Aparajita Stotram

These days, I have found myself attracted to the Aparajita Stotram (full text here, online course here), which Shree Maa and Swamiji gave us as a sankalpa a couple of years ago.  I am going to return to this stotram for the Western holiday season and for the beginning of 2018, starting with a 90 days repetition.  I invite you to join me in this sankalpa for those of you who are reading.

Illustration of Laksmi

You may have some reservations at first, and that is understandable.  Perhaps you feel uncomfortable with your Sanskrit pronunciation.  You may feel a bit embarrassed at first, and that is okay.  Just remember that chanting is the prime way to get better at pronunciation and efficiency.  After all, that’s how Swamiji learned, and he came to understand and translate every syllable of the Chandi and many other famous hymns! So don’t expect the pronunciation to be perfect the first time around: it will take many repetitions for the recitation to become smooth.

Now let me say something about the Aparajita Stotram.  Just from my acquaintance so far, it has an aspect of valiantly overcoming all difficulties and a second aspect of receiving divine protection.  You will note some of the names of the  highest divinities, particularly related to Devi and Vishnu, but you will also note the names of other deities, celestial spirits, the various vahanas, etc.  The hymn, for me, evokes the whole unseen cosmos, all of the divine beings, as the devotee brings them into the room, so to speak.

As for the practical import of the mantra for this time and place, we may have made some progress towards our goals in 2017.  We may have made some wise investments, completed some good work, and done well by our families and our spiritual traditions.  But can we truly say that we gave a complete effort?  Did we seek entire victory or just a modicum of improvement?  The Aparajita Stotram asks us to aim for the highest values, to raise our level of energy to a higher valence.  It is the ritual enactment of victory.

As we enter the new year (at least according to the secular calendar), we want to not just survive, but to thrive! We want to not just half-heartedly do our sadhana, but to take it to a new level.  We want to not just go through the motions in our work, but to creatively pursue avenues for success that we previously didn’t even know were there. We want to be more generous with our time and effort in all aspects of our lives.

Now, our egotistical selves will protest that there are, after all, only so many hours in the day.  The ego will recall instances from the past in which we give it our all and failed.  Remember that the ego is all about self-protection and self-aggrandizement.  It fears failure above all.  But  the spirit of the Aparajita Stotram is to rise above all that: it reminds us that the divine retinue will be there, providing support and encouragement.  It has that same energy as the Bhagavad Gita, which encourages us to give life our all and let the consequences fall where they may.

So this is a very compact devotion that sloughs away all excuses and brings our minds into the energy of complete attainment.  We want to not just say the mantras but also live them, to become one with the energy of the devas in everything we do.  The recitations make these mantras ring in our minds, and we also bring that vibration into every action, into every thought, word, and deed.  Chandi Maa Ki Jai! Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!

Shirdi Sai Baba Promises

Sai Baba statue in Hanuman temple in delhi, india

I have an image of Shirdi Sai Baba in my home that I painted myself (not pictured).  It has been a comfort to me in times of need, whenever I have some small worry that bothers me.  I also touch Baba’s feet as I am leaving the house in the morning.  I will soon give this image to a mandir in my tradition so that other devotees can receive blessings. I may have mentioned before that I have visited Baba’s temple in Iselin, NJ, on two occasions, which is the closest one can get to actually visiting Shirdi without traveling to India.

Let me relate what happened on one of my trips to the mandir in Iselin.  I was there for a conference in nearby New Brunswick.  I took the train to the nearest station, stopping along the way to buy puja items, and then I walked to the temple.  Commuters were gathering informally in the mandir to receive darshan on the way home from work (it was about 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. as I recall).  Many of the couples had brought children with them, and  I was happy to see the young ones gazing on the deity images and sitting in meditation.  I was a stranger in this place, and no one paid much attention to me, except for the priest who blessed the puja items and offered them before the main murthi, which is said to be an exact replica of the one in Shirdi.

After making the offering, I prostrated three times, each time making one request of Baba.  The first two were pretty mundane and even materialistic.  First, I asked for safe travel, as I was far from home and low on funds.  I was a bit stressed by spending time on the road and missing my family back in Georgia.  Second, I asked for a new sari for my wife, as we were to attend a baby dedication in a short period of time.  Third, I asked for something more spiritual in nature, that I would become a true guru (satguru or jagadguru), and that I would spread Baba’s message to the world.

