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KARMA AND REINCARNATION

Karma is intimately related with the principle of reincarnation. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes the soul as the source of consciousness and the active principle that animates the body of every living being. At the time of death, the indestructible soul transmigrates into another physical body, just as one changes clothing.

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In human society, if one kills a man he has to be hanged [or punished]. That is the law of the state. Because of ignorance people do not perceive that there is a complete state controlled by the Supreme Lord. Every living creature is the son of the Supreme Lord, and He does not tolerate even an ant’s being killed. One has to pay for it.

—Srila Prabhupada, Iskcon Inc founder and achraya

Capital punishment is the state’s ultimate act of reprisal, and no sacrifice surpasses offering one’s life for the sake of others. But although we seemingly attach great value to life, each year all over the world hundreds of millions of defenceless animals are butchered. This wholesale slaughter of animals is not necessary to prevent us from starving. Moreover, it is economically extravagant and ethically reprehensible. Most seriously, however, animal killing violates the universal law of karma, which is similar to the modern scientific principle of action and reaction.

Scientists clearly understand how the physical law of action and reaction (“for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”) applies to material objects, but most are unaware of the more subtle laws of action and reaction in the realm of consciousness. Nevertheless, we do have a kind of instinctive awareness that somehow we all create our own happiness and distress. This realisation dawns upon us when in response to some mishap we reflect, “Well, maybe I had that coming to me.”

In fact, we sometimes find people jokingly attributing unfortunate occurrences in their lives to “bad karma”. But the law of karma ensures that those who cause violence and suffering to other living beings must themselves experience equivalent violence and suffering—immediately or in the future.

Karma, as many in the West now know, is intimately related with the principle of reincarnation. In India’s greatest spiritual classic, Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes the soul as the source of consciousness and the active principle that animates the body of every living being. This vital force, which is of the same spiritual quality in all beings, is distinct from and superior to the matter comprising the temporary material form. At the time of death, the indestructible soul transmigrates into another physical body, just as one changes clothing. All living beings (not just a few select individuals) undergo this process of reincarnation, lifetime after lifetime. The Bhagavad Gita states, “As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”

THE JOURNEY OF THE SOUL

The Vedas explain that the soul, known as the atma, may inhabit any of 8,400,000 general species of material bodies. The physical forms vary in complexity, beginning with the primitive microbes and amoebas, continuing on through the aquatic, plant, insect, reptile, bird, and animal species, and culminating in human beings and demigods. In consequence of its own desires to enjoy matter, the atma continually journeys through these various bodies, on an endless voyage of births and deaths.

The action of the mind is the prime force compelling the living entity to transmigrate from one body to another. The Gita explains, “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state of being he will attain without fail.” Our minds are constantly recording all of our thoughts and desires, and the totality of these memories floods our consciousness in the last moments of life. The nature of our thoughts at this critical juncture propels us into the appropriate physical body. Thus, the body we now occupy is an accurate physical projection of our state of mind at the time of our last death.

The Bhagavad Gita explains, “The living entity, thus taking another gross body, obtains a certain type of eye, ear, tongue, nose, and sense of touch, which are grouped around the mind. He thus enjoys a particular set of sense objects.”

According to the Vedas, a soul in a form lower than human automatically evolves to the next-higher species, ultimately arriving at the human form. But because the human being possesses freedom to choose between matter and spirit, there is a chance that the soul will descend again into the lower species. The laws of karma are so arranged that if a human lives and dies with the animalistic mentality of a creature such as a dog, then in the next life he will be able to fulfill his doglike desires through the senses and organs of a dog. This is certainly an unfortunate occurrence, but such a fate is a definite possibility for a person immersed in ignorance. The Gita declares, “When he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.”

So, the soul in the body of an animal may once have inhabited a human form and vice versa. Although a soul may successively occupy plant, animal, and human bodies, its intrinsic nature remains the same. Because the soul is pure spiritual energy, it cannot be altered in any way by matter. Bhagavad Gita explains that the soul is “immutable and unchangeable.” It is only the bodily covering, with its particular combination of mind and senses, that temporarily restricts or releases the conscious energy of the soul.

THE EQUALITY OF ALL LIVING THINGS

The basic and transcendental equality of all conscious entities is not an abstract notion but is obvious to everyday sense perception—if only we look beyond the superficial differences in the varieties of material bodies. Anyone who has ever had a pet or visited the zoo has experienced that animals behave much like humans as they search for food, protect their young, play, sleep, and fight. The outstanding difference is that their intelligence and emotions are less developed, but this distinction is insufficient to discount the far more numerous and significant similarities in thinking, feeling, and willingness that clearly point towards the universal equality of the consciousness within all bodies.

