The progress of science has bestowed powerful technologies on humankind. Through genetic engineering, we can modify plant species and create GMOs. We know how to create designer babies through human genome editing and in vitro fertilization.
However, while science has put nuclear power in our hands, it has not equipped us with the knowledge of the right or wrong use of that power. That is why the progress of scientific knowledge has been accompanied by global warming, rampant pollution, and the depletion of the ozone layer.
We now have new problems in the form of over-urbanization and a rapid diminution of mineral wealth and non-renewable energy resources.
If wisdom comes from knowledge, then why can scientific knowledge not resolve the ethical dilemmas surrounding its usage? Because they are beyond the realm of material science. To understand ethics and morality, we must turn to spiritual science.
Material knowledge does not provide us with the answers to the big questions in life. What is the ultimate purpose of my life? Who am I? Why have I come to this world? If we do not know the answers to these questions, then we are simply running around like a headless chicken, not knowing even the goal of life.
The Vedas inform us that we are not material bodies made of matter; we are souls, divine and immortal. We are not material beings having a spiritual experience. Rather, we are spiritual beings having a material experience in this world of Maya. Hence, our mundane day-to-day experiences leave us dissatisfied. Our soul yearns to connect with something sacred and higher than us. To go beyond the everyday grind of mundane existence. To find a deeper purpose in life. Hence, the need for spirituality.
The thirst for spiritual nourishment becomes so intense for some people that they renounce everything else in pursuit of it. We are all familiar with the story of the Buddha—how he witnessed old age, disease, and death in his kingdom and ended up renouncing the world in search of the purpose of human life.
History is a testimony to Adi Shankaracharya, Nimbarkacharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and millions of other ascetics, sadhus, and sanyasis who have followed that path.
However, spirituality does not require us to necessarily renounce the world. The Bhagavad Gita informs us that it can be done at home as well. In this verse, Lord Krishna explains that one can be spiritual both as a sannyasi and as a grihastha (householder).
However, practising spirituality while living a household life is even more praiseworthy than renunciation.
As I travel around the world giving discourses, I am often asked the question: “What is the difference between religion and spirituality?” The difference is that spirituality is the essence, while religion is its external form. For example, going to Char Dham Yatra to visit the four sacred places is religion. Sitting down in one place and taking our minds to the Divine is a form of spirituality. Taking a bath in the holy river Ganga is a religion. While bathing our minds in divine thoughts is spirituality. It is religious to offer ghee oblations in the sacrificial fire.
To offer our obnoxious ego at the feet of God and become humble is spirituality. Religion will please your grandmother and make you look holy in the eyes of society. Spirituality will please God and make you holy from within.
Nowadays, many young people reject religious practises on the pretext of being spiritual. They ridicule their parents and the elder generations for their indulgence in religious practices. However, the reality is that they are slaves to their whimsical minds and neither pursue spirituality nor religion.
Without the help of any external rituals, the practise of spirituality is exceedingly difficult. because the mind does not get the support it requires for nurturing divine thoughts. Hence, in the initial stages of the spiritual journey, the external form is immensely beneficial. That is why the scriptures and saints have created systems of traditions, customs, and ceremonies. These are the religious practises that get passed down from generation to generation.
Rather, we must strive to achieve their goal, which is to purify our minds by thinking of God. That is why the hundreds of Bhakti Saints who came 500 years ago inspired the masses to go to the essence of religious practices, which is spirituality.
GETTING IN TOUCH WITH NATURE
Experiences with nature can also serve to enhance ourspiritual side. Similar to meditation, getting away from the fast pace of dailyactivities and distractions can serve to calm the mind. In a natural setting,we often become more aware of our environment and feel a connection toeverything around us, whether it is plant or animal life or everything we see.You may be able to find a spiritual connection with nature during a quiet walkin the woods near your home. For some people, a week-long hiking trip or remotemountain vacation better fills this need.
SPIRITUAL EXPRESSION THROUGH ART
Any true artistic endeavor, whether it is painting, dance ormusical performance, has a deeply personal component. The successful artist hasfound a connection with the spiritual part of their being and is expressing itthrough their art. We do not have to be professional artists to have thisexperience. It is the act of becoming absorbed in the artistic process thatallows this to occur. Many artists cannot describe how they create, other thanto say they serve as a conduit for some other presence or force.
SPIRITUALITY AND HUMAN CONNECTIONS
For many, getting spiritual is a matter of connecting withthe people who surround us every day of our lives. This can be formal, as ameditation group, or it could mean a more casual involvement such as simplecharitable organizations who share food, clothing or other resources. For many,the act of giving their time, energy or spare resources can be a valuable wayof reaching inwards and activating the core human quality of love andunderstanding.
