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!


(David Dillard-Wright)

Some thoughts on Shirdi Sai Baba



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.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom: Chapter Eighteen Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

niyatasya tu saṁnyāsaḥ karmaṇo no’papdyate

mohāt tasya parityāgas tāmasaḥ parikīrtitaḥ

Giving up one’s duty is not proper.  The abandonment of obligatory work is due to delusion and is declared to be in the mode of ignorance (18.07 Trans. Prasad).

Chapter eighteen is a reflection on the proper role of work in life.  It is not uncommon for beginning spiritual aspirants to abandon regular work in the thought that more time devoted to devotional activity will produce quick results.  Such individuals do, indeed, quickly attain lofty spiritual states.  They may have visions of divinity and experience various occult powers.  Unfortunately, these quick realizations will not last, since the earnest seeker has not yet incorporated spirituality into the whole of life.  His or her work and relationships will suffer from a lack of attention, and crises will begin to develop, which will eventually result in abandonment of devotion.  The seeker who abandons work will end up more or less like a drug addict, looking for a “quick fix” of God-realization but not thinking about the consequences.

In order to reach stabilization in the spiritual life, in order to practice long-term, one must attend to all of the responsibilities of life while also undertaking spiritual practices.  The chapter discusses two paths, that of the sannyasin and the tyagi The sannyasin takes formal religious vows and devotes his or her whole life to spiritual practices.  This would seem to be the obvious way to eliminate the conflict between worldly and spiritual existence.  We should note, however, that even sannyasins must work, whether that work is begging for food, running a religious institution, teaching lay devotees, or simply practicing austerities.  By no means does the sannyasin escape the life of action.  Great perils also come with this life, as the sannyasin must avoid the temptations to pride that come along with wearing the cloth.  The same law that applies to the lay devotee also applies to the sannyasin, in that he or she must work without regard for the fruit in order to obtain liberation.

The second path mentioned in chapter eighteen is that of the tyagi.  The tyagi continues to work in the world but performs all action as worship, renouncing the fruit of action.  The tyagi is a sort of “secret sannyasin” and renounces the world in his or her heart.  The tyagi has abandoned likes and dislikes and performs all work out of a sense of duty alone.  The tyagi also faces great spiritual danger, chiefly the danger of living among worldly people and the possible temptation to abandon the disciplined life.  The inner renunciation provides protection to the devotee living in the world, as the tyagi no longer cares about the status symbols and accolades that entrap so many people.  The tyagi stands outside the law of karma, since, by the action of worship he or she cancels out the past sinful actions.  The path of the tyagi is very efficient and guides the sincere devotee down the path of liberation.  The tyagi works, all the while saying “Hari, Hari” in his or her heart.

The Gita recommends that we avoid both overwork (stemming from a rajasic constitution) and underwork (stemming from a tamasic constitution).  The sannyasin and the tyagi alike must work with great energy and enthusiasm, cheerfully and without regard for the result, offering up every action as worship.   In this way, confused and wavering consciousness can be replaced with a single-mindedness that conquers all anxiety.  This chapter in the Gita reveals a course of action that allows for continued engagement in the world while simultaneously seeking God, welcome advice for the spiritual seeker facing many responsibilities.

Secular society often views religion as a crutch for broken, neurotic people, a coping mechanism for those who simply can’t hack it in the competitive world.  Indian philosophy, beginning with the Vedas and continuing through the Upanishads and epic poems, regards religious practice as the crowning touch on an already good life.  Spiritual practice is not a prop for a broken life: it is rather the rays of glory streaming through a fully functioning life.  The renunciate does not practice because she cannot do anything else well: the renunciate fully engages with the world and has become hyper-responsible, to God and gods, to guru and lineage, to family and work.  Such a person comes alive as a result of renunciation.  Such a person becomes unstoppable through no longer caring about rewards and recompense, or, conversely, about punishments and condemnation.  Such a person rises above the crowd and becomes a refuge for others, transcending even time and death.

