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Category: spirituality

The Great Debate

People of science argue that there is no God. Because science is based on logic. And logic can be proven. And repeatedly so.

People of faith argue that there is a God. Logic is irrelevant to them. Why? Because their own personal experiences have taught them that miracles can and do happen – and if its a repeatable non-coincidence at their times of greatest need – then who cares about logic.

The science folks argue that if God exists, then why do you need technology to improve lives. Why have cutting edge medicine to save lives. Why use computers and mobiles and other amazing inventions? God didn’t invent those did he? Man did. The faith folks argue that the substratum for any ‘inventions’ were not invented by any man or human, but are divine gifts, of which we are mere renters.

This is a never ending debate. But it needn’t be so.

All the ancient scriptures describe God in the same way. As the spark of Consciousness that resides deep within each one of us. Not just us humans, but in all living beings. Not just living, but also inanimate things. Basically everything there is, is just an expression of this Consciousness, but in a multitude of forms. It is this Consciousness spark in humans that is known as intuition, that sometimes results in amazing solutions to problems, that results in great advancements in technology and so on. Seen this way, there is no debate.

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Substantial

My Guru was giving a discourse on the Bhagavatam recently. In that, sage Narada happens to be traveling and reaches the world in its current state, i.e. Kali yuga. What is the sum and substance of this age? That the substance has gone from everything. The Guru explained it beautifully thus.

The ‘substance’ has gone means the ‘purpose’ has gone.

Means people are not putting their hearts and souls into what they are doing. There is no love and enjoyment for work. There is no attention to work.

Not just office work. But to most actions.

If one is going to a temple to pray, the substance is lost, because the mind is not on the Lord, but on what we want from the Lord.

How profound! An important message for me, especially on this auspicious day of Guru Purnima. All glories to Him!

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Sacrificial – part 4

A final post for now on yagna or sacrifice. We saw some of the 12 different types of sacrifice mentioned in the Gita yesterday. Those are all nice no doubt, but the focus must be on the last one, the brahma yagna. The giving up of the ego, the self.

It does not mean just getting up and jumping into the fire. That would be quite useless in reality, as the heat would be too much to take, the burns fatal, and once dead, of what use is all this spirituality? Rather it is all about giving up at the mind level.

This last yagna is so awesome that it is better than any and all of the previous yagnas. One question though here could be – fine, I’ll do some of these sacrifices. Like I’ll give up some good of my liking. There, sacrifice done, now what?

As Swami Paramarthananda puts it, real yagnas need two conditions to be satisfied, otherwise they simply remain physical acts / exercises.
1. The first condition is that it needs the Lord (i.e, bhakti or devotion, maybe faith).
2. The second condition is that it needs a spiritual motive. Otherwise it would just become a material transaction.

Speaking of yagnas – here is an excellent fire homa that anyone can do.

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Doing the dishes

Here’s an example of applying learnings from spirituality to the real world.

You have a maid for cleaning utensils. You pay her a salary. You pay her even if she doesn’t come for a few days, like when she took time off to go back to her ancestral home, or when there was a lockdown etc. You also pay her kids’ school fees, and often buy chocolates for them. She knows you are a good person.

One day you need to go out urgently, maybe to the hospital or some such. It’s unavoidable, and so you ring up the maid and request her to come in earlier, only for today, and only by a couple of hours. She replies with some excuse (like she has to cook food at her home) and hence cannot come.

It’s easy to get angry at this point – even if only internally. “I’ve done so much for this maid, and the one day when I have an urgency, she can’t make it?” That she cannot come, is a fact. But how we react to the situation is not yet so, and entirely in our control. We could get angry and spoil the mood of the entire home for the day. Or we could don the kitchen gloves, put on our earphones and listen to music or a podcast while doing the dishes. Two birds with one stone. The solution is in our own hands.

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Spirituality doubts

Here are two simple questions (and answers of course) that can sometimes occur to anyone on the spiritual path.

  1. On the one hand, I’m expected to be spiritual, attain liberation etc. On the other, I’m expected to carry on my duties in my materialistic life? How can I reconcile both of these?