Deeper wisdom on different styles of thinking, including spiritual thinking, are revealed by Swami Mukundananda, in his latest book, The Power of Thoughts, published by Penguin Ananda.
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WHY NOT CHANGE THE MUSIC?
Why does someone try to please people? Many people are doing great work but feel a constant need for others’ appreciation to feel worthy. Such people will do everything to please others, but ironically, they rarely feel appreciated. Often, their loved ones take them for granted, and they feel used and disrespected, but they don’t retaliate. They are seldom happy.
Sadly, when people-pleasers want something for themselves, they find nobody indulges them, whereas they are constantly trying to keep everyone happy. They feel disrespected at work and at home, and yet they hanker after those very people who ignore them to gain their acceptance. To attract attention, they’ll dress up and act differently. At times, they can act in ways that harm them. Especially on social media, where just a few unfollows or a flurry of likes can create havoc with emotions.
On the other hand, some refuse to adjust to people. They are often righteous and proud. They aren’t easy to live or work with, as they have a warped sense of self-importance. Such people, too, are seldom happy.
A certain classical musician was raised in the city and seldom went to the countryside. Once, when he was invited to a village, he brought along his instrument, a shehnai, to perform great ragas for his hosts; but they weren’t too keen on listening to his classical music, and wanted to hear modern tunes. The musician felt disrespected and sat quietly throughout the afternoon, refusing to play anything, citing tiredness. His pride wouldn’t let him play their kind of music. He couldn’t comprehend that the village people were a simple lot and they had no intention of insulting
him at all.
The man walked out of the gathering, intending to leave the village that night. It was early evening, and he decided to take a stroll in the countryside to raise his spirits. He came to a pond and saw many buffaloes lying around, happily chewing cud and swishing their tails to get rid of flies.
The musician sat down and watched them. He thought; ‘Why not perform for these buffaloes? They are no different from those foolish villagers!’ and he began to play his favourite music in front of them. The music was so beautiful that even he was moved to tears. But when he looked at his “audience,” he was dismayed. The buffaloes remained oblivious to what he was playing!
Seeing that even this audience was not interested, the musician grew sad. Just as he was getting up to leave, a mosquito flew past his nose, buzzing and humming. Suddenly, he thought, ‘Why not change the music?’ and he sat down and picked up his shehnai once more.
Now he began to imitate the sounds of mosquitoes and flies. Furthermore, he even imitated a lost calf’s call for help! Many buffalo responded! They stood up eagerly and began to move their tails rhythmically. A satisfied smile came to the musician’s face. He had the buffaloes dancing to his music!
The next day, he went back to the village gathering. He improvised and played the latest popular music on his shehnai for his hosts and received a standing ovation!
Music and words have different effects on different people. Remember the last time someone refused to listen to you? Next time, instead of getting frustrated, why not change the music? Once they are interested, maybe you can make them ‘dance’ to your tunes!
Why give others the power to make you feel lousy or great? Ultimately, it’s about how much we respect ourselves. Others’ reactions cannot be a benchmark of our self-worth. Do help people who need your help, but stop being a doormat. Be polite but firm in refusing when someone demands something that you don’t believe you should do. However, learn to have fun too. At times, we become rigid about something inconsequential. Once in a while, you can change the music you enjoy and play for the buffaloes! When people realise that you do things for them because you want to and not because you have to, they will appreciate you without you having to chase it down.
Captain Deepam Chatterjee (Retd.) is the author of The Millennial Yogi, Penguin Random House India. He is on Instagram @deepam.chatterjee
The power of accepting and rejecting
In the study of Rajyoga, humility is seen as a state of self-respect. This may be a new concept for people who have previously thought that humility meant accepting everything and anything, whether it made them comfortable or not.
How can we define acceptance? Perhaps it is about being at peace with circumstances, people, and feelings, a place where we can be calm and not have unnecessary thoughts about it—”It is what it is,” as they say, or if thinking of the past, “It was what it was.” The past itself cannot be changed. However, my beliefs about the past can be changed. There really is no need for judgments. Thinking, ‘Why did that happen?’ or ‘It should have been like this’ or ‘Why were they like that and not like this?’, only shows resistance to accepting the reality. We come to understand that it is simply a choice to accept, or equally reject, old, no-longer-necessary beliefs about a whole range of ideas, attitudes, and understandings. In reality, whatever we experience is all our own creation, and no-one else’s ‘fault’. Thoughts are very powerful. To change our beliefs or attitude, we need to change our thoughts, that is, our perception. In other words, to reframe what happened through a new lens.
