Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer!

Swami-VivekanandaGreat is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when involuntarily they ask, “Is this real?” To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense enjoyment-even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, “Is this real?” Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us-in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilization-we find that the same question was asked: “What becomes of this? What is real?”

One of the most poetical of the Upanishads, the Katha Upanishad, begins with the inquiry: “When a man dies, there is a dispute: one party declares that he has gone forever; the other insists that he is still living. Which is the truth?” Various answers have been given. The whole sphere of metaphysics, philosophy, and religion is really filled with various answers to this question. At the same time, attempts have been made to suppress it, to put a stop to the unrest of the mind, which asks: “What is beyond? What is real?” But so long as death remains, all these attempts at suppression will prove unsuccessful. We may talk about seeing nothing beyond and keeping all our hopes and aspirations confined to the present moment, and struggle hard not to think of anything beyond the world of the senses. And perhaps everything outside may help to keep us limited within its narrow bounds; the whole world may combine to prevent us from broadening out beyond the present. Yet, so long as there is death, the question must come again and again: “Is death the end of all these things to which we are clinging, as if they were the most real of all realities, the most substantial of all substances?” The world vanishes in a moment and is gone. Standing on the brink of a precipice beyond which is the infinite, yawning chasm, every mind, however hardened, is bound to recoil and ask, “Is this real?” The hopes of a lifetime, built up little by little with all the energies of a great mind, vanish in a second. Are they real? This question must be answered. Time never lessens its power; on the contrary it adds strength to it.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Vivekananda Yoga and Other Works

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Why does man look for a God? What is the utility of this knowledge?

UntitledWhat are these ideas of religion and God and searching for the hereafter? Why does man look for a God? Why does man, in every nation, in every state of society, want a perfect ideal somewhere, either in man, in God, or elsewhere? Because that idea is within you. It was your own heart beating and you did not know; you were mistaking it for something external. It is the God within your own self that is impelling you to seek Him, to realize Him. After long searches here and there, in temples and in Churches, on earth and in heaven, at last you come back to your own soul, completing the circle from where you started, and find that He whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries, shrouded in the clouds, is the nearest of the near, is your own Self,1 the reality of your life, body, and soul.

That Self is your own nature. Assert It, manifest It. You are not to become pure; you are pure already. You are not to become perfect; you are that already. Nature is like a screen which is hiding the reality beyond. Every good thought that you think or act upon simply tears the veil, as it were, and the Purity, the infinity, the God behind, is manifested more and more. This is the whole history of man. Finer and finer becomes the veil, more and more of the light behind shines forth; for it is its nature to shine.

That Self cannot be known; in vain we try to know It. Were It knowable, It would not be what It is; for It is the eternal Subject. Knowledge is a limitation; knowledge is an objectification. It is the eternal Subject of everything, the eternal Witness of this universe your own Self. Knowledge is, as it Were, a lower step, a degeneration. We are that eternal Subject already; how can we know It?

The infinite Self is the real nature of every man, and he is struggling to express It in various ways. Otherwise, why are there so many ethical codes? Where is the explanation of all ethics? One idea stands out as the center of all ethical systems, expressed in various forms-namely, doing good to others. The guiding motive of mankind should be charity towards men, charity towards all animals. But these are all various expressions of that eternal truth that “I am the universe; this universe is one.” Or else, where is the explanation? Why should I do good to my fellow men? Why should I do good to others? What compels me? It is sympathy, the feeling of sameness everywhere. The hardest hearts sometimes feel sympathy for other beings. Even the man who gets frightened if he is told that this assumed individuality is really a delusion, that it is ignoble to try to cling to this apparent individuality-that very man will tell you that extreme self-abnegation is the center of all morality. And what is perfect self-abnegation? It means the abnegation of this apparent self, the abnegation of all selfishness.

This idea of “me” and “mine” – ahankara अहङ्कार and mamata ममता – is the result of past superstition, and the more this present self passes away, the more the Real Self becomes manifest. This is true self-abnegation, the center, the basis, the gist of all moral teaching, and whether man knows it or not, the whole world is slowly going towards it, practicing it more or less. Only, the vast majority of mankind are doing it unconsciously. Let them do it consciously. Let them make the sacrifice, knowing that this “me” and “mine” is not the Real Self, but only a limitation. But one glimpse of that infinite Reality which is behind, but one spark of that infinite Fire which is the All, represents the present man. The Infinite is his true nature.

What is the utility, the effect, the result of this knowledge? In these days we have to measure everything by utility-by how many pounds, shillings, and pence it represents. What right has a person to ask that truth should be judged by the standard of utility or money? Suppose there is no utility, will it be less true? Utility is not the test of truth. Nevertheless, there is the highest utility in this. Happiness, we see, is what everyone is seeking for; but the majority seek it in things which are evanescent and not real. No happiness was ever found in the senses. There never was a person who found happiness in the senses or in enjoyment of the senses. Happiness is found only in the Spirit. Therefore, the highest utility for mankind is to find this happiness in the Spirit.