In nonhuman species, the living being is stringently controlled by his natural instincts. He is deprived of freedom of choice in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, being compelled by bodily demands to follow rigid behavioral patterns. For this reason, the atma dwelling within forms of life lower than humans is not responsible for its actions and thus does not generate new karma. A similar principle operates within our everyday experience—a dog chasing a cat across the roadway is immune from any traffic citations. Animals are not expected to understand or obey a sophisticated set of laws. On the other hand, in both the social order and the universal order, a human being is obligated to be informed and obedient.

Therefore, when a human unnecessarily takes the life of another entity, especially under conditions of great pain and suffering, this act of overt aggression produces a severe karmic reaction. And, if year after year millions of animals are mercilessly butchered in huge, mechanised slaughterhouses, the accumulated negative karma produced by all those participating is almost unfathomable.

In his Bhagavad Gita commentary, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada sternly warns about the karmic danger of animal slaughter. “In human society, if one kills a man he has to be hanged. That is the law of the state. Because of ignorance people do not perceive that there is a complete state controlled by the Supreme Lord. Every living creature is the son of the Supreme Lord, and He does not tolerate even an ant’s being killed. One has to pay for it.”

‘DO UNTO OTHERS…’

This same instruction is present in all religious teachings. The Bible emphatically states, “Thou shall not kill,” and Lord Jesus Christ, who always displayed deep compassion for all living beings, stated, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Lord Buddha also taught the principle of ahimsa, nonviolence, specifically to protect innocent creatures from being slaughtered.

People who find that personally killing an animal is too gruesome tend to believe that merely eating flesh does not implicate them in violence. But this opinion is shortsighted and unsupported by any valid spiritual authority. According to the law of karma, all those who are connected to the killing of an animal are liable—the person who gives permission for the killing, the person who kills, the person who helps, the person who purchases the meat, the person who cooks the flesh, and the person who eats it. In a court of law all those who conspire in a murder are considered responsible, especially the party who purchases the assassin’s services.

Psychological and emotional growth are essential to a progressive life, and all our thoughts and actions influence our character development. The Bible explains, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” And the subtle laws of karma inform us that negative personality traits such as hostility, cruelty, depression, arrogance, apathy, insensitivity, anxiety, and envy are the psychological harvest of those who directly or indirectly make killing a regular feature in their life. When someone adopts a vegetarian diet, it is much easier for him to remain peaceful, happy, productive, and concerned for the welfare of others.

As the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein said, “The vegetarian manner of living, by it’s purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” But when human consciousness is polluted by the effects of the negative karma resulting from destructive and injurious actions, its good qualities become covered.

THE CAUSE OF VIOLENCE

At present, despite impressive progress in science and technology, the world is faced with a crisis of unremitting violence in the shape of wars, terrorism, murder, vandalism, child abuse, and abortion. More than 140 wars have been fought since the United Nations was formed in 1945. With social and political solutions conspicuously failing, perhaps it’s time to analyse the problem from a different perspective—the law of karma. The callous and brutal slaughter of countless helpless animals must be considered as a powerful causative factor in this wave of uncheckable violence.

In his purports to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada has pointed out how the widespread violence among humans is a karmic reaction to animal slaughter. “In this age the propensity for mercy is almost nil. Consequently, there is always fighting and wars between men and nations. Men do not understand that because they unrestrictedly kill so many animals, they must also be slaughtered like animals in big wars. This is very much evident in the Western countries. In the West, slaughterhouses are maintained without restriction, and therefore every fifth or tenth year there is a big war in which countless people are slaughtered even more cruelly than the animals. Sometimes during war, soldiers keep their enemies in concentration camps and kill them in very cruel ways. These are reactions brought about by unrestricted animal-killing in the slaughterhouse and by hunters in the forest.”

The question is sometimes raised that if the atma (soul) is completely transcendental to the material body, why should killing, if great pain is avoided, be considered wrongful violence? Even the Bhagavad Gita states, “For the soul there is neither birth nor death. He is not slain when the body is slain.” In his Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, Srila Prabhupada addresses this question. “All living entities have to fulfill a certain duration for being engaged in a particular type of material body. They have to finish the duration allotted in a particular body before being promoted or evolved to another body. Killing an animal or any other living being simply places an impediment in the way of his completing his term of imprisonment in a certain body. One should therefore not kill bodies for one’s sense gratification, for this will implicate one in sinful activity.” In short, killing an animal interrupts its progressive evolution through the species.

We can also appreciate the unjustness of animal-killing by seeing that the body is a dwelling place for the atma residing within. An individual unexpectedly driven out of his comfortable home suffers great inconvenience and distress. Such merciless and unjustified action is undoubtedly criminal. Furthermore, in order to receive his next material body, the living being must suffer extended pre-birth tribulations. For the human being this involves months of being tightly packed in the darkness of the womb, where one is constantly disturbed by infections, acid fluids burning the skin, jarring motions, and discomforts resulting from the eating and drinking habits of the mother.

