As one grows older, nothing in life is certain. The only certainty is death, for you know with certainty that you will perish. No one can escape death, for it is inevitable and has always disturbed inquiring minds from the beginning of history. This makes people search for a reality that transcends life and death.
However, many people are too shallow or superficial to undertake such a search, and some may even consider it futile. Many go merrily through life building castles in the air and making plans until life comes back to bite them with some sort of shock like the death of a beloved friend or relative. This starts the process of questioning as to where have they gone after vanishing from the face of the earth. This makes even a matter-of-fact kind of person start questioning whether the world is indeed real, for if it is, then why does a man suddenly disappear without leaving a trace behind him?
The question then arises that, if the call may come at any time for each one of us to leave the earth, why then cling to worldly activities? A And if death is the end of everything, then why toil so much in this life? Such thoughts may temporarily paralyze a man activities and make him feel unfit for this world.
Normally, for the average human, questioning whether the world is real or not, is a meaningless exercise. Most people have no doubt of the world reality because they live on earth, see the sun every day and feel the air constantly, so how can one doubt that these things are not real. Even when the shadow of a doubt arises, it soon gets suppressed, so there is no hampering or lessening of worldly activities.
The average man philosophy of life is to have ambitions, ever newer forms of desires and employ their best energy to fulfill them. That life is full of conflicts and struggles is thought to be of the very nature of things. One is enjoined to face them boldly and not spoil one career by too much analysis or day-dreaming. This view-point asks us to see only a partial aspect of life and not to face life cohesion, just as an ostrich buries his head in the sand, believing himself safe from chase and capture, and because his face is covered, the unthinking pleasure-seeker deludes himself that he is secure in his day-to-day existence in this world of sense. He dare not think deeply because if he did, the result might be alarmingly shocking to him, finding that it is a common experience to be frightened by one own deeper thoughts.
However much we avoid thinking about them, we cannot escape the certainty of life and death. The wheel of nature turns and brings before us its unending procession of phenomena whether we like them or not.
By contrast, the Jnana Yogi is brave and willing to face anything in life, even the specter of death, with fearless courage. He understands that however much we avoid thinking about them, we still cannot escape the stern facts of life and death. He/she is prepared to see all aspects of life – both the pleasant and the unpleasant – while at the same time devising means and ways to guard himself against their pitfalls.
Even though people glibly say that religious men are afraid of life, this is untrue. People of true religious belief are not only not frightened of life, they also consider death to be only a counterpart to life. Their aim is to go beyond life and death.
They realize that all mankind activities, all their desires, hopes and fears rest on the one concept of I and the feeling that I exist, I think, I desire. From that feeling revolves the wheel of activities of the life of an average man, who never for a moment inquires what is the true nature of man. Even for five minutes, when he closes his eyes and thinks about this I which is the basis of all his feverish activities, he finds himself in a hopeless difficulty. When he figures out his hands and feet are not I, his eyes and ears are not I, even the mind is not I, for he finally admits that he is separate from the mind, even then he puts so much faith and hope in his I that whenever someone is angry at him, he gets offended, or when someone says something nice that makes him happy.
Modern physics questions whether so-called solid matter is really material at all. In the last analysis matter does not reduce itself to thought, for we see before our eyes, only the illusion of the material world. Material existence for me and I does not seem to be as solid as other things, even though the citadel of life rests on the assumption that it is. However, there is no specific evidence to justify this. You cant hold your feelings in your hand.
The Jnana yogi rejects what is false and with a keen sense of discrimination seeks what is true. Like a valiant fighter he refuses to identify with anything that is unreal. He analyses everything belonging to the world of sense as neti, neti. With a sheer effort of the will, he keeps himself unattached to anything that is of a transitory nature.
On analysis, he finds that all earthly desires and relationships possess only a temporary value, and he guards himself against the danger of succumbing to their influence. Knowing his physical body will perish, he always making an effort to kindle in himself the consciousness of his separateness from his body. When a person rejects everything that is not real, what remains as the residue is the Self or True Reality.
So, instead of employing a method of rejection, he may start with a positive idea that he is the Self as distinguished from the body. In spite of countless failures, he repeats this potent idea until one day, this cloud of unknowing suddenly clears away and he realizes that he is the Self. At night the stump of a tree can be mistaken for a ghost, but a friend comes along and tells the frightened traveler that it is just a tree and not a ghost. A The traveler has this idea imprinted on his mind, so when he goes near he finds it is in reality a tree. This illustrates the method of jnana yoga.
The jnana yogi must be a fearless spirit with superhuman strength of mind, whose body must obey his highest thoughts as spontaneously as a supple twig bends at the touch of the wind. How many can sincerely say they possess such courage and strength that once in a century marks out a saint? The average person suffers from human weakness and his actions are at variance with his ideals and aspirations.
Recognizing this fact, the Bhagavad Gita says it is a harder task to aspire after the unmanifested for those who have not risen above body consciousness, for they will have to suffer if they try to realize the unmanifested Brahman.
Swami Vivekananda, who created the Ramakrishna Mission, said you may repeat one thousand times that you are not the body, you are the spirit, but it requires only a slight headache to draw your thoughts back to your perishable body. This is the common tragedy of life. There is a story that a patient repeated the Bhagavad Gita loudly to imbibe the idea that he was one with the eternal, but as soon as the surgeon walked in with his knife, the poor man shook with fear.
There is an idea of preliminary qualification to enjoin the aspiration to be a proactive jnana yogi, which is not for everyone, but only for those with a keen sense of discrimination between the real and the unreal, and the absence of desire for the enjoyments of this world or the world to follow. The jnana yogi seeks to acquire certain powers by establishing the following:
control of the mind
control of the senses
capacity to withdraw the mind from external objects
supreme faith in one own power
receptiveness to the guru instructions
sincere longing for liberation from bondage to human existence.
These qualities must be combined to manifest as a jnana yogi – an almost impossible demand on the capacity of the average human. the ordinary mortal would be in despair if he is to be judged by these standards before he is fit to practice this form of yoga. The ancient scriptures say that only those who master the preliminary disciplines in their past lives would have the possibility of success in this life as a jnana yogi.