This applies to both sannyāsins and tyāgīs.  The householder disciple, Mahendranath Gupta, known simply as ‘M,’ recorded the masterwork, Ramakrishna Kathamrita (The Gospel of Ramakrishna), the great work of Bengali devotional literature.  Ramakrishna himself remained married, even though he took on many of the aspects associated with monastic life.  Without ‘M,’ we would not know the teachings of Ramakrishna, and without Ramakrishna, ‘M’ would not have been inspired to write.  Many great saints, like Sant Tukaram of Maharashtra, the great bhakti poet,  were married and did not take monastic vows.   This is to say that the sannyāsin path and the tyāgi or grihastha path converge at a point beyond ordinary experience, and both have their part to play in living the dharma.  Although sannyāsins are generally called renunciates, these are really two different types of renunciation, centering around the core idea of detachment from the fruits of action.  Chapter eighteen returns to this central theme of the Bhagavad Gita, as one more reminder to act according to duty without regard for the fruit.

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom: Chapter Seventeen Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

aśraddhayā hutaṁ dattaṁ tapas taptaṁ kṛtaṁ cay at

asad ity ucyate pārtha na ca tat pretya no iha

Whatever is done without faith—whether it is sacrifice, charity, austerity, or any other act—is useless.  It has no value here or hereafter, O Arjuna (17.28 Trans. Prasad).   

The seventeenth chapter continues the discussion of the three gunas from the previous chapter, exploring each in greater detail, but always with the understanding that all forms of worship must be done with faith if they are to be effective.  The explanation of the gunas must take into account that God alone is the doer, and that the human devotee and the human mind channel this greater power.  Without faith, the ritualistic actions amount to nonsense, for the mantras and the practices associated with them will not reach the intended valence of cosmic energy.  That said, we can identify tendencies associated with each of the gunas.  As with the last chapter, we should avoid using the Gita to criticize others and apply these descriptions only to increase our understanding of where we are on the journey to liberation and what still needs to be done in order to make progress.  This chapter can help us to see our predominant tendencies and make necessary adjustments to nudge our habits towards greater sattva (The charts below follow Prasad’s translation except where the Sanskrit terms have been retained).

gita 17 triguna

The sattvic person worships the devas, the guru, and the twice-born according to the instructions laid down in the scriptures, expecting nothing in return, while taking pure vegetarian food.  Sattvic food excludes meat, eggs, onions, and strong spices.  The food should be flavorful but not burning.  The rajasic person worships yakshas (earth spirits, spirits of wealth) and rakshasas (demonic beings) with the intent of gaining riches, fame, or some other reward.  The rajasic person takes luxurious foods and has a tendency to live beyond his or her means.  The rajasic person craves very strong flavors but may still keep to a vegetarian diet.  Moving down the ladder to the third rung, the tamasic person worships bhutas and pretas, the ghosts trapped between worlds as a result of past karma.  The tamasic person cares only about filling his or her belly, eating meat and even spoiled food.  The tamasic person does not care about flavor and eats mostly for quantity.  Note that a person can be of one guna with respect to eating and another guna with respect for worship.  We can imagine that someone may worship the gods but stick to meat eating.  Other combinations are also possible, but, over time, the prevailing guna will triumph.

gita 17 mode of austerity

When it comes to the attitude or motivation for worship, the sattvic person worships with faith, believing that the objective for meditation will be achieved without knowing the how or when.  The devotee should fix his or her belief on the objective for the puja or homa based on the dhyanam of the particular sadhana.  The devotee may desire to draw near to this or that deity, but he or she should not expect to receive siddhi or bhoga and certainly not on any timetable conceived in the mind of the devotee.  He or she may desire moksha, but with the understanding that this takes time according to the past karma of that individual.  A primary cause of falling away from the spiritual life is that the devotee expects too much, too soon. By renouncing expectation, the sadhana can unfold peacefully at the pace required for that individual.  The rajasic devotee likely seeks wealth or supernatural ability more than liberation but will be concerned with appearing to have a strongly spiritual nature.  It is pretty common for spiritual seekers to have an experience of bliss but to then fall away with the realization of the amount of work involved.  The rajasic person may make excursions into sattvic meditation but is unable to remain in that mode for very long.  The tamasic person performs austerity out of a low sense of self or low regard for others.  The objective is to punish the body rather than lose identification with it, and such an individual remains in the ego nature.  He or she easily becomes angered with others and may practice black magic and various kinds of adharmic behavior.