I didn’t feel very much at the time other than perhaps a certain peacefulness, much like one often receives when visiting spiritual places where much faith is exhibited.  I then made the rather long trek back to my hotel, which involved a good deal of walking and a train journey, followed by more walking.  In total, I spent maybe twenty minutes in the mandir and probably an hour’s journey each way.  It was snowy at the time: this must have been in March, and I had brought my only winter coat (which I rarely needed in Georgia).  I went back to the hotel and returned to my normal routine, calling my family and then settling down for a bit of relaxation.

It was then that I felt something in my hair.  I reached up and found three grains of rice in my hair, one for each time that I had prostrated in the temple! I recalled my three prayers, and I took the grains of rice as confirmation that Baba had heard me.  I felt joyful right away, but I kept the whole thing quiet until now, about two years later.  Of course, Baba promises that he will instantly hear the prayers of his devotees, and he is the most approachable of saints.

As for my three requests, I went through the rest of the trip without any problems.  When I got to the sari shop, I didn’t have the money to buy one, as they were pretty expensive and nicely decorated (with sequins, etc.).  I was able to make arrangements with the merchant that I would pay when I arrived home, and they would ship the sari to my house.  This saved me the additional difficulty of having to carry the package on the plane.

So the first two requests were easily accomplished within a few days, but what about the third? I asked to become a great guru, which might be called prideful or egotistical.  This is something that has been a great struggle for me for several years, in fact, my whole adult life.  It’s a long story, but I was rejected from becoming a Christian minister, and this was a great disappointment and an emotional blow for me.  Since my conversion to Hinduism, I have mostly been laboring anonymously, maintaining this site on my own and writing meditation books for a small readership.  I have many times been tempted to just leave the spiritual life altogether.

I discussed this with my guru, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, via email.  To put it briefly, I told him that I have a wife, a family, three kids, and a job.  I have a need to make money and provide for them.  Given these realities, I asked him, wouldn’t it make sense to just put this spiritual business on hold and wait until a more favorable time?  Or should I persist in my stubborn attempts to become an illumined soul?  Should I keep trying to be like Swamiji, Shirdi Sai, and Ramakrishna?

This is what Swamiji said to me, “Please, be that person!”  He reiterated to me that “guru” means “remover of darkness.” A guru is someone who makes the burdens of other people lighter, who offers support and encouragement, and that is exactly what I have been trying to do.  Swamiji actually pleaded with me to think of myself in that way. Since then, a couple more visions have given me slightly more confidence, although I suspect the guru shoes will always feel too big.

Once, when I was meditating, I saw a lotus seat carved out of wood.  It was the sort of seat often used by Indian teachers.  It was surrounded by a a fine rug and brocade cushions.  A voice came to me that said, “The seat is empty.  Take it.” I thought a good deal about leadership and how oftentimes the person who runs something is just the person who was willing to take the initiative.

On another occasion, I had been intensely meditating for some hours.  I had a very brilliant vision of Narasimha deva with many heads and many arms.  This is not a normal thing for me: like most people, I don’t “see” very much when I meditate.  Then I looked down at my own arm, and there was tied there a piece of animal fur.  If you know the Bible, you will know that this was a reference to the story of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25-27).

Esau was the older son, the son of the promise in the lineage of Abraham and the rightful heir.  But Esau was also impulsive and greedy, and he traded his birthright for a bowl of lentils.  Jacob and Esau’s mother, Rebekah, favored Jacob and wanted him to receive Isaac’s blessing. Isaac was blind and could only recognize Esau by his hairy body.  Rebekah has Jacob put an animal skin on his forearm and take a bowl of soup to his father (who is apparently quite hungry and impulsive like his older son).  Then Isaac grants his blessing to Jacob, making him the son of the promise in the lineage of Abraham.

