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The four Sampradayas: Main chains of disciplic succession

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There are four main sampradayas or chains of disciplic succession descending down through the important acharyas, or spiritual preceptors. These are also the main schools of thought in the Vedic tradition. Thus, anyone should belong or be a part of one of these sampradayas if they are going to be considered authorised in their Vedic teachings or practice. These sampradayas are the following: 

1. Sri sampradaya, where the main exponent is Ramanujacharya, propagated the doctrine called visista advaita, or oneness with varieties of the Lord and His energies. This is said to have originated from Sri or Goddess Lakshmi.

2. Brahma sampradaya, where the main exponent is Madhvacharya, propagated the doctrine called visista dvaita, or duality with varieties. This is said to have originated from Lord Brahma. 

3. Rudra sampradaya, the main exponent is Vishnu Swami, who propagated the doctrine called suddha dvaita, or pure transcendental duality; Vallabha Acharya is also a branch of this sampradaya. This is said to have originated from Lord Shiva. 

4. Hamsa, Catuhsana, Kumara or Sanat  sampradaya, the main exponent is Nimbarka, who propagated the doctrine called dvaita advaita or simultaneous oneness and duality. This is said to have originated from Lord Brahma’s sons, the Kumaras or which Sanat Kumara is one. 

RAMANUJA

The main exponent of the Sri sampradaya, propagated the doctrine called visista-advaita, “oneness with varieties of the Lord and His energies”.

His school is probably the most famous in south India and has various branches, all characterised by a particular tilaka (a mark on the forehead made with sacred clay and natural colors).

Ramanuja was deeply influenced by the devotional poetry of the south Indian mystics known as Alvars, and resided as a pujari or priest in the temple of Ranganatha or Srirangam (near modern Tirucchirapalli).

This philosophy states that the jiva  (the individual soul) and the jagat  (the material universe) depend on Isvara (the Supreme sa-guna Brahman, or Bhagavan), the only Reality. According to this philosophy, the individual soul can be either baddha (conditioned) or mukta (liberated). Jagat, the material world, is real and eternal, although manifested and withdrawn in cycles, meaning it is temporary.

This philosophical system is based on pramana  (evidence), explained as pratyaksa  (direct perception), anumana  (deduction), and sabda  (evidence from  shastra or scripture, guru and sadhu). The eternal and natural knowledge of the baddha soul is covered by ignorance, while the liberated soul resides in Vaikuntha. The difference is total surrender (prapatti) in bhakti  (love and devotion) to God.

God manifests in five forms as Para (the transcendental form), Vyuha (the divine manifestations that originate Reality), Vibhava (the avataras), Archa (the Deity form) and Antaryami (residing in the heart of each living entity and each atom).

Ramanuja wrote Vedartha sangraha (on the Vedas), Sri bhasya (on Vedanta), Bhagavad gita bhasya, Vedanta sara  (a summary of Vedanta), Vedanta dipa (describing the subjects of Vedanta), Saranagati gadhya (prayers favoring surrender to Narayana), Sri Ranga gadhya (prayers in glorification of the holy city of Sri Ranga), Sri Vaikuntha gadhya (prayers glorifying Vaikuntha, the spiritual world), Nitya grantha (a manual for daily worship and rituals, including funeral and birth ceremonies).

Introductory works to his philosophy have been written by Srinivasa dasa (Yatindra mata dipika) and Bucchi Venkatacharya (Vedanta Karivadi). He founded seventy-four centers of Sri Vaishnavism and initiated seven hundred sannyasis (renounced monks), twelve thousand brahmacharis, and thousands of householders, including kings and wealthy landowners.

Ramanuja is said to have visited Puri during the reign of Choda Ganga Deva. Tradition says that he tried to convince the priests of Jagannatha temple to stop the tantric style of puja they were following. However, while he was sleeping in the night he was carried away to the bank of river Bhargavi by Garuda himself. He failed to introduce his worship system also in Trivandrum (the temple of Ananta Padmanabha), but he succeeded in Tirupati, substituting the texts known as the Vaikhanas agamas with the Pancaratra agamas. In Puri he founded the Emar Math.

MADHVA

The main exponent of Brahma sampradaya, born in 1238 (some say in 1199), propagated the philosophy called Dvaita or Visistha Dvaita (“duality with differences”, or “different differences”). The center of the Madhva school is Udupi, the birthplace of Madhva.

According to this philosophy, there is a substantial distinction between Isvara (God), jiva (individual soul) and jagat (material energy). Isvara is always independent (sva-tantra) while the jivas (souls), prakriti (material energy),  kala (time), karma (reactions to activities), etc., are dependent realities (para-tantra). Such differences are elaborated in five categories (pancha-bheda) as between Isvara and jiva, Isvara and jada (prakriti),  jiva and jiva,  jiva  and  jada, jada and  jada  (or between an object and another). 