gita 17 thought word deed

The text then turns to the austerity of thought, word, and deed, and here the dividing line between sattva and rajas becomes more clear.  Anyone may put on a show of spirituality, but only the truly dedicated person can transcend feelings of resentment and anger.  The truly sattvic person does not see the flaws in others and looks upon all experiences, good or bad, as opportunities to practice detachment and kindness.  The truly sattvic person governs his or her speech, saying only those things that will be beneficial and will not be harsh in nature.  The sattvic person avoids half-truths and lies, telling the whole truth so long as it will not hurt anyone.  The sattvic person practices non-harming in all aspects of life and is actively engaged in the service of others.  Whoever practices this three-fold austerity will burn negative karmas very quickly, traveling the royal road to liberation.

gita 17 mode of charity

Giving to others can be a way of reaching liberation, but it can also create attachments if done in the wrong manner.  The sattvic person gives according to the five debts, as discussed in the previous chapter.  He or she does not give indiscriminately but searches into the recipient to see if that person has good intentions for the gift.  Giving to temples, priests, twice-born, and guru will be especially important, but not when the giving is done to increase stature in the community.  In that case, the gift becomes rajasic in nature and keeps the giver bound to the material world.  The rajasic person wants to be seen as a giving person and accordingly will not give without an audience.  The tamasic person does not have the wherewithal to give for strategic reasons and gives according to impulse, to similar individuals who reinforce destructive tendencies.  The tamasic person must learn to give strategically, while the rajasic person must learn to let go of rewards and focus on duty.

The seventeenth chapter becomes a kind of introspection by which the devotee comes to know which gunas dominate his or her disposition. A template for transformation begins to form in the devotee’s mind for which areas need the most work, and concrete steps for action begin to emerge.  Some people may need to give up eating meat, others may need to watch out for harsh speech, and still others may have trouble with detachment.  Individuals at all stages must press onward with great faith, believing that the gods and liberation are quite real, more real than the passing rewards of the senses.  Shri Krishna has provided here a road map for liberation, a clear series of stages by which the seeker can attain to the sattvic state.  But even the sattvic state is just a way station along the way, and it must be maintained diligently in order for liberation to happen.  The devotee seeks to become worthy of liberation, but it happens when it happens.

Quick Review of Juluri’s Rearming Hinduism

juluri rearming hinduism thumb

Vamsee Juluri’s Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia, and the Return of Indian Intelligence (Westland, 2014) explains the Doniger controversy from a pro-Hindu, Indian point of view.  Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, made the news when the publisher, Penguin India, pulled the title from the shelves to avoid further legal complications in the Indian courts, as many Hindus, and not just those of the far right, found the book offensive.  Juluri explains that the book does not amount to an “alternative” history at all, inasmuch as it repeats some of the standard tropes of Victorian-era scholarship, such as the now-discredited Aryan invasion theory and the slander of all of Hinduism as the ideology of caste.  Juluri believes that Doniger created a straw man in the male Brahmin, who is to be blamed for the supposed puritanical, misogynist nature of the dharmic faiths in India.  Juluri also echoes the chorus of voices who have criticized Doniger and Courtright over the sexualization of Hindu symbols like the Shiva lingam and Lord Ganesha’s trunk.  The first half of the book systematically addresses Doniger’s book by showing how caste relations are far more complicated than Doniger avers, as when economically less well-off Brahmins worship lower-caste gurus from wealthier backgrounds.  The sexualization of the gods is out of place, given that many devotees see themselves as the parents of the baby Ganesha or Krishna: academic studies that work in the Freudian vein thus come to seem pedophilic.  The Aryan invasion theory, currently dying a very slow death, Juluri sees as a projection of Eurocentric belief systems (the Indian as an honorary white person), which, consciously or not, can only attribute greatness to architecture, literature, and other creations by those of Western stock.  The book does a good job of showing why so many Indians were up in arms about the Doniger book, not out of some puritanical or fundamentalist stance, but because it perpetuates myths (in the negative sense of the word) about Hinduism that ought to have died a long time ago.

