Tuesday, 25 August 2015

ONLINE LECTURE SERIES 12: SPIRITUAL ADVICE TO YOUNG ADULTS



This advice is aimed for young adults up to age of 35, who are making their way in the world, or struggling to make their way, and turn now and again to spirituality - mostly in the hope that they will then get an easy ride of it and a change in luck. Or, perhaps... just perhaps... you may be that rare soul who from an early age have felt a call to explore the hidden Divine, to seek out God in this noisy world. 

I am now 61 years old, have lived through a lot, and have worked for a living for over 40 years while practicing sadhana, believing that no one else should have to pay my way or support me financially, I started spiritual disciplines around the age of 19, so that's a lot of water under the bridge, a lot of mistakes and meandering side trips from the Royal Road. So this is my truth, this is what I've learned about integrating spirituality with the world, and I hope something might be of help to you on your own path.

  1. The world is not what it seems. Now your bustling senses, your restlessness thoughts, your urge to get up and go and blast yourself with sensations - all this tells you that what you see, feel or think is all there really is. But this is not actually so. There is a whole universe inside you, you are just looking outwards, the wrong way to perceive it. Furthermore, you are dominated by the erroneous belief that you are your thoughts. But, you know, there is a life beyond the active mind, there is a bliss beyond thoughts. You just have to learn to settle the mind down. This is the whole purpose of spiritual practice.
  2. The world is, again, not what it seems. There are hidden powers at work in the world, not always wanting to benefit humanity. Power groups, the entitled, hold a firm economic strangehold on the world. The dice is stacked against you. Your role in this world of hidden influence is simply to consume, to be mesmerised by the glitter of the world - by sex, money, food, possessions. All are there to keep you earning money for powerful, concealed interests. Equally, beyond this malign layer, is something much more wonderful. There are even more powerful hidden forces for good in the world, great souls who are mostly hidden away, who work to counteract the forces of negativity and darkness that are so powerful in this Kali Yuga age. Humanity has helpers as well as enemies, and the helpers are the ones with true power.
  3. Spirituality is not a question of amount, of how much you do. you cannot apply worldly considerations of doing this much to get so and so a result into spirituality. This basic mistake is repeated time and time again: "If I chant this chant for 1,000 days then I will get all these wonderful benefits, God will come knocking." No: it is not how much you do, it is the attitude with which you do it. God does not demand of us a miserable life of chanting something over and over with no love or taste for the words, simply to get something. The real way to holiness is to apply reverence, respect, and artistry to your life. You carve a life, bit by bit, which is a glorious work of art, if you become really serious about Self-realisation. Finding God is not some kind of economic transaction, but a way of love given freely, over and over again.
  4. Be gentle but firm with yourself: a wholesome discipline, grounded above all in ethical behaviour, is absolutely vital in spiritual life. Without it, laziness and bad habits begin to exert a stranglehold on life and before you know it, your chance to find God has passed you by because you were too distracted by other things. At this stage in your life, you need to chip away at habits before they become life-long.
  5. You will still have a tremendous energy and idealism. This will fade as you get older, but such gifts of youth is what can make a young person on the spiritual path do amazing things. The old do not have this energy. So, make use of it. There is an English saying "Make hay while the sun shines". This is your chance to use energy for the good of all, not just for your own self-gratification.
  6. Find a source of peace, and enlarge it. Whatever it is, explore it. peace is not the same as zoning out, as dullness and slumping out in front of a TV screen. The peace we are talking about has a whole different quality. You may find peace in nature, or in having children, or reading, or meditating and worshipping. This peace will be invaluable later on in your life.
  7. Drop your self-pity. Many people as they grow up begin to realise the world is not going to reward them in the way they think it should, and they do not become instantly famous and rich. This discovery can start a whole life time of "poor me" kind of thinking. Get over it. get over yourself, there is nothing marking you out if it is not grounded in effort and self-discipline. Move on, and accept that others had exactly the same kind of dreams - they are commonplace. The woes we faced have been faced by humans in every age. Discover humility and modesty. They will stand you in very good stead. But do not go overboard with your cries of sorrow. Cry for God instead.
  8. Live ethically and responsibly. Above all, do not be harsh or bitter to others. And never break another's heart. And do not be prejudiced against "the others", people you consider to be troublesome or hateful in some way, perhaps from another faith, race or culture. Drop your weapons, and behave with great dignity and reverence for others, even if you are hurt by them.
  9. If you have a talent, develop it, but in private, and using disciplined practice. Polish this talent so that it helps lighten the hearts of others, not hurt them. 
  10. Age naturally brings wisdom. even the greatest fool in the world can end a long life wiser than when they began it. Don't worry too much about making serious mistakes. If it is done, it is done. Pick yourself up and move on. And apologise without reserve.
  11. Respect time always. those who keep appointments, turn up on time and keep their promises earn enormous and well-deserved respect from others. Become trustworthy. Even if everyone laughs at you now, resolve to change. Don't announce this to others, but resolve to be the kind of person others can rely on. This is part of maturing. 
  12. Observe and learn timing. This is a key quality to master. Everything has a natural timing to it, as events, people, thoughts, rise and fall. This is the basis of martial arts, the ability to align exactly with mysterious flows in life. When you are seeking for a change of fortune, a new task etc, carefully remember that the timing has to be right. Too often, the immature human gets timing all wrong over every little detail. Yogis as well as the great martial artists demonstrate an exquisite alignment with the timing of life. Your very first lesson, and its a good one by the way, is to observe either sunrise or sunset very carefully, and notice the steady way the light grows or fades. Great business leaders have also a great sense of timing. Opportunities present themselves rarely. Be ready for them. Equally, bad times appear... learn to read the signs of timing.
  13. Develop a focus for reverence. If you worship God in as particular form, then keep that form in your heart with great honour. The older you get, the more this form will help and instruct you in the silent depths of your being.
  14. Be alert to misfortune and sudden upsets. Life can often go spectacularly wrong and not according to your own plans. Accept that this can happen - that each rose has a thorn, and be aware that bad times can come, but can be endured too. Sometimes the storms come, the storms linger until you forget there even is a sun in the sky. But there is, and eventually the rays of that sun will light your life again. Learn, therefore, patient endurance.
  15. Temper your impetuosity with restraint. Don't always jump off a cliff without thinking. This is the behaviour of an immature child. God gave you the weapon of common sense. Use it.
  16. Don't go sour on life. Your life can become a hell for others around you if you are sour and bitter about everything. Who wants to be around such a person? Bitterness destroys the beauty of youth. Do not let bitterness about life, your family, your poverty, your failed relationships, lead you by the nose. It is a dreadful blind alley, to be bitter.
  17. Don't be a hypocrite: there is nothing worse in spiritual life than someone going around thinking they are so holy that others should bow at their feet. No, child, you are no holier than anyone else, so do not put on airs and graces, and then secretly do things of which you are ashamed, This is a very human behaviour, but try and walk your talk, and if you want to be holy then be humble and silent. 
  18. Families are your teachers. You are stuck with them. But over the years as a family deals with all the changes in life, people's hard edges get a lot softer. Don't nurse grudges against brothers and sisters. Families tend to fight and squabble, but... forgive. Forgive. Forgive.
  19. Laziness is the enemy of spirituality. You know what I mean.
  20. Love, it's still all about that. How can you build love, let it grow, nurture it like you would a plant, protect it? That's your own life task. But as a famous song in the West goes, "And in the end, the love you make will be equal to the love you take." Think about that.
  21. Plan you career wisely, and recognise that even in worldly life, the road to mastery is a long one. there are no short cuts. Learn from mentors, learn from those you admire. Copy their chracteristics, if they are inspiring. In this way, in the fullness of time, you too will achieve mastery of worldly life.
Now... you have some living to do! Class dismissed... oh, hang on, a poem by Kabir before you go:

