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Vedantic Wanderings in Western India
July 18, 2012
It took me a month to digest the trip with Shubhraji, one of my teachers of Vedanta (Indian philosophy), and a lot longer to dissect the deep complexities of my inward journey. Struck dumb by the beauty and wealth of experiences in India, it took further contemplation to come out with coherent writing without sounding like a New Age freak.
Read the full article by Johannes Pong. Hong Kong
(Courtesy of Asia Spa magazine)
BHAGAVAD GITA - SYNOPSIS 18 CHAPTERS:CHAPTER SEVEN
April 4, 2012
The Bhagavad Gita : Chapter SEVEN. [compiled by Kamini Khanna. Mombasa, Kenya. Africa
The Seventh chapter points out the nature of the Lord. He proclaims Himself as the Creator of the universe.
He manifests as para prakriti and apara prakriti, matter and the consciousness expressing in matter.
Both these make up the whole. Everything has emerged from these two prakritis. He is consciousness expressing as life. He expresses as creation, sustenance and dissolution – srsti, sthiti and laya. God is the One who gives, and the One who sustains and nourishes the whole world. The entire world has emerged from Him. In the Scriptures we have a graphic depiction of Lord Vishnu lying on the sesanag or a thousand hooded serpent. A lotus emerges from His naval and from the lotus emerges Lord Brahma –the Creator.
Sri Bhagavan said: Arjuna now listen…The mind that is attached to me, through exclusive love, and practice of Yoga with complete dependence on Me, is bound to feel my strong presence, and I will free that person from all doubts. Of thousands of men, some rare souls strive to realize Me; of those striving yogis, there is that rare one, who is exclusively devoted to Me, who will know Me in reality. Arjuna, I am the source of the entire creation, and in me everything dissolves. There is nothing else besides me Arjuna. I am the sapidity in water, and the light of the moon and the sun. I am the sacred syllable Om in all the Vedas, sound in ether, and manliness in men. Worship Me in the pure fragrance of the earth and in the brilliance of fire; I am life in all beings, and austerity in ascetics.Worship me in the life of the living and worship Me in self- control.
The word “Worship” means to value things. To worship is to value as the manifestation of the Lord; to value the five elements, to respect nature, to nurture one’s health, to honor one’s intelligence and desires, as the manifestation of the Lord. True worship is more in the form of an attitude, outlook and feelings, and may not involve any action. Arjuna, know me as the eternal seed in all beings. I am the intelligence of the intelligent and the glory of the glorious. I am the might of the mighty, free from passion and desire. Men of evil deeds do not worship me. Four types of virtuous men worship Me, Arjuna. – The seeker of worldly objects, the sufferer, the seekers of knowledge, and the man of wisdom. Of these, the best is the man of wisdom, constantly established in identity with me, and possessing complete devotion for Me. For extremely dear am I to the wise man, who knows Me in reality, and thus, he is extremely dear to Me. All these are noble, but the man of wisdom is truly My own self; this is My view. This devotee, who has his mind and intellect merged in Me, is firmly established in Me which is the highest goal.
Bhagavan goes on to say, that different people worship Me in various forms. They worship not the forms but Me the Lord, through those forms. When they have faith and trust in Me, I nurture the trust to grow and also give them the results they seek. The thrust and action of Bhagavan’s teachings here is in the direction of asking man to exploit the law of Karma (action) for his redemption from endless struggle. This can be achieved through knowledge. Using prayer merely for gaining material things amounts to under utilization of the power of prayer.
A person endowed with faith in the law of Karma, (action) prays to God in a given form called a devta or a deity. His prayers bring him results, meaning- the fulfillment of his desires.
It must be understood that effort leads to success. When man combines effort with prayer, Bhagavan states, then He brings them success in response to their prayers. The fruit gained by these people of meager intelligence, however, is perishable. Whereas My devotee, who has complete devotion towards Me, in the end, attains Me alone.
Chapter 7 is the Lord’s navel, or nabhi, the centre of the physical body, and the whole cosmos in a way. He nourishes the world. The navel is where the child draws its nourishment in the mother’s womb. The world is like the child of the Lord, who nourishes it like the mother.
