Monthly Archives: December 2012

Vedanta – Difficult to implement. Is it?

I have come across many people who either say that Vedanta is legacy stuff, and is a waste of time trying to understand or they say most of it is written in Sanskrit, which is a language not relevant in this day and age, is not a mandatory subject in the school curriculum, and so they can’t read or understand to appreciate. There are some who make a number of starts only to give up mid-stream. They find it tough to follow, and find it even tougher to practice in the day to day life.

Fortunately,  a number of modern writers and speakers have now presented the ancient wisdom of India in a contemporary fashion.  They draw parallels from the world that we know of, so that it is easier to relate to and appreciate.

I must also mention that having read some of the books in English,  I now have the urge to read the Sanskrit versions. I have come to realize that there is a majesty, a beauty and a power in the Sanskrit language, that can never be translated into English or any other language.  There is music in the language and I just love to reflect on the few words I have picked up  as I feel they have a meditative effect. These are just my feelings, but my point is that things that initially put me off (Sanskrit) I have now crossed that chasm.

Now, coming to the aspect of being tough, yes, Vedanta is tough, there is no doubt about it.  It is about understanding the self, it about being able to like the self and love the self. If we don’t know the self, if we don’t like the self and we don’t love the self, how can we love someone else? If we can’t like and love someone, whom we can physically see, how can we claim our love to someone, whom we don’t even see? This enquiry of the self is important. So, if it is tough how do we approach it?

First as I mentioned above,  a number of modern writers and speakers have now presented the ancient wisdom of India in a contemporary fashion.  That should help significantly. Now coming to implementation,  anything good in life is hard to get and needs a lot of hard work. Those of you who play a musical instrument be it a Guitar or a Veena or a Mridangam, there are so many times when we feel like giving up, the arms hurt, the  fingers hurt, the muscles hurt & there are times when we are frustrated. It is not just playing but also playing to the beat/talam. It is an uphill task, and it takes years and years of work.  Once we get over that initial hump, things start coming to us much more easily. Music just flows and we are in total harmony with the instrument.  Good players, transcend the world and achieve self-realization through music, and that is called Nadopasana. 

So is the case with Vedanta. Make a start, stay at it and you will notice it starts coming to you. The beauty is that Vedanta is not about learning something new, but it is about discovering yourself, that you already are.  On this note, I shall end and let you explore.

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Modern Maladies – Ancient Solutions – Part-I

When we see a title like Modern Maladies, we are drawn to think of the modern day demands of multi-tasking, shorter time to market,  low attention spans,  long work hours, work life balance,  high stress factors,  breakdown in relationships, nuclear families, technology centric social networks, talk replaced by text, etc. etc..

We believe that we are living in times that are much different from the times our parents or grand-parents or generations before lived in. Yes, it is true.

The question I have is, were the demands from the world on them, then, any different from the demands from the world on us, today? It begs for a pause and a thought, because I believe this inquiry is important to reflect upon. In the search for the answer(s), we will come to realize a few things, hopefully.

We will recognize and accept that the world is constantly changing and there is nothing permanent. Everything is transitory.  We will recognize that the demands from the world on the individual were always there albeit in different forms. Across all ages, people still had to make a living, people still had to find jobs to maintain a family, in other words they also worked hard. I remember, in my village people would be up at 2-3 am get the cattle ready, get on a bullock cart and start off to the fields. They would work in the fields till dusk and return. They had to deal with the uncertainties of the weather. If the rains were not on time, the entire efforts towards the crop would be a wash. They and their livestock were prone to diseases.

So while we say modern maladies, I think every age/era had its own set of  ‘maladies’ but the nature of the demands from this world, or our present experiences of the world were no different from the past.

So, what is different? The difference is in our understanding. First, many of us strongly believe, we are the first, first of a kind, to be exposed to such high levels of activity, stress, long work hours..less sleep, etc..Drawing from that we believe that history or our scriptures have nothing to offer in terms of solutions. We look for quick fixes to everything.

Therefore, we depend on modern medicine to solve all our mental and physical well-being.  We become lifetime users of these medicines. Invariably, these powerful drugs have side effects, and to counter those side effects we pop a few other pills.

I am not saying people should stop relying on modern medicine. I am also not saying that the past was better than the present or vise-versa, and I am not saying we have to pick one for the other.

I heard Dr. Bala Murali Krishna in one of the interviews mention that, change is inevitable, unstoppable, it is cyclic, and change is a natural process. Don’t fight change, embrace it. He then goes on explain, so beautifully, how music is everything, and how the universe has its origin in AUM.

