Are spiritual knowledge and practices essential to self-improvement? On the face of it, it would not seem so. One can develop good habits, learn new skills, and become more productive at work without any spiritual input. But is self-improvement just about knowing more, and being healthy and efficient? These attributes may help improve the quality of our life and enhance our self-esteem. However, they are linked to the external aspects of life – getting things done or having the ability to do so.
There is a difference between doing things better and being better. Having greater knowledge, skills, and competence does not necessarily make us a better person. Modern society puts a lot of emphasis on a person’s productivity, which is why good workers are in demand. But being a good worker and becoming a good human being are two different things.
True self-improvement is about developing the value of the self – the soul. When our very identity is spiritual, how can spirituality not be a part of our efforts to live a more fulfilling life? The soul is the sentient being that functions through the body – thinking, speaking, doing, and experiencing. It is the seat of consciousness, the repository of memories. Repeated thought patterns and actions create tendencies, which then impel us to behave in a certain way. So, true and lasting self-improvement begins with the soul. This is where spirituality comes in.
The soul can be improved only through spiritual practices, most importantly meditation. If the soul suffers from any weakness – anger, greed, selfishness to name a few – they will influence its thoughts, speech and actions, resulting in mistakes, conflict, and sorrow. The answer is purification of the soul, to cleanse it of all that taints its original goodness.
Before starting the remedy, the malady needs to be identified. The diagnostic process is easy. We can watch the kind of thoughts that arise in the mind when we sit quietly for a while. Can I be at peace even for just five minutes, or do I start worrying about the future or dwell on past events? What do I think when I see other people? Do I make critical comments in my mind, judging and labelling them according to how I perceive them? How patient, tolerant, and understanding can I be? Do I adjust easily to others, or does everyone else have to adjust to my preferences? All of these can reveal my defects and tell me what I need to change in myself.
There is an abundance of books and other resources offering advice on becoming a better person. A lot of people follow the advice, and the determined ones achieve the desired result. But not everyone is up to the task. Despite their good intentions they are unable to overcome their damaging habits and turn over a new leaf. The soul needs power to surmount the obstacle. The biggest source of that power is the Supreme Soul.
God, the benevolent, loving Father, is the Almighty and the purifier. When the soul remembers Him, through this mental connection the Father’s love and power flow to the child, cleansing and empowering the soul. The experience of God’s unconditional love gradually washes away past sorrows and the soul begins to believe in, and then live, a better life. Divine love is transformative: it brings souls peace and contentment. God teaches His children by example what benevolence can do, inspiring them to similarly help others by connecting them to the Father. The result is much more than self-improvement. It is metamorphosis, whereby an ordinary person can become an angel – a friend and guide to thousands, spreading the light of hope and God’s love to them.
B.K. Geeta is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Abu Road, Rajasthan.
‘The soul can be improved only through spiritual practices, most importantly meditation. The soul needs power to surmount the obstacle. If the soul suffers from any weakness – anger, greed, selfishness to name a few – they will influence its thoughts, speech and actions, resulting in mistakes, conflict, and sorrow. The answer is purification of the soul, to cleanse it of all that taints its original goodness.’
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KRISHNA TAUGHT US TO TRANSFORM EVERYTHING INTO A CELEBRATION
Life takes us to the forefront of many unexpected situations and experiences. Sri Krishna never taught us to ignore them or to try to escape from them. Sri Krishna always perceived life with joy.
Children, we celebrate Sri Krishna’s birthday every year with great cheer and festivity. We can see children dressed up as little Krishnas everywhere, singing and dancing, parading in a procession, and breaking pots of butter and milk strung high above the ground. The day of Bhagavan’s avatara in human form as Krishna is celebrated as a glorious festival. Just hearing the name Sri Krishna fills our hearts with indescribable happiness and enthusiasm. It gives us the joy of seeing a bud gently unfolding its petals and blooming into a beautiful flower. It gives us the satisfaction of a cool breeze caressing us under the heat of a scorching sun. It was Bhagavan who first taught the world the principle of how to turn any situation or experience in life into a joyous celebration. As we celebrate the birth of that supreme avatara externally, we should also not forget the great life lessons and teachings he bestowed on us.