IS KILLING VEGETABLES WRONG?

Another common metaphysical question is, “If all living entities are spiritually equal, then why is it acceptable to eat grains, vegetables, etc., and not meat? Aren’t vegetarians guilty of killing vegetables? In response, it may be pointed out that vegetarian foods such as fruits, nuts, milk, and grain do not require any killing. But even in those cases where a plant’s life is taken, the pain involved is much less than when an animal is slaughtered, because the plant’s nervous system is less developed. Clearly there is a vast difference between pulling a carrot out of the ground and killing a lamb. But still, one must undoubtedly suffer karmic reactions even for killing plants.

For this reason, Lord Krishna explains in the Bhagavad Gita that not only should man eat only vegetarian foods, but he should also offer these eatables to Him. If we follow this process of sacrifice, the Supreme Lord, Krishna, protects us from any karmic reactions resulting from the killing of plants. Otherwise, according to the law of karma, we are personally responsible. The Gita states, “The devotees of the Lord are released from all sins because they eat food that is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.”

Srila Prabhupada elaborates on this principle of spiritual vegetarianism. “Human beings are provided with food grains, vegetables, fruits, and milk by the grace of the Lord, but it is the duty of human beings to acknowledge the mercy of the Lord. As a matter of gratitude, they should feel obliged to the Lord for their supply of foodstuff, and they must first offer Him food in sacrifice and then partake of the remnants.” By eating such sanctified food (prasadam) one is protected from karmic reactions and advances spiritually. 

Gauranga Sundar Das is Iskcon Inc Communication Director and SM IT Head.

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Spiritually Speaking

THE CALL OF NATURE

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

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According to ancient scriptures, human beings have five sheaths: the environment, the physical body, the mind or the mental sheath, the intuitive sheath and purushartha, or the blissful state. Thus, environment is our first body.

Environment consciousness is inbuilt in the human system. Historically, nature (or prakriti) has always been adored in India; mountains, rivers, the sun, the moon, the trees have always been honoured. It’s only when we start moving away from nature that we start polluting nature. We need to revive the ancient practice of honouring and conserving nature. The popular belief is that damage to ecology is an inevitable byproduct of technological progress. But it is not necessarily so; in fact, a sustainable growth is assured only if the ecology is protected. Science and technology should not be regarded as anti-environment; rather, we need to find ways of maintaining harmony in environment while progressing in science and technology. This is the biggest challenge of this century.

Just observe nature; the five elements of nature are opposed to each other. Water destroys fire, fire destroys air… Then there are so many species in nature—the birds, reptiles, mammals; all these different species are hostile towards each other and yet nature balances them out. Never in a forest does one species of birds get wiped out. Neither will you find pollution in any forest despite so many animals living there together. We need to learn from nature; how nature digests waste material and produces something more beautiful. Similarly, it is not technology and science that pose a hazard, but the waste material generated by technological and scientific processes. We need to find methods to consume the waste.

Separately, we also need to develop non-polluting processes, such as harnessing solar energy. There are several other fields where there are no holes, it is the greed of some companies that don’t share the environment friendly methods with everybody.

In reality, man’s greed is the greatest pollutant. Greed stops man from sharing with others. Greed also obstructs preservation of ecology; man is so greedy, he wants to make quick profits and achieve quick results. Whilst being aware of methods to prevent pollution, he may not act upon them because they cost in some manner. This greed not only pollutes the gross, physical environment but also contaminates the subtle atmosphere; it stimulates negative emotions in the subtle mind. These negative emotions impact the minds of all the people around; if one person is angry and agitated, the anger and agitation does not stay limited to that one person but rubs off onto all those who he comes in contact with.  These negative vibrations, once compounded, give rise to unrest in society. Negative feelings of hatred, anger, jealousy are the root cause of all disasters and misery in the world, whether they are economical, political or social in nature.  Most of the wars are triggered off by such feelings; and war is always accompanied by waste and natural disasters which take ages to balance out.

We need to attend to the human psyche which causes pollution, whether physical or emotional. If compassion and care are kindled within the self, they reflect in the environment; a sense of sacredness follows. People should be encouraged to treat the planet as sacred, to treat trees and rivers as sacred, to treat people as sacred, and to see God in nature and in people. This will foster sensitivity; and a sensitive person can’t but care for nature. It is basically insensitivity that makes a person act callously towards environment. If a person is sensitive, he will nurture environment, thereby eradicating pollution.

Spirituality elevates ones consciousness and checks that greed which leads to environmental degradation. It promotes a sense of caring and commitment for the whole planet. Spirituality is what cleanses greed, feverishness and small-mindedness in a person; it leads him to honour nature.

