Sparks

ARANI SERIES
Spark 38
Monday, August 28, 2017
ON ANGER
·         Anger is when you punish yourself for the faults of others.
·         Anger is that breeze which puts out the flame of your intelligence.
·         Anger is not a solution to any problem but is itself a problem.
·         Anger keeps you in continuous stress when you don’t control it.
·         Anger leaves you more tired at times than what a whole day’s work does.
·         If somebody can make you angry, she / he controls you in that sense.
·         If your smile is God’s signature on your face, anger erases it.
·         When overpowered by anger, you need more energy to sit quietly than to yell or scream.
·         The fool expresses his anger through shouting and screaming; the wise man brings his anger under control.
·         Silence can be of great help in the matter of winning over anger.
·         Count up to ten when you get angry; count up to a hundred if you get very angry.
·         Do you know the whole family of anger? Insistence is its very dear sister; violence its spouse; egoism its elder brother; fear its father; insult and back-biting its daughters; enmity its son; jealousy its daughter-in-law; hatred its grand-daughter; negligence its mother. Please keep away from this whole family.
{Courtesy: Pashupati Tekriwal, a Homo Whatsappean}
Swami Chidananda
Note: I will be in the San Francisco Bay Area from September 30 thru October 21; then in Southern California till November 3. Take a look at my BLOG for details.

ARANI SERIES

Spark 37

Monday, July 31, 2017

SELF-DEVELOPMENT, AN ENDLESS TRAP

  Of all the delusions that we carry, the one about ‘self-development’ is the most treacherous one! The ‘quantum-leap’ in spirituality takes place when we ‘let go’ of this deep-rooted fancy within us. The core teachings of the Upanishads do not talk about self-development. They rather suggest ‘abidance in the Self,’ and, please note, the Self needs not development. It is all about knowing, seeing or staying in. “We attain the supreme when we know Brahman,” says the Taittiriya Upanishad1. “All our bonds are cut asunder when we behold the Supreme,” declares the Mundaka Upanishad2. “Meditating (staying in deep contemplation) on the Unborn, Unwavering (Consciousness), we are free of sorrow,” is the insight that Kathopanishad3 shares. The Vedānta4 says, “You are that,” and not, “You will become that”. In the grip of ignorance (erroneous seeing, avidyā), we are very fond of self-improvement. This stems from our obsession with the little self in the first place. Though it may seem a contradiction, it is a case of our getting attached to the snake and getting too busy with ways and means of overcoming the fear. We are not interested in seeing that there is no snake. Those who talk of the rope could irritate us. No wonder certain thinkers of great maturity talk of “letting go” rather than holding on to anything or pursuing any goal. Alan Watts5, following the language of Buddhism to an extent though, exposes the fallacy of getting better or becoming somebody. He says Yogis meditate on the navel of the cosmos and are not interested in riding on its wheel. The navel (nābhi), he remarks, is not the point on our belly but the ‘unmoving center’ in this constantly changing samsāra! The scriptures are very clear on this. They say, “Stay as the Self,” and never, “Become the Self, run fast, time is running out!” So do not run. You’re not in time. Time is in you! Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 | brahmavidāpnoti param | Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1 2 | tasmin dristhe parāvare | Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.8 3 |..ajasya avakra-chetasah.. anusthāya na shochati | Katha Upanishad 2.2.1 4 | tat tvam asi | Chāndogya Upanishad 6.16.3 5 Alan Watts on “let go” - LINK - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQATersCI9Y

ARANI SERIES

Spark 36

Friday, July 14, 2017

BEING NOBODY, GOING NOWHERE

    The self-development workshops of this mad, mad world typically exhort us to become somebody, make money, get power and earn fame and name. The science of liberation – moksha-shāstra – asks us, in contrast, to know ourselves and ‘not bother’ about becoming anything. The world’s glamorous programmes urge us to have great dreams and realize them; the Upanishads inspire us to wake up from our sleep and realize how we are already happy. Motivational speakers of the ‘tinsel town’ advise us to go places, cross the 5 oceans and see the 7 continents. Saints and sages whisper in our ears, “The universe is within you, dear!” “Sitting here, he goes very far! Fast asleep, he reaches everywhere,” declares the Kathopanishad1 while singing the glory of the Self, and of Self-knowledge. “Know this great, all-pervasive Self and all grief will end for ever,” is the extraordinary assurance of the sacred text2. We know very well that all that glitters is not gold. This world of pleasure, power, positions and possessions is very attractive, no doubt, to our senses and mind. We at the same time know countless sorrowful tales of rich and famous people, of queens and kings, who – in spite of their possessions or positions – had sleepless nights and unenviable days. What we actually seek is ‘something that does not die’ but nothing in the world is permanent. When she was offered much wealth and large property, Maitreyee asks her husband Yājnavalkya, “Can I become immortal (amritā) upon getting this whole earth, filled with wealth?” [amritā here means lasting happiness.] Her husband, who had just announced his renunciation plans, says without mincing words3, “Wealth cannot simply give you lasting happiness!” Spiritual ignorance makes us feel insecure endlessly. That insecurity prompts us to go after wealth and fame, imagining that we will be at peace for ever after getting rich or famous. This illusion is universal. Ending of ignorance is the real need. A clarification however is in place. The whole advice implied in the slogan, “being nobody, going nowhere,” is not against occupying any position. Nor is it against travel. It is all about investing our emotional energy in the prospect of building a socially coveted image. We are warned against chasing a ‘self-image’ and we are lovingly told to seek the true Self. Incidentally the phrase, “Being nobody, Going nowhere,” happens to be the title of a popular book by a Buddhist nun Ayya Khema4. Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 āseeno dooram vrajati, shayāno yāti sarvatah – Kathopanishad 1.2.21 2 mahāntam vibhum-ātmānam matvā dheero na shochati. – Kathopanishad 1.2.22 3  amritatvasya na āshā asti vittena – Brihadāranyaka Upanishad 2.4.2 4 Ayya Khema, German by birth, lived between 1923 and 1997, and did extensive work for especially women who embraced Buddhist renunciation. ~

ARANI SERIES

Spark 35

Thursday, June 29, 2017

9 MORE FACETS OF MEDITATION

Lessons from Geeta

(continued from the previous Spark)

   10 Should we control thoughts? We should, certainly. When backed by adequate study, this control takes a mature form where we ‘withdraw the mind’ (uparamet) from wasteful engagements. (6.25) 11 What is the idea of withdrawing the mind? We must question the I-thought and stay as the Pure I (the Self). (6.26) 12 How do our relationships change when we advance in meditation? We will see God in all and all in God. (6.29) 13 How does our relationship with God change? It gets so intimate that there is never a sense of being away from God. (6.30) 14 Won’t various social and other setbacks come in the way? No. No matter what our status, health or situation is, we can live in God-consciousness. (6.31) 15 Will we isolate ourselves from people as we rise in meditation? No. On the contrary, we will see others’ joy and sorrow as our own. (6.32) 16 Can ‘meditation’ be regarded as a way to Self-knowledge? Yes, many masters in the past reached enlightenment through ‘meditation’. (13.24) 17 Do Upanishads talk of meditation? Yes, Kaivalya Upanishad for example advises us to resort to faith, devotion and meditation in order to gain the highest wisdom. (Kai. Up. 2) 18 How do Upanishads define meditation? There are several levels (and kinds) of meditation as per Upanishads. For example, Chāndogya 7.6.1 places meditation above ‘capacity to judge rightly’ (chitta). Here meditation means a continuous, uninterrupted flow of thoughts related to a chosen form or symbol.   Swami Chidananda

ARANI SERIES

Spark 34

Sunday, June 18, 2017

FACETS OF MEDITATION-1

Lessons from Geeta

   Lord Shri Krishna guides all of us, through His divine instructions to Arjuna, in the skillful art of meditation. The following seem to be most striking among the numerous precious points that He shares: 1 Being able to stay calm, free of negative emotions, is most precious. Even if we are not, going by external marks, sannyāsis or yogis, we are on a high level of spiritual progress if we are broadminded and serene in various situations. (6.1) 2 Being free from personal likes and dislikes, and thereby having the outlook where a lump of clay and a piece of gold are equal to us, is of great value if we wish to rise in consciousness through meditation. (6.8) 3 In the preparatory stages, and during the actual process, “mature mind-management” is the crux of meditation. Our mind can be our best friend or the worst enemy! (6.5) 4 As we master the art, our mind stays steady like the flame in a windless spot. (6.19) 5 As we anchor ourselves in Truth, we will have the (wisdom and) strength to take grave adversities also in our stride. (6.22) 6 We have, in our ignorance, embraced sorrow. This is an unfortunate state of affairs. Meditation (yoga) is coming out (viyoga) of this unholy hug! (6.23) 7 What do we meditate on? The truth on which we may meditate may be called ātmā (the Self), God, Truth, Shiva, Krishna or some other thing, divine and holy. We are advised to fix our mind in the ātmā, and not think of anything else. (6.25) 8 The seat on which we may sit, in a formal practice, should neither be too high nor too low. It should be warm, soft and comfortable. The place should be clean. (6.11) 9 Our mind has the tendencies to imagine things. We tend to fancy rosy situations and dwell especially on “what we may become”! Such thoughts (sankalpas) need to be given up. We must stay with ‘fact’ and not get carried away by fancies. (6.24) (to be continued..9 more points will be in the next Spark)     Swami Chidananda  

ARANI SERIES

Spark 33

Sunday, May 28, 2017

THE WAY TO HEAVEN, AND TO HELL

   On his way back from a fierce battle1, a samurai warrior encountered a monk. He thought of getting a doubt cleared. This doubt had been bothering him for a while. The warrior began humbly, “Oh monk, which is the way to heaven, and which, to hell?” The monk seemed to be deep in meditation; he did not respond. The samurai asked the same question again, louder, and a third time, louder still. His yelling almost shook the tree sheltering the monk. The monk’s eyes flew open. “You stupid fellow,” he said, “why did you disturb my meditation?” The samurai was furious. Who was this monk to call him stupid? He drew his sword, ready to kill the monk. When he did so, the monk smiled and said, “That is the way to hell!” The warrior stopped where he stood, and realized that the monk had been listening to him all along, and was now teaching him a valuable lesson. He put his sword back in its sheath. “And that is the way to heaven,” said the monk.   Impulse control is a key component of emotional intelligence2, and a whole lot of spiritual guidance also emphasizes the need to “not dowhat comes to our mind without giving some thought to it”. If Kathopanishad3 calls the two ways ‘the pleasant’ and ‘the right’ options, Geeta4 warns us not to be swayed by the suggestions and promptings of the senses. We must begin with the ‘now’. In the context of the small choices that come to us – in thought, word and deed – we must tame our habit-based impulses and change our nature. Vulgar thoughts, harsh words and unkind actions try to emerge in us all the time; the good news is that we do have, in 7 out of 10 cases, the choice to proceed with themor to withdraw from them. Let us act wisely in every 10 minutes of the window of the ‘now’ and let us build a different, robust future.   Swami Chidananda    (..in Dallas, Texas) Notes: 1 The story is taken from HAPPINESS IS YOU, a book by Dr. Siddhartha B Gautam, published by Step Press (North Carolina, USA). Seewww.steppress.org/books 2 See elaboration on Impulse Control in the book THE EQ EDGE: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success by authors Steven Stein and Howard Book. 3 Kathopanishad – valli 2, mantra 1 4 Geeta – chapter 3, shloka 34

