Tuesday, 22 April 2014

JAPA PURASCHARANA: THE MASTER CLEANSER OF JAPA RESOLUTION



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"Life is short. Time is fleeting. The world is full of miseries. Cut the knot of Avidya and drink the Nirvanic bliss. That day on which you do not perform Japa is simply wasted. Those who simply eat, drink and sleep and do not perform Japa are horizontal beings only."

Swami Sivananda 


There are many secret weapons in Sadhana that everyone, be it householder of recluse, can use and benefit from. But what more exalted practice than a vow, a vrata, to complete a mantra purascharana? This is a very specific task, and one which, however you look at it, takes up a lot of time to do. But many brothers and sisters are bravely setting forth... 

(read Vishnupriya's excellent blog on this here at

 http://mantrayoga.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/beginning.html).

I have included  a link to Swami Sivananda's famous notes on japa from his guide that you can read here:

http://www.dlshq.org/teachings/japayoga.htm.


What is a japa purascharana

What is a purascharana? It is a way for the mantra you use to become enlivened, by the constant practice (abhasya) of repetition via the technique of Japa. A purascharana vrata involves the repetition 100,000 times (one lakh) of EACH syllable of the mantra (not each letter). It is also an intensive use of what is called japa naam, naam being "The Holy Name".

A puruscharana can manifest the deity for you, but at the very least it can cleanse you from the inside in ways that are staggering. All of us have a temple in our inner heart space in which dwells the deity, but for most of us this temple is inaccessible, the way to it covered by muck and filth. There's a legend from Ancient Greek mytho-history that neatly provides a metaphor: one of the 12 labours of the famous hero Hercules was to clean out the Augean stables, a truly Herculean task. Cleaning out the inner temple is essential, or otherwise we will never have the deep union with the Divine which our souls crave. Japa is a deeply effective way to do this cleaning.

If you undertake a purascharana for worldly reasons - success, job, wealth and all that, it does have an effect - but what a waste of energy and a sad comment on your own limited view on life. Doing a purascharana for a shiny new car or whatever it is you might want is just the essence of mistaken spirituality.But nevertheless this kind of effort is supported by the scriptures. If you desperately require a way to earn a living, a partner, freedom from debts and so forth, then some way to clear away the effects of prarabdha karma is required.

The effects of Prarabhda Karma

Prarabdha karma has no equivalent in western thought beyond the vague terms "fate" and "destiny" but in the Vedic world system it is defined as "past-life karma" or karma from earlier actions in your life which bear fruit. It often explains exactly why we stuck in difficult situations which seem to make no sense, which might cause us pain, sorrow or distress. It is the difficult stuff - the crop we are reaping from the seeds we sowed earlier, and normally we have no conscious way of knowing the whys, whens and wherefores.

We can endure this karma with fortitude but there is actually a way to mitigate it, and japa is the perfect weapon in this. It is, as Sri Ramakrishna's famous wife Sri Sarada Devi put it, as if japa turns the destiny of someone due to lose a leg into the same person simply suffering the prick of a thorn. Japa cleanses this kind of karma. It lifts the mire and the dirt we may have accumulated. It frees our bonds. But only if there is some devotion, it's not the insane gabbling of a name for no reason.

Concrete tapasya

Best is spiritual reasons and spiritual endeavour. A purascharana is concrete and real tapasya, done throughout the ages by great saints, great sinners, yogis, householders, warriors, the downtrodden, you name it and at the very least it will help you clear your karmic load and help destroy negative tendencies. it is not for the idle, the volatile, for those too lazy to make any real efforts in sadhana. It is tough.

Japa is the spiritual practice recommended for Kali Yuga, simply because it is so easy to do, requires no elaboration - although some follow a purascharana with various offerings and rituals, and others decide to do it over 40 days (which, depending on the length of the mantra, could be impossible if you have a job or a family).

A purascharana vrata involves the repetition 100,000 times (one lakh) of EACH syllable of the mantra (not each letter). Some schools of thought say all this has to be done in 40 days... Which in the case of some mantras seems mathematically impossible.