Like the incessant ocean waves, life will constantly raise challenges, both external and internal. This is why the ancient rishis dubbed our existence as a samsara-sagara—an ocean of repeated cycles of birth, death, and misery. It often seems like we experience more conflict and misery than happiness. Life is like a battlefield upon which there is a constant clash between our past and our future. As such, people find it difficult to make positive changes in life. It was because they understood this dual nature of life that our ancient sages taught us to accept both success and hardship with equanimity. If we develop this attitude, we will never be overpowered by happiness or sorrow. Moreover, our life will get transformed into a joyous celebration. This is the greatest lesson that Sri Krishna’s life teaches us. Life is the totality of all experiences—times of comfort and hardship, of success and defeat, of honour and dishonour. No one has the choice to take what they want and reject the rest. It is when we try to do this that conflict arises within us. It’s only when we accept life in its totality that we find happiness and contentment. This is why Sri Krishna accepted all aspects of life with equanimity, with a gentle smile on his face.
Life takes us to the forefront of many unexpected situations and experiences. Sri Krishna never taught us to ignore them or to try to escape from them. Rather, he taught us to view them from the right perspective and to respond to them accordingly. He never advised anyone to suppress their thoughts and emotions. Rather, he taught people how to transform their energy and channel their thoughts and emotions in a manner beneficial to themselves, others, and society as a whole. With a life of unparalleled greatness, words of deep inspiration, and acts of exceeding nobility, Bhagavan Krishna continues to be the world’s greatest wonder: a complete and holy incarnation of the Supreme. Even though Bhagavan was incarnated 5,000 years ago, he still lives in people’s hearts. His teachings flow from generation to generation, inspiring our life and thoughts. Sri Krishna always perceived life with joy. Not only did he remain happy at all times, but he also showered everyone around him with happiness. He maintained his inherent sweet and cheerful disposition in all situations of life. It is said that Bhagavan came into this world with a smile on his face and left this world with a smile on his face. On the other hand, we have come into this world crying. We should at least be able to leave this world with a smile on our faces. May Krishna’s unfading smile become an inspiration for us. May the love of that supreme power flow into our hearts like the silver light of the full moon and overflow. May this love remain in my children’s hearts forever. May the Paramatma bless you all.
JANMASHTAMI DIVINE APPEARANCE OF THE LORD
It’s not easy to understand God. In many traditions, people believe that God has only one form and one name, but the Vedas don’t try to limit Him in this way. The Vedas explain that God has unlimited forms and unlimited names. God is simply unlimited and inconceivable. As declared by Srila Vyasadeva in the Srimad Bhagavatam, etc camsa-kalah pumsah krsnas tu bhagavan svayam: All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Sri Krsna is the original Personality of Godhead. Krsna is the original form of Godhead, and He expands Himself into innumerable forms, like Lord Nrshinhadeva, Rama, Varaha, all the unlimited forms of Vishnu, and so on. In one sense they are all the same Personality of Godhead, but at the same time, they exhibit different qualities and pastimes. Lord Balarama is the first of such expansions. All the other expansions come from him. Srila Prabhupada mentions that there is the Supreme God and the Servitor God. Lord Balarama assumes the role of the Servitor God, so Krsna can play the role of the supreme enjoyer. Although He is the older brother, He stays in the background, allowing Krsna to take the prominent role. Lord Balarama is always absorbed in serving Krsna in all possible ways. He expands Himself in all Krsna’s paraphernalia, becoming Krsna’s bed, Krsna’s clothes, Krsna’s umbrella, and so on. He becomes many to increase His service to Krsna unlimitedly. Lord Balarama is the source of all other expansions of Krsna. Some of these expansions assume the mood of Krsna, taking the prominent role, and some assume the mood of Lord Balarama, as the Supreme Servitor. We can observe this in all lilas, like Lord Rama and Laksmana, Lord Garbodakasay Vishnu and Lord Sesa, and so on.