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Spiritually Speaking

A DUMMY GUIDE TO GROW YOUR OWN KITCHEN GARDEN

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With this small decision of growing your own kitchen garden, you have taken a big step in helping your planet breathe easy, by working towards reducing your carbon footprint. When you grow your own leafies and fruits, what you are essentially doing is cutting down significantly on the use of plastic and plastic bags, while saying no to harmful pesticides and chemicals that fruits and vegetables in the markets come laced with, that eventually land up in our bodies and/or in the water bodies.

With kitchen gardening, now you these succulent fruits and veggies could be grown in your vicinity, be it your garden, balcony, or terrace. It is cost effective and requires low maintenance, after the initial set up.

Kitchen gardening comprises growing fruits, vegetables, plants in the spaces around villas, balconies of flats, terraces, and even near windows which get ample sunlight. Here are some handy tips to make a kitchen garden at home:

1.Choosing the right seeds: Choosing the type of seeds is equally important. It is beneficial if high quality, organic and disease resistant varieties of seeds are chosen. It is advisable to go for open pollinated seeds than hybrid. Before planting, the seedlings should be hardened off by placing them outside in the open. This helps them adapt to the outside temperature. In warmer climate areas, the soil should be cultivated to a fine tilth and seeds be sown deep. In cooler areas, seeds could be sown in trays, bottles or even bath tubs. However, it needs to be ensured that the seeds get sufficient light, for proper germination and growth.

2. Sowing of seeds: Dig the garden area 8-10 inches deep. However, do not start digging when soil is too wet. Allow it to dry and then initiate digging. After digging, sow the seeds and water them regularly. If space is a constraint, seeds could be sown in buckets, plastic bottles, buckets or even bathtubs. A medium-sized bathtub could be used to grow a variety of vegetables. All one needs to do is to fill it with soil and homemade compost. Alternatively, one can raise the nursery initially and then transplant the seedlings to other place having ample sunlight when of 4-6 leaf stage.

3. Make nutrient-rich soil at home: Nutrient-rich soil provides solid footing for the plant. The presence of diverse microbial life supports healthy growth of the plant. It is equally simple to prepare nutrient dense soil at home. Organic matter like tree leaves, kitchen waste, dried organic matter could be used. Put in the container and sufficiently water it. Add such organic matter daily to the container for best results. Add red earth soil to it from time to time. Keep the soil covered with dry crushed leaves layer. If the waste is too wet, dry leaves, soil and newspaper could be added to cover it. This helps reduce water loss due to evaporation. It also protects microbes and organisms in soil from direct radiation and provides food to them.

4. Liquid concentrate for watering: A liquid solution comprising cow urine, fresh cow dung, water and organic black jaggery could also be added for ensuring rapid germination of the seed. Mix one litre cow urine, one kg fresh cow dung and fifty grams of organic black jaggery to make the solution. Keep the mixture for three days and stir it 10-12 times daily. On the fourth day, mix one part of this solution with ten parts of water. This concentrated liquid solution can now be added to the soil on a regular basis.

5. Plants can be grown without soil: You would be amazed that kitchen gardening has become so user friendly that one can cultivate scores of vegetables and plants even without soil. Plants can be grown in water in a variety of other soilless media like vermiculite, perlite, sand and cocopeat, etc.

6. Use cocopeat for best results: Cocopeat is considered to be the most economic and versatile media sample for its high water-holding capacity. Cocopeat is a mixture of dust and non-useable fibre ends. Fibres around coconut kernel comprise one-third husk and remaining two-thirds consist of dusty contents rich in nutrients. The pots/containers should be filled with cocopeat and properly washed with water. The diluted nutrients should then be added to pots like water is added in sufficient quantity once daily as required. If one wants to avoid the formation of hazels of nutrients one can use good quality vermicompost along with cocopeat in the ratio of 1:3 (1 part vermicompost and 3 parts cocopeat).

The following are the benefits of cocopeat:

· 1 kg of cocopeat is capable of absorbing seven litres of water and can retain it for many months

· As cocopeat retains water for long duration, it reduces requirement for water and the effort to regularly water the plant. Water to the tune of 80 to 90 per cent is saved

· Hydroponic (soil-less) plants grown in cocopeat grow 50 per cent faster than they would grow in normal soil

· It also eliminates the requirement of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers as cocopeat is nutrient dense. Weed infestation is also checked through Cocopeat

· It provides proper aeration to the roots

· Use of Cocopeat eliminates soil borne diseases and insects

· It prevents runoff and wastage of nutrients in soil

· Cocopeat is conducive for growing more plants in small space as competition for water/nutrients is eliminated

· If cultivated on rooftops, hydroponic plants can even reduce building temperature by 3-5 degrees. They can even be used to fight global warming.