Much as we might love to devote 6 or even 16 hours a day to japa, unfortunately our jobs and occupation and responsibilities might not let us, so be severely practical and make this doable within the allotted time available. Different mantras have different rates of completion (Thus, OM on its own would be relatively easy to do).

Setting a very strict time-frame is less important that actually getting it done. But choose an auspicious day to begin! As the saying goes, "well begun is half done" and if you need a panchang to help you, try this one: http://www.drikpanchang.com/panchang/month-panchang.html?l=7191.

My own advice would be to set aside at least 2 hours a day for the japa, and aim to devote yourself fully in this time. If you live alone and have a place to perform this japa, you can do longer. The ideal mentioned by Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Sivananda is 6 hours a day. Sri Sarada Devi used to manage to recite her mantra 20,000 times a day, but I imagine her mantra was relatively short.


Equipment

You basically need just three bits of equipment, ie:

1) japa mala
2) mala bag
3) a counting string of beads

Item 1 is easy to obtain. Traditionally you use a Tulsi japa mala for Vaishnava mantras, rudrakshas for Shaivite mantras, Lotus, crystal or rudraksha for Shakti mantras. All are easily obtainable. A mala bag covers and protects the mala and fits over your right hand. You hold it above the navel, don't let it droop!

The counting bed helps you count off each mala. You recite the japa in a particular way in the Hindu tradition, never crossing the "guru" bead, and not using your first finger or 4th or 5th. Easy technique once you get the hang of it. I have used many malas, but the smoothest and easiest is a good lotus bead mala. Rudrakshas are a little spiky to use...

A mala bag should never be placed on the ground. It should only be used on the right hand. And you should precede your mantra repetitions with some introductory prayers, especially to your Guru and to Lord Ganesh, who is the remover of obstacles in sadhana.

Further japa considerations

Find a posture that is comfortable, seated on a dedicated mat of wool is best, with a mat of kusha grass beneath, and once your posture is set, stick to it from then on. You will find your right arm may get a bit sore after a while, which is why some Yogis had supports to help them - a pillow or cushion will help you rest the arm, the objective is not to torture your body unnecessarily, so be comfortable but never do japa lying down.

According to the Kalika Purana the following japa malas have particular purposes:
Ivory: Lord Ganesh
Corals: getting wealth
All desires: crystal
Sandalwood: Shiva/Devi
Rudraksha: Shiva/Devi
Tulsi: Vishnu, Krishna, Nrisimha

In case a rosary breaks, it is considered auspicious by some, but a sign of progress by others. If it falls down, to repurify it, chant Hrim and the Om Namah Shivaya 108 times.

If possible, face East or North if during day, or North if chanting at night.

Always if you can do one initial mala (ie 108 times) to Lord Ganesh, as the remover of obstacles, with his mantra Om Gam Ganapataye Namahah or some such formula.

Scriptural reminders of Japa's importance

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells us: "Among the yajnas, I am the Japa-yajna." Yajna means in this context sacrifice, and there are many kinds of ritualistic yajnas that can be performed, but Lord Krishna chose to highlight japa. Why? According to the Linga Purana, all other yajnas ultimately involve, however subtly, some sort of injury. There is none in Japa.

Here is a definition also from the Agni Purana:
The syllable ja destroys the birth and death cycle and the syllable pa destroys all sins. Thus that which destroys all sins and puts an end to samsara andliberates souls from bondage is japa.

More from the Linga Purana:
"When you do japa in your home, the merit will be only as much as the count of japa. Whereas if chanted in a cow-pen (Goshala), the merit is a hundredfold greater. If the same japa is done on the bank of a holy river, the merit will be 100,000 more than the previous two. If the same japa is done in front of a holy image of God, its merit could not be counted. On the shores of the ocean, on mountains, in temples, hermitages, the japa brings untold merits. The japa done in front of the Lord's image or gazing at the pole star and the sun-god are very efficacious. The japa done in front of a flame, fire and cow are meritorious; likewise the holy mantra and japa done in front of the Guru."

