Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Nine

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

I am the oblations offered to the departed ancestors; I am the healing herb; I am the transcendental incantation; I am clarified cow ghee; I am the fire and I am the act of offering.  IX.16. Trans. Bhagavad-Gita Trust

Chapter nine bestows the wisdom that all things, living and non-living, take their reality from their immersion in the divine nature.  They receive their support, their continuation in existence, by partaking of the One overarching source.  But perhaps more mysteriously and miraculously, the yogi can actually access this reality, can know and commune with the Absolute.  Unfortunately, many aspirants never realize how close they might be to seeing and tasting this ultimate Reality.

In verse 16, Shri Krishna mentions some of the traditional practices that people have used from Vedic times to come into contact with God.  By making offerings before the image during puja or into the sacred fire during homa practice, the worshipper turns the sacred vessels and offerings into a means of transport, a vehicle, for reaching God.  This sounds quite insane to the person who has never made offerings before.  Usually, those unacquainted with the Sanatana Dharma will dismiss such practices (especially the ancestral ones) as outdated and superstitious.  Some yogis take up a little bit of japa (name recitation) or maybe engage in some Sanskrit study.  This is a really great way to begin and will produce benefits, but making offerings propels spiritual practice forward faster.

The image used in worship becomes the deity, the offering becomes the deity, the pujari becomes the deity.  This happens by using such simple materials as flowers and ghee, incense and chandana.  It seems impossible, but homa and puja really do work, and they are not as complicated as some people might think.  One can offer puja or homa in as little as thirty minutes, and never have so many simple instructions been available as they are now.  Simply start with a chosen divinity and find a ritual on the web.  Transliterations of Sanskrit are available for free on the web in many languages, and ritual materials are readily available in physical shops and on the web. So gather some instructions, some materials, and get started today!

This chapter should inspire us all to realize that divinity is never far from us, and in fact, is the context in which we live.  We are all like fish unaware of the ocean water around us.  All we need is a little reminder of our situation within an enveloping reality.  We don’t need to escape into a separate heavenly or eternal realm, since the Absolute fills all people, all animals, and all things.  The simple practices of the dharmic traditions provide us with a little glimpse, a little clue, into That Which Is.  Even if you only maintain this kind of insight for a second or two, it will be a great source of healing and joy, to know that the indestructible infinite resides within every atom of the universe.

 

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom, Chapter Eight

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

One who remembers Me exclusively, even while leaving the body at the time of death, attains the Supreme Abode; there is no doubt about it.  VIII.08 Trans. Prasad.   

Philosophers East and West have recommended the contemplation of death as a pathway to wisdom.  Remembering death reminds us of the transitory nature of the body and the short amount of time that we have here on Earth.  Death reminds us of who and what we value as opposed to the myriad ways that we practice techniques of distraction in order to forget ourselves and our condition.  Remembering that we will die need not be depressing or fatalistic, since it awakens us to the fact of our present life.  And yet this verse from the Gita does not attempt to sell us on some rose-colored view of reality.  A little later in the chapter, the material sphere of existence is called, “this miserable transitory world”  (duḥkālayam, 8.15), from which it would be a great privilege to escape.

Escape from the world must not take the form of neglecting duty, as we are reminded over and over again in this classic spiritual text.  So how are we to simultaneously fulfill our duties and yet still practice the art of remembrance?  We need to offer work as worship and yet also take some time apart for yogic techniques of meditation.  The refuge of ultimate reality is available for all of those who earnestly seek it, in this life and the next.  By taking time apart to seek this hidden refuge, we can return to work in the world more refreshed, with the burden of earthly problems lessened.  Our tired bodies and minds need this occasional respite from the preoccupations of daily life.

So we can see here a process of first, doing our duty conscientiously without regard for the result, and second, taking breaks for yogic discipline to remember the supreme reality.  This becomes a positive feedback loop where meditation informs life and life informs meditation, where troubles and cares are transformed into a means of perfecting oneself.  This should be distinguished from perfectionism, which induces perpetual anxiety, since the perfection already exists in Hari, the Lord.  The perfectionist seeks to create perfection single-handedly, while the devotee knows that perfection is already there.  In an individualist metaphysics, the separate self must continually labor over and against nature, while, in the interconnected perspective of the Gita, everything is already immersed in the Supreme.

We can fulfill the teaching of this chapter by going about our business diligently and quietly, not seeking reward or credit, not creating an anxious frame of mind.  We must also take some breaks during the day to chant and meditate, so that we cultivate the habit of remembrance.  We must know that we are not guaranteed to live in this lifetime forever, but this should not provoke anxiety.  We know at all times that we are surrounded by complete fullness and perfection, and that this Reality envelops the mundane world.  By living in this knowledge, it becomes more readily apparent, and life comes to seem, well… a battle, yes,  but one in which we are completely safe.