Lord Balarama is present in all lilas and He is constantly meditating in ways to increase the service to Krsna. In this mood, He comes as the spiritual master to help all the fallen souls and help them to reconnect with their eternal nature of service to Krsna. Of course, we understand that the spiritual master is not God, but the guru is the representative of Lord Balarama, being empowered to him instruct, correct, and inspire his disciples on the path back to the Godhead. Sahajiyas sometimes have the mood of approaching Krsna directly. They think they are very high and can just knock directly on Krsna’s door, but true Vaishnavas understand that they can’t reach Krsna without the mercy of Lord Balarama, just like no one can achieve Lord Caitanya without the mercy of Lord Nityananda. In a very famous passage, Christ says that “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Although some use this passage to push their sectarian views, this just illustrates the essential role of the spiritual master and Lord Balarama in our lives. Without the help of the spiritual master, who is the representative of Lord Balarama, it’s not possible for someone to achieve the service of Krsna. As Srila Prabhupada mentions (SB 10.2 intro), Lord Balarama is called Baladeva because he appears to increase his love for Krsna. He is also known as Balabadra, because one takes strength from Him to become a devotee of the Lord. Before Krsna came to the womb of Devaki, Lord Balarama came first. He purified and prepared everything for Krsna to reside there peacefully. He was then transferred to the womb of Rohini by Yoga-Maya. Therefore, Lord Balarama is simultaneously the son of Rohini and the son of Devaki.
The appearance of Krsna is very mysterious. Krsna has two mothers, Yashoda and Devaki. He has also a brother and a sister, Balarama and Subhadra. Lord Balarama is the eternal son of Rohini, but to make arrangements for Krsna coming as the son of Devaki, He first lives there as Lord Sesa, making all the arrangements for Krsna. As narrated in the Srimad Bhagavatam (10.2.8) Krsna orders Yoga-Maya to transfer Him to the womb of Rohini. Normally, no one can move Lord Sesa, He sustains all the material universes, but by taking power from Krsna, Yoga-Maya was able to do so. Krsna then appeared in the heart of Devaki, being transferred there from the heart of Vasudeva. Because of the presence of Krsna, Devaki became extraordinarily beautiful and effulgent. Kamsa knew that the eighth son of Devaki was going to kill him, therefore this effulgence made Kamsa fearful since He could understand that an extraordinarily powerful personality was inside her womb. Yoga-Maya herself appears as the daughter of mother Yashoda. Fearing Kamsa, Vasudeva takes Krsna from the prison and exchanges him with the small girl who had just been born from mother Yashoda. When he returns to the prison, Kamsa very quickly appears and tries to kill the girl, but she escapes from his hands and assumes the form of Durgadevi, chastising Kamsa and revealing to him that Krsna had escaped. This pastime illustrates that the energy of Krsna is just one. We see the energy of Krsna as material or spiritual according to our consciousness. Devotees see Yoga-Maya, while demons and impersonalists see Maha-Maya, the material energy. When seemingly material elements are connected with the service of Krsna, they become spiritual, just like ordinary food when offered to Krsna becomes prasadam.