Japa done in a garden of Tulasi, or Bilva trees, Rudrakshas and so forth controls the mind very easily.

Practice

You should aim to do a sit number of repetitions in one sitting, at the same time every day, and in a place by yourself - ie not watching the TV, listening to the radio or sitting with your cat knitting. And you also need a picture of the deity to whom you offer your prayers. Once finished, sit quietly for at least 5 minutes.

Boredom and mental restlessness can inevitably set in, and for this reason the saints and sages recommend you vary things a bit - one round of japa you can speak, maybe one you can sing, one you whisper, one you do silently and so forth. Remember, your determination and humility are the key to unlocking the potential of a mantra. Every mantra has a "bolt" that locks up its power, a little like a hard casing of a seed, which only splits open when the right conditions come along. The water, in this case, is your courage and one-pointedness. This takes bravery! Do you have this? Be realistic and authentic.

There are some great tales of puruscharanas undertaken by saints. Less inspiring are those who set out to get great riches or powers. Gopi Krishna's autobiography about Kundalini awakening contains two salutary stories of people who tried to do that and ending up getting more than they bargained for.

But if your heart is pure and intentions noble, then have absolutely no fear.  And in many cases, people want some help from what they see as bad luck... In getting a job, in helping cure illness and so forth. This kind of simple but deep tapasya is an ideal way to get Divine help in difficulty.

You will rapidly find that any irritation at doing Japa gives way to something much more engrossing and calming.

The ideal way is to link the mantra to the inbreath and the outbreath (Ajapa-Japa) , and this depends on the length of the mantra. I use 2 beads for inbreath/retention, 2 for outbreath/retention. But this soon gets extended. You can find yourself saying the whole mala just on the inbreath or in breath suspension. Japa becomes very blissful and a different experience altogether if you link in this way.

The other advice would be to turn gradually to "manasika" japa, ie mentally and clearly repeated, linked to the inbreath and outbreath. This is the royal way to do japa and is wonderful. Sometimes you may then vary to quiet movement of the lips and tongue. The great Manu tells us: "The oral japa is ten times more meritorious than ritual sacrifice. Upamsu japa is a hundred times better and mental japa is a thousand times greater."

A tune or hint of a melody also helps, one which differentiates between your inbreath japa and outbreath japa, so you instantly know where you are if you get a little spaced out.

What mantra, and what if I am not initiated?

This is a very real concern for many, who have no access to a living Guru or a teacher, and are fearful of making a mistake and incurring bad fortune. Firstly, let me observe that this is a very Indian mind-set, a sort of needless terror of a wrathful deity who points a baleful finger your way and says "But you pronounced my name wrooongly..." with a clap of thunder. If this is what you fear, what image of God do you honestly hold in your heart? Because this is something the saints do not recognise! God is merciful, kind, loving, eager to lift you from misery and troubles. God will go to any lengths for a genuine devotee. This is the true experience of everyone who has progressed on the path of sadhana.

The image of an angry punishing God is simply a reflection of a tamasic and impure mind that projects their own anger, their own issues about mother and father figures, onto the universe. If you cannot believe God is Love and means you well then simply do not do a purascharana, it is not for you.

The best mantras to use are indeed the ones given in initiation, but if this is not practically possible, then many saints advise that you choose a mantra in good faith and use it, and stick to it. The Swami Sivananda link has a list of mantras you can safely use. There are many other teachers who advise this same route, so have no fears about this.

Some words from the Gurus and saints on japa

Shri Shri Bijoykrishna Goswami (a great saint from Ramakrishna Paramahansa's time):
"In a place of worship if one fixes one's eyes on a deity and repeats naam with total concentration, the God may actually be seen."