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think... and think... while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time
      before death.

If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten—
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment
      in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
      you will have the face of satisfied desire.

So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
believe in the Great Sound!

Kabir says this: When the Guest is being search for,
      it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest
      that does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.

  


Thursday, 20 August 2015

ONLINE LECTURE SERIES 11: THE BENEFITS OF SHRINES, TEMPLES AND PILGRIMAGE



Life in Kali Yuga is a battle, no doubt about it. Powerful forces hostile to peace and love apparently rule our world wherever we look. Greed, cheating, and our basest impulses have become dominant and the light of dharma, of true and virtuous living, has become obscured. But not all is dark.

Even in this troubled age, we can find enormous help along the way if we know how to look properly, and not just from the words, deeds and presence of the great enlightened Gurus. The earth, our Mother Earth, has the wonderful capacity to retain subtle imprints of Divine presence, or the massed prayer vibrations of us humans directed and focussed in one spot. Such spots act as transmitters on the etheric level of enormous purity and healing, a little bit like bubbling springs of clear water in a desert. 

Some such spots have nothing to do with human influence at all, but are complex vibrational hot spots of the numinous, the transcendent. By an accidence of particular combinations of topography, stones, soil, a particular atmosphere is created which is exceptionally conducive to spiritual practice.

Our ancestors knew all about this, and in the UK it's interesting to find traces of a civilisation long since vanished at particular wild spots - such as stone circles (like the famous Stonehenge) or burial mounds and chambers.  

What has come down to us, though, is a mix of places that few know, famous holy places (about which many books are written), and places that hold the imprint of some famous Yogi or saint.

"Stop the Car!"

Some pass us by, unless you have the sight to see them. The beautiful enlightened Guru Anandamayi Ma, for instance, was once been driven along a road through fields of crops and a few trees when she suddenly exclaimed "Stop the car!" She ran out of the car, into a field, and made for two trees which grew entwined together, and bowed down before the trees with great reverence. Her disciples were bemused.  "Do you not see?" she said. "Look: these trees are the incarnation of Narayana and Narayani!" From that day forth the villagers working the fields paid attention to the trees. 

How many trees like that do you think you have passed by in your life, without a second glance? And yet, when you are subtly attuned, you can sometimes get a sense of great reverence in particular wild places, far from human pollution.

I think of a few forests and mountains I've been to, which seem to contain an unearthly majesty which is not just a trick of light and shade. One forest in Wales, for example, contains a little corner of vivid green moss like a natural shrine, hidden from public view, and steeped in a living conscious silence.

The most famous of all natural pilgrimage places is, of course, the Himalayas, but other mountains also can speak of the power and majesty of the Lord of the mountains, Lord Shiva. In my years in Switzerland, living high on the mountains, I used to walk up to a glacier near St Moritz that has probably long since gone because of global warming — as this was nearly 40 years ago. The glacier was not the point, but the view was, as you could sit and gaze at an entire mountain on the other side of a steep valley. If you have ever had the chance to really look at a mountain, in changing moods and weathers, you will see that a mountain is not inert rock, but something living, moving, breathing. There is a reason why so many hermits and yogis instinctively head for a mountain.




The great shrines

Then there are the places where human prayers have amplified this inherent natural transmission of the numinous.  Indian readers of the blog will immediately think of the huge famous shrines and temple complexes, or the Kumbala Mela and its mass celebration of the confluence of holy rivers. The siting of temples in India is particularly fascinating, because many draw impossibly large yantras  or sacred geometrical designs across the entire country - such as the Siddha Peeths, placed across India. The implications of this are staggering - that the previous age of mankind had the power and skill to find the hidden power points and lines of force in the landscape, and amplify such power.

But there are just as many holy places in the West as well. Even the Christian religion has created shrines which throb with a wonderful healing energy.