The same Yoga-Maya who was born from Yashoda and who Kamsa tried to kill appears later as the daughter of Rohini, becoming Krsna’s younger sister. However, another interesting detail of this pastime is revealed by Srila Prabhupada in his purport to SB 10.3.47: “Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Ṭhakura discusses that Kṛṣṇa appeared simultaneously as the son of Devaki and as the son of Yasoda, along with the spiritual energy Yoga-maya. As the son of Devaki, He first appeared as Viṣṇu, and because Vasudeva was not in the position of pure affection for Kṛṣṇa, Vasudeva worshiped his son as Lord Viṣṇu. Yasoda, however, pleased her son Kṛṣṇa without understanding His Godhood. This is the difference between Kṛṣṇa as the son of Yasoda and as the son of Devaki. This is explained by Visvanatha Cakravarti on the authority of Hari-vamsa.” He explains further (10.4.9p) that: “ When Viṣṇu, or Kṛṣṇa, took birth from Devaki, He must have simultaneously taken birth from Yasoda also. Otherwise, how could Yoga-maya have been anuja, the Lord’s younger sister?” From this, we can understand that actually, Krsna took birth simultaneously in Vrindavan and Mathura. He appeared in Mathura as Vasudeva Krsna, fully grown with all ornaments and four arms, while he appeared as the original Krsna in Vraja, with two hands, along with Yoga-Maya. Vasudeva prayed to Vasudeva Krsna to assume the form of a normal baby, with two hands and carried Him to Vraja. At the same time, the original Krsna was lying down in the bed alongside Yoga-Maya, the young girl born to mother Yashoda. However, when Vasudeva arrived there he couldn’t see him. When he left the baby and took the girl, Vasudeva Krsna merged into the original Krsna. In the end, there was just one Krsna in Vraja, and the girl Yoga-Maya returned with Vasudeva to Mathura, where she disappeared after Kamsa tried to kill her, just to reappear a little later as Subadra, the daughter of Rohini. We can see that during some of His pastimes in Vrindavana, Krsna manifests the form of Vasudeva Krsna to fight with the demons. Since Krsna is the original, Supreme Personality of Godhead, he includes all other expansions. He can thus manifest Vasudeva Krsna to fight with demons, or manifest Lord Vishnu to play a prank in the gopis, for example. When Krsna goes to Mathura, both again separate, with the original Krsna staying in Vrindavana in an invisible form and Vasudeva Krsna going to Mathura with Akrura and playing all His pastimes there. Lord Balarama is present in all these lilas, playing the role of Krsna’s older brother and serving Him in all possible ways, and trying to engage us in Krsna’s eternal pastimes, acting as the original spiritual master.
Gauranga Sundar Das is Iskcon, Inc Communication Director and SM IT head
DASA MAHAVIDYAS: THE TEN FEMININE COSMIC POWERS
The Dasha Mahavidyas or Ten Wisdom Goddesses in Hindu mythology, cover the whole range of feminine divinity, from horrific goddesses to beautiful Devis.
Once, during a game of dice between Shiva and Parvati, Shiva lost, and Parvati asked for the crescent moon adorning his hair as payment. When he refused, she got angry. This in turn infuriated Shiva, who threatened to leave. No amount of cajoling by Parvati helped. Eventually, to block Shiva’s way, Parvati transformed herself into various forms, blocking all ten directions.
These are the Dasha Mahavidyas or Ten Wisdom Goddesses in Hindu mythology, covering the whole range of feminine divinity, from horrific goddesses to beautiful Devis. Each Goddess has her own cosmic function in universal harmony, and meditating upon her leads to realisation of the mysterious nature of the self.
Kali, the first Goddess symbolises time, death, and destruction. When one starts on the spiritual path, one will first have to transcend the fear of time and death and recognise the temporary nature of the world. The second Goddess Tara represents invoking the compassion of awakened masters to show us the right path.
One now seeks a wise and gentle Guru who will strengthen one in times of need and distress. The third is Shodashi, the sixteen-year-old. This reminds the seeker of the youthful exuberance and lightness of true knowledge, which is seen here as the realisation of the splendour of nature, the profound harmony, and principle in all things. The fourth, Bhuvaneswari represents the vastness of space. She implies an increase in one’s consciousness that appears by pursuing true knowledge. The seeker now realises that momentary realisations during meditation are of no consequence. Bhairavi, the fifth Goddess implies diligent spiritual practice, whereby the adept attains great focus and perseverance to succeed. With the arising of true knowledge, the ego is annihilated and the seeker acquires immense courage- seeing beyond duality. The sixth, Chinnamasta, represents this as the Goddess who cuts off her own head.
