Thursday, 19 November 2015

THE YOGIC VIEW ON PEACE, HARMONY ...AND TERRORISM





This post is written in the middle of rapidly unfolding events after the latest terrorist bombing of Paris in November 2015, following months of brutal incidents including the bombing of a plane full of Russian passengers, a foiled bombing plot on a train in France, a wave of desperate immigrants overwhelming EU border controls ... and the pervasive fear that something just as bad is coming round the bend.

Tragic loss of innocent lives through the murderous actions of mostly young males with a harsh, partial understanding of their own religious dogma has become a feature of modern life across the world. Savage acts by the few provoke in turn equally savage retaliation, and this sad dynamic has become the way societies deal with a virus in their midst - more bombs, more attacks involving expensive and lethal military equipment, sowing even more bitterness, hatred, desire to kill and destroy. 

Now somewhere in the middle of all this terrible carnage are those dedicated to bringing the light of peace into this troubled world, those who also seek to understand the wider issues, and somehow prevent the vicious circle of death from eternally perpetuating itself, like a crazy, out of control machine of destruction.

And when bombs destroy civilian communities, and the earth is rent by a fresh rounds of wailing, grief and loss, what is the truly wise, loving and Yogic approach to it? 

Take a step back

The first useful thing to do is retain your own centre, your own connection to calmness and wisdom, and not immediately rush to judgement and condemnation. 

Now this is not easy. But I hope I can claim some experience in this.

In my life I've lived through many terrorist incidents. As a young meditation teacher in Belfast in the late 1970s, I witnessed our little centre (on a very quiet university street) escape bombs which destroyed a bank two doors down, and an old peoples home on the other side of the road. The old peoples home bombing was particularly pointless - 80 years old and helpless people wandering around in tattered nightshirts while the place burst into thick smoke and flames. I remember, too, a member of the meditation community there turning up at our centre after being caught by a bomb - escaping with their lives by a stroke of extraordinary good fortune. They were young, but beneath their bravado, you could instantly feel their shock and fear.

I was there in London on the way to work on 7/7/2005 when the city was devastated by bombs. Like many others I saw 9/11 unfold on the TV screens. Acquaintances died in the twin towers. I was in Bali, Indonesia, a few months after a bomb destroyed a packed nightclub full of tourists, and the whole place was eerily empty of visitors.  In addition I have robbed many times, and once attacked on the streets by a carload of  young men (I fought them off by saying "I have a Guru, and the powerr of the Guru protects me!!" which I think surprised them so much they hopped in the car and drove away at high speed!).

Taking that step back means facing a very difficult challenge: loving the Lord, the Divine Mother, the creator of all when a terrible loss of life occurs. Reconciling faith with reality at such times calls for very deep reserves, an inner courage that does not shy away from the devastation... but admits that we cannot, with our limited human understanding actually really know what is going on with the Lord's Lila, the play of the creator. 

It is one thing to believe this intellectually, quite another to find some kind of solace in the heart. And many find their faith broken at this point, especially those directly touched by brutal and terrible tragedy. Sometimes all we can really do is weep - weep for the suffering we face on this earth, weep for the brutal ideology that propels young men to kill themselves and others, and the brutally efficient ways we humans have evolved in terms of weaponry, armies, bombs and so forth. What sadness, what senseless destruction.

Taking a step back also is also needed, because when society loses its wise leaders, when everyone rushes to one immediate call to arms, then good sense gets thrown out of the window. 

The roots of events

The wise will look for the roots behind terrible events. These roots can stretch back into time, stretch through generation after generation. 

Western societies, with their belief in individual freedoms, now feel a way of life is threatened. Some religious groups, with their belief in a harsh, angular submission to laws supporting mass punishments, equally feel their way of life is threatened. In between is the breeding ground of those feeling bitterly disenfranchised, at the bottom of an economic pyramid, cut off from the lives of privilege and ease that only a few in the west actually enjoy. 

When you rewind history to the 17th to 19th centuries, then it is with caution - as the West and the greed for land, territory and mineral rights, become the villains, conquering lands, peoples, societies, cultures. Wind back still further - and it is Genghis Khan and his hordes, the Roman empire, the Persians, the Assyrians, The Babylonians, Chinese emperors - the list stretches back and back. Always, dire threats, pillage, innocence broken, lives lost. Nations have karma to resolve just as individuals, and what seems to be happening has deep and tangled karmic roots.