The next point is that ignorance is the great mother of all misery, and the fundamental ignorance is to think that the Infinite weeps and cries, that It is finite. This is the basis of all ignorance-that we, the immortal, the ever pure, the perfect Spirit, think we are little minds, we are little bodies. It is the mother of all selfishness. As soon as I think I am a little body, I want to preserve it, to protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies. Then you and 1 become separate. As soon as this idea of separation comes, it opens the door to all mischief and leads to all misery. This, then, is the utility of this knowledge -that if a small fractional part of the human beings living today can put aside the idea of selfishness, narrowness, and littleness, this earth will become a paradise tomorrow. But with machines and improvements of material knowledge only, it will never be so. These only increase misery, as oil poured on fire increases the flame all the more. Without the knowledge of the Spirit, all material knowledge is only adding fuel to fire, only giving into the hands of selfish man one more instrument to take what belongs to others, to live upon the life of others instead of giving up his life for them.

Is it practical, is another question. Can it be practiced in modern society? Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient or modern. Society has to pay homage to truth or die. Societies should be molded upon truth; truth has not to adjust itself to society. If such a noble truth as un-selfishness cannot be practiced in society, it is better for a man to give up society and go into the forest. That is the daring man.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Jnana Yoga

What is Japa? A form of prayer, meditation and contemplation.

Swami Dayanand JiJapa जप  is the repetition of a word or short sentence during the practice of meditation. The letter pa stands for that which removes or destroys all impurities and obstructions and the letter ja stands for that which puts an end to the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, japa is an indirect means for liberation, moksa. By destroying the varieties of obstructions to knowledge, japa paves the way for liberation. Japa, then, is more than a mere discipline or technique.

Unpredictability of Our Thoughts

At any given time, you have only one thought and what your next thought will be is anyone’s guess. But when the next thought does occur, it will have done so because of some logic. There is no thought without a certain connection to the preceding thought. This connection may be flimsy or it may be very clear and logical. But the thought itself is never predictable.

Even now, I cannot predict what I am going to say. I simply said I would talk on japa, and I started. Even the words I am saying right now were not known to me. What is going to come is unpredictable, but when it does come, it has a logic, a reason.

“BMW THINKING”

Suppose you see a BMW on the road and it draws your attention. What will your next thought be?

“How can he afford it?”

And then:

“A person I work with just bought a new BMW. How can he afford such an expensive car? Last year he did not even have a job. His wife must have a lot of money. I wish my wife had a rich family. When I got married I did not think about money or my future.”

All these thoughts started from seeing a BMW and they follow a certain logic. This particular sequence is only one line of thinking. Let us look at another one:

“The German people are quite industrious. Even though their country was devastated during World War II, their economy rebounded quickly. They produce the best scientific equipment in the world.”

Where did we start? From BMW. What will come after BMW is anyone’s guess. Even in deliberate thinking you do not know what is coming next because thinking is always linear, one step at a time, one thought at a time. The connection between the thoughts can either be a logical, syntactical connection within a sentence or a simple association. But there will always be a connection, be it weak or strong.

In “BMW thinking,” the connection between thoughts is not a deliberate one. Therefore, the next thought can be anything. The sky is the limit. “The BMW emblem is different. It is not like the Mercedes insignia.” The Mercedes insignia makes you think of a star and then your next thought may be, “My astrological sign is not favorable.” This movement from one thought to the next is listless thinking, a meandering of thoughts in which there is no direction.

Listless Thinking

In listless thinking, although there is no direction, there is always some logic, some connection. It may be a simple rhyme, one word reminding you of another, or a variety of other possible connections. The one invariable is that, at any given time, there is always one thought or another in your mind.

In listless thinking, just as in deliberate thinking, you do not know what your next thought will be. But, in japa, you know what is coming next. The japa can be a word, a short sentence, a section of a Veda, or even a whole Veda, but, to be a japa, it must be repeated.

If you are repeating a word or short sentence you are sure about what is supposed to come next. If something else comes, you know you are off track. In “BMW thinking,” however, to think of Germany and then of a Mercedes or anything else is not to go off track because there is no track. Such thinking just happens. This is what is meant by listless thinking. There is no direction to it.

We really do not have a method to learn about our minds. We only know that we are subjected to a particular type of thinking. For example, we get into a reverie until something arrests our attention and only then do we come back.

Japa as a Technique

Exercising one’s choice is very important in japa. If I choose to mentally chant a word or sentence for a length of time, then I have a technique in hand and can see what happens in my mind.

In japa, I know exactly what is to come next. If something else pops up, I know this is not what is expected and I bring back the chosen thought. In the process I learn how to dismiss unwanted thoughts and retain the one I have chosen. This is one important result of japa as a technique.

As a technique, any word will work. You do not require the Lord’s name or a “spiritual” mantra. Anything can be a mantra, like gring…gring…gring…gring…gring…gring…gring. If you keep on repeating this sound, it will work. An extraneous thought will eventually come, like “What makes this kind of noise?” ”A bagpipe may be the response. Then you may ask, “What does a bagpipe have to do with my japa?” By returning to the sound, the bagpipe thought is dismissed.

In this way, japa works as a technique for gaining some mental discipline. However, japa is something more than the mere chanting of a sound. In repeating a given chant, you give yourself an occasion to see the ways of your own thinking. This repetition becomes a technique for keeping your mind directed fog a length of time – and it can also help the mind gain a certain depth.