 

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.

 

 

Mahalakshmi Homa

gajalakshmi

Janyananda will be conducting Mahalakshmi Homa at the University of South Carolina, Aiken, on Friday, November 22nd.  More details to follow.  If you would like to help sponsor the ceremony, please use the donate link.  A $5.00 donation via paypal will cover a pound of organic butter to be clarified for ghee offering.  If you live in the Aiken-Augusta area and can donate kindling or firewood, please let us know. You can use this form or subscribe to the newsletter on the main page so that we have your information. 

Activating Your Inner Genius, Part Four

Ganesha figure with offering

 

In order to more fully discover what keeps us stuck in life, we must take a look at what we withhold from the universe.  When a plan or project doesn’t move forward, either effort has not been put forward or the effort does not match the scale of the obstacles in the way.  Hindus pray to Mahaganapati, Lord of the Ganas (Servants of the Gods), also known as Vigneshwara, Remover of Obstacles, in order to get the flow of energy moving again, to break the cycle of low return on a low investment.  The philosophy of the Vedas, otherwise known as Santana Dharma or Hinduism, teaches the relationship of cause and effect.  Those of us who want a big return must also make a big investment.  Wherever there is stasis, lack, or privation, there must also be some corresponding ill use of resources.  To use resources (like time, money, and relationships) in the best way requires that we first align our use of these resources with our most deeply held beliefs.  If we knowingly or unknowingly commit resources to projects that do not align with our values, we experience lack and privation.  Second, the resources committed must match or exceed the obstacles in the way.

In order to overcome obstacles, we must either put our own resources towards overcoming them or partner with others who have similar interests.  We can partner with other mortals, with the devas, or with our ancestors in seeking to advance ourselves down the right path in life.  The skeptic will say that prayers to gods and ancestors can’t make any difference, but our tradition teaches otherwise.  In order to stop withholding our gifts from the universe, we must first feel ourselves to be in a safe space.  Fear causes the action of withholding, and this fear has its roots in the sense of insecurity.  The person who feels more secure will commit more resources to the cause than the person who does not feel secure.  The person who believes in a secular, materialist, autonomous, isolated self will feel less secure, for he or she believes that it really all does depend on the individual. The person who believes in greater values, like the Satsanga, the lineage, the ancestors, the community, etc., will feel more secure, for the responsibility of living according to dharma is spread across the generations and across a dense web of relationships.  Practicing the rituals of the tradition affirms the link between generations (sages and ancestors to progeny), between orders of nature (human, animal, vegetable, mineral), and between metaphysical orders (divine, subtle and material reality). By giving the mind a firm foundation in these differing layers of reality, the practitioner of dharma begins from a position of strength.  From this position of strength, the Work of inner and outer transformation proceeds more smoothly.

If we want to know why we are “stuck” in one particular area of life, we must ask ourselves, “What am I withholding from the universe?”  This line of questioning will undoubtedly lead to some form of self-sabotage in which we have not given ourselves wholeheartedly to a spouse, to an artistic project, to an employer, to a spiritual vow.  You might object to this form of inquiry, saying, “But I am afraid that someone will take advantage of me if I give myself fully.”  This fear is certainly legitimate, and it is one reason why we invoke the protection of the Satsanga.  When we give to the community, we also receive its support in return.  At the same time, if the fear persists, we must ask whether the situation is dharmic in the first place.  If we live in constant fear of exploitation, something must be amiss.  The dharma does not require us to stay in a place where someone continually takes advantage of our labor.  But we always must inquire into whether it is merely the ego that is at stake or some larger sense of justice.  We are not required to protect the ego, but we are required to protect justice.  Discerning between the two can take a lot of personal and communal struggle, and very few rules of thumb apply that can give us the answers in all situations.

Provided that no exploitation has taken place, and provided that we really believe in the goal that we profess, their can be no remaining excuses for not applying ourselves to the task fully and completely.  Once that is done, the battle is almost over.  When the victory in the mind has been won, the victory in the world will soon follow.  The results may not be as grandiose as we expected, but we will certainly be better off than we would be if no effort had been made.  To give a silly example, let’s say that I have a headache that I rank at a ’10’ (meaning the most pain) on a scale of 1-10.  If I take a medicine, and I now rank my pain at a ‘7,’ do I say that the medicine did not work?  No, because I reduced my level of pain by 30%.  Should I go ahead and take the whole bottle of pills?  No!  I should only do what is proportional to the situation, working according to my path in life and what that path allows.  Spiritual practices are most efficacious in the life of the individual when they do not fall above or below a certain recommended dose.  How much should I exert myself?  To the point that it causes me some pain, but not to the point that it causes major disruption in my life.  Householders must behave like householders, and monks like monks, but there should be a certain “family resemblance” between the two paths of spirituality.