"Try to repeat the naam in every breath. There is no better way than repeating naam. I have got great results in my life by this practice. Just practice repetition of naam in the right manner and then see if you don't achieve results!Initially one may feel great irritation on repeating naam but it should not be given up. Prarabdha karma gets eroded by repetition of naam in every breath. Good and better states are also attained by it. There is no better way than eroding prarabdha than this."

"Everything is achieved only when one is habituated in repeating naam in every breath. Nothing gives as much benefit, irrespective of your doing japa otherwise 3 or 4 lakhs or 3 or 4 crores."

"One can be free by intense renunciation. Not a single inhalation or exhalation should be missed in naam because so many enemies can move inside finding that little hole! So many men, gandharvas, gods, create various obstacles on this path of desireless salvation. All test you severely on this path."

Shri Kuladananda Brahmachari, his disciple:
"Believing that due to my own flawed efforts I was not getting any benefits from sadhana, I was disgusted with myself. I vowed to pursue sadhana all my life and burn my body and soul to ashes in the process. I started non-stop japa starting from early morning till 11 at night except the time taken for bathing and sleeping."

Baba Muktananda:
"While coming and going, while standing or doing different jobs, one should chant the Divine name with great love. In this way one will not only become liberated himself but will be able to liberate others, too. Japa should become an addiction from which you cannot find a way out."

"Just as fire purifies gold of all its dross, likewise the name of the Lord, once it takes residence in one's heart, purifies that heart completely from the dross of impurities and sins. Another name for chanting is devotion.!

Sri Sarada Devi:
"One must experience the result of prarabdha karma. No one can escape it. But japa minimises its intensity. It is like the case of a man who is destined to lose his leg, but instead suffers only from the prick of a thorn in his foot."

Swami Chidananda:
"The more you repeat the name with Bhava, the greater the force generated and ultimately the time comes when the force that is hidden in the name becomes fully awakened."

Swami Vishnudevananda:
"Japa is one of the most direct ways of Self-realisation. It removes the dirt of the mind, the anger, greed and lust and other impurities that hide the light within."

"Japa done with faith, devotion and purity augments the power of the aspirant bestyowing on him the virtues and powers of the mantra's presiding deity. Revealing God to his consciousness it confers illumination and spiritual bliss... if no Guru can be found, select any mantra that seems appropriate. It should be repeated with faith and devotion every day."


The blogger's puruscharana (begun 2014)

I am undertaking a purascharana for my own very long Devi mantra, as a way of thanks to Divine Mother and as an inner house cleaning. This started on the right auspicious time with a simple ceremony on this year's Akshaya Tritiya, a most wonderful auspicious day for all new spiritual endeavour which in 2014 fell on 1 May in London UK. This vrata is a significant undertaking.

This purascharana is dedicated to each and every person who reads these words, . It is hoped this will inspire you to do a similar thing out of love for God, not out of material desire.

Blessings will flow to you, and I really hope you will feel the benefits of this simple tapasya done by a crazy tapasvin! I hope that you can plan a committment, too.

Progress up to end June 2015
The Japa purascharana has continued, like a heartbeat, day in, day out, come sun rain hail, travel, moods month after month, reaching over 980,000 repetitions from 1 May 2014 until the end of June 2015. This should bring 1.6mn repetitions by two years - and hopefully ending on Akshiya Tritiya in 2016, which will be on 9 May.

Every day without fail, rain or shine, I have sat for Japa, and that means at home, at work, travelling to and from work, and on work assignments in Miami, St Petersburg, Sri Lanka, Cape Town, and so forth. Most of it has been unglamorous, steady effort. But it has been a promise made and promise kept, and the cause of such intense inner joy.

Sometimes Japa has been as smooth as silk. Sometimes as hard as pushing a boulder made of iron. For months an extreme weariness assailed me every time I sat for Japa. Then, sometimes, everything has been hushed and still, and plain sailing. The mantra unlocked after about two months, bringing a wonderful vision of the Devi... then for many months it snapped shut, and sadhana carried on under very testing conditions (my twin brother sadly died at this time). But still the effort went on.

