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Spiritually Speaking

Gentle discipline at the heart of spirituality

B.K. DR. Nirmala

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Discipline is integral to the spiritual life, and the more we practise the more it becomes perfectly natural. In time, a virtuous circle develops. As we build our capacity for concentration, we gain controlling power over the mind, which, in turn, augments our ability to concentrate.

To train the mind and keep focused on the Divine, I must “rein in” the wild horses of my thoughts, as the Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures tell us. The key is to consider myself to be a soul, moving away from body-consciousness and a preoccupation with the world outside.

However, spiritual maturity does not happen overnight. We should be gentle and patient. It takes time, practice, and sufficient application to check the mind regularly, rather like watchful parents restraining a little child eager to explore the world.

A daily routine is important. “Early to bed, early to rise” is a useful guide. When we meditate first thing in the morning, the world around us is tranquil; mobile phones and social media are quiet, and we can tap into the powerful atmosphere created by other yogis in meditation.

Coming back to the awareness of being a soul and meditating for brief periods throughout the day allows me to check that I am still on course. Free time is an opportunity for meditation. I should learn to love solitude, and to use it wisely.

There are other helpful steps on the spiritual path, such as actively directing the mind to focus on uplifting thoughts or reading and studying inspiring commentaries.

There are also things to avoid, such as paying too much attention to others: what they are wearing, or even what they may be thinking. And we should not let external disturbances or the attraction of material possessions to divert us, or allow obsessive activity to drain our energy.

Our flaws may ensnare us, particularly anger, attachment, ego, greed and lust. Less obvious are the subtle flaws, which include:

– Showing irritation with others by ignoring, or refusing to speak to, them; this is less volatile than anger, yet damaging.

– Being impressed by a person’s talents or charisma or depending on others (rather than the Supreme Being) for support.

– An obsession with status, or a tendency to boast, or even to insult others; humility is the sign of a truly spiritual person.

– Acquisitiveness (which is never satisfied), while being miserly with what we have.

– Carelessness with energy, thoughts, possessions; evading responsibility.

– Jealousy based on a lack of self-respect and a tendency to compare and compete.

We navigate safely through life by learning constantly to return to the awareness of our inner spiritual being. When we realise how much the Supreme Being is able to give us — knowledge, love, peace and happiness — we have so much love for Him. We leave behind our old habit patterns and our fears, and with courage, dedication, discipline and constancy, we can bring about deep changes in our lives, in the lives of others, and ultimately in the world around us.

B.K. Dr. Nirmala is the director of Brahma Kumaris Rajyoga centres in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Spiritually Speaking

EVERY PROBLEM IS A STEPPING STONE TO STRENGTH

Hardships in life need to be endured for us to become strong.

Prashant Solomon

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Why do bad things happen in our lives? This is a question that surely everyone has asked sometime in their life. We all have experienced problems and hardships in our lives some time or the other. Maybe some of us are going through a crisis at this very moment. Maybe it is related to health, finance, legal issues, relationships or something else. There are myriads of situations that we all have to face in this physical world.

If you are facing a problem or crisis in your life and do not know what to do, the first thing I will say to you is: You are not alone! No matter how alone you think you are.

 When ‘bad’ things happen in our lives, the first question that comes to mind is: Why me? Why has this happened to me? The right question to ask is: Why not me? When you ask this question, you are already on the path to overcome the problem. First things first, please know that everybody in life goes through different problems. Therefore, you are not alone! No matter what problem you are facing in your life currently, someone has faced it before.

What good does it do to ask yourself why? The answer you’ll get is: I’m unlucky. That answer gets you nowhere. The only thing that will come out of that is self-pity, something that accomplishes absolutely nothing. You can feel sorry about yourself, or deal head-on with the problem at hand.

Better questions to ask are: What am I going to do about it?

How am I going to solve these problems that I have? What strategies am I going to employ? What knowledge do I have to arm myself with? The answers to those questions will get you somewhere. 

 To effectively deal with any problem, you first have to ask the right questions.

