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Tag: spirituality

Deification

One of the misconceptions about Hinduism that even Hindus harbour is that they think there are 300 million Gods and Goddesses and hence so many different things to ask for from each one.

This might be true to some shallow extent. But from a spiritual point of view, all the asking and begging and pleading for materialistic perishables would be utterly meaningless.

Here instead are two better ways to think about deities.

  1. Instead of focusing on our own wants all the time, we move the spotlight to the deity. This reduces our ego – and by itself perhaps a pinnacle of achievement among spiritual milestones.
  2. Instead of focusing on our own weaknesses all the time, maybe there is a way to focus on strengths? The more we think of our limitations, the more self-reinforcing they become. But visualizing a deity and its superpowers? And 300 million deities? That’s easily several billion positive traits to focus our minds on. Imagine the self-reinforcing power of that in comparison!

Anyone can make use of the power of deities. It is not superstition, but a super decision!

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Chosen two

In a satsang session a few years ago, my Guru was asked to do a quick recap of the entire Gita.

What better way, than to do it in just 4 minutes? Wow a 4-minute Gita!

He recited 1 shloka per chapter, so 18 chapters, 18 shlokas, with their meanings and application, and all extempore. It was truly a sight to behold.

For only the 2nd chapter, he recited not one, but two shlokas. 2.71 and 2.72.

To say he thinks these are important shlokas would be a massive understatement.

2.71 is vihaaya kaamaanya sarvaan. Vihaaya is giving up, kaamaan is desires, sarvaan is all. And then he recited is backwards. Sarvaan kaamaan vihaaya – All desires give up.

2.72 is similar, stating that one who achieves such state of mind, achieves liberation even at the time of death.

Each chapter has only 1 shloka that he picked. But chapter 2 alone had two. Is it important? Yes, twice as important.

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Nimittas – part 1 of 3

There’s a branch of astrology called Nimmita astrology. Nimmita really means ‘instrument’. Astrologers that work on this principle look for cues from the world around us.

For instance, if someone were to come to the astrologer with a question, “Do you think my child will be a boy or a girl?”, and at that very moment there appears a young girl at the door, or the sound of a girl playing or laughing outside, the astrologer considers this ‘an expression of the Lord’ and the ‘girl’ in the scene as a nimmitta, i.e. an instrument, and makes his prediction.

Regardless of whether this approach works or not, Lord Krishna in the Gita asks Arjuna to be a nimmita of the Lord, i.e. to be an instrument of His. Are there any benefits to this? Absolutely, and life changingly so:

  1. No more stress, no more anxiety. Why? Because I am not doing the work. The Lord is working through me, and I am only the instrument. Then why would I be anxious?
  2. My 100% focus shifts from the result, to the quality of effort. Why? Because I am not doing some ordinary work (no matter what the actual work is), but rather the Lord’s own work!

A simple change in mindset and perception can make such a big difference! Putting this into practise isn’t easy. But the more we believe that we are indeed nimmitas only, the more this will make sense and the more life will become easier.

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Scare away

One of the reasons why people run away from spirituality is because of perceived impracticality. Like getting rid of attachments.

Whoa, getting rid of my attachments? This means I should not be attached to my spouse, my parents, my kids, my relatives, my friends… Surely I do not want to let go of all these people. Is this what spirituality is telling me to do? To shun them away? To live a solitary existence?

Absolutely not. This is the perception of impracticality right there, and also why a Guru is so important – because such a person can not only demystify what is advocated, but also apply it to our present times.

“Don’t be attached”, doesn’t mean do not love the people around you. It only means do not be conditional in your approach. If we love (not the romantic type) only one person, then it likely means we are deriving something conditional from that relationship, and that is the reason for the love. This is transactional. It doesn’t free us, rather only binds us even more.

True love, is selfless. Much like God would love each one of us – equally, impartially, or a mother would, her children.