It is also true that if a man, in spite of his past samskaras, tries to obtain strength from the source of infinite power hidden in every being, there will come a time when the spring of all power and strength will be revealed to him and lead to a great illumination. Even the varied process of acquiring certain virtues will be expedited in this type of aspirant when he believes he is the eternal self and not the perishable self. A It is proved by experience that all thoughts good and bad have a deep influence on ones life, so when you think of yourself as strong, strength will gradually be developed in you almost without your being aware of it.
In the same way, if one can really imagine oneself to be the timeless self, a subconscious process will be set up by which the weakness of the flesh and the temporal body will gradually vanish. Thus when an aspirant perseveres he will be successful. The Scriptures advise that a disciple should learn from a Guru who has directly realized the Self as the nature of his own being. An Enlightened Master can help you to reach realization quickly.
The Guru advises the Jnana Yogi to meditate upon that idea until he has a direct experience of reality. To illustrate this, there is a story about a tiger cub brought up among a flock of sheep. He believed he was also a sheep until one day a tiger fell upon the flock and was surprised to find a tiger among the sheep. The tiger cub refused at first to believe he was a tiger, since he had no mother to teach him this, so the adult tiger took him to a pond and showed him his reflection in the water and thereby convinced the cub that he was indeed a tiger, thus removing his obsession that he was in fact a sheep. In the same way, a disciple can realize the truth much faster with the help of a Guru.
The Jnana Yogi realizes he is not flesh and bones, but spirit. However, this does not mean that it is easy for an ordinary mortal to act on the belief that he is the immortal Self. Ramakrishna gives a telling example of this, when he ridiculed the claim of someone who said he acted in the spirit of King Janaki by being at one with the deathless Brahman.
Some are duped into believing that, because they are intrinsically the Self, no bad effects can occur for the wrongful acts they commit. They consider the world to be but a dream of Maya, so it matters little what they do. They glibly quote the Bhagavad Gita and say the Self does not kill and cannot be killed, thus justifying all sorts of violence and even war on this basis. This is an example of the Devil citing Scripture for his own evil purposes. Thus spiritual illumination requires a degree of renunciation, which no warlord would impose on himself because, if he did, he would suffer unbearable agony whenever he injured anyone.
If follows that the hard discipline of Jnana Yoga requires an exceptionally strong and analytic mind. Without such equipment, the aspirant may make a mess of his whole spiritual life, or worse develop a false egoic life. It is not enough for the aspirant to have only intellectual convictions, he must be prepared to do spiritual battle all alone in an open field under an open sky. He will have to wrestle constantly with human weakness and with the subtle tricks that the mind plays on the unsuspecting. There will be no respite from the grim struggle until he reaches a state of mind where he is to some extent safe.
It must not be thought that this yoga of knowledge spurns aid from the other paths of yoga. A budding jnana yogi may not eliminate all elements of Bhakti Yoga. He may well derive strength from prayer and devotion to a guru. His longings for help towards the light and the blessing of a guru may be the only source of strength and hope he has.
At the same time, unselfish work of some kind undertaken in the spirit of Karma Yoga may be a preliminary to a practice of Jnana Yoga. It is in the very nature of things that it may be impossible for the average person to embark on the path of Jnana Yoga straight away, for there may be thousands of desires and attachments pulling him back from the straight and narrow course, and it is very hard to crush such desires.
By activity in the service of his fellow beings and cultivating non-attachment, the Jnana Yogi may gradually rise above desires and attain the degree of self-purification necessary for the practice of Jnana Yoga. The greater the self-purification one can achieve, the fitter one will be for the exacting demands of the Yoga of Knowledge. Again, strict control of the mind and a high degree of concentration are essential for the practice of Jnana Yoga, and these can best be acquired by the methods prescribed by Raja Yoga.
A sceptic may ask: A Can anyone born of the womb of a woman actually realize that he is a bodiless spirit – the Eternal Self? A Does not the very idea sound impossible and fantastic? A Has any human being ever experienced that condition; and if so, does history bear testimony to such an experience? Yes, for it is said that Alexander came across an old sage in India whom he wanted to take with him to Greece. However the old man refused despite all Alexanders cajolery and even threats to take his life if he disobeyed. The wise man laughed and said, I have never heard a greater lie than that. For you can never kill me who am birthless, deathless, and ever-existent.
The great sage Shankaracharya also realized that unity with the Ultimate Reality which is the final goal of the Yoga of Knowledge, as of the other three Yogas. He has analyzed and described in great detail the state of superconsciousness of the person who experiences this unitive knowledge of God. Some of his disciples also experienced this. Thus Shankara and other great Jnanis have not only proved by philosophical reasoning that there is only one Existence on which human ignorance weaves the dream of manifoldness, but have also unmistakably shown that the fact of such an Existence, outside the ambit of time and space, can actually be experienced by a human being, possessing the requisite spiritual insight and power.
This experience of the timeless, spaceless Reality must necessarily be beyond thought and speech; for when there is only the One, who will speak and think about whom? A The person who has actually experienced such a state can, after coming down to the normal plane, only vouch for the fact of that experience; but it would not be possible for him to describe, within the limitations of time and space, what it actually was. A Superficially the highest state experienced by a Jnani may be compared to the condition of deep sleep: because when the sleeper awakes, he also cannot describe that condition except as one of complete forgetfulness of the universe. However there is a great difference, for the man who has realized the Ultimate Truth is so transformed by his experience that his every word and action thereafter bespeaks the highest wisdom and spiritual insight. A fool goes into deep sleep and comes back a fool; but when a Jnani ascends to the highest state of knowledge, he comes down, armed with a vision that is of supreme value to humanity.
It has often been asked whether a man can survive the state during which he realizes that he is the Eternal Spirit, and not the body or the mind. A Jnani does not long survive in body that tremendous experience. However some like Shankara retain the noble desire to teach humanity the means of attaining such a state. These souls voluntarily sacrifice the eternal freedom from bondage to bring salvation to others. To them the portals of the highest experience remain forever open, but they refuse to enter those gates until they can take along some who suffer and struggle for light and illumination. These are the great prophets, seers and mystics who keep the torch of the spirit burning when infinite darkness threatens to envelop humanity. They are the representatives of God on earth.
