Sabrina MisirHiralall recommended Krishna Dass’ autobiography, Chants of a Lifetime, a wonderfully positive and uplifting book about the celebrated kirtan singer’s journey from jaded Western young person to lifetime devotee. Like Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now and many other teachings, Krishna Das is a disciple of Sri Neem Karoli Baba, viewed by his followers as an incarnation of Lord Hanuman. I can relate to Ram Das and Krishna Das when they speak about their beloved guruji: I often had the feeling when listening to Swamiji’s talks that he also had the energy of Sri Hanuman. There was just something about the intensity of his voice and his untiring nature that made me think of the monkey god. And my tradition, too, is steeped in devotional songs, drawn from Shree Maa’s Bengali tradition. I often think about how Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna would go into ecstasy just from hearing a kirtan singer in the precincts of Dakshineshwar.
Krishna Das, in recounting his journey from what often sounds like self-loathing to contemplative release, recommended another book called Radical Acceptance, by psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. I found Brach’s book to be a welcome break from the flood of new age literature that recommends a sort of bootstrapping approach to self-improvement. She leads the reader through a series of exercises in which, rather than trying to escape from our flaws, we simply look at them, as they are, without judgement. This is a difficult discipline that is so much more kind to the ego self than the usual advice to just muscle through our shortcomings to a supposedly better state of being. Buddhists and Hindus agree that the ego self is essentially fictitious and illusory, but that doesn’t mean we should run roughshod over it. If we further shame the inner child, we may just make the situation worse. Brach offers a gentle path out of the trap that is close to the Buddha’s original teachings.
To just speak in a casual and off-the-cuff sort of way, we usually have in mind some sort of Ideal Life for ourselves, whether that Ideal is working as a stockbroker on Wall Street or meditating in a cave somewhere. So far so good: we probably need some sort of goal in order to get out of bed in the morning. But then it gets more pernicious. We compare the life that we want to the life that we have now and perceive a massive gap between the real and the Ideal. This gap or lack is so disturbing that we immediately set about trying to rectify it through mental and emotional gymnastics. Blame and anger come into the picture. If I am not living as I think I Should, there must be someone to blame.
The blame and anger can be directed inwardly or outwardly. We can blame our parents, our children, our life partners, God, or the government. This is a great trick because it gets us off the hook, but it comes at a tremendous price. We walk around feeling disgruntled all the time, swearing and muttering under our breath at the slightest provocation. So peace goes out the door right away, and it is even worse if we direct the blame inward, at ourselves. This is where self-hatred comes into play, leading to depression and even suicide if it goes unchecked. All of this is so painful that there is likely to be some self-medication along the way. This is likely some form of addiction, ranging from mild and socially acceptable to severe and socially censured.
But maybe the real tragedy lies in missing the beauty and joy right in front of our faces. We are so busy blaming and hating and medicating that we lose sight of the present moment, those little flickers of divine brilliance in everyday life. We lose the ability to actually pay attention. We buy into our own propaganda so much that we don’t actually make very much contact with reality. Our filters, our sh*t-tinted glasses (pardon the expression–I can’t think of a better one) get so convincing and habitual that we can’t take them off. We mistake our self-written scripts for reality itself, and that becomes a very difficult cycle to break.
So this is why we foolish people who still believe in the spiritual life practice sadhana. We want to see the world as it is rather than believing in the very convincing (and very depressing) alternate realities that we have constructed for ourselves. But the old Ego is very wily and can play the spiritual game as well, manipulating most any tradition into blame and anger. So we must be very alert and pay attention very closely to the game being played between our ears. The Hindu tradition views that game as a war between the demons and the devas. Think about the Bhagavad Gita or the Chandi Path. These are basically texts that teach us how to quell those ugly voices, those dark thoughts. They are such simple texts in some ways, and yet they are the work of a lifetime. We have to keep learning their lessons over and over again.
So I suppose it’s okay to have a goal in life and it is okay to fall short of that goal. We must let the matter drop there and not crank up the blame engine. We must have a moderate amount of ambition in life in order to function as human beings, but we must not let our shortcomings gnaw at us. That was one of Ramakrishna’s only criticisms of the Christian tradition, that he felt it led people to concentrate on sin, sin, sin rather than the inner divinity. Perhaps if we are more gracious with ourselves and with each other, we can find a less tortured way to liberation.
