The darkest night is over. Coincidentally, it was 'Mahalaya Amavasya,' or ‘no moon night’ symbolizing cosmic dissolution in an ancient eastern tradition. This is followed by the nine nights for cosmic creation, ‘Navratri’. In this ancient wisdom creation is considered cyclical not linear.
It's the dawn of a new day. I have decided to look at the world differently. When stuck in one perspective the opposite view is a savior. There can be a shift when you look at things in a different light. So let me explore a completely different way of looking at myself, my life, and this world.
It's all in the mind; I know this. My world is a projection of my mind. Whatever I project is reflected back to me.
I turn to wisdom to remove the darkness. I have faith in the ancient, time-tested knowledge of the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. It understands human beings, creation, and consciousness so well. It has led so many to liberation. Like the axis of the earth, we should be centered in its wisdom, and not deviate from it.
To understand them correctly I have been attending this lecture series by Swami-ji, who is an expert in these scriptures. He’s a monk dedicating his life to the spiritual path. I went there early today to ask Swami-ji for some advice.
He was leaving from his room for the lecture hall and I caught him just in time. “Swamiji I have a question,” I said. Sometimes I find it just too difficult to go on. I mean there are so many serious problems and challenges in my life, I don’t know how to face them, overcome them, or even if I have the will to go on. Is there some solution in our scriptures that will help me lead a productive, meaningful life?” “Of course,” he said with confidence. “See these problems and challenges as part of a game, like a video game. Otherwise how will life be fun, and how will you end up winning in the end? Come, let’s go to the lecture, you will find many answers.” Still processing his reply, I followed him to the hall.
As soon as I entered the hall I melted into the calming presence of the environment. I found a seat and sat down. Everyone was silently waiting for the lecture to begin. Swamiji went up to the front, and sat down cross-legged on a small platform. Dressed in orange robes, always a slight smile of on his face, glowing. Radiant. His presence is so overwhelmingly peaceful and calm that all my gazillion thoughts and complaints come to rest. I'm ready to listen.
"Isha vasyam idam sarvam." Swamiji says the first verse of the Isha Upanishad. "See God, consciousness, pervading everything, as the substratum of everything. See this whole creation as a divine Being. This is the vision of truth," he explains. Adi Shankaracharya, a sage from India in the middle ages, also said that if you look at the world from a divine vision, you will see the whole world permeated by consciousness.
So it's up to me how I view the world. It is easy to see divinity in good people but not in evil people. However, evil people can also become good again, so they have to be inherently good as well. If everyone and everything is God, why did He create imperfection in the world?
Oh, wait: Everything in the world is imperfect by design!
There's a Sanskrit mantra, "Purnam Adah Purnam Idam," which means “That (consciousness) is complete…whole, and This (world) is also complete and whole.” Everything is exactly as it's meant to be, so why should I suffer? I suffer because I'm not in sync with this divine design.
I need to be in sync with both creation and consciousness, with the imperfect and the perfect. It is very important for me to realize the misery is from seeking perfection in people, situations, and myself and never finding it. But my misery is also by design. Otherwise, how will I look for perfection inside? So I say to myself, "Relax. It's okay, everything is imperfect. That's the way it's meant to be."
Swamiji continues, "Yat kinca jagatyaam Jagat. The Sanskrit word Jagat describes this creation; it means that which comes and goes and stays only for a short while." Essentially, everything in the world is changing, nothing is permanent. Seeking permanence in anything: love, friendship, jobs, or money is futile. Everything and everyone will change; it's natural. Yet again and again I seek permanence. It changes and I sulk. I want to hold on, like trying to grasp the wind in my fist, or arrest the flow of a river, not wanting it to flow away.
So a change in vision is required to see life and the world in a different light. Swamiji says that the way to prepare for this shift, according to ancient sages, is to attain discriminating wisdom (Vivek); dispassion (Vairagya); the six wealths, including faith (Shraddha); and the yearning to be free (Mumukshutva).
When life is going good, when we're happy, we never think of being free, pray to God, ponder questions about life, or ask "Who am I?" There is no need. Very few seek liberation, Moksha, when happy. Sri Krishna says that there are three types of people who come looking for God:
1. Those who want to get rid of problems and misery.
2. Those who want to gain something: a job, wealth, health, a child, whatever the object of desire is.
3. Those who are sincere seekers of truth.
I have seen friends who become spiritual when they lose a job, or when they get health problems, or something bad happens to a family member. But a wise person who seeks the truth, God, and Self, even in happy times, will never become miserable in bad times. There is a saying on this by the fifteenth century Indian sage, Kabir:
"Dukh mein sumiran sab karen, sukh mein kare na koi. Jo sukh mein sumiran kare, to dukh kahe ko hoy."