ARANI SERIES

Spark 32

Sunday, April 30, 2017

 MODERN APPLICATIONS OF ANCIENT WISDOM

8 Teachings of Indian Spirituality that are Relevant Today

(..while there are a thousand more..)      Countless are the pieces of guidance that we receive from our Indian Spiritual Heritage, for our books of wisdom are vast and the sages, mystics, enlightened ladies and men have also been simply numerous. However here are some pointers selected rather randomly.   1 Health and fitness:   Shiva makes kind enquiries of Pārvati, when the latter had been doing severe tapas; the Lord, disguised as a mendicant, asks her if she was taking proper care of her body! All of us know how our heritage developed the sciences of yoga and āyurveda to very high levels of sophistication.   The body is indeed the first instrument in all that we do towards growing spiritually.   shareeram-ādyam khalu dharma-sādhanam    (Kumāra-Sambhava 5.33 of Kālidāsa)   2 Way to be free of heart burn, and optimize performance:   The principle of Karma-yoga, where we are asked to stay focussed on “what we can give,” and not make a big issue of “what we get”, is the great, open secret of reducing all our heart burn.   karmani eva adhikāras-te    (Geetā chapter 2.47)   3 Motivation, gathering new energy:    We must again and again remember that much of our sorrow, if not all, is caused by the play of our own mind. Therefore the Upanishads ask us to ‘now sink in despair’ but rather get up and get going!   uttisthata, jāgrata, prāpya varān nibodhata    (Kathopanishad 1.3.14)   4 Inner poise enables us to face all adversity:      Today’s world is getting more and more caught in the “outer world” of comforts, convenience and pleasure. Geetā exhorts us to build inner strength through spiritual study, regular meditation and selfless work. When there is enrichment within us, even grave situations fail to throw us off balance.   na duhkhena gurunā api vichaalyate    (Geetā 6.22)   5 Stress reduction through tri-karana-shuddhi:      The spiritual teachings of India have always kept in mind the holistic development of the individual. The body, the mind, the intellect and speech have especially been identified as areas where continual development is necessary. The body, the speech and the intellect have been called tri-karanas (three main instruments). If these are kept fit, 9 out of 10 stressful circumstances will lose their ability to affect us.   kāyena manasā buddhyā kevalair-indriyair-api (Geetā 5.11) kāyena vāchā manasendriyair vā… (well-known prayer to Lord Nārāyana)   6 Holistic vision:   The whole universe runs on a ‘give-and-take’ basis. We receive a lot from Nature (environment), from people and from our own body. What do we give them? We owe them a lot, and the way to do so is through yajna, dāna and tapas respectively.   yajne tapasi dāne cha sthitih sad-iti uchyate (Geetā 17.27)   7 Three ways we can take our life to heights of meaningfulness:   In an extraordinary story that we find in the Brihadāranyaka Upanishad, a mono-syllable advice “da” from God holds the answers to setting ourselves right. Our tendencies to indulge in excessive pleasure, to hoard more wealth than we need and to behave in unkind ways are addressed by “da”, which stands for “restrain, give and show compassion”.   dāmyata, datta, dayadhwam (Brihadāranyaka Upanishad 5.2.3)   8 Panacea for all ailments of human life:      How are we to do all that is advised in the great books or by the illumined souls? Despite our good intentions, we seem to fail miserably. The Geetā here gives us a golden advice – Remember Me constantly, and keep doing your duty!   mām anusmara yudhya cha    (Geetā 8.7)   Swami Chidananda    (..in Raleigh, North Carolina)

ARANI SERIES

Spark 31

Thursday, March 30, 2017

NEW VERSUS OLD

  Another year has passed, and we have welcomed another New Year (nava-samvatsara)with the festival yesterday – Ugādi (or its other forms in different parts of India). Even as a new year comes and greets us after every 365 days, a spiritual question rises, “what is new in us?” From the Upanishadic point of view, our true nature is timeless! It is most ancient and yet every new! Lord Krishna declares1 the Self (ātmā) to be very old (purāna) and yet never affected (na hanyate) by the laws of nature unlike the body that goes through wear and tear (hanyamāne shareere)! The challenge before us therefore is to uncover the Pure Self that we are, and drop the identification with the false self, made of five sheaths (pancha-koshas). We have strong attachments with each of these five layers: physical (annamaya), vital air (prānamaya), mental (manomaya), intellectual (vijnānamaya) and bliss (ānandamaya)! By using the word ‘upasankramya’, the Taittiriya Upanishad points out2 this very shedding of identification, which is like crossing five great barriers in the inner spiritual journey. Our bondage consists in this false identification only. Born of ignorance, it is an error of perception. Once we commit this error, with the body for example, we are bound to make a big issue of height, weight, looks, color of skin, fitness and so on. While they have no doubt a place in the scheme of things, we make a mountain out of a molehill. Spiritual ignorance makes us blow things out of proportion. {We invite, as another expression goes, a storm in a teacup!} While they should bother us a little here and there, the false identification makes us remain depressed for lengths of time. We must ask therefore the question, “Who am I?” with adequate support from our scriptural study. Who can deny – our sorrow is the outcome of self-judgments? We think we have lost, and we are sorry. We think we are superior, and we feel elated. We think we are worthless, and we are miserable. The error of false identification shows in what we think, which may not be true. The celebration of the New Year, therefore, may please be accompanied by penetrating insights into the EVER-NEW-SELF in us. Enabled by Vedānta study, and empowered by the practice of “who am I?” let us discard the old self and stay as the truth of our being. Wish you a great New Year – outside and inside! Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 na hanyate hanyamāne shareere – Geeta 2.20 2 etam-annamayam-ātmānam upasankramya etc. Tai. Up. 3.10

ARANI SERIES

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Spark 30

Overcome Your Inhibitions

   In his advice to his younger brother Bharata on leadership, Shri Rāma, touches upon three traits1 that are indeed very thought-provoking: 1)    Do consult right people on complex matters where you may not know enough, 2)    Do avoid wrong advisors who may speak sweetly but are incompetent and 3)    Do not shut your door and try to sort out every issue all by yourself. The above are free translations with liberal addition of phrases. In the actual verses of Vālmiki Rāmāyana2, the mention is of “pitfalls” of leadership.
  1. a)not seeing wise people,
  2. b)discussing with advisors lacking knowledge and
  3. c)deliberating on matters by oneself.
The advice obviously applies to all of us, irrespective of whether we are CEOs or not. We may or may not be well-recognized leaders in any field but we have to handle various situations at home or at work, where the pieces of advice given by Shri Rāma are very relevant. From a psychology point of view, we will have these pitfalls if there are certain inhibitions in our mind that are actually baseless. Because of some painful memories, which have perhaps gone deep into our unconscious, we avoid certain people and see the company of certain others. We sometimes just want to be holed up in our own rooms! It has been rightly said by countless spiritual masters that the essence of spirituality is “living in the present”. For this to happen, we need to root out our fears, anxieties, regrets and other memory-based negativities. “Who am I?” – This query anchored in intense self-awareness can be a powerful tool to do this. With the flame of “who am I?” burning brightly, the shadows of the past, which are in the form of various residues following incidents that were hard to digest, leave us. No matter what our past was, we can emerge free. We can thus see that self-enquiry (Who am I?) can help us overcome the inhibitions in our psyche, and emerge as good leaders.   Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 adarshanam jnānavatām, eka-chintanam arthānām and anarthajnais-cha mantranam 2 Vālmiki Rāmāyana, 2.100.65 thru 67 {Ayodhyā Kānda}

ARANI SERIES

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Spark 29

BE THE FLAME WITHOUT SMOKE

   “Discover that ‘light within you,’ that is a flame without smoke!” Kathopanishad1 urges us to do so. In the simplest language, we are that bright flame when ‘selfish motives’ leave us. Egoism and the numerous selfish aspirations that arise from it are the smoke that make the light dim. Wherever we go, we find that there are varieties of misunderstanding in relationships. Many a time, it is because each side clings to its own perception of the situation. Each side believes it is seeing the matter rightly. We must introspect. We must re-examine the stand we have taken. We must be ready to change, if we find that we have been wrong. This honesty is the way to free the ‘flame of our awareness’ of the ‘smoke of error in perception. Alertness is the royal way to alertness. All other practices are stepping stones at best. Pride, false prestige, foolish attachments and, above all, certain baseless sense of insecurity obstruct honest living. Living in fear, we postpone the cleansing of the ‘flame’. Some teachers realize our limitations and sympathize. If alertness, the direct approach, is hard, we may go for some practices, they say. They are not wrong. We need to arrive at a degree of inner order or balance. Bhaja Govindam has a verse: Stay devoted to the lotus feet of your Guru; restrain your senses; control your emotions; follow healthy rules of right living; you will soon get freed from the worldly bondages; you will see the Self, shining in your own heart! Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 jyotir-iva adhoomakah - Kathopanishad 2.1.14 2          | guru-charanāmbuja-nirbhara-bhaktah | samsārād-achirād bhava muktah | | sendriya-mānasa-niyamād-evam | drakshyasi nija-hridayastham devam ||  