Love is not a finite currency. The more we give, the more we are automatically replenished with.

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Parts of speech

We all know the parts of speech in English right – noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, interjection, conjunction – maybe I missed a few?

Now guess which of these is the most important? Not the noun, which is subjective (pun-unintended), or the adjective, which is always flowery. Rather, it is the simplistic, yet potent ‘verb’.

Here’s how google defines it: “Verb: This is the most important part of a speech, for without a verb, a sentence would not exist. Simply put, this is a word that shows an action (physical or mental) or state of being of the subject in a sentence.”

A word that shows an action or state of being of the subject in a sentence. So cool, and so relevant to spirituality too, because verbs are the very essence of karma yoga!

The ‘who is doing?’ is not relevant. The ‘what is being done’ is also not relevant. Neither is ‘why are we doing?’. Instead, the highest focus, is on the ‘doing’ itself. It’s not as if the other things don’t matter, but they matter less. The end result isn’t key, the process of doing is more important. Because if the process is done well, then the other things will be taken care of. And before someone disagrees and says the above questions are important – yes, they are. But not ‘during’ the ‘doing’. For those, there can be a separate session of planning, brainstorming etc. all of which are verbs for their own sakes.

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Fleeting

Here’s a Chinese proverb I came across:

1. If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
2. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
3. If you want happiness for a month, get married.
4. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
5. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody else. 

All of these are true. Point 3 is funny even. And these must be taken in the right spirit. It is not about the activities, but rather about the fleeting nature of happiness. This has even been studied by scientists, including the various chemicals released by the brain (endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin etc.).

The winner is always the last one. Point 5. Do more for others. In fact, do everything for others only. Because there is no difference deep down, from a spiritual point of view. Our scriptures say that if we do for ourselves only, we are only adding fuel to the fire which is our ego.

The challenge is, that even doing point 5 well is hard, because we look for some signs of acknowledgement from the people who have just benefitted from our help. When they don’t even say a thank you, that can get us really riled up. The real test of spiritual progress is how little such feelings impact us.

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Confusion, instruction, disciple-tion

Shloka 2.7 in the Gita is a landmark one. Arjuna says, “I’m confused as to my duty. Please instruct me, I’m your disciple.”

There could be so many learnings from this. Here are a few:

  1. Arjuna is confused, after a life full of preparation for this very war. And confusion is alright, especially for mere mortals like us. As long as we understand that we are confused, and are ready to seek help. (More on this, tomorrow)
  2. Humility – on Krishna’s part. He is omniscient, yet never interrupts Arjuna’s lamentation. He never utters a word even, until he is asked for advice. Most people today, with far lesser achievements than Krishna, start spewing solutions without even knowing what the problem is.
  3. Asking for instructions, and to be taken as a disciple, probably means that Arjuna exhausted all of his options. He realized there was no way he was going to arrive at a solution on his own.
  4. The word used here is ‘instruct’. Not ‘advice’ or ‘help’. Advice is surely given for free these days. But this ‘instruction’? It will have to come with clear guidance – a plan, here is step 1, step 2, step 3.
  5. Arjuna is asking Krishna only for instruction. He is not asking for Krishna to magically make this all go away. Arjuna knows that each step needs to be implemented by he himself. No way out. This work cannot be outsourced to a backoffice.
  6. There is also no doubt that Arjuna has about the quality of his teacher – he knows he’s got the best. Just like a Guru. But no, Krishna is a God, isn’t he? How can a Guru be a God? Guru is God only. The difference is only in the eye of the beholder.
  7. Arjuna is clear he wants to be Krishna’s disciple. Not his childhood friend, not his cousin, not his colleague, not his commanding officer as Krishna was only his charioteer. Nope, he had full faith. And that right there was his foundation for success.

Concluded tomorrow!