Image: Hindu Human Rights
Some Christian groups have taken yoga asanas and attached Bible verses to them. Rather than a traditional murthi, there might be a cross at the front of the studio. Certainly this is an appropriation of Hinduism, but is it offensive? Should Hindus fight against these appropriations or simply “live and let live”? In this article, which was published on the Hindu Human Rights website, Janyananda explores the phenomenon of Christian yoga and asks about its implications for the future of dharma. Feel free to share to social media and get a conversation going. Universal love and compassion does not mean that we should not discuss controversial topics. Honest and open debate is the only way that we can move society forward.
The new patches have arrived and are available for members, new and old! The patch features the anahata mandala with its seed sound. The year, 1633, refers to the trial of Galileo by the Catholic Church. It reminds us to protect the life of the mind, including empirical science, even as we pursue our spiritual quests. The year, 2012, refers to the founding of the society. Shree Maa and Swamiji gave their blessing to the Society on April 27, 2012 from Delhi, so the organization is about to have its third birthday! The three dots after each letter of the initials are a convention in esoteric societies. In our case, they refer to the nine gates of spiritual progress and the nine gates of the body, among many other meanings. The somewhat Americanized spelling of “satsanga” refers to Sri Ramakrishna’s prophecy that he would live in the subtle body of his devotees for three hundred years, and that he would have many devotees in the West.
The patch is an outward sign of an inner transformation, that one commits oneself to the mission of the Society. We affirm that the life of the mind must be balanced with the intuitions of the heart, that the masculine and feminine forces must find union, and that human society should find its proper place within the rest of nature. We believe that all people, no matter what race or ethnicity, no matter what economic status or background, sexual orientation or gender, have access to the divine within the shrine of the heart. We take the tradition handed down to us and propagate the teachings to the next generation of seekers from all walks of life, bringing the Sanatana Dharma one step closer to the crack of the ages at the dawn of Satya yuga, the Age of Truth.
To claim your patch, please contact David or Sabrina. They are offered free of charge: donations for postage are welcome. Put the patch on a hoodie, on your yoga bag, on a prayer shawl, or wherever you like. Let it remind you to uphold the values of the Society and to also remember the other members in your devotions. Jaya vijaya bhava!
Jyotish or astrology forms a part of traditional Hindu practice. Whether you consult your astrological chart just for entertainment, to find auspicious days, or to find guidance in life, you will need a birth chart first. The easiest way to obtain a birth chart is to send your birth data to a professional jyotish kovid. You will need the place, date, and time of birth, correct down to the minute if possible. If you don’t have complete information, just do the best you can. Your jyotish advisor should provide you with a complete reading and interpretation for a nominal fee.
Supposing that you are willing to undertake some work and study, you can download free software on the internet and interpret your own chart. To begin, you will need to read some books on the subject. The following are highly recommended:
Behari, Bepin. Fundamentals of Vedic Astrology, V. 1. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 2003.
Frawley, David (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri). Astrology of the Seers: A Guide to Vedic/Hindu Astrology. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 2000.
Harness, Dennis M. The Nakshatras: The Lunar Mansions of Vedic Astrology. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, Lotus Press, 2009.
The Behari and Frawley books both provide a good overall introduction to Jyotish, and they agree on the main points. It can be useful to consult both when wanting a more in-depth explanation of a particular planetary influence. The Nakshatras or lunar mansions described by Harness are most often used in marital charts, but they can also be a good guide to understanding your personality. You could view the Nakshatras almost like a separate system to the Navagraha (the nine main planets of jyotish).
Okay, supposing you have done some background reading and are ready to go, you need the actual chart, which is best done by computer. I recommend the Jagannatha Hora program, available here. The program works best on PCs, but some people have had luck with Windows simulators on Macs. After installing it, open the program and click File/New. Then click this icon, which stands for edit birth data:
Then you’ll get a pop-up dialogue box that looks like this:
Use the boxes and drop-down menus to enter your birth data (Gregorian). The built-in atlas does not have every town and city in the world, but it will have a nearby city. If you know the latitude and longitude, you can enter that information as an alternative. After entering this information, hit ‘OK,’ and your birth chart will appear. This will be the upper left-hand chart that says, ‘Rasi,’ under the ‘Basics’ tab. As a beginner, you will not have to worry about the other divisional charts that appear along with it. By focusing only on the Rasi chart, you will not be intimidated by the wealth of features that Jagannatha Hora offers.
I will use my chart as an example in what follows. Each jyotish kovid will have a differing interpretation, but there are certain constants. First, the Ascendant house is regarded as the most important, followed by the sun sign, followed by the lunar sign. This is in contrast to Western astrology, in which the Sun sign is considered the most important. The Ascendant is conveniently labeled for you in the program. Take a look:
The ‘As’ stands for the birth ascendant, the constellation on the horizon at the time of birth, in this case Aquarius, which will henceforth be treated as the first house, which governs the soul and self-understanding. From there, we count inclusively, and the Sun house ends up being the eighth house, Virgo, which is the Vedic Sun sign. This will normally be close to the Western astrological sign, perhaps a house away or sometimes aligning. The eighth house governs occult wisdom as well as sex: it is a house of tantra more generally. The moon sign in this case is the fifth house (here Gemini), which governs creativity and the soul. The ascendant acts almost like its own planet, and is the most important, followed by the Sun and Moon.