Interval between Thoughts

The advantage of repetition is that we can appreciate the interval between two successive occupations of the mind. In “BMW thinking,” listless thinking with no direction, the mind simply moves from one thought to another. This type of thinking is like picking up noodles. If you try to pick up one noodle, you find it coming along with a few others. Similarly, the whole occupation of thinking becomes “as though” a single thought; even though there are many thoughts.

Between two thoughts there is an interval. BMW is the name of a vehicle and Germany is the name of a country. Because there is a connection between the two, the interval between them is missed. Repeating a given chant eliminates or avoids the connection between two thoughts because, between one chant and another, there is’ no connection.

Each chant is a complete unit in itself and one thought unit is not connected to the second thought unit since both are the same. Thus, between two chants, there is a period: chant…period…chant…period. There is no comma, only a period, a full stop. Therefore, each chant is complete, and between chants, the interval is available for you to recognize.

Peace of Mind: Is it Natural or do we have to Acquire it?

What is it that obtains in the interval between chants? Between one thought with a certain form and sound and the next thought, there is no given thought. There is only an interval with no form or shape. This is what we call peace or silence. Because this silence has no particular thought form, there is no thinking as We know it.

We always think that peace is something we have to acquire. Because the mind is restless, we think that peace is something new that we have to acquire, an attribute with which we have to embellish the mind. Is peace something we have to acquire or is it natural?

Restless Requires a Build up.

For peace, what do you have to do? For restlessness, you have to work; you have to create a buildup because, without one, you can never become restless. The problem is that this buildup is not something that we do consciously. It gets built up, like a wall erecting itself. Suppose you have a pile of bricks and they just assemble themselves into a wall. You would consider it a miracle, but you do not consider a buildup of thoughts a miracle because it is always happening. It is a miracle, however, because it just happens. That it just builds itself up and you have no say over it is truly amazing.

There is a helplessness in the whole process. Something triggers off a buildup; it may be a simple hormonal change, indigestion, someone’s look, a frown, a change of weather, or any number of other things. Any one thing is good enough-you may be combing your hair and a few hairs come out! Any event that you do not accept starts it off and then your mind is busy for the entire day.

Restlessness requires a buildup to which I, myself, am not a party. And yet the buildup is mine. I do not look upon it as different from myself. I see myself fuming and do not know what to do. I have to do something about it because, although I am not a party to it, I am completely involved in it.

Why is it that I cannot keep track of this thought buildup? This is because the whole habit of thinking has been “noodle thinking.” associative or nondirectional thinking. It is not “peanut thinking” where. as in eating peanuts, you take one peanut. then another peanut, and then another. It is all “noodle thinking” and, in fact, is the most common type of thinking.

The very beginning of such thinking is an association of “I.” Without that, the thoughts would not begin. Because of its association with “I,” there is no question of my being aware of the first thought because I am taken over at the outset by the thinking itself. I become the very thought and the thought becomes me.

An Occupation for the Mind

I can give the mind a meaningful occupation wherein chain thinking is broken. Then the interval that obtains between successive thoughts can reveal a great fact about myself-that I am the silence that obtains between two thoughts.

Logically, we can see how restlessness requires a buildup, whereas peace is something very natural for which we need not do anything. We do not create peace; we create only restlessness.

In japa, you deliberately create a thought. Because you have a will, you can choose. In this way, you become the author of a given thought. A specific thought is created by you because you choose it, whereas the silence that ensues is not created by you. In fact, the silence is the basis of all thought.

In the text, Panchadasi, the mind is likened to a dancer on a lighted stage. The dancer portrays a variety of aesthetic sentiments–love, helplessness, anger, cruelty, wonderment, fright. The light on the stage lights up the dancer with all of her moods and changes and when she makes her exit, it lights up the empty stage. The dancer may be performing various dance forms, or may not be on the stage at all, yet the light remains un-involved. It merely illumines.

The light itself is not a “doer,” much less an “enjoy-er,” of the dance. Nor does it light up the stage as one of its jobs. The nature of light is to illumine and it illumines; the verb “illumines” involves no action or motive on the part of the light. Therefore, the light has no doer-ship. Similarly, when I have a thought and the thought goes away, what remains is silence, which is likened to the empty stage without a dancer.

The Nature of Thought and Silence

Absence of thought is generally looked upon as peace, something to be achieved. Thought can be suppressed or negated by certain external means, such as the practice of breath control.

When you retain the breath, you cannot think. Try. Hold your nose and try to think. You cannot. Your only thought is to breathe!

Here, however, we are not interested in the absence of thought but in understanding the nature of thought and silence. The whole approach, therefore, is cognitive. Thought sometimes happens without my sanction and sometimes it happens with my sanction. In japa. thought is deliberate; it occurs with my sanction. And when the thought goes, I understand its absence as the nature of silence.

I am Silence

What I experience, or am aware of, between two thoughts is silence. If I see the silence after every thought, should I take myself to be the thought or should I take myself to be the silence? Thought arises and thought falls. Before the rise of the thought I am silence and after the departure of the thought I am silence. I am silence first and I am silence last. Thus, in spite of thoughts, I am silence.