cows strolling around in the city of Pushkar, India

The other goal of Juluri’s work is to show the relevance of Hinduism for today’s world, particularly the belief in ahimsa and the divine in all things.  Juluri sympathizes with the animal rights and animal studies movements in academia, and he references Jonathan Safran Foer and Jeremy Rifkin’s criticisms of factory farming and the meat-eating diet.  The Doniger fight eclipses the larger issue of how the philosophy of non-harming can become India’s gift to the world.  Petty dismissals of Hinduism as “cow worship,” “caste-based discrimination,” and the like run the risk of eschewing the potential solutions that India has for the consumptive lifestyles of America and Europe.  By looking to its own scriptural roots and the model of its holy people, Hinduism can offer an alternative to the industrial-scale destruction of life now taking place on our planet.  Only by “rearming” Hinduism, that is, by eloquently and forcefully answering the knee-jerk criticisms of the eternal dharma, can the potential of this millennia-old religion come to the fore.  Then perhaps, nonviolence (and Juluri is a Ghandian) can come to the fore just in time to avert some of the worst consequences of ecocidal capitalism.  The denigration of Hinduism hides the massive irrationality of a world system (built on Western, liberal values) that catapults life itself over the edge of the cliff of overconsumption and climate change.

Juluri’s Rearming Hinduism reads like a living room conversation, offering an apologetic for Hinduism, but never in a condescending or simplistic manner.  The aim is always to present Hinduism as a faith that provides hope for the whole world. Juluri writes:

Hinduism after all has never been about us or them; but only about us and them, and that ‘them’ includes not just people of other nations or religions, but also those living beings of different species too.  We must restore Hinduism not just for the sake of Hindus, but for all living beings in this world, for the sake of all nature.  Though we are not in the business of saving anything or anyone against their will, we can’t help our kindness when we see destructiveness, and self-destructiveness (loc. 367-369).

The book addresses itself mostly to born-Hindus, who grew up in the Indian educational system, but converts will find much to enjoy here as well.  Many devotees worldwide, whether or not they came from Indian households, were first introduced to Indian religion and philosophy through vegetarianism or veganism.  The fact that the book places ahimsa at the center will appeal to this segment of the Hindu religions.  Juluri invites us to think that perhaps the relationship between Hinduism and Western scholarship (and the general public) will enter its most productive phase when Hindus are willing to intelligently defend their belief systems and when adherents of Western “progress” and “civilization” realize that perhaps ahimsa holds the key to a sustainable future.

Gita Wisdom: Chapter Fourteen Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

māṁ ca yo’vyabhicārena bhaktiyogena sevate

sa gunān samatītyai’tān brahmabhūyāya kalpate

One who serves Me with love and unswerving devotion transcends the three modes of material Nature and becomes fit for Nirvana. Trans. Prasad (14.26).  

Chapter fourteen explains in detail the three gunas or modes of material nature and the way to transcend them.  The lowest or most damaging guna is called tamas, which can be described as lethargy, laziness, inertia, or ignorance.  The person in whom this quality predominates will have a hard time transcending the physical nature and the life of the senses.  Addictive and self-destructive behavior is likely for someone stuck in this mode, for he or she lacks the energy, the dynamism, the force of will necessary to fully engage with the world.  Such a person likely uses other people in a manipulative sort of way in order to make it from day to day, for this type of person does not have the wherewithal necessary to become a support and refuge for others.  The quality of tamas is very strong in the present adharmic age or age of darkness (kali yuga).  Someone who only has a few tamasic tendencies can still be quite a good person but will feel stuck in life or bound by present conditions.