Things became more lively again around April 2015, when I slightly changed and removed the "om" at every repetition, given the fact this was a Devi mantra. (Papa Ramdas did a similar adjustment to his own Rama mantra many years previously). The effects were unexpectedly electric. A bit like when you start a wood fire and it does not seem to catch at all.. so you pile on more fuel until finally whooooooooooosh. Well, this is what happened in this case. The mantra opened up, grew enormously vivid and alive, and at this point ajapa-japa began to be very marked, the mantra centred on the throat, the vishuddhi chakra, where seemingly a huge hole opened up, felt as a spacious physical sensation with me now at all times. From this hole gushes the mantra and other mantras as well.

Aside from the formal sitting, I also try to repeat the mantra  through the rest of the day. as I still work for a living. Propped up in front of my computer screen (actually a double screen) is a post-it sticker with the words ajapa-japa on it. These informal repetitions make up for any gabbling or quickness of repetition in the formal sittings.

One important point is to make the japa meaningful and heart-felt, and not some mad impatient gabbling to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Vishnupriyas blog has a link to a good and common-sense piece of advice from Swami Sivananda, a man who was no stranger to purascharanas and tapas of every kind, but who also valuably lived in the world as a doctor before his life as a famous sannyasin and founder of a school of yoga full of integrity. So, if you are interested, read up some of the basics from him.

The conclusion to phase one

The 1.6mn repetitions was reached within 2 years, after long months of repetition. The mantra assumed a life, a living 3D reality, and would remind me if I was late in saying it at formal sittings. Many wonderful experiences, but the ones that I honour the most are the days when nothing happened, like trudging along an empty road for miles and miles, with the mantra as a comfort. It was the one constant in a life of big changes, a beautiful practice.

Experiences

The kind of experiences that will come to you through intense japa will depend on your own purity. But remember that the mantra is the form of the deity, and also that the mantra is light. You will find that the mantra resolves itself into a point of light, and then the body of the deity or the yantra of the deity will appear to you.

You will also begin to be aware of the subtle chakras in your body, especially the point between the eyebrows, the ajna chakra, and the sahasrara, the crown of the heart. A spaciousness will open out for you, and you will begin to see visions.

The mantra repetition will also begin to shift, whether you wish it or not... down to the other centres of your body. It will take its own life and its own direction, because remember that all mantras are not just vehicles, they contain seeds, the famous Bija mantra, and these seeds begin to grow. Seeds do not remain static, they grow. And from their growth you will have extraordinary experiences.

Now these you may think you want, as a sort of cinematic entertainment. But this is not what we are talking about. What really happens is the start of inexorable transformation and deep change. You will never be the same again. Your foolish, selfish, impure and narcissistic self-pitying self will get to see its own gradual dissolution. This needs courage, virtue, wisdom and dedication to accept and encourage.

You will find too that pranayama will take place very naturally - sometimes your breath will go like bellows, as if you are giving birth, or your breath will be suspended for long periods.

When japa really takes off is when it starts to come automatically, very subtly, ringing in your body and mind.

Rapidly too, you will find, your asana becomes your point of refuge, or joy and bliss, as events unfold around you. Sometimes as you do prolonged japa it feels like you are on a raft in a stormy sea, but untouched by the waves and wind, or in the middle of a world of fire. As long as you stay on that asana you are safe. That is one of the beauties of japa: just sit and recite. sit and recite.  sit and recite. All will unfold for you.

A bridge

Wherever you look when you study the lives of great saints, you will come across the magic of purascharana (also anglicized as purushcharana by some). It's a bridge to cross from the land of sloth and spiritual inertia to a land of committed practice. It's a line in the sand. It's the planting of a flag and a sign. 

It is an in-breath, a courageous resolution and a warrior's declaration: 

"Whatever my destiny, good or bad, I can do this difficult thing. 
Like others before me, through the ages, 
I will offer my respects to my ishta-devata. 
I will do this as an act of love."