It is claimed that the path of knowledge or Jnana Yoga is the hardest of all, yet in this modern world, it is the path most often sought by many who come from diverse backgrounds in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. The path of Bhakti is often culturally specific and involves prayers and rituals belonging to a particular religion, society or nation which can seem alien to those of different climes and nationalities.
The path of knowledge has an appealing universality because it is accessible through all the spiritual wisdom traditions of the world. The Buddhist will read and gain illumination from the Dhammapada or The Tibetan Book of the Dead. A The Taoist will follow the teachings of the Tao Te Ching, while the Christian will explore the inherent mystery of the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Sufi will write mystical poetry to the Religion of Love, as did Rumi and Hafez, while the Hindu will point to the flowering of Vedantist thought in the Upanishads.
The one commonality of all these wisdom traditions is their belief in the sacredness of the word of God, for as it is said in the Gospel according to John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Thus all these traditions of sacred knowledge can be accessed by the great books of each wisdom tradition which are the common heritage of all mankind.
Spiritual knowledge – the path of the Jnana Yogi -Â is acquired through the sacredness of words and metaphors which become symbols of God light and grace. This is possible because sacred words vibrate with a frequency of divine joy and love. A By means of these symbols and the imagery embedded in them, the Jnani attains the ultimate spiritual experience which goes beyond words and thought, beyond speech and mind, into the ineffable joy of the discovery of union with the Supreme Reality, a state of indescribable bliss which floods both the mind and the heart of the seeker of divine truth. The Jnani attains the state of divine union which is a melting of boundaries, a merging into oneness.
In samadhi, the Jnani attains an awareness of the Pure Self, from which the surface diversity of life also arises. He/she realizes that the relative world of change and flux is in essence an expression of the unchanging absolute Brahman, and that spiritual life consists of living these two dimensions together, ie living in the relative world from the perspective of Cosmic Intelligence.
Once Yogananda asked a truly fatherly person, “Swamiji, please tell me whether you are feeling the advance of age. As the body is weakening, are your perceptions of Ishwar suffering any diminution, that is, any lessening?”
He smiled angelically, “The Beloved Ishwar is more than ever with me now.” His compete conviction overwhelmed the mind and soul. During this meeting Paramahansa Yogananda noticed that Swamiji’s room contained many plants and packages of seed and asked their purpose.
“I have left my residence at Banaras permanently”, Swamiji said, “and am now on my way to the Himalayas. There I shall open an ashram for my disciples. These seeds will produce spinach and a few other vegetables. My dear disciples will live simply, spending their time in blissful God-union. Nothing else is necessary.” For the question, “When will you return”, the answer was, “Never again. I go now to the Himalayas to throw off my mortal frame.”
Paramahansa Yogananda said, My eyes filled with tears at his words, but the Swami smiled tranquilly. calmly. He reminded me of a little heavenly child sitting securely on the lap of a Divine Mother. A The burden of the years has no ill effect on the great yogis full possession of supreme spiritual powers. He is able to renew his body at will; yet sometimes he does not care to retard the aging process, but allows his karma to expend itself on the physical plane, using his present body as a time-saving device to preclude the necessity of working out remaining fragments of karma in a new incarnation.
Paramahansa Yogananda further said, Months later I met an old friend Sanandan who is one of Swamijis close disciples. My adorable guru is gone, he told me, amidst sobs. He established a hermitage near Rishikesh, and gave us loving training. When we were pretty well settled and had made rapid progress in his company, he proposed one day to feed a huge crowd from Rishikesh. I inquired why he wanted such a large number.
This is my last festival ceremony, he said. I did not understand the full implications of his worlds. Swamiji helped with the cooking of great amounts of food. We fed about two thousand guests. After the feast he sat on a high platform and gave an inspired sermon on the Infinite. At the end, before the gaze of thousands, he turned to me, as I sat beside him on the dais, and spoke with unusual force. Sanandan, be prepared, I am going to kick the frame.
After a stunned silence, I cried loudly, Master, dont do it! Please, dont do it! A The crowd remained silent, wondering at my words. Swamiji smiled at me, but his eyes were already beholding Eternity.
Be not selfish, he said, nor grieve for me. I have long been cheerfully serving you all; now rejoice and wish me Godspeed. I go to meet my Cosmic Beloved.
He looked at the sea of faces before us and gave a blessing. Directing his gaze inward to he spiritual eye, he became immobile. While the bewildered crowd thought he was meditating, he had already left the tent of the body and flesh, and plunged his soul into cosmic vastness. The disciples touched his body, seated in the lotus posture, but it was no longer warm flesh. Only a stiffened frame remained, the tenant had fled to the immortal shore.
This is a beautiful and simple story of a holy man totally unafraid of death, who is able to choose the very moment of his passing after having performed his duties in a loving way to his spiritual community and the wider society, for he is already immersed in the bliss of Brahman. For such a one, death holds no terror, for the boundaries between life and death are indeed porous.
For most of us, however, death is something that, as Hamlet mused, puzzles the will:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns.
makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of..
However, in truly spiritual sages, fear of death is replaced by fearlessness and equanimity, for these souls have realized that there is no security, no permanence here on earth, where human life is transient and the individuals separate identity illusory.
For it is only when we understand that we are part of a truly magnificent wholeness, a cosmic unity, which exudes eternal peace and tranquillity that we can let go of our fear and melt it in the fire of compassion and love. Knowing this, we understand that we are a true reflection of the Universal Self, which is total perfection and peace. Thus we feel the unbounded joy of being enveloped in the unimaginable fullness of love of the Divine Mother. Knowing this with every fiber of our being, death loses its mystery and terror for us, and is simply a transition to a state of total freedom and bliss.
This is a narration of a true happening. It has taken place in the year 1919 at ‘Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalay’ at Ranchi in Bihar. This Vidyalay was started by Paramahansa Yogananda with the ideals of right education for youth on a ‘Gurukul’ model.