Just like in the Indian scriptures, when a father gives a blessing to a son, it is an irrevocable vow.  And I felt that Narasimha was giving me his blessing, despite a certain amount of illegitimacy.  I recognize that I do not come from an Indian family, that I should be a Protestant Christian, as is expected of someone from my background.  I do not have the proper “credentials” to be a teacher in this tradition.  And yet, somehow, quite oddly, I find myself here, with an animal skin tied to my arm, an unlikely part of this story of the transmission of Sanatana Dharma.

I am not a real son of India.  I do not hail from a Himalayan village.  In one sense, I am a fake.  And yet I am also a “real” fake, in that I have been adopted into a genuine lineage going back directly to Ramakrishna, and, for that, I am quite grateful.  Sometimes the person who receives the inheritance is the one who wants it badly enough, and I am grateful for the support of the Divine Mother, who is a wonderful illusionist and trickster. She is the one who has brought me into this fold and who supports me to this day.

I don’t have any magic tricks: I can’t  levitate or survive for years only on sunshine.  I can’t produce coins out of thin air or make fireballs shoot from my palms.  But I do have Devi, and it is Her leela that matters.  She alone can trick the Father into believing in me.  She can take my deficits and make me into a real teacher.  She works through Her saints, and they offer me protection.  For some reason I have been snatched from beside the Jordan and taken over to the Ganges, and I believe that She must have her purpose for that.

Swamiji also often says that the word for “grace” in Sanskrit is krpa, which he translates as “do and get.” One who follows the dharma and teaches others to do so is protected by dharma.  Whether or not I have any special powers is irrelevant, because the teachings work.  The person who follows the teachings will receive the blessings.  I am not special as a person: I have no merit of my own.  If someone takes refuge, they take refuge not in me but in the Atman-Brahman, which is eternal.  If I am the vehicle for that, then well and good.  If I fail in making the teachings known, that is okay as well.  It is better to die having made the attempt than to venture nothing.

My spiritual name is “Janyananda,” and it means, “he who is the bliss of all beings born.”  It also refers to the ceremony that confers the sacred thread, in which one is empowered to say the Gayatri mantra.  Now, how can I take such a title, which is so magnificent and beyond understanding?  Only because I know that the power does not reside with myself but with the divine flame within, the same divine flame that resides within each being.  As a person, I am quite ordinary, but I hold within me the key to all joy, as do you.

So we can all ask Shirdi Sai for help, and he will render that help immediately.  When we go to him with faith, our prayers will be answered.  I encourage you to seek him, by singing his devotional songs, by gazing upon his images, and by offering him fruits, flowers, and incense.  And remember me as well, this second son who, by some cosmic quirk, became the son of the promise.  I have this animal skin tied onto to my arm, in a mock image of full maturity, but one day I will grow into the promise completely.  My roar will be as fearsome as Sri Narasimha Deva Himself.  Jaya vijaya bhava!

 

Purusha and Prakriti

In Indian philosophy, there are two principles that constitute all of reality. They are known as purusha and prakriti. Purusha is consciousness, the mind, the observer. It is the divine masculine, symbolized by the god or deva known as Shiva. This principle is passive: its goal is only to reflect eternally on the feminine principle, prakriti. Prakriti is the active principle, which is nature itself, God made manifest in trees, people, computers, and galaxies. This divine feminine is symbolized by the goddess in all of her forms: Parvati, Lakshmi, Saraswati, and so forth. But, in some schools of Indian philosophy, and I am thinking of the Samkhya school, there is a primordial Prakriti, the divine “stuff” out of which worlds are made. I use scare quotes around “stuff,” because the primordial Prakriti is neither material nor immaterial: it has the potential to take form. It holds within it the possibility for all causality, for all of the possibles, including the one that we currently inhabit. For some reason unknown to us, this primordial divinity chose to take form, to become nature as it is made manifest to us. And, to add even more mystery, this primordial divinity chose to become subject to law, to cause and effect.

Shiva with his wife Parvati on traditional Hindu temple, Nuwara Eliya, Sri lanka (Deposit Photos)

We wake up every morning, and, because of gravity, down is still down and up is still up. Not that we understand gravity, because we don’t—not even remotely. There are still many Nobel prizes to be awarded on that front. Somehow giving this force a name—gravity—and having Newton’s laws makes it seem like we understand it. Let’s just flag the mystery here and say that human beings don’t have it all figured out. We need a million more Albert Einsteins and Marie Curies, and then we will still have more to learn. Anyway, we have this sense of continuity, that things will continue to be the way that they have been. Part of this is just a bias towards familiarity, but part of it is also because the universe acts in ways that are continuous with what went before. Nature takes patterns, and we can observe these patterns and make sense of them. We can imagine a completely chaotic universe, but it does not square with our experience in the world.