Now you can complicate this all you like, you can insist on rules and regulation (and there are some basic rules to observe) but the nub of it, the heart of the matter is just you and a japa mala within a japa bag, and your intention versus your wandering mind.

Why this and not just spending more time meditating?

Japa is suited to the Kali Yuga era. Japa controls the tongue in a marvellous way - and control of the tongue and the genitals is said in the scriptures to be the way you can flourish even in Kali Yuga. And it is simple to do! Just japa.. mind wanders... back to japa... japa... japa.

This blog will aim to keep you updated on progress, but do write and let me know about your own efforts.

JAI MATA DI!

Japa from the Dasbodh, the famous Marathi sayings of Swami Ramdas, Guru of Kabir:

One should have constant remembrance of God. The name of God should be repeated continuously. This will bring about freedom and contentment.

One should have the discipline to continuously remember the name of God in the morning, the afternoon, the evening.

One should not be without the name of God at anytime, whether in a state of happiness, sorrow, distress, worry or joy.

Remember god in times of enjoyment, in unfavourable times, auspicious times, festive times, at the time of rest, and at the time of sleep.

By the name of God, stones have floated, an unaccountable number of devotees have been uplifted, and even the worst scoundrels have become completely free.

Everyone, in all classes of society, has the right to chant the name of God. There is no such thing as inferior or superior when remembering God. Even foolish and materialistic people have reached the other shore by remembering God.

All types of troubles from ghosts, malevolent spirits from the astral world, problems arising from the incorrect chanting of mantras, to being haunted by the spirit of a brahmin can all be destroyed with faith in god.

The body of  one who always remembers the name of God should be considered an auspicious body.

Dasbodh 4.3




HOUSEHOLDER SADHANA: 10 STEPS TO MASTER






Most of us find ourselves deeply embedded in the world in this lifetime, with responsibilities, families, mortgages, jobs and all the joys and sorrows that a life in the world brings us. But when we start to turn to the tricky problems of life, to the deeper questions and challenges, we find that spiritual practice is not in any way an easy option and presents us with a whole new set of challenges.

Only the very few in life are destined for total renunciation, and in this day and age even this kind of exalted life ultimately depends on the support of householders (or a rich ashram or monastery). So in a real sense the householder life, where we pay our way but still pursue sadhana, expresses the spirit of the age. It may be the best we can hope for, because the world is no longer based on a network of householders with surplus supporting and encouraging the tradition of, say, the wandering sannyasin.

To truly master the path of householder sadhana, spiritual practice, is a heroic endeavour. You get no plaudits. You get no understanding from worldly friends and family. There is no benign head of an ashram of Guru cheering you on on the sidelines. You slip beneath the net, in secret, a figure deciding to commit to something deeply unfashionable, extremely difficult, and ultimately solitary. So, a tough task.

Householder sadhana, does, however, offer a wonderful learning academy where you have the chance to attain mastery of an exceptionally difficult route. Mastery, in turn, is multi-faceted. There are many skills you have to learn, but we can boil them down to 10 basic elements that you will have to come to grips with if you hope to follow the path of spiritual discipline while living in the world. Here they are:




1.      Learn to take care of yourself
This basic mastery is one which is the most fundamental of them all. To take care of yourself involves learning some basic but vital life skills: some are simple and obvious, such as how to dress, how to clean yourself and your environment, how to cook, how to handle money, how to recognise your own needs and reconcile them with the needs of others. But it is astounding how so many people looking into the spiritual path can act like 2 year olds who believe the entire universe owes them worship, adoration and primacy.

In the world, this is not so unfamiliar: tyrannical and narcissistic bosses, leaders, politicians can be motivated by such an astonishing self-belief that they can easily bully or scam their ways to the top. Men and women, too, can use their sexuality to control others and get them to cater to their every whim. But in the spiritual life, this will get you nowhere, and lead you to many nasty wake-up calls over your selfishness.