 Many circumstances in life are beyond our control but what is in our control is our attitude and approach and frame of mind towards these difficult circumstances. We should never get caught in an endless pit of self-pity which keeps getting deeper and deeper. If you can change a situation change it, if you cannot change it then accept it and move on towards something better. 

 Each hardship that life brings is also an opportunity to learn and grow and become stronger. Facing the challenge and the struggle is a way towards success.  There is a story about a chrysalis that was still in its cocoon and was trying to break out and become a butterfly. So, it started to kick the boundary of the cocoon and tried to break out.

There was a man nearby who was observing this happening and felt pity for it and broke the cocoon for it. The man thought he did a great service to it. But little did he know that he would actually cause the early demise of the butterfly. How? In the natural course of things, the chrysalis’ muscles become strong by kicking through the cocoon surface and it is this strength that allows them to fly. Since in this case the man helped, the butterfly did not gain enough strength to fly and therefore died of starvation. What is the moral of the story?

Hardships in life need to be endured for us to become strong.

Sometimes being too sweet or always wanting sweetness will end up giving you diabetes. Every hardship in life is like a workout in the gym for the soul. It is the resistance of weights that gives strength to physical muscles and likewise it is the resistance to problems by working through them that gives strength to the soul. 

We need to at times also ‘let go and let God’. Pray over the problem and hand it over to God and keep striving towards moving towards the solution. When we say ‘let go and let God’ this doesn’t mean become passive. It means hand over your worries and troubled mind to the Divine Power and trust that God will help you towards a solution by clearing your mind and showing you the path forward—even though the path may have many bends, curves, thorns and rocks. But with resilience and persistence you will overcome the problem at hand and grow as a person. Running away from problems never solves them.

Regardless of your situation, know that we all have cycles in life. One season of going down, another season will come when we will rise up and see the best in life. Keep your faith. What weighs you down today, you will develop resilience through it, and grow in strength.

Bad things occur to teach us what is good for us. Each and every situation in everyone’s life is a lesson. These lessons might be materialistic or nonmaterialistic but both of them give us an opportunity to learn.

So instead of thinking why ‘it’ happens, think what is the best and most important point that you can learn from that situation.

One thing for sure, bad things occur in everyone’s life but the solution is to be strong internally.

 It is easy to get caught up in the misfortunes of our lives and as one thing goes wrong followed by another and another it is natural to assume that fate has somehow targeted us specifically. Everything takes a bit of work and practice and changing our bad luck into good is no different. Sometimes it is a case of negativity breeding negativity or focusing so much on the bad we miss opportunities for good to squeeze in. You have to actively and consciously look for happy things no matter how small they seem. Start with noticing blue skies, a pretty sunrise, a majestic waterfall, children playing together or anything that is good in life. Put forth the effort to smile at others. When you get that parking spot, or fast checkout line, or green light give yourself an instant mini-celebration. As you get into the habit you will begin to notice you indeed have more to celebrate.

 Pay attention to all the good moments in life that are always interspersed between any number of difficult moments. It is in these moments that we need to be thankful and also resolve that we will overcome all challenges and difficulties and succeed with our purpose in life.

Good luck and keep smiling. You are never alone. 

Prashant Solomon is a Delhi-based author and businessman.

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Spiritually Speaking

THE EXTRAORDINARINESS OF BEING ORDINARY IN LIFE

Arun Malhotra

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What am I? Am I trying to be something that I am not? What are we doing on earth? Aren’t we doing all that has been done already millions of times? Aren’t we doing all that has been achieved or conquered millions of times before? We are all doing the most ordinary things but still feel a sense of doing something extraordinarily distinguished. That’s the way of the ego. The ego wants to do something distinguished. The ego wants to do something which is difficult, challenging and special—something which makes it feel extraordinary so its sense of pride is inflated, and it can say, ‘Look at who achieved that. Look at who I am.’ If you look into the ego, you will always find it in a dialogue. But if there is only one man left on this earth one day, then there wouldn’t be any ego because that false sense of pride would disappear.

