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We will prevail

On April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech, had killed 32 of the university’s students and professors besides himself. The tragedy had plunged the academic community at the university into sorrow and grief. The entire nation was deeply moved by this tragedy. Amidst this morning rose a voice that was strong, powerful and defiant with a touch of rebellion. It was Nikki Giovanni. She was addressing the thousands who had gathered the next day at the memorial service for the shooting victims. She was asked by the president of the university to give a speech at the memorial service. As Nikki Giovanni is a professor at Virginia Tech, she was herself deeply affected by the tragedy. She found it very difficult to write a speech. Instead she composed a poem. In fact it was a poem chant. In her very opening lines she takes the tragedy head on and accepts the reality with courage to ‘stand tall tearlessly’ and with humility ‘bend to cry’. She said,

“We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while.
We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly,
we are brave enough to bend to cry, and
we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.
We are Virginia Tech…”

In the lines that follow she conveys the message to her listeners that even as the tragedy is very personal, yet they cannot afford to indulge in the pleasures of self-pity. And so she tries to connect to the tragedies suffered by other innocent people like them. She said,

“We do not understand this tragedy.
We know we did nothing to deserve it,
but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS,
neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army,
neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory,
neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water…”

In these very powerful lines the poet by embracing the sorrow of others, transcends from the personal to the universal. Even as they grieved, by reaching out to the sorrow of others, Giovanni tapped into the fundamental goodness of humanity that resides deep within every human heart. Some of her closing lines are as follows,

“…We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid.
We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be.
We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities.
We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness…
…We will prevail…”

Many speakers spoke before her including the president of United States. But it was the lone voice of Nikki Giovanni that not only raised the spirits of the students and teachers at Virginia Tech, but also the entire nation. It is these rare voices like Nikki Giovanni who help us rise above hatred and intolerance. They help us to accept the reality around us and embrace our fellow travellers, on our life’s journey, with sympathy and goodwill.

“Our philosophy is the acceptance of life for the transformation of life and also for the manifestation of God’s light here on earth, at God’s choice hour in God’s own way.” ~Sri Chinmoy

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…The journey itself is home

In one of his travel diaries, Oku no Hosomichi, the 17th century Japanese Haiku poet Bashō most famously wrote, “A lifetime adrift in a boat or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” Born in 1644, near Ueno, in Iga Province, about thirty miles southeast of Kyoto, Bashō’s first poem was published in 1662. Over the next decade his poems continued to be published in various anthologies. In the spring of 1672 he moved to Edo to further his study of poetry. He undertook arduous studies in Chinese and Japanese literature, philosophy, and history. His studies also included Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism. By 1680 he made a name for himself as a poet and taught poetry to quite a few students. Basho is considered one of the most learned poets of his time. In spite of his success as a poet, Bashō was lonely and dissatisfied. From 1682 Basho started undertaking long journeys on foot. On each journey he maintained a dairy which turned out to be a new poetic form he created called haibun. In haibun, Basho combined haiku and prose to trace his journey. This combination of prose and poetry was rich in two kinds of images: the external images observed on the journey and the internal images that these outer images invoked in the mind of the poet. Starting from 1684 Basho composed several such travel diaries that included Nozarashi Kiko, or Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones (1685); Oi no Kobumi, or The Knapsack Notebook (1688); and Sarashina Kiko, or Sarashina Travelogue (1688).

It was his last travel diary, Oku no Hosomichi, or The Narrow Road to the Deep North, that turned out to be his best and most famous piece of literary work. Basho composed this poetic travel journal on the last long foot journey that he undertook to the northern provinces of Honshu, covering 1,200 miles in over five months. He started his journey in the beginning of May 1689 and was accompanied by his student Kawai Sora. Their goal was to visit Oku that lay north of Sendai by following a narrow path that passed through the Sirakawa barrier, over the mountains. Both of them headed north to Hiraizumi, which they reached in one and half months. They then walked to the western side of the island, touring Kisakata and began hiking back along the coastline returning to Edo in late 1691.