The key to taking care of yourself is, therefore, recognising that “no man is an island” and that your actions affect others, and your environment. So the lesson here: can you take care of yourself in a way that will benefit the world we live in? Can you tread lightly? Can you help others, in a quiet and hidden way? Yes, but it takes repeated effort.

Above all, can you find inner peace and happiness? Because the more you live in the world, the more you realise that what you think gives you happiness does not last. The glittering circus of worldly success and effort has a shadow side – worldly failure. Joys are short-lived. Can you find that contentment that does not disappear, that is stronger than any condition thrown at it? Spiritual practice will help you discover it.





2.      Learn to take care of others
Living in the world involves relationships. Spiritual effort acknowledges a new relationship – the relationship with the Divine, the transcendent. But this can seem very far away, a distant ideal of the mind and heart. Far more immediate, far closer to home is the web of relationships that forms your life. Your parents, your partner, your children, your siblings. Often the biggest trouble in worldly life does not come from parents or children, but the brothers and sisters we are brought up with and who are our teachers in our youth.

Taking care of others does not involve going off to the homes of the terminally ill with a pious face and doing voluntary work. No, it involves nurturing, loving, forgiving those close to us in this incarnation. Often the most crucial act in taking care of others is forgiveness – and not just once, but maybe many times, over and over again. And the lessons come thick and fast!

The one thing we know about life in the world is that we will be called, at key moments in life, to do the very difficult thing, and both love and forgive. A partner leaves you. A parent dies. A child goes off the rails. A job gets lost. You are betrayed, by someone you hold dear. How do you handle that? Can you still, at the end of the day say, “look, no matter what, I still wish you well” and mean it? This is a tough assignment, and the Buddhist practice of metta bhavana (a simple exercise to wish loving kindness on others) is a brilliant weapon to use in this instance.






3.      Learn when to say yes and when to say no
This applies to ourselves and how we interact with the world. In terms of ourselves, we have to master our basic instincts and drive, and if we are a particular character type particularly prone to less helpful behaviour patterns and addictions, it can be a lifetime struggle. Learning to say “No” to anger, greed and lust is the heart of the problem.

Learning to say No to that which ultimately causes us harm takes every ounce of courage, grit and determination, because the temptations are always all around us in the modern world. Learning to say yes to what seems joyless and boring – temperance, modesty, prudence, chastity, this is a truly heroic thing to do. It pays the most fantastic rewards in terms of inner peace, but the situation can be always changing, always needing vigilant oversight… which in turn can become a monstrous voice of a controlling super-ego. So sometimes just saying Yes is not enough. It is saying yes gently, and with humour and wisdom.

Saying “No” is a particular problem that arises if you are a gentle soul looking for peace and love, because the tendency is to bend a little too far, in the interests of not rocking any boat. But life can bring us to that tough decision moment when you do indeed have to say No… to a bully; to an overbearing family member; to a job that is killing your spirit; to an undoubtedly evil person. Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted, even if this goes against your naturally sweet disposition.

4.      Learn what is changeless and what changes
Age normally brings wisdom to most of us, principally because the long stretch of years reveals the inexorable constant of life, which is change. Conditions in life are never static, and even our most basic assumptions about ourselves and our family will be up-ended, time and time again.  But there is something which never changes,.and only spiritual practice will uncover it.


5.      Learn what is pleasure and what brings joy
The Vedic texts are very clear about the difference between actions that give us that immediate buzz of instant gratification (or even oblivion) and the actions that are more difficult at first but which end up being far more conducive to happiness.

A simple analogy: stuffing your face with food until you burst may be a great idea at the time, but has unpleasant consequences. Training for a half marathon may involve unpleasant exertion at the start, but brilliantly satisfying at the end. True joy is always part of our inner heart, it envelopes us but we rarely feel it. Pleasure? Well, that’s what the world is hooked on, and it leads nowhere. It is empty, a brief flare-up, a momentary tingle and buzz. Find out this real joy, but you will have to learn to dive deep.