    As my Guru says, we are all filled with so much of rajasik guna that we cannot just relinquish everything, don ochre robes and sit in meditation forever. Instead, we are so much in love with the world around us (maya though it may be) that we leave ourselves no choice but to play in it. The way out (as Krishna told Arjuna as well) is to channelize that rajas in the use of greater good, maximum benefit for maximum people. This will break the cycle of selfish desires and actions, and eventually convert rajasik to sattvik. To summarize, doing one’s duty in life selflessly, will lead to spiritual evolution.
  2. The world is fleeting. Can I really make any changes to it? I’m anyway going to die. How does it matter?

    It is very easy to be fatalistic. But all our scriptures caution against exactly this. Just like a honeybee is not wired to roar like a lion, we too are not wired to be in this world without acting or doing something, i.e. we are not 100% sattvik and meditative by nature. Since we any way have to act in the world, why not do a good job of it, helping the greatest number of people? Certainly possible.
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Tough times

There are times when it might seem like everything is going against us. It is good to take on any adversity head-on though with this one thought that occurs to only the most spiritual of beings – “Thank you God/Universe for putting me in this position rather than anyone else. Because at least I will be able to bear this situation and it’s consequences, while those around me if subjected to the very same thing, may not survive.”

At other times, those close to you might be going through a tough time. This could be deep rooted karmic retribution at play. Who can really tell, except perhaps those who have truly Realized? In any case, it might seem like there is nothing we can do to help alleviate the pain. At least physically, yes.

But mentally, and emotionally? We can do many things. One, paramount, is prayer. A wonderful opportunity to not just pray, but pray for someone other than always selfishly for ourselves!

There’s a brilliant video I came across recently. A barber got to know that his client was diagnosed with cancer. The client’s hair had begun falling, thanks to chemotherapy. As the client begins to get his head shaved, the barber intermittently shaves his own head too. What a lovely way to show that he cares! The client is moved to tears.

The tag at the end of the video sums it up beautifully. “That’s not your barber anymore, that’s your brother.”

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Hair scare

One of the satsangis in a recent youth session narrated a nice short incident.

A Jain monk had shaved his head completely. Nothing out of the ordinary. Someone still asked him why he did it. The monk replied that he too previously had tried everything – oils, shampoos, conditioners, balms – you name it.

The he realized something profound, and said “Shareeri se a-shareeri hone tak sab kuch chutega”, which means – by the time we go from birth to death, everything will have been forgone. That is just the way of life. Youthfulness, energy, black hair, white hair, any hair – everyone will have to leave all these things behind at the end.

If one is on the spiritual path, one would do well to make peace with the end – well before the end. If despite having all the knowledge in the world, one is still worried about the hair on the head, then of what use is spirituality? We need to leave these things well before they leave us.

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Twit quot 2

Here are some more simple yet profound quotes I came across on Twitter:

The way to forget insults is to not take compliments in the first place.
When in doubt, go for a walk.
Don't worry about being qualified. Everyone is learning as they go.
Reading 1-2 hours a day puts me in the top 0.00001%.
In the short term you are as good as your intensity. In the long term, you are as good as your consistency.

Link to Twit quot 1

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Ritualistic pride

When doing a puja, homa (havan) or other ritual, the doers often become conceited. “Oh look I just performed a huge yagna and see how many people attended, and see what amazing catering I arranged” etc. Even if the havan was done on a small scale, ego can creep in. But it’s helpful to really think what aspects of the homa or puja were done by “the doer”.

How about these?

  1. The deity we are praying to has to make him/herself available
  2. Agni, the fire God, has to function as the medium and carry one’s prayers to the deity
  3. The various ingredients – coconuts, walnuts, other inflammable items, flowers, ghee, water and everything else – does the yagna doer create these items?
  4. The priest who conducts the ceremony – is the organizer the priest? Soes s/he know every single mantra, shloka, chant – not just to recite, but to understand and to feel? Did s/he create those incantations?
  5. Or maybe if it’s a self-chanted self-conducted ritual, then gratitude to our own memory, vocal chords, the guru who taught us the mantras…
  6. How about the free time we were allowed by our family members to devote to the puja
  7. Also the attendees who showed up, and the cooks who prepared all the dishes
  8. A few other things I would have missed here for sure

Without any of these, how would the havan have been a success? Really is there much for us to be proud of then?