ARANI SERIES

Friday, December 30, 2016

Spark 28

Stay Connected

  A certain spiritual practice (sādhanā), let’s say, appeals to you the most. Why waste time in a hundred other things? Stay put in that sādhanāof your choice. In these days of mobile telephony or Internet, there are times when we find the signal level to be good at some corners in a campus and we stay there to do our work, don’t we? If we move away, our work suffers. Likewise, let’s “stay connected” to the Divine by remaining in the area of our sādhanā, as much as possible, and avoid going away to activities and engagements where we lose our connection to the Divine. “One must stay firm, united with Me,” says1 Lord Krishna while cautioning us about the stormy senses that derail our life’s journey. “Why do you move away from the cool shade of the tree, when it is unbearably hot everywhere else?” asks Sri Ramana Maharshi, urging us to remain devoted to self-inquiry. “When one hand of yours is at work, hold God with the other; when the work is over, hold God with both your hands,” exhorts Sri Ramakrishna. No matter what path suits us, do we have the capacity to put our heart and soul into the practice? Or are we like someone who climbed up four floors to his room’s entrance and then found that he had carelessly dropped the key to the room somewhere downstairs? After some study, satsanga (spiritual associations) and discussion with wise people, we gain a good degree of clarity in the matter of what we must do – to bring our life back in order. Why do we permit a big gap between ‘what we think we must do’ and ‘what we actually do’? These gaps between any two among the three – thought, word and deed – are a major factor contributing to an unhappy life. We must work towards bridging these gaps by taking sometimes small but bold steps. For example, a friend decided to sleep before 10 pm every night, and she was able to exercise daily morning as a result, which led to a whole lot of improvement in her way of living. “Small victories lead to big victories,” observed Eknath Easwaran. As the New Year arrives, can we give high priority to living rightly? Can we make a few important changes in our lifestyle, which can help us “stay connected” to our chosen form of sādhanā? Can we give up our fickleness or our addictions? Can we listen more to our own inner voice and live a more conscientious life? We have wonderful tools with us; we have not been using them. We are blessed with great guidance but we have failed in our homework. Let us get earnest and put our house in order, without further delay. WISH YOU HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017, WHERE YOU’RE BETTER CONNECTED WITH YOUR TRUE CALLING! Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 yukta āseeta mat-parah - Geeta 2.61

ARANI SERIES

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Spark 27

Impulse Control

    At the spur of the moment, our reactions to situations are often unpredictable. When we are provoked or tempted, we might respond violently or indulge thoughtlessly. Before such an impulsive behavior, we would not have thought we would do so. Afterwards we wonder why we did so. Geeta recognizes this weakness in human beings. The sacred text addresses this issue under the broad category of “our inability to control our own senses”. A verse1 says loudly, “the senses are turbulent and they rob us of our discrimination!”  In the literature of Emotional Intelligence, this trait is termed (good or poor) “impulse control”. Why man lacks impulse control We are usually aware of a small portion of our mind, which is called the conscious mind. This part is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot more remains unseen, put under the subconscious and the unconscious mind. Ancient Indian philosophical literature used a term vāsanā, which can be translated as hidden tendency. These vāsanās arise suddenly and take us in a direction which we would not have imagined. The hidden tendencies do not come from the sky and enter us. They are the result of our own past. If we had acted a number of times in the past with anger, all those instances leave behind a residue in our unconscious mind; and we are prone to much anger now. Similarly if we had lived a life of enjoyment, those past instances leave behind a residue which shows now as a tendency to opt for pleasure, right or wrong! These past actions, performed necessarily without full understanding, are the basis of vāsanās. Solutions    Geeta offers solutions to this problem which all of us face. 1)     When they are weak, refuse to come under their sway Sometimes the expressions of these vāsanās are weak and they rise slowly. A little will power then works. Sri Krishna says2, “There are many forces of attraction and repulsion within you; refuse to bend before them.” A person with diabetes knows this. There are occasions when she feels like taking a sweet but the desire is not strong. There is the temptation but the pull is rather weak. Will (will power) in such situations has the capactity to manage the challenge in a favorable way. 2)     Fix your mind in God Make hay when the sun shines, goes the old saying. Likewise we are advised by Sri Krishna to practice loving remembrance of God on a regular basis. Training the mind thus to delight in love of God, in the peace of turning inwards can go a long way in coming out with more mature responses when challenging situations occur. “Having kept the senses under check, stay firm with your mind fixed in Me,” says3 the Lord. The taste of joy in divine thoughts and outlooks then overpowers the rising impulses. 3)     Anchor yourself in the Self “Making your mind established in the Self, do not think of anything else,” is the advice the Lord gives4 us at another place. Following study of scriptures and reflection upon the teachings, we gain a good understanding of our own true nature, the Self. Practice of meditation then takes the form of ‘staying in that understanding’ and keeping away notions of our identity. This is also called jnāna-abhyāsa.    There are then tips in the contexts of karma-yoga where we train our psyche in the field of self-less service, of rājayoga, where we conduct special exercises of the body or of the breath, and all of these are part of the great adhyātma-vidyā – the science of spirituality. Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 indriyāni pramāthini, haranti prasabham manah - Geeta 2.60 2 tayor-na vasham-āgacchet – Geeta 3.34 3 yukta āseeta matparah – Geeta 2.61 4 ātmasamstham manah kritvā, na kinchid-api chintayet - Geeta 6.25 *

ARANI SERIES

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Spark 26

INNER VOICE – THE LIGHT OF DIWALI

  Can our inner voice be the LAMP that needs to burn more brightly this Diwali? How can we ensure that this lamp gets its required fuel from time to time? In the age old battle between good and evil, raging in the heart of every one of us, our conscience plays a major role. If we side with our conscience, we are most likely, if not certain, to be with the good. So the first challenge is to be with our conscience, the inner voice, the lamp within. Many a time we find that we do take the side of our conscience but cannot sustain it. Various temptations, provocations, outer pressures or inner urges make us defect! Therefore there arises the second challenge of strengthening the inner voice, of supplying more fuel to this lamp. Three Tips: satsanga, satkarma, swādhyāya Contact with saintly souls, engagement with noble activities and study of scriptures can be the fuel that surely makes the ‘lamp of inner voice’ burn more brightly and stand the onslaught of distractions. Holy men (and women), whom we call mahātmās do wonders which often defy logic. Their words and actions inspire us. Their presence itself affects us. A touch, a glance or a thought from their side can give to us both clarity and strength with regard to the right course of action in trying circumstances. Engagement in noble endeavors (satkarma) facilitates exposure to divine vibrations. If we are ready at a given moment, we may get uplifted right away. If our ‘baggage’ is heavy, of tendencies brought forth from the past, the upright vibrations get registered in our consciousness and come to fruition at a later time. Scriptural study (swādhyāya) can act as the “extraordinary eye” that helps us see1 our dharma (duty) in tough times. To distinguish between “what needs to be done” (kārya) and “what should be avoided” (akārya) is not easy on many an occasion. Lord Krishna declares in the Geetā,“Scriptures are the authority in deciding kārya and akārya!” This Diwali, therefore, may we reinforce our contact with saints, get involved in good work and be more regular in studying spiritual texts. May the INNER LAMP of conscience burn brightly and win over falsehood both outside and inside! Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 sarvasya lochanam shāstram – Scriptures are everyone’s “eyes”. (Subhāshita) 2 tasmāt shāstram pramānam te – Geetā 16:24  

  ARANI SERIES

Friday, September 16, 2016

Spark 25

Change Your Lifestyle

   When Indra and Virochana go to Prajāpati, seeking the highest knowledge, the Divine Teacher does not start with sermons or classes for them! He asks the two eminent students, heads of the deva and asura communities, to spend 32 years at his Āshram in Brahmacharya. They do so and Prajāpati then instructs them on the Spirit that is free from old age and death. In the above story from the Chāndogya Upanishad1, Virochana goes back with some half-baked knowledge. Indra explores further but is asked to stay another 32 years in Brahmacharya. Some more teaching, and then another 32 years in self-discipline. Some more spiritual education, and then another 5 years in holistic right living. Then, after all these (32 + 32 + 32 + 5) 101 years of LIVING RIGHTLY, the liberating wisdom of Self-knowledge is imparted to him. In our modern times, the basic principle remains the same. Unless we change our LIFESTYLE, our energies will not be properly aligned to make ‘radical transformation’ possible in us. Leave alone liberation (moksha), change of lifestyle is what is required for enjoying good health too. “A genuine change in habits, and not medication, surgery or any other invasive intervention, is required to change a person’s course of health,” observes Dr Sheela Nambiar, a Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant. In her beautiful, comprehensive article2 in Rotary News. To rephrase some of her excellent comments, we go about our merry way, eating and drinking as we please, or worse, eating some latest ‘fad diet’ that promises incredible weight loss in ridiculously short periods of time. We refrain from regular exercise, rarely meditate, and live on a prayer that our bodies will somehow continue to support our decadent lifestyles! Saying, “Today we see more and more diseases that are related directly to how we lead our day-to-day lives,” Dr Nambiar (who is also an obstetrician, gynecologist and author) goes on to give three tips on bringing about lifestyle changes. S-S-S Three Tips for Changing Lifestyle Change (in lifestyle) has to be slight, significant and sustainable. Change has to be slight so our body does not protest violently. We may begin with, for example, a 20 to 30 minute walk every day. Change has to be significant enough for our human body to be forced to make the necessary internal adaptations to the change. Even a five minute walk is significant for some overweight person who has never exercised. Pushing harder is significant for a fit, younger person if her body has to register change. Change has to be sustainable so we do not give up after a while. Suppose we go for a diet that leaves us hungry and irritable half the time, we are likely to say goodbye to it soon. Lastly, we should not imagine that we practice some lifestyle changes for a few months and then get back to our old ways. We have been pampered by usual ways of medical treatment that begin somewhere and end after a while. Change in lifestyle on the other hand is for all time to come. We give up ‘for good’ all our unhealthy ways of living. Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 tau ha dvā-trimshatam varshāni brahmacharyam ushatuh Chāndogya Upanishad 8.7.3 2 Rotary News (India), September 2016, pages 70, 71.

ARANI SERIES

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spark 24

Be Thou An Instrument in God’s Hands!