What do the precepts of Yoga tell us?

The very first thing to grasp is the roots of war. War may become a collective effort, but it begins in the minds of individuals. It is on the individual level that the hopes of a peaceable kingdom really lie.

Only when the virtues are mastered by the majority can society ever be truly safe. These virtues, a guide to ethical behaviour are clearly laid out in the famous Yamas and Niyamas, the "do's and don't" of sprirual practice. One absolutely key observance is Ahimsa, peacefulness. This is allied to Satyam, truth. And its power , when actually harnessed by a group, is astonishing. 

There have been so many terrible events in my lifetime, year after year. But there have been also many wonderful miracles: consider how the Berlin Wall came down; or how India won independence from peaceful non-violent protest; or how Martin Luther King used the same principles to win Civil Rights in the US; or how South African apartheid crumbled away without terrifying war; or even how peace finally came to Northern Ireland, Rwanda,Peru - the list goes on. The mass application of Ahimsa is a tantalising possibility that humanity has so far failed to truly harness. When it is, the results will be awesome.

So, cultivating inner peace is a fundamental requisite for successful spiritual practice. Then learning to use this for the benefit of others is the next step. Peace, a bit like the fragrance of a flower, naturally pervades the atmosphere from the wise, just, peaceful individual. I have witnessed this many, many times - and it is often forgotten that just as violent people poison the atmosphere, the hidden saints filter the poison away, unknown and unnoticed by anyone.

The counter argument is to say "Well, then, look what happened to Jesus" - the society of the time murdered an innocent, beautiful presence. But he has been crucified many times since. And in every age, the wise are born, and act as beacons for the distressed and fearful and suffering. Goodness is not absent on this earth, even in this age.

Spreading peace

If wars, and peace, begin in the minds of men, then how can we help the suffering in the world? By spreading peace through the sacrifice of prayers for others is one great way. This is a bit like holding a vigil at the same time every evening. This is the blogger's response and I want to share with you my own amateurish ways of going about it: The peace initiative is on top of all the other sadhana - meditation, chanting, japa, done each day.

Anyway, at around 9pm, in a darkened puja room lit by just one small candle which casts a light on one particular picture of the Divine, the blogger visualises light, healing light, and gradually visualises himself linked with many other souls, girdling the earth and floating in space, beaming love from the palms down on the troubled face of the world. The session lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, no more than that.

Also, the session begins with the following prayers, which are adapted from the Bulgarian mystic Peter Deunov who lived about 100 years ago, to suit the blogger's Vedic faith. Feel free to use or not, but the words (spoken aloud) offer an immediate focus:

Peace Prayers

Lord Bless and Strengthen my Soul.

I pray to Thee, Oh Gopala, protector and sustainer, and to Thee, Oh Mother of mercy and light. Guard dharma on this earth plane! The good souls need Thy help and protection.

You set all in order and harmony everywhere. Help us live in peace and harmony.

I pray for the coming of peace amongst the people and in the hearts and souls of those who work in the service of Love.

Let every righteousness, goodness, love and wisdom and every truth be set into action and overthrow the rule of the wicked.

Let the spirit of Dharma and justice, and the wisdom of all the great saints and sages incarnate amongst us.

I pray for the fulfilment of the will of Love in all the worlds, in all the heavens, forever in joy and peace.

May our Mother Earth, the plants, the animals, be protected from evil and harm.

Let those with a desire for service be inspired to offer themselves. May their missions prosper.

Deliver the people from all scourges of evil and the sly one. Protect them from those who wish humanity great harm and upset.

Illuminate us when all is dim, and make us strong and robust to fulfill good will, to be clever and good-natured and merciful so that we may walk with Thee in fullness, balance, and loving-kindness.

Mother be merciful! We are frail and weak on our own! Help protect Thy children!

OM SHANTI SHANTI  SHANTI

I will sustain my mind with Divine thoughts
I will sustain my heart with Divine Love
I will develop the soul which God has given me, with that which is beautiful, wonderful, proceeding from God.

May peace prevail on the earth.
Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men!









Tuesday, 3 November 2015

ONLINE LECTURE 14: SELF RELIANCE AND SELF EFFORT



One particular quality stands out time and time again in the stories of great Yogis and seekers of Truth of all religions: determined self-reliance. 

Equally, one quality is mostly present in those who make fitful and failed attempts at sadhana: Self-pitying timidity.

