Archive | spirituality

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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Be careful in rushing to judgement

It is easy to make snap judgements based on partial information and first impressions, but these quick judgements can be misplaced. These are a few things to bear in mind.
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Who is responsible?

When something goes wrong we often look for somebody to blame. The train is late, so we get angry with the train staff; but the problem may be completely out of their control. We shouldn’t blame someone when they have endeavoured to do their best given the circumstances. We have all been on the other side of the coin – where we have been judged and blamed, despite it being due to factors beyond our control. Sometimes it is those under intense pressure, who most deserve our patience and understanding.

Worst case scenario

A tendency of the human mind is to anticipate the worst. By nature the mind is suspicious, and if something happens we put a negative slant on it; however, there is a danger this negativity can become self-fulfilling. If we expect something bad, it is more likely to manifest. Instead, if we suspend this negative judgement, we often find that things turn out better than we expected. This is why it is important to avoid rushing to a negative judgement.

Judgement leads to conflict

If we are quick to judgement it can make other people defensive and confrontational. If we approach an issue with an open mind and open heart, we help to facilitate a better outcome – in which the other person can modify their approach. Continue Reading →

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Letting go of anger, doubt and jealousy

Whatever problems we may have, it is helpful to remember they are temporary. When we remember the impermanence of our negative thoughts, it diminishes their power and enables us to let go of them.

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This poem, by Sri Chinmoy, speaks of a trait in human nature to become attached to these fleeting emotions.

He forgets.
He forgets that anger
Is a passer-by.

He forgets.
He forgets that doubt
Is a passer-by.

He forgets.
He forgets that jealousy
Is a passer-by.

He forgets.
He forgets that bondage
Is a passer-by.

Alas, he touches their feet
And asks them to be
His bosom friends.

– Sri Chinmoy, The Dance of Life, # 655

Everybody is subject to anger, doubt and jealousy, but this poem reminds us that they are temporary experiences and not our real self. Sometimes, we can cultivate an attachment to holding on to these negative emotions, and then they become part of us. The secret is to let go and resist the pull of holding on. We have to remind ourself – this is not who we are; this is not what we want.

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One meditation exercise is to sit still and observe the thoughts that come into your mind. We don’t judge or even try to control them. But, we just see these thoughts as external entities – as passersby. Through this exercise, we realise our deepest inner self can accept or reject the flotsam and jetsam of passing thoughts, and gradually their power diminishes so we become aware of the stillness underneath. Even if thoughts still come, we have the confidence and ability to disassociate ourselves from them.

If you like, you can imagine these passing thoughts as clouds high in the sky, leaving no mark on the earth below.

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It reminds me of a story about Socrates. Once Socrates, with his followers, went to see a soothsayer. The mystic examined Socrates and said “this man is full of impurity, anger and jealousy.” The followers of Socrates were shocked, believing he was a great sage. They wanted to leave straight away, but Socrates said ‘No, let us wait to see if there is anything else the soothsayer has to say.’ The mystic went on “Although Socrates has these qualities, he also has them under his control.”

The point is that even a great sage like Socrates is subject to the passing emotions of anger and doubt, but great sages don’t identify with them – they don’t allow them to become the master of their lives. It is this detachment which enables man to become more illumined.

We shouldn’t be discouraged if we are aware of negative thoughts and emotions which come to the fore. Our job is to let them go and see them as itinerant passersby. At the same time, we should never surrender to these negative emotions – we always have to see them as a false representation of our self.

Important things in the spiritual life

A story by Sri Chinmoy – ‘Four most important things in life’. Plus a commentary on these four spiritual precepts, mentioned by the spiritual Master Balananda.

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One day Balananda said to his disciples, “I know all of you want to become my good disciples, but it is quite a difficult task. Each of you needs to develop four most important things in your life. You need to develop the capacity to tolerate the world and to tolerate your own life. You need to develop the capacity to sacrifice everything that you have and everything that you are. You need to cultivate the capacity to remain silent even when you are mistreated mercilessly, without rhyme or reason, by a hostile world. You need to develop the capacity to remain calm, quiet and tranquil without being completely shattered when you lose in the battlefield of life or extolling yourself to the skies when you succeed in the battlefield of life.”