   The practical advice that the Geeta offers to us is best expressed in the following lines:  Remember Me, and do your duty. (8.7) 1 Do My work, staying devoted to Me. (11.55) 2 Be thou an instrument in My hands. (11.33)3 The Universal Prayer in Christianity, as expressed by Saint Francis of Assisi, echoes the same spirit in the words: Lord, Make me an instrument of Thy peace! The following story4 illustrates the spirit of surrender to God and being an instrument in His hands: THE PENCIL PARABLE In the beginning, the Pencil Maker spoke to the pencil saying, “There are five things you need to know before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and you will become the best pencil you can be.”
  1. You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand.
  2. You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but this is required if you want to become a better pencil.
  3. You have the ability to correct any mistakes you might make.
  4. The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.
  5. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write. You must always leave a clear, legible mark no matter how difficult the situation.
The pencil understood, promising to remember, and went into the box fully understanding its Maker’s purpose. The essence of all spirituality seems to be – to erase the ego – to live vibrantly without any interference from the separate self. Swami Chidananda in Himachal Pradesh Notes:   1 mām-anusmara, yudhya cha. 2 mat-karma-krit, mat-paramo, madbhaktah… 3 nimitta-mātram bhava savya-sāchin 4 Page 86, “Mind and Modern Problems” by Swami Bodhamayānanda, published by Ramakrishna Math, Hyderabad (Vivekananda Institute of Human Excellence)  

ARANI SERIES

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Spark 23

Gather Yourself, Be a Yogi!

   We have enough within us – knowledge, skills, resources, care and love. If we gather what we have, we are yogis. If we fritter them away, we are (almost) rogis (sick)! Yoga means a state of being united. The verbal root yuj in Sanskrit means ‘to unite, to join’. This yuj goes well with the English ‘yoke’. When we yoke our minutes and hours to the talent that we have, we spend our day wisely. When we yoke our good intentions to the energy we have, we achieve desirable goals. We thus rise when we are ‘connected within us’ and we fall when there is disconnection. Connection is yoga; disconnection is viyoga. A lot of us, being away from yoga (the state of mind), suffer private failure, which then reflects in our public failure. Our time, in the privacy of our home, goes in conflict and contradictions; no wonder our time then with people at work also lacks clarity of purpose and steadiness of execution. | tasmād yogi bhava, Arjuna ! |1 Therefore, Arjuna, be a Yogi! Geetā 6.46 The advice here is not about some physical posture like the head stand! It is about inner collectedness. In his beautiful little book, “Silence as Yoga,” Swami Paramananda writes2, “It is not work so much that wears us out; sometimes lack of work may do it. It is not knowing how to direct ourselves; it is not knowing how to find that attitude of collectedness and poise. When we are equipped with these qualities, we always have greater power of penetration.”  How do we gather our energy? How do we collect ourselves?    The good news is that new energy is constantly supplied to us by Nature, outside and inside. No matter how tired we were the previous night, don’t we get up with a lot of fresh energy the next morning? (Maybe some of us, as we get older, need more hours of sleep and we do not get as much energy as we used to in our sunny days! Even then, the exhaustion of the previous night and the newness this morning are so different!) Therefore it is a matter of wisely spending the ‘present’ hours of every day, which enables us to regain our ‘paradise lost’. The American poet Longfellow therefore rightly remarked3, “Act, act in the living present, heart within and God overhead!” On the highest plateau of Vedanta, it may be said that we are always Pure Awareness but an inexplicable error takes place leading to false identification with the body and the mind. To study, reflect upon and abide by the Self is the ultimate medicine (and the highest yoga). We then are not affected by low energy, poor self-esteem, fear or guilt. Swami Chidananda Solan, Himachal Pradesh End Notes: 1 तस्माद् योगी भव, अर्जुन ! (गीता 6.46) 2 Silence as Yoga, Swami Paramananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, page 12. 3 A Psalm of Life by H W Longfellow, verse 6  

ARANI SERIES

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Spark 22

RIGHT ACTION IS THE ANSWER

   “Give your life of action,” is the widespread notion about spirituality, “and withdraw into a life of meditation or singing bhajans!” “Remaining engaged in action, you must desire to spend the hundred years of your life,” is the advice of Ishāvāsya Upanishad1 – in contrast to the belief that you come across everywhere. It is generally a wrong question when we ask, “Should I act or withdraw?” The right question is, “What is the right action here?” Implied in the emphasis in the Upanishad mantra on living our whole life in the field of action is the nature of the action that we choose to perform. It has to be ‘duty rather than pleasure,’ and ‘service above the self’. Geeta, which is pretty much a restatement of Upanishadic wisdom, introduces the concept of SVADHARMA in this context only. Except for a miniscule part of humanity, who have perhaps brought forth from their previous lives a huge amount of non-attachment and ability to contemplate on higher truths, humanity has to be active. “Act rightly or perish,” can be the slogan for the overwhelming majority of us. Therefore neither (the usual) selfish action nor (the misconceived spirituality in the form of) inaction is the answer to our dilemmas. The third option – selfless action – can take us to heights of inner growth. Ask these questions before choosing to act: Do I feel I belong to this field of action? Do I experience happiness when my work makes others happy? Do I have adequate skills in this field? Does my conscience approve my being active here? Does ‘less reward’ not pinch me much when it comes to this line (or field) of action? If the answer is YES to the above five questions, you have identified your SVADHARMA rightly. Otherwise do some soul search; you will definitely discover, without much delay, where you belong. Finding thus ‘right action’ takes you out of the otherwise endless conflict of “Should I or should I not?”. Swami Chidananda Himachal Pradesh Notes: 1 | kurvan eva hi karmāni, jijeevishet shatam samāh | mantra 2

ARANI SERIES

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Spark 21

EXCUSES ARE NOT REASONS

  “Do the cows in your town give only milk (for your coffee) but do not discharge dung (for cow dung cakes to be used in your rituals)?” – This was the question1 with which Swami Chandrasekhara Bharathi teased a Vedanta scholar once. This scholar was proud that he was giving lots of discourses on Shankara’s commentaries on Geeta and Upanishads but, when the famed Shringeri pontiff asked him if he was doing his “upāsana” also with the same zeal, said apologetically, “I live in a big city where cow dung cakes are very difficult to get!” Our likes and dislikes create certain habits in our way of living and we have many excuses to offer when somebody points out that we are not doing what we ought to do. Excuses are not reasons. They are rather false logic behind which we hide. We justify the wrongs that we do using excuses; we justify our inability to do right things using excuses. Excuse me, I have to appeal to you, dear reader, to give up your excuses, do ‘what ought to be done’ and give up ‘what ought to be avoided’. “Do not come under their sway,” exhorts Lord Sri Krishna in the Geeta2, “for they are your enemies on the spiritual path.” The Upanishads warn us that we generally tend to go for ‘what is pleasant’ and let go of opportunities to do ‘what is good’. An ice cream is most welcome even after we have eaten a heavy meal but 20 minutes of meditation is ‘better to postpone’ even when it is the morning of a holiday! We settle for comforts and neglect duty. Heavy is the price we end up paying. The Kathopanishad3 remarks, “Those who choose pleasure and comfort get deprived of worthy benefits in life”. All this is not to condemn anybody. It is not about finding fault with people who are living happily. People must enjoy life. We are not at all against movies, popcorn and ice cream! All such advice is to be taken in the right spirit. While enjoyments do have a place in life, no one can deny that life is much more that ‘eat, drink and make merry’. Everyone, even the most pleasure-seeking one, acknowledges the limitations of a lifestyle centred in pleasure. We give up the ‘good things of life’ to savour the bliss of inner peace, not caused by any object. This bliss is not ‘because of anything’ but ‘in spite of many things’. Spiritual maturity helps us to be at peace even when our wealth vanishes, health suffers and relationships break down. So let us give up our excuses, and with enough reason to do so, let us live a life of dharma4. ~ Notes: 1 page 120, The Life and Times of H H Sri Chandrasekhara Bharathi by Prof. N Nanjunda Sastry 2 tayor-na vasham-āgacchet, tau hi asya paripanthinau - Geeta 3.34 3 hiyate arthād ya u preyo vrineete – Katha Upanishad 1.2.1 4 dharma here means righteous, virtuous conduct in both public and private life. Swami Chidananda Bengaluru

ARANI SERIES April 27, 2016 Spark 20 TRANSMISSION OF THE FLAME अनन्य-प्रोक्ते गतिः अत्र नास्ति । कठ 1.2.8 | ananya-prokte gatir-atra nāsti | The transmission takes place without fail, when (the flame comes from) someone established in the Self. (Katha Upanishad 1.2.8) *

There is a bad news and then there is good news too. The bad news is that 999 out of 1000 people talking of Self-knowledge have their hearts somewhere else – in fame, name, wealth, power or popularity – that is expansion of their empire. They cannot help us. Now the good news. There always are, though rare, some saints and sages for whom the ‘Self’ is ‘not other’ – ananya. Shri Ramana Maharshi was one such enlightened figure. (It is not desirable to judge anybody in the present times, so do not ask for someone in body to be named.) The Upanishad mantra says the insight dawns upon us when conveyed by such a master who is in Self-abidance (ātma-nisthā). Others give long lectures, write huge volumes or preside over big projects on the scriptures. This sage, without all such din and roar, helps a seeker by a mere gaze. For others, the ‘Self’ is other than themselves. For this sage, the ‘Self’ (ātmā) is ‘not other’ (ananya). The word ‘gati’ has three meanings, as Ādi Shankara explains in his commentary. ‘gati’ – literally meaning movement – can mean ‘moving / going in countless, wrong directions’. When the sage, established in the Truth, showers his grace upon us, we simply cannot move in any of those wrong directions. (gatih na asti). ‘gati’ can also mean ‘samsāra-gati’ – the ways of the world, numerous ways in which we remain shackled in worldly attachments. The anugraha of the mahātmā frees us from such worldliness. (gatih na asti). Thirdly, by grammar, the sentence may be taken as – prokte agatih atra na asti– where the ‘a’ gets dropped because of ‘sandhi rules’. In such a case, ‘gati’ is in a complimentary sense – movement in the direction of Self-knowledge or even attainment of the Self-knowledge. ‘agati’ then is uncomplimentary – not moving in the right direction. Then the Upanishad statement implies – there is no way the seeker would not gain Self-knowledge. (agatih na asti). We must therefore ‘hitch our wagon to a star’ as the idiom goes. We must reflect on the life and work of enlightened masters. That paves the way for the “transmission of the flame” to take place.