With the first of these qualities, humans do amazing things in sadhana. Like the Doctor in Malaysia who steadily increased his sadhana to such an extent - all without a Guru - that he ended up ruining his health by standing for hours in the icy waters of the Ganges doing Japa. His name? Swami Sivananda, now revered as one of the greatest Gurus in the 20th century.

Or take the case of the young Indian male with blazing eyes and nowhere to stay, nothing to eat, or drink in a windy street in Chicago, US, at the turn of the nineteenth century. He is better known as Swami Vivekananda and off he went to forge a remarkable pioneering role as the bringer of the teachings of the East to the rest of the world. 

With the second of these qualities, opportunities simply dribble away. One famous example was a young man who lived in one of the ashrams of the great avadhut, Bhagavan Nityananda. Now Nityananda showered this boy with all sort of favours and attention. But the boy was actually far more interested in going fishing. An opportunity wasted. 

Another more complex example is the story of Paramahansa Yogananda's childhood friend - and companion on his early spiritual journeys. He, too, became a monk called Dhirananda. After Yogananda began to establish some success in the US in the 1920s, he begged Dhirananda, as his closest friend, to come from India and help in the mission. Dhirananda resisted, then went. Yogananda's great Guru Sri Yukteswar ominously predicted that out of this apparently simple decision, trouble would eventually come. and sure enough, Dhirananda at first enjoyed great success. Then he fell for an American woman, ended up renouncing his monkhood, complaining about life, and suing the Self Realisation Fellowship. A chance missed.

Sadhana is about timing, but knowing what to do and when also involves cultivating an inner wisdom and great self-reliance that sadly is all too rare in this day and age. 

Social sadhana

The first thing most people do when pursuing sadhana is look for a model of living, a discipline, something structured, and then try and live within these boundaries and be praised for being "good pupils". Perhaps the most deadening practice in many ways is when following a Guru, attending, say, a weekly meeting, making friends, raising a bit of devotional noise, doing a bit of meditation, and then going back to normal life. So, sadhana becomes rapidly ossified into rigid patterns, rigid expectations, and fits around the individual very comfortingly. 

Following instructions can rapidly become following orders. Or, even worse, doing what everybody else does for fear of making some error or making a fool of oneself - all very understandable. But such rigidity can lead to entire groups shunning the new, the strangers and so forth. I had my fill of all that years ago, when I  realised one weekly satsang under a Guru was mostly an excuse for people to chatter noisily as they had their snacks. The volume of noise was deafening, as all remembrance of why people come to satsang was forgotten. Satsangs as social events - this is pleasant, but no better than going to the cinema with friends. it becomes an entertainment and distraction.

Baba Muktananda was well aware of this tendency, and warned that a visit to an ashram was not a social amusement, but a place where the Guru killed the ego of the disciple - so a place of white-hot spiritual trial. Otherwise, why go?

This has been so over many ages. In the 1600s in Spain, a very zealous Spanish girl, intent on following Christ, entered a monastery. Unfortunately, all she found was a glorified satsang type situation. The highlight of the nuns days were "open" afternoons when all their relatives visited, gossip and chatter rang out ... and this in a house of nuns! Even worse, those from a rich family ruled the roost and got all sorts of comforts. After a while the Spanish girl grew up, and decided to revolutionise the current spiritual practice and far more strictly observe her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Her name was Teresa of Avila and she founded a whole new branch of the Carmelite Order - the "Discalced" ie barefoot Carmelites. She faced furious and sometimes actually physically violent opposition, of course. But she followed her own inner promptings and had the determination and self-reliance to forge a break-through. She had many mystic visions and wrote some astonishing spiritual books which all should read - such as the Interior Castle. She is now accorded the honour of being a "doctor" of the Catholic Church - only a very few are so named.


The call of the flute

Even the desire to do sadhana is very rare in humans. It is there from past life efforts. The impulse if followed properly is like the call of a flute in your inner ear and becomes stronger and stronger - and if you have the courage to follow, it leads you out of the door, out of your comfortable life, out of the world of doing something because someone else told you to do it. Then you find yourself thrown on your own resources and at this point most people think sadhana is way too hard, so they give it up and pour scorn on others wanting to do spiritual practice or what they regard as bogus monks leeching from the public.