The following narration is from Paramahansa Yogananda himself:
With 25 fertile acres of land at our disposal, the students, teachers and I enjoyed daily periods of gardening and other outdoor work. We had many pets, including a young deer that was fairly well idolized by children. I, too, loved the fawn – a young deer less than 1 year old – so much that I allowed it to sleep in my room. At the light of dawn the little creature would twaddle over to my bed for a morning caress.
One day, because some business would require my attention in the town of Ranchi, I fed the pet earlier than usual. I told the boys not to feed the fawn until my return. One lad was disobedient and gave it a large quantity of milk. When I came back in the evening, sad news greeted me, The fawn is nearly dead with overfeeding.
In tears, I placed the apparently lifeless pet on my lap. I prayed piteously to God to spare its life. Hours later, the small creature opened its eyes, stood up and walked feebly. The whole school shouted for joy.
But a deep lesson came to me that night, one I can never forget. I stayed up with the fawn until two o clock, when I fell asleep. The deer appeared in a dream, and spoke to me: You are holding me back. Please let me go; let me go!
All right, I answered in the dream.
I awoke immediately, and cried out, Boys, the deer is dying! The children rushed to my side.
I ran to the corner of the room where I had placed the pet. It made a last effort to rise, stumbled toward me, then dropped at my feet, dead.
According to the mass karma that guides and regulates the destinies of animals, the deer life was over, and it was ready to progress to a higher form. But by my deep attachment, which I later realized was selfish, and by my fervent (ie earnest, ardent and glowing) prayers, I had been able to hold it in the limitations of the animal form from which the soul was struggling for release. The soul of the deer made its plea in a dream because, without my loving permission, it either would not or could not go. As soon as I agreed, it departed.
All sorrow left me; I realized anew that God wants His children to love everything as a part of Him, and not to feel delusively (that is, misleadingly) that death ends all. The ignorant person sees only the unsurmountable wall of death, hiding, seemingly forever, his cherished dear relative or friend. However, the yogi – a man of unattachment – he who loves others as expressions of the Cosmic Power, Ishwar – understands that at death the dear ones have only returned for a breathing space of joy in the Omnipresent Ishwar.
This is a hugely illuminating essay. It shows us our weaknesses as human beings of seemingly finite capacity, for we so easily fail to grasp the true nature of Reality and become attached, most especially by love, to that which by its very nature is temporary and subject to the rigors of time, history and death as an inevitable corollary of the condition of humans and all creatures.
In our foolish fondness for Gods creatures, we try to hold them back to share our days without regard to the Divine Plan which has its own omniscient logic whose breathtaking dynamic we humans can never fully comprehend in our state of darkness which consists of attachments to objects or persons, or, in this case, pets, who like us are also subject to the dictates of time, mortality and finitude.
The true Yogi, as Paramahansa Yogananda came to realize through this incident when he tried foolishly and in vain to prolong the life of a loved creature beyond what its own karma and Gods mysterious divine plan allotted, behaves very differently.
It is only when we come to recognize and value the inscrutable logic of the Divine Plan which by a process of karmic progression leads all creatures, at last, to abide with the Supreme Consciousness, the source and spring of our very being, who is Being Itself, that we can truly behave with equanimity in all lifes situations. Once we truly comprehend this in it fullness and glory, then death has no terrors for us, for we have conquered time, history and finitude and accepted the natural progression of all creatures, great and small, towards their eternal home. What right have we to truncate or delay this process? Acceptance with joy is the only response of a true Yogi to the Leela or play of the Lord.
PRESENT MOMENT – WHERE I AM ALWAYS!
Much of my internal struggle stems from my desire to control life, insisting that it be different than it actually is. However, life is not always, or even rarely, the way I would like it to be. It is simply the way it is. The greater my surrender to this truth of the present moment, the greater will be my peace of mind. The measure of my peace of mind is determined by how much I am able to live in the present moment. Irrespective of what has happened yesterday or last year and what may or may not happen tomorrow, the present moment is where I am always!
My preconceived idea about the way life should be interferes with my opportunity to enjoy or to learn from the present moment. This prevents me from honoring what I am going through , which may be an opportunity for great awakening. Rather than reacting to complaining or disapproval from other members of my family I try to open my heart and accept the moment for what it is making it okay that they are not acting exactly the way I should like them to. If the project I have been working on is rejected, instead of feeling defeated I say to myself, Ah, rejection, next time I will get approval, I take a deep breath and soften my response. This is not to pretend that I enjoy complaints, disapprovals, or failures; but to transcend, that is overcome them, to make it alright with me that life is not performing the way I planned. In such a learning of how to open my heart in the midst of the difficulties of daily life I have found that many of the things that have always bothered me have ceased to be of concern. My perspective deepens. On the other hand, if I fight and struggle with life it becomes a battle and it is like I am a ball in a game of ping-pong.
Life is full of opportunities to choose between making a big deal of something or simply letting it go, realizing it does not really matter. There have been times when I had a need to argue, confront and fight for something I believed in. If my conscious or unconscious goal is to have everything work out in my favor, any disagreement or glitch in my plan can become a big deal. This is a sure prescription for unhappiness or frustration. There is a truth that life is really exactly the way I want it to be. Other people do not act as I would like them to. Moment-to-moment there are aspects of life that I like and others I do not like. There are always going to be people who will disagree with me, and people who do things differently, and things that do not work out. This is a true aspect of life. If I fight against this I will spend most of my life fighting. A peaceful way to live is to decide consciously whether it is worth fighting or better left alone. My primary goal is not to have everything work out perfectly but instead to have a relatively stress-free life. Most fights pull me away from my most tranquil feelings. It is not important for me to prove to members of my family that I am right . It is not important for me to confront a person because it appears that a minor mistake has been made.
I had mastered the neurotic art of spending much of my life worrying about a variety of things all at once. I did allow past problems and future concerns to dominate my present moment so much so that I ended up anxious, frustrated, depressed and hopeless. I had postponed my gratification, my stated priorities and my happiness, convincing myself that SOMEDAY I will be better than today. However, life was what was happening while I was busy making other plans. In short, I missed out on life.
