Monday, February 20, 2017

True Flight from the World

“There is only one true flight from the world; it is not an escape from conflict, anguish, and suffering, but the flight from disunity and separation, to unity and peace in the love of other men. When we give power to suffering and to the cause of suffering, we lose touch with the inner self that knows we are one with the Divine. The inner being knows that this sacred union can never be dissolved although it may be obscured. By trusting the illusion of suffering, we forget, and our spiritual wings are clipped. We are unable to lift off much less soar to the heights of ecstatic union with the Divine. To release ourselves from the bond of this illusion and the forgetfulness it causes, we must see suffering not as a destructive power but as a transcendent gift from the Divine. This shift in understanding releases us from disunity and separateness.” ………………..Thomas Merton
I thought I will write this short article on this subject because we tend to associate moving away from the world in a spiritual exercise as an escape from the living reality. Thomas Merton is very clear on this in his opening sentence in the quoted saying. Conflict, anguish and suffering are inherent to life and results from the ego self. The ego cannot be completely dispensed with as it is first level of personal identity. The role we allow ego to play is vital. A good example is salt in our food. Salt cannot be totally eliminated as it is vital not only for taste but also as an essential ingredient for good health as Sodium enables the transmission of nerve impulses around the body. It is an electrolyte, like Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium; it regulates the electrical charges moving in and out of the cells in the body.
All negative emotional reactions such as anger, conflict and hatred results when the ego stubbornly refuses to be expunged from the system as excess salt in the body has to be removed through the kidney for maintaining good health.
Human suffering, in this context, is not that which is caused by physical harm. This suffering which Thomas Merton is referring is the mental suffering due to our inability to detach ourselves from the promptings of the ego.
It is unfortunate that in Christianity the spiritual exercise of suffering is rooted in the physical modelled after the suffering of Christ on the cross. Mortification as a spiritual exercise is seen as causing discomfort or pain in the physical dimension of the individual. Early Christians took it to the extreme level of martyrdom or physical death.
The understanding of St. Paul regarding suffering is of great help to us. Paul says:
“Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” ……………….Philippians 3:8-11
We must note that Paul talks of “suffering through loss of all things”. This is the deeper meaning and resonates with the Buddhist concept of “Dukkha” or suffering as a result of attachment. Every suffering is our stubborn adherence to the dictates of the ego and this must be eliminated, which is metaphorically identified with death, and must be followed by the resurrection of the spirit.
Another vital dimension of Paul’s take on the meaning of suffering is his deeper understanding of suffering as a means for sanctification, keeping the ego at a minimum and trust in God at a maximum. He says:
“And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’…For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak then I am strong” …….2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
Thomas Merton provides the methodology through which we can undertake this difficult task of detachment. When our understanding of our true nature transcends from disunity and separation to one of non-duality, we eradicate the very foundation on which the ego has placed its throne. Our true inner nature is elevated to its higher potential giving flight to ascend to an ecstatic union with the Divine.

Love to you all

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Self is Beyond Reason

“The true knowledge of the self is not a knowledge. It is not something that you find by searching, by looking everywhere. It is not to be found in space and time. Knowledge is but a memory, a pattern of thought, a mental habit. All these are motivated by pleasure and pain. It is because you are goaded by pleasure and pain that you are in search of knowledge. Being oneself is completely beyond all motivation. You cannot be yourself for some reason. You are yourself and no reason is needed.” ………………………….Nisargadatta Maharaj
“The Self is like a powerful magnet within us. It draws us gradually to Itself, though we imagine we are going to It of our own accord: when we are near enough, It puts an end to our activities, makes us still, and then swallows up our personal current, thus killing our wrong personality. It overwhelms the intellect and overfloods the whole being. We think we are meditating upon It and developing towards It, whereas the truth is that we are iron filings and It is the Atman-magnet that is pulling us towards Itself. Thus the process of finding the Self is a form of Divine magnetism.” ………..Ramana Maharishi
When I read the above two sayings, I was suddenly drawn to a thought and a picture emerged in my mind wherein I was observing the reflection of the full moon in the ocean. It was probably because the day I started writing this short article was a full moon day. In this mental image, I was standing on the shore of the ocean and the waves were coming one after the other in a specific rhythm. I could hardly see the reflection of the moon in the water. The moon was fragmented and dispersed over an immensely big area due to the reflection coming from many different surfaces generated by the waves.
A thought struck me at that very moment. If we compare the moon in the firmament as the Self and the ocean as the individual self or consciousness, which in its true nature should be the embodiment of the Self or Paramatma. But to the observing consciousness of the individual, the Self becomes disfigured while its true nature is constant and unchanging. The more the travails of life and life concerns, represented here by the waves of the ocean, the true Self lies beyond comprehension. Even if we travel in a small boat to the middle of the ocean where there are no waves, the mild breeze or even the passage of the boat disturbs the surface creating ripples which distorts the nature of true reality.
This goes to point out that using the mind and reason, which is represented by the surface of the ocean, the grasp of true nature of the self is beyond our reach. Even if we dive deep into very clear waters of the ocean the surface which here represents the conditioned mind or the self (with small letter s) always is subject to hindering our access to the true nature of the Self.
Just as the true reality of the moon, which is always whole and never waxes and wanes, can be accessed when we go beyond to its true space of being, the access to the Self needs a consciousness unconditioned by the limitations of mental conditioning. Hence the ultimate reality lies beyond the reasoning mind.
Ramana Maharishi uses a very apt comparison of the Self being a magnet. It is common knowledge that it is the magnet that attracts the iron filings and not the other way around. There are two main hindrances to this attraction; they are distance and a medium. If we have distanced ourselves from the Self through our conscious choice of being attached our physical and material nature, we are far from the never changing influence of the magnet or the Self. As long as the medium is empty space representing a state of mind tranquilized only through meditation and devotion through Karma or Bhakti, the irresistible pull of the Self will be overpowering and provide the needed potential to elevate ourselves to a merger with the Self. If we have any medium like a sheet of glass which gives the false perception of being the goal, the iron filing form the pattern of lines of force of magnetic attraction on the  sheet of glass but these iron filings are far from their true goal.
In our lives, the only supplication in our prayers should be to be filled with Divine grace which is the lines of force that attracts us towards the Self. When this prayer is empowered through spiritual practices such as; austerity, compassion, meditation, focused worship and performance of tasks without expectations (nishkamakarma), our true goal can be achieved.
Let me close this short reflection on the need for Divine Grace with a quote from a great Christian mystic:
“O God, teach me to be satisfied with my own helplessness in the spiritual life. Teach me to be content with Your grace that comes to me in darkness and that works things I cannot see. Teach me to be happy that I can depend on You. To depend on You should be enough for an eternity of joy. To depend on You by itself ought to be infinitely greater than any joy which my own intellectual appetite could desire.” …………….Thomas Merton