Let’s go back to prakriti. This divine feminine, this god(dess)-stuff, underlies all of existence. It has taken form as us. We are all part of it. Now, before we get too carried away, we should also know that it pervades trees and grass and landfills. Prakriti has, as it were, delegated some of its powers to us. It (or she) has given us a share in this dance of creation, preservation, and dissolution. Everything comes from Her, and everything returns to Her, but we have this wonderful ability to be able to see and understand as it all happens. We also have the observant nature, which comes to us from the Shiva side of divinity. These two principles are completely reciprocal, always dependent upon one another, always playing this game of hide-and-go-seek with each other. And we are part of the game. We are not being used as chess pieces, because we have actual freedom to do and think as we like.

Because everything arises from prakriti and prakriti remains beneath the appearances, each one of our actions is imbued with divine potential. While the divine substratum has evolved into material form, such that we have the illusion of a separate ego and congress with the elements, the prakriti is not fully effaced or spent. This means that all of our actions take place within prakriti or the divine nature of all reality. Our freedom gains purchase through this divine medium, and nothing that takes place within the mind or in the world fails to leave an impress on this spiritual substance. At the same time, the ripples that we send into the spiritual substance through our actions reverberate through the entire universe, expressing general tendencies that come into fruition, sometimes locally and sometimes at a distance. Many types of activities fall under the general heading of action: feeling, thinking, doing, and willing. All of these activities make an impress upon prakriti, which carries them forward in seen and unseen ways.

On the gross, material level, the “butterfly effect” sends ripples outward, so that the tiniest action impacts thousands of other entities. This effect is less like a chain of causation and more like a web of causation, as each node on the web may be connected to several others. A multiplier effect quickly begins, so that, with each iteration, the initial impress spreads rapidly outward. On a more subtle level, valences of emotion and thought also have collective effects, as in the mob mentality, or, more positively, team spirit. Even beyond the subtle layer, I maintain that even when a thought or intention is not willingly shared with others, it still leaves a nonzero impress on the cosmos. Learning to control and direct our co-creative powers leads to mastery, either in some limited domain or in the entirety of life. If we can learn to use our divinely ordained powers for good, we will have tremendous powers of self-expression and world transformation.

All this time I have said much about the prakriti aspect of the divine nature and little about the purusha aspect of the divine nature. The purusha is the witness, the observer, consciousness itself. It is the passive aspect of the self, bare awareness. We exhaust ourselves through action when the purusha aspect is insufficiently developed. The purusha aspect enables action without attachment, so that I do not become emotionally invested in the results of my action. I am able to stand back and let the effects of my actions accrue without regard to getting this or that specific reward for my actions. I set things into motion, or, better, I allow things to occur through me, without inordinate desire or perturbation. The purusha nature allows for patience, stability, and contentment even in the delay or deferral of the intended result. Much of what we do in meditation is cultivate the purusha nature, so that we do not become exhausted through attachment.

With these two divine principles at work, we can bring things from thought into reality in the world of work. The more we use and understand these two principles, the greater our capacity for transformation of self and world. We must keep in mind at all times that we do not do things on our own but only through the divine agency that flows through us. Nature speaks through our words and works through our hands. Even while working, we do nothing, but purusha-prakriti accomplishes all. We may speak casually about having done this or that as long as we remember that we are instruments for this process that goes beyond ourselves in depth and extent.

Struggle > Resignation

Welcome to 2017!

While this blog has not been updated in a few months, many things have been happening behind the scenes.  The first two books of a trilogy have now been released by Adams Media, now an imprint of Simon & Schuster.  These are A Mindful Morning and A Mindful Evening, both of which have pages on this site.  The third book in the series is called A Mindful Day and will be released probably in the fall of this year.  So I am now meditating and writing on the third book every day, with the first half of the book due to the publisher on January 17th.  Taken together, these books will be a good introduction to the philosophy and practice that I have been developing over the past few  years.