Am I living life as if it were a rehearsal for some later date? I do not have a guarantee that I will be there tomorrow. Now is the only time I have and the only time that I have any control over. When my attention is in the present moment, I push the fear out of my mind. Fear is the concern over events that might happen in the future. I will not have enough money, my children will get into trouble. I will get old and die, whatever.
To combat fear, the best strategy I found is to bring my attention back to the present moment. It is no surprise that I have been through some difficult things in my life, some of which actually happened. By practice, I learned to keep my attention on the present moment, here and now!
Bal Thanedar is expressing a very common failing in that we all tend to be fixated on the past and obsessed about the future. Thus we all make the tragic mistake of not living fully in the present moment, and thus losing the ability to act from the source of courage, inspiration and true agency that is the present.
As Bal noted, by hanging on to prejudices, hurts and frustrations of the past, we give in to a habitual pattern of perpetuating past mistakes and wallowing in our sense of victimization. We also tend to obsess about our future prospects, about whether we will have enough money, health and happiness to sustain us in the future.
In these futile preoccupations, we lose the capacity to impact the present moment and thus mold our lives the way we want to. So instead of having the courage and faith to seize this present moment in which we are true artists, creators and inventors of our lives, we stagnate in unproductive and paralyzing memories and fears.
In fact, the only thing we can impact and change is this present moment. The present is the only time we have to exert our full force of personality, and to bring our unique talents and creativity to bear on life. Only the present is pregnant with the potentiality for realizing goodness, truth, justice and success.
To be honest to ourselves, we must comprehend that the present moment is all we have, and all we need, in order to be co-creators of our world. Only in this present moment is there the joy of creative action as well as infinite possibilities for transformation of ourselves and all of mankind.
Just like swearing, criticism is nothing but a bad habit; it’s just something we get used to doing. When I criticize, that is I judge another person, it says nothing about that person; however, it says something about my own need to be critical. Being critical does not solve anything; however, it does contribute to anger and distrust. None of us like to be criticized. The natural reaction to criticism is to become defensive and to be withdrawn. The person being criticized may retreat in fear, shame; he or she will attack or will lash out in anger.
When I take a moment to observe how I feel immediately after I criticize someone, I have noticed that I feel a little deflated and ashamed, almost like I am the one who has been attacked. The reason this is true is because when I criticize it is a statement to the world and myself that:
I have a need to be critical.
This is not something I am usually proud of to admit.
The best way is to catch myself in the act of being critical and observe the frequency and notice how bad it makes me feel. I try to catch myself being critical and do remember to say to myself, There I go again! This hopefully turns my criticism into tolerance and respect. This is fine for me to enact myself. However, I cannot possibly stop criticism directed towards me.
Very often I am immobilized by any slightest criticism directed towards me. I treat it like an emergency and defend myself as if I am in battle. When I react to criticism with a knee-jerk defensiveness, it hurts. I feel attacked, feel a need to defend myself or to offer a counter criticism. This fills my mind with angry or hurtful thoughts directed at myself or at the person who is being critical. All this reaction takes an enormous amount of mental energy.
In truth, the criticism directed towards me is nothing more than an observation by another person about me, my actions or the way I think about something that does not match the version I have of myself. Big deal!
An incredibly useful exercise is to agree with the criticism directed towards me. This is not talking about turning into a door-mat or running down my self-esteem by believing all the negativity that comes in my direction; this is only suggesting that there are many times when simply agreeing with criticism defuses the situation, satisfies a persons need to express a point of view, offers me a chance to learn something about myself by seeing a grain of truth in another position, and perhaps most importantly, an opportunity to remain calm.
Here is an episode. My wife once told me, Sometimes you talk too much, and do not listen!
I do remember feeling hurt before deciding to agree. I responded by saying: You are right, I do talk too much sometimes.
I discovered something that has changed me. In agreeing with her, I was able to see that she had a good point. I often do talk too much. What is more, my reaction helped her to relax. A few minutes later, she said, You are sure easy to talk to.
I doubt she would have said that had I become angry at her observation. I have since learned that reacting to criticism never makes criticism go away. In fact, negative reactions to criticism often convince the persons doing the criticizing that they are accurate in their assessment of me.
Who has not winced at expressions of criticism, seeing them as a personal attack on the poor fragile vain ego inside us, who demands self-love at all times? Bal, as usual, speaks for every man in this regard. Yet he is able to reflect so well on this counterproductive reaction that undermines so many of us. Before reacting angrily, as he has rightly observed we all seem to do, we should take a step back, and agree with him that being overly critical of others or reacting angrily to criticism are bad habits. And like all bad habits that are learned from the social environment and the need to protect our own fragile egoic selves, it can be unlearned with sincere practice and patient self-observation.
We need to follow the 12 second rule and not react angrily to criticism. Then we will notice that the hurtful feelings subside and we have given ourselves the space and time to behave differently to our usual knee-jerk reactions which only aggravate the tension between two people, usually husband and wife, as in Bals case. We need to have the humility to accept that, although the attack may have been motivated by jealousy, pride, envy or any of the cardinal sins, and the attacker rarely has our best interests at heart (unlike Bal in the instance with his spouse), still there is always a kernel of truth in even the bitterest and most outrageous criticism. Pausing for those 12 seconds helps us to remove the dross of anger, contempt, and other even worse emotions, and find the nugget of gold in the criticism, as we reflect on what could have brought about such an angry outburst and our own defensive reaction, and what could we have done better to produce a more constructive outcome.
Having the patience and humility to find the nugget of gold – that teachable moment – in the criticism, one should be thankful to the one criticizing us and realize that there is always a kernel of truth in any criticism, and we need to learn from this, and strive to do better.
Conversely, and counterintuitively, it is prudent not to criticize others, and certainly not harshly, for in the final analysis, we can never really know what it is to be in the shoes of another person, and what the exact circumstances were that caused the behavior, so we cannot fairly and equitably judge others. The best we should do is to offer constructive advice and suggestions for improvement without diminishing the worth of the other person in our eyes or theirs in any way.