ARANI SERIES

 March 23, 2016

Spark 19

ATTACK IN BRUSSELS AIRPORT

 

   Terrorism outside is a reflection of terrorism inside human mind. Unrest can anytime lead to violence – both within us and outside us. Geeta talks1 of a boat being taken in an utterly unwanted direction by unfavorable winds. The holy book employs this analogy to illustrate what could happen to us if our mind is led by indulgent senses. A well-informed intellect has to guide our mind, the seat of desires and other emotions. Such an intellect is the favorable wind here. If we have either not studied the scriptures or have studied but have let such knowledge take a back seat, our intellect would be ‘ill-informed’. Such an incompetent intellect fails to lead the mind. It is then that the senses, which are ever tempted by the attractive sense objects of the world, would emerge as the sole dictator in the scenario. Well-informed intellect (buddhi) is like favorable winds; the boat goes in the right direction. Senses, falling prey to sense objects, are like the unfavorable winds; the boat then goes in unwanted directions. The senses get this power because our intellect is too weak or has no wisdom at all. Lack of self-control thus can ruin our spirituality. Terrorism has to be tackled. The two-fold crisis in the inner personality, very much like terrorism, has to be firmly handled. On one hand, our senses have been pampered; they tend to be turbulent. On the other, our intellect is soaked in worldly knowledge and has no radiance of viveka (vibrant discrimination between right and wrong). We must train the senses and give up our weaknesses. We must study the Vedanta carefully and bring luster to our buddhi. Swami Chidananda ~ Notes: 1 vāyur-nāvam-iva-ambhasā – Geeta 2.67

ARANI SERIES February 22, 2016 Spark 18 REMOVE THE ROOT CAUSE OF SUFFERING

“When you see THAT, the knot in your heart is destroyed,” declares Mundaka Upanishad1. What is this knot? Made of vast collection of habitual urges, which have thrived thanks to ignorance, it is no other than desire2. Natural completeness, childlike innocence, unconditional love and unhindered compassion are within us, waiting to be discovered. Thought comes along and creates the sense of incompleteness. “I am not good unless I too have a big house like that man has,” says thought, which compares and is conditioned. This movement has no objectivity and it is not based on facts. Fanciful conclusions and erroneous decisions mark this activity of thought. We must study the liberating teachings of the Upanishads and dwell on them. All unnecessary desires, which drain our energy, flee in the light of the wisdom of the Vedānta. We then desire what is truly needed. This does not mean only food and drink. We may wish to take up an enterprise, do something that helps people and alleviates their misery. We may rejoice in poetry, art or engineering; there is nothing barred from the celebration of life when Self-knowledge dawns on us. The difference is that we do not do any of these out of inner inadequacy or insecurity. We do things out of the energy of pure love. There is no attempt to build our self-worth for Self-knowledge has given us – in no uncertain terms – the feeling, “I am all right.” Rich or poor, talented or otherwise, we can have this spiritual insight that we are wonderful the way we are. Desire, jealousy, low self-esteem and countless other forms of negative energy take to their heels in the light of this quiet recognition. The joy of “being” takes precedence over the excitement of “becoming”.

Swami Chidananda ~ Notes: 1 bhidyate hridaya-granthih .. tasmin drishte parāvare – Mu. Up. 2.2.8 2 avidyā-vāsanā-prachayah .. kāmah – Shankara on the mantra cited above.

November 18, 2015 Spark 16

UNDERSTANDING IS ABOVE LEARNING

"Learning may come to you by reading," Rumi observed, "but understanding comes through love." Everybody who is well-read knows the truth of this. Reading, writing and speaking have no doubt some value. They are good exercises for our mind and they provoke thinking in those who read or hear us. Hiding behind all the scholarship, however, there can be lack of understanding – of life’s realities – and this can cost dearly to anybody among us. When our learning, acquired through the study of a lot of books, blossoms into right knowledge, full understanding or ‘proper seeing (samyag-darshana),’ there is complete transformation of our being. In essence, there is no more of the ‘separate I’ in our consciousness. “The height of knowledge is when the ego-sense no more rises,” declares Viveka Choodamani1. Shri Krishna praises2this transformation in the Geeta by employing such figurative descriptions as, “the fire of knowledge burns away all actions (and their results).” This is the ultimate mystery of human life: When does verbal knowledge blossom into change of perception? The difficulty increases when we try to judge a saint. Our own concepts come in the way of assessing his (her) state of consciousness. “Know someone to be enlightened when you notice she (he) is equal to all,” said3 Sri Ramana Maharshi when he was asked on the marks of realization. The problem again is we are unable to conclude someone is equal or otherwise for there are factual factors in all relationships. You cannot be equal to all when five of your students are around you and you need someone to read a letter in Telugu; you will ask the student who knows Telugu and not any of the other four who might know Hindi, French or Spanish! Certain backgrounds, logistics or even intentions to convey a message could be behind a saint’s apparently favoring one person over another in particular circumstances. Leave the matter of judging others. How do we know if we have graduated from learning to understanding? How do we know love now drives our life and not egoism clouded by personal bias? “Love is when the self is not,” remarked J Krishnamurti. There is no other test perhaps than gentle awareness, operating in silence and illumining the darkest corners of our mind where hidden forms of the separate self might lurk! To live in true awareness and not even bother about where we have reached seems to be the wisent way.

Swami Chidananda In Himachal Pradesh

Notes: 1 aham-bhava-udaya-abhāvah bodhasya parama-avadhih – verse 425, Viveka Chudamani 2 jnānāgnih sarva-karmāni bhasmasāt kurute tathā – verse 37, chapter 4, Geeta 3 sarva-bhoota-samatvena lingena jnānam-uhyatām – verse 16, chapter 1, Ramana Geeta

October 22, 2015 Spark 15

WORK TOWARDS PRIVATE VICTORY Vijaya Dashami 2015

Generally a lot of our energy goes in pursuing outer victory, which someone like Stephen Covey called 'public victory'. The inadequacy of winning 'outside only' is well known. therefore we must strive for inner victory, called private victory otherwise.

Symbolically Sri Krishna represents the inner majesty of supreme intelligence. Arjuna stands for skills in the outer world. (Sri Krishna is the basis for both the outer and the inner really though.)

May we therefore spare some time and energy - in not on a daily basis - on a weekly basis. Spiritual study, holistic exercises, prayers and meditation are the well known ways of growing inwardly.

"It is not a miracle to walk on water," observed Thich Nhat Hanh, "the miracle is to walk on this earth with peace in our hearts."

Hearty best wishes to one and all in this 'inward journey'.

Swami Chidananda in Chicago, USA

Notes: 1 yatra yogeshwarah krishnah, yatra partho dhanurdharah.. Geeta 18.78

September 14, 2015 Spark 14 ANCHOR YOURSELF IN RIGHT KNOWLEDGE

Dependence on persons, objects and places – all of which are external, and therefore other than the Self – is, in essence, worldliness. Spiritually mature people have always exhibited an equipoise irrespective of external factors. This independence does not come about by merely deciding not to depend on things outside. There has to be, to begin with, an intuitive grasp of how we are fine within ourselves. Emboldened by this hunch, we proceed to study the Vedānta, which supplies much clarity and confirms that we are indeed fine by ourselves! A wise wife learns this from her mature husband in the Brihadāranyaka Upanishad. Maitreyi questions1Yājnavalkya, “What would I do with things by which I do not become immortal?” We should not understand immortality here as some kind of staying alive eternally; ‘not to die’ implies ‘not to lose our sense of well-being upon meeting with loss of wealth, health and such things’. When her husband offers his huge property to her (and to his second wife), Maitreyi wonders if wealth can ever give lasting happiness on its own. We notice in real life how wealth many a time is not the end of problems but the beginning of a lot of new problems! The dialogue between Maitreyi and Yājnavalkya is famous on many counts. It is here that the Vedic master reveals the truth that things in the world seem to be the source of happiness but they are actually not. Happiness lies in the Self. Nothing is dear to us by its own virtue. “A thing becomes dear to us by virtue of it being a means to (uncover) the happiness within oneself2.” We are the source of happiness; our true nature is happiness. This is the unique teaching of the Upanishads (Vedānta), not available in a thousand subjects that are taught in universities. If we discover an inkling of this understanding within ourselves, we are then indeed poised to take up a devoted study of the science of Self-knowledge. If we realize that we were knocking on wrong doors for a long time in our search for ‘peace that stays,’ and it is now time to calm our mind, turn it within and look for the treasure of joy hidden inside, we must resolve to realize the Self. “You must behold the Self,” says3 Yājnavalkya and continues to add, “(for that) you must listen to the truth of the Self,reflect on what you listened and meditate on what you clearly understood.” Listening (shravana), reflecting (manana) and meditating (nididhyāsana) have thus become the foundation of spiritual practice in the Vedānta tradition. This anchoring in right knowledge is on one hand a practice – abhyāsa – and on the other not so much a practice because there is hardly any doing here. Practice ordinarily is ‘doing something repeatedly’. Here it is ‘seeing rightly’ called samyag-darshana. Studying, discussing with fellow students, speaking on it and contemplation upon it etc. are of course a kind of ‘doing’ but are surely distinct from physical acts like rituals, social service, pilgrimage or even bodily exercises. They have no role to play in gaining right knowledge but it cannot be denied that they can help us in keeping our mind, the instrument of study, in good shape. We must of course keep fit but we should not mix these things in our understanding. Jnāna (knowledge, right seeing) is independent in its operation. Karma (action, work) is not the means to liberation. A girl studying chemistry may surely receive much help by having proper furniture like a study table and an ergonomically designed chair but the furniture cannot be given true credit for her gaining knowledge of chemistry. Likewise here, all credit goes toshravana, manana and nididhyāsana for ‘right knowledge’ to dawn on the seeker.