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Astral planes – part 3

  1. What then, about the patal lok, narak lok, various layers of hell, lower worlds, upper worlds, 14 worlds etc.? Maybe they exist, we can never know for sure. But for sure these are all also states of mind. When something nice happens, we are quickly transported to cloud 9, while we would like nothing more than to bury ourselves deep underground if we encounter failure.
  2. Even heaven is said to have an end date. To get moksha, our scriptures tell us we need to come back to human form, so we will have to leave heaven and thus: end date.
  3. Heaven is the greatest place ever no? But then even Indra, the king of heaven, is not one person, but just a position. There are stories of millions like him who have come and gone. So is heaven really the place of all awesomeness that we are thinking of?
  4. Even in said perfect heaven, there will be jealousy and promotions and favourites no? Because not all citizens of heaven are Indra or his consort. There will be people who work for them, and those who work for them and so on. Is it logically possible for everyone in heaven to be always happy? Then is this really a heaven?
  5. My Guruji’s point is very clear. We have to go beyond all this heaven/hell/duality/dwandvas. Krishna is very clear too, that if dwandvas exists, then there is no moksha there.
  6. The very fact that heaven and hell might exist at opposite ends of the spectrum means that dwandvas exists.
  7. The ‘desire’ to get the answer to such questions on astral planes is also a form of desire only. The ‘attachment’ to this very body, and to think whether this astral body will enjoy/struggle in heave/hell, that is also attachment only. So Guruji says we need to break out of the shackles of all our desires and attachments, as this is the only way to break out of this cycle of samsara.

Your thoughts please?

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Astral planes – part 2

  1. How can we understand the sookshma sharira? If we are pinched, we feel pain physically. But is all pain only physical? How about emotional pain? This happens in the mind. And so perhaps doesn’t require a physical body at all, and so the astral body aka sookshma sharira is sufficient.
  2. Is there any use of an astral body? When we perform homas / havans / sacrificial fire offerings, it is believed that the prayers and offerings are carried via the fire to deities who each are astral beings. Said astral beings may also be a part of the same environment / room where the homam is being performed. This is why menstruating women for instance are advised to stay away, as the smell of blood may displease said astral beings. On the flip side though, there are certain temples where only women or rather menstruating women are allowed to visit, so there’s that too. Hollywood movies like Marvel’s Dr. Strange speak of the ability to control one’s astral body at will – and even make it a superhero’s main powers. Perhaps this is really possible? Or maybe only in heaven?
  3. We often expect astral beings and fairies and what not to only be found in heaven. And thus has ensued man’s never ending search for such a hallowed land – the ultimate paradise. But Sadhguru has a nice take. He says that living here and now, when we are doing something willingly, that is only heaven. And if instead we are forced into doing something unwillingly, then that becomes hell! As the saying goes, “A religious person is one who believes in and is afraid of going to hell and a spiritual person is one who has been to hell and back”

Concluded tomorrow…

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Astral planes – part 1

So there are often questions about mystical fantastic things that capture a spiritual aspirant’s imagination. One question is on astral elements, like does an astral body exist? Who is the experiencer of an astral body, if the physical body has been left behind? Will the astral body go to heaven or hell?

Honestly, these are very hard to answer, all the more because I’m also always learning. But here are some of my thoughts.

  1. Does an astral body exist? I don’t know from self-experience, but many scriptural books (like Yoga Vashishtha) have spoken of this in great detail. Many Himalayan masters and mystic Gurus today also talk of it. So who am I to go against them? Also, I’ve seen a few things that would be impossible to explain by simply using the word ‘coincidence’ as a euphemism. So I would certainly not want to write any of this off.
  2. How can I see my astral body? Not sure again, although I’ve read it needs a lot of meditation, dhyaana etc. to experience.
  3. How about what exactly happens to the astral body after death? Well in some texts, like in the Garuda Purana, the various kinds of torture an erring soul will have to go through, have been enumerated.
  4. But who is undergoing this so-called torture in hell, if the physical body is already dead and discarded? It’s the sookshma sharira or the subtle body.