Shrines, therefore, are places to visit, but preferably without the crowds. The very Indian version of visiting a shrine is to do so on a particular day of astrological significance, form huge long lines of worshippers with enormous noise colour and excitement, then forget about it the day after. The best times to visit shrines are when humans are scarce on the ground - and this usually means very early morning, or late evening.

What do you normally do when you visit a holy place? First of all, most of us enact something farcical: we put on our best behaviour and try not to think nasty thoughts, as if the deity we are visiting doesn't know what goes on in our lives 24 hours a day. If we are after something, we try and appear excessively pious, even try and muster up a few tears, basically to convince a healing power to visit us. So it's a kind of a scam that we try to pull, as if God is far more stupid and naive than we are. Then, when we leave the temple, our usual mood quickly returns, along with a little throb of self-satisfaction about how pious we are.

The best strategy, however, is to try and keep as silent as possible, because the great shrines are not about input from us, but what is transmitted outwards from the focal point of holiness. The only way we can even feel a hint of this transmission is by keeping mental chatter to a minimum, parking ourselves at a quiet place away from the crowds, and just letting ourselves soak in whatever is in the etheric. This is the way for astounding miracles of healing to happen. This is the true meaning of leaving your shoes by the door and bowing down. We are not bowing to worship the almighty - we are bowing down to close off the mind and bathe in the sacred atmosphere. 

Most of this sacredness can get lost when thousands upon thousands of people are pushing and jostling, clamouring for favours. 

Some of the greatest shrines are the ones which do not have giant temples, greedy priests, a profusion of merchant's stalls and an army of people taking selfies on their mobile phones. 

In the environs of Vrindavan, for example, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, there are many tombs of saints that have fallen into disrepair,  that may even have lost their identification, but which are powerful spiritual transmitters. Little temples can contain an overwhelming holiness. the same with the backs of temples, or small side rooms, any place where an adept has lived in the past. Yogis create a coherence in the energy field that can last thousands of years. You just have to learn a little sensitivity. The good news is that we all this ability, a sort of internal radar, that alerts us to such places. This is part of our human greatness that has fallen into cultural disuse. But you have it, too.






The little places

When you seriously start spiritual practice, then this sensitivity to hidden sources of healing becomes very much greater, and you can stumble across some quite astonishing wonders, like coming across a rare flower in a forest. 

For example, while working on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's staff as a cook in Switzerland by Lake Lucerne, I liked to walk every day, and one day at this particular place I came across a small, modern, Protestant Church which was open... and empty. I went inside, sat down and staggered out about an hour later. This one little modern church contained so much shakti that you could almost see this force, it was so overpowering. And yet it was no place of pilgrimage, not on anyone's guidebook, not remarkable in any way.

These are the kind of places I love, rather than the giant shrines and temples. These are the places where it is easy to feel this inexpressable kind of atmosphere - the only way to tag it would be to say "enlivened silence".

You can find this in the homes of the virtuous, in places where really dedicated sadhana occurs, and in the ashrams of great Yogis. You can feel like you are listening to a song whose words you cannot quite hear, but it all seems intensely familiar. 

So, don't neglect little places.




Pilgrimages and Vows

Throughout history, humans have linked holy places with a journey or a specific vow. When you read the lives of great saints both east and west it's fascinating to uncover a very similar pattern - often the Yogi or saint is born to a childless couple who go to a shrine or perform some arduous spiritual austerity - such as Ramakrishna's parents. And look what they got!. 

Some of the great Hindu mass yatras, pilgrimages, are barred to us westerners for all sorts of reasons, but there are many to choose from. My favourite may be the long trip to Ayyappa Swami's temple, whose sacred step you can see in the sidebar. 

I have made a few pilgrimages in my life, but the tiresome nature of the journey has usually wiped out the reaching of the destination, but one of the most astounding was a trip to go see the Catholic centre of Lourdes, in the mountainous south of France. This was where the Virgin Mary appeared before an illiterate French peasant called Bernadette in the 19th century, and from which a healing spring appeared which to this day has produced inexplicable miracles.

My partner of the time and myself went by a long train ride from England, then Paris, then down to Lourdes. Now this is a place which has been overwhelmingly commercialised by shop upon shop of gaudy trinkets - flashing flourescent Virgin Marys etc - that even outdo the stalls of big Indian temples. But nevertheless, it is a remarkable place.

We went there in early February, way out of the usual pilgrimage season, and it was bitterly cold. But the first odd event happened when my watch, which had stopped working the week before, sprang into life as the train pulled into Lourdes station.

The next miracle was the night we spent in a hotel. We both had a joint dream of the Holy Mother, in which she spoke to us at length, and both woke up in the middle of the night knowing this had just happened, but when we woke up later, we had forgotten everything about the dream! The only thing I  vaguely recall was being in a procession full of merry people from all ages of history going to see Her. 

Then there were the baths. You can be bathed in the sacred waters... a whole routine has grown up around this, with volunteers helping you undress etc. Now this was February, the weather was just above freezing. So a dip in cold water is not for the faint hearted. But it was an odd experience - the water almost instantly vaporised, so that you did not really need a towel to dry yourself. This did not feel like water at all.

The place of the visitation is a small grotto by the side of a fast running river, and the atmosphere of sanctity was so palpable across the entire area. What a strange and awe-inspiring place, still echoing with an incident that cannot be rationally explained.

The final chapter... of course as soon as the train pulled out of the station for the return journey, my watch stopped working!

Questions

There are sacred places, that's for sure. What about dark places, though, where horrible things have happened?
Ah, the kind of places which modern culture is obsessed by, especially in the west. You can sense such places, for sure. Equally there can be places in nature where humans are not welcome, and are chased away. This happened to me once in a Spanish island called Mallorca. I climbed to the top of a hill at sunset, but when I  got there, I  had a sense of total fear and panic. Then I saw this whirlwind heading rapidly towards me, so I ran down the hill as fast as I could. Wild places can remain wild for a reason.