7. Spray plants with neem oil and soap water: spraying plants with neem oil from time to time is highly effective in preventing pest attacks. In the case of mealy bug attack (white cottony insects), use a simple soap solution for spraying on infected plants.

 8. Usage of thin bamboo sticks: Plants like climbers/vines can be supported on one side of roof/terrace through sticks and thin bamboos. Usage of bamboos also add to the overall décor of the garden

9. Spray water on plants: Occasionally wash the plants by spraying plain water to remove dust for better gas exchange and photosynthesis. A sprinkler could also be used.

10. Tips for growing veggies and fruits: One can start by growing basic vegetables like mint, basil, kadi patta, haldi, lemon grass, chillies and spinach. They are simplest to grow as they don’t require too much sunlight. For growing fruits, a grafted sapling is needed. Pomegranate, guava and pineapple should be grown on the terrace garden as it requires a lot of space. Once you get proficient in growing these veggies and fruits, you can try your hand in growing onions, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, radish and capsicum. Keep in mind that tomatoes need to be cultivated on a trellis.

Seasonal: Vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, green peas, radish, carrot, bottle gourd, fenugreek, cowpea, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, etc, could be grown in the colder climes. Vegetables like eggplant, coriander, tomato, chilly, spinach, bhindi (okra), Chinese vegetables, could be grown all the year round.

Harsh Kanchan, senior writer, The Art of Living Bureau of Communication. With inputs from Dr G.L. Bansal, hydroponics expert with The Art of Living.

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Spiritually Speaking

HOW YOGA CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER

A balanced combination of asanas, breathing techniques and meditation can not only fix your body and improve your mental health, but also unlock hidden talents and increase happiness levels.

Divya Kanchibhotla

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Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “union” or “coming together”. Dating back more than 5,000 years, it is a powerful practice that can create synergy in the mind-body complex. This synergy is important to maintain a healthy, happy life. Yoga postures or asanas are the most well known aspect of yoga, but it also consists of breathing exercises, meditation and knowledge of ethical living practices. Together, all these can help with mental and physical well-being.

In today’s world, if there is an omnipresent phenomenon that affects people from all nationalities, ages, gender and races, it is stress. Stress has slowly become a part of the current human experience. Stress can be triggered by an unpleasant conversation with a co-worker, an impending deadline, traffic, family pressures, worries about the future or just by listening to the news. Chronic low level stress is a way of life for most adults. Chronic stress keeps the sympathetic nervous system active and depresses the parasympathetic nervous system. This imbalance creates a multitude of health problems like insomnia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, obesity, mood disorders, digestive disorders and even cancer. According to a WHO report, these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are responsible for 41 million deaths, which is 71% of all deaths globally. The NCDs are difficult to manage or cure with just Western medicine. More people are now turning towards holistic techniques for well-being, and yoga is amongst the most popular. In 2015, the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that 21 million or 9.5% of all adults in the US used yoga as a complementary health approach. This number has grown since then as thousands of people are discovering the benefits of yoga each day.

Here are six ways in which yoga can change your life:

YOGA REDUCES STRESS

Yoga has been shown to increase heart rate variability (HRV). Increased HRV is a sign of increased relaxation and reduced stress. Yoga has also been shown to reduce cortisol, the hormone indicator for stress. The components of stretching, deep breathing and meditation relax the body and calm the mind. They bring one to the present moment and moderate the incessant flow of the thoughts which creates stress. Pranayama and breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya have also been shown to reduce stress significantly.

YOGA HELPS YOU SLEEP

With the constant pressure to manage responsibilities and be “on” at all times, most of us have trouble sleeping. Many illnesses and health problems are associated with insomnia, including cancer, chronic pain conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, and depression. Several studies have been conducted on the impact of yoga on sleep, including one by Harvard Medical School. Yoga has been shown to improve sleep, impacting its onset, duration and quality. Simple techniques like savasana and yoga nidra can be highly beneficial for sleep.

YOGA MAKES YOU YOUNGER

A recent study published in JAMA Dermatology showed that practising face yoga postures for 20 weeks made women look three years younger. The good news is that yoga also makes you younger at a deeper level. Yoga has been known to reduce inflammation and improve circulation in the body which slows the aging process.

YOGA MAKES YOU HAPPY

Yoga can boost feelings of happiness not only by making you feel like you did something good for yourself, but by also impacting the neurochemical pathways of happiness. Researchers at the Boston University Medical School found higher levels of the amino acid GABA in people after practising yoga for just one hour. People who suffer from depression and anxiety have very low levels of these amino acids in their bodies. Yoga is also shown to release oxytocin, which is an essential hormone for social bonding and happiness. When oxytocin levels are high, one feels a greater sense of connection with others and themselves. A study in India showed that yoga also increases levels of serotonin, the hormone responsible for making one feel happy and regulating mood. Thus, yoga impacts the brain in wonderful, positive ways and makes us healthy and happy!