When Basho was about to start on his journey many friends come to see him off. He describes this touching scene by putting into words an internal image that passes through his mind, “I felt three thousand miles rushing through my heart, the whole world only a dream. I saw it through farewell tears.” (1) Then he goes on to pen the following haiku:

Spring passes
And the birds cry out-tears
In the eyes of fishes

In this haiku, Basho is trying to convey the depth of his sorrow at parting with his close friends. The sorrow was so great that even the birds were crying and he increases the intensity by saying there were even tears in the eyes of fishes.

Many of the places visited by them had a lot of cultural and spiritual history behind them. These were places that were described by other poets of the past and Basho refers to these poems in his writing. For instance when he reached a beach called Shiogama, it was evening. After the summer rain the sky was just clearing revealing a pale moon over Magaki Island. This beautiful twilight scene reminded Basho of a line from Kokinshu’s poem, “fishing boats pulling together” and for the first time he understood what the poet meant.

Along the Michinoku
Everyplace is wonderful,
But in Shiogama
Fishing boats pulling together
Are most amazing of all.

On this journey into the deep north, often his mind soared into the rich depths of the Japanese history, culture and Zen philosophy. From those aesthetic heights, Basho came out with insights that are golden nuggets of human thought. The form was in prose but on reading the aftertaste is sheer poetry. When visiting a shrine at dawn, he gives the following description, “huge, stately pillars, bright painted rafters, and a long stone walkway rising steeply under a morning sun that danced and flashed along the red lacquered fence. I thought, “As long as the road is, even if it ends in dust, the gods come with us, keeping a watchful eye. This is our culture’s greatest gift.” (2). For a moment it is worth pondering on Basho’s insight. This shrine was five centuries old at the time of Basho. It seems what Basho is trying to tell us is that far into the future, maybe hundreds of years later, if a devout pilgrim visits this shrine and even if the shrine is in complete ruins, the pilgrim will receive the blessings of the gods he has come to pay homage to. The shrine which is something physical is time-bound (i.e.bound to decay with time) but its essence “the blessings of the gods” is timeless, eternal.

During their journey, Basho and his companion decided to spend a night at a place called Iizuka in a country inn. As it was a country inn the facilities were less than basic. After they had gone to bed, there was a heavy rain storm. Basho writes, “Suddenly a thunderous downpour and leaky roof aroused us, fleas and mosquitoes everywhere. Old infirmities tortured me through the long, sleepless night.”(3) At another time when for days and days they had to walk through rain and heat Basho wrote, “Through nine hellish days of heat and rain, all my old maladies tormenting me again, feverish and weak, I could not write.”(4) Sometimes for days they also had to walk through marsh land. These and other descriptions give one the impression that the journey was arduous and physically very difficult as Basho was of a delicate constitution and suffered from several chronic diseases. Also travelling by foot in seventeenth-century medieval Japan was immensely dangerous and hazardous. Yet Basho was willing to risk his life for the rich experience of his journey. In fact he considered it a pilgrimage.

By the time Basho composed his last diary, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, he had matured as a poet. The Narrow Road to the Deep North was the climax in his literary career. Using his close interaction with nature as a tool, Basho was always trying to be in resonance with something within him that was impersonal, deep and meaningful. Once when he was passing through a remote forest area where a few hermits lived in thatched huts under pine trees, Basho wrote, “Smoke of burning leaves and pine cones drew me on, touching something deep inside.” (5) Sri Chinmoy said, “Art in the most effective sense of the term is a sublime truth that draws our soul from within towards the infinite vast.” Through his poetry, Basho tried to achieve this artistic excellence. His poetry was based on the Zen concept that one attains perfect spiritual serenity by immersing oneself in the egoless, impersonal life of nature. The complete absorption of one’s petty ego into the vast, powerful, magnificent universe. Hamill writes, “When he (Basho) invokes the call of a cuckoo, invokes its lonely cry. Things are as they are. Insight permits him to perceive a natural poignancy in the beauty of temporal things – mono_no_aware – and cultivate its expression into great art.”(pg. xiv)

References

1. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 4
2. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 16
3. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 12
4. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 28
5. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. 17
6. Narrow Road to the Interior, Basho, trans, Sam Hamill, Shambhala, Pg. xiv

The meaning of non-violence (ahimsa)

In the 1970s, my spiritual Teacher Sri Chinmoy met with Mohammad Ali. On one occasion the two meditated together. Although they outwardly had very different occupations (spiritual teacher vs boxer), there was a connection of spirit. After this meeting, Sri Chinmoy wanted to watch a boxing match in which Mohammad Ali was in. A student of Sri Chinmoy’s was a little surprised that Sri Chinmoy would watch the boxing because, according to his understanding boxing was seemingly quite un-spiritual.