Isn't it true that astral entities also live in particular places?
Ancient cultures certainly knew this. And there are many places where this is so. Some are negative, like entities that might live in a particular part of a road where a suspiciously high number of accidents occur. But also, many good spirits live on the earth, perhaps anchored to a tree, or grotto, or river.

What is the most sacred of sacred places to visit?
A good question. The enlightened avadhut Bhagavan Nityananda has a saying that has become famous in the west: "the heart is the hub of all sacred places, go and roam there." the heart is where God resides in us. That is the real place to look for the Divine.

Now can a worldly place be sacred?
Places that are huge, accommodating masses of people, can have a surprising power and wisdom in them. One such is Grand Central Station in New York, which has been seen in many films etc and looks exactly as it does in the movies. But if you climb the steps to a vantage point and just see a rush-hour surge, you get a sense of the sadness of life, its brevity, its blindness, and that's a particular mood that gets generated. Maybe not sacred exactly, but a place that leads you to contemplate deeper truths. Huge abandoned factories, empty football or sports stadiums, places that are built for noise but are for some reason without that noise - these are interesting places, too.

Ashrams. They are a pain, to be honest
Yes they mostly are, especially the big ones which house a charismatic teacher who rules the roost. and insists on odd rules and regulations. Then everything is turned towards getting the attention of this teacher and it all gets very tiresome as a "Me me" attitude pervades every activity. Furthermore people act out what they think holiness looks like - usually a feigned gentleness as if they are not quite of this earth, hiding a rigid heart and a sort of hidden malice.

Stay away is the best advice. But places where many renunciates reside of equal rank, that's different. The difference between the atmosphere of a monastery or a church for the worldly is quite remarkable.

God is surely not bound in stone images and idols? Why pay them any heed?
Whole religions have arisen because some misdirected anger to "idol worshippers" but God needs a focal point. There is a secret to worshipping a deity in a manifested form, Many temples have images that are startlingly alive, so do not dismiss them. There's a great passage in Yogananda's famous autobiography of a Yogi when he had that attitude, only to suffer gentle misfortune as a result.

You seem to stress being alone, being solitary, but surely there are many benefits about being in a crowd of fellow believers?
Well, that's part of my own character, as I am a lover of silence and solitariness. The only thing I'd warn against is turning a pilgrimage into a social event. But sometimes, too, we meet Truth in the people we are with, as we share stories and confidences. This is matter of personality, and if you are extrovert and outgoing, then you might enjoy the crowds the most.

What if you make all this effort to go to a holy place, but nothing really happens?
Tough karma. But you also may simple be operating on too surface a level to be able to sense the subtle transmission of energy. The mind will tell its own story about your trip, but the heart might hold quite another view.

I have heard it said that there are some places in the earth that lead out of this plane of reality. What are your views on this?
I saw on TV not long ago an absurd documentary linking this kind of thing to aliens, which has become an obsession for certain viewers in the west (Ie Lord Krishna was an alien etc etc). But in fact there is a wonderful story related by Bijoy Krishna's honest disciple Kuladananda about a path under the Ganges, from one bank, which started as waist deep mud but then led to an entirely world. In Ghanaian initiation rites there is something similar - caves in the mountain and holes in trees and so forth. In ancient Greece and Rome a few sacred sites also involved long tunnels, caves and this kind of thing.  it is an intriguing topic, and I'm sure there are many stories to tell about this. I don't have one!

What do you think are the essential places to visit across the globe, if you are on a spiritual quest?
There are whole books written about this, but the real key to this is attitude. If you are going to sight-see, what are you looking at and why? If you are going for relief from some burden, or out of adoration, that is very different. Going to a sacred place without any faith, just to look at it, seems a bit of a waste. So, I'm anti-list. A pilgrimage is not a holiday, it's an austerity. There will always be challenges to meet, inconveniences along the way. Nevertheless, your list of destinations must reflect your own faith, your own cultural understanding, and always be undertaken with humility and deep respect for other faiths.

Are there any places you've been to that surprised you?
Yes. In my job I've had the luck to visit many different cultures and countries across the globe. But for me the biggest surprise was Vrindavan, and its dirt and squalor. I had naively envisaged a serene green land of peacocks and delightful forest glades. on the plus side, many odd places - a church in Zimbabwe, a Baptist congregation outside Houston; Tianamen Square in China (very odd vibrations); a big temple in Bali; and the Vrajeshwari temple in Maharastra State, India. Many others, too.








  

Monday, 10 August 2015

ANANDAMAYI MA: A PROBING QUESTION AND ANSWER








The Divine mission of Anandamayi Ma was no ordinary one. A free being, she lived a long life as the focus of devotion for hundreds of thousands of devotees.Towards the end of it, she met some of the new wave of young westerners on the Guru trail in the late 1960s, but long before that there was the small determined figure of the Austrian born Swami Atmananda (2nd picture above), whose life and hardships are chronicled in a very early post back in 2012 on this blog. 

Atmananda is one of my favourite people of all time, and the biography written about Atmananda and her time with both Krishnamurti and Anandamayi Ma, called Death Must Die is really inspirational, especially for women on the spiritual path. She became the go-to point for western devotees who made their way to Anandamayi's presence. She edited an English language ashram publication.

Before Atmananda became a swami, she was a teacher in pre-independence India, and was renowned for her sharp intellect and learning. 

But Anandamayi Ma captured her heart, even though following her as a casteless western woman brought many humiliating hardships - as the great Guru scrupulously observed caste restrictions.