If you have read one of the introductory books and would like to take the practice a little further, I recommend that you study the Nine Gates lessons.  Some of these are available on this site, and some I have not yet uploaded.  The first nine of twenty-seven lessons are now completed, taking the sadhak through the first three ranks of the Satsangha in what comprises the outermost circle of three concentric circles.  If any of you would like more information about these lessons, please feel free to contact me.  I envision the first set of devotees to complete the lessons to become a sort of council that will guide the teaching and community going forward.

In other news, you may have noticed that I have written a few political pieces, which you may find confusing due to the spiritual and esoteric nature of my other writings.  I believe that meditative practice, properly conceived, will sometimes entail taking stances on behalf of justice in the political realm.  For that reason, I have found it necessary to speak on behalf of the rights of minorities and women and against the rising tide of nationalism and xenophobia on both sides of the Atlantic.  People of conscience cannot simply remain silent in this turbulent time.  We have to hold to spiritual practice while also remaining engaged in civic life, even if that means receiving criticism and harassment.

Struggle is greater than resignation.  This applies in our sadhana, as we seek to build the divine fire within the heart chakra.  It also applies to public life, as we try to make a more just world for all beings.  The inner practice and the outer practice are united in the goal of bringing about the Satya Yuga, or Age of Truth, that will dawn after this present moral decline has exhausted itself.  As spiritual practitioners, we do not sit idly by, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the New Age.  No, we wield the sword of Kalki, using our talents and abilities to bend the universe towards justice (paraphrasing Dr. King).  We work not only through our meditations but also through our actions to make the truth dawn.

So do not be discouraged in this dark time! Go ahead with your sadhana.  Take care of your well-being. Live a good life and care about others.  Say something when you see injustice. As we band together in community, our good actions are strengthened and multiplied many times over.  If any of you readers want to take a greater role in the Satsangha, please contact me.  We have much work to do in order to make this society a force for good in the world.  I see the very high readership from the site stats, but I don’t always know who you are.  Please feel free to drop a line.  I can be reached on twitter @DavidDillardWri or via email at writepage [at] gmail [dot] com.  And if you can’t take an active role, please donate via the paypal link on the main page.  I have so far maintained this site with my own funds, but I want it to one day be self-sustaining.

Peace and blessings to all of you in the new year!  I hope that the information on this site will lead you to greater peace and prosperity in the year ahead.  Aum Gam Ganapataye Namah! Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!

Janyananda

(David Dillard-Wright)

World 1.0nly

Just another day, right? It can always wait until tomorrow.  Just one more minute, one more click.  Later, later, later.  Deferral, endless deferral.  This is the pattern that we must break. Train the mind to not go outside itself or get ahead of itself.  Train the mind to sit still, to exert no effort at all.  Call the thoughts, like chickens, back home to roost.  Do not get hooked on looking for the next big thing.  Do not get hooked on the many distractions.  The world will always offer another absorption, another chain of do more and be more.  The world will always offer you another opportunity to get ahead of yourself, to live outside of yourself.  Rarely will it allow you to just be.  In fact, sitting still is not possible within the prevailing mindset.

And even if you can sit still, even if you have training in advanced meditative techniques, can you train the mind to go back within, like the turtle withdrawing into its shell?  If you do puja and homa, can  you grasp the essence of the words you chant?  That everything is Vishnu, Vishnu, Vishnu?  That all is consciousness, including you?  That everything is That? That you are That?  As an old friend once asked, can you Be Here Now?  It’s not that hard, but it is very hard.  To sit still, yes, but to not let the thoughts go out and roam wherever they wish.  To not follow along with that old goat rope of believe and achieve.  And here’s the thing: when you get that little bit of silence, you might be afraid of missing out on something.  But then the world washes over you in waves, and you see how beautiful it is.