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Bharatha 600BC

There is an awesome board game called Bharatha 600BC, created and released by a company called GoIndia Games. It’s quite unique because such games that are made in India are rare. The map of the game itself is beautiful – featuring ancient India from – you guessed it – 600 BC!

The game makes for fun family bonding time – especially offering a clean hour or three. ‘Clean’ meaning no screen diversions (mobiles, tablets, TVs etc) – wow is that even possible these days?

The board game has plenty of paths to victory – and one can use tact, strategy, battle, speed, rationing (i.e. hoarding) of resources, using special cards – you name it.

One interesting thing that happens when we play with my mother, is that she will never battle, and she will also always ‘give up’ resources for the rest of the family to win. “Oh, how can I battle my own son!”, or “You want resources, here take mine” – much to the groans of others “come on ma, this is supposed to be a competitive game – leave your familial bonds aside!”

While there are groans during the game, one must look behind the curtain. The motherly love kicks in with feelings of compassion overruling everything else – and not just during board games but even otherwise. What if we too can apply such compassion/empathy all the time. Just like the Guru does. Wouldn’t that be the true application of everything we learn in our scriptures?

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Nectar for life

Here’s some pointers I found very thought-provoking from a recent speech my Guruji gave.

  • How to get moksha? By living a choice-less existence. Accept whatever comes to you. The goal of life isn’t to become rich or to be educated. The true goal of life is to realize the Self within, and realizing that That Thou Art (tat tvam asi)
  • We are all going to temples which are great energy centres, but always still asking for more and more materialistic things. When will the cravings stop?
  • Each one of us can achieve anything. One person has done 12 PHDs in printing technology, but still not used even 5% of his brain. Einstein used less than 5% of his brain. We can each do anything.
  • But we must always remember, that achieving great material things means nothing to the Lord, and to our progress on the spiritual path. Materialism will not help us see the Self within.
  • The biggest problem in our lives is not related to job, money, health, wealth or relationships. The biggest problem is that we have desires and are deeply attached to everything and everyone. Gita shlokas 2.71 and 2.72 clarify this.
  • Guruji had once said anyone can come and take anything in their house – even the altar. Even the Vishnu paadaas where he was doing puja with great love all the time. No attachments + no desires is the key. Vishnu paadaa is only a symbol. One must give up the whole world, only then can one attain moksha.
  • Sleeping early is a habit, but so is sleeping late. Reading scriptures is a habit, but so is not reading scriptures. Giving charity is a habit, but so is not giving charity. Same for eating and overeating. We must be careful about the habits we cultivate.
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Gateway to serve

There is no dearth of rich people in the world. But the number of poor, far outweigh the rich. If you are one of the lucky ones to be in the ‘rich’ group (or at least in the group where you do not need to struggle to make ends meet), then what can you do with your money? Our scriptures say that the only thing one must do is to serve others selflessly. As my Guru notes often, it is easy to find rich people – but very hard to find rich people who are also noble. Money is such a thing, that the more we have, the more it can control and corrupt us. Even the noblest of people can unravel in the clutches of money. The only way to remain noble then is to stay steeped in our scriptures, and consciously apply everything we learn in them and in satsang.

There are of course many rich people who are doing great work for society. One example is Bill Gates. Indeed there may be naysayers or those who feel he is doing this to benefit himself in some way – there is no way for me to know. However, his work has surely impacted poor people’s lives for the better, and he talks about this in his new book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”. He and his wife Melinda began working on global health many years ago, and experts would tell them often about how many kids were dying of diarrhoea. But they didn’t know the source of this diarrhoea. The couple were unable to figure out how to save these kids without knowing the underlying cause. Being rich, and having the ability to spend money as necessary, they were able to fund a variety of global studies to figure out the exact cause of this diarrhoea – which was then identified as pneumonia. And then Mr. Gates was able to further fund a much cheaper pneumonia vaccine than one that already existed and used only by developed countries, which in turn led to saving the lives of millions of kids.