The practice of japa does not give me this understanding. But, by doing japa, I create a situation wherein something that is understood is understood more clearly. In spite of thoughts I understand that I am silence.

In “BMW thinking,” you jump from one thought to another. You hold onto the second thought and leave the first. And you hold onto the third and leave the second. The lingering content of the first thought connects you to the next thought. This connection causes you to catch the second thought and leave the first. Thus, we go from BMW to Germany. Germany takes you to World War 11. World War takes you to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor takes you to Hawaii. Hawaii takes you to the beach. The beach takes you to melanoma and you become sad. This is how the mind works. If you catch one thought, it means the previous one is gone because the two thoughts have nothing to do with each other.

I call this type of thinking “monkey thinking,” the mind being very much like a monkey who leaps from tree to tree. One tree may be an evergreen and the next a maple tree. The monkey just goes from one to the other. Similarly, one’s mind jumps from thought to thought and there is no control over the ways of one’s thinking. In this kind of chain thinking, one cannot arrive at the gap, the interval, that exists between thoughts.

In India there is a tree called the areca tree, from which we get the betel nut. Like a palm tree, it is very thin and fibrous and tapers at the top. Looking at the tree you may think it would break if you climbed it, but it will not. A man who goes up one of these trees to gather the small fruits at the top does not need to come down and climb another tree. Instead, by bending the tree with his own body weight, he catches hold of the next tree. In this way, he moves from tree to tree gathering fruit. Only after picking the fruit from the last tree in the garden does he come down.

This is exactly what we do in our thinking. From one thought, BMW, you catch Germany, then you catch World War 11, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the beach. Then you catch melanoma and worry about the new mole you have: “I’d better consult a doctor. Suppose it is cancer. How will I be able to handle it?” All of these problems started from BMW. This is like walking upon thoughts. You never get to the ground.

There is another tree, the coconut tree that, unlike the areca tree, cannot be bent without breaking. Thus a man picking coconuts must return to the ground before climbing the next tree. Japa is like this. You get to the ground-not after a length of time, but immediately. You chant and, like coconut-tree climbing, you come down. You chant. You come down. Chant…come down…chant…come down. In this type of chanting, being aware of the interval is as important as the chant because it is the interval that reveals your true nature-silence, awareness.

Once a person is committed to mentally repeating a given chant, his or her mind automatically goes to japa whenever it is free. Just as water draining from the mountains creates new ravines, a new track is created towards which the mind repeatedly goes. In this way, japa becomes a way of keeping the mind meaningfully occupied. As well as . being a useful activity, it is also a prayerful one.

Eventually, a time comes when the mind enjoys a certain composure. Because you appreciate that any distraction or agitation is transitory, you do not come under its spell. A mind that knows this has a ‘certain depth, a certain tranquility, even before such agitation , begins. In conjunction with the vision of the teaching that you are the whole, japa is very effective. Even without any exposure to Vedanta, japa is beneficial in that it keeps the mind meaningfully occupied.

Being Aware of the silence.

Japa is a tool that enables you to negate any distracting or improper thought by replacing it with the chosen chant. It gives you an occasion to eliminate chain thinking and to be aware of the interval, the silence, between thoughts. This is why I refer to japa as a discipline.

In keeping with the teaching, you understand this silence as something natural. You also develop the capacity to nip in the bud any thought you do not care to have. In all these ways, then, japa is helpful in gaining mastery over your mind.

Sound as a Technique

A common practice among many meditators, in the west is to chant invocatory syllables called bija-akasaras बीज-अक्षर, Srim, Hrim श्रिम्, ह्रिम् traditionally used to invoke certain deities for purposes of meditation. When these sounds or any other single syllable wads. such as Ram and Syam are chanted. the mind is naturally going to have a particular occupation. Because the chant is repetitive. chain thinking as eliminated.

That any sound will work as a technique was demonstrated by one scientist using a meaningless sound and recording changes in various human functions. While the subject chanted this sound, his thought processes and metabolism slowed down significantly. His blood pressure also came down and his heart beat rhythmically.

Since the person was sitting quietly, his mind occupied with the repetition of the meaningless sound, these findings are not surprising. Had he thought of some problem he was having, he would have begun to fume and his heartbeat would naturally have increased. Based on the results of his study,. the scientist wrote a paper in which he concluded that a special chant or mantra is not required and that the repetition of any sound, even a meaningless sound, could produce the benefits he had recorded.

As a technique, any sound that is repeated will work in the same way as any other sound. But in what way will it work? For some time, no doubt, the body and the mind will be quieter. But, then, you may become amused that you are sitting and chanting a meaningless sound. Is it not amusing to set aside a time each day to chant gring…gring…gring so seriously?

I know I would be amused. Something would tell me, “Idiot! What are you doing?” Then I would say, “Be quiet. You are always criticizing. You don’t believe in anything. Keep chanting.” Again, gring…gring…gring. “What is this gring?” someone would ask from inside. “It’s a meaningless sound,” would come the reply.

Then, “A meaningless sound? Why are you chanting a meaningless sound?”

“It’s called…Be quiet. I told you not to criticize.”