Swami Chidananda in Kentucky, USA

Notes: 1 yena aham na amritā syām, kim aham tena kuryām? –Br. Up. 2.4.3 2 ātmanas-tu kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati – Br. Up. 2.4.5. 3 ātmā vā are drasthavah, shrotavyo, mantavyo, nididhyāsitavyah – Br. Up. 2.4.5

July 19, 2015 Spark 13 ARE YOU EXTRAORDINARY? If we think we are extraordinary, we are not. If we are sad we are not extraordinary, that may make matters worse for us. If we are jealous of somebody, who we imagine is extraordinary, we are again in trouble. If we want to become extraordinary, such a goal is sure to bring us disappointment. The major milestone comes up when we do not anymore make this an issue, and forgetting all such personal goals – of becoming this or that – we engage lovingly in our chosen field of activity. “Engaged in one’s own work, man attains excellence,” says Lord Sri Krishna1. First it looks like a Catch 22. Unless we become something, we are not happy. Unless we are anchored in happiness, we underperform! How do we break this puzzle? The good news is that all of us do have the special skill of paying full attention to the job on hand, to such an extent that we forget the self. We must train ourselves in doing this, after having taken care to choose the right field of action. What we choose to do – in the next one hour or in the next five years – should not be out of some fancy or personal ambition. This choice should be the outcome of some noble thinking, marked by neither impossible ideology nor utter underestimation of our own abilities. “What is that, by doing which I can on one hand bring happiness to others and, on the other, gain true satisfaction of having done something I really love?” – This can be the question that helps us decide the course of our action in life. “Small victories lead to big victories,” says Eknath Easwaran2. When we take up some piece of work, our mind may start complaining in many ways. “Oh, this is boring; why did they give this work to me? I have other things to do! Let me enjoy some coffee first and then get down to this job. Let me start this tomorrow.” A friend of mine was so distracted by his own thoughts that he could not do 30 minutes of yoga in the morning without self-interruptions. He would do two surya-namaskars (sun-salutations) and check Whatsapp messages; do another two and take a look at the headlines in the newspaper, and so on. He slowly trained himself to stay put with one activity at a time. He could now perform well, better than before, in everything that he took up. We emerge extraordinary when our obsession with ourselves ends. The best in us comes out when the burden of self-importance leaves us. Swami Chidananda Notes: 1 sve sve karmani abhiratah samsiddhim labhate narah – Geeta 18.45 2 See easwaran.org for getting to know his works. PS: We have launched a new website –upanishad.info. You may please take a look at it.

Spark 12 INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY

“The wise regard that as yoga, when senses are kept in perfect control,” says the Kathopanishad1. The Vedanta (the wisdom of the Upanishads) looks at yoga as aiming at firm abidance in the Self (Atma), where there is no need for the senses (implying organs of perception, of action and even the inner instruments) to seek gratification in the outer world. Bookish knowledge and true wisdom are different in terms of self-control. The Vedanta wisdom on one hand and mastery in yoga on the other both emphasize on freedom from inner mismanagement. In one of his compositions, Dhanyastakam, Adi Shankara says2 true wisdom brings about calming of sense organs. While the well-known meaning of the word yoga is ‘union,’ derived from the verbal root ‘yuj’ that means ‘to join,’ Bhagavad-Gita supplies a deeper insight, where Sri Krishna remarks3, “That is to be known as yoga, where there is viyoga (separation) from the (false, unwarranted) association with sorrow.” In ignorance (ajnana), we slip from our true nature as the Self, and come to experience the false limitations of the individuality. The result is sorrow. Thus our embrace of sorrow is rooted in lack of Self-knowledge. When we extricate (viyoga) ourselves from this harmful embrace, union (yoga) with the bliss of the Self happens. Speaking of 101 paths4 within our body through which energies flow, the Kathopanishad again provides the seeds for the science of yoga. Vital energy – prana – is controlled through various exercises, as guided by the Yoga-Shaastra. Spiritual growth is marked by increased self-awareness and excellent self-management. Not just managing our impulses and emotions, but having control over prana, which is subtle energy inside us, is part of this evolution. Breath is the external manifestation of prana, which is much more than breathing in its entirety. “I do not believe in bending of the body,” remarked Swami Chinmayanandaji, “I would like to straighten my mind!” Some masters like him adopted jnana-marga (path of knowledge), almost to the exclusion of yogic practices. Both the teachers who taught Swamiji – Swami Sivananda and Swami Tapovanam – endorsed yoga though. Though there are differences in areas of emphasis, the two sciences of yoga and Vedanta can be complementary to each other. The higher we go in either of them, the vision and the practice have lesser differences.

Swami Chidananda 21 June 2015 Notes: 1 taam yogamiti manyante sthiraam-indriya-dhaaranaam (Katha Upanishad 2.3.11) 2 taj-jnanam prashamakaram yad-indriyanam (Dhanyastakam verse 1) 3 tam vidyad duhkha-samyoga-viyogam yoga-samjnitam (Gita, chapter 6) 4 shatam chaika hridayasya naadyah (Katha Upanishad 2.3.16)

Spark 11

LONELINESS DISAPPEARS IN SELF-KNOWLEDGE

          It is easy to see that physical loneliness is never a problem. It is the thought, “I have nobody who cares for me,” that fills our heart with sorrow.           Actual relationships in life get interpreted in certain ways by our mind and we have a picture of where we stand in our thoughts. If the actual relationships are the territory, the picture we have in our mind is the map of the territory. The map many a time does not represent the territory properly!         The psychological domain therefore matters a lot in shaping our emotions such as happiness and well being on one hand and sorrow and fear on the other. We are happy sometimes thinking someone loves us a lot while he may not actually care for us! And we are often very insecure imagining people close to us have no caring feelings for us. Thoughts need to be re-checked and one of the profound ways to do it is to engage in the self-inquiry, “Who am I?”           Loneliness causes fear. Prajapati, the divine being, was seized with fear upon reflecting on his loneliness, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad1. When somebody is alone, with no friends or associates, one is surely afraid2. He however inquired further and came to the understanding3, “There is actually none else than me. No one exists apart from me. Why should I fear therefore?” His fear instantly vanished. The mantra ends with the significant statement, “Fear arises when there is a second (entity) 4.”           Without taking it to the height of the advaita philosophy, where Brahman alone exists and “You are That,” we can appreciate this revelation on a simpler platform. When we have noble thoughts and healthy outlooks, we do not look at even our critics with negative emotions. We have no grudge against those who ill-treated us. Equally importantly, we do not get excessively attached to those who have been good to us, helped us and stood by us in hard times. This state of mind, described by texts like Geeta as a ‘consciousness devoid of likes and dislikes,’ blesses us with a great sense of well-being. There is no loneliness at all because we do not cling to any relationship, nor run away from any either.             Spirituality thus is tremendous psychological healing, to put it in modern language. To derive the benefits of this science, we must work on ourselves by being true to our values, constantly re-examining them and learning all the time the inner workings of the self (ego) in us.

Swami Chidananda

May 19, 2015 Notes: 1 sah abibhet (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.2) 2 ekaki bibheti (same mantra as above) 3 kasmad nu bibhemi? (same mantra as above) 4 dvitiyad vai bhayam bhavati (same mantra as above)

Spark 10

WHICH FALSEHOOD SHOULD GO AWAY?

         Most of us know the famous mantra – asato ma sad-gamaya (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, mantra 1.3.28) – which means, “O Lord, please lead me from falsehood to truth.” If we mistake a rope for a snake, the snake would be the falsehood and the rope the truth. The snake frightens us but the rope does not. If we mistake a shining seashell (called the mother of pearl) for silver, the silver is the falsehood and the seashell the truth. Silver attracts us but the shell does not. In this pair of examples, popular in the Vedanta literature, two different false perceptions cause fear and temptation but in both the cases, ‘right perception’ removes the undesirable emotions.         This world is full of objects and persons whom we mistake in ways similar to the two examples above. Certain objects cause detestation in us and certain others arouse in us desire for them. So is the case with people too; we wish to run away from some and we long for the company of some others. One form of falsehood is therefore obviously wrong judgment of objects, persons and situations. The error is about something outside. May the Divine Force – God – help us extricate ourselves from these errors and see everything in the right way.          A second form of falsehood assumes importance in self-inquiry. Here we mistake ourselves to be something which we are not. The error is about something inside, about our own identity. A Selfie error? The lion cub, in the well-known story of Hari the Lion, mistakes himself to be sheep. On the day of his enlightenment, the visiting lion from the forest makes him realize he is ‘not sheep’ but a lion. In another humorous and well-known story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, the king imagines he is very well dressed but is actually going around naked. All these stories have timeless relevance to human life, to how our mind works and to how we behave. We mistake ourselves to be small at times when we are actually big, with great capacity to do things or express love to people. The study of Upanishads is to help us wake up and realize our true potential. Falsehood, asat, has to go and truth, sat, has to dawn upon us.              There are plenty of cases where we mistake ourselves to be superior but are actually equal to, if not inferior to, others. Under the influence of such error, we try to throw our weight around, causing much trouble to all. Many would laugh behind our backs too. The “Who am I?” inquiry should give us a jolt and help us realize where we stand as a matter of fact.            Many kinds of falsehood have to vanish before we can gain a hold on the ultimate truth, “I am That.” As seekers, we had better remain humble and not presume some progress just because we have studied a few books and can recite a few mantras. Scholarship, oratory and other achievements are often the ‘gold lid’ that covers the face of truth (Ishavasya Upanishad, mantra 15). So let’s be careful.

Swami Chidananda

Spark 9

WAY TO RISE

We can eliminate from our life factors that weaken us. We can emerge strong and victorious. Negative thoughts and debilitating emotions are the factors we are talking about. These often rise unexpectedly and hijack us. They jeopardize our journey to inner strength and lasting peace. They say about diabetes that it is a slow killer. We can say the same about bad memories. The Upanishads provide powerful meditations (upasanas, technically) to keep these factors low, and dismiss them eventually. A horse shakes off his hair, and becomes clean. Dust and tiredness leave him. We may likewise meditate on our own true nature as Pure Consciousness, without any conditioning by thoughts, and shake off sinful tendencies. A mantra in the Chandogya1 supplies a passage for japa (devoted repetition) or dhyana (meditation), which has this illustration. The same mantra has a second illustration. We may rise above body-consciousness like the moon coming out of the jaws of Rahu2 at the end of a lunar eclipse. “Peace – and stress – begin in your mind,” says Dr. Dean Ornish. He continues, “Meditation is the process of quieting your mind.” His book3 on holistic lifestyle for good health says a lot on yoga, meditation and right diet. He writes, “Dr. Herbert Benson and others have conducted pioneering research at Harvard and elsewhere demonstrating that meditation can lower blood pressure, improve productivity and decrease health care costs.” As Dr. Ornish also comments, spiritual teachers in India didn’t meditate to lower blood pressure or to increase their effectiveness in business meetings. Their primary purpose was to increase inner peace and happiness. It is a tragedy of modern times that a lot of very talented, qualified and well-placed people do not have peace of mind. They do not enjoy harmony with their surroundings. They must go for true spirituality. The life-giving insights of the Upanishads can make a difference to them. They can rise from their lower psychological levels. Rise they must.