Sri Chinmoy replied in a perhaps unexpected way. He said words to the effect that although yes, there was a lot of physical violence in a boxing match, there was often much more fighting on the inner plane between two people who were in inner conflict. The physical world is one reality, but the inner world of the mind and vital is also just as real. If we harbour very strong negative thoughts about somebody, it can be very damaging in an inner way. We may not always be aware – but this inner conflict can be like getting punched on the inner level, and eventually can manifest in different ways.

Non-violence – a timeless spiritual ideal.

Sri Chinmoy writes in The Vedas: Immortality’s First Call, Agni Press, 1972:

“The Vedic commandment for the human vital is ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-violence — non-violence in the vital and non-violence of the vital. It is from non-violence that man gets his greatest opportunity to feel that he does not belong to a small family, but to the largest family of all: the universe.”

However, non-violence isn’t just about restraining from physical violence, but also, just as important, is non-violence in our thought, motive and deed. We may assume we are being non-violent, but sometimes we have to check our thoughts and inner will to see our real attitude to other people – including our friends and family.

From a strict point of view, every time we powerfully hold a negative thought about somebody that thought can adversely affect them. If our will is strong and determined, it can cause significant suffering. If the thought is fleeting and not serious, it may have much less effect; though even from small thoughts, the idea can grow stronger and bigger.

Real non-violence means we have to constantly try to offer good will and seek the best outcome for others. We have to make sure we are not indirectly offering ill will – through the form of jealousy, envy, frustration or pride. Non-violence means we need to cultivate our own inner peace. Continue Reading →

How to avoid negativity

One of our great challenges in life is to avoid negativity – a negative attitude to ourselves and others. It is easy to become suspicious, critical, depressed, fearful, but, despite the prevailing attitudes of the world, there is no inevitability that we have to become a grumpy old man. It is quite possible to see the beautiful in the ordinary and bring to the fore the better side of human nature. If we avoid negativity we will see definitely see the positive in life, and enjoy life much more.

negativity-hearts-joy

Understand why we can cherish negativity

Sometimes we have a tendency to negativity, without fully realising it. This can occur if:

  • We want to appear clever. Sometimes we criticise or find fault because we sub-consciously want to display our greater knowledge. If we look hard enough we can always find some minor blemish on a flower. If we think hard enough, we can always think of some reason to be suspicious or critical. It is not necessarily bad to think deeply, but there are times when we can over-think and over-intellectualise issues and use our knowledge to try and prove our superiority. Sometimes negativity can occur because we wish to feel we have secret knowledge other people don’t know.
  • Low self-esteem. If we feel bad about ourself, we tend to be more critical of other people. This is because we start to see the same faults in others. Also, we may criticise others to try and improve our self-esteem.
  • Habit. Negativity can become a habit. Always expecting the worse; the problem is that if negativity is a habit it can become self-fulfilling. Other people are put off by our negativity. Our negativity brings out the worse in others.

If these are some reasons we may cherish negativity, these are some things we can do to overcome negativity.

Criticise not

Criticising others is a very pervasive bad habit we all have. Sometimes we can actually go out of our way to look for the failings and faults of others. It is as if we are blind to their good qualities but their mistakes stand out in our mind. Even worse we can often imagine faults that others might have. This is the height of stupidity, but the nature of the mind can easily turn to negativity and we have to be on guard.

It is a great exercise to try and think about the good aspects of people whom you frequently criticise. The important thing is that criticising others has an unmistakeable impact on ourselves. If we are permanently finding fault with the world it affects our self.

To deliberately criticise
Another individual
May cause an indelible stain
On the critic.