Rejection may sound negative, but actually it does not need to be. We can reject an old, outdated way of thinking about ourselves, a situation, or a person, and then have the space to accept a new way of seeing what the self, the situation, or person is, or could become. Equally, we do not need to accept everything that comes our way.
But when we blame other people or situations, we put ourselves in a subordinate position; one where we can feel victimised, and we have no sense of control. When someone is verbally rude to us, for example, or criticises us, then our sense of self-esteem can get distorted and we may become confused. There are questions we can consider when this happens.
l Do I accept it?
l Is it true?
l Should I ignore it, or say something?
l Why are they so rude?
l Why me?
l Why don’t they stop?/change?/go away?/ find someone else?
l What is the message for me in this?
So, we may accept or reject their criticism. If we are still getting drawn to it hours later or the next day, then we can understand that we are still confused and upset. Then what is needed is powerful good wishes for the one who criticised us.
If it is difficult to do, then we know that we have not yet forgiven the person. With humility, though, we can send good wishes, and we will find that there is improvement in the relationship, just through the management of our thoughts.
Gopi Elton is a writer and retired health professional and is based at the Brahma Kumaris Retreat Centre in the Blue Mountains, Australia.
The right kind of happiness
Happiness can be of many kinds, such as that experienced when someone praises us or when we achieve something we wanted, or when we eat good food, listen to our favourite music or see something beautiful. Such experiences may surely make us happy, but for how long? The taste of good food may linger for a while after the meal, and the joy of being appreciated may vanish the moment we hear a critical remark about ourselves.
Such experiences are short-lived and, therefore, cannot be the basis of a constant feeling of happiness, which is more stable and lasting than exuberance or an emotional high.
Lasting happiness is a state of being in which we feel secure, content, and in harmony with the self, others, and nature. A person in such a state is also more likely than not to help others achieve happiness, in whatever way he can.
This state can also be described as bliss, which dictionaries define as perfect happiness, or as a state of spiritual blessedness.
How can we achieve this state? There are people who lead blissful lives and describe themselves as very happy. Their material circumstances may be ordinary, but they are content with what they have and enjoy life. Such people are usually active and have loving and supportive relationships in their family or community, and they live by certain values. One quality common to such people is a positive attitude, which enables them to remain optimistic and to take problems in their stride.
Experts have found that happiness depends on individual factors such as personality, income, health, and the freedom to make life choices. They say it also depends on social determinants such as the degree of trust in the community, and on political factors such as the rule of law. But these elements are sometimes in competition: for example, the pursuit of wealth may lead to loss of health, or involve limits to freedom. All these factors are no doubt important, but they are good only to the degree that they contribute to our happiness.
Empirical evidence suggests that the key constituents of happiness, which enable a person to remain happy even in the absence of other factors, may be character, values, and the right attitude. When these elements are present, we are likely to make the right choices and act in ways that ensure our happiness and that of others.
Conversely, in the absence of these ingredients, we may act selfishly to achieve individual happiness at the cost of others. In the process, we may alienate people, lose friends, and even make enemies. In addition, someone seen as selfish receives little goodwill or cooperation from others. If we create an unsympathetic environment around ourselves in this way, we are not likely to remain happy for long, no matter how many personal goals we manage to achieve.
The greatest happiness of the greatest number is said to be one measure by which we can know whether what we are doing is right or wrong. To be able to discern what is best for everyone, including myself, in a given situation, the mind needs to be free from the influence of ego and desires. Then the decisions taken will ensure everyone’s happiness.
Performing the balancing act of ensuring individual and collective happiness is the way to earn the good wishes, or blessings, of others, which, besides being a reward in itself, enriches our feeling of contentment and enables us to experience bliss, the ultimate happiness.
B.K. Dr. Savita is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Abu Road, Rajasthan.
Letting go of ego
In philosophy, ‘ego’ refers to the consciously thinking entity, or in other words, the self. In the study of Rajyoga, we understand ‘ego’ to mean the sense of self-esteem or self-importance which, if based on an attachment to a false identity, causes great sorrow and is one of the main forces of obstruction on a spiritual journey. It can be destructive and painful, so we take our time to convert this energy into the opposite. We spend time letting go of the false identity, that of being the body, and nourishing our awareness of the real identity, that of being a spiritual consciousness, the soul.