Swami Chidananda

Notes: 1 shyamat shabalam prapadye / shabalat shyamam prapadye / ashva iva romani vidhuya papam / chandra iva rahor-mukhat pramuchya dhutva shariram / akritam kritatma brahmalokam abhisambhavami iti / abhisambhavami iti – mantra 8.13.1, Chandogya Upanishad of Sama Veda {Going from the pure truth in my heart, I attain the divine above. From the divine above, I come again to the pure truth in my own heart. I dismiss all sin from within me, like a horse shakes off his hair (and dismisses dust). I put aside (my attachments to / through) my body like the moon getting freed from the clutches of Rahu. I attain Brahmaloka, which is never a product of action, after I integrate myself. I attain Brahmaloka.} 2 Rahu devours the moon during lunar eclipse but as he has a head only, without a trunk, the moon comes out safe after a while. This is the description in our epics, which we may take in a poetic sense. Modern science has of course discovered the true physical phenomenon. The Rahu version may have its own significance though, in astrology and other disciplines. Science is not the ultimate word when it comes to the whole of life. The mystery and magnificence of our life, in other words, are far beyond the boundaries of science. 3 Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease

Spark 8

SHOULD OTHERS FEAR US?

This may not be visible on the surface but people live in fear of each other in this civilized society. We are afraid somebody will take away from us things that are very dear to us. People are afraid that we will take away from them things that we would love to have. When we hold on to things, we fear others; others fear us too. The spiritual truth is: There is freedom from fear only when we are truly selfless. For then we are neither interested in robbing anybody of anything; nor are we worried that somebody will rob us of something. We may not generally recognize this. Everybody has some vested interest and is sure to turn violent if anybody endangers that vested interest. We have of course made enough laws and codes of conduct to protect what we possess. The comfort that we experience through our possessions or privileges seems to be not only right but natural too. Therefore we are normally concerned with protecting our benefits. Why should anyone take my hard earned money? How can it be ethically correct if someone takes a family member of mine away from me? How can anybody encroach upon my personal space? How dare somebody step on my toes? Spirituality looks at life from a higher point of view. From its perspective, a whole lot of our concerns are nothing but psychological attachments. Umpteen laws of the land and countless codes of conduct generally serve to safeguard our comfort zone, and are actually a scheme of convenience. Without meaning these rules or systems need to be scrapped, the science of spirituality urges us to look beyond the security gained by outer arrangements. Can we be secure within us, through uprooting fear itself? Without saying, “Let somebody take away your property,” this insight suggests, “Can you be unattached to your beautiful house, which can pave the way for you to experience the natural and unconditional peace within you?” A thief once stealthily entered the cottage of a sadhu on a beautiful full moon night. He searched for anything valuable in the hut of the pious man. Finding nothing the thief started moving away quietly. The sadhu was actually awake and understood what had happened. He followed the thief and, when the latter stopped, said to him sympathetically, “I wish I could give you the moon.” “No one needs to fear me anymore,” says a mantra in the Aruneyi Upanishad1, describing the state of mind of somebody who is all set to renounce and walk free. Renunciation (sannyasa), as indicated in our scriptures, is not mere external change. It is primarily arriving at a state of mind where we derive our sense of security from something intangible, and not from material wealth or valued relationships. Traditionally it is God, Guru or the Self from whom we draw strength. Things of the world then assume secondary importance. Nothing prevents a man of detachment from owning a Mercedes but his heart knows the difference. Like others he would take all the care possible to protect his wealth but, if something were to go wrong despite all that, he would not be devastated. Though he is successful in the society’s eyes, he feels absence of pride in his bosom. He is also free of envy when he looks at what others possess. This inexplicable inner security, which is irrespective of outer factors, is the state of mind where we can ‘renounce’ and try to grasp the higher truth. If we truly are in such a state of mind, and are not merely scholars, then no one needs to fear us. We would not – nay cannot – harm anybody.

Swami Chidananda

Notes: 1 abhayam sarva-bhootebhyah – mantra 3, Aruneyi Upanishad of Atharva Veda

Spark 7

MIND OVER BATTER

 

Walking by the beach in Besant Nagar, Chennai, my eyes fell on the name board of a cake shop: Mind over Batter! What an attractive name, I'm sure a large number of citizens of the great city get drawn to this shop to buy bread, cakes and other bakery products. The result however could be the reverse of the name: the batter in this shop wins the game over the minds of the Madrasis! If we imagine a conflict between delicious snacks and our mind, the eatables ofen have a 'cake walk' to victory. Why this shop's case, most of us are slaves to material comforts. It is a case of "mind under matter!"

Objects of desire are, in a sense, more powerful than our sense organs - observes Kathopanishad (1.3.10). More importantly, the mantra continues to say: Our mind is superior to the sense objects. Spiritually evolved people are able to position their mind in its rightful place; theirs is a case of mind over matter. Ignorance is the primary cause of our spiritual deterioration leading to disintegration of the personality. This the ushers in a host of evils like lack of inner peace and disturbed relationships.

Lord Yama speaks of a hierarchy of seven factors, beginning with sense organs, followed in quick succession by sense objects, mind, intellect, total mind and the unmanifest principle (avyakta). The seventh and the last is the Pure Self (purusha), and the sacred text emphatically declares that the Pure Self is the highest. Nothing surpasses it. (mantras 10 and 11 of 1.3).

Putting aside mechanical behavior, the cause of our slavery to the material world of money and power, we need to rise in our self-awareness. It is all about laying claim to our own inner divinity. The statement of The Bible strikes an interesting parallel: The kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20, 21) The wisdom of the Upanishads asks to merge our lower identity in our own higher nature, and this process culminates in Self-realization.

This upward movement should begin with our being 'more caring and understanding' towards people whom we meet daily. Charity begins at home, goes the old saying. We need to work on ourselves, and overcome those barriers that prevent us from relating to our family members, colleagues and social contacts. Everywhere the challenge is to break old habits and look at new situations with fresh eyes.

The next mantra in the dialogue between the young boy Nachiketa and Lord Yama has the divine teacher spell it precisely: The Self, though present in everybody, is hard to see. We can surely see this divine nature of our own, when we are endowed with a sharp intellect, which is also subtle (1.3.12). We need to have an 'eye' for looking within. We need to quietly observe the play of our own egoism. Everyone can do it, when guided properly and trained rightly. Then we come upon the realization. We can; we must. Swami Chidananda

Spark 6

January 1, 2015

WHO ARE WE?

Many spiritual teachers addressed their students as the Radiant Immortal Atman¹, Beloved Children of God², Blessed Self³ etc. In the Chhandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka said to his beloved son, “You are That4.” Self-realization, which is said to be the goal of spiritual studies, implies that our present idea of our own existence is rooted in ignorance.

Presently we experience varieties of conflicts within our bosom. A self-experience that is free from any conflict is – in its simplest form – the significance of Self-realization. It is a movement from incompleteness to completeness. It is a transformation from endless insecurity to relaxed security. It is discovery of true love, which knows no boundaries. It is the erasure of all differences such as ‘high and low’ created by our own mind based on questionable criteria like wealth, education, physical appearance etc. It is ending of sorrow and finding limitless bliss.

So who or what are we, really? The answer of the Upanishads is – everyone of us is really ever free but we do not know it at present. We must wake up.

The central teaching therefore is to re-look. It is to ask, “Who am I?” It is to take help from scriptures, teachers and God (shaastra, guru and Ishwara) so that we may let go of all our false ideas about our own identity and embrace the true Self. “Arise, awake and know (your own innate freedom) by reaching competent teachers,” roars the Kathopanishad(5).

In wisdom traditions like Buddhism, they are silent on the Pure Self but are otherwise in great agreement with the Vedanta to say that the present, false self needs to be ended. Through appropriate study and practice, we are to prepare ourselves and finally gain the “insight” that this ego is simply an illusion. Pleasure, power and wealth that attract us are an illusion on one hand, and the self that gets tempted by them is itself an illusion on the other!

Why therefore run after the mirage in this scorching desert of worldly existence? Let us get up and behold the Truth. We are loving; we’re lovable; we need not fear anything; we’re free!

Swami Chidananda Kudal, Maharashtra End Notes: 1 Revered Swami Chidanandaji, who was the second President of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh 2 Same as in 1 3 Pujya Swami Chinmayananda ji 4 The great statement – tat tvam asi. Chhandogya 6.13.3 and other eight places. 5 Kathopanishad 1.3.14

Spark 5

October 15, 2014

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

     Everybody loves his (her) own name surely. Adi Shankaracharya, while commenting on the very first mantra of Chandogya Upanishad, says1: God is pleased when we recite Om, which is His closest name, just as people in the world are delighted to hear their name! How nice it is therefore that we have with us a simple way to earn God’s grace! Say Om and get nearer to the Supreme. If you hesitate to recite Om, which is supposed to be a highly placed Vedic word, say Harih first and then add Om. Say Harih Om. Saying Harih makes anybody and everybody eligible to utter the sacred word Om.         Lots of people are these days interested in meditation but a small percentage of them actually do it. One reason for this is – they keep wondering what the best way to meditate is. They hear so much, read a lot and notice so much propaganda about meditation but they are confused how to go about it. Repeating Om with concentration, taking the sound as representing2 the Supreme Truth, is one excellent way to meditate.          Our mind has a thousand occupations. This world endlessly drags our mind into countless topics. If we ever imagine that we will take up spiritual practices after we are done with all our duties in this world, it is a terrible illusion for sure. We must begin with short meditation, say for 18 minutes a day, preferably at the same time daily. 10 to 15 minutes daily at the same time, done regularly, is more effective and rewarding than some long sitting – for 45 minutes or an hour – once in a fortnight, rather irregularly.        Om is God’s name; Om is the best symbol of God too. Vedas (including Upanishads) have sung its glory. Geeta praises it3. From time immemorial, spiritual aspirants have been reciting it in the beginning of Japa (such as Gayatri Japa), Karma (such as yajnas, sacrifices) and Swadhyaya (such as study of Vedic portions). The applications of Om are diverse. Meditation (or call itUpasana) on Om is highly recommended.         A simple form of exercise can be to combine regulated breathing with reciting Om. Take a deep breath quietly. Say Om – in an audible way or just mentally – while exhaling. Repeat this with involvement, avoiding thoughts as far as possible. Do this for 10, 15 or 18 minutes at one sitting. If early morning is difficult, please do it at 7 am or 6 pm daily. Adapt it to fit into your schedule.

Talk less about it; just do it.

Swami Chidananda

End Notes: 1 Chandogya Upanishad 1.1.1 2 Om is called prateeka, representing the Supreme. 3 At places like 8.13 and 17.23.