So, imagine one bright morning in India this sharp, intellectual woman finding herself saying what seemed to be the wrong thing at the wrong time to Anandamayi Ma, then having this turn into a profound teaching dialogue. I think it is my favourite dialogue between a Guru and disciple of all time, because it faithfully reveals the embarrassment of the Disciple (you can almost hear her thought processes as she realises the hole a casual remark has dug for her!), and the way a Sat Guru will turn any moment into an opportunity for life changing instruction. Put yourself in her place!

Atmananda (not yet a Swami at the time this dialogue took place) faithfully recorded this dialogue just after it occurred in her diary and there it would have lain forgotten all about if it had not have been for an American, Ram Alexander, who edited her diaries and found this pearl inside it.

To add to the joy, there is a wonderful You Tube animation of the words, which you need to watch, as it is so beautiful. This is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c75jUxJc-Ec

OK, settle back, and read the following. Think about what you would have said. Remember, too, that Atmananda in worldly terms was anything but a fool. But her mind was full of concepts, arguments, and knowledge. So...

Dehradun 11 June, 1951

“In the morning, She (Anandamayi Ma) came to the satsang tent and was giving garlands and flowers to everyone. After some talks and jokes She took up a twig of bougainvilla and said:

“How beautiful, the leaves are Gerua!” (The ochre colour of sannyasin garb).

Atmananda: “In my country, all leaves become gerua in autumn.”

Anandamayi Ma: “Your country, which is your country?”

AT: “Where I used to be before.”

AM: “Before? What does that mean? And before that, where were you?”

AT: “With you!”

AM: “With me? How do you know?”

AT: “You know!”

AM: “How do you know that I know?”

AT: “I don’t know!”

AM: “How do you know that you don’t know?”

AT: “I don’t know anything, I am a fool!”

AM: “How do you know you are a fool?”

AT: “Now I shall have to become silent!”

AM: “And what will be the good of the silence?”

AT: “At least stupid words and nonsense will not be said.”

AM: “And to what good?”

AT:  “I don’t know.”

AM: “You don’t know?”

AT: (makes no response)

AM: “Is one who does not know anything able to become angry? One who knows is angry because this or that is not as it should be. But the fool cannot be angry because he does not know how things should be. Remember that you are a fool and therefore you cannot become angry.

It is the false “I” that becomes angry and that is exactly what you have to drop. If you can do that, you will be transformed from a buddhu (fool) into a Buddha.”

AT: “No, no, I am a fool.”

AM: “All right, then remember that you know nothing and so you cannot become angry. Then the “I” will go and ATMANANDA will be revealed. Take this twig of bougainvilla and take all the flowers that are gerua, dry them and keep them.”

Ram Alexander found the flowers dried and pressed on a page of Atmananda’s diary more than 40 years later
  


ONLINE LECTURE SERIES 10: "WHY AM I SO POOR AND DESPERATE? WHERE IS GOD?






Complaints about God are as old as the hills. So is a particular desperate clinging onto God and the supposed miracles of mantras, amulets, lucky charms or God's people by those in severe trouble and suffering. Indeed the very existence of suffering seems conclusive proof for most modern people that God is a sort of fairy tale, a mere superstition and make believe that we would be better throwing away altogether. Most have done. And when our needs and desire are not met despite, say, a week of fitful prayer, we can get easily discouraged, even disgusted at this non-appearance of the Divine. So let's take a closer look at this touchy subject.

Just a warning from the start: you're dealing with a writer with a certain "condition" that has him feeling God around in every aspect of life. One of the odd parts of my own Jyotish chart (Vedic astrology birth chart) is a placing that can be interpreted as "strong faith in God" or even by some "excessive faith in God". Perhaps this explains the instinctive reverence I hold for the Divine, which is all the wierder as I grew up in an excessively secular family, went to a secular school and university, live and work in a very secular developed world - the bustling city of London, UK. There is absolutely no cultural or family reason at all to have this faith. In fact still some members of my birth family regard this God stuff as extremely poor taste, a lapse of character, 


Light when young

But there it is, and for me it has never been just a "faith" in God. Not the kind of "Well, I don't know one way or another but I sort of believe deep down" kind of quality. No, the inner feeling right when very young was of a link to something inexpressable, a brightness, a presence, not easily pinned down, not definable, not even a matter of words and phrases. Just this sense of a dazzling, numinous background to perceived reality. That sense has been with me apart from a few years in later teenage times, when I mocked every aspect of organised religion just because everyone else did, and lost any sense of right and wrong until a dreadful mistaken affair woke me to my senses again. For me, God is not a concept to be proved or disproved. God just is, just as light just is, or water just is, or air, or any and everything we take for granted without a second's thought. 

But also, right from a young age, I realised that this light was not necessarily going to be of any practical help in life. In fact in many ways it was a misfortune. I had zero interest in making money, or buying a house or getting rich, zero interest in expanding friendships, keeping up with fashion, etc etc. And, to compound the oddity, as soon as I got my degree from Oxford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, I went off to Switzerland to work for no money as a member of staff in Maharishi's meditation academies and courses, resurfacing three years later as a fully fledged meditation teacher. Unfortunately in late 1970s British culture there was not much of a need for a professional meditation teacher. So, the need to earn money surfaced and the next thing I knew along came a wife, kids, obligations, salaries... and bang, the next phase of my life brought me and the world into a headlong collision.

The worldly phase of my life had me mingling with the hardworking, the very rich, the very obnoxious, the successfully greedy, as I lived as a crude oil broker and briefly (through no great talent, just sheer luck) earned some serious money. This was a strange world but even in the confusion of this surface glitter and noise, the world of the quick-witted (I was a lousy broker because I couldn't really add or subtract quickly!) the inner light of the Divine was there. Everything collapsed after a few years - marriage, big house, big job, flashy car - it all went almost overnight. And I then lived a life so poor, so alone, that I had to scout along the streets looking for discarded food. Still the light was there. Even sitting shivering in a tiny room, with a mouse and a spider for company, stuck right next to the choking fumes of a busy road, the light was there. So was an enormous amount of self pity along the lines of "Why Lord, why me?"