But here comes a great hazard.
The seeker is now suddenly attacked by a phase of emptiness, deep sorrow, and doubt. It has sometimes been called ‘The dark night of the Soul’. One is racked with doubt and wants to discard all practice- feeling that all that one has done so far is futile. Many seekers have become so depressed in this phase that they have even tried to commit suicide.
Their faith in their God, their practice, and their master is completely shaken. The seventh Goddess, Dhumavati, symbolises the power of this void. Perseverance and immense inner strength are needed to transcend this phase and to recognise the transience of even one’s faith and beliefs. On the passing of this great darkness, one experiences the dawn of true awakening. One is stunned into complete silence- not knowing how to relate to this new reality- since there is no ‘other’, thus no relating at all. One remains transfixed, hypnotised into silence. In such a state, the realised one moves through the world as if in a trance. It’s said that Gautama Buddha remained in such a state for several days after he awakened.
The eighth Goddess is Bagalamukhi, the Goddess who seizes the tongue. Once awakening occurs, nothing remains sacred or profane. All appear to be the same reality. One sees beauty in everything.
There is no duality-no right or wrong, good or bad. Often, the awakened one forgets to remain “clean and washed”. Often, such people lose body consciousness, whether they are naked or clothed. Matangi, the ninth Goddess, represents this phase, as’ one who is unmindful of pollution. Eventually, the self-realised soul begins to “play” in the world. The awakened ones playfully follow worldly customs and yet experience no bondage. Around such people, people experience joy, the vanishing of sorrows, abundance, natural creativity, and spontaneous solutions to their material problems. Miracles and occult powers are said to remain vassals to such realised souls- who have no use for them.
Kamala, the tenth Wisdom Goddess, implies abundance and spiritual perfection. Kamala represents the full unfolding of the power of self-realisation in the material sphere. Meditations on the Goddesses are forms of self-inquiry, representing the secret and subtle. Their forms are often disturbing; not just meant for idle ‘idol’ worship, but also to shock one into higher awareness. Unless one is willing to look beyond the apparent, it’s easy to remain entangled in the outer forms of the Goddesses. The Dasha Mahavidyas reveal the inner workings of both the cosmos and one’s psyche. They represent the deeper truths of life—beyond attachment to name and form.
Deepam Chatterjee teaches meditation and lectures on mysticism and mythology.
The ten Mahavidyas, or Wisdom Goddesses, represent distinct aspects of divinity intent on guiding the spiritual seeker toward liberation. Each Goddess has her own cosmic function in universal harmony, and meditating upon her leads to realisation of the mysterious nature of the self. The Dasha Mahavidyas reveal the inner workings of both the cosmos and one’s psyche. They represent the deeper truths of life beyond attachment to name and form.
LIVE LIFE ON PURPOSE OR LIVE LIFE BY ACCIDENT
If we do not live life on purpose, we live life by accident. People’s minds today are racing, so all they do is at breakneck speed. Accidents often happen because of haste and impatience. It is neither necessary nor desirable to rush. When our mind is at peace whilst we are driving, or in fact doing anything, we arrive at our destination or complete our tasks on time.
In the same way that a speeding car poses a safety threat, uncontrolled scattered thoughts can bring undesirable outcomes. We need to use the internal brake of mental control. Mental control helps us to slow down and steer our thoughts in the right direction before moving ahead on the journey of life. To practice controlling the speed of thoughts, pause several times during the day. Slow down. Observe the thought patterns. There is no knowing how long our physical life will last. But, by remembering that although the body is made of matter and is perishable, I the soul am imperishable, I never die; by becoming aware of this deepest inner space of the self, separate from the body, we can find this point of stillness which is always perfect and pure, and where an enriching experience of silence can be deeply experienced.