It is safest to leave true judgment to a higher power who can see the totality of the life circumstances that may have provoked that less than stellar behavior, and truly knows what is transpiring in the heart of another. Only the pure in heart are capable of judging others, and, we humans – most of us very far from purity of mind and heart – act badly when we forget who we truly are, which sadly is a hundred times or more every day. And the pure in heart, who are capable of true judgment, are invariably filled with compassion and love rather than criticism.
When I am in a good mood, life looks great. In good moods, things do not feel that hard, problems seem less formidable and easier to solve. In my good mood, communication is easy and even if I am criticized I take it in good stride.
However, when I am in a bad mood, life looks unbearably miserable. I take things personally and misinterpret those around me – imputing malignant motives into their actions. My bad mood tricks me into believing my life is far worse than it really is.
Moods can be extremely deceptive. Moods area always on the run. Without realizing this I sometimes think that life has suddenly become worse in the last day; even in the last hour. So someone who is in a good mood in the morning might love spouse, job, etc., is optimistic about the future and feels great about the past; however, by late afternoon when the mood becomes bad, he claims to hate the job, thinks spouse is a nuisance and believes he is going nowhere in his career. When asked about his childhood, he probably describes it as very difficult and blames his parents for his current plight.
Such quick and drastic contrasts do seem absurd, as well as funny; but we are like that. In low moods, we loose our perspective and everything seems urgent. We completely forget that when we are in a good mood, everything seems so much better. The truth is that life is almost never as bad as it seems when I am in a low mood. Rather than staying stuck in a low and bad temper, I must convince myself, â€˜I am feeling defensive, angry, frustrated, depressed and I am in a bad mood. I always feel negative when I am low.
When I am in an ill mood, I have learnt to pass it off as simply that I am in an unavoidable human condition that will pass with time if I leave it alone. A low mood is not the time to analyze my life. If I have a legitimate problem, it will still be there when my state of mind improves. The trick appears to be graceful in the low moods, and grateful for the good moods. not taking them too seriously.
As usual Bal Thanedar speaks for every man when he describes our mutual bipolar condition, which for most of us, thankfully, does not approach mental illness! However, it can be debilitating and confusing for we are all susceptible to mood swings, when the very same condition that appeared black and impenetrable to us suddenly clears away like morning fog, vaporized by the brilliant rays of the sun.
What we need to do lies in the last sentence. We need to gain equanimity, to equalize these moods, so we neither give credence to the blackness nor to the euphoria. We must strive to embrace these ups and downs as all equally part of lifes incredible diversity and accept them as part of a dualistic world in which opposites will persist until we can grasp the unity of the divine plan. Then, and only then, will we be in the frame of mind to rejoice at adversity like the Prophet Habakkuk in the Hebrew Bible, which contains some of the finest poetry ever written. His verses flow into our hearts:
Though the orchards yield no food, and the olive crop fails.
Though the fold is bereft of flocks, and the stalls have no cattle.
Yet I will exult in the Lord; I will rejoice in my God.
He makes my feet as swift as the deers; sets me riding the heights.
Todays meditation was full of small disturbances: my husband playing the television too loudly; a friend sending a text, so I had to power off my iPhone for the duration of the meditation; small physical discomforts from time to time that briefly brought me out of the meditative state. However, you know that you can always go back into that state of peace and calm at any time; for there is a place within you, which is your true home, where you can experience the unfathomable peace and love that renews you at the deepest level possible, so you can deal creatively with whatever pressures and problems come into your life. It enables you to see people and situations as they truly are with compassion and love for those experiencing adversities, for life always throws us curveballs. And with a loving calmness, you can look for solutions.
For in the meditative space you are close to the Source: you may see lights pulsating and feel the quiet hum which lies at the base of existence. By losing your small egoicself and seeking to become one with the Source, you can see the way forward. Whatever the disturbances of life, you remain always undisturbed, connected to the Source of love and joy, which you can then communicate to all you meet.
Ultimately, meditation is not so much about sitting on a mat for 30 mins to 1 hour a day, trying to eliminate thoughts. Its about who you are as a person and what kind of life you want to live in this world, and who you want to be during the whole day long, and in every moment of your life. Through the meditative state, you become who you really are. And through the magnetism that meditation engenders, you can affect everyone and everything in your life with the deep joy and radiance of the divine creation. Meditation defines who you are and how you want to live this precious life on earth to the benefit of all humanity.
BAL THANEDAR 9
RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
I do not like to go shopping but very recently one day when I had gone I witnessed an incredible display of patience in a store. The check-out clerk had just been chewed out by an angry customer, clearly without a good cause. Rather than being reactive, this clerk defused the anger by remaining calm. When it was my turn to pay for my item I said to the check-out clerk, I am so impressed at the way you handled the customer.
She looked at me right in the eyes and said, Thank you, sir! Do you know you are the first person to ever give me a compliment in the store.
It really took less than two seconds to let her know; yet it was a highlight of her day and mine.
There are several reasons why I do not vocally let others know about my positive feelings towards them. The reasons are such as:
They do not need to hear me say that; they already know.
I do admire him (or her); however I am too embarrassed to say anything.
However, if I ask the would-be recipient if he or she would enjoy being given the genuine compliment and positive feedback, the answer ninety-nine times out of a hundred is, I love it!
Whether my reason for not giving genuine compliments, without any expectation of any return favor, on a regular basis is not knowing what to say, embarrassment, feeling that other people already know their strengths and do not need to be told, or simply not being in the habit of doing it, I think it is high time for me to change it.
Telling someone something I like, admire or appreciate about him/her is a random act of kindness. Once I get used to it, it takes almost no effort, yet it pays enormous dividends. A genuine compliment to a stranger also makes one feel good. Letting someone know how I feel about them also feels good to me the person who is offering the compliment. It is a gesture of loving kindness; and when my thoughts are geared in a positive direction, my feelings are peaceful.
Yes, this resonates with me, for just as l love to be complimented, isnt it equally important that I too should give compliments? And when I am in the frame of mind to truly observe others, it becomes apparent to me that there are innumerable occasions to compliment others all throughout the day.