Many times, those who get onto the spiritual path feel that they should not bother about earning money anymore. But money is one of the best ways to help people at scale. Hence a noble person shouldn’t shy away from becoming rich. But one must become rich and not hoard the money, but selflessly help those around in need.

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Temple motivation

There’s a temple in South India with a Unique Selling Proposition aka USP.

There are 2 columns / pillars, set very narrowly apart.

It is said, that if you have any desires to be fulfilled, you just need to squeeze through them pillars, and your wish will be taken care of.

Needless to say, there is a long line every day of people of varying sizes trying to squeeze themselves into the said gap. It could be because they need a visa to settle abroad, or to pass with flying colours (or at least in black and white!) in an exam they just gave, or if they want more money or a promotion etc.

If however, the outcome of walking through this pillar gap was to get instant moksha or liberation (literally no effort, just walk through and be free) instead of materialistic pleasures, I can’t help but wonder if anyone would even visit the temple at all.

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Disastittude

  1. She had worked really hard on her presentation. All of last week. Little sleep and plenty of sweat, and tears.
  2. Now it was ready. All external dependencies, and myriad coordinations, checked and resolved, approvals sought.
  3. Mail drafted, and ready to send. This would put her in the upper leagues. People would take notice.
  4. And then came the phone call. Some of her data points in chapter 3 were incorrect. Taken innocuously from a defunct source.
  5. The correction would take time. Maybe a couple of weeks if not more.
  6. Oh what a bummer. She felt like the world came crashing down.
  7. Irritated. Frustrated. She hated delays. She also hated going back to the drawing board.
  8. Then she realized. This was not a disaster, rather, she was saved from one.
  9. Imagine if her email with the wrong presentation and data had gone out. What a mess that would have been!
  10. It was just a week from annual appraisal day too. Her bonus could have been slashed, and promotion rescinded.
  11. Her frustration abated momentarily, and her gratitude for Divinity’s mysterious ways gushed to the fore.
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The call

On a recent call with my Guru, as always, words of wisdom poured out.

Here are a few things he said, worth pondering over for me.

  1. If child cries, yes the parent can hold it. The eventual problem with that is each time the child will cry if it is not held.
  2. There were no glories for Krishna or Rama during their lives, apart from maybe Hanuman who looked upon them as Gods. Most of the rest of society couldn’t care less. They attained God status well after they were gone. This repeats every generation.
  3. Jalebis (an Indian sweet) cannot be analysed, otherwise it will lose its taste. It needs to be put into the mouth and relished. Don’t over analyse scriptures, rather start putting into practise/action.
  4. Many people promise to give to charity when something good happens in their lives, but very few follow through. Shows they are still attached to money and deluded by it.
  5. All great ideas come from the one same Divine source. Tap into it.
  6. Only when you truly forget yourself and your own selfish needs and truly love the other with no expectations, will the blessings of the Divine come.

So simple, yet so profound!

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Reply

Is there a way to make someone happy and praise them while also keeping the bar high? Here’s how my Guru did it once.

Many years ago, one of the satsangis went to him for advice. The satsangi was a bit nervous, as he told Guruji that this was his first time speaking in public on the Gita, and that he was a little scared. Guruji asked him which chapter was assigned to him. He said, “Chapter 7, Guruji.”

Guruji replied thus:
1. Wow, chapter 7, such a beautiful chapter, I’m so happy you got it! [infusing happiness]
2. You know what? My first talk too was on chapter 7. It is easy, and I know your capability, you can do it. [genuine praise]
3. I also prepared hard for it – I had read the chapter over 500 times, so that my session is worth my audience’s time. [setting the bar high]

Isn’t this such an inspiring reply, and something for us to learn?

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Successfool

Why material success is important
better quality of life
more amount for charity
more time for social work (i.e. your wealth has brought you freedom)
brings temporary happiness
the world wants you, which is important for getting worldly things done

Why material success is not important
fuels the ego
is only a relative measure versus peers
limits learning (we feel we know everything)
only brings temporary happiness
a world that wants you, capsizes you
has no bearing on spiritual growth

What if we could live physically in the world as though successful, but mentally give up all success to the Lord / Guru / Divine? Win-win!