Swami Kripavalu  was a saint in the latter half of the twentieth century who had a wide following in India, but suddenly went to live in the US in the last years of his life. He used to do 10 hours of meditation a day. Anyway, once his devotees in India prepared this great feast and speaking event for him, and he had to take a boat across a river to get to it. In the boat was a pompous and angry man who looked at the quiet unassuming Swami, dressed in his robes and started berating him for living off the gullibility of others. "Wait til you see my Guru," the man airily declared, "He is a man of miracles and will see through you in an instant. he will expose you with one glance your way! I am going over to see him, he is speaking to us all and this will mean trouble to you!" the man continued in this way the entire journey and Kripavalu said not a single word but patiently endured the insults. Of course when the boat arrived.. and people crowded forward to pranam at Kripavalu's feet with cries of enthusiasm, the pompous man suddenly realised his horrible mistake. Not only had he never actually met Kripavalu, but Kripavalu was the very Guru whos praises he had been so pompously extolling! He grovelled, but what a teaching of equanimity from Kripavalu!

Most people are far too lazy to begin sadhana , and if they do are spiritually without any muscles at all, draping themselves around an imagined teacher or Guru with flattery, whining, self-pity, crude attempts at passive-aggressive blackmail ("Guruji if you don't help me, I  will kill myself"). They will complain about their lack of love, lack of luck, lack of respect from others, no jobs, etc etc and will happily spend all day detailing what they cannot do... and then want someone else to do their sadhana. This kind of sadhana is "Wave a magic wand" kind of Sadhana: a mistaken belief that they will be elevated to the heavens without lifting a finger. 

Such figures always appear, then disappear when a new craze or imagined source of luck and prosperity come their way, driven by superstitions and rumours.

Doing it properly

Now the real seeker of Truth learns to recognise and avoid these pitfalls. They may be poor, may be rich. Might be unmarried or married. They may be jobless or in a busy job. Where they are and what they do is immaterial: it is merely a starting point. But what happens next is that they actually DO start! They apply self-effort. They are doggedly self-reliant. They learn to build two vital subtle organs - the ability to discriminate, and the ability to endure challenges, viveka and titiksha. When such seekers appear the Guru rejoices, oh how great a joy is felt! Then the inner work begins. But only with such seekers can the work the Guru does on a silent level bear fruit. 

The point about self-reliance is hammered home time and time again by two great teachers who are often very similar in their approach - the Buddha, and Swami Vivekananda. In fact Vivekananda always felt a close bond to the Buddha, and his first ever pilgrimage - done even before he became a monk - was to Buddha's birthplace. The Buddha says "Be your own lamp of salvation!" Vivekanda said much the same thing: after spending time in the West he came back convinced that India's only hope of progress lay in the strengthening of character, the development of self-reliance in all things.

Self reliance does not mean you never listen to anyone or follow anything. But it does mean you can take one word of the Guru, just one word, and not bother the Guru again. It means you can look fairly and squarely at the depth of teachings and understand that if a Guru says "worship me and pay me money", that Guru is not true. But  if a Guru says "look, brother, look sister, look within you: your Guru is there and has been all the time," now that is truth and it doesn't cost you a penny. And the true Guru says:"Find out for yourself! I will be waiting!"

For this inner Guru will nurture you through the initial stages of sadhana. we all have to go through tough purification on sadhana but in measured doses. The Inner Guru knows how much, when, and when not to apply tapasya to the soul. Listening brings success in self-effort. listening is the act of grace itself. And how simple it is, yet how rare! 


 Questions

So, in your own life, how much did you listen to your inner Guru?

I went through many years of the whole sadhana ritual, both as a teacher and a follower. But it became an increasingly strange mystery why people were so stuck, year after year - and apparently happy to be so. People used to cling to all sorts of spurious notions about superiority and how many times they had seen the Guru, prizing special blessed shawls etc etc. So if you were new in some organisations, what chance did you have? It just ultimately didn't square with real efforts at sadhana, and I also began to strongly disagree with the concepts of course and "Intensives" charging huge amounts of money - for what and for whom? So, I left it behind and went rogue, and formed a determination: "From now on, I will pursue Self Realisation based on my own efforts". 

This all went well for some years, and then, grace of graces, all of a sudden in meditation the True Guru appeared for me, unbidden, out of the blue! And of course now being so self-reliant I didn't really know what to do about it. I tried in the beginning various rituals of worship but it seemed dishonest and laboured, adding a layer of distance that was not needed. So the intimacy with my Guru remains 99.9pc silence. He has only spoken in my inner ear three times, I  think. and that voice was unmistakeable. 