These five differences are eternal, although jagat  can be sometimes manifest and sometimes not manifest.  Jivas are also eternally categorised in three groups as sattvik (who can attain mukti or liberation), rajasik (destined to remain in samsara or cycles of birth and death, but with the possibility of making progress) and  tamasik  (hopelessly destined to hell or darkness). Another perspective on the various differences explained by Madhva is the sajatiya, vijatiya and svagata: respectively the differences between different categories of objects, the differences between objects in the same category, and the differences within the parts of one specific object.

The collection of the 37 books written by Madhva (called sarva-mula) is divided in four groups:

1. prasthana traya, including two commentaries on Bhagavad-Gita, ten on Upanishads, four on Vedanta sutras, and one on Rig Veda.

2. dasa prakarana, ten short books explaining the points of Madhva’s doctrine; the most important is the Vishnu tattva vinirnaya, detailing the characteristics of the atman(individual soul) and establishing Vishnu’s supremacy.

3. smriti prasthana, commentaries on Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata.

4. pomes and essays about rituals and sannyasa (renounced order of life).

NIMBARKA

The main exponent of the Kumara or Chatuhsana sampradaya (this knowledge was transmitted to the four Kumaras by the Hamsa avatara), who lived in the 13th century and propagated the doctrine called dvaita advaita, “simultaneous oneness and duality”. 

Nimbarka presents himself as a disciple of Narada Muni and says that for a period of his life he lived in Naimisharanya.

This philosophical school has centers in the area of Mathura-Vrindavana (Nimbarka was born near Govardhana from a family of Telugu brahmanas), Rajasthan and Bengal, and identifies the Supreme Brahman as the divine couple of Radha and Krishna.

The identification between the savisesha (with form) and nirvisesha (without form) aspects of Bhagavan (the Supreme Person) is called svabhavika-bheda-abheda, “natural difference and oneness”, as he sees no contradiction. The two categories of jivas as baddhas (materially conditioned) and muktas (liberated) are temporary as a baddha jiva can become a mukta through the path to realization or sadhana, which is bhakti (the path of devotion) that includes both karma (the knowledge of action and reaction and becoming free from karma) and jnana (cultivated knowledge). The first stage is karma (the ritualistic process), the second is jnana (the cultivation of knowledge), the third is dhyana (meditation), the fourth is prapatti (surrender), and the fifth is guru prapatti (complete dedication to the instructions of the guru).

His most famous works are the Vedanta Parijata Saurabha (commentary to the Vedas and Upanishads), Sadachar prakash (a treatise on Karma kanda), a Gita bhasya(commentary on the Bhagavad-gita), Rahasya sodasi (explanation of the Sri Gopala mantra), Krishna stava raja (establishing the supreme position of Krishna), Prapanna kalpa valli (explanation of Mukunda mantra), Prata smarana stotram (a devotional poem), Kamadhenu Dasa sloki (“ten nectarine verses” about the meditation on Radha Krishna).

VISHNUSWAMI

The fourth Vaishnava acharya, Vishnusvami, representative of the Rudra sampradaya (who worship the avatara of God known as Narasimhadeva) is less known than the other three. 

Actually there is some confusion about him, as it seems there have been three Vishnu Svamis: Adi Vishnu Svami, Raja Gopala Vishnu Svami, and Andhra Vishnu Svami.

The emphasis of this school, called suddha-advaita (pure monism), is on the concept of lila or the pastimes by which God can be transcendental and immanent according to His will. Thus everything is pure, including the material universe, that is created by God and intimately related to Him. In his method of worship, Vishnusvami gives preeminence to Rama, the previous avatara before Krishna.

Vishnusvami visited Puri and founded there the Jagannatha Vallabha Math in the gardens of the temple, where Ramananda Raya also established his spiritual school.

Among the famous followers of this sampradaya we can mention Sridhara Svami.

VALLABHA BHATTA ACHARYA

He appeared in 1479 in south India and disappeared in 1531. He detached himself from the tradition of Vishnusvami and started his own school, which is prominent today in Mathura-Vrindavana. In his school there are no sannyasis (renounced monks) but only householders. 

Vallabha travelled extensively in India to engage in philosophical debates. He wrote the Tattvartha dipa nibandha (divided in three parts, one about Bhagavad-gita, one about Srimad-Bhagavatam, and the third a comparison between philosophies), Anubhasya (non completed commentary on Vedanta sutra), Purva mimamsa bhasya (commentary on Jaimini’s karma kanda philosophy), Subodhini (non completed commentary on Bhagavatam), and the Sodasa grantha (16 books containing the essence of his teachings).