The guna or quality of tamas can be defeated by rajas, the second mode of material nature, which can be called passion, assertion, or willfulness.  This type of personality is much more dynamic than the tamasic individual and may even have excellent leadership ability. This guna is characterized by attachment to the fruits of action.  This pragmatic personality type is willing to work hard but always expects to see the rewards of his or her action.  The rajasic individual is therefore likely to be short-sighted, concentrated only on the needs of the present moment, and still quite attached to the life of the senses.  The quality of rajas, when it predominates, does not lead to lower birth unless it is accompanied by a heavy dose of tamas.  Many great people in the world have a predominance of rajas: they are not necessarily good or bad but do not pursue liberation either.  For this reason, they reap the fruit of rebirth into cyclic existence, likely in the same sort of incarnation that they inhabit now.

The third and final guna is called sattva, which can be translated as clarity or goodness.  Just as rajas defeats tamas, so sattva defeats rajas.  The final guna leads individuals to strive for liberation.  At this point, one begins to practice selfless service, study the scriptures, and meditate.  ONe begins to seek the company of saints and sages and begin to serve the deities.  This quality still belongs to material nature and does not itself produce liberation.  It just makes one prepared to receive liberation.  Sattva cures the wounds that have been caused by the other two gunas and leads one up to the threshold of enlightenment.

three gunas

In the key verse above, Sri Krishna says that one becomes fit for liberation by serving God.  This can be done in many ways: through work, through ritual practice, through asanas and pranayama.  Gradually the sattvic nature triumphs over the other gunas.  The sattvic individual makes him or herself a living sacrifice to the gods and becomes irresistible to the Supreme Being.  A great effort over a long period of time culminates in release, called moksha or enlightenment.  There are many smaller enlightenments that everyday spiritual aspirants experience in the course of sadhana, but  the highly realized being can enter the state of samadhi at will and does not take rebirth.

It should be stated that the vast majority of people have a combination of all three gunas in their constitution, and these three qualities fluctuate over time, depending on one’s life circumstances and the conditioned responses that one chooses in response to these circumstances.  Free will can be exercised within any guna, but it is very difficult for less realized beings to exercise free will.  For this reason, we should have strong compassion for those who are trapped within any sort of addiction.  We should also avoid diagnosing others with having a preponderance of this or that guna and apply these labels only to ourselves and only in private contemplation.  It will do no good to bemoan having a tamasic or rajasic constitution: the only thing to be done is to continue to strive for improvement, to keep accessing the sattvic nature and strengthening it according to the guru’s instructions.  Those gunas which are most exercised are the ones that grow in strength, while the less-exercised gunas atrophy.

There are also adjunct practices that can lead to a more sattvic nature.  The science of ayurveda can teach sattvic diet and prescribe herbal remedies that can ease both health conditions and various addictions.  Jyotish, the science of light, also called Vedic astrology, can prescribe planetary remedies to  ease the transition to the higher gunas.  Someone who has a tamasic nature, might say Mars (Mangala) mantra, for example, to increase his or her power of willpower and action.  Both ayurveda and jyotish require expert advice, as the wrong remedy can actually make the situation worse.  Shri Krishna, in this chapter, advises only regarding God as the doer and standing back from the three gunas to watch their play.  Taking this observer stance, the stance of detachment, requires no expert advice, can be practiced by anyone, and is highly effective.

Just to recap the three gunas in everyday language, the predominating question for the tamasic individual is, “How can I avoid having to act in the world?”  This person resorts to manipulation and bad behavior to get what he or she wants, expending the least amount of effort possible, acting not out of a desire for liberation but out of a slothful nature. The predominating question for the rajasic person is, “How can I act in the world to get what I want?” This person has come a long way from the tamasic point of view but still demands immediate recompense for all action.  The predominating question for the sattvic person is, “How can I act in the best possible way?”  This person may outwardly perform some of the exact same actions as the rajasic person, but the emphasis has changed.  This person seeks to infuse actions with love and devotion, whether these actions are practical or religious in nature.  So, with each guna, the emphasis becomes more internal and qualitative.  Notice that there is action involved in all three gunas, but the quality of that action changes as the person evolves.  The quick fix of the earlier stages gives way to patient action with the overall goal of liberation.