Society has bred this ego. Society says that you are the most distinguished man on earth, the one who has to do something that is special, that you are better than the others. You also have a sense of coming to this earth to let your name remain here forever—to be remembered. So, you begin extending your family and wealth. In that hope people have collected enough wealth for many of their future generations to squander. But does that make life better or more complex? Does wealth make one distinguished? Perhaps people collect wealth to remain more distinguished than others in the future, even hundreds of years later. People talk about dynasties in the same sense. This sense of collecting too much wealth and having power, authority and prestige is a way of declaring to the world that one is more distinguished than others. This breeds the ego. Look into the eyes of a person who has achieved wealth, power and prestige, and you will find him proud of his sense of one-upmanship, like he has achieved more than you have and he has outsmarted and out-earned everyone else. That’s the whole case of humanity. Isn’t success often linked with the wealth you earn?

But when you are dying, will your wealth buy you another moment of life? It so happened to Alexander the Great when he was returning after conquering the world, having all the wealth of the world. He caught an illness and begged his doctors to grant him 24 more hours of life to meet his mother in exchange for all his wealth. But Alexander could not buy even a few hours. This precious life is granted as a gift. Success is not in out-earning others; it is in the joy of life. Success is to do what you wish to do in life and achieve what you ought to achieve, happily. The value of life is hidden in its happiness and the importance of life is hidden in its playfulness. It is the extraordinariness of man’s life that is absolutely beautiful.

A drop of water can quench your thirst, but when it is not available to you, something as ordinary as water can become extraordinary for you. Man is born extraordinary but his mind thinks he is ordinary. So, the desire to be extraordinary appears. It is the false ego that wants to be special. But when you are in the present, the weird feeling of being more distinguished than others disappears.

The problem of the ego is that it always wants to be unique, to be loved and to be of great value. Therefore, to be ordinary makes us feel poorer and disappointed. But life is hidden in its ordinariness. To do something ordinarily is the most extraordinary thing in life. For instance, when you are walking, you are doing something extraordinary, which is beyond you and your ego. With the simple act of walking, you are extraordinary. But man wants challenges to prove that he is extraordinary. He wants to do something very difficult. He wants to go to the moon and conquer it. All that mankind has done so far, in its thousands of years of development, is make a few changes on earth. He has created more lumens of artificial light, built automobiles so he can travel faster, and made smartphones so he can communicate remotely and store more information and memories.

Man can get prizes for painting a moth but billions of moths are created and annulled by nature within hours. Albert Einstein wrote that if he got another birth, he would not like to be a distinguished man. He would rather be an ordinary man, a plumber. Being distinguished and popular, being written about, having millions of followers on social media, being chased by shutterbugs—does this make you what you are? Are you the sum total of the publicity and followers you get? Are you made of the wealth and prestige that you have or of something beyond all this? Do you know whose life this is? Do you know who you are? Are you a mere dialogue between your ego and the world? Ending this dialogue is the beginning of life. And life’s ordinariness is so extraordinary that your ego cannot live in it and so it disappears.

You are not who you are because you live in a big mansion or drive a fleet of cars or own a private jet or are a member of elite clubs. This does not prove that you are more distinguished than others. Once you are defined by thoughts of your wealth, power and prestige, you live with a false ego. But does it create in you the feeling of being yourself? Life is in being. The wealthiest and most powerful is the one who simply is. He commands his existence and does not live in the false bubble of his ego. There is no sin in earning more than others, but do not let wealth, power, and prestige define who you are. Life is about rejoicing in its playfulness. And you are not separate from the joy and playfulness—you are that playfulness and joy. So, be it.

The author is a spiritual teacher and an independent advisor on policy, governance and leadership. He can be contacted at arunavlokitta@gmail.com

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Spiritually Speaking

TIME TO EMBRACE HUMANITY IN SPIRIT OF ONENESS

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As we all stand together to face a global pandemic, it is time to reflect within and embrace all humanity as one.

Our world is in need of human unity. We are connected to each other through the silken thread of love, and that is the core of human existence. In our homes, families, societies and cities, there is a need to come together and embrace each other in a spirit of love, tolerance and oneness. Doing so can help bring about peace in our homes, our neighbourhoods, our communities and in the world at large.