For Vallabha, the realisation of the Para Brahman, the complete (purna) aspect of the Brahman, can be achieved only through pushti (nourishment) or total surrender to God who blesses the soul with His grace. In his philosophy there are different categories of jivas: suddha, samsarin and mukta.

Vallabha Acharya probably came to Puri the first time in 1489 as a young boy, but returned in 1519 for his preaching. He was proud to be a great scholar and started a Bhakti Marga center in Varanasi. He contacted Lord Chaitanya in Prayaga and was sent to debate with Advaita Acharya. 

So he started to criticise the Sankirtana (congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names) movement by objecting that, if the devotees were worshiping Lord Krishna in the madhurya rasa (mood of loving exchanges) they should not chant His name, as a faithful wife is not supposed to call her husband confidentially by his name, but always address him with a respectful title. Advaita Acharya quickly silenced him by saying “on His order, we are doing”. The point is that if the husband specifically requests the wife to call him intimately by his name, a faithful and loving wife should do so happily to please her husband. Similarly, Lord Krishna has ordered all of us to chant His name intimately, so as faithful wives and servants of the Lord, we should do so.

Another day, in the presence of Lord Chaitanya, Vallabha Bhatta boasted that his own commentaries were different from those of Sridhara Svami. Sri Chaitanya quickly rebuked him. It is said that in the end Vallabha Bhatta was convinced of the superiority of the teachings of Lord Chaitanya and from the worship of Bala Gopala was initiated into madhurya rasa by Gadadhara Pandita.

The son of Vallabha Bhatta, Vittala, adopted Gita Govinda as his text for teaching Sanskrit in his school.

The preaching of Vallabha Bhatta made the worship of Bala Gopala popular in all Hindu homes. His philosophy distinguished the two different roads in Vishnu worship as Maryada bhakti (or devotion in respect), where God is worshiped as the Supreme Brahman and Pusthi bhakti (or devotion in intimacy).

SRI CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also strongly opposed Shankara’s Mayavada philosophy of Adwaita and established the principle that took the previousacharya’s teachings to a new level, called  achintya-bhedabheda-tattva. This specified that the Supreme and the individual soul are inconceivably and simultaneously one and different. This means that the Supreme and the jiva souls are the same in quality, being eternally spiritual, but always separate individually. The jivas are small and subject to being influenced by the material energy, while the Supreme is infinite and always above and beyond the material manifestation.

Sri Chaitanya taught that the direct meaning of the Vedic shastras is that the living entities are to engage in loving devotional service, bhakti, to the Supreme, Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Through this practice there can develop a level of communication between God and the individual by which God will lovingly reveal Himself to those who become qualified. In this understanding, the Vedic theistic philosophy of Vaishnavism reached its climax. Thus, Sri Chaitanya started what could be called a new philosophy that perfected the previously developed schools of thought, or united the basic principles of the other sampradayas. 

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who was established by Vedic scripture as the most recent incarnation of God, did not become much involved in writing. In fact, He only wrote eight verses called the Shikshastaka, but His followers compiled extensive Sanskrit literature that documented His life and fully explained His teachings. However, it is one of His followers, Baladeva Vidyabushana, who wrote a commentary on the Vedanta-sutras called Govinda-bhasya, meaning it is considered the commentary as given by the deity of Govinda.

The writer is Iskcon,Inc Communication Director and SM IT head.

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Spiritually Speaking

What’s wrong with humanity?

Arun Malhotra

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Man has benevolently lent himself a tag of beautiful word ‘humanity’. But deep down man is a brutal animal who is insensitive, brutish, and ruthless. Man is worse than wild beast. But he considers himself much higher in evolution than animals. Even to equate men with animals will be a cruelty to animals. Animals are innocent and godly. Man is cunning, clever and deceptive. Animals don’t make wars and exterminate their own species. Man has created nuclear bombs to wipe out humanity and the living from the earth. Why man is so restless, agonised, fearful and insecure. Animals don’t make laws to prevent themselves from killing their own species as only a few carnivores kill for eating that too after weeks of fasting. Animals breed as per natural order. Man thinks of sexuality all the time twenty-four hours year-round. In reality, man is suffering from, neurosis, pain, anxieties, agony, anger, violence, conflicts and fears. It seems something is wrong with humanity.

Animal has fear anger and aggression. Man has fear anger and aggression too. Animals when confronted or attacked by others will be aggressive or fearful. Man is aggressive and fearful simply by running through stored memories without having confronted real aggression.