This ancient Vedic wisdom understands life so well. I am fortunate that there's someone who has so much experience of this knowledge to explain it to me. Here's how Swamiji puts it:
Problem definition: There is misery in life from problems related to health, wealth, relationships, and children. What values define a "good human being," and how do we overcome the obstacles to becoming one?
2. A disturbed and restless mind.
3. Negativity or impurities like cravings (raga), aversions (dwesh), desires (kama), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), delusion (moha), self-infatuation (mada), jealousy (matsarya), malice (asuya), envy (irsya), hypocrisy (dambha), pride (darpa), and ego (ahamkara).
Solution: What is the solution? The solutions follows...
God, or nature, gave us this life with its challenges and also handed us a solutions manual to figure out how to be happy. It lists the values we should incorporate to be a good human being. One such guide is the Bhagavad Gita. It's perfect because it's complete; nothing is missing.
According to an eastern wisdom tradition there is a path of evolution for an individual soul (Jiva) from the time it's created, separate from cosmic consciousness, to the many lives it lives, then the final merging back into consciousness (enlightenment). That prescribed path for a successful life was explained by Swamiji as follows:
First: Principles for Action (Karma Yoga). Do your duties, fulfill your roles, work. This is external effort. Karma Yoga means serving others and dedicating this service to God. Serving without expecting anything in return, going beyond the ego, not being propelled by selfish desires, or being attached to the results. Another aspect of this wisdom for acting in the world is to know that you are not the doer, that everything is happening through you. It means at every step, having righteousness and the laws of nature (Dharma) illuminate your path.
What is Dharma? The universe was created with certain laws. Some of the physical laws that govern creation are contained in physics, chemistry and biology. Then there are laws that govern subtler aspects such as the mind. There are laws for plants, for the animal kingdom and for human life. When you are in rhythm with the laws of nature then you attain your natural self –that’s pure existence, consciousness, love, bliss. When we live our life in harmony with these natural laws then naturally the following three manifest, material prosperity (Artha), fulfillment of desires (Kama), and enlightenment (Moksha).
Our actions done in accordance with Dharma removes impurities from our minds and emotions, subdues the ego, and reduces desires. Selfless service benefits others, and indirectly, oneself also. Most of us are in this stage of evolution. Yet so many jump to meditation or knowledge before this critical step of purification. It's like a cake recipe, you need to add the right ingredients and follow the directions.
Second: Spiritual practices (Upasana). This is the internal letting go. It includes, Yoga, Pranayama, meditation, worship, and devotion. These practices are prescribed to calm the disturbed, restless mind and bring faith. They will settle the mind to the extent that impurities have been removed in the first step.
And finally knowledge (Jnan) to purify the intellect, lift the veil covering our true Self, remove ignorance by gaining Self-knowledge, and make consciousness an experiential reality. The values and virtues we need to live are also knowledge. If we have impurities and a disturbed mind knowledge will just be information not wisdom.
In short: If you have muddy and turbulent waters, how can you see the depth? So first we need to remove the mud, then we need to calm the surface, then we can see the depth and a clear reflection of our Self.
How do we integrate more and more of this knowledge? Swamiji says that spiritual masters have said that, for most people, it’s a continuum of growth that occurs over lifetimes.
Our Shastras say that we need to keep practicing—listening to knowledge (Shravanam), reflecting (Mananam), and meditating to realize (Nididhyasanam)—over and over again.
The ripening of the fruit takes time, and when the fruit is ripe it will fall. We don't know when or how—it just happens. The fruit of our actions is not in our hands.
Events come and go. People come and go. The world keeps turning.
Nothing matters. Don't worry, be happy! Enjoy this moment. As I drive back home from the lecture on this beautiful moonlit night, alone, I put on my favorite Sufi song, singing, smiling, and swinging, the mystical meaning of the lyrics giving me goose bumps. Who cares about the rest of the world? This is my journey; let me celebrate my time here.
One day I, too, will go, and what happens after that? I don't know and can't know, so let it happen, flow with it, be with it. Peace!