Gring…gring…gring…gring…gring. Then again from inside, “Did you pay for this? Why don’t you change gring into zring or some other sound?” Why not?”

“Be quiet! This sound was specially chosen for me.” Gring… gring…gring. It would be very difficult for me to chant this meaningless sound.

Anything you do should be meaningful. It is very difficult, therefore, to seriously sit and chant a meaningless sound. You may not know the proper meaning of a chant, but you need to know that it is meaningful. If it is the Lord’s name, you may not understand its full meaning, but because you know it means the Lord, you have enough understanding to chant it seriously.

A meaningful chant

If a sound that has no meaning is chanted, it can serve as a technique. And, for the purposes I have mentioned, it looks as though any chant will work. But all sounds you repeat will not work because you cannot give meaning to a chant that is meaningless and, therefore, you cannot be serious about it.

Suppose, however, you chant a word that does have a meaning, like carrot: carrot… carrot… carrot…  carrot… carrot. Or; zucchini… zucchini…zucchini…zucchini. We have varieties of meaningful words, even the word cookie: cookie…cookie…cookie. Why not? Any meaningful word is definitely a step ahead of a meaningless word, but something more is required for it to work as a japa. A meaningless word will not bring anything to your mind and a meaningful word will cause your mind to be full of carrots, zucchinis, cookies, or whatever. Therefore, neither of these kinds of words will work.

A Meaningful word that Covers the Whole Creation

Instead, you choose one meaningful word that covers the whole creation, a word that is not one of the many objects in the world. A meaningless sound does not indicate any object, whereas a meaningful sound includes everything without indicating any one object. Since all objects are included in the form of the Lord, nothing is omitted when you repeat the Lord’s name.

In this way, the meaningful chant becomes all-inclusive. All words are included in one chosen word. All names in all languages are also included. You can say Siva, Rama, Krsna, Jesus, or Allah, but in your mind the word Chosen should stand for everything. Because the word does not stand for any one thing, you will not be reminded of a given object when you chant it.

A Word You can Relate to.

You are related to the Lord whose name you repeat. As a devotee you are related, the relationship being between the devotee and the altar of your devotion alone. One recognizes the Lord in a given name or, recognizing the Lord, a name is given. That name can be given traditionally or by education.

If it is traditionally given, the word and the Lord are already bridged in your psyche. This bridge is a blessing because the word immediately strikes in your mind as the Lord. Whether by tradition or by education, the word and its meaning must become connected in your mind.

To the meaning of a word known to you as the Lord, you are a devotee. The devotee is the fundamental person who assumes a variety of relative roles such as father, mother, wife, husband, brother, and sister. If you are an individual, you are first related to the total and, only afterwards, are you related individually.

I am Related to the Total

Individuality is possible only when I carve myself out as an entity from the total. The one who identifies with a given physical body-mind-sense complex is an individual. The individual is naturally related to the total because, from this total alone, he or she is carved out as an entity, just as a tree has an individuality carved out from the total, the forest. The forest includes the tree, but the tree does not include the forest.

In this way, there is an individual and his or her Lord is the total. The Lord is a being and I am a being. The Lord is looked upon by me as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Thus, as an individual, my relationship with the total is fundamental, the total being the basis for the individual.

This individual entity is also related, but relatively, to all other individuals with whom he or she comes in contact—parents, aunts and uncles, husband or wife, children, neighbors, friends. And who is the person who is related? The person is fundamentally a devotee and this devotee is related to another person by assuming the role of son or daughter, sister or brother, niece or nephew, parent, and so on. Therefore, one becomes a devotee son or daughter, a devotee wife or husband, a devotee mother or father, a devotee friend, a devotee employee or employer, a devotee thinker, and a devotee seer.

Invoking the Devotee in You

The devotee, then, becomes fundamental. It is the devotee that is invoked when one repeats the name of the Lord, the name being not separate from the meaning. When the word is repeated, the meaning naturally strikes.

Once you know the meaning of any word, you cannot separate the word from its meaning. For example, try repeating the word “car” without thinking of a car. It is impossible. A word and its meaning are inseparable.

Because I am related in this form to the meaning of the name of the Lord, the total, I naturally do not chant as a husband or wife, aunt or uncle, cousin, son or daughter. Thus, I am free from the distractions of these relative roles.

If a person chants as a father, he will have a lot of problems. Suppose, being a devotee of Siva, he named his son Subrahmanya, Subbu for short. Subrahmanya 1s the name of Siva‘s son. Therefore, when the father repeats Lord Siva’s name, what happens? Subbu comes into his mind, the one who does not study as he should. Because of this Siva-Subbu association all kinds of agitations will come. Thus if the father chants, Subbu will definitely come-along with all of the fatherly concerns.

Suppose, however, the devotee is invoked by the same person, then the Lord and the simple relationship between them is recognized. The devotee alone is there when the person-chants, the role of father being relegated to a relative role assumed by the devotee. In the devotee-Lord relationship there will be none of the distractions attached to the relative roles assumed by the devotee.

Japa is a Metal Prayer

A japa is a word, sentence, or group of sentences, whose meaning is the Lord, wherein the individual invokes or salutes a certain deity as the Lord. It is neither a meaningless sound nor does it denote a certain object, like zucchini. Its meaning is the Lord, through which the devotee is invoked.