The birth ascendant is Aquarius, associated in the West with the Age of Aquarius or New Age, with connotations of self-sacrifice and commitment in Vedic astrology. Note also the strong Saturn (Shani) in the sixth house, which produces nervous disorders like anxiety and epilepsy. The Mercury in house eight is a Mercury bhadra yoga (Mercury in its own house), indicating skill in communication and other Mercury-based qualities. Note also the craziness in house nine, with Venus, Mars, and Rahu coming closely together. This indicates a strong interest, perhaps obsession, with religion, philosophy, and ethics. Jupiter is weakened (indicated by parentheses) by Mercury from five houses away (succedent or panapara position). All of this makes perfect sense to me (as it is my chart!) and probably to those who know me the best. It is a bit odd to put my information out here like this, but it is also more revealing than a fake example.
One can easily dismiss all of this as superstitious nonsense, but I think the chart can be a powerful tool for meditation and self-understanding. It shows one’s strong and weak points and gives a total life picture. In addition to the chart, one needs to know the primary associations with each house, planet, and sign, along with a few rules for combinations. These can easily be obtained by a close reading of the above books and a lot of practice. The result will be a picture of the self that is at least as valid as any inventory taken by a psychologist. Interpreting one’s own chart for oneself is a great exercise in contemplation and will have an impact on how one chooses to use the planetary energies.
Free will should absolutely be emphasized, as past and present karma will affect how the planetary energies affect us. The blessings of gods and gurus also trump the nine planets, as many scriptures insist. It is also important to get oneself in the right frame of mind before attempting a reading. At the very least, one should do some silent meditation and mantra practice before beginning to get rid of the mental noise that could skew the results. That’s all for now. Future posts will provide quick and easy methods for jyotish that anyone can understand.
Dr. David Dillard-Wright (Janyananda Saraswati) will be discussing the chakra system from two points of view: that of consumerist, lifestyle-enhancement meditation and Vedic, lineage-based meditation. The talk will be part of the Department of History and Social Science Mindfulness Meditation Series at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ. The live streaming will be followed by a Tai Chi presentation by Shenne Dugtong. The event will take place on Tuesday, April 14th, from 12:30 to 1:30 PM.
The Anahata Chakra Satsanga welcomes Dr. Sabrina MisirHiralall to the Advisory Board! Sabrina studies classical Indian dance in the Kuchipudi style and analyzes her experiences through postcolonial studies. She will be telling us more about her work on this site, so stay tuned! In the meantime, she will be giving a dance performance and lecture at Middlesex Community College in New Jersey on April 9, 2015 for those who can attend. The event is part of the 2015 Journeys and Passages Grant Series, and the formal title is “Religious Epistemology through a Kuchipudi Dancer’s Journey to Shri Krishna.”
sarvasya cā’haṁ hṛdi saṁniviṣṭo
mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca
vedaiśca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedāntakṛd vedavid eva cā’ham
And I am seated in the inner psyche of all beings. Memory, Self-knowledge, and removal of doubts and wrong notions about God come from Me. I am, in truth, that which is to be known by the study of the Vedas. I am, indeed, the author as well as the student of the Vedas. (15.5 Trans. Prasad)
Deep down inside yourself, beneath the passing concerns of everyday life, you already know the way home. Lord Krishna has concealed in each individual this soul which wants to return to its Source. This spark of divinity, invisible to the naked eye, exerts an influence on the devotee without controlling the devotee. It partakes in the senses and the mind without being affected in return. It is the activator and origin of the faculties, the mind of minds and heart of hearts.
Imagine that you take an air-filled ball and shove it beneath the surface of a swimming pool. It will be difficult to push it beneath the surface, as it always wants to return to the air above. The lighter density of the air as compared to the water makes this commonplace but powerful effect happen. We can compare this to the indwelling divine soul, which always wants to return to God. We think of Enlightenment as requiring heroic effort, but it only seems this way to our limited minds. In reality, the journey to God is quite rapid and natural, the course of nature at work.