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How to be equanimous

One of the mainstays for a liberated life according to the Bhagavad Gita, is samatvam or equanimity. This is also called having sama darshanam or equity in vision, i.e. looking at everything as inherently the same, irrespective of whether it is good or bad, pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow and so on.

To live comfortably and mentally unblemished in the face of criticism, one must begin by eschewing praise. We cannot have the proverbial cake and eat it too. We want equanimity in hardship, but our pleasure receptors shoot through the roof in the slightest hint of praise and recognition.

How can we then practically be equanimous? When the boss says “Wow you’ve done amazing work here, you deserve this promotion!”, do we just scowl at him and walk away? Or do we say “No sir, it wasn’t me.” The boss is then likely to keep the promotion/bonus for himself 🙂

The way prescribed in the scriptures, is ‘surrender’. Surrender with faith, to the divine, or if that’s too abstract, then to the Guru. In Hindi, sur means head. So putting your head under the Guru or ishta devata, offering everything to him or her. Everything means all good and all bad without distinction. So grab that promotion by all means, but mentally prostrate and offer it to your deity of choice. This will keep us grounded, always. Difficult, but worth it.

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Blindspots

Just because something is invisible to the eye, or appears beyond our comprehension and perception, does not make it non-existent or fraudulent. Take the example of gravity. Despite all the advancements in science and technology, we still do not understand the process behind why people drinking tea simultaneously at the North and South poles have no problem keeping the liquids in their cups. Take also the human body – with a plethora activities going on inside at any moment – digestion, cognition, respiration etc. all of which we tend to be blissfully unaware of.

The same is said to be true of Consciousness. It is very much there – the fabric underlying all Creation. There for everyone to experience, if scrutinized closely, yet immediately unavailable to any. This is not a paradox, as author Sam Harris of the outstanding book Waking Up (which delves deep into the topic of human consciousness) puts it. He goes on to describe an optic blindspot that each one of us has, and something I never knew of. Apparently the optic nerve passes through the retina of each eye, creating a small region in each visual field where we are effectively blind. He further adds that most people in human history have been totally unaware of the optic blind spot. Even those of us who know about it go for decades without noticing it. And yet, it is always there, right on the surface of experience. Here’s a simple experiment you can try yourself!

So, can we experience this Atman / Brahman / Consciousness within us? Yes, with some training / effort / meditation. As Harris puts it, “The self that I am discussing throughout this book—the illusory, albeit reliable, source of so much suffering and confusion—is the feeling that there is an inner subject, behind our eyes, thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experience. We must distinguish between the self and the myriad mental states—self-recognition, volition, memory, bodily awareness—with which it can be associated.

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The two Ps

There are two somewhat interlinked concepts in Hinduism.

One is prarabdha or that portion of our karmic balance that we are to experience in this life. Our birth into a good pious, self-sufficient and contented family is such an example. If we have this, we are lucky. Because many do not have even this.

The other, is purushartha. Which refers to the efforts put in by an individual, to achieve his goals. The goals have been divided into four – dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kaama (love) and moksha (liberation). These are loose translations, but in effect provide goals for us to live by and pursue. The ultimate goal is moksha of course, and achieving it dharmically, while having requisite artha and family life is considered ideal.

The problem arises when people are bestowed with excellent prarabdha, but fritter it away due to lack of or undirected purushartha. Being introduced to a satsang, finding a Guru, or rather a Guru finding you, having the company of noble and wise people, having the luxury of a good primary education etc. are nothing short of great karmic gifts – because we in our current lives hardly did anything to deserve these. And yet, people are unable to make time for an hour of satsang, or a week of seva to the Guru or some other means of giving back.

Everything we got, on a platter as it were, is prarabdha. Because there are so many people out there putting 10x the efforts getting 0.01% of the results you and I get. Prarabdha is gotten already, but purushartha is what we do with it. i.e. Destiny versus free will.

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