Love to you all

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Buddhiyoga –Anchoring in the Divine

“I am the source of all. From Me everything emanates. Thinking thus, the wise worship Me, absorbed in ecstatic contemplation.   With their consciousness centred upon Me, with their vital energies drawn into Me, enlightening each other, constantly conversing about Me, they feel contented and revel in delight.   To those who are constantly yoked; and worship Me with love, I confer that intuitive understanding (buddhiyoga) by which they approach Me. Out of pure compassion for them, dwelling in their inmost self, I destroy the darkness born of ignorance by the brilliant lamp of wisdom.”  ……..Bhagavad Gītā 10: 8-11
There are clearly two dimensions addressed in this saying. They are the attributes of the object of devotion and the categories of devotee.
First dimension is that all the content of what is manifest and what is hidden from our senses, as the sum total of the object of devotion and the content of all these emanates from the Divine plenum which is symbolized as an embodiment in the person of Lord Krishna. The recipient of this message must have the knowledge to comprehend both the manifest and the unmanifest. While the manifest could be comprehended through our senses and our conditioned consciousness, the unmanifest can only be grasped through a new tool of perception which can only be dispensed through Divine grace. To illustrate this mystery at the objective level, Arjuna asks the Lord to exhibit his universal form in chapter 11 Bhagavad Gita which immediately follows the chapter in which the above verse appears and the Lord obliges by bestowing his a special sight.
“But you cannot see my cosmic form with these physical eyes of yours. Therefore, I grant you divine vision. Behold my majestic opulence!” …………..……..Bhagavad Gītā 11: 8
Second dimension is the category of devotee. Here again there are two clear categories of devotees and these categories result from the individual’s karmic status of the individual atma. The first is the wise and the second are those who are yoked to earthly toil. These are very clearly spiritual categories.
The wise are those who have attained a status of elevated consciousness through realization of one’s true self through repeated karmic cleansing. They are able to integrate their consciousness with the Divine through deep ecstatic contemplation or meditative practice. When their vital energies are fully focused on the Self, which is the pramatma, the individual atma loses its ego coverings and transcends to the deeper plenum. It is the well of infinite energy from which the individual wisdom gains strength in its journey, or human destiny, which is the ultimate merger with the Divine.
The second category of devotees are those who are still in the infancy of their karmic journey. This category is defined in chapter 9 of Bhagavad Gita and in no less pronouncement, the Lord declares:
“Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination. He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kuntī, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes. O son of Pthā, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaiśyas (merchants) as well as śūdras (workers)—can attain the supreme destination. How much more this is so of the righteous brāhmaas, the devotees and the saintly kings. Therefore, having come to this temporary, miserable world, engage in loving service unto Me. Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisance to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” ………………Bhagavad Gītā 9: 30-34
A clear example is provided in the Puranas.
The biography of Valmiki, the author of the great epic Ramayana, is a vivid case of spiritual transformation. Valmiki was not always a saint. He was born Ratnakara, and became an infamous bandit who killed many people by the time he reached his adulthood. One day, he was touched by an act of love between two cranes in a clear river where he was about to bathe. One of the cranes was killed by a hunter’s arrow and the mate cried out in anguish. This event transformed his personality drastically. One day, he met the great sage Narada who questioned him of his duty. Moved by Narada's words, he began to perform penance and chanted the word "Mara" which meant "kill". As he performed his penance for several years, the word became "Rama", the name of Lord Vishnu.  Narada declared Ratnakara to be a great Sage and Brahmin, a member of the high caste. This whole episode signifies the transformation of a sinner into a sage in one life time through constant attachment to the Divine.
It is worth noting how the chant used in meditation “Mara” meaning kill is transformed into “Rama”. This is a symbolic significance of how even the worst of criminals can become spiritually elevated.
Before the eye of the Divine there are no categories. It is only our willingness to elevate our priorities above the mundane and a constant seeking of the higher potential which resides within us. This is what is mandated by the verse quoted at the beginning of this article.

Love to you all