The Perfect Morning Prayer
April 1, 2012
Twelve years ago, almost to the day in May, in the same place which has now been re-built as the Hilton Garden Inn, Nanuet, NY, Shubhraji gave her first talk in Rockland on Bhaja Govindam by Adi Sankara. While that was great vedantic advice to us materialists smitten by the glitter of the world, “Pratah Smarami” also by Sankara, lays bare the essential tenets of Vedanta in three terse verses that Shubhraji explained over a two- day series of talks. Vedantins of the tri-state area of the US, we have come a full circle, having in the interim heard numerous talks by Shubhraji on karma, bhakti, gyana and the pure advaita of the Upanishads!
How beautifully and effortlessly Sankara says it all! One can imagine this young renunciate on the banks of a placid river, brimming with knowledge and pouring it out in poetic adoration, several centuries ago. The morning sun for him personifies the shining effulgence of the Self while at the opposite end is the example of the rope that is mistaken for a snake, much as we often take this world of plurality to be the “be all and end all” of our existence. To Sankara who began following his spiritual calling at the tender age of 8, it was very easy. He considered the jagat (the creation) to be mithya (an illusion) and Brahman to be the satya (truth). Living in the world and dealing with all the day to day problems, we find this hard to practice. “If you understand, even intellectually, this game of life, you can live in joy,” says Shubhraji. Everything has a beginning and an end but Consciousness is permanent and the world plays and dissolves into it, she adds.
Sankara chooses to meditate at dawn (hence the title Pratah Smarami) on that essence which shines in the heart as the Self. This is the goal of the sages, he says. Answering the question, “what am I?” he concludes that I am that silent witness to my three states of dream, wakefulness and deep sleep. We are not, he declares, just a collection of elements, we are that illuminating Supreme. Morning is a very powerful time when the mind is quiet and we can plug in directly to the universal energy and raise our conscious awareness. When this is done, atman beams through our equipment, explains Shubhraji. We are so limited by our belief systems and live in mistaken identity. We are in bondage when we let the problems of our mind rule our lives. We need to go “home to Om.” There in our hearts, we can find the radiating, effulgent atman. In fact, says Shubhraji, when negative thoughts are replaced by positive energy, health, wealth and lessening of tensions automatically takes place in our lives.
The second verse talks of the God of Gods – unborn, transcendent, the highest, one that Sankara admits, words cannot describe. The Vedas themselves have only given indications of the highest truth through the use of the words “neti, neti” (not this, not this). Yet, observes Sankara, even for such meager words of praise to arise in our mind, one needs the “anugraha” or that wondrous “grace” from Him. Shubhraji clarifies that nothing can happen without grace. Self effort is important, but along with it there should be surrender and a call for His grace. In prayer we sublimate our minds and by meditation lift it up, to try and make that connection. Ask God for what you need, but add “Oh Lord, give this to me if it is for my highest good”, she says.
The final verse is a sun salutation from Sankara. He describes the sun in one phrase – beyond darkness. The glow of the sun and its radiance lights up and nourishes our world, yet it does not discriminate or take any credit. The sun shines for all, so long as we open the windows to enjoy its bounty. In the same way, we need to reach out to the Supreme to enjoy His impartial grace. Sankara refers to this entity as Purushottamman, the one who resides in this 9-gated “puri” or abode, our body. He is the infinite, ultimate Self. Our senses are always looking outward for gratification and our avidya (lack of knowledge) often causes us to project our fears, for example viewing an innocent rope as a snake, says Sankara. The solution for this says Shubhraji, is hearing the truth through study of vedantic scriptures and having the guidance of a good teacher. Then she says, simply do the meditation of “I am”. Do not be caught up in this world.
Reciting the Morning Prayer each day is a great way to remind ourselves of the real and unreal and bring into focus what we really need to seek in life.
[Shyamala Shankar : Rockland County, NY]
Bhagavad Gita - Synopsis 18 Chapters:CHAPTER SIX
October 17, 2011
The Bhagavad Gita : Chapter SIX. [compiled by Kamini Khanna. Mombasa, Kenya. Africa]
The sixth chapter reveals the secret of meditation. Slowly, having removed itself from the distractions of the world, the mind learns to establish itself in its own svarupa or nature. Here Sri Krishna prepares us for meditation and shows us how to meditate. The state of meditation is different from the waking, dream or dream-sleep states, and far subtler than them all. It is the turiya or the fourth state, of which we know very little. This fourth state is one’s own nature but one is not aware of it. He asks us to shift our attention from the world outside and sit in within ourself. By becoming established in this state, one becomes free of all sorrow. Even mountain like sorrows, fail to shake the equilibrium of such an individual. The Lord advises us to remain in the Self. Established in this, the whole world is experienced as oneself.