And how would life look different if I didn’t need you to think in a certain way about me?  What if I could let go of the need for you to think that I am beautiful or spiritual or [insert favored adjective here]? Letting go of caution, I could be free to be whatever occurs to me at this moment.  Spontaneity and play would once again become a possibility.  Living with true artistry would once again become a possibility.  To live without having to please others or myself.  To get out of the way and let be.  To participate in the unfolding mystery, to let it engulf me and have its way with me.  To merge with the secret heart of being. To feel the beginning-less origin making all things even now—each moment ancient, each moment brand new.

Valdez_Trash_Pile

Doing nothing, happiness comes.  Thinking nothing, happiness comes.  Happiness arises at the end of striving.  Happiness comes when the striving for happiness ceases.  That’s the old trap, the old goat rope, to think that happiness lies out there, just beyond reach.  Just try a little harder, just do a little more, just make a little more money.  And of course that’s what the bosses want us to think, because they, too, have been deluded into thinking that they always need a little more and a little more.  So we entrap ourselves and entrap others.  We have to learn how to untie the knots that we have tied for ourselves, to break the chains of our bondage.

I can free myself by looking within.  Finding nothing there inside myself, I must have the courage to keep looking, to stare into that abyss of darkness.  I must have the courage to sit there in that nothing, in that gaping need, and do nothing about it.  I must stop trying to be fulfilled.  I must sit there reverently before this void.  And, whether I sit or stand, whether I work or I play, whether I open my wallet or keep it shut, I must continue to acknowledge and keep company with this dark night inside.  If I do not need to solve my problems, I am free.  If I do not need to medicate or abdicate or eradicate, I am free.  Then I can eat in peace and chant in peace, work in peace and pray in peace.

teeveewiki

Gibberish. These words will not help.  Unless you truly and purposely set down all preoccupation.  Unless you have unwavering faith and devotion.  Unless you are willing to set aside the payoff that you get from distraction.  If you can truly listen, even for one second, happiness will be yours.  But don’t look for happiness.  Don’t allow yourself to be led by the nose.  Become sovereign over your situation by sitting still, by giving up the old panicked way of thinking.  Refuse to believe in fixes.  Know yourself to already be whole.  Perhaps alarm bells are ringing in your head now, that old self-preservation instinct, which says that you must go back to the old way of striving.  And yet where are the demons, except within ourselves?

Give yourself permission to be at peace, right now, wherever you may be.  Become extremely lazy, just for right now.  Become so lazy that you cannot be bothered even to think.  Set aside the heaviest of burdens, the human mind.  You will find it hard to stop thinking, nigh unto impossible.  Consider the wisps of thought that remain to be tendrils of incense drifting through the air of the holy temple.  This holy temple is the mind that has inquired into its own nature, and, therefore, has been cleansed of all impurity.  In this darkened, hallowed place, keep the lamps few.  Trim the wicks carefully.

For the ungoverned mind, it will do no good to visit Bodh Gaya or Rishikesh.  If I cannot stand to be with myself, it will not matter where I go.  Everything will become an elaborate avoidance strategy, a kind of show that I put on for myself and others, a puppet show.  Look at me being spiritual.  Look at me being sexy.  Look at this, look at that.  In order to be at peace, I must at first just be.  Then I will be prepared to receive the teaching.  Then I will be inured to all this useless garbage that passes for culture and civilization.  I wish peace for you, I wish peace for myself, I wish peace for the world.  In order for that to happen, the drive for more must stop.

A Mindful Morning Available for Pre-Order

mindful morning cover

 

My new book, A Mindful Morning: Start Each Day with a Clear Mind and Open Heart, is now available for pre-order from Amazon, with the official release on August 1st.  Here are the first few paragraphs from the introduction:

In devotional Hinduism, the hours before dawn are thought to be among the most auspicious for meditation, as the veil between the divine and human worlds is the thinnest during these hours. The morning rituals serve as purification for the day to come, to set the mind on the right track. Taking a few moments in the morning to collect your thoughts and check in with your emotions can do wonders for your ability to manage and dismiss stress throughout the remainder of the day. The modern rituals of drinking coffee and reading the news also prepare the mind to face the challenges ahead, and these, too, can be met with mindfulness. Mindfulness, an intentional and steady embrace of the present moment, comes from within.