It seems difficult to realize God because of all of the distractions in the mind, the doubts that constantly nag and the ignorance that obscures the truth. Realization would be easy if we would only stop fighting it so strenuously. It takes a great deal of effort, actually, to keep it from happening. We must work very hard to stay distracted, to keep chasing after desires, to do everything but follow the eternal truth. If we silence the chatter within, we begin to feel the pull of the heart, which longs to be in full contact with the divine nature.
A secret guiding force rests within the heart center, always available to the sincere seeker. This divine Self can be accessed through interior silence, by stopping the inquiry into gratification of the senses, by giving up the desire to elaborate on mental constructs and scenarios. The sincere devotee obtains liberation by seeking the dwelling place of the Lord within, by taking refuge in the temple of the heart. Rather than just checking in with the heart center for a quick bit of rest, those who seek liberation in this lifetime learn to live from the heart center.
The heart can become a fortress rather than just a temporary resting place. The realized seeker will be so exhausted from the continual battles of the world and will withdraw to a place of safety. In this calm place, there will be indifference to victory or defeat. The fluctuations, the drama of life will no longer have any effect. A person who has reached this detached state cannot be moved by fear or pity, by hope or desire. Such a person becomes rock solid in intention and affect and becomes a refuge for others.
Even such a realized being must still act in the world, but the character of that action will be forever changed. The realized sage no longer needs anything from the people who come to him or her for advice, which means that the advice will not be tainted by the ego nature. This speeds the process of evolution for the seeker, who will be motivated in turn to help others. The realized souls become catalysts for humanity, to help this world become a better place for all beings. The one who has practiced internal renunciation has a ripple effect on the whole world, from the simple fact of letting go of desire.
The inner renunciation of letting go of desire is not limited to those who live in a monastic state. The householder who retreats into the cave of the heart while performing his or her duties in the world will be just as eligible for liberation as the sannyasin sitting on the banks of the Ganga. The religious practices like puja and homa are aids to internal work of renunciation. They help the aspirant to raise his or her consciousness, but they can also be obstacles if they become the occasion for pride. One must let go of the fruits of religious practice just as one must let go of the fruits of work in the world if the journey of liberation is to be completed.
Nothing actually needs to be done in order for liberation to be happen. The soul already partakes in the divine nature. Only ignorance gets in the way of the perception of this divine nature. The practices of the dharmic traditions just help to unwind the compounded false beliefs that have accreted in the limited mind. Sadhana is as much a negative path as it is a positive path to liberation. We let go of the false beliefs and replace them with true beliefs. In time, with great care and effort, the sun of liberation shines more brightly.
This is not something that will happen “one day,” because we do have a choice. We can make this process more efficient by letting go of all the bad habits that distract from the true goal. We can live deeper into the reality of our divine nature right this minute, by performing actions with great love and by shutting the mind to the influence of desire. We will not have to wait any longer, as the divine Self resides right here in this moment in the cave of the heart.
1. Everything changes, nothing remains the same. Everything flows into one form and then another. Do away with the rigidity of your mind, with the rigidity of your life. As soon as you begin to let go, energy begins to flow. As soon as you stop insisting on a certain course of action, the right way will become known to you. You cannot change without surrendering.
2. You seek the advice of experts, a bit of inspiration, a good word here or there. You are like a great king who dressed himself in the guise of a beggar and went around the kingdom asking for bread. One day the king remembered his true identity. He returned to the palace and wept at his great fortune. You too will remember: you too will weep.
3. Every door represents a transition, a portal between worlds, a passage. Take a moment to reflect each time you pass a threshold. Say thanks for the opportunity to pass through. Make an effort to open the doors of your heart, the doors of your mind. Each door is a gateway into the unknown: so is each minute, each hour, each day.
4. To remove negative energy from your relationships, drop the dualistic frame of mind. Stop thinking of me and mine, you and yours. Relationships change, just as all things change. As soon as you drop the ideal vision of how things are supposed to be, you will have no more complaint against your partner. The “should” is the only problem.
5. To improve your own health, take a look at the health of those in your family, including your companion animals. You cannot be healthy if you have not walked your dog. You cannot be healthy if your children have not played outside. You cannot be healthy if your partner is not healthy. As soon as you start thinking of the whole, things begin to improve.
6. You think so much of wealth and prosperity, but do you think of the wealth and prosperity of others? The true person, the sage, makes others wealthy. In order to be wealthy, you must give everything away. You must give of your skills, you must give of your time, and you must give of your money. You will see everything returned to you many times over, but try to put this out of your mind.
7. Some people foolishly think that good luck comes from hard work. Others foolishly think that good luck drops down from heaven. Good luck really comes from heaven and earth, wind and water, effort and resignation. You cannot manufacture good luck; neither does it come from nowhere. Open yourself to it, but do not force things.