Mind is bred to be secure and protected. Human mind has been burdened to collect all kinds of securities but in the end, there will be insecurities. Therefore, when the mind confronts fear, anxiety, greed, or violence, it registers it forever in the memory. The memory trap will always make him fearful without the threat being there.

That is when the man has started to suffer. Man is frightened by the insecurities that are making him insecure. Insecurities that have not even been bred might hurt him in future because humanity is frightened of humanity. Animals have vulnerabilities and they accept them and go beyond them. Man doesn’t. Some 10000 years ago man was fearful of the wild beast. Scientists say that fight or flight mode was born then. Either he fought or ran away. Back then 99% was wildlife and man was less than 1% in the population. Today man along the animal man eats is 99% and wildlife is reduced to 1%. But man is frightened even more. Today man’s mind is searching to get over his artificial insecurities which are psychological sufferings. He lives in cities, away from wildlife but is frightened like never before.

Man has been living against nature. Man is living against his biological nature. Man’s society has bred a state of being which does not allow him to live naturally. Humanity has bred a complex society that has built complex habitats that do not let him live naturally on the earth. Animals live naturally. Therefore they are innocent, gullible, saintly and godly. Man is burdened by the conditioning that is destined to make him someone else than his natural being—not himself. Society has bred deep neurosis of comparisons that has bred a rat race and man is running for something that is not there.

Man did not want to be hurt or eaten by the wild beast. But today the wild beasts are not there but taken over by bosses, spouses, parents, teachers, and peers. Man has created an artificial perception of hurt which is not real. Adolf Hitler thought himself to be hurt and wrought havoc on humanity. Therefore, man wants to grab power so that others may not hurt him which means he can hurt others.

Psychological sufferings are caused by the conditioning that mind has begotten for thousands of years. Conditioning is when you have begotten a system of life to follow without learning from life. Mind has been conditioned by cultures, civilisations, religions, Gods, regions, nationalities, and ethnicities. Therefore, you feel hurt when someone speaks against your culture, religion, region, nationality or against your conditioned appearance that you have created by your thoughts. Conditioning becomes your appearance which is not the real appearance but it hurts psychologically.

You belong to a big reputed family of an ethnicity. You may believe in a God that is described in Hebrew, English, German, Sanskrit, Chinese or Japanese. You may have beliefs in a set of religions or a region or another set of religions or a region. You may come from a background and environment. Your mind considers yourself far more superior as it is conditioned by factors that form your appearance in your mind. When someone talks against your beliefs, you feel hurt. All such divisions have led humanity to wars. As you think that you are your conditioning. Not that you know that you are your conditioning. But you are an accumulation of your thoughts. Your thoughts drive out of your memories. Thoughts of what you think of yourself are the thoughts that are what you think you are. Thus you often do self-pity and feel victimised psychologically. You have built a centre with your thoughts that you have been assigned a name. You believe in that thought of belief. The thought of belief in your name is your ego and you have knit your world around it. The self-image that you have created is attacked and you are hurt. Sufferings are there as we have created a centre which is outside us and it is a borrowed centre. Like you are living on an artificially assigned image of yourself that world identifies you with. And when the image is not accepted by others it pains you psychologically.

Different cultures assign names of Gods to newborns to build their self-image and man is known by that image. Society lends him a character and he creates the self-image of that character the type of boundaries that he is distinctly higher than others and conducts himself within the boundaries of the character. Thus he suffers psychologically. Although everyone is unique and no two humans or animals are similar but conditioning is a kind of software that blinds him by blind practices that does not let man learn from his fears, agony, anger, and anxieties to be able to transcend them.

Society wants him to become someone higher. His family wants him to become someone higher and he invests a lifetime into it to become what he is not and suffers. Society is a kind of escape from yourself when you are not able to learn from your observations so society rules and perceptions take over you. As many divisions of region, religion, ethnicity, gods, and nationalities as many wars, conflicts and violence would wreak on earth as mind wants division. Man is bred by division as mind is searching for security and division is security.

Animals don’t register as hurt and why do men register as hurt. Buddha had said, ‘there are sufferings and there is a way to go out of it.’ One has to learn to observe fears, agonies, anxieties and conflicts to be out of them. Hurts get accumulated as we don’t learn from them but follow them blindfolded which makes us suffer a lifetime. Whenever you are stuck in memories or beliefs or images or society you will be suffering tremendously.

Don’t invest in your self-image. Your self-image is not you and is artificial. You may need a code to be identified in the society that is good enough. But begin to learn and don’t throw your fears into dark corners. Buddha says to use your awareness like a guard to learn from every abnormality that enters you and that is the way to be out of that. That is the way not to be hurt.