One is immersed in sukh (bliss and contentment) and is automatically free of all worries and anxieties. Arjun asks Bhagavan, “My mind is restless. How can I make it quiet?” In reply, Sri Krishna deals exhaustively with the preparation for meditation, the method to follow and the benefits that accrue. He transports us from restlessness and confusion to the state of meditation. Sri Bhagavan said: He, who does his duty without expecting the fruit of actions, is both, a sannyasi (sankhyayogi) and a yogi (karma yogi). He, who has not given up thoughts of the world, cannot become a yogi. When a man ceases to have any attachment either for the objects of senses, or for actions, and has renounced all thoughts of the world, he is said to have attained yoga.
Bhagavan said: Arjuna, one should lift oneself up by one’s own efforts and should not degrade oneself, for one’s own self is one’s friend and one’s own self is also one’s own enemy. One’s own self is the friend of the soul by whom the lower self (viz., the mind, the senses and the body) has been conquered. On the other hand, he who has not conquered his lower self, i.e. one’s mind, senses and one’s body, behaves inimically, like one’s own enemy.
The supreme spirit is firmly established in the knowledge of the self–controlled man whose mind is perfectly calm in the midst of cold-heat; joy-sorrow; and honor and dishonor. The yogi, whose mind is unchangeable under any circumstance, whose senses are thoroughly subdued, and to whom, a clod, a stone and a piece of gold make no difference, is spoken of as a God – Realized soul. Bhagavan says:he who regards well-wishers, friends, foes, mediators, the objects of hatred, relatives, the virtuous and the sinful alike – stands supreme. The yogi who has subdued his mind and body, and who is free from desires and bereft of possessions – living in seclusion all by himself alone, should constantly engage in meditation.
Krishna offers instructions on meditation:
Arjuna says: Krishna, this yoga which you have taught, to keep the restless mind calm and steady, is very difficult to practice, for the mind is very unsteady, turbulent, tenacious and powerful. Therefore, it’s difficult to control as the wind.
Bhagavan: The mind is, without doubt, unsteady and difficult to curb Arjuna. But it can be controlled through constant practice of meditation.
Chapter 6 is the Lord’s generative organs. It helps us to get established in our own nature. This technique reveals to us not only our identity, but the world as well.
Bhagavad Gita - Synopsis 18 Chapters:CHAPTER FIVE
October 17, 2011
The Bhagavad Gita : Chapter FIVE.[compiled by Kamini Khanna. Mombasa, Kenya. Africa]
The fifth chapter prepares the seeker for meditation. We learn the technique of action by relinquishing the sense of doer ship. In other words, we discover the ability of performing action and also the ability of withdrawing from action. We find out how to be tranquil and peaceful even in an unhappy situation. This is the core of Karma Yoga – the technique of acting without acting!
The world is a manifestation of the Divine. God is the sole doer. Everything happens by His will alone. The wise man knows ‘I am not the doer’. The more we are able to imbibe this attitude and act according to it, the nearer we are to dhyana.or meditation. A sure test that mental purification is complete, is when all sense of personal doer ship dissolves and we perceive action to be just happening by Divine Grace. Even Brahma the creator, does not take credit for the creation of the world. With a sense of doer ship, meditation is not possible.
The fifth chapter reveals the link between our initial sadhana or practice that comprises - karma, upasana and jnana (action, worship and meditation). The mind then is sufficiently purified and has relinquished the sense of doer ship. This quiet mind is a prerequisite to meditation. We pass the test when we are aware the action is happening and we are merely instruments.