We can say then, that if we exert ourselves in sadhana, we will also exert ourselves in mundane ways, and vice versa.  Failing to exert oneself, to give of oneself in a spirit of generosity, even extravagance, will not yield the desired result.  Reality will be harsh and unyielding in this way, and yet, if we can really understand this law, we have a chance of succeeding, in spirituality or in any other area of life.  I must not only give but give to the greatest of my ability, and then my new Self can emerge from hiding.  This is a difficult teaching, but it also holds great promise.

Revelations from Mahaganapati

This dialogue with the deva transpired after intense puja, japa, and meditation.  It is believed to be a trustworthy revelation from the Lord when received with sincerity and faith.

Janyananda:  Master, teach me the method by which I may reach an end to suffering, the path by which perfection can be obtained.

Ganesha:  The ignorant wrongly believe that by bowing in devotion they bring shame upon themselves.  They think it a disgrace to bow before divinity, as though it were beneath the dignity of human beings to prostrate before God.  I tell you truly that when you enter into praise of God, the divine presence enters into you, so that all fullness returns to you.  No debasement of human dignity occurs during worship: rather, by exalting the devas, mortals enter into their highest expression of goodness.

Janyananda: I take you to mean that the world of the devas is above and beyond the human world, as a realm of perfection and beauty.  In order to perfect human powers, we must strive to reach the deva loka.  Through sadhana, we make contact with the deva loka, and, indeed, actually live in it while we simultaneously live on earth.

Ganesha: Yes, but you must never think of the deva loka as having a separate existence, for it resides within all things.  The shining ones are never far away, never remote or unobtainable.  The second you call my name, I live within you.  I honor even the most selfish prayer: for health, for wealth, for power, for prestige.   Through selfish desire many have come to me.  Through selfish desire, many have become great saints.   I use desire as my vehicle, to draw all things into myself.   This is one of the meanings of the many-armed deities: the bottomless desires of human beings represent so many pathways to divinity.  Our arms reach out to you though you know them not.

Janyananda: So everyone comes to God through the means of captivation that appeals to that person?  Can we say, then, that all paths lead to God, that all paths are equally good?

Ganesha: Some means are, indeed, more efficient, and lead to a less prolonged search.  Each day you leave yourself your own inheritance.  Each day you harvest what you sowed the day before.  In order to have an advantageous position tomorrow, you must do your utmost today.  Make only the best sacrifices.  Do the best work.  Perform the greatest sadhana.  Give of the best that you have.  No effort, no matter how small, ever goes wasted.  You are the direct beneficiary of every deed in which you engage.  In this way, you create yourself day by day.

Janyananda:  I know this intellectually, but my mind and heart grow dull.  I know that I ought to maintain my spiritual practices.   I know that I should think only good thoughts, but my strength fades.  I fall in and out of love with spirituality: I falter so easily.  The slightest distraction throws me off balance entirely.

Ganesha: Not for nothing did Shri Krishna teach the truths of the spirit through the image of the battlefield.  Not for nothing did my father, Lord Shiva, clothe himself with ashes from the crematory grounds.  You must remember that you fight for life and death, that you engage in fierce struggle.  You must compete as though you wanted to win, to overcome, to triumph.  The devas march at your side, but you must take up arms yourself.  Half-hearted efforts lead to half-realized results.  Be unreasonable in your devotions.  Be like a madman.  Go beyond respectability.  Risk becoming a laughingstock for God.  The greatest rewards come from the greatest efforts.  Do not be deceived by those who teach a doctrine of moderation, who view  spirituality as one more technique for self-improvement.  Do not be deceived by the false grace which promises something for nothing.

Janyananda: Sometimes I wonder whether I have made any progress at all, whether I am not going in circles rather than advancing in the spiritual life.  I wonder whether my practice is just an elaborate fantasy, whether you are just an imaginary friend.

Ganesha:  You are not the judge of your own progress. Do not wallow in remorse, depression, or despair.  Your only job is to lose yourself in me.  Your only task in life is to journey further and further into everlasting bliss.  It does not matter whether you succeed in your own terms.  It does not matter who does or does not follow you.  You must remain focused on giving your all.

Janyananda: I think that I am beginning to understand.  I promise to apply myself to the utmost as long as you promise to remain with me.

Ganesha: All you have to do is call my name, and I will be there.  I will be your refuge, and I will make you a refuge for many.  You cannot imagine now the miracles that wait for those who hope in me.  I will make the Satsanga my bulwark on the earth, and no evil will prevail against it.  When times of doubt arise, return to these words of  mine and draw strength from them.  Gaze on an image of me and offer prayers.  Make no mistake: I come to my devotees through such simple means.  I will not fail those who trust in me.