YOGA KEEPS YOU HEALTHY MENTALLY & PHYSICALLY

An amazing thing about yoga is that it is highly customisable. There are postures and breathing techniques specifically for conditions like diseases and pregnancy and for purposes like increasing creativity and focus. A good yoga teacher can help you tailor your practice to focus on areas that are important to you. Current research has also found yoga to be an effective tool to reduce depression and anxiety. Yoga can also increase endurance for pain. Numerous studies have shown its benefit in managing NCDs like diabetes and obesity. In an increasingly stressful world, yoga is an easy, effective and economical way to keep oneself healthy.

YOGA MAKES YOU SMART AND CREATIVE

Yoga has been shown to activate the vagus nerve, which is the longest cranial nerve in our body and the command central for the parasympathetic nervous system. Stress and anxiety suppresses vagus nerve activity, which makes us react rather than respond, in a state of fear, fight or flight, and make more mistakes and rash decisions. Yoga activates the vagus nerve, allowing us to access parts of the brain responsible for creativity, higher cognition and logical thinking. Yoga relaxes the body and the brain, allowing us to take actions from a calm space and bringing forth hidden talents.

 A beautiful and effective combination of yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation can be found in the Art of Living Happiness Program. Taking a few minutes to practise these effective yet easy techniques can truly transform your life!

 The author is a senior meditation teacher and the Executive Director, Sri Sri Institute for Advanced Research.

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Spiritually Speaking

FACING FEAR ITSELF

We are living in strange times. But it is not the end. This
is only one more chapter in our human story. Do not take
Covid-19 the pandemic lightly, but also do not overly panic.

Prashant Solomon

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“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”

—US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his inaugural address in 1933.

We live in an age d o m i n a t e d b y fear. Whether now because of coronavirus or earlier because of the threats of nuclear war, terrorism, environmental destruction or economic depression; there is always something to be afraid of.

Whether it is on the global scale like the things mentioned above or it is at a more personal, family or local stage – fear is a constant in our lives. There is no point denying it but instead to overcome it by pulling the bull by its horns.

Courage is not the absence of fear but it is the management of fear by facing it head on and changing the mental conditions within us that have contributed to us feeling afraid. Everybody in this world has some fear or the other, but through a conscious effort we can overcome our fears in order to live better, peaceful and more productive lives.

Many times, the things that we are afraid of are just in our minds and the likelihood of these things happening is very rare. Let us look at some examples through a little mental exercise. Think of the worst fear you have. It could be anything. You could fear losing a loved one, or falling very ill, facing financial crisis or any other such fear you may have. Think about it in a calm and rational way. How often has it actually happened? Probably never or at the most rarely.

Let us take the coronavirus situation that we are all currently facing. Let us look at some numbers. According to JHU CSSE Data—the total number of cases of coronavirus in India since the start of the pandemic is 14.3 million out of which 12.5 million have recovered. The total number of deaths is approximately 174,000 since the beginning of the pandemic. That means of the people who have got it only 1.2 per cent have died. 98.8 percent of people have survived. The current population of India is about 1.36 billion, which means that 1 percent of the Indian population has gotten Covid-19 since last year. 99 percent of the population have not got it. About 174,000 deaths out of 1.36 billion people means that only 0.01 percent of our population died of coronavirus. 

Now let’s look at normal non-Covid deaths in India. According to Medindia data, 26,789 deaths occur daily in India, this means 9,778,073 deaths annually. So, in a span of more than a year 174,000 deaths happened because of Covid—this is only 1.7 % of the total annual deaths in India. This means that 98.3 percent of people who died in India in the last year, did not die of Covid-19. 

Having said this, we should take all proper precautions to save ourselves and others from getting Covid but we should not unnecessarily panic. Heart disease, cancer, road accidents, TB, suicide kill more people annually in India than Covid-19. 

What is it that we are afraid of? How likely is it to happen? What will happen if it happens? Most of the time we never get to see the things we are afraid of—either they never happen or even if they do they weren’t as bad as we thought it would be. But in either case, it is important to face the fear head on. There are many situations in life that we are afraid of. Most of these situations do not involve any kind of physical harm. There is a fear of failure or rejection.

Have you ever had a lingering anxiety or worry about having a particular conversation with someone about a ‘difficult’ topic? Have you wondered how someone would react if you said or did something in particular? There are many situations in life that we dread. We constantly keep imagining the worst possible outcome. The fear, anxiety, worry and dread keep increasing with each moment that the fear is not faced. But when you take a bold and courageous step and face your fears—stand up to that bully, have the difficult conversation, get that medical checkup done, take that plunge and start a new business and so on – when you actually do the thing you feared you will immediately feel a huge burden lifting off your shoulders. 