Ego, based on the false identity of being the body, brings with it hidden, unseen pitfalls. The one thing we cannot see, on our physical body, is the face. It is invisible to the self and can only be seen in a mirror. In the same way, the expression of ego is often not realised by us – but is seen by everyone else. In identifying with just the body, we have a need to hold on to things that bolster the ‘ego’. The word ‘my’ is used ad infinitum – my idea, my story, my talents and skills, my job, my position, my superior understanding, my suffering, my success, my failure. In holding on to these reinforcements, we will be challenged endlessly. With that, other obstacles to spiritual growth, come into play. There will be anger when challenged, there will be a need to refine my physical appearance to present myself in the best light, there will be greed in accumulating possessions or trappings of superiority, and there will be attachments to anyone who can feed my ego.
There are five faces of ego:
The ego of the body. When we are influenced by anything, we become attached and then dependent on it. In the case of the body, it will bring vanity, narcissism, and pride; and when the body ages and becomes infirm, we feel lost and worthless.
The ego of the personality. If we have a personality, for example, of being entertaining and making others amused, we become attached to that facet, and become dependent on it in all social situations. When that is not recognised, we begin to doubt who we are or become angry. This applies to all aspects of our personalities on which we depend.
The ego of the intellect. This is very subtle and insidious. This dependence on our beliefs, ideas, and that our understanding is better than that of others, is complicated and hard to remove. It will manifest most obviously in argument and the proving of one’s self to be right.
The ego of the role. This causes dependence on what we do and are recognised for, our skills and abilities; our position in society; and our achievements. This colours our attitude and behaviour in all our relationships.
The ego of possessions. These define us. The house we buy, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, and the jewellery we use. All of this dependency creates the false impression that our possessions make us somehow a better person.
So, how do we let go of the ego? If the key word to the false identity is attachment, then to let go we need detachment. Detachment is not a cold and distant stance on life, but a gentle stepping back from the false self, and quietly watching what I am thinking, how I am behaving and what I am saying. This stepping back a little, allows me to experience my higher identity, that of being an eternal consciousness that has a higher personality of royalty, dignity, purity, and contentment, and I am able then to attach my intellect to God, the Supreme intellect and personality. It then becomes clear to me exactly what kind of a soul I want to be on earth, and that I am a caretaker and trustee of the body that I have.
When I become bodiless (detached from the ego of the body), I am able to become ‘egoless’, and then it is possible to become viceless and express only virtues in my relationships, and my life will have become truly valuable.
Eric Le Reste is a journalist and producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and coordinates the activities of Brahma Kumaris centres in Canada.
Make something sacred in your life
Often, we are bogged down by rituals, rules, and regulations. Most people get caught up in the propriety of the rituals. In ritualistic worship, the priest is usually quite careful about not making mistakes. But authentic prayer is very personal and intimate. It cannot be ritualised, proclaimed or announced.
A fully realised soul’s actions and words are often beyond the comprehension of ordinary folks. A saint’s total immersion in divine ecstasy has often been misunderstood by the keepers of the faith and labelled as heresy and blasphemy.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa was the priest of the Kali temple at Dakshineswar. He never adhered to rituals in the worship of the divine mother. People were aghast at his apparent ‘blasphemies’ and sacrilege. Initially, he was ostracised and even beaten for insulting the divine mother by sleeping on the altar in unwashed clothes, giving her food he had already tasted, and at times even worshipping himself with the flowers, which he later put on the mother’s feet. In fact, it was not the people, but the benefactor of that region and temple, Rani Rasmani, who intervened and ordained that no one dare harm the saint.
Indeed, most people at Dakshineswar did not see Sri Ramakrishna as an enlightened soul right away. Rather, they saw that their means of livelihood would be lost, in case they angered the powerful queen. Thus, they indulged him and let him be. Of course, Sri Ramakrishna was a highly evolved soul. It is said that the divine mother presented herself in her glorious form in front of him. As time went by, people realised that his spontaneous worship was done out of intense bhava, or adoration.
However, ritualistic practices are important too. They pull the mind away from worldly activities. But it is very important that one learns to drop the practice once the aim has been achieved. You don’t continue carrying on your head the ladder you used to climb up, once you have reached the roof. That would be utterly foolish.
A silent mind is totally open to all possibilities. True prayer starts when the mind has reached silence. There need not be any words or practices in the silent mind’s prayer.
We must make something sacred in our lives. Sacredness brings gentleness and softness to you. When a practice becomes sacred, it becomes very intimate. This intimate and sacred practice can become our pathway to divinity. That can become the source of our prayer.
When we pray, we must segregate ourselves from the rest. What is sacred, must be kept secret. In the olden days, Gurus gave mantras to their chosen and deserving disciples. The mantras were to be revealed to no one. They were to be guarded and kept a secret. There was a solemn promise and a sacred bond between the guru and the disciple that was beyond the material world. Even today, this holy tradition is deeply honoured.