Many times I berated myself for simply not having this worldly mind-set, apart from a healthy sex drive of course! I envied those who simply had the urge to get rich, stay rich, do this mysterious thing called business. I even read a whole bunch of salesmanship books, business books, but it was like trying to teach a cat to bark - it simply was not in me. But what was?

Partial God?

Finding out exactly what lies hidden in plain sight within us is the start of the great adventure of any incarnation, the great romance of turning to the Divine. But our first impulse to the Divine can be a time of great confusion. Everything around us screams "This is not so, there is no Divine." We read of dreadful things happening every day, awful murders, rapes, terrorist outrages, accidents, miseries... right now in the Europe we are dealing with a flood of desperate migrants heading to our shores from places as far as Syria and Afghanistan all utterly unprepared for what life is really like here. So, suffering wherever we look. 

Then, we might turn to seek God in the expectation that this search will be richly rewarded, that we will be elevated above our peers and become immediately famous and respected, able to provide for our whole family. Why? Because God is so pleased with our turning to Him, because we are so wonderful and talented, that it's like winning the lottery. 

Of course, it never happens like this. Certainly when my own search for God turned serious, material circumstances could not have been more dire: I owned a suitcase full of tatty clothes and that was about it. Then, to compound the misery, I kept on being hit by tax demands, time and time again. Or unfaithful girlfriends. So on one level, even when I started serious chanting, serious longer meditation about 25 years ago now in this new phase of life, I became materially poorer and poorer. No great garlands of flowers thrown round my neck. No celestial choirs singing "Oh wonderful soul we salute Thee", no wise Guru patting my head saying "There there, my child". Nope: personal circumstances were tough.

So, I  had to deal with the question which we began this lecture with: "If God supplies our needs, why am I so poor and desperate?" 

At the same time I began to learn more deeply about the way the universe is structured from a Vedic perspective, especially that tricky thing called prarabdha karma. Now karma is such a familiar term to most of us that it is used in everyday English language and culture. Prarabdha karma is karma engendered from either this or earlier lifetimes, coming to fruition when life conditions are right. This means a whole ton of misery can come our way, or a whole load of blessings. Often we can see the justice in the sufferings - my mistakes made early in life were karmically rebalanced in odd but elegant ways, for example. Sometimes, the suffering seems to be unconnected to anything we can consciously remember. 

This can set up the "woe is me" complaint that all lovers of God have to face. 

At that stage in my life I read a lot. Some theories seemed deeply dodgy, such as the view in some Vedic circles that God will in fact increase the miseries in the life of a seeker so they are forced to depend utterly and solely on God. This at the very least sets up God as a classic example of bad parenting, so I rejected this argument.

Satsang with the wise

But along the way, I found solace. When you stumble onto the thoughts, writings and prayers of early generations of people also turned to God, also dealing with suffering, it's a great and heart-warming thing. Three strands of religious thought were particularly illuminating - the great Psalms you can find in Judaism and Christianity; Guru Nanak's wonderful songs to God; and the lives and struggles of Paramahansa Ramakrishna's young disciples.

We find, in other words, a mysterious linkage with sources of wisdom that refresh us, calm us, and help keep our resolve firm when it wavers. This is the phenomenom of Satsang, association with the wise. Now this does not just mean sitting in front of a picture of a guru with other devotees, chanting away. Satsang is a far wider concept: You associate with the wise of all ages, not necessarily in person. 

You also find hidden away inside you until it has the opportunity to be revealed your own wise Inner Self. There is deeply hidden in each and every one of us the wisest, most elevated version of our own personality. Think of it as a form of time travel; if you earnestly turn to the Divine, sooner or later in one lifetime or another you will achieve the prize of Self-Realisation. And this Self-realised You is not bound by space and time. It will be there for you, helping you along. It is almost the same as the Inner Guru, but not quite: just a perfected You, deep inside you at all times, the most sattvic version of You closely turned to the transcendent, to the luminous atman, the Self. This is the part that can see and feel the inner Divine flame.

So, this too is Satsang. Satsang is important because the path of life can be so full of thorns that we forget the actual roses. But association with the wise and holy reminds us of the reality of life: that it is in fact swimming in an ocean of Bliss we can perceive, we can live in. We already do, but our perception is too murky to grasp this. 

Back to the concept of a partial God, of a God who seems to be indifferent to your needs and sufferings.

One of the tasks of sadhana, spiritual discipline, is dismantling: you have to dismantle injurious concepts and habits bit by bit. The mind can create awful images of cruel Gods, flawed versions of God, images of God that punish every infraction and otherwise gives no encourage, no relief, nothing. These images rise up and need to be looked at fairly and honestly, looked at from every angle. The mind can also create a version of God that really does reward devotees but not anyone else, which can be very appealing for those with a grievance, nursing malice towards others because of some injury or hurt.

The Indweller

 Let us then circle back to the concept of God who does not support, God who is distant, God who does not respond. Is this really true? Again, we have to have a forensic, clear and objective sense of inquiry. Now maybe your investigation will lead you to this very conclusion. But keep digging. Keep pondering the words of the wise. Keep meditating. Close as much of your troublesome mind down as you can and dive into silence. This was my approach and still is.

There are so many pictures and images we can use in this case - the pearl, hidden in the oyster, below the surface: you have to dive deep. Dive from where to where? When your meditation practice really takes off, you will understand this very clearly, because it becomes a lived experience. You start off in a whirlwind of the grumbling, angry or sad mind, and then things settle down, thoughts become fewer and fewer. At a certain moment there is a strange flipping over, a moving into deep coherence and harmony that reveals the staggering depth of a mind that has stopped thinking. This is where the Indweller can be felt and perceived. This is where the real truth becomes plain, plain as the nose on your face. This is a different landscape, a different and truer reality.