Some other ways to ease your fears are:

Deep and slow breathing whenever you are afraid. This will instantly make you feel better.

Ask yourself ‘What is the worst that can happen?’ Many times we are afraid of irrational situations that never happen.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. Sometimes we put off having a conversation or asking for something we want because of fear of rejection. Most of the time this is irrational and unwarranted because many times the rejection does not happen. But even if it does, ask yourself “So what?”. Pull up your socks and try again later

In relationships as well, we are afraid that we will lose our loved ones in some way either through death or an end of a relationship. In the former case, there is really nothing that we can do about it. People die when and how they are destined to die. You can only try your best to help them. In the case of an end of a relationship on the other hand, people are often afraid of losing their significant other through a variety of ways. The most common fear is that the other person will stop loving them. If this happens, it is not the end of the world. Life and love go on and you never know who you might meet in the future.

Keep yourself calm by having faith in a higher power that you invite into your life to give you what is best for you, irrespective of if it is the outcome you want. Have faith that a higher power resides within you and that it will always do what is best for you.

So yes, we are living in strange times. But it is not the end. This is only one more chapter in our human story. Do not take the pandemic lightly but also do not overly panic. Numbers are rising but they will subside when people start to take more precautions. Live your life with caution but not worry or panic. Remember you are not alone. We are all in this together and as FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Prashant Solomon is a Delhi based author and businessman.

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Spiritually Speaking

THE SUBTLE ART OF LIVING BEYOND YOUR NEEDS

Arun Malhotra

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The world is full of paradoxes. To understand them we have to learn the art of understanding life. Man wants to understand everything through logic, but logic is not understanding; it is the deception that something can be understood. 

Man has created a world around him and attached himself to it. He is like a spider which has spun a web and gotten caught in it. In fact, spiders are not so naïve, but man is. Man has spun this world around him over a thousand years of progress and become enamoured with it. It is like a cage he has created for safety and doesn’t have the courage to step out of it. It is like man digging his own grave.

A few have gotten out of the cage.  Like Buddha when he looked at the futility of a caged life. Man always wants to anchor his boat at the harbour to keep it safe, but boats aren’t made to be tied to the harbour.

Why is man incarnated? What does this entire existence want him to be? Man has to understand. Man is full of existence. He lives in it. No matter how he is embodied, he continues to be pure existence. He continues to live, which is what the Hindus call ‘sashvat jeevan’ (eternal life). But his mind thinks otherwise and that is when the world is created. There are as many worlds created as many men there are on earth.

The mind has created a very complex world around man. For thousands of years man has created such complexities which seem to have lent joy and colour to life but they have also brought him sorrow, misery and suffering. The body wants food, water, and shelter. Man is able to fulfil them easily. But in a complex world, needs become more complex – societal, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Man seems to be running to fulfil his needs all his life but they are never fulfilled.

Man wants to fill himself up with money, buy things to prove himself. But he remains unfulfilled always. The actual need of man is his existential need. Man comes filled with it. But when he lives in his mind, he finds himself emptied and tries to fill himself with worldly things.

Things are utilitarian and it is useless to possess them beyond a point. Living a life full of madness to earn money so that others might call you a rich man is a life lived in vain. Deep down you will always know your poverty for money led you to be rich. You wish to live in the fullness of the things that you have filled your house with. But in fact one lives in the emptiness of the house. Young people these days are embracing minimalism as the art of life and that is a good way for being in existence, away from the madness.

Whatever is needed by existence is the real need. Whatever that man has invented is merely for purposes of utility. Thanks to science, we have invented electricity, fast travel, light at night, and more information in megabytes. Suppose there is a calamity now and this fast travel, electricity and information and your condominiums and banks are lost. Will you live? Yes. Your body lives on food and water; they are priceless. Every person can find shelter; earth is a huge space. What else will you need then? Money and things have values ascribed to them by man but in a difficult situation, will such value remain?

The mind and the body are one. You exist in this body-mind as one. When you fear, you run, which is in fact your mind fears and your body runs. But both activities become one activity for the body-mind. Psychologists say that most diseases are psychological. When your mind begins thinking your body begins acquiring it. 

Both physics and religion agree that this world is made of time and space and the world is expanding, and that is how this world has come into being. We as the body-mind exist in space and time is the comprehension of the human mind. One type of time is that which is experienced psychologically, and the second type is calendar time, which humans use to calculate days, nights, months and years.

You exist and there is nothing to be done. When you become one with your existence and are fully conscious, your psychological and bodily needs become less prominent. Your whole body-mind and consciousness become a part of existence.