So, we agree, I hope, that the maladies were largely existing all the time, may be in varying degrees. We also agree, I hope, that most drugs, address the symptoms not the cause.

Ancient Solutions, focused on the cause.

So, lets advance the discussion to the next part – Ancient Solutions. I will cover this in my next – Modern Maladies – Ancient Solutions – Part-II.

Thank you.

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INSPIRING QUOTES

Some nice quotes that I came across.

0. You need power ONLY when you want to do something HARMFUL otherwise LOVE is enough to get everything done – Chalie Chaplin

1. Before you speak, THINK (ask yourself),

a. Is it TRUE ?

b. Is it HELPFUL?

c. Is it INSPIRING?

d. Is it NECESSARY?

e. Is it KIND?

2. Don’t let the world change your SMILE. Let your smile change the WORLD.

3. ASK and it will be given to you, SEEK and you will find, KNOCK and the door will be opened to you.

4. There is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS something to be THANKFUL for.

5. God’s No is not a REJECTION, it is a REDIRECTION.

6. Dear NEGATIVE THOUGHTS,  my GOD is Greater.

7. He is the Potter, I am the Clay.

8. When you pray for others, God listens to you and blesses them. So, when you are safe and happy, remember that someone is praying for you.

9. Worry ENDs when Faith BEGINs.

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Understanding Violence

The Hindu scriptures say, we are in a age of Kali-Yuga. Hindus believe that human civilization degenerates spiritually during the Kali-Yuga, because the belief is that people are as far away as possible from God. Some of the attributes of Kali-Yuga as per the scriptures are, rulers will become unreasonable, irresponsible and mostly self serving; rulers will no longer see it as their duty to promote spirituality, or to protect their subjects: they will become a danger to the world.

In human relationships,  avarice and wrath will be common; people will openly display animosity towards each other. Ignorance of dharma will occur; people will have thoughts of murder with no justification, and will see nothing wrong in that; lust will be viewed as socially acceptable;  sin will increase exponentially, whilst virtue will fade and cease to flourish; people will take vows and break them soon after;  people will become addicted to intoxicating drinks and drugs.  Gurus will no longer be respected, and their students will attempt to injure them. Their teachings will be insulted. The maximum lifespan of a human in this age is 90-100 years.

When we read the writings in the scriptures, and we see incidents like the recent shooting in Newtown, CT or the brutal gang rape of a 23 year old woman in Delhi, India, or the general geo-political situation – socio or economic, one is forced to ask the question  – ‘is this all coming true?’.  Have we hit the nadir when it comes to functioning as human beings and functioning as a society?

In response to the rape incident, I have heard angry reactions, suggesting public hanging or shooting of the culprits, castration, cracking a whip at the politicians and the police who have become absolutely corrupt, irresponsible and unaccountable, etc., etc.

I am sure we will have new laws and legislation  We will have new tools and gadgets for preventive action, protection. We will invest in security personnel and will have more boots on the ground. Affluent parents, will consider having body guards for their children to escort them to schools and wherever they want to go. Companies, will once again review and take extra measures to protect the women work force.

Is this the kind society that our sages and scriptures wanted for us, our children and our grandchildren? What change is the president referring to?

President Obama told those attending the memorial service at Newtown, CT,  “We can’t accept events like this as routine. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

Of-course, we have to take immediate steps to prevent such incidents but any steps we take we need to take with the complete realization and recognition that they are only  stop gaps, to prevent the immediate leaks. CHANGE that President Obama refers to and the CHANGE that our scriptures have always insisted up is the INNER CHANGE, the TRANSFORMATION within.

What is then, this INNER CHANGE, and INNER TRANSFORMATION? Are they just buzzwords? No, our scriptures help us understand the root cause of violence, they help us understand need and greed, they help us understand how attachments, desires, greed and fear drive anger and violence within us they help us understand how to deal with conflict. The sages, through years of study of the self discovered these, and have spoken about these through our Upanishads.

Violence, anger, ..are like weeds in a garden. The more we uproot the weeds, the better is the soil condition to produce fragmented flowers that will grow and reseed of their own and spread like a blanket providing hardly any room for the weeds to surface. This is the outcome of inner transformation. Policies, legislation, tools, protective gear is like the weed spray that only acts on the surface temporarily, and will show up at the next untreated spot or once the effect is washed off with time. So, is our attention today. People get away with offenses because they know no one has time to hang on. They know people will kick and scream and fade in no time and the weed can sprint back again.  We need to grow fragmented flowers and not equip good people with guns to tackle bad people with guns.  