The power of the Guru-disciple bond is immutable because the respect for tradition is considered the most sacred and holy. This sacredness brings about a spiritual practice so intimate that it gradually purifies the consciousness of the seeker. Holy tradition is important. That which is sacred creates purified practices that raise the consciousness.
Traditions are important, but should they become more important than one’s own joyous freedom to express oneself? One needs to remember that traditions should not become so rigid that they hurt or harm others. Everyone is faithful to some ideal. We cannot force another person to believe in our gods, become faithful to our faith, and assent to our way of looking at divinity.
Captain Deepam Chatterjee (Retd.) is the author of The Millennial Yogi, Penguin India.
He teaches Meditation, Mysticism, Mythology & can be reached on Instagram @deepam.chatterjee.
CAN WE BRING ABOUT A TOTAL REVOLUTION?
All outward forms of change brought about by wars, revolutions, reformations, laws, and ideologies have failed completely to change the basic nature of man and therefore of society.
We human beings are what we have been for millions of years—colossally greedy, envious, aggressive, jealous, anxious and despairing, with occasional flashes of joy and affection. We are a strange mixture of hate, fear, and gentle-ness; we are both violence and peace. There has been outward progress from the bullock cart to the jet plane, but psychologically, the individual has not changed at all, and the structure of society throughout the world has been created by individuals. The outward social structure is the result of the inward psychological structure of our human relationships, for the individual is the result of the total experience, knowledge, and conduct of man. Each one of us is the storehouse of all the past. The individual is the human who is all mankind. The whole history of man is written in ourselves.
Do observe what is actually taking place within yourself and outside yourself in the competitive culture in which you live with its desire for power, position, prestige, name, success, and all the rest of it—observe the achievements of which you are so proud, this whole field you call living in which there is conflict in every form of relationship, breeding hatred, antagonism, brutality, and endless wars. This field, this life, is all we know, and being unable to understand the enormous battle of existence, we are naturally afraid of it and find escape from it in all sorts of subtle ways. And we are also frightened of the unknown—frightened of death, frightened of what lies beyond tomorrow. So we are afraid of the known and afraid of the unknown. That is our daily life, and in that there is no hope, so every form of philosophy, every form of theological concept, is merely an escape from the actual reality of what is.
All outward forms of change brought about by wars, revolutions, reformations, laws, and ideologies have failed completely to change the basic nature of man and therefore of society. As human beings living in this monstrously ugly world, let us ask ourselves: can this society, based on competition, brutality, and fear, come to an end? Not as an intellectual conception, not as a hope, but as an actual fact, so that the mind is made fresh, new and innocent and can bring about a different world altogether? It can only happen, I think, if each one of us recognises the central fact that we, as individuals, as human beings, in whatever part of the world we happen to live in or whatever culture we happen to belong to, are totally responsible for the whole state of the world.
We are each one of us responsible for every war because of the aggressiveness of our own lives, because of our nationalism, our selfishness, our gods, our prejudices, our ideals, all of which divide us. And only when we realize, not intellectually but actually, as if we were hungry or in pain, that you and I are responsible for all the existing chaos, for all the misery throughout the entire world because we have contributed to it in our daily lives and are part of this monstrous society with its wars, divisions, ugliness, brutality, and greed, will we act.
But what can a human being do—what can you and I do—to create a completely different society? We are asking ourselves a very serious question. Is there anything to be done at all? What can we do? Will somebody tell us? People have told us. The so-called spiritual leaders, who are supposed to understand these things better than we do, have told us by trying to twist and mould us into a new pattern, and that hasn’t led us very far; sophisticated and learned men have told us, and that has led us no further.
We have been told that all paths lead to truth—you have your path as a Hindu, and someone else has his path as a Christian, and another as a Muslim, and they all meet at the same door—which is, when you look at it, so obviously absurd. Truth has no path, and that is the beauty of truth; it is living. A dead thing has a path to it because it is static, but when you see that truth is something living, moving, which has no resting place, which is in no temple, mosque, or church, which no religion, no teacher, no philosopher, nobody can lead you to—then you will also see that this living thing is what you actually are—your anger, your brutality, your violence, your despair, the agony and sorrow you live in. In the understanding of all this is the truth, and you can understand it only if you know how to look at those things in your life. And you cannot look through an ideology, through a screen of words, through hopes and fears.
Can you and I, then, bring about in ourselves, without any outside influence, without any persuasion, without any fear of punishment—can we bring about in the very essence of our being a total revolution, a psychological mutation, so that we are no longer brutal, violent, competitive, anxious, fearful, greedy, envious, and all the rest of the manifestations of our nature which have built up the rotten society in which we live our daily lives?
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