To experience this silence, there is no need to withdraw from daily life. To experience and maintain a calm, collected internal state, I simply need to allocate time each day to spaces of stillness and meditation. One pure and positive thought may look like a tiny spark, but if nurtured every day, it can change my whole life. When my eyes open in the morning, I sit for a moment and hold on to a peaceful thought and appreciate the gift of a new day. I need to think less, think slowly, but think powerful and enriching thoughts. I pay attention to each task and avoid multitasking. I eat with gratitude and appreciation. I notice my breathing and focus for a moment or two on the in breath and the out breath.
Nurturing the inner being in this way allows me to take care of my home, work and family affairs, and yet continue giving without depleting myself! I see each day as an opportunity to make each thought one of good wishes and each action one of benefit to the self and others.
Chirya Yvonne Risely is a Rajyoga meditation teacher, based at the Brahma Kumaris Peace Village Retreat Center, USA.
FORGIVENESS IS A PART OF NON-VIOLENCE
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is maybe freedom. Because I am not doing the other person a favour, but rather I am doing myself a favour. I am unloading the burden that I have carried for however long that may be – a short time or a long time. However, once I decide that actually it is not in my jurisdiction, because whoever has been involved has been involved with a karmic connection with the Almighty, and so they are answerable to the Almighty, and I do not have to think about it. But if I carry the pain and sorrow in my heart, I carry that as a burden. So let me put God’s love between me and the other, and be able to forgive them with a big heart, a generous heart, so that I can find freedom, myself.
Forgiveness is also one aspect of non-violence. When I do not forgive, then there is a violence that I am inflicting on myself. I may also be inflicting a violence through my vibrations or my thoughts and in my attitude, towards the other. And so let me experience true non-violence, which also means being able to forgive.
In the 20th century we saw two amazing characters on the world stage in this unlimited drama of the world. One, of course, was Mahatma Gandhi, and the power of non-violence, and the liberation that came as a result of that. But we also saw President Mandela, and the power of forgiveness that was able to avert bloodshed, and bring about democracy, in a situation where people had thought it would never be possible. Through this, we understand how the power of forgiveness is incredibly effective. So let me try it, each day in my own life, and see how liberating it is and how it brings me closer to the Divine.
B.K. Jayanti is Additional Administrative Head of the Brahma Kumaris.
THE REWARDS OF AN ELEVATED MIND
An elevated mind, characterised by high thinking, is the foundation of a fulfilling life. When one’s thoughts and attitude are unselfish and charitable, the actions are naturally benevolent. The decisions that arise from such a mind are right in every situation, for the self and others. The key is having a clean mind and a compassionate vision.
One sign of an elevated mind is that the person will recognise their purpose in life – that they are in this world not just to live for themselves, but to serve and contribute in some way, using their talents and abilities. They can clearly discern what is of value and what is not; where they should invest their time and energy and what to avoid. When the mind is clean and the thinking is not muddied by the influence of any kind of negativity, the right choices are easily made. Weaknesses such as greed, ego, jealousy, or anger, if left unchecked, lead our thoughts astray and distort our judgment. Decisions then taken may look right to us from our skewed perspective, but they will not be the best. In the absence of honest introspection and course correction, such decisions feed our weakness. This is a slippery slope that may eventually lead to pettiness.
But when there is a genuine desire to be and do the best that we can, we feel the unease caused by vices, recognise their deceptions, and rise above them to do what we know in our heart is the right thing.
Souls with love for purity and honesty are also able to have a strong faith, because they have experienced that communion with the Divine nurtures and strengthens all that is good in them. Remembrance of God, and the relationship that thereby develops with Him, becomes a channel for such souls to receive divine love, power, and guidance. The soul is then able to overcome its weaknesses. Unfettered by the vices, free of the pain and agitation they cause, the soul can then have lasting peace and happiness. Their generosity of spirit then guides them to share these with others unselfishly. This is how an elevated mind makes life fulfilling and great.
B.K. Surya is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.
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