More tomorrow…

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Hair pulling

A very chubby baby I came across recently had the cutest baby laugh. Gurgling and chirping, it was just a joy to be around. Except when it would pull its own hair. Babies, as we know, do funny things sometimes. They don’t know the exact cause of pain, and because they tend to be fairly (very) uncoordinated, pulling their own hair with one hand satisfies the requirement of the hand to grab onto something. But it also simultaneously causes immense pain.

Now what to do? The only way is for the baby to leave its own hair alone. Even it’s parents can’t do anything at that point, because the grip of the baby is too tight. But it’s a matter of time, and the baby loosens the grip on its own.

Such is also our plight often in life. By keeping gargantuan expectations, we often invite misfortune into our lives. This self-inflicted pain is no different from the baby pulling its hair. And these expectations are not just milestones in professional setups, “achieve sales of x%”, or “drive costs down by y%”, but also expectations related to when happiness should be allowed to flow. It’s almost like we have a stop button inside us. “No, today I have a lot of work, and hence I will not smile even once.” Surely I’m guilty of that many times!

Taking myself too seriously can only end badly. It’s better to be sincere, than serious. As Swami Paramarthananda says, the disciple needs to first identify that a problem exists (with themselves). The Guru thereafter, needs to not only know the remedy, but also be free of the problem!

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Calculus

Okay, I admit, I suck at math. I used to hate it in school, and I still don’t find it fun. And calculus? Oh man, I never understood it. It just wasn’t intuitive you know?

There was a point though, when I learned that everything in the world around us, is actually mathematical, to an amazing degree. Like fractal patterns in snowflakes and plant designs and what not. Wow. I also remember how a dog that runs to catch a frisbee in the beach, intuitively does calculus. Same for the archer fish that shoots its prey from underwater, implicitly calculating refraction angles. Pretty amazing instincts.

As one of the senior satsangis says, all of the learning around us is additive. If we study math or history or geography or medicine, we actually become more knowledgeable about those subjects, and hence those ‘add’ to us.

However, a scriptural book like the Gita? It was just a conversation between a charioteer and a warrior. Not much to add to oneself really. Why? Because the Gita is not really a book of knowledge. One could read the meanings of the 700 shlokas maybe in a few hours and come out none the wiser. That is because, the Gita is a book of action. Calculus applies here. The Gita is not additive, it is integrative. Like a spoon of sugar dissolving in the coffee.

The same Gita when read over and over again, and its lessons put into action, can result in the reader being transforming into a better and better person each time.

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Swa

Swa. That’s the name of an artisanal juice syrup brand I got to taste recently. It was tasty, and its name comes from the fact that one has to make it ‘on their own’. Put in the effort of adding water to the Swa syrup and mixing it.

And such is the case with Dharma as well. The ultimate dharma, the ultimate goal of a human being is to attain moksha or liberation. However, the path to getting there is what is called as swadharma, because it is of one’s own doing.

A super example is from Acharya Prashant’s book called Karma. He likens dharma to being at the (x,y,z,) coordinates of (0,0,0). This is the starting point. It’s where we all came from originally, and where we need to go to eventually (in this lifetime or next).

Depending on where we are currently, our coordinates could be (10,12,15), or (3,4,5) or even (-20,-8,19). And thus the starting point is what will determine the work we would need to do to get to (0,0,0). This difference in starting point is what requires swadharma. Everyone would have to do their own bit. The work is not easy. Time for a drink.

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Role reversal

Arjuna in the Mahabharata underwent a role reversal. He spent years and years training and performing as one of the greatest archers / warriors that ever lived. But on the day of the Kurukshetra battle, he underwent an unexpected role change.

He saw no foes or enemies, only brothers and uncles and teacher.