The attitude of a Seeker of God

The attitude of a Seeker of God encounters various short sharp shocks, jolts of understanding along the way. The first shard of understanding is finding out the tyranny of the Ego — how we unconsciously tend to regard ourselves as by far the most important part of the universe and are thus outraged when our lives seem to disprove this notion. The second is that we then regard ourselves as the most stupid, fallen and wicked of creatures because habits have such a strong pull. This, too is false. Then we have to battle with the continual absence of God, despite all our efforts. Now this is where things can get really interesting, because that sadness fuelled by spiritual practice step by step, day by day, actually flowers into a strange, glorious, life-wrenching agony. The agony of a lover of God for the absent Beloved. 

This is a rare, rare mood, a rare bhav, but when you experience it words, concepts, pride, everything gets chucked away: all you have is a desperate yearning for the Beloved who always seems to be just one or two steps ahead of you. and then BAM, the Beloved is right there. When that happens, life shifts into a whole different gear.

This is the real destination of the "God does not supply my needs at all," kind of thought. In the words of Jnaneshwar Maharj, the greatest saint from Maharastra, This is where you feel you are sitting under a wish-fulfilling tree when all is granted. You will still be poor, your body may be full of ailments. You relatives will still be as they were. You may still be short of money, funds, partner, friendships. But, you are sitting under a wish-fulfilling tree and God is right there, right there to embrace you. Think this is a total fantasy? Not so. 


"A fine, late summer's day"

Let me end by telling you the story of my own life. About 20 years ago now, I started to seriously upgrade Sadhana. I had no partner at the time, not much money, just a divorced Dad living on my own in a dusty but safe house, and decided to chant the Sri Guru Gita every day, meditate and so forth. I was turned at the time to Siddha Yoga, and beautiful Guru Swami Chidvilasanda (Gurumayi). The sadhana proceeded along these lines. Then one Saturday, late in August, something I  read sparked a mysterious upwelling, a desperate call for God that became overwhelming. 

The hours passed - I went to the cinema to watch a movie but could not concentrate. All that consumed me was something along the lines of "Where are you? Where are you?" said over and over in such intensity, that I could not stop crying, but the tears were odd - coming from a place far deeper than the usual tears of sorrow. I could not sit, could not stand, could not meditate, could not eat. Whatever I did, a restlessness gripped me, an intensity that was tied to that simple, agonising inner cry "Where are You, Where are You?" On it went through the night, until the words were lost and it just became a wordless continual sob. Now that sounds wierd, but that's how it was.

The next day dawned, a fine late summer Sunday day with no wind. In the morning I went to chant the Guru Gita at a house of another devotee. I got back, the mood had lessened a little. Early evening: I went outside the house to put rubbish in the bin for collection. Then I looked up.

The sky had these perfect high clouds, we call it a "mackerel sky" in England because these high clouds look like the scales of a fish.

Something about the sky... I don't know what it was. But when I looked down, the full glory of the Self was revealed. Everything was different. My perception was radically altered. A majestic inner silence extended from me, radiating out wherever I looked. It was beyond words to explain. But even then I tried, stumbling upstairs a little later to try and write down exactly what had happened. I've lost that paper long ago, but what I do remember that evening was the sense of everything perfectly slotted into perfect place, the existence of the Divine, the way it suffused the world so self-evident, so simply and profoundly obvious, that it need never be debated again.

The state gradually subsided. A year or so later, it happened again, lasting a little longer on a Mahashivarartri night. Then again, at odd moments and times seemingly without rhyme or reason. But the legacy was permanent. Life is far richer, far more expansive, far more beautiful and simple than our minds can ever conceive. But this state is beyond thought. It is out of the reach of words, concepts, or the usual rubbish the mind comes up with. That monkey mind of ours just shuts down in the face of such majesty and infinity.

Now I'm not pretending that as a result life got any easier. Far from it. I continued to make many blunders and errors, continued to struggle with some of the nasties - anger, greed, sexual desire. I did not become a bloodless super guru, floating above poor suffering humanity. I was and am still lazy, slapdash, impractical and just as untidy as ever I was. I am even grumpier as I get older, intolerant of noise and of the modern culture of instant gratification. But nevertheless, from that day, life has a different taste, a different flow, a different depth. God did not supply the practical things I wanted, but I began to learn not to want what injured me, and to trust in the Divine. I still fell ill, I still had a an often cutting and sarcastic tongue. Still couldn't dance. Still bad at handling money, you get the drift. Nevertheless... that day the Lord came calling and since then, we are friends though it's a pretty one-sided relationship. 

So. You may always be poor. You may never be famous. All your childish dreams may crumble in the dust. You may be stuck in a lousy job, or a bad marriage, or in a solitary life. Troubles may constantly knock on your door. But don't miss out on what is really there on offer for you. Dive deep, dive within. resolve to at least make the effort to discover your royal heritage. You will not regret it. Ever. 

Questions
I've heard it said that all of this universe, all its goings on is God's play and sport. What are your views on this?
The universe, everything manifested, is just half of the story. The other is the unmanifest, the Self-luminous field of the transcendent. We humans have an amazing ability to experience the transcendent, though perhaps the word "experience" does not totally fit because there is no subject, no object, no mind. That is the famous state of Samadhi. So the play and sport, the lila, is between the unmanifest, Shiva, and the manifest, Shakti. That is such an elegant and beautiful way to explain the sport.

Why would we want to go through all this extra suffering you seem to describe to simply then watch God have fun?
No, it's not "extra" suffering at all. You don't get extra specially punished or anything like that when you turn to the Divine. Karma is karma, it still heads your way. One day you may be a criminal, the very next turn to the process of becoming a saint. But the karma from your criminal past will nevertheless come to fruition.