The author is a spiritual teacher. He can be reached at arunavlokitta@gmail.com

Don’t invest in your self-image. Your self-image is not you and is artificial. You may need a code to be identified in the society that is good enough. But begin to learn and don’t throw your fears into dark corners. Buddha says to use your awareness like a guard to learn from every abnormality that enters you and that is the way to be out of that. That is the way not to be hurt.

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Spiritually Speaking

The anger and gentleness of Lord Narasimha

The form of Shri Narasimha shows us that even though the form of God may not always meet our expectations (even the gods and angels were bewildered at the sight of Narasimha) still He can come in any form He wishes, whether He conforms to our personal notions of God or not.

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There are many incarnations of God, what makes the Narasimha avatar so special? And why do the followers of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada always sing two songs about Narasimha after every aarti in every one of their temples all over the world?

Well, perhaps the most important reason is that the founder and spiritual master of the worldwide Hare Krishna movement asked them to, and in one sense, that is reason enough. As disciples, they did not get to choose which items of sadhana-bhakti were meant to be performed; rather they were given selected songs and rituals as part of the spiritual master’s instructions.

Very early on, he told them that these two songs are for the protection of the guru and for the protection of the guru’s mission, the movement he started to spread bhakti around the world. And ever since then, his followers sing those songs and worship Narasimha.

The form of Narasimha—the ‘man-lion’ or ‘one with the form of both man and lion’—came once only, and that for a very short time compared to other avatars. Narasimha outwitted Hiranyakashipu, who thought that he had been blessed to never die in each one of a series of eventualities. Thus His appearance shows us that the soul can never outwit God—even when that soul has been blessed to become the most powerful. Power has a distant origin in God Himself, and because God is completely free to do anything He likes, He can also strip a soul of all power too.

The form of Shri Narasimha shows us that even though the form of God may not always meet our expectations (even the gods and angels were bewildered at the sight of Narasimha) still He can come in any form He wishes, whether He conforms to our personal notions of God or not. He is always capable of surprising His dear devotees—and often at the most surprising times.

The timing was everything for the incarnation of Narasimha, since He appeared in the world just when His devotee needed Him the most. Hiranyakashipu had reached the end of his patience after all his attempts to kill his son Prahlada had been thwarted. In desperation, he shouted out to the boy the famous question: “Where is the God who protects you?” to which the lad replied: “He is everywhere, father.” “Is He in this pillar?” “Yes, father.”

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna explains the vision of such a great devotee as Prahlada: “For one who sees Me everywhere, and sees everything in Me; I am never lost to Him, and he is never lost to Me.” Krishna is the protector of those who have adjusted their consciousness to that of being protected by Him. And when the same Lord comes as Narasimha, He is coming to fulfil His promise to His devotee who fully expected His protection.

The Vaishnava acaryas have commented that Narasimha is paradoxical, in that He is both the very personification of anger, yet the very emblem of gentleness. They have cited the natural example of the lioness, which can fight a maddened elephant with all the fury of a wild cat, yet the lioness can take a few minutes out in the middle of the battle to suckle her cubs. Therefore, say the saints, no one is as furious as Narasimha, yet there is none so gentle. When Lord Narasimha appears from the stone pillar, one of His eyes is filled with rage, while the other is looking with love towards His devotee Prahlada. The sharp nails on His hands are just like steel chisels, and they dispatch the demon very quickly, but the palms of the same hands are as soft as lotus flowers.

Through coming to save His devotee in this way, the Lord demonstrates that He is saulabhya or accessible, to even a child who loves Him; and by removing the cruel Hiranyakashipu He shows that there can be no obstacles on the path of bhakti for one who truly takes shelter of Him. Thus He is known as Bhakta-pala, the friend of the devotee, and Bhakti-vigna-vinasana, or one who removes all obstacles on the path of devotional service.

He appeared at twilight, neither day nor night, and therefore the Vaishnavas observe fasting up until this time.

“I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Narasimha, the source of all power. O my Lord who possesses nails and teeth just like thunderbolts, kindly vanquish our demon-like desires for fruitive activities in this material world. Please appear in our hearts and drive away our ignorance so that by Your mercy we may become fearless in the struggle for existence in this material world. May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living entities become calm by practising Bhakti Yoga, for by accepting devotional service they will think of each other’s welfare. Therefore let us all engage in the service of the supreme transcendence, Lord Krishna, and always remain absorbed in thought of Him.” Srimad Bhagavatam 5.18.8-10

The writer is Iskcon, Inc Communication Director and SM IT head.