He was suddenly not a warrior on that battlefield, but only a family man. Can a doctor perform a high risk surgery successfully on his own child? Very difficult. Why? Because he has entered he operating theatre less as a doctor and more as a father. Can we clinch a business deal if we are constantly thinking about being with family or vacationing?

The pangs of attachment begin to play on the mind, leading to what Arjuna faced as well – delusion.

What is the solution? Before solution, must come acknowledgement of the problem. One the problem is located, the resolver is the Guru. But the resolution happens, only if the ego is surrendered to him.

As Swami Paramarthananda says, the disciple needs to first identify that a problem exists. And then the Guru needs to not only know the remedy, but also be free of the problem!

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Advanced beginner

As a kid, going to amusement parks meant having to size oneself up against a ‘bar’. If I was shorter than the bar, then sorry, that ride wasn’t for me, no matter how adventurous it looked.

We always want to be permitted to do what we want. To be what we want to be. No shackles, no limitations.

I came across a spiritual book recently, which needed some permissions to be read. To read a book? Really?

Here’s what the book cover said. “Only for advanced seekers or absolute beginners.”

What an amazing requirement. I don’t know what was in the book, but it certainly makes me want to read it (even though I don’t fulfil the requirements). I’m certainly not an advanced spiritual seeker. And unfortunately, I’m not an absolute beginner either. I’ve read some spiritual books and listened to some YouTube talks, and that means my ego has only risen, rather than crumbled, as would be ideal.

Krishna makes it explicitly clear in the Gita. He needs no status, wealth, name, education or credentials for granting a spiritual revolution unto Him. All he needs is a clean heart dedicated only to Him.

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Chocolate Olympics

’tis the season of the Olympics, and the medal tallies for each country are scrutinized keenly. In some sports, there are well known champions, while in others, new ones are created everyday.

One such champion is 24-year old American swimmer Katie Ledecky. She’s considered one of the best swimmers of all time, with 7 Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship gold medals.

Quite the feat. When I watch videos of her races, they are simply unbelievable because of the gap between her and number two. The focus and determination needed to not just swim 8 minutes at super speed with the whole world watching, but to also practice many many hours more on a daily basis, the capabilities of the human body are just mind boggling.

One practise video shows her swimming a lap in an Olympic pool while balancing a brimful glass of chocolate milk on her head with nary a spill. If there was a better demonstration of focus, stability and poise, I haven’t seen one. There’s another one where technology shows the World Record time as a line drawn across the pool as Katie swims, and the previous WR line is actually chasing her from behind!

Yet, as life shows us over and over, no matter the level of success, a new era will dawn where the incumbent is vanquished by an emergent victor. For Katie Ledecky, there is another Katie, a 15-year old Katie Grimes, who is already nipping at her heels. And hence for everyone in life, there is zero room for ego – which incidentally is the crux of all spirituality as well.

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First who, then what

Much of the work in the world is focused on answering the “what”s. What is the solution to this problem? What is the workaround here? What should be my position on this issue? What should I tell him or her? What should I expect from this project? What is our vision? What is the outcome of this strategy? What, what, what, what … that is what is everywhere.

However, the really successful people (think billionaires), they don’t care much about the ‘what’. They only care about the ‘who’. They know there’s a problem. But they also know they cannot solve all the problems in the world on their own. They know that the most optimal use of their time is to get the best person to solve that problem. Who do they want to work with? Who do they like? Who knows this job the best? Who is the one who’ll do this with the least fuss? That’s the important question – it’s always about the who. If the ‘who’ is taken care of, the ‘what’ will sort itself out. If the driver is good, then one needn’t worry about the car heading in the wrong direction.

Similar for spirituality as well. We are often focused on the what. What shlokas should I chant? What mantras work best? What meditation mat should I buy? What scriptures should I read? What seva should I do? What satsang should I join? So many whats.

But all we need, is one who. Who is the right person to answer all these questions? The answer is only one. The Guru. Once that answer is fixed, then all we need to do is to follow his advice. All problems solved.