Bhagavan explains to Arjuna, that he, whose mind remains unattached to external enjoyments, derives, the unadulterated joy through meditation. This joy is our inherent nature. That yogi then, having completely identified himself through meditation with Brahman or the Absolute Self, enjoys eternal bliss. Bhagavan continues with his explanation, saying, that he who is able to withstand here on earth, before casting off this body, the urges of lust and anger, he is a Yogi – a harmonized soul; he is a happy man. He, who is happy within himself, enjoys within himself the delight of the soul, and even so, is illumined by the inner light, - such a Yogi (Sankhyayogi) identified with the Brahman, attains Brahman, who is all peace.
The noble ones, whose sins have been washed away, whose doubts have been dispelled by knowledge, whose minds are firmly established in God, and who are actively engaged in promoting the welfare of all beings, attain Brahman or Immortal Bliss. To those wise men, who are free from lust and anger, who have quieted their mind and have realized God, the abode of eternal peace envelopes them. Shutting out the thoughts of external sense – enjoyments, with the eyes fixed on the space between the eye-brows, having equalized the Prana and Apana breaths, (outward and inward breaths) thus bringing their senses, mind and reason under control – such contemplative souls, intent on liberation and free from desire, fear and anger, areever liberated.
Chapter 5 is the Lord’s hips. We are now ready to sit down in meditation and come to understand our true nature. This chapter prepares us for meditation. We sit down for meditation supported by our hips.
Bhagavad Gita - Synopsis 18 Chapters:CHAPTER FOUR
October 17, 2011
The Bhagavad Gita : Chapter FOUR.[compiled by Kamini Khanna. Mombasa, Kenya. Africa]
The fourth chapter speaks of upasana (the process of fine – tuning our minds to God) and jnana (quest forknowledge), It reveals Bhagavan’s svarupa or nature anddescribes his avatars(incarnation in human form ). Krishna, as the Universal Divine Spirit, declares unequivocallythat He is attained by those who have cleansed themselves through upasana and jnana. Manyhave reached the final beatitude, cleansing themselves of all negativity.Karma Yoga or the path of action by itself is not enough for completepurification. All our attachments, arrogance, fears andgreed are not easily eliminated. Just as stained clothessometimes need a more powerful detergent to cleanse them; we need upasana to purify our minds further.
This is achieved by puja or prayer, japa, (chanting mantra) tapas or penance, yoga, vrata (fasting) and other specialized techniques of purification. All these are the means of bringing force to our sadhana or spiritual practice. We need to acknowledge God’s existence first and then come to know Him. Upasana is to see the Lord in everything – in every idol or symbol, in every object, action, in nature and all beings. It is to superimpose the idea of divinity in everything and act accordingly.
Any impurity or restlessness of the mind that remains is then removed through jnana or knowledge. Through jnana,the Lord says, even the wicked can be completely cleansed. Knowledge removes likes and dislikes at the level of the senses, confusion and delusions at the level of the emotions, and justifications at the level of the intellect. Mere study of scriptures is not enough. We need to establish knowledge, without any trace of doubt – knowledge with full conviction. We have to experience things intuitively, as they are not as an accumulation of academic knowledge. Knowledge removes impurities, just as the revelation of the rope removes the fear of the snake which was falsely seen in it. We should aspire to remove all the impurities and with a pure mind and heart, come to know the Self. Bhagavan explains to Arjuna that in this world, there is no purifier like knowledge: he, who attained purity of heart through practice of karma yoga, automatically realizes it in the Self in due course of time. He, who has fully controlled his senses, is completed devoted to the spiritual practice and is full of faith, attains knowledge: having gained knowledge, he immediately attains supreme peace. (In the form of God – realization)He who lacks discrimination, is devoid of faith, and is possessed by doubt. He gets lost on the spiritual path.
For the doubting soul, there is neither this world nor the world beyond, nor even contentment and happiness. Sri Krishna further counsels Arjuna, saying, he who had dedicated all his actions to God, according to the spirit of karma yoga, whose doubts have been dispelled by wisdom, actions do not bind him.
Bhagavan propels Arjuna to destroy the doubts in his heart, born of ignorance, with the sword of knowledge, thus establishing himself in karma yoga, and to stand up and fight.
Chapter 4 is the Lord’s knees – they enable us to run faster in our sadhana! With only the ankles, we move slowly. With the help of the knees, we progress faster. We must employ the techniques of upasana and jnana in our spiritual journey.