Some of it, though is odd, I do admit. Such as the time when I began this serious phase of Sadhana, came back from work one day and passed by a bedraggled looking woman carrying a plastic rubbish bag and a tape recorder. The more I looked at it the more I realised... it was MY tape recorder! My one big possession! I'd been robbed! I chased after her and grabbed the bag and the tape recorder back. Well, bad karma on the one hand, but I also got everything back on the other.

The watching God have fun... this is where you have to look at the most challenging self-belief of all, which is that you are an individual with free will. Let's leave that for another day.

What's the point of chanting or indeed any spiritual practice?
Let's say you are on a long journey from A to B in a car. What does the car need? Petrol, gasoline. Without it the car will not get you to your destination. Sadhana is the fuel, the rocket fuel for the voyage to the Great Mystery.

Why can't we just think our way to God?
At some point, you have to leave the mind behind and go beyond thought. Self-realisation is not a process of thinking noble thoughts, acting ethically and doing neat little prayers, or entire Christian church populations would all be self-realised and entire swathes of orthodox Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Jainjs, Sikhs and so forth. Thinking is from the mind. The search for the hidden homed God needs deep engagement with the heart-centre. It needs silence. It needs sacred time. What is sacred about the mind and its shopping list of concerns?

Would you take it all back in return for a business brain (laughter)?
Sometimes, I've grown tired of this God business, that's for sure.  We all need to have rest-stops in sadhana, times when we just ease off and be simple and enjoy life. the intensity can be overwhelming. For me, the problems begin when laughter stops, because the Lord is not, not in my heart anyway, a humourless God at all. My link is with Divine Mother and I feel Her playfulness in a thousand different ways. I also feel Her mercy, Her tenderness to all Her children. The mind still gets in the way, but so what? A business life, it's great if you have that mind-set, disastrous if you wish you had it and pretend you do, because business life involves shrewdness and coldness. Warm-hearted people rarely prosper as business people. Not in this day and age.

I'm frightened that if I take on this search for God with fuller intensity, I will lose just too much, like the love of my partner, my link with my children, friends, family. And for what?
These are all precious gifts of God, anyway. The link is never lost, if it is truly based on love. Love has its own ways of growing despite every hostile condition. What does change is our deep appreciation of these sources of intimate joy and love. We begin with all humility to understand that the real lessons in sadhana come from just such sources. Even brutal parents can be great teachers for us. But having said all that, if we are deadly serious about Self-realisation, there does come a moment when we have to make a decision to offer to God all that we are and all that we have. Most of the time God gives everything right back to you anyway. This is a delicate matter and it is very important to stress don't do anything rash and leave husband, wife, kids, job, everything in the mistaken belief that God is calling you to do so. This is just 99pc self-delusion and grandiosity. Approach God step by step. Don't create harm for others.

But many people have become monks and nuns and Swamis and Sadhus. Haven't they caused harm?
Ah, that's different. This is rare. Real, but rare. They are not blocked on a subtle level like we normal humans are. Their knots, their granthis, are already loosened. Of course their parents are hurt. There's a wonderful apology written by Baba Muktananda to his mother, because he deserted her at an early age to fulfil his special destiny. But the Mother of All whispers only to a few hearts the words "Come closer, Follow Me through renunciation". You will know this, only through much deep introspection. Don't leave home on a whim. It can be disastrous and you can end up in a no-man's land of being neither here nor there...

Great Yogis are great Yogis, they will always be on this earth, and their birth is usually special in some way, or some self-evident quality shines out from an early age.  Read especially the life of that beauty of all beauties Sri Anandamayi Ma, and what an odd child she was! Not quite of this earth. Imagine being her parent! Those destined for a life of renunciation will at some point hear the call of that Divine Flute, like the Gopis. And then who can stay away from the Flute? See if you can. You cannot. The Gopis left everything and everyone. But the heart of a Gopi is a rare blessing - and in some ways a curse - in a lifetime.

Why can't we be rich and prosperous and still be devoted to God?
Well, many are. There's no law that says you have to be poor. The classic Vedic example is the Yogi King Janaka, who basically lived the life of a billionaire of the day but was still a great Self-realised saint. And indeed many rich people play an important role ion supporting the teaching missions of great Yogic schools. But the point here is destiny, again. If you are not destined to be rich, you won't be. Brutal but true. So... get over it. You save yourself a whole heap of trouble, or a different set of troubles.

As I've got older I've regained a bit of material prosperity, but no doubt when I retire I'll go back to being poor. I still sleep on the floor on a thin mattress,  I still would not know how to grow money wisely. I prefer wearing old and tattered clothes. To me, poverty also brings simplicity, if you live on your own. With poverty, too, comes an appreciation of the few possessions you might have. But that's my own strange inclinations, and certainly none of my children share them! But the one wealth I hoard carefully like a miser is the wealth of sadhana, the years and years of spiritual practice, seen somewhat sentimentally but real sweet memories of meditating all over the world, chanting sacred texts in the oddest of places, moments no one else would ever know about of just me, my tears, and God. all this make me very passionate about telling as many people as I can: "Look, God is not a tyrant. The mind is the culprit! God really is Love." Only a few people actually take it on board and trust these words. But  that's the frustration of it.

Why can't the Divine show itself to me?
The Divine is all around each and every second, but it's a little bit like a person gazing all the time out of the windows of the house, saying "show me the bedroom, show me the bedroom" when it's right behind them all the time. More important question, why can't you show yourself to the Divine?

And how do you suggest I do that?
Go to the big room marked "home of the mind", walk up to the big plug point you see there behind all the whirling and clicking machinery, that plug point which has a notice in big red letters "don't turn off" and... turn it off. See what happens next.