How do we live human unity? It is not enough to tell others to practice unity and peace; we must live it ourselves if we want our words to be effective. Here are some ways that have proven effective in making unity a reality:

CLEAR OUR HEARTS

The first step is to make sure that our hearts are clear of any hatred and prejudice for others who we think are different from us. We must develop true love in our hearts for all people. We must eliminate prejudice and discrimination from our heart and our mind. It is said that out of the abundance of our heart we speak.

If we feel hatred towards any group, we cannot hide it for long; it is bound to come out from our lips or show on our face. Our actions will speak even louder than our words. Thus, living human unity begins with clearing our hearts of any animosity towards others.

When we clean the chamber of our heart from any prejudice and ill will for others, then God can reside there. God is love. God is all-encompassing and embraces all creation as one family. That love will enter our heart when we keep it clear of any negative thoughts towards others.

WATCH OUR WORDS

Next, we live human unity by making sure our words express appreciation and tolerance for all people. We need to watch our words lest we injure any heart. Do our words cause division or do they bring people together? Loving, caring words that make people feel comfortable bring people together. We need to become living examples of sweet and loving speech.

LIVE IT THROUGH OUR ACTIONS

Every day we are faced with choices. Are we going to take action that tears people apart or action that brings people together? In our jobs we often have to work on committees or make decisions on policy. Do our voices promote policies that show love and tolerance towards people, or do they perpetrate more prejudice and discrimination?

At every opportunity, we should inspire the people with whom we work to make decisions and take actions that promote peace and unity.

MEDITATION & HUMAN UNITY

One of the most effective methods to make human unity a living reality in our own hearts is through meditation. Spending time daily in silent meditation helps us commune with our true self and the divine Power that created us.

Those moments are filled with bliss, peace and love. As we enter the inner sanctum of our hearts, we find that there is Light within us.

That Light is the Light of the Creator. The realisation dawns on us that the same Light that is within us is in all other human beings. We start to recognise that Light within others. Then the outer differences that separate us start to dissolve. We see one Light expressed by many different outer coverings, each beautiful in its own way. We start to see all life as one. When this happens, we are truly living human unity in our own lives.

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Spiritually Speaking

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE MERCIFUL?

B.K. Geeta

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All religions have their own beliefs and principles, but they have one thing in common — their adherents seek compassion or blessings.

Compassion is regarded as the essence of every religion. If someone is lacking in kindness, or is not compassionate, they are not considered religious. Religion is equated with compassion.

The foremost quality of a spiritual or religious person is kindness — towards the self, the people they come in contact with, and the world at large. We need to ask ourselves if we are always kind and merciful with everyone, or does our kindness vary from person to person.

Who needs kindness? One who is weak, deprived, or in some kind of bondage. Such persons wish to be treated kindly and mercifully, and even if they have no such desire, a generous person will have good wishes for them.

A kind and charitable attitude can melt even a stone-hearted person. It can turn enemies into friends. But for that one must have compassion, a quality that is very much in need today.

The sign of a compassionate soul is that they will be virtuous and humble. They will also be generous. Being kind and merciful with others when they need it can resolve many interpersonal issues.

Those who are magnanimous do not expect anything from others; they give love and respect unconditionally. They do not count how many times they have been nice to someone. “They were rude to me, so I responded in kind”, “They did this, that is why I reacted that way” — these are not the words of a large-hearted soul.

Being merciful means to be kind to everyone regardless of what they are like or how they speak or behave.

B.K. Geeta is a senior Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Abu Road, Rajasthan

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Spiritually Speaking

MAHA SHIVRATRI: THE MOST MOMENTOUS DAY IN THE CALENDAR

Jane Kay

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Festivals of all kinds are days of celebration. However, religious festivals are also memorials. They are a reminder and a celebration of greatness, be that of an event or a person. To someone from the west, India seems like the very land of festivals! A cornucopia of colour, joy, music and even reverence and sometimes solemnity. However, to the discerning eye, one festival shines like a beacon above all of the others, Maha Shivratri.

It is a festival of hope. It is a festival bringing the promise of light and the end of darkness, the beginning of spring, and renewal.