We need to cultivate Sattwa, Sattwa will promote a society that operates on need and not on greed. It will enable a society that lives on sound principals and strong foundations of value. It will enable a society that promotes a strong sense of community and not individuality. It will promote a society that believes in giving, sharing, forgiving and healing.

In response to the rape incident in Delhi, here is what a German citizen had to say  ‘I am sorry that a foreigner like me has to advise you on something that originated from your own land. Even if I am a German, I will only ask one thing from you people. If you Indians want to develop your own characters and become excellent nation builders, then please read, understand and implement the words of Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad Gita is the one and only hope for India and the rest of mankind. I am not just saying this without any experience. I have experienced the tremendous and magnificent transformations that have taken place in my life and my friends’ lives after reading the Bhagavad Gita. The words of Krishna have given me courage, strength and hope in this battlefield of life. A human life is incomplete with being aware of the teachings of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. One of Krishna’s most magnificent teachings in the Bhagavad Gita is to continue doing your duties without worrying about the fruits of your results. As I have said many times before, your first duty is to read, understand and implement the words of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. If you are already a reader of the Bhagavad Gita, then that is great. But then your second duty is to convince your friends to read the Bhagavad Gita. I have done that here in Germany itself. I have convinced many of my friends here in Germany to read the Bhagavad Gita. If I as a German can do that, then I know for a fact that you Indians are definitely capable of doing that. You just have to have the will to do.’ – so well put.

(Will we in a few weeks from now, forget about these incidents, and continue with life as if nothing ever happened, till the next incident hits us and jolts us out of our slumber again?)

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Die Young, Bury Later

Bernard Shaw used to say that people die very young, but are buried much later – as much as forty years may pass between death and burial.

The Bhagavad Gita says that in our manifested forms, as human beings we are born to act in this world. We move from one desire to the next during the course of the day, and the sum total of this journey is, experience. The Gita says, since we are bound to act and action is based on desire, it is possible that not all desires get fulfilled, and it is possible that not all the outcome of the desires fulfilled, turn out to be in our favor.

It is quite possible that certain desires yield favorable results making us happy, and certain desires may not yield favorable results, thus making us unhappy. Therefore, the Gita does not say ‘we should not have desires or we should not act’ but what it does say,  is to focus on promoting desires that serve a higher purpose or goal.

Secondly, it also says that when acting, we should stay in the present, and give our best without worrying about the result.

The Gita, in verse 6.7 says ‘The tranquil sage who has conquered the self abides ever in the Supreme Self. He views with equanimity all the dualities: cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame.

In my view, the message in Bernard Shaw’s note when he says that people die young but are buried later, is that people who do not understand the functioning of the world, it’s duality, get entangled so much that they cannot handle life’s challenges any longer. They simply give up or are mentally agitated, angry and at unrest with themselves. Such people, though alive, are dead in many ways.

When we don’t understand the teachings of the Gita, we simply REACT to situations or challenges, and when we gain the right understanding of the Gita, we RESPOND to life’s challenges. When we are angry, agitated, desire driven, we REACT to challenges. When we are free of anger, focused on the action (in the present) and not on the fruits of action(in the future), we accept things as they come gracefully, joyfully and therefore when faced with challenges, we RESPOND.

So, our scriptures prescribe meditation as a technique to deal with the mind. A calm mind, enables one to Respond and thus it is important to have a control of the mind. If not, we become the slaves of the mind, and all we do then is, just React. When we React, we actually die much earlier mentally, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. We are alive only physically to be buried when the physical body gives up.

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Meditation – Part-III

I would reiterate that understanding of what we are made of ‘The Matter and Spirit’‘ is important, understanding of the ‘3-Gunas’ that define each one of us, in terms of our nature, is important.

As we begin to understand ourselves, as we begin to understand the world, the ever-changing nature of it & the pairs of opposites it presents,  we are more settled and confident in our approach to life. We are able to operate with our intellect, gain the ability to discriminate and engage the mind where needed. As we gain knowledge, we see differences, but understand the uniformity. The mind also is much calmer allowing the intellect to come to the center.

To the mind that is calm, the world must surrender.

So, as we meditate, we notice that thoughts that keep surfacing. One of the ways to focus the mind and not get attached to the thoughts is to focus on breathing. A simple technique that appears to work for me is to inhale through the nose (take a deep breath) and gradually exhale through the mouth. When we completely exhale, then inhale again through the nose. Continue this, and you will notice thoughts keep surfacing and keep moving out.