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SOCIAL ACTIVISM AND SPIRITUALITY

Judy Johnson

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“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

—Lilla Watson

As a social activist I used to believe that I needed to name and confront the wrongs in the world. That if I did not agitate against wrongdoing, I was being complicit with power structures that oppressed and suppressed people. This belief was fueled by a strong dose of anger, outrage, and fear. And it often put me on the opposite side of the fence to many people I perceived as doing wrong. But I was comfortable there as I felt I had the moral high ground.

Current change movements tend to pit one side against another, heightening hyperbole with exaggerated claims to put one’s cause forward. The world does not need more of this. The willingness to stop taking sides is heroic.

Having found meditation with the Brahma Kumaris, my approach to changing the world has been transformed. I am no longer dependent on rumbling and agitating. Getting angry and outraged, opinionated, and polarized are no longer fuel for me. My focus has shifted to the human spirit with an understanding that a person’s state of consciousness and the behaviour it produces is at the root of the world’s problems.

Now, I consider meditation a form of inner activism. It is the single-minded focus to activate the qualities inside of me that are needed for a better world. True activism begins when I understand that the change we wish to create in our world must first begin inside human consciousness.

The inner activist has a benevolent and powerful desire for an outcome that benefits everyone. This prevents falling into the rhetoric of the polarizing energies of right and wrong. I am aware that we are all tied in the bonds of lower conscious energies such as greed, fear, and anger. What binds me also binds you.

Bringing God’s peaceful loving energy to co-create a community of cooperation, harmony and mutual respect is what the world needs now. The world needs us to sit together and look at the big picture view of our situation so we can see how each one’s liberation is intricately intertwined with another’s. With meditation, spiritual study and a connection to the Divine, the inner activist makes the valiant effort to be the kind of person who can sit next to anyone on a bench, and genuinely feel from the heart, this is my brother, no matter what they have done.

In a world of increasing diversity of ideas and opinions, inner activism is a way to create unity at the deepest level, a unity of intention. The energy of this unity will uplift humankind.

Together, side by side, we can envision a beautiful world that works for everyone and do the personal work to activate the inner qualities that befit a better world.

Let us move from protest to providing good wishes. And from the compulsion to comment on every wrong to offering a measure of calm, and caring cooperation.

When I change, the world changes.

Judy Johnson coordinates the activities of the Brahma Kumaris in Atlantic Canada.

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Spiritually Speaking

COMFORT AND HAPPINESS ARE NOT THE SAME

B.K. Dr Savita

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Are comfort and happiness the same? We may experience comfort when we are physically and mentally at ease. Such an experience makes us happy. And we are certainly comfortable with being happy, except when in the presence of those who are deeply unhappy or disapprove of our happiness.

Many material objects and facilities are a source of comfort—be it a cosy chair, air conditioning or comfort foods.

Comfort experienced through such things, being dependent on external factors, is short-lived. If these facilities or objects are no longer available, we may stop feeling comfortable. And if we become used to certain comforts, we suffer when we lose them.

Take the case of someone who is accustomed to having everything done for him by others. If such a person has to fend for himself one day, he will struggle to accomplish the simplest of tasks and may experience considerable grief as a result. Comforts can, in this way, make us complacent, incompetent and weak.

The same is true of mental comforts. We feel comfortable in the company of certain kinds of people or in certain places or situations. When we are not among those we like, or in an unfamiliar place or situation, we may become uneasy.

The feeling of comfort, thus, is dependent on a host of factors. And anything based on external things and conditions that are beyond our control cannot be experienced at will and will not be permanent.

Moreover, if we make the mistake of becoming dependent on such means of comfort, we are setting ourselves up for sorrow.

Happiness, which can be a product of comfort, is not so fickle. It is an experience of inner joy that has little to do with what is outside.

Happiness results from how we perceive people and situations. Unlike comfort, we can experience happiness by choice.

If we decide to be happy, we will see what is good in other people and in situations. Even if someone or something is not the way we want them to be, we can look at their positive side and stay content and happy.

Such an attitude comes easily if we recognise the fact that getting upset does not change anything. Instead, it only makes us feel bad and ruins our day.

Along with this, when we understand that staying happy is what we want anyway, and that it is the best way to deal with all that life throws at us, we will develop the ability to take tests, failures and losses in our stride with a smile.

Happiness is the best nourishment for the soul. A happy person makes light of the heaviest task, while one who is glum will make a mountain of a molehill and labour under its weight, ending up tired, frustrated, angry and disappointed.

Comforts may abandon us at any time, but happiness is our own property—something that we can generate from within, and which no one and nothing can take away from us.