Therefore, japa not only serves as a technique but as a mental prayer. Only when the repetition is a mental prayer is it called japa. Japa is recognized as an indirect means for gaining liberation because it destroys all obstructions and impurities, thereby preparing the mind for the knowledge that is liberation.

In the tenth chapter of the Bhagavada Gita (10.25) Lord Krsna says, “There are many forms of rituals and many means through which ‘I am invoked, but among them I am japa.

यज्ञानां जपयज्ञोऽस्मि !!
yajñānāṁ japa-yajño smi!!

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from Japa

Why does man look for a God? Why should I do good to others? What compels me? What is the utility, of this knowledge?

swamijiWhat are these ideas of religion and God and searching for the hereafter? Why does man look for a God? Why does man, in every nation, in every state of society, want a perfect ideal somewhere, either in man, in God, or elsewhere? Because that idea is within you. It was your own heart beating and you did not know; you were mistaking it for something external. It is the God within your own self that is impelling you to seek Him, to realize Him. After long searches here and there, in temples and in Churches, on earth and in heaven, at last you come back to your own soul, completing the circle from where you started, and find that He whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries, shrouded in the clouds, is the nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul.

That Self is your own nature. Assert It, manifest It. You are not to become pure; you are pure already. You are not to become perfect; you are that already. Nature is like a screen which is hiding the reality beyond. Every good thought that you think or act upon simply tears the veil, as it were, and the Purity, the Infinity, the God behind, is manifested more and more. This is the whole history of man. Finer and finer becomes the veil, more and more of the light behind shines forth; for it is its nature to shine. That Self cannot be known; in vain we try to know It. Were It knowable, It would not be what It is; for It is the eternal Subject. Knowledge is a limitation; knowledge is an objectification. It is the eternal Subject of everything, the eternal witness of this universe-your own Self. Knowledge is, as it were, a lower step, a degeneration. We are that eternal Subject already; how can we know It?

The infinite Self is the real nature of every man, and he is struggling to express It in various ways. Otherwise, why are there so many ethical codes? Where is the explanation of all ethics? One idea stands out as the center of all ethical systems, expressed in various forms-namely, doing good to others. The guiding motive of mankind should be charity towards men, charity towards all animals. But these are all various expressions of that eternal truth that “I am the universe; this universe is one.” Or else, where is the explanation? Why should I do good to my fellow men? Why should I do good to others? What compels me? It is sympathy, the feeling of sameness everywhere. The hardest hearts sometimes feel sympathy for other beings. Even the man who gets frightened if he is told that this assumed individuality is really a delusion, that it is ignoble to try to cling to this apparent individuality-that very man will tell you that extreme self-abnegation is the center of all morality. And what is perfect self-abnegation? It means the abnegation of this apparent self, the abnegation of all selfishness.

This idea of “me” and “mine”- ahamkara अहंकार and mamata ममता -is the result of past superstition, and the more this present self passes away, the more the Real Self becomes manifest. This is true self-abnegation, the center, the basis, the gist of all moral teaching, and whether man knows it or not, the whole world is slowly going towards it, practicing it more or less. Only, the vast majority of mankind are doing it unconsciously. Let them do it consciously. Let them make the sacrifice, knowing that this “me” and “mine” is not the Real Self, but only a limitation. But one glimpse of that infinite Reality which is behind, but one spark of that infinite Fire which is the All, represents the present man. The Infinite is his true nature.

What is the utility, the effect, the result of this knowledge? In these days We have to measure everything by utility-by how many pounds, shillings, and pence it represents. What right has a person to ask that truth should be judged by the standard of utility or money? Suppose there is no utility, will it be less true? Utility is not the test of truth. Nevertheless, there is the highest utility in this. Happiness, we see, is what everyone is seeking for; but the majority seek it in things which are evanescent and not real. No happiness was ever found in the senses. There never was a person who found happiness in the senses or in enjoyment of the senses. Happiness is found only in the Spirit. Therefore the highest utility for mankind is to find this happiness in the Spirit.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Vivekananda The Yoga and Other Works

We all understand that desires are wrong; but what is meant by giving up desires? How could life go on?

swamiji

This is what Vedanta teaches: Give up the world which you have conjectured, because your conjecture was based upon a very partial experience, upon very poor reasoning, and upon your own weaknesses. Give it up. The world we have been thinking of so long, the world we have been clinging to so long, is a false world of our own creation. Give that up. Open your eyes and see that, as such, it never existed; it was a dream, maya. What existed was the Lord Himself. It is He who is in the child, in the wife, and in the husband; it is He who is in the good and in the bad. He is in the sin and in the sinner; He is in life and in death.