500th post today by the way. Thank you for reading, and being part of this journey of joint transformation! šŸ™‚

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Devil in the details – part 3

In the superb Hollywood TV show called Lucifer, the (very funny and likeable) Devil himself, walks around Los Angeles in the garb of a human being. He never lies, and in fact goes around announcing to everyone who comes and goes in his life that he is none other than the ruler of Hell. But where are the horns? And the red tail? And the Devil doesn’t wear expensive designer suits now does he? Despite him telling the truth to everyone, no one believes him, and so it really is never a problem for him.

That’s in the reel world, but here’s a parallel in the real/spiritual world as well. Most spiritual seekers are looking for something to ‘happen’ to them. Like in comic books when they show the Buddha was enlightened, they show a halo around his head. So seekers expect they too will see light, or hear some messages from the air, or experience some otherworldly mystical phenomena.

But what if there is really nothing more to spirituality than simply watching your thoughts and actions in an unbiased and detached manner? It doesn’t mean that miraculous inexplicable things can’t or don’t happen. But that is maybe something else? Many spiritual greats forewarn seekers to not be swayed by anything cool they come across on their paths – power et al – as those may be mere distractions. As my Guru repeatedly says, the only thing that is required for spiritual progress is to drop one’s desires and attachments, and turn the mind inward aka toward God. It sounds simple, but its certainly not easy (to do, or to believe, Ć  la Luci).

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Devil in the details – part 2

One of the challenges that Lucifer begins to face early on, is that he starts displaying ‘nice’ feelings. Compassion, empathy, love, and some sense of justice even. But these are not supposed to be relevant for the ruler of Hell isn’t it? Something I found out through the series was quite interesting – the Devil is not evil. The Devil only punishes evil. He is in fact a fallen angel. He is only a regulator of punishment that one has brought unto themselves. This reminded me of vedic astrology. Many people condemn and blame the planets. Oh Saturn, or Oh Rahu – the planet is responsible for my misery. But that is far from the truth. We through our own actions are ourselves responsible for what we get (across lives). The planet only serves as an indicator, as a marker in the long journey towards liberation.

Not just devil character, but the reverse is worth pondering over as well, i.e. what does it mean to be God-like? Is it just about having 4 arms, some superpowers and / or being immortal? Hardly. Those can merely be tools. An immortal fool is still a fool only. What matters is what one does with their life.

Being god-like is something we tend to think of in relation to a human form. But every aspect of nature around us is exhibiting god-like qualities, 100% of the time. Look at the trees arounds us. Constantly giving out oxygen – all for free. Animals like sheep give us wool, cows give us milk, dogs and cats give us company and loyalty and so on. At the very least, being a part of the food chain, they each ensure the ecosystem is balanced. Many animals and plants selflessly give not just some by products, but even their entire selves up. Can there be a bigger sacrifice? Maybe this is what being “god-like” really is all about. Not just living, but living constantly for the benefit of others.

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Pretty girl

On the theory of relativity, Einstein once said “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.”

And so time is a matter of perspective. We often hate office and work, but love vacations. It might seem like the 12 hours we spend a day at work just drags on forever, while the 24 hours in a vacation goes off in a jiffy.

Satsangs are similar too. At times, they may feel boring. Almost like we have heard the same things (messages, quotes, stories) over and over again. And to find even that 1 hour a week would be the hardest thing in the world. Why waste an hour when we can do something else – like catch a movie on Netflix or Amazon Prime?

If we have spent countless births stuck in Maya, the thought to ponder over is, will just an hour a week suffice, to get us out of it? We will have to fall in love with satsang, just like Einstein’s pretty girl, if we wish to make tangible progress. Eventually, every waking minute will become a satsang, just like a Guru’s life.

As Guruji says, satsang is the most noble place, because it is a zero-liabilities place. There are no downsides to satsang, only humongous benefits.

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