Speaking for myself, I have to confess I am a little embarrassed to be complimented as I never think I have done anything worth remarking upon as I feel I am just acting in a normal way that I would want to act. I do love to compliment others, though, because I know many people have self-doubts and strive to do the best they can and often feel it is not good enough, so telling them yes, it is good enough, and I truly appreciate it, makes them validate themselves which I find to be very empowering both for them and for me too.
I was recently in New York City – Brooklyn to be exact – and I saw my sons partner, Seline, performing her tasks of mothering their new baby, my first grandchild, so beautifully, the compliments just poured out of me. And I know she appreciated it, as motherhood is one of the hardest jobs in the world because it is emotionally draining as well as physically and intellectually demanding, and, sadly, so few people think to comment on how amazingly mothers cope, their instinctive maternal love tested by tantrums, colic and endless chores. So I wanted Seline to feel truly appreciated and loved, for unless we ourselves feel loved and appreciated, it is so difficult to find the resources to continually love and tend a demanding and fretful baby, however much we adore the little tyrant!
Ultimately, giving compliments is a choice of how we want to live our lives, about who we want to be. When we operate from a center of generosity, then giving is a normal and intrinsic activity, an expression of who we are in essence. It defines us as human beings.
Shakespeare shows us this most cogently in Hamlet. Polonius spoke of the Players: My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
Hamlet answers, Gods bodkin, man, much better. Use every man after his desert, and who shall scape whipping. Use them after your own honor and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.
We all know that Hamlet was deeply flawed, yet he had a basic nobility that was part of his core nature, and essential to how he chose to operate in this world. Treating others according to our own nature is the equivalent of Christ saying, â€˜Love thy neighbor as thyself.
VISION AND VOICE
It all started thirty years ago. Dr Yunus had just received his PhD in Economics from the US and was teaching his elegant theories of economics at the University of Bangladesh in Dacca. The country was in a state of famiine. A walk outside the classroom used to reveal, all around, the skeleton of people waiting to die. Dr Yunus felt whatever he had learned and was teaching was all make-believe with no meaning for peoples lives. So he started to find out how people lived in the village next door to the university campus. He wanted to find out whether there was anything he could do as a human being to stop the death of even one single person. He abandoned the birds-eye view that lets one see everything from above, from the sky. He assumed a worms-eye view, trying to find whatever comes right in front of him that he can smell and touch, and see if he can do something about it.
One particular incident took him in a new direction. He met a woman who was making bamboo stools. After a long discussion, he found that she made only 2 US pennies a day. He could not believe anyone could work so hard and make such beautiful bamboo stools, and yet make such a tiny amount of profit. She explained to him that because she did not have money to buy the bamboo to make the stools, she had to borrow from the trader – and the trader imposed the condition that she had to sell the product to him alone, at a price he decided.
And that explains the two pennies – she was virtually in bonded labor to this person. And how much did the bamboo cost? She said, Oh, about twenty cents, and twenty-five for a very good one. He thought, People suffer for twenty cents and there is nothing anyone can do about it? He debated whether he should give her twenty cents, but then he came up with another idea – let me make a list of people who need that kind of money. He took a student of his and they went around the village for several days and came up with a list of forty-two such people. When he added up the total amount they needed, he got the biggest shock of his life – it added up to twenty-seven dollars! He felt ashamed of himself for being part of a society which could not provide twenty-seven dollars to forty-two hard-working skilled human beings.
To escape that shame, he took the money out of his pocket and gave it to his student. He said, You take this money and give it to those forty-two people that we met and tell them this is a loan, but they can pay me back whenever they are able to. In the meanwhile they can sell their products wherever they can get a good price.
After receiving the money, they were very excited. Seeing that excitement made him think, What do I do now? He thought of the bank branch which was located on the campus of the university, and he went to the manager and suggested he lend money to the poor people that he had met in the village. He fell from the sky! He said, You are crazy. It is impossible. How could we lend money to poor people? They are not creditworthy. He pleaded with him and said, At least give it a try, find out – it is only a small amount of money. The Manager said, No. Our rules do not permit it. They cannot offer collateral, and such a tiny amount is not worth lending. He suggested that Dr Yunus see the high officials in the banking hierarchy in Bangladesh.
He took this advice and went to the people who matter in the banking section. Everybody told him the same thing. Finally, after several days of running around, Dr Yunus offered himself as a guarantor. I will guarantee the loan, I will sign whatever they want me to sign, and they can give me the money and I will give it to the people I want to give it to.
So that was the beginning. They warned him repeatedly that the poor people who were receive the money will never pay it back. Dr Yuhus said, I will take a chance. And the surprising thing was, they repaid him every penny. He got very excited and came to the Manager and said, Look, they pay back, there is no problem. But the Manager said, Oh no, they are just fooling you. Soon they will take more money and never pay you back. So Dr Yunus gave them more money, and they paid him back. He told this to the Manager, but the Manager said, Well, may be you can do it in one village, but if you do it in two villages, it will not work. And Dr Yunus hurriedly did it in two villages – and it worked.
So it became a kind of struggle between Dr Yunus and the Bank Manager and his colleagues in the highest positions. They kept saying that a larger number, five villages probably, will show it. So he did it in five villages, and it only showed that everybody paid back. Still they did not give up. They said, Ten villages. Fifty villages. One hundred villages. So it became a kind of contest between them and Dr Yunus. Dr Yunus came up with the results they could not deny because it was their money he was giving, but they would not accept it because they are trained to believe that poor people are not reliable. Luckily, Dr Yunus was not trained that way so he could believe whatever he was seeing, as it revealed itself. But the bankers minds and eyes were blinded by the knowledge they had.
Finally, Dr Yunus had a thought, Why am I trying to convince them? I am totally convinced that poor people can take money and pay it back. Why dont we set up a separate bank? That excited him, and he wrote down the proposal and went to the government to get permission to set up a bank. It took him two years to convince the government.