Baba Lokenath Meditation

baba lokenath cropped

A biography of the realized sage, Sri Baba Lokenath (1730-1890), has just been published in English.  This book, the first of its kind, is written by Baba’s disciple, Shuddhaanandaa Brahmachari, who established a Baba Lokenath temple at his personal ashram in the Himalayas and spent many years meditating on Baba and collecting historical research.  Baba Lokenath is known for severe austerities, for his travels with Trailinga Swami, and for his many miracles.  For beginning seekers, the stories of extreme asceticism can be intimidating, but Shudhaanandaa does a good job of including meditations that anyone can practice at the end of each chapter.  Here is one meditation from the book:

Sitting comfortably erect for meditation, offer all that you are into the rising and falling of the light within the breath.  When you are deeply relaxed, see yourself before you were born, as a spark of diamond-white light in the Divine Heart.  Feel the pure, sweet, nurturing energies of the Divine all around you, like a womb.  Feel the pure essence of the Divine as your own essence.  This is home, where you come from, who you are beyond form.  Allow the golden-white, Divine Light to flow through you now, informing and forming your life today in ways that are beyond your understanding.  Wrapped in the Light that is your true home, know that you are safe, that you can always return to this Light, because it is who you are.  Everything else will one day disappear.  Only this Light will be left.  Whenever you are beset with difficulty, remember this simple, brilliant spark of Light that you are.  Offer your troubles into it.  Let the Light burn them away until they disappear into the Light (from the end of chapter two). 

I was struck by the feminine image of the womb in this meditation and also by the practical aspect of releasing problems into the Light.  If any distractions or worries remain after the opening part of the meditation, one has an opportunity to deal with these at the end.  This could be a good accompaniment to pranayama, for those who wonder what to do mentally when completing the breath work.  Through this exercise, we can all get a small taste of the life of this amazing ascetic.

A brief review and excerpt of The Incredible Life of a Himalayan Yogi: The Times, Teaching, and Life of Living Shiva, Baba Lokenath Brahmachari, by Shuddhaanandaa Brahmachari, edited by Ann Shannon.  Kolkata: Lokenath Divine Life Mission, 2014.  The Amazon Kindle edition was used for this post.

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Seven

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Among thousands of men, only one may strive for success, and among those who strive thus and succeed, perhaps only one will truly know me.  7.3 Trans. Thompson

Shri Krishna here imparts a daunting idea of spiritual success, in which only one of perhaps millions of people ever come to know the Supreme being.  And yet, the one who strives has already succeeded by having made the effort in the first place.  The Vedic traditions teach that not a single deed, mental or physical, ever fails to bear fruit.  Actions may have shorter or longer maturation periods, but they all eventually lead to some result that follows from them.  The person who strives may not succeed in this lifetime, but he or she will eventually come to know the divine in a direct and personal manner, face to face.

Given the odds here, though, one might be tempted to just say that spiritual effort just doesn’t make sense.  After all, we all must prioritize and make compromises between the various things that compete for our attention.  We must make a living within the world and see to all of our duties.  What difference does it make if we realize God or not?  Such an attitude would be rational if not for the very great rewards conferred on the victors in the struggle to bring forth the divine nature.  A great prize is worth a great effort, and even the one who “fails” to realize God gains the very great honor of having made the effort in the first place.