The disciples said to him, “Master, is it at all possible to do all this in one incarnation?”

Balananda said, “Why not? Why not? I, too, was once upon a time a disciple in this incarnation. In this incarnation I realised God. You also can realise God, provided you always do the right thing at the right time, with the help of the right Master.”

Four most important things from: India and her miracle-feast: come and enjoy yourself, part 9. at Sri Chinmoy Library.


Commentary

1. Tolerate the world

The world might be full of frustration and injustice, but thinking about this injustice does not help improve the world, and it is does not help our life to reach its potential. To tolerate the world does not mean we ignore the world; real toleration is to love the world in a divine way. It means we are aware of the divine potentiality hidden in the world, but with a detachment about the invariable mistakes and problems. It is when we can accept the world and have faith in its possibilities, that we are in a better position to offer something worthwhile.

If we concentrate on the negative qualities of people, we won’t help the world make progress. But, if we are able to look beyond the current imperfections, we have the capacity to bring their good qualities to the fore.

I shall tolerate the world,
I shall.
Only by tolerating the world
Shall I be able to help
My mind to ascend
And
My heart to transcend.

Sri Chinmoy [1] Continue Reading →

The discipline to follow a spiritual life

This post looks at the strictness of spiritual Masters and the discipline needed to follow a lifelong spiritual life.

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I grew up in Yorkshire and when I went down south to Oxford University – for comedic purposes – I would often exaggerate about how tough and grim life was up north. So it’s not surprising that one of my favourite comedy sketches is Monty Python and the Four Yorkshireman.

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When I joined the Sri Chinmoy Centre, I would love to hear stories about disciples visiting Sri Chinmoy in New York. The stories were inspiring but also sounded quite intense – getting up at 6am to meditate, then running, then more meditation – then activities and more meditations until the early hours of the morning.

Then you would hear an older disciple say: “well you should have been around in the 1970s – we used to have to get up at 3am to get a bus in from Manhattan, for a 5am meditation, 10 mile run, and that was all before breakfast…”

And so it would go on, each disciple explaining in greater detail the tremendous intensity and great spiritual focus of life in New York. Though when I went to New York in 2000, I found a very relaxed atmosphere to complement the meditations. The disciples never mentioned how much time they spent eating and going to coffee shops.

Anyway, whatever stories of all night meditations and early morning marathons, it is hard to beat the discipline and intensity of some of the really strict Indian spiritual Masters, such as Devadas Maharaj, Swami Yutkeswar, and of course the famous yogi Milarepa.

At the same time, when we read about these genuine spiritual Masters, we feel the outer strictness is a complement to the inner love and concern. It is this real love and concern, which is behind the efforts to guide, mould and shape the aspiring human seeker.

On one occasion, Sri Chinmoy was asking a few disciples if they could stay on a Christmas Trip (spiritual vacation in Bali at five star hotel) for another week. This was Sri Chinmoy’s simple request, but it is the kind of request we might find hard to fulfil. At the time, we think of our work responsibilities and it can become hard to prioritise the spiritual life. In seeking the eternal, it is tempting to think we have eternal time. We want realisation, but we feel it can always put it off to a later date.

On paper, it is easy to prioritise spirituality, but in practise it can be more difficult. In Sri Chinmoy’s lifetime, I missed out on a few opportunities to travel and see my Guru and his unique Peace Concerts – opportunities I will never have again. My economist mind would weigh up the pros and cons, costs and benefits, and often took the conservative approach and didn’t go to as much as I could. Now these golden opportunities are no more.

Even now, having the determination to prioritise the spiritual life in simple ways requires a deep commitment and determination. I appreciate any seeker who can follow a spiritual discipline year in year out.

By contrast to our own fumbling attempts at obedience and discipline, through the ages you can hear some remarkable stories of devotion and obedience from the really great seekers and yogis. These stories are worth cherishing because they can remind me us of the benefits and beauty of a dogged determination.