Most cultures across the world have some way of welcoming spring after the desolation of winter, but in India it is very different. This particular festival is celebrated by Hindu communities, wherever they may be, but the memorial is of Shiva, the Supreme Father of all souls, first making Himself known in Bharat. Perhaps those who grow up celebrating this day never question the wonder of that. To someone from the west it is astonishing, because it means that this incorporeal Father Shiva, the Supreme Benefactor Soul, the Father of all of us souls, must have definitely come at some point, or this memorial would not exist.

This Supreme Soul must have actually appeared here on Earth, and that too in India, to bring an end to a world of darkness, of suffering, of sorrow, of confusion, and bring forth a world of peace and beauty.

The world we live in now could hardly be darker than it is or hold more suffering than it does. There could be no time more in need of the reappearance of such a Divine Being.

It could be said that this festival has been celebrated since ‘time immemorial’, that it began so long ago that no one can remember how it began. Of course, if time is linear, then casting the mind back to recall an event of this magnitude would be almost, if not certainly, impossible. However, if time is cyclical, the end will reach the beginning, and scenes that have only been remembered will actually be witnessed again.

Could it not be, that it is now that the most significant and powerful event in the whole wonderful story of humanity is re-enacted? It seems like a very good time to consider that possibility.

Jane Kay is a university teaching fellow in the UK, and a Rajyoga teacher.

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Spiritually Speaking

TRUTH, COURAGE BRING THE POWER TO FACE CHALLENGES

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There are so many things we have to face in our lives each day. Situations which feel insurmountable and beyond our control, fear of what might happen, attacks and insults. Then there is the inner weakening – feeling a lack of self-worth, and doubt in the self’s ability to deal with things. Yet when we invoke, awaken and develop the power to face, then no situation becomes too fearsome to handle.

The power to face sees the emergence of the feeling that, no matter what, I will be able to overcome this and transform through this. It can be called faith, and behind it is courage and truth. Courage is a close companion of truth. If there is truth, I can sustain a high level of courage. If there is no truth, there is no courage; if there is no courage, there is no power to face and then I become overwhelmed with worry, stress, anxiety. Eventually, illness develops.

The challenges that we have to face in life are, in fact, tests of our resolve, our limits and the boundaries of our capabilities. For external situations there are skills we can develop to handle them; ‘hard skills’ or ‘sub-skills’ and ‘soft skills’ as they are often referred to.

However, these skills are also rooted in how we feel about ourselves. This is where one of the most difficult terrains to negotiate lies; that of the internal. If I do not recognise that my feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt and self-criticism are weaknesses, then they will rob me of my dreams.

I need to understand that challenges are like test papers at school — and when I pass the exams, I graduate. So, I need to reframe the context of life; understand that everything is accurate, the cards I am dealt are the cards that I have.

So, where is the truth? What is the meaning within what is happening right now?

These are tough, important questions to ask the self and it needs the power to face. The power to face also has a companionship with many other powers; it cannot work alone. For example, if I do not have the power to discern, I cannot see what is true and what is not true. If I cannot see what is true, then I cannot employ the power to face. Cultivating the other spiritual powers enhances the capacity to face.

This is why meditation is so important. Meditation gives us deep understanding of the self and is often referred to as a kind of fire. This fire ignites the faith to be able to bring the answers to those questions out into the open so they can be looked at with compassion and honesty and can be cleaned and transformed.

It is in this fire of courage and truth that dark can become light and alloy become gold. I will also be able to see my weaknesses and strengths. Recognising these strengths will help me resolve the weaknesses.

Meditation helps us to build reserves of patience, tolerance, compassion and mercy that allow transformation to happen safely and quietly. It gives insights and helps the soul to fully understand the eternal.

I am a soul having a human experience, and the more this becomes a fully realised truth, the more I experience deep stability, and fear finishes. The fear created by the false ego, the identification of the self as a physical body, disappears, because it is not real.

I need to practise this awareness of being an eternal being of light in meditation every day, and at various times during the day. This practice of silence will bring honesty, and a loving and compassionate heart to be able to exercise my power to face.

Gopi Patel is a spiritual educator and senior Rajyogi meditator with the Brahma Kumaris, specialising in spiritual pragmatism in all areas of life.

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