It is up to us to choose whether we want to be content with just temporary feelings of comfort or to enjoy real happiness all the time.

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

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The dynamics of peace

B.K. Asha

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Peace is sought by all, individually as well as collectively. When people talk of peace, they do not just mean the absence of conflict, but a condition in which everyone is free from the fear of violence and there is harmony in society.

But in the world today, conflicts are so common that the mere cessation of hostilities is celebrated as an achievement. In some parts of the world, centuries-old prejudices, grievances, and hatred fuel intermittent conflict and have created such mindsets that people are not even interested in pursuing lasting peace. They are content to ensure that they have the means to deter their enemies and retaliate against their attacks.

On the other hand, there are countries that have not seen a military conflict for centuries. But do their citizens live in peace?

Stress is very much a part of life for people in these countries, as it is with almost everyone today. Accidents, suicides, homicides and other crimes do take place in these countries and their citizens suffer from diseases just as people elsewhere.

Prosperity, political stability and other external factors do not bring peace. Peace can be experienced only when the mind is not disturbed, distracted or influenced in any way by anything, whether good or bad. In such a state, the mind becomes still, and one is able to observe how it works.

Silence enables one to look clearly into the deep recesses of the mind and watch the subtle mechanisms of thought and feeling work. On doing this, one realises that it is vices that rob us of peace. So long as one is under the influence of any vice, one cannot experience peace for long.

Greed, anger, hatred, lust, jealousy, ego, attachment… all pull the mind in various directions, creating desires, distorting our perspective and impairing our judgement. One can become a slave to vices without realising it, until one begins to wonder why one cannot experience lasting peace.

All the ills that plague the world can be traced to one or the other vice, or combinations of them. The constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation states that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

Not only wars; crime, corruption, inequality, and even diseases begin in our minds.

These evils are the results of thoughts triggered by vices. For example, inequality exists, and is growing every year, because those who have far more wealth than they will ever need are unwilling to share it with the less fortunate. It may be because of greed, selfishness, miserliness, lack of compassion, or callous disregard for fellow humans. None of these reasons is counted as a virtue.

We can experience lasting peace only by freeing ourselves of the influence of vices. For that we have to first know, and remember, who we are. When we identify the self with the body, we see ourselves in terms of our nationality, race, gender, or socio-economic status. We get influenced by these aspects of our life and our thinking and behaviour become skewed. Just as an actor has an identity of his own that is separate from the roles he plays, we have a true, eternal identity that is beyond the labels by which we define ourselves.

We are spiritual beings, or souls, and peace, purity, love and truth are our innate qualities. The soul, in its original state, is pure, peaceful, loving, and truthful. When we keep remembering who we are and the qualities we possess, they begin to emerge from under the influences that had suppressed them. We then begin to experience these virtues and express them in our words and actions. This is how knowledge of the true self changes our life.

But since there are a lot of challenges in the world out there and many things pull the mind in different directions, it is not easy to remain focused on subtle spiritual truths. To acquire the inner strength to resist distractions, we need to connect with a source of power. The biggest such source is the Supreme Soul, the father of all souls. When souls remember Him, they receive His powers, and regular practice of such remembrance, which is called Rajyoga meditation, makes the souls immune to external influences.

Such souls naturally experience and spread peace. When more and more souls do this, peaceful communities are created. This is the basis for establishing a peaceful world order.

B.K. Asha is Director of the Brahma Kumaris’ Om Shanti Retreat Centre in Gurugram, Haryana.

Prosperity, political stability and other external factors do not bring peace. Peace can be experienced only when the mind is not disturbed, distracted or influenced in any way by anything, whether good or bad. In such a state, the mind becomes still, and one is able to observe how it works.

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The play of Gods

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

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Life is a complex interplay between the seen and the unseen, the subtle and the gross. Nature has her own laws and nothing fructifies before its time.

As we invoke and celebrate the presence of the Divine Mother during Navratri, I am reminded of an incident related to the Ayodhya Ram Mandir.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the devotees.

Back in 2001, when I returned to India after speaking at the World Economic Forum, Atal Behari Vajpayee ji requested me to step in and initiate talks with the stakeholders in the Ayodhya dispute. At his behest, I met a number of prominent Muslim leaders and other influential members of the community, including Saeed Naqvi, AIMPLB member Kamal Farooqui, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar. Most of the leaders were supportive of resolving the conflict peacefully, outside the ambit of politics. Though we were engaged in seemingly fruitful discussions, I believed that the resolution of this issue would take longer than anticipated.