– Sri Chinmoy

The world will not collapse if we halt our self styled criticism. If we look to encourage and praise the good aspects of others, we will bring these qualities to the fore in ourself.

Choosing consciously

All the time we are faced with choices. Do I see the negative or the positive? Somebody at work might pass a thoughtless and disparaging comment. Our instinctive reaction may be to nurse a sense of grievance and think of many equally unpleasant things to say about the person in return. However, another way to look at this situation would be to think. They are unfortunately wrong, perhaps they are feeling insecure and so try to unfairly put others down. In the past there may have been times when I may have done something like that. I will make an effort to be kind to that person as this will be the best way to show they were mistaken and also to help them overcome their depressed state of mind.

The first response invites a tit for tat response which will encourage negativity. The second response is dignified and requires nobility of character. But, we lose nothing by avoiding negativity – we gain a tremendous amount. The point is we always have a choice about how we respond to situations; avoiding the negative and unpleasant just takes a conscious decision.

Self-belief

It is vital to cultivate a sense of self-worth and self-respect. If we do not have faith in ourselves how can we have faith in anyone else? Self-belief should not be equated with arrogance or pride. We are seeking to cultivate a sense of self respect so we are at peace with ourselves. We are often our worst critic, sometimes we ignore genuine faults but worry excessively over minor issues that aren’t really faults. We need to learn from our mistakes and be honest with our weaknesses but it should not be at a cost of putting ourselves down. If we make a mistake learn to let go, don’t keep the negative memory at the forefront of your mind. If we can have a good feeling about ourselves it will be very easy to have a good feeling about others and the rest of the world.

Service and dynamism

Idleness is the worst cultivator of negativity. If we sit mopping aimlessly around we will inevitable become bored and negative. Life will seem no fun. The easiest way to change our mindset is to become meaningfully busy. If we really want to serve others there will always be some way that we can find. If we are really busy we will not have time to criticise the world. If we don’t have work to do, we can also just take physical exercise. This is also an excellent way of shaking off the cobwebs of our mind.

Osmosis.

The nature of the human mind is that it consciously or unconsciously absorbs the vibrations from around us. If we spend time with negative people, watching 24 hour news, then we will be more prone to negativity ourselves. We have to choose our work, leisure time carefully. Don’t spend too much time in the company of those who cherish negativity and always want to share it with you. When we do spend time with negative people we need to be on our guard that we don’t share their world view.

Be young at heart.

I have already made two references to ‘grumpy old men’ this is not an ageist remark. You can be a grumpy old man when you are 20. You can be 80 years old but remain young at heart. Age is very much something of a mental attitude. We want to cultivate a childlike attitude which takes joy from small, simple, beautiful things. We want to avoid a great sophistication and mental dissection of everything. If we over analyse life we are living in the mind and unable to live in the heart.

Dealing with personal difficulties

sailor

There are times when we can get upset / angry with the behaviour of someone else. How to respond? Philosophy is easy, but the practical implementation is more difficult. The only certainty is that we will get plenty of opportunities to practise!

There was a recent occasion where I felt annoyed, I didn’t like the feeling of rising anger so sat down and read a book of short poems. Picking a couple at random, the first I came across where.

“From now on please try, all of you, to perfect your own nature instead of looking around to see who is obstructing you or standing in your way.”

– Sri Chinmoy [1]

It was a beautiful irony I picked this one first. Because all my unhappiness was due to feeling obstructed by someone else!

The second was:

“You have had an unpleasant experience, and you will not be happy until you stop thinking about it.”

– Sri Chinmoy [2]

The third was:

“Everything in life is a choice.”

– Sri Chinmoy [3]

Just reading these three poems was an excellent antidote and immediately took away the worst of my negative emotion. In that situation, I couldn’t think of anything better to calm myself down.

It also left a good incentive to try and implement the first aphorism to work on myself and change the way of reacting to certain situations. Continue Reading →

Revisiting the Upanishads

I have been browsing through the Upanishads of late, enjoying their perennial wisdom and marvelling at the common ground they share with 21st century revelations about the primary nature of the universe and with modern quantum theory. The Upanishads are a summation of the knowledge, insights and sacred wisdom of the Vedic sages and seers and date back some 4,000 years.