Keep looking at them (detached) focusing on the breathing. 30-60-90 minutes into it,  the duration may vary from person to person and even for an individual the duration may vary from day to day / each meditation session to session.  As you continue, you will begin to experience a relaxation of the sense objects, as the sense objects relax, you will begin to notice easing of the breathing force. The breathing becomes much 3smoother and calmer. The flow of air is so effortless that it is just amazing to see how much energy we put in to simply breathe during the normal course of the day, and that is probably because we keep feeding the sense objects.

You will notice intermittently, that the smart screen of the mind is completely blank/empty, and the mind is completely fixed locked just observing the breath. Again, you will see flow of thoughts / ideas..As we continue this exercise,  the gaps between blank mind and flow of thoughts widen, resulting longer periods of emptiness.

In the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 5,

verse 18 says ‘such freed souls view with equal gaze (oneness) a pious priest, a cow, a dog, an elephant and an outcast’. Though our approach or conduct towards others may differ, our attitude should be the same.

verse 21 saya ‘Feeling no attraction to the sensory world, the yogi lives in the ever-new joy of his own being. United to Spirit, he attains the perfection of Absolute Bliss.’

These are truly inspirational and something to aspire for.

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Meditation – Part-II

In Meditation-Part-I, I said ‘..It is not about controlling, it is about letting go…’

Meditation is about knowing your mind, recognizing that there is an entity called mind that is constantly on the run and like everything else, the mind also needs time and space to relax, absorb, discard, replenish & rejuvenate. During the course of the days, weeks, months and years the mind picks up a number of things (good and bad) and is exposed to all kinds of emotions (joy, sorrow, anger, beauty, disgust,….).

All the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste), through the sense objects are actively feeding the mind. The three monkeys of Gandhi were symbols of Gandhi’s search for truth. The three monkeys are seen in three postures. One is closing its mouth, another one its ears and the third one its eyes.  Jesus pointed out that eyes are the light of the body. If the eyes are pure, we can see truth. So also the sense of hearing and speech keep us pure if we handle them carefully.

Gandhiji's_Three_Monkeys

Just as, if we skip shower for a few days, our body accumulates dirt and we start smelling, similarly, if we don’t have a mechanism to cleanse the mind on a regular basis, the mind which is also part of the matter, starts accumulating dirt.  This dirt shows in the way we look at things, in the way we approach things, and the in way we interact with the world.

Mind is full of thoughts and projections. These thoughts and projections create illusions. We project these into the world, and the way we view the world is shaped by these projections and illusions.

This cleansing of the mind, is what is meditation. If we make the art of meditation part of our routine, the mind is more in tune, and can handle the knocks and shocks of the day.  I see this as a form of  ‘Open Eyed Meditation’, where we go through the motions of the day like everyone else, but our focus, desire is for the higher’.

If this is not part of the routine, then make time during the time (preferably before starting the day and/or at the end of the day), to reflect on the thoughts, go through the purging process, and that will  help in rejuvenating the mind.

If I have to draw a parallel to how these thoughts surface as we meditate, I am reminded of the smart phones in the way the screens slide – left to right or right to left or top to bottom or bottom to top. As you focus, the thoughts will surface on the mind’s smart screen, from all directions. We need to keep moving through the slides, discarding unwanted and storing what is important.

This may look crazy in the beginning but if you stay at it, you will notice something very interesting.

In my next, I will elaborate on this further. (remember, I am also a student).

Thank you.

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Meditation – Part-I

I am not a master or an authority in meditation. I am a student and have a long way to go. I will share my learnings and experiences for those who are like me, still trying to figure things out. I am also going to break it down into parts as meditation is a journey, and as I have said, I am at the beginning of the runway.

When we live life the right way, when we operate with a complete understanding of ourselves, when we understand the Self within our self, when we stay centered as we transact with the world, I believe, we are already in the state of meditation.

When we decide to set aside some time, either early morning or evening or night, for meditation,  it is important to understand that meditation is not stopping something and starting something (it is not a switch). It is not about controlling, it is about letting go (I will share my thoughts on this in Meditation – Part-II).

The Vedanta says we should be in a state of worship throughout the day.  What does this mean? Lets try and understand that?

The reference to worship is not about praying at a temple or a mosque or a church or a synagogue throughout the day, but it means to be in a state of service, to be humble during interactions, to be in a state of devotion, to be calm within, to look and not see, to share and be thankful, to perform right action (see nature of right action part-1 to iv), as we go through the day. The ability to look at ourselves as we interact with people – be it written, verbal or body language, to be non-judgmental, to be able to see the oneness and be centered, is the key.