Few of us claim to be morning people, but perhaps we haven’t given ourselves permission to savor the early hours, to appreciate the light of a new sun. The reflections in A Mindful Morning come from a variety of world philosophies and religions, and they will help you start each day intentionally. These moments of centering will help take the sting out of the morning commute and pressing schedule by easing you calmly into your day. Over the course of this book, you will develop strong inner reserves that help you remain at peace despite the trials of our frantic society, so you can move throughout the day consciously and purposefully as your best and most authentic self.

You may think that you do not have time for mindfulness or meditation, but just think about how much time you spend reading random bits of news and Internet ephemera. Think about how much time you spend tweeting or going on Facebook, or playing Minecraft or Candy Crush. Think about the time that you spend sorting through mostly nonvital e-mail. Think about the stuff that you have to do: compiling reports for work, taking care of the kids, paying bills, buying groceries, doing the laundry: The list goes on and on. You deserve a break of a few minutes, several times a day, to collect yourself and put your mind in a calmer state. You deserve a break from the constant stream of noise and information.

I wrote this book thinking that you, dear reader, have lots of competing priorities—that you do not, in fact, live in a hermitage on top of a mountain. I imagine you sneaking a few minutes here and there to center yourself. I imagine you setting down your cell phone and finding that comfortable chair or reading nook. I see you lighting a stick of incense for a brief time of sacred silence. I see you at your desk or cubicle grabbing a minute or two to take some deep breaths and engage in thoughtful reading. Know that, wherever you are, you stand at the center of the struggle of the ages learning how to live a peaceful life in the midst of the hectic world. May you find a welcome respite in these pages.

 

 

A Goddess-Based Path to a Sustainable Future

My talk from the Parliament of the World Religions, “Sanatana Dharma and Earth Liberation: A Goddess-Based Path to a Sustainable Future,” is now available in article format at Sutra Journal.  The article is an ecological reading of the Ramayana epic, meant to serve as a guide in this age of corporate globalization, climate change, and mass extinction.  I see it as an authentically Hindu (note that I do not mean the only authentically Hindu) response to the environmental challenges of the twenty-first century.  Some learned pandits who are very familiar with Ramayana were present at the Parliament and said that they found my reading refreshing but also faithful to the text.  That makes me feel good as a convert to this tradition keenly aware of the dangers of appropriation.

I would also like to encourage everyone to support Sutra Journal, which is mostly a labor of love as far as I can tell.  There is so much garbage on the internet these days, and it is nice to have a site filled with informative articles that actually matter, both intellectually and spiritually.  If you take a look at one of the issues, you’ll see that it’s a very ambitious project.  So please support the journal so that it sticks around and does not fade into the ether.  We need more voices for the inner traditions, the religious aspects of yogic practice that are missing from so many of the health and fitness publications.

Some thoughts on Shirdi Sai Baba

Shirdi_sai3

 

The 108 names of Shri Shirdi Sai Baba cure any feelings of sadness, regret, or anger.  Baba lifts the devotee out of the immediate circumstances that might lead to depression or disappointment and gives the devotee the cosmic vision of all-pervading divinity.  Just gazing on Baba’s picture or discussing him with like-minded individuals elevates the mind and heart.  Even the smallest act of devotion towards him will be meritorious, leading the seeker to the feet of the Lord.  Baba cares for both the material and spiritual concerns of those who seek him and serves as a refuge for all who call to him.

In meditation, I saw Baba cleaning his pipe as well as some pots and pans by a stream.  He said to me, “If a rich man has mud on his feet, will the water wash the mud from his feet?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And the same for a poor man?,” he asked. “What about a sinful man?  Will the water wash the mud from his feet as well?”

“Yes,” I said. “All of these can clean their feet with water.”

“And the same for a holy man?”

“Yes,” I said.

“So, in the same way, my name cures all manner of people of whatever negative thoughts they may have.  My name clears the problems from the lives of the devotees of any station in life.”

He directed me to carry his pots towards the temple.

“And those pots that you carry.  You move them from one place to another? A rich man or a poor man could also move them from one place to another?”

“Yes, definitely,” I said.

“And a righteous man or a sinful person could move them from one place to another?”

“Yes,” I said.

“In the same way, any person, of any background, religion, or station in life can become my devotee.  As they carry my message, so I carry them across the world of objects and relationships to the goal of liberation.”