A tremendous assertion indeed! Yet that is the theme which Vedanta wants to demonstrate, to teach, and to preach. This is just the opening theme. We avoid the dangers of life and its evils by seeing God in everything. Do not desire anything. What makes us miserable? The cause of all the miseries from which we suffer is desire. You desire something, and the desire is not fulfilled; the result is distress. If there is no desire, there is no suffering. But here, too, there is the danger of my being misunderstood. So it is necessary to explain what I mean by giving up desire and becoming free from all misery. The walls have no desires and they never suffer. True, but they never evolve. This chair has no desires; it never suffers; but it is always a chair. There is a glory in happiness; here is a glory in suffering. If I may say so, there is a utility in evil too. The great lesson in misery we all know. There are hundreds of things we have done in our lives which we wish we had never done, but which, at the same time, have been great teachers. As for me, I am glad I have done something good and many things bad; glad I have done something right, and glad I have committed many errors; because every one of them has been a great lesson. I, as I am now, am the resultant of all I have done, all I have thought. Every action and thought have had their effect, and these effects are the sum total of my progress.

We all understand that desires are wrong; but what is meant by giving up desires? How could life go on? It would be the same suicidal advice, killing the desire and the man too. The solution is this: not that you should not have property, not that you should not have things which are necessary and even things which are luxuries-have all that you want, and more; only know the truth about property: that it does not belong to anybody. Have no idea of proprietorship, possession. You are not anybody, nor am I anybody, nor is anyone else. All belong to the Lord. The opening verse of the Isa Upanishad tells us to cover everything with the Lord. God is in the wealth that you enjoy. He is in the desire that rises in your mind. He is in the things you buy to satisfy your desire; He is in your beautiful attire, in your beautiful ornaments. This is the line of thought. All will be metamorphosed as soon as you begin to see things in that light. If you put God in your every movement, in your conversation, in your form, in everything, the whole scene will change, and the world, instead of appearing as one of woe and misery, will become a heaven.

“The kingdom of heaven is within you,” says Jesus. So says Vedanta and every great teacher. “He that hath eyes to see, let him see, and he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Vedanta proves that the truth for which we have been searching all this time is present now and was all the time with us. In our ignorance we thought we had lost it, and went about the world crying and weeping, struggling to find the truth, while all along it was dwelling in our own hearts. There alone can we find it.

If we understand the giving up of the world in its old, crude sense, then it would come to this: that we must not work-that we must be idle, sitting like lumps of earth, neither thinking nor doing anything-but must become fatalists, driven about by every circumstance, ordered about by the laws of nature, drifting from place to place. That would be the result. But that is not what is meant. We must work. Ordinary men work, driven by false desires-what do they know of work? If a man is impelled by his impulses, desires, and senses, what does he know about work? He works who is not impelled by his own desires, by any selfishness whatsoever. He works who has no ulterior motive in view. He works who has nothing to gain from work.

Who enjoys a picture-the seller or the seer? The seller is busy with his accounts, computing what his gain will be, how much profit he will realize from the picture. His brain is full of that. He is looking at the hammer and watching the bids. He is intent on hearing how fast the bids are rising. That man is enjoying the picture who has gone there without any intention of buying or selling. He looks at the picture and enjoys it. So this whole universe is a picture, and when these desires have vanished, men will enjoy the world; then this buying and selling and these foolish ideas of possession will be ended. The money-lender gone, the buyer gone, the seller gone, this world remains a picture, a beautiful painting.

I have never read of any more beautiful conception of God than the following: “He is the Great Poet, the Ancient Poet. The whole universe is His poem, coming in verses and rhymes and rhythms, written in Infinite Bliss.” When we have given up desires, then alone shall we be able to read and enjoy this universe of God. Then everything will become deified. Nooks and corners, by-ways and shady places, which we thought dark and unholy, will all be deified. They will all reveal their true nature, and we shall smile at ourselves and think that all this weeping and crying has been but child’s play, and that we were only standing by, watching.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Vivekananda The Yoga and Other Works

We are all rushing towards freedom; we are all following that voice, whether we know it or not!

imagev1We are all rushing towards freedom; we are all following that voice, whether we know it or not. As soon as we understand the voice, we see the reason why this struggle should be there – this fight, this competition, these difficulties, this cruelty, these little pleasures and joys; we see that they are in nature of things, because without them there would be no going towards the voice, which we are destined to attain, whether we know it or not. All human life, all nature, therefore is struggling to attain to freedom.

One stumble more than another, him who stumble more we call bad and him who stumble less we call good. Good and bad are never two different things, they are one and the same. The difference is not one of kind, but of degree.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from: Vivekananda Yogas and Other Works

What is the worship of God through a pratika, प्रतिक – symbol ?

2434b63dfae421e5dcbe936e257038f3The word pratika means “going towards”; and worshiping a pratika means worshiping, as a substitute, something which is, in one or more respects, like Brahman ब्रह्मन्, but is not Brahman. Along with the pratikas mentioned in Sruti there are various others to be found in the Puranas and the Tantras. In this kind of pratika, worship may be included all the various forms of pitri-worship पितृ -पूजा (ancestors-worship) and deva-worship.