Buddha became one with existence for six years. Silently. His needs died out. Human needs are relative. Life is relative. You are neither body nor mind. But man is living under the false ‘ego’ created by his mind, which has created needs which will continue to make him miserable.

Sitting silently in existence, being one with it, that is the art of life. It happens when you understand the futility of your needs. But all your life you keep on trying to fulfil the hopes that have created this world. The wish that you want to acquire this world. But in the end, nothing comes into your hands. So, sit silently, beyond body, beyond mind, beyond breath, beyond everything around you. Sit silently to know that you are not only part of existence but you are the existence itself.

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

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Analysing dharma and religion

Prarthna Saran

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There are a lot of misconceptions about these two words—dharma and religion. They are used very carelessly and therefore can, and do, invoke wrong meanings and even dangerous ideas. A misinterpretation of these words can completely change perceptions. On deep thinking one realises very clearly that any religion is not about God really, it is an institutionalised set of beliefs only meant for human beings to practice. For what? Exactly, this is the question. If these beliefs are meant for the betterment of all human beings, then they should necessarily be the same universally! But we sadly notice that there is something in the very nature of man-made religion that is divisive. A religion excludes all that it is not, while dharma includes every form of life. Noted scholar Badrinath Chaturvedi in his book Dharma, India and the World Order, writes, “All social disorders originate primarily in the minds of men… The real problem is that of conveying a fundamental concept of one culture to another.” And in doing that some loss of meaning always occurs due to differences in languages and cultural beliefs.

The range of ideas that this word dharma represents is not conveyed accurately by any word in English. There is an absence of any intelligible term in English that could in essence cover the entire range of ideas in all the subtle nuances in the gambit of this word Dharma.   Any Sanskrit dictionary gives meanings running into pages. Marco Pallis, a scholar on Buddhism, states in his essay on ‘A Buddhist Spectrum’, “The word ‘dharma’ which the Indian traditions have rendered familiar has no really adequate counterpart in the terminologies of the European languages.” This is a huge drawback we face in trying to convey to the Western world the range of nuances this word evokes in the Hindu mind. There is stree dharma, pati dharma, Rajya dharma, putra dharma, Sachiv dharma, Purohit dharma, and oh, the list seems endless. Roughly translated as whatever is the best possible noble duty for the benefit of all that one should indulge in, open to interpretations and modifications according to time, place, person and situations. Notice the pliability and the freedom of choice given to man, the openness of mind and the magnanimity of acceptance. This is dharma. It is not a set of unchangeable, hard and fast set of rules. One can’t paint all with the same brush.

The religions of the world stick to their self-created ideologies, condemning those held by any other belief systems, and try deception, seduction, allurements and even violence to impose their beliefs on others. Some even profess to have a religious sanction for doing so. The concept of dharma is universal and never mandated. It is not given out by somebody as compulsory dictates or prohibitory orders. There is no programming. You live according to your own understood set of values, without imposing the same on anyone. In dharma a high value is placed on respecting the dignity and free will of the human intellect.

Yes, dharmic actions and adharmic actions are based on disciplines and values imposed on oneself. There are boundaries to keep unruly acts in check. Of course, these follow a universal matrix of values where the cardinal rule is: ‘I do not want to get hurt, nor do I want to hurt others.’ There is no indoctrination in dharma, it follows the simple logic of whatever is beneficial to mankind universally. It is open to independent interpretation according to the needs of the hour and the given situation. Unless there is a universal ease of application how can it be open to interpretation? Dharma doesn’t come loaded with software. It doesn’t have any Windows. Almost all religions rest on non-confirmed, non-verifiable beliefs. So, what is the ongoing shooting match about? A fight for that which may or may not be true!

Dharma gives freedom to all, to believe in or discard with impunity what his or her intellect judges as wrong or right, without imposing it on others. It is not a preset glove of values, one size fits all. Whether it is one God or twenty, whether it is a form or formless, man, woman, child, animal, half-man and half-animal, river, hill, plant or tree, stone or wood, dharma should encompass and embrace all ideas of divinity universally. Prayer in any language, by anyone, done in any place, to any form one considers as holy, is acceptable to the universal idea of dharma.

Dharma of anything is its essence or its essential quality without which that thing loses all meaning, in fact ceases to exist as itself. For example, any white translucent cubical crystals could be anything else but not sugar if they do not taste sweet. So, sweetness is the dharma of sugar. Similarly, the essential life force that pervades the entire world of cognitive life in the whole universe is the dharma of all existence, and it is to that divine factor that makes life possible, that we owe obeisance. It may take any form of our man-made fancy, but is in effect that sacred power, that supreme intelligence because of which existence exists, call him Ishwar or Allah, Buddha or Mahaveer, it is the true dharma of all beings.

Prarthna Saran is president, Chinmaya Mission, Delhi.

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