The person who practices the least amount of devotion will have some small consolations: feelings of peace here and there, perhaps an insight into how to live in a better way.  And, in the long run, the half-hearted devotee builds a store of merit that cannot help but yield good results in the future. Imagine the good that comes to the one who practices unrestrained devotion, who puts the greatest possible energy into sadhana.  Such a person remains undeterred by the perception of a lack of results, by the apparent absence of external rewards.  Such a person conquers great difficulties and will sit at the feet of the Lord despite all hindrances.   This type of devotee does not come along very often, and we are all very fortunate to have met even one in our lifetimes.

Imagine the great responsibility and privilege that falls to those who have met many illumined souls in the course of a lifetime.  Those inclined towards spirituality may have had many profound dreams and visions, many conversations with spirits and divine beings, in addition to contacts with the illumined ones still walking the earth.  Such experiences confer the responsibility to act on the insights gained, to take the inspiration and share it with others, or at least those prepared to receive the teachings in an honorable way.  The dharma does not require us to “save” the world through conversions: it just asks us to give generously, to give more than we receive, as Swamiji always says.  As we give more and more, the inspiration comes in a stronger way, which then increases the giving, and so forth.

Suppose we fall into the vast majority of those who try to realize God in this lifetime and do not.  We are about to celebrate Diwali and make puja or homa to Shri Lakshmi.  Her name is derived from laksha, the goal or mark at which to aim.  The lamps that we light stand for inner illumination, the sat-chit-ananda, the being-consciousness-bliss otherwise known as moksha or liberation that is the goal of life.  An archer may miss the target, but the one who comes closest to the center is the most esteemed.  The one who lands firmly in the center receives the prize.  By no means should we fail to compete out of fear that we should miss the mark.  The only real way to lose is to make no effort at all.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Six

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

Whoever sees me everywhere and and sees everything in me will never be separated from me, nor will I be separated from him.  The yogin who is aware of the oneness of life is devoted to me, the one who dwells in all beings.  Wherever he happens to find himself, he remains within me.  5.31.  Trans. George Thompson.

This verse expresses a teaching that can be difficult for religious people, especially those unfamiliar with mysticism, especially those trained in Western metaphysics.  We are so used to thinking of the bounded categories of animal, vegetable, and mineral, so used to thinking in terms of separate entities, the “billiard ball” model of the universe in which separate particles collide to make up reality.  We think society is composed of autonomous individuals or that people are fundamentally different from animals and certainly plants.  But Krishna here expresses an idea of fundamental unity, that all things exist in him.

And this is the secret, apparently, to maintaining a sense of unity with the divine.  We can get caught in the trap of thinking we can only pray in the temple or before the home shrine.  We long so much for the deva loka that we don’t recognize it right in front of our faces, in a co-worker’s face, in the tree outside the window, in the form of a stray dog.  But then that is the divine play, the magic of maya that makes us forget what we know in our hearts.  And that, too, the forgetting, the loss of insight, is another aspect, another manifestation of the divine.  For some inscrutable reason which cannot be fathomed through reasoning, we are playing one giant game of hide and seek with God.

One second of seeing God makes up for a thousand tedious days.  A moment of clarity can make months of confusion worthwhile.  Why we have been drafted into this game, we do not know.  But it is well worth the effort to play and play well.  Those of us exerting spiritual effort have come to believe that the time is short, that perhaps this lifetime will be the last.  We cannot afford to fall back into the same old complacency, to live in the mindset of “another day and another dollar.” We have to re-capture a sense of urgency, a sense of longing.  This is what the bhakti movement is all about, and it is also an important part of the iconography of the gods.

Many of the gods (Vishnu included) are depicted with a wheel or chakra spinning on one finger, the wheel of time.  Time, then, is one of the weapons of divinity, one of the ways to slay the demons of bad thoughts like boredom and apathy.  So there is always more time, and yet every moment will have the same past-present-future structure as this one.  And all of those moments are suffused in the eternal, the not-time that is God.   When we do the practices that lead to liberation, we make time work for us instead of against us.  We make it more likely that we will be able to Realize in the future.  We make it easier to see the eternal in the midst of the mundane.  But it takes real effort to not discount the apparent tedium before us, to see beyond the surfaces and into the true nature of things.