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Spark 4

August 11, 2014

PLAYOUT INSTEAD OF WORKOUT

We postpone a good thing many times because of the false belief that we have to do a lot of it. Either the length of time or the intensity required scares us. Exercise, meditation and study, for example, remain on the back burner though we keep saying they are important. We even admit we enjoy it when we do any of them. We surely do enjoy these truly good things. How come we do not do them regularly?

It’s the perception that makes the big difference. There are people who look at play as though it’s another work, and there are those who look at work as though it’s play. Can we look at scriptural study, for example, as play? This can help us get down to it without resistance. And once we start it, we are more likely to enjoy it than otherwise.

“…you don’t have to suffer to feel good. You can make exercise a “playout” instead of a workout,” writes1 Dr. Dean Ornish in one of his great books. Though the book is mainly about reversing heart disease, it is a work that those who do not have high cholesterol also ought to read. Dr Ornish covers a lot of spiritual topics including meditation in this book. He gives his own example, “I play tennis whenever I can because I enjoy the game and I like the way it makes me feel afterwards.” Is it not wonderful if things that are good to do and things that we enjoy come together?

We can apply this principle to many a good thing in daily life. We must see if we enjoy the activities that we are contemplating of including in our daily or weekly schedule. Once we find we enjoy any of them, we must learn to just do it, without mental noise like resistance, complaint, guilt at not doing or pride at doing. It should become as simple an affair as combing our hair is. We don’t pride over our regularity in combing our hair. We just do it, don’t we?

It is important to unburden ourselves of the dozens of shoulds and should not’s in daily life. There’s otherwise much dissipation of mental energy in every one of these issues. Let us identify healthy practices, and learn to do them with ease, with pleasure. That would be a mature relationship of ours with those good ingredients of a well-spent day or week. We may add to our list things like listening to music, gardening, calling some friends or relatives on telephone and making brief, kind inquiries etc. Let none of them put pressure on us; let us not forget them either. There surely is a gentle way of right living. Can we do things gently, and can we drop things also gently?

If we learn this art of going about right living in a gentle way – without shouting at others or ourselves – we will perhaps discover that life is good here and now.

Swami Chidananda

Back in India now

- End Notes: 1 Page 318, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Ballantine Books

Spark 3

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PRACTICE IN THE CONTEXT OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE

        Within a dream, a person wonders, “What am I to do in order to wake up from this dream?” She further adds, “What should I do repeatedly so I can speed up my waking up?” Little she realizes that ‘doing once’ or ‘doing repeatedly’ would involve some movement in space and time, and both these coordinates are illusory within the dream. If a man in Piscataway finds himself, for example, in Chicago in his dream, and he wishes to go to Milwaukee, all his plans about how he may travel are meaningless for he, in reality, is just not in Chicago! Whether practice has any validity at all is one of the very intriguing debates in the context of Self-Knowledge. That is because the idea of ‘doing something’ involves doership and that is a contradiction. All techniques, methods and exercises done consciously with a view to shed our ego come under the scanner here, for the doer is the ego. Isn’t the thief going round the town in the disguise of the policeman, claiming that he will soon catch the thief? Despite this philosophical problem, we are told by many mystics to ‘see,’ ‘be’ or ‘inquire’ etc. which is regarded as not belonging to the category of ‘doing’. What is more, seeing can coexist with doing while the two are distinct. You have (or you are) certain intelligence that can undo the illusion that your mind has always created. Let this intelligence, which is above the mind, operate. An operation of the mind (or by the mind) cannot apparently solve the mystery created by the mind. To rise above the mind, in a manner of speaking, you have to resort to a force that is subtler than the mind. Some mystics call it simply intelligence. “The liberating operation may be beyond the mind; what about preparing for it, madam?” is the question some people would ask. Calming the mind, purifying it, making it single-pointed, rendering it still and so on have been attractive proposals for long. Seekers fall in love with these to the extent they wish to remain in certain practices forever! Theories of how to arrive at the Aha moment have enchanted people so much that they get busy describing the theories and forget about the actual arrival. It is like someone getting so excited with the map that he does not get on with the travel to the actual territory. The question, “so should we practice anything at all or is it wiser to give up all practices?” is itself questionable. It seems more appropriate to say, “You will anyway engage in some practice or the other when you are on a certain level of consciousness. You will give them up out of laziness in another state of consciousness. And when you come upon the true realization that all practices are meaningless, the Aha just happens.”

Swami Chidananda San Gabriel, California

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SPARK 2

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Scorch Your Vasana

A large number of people are aware of their weaknesses, and of the “one bad habit” that has always cost them a lot. It could be anger, jealousy, greed, self-importance, lust or low self-esteem. We may have multiple issues but it is generally possible to identify one of them as the main problem. The word ‘vasana’ has been used by Vedanta teachers to mean an underlying tendency that time and again expresses as a thought, word or deed in us. Therefore the challenge is reduced to eliminating the debilitating vasana, which threw a spanner in the works all through our life so far. They asked Maharshi Ramana how one could get rid of one’s vasanas. His answer was, “Scorch them.” The guidance from the sage has tremendous significance. I would understand it this way. The teachings of the Upanishads are like the hot sun and our vasanas are like tender plants, which normally get watered by our indulgence in ‘thought, word or deed’ that fulfill the tendencies. Scorching goes way beyond starving, and is therefore more powerful. Just to deny gratification of a vasana often leads to suppression, which would not last long. Reflecting on the radiant revelations of the Upanishads leads to such insights that make our old, foolish ways get not only exposed for their silliness but also burnt in the flame of the ‘new way of seeing.’ Take for example, the inspiring metaphor given in the Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.3): The first bird beholds the second one and undergoes a transformation. The seeker contemplates on the sought, and changes. He throws away his false ways that caused bondage so far. He attains oneness with the Pure Self. The first bird is the self, with its sad vasanas. The second bird is the hidden potential in every one of us, the Pure Self. The study of Upanishads blesses us with the ability to question our present self-perception and, through persistent inquiry, arrive at steady appreciation of our true nature. Proper study leads to meditation. Attempts at meditation without gaining clarity about the subtle science of Self-knowledge lead to a mechanical exercise. Such an exercise can become another enclosure of the self, a new form of ego. Greater the clarity gained through study and inquiry, lesser there is of ‘anything to do’ in meditation. Gentle negation of false identifications becomes the flavor of meditation. Staying free of images and cleansing our consciousness of all negative emotions become the essence of this spiritual engagement. Meditation ‘happens’ and we no more ‘do’ meditation. When thus we recognize our wrong ways, we not only withdraw from areas where the vasanas find their fulfillment but also engage in intense contemplation on the teachings that point out the state of being that is free of them (the vasanas).Not watering the plants is good but scorching them is better. Let us therefore scorch ‘the one vasana’ that came in the way of our spiritual ascent.

Swami Chidananda Portland, Oregon

Spark 1

Sunday, May 10, 2014

Invite Friction, Welcome Disturbing Higher Ideas

The ground reality in our daily life is that certain strong conditionings hold us in their grip. We may recognize them sometimes as likes and dislikes, and at other as fears and worries. They cause disharmony in our relationships, and bring about sorrow. To remove these from our mind, and to bless us with pure perception is what spirituality is all about. The Upanishads employ a metaphor to convey this truth. Thoughts in us, rising from old habits, are like one of the two wooden pieces – in a pair – brought into friction with the second piece, whereby sparks of fire emerge. Uplifting ideas from scriptures are the second piece of wood. Each piece is called an “arani”. Students in a gurukula in the good old days would produce sparks of fire every morning by using two pieces of arani, brought in friction, and this fire would be used to light up the sacrificial fire at their teacher’s learning center. The Kaivalya Upanishad, for example, says – Make yourself (your old ideas) the lower arani, And Pranava (Om, spiritual thoughts) the upper arani. You will burn away all your (psychological) bondage By this friction between (false) knowledge and (right) insights. (mantra 11) Many students of the Vedanta make the mistake of studying a little bit in the beginning and then stay idle without continued study and reflection. Some of them slip into mere repetition of the same old verses, illustrations and stories. Some others get distracted by some modern motivational literature, which is lower stuff really. A third category gets side-tracked by either mere missionary work, where the focus is organizational activities or going after some membership drive. A fourth kind could also settle for rituals, astrology, tantra etc. Motivational literature, it was said above, is lower stuff because it endorses the division of the seeker and the sought. It is all about ‘becoming’ somebody or something. It is hunting success if not treasure hunt. The essence of the liberating teachings of the Upanishads is that you are essentially free – the seeker is the sought. The nearest teaching here is Lord Krishna’s karma yoga, where too you do not really seek anything. You work without desiring personal gains. The spirit of karma yoga thus carries the seeds of Self-knowledge, which openly declares you do not need anything to make you complete. Coming back to the Aranis, we must engage in discerning study, which challenges us constantly to re-examine the way we live. A student, for example, was very thoughtful when she came across the word ‘vimatsara’ in the Geeta (4.22), and started asking herself seriously, “Am I free from jealousy?” she discovered that she was uncomfortable whenever people praised a colleague of hers, who was also engaged in certain spiritual and service-oriented programs. She recognized the hunger for attention in herself, and saw that it was leading to nothing less than jealousy. This ‘matsara’ (jealousy) raised its ugly head in many ways and, at times, she found she was angry with her parents and teachers when they seemed to neglect her and give importance to her associates. When she looked at the way her mind functioned, in the light of Geeta’s pointer, there was indeed friction! The state of consciousness meant by the word vimtsara and the movement of her mind were in sharp contrast. When we handle this friction maturely, we lovingly yield to the higher consciousness and we let go of the false ways. It is of course a special art to manage the turmoil within, following what scriptures expose. We need to look at phenomena like jealousy without justifying, condemning or substituting etc. Books do not transform us but they provide a window for us to see aspects of our mental life. The greater writer DVG says, “The knowledge you gain through books is like a jewel upon your head. The wisdom that dawns in your contemplation is like a flower in fresh bloom. You gain realization not by scholarship but by close inner examination.” (Kagga, verse 65). Please note that the jewel, however precious, is lifeless. The flower, though commonly found, is alive and vibrant. The same author speaks of how good thoughts (higher arani) act like the ‘pounding stick’ with which we separate the eatable portions of rice from its husk (verse 64). Can we make ourselves available for this ‘friction,’ this ‘pounding,’ which alone can bring about inner change?

Swami Chidananda From Fayetteville, North Carolina *