So, you can be self-reliant and still worship, still bow, still follow a Guru. It's just that you realise, well, we are all on the same road, the same destination. We are all one.

But surely rules are necessary, especially in the performance of yagnas, mantras, pujas etc?

Each action does have its own protocol and dharma, and some rules do need to be observed by the seeker in terms of ethical, correct conduct or chaos spreads in society. This is not, though, what we are addressing. The problem is the pervasive human impulse to believe that there needs to be an intermediary between them and God: such as a Guru figure, a priest, rules and regulations, commandments, routines, mantras, even time itself. Every single one is an intermediary when really the link between the individual and God is closer than the breath ALL the time. Brave is the soul who explores this truth and ditches all spiritual paraphanalia. You can only safely do this if you can create silence. Intense inner silence is the ground zero for this kind of direct immediacy.

But what if we feel way too impure to meet God in this way?
It's an odd phenomenon, but there is a kind of reverse index, a relationship between how wicked your life is, and how distant you feel God to be. Cruel, selfish, narcissistic people with dreadful habits might on the outside be ruling the roost, but inside something in them tells them exactly what they are like. Now they will only conceive of God as a terrible punisher. The cleaner your life, the more you can admit of a more sattvic version of Divinity. That first impulse "Lord, I'm a sinner, I really am, but... help me!" now that takes courage, but it is between you and God.  The unacceptable version of that is to approach someone you may not even know, and say "Oh Holy one, God listens to you more than me because you are cleaner... can you ask him to.." This is mistaken, every time mistaken. the only time this is relevant is when you have done lots of sadhana yourself.

What if we simply cannot go on on our own?
Tough times come. For me, I remember one really dreadful time when my then Girlfriend had an open affair, and I found out about it. I went for a walk in the rain.. sheltering under a bridge in London two teenaged girls came up, total strangers, and started abusing and insulting me. This was so odd and wierd, a low point of low points - and yet I  had to laugh! How magnificently dramatic! If you feel you cannot advance a step further, for goodness sake pray! Just pray! You need no fancy mantras, no initiation, no this, no that. Simply talk to God on your own and ask for help.

What if help still doesn't come?
It always comes. just not that very second. Timing is all. But the real devotee, the one who endures and progresses - that is the devotee with the wisdom to say "Ok, then, I might not like it, but Thy Will Be Done."

Some people, though, are born with more "get up and go" than others
Ah, self-determination is not about having tons of energy. you are not doing aerobics. But it is true that we are all born with different personalities, strengths and weakness. Get up and go, as you say, may in another light be dangerous because you can be over-rash - if Mars is strong in your jyotish chart, this can be so.

What, then, is the ultimate no-no in Sadhana?
I would say without a doubt self-pity. And it is a remarkable fact that those who are filled to the brim with this awful quality seem to be utterly oblivious to it, and get very annoyed if you happen to point it out. Self-pity breeds this endless whining, this tiresome repetition of your hard-luck story, a truly dismal mirror people can spend their whole lives polishing. When you are filled with self-pity you don't love God, or truth, or humility, or self sacrifice. you are a a stranger to joy, simplicity, freshness. The blog attracts many such people filled with tears they shed for themselves and their misery. It carries a particular unpleasant smell on the astral level. Such people can suck the life out of a teacher.

That's a bit harsh! Surely Christ and others say "Come to me, all Ye that are heavy laden and I will give you rest?
Yes, the great Yogis, Adepts and Masters are of a different order entirely. But think how few and rare they are! They give teachings, comforts, faiths and a path so well-lit that all you have to do is follow it. They might even carry you over the most difficult parts. They are the saviours of humanity in a very dark age.

Nevertheless many other teachers out of compassion take on the sins and impurities of their disciples, and their bodies can only take so much. Those Yogis who have created secret deathless bodies, are, again, a whole other topic. But teachers face often the test that others in need bring. In my own experience, though, I've found there are sometimes personalities that can never really be helped because their inner noise is so great, and they continue a relentless narrative with them. Some traumas can take many, many years to heal. Some seekers, too, have recognisable psychological personality disorders that render steady practice impossible. Such people need to directly link with God, directly pour their prayers to the Divine only, not to any human personality, because only God has the skill to heal deep lifelong wounds.