Tormalet

In his introduction to selected translations from the Upanishads, Alistair Shearer writes that the Vedic teachings propose ‘the ground of all being is an infinite and unified field of Consciousness, eternal and self-luminous. This Consciousness creates the universe from its own depths, by reverberating within itself….Thus, Veda is said to be the source of creation; it is the DNA of the universe, containing all manifest possibilities in seed form.’ The Upanishadic teachings also reflect the ancient Greek understanding of philosophy or ‘gnosis’ – the cultivation of true and sacred wisdom. Plato described such a philosopher as one who would ‘live in constant companionship with the divine order of the world’. Continue Reading →

What is Happiness?

The happiest man in God’s creation.

Make yourself known to humanity:
Its dark jealousy will make you unhappy.
Make yourself known to yourself:
You will unquestionably be
The happiest man in God’s entire creation.

Sri Chinmoy [1]

It might be interesting to have a look at the philosophical development of happiness in a historical context. A good place to begin a search for happiness might not be in Europe during the middle ages where life must have been pretty hard for most people, with seemingly constant wars, the threat of disease, hunger and religious superstitions all rife. Especially it would seem for women. (Please don’t burn that witch, before she cooks me my dinner) For many the idea of dying and going to a beautiful heaven was all that was worth living for! The Renaissance began a new chapter in western history and the development of perhaps a new meaning of happiness.

Take for instance Francis Hutcheson, who was born in 1694 in Ireland, to Scottish parents and later moved back to Glasgow. He is generally regarded as the founding father of the Scottish Enlightenment. He believed that man universally carried within himself the means to learn how to be virtuous and helpful to others. Men served others not because they had no choice in it, if they wanted to get along with others, but because they realized they actually enjoyed doing it. (By the way, women still really had no choice in it!) He believed that helping others suffused us with a sense of well-being and pleasure. Being good meant doing good to others. Virtue (and to some extent the ten commandments!) required it, but our feelings confirmed it.

The link between feelings and happiness was important. Man was born to make other’s lives more pleasant, and to be wicked or vicious was to be miserable and unhappy. A delight in the good of others becomes the basis of our sense of right and wrong. We decided that what helps and pleases a person, is good, because it gives us pleasure. What injures him is bad, because it causes us pain. Men begin to realize that the happiness of others is also their own happiness. Some vulgar people assumed, mistakenly, that happiness meant the gratification of the physical desires: food, drink, and sex. But for Hutcheson the highest form of happiness was making others happy. The desire to be moral and virtuous, to treat others with kindness, and the desire to be free were universal, and human beings wanted them because it made them happy.
Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 enshrined these same ideals in writing for the American people. Jefferson believed that happiness was the aim of life, and that virtue was the foundation of happiness. He wrote that, all men are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Continue Reading →

How Yama and Niyama Affect Daily Life and Yoga Practise

This is a guest post by Manatita

In this essay, the writer will first show the essentials of Yama and Niyama and its relation to Yoga, and will conclude with the practical aspect of how these two ?abstinences?, has affected his daily life and Yoga practice.

Yama and Niyama are the first steps in Yoga practice. They are considered the foundations of Yoga. They are the first two limbs of the eight-fold Path of Patanjali – the ancient sage – the rest being:-

  • Asana – bodily postures. They combine a series of exhaustive exercises, widely known in the West as Hatha Yoga, for the health and discipline of the physical. They are also useful for the movement of the life-force and the attainment of the Higher Yoga.
  • Pranayama – control of the life-force. It involves the inhaling, retention and exhaling of breath.
  • Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses from the external world
  • Dharana – concentration – control of or steadying of the mind on a particular object to the exclusion of everything else.
  • Dhyana – the gazing or fixing of the mind on a Higher Consciousness. Sri Chinmoy, in his book The Silent teaching, 1985, refers to it as conscious self-expansion?.?silence, energizing and fulfilling?the eloquent expression of the inexpressible?
  • Samadhi – profound contemplation or the tuning of the inner self with the Universal Self. This is a profound state and achieved by only a few. (Gibson, WB: The Key to Yoga, 1958)

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