“I am going to a huge mela,” he said.  “There will be many people there who do not know me.  They do not know my story.   They know nothing of my udi, of my works, of my samadhi.  And you will tell them about me as they come to you. I know you have a tendency to be overly worried about your past, to scrutinize yourself too greatly, but do not worry.  My name will be enough for you.”

As soon as the vision of Baba had come, it left again, and I wondered about Baba’s words.  What could he mean by this great mela?  Who would I tell about him?  There were other sayings of Baba as well, but I cannot remember them now.  I resolved to write down what I could remember and share these words, in the hopes that others would find relief from suffering.

I learned everything I know about Shirdi Sai Baba from two sources: the Sai Satcharitra by Shri Hemadpant (English version by Shri N.V. Gunaji) and the biography, Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Unique Saint, by M.V. Kamath and V.B. Kher.  Over the years, he has rescued me from distress many times, in small and large ways.  I would say to those of a skeptical frame of mind that you do not need to know why or how Sai devotion works: just try it.  Say the words, “Aum Sai, namo namah, Shri Sai, namo namah, Jaya jaya Sai, namo namah, Satguru Sai, namo namah.”  This makes an excellent walking or seated meditation, and you can find recorded versions on the internet.

I will be writing more about Shirdi Sai in the future as the inspiration comes and as my other duties permit.  Please let me know of your encounters with Sai Baba of Shirdi.  Try one of these devotions–reading a chapter of Sai Satcharitra, saying the 108 names, or performing japa–and let me know how it goes.  I will send you a picture of the image of Shirdi Sai that I made myself if you message me.

 

Chaitra Navaratri

Durga Puja Festival

Blessings on the occasion of the auspicious beginning of Chaitra Navaratri! The Divine Mother has drawn you to this website for a reason, so that you, through Self inquiry, meditation, and worship, might give Her your burdens and receive the gift of divine illumination.  She longs to scoop you, Her child, into her lap and comfort you.  She longs to use her divine weapons to fight the demons for you.  She takes joy in fulfilling the wishes of her devotees, in taking them to the highest bliss.  We only have to ask to receive her help and protection.

Please consider taking part in this Chaitra Navaratri Sankalpa, to chant 10008 repetitions of the Durge Smrtaa mantra as a group.  All the devotees will reap maximum benefit from taking part in this divine challenge given to us by Shree Maa and Swamiji.  Chandi Maa Ki Jai!!!

Nine Factors of Spiritual Growth

Salt Lake City, October 2015

The spiritual aspirant (sadhak) and the spiritual community (satsangha) are intimately bound with one another.  Indeed, the false opposition between the individual and the collective must be questioned, as all reality, temporal and eternal, manifests from Shiva-Shakti.  There is no “inside” or “outside” for the satsangha, as all beings are on a pilgrimage to their home in God.  These principles stem from an intuitive understanding that all things, living and non-living, human and animal, exist at the pleasure of the unseen divine love.  The divine play (leela) alone makes the illusion (maya) of separation appear.  The vision of love increases when initiates and non-initiates alike follow these precepts:

  1. Examine past faults in a light and unattached manner, seeking to purify flaws and bring positive actions to bear on the future.
  2. Act with strength of purpose, holding an unfaltering mental attitude.
  3. Serve at the feet of the deities (puja, homa) and engage in continual prayer, both mantra recitation and spontaneous conversation with the devas.
  4. Give to those who have less, either materially or spiritually, making the satsangha strong through mutual cooperation and respect.
  5. Seek to complete every action with lovingkindness, regarding no task as trivial.
  6. Always look for new opportunities to serve the community, bringing ideas into action.
  7. Make teachings available for those with little or no previous background, lending support where necessary.
  8. Look for service projects that will improve the natural environment and the lives of non-human creatures, laying the foundations for an improved relationship with the Earth.
  9. Put aside all doubt, taking refuge in the satsangha and dedicating life to service.

These principles, when followed daily, will rapidly accelerate the spiritual growth of individuals while simultaneously making the society vibrant.  They should be reviewed regularly as a spiritual exercise, with each precept adapted to local needs and conditions.