On December 22, 1980, Dr Yunus started an independent bank with a name, Grameen (meaning rural) Bank. Now it works in more than 46, 000 villages in Bangladesh through 1267 branches and over 12,000 staff members. They have lent more than $4.5 billion in loans of twelve to fifteen dollars. They even lend to beggars to help them come out of begging and start selling. A housing loan is $300. These are small numbers to those in business. But think in terms of the individual impact. To lend $500 million annually required 3.7 million people, 96% of whom are women, to make a decision that they could and would take steps to change their lives and the lives of their families; 3.7 million people had to decide that they were capable of creating change; 3.7 million people survived the sleepless nights to show up trembling but committed at the Grameen office the next morning. At the heart of this empowerment lies individual women who chose individually and in synergistic norm-producing groups to become self-reliant, independent entrepreneurs producing goods out of their own homes or neighborhoods or backyards to become economically viable and successful. They found their voices.
Dr Yunus is an example of a man who sensed human need and responded to conscience by applying his talent and passion to meet the need – first personally, then in building trust and searching for creative solutions to problems, and finally by institutionalizing the capacity to fill the needs of society through an organization.
This is one of the great legends of modern society, similar to Gandhis simple but courageous march to Dandi to protest the Raj-imposed tax on salt, a basic commodity that ordinary people needed, which formed the first small step in the great battle for Indias Independence against British colonial rule, and the peoples deep desire for self-government and nationhood.
It shows us how entrenched and limiting are conventional ways of thinking by which the upper echelons of society seek to entrench their privileges and dominant position in society by denigrating the potential of poor people to act as agents of change and improvement in their own lives, simply because they dont have the normal accoutrements of power, such as higher education, wealth and class position.
Bal Thanedar is teaching us all a lesson in humility, so that we can recognize and actively promote the potential to actively improve their lives of even people at the bottom of the social hierarchy, and women who suffer deep and insidious gender discrimination – the very people who in the normal course of life are ignored and disparaged by society.
What Dr Yunus provided to improve the lives of the poor rural women of Bangladesh – which was infinitely more important for their ultimate success than the tiny amounts of capital he was dispensing – was precisely those intangible qualities which made the real difference: his belief in their potential; his trust in their abilities; his faith in their significance as equally deserving and capable human beings. It is these intangible qualities that the staid and blinkered bankers failed to acknowledge. What the bourgeois bankers lacked was Dr Yunus vision, and his fundamental trust in and respect for even the poorest of the poor, and their capacity to aspire to the same goals as the rich and privileged.
It is intangibles like respect, love and appreciation for the dignity and self-worth of all peoples and classes that we need to cultivate to make our fellow humans prosper, for their suffering is ultimately our suffering. For this we need the vision to see, as Dr Yunus did, that we are all joined together in one common humanity, and what unites us is far more important than what divides us.
This is a supplement to Ragacha Avirbhav. Anger is epidemic, no one seems immune to it. the violent outbursts take place in remote villages, crowded cities, and even at idyllic vacation spots as well. Everyone everywhere seems to be hotter these days. It is a mad mad world: time, technology and tension appear to be the culprits. Americans work longer hours than anyone else in the world. The cell phones and pagers do not make our lives easier; on the other hand, they have put us on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. We are always running, we are tense and we are very low in patience. The less patience we have the less we monitor what we say to people and how we treat them.
There are more os us than ever, all wanting the same space, the same goods, the same services and attention. Everyone thinks. Me first! I do not have time to be polite. It appears that we have lost our civility and tolerance for inconvenience.
Life has become complex. I rely on computers that crash, drive on roads which get congested, when I place calls I have to talk to machines the put me on endless hold. These are the things which make me feel that I do not have control of my life. The sense of helplessness triggers the rage. There is a misconception that anger is the psychological equivalent of the steam in the pressure cooker that needs to be released or it will explode. Research has shown that this is not true. Angry people who might think that they are relieving their anger by screaming, swearing, hitting, kicking, throwing things in fury, they become more enraged. Temper tantrums damage physical health as well as psychological peace.
I need to figure out what really makes me angry. I monitor myself for the early signs of exhaustion and/or overload. Stress makes me vulnerable to over-reacting. When I feel myself getting angry I control my tongue and brain. Like any other feeling, anger lasts only about three seconds; what keeps it going is my negative thinking. As long as I focus on who or what irritated me – like an idiotic child who rammed the grocery cart into my heels – I will stay angry. Once I came to understand that I am driving my own anger with my thoughts I can stop it.
The way I handle the angry person is I act as if I am watching someone elses two-year old having a temper tantrum at the supermarket. I stay calm. If I let loose my emotions they only add fuel to the fury. I talk slowly and quietly to let the angry person know that I do understand that he/she is angry. I refuse to engage here. I do step back, retreat further if needs be until the angry person is back in control.
Anger has become an epidemic in our society as Bal Thanedar so astutely points out. The frenetic pace of modern life and the excessive demands it makes on people, who cannot escape the pressures placed upon them as they did in times past when communications were not so instantaneous and not so much was demanded of everyone, has made rage – including road rage as we all sit in traffic jams fuming that we cannot get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time – endemic in our society.
Yet, as Bal also so clearly points out, the solution is also in our own hands. As he righty points out, all emotions pass away in a matter of seconds. So the solution is to hang tight until our reactive angry emotions pass, and then we can put everything into perspective. So next time you feel consumed by anger, acknowledge and allow the angry feelings, yet refrain from acting on them because you know these feelings will pass and you can regain mastery over your emotions and allow your own intrinsic good nature to prevail.
If you just remain aware of the negative emotion but do not allow it to trigger some unfortunate angry reaction that you will later come to regret, then you are the master and not the slave of your emotional life. Mastery of your emotions allows you to achieve mastery over your mental reactions, and to live life at peace and in tranquillity in the calm steady eye of the storm, unaffected and serene as the quiet observer of the mayhem around you, and yet untouched by it. Become the observer of your own life through meditation, and watch the currents and waves go by as you sit quietly unaffected by the swirling of the waters.
These currents and waves are maya or illusion, and they obscure the true reality that is you, which you will only see when you allow the surging waves and ceaseless motion of the ocean to subside into stillness.