Milarepa’s determination

milarepaIn Milarepa’s case, his Guru told him to build a house. Milarepa was surprised because he hoped that he would be learning advanced meditation techniques – not manual labour. But, feeling obedience to his Guru was the highest ideal, he did build the house as instructed. On completing the house, far from praising his disciple, his Guru said that the house was not satisfactory – he must knock it down and start again. Milarepa did this – he knocked it down and built it to the new specifications. But on nine occasions, his Guru said it wasn’t good enough and he had to rebuild the house. It was only Milarepa’s burning aspiration and desire to realise the highest that kept him obeying his Guru’s seemingly tough outer commands and outer indifference.

Eventually, after many years of hard toil, Milarepa burnt off his bad karma and was rewarded with realisation; he became a famous yogi known throughout Tibet, and later the world. But, ten years of building houses and knocking them down certainly puts spending money on an air ticket to Prague into perspective.

Of course, spiritual Masters have to deal with seekers of different capacities. To one seeker, a daily ten minute meditation may be tremendous progress and real effort. To another seeker, the Master may see they have the capacity to meditate from 5am in the morning. A real Master will always care for the highest potential of his disciple – and this may well involve challenging them to go out of their comfort zone. A Master is also concerned in keeping his disciples balanced. It is sometimes the ego, which likes to choose the hardest path, but suffering is no guarantee of progress. A seeker of the calibre of Milarepa is rare indeed!

Following is a story by Sri Chinmoy about the spiritual Master, Devadas Maharaj and his disciple Ramdas. Ramdas had tremendous potential and capacity, but the story is instructive for showing how a real spiritual Master is willing to show tough love in order to get the best from his disciple.

When I think about the difficulty of getting up at 6am to meditate after seven hours sleep, I shall think of this story.

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This is my last warning

When Ramdas was a young boy, one night he and his Guru, Devadas Maharaj, were meditating separately at different places. It was snowing heavily and the weather was extremely cold. Each one had an open fire in front of him to keep him warm. Ramdas meditated a few hours; then he fell asleep. When he woke up, he saw that the fire was totally extinguished. He was frightened to death, for he knew that his Master would be furious if he went to him to get a few burning coals. But at the same time he was unable to bear the cold weather. Finally he mustered courage and went to his Master for a few burning charcoals.

Devadas Maharaj came out of his trance and insulted Ramdas mercilessly. “Who asked you to leave your parents and your family if sleep is so important in your life?” he shouted. “This is my last warning. If you ever fall asleep again when you are supposed to be meditating, I shall not keep you as my disciple. You do not deserve to be my disciple.”

India and her miracle-feast: come and enjoy yourself, part 5 Traditional Indian stories about Devadas Maharaj, Agni Press, 1977 at Sri Chinmoy Library

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I should add: Ramdas Kathiya Baba went on to become a great spiritual Master in his own right.

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.

The art of change

It is said the one constant of life is that life is always changing. However, are we open to change or do we get stuck in bad habits?

autumn-path

One of the great challenges is to strive to change our nature. Not surrender to our weaknesses but to constantly examine our life, and see if we can make it better.

We might be wrong. Changing your mind can be hard, if we hold onto misplaced placed feelings of pride or reluctance to appear wrong. Changing your mind in the face of evidence is not a sign of weakness, but strength. Clinging onto the wrong attitude will only hurt ourselves. We don’t change our mind because we just want to fit into societies expectations, we change because we listen to our own quiet inner conscience.

Don’t give up. The most important thing is to have faith that things can change for the better. If we have the attitude “I can’t help it” or “I’m doomed to disappointment” that will tend to be our experience. However, if we always feel that we have the capacity to mould our life and inner attitude, then we have a good fighting chance. Don’t surrender to fate and circumstance, but always persevere. Continue Reading →

Children of the Himalayan caves

A commentary on a poem by Sri Chinmoy and what it means to be a spiritual seeker. This poem suggests for long-term spiritual progress, we need to retain the ability and willingness to change – retaining a sense of newness and enthusiasm, but also with a self-giving spirit which transcends the need for outer praise and attention.


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