6.      Learn about the world you are in
One Greek legend tells that Ulysses, the wisest of men and a king of a small kingdom (and hero of the Odyssey) , chose for his next incarnation the life of an obscure shepherd because he recognised the wisdom of a simple pure life. In this day and age, such life options are rare indeed. But if we are stuck in the world, there is no excuse not to find out a little more about it. There are murky realities about this comfortable world we live in. Are you aware of them? Aware of such horrors as factory farming, corrupt politicians, the way the banking system works, the aggressive nature of the dominant cultures and where this sprang from? You don’t need a Phd, but open your mind and try and find out why the world appears to be so violent, unequal and broken.

And, that old adage that travel broadens the mind is indeed true. I’ve travelled around the world many times now, and am always delighted at the subtle differences between nations and cultures, each suited to its particular environment, each with great cultural riches. The world has its unexpected beautiful places, too. And they are off the beaten tourist track.

7.      Learn how to discriminate between persons, places and things
The famous quote of (I think) US president Theodore Roosevelt is something I’ve always taken on board: “Walk softly and carry a big stick”. Judging situations, the motives of others, the appeal of things involves the use of discrimination, called viveka in Sanskrit. Sensing fools, sensing those who mean you harm or want to trick you, is a vital skill in life. Sensing whether a place has healthy or unhealthy vibrations is another. Some places can be truly toxic.  Others, wonderfully healing. As for things, possession or values, each carries a signature vibration that may suit you, or could harm you.

We all possess an inner receptor that feeds us very subtle messages, that might surface as what we call intuition. Do not ignore this. It may save your life.






8. Learn sorrow
Unfortunately for us, this earth is a learning school which brings plenty of sorrow and pain our way. Very few of us lead charmed lives and even then our luck and happiness can suddenly mysteriously vanish. Grief, loss, tragedy visits us all and there is no getting around it.

Sorrow is a great teacher, and has its own seasons and process that can affect us for years. We cannot rush the healing, we just have to endure, sometimes. The great Chinese sage Confucius lived in turbulent and chaotic times, but used to remind his disciples to study the example of the pine tree on a mountain slope, which endures harsh seasons, grows on thin soil, but survives the worst. Sometimes survival with gritted teeth and a broken heart is all we can experience.

It might seem strange to say that at the moment of deepest sorrow you can find an even deeper joy, but this is nevertheless profoundly true. Sorrow can ennoble us and make us gentler, more compassionate and able to understand others. But do not be naïve and think that you will never experience sorrow. You will at some point in your life.

9. Learn loving-kindness
A Buddhist saying: “only one thing survives death: loving-kindness”. Loving-kindness is not an act. It is not a wishy-washy pretence. You cannot fake it. You cannot buy it. But you can learn it, you can practice it. And if you live a good life, you will stumble across this secret of contentment.

It is very easy to love your nearest and dearest. How about loving those who mean you harm or do you harm? Life will give you plenty of opportunity to practice loving-kindness and the chances are that you will blow it, time and time again. But keep on trying! This, again, is heroism in action. Take the situation most difficult to you, the person who causes you most pain, and try to love them from the heart. Magic occurs if you get it right, as you will discover.

10. Learn death
Finally, it comes down to death, every time. We all die. No one is exempt. Even more, we will all be forgotten within 100 years, apart from a tiny tiny percentage of famous people. A walk through any graveyard is an eye-opener. The fresh graves are well tended. But go back even 60 years and you find the gravestones of our fellow humans, remembered by no-one.

Many great saints have reminded us that really our life is all about that moment of death which we face alone. Whatever we have cultivated in life then comes to the fore. How will you face your inevitable death and what will you be thinking of? What will you have accomplished? Bear this in mind. It is important.

Life, too, involves many minor deaths along the way: a death of a job, or a relationship; or a friendship. Each death is painful, no doubt about it, but there are also positive deaths – the death of a bad habit; the death of negativity; the death of a bad situation. Death is finality, it is the end of a road, the last stop on the line. What comes next? Well, that is for you to learn.