This led me to counsel Ashok Singhal ji, then President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, to have patience and pray when we met on his visit to our ashram. He had come to Bangalore to meet me soon after the talks between the Kanchi Shankaracharya and Muslim leaders in New Delhi, had failed. Ashokji wanted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to decisively clear the path for the Ram Mandir. This was his one-point agenda.

However, Ashok ji was not on talking terms with the Prime Minister at the time, especially resentful after Vajpayee ji had coerced him into eating during his fast unto death over the Ayodhya issue. Therefore, he was in Bangalore to persuade me to convince Vajpayeeji to bring in legislation and end the Ram Janmabhoomi conflict once and for all. He was 76 then, with a sharp mind, and a spark of passion and determination in his eyes.

Some of his demands seemed impractical given that the government at the time depended on coalition support and not everyone was on the same page on the issue. “I don’t care even if it leads to the collapse of the government,” he said. I replied saying, “Pray for it. With your commitment, all is possible.” Ashok ji left unconvinced. At that point, I intuitively felt it would take more like 14 years to build but I didn’t share my thoughts with anyone.

The next morning during meditation, I had a vision of an old Devi temple with a pond that needed to be resurrected. At the time, I didn’t give it much importance. A few days later a Nadi astrologer from Chennai happened to visit the ashram. This elderly gentleman hailed from a family that for many generations had guarded the ancient scriptures and palm leaves containing the future of humans as foreseen by the sages of yore.

The Nadi reader said, “Gurudev, you will have to play a role in bringing both the communities together for the Ram Janmabhoomi matter to be resolved once and for all.” He then added that the Kuladevi of Shri Rama, Devkali, has a temple in Ayodhya and that the temple was in a highly dilapidated state. Unless the Devi was propitiated and the temple fully restored, the Ayodhya dispute would not end and violence would continue.

 As none of those present was aware of such a Devkali mandir, a few local people were asked to find out whether such a temple even existed in Ayodhya. It was soon discovered that there were indeed two Kali mandirs in the area—one in the heart of the city called the Chhoti Devkali Mandir and the other a little further away called the Devkali Mandir. The latter was in a ruinous state. It had a central pond that had become a dumping ground. We decided to renovate the Devi temple and rejuvenate the pond.

At that time, Ayodhya was a severely neglected city with unclean narrow lanes. A sense of fear prevailed as the place abounded with stories of killings of sadhus and sants over the long-standing conflict. Nobody dared to speak up for these renunciates who had no designated ashrams, no family and no social standing.

The restoration work of Devi temple was completed in a few months and we went in a large group to Ayodhya for the reconsecration ceremony. Several pandits from our Bangalore ashram conducted the reconsecration of the temple deity and a Chandi Homa was performed on 19 September 2002. B.K. Modi and Ashok Ji also took part in the event. From time immemorial the Devatas have been worshipped in every part of India because of their influence on the affairs on this plane of existence.

Later that evening the temple hosted a large congregation of saints, including Ramchandra Das Paramhans Ji, Mahanta of the Digambar Akhada and head of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. A few Sufi saints were also invited. The Muslim leaders presented me with a copy of Ramcharitmanas and spoke of their deep reverence for Lord Shri Rama.

Enough lives had been lost in this age-old conflict and we needed a resolution that would stand the test of time. Keeping this in mind I proposed an out-of-court settlement where the Muslim community would gift the Ram Janmabhoomi to the Hindus as a goodwill gesture and the Hindus in return would gift a 5-acre land for the construction of a mosque that they would help build. This would send a clear message of brotherhood between both communities.

The next day I was invited by Ashok Ji to his ancestral home in Allahabad where his brothers, their families and his friends had gathered. After I conducted a group meditation for them, I told Ashok Ji that it is not human effort alone, but the Divine Will too, that plays a role in the fructification of any action. And for that, one needs patience. I hinted to him that he should not do anything in haste. By the end of the evening, Ashok Ji seemed much more relaxed and reassured, and he softened in his stand against the Vajpayee government.

Years went by, in 2017, at the request of leaders from both communities, I renewed my efforts to mediate in the Ram Janmabhoomi matter. From then on, one thing led to another and today Ayodhya is on the way to reclaiming its lost glory. Thanks to the efforts of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji and the government of Yogi Adityanath ji, the once gloomy temple town is getting a vibrant and shining makeover of progress, prosperity and spiritual elevation.

It is said, Daivadheenam Jagat Sarvam, the entire world is governed by Gods. All the elements in life that we think to be in our control are, in fact, guided by the devas. Navratri is the time to invoke the infallible and compassionate Daivi Shakti.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a humanitarian leader, spiritual teacher and an ambassador of peace. You can follow him on Twitter @SriSri

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