Maybe you are reading this in a plastic chair in the waiting room of a bus terminal, or maybe you are stealing a few minutes on your lunch break at work.  Maybe you stumbled onto this page by accident and are about to text a friend.  Whether you are meditating in a Himalayan cave or walking the streets of Las Vegas, an infinite mystery waits for you.  You are divine.  All beings are divine.  All things are divine.  A very thin and fragile veil hides this Reality from view.  Exert yourself through meditation, and you will see the truth.


Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Five

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

“I who am not doing anything,” he should think to himself, the man who is disciplined in yoga, and who knows the true nature of things.  Meanwhile, he sees, he hears, he touches, he smells, he eats, he talks, he goes, he sleeps, he breathes, he talks, he relieves himself, he takes with his hands, he opens his eyes, he closes his eyes–but always he holds firm to the thought, “This is merely the senses interacting with sense objects.”  5.8-9  Trans.  George Thompson

Here Shri Krishna unfolds a sublime doctrine, one extremely simple and yet difficult as well.  This discipline which the fifth chapter discusses is a way of acting without fixating on the act, a pure kind of doing without internal commentary.  Sometimes this is called acting without regard to the fruits of action.  Sometimes it is called renunciation.  Sometimes it is called dispassion, discrimination, or equanimity.  One can get a glimpse of this way of acting by reading the Gita meditatively, but it only really hits home by trying to live in this manner.

In order to enter this state of mind, begin with meditation, whatever practice you already do.  Krishna approves of the homa fire explicitly and other practices of yoga, such as pranayama and asanas.  He also mentions seated meditation and concentrating on the ajna chakra between the eyes.  Many pathways lead to the state of concentration as a kind of foundation for action in the world.  This passage suggests that ultimately one will be able to move about freely in the world without the attachment of negative karmas.  This happens once the yogi no longer regards him or herself as the doer, seeing the physical body and the limited mind as impersonal manifestations of natural processes.  Once the foundation has been established through formal, traditional practices, it will be easier throughout the day to let go of thoughts of ownership and possession.

Notice that this practice applies equally to pleasant and unpleasant thought processes.  Whether my sense of self-esteem is high or low, whether I grumble and complain or stop and smell the roses, I must detach from the thought that there is an “I” who experiences all of this.  I must let the ego dissolve into the flux of the processes that constitute it, and then I can become one with the surround.  Oneness can be a complicated, metaphysical word, but it really just means fully engaging in the deed, whether that deed is performing puja or paying bills.  It means letting go of the endless interpretations, letting go of the internal dialogue about whether I am doing well or doing badly, whether I have accomplished enough or need to do more.

Undoubtedly, I will lose concentration many times in the course of the day and will engage in needless speculation.  I will congratulate myself for something or castigate myself for something.  I will imagine conversations that have yet to take place and think of how to put myself at an advantage.  Then I have to think back to the foundation and to the verses of the Gita.  Maybe a line of nama recitation will come to me as a kind of rescue.  Maybe I just say, “Jai Shri Krishna” or, “Jaya Ganesha.”  Or maybe I say something like, “Let go,” or, “peace.”  But most importantly, I try again.  And the struggle continues, but the Lord assures us that each tiny effort will be rewarded in this life or the next.

Think about taking a bath.  I must bathe myself each day if I don’t want to have body odor.  I can’t call my neighbor and say, “Hey, I am smelling kind of bad, can you take a bath for me?”  So in the dharma traditions, there is no vicarious atonement.  We all have to take up the practices that lead to liberation.  The saints and sages have shown the way, but we all must walk in it.  There is no once-and-for-all salvation, but there are many small salvations.  I can think about how to “save” this minute, this hour, this day.  I can think about how to live peacefully today.  And in that way, I can stop thinking about heaven after death and start thinking about heaven here on earth.  If I should need more time to work towards liberation, it is there for me.  But I should start right now, with this inhalation, with this next step, with the next word to come out of my mouth.  Aum, shanti, shanti, shanti.