, Yoga in the West (Hatha Yoga) is focused on physical well-being with very little focus on the mental well-being. In India, Yoga is usually seen as a spiritual technique, with Hatha Yoga seen as only a step towards meditation (Raja Yoga). In my opinion, a blend of both the approaches is needed for a wholesome life. While India needs to improve its focus on the physical component of Yoga to improve the general health of its populace, the West needs to understand that Yoga also plays an important role in improving the mental well-being of the people when its meditative part is included in its presentation. While it is easier in India to improve focus on the physical aspects of Yoga, it is more difficult to introduce the meditative component of Yoga in the West without bringing in any flavor of Hinduism so as not to raise the hackles of non-Hindus. Raja Yoga must be introduced to Hatha Yoga practitioners in the West as it is entirely scientific, in that it does not call for a faith in any super-natural being called God or for having allegiance to any particular religious practice or dogma or symbolism or iconography.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Yoga and International Yoga Day

By A Devotee of Vedanta

We may never again see an athlete dominate basketball for as long and as thoroughly as NBA Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul credits his stellar success to Yoga. When he started Yoga for fitness (1976) very few athletes knew about it. Today Yoga (with some adaptations) is an integral part of NBA training camps. And not just NBA or professional athletics. Yoga has now grown into a fitness favorite across urban population globally. In American cities yoga studios are mushrooming fast – BKS Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Hot Yoga, Dance Yoga, Chair Yoga… you name it.

The word “Yoga” emerging with all these fitness variations speaks volumes of its “commercial brand appeal.”  But is there something more to this popularity, beyond just the commercial aspect?

To trace the origin of Yoga, one has to travel thousands of years back in time to the recluses. This word literally means “to unite.” It is a technique to restrain the otherwise restless mind and body. Using this technique our faculties evolve. We begin to perceive the inherent harmony in all beings and experience universal unity.

Friday, February 27, 2015

An Ideal and a Role Model

by Srikanth

Definitions from Oxford Dictionary:

Ideal: A person or thing regarded as perfect. A standard of perfection; a principle to be aimed at.

Role model: A person looked to by others as an example to be imitated.

In the last class, Swamiji said, "Sri Ramakrishna is an ideal householder and an ideal monk," i.e., Sri Ramakrishna shows what the goal of a monk or a householder is.  As Swamiji pointed out, the purpose of marriage is not physical pleasure, but it is a means to get over the sexual drag. Both Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi, being celibate, demonstrated how an ideal couple should live in the world. Sri Ramakrishna is also an ideal monk because he had tremendous renunciation besides having no employment for his own subsistence by relying entirely on what others provided to him. Swamiji brilliantly said contradictions exist between an imperfect monk and imperfect householder, where as perfect monk and perfect householder have a harmony which is found in Sri Ramakrishna's life.

Thus Sri Ramakrishna is an ideal for anyone, i.e., a state of perfection to be achieved. However, is he a role model? A role model has a life like us, but his/her certain actions make him/her achieve the ideal thereby giving confidence to others that they could achieve the same too. Would life of Sri Ramakrishna evoke that confidence within you that you could achieve the goal from the state where you currently are? Bear in mind that if you treat him as an incarnation, then it gets harder to treat him as a role model as you create an impregnable wall between him and yourself by thinking that he and you are not the same.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Yoga of Play

by Chinmaya

As the sun set slowly on western bank of the Ganges, tiny waves of the river sparkled in its crimson rays. The crisp air was filled with dense chirps of countless birds, excited to fly homewards. On the eastern bank, sounds of bells and musical instruments in preparation for the evening vespers permeated the temple grounds of Dakshineshwar Kali. In a small room by the temple courtyard was seated Sri Ramakrishna, surrounded by a group of eager listeners, both young and old. The group was immersed in an intense discussion on the unique signs of an Avatar. Hardly were they aware of the events in the outer world. As Sri Ramakrishna spoke, a sublime smile flashed through his face illuminating the entire room. Silence interspersing the talks charged the room with ecstatic vibrations, filling the hearts of the listeners… which also included a young boy named Chinmaya. While talking, as the benign gaze of Ramakrishna fell upon Chinmaya, he felt a thrill of intense joy! And gradually his whole being merged in oneness with Sri Ramakrishna’s Divine Being.

Chinmaya experiences this bliss every evening, when after a long day’s work as a hi-tech professional, he sits for meditation in his small apartment room in the bustling city of New York. As he closes his eyes the entire scene gets vividly enacted, breaking through the limits of time and place . . . and the deep joy of that spiritual experience stays with him all the time. This practice of meditation is often called “Leela Dhyana” – meditation on the actions or ‘leela’ of a divine incarnation and imagining oneself in that divine company.