Teachings of Osho, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Rama Tirtha, Shri Ramana Maharishi, Shri Adi Shankaracharya, and the sages from the past, all have been appealing to us, asking us to pause and  understand these fundamental aspects of life, that are so well laid out in Vedanta.

Adi Shankaracharya, in his works ‘Bhaja Govindam‘ (meaning – ‘seek the Truth’), to provoke us, calls us – ‘Mudhamate (fools)’.  He says, we are all running around aimlessly, in pursuit of things that only give us pain in the long run, and we are doing so at the expense of giving up things, that actually give us true happiness and peace. While we want happiness and peace, we are landing up chasing things that prevent us from obtaining the true happiness. Hence he says – ‘Bhaja Govindam, Bhaja Govindam, Govindam Bhaja, Mudhamate (seek the Truth, seek the Truth, you fool)’

So, what is important to get a grip on ? – understanding of what we are made of ‘The Matter and Spirit’‘ is important, understanding of the ‘3-Gunas’ that define each one of us, in terms of our nature, is important.

When we understand these two, we open ourselves up for examination through introspection. When the introspection begins, the journey towards meditation has begun. This, in my view, is Meditation 101.

We should be in a state of Yoga/Meditation throughout the day as we operate and interact. It is not a separate activity. Will dwell more on this in my next.

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Look, but Don’t See

Vedanta says, MIND is the BATTLEFIELD. The sooner we understand this, the blessed we are, as individuals, and we as a society.

In Taoism, the notion of observation, is embodied in the name of Taoist temples, ‘Kuan’, which originally meant ‘to look’. Taoists thus regarded their temples as places of observation.

When we SEE, the mind drives divisions. When we see, as we see, we go on judging – we accept, we reject, we appreciate, we disapprove, we like, we dislike….These are interpretations of the mind that clouds our thinking and prevent from seeing facts as facts. With this mind we project into the world, and this becomes our SIGHT (SEEING). Extrapolated over a vast number of people, each projecting a mind of their own, what we have is an illusion of reality, and we live in this world of illusion – acting, reacting, and responding (perceiving all to be real).
Try and LOOK at things as they are. See facts as facts. Nothing is good or bad. When there is nothing to judge, then there is no choice. When there is nothing to judge, and there no choice, there is nothing to interpret. When there is nothing to interpret, mind cannot drive divisions. The mind becomes like a mirror. Whatever object it sees, it is there as long as the object is in the line of sight, and then it washes away, there are no attachments or desires.

When what we see is mirror like, then the eyes are pure, clear, simple, innocent, childlike, just looking, simply absorbing, not interpreting.Such acceptance, gives freedom and the capacity to LOOK. A calm mind just LOOKs, a mind that is not calm, SEEs. A united mind Looks (accepts as is), a divided mind sees (distinctions).

Prayers through a divided mind, are desire driven. They are just words. Prayers offered through a united mind is true WORSHIP.

The teachings of Vedanta are so beautiful and so profound that when we gain this understanding early on in life, we have the opportunity to live it, try it, truly experience it, and embrace it.

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Share and be Thankful

When we are sharing something with someone or giving something to someone, the question we need to ask ourselves is ‘what are we expecting in return?’.

Very often, there is an expectation, a desire, even a desire of expecting a ‘Thank you’ from the receiver is a desire that can cause an attachment to the desire and mental agitation.  You hear people say ‘ I shared this ….or I parted with this…or I came all the way to give him/her this…and he/she did not have the courtesy to Thank or be grateful OR I gave him this, I hope now he/she will do this for me in return.’

Is this sharing or is this a bargain that you are trying to strike?

Vedanta says, the TRUE meaning of SHARING is, NEVER expecting anything in return. You are simply giving, and not even expecting thankfulness.

On the contrary, Thank the person for accepting to take, what you are sharing. He/She could always reject or decline to take. So, when you are sharing something with someone, thank them for accepting, only then it is sharing. Someone accepted your gift, that is such a great thing.

Realize, someone accepted you, through your gift.

It is the mind that causes this confusion. The mind of greed, anger and jealousy clouds our thinking. If the intellect is strong, it will keep us centered and the mind in check. Understanding of Matter and Spirit within us, understanding of the functioning of the gunas, and the predominant source (body, mind and intellect) of the functioning of the gunas, is therefore key.

An UNMOTIVATED act is the FOUNDATION of KARMA YOGA.

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