Like Buddha said, sorrow, misery, sickness, and death are going to be there. They're a part of life. We shouldn't let them make us miserable. I have to get back in touch with that space in me that is peaceful and blissful, and separate myself from this misery. That space within me is never changing; there's a substratum that is changeless and permanent. Knowing this difference is called discriminating wisdom (Vivek) in the Vedic texts. I have lost touch with it, and therefore I am miserable. As soon as I get back in touch with my Self, I'm in bliss. When I am more established in myself, that centeredness brings calm. Being aware brings calm. And when I am calm, I make fewer mistakes in dealing with people and situations. Problems will still be there, but when I am established in my Self, I can surf the waves of problems and no longer get battered by them or drown.
Knowing this, I need to fully engage in the world and play by its far from perfect rules. If I hate them, I'll be unhappy. So while I participate in the imperfect world outside, I need to be detached (Vairagya) inside, otherwise I will again be miserable. In both the outer realm of imperfection and the inner realm of perfection, I need to be in harmony. Stress and misery come when I'm in disharmony with the rhythms of the universe. All the wheels of the clock need to move in harmony.
What am I looking for in this life? I just want to be happy! Not just now, but always, every moment. No matter what happens, it should not affect my happiness. I want happiness that's unlimited, permanent, and infinite. But everything gives me only momentary happiness. I get a new car and love it for a few days and after that it's like any other car. The same thing with a new gadget, a new house, or any shiny distraction. Most people think that money will make them happy, yet many rich people can't even sleep well at night! Many look for job satisfaction: they live to work rather than work to earn a living. Then one day they lose their job. Those who want to get married think they will be happy once they find the perfect spouse; those who've been married for years envy single people! I have done everything to find this permanent happiness—in relationships, friendships, new jobs, homes, cities, and material things; taken vacations and spiritual courses, and waited for better times. Basically, I have looked for the perfect happiness externally, in places, things, people, and haven't found it.
The next day, as I take my evening walk I tell myself, "Okay, now I have to understand what Swamiji was talking about yesterday." There are two aspects to life: First is the "I" within who witnesses, feels, thinks, experiences; the second is that which is experienced or known, like the world, my body, breath, mind, and emotions. If happiness could be attained by acquiring things, then happiness would not change with time, place, or circumstances. But it does. So if happiness isn't the nature of objects, it has to be inherent in the subject, the "I." There's no third aspect. Therefore "I" must be the source of happiness. Logical, right? So the seeking outside needs to change to seeking within. It makes sense. Happiness has to be my nature-that's why I seek it. When I'm removed from it I'm constantly trying to get back to it. And happiness feels natural. Not sorrow; it's not my nature so I want to get rid of it. Our true nature according to the ancient Vedic texts (Shastras), is - Existence, Consciousness, Bliss (Sat Chit Anand).
My son said to me one day that reading the Bhagavad Gita feels good, but implementation is what’s important and yet so difficult. Those who are spiritual and are learning from a guide need to see how much knowledge has integrated in us. How we handle people or a problem tests how much the knowledge has become living wisdom,. How far back we fall and how low, or if we fall and recover quickly, or we don't fall at all, reveals how truly wise we have grown. The lesser the misery, the more the knowledge has been integrated.
All this theory is good but the most precious, the most beautiful thing in my life is devotion. No need to gain it, learn it, make any effort—it's mine already. And no one can take that away from me. It is eternal, it is always with me. Who needs knowledge? Knowledgeable ones bow to the feet of a devotee—they thirst for a drop of devotion’s nectar. This ocean of divine love in my heart is the source of the all rivers of love. This is the mother of compassion. This Russ (nectar) and Bhaav (devotional ecstasy) dissolves me into eternal bliss.
Leave me, let me rejoice in this drunken state - I am intoxicated with boundless bliss. No meditation can match it's sweetness; no knowledge can reach its grandeur. Love is supreme. It is me.
But then the a wise voice within says, "No, no, all paths are supreme. Faith, devotion, knowledge are all one, expressed differently in each of us."
Now it's the eighth day of the nine nights of "Navratri." Had a prayer at home and several ladies came. Feels so sacred and serene. The smell of camphor, incense, oil lamps, and flowers makes the atmosphere so divine. Later on this long rainy night I am alone, and all the lights are off. Just looking outside the window, in the lamp light I see the branches of the trees waving in the wind and rain. The pitter-patter on the rooftop like a lullaby. Let me close my eyes and be that child again…simple, natural, innocent, with the spark of divinity, purity, peace, and bliss…