Now, worshipping Isvara ईश्वर, and Him alone, is bhakti; the worship of anything else – deva or pitri  or any other being-cannot be bhakti. The various kinds of worship of the various devas are all included in ritualistic karma, which gives to the worshipper only a particular result in the form of some celestial enjoyment, but can neither give rise to bhakti nor lead to mukti मुक्ति – liberation. One thing therefore has to be carefully borne in mind. If, as it may happen in some cases, the highly philosophic ideal, the Supreme Brahman, is dragged down by pratika-worship to the level of the pratika and the pratika itself is taken to be the Atman of the worshiper, his Antaryamin अन्तरयामि, then the worshiper becomes entirely misled; for no pratika can really be the Atman of the worshiper. But where Brahman Himself is the object of worship, and the pratika stands only as a substitute or a suggestion thereof, that is to say, where, through the pratika, the omni present Brahman is worshiped, the pratika itself being idealized into the cause of all, or Brahman-the worship is positively beneficial. Nay, it is absolutely necessary for all mankind until they have got beyond the primary or preparatory state of the mind with regard to worship.

When, therefore, any gods or other beings are worshiped in and for themselves, such worship is only ritualistic karma; and as a vidya, a science, it gives us only the fruit belonging to that particular vidya. But when the devas or any other beings are looked upon as Brahman and worshiped, the result obtained is the same as that obtained by the worshiping of Isvara.

This explains how in many cases, both in the Srutis and in the Smritis, a God or a sage or some other extraordinary being is taken up and lifted, as it were, out of his own nature and idealized into Brahman, and is then worshipped. Says the Advaitist, “Is not everything Brahman when the name and the form have been removed from it?” “Is not He, the Lord, the innermost Self of everyone?” says the Visishtadvaitist. “The fruition of even the worship of the Adityas, and so forth, Brahman Himself bestows, because He is the Ruler of all.” Says Sankara, in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya: “Here, in this way, Brahman becomes the object of worship, because He, as Brahman, is superimposed on the pratikas, just as Vishnu, and so forth, are superimposed upon images.”

The same ideas apply to the worship of the pratimas प्रतिमा – idol as to that of the pratikas. That is to say, if the image stands for a god or a saint, the worship does not result in bhakti and does not lead to liberation; but if it stands for the one God, the worship thereof will bring both bhakti and mukti.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from: Vivekananda Yogas and Other Works

Why do we sing in the shower?

Happiness is the absence of desires. Whenever your mind does not long for anything, you are happy. In the interval between the fulfillment of one desires and the cropping up of the next, you are happy. Why do you sing in the shower? You don’t do it to please yourself or anyone else; you do it simply because you are happy. At that time, the mind does not long for anything; all the window dressings, the masks you wear for people, are removed with your clothes you are with yourself. Your singing is an expression of the happiness felt by a mind that rests in the Self.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from The Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.

Three Illegitimate Problems of Our Life!

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Everyone suffers from a sense of limitation but no one accepts that, because one cannot be happy as a limited being. Through analysis we can identify three types of limitations. The first is the limitation of sorrow. Sometimes our sorrow is very eloquent, sometimes it is only an unwept sorrow; but the basis of sorrow, the feeling, ”All is not well with me” is always there. That the human heart is subject to sorrow is a limitation no one wants to accept.

Another limitation that we feel is that of time. Nobody wants to die today; everyone wants to live a day longer. Animals and plants also have this love for life. Even a tree bends to grow towards the sun. Only if we find that this world can no longer give us happiness do we think of quitting it; if a person is healthy and happy, he or she wants to live on. Perhaps it is this love for continuity that accounts for the desire to have a son or a daughter, or urges one to engrave one’s name on a stone. No one wants to disappear without leaving a trace.

We know that we shall all die one day, and yet we want to live for at least today. The desire to live today is the desire to be eternal; we do not want to admit that we are mortal, even though we know very well that our birth and death are marked on the-sands of time. Mortality, a limitation with respect to time, is the second limitation that we cannot stand.

The third limitation that humankind suffers is ignorance. If a person is not enrolled in a school or a training institute, he or she will at least stand at the window to see what is happening in the street. This behavior is an expression of our innate love for knowledge. We cannot stand ignorance; We always want to know something more.

If you examine all your pursuits, pravritti प्रवृति  or nivritti निवृत्ति, you will discover that all your life you have been trying to overcome these three limitations. You seem to have concluded that you are sorrowful, mortal, ignorant. You seek more security and more objects so that you can be comfortable in your life; much of your time is spent in going after things that are meant m make you happy, to keep sorrow at bay. Another part of your life is spent in pursuing things that will keep you going just one day more; you do exercises or take vitamins and proteins out of a desire to live a little longer. A third part of your life is spent gathering knowledge. For some, such as scientists, who regard knowledge as the most important goal in life, this is the most predominant pursuit, but everyone does devote a part of his or her life to learning. Picking up a newspaper in the morning is prompted by this quest for knowledge; reading the Gita is motivated by a desire to seek freedom from one‘s sense of inadequacy. Thus the three things we seek in all our pursuits are freedom from sorrow, freedom from death, and freedom from ignorance.

The Lord Krishna says that all the three limitations, are illegitimate; that is, all three are asocya अशोच्या, matters that do not warrant any grief. A problem can be solved only if it is legitimate. If you see a snake on the road you can choose to avoid it or chase it away, so that you can continue on the road. Encountering a snake is a’ legitimate problem and it can be solved by such actions. But if the problem looming large in your mind is illegitimate, how can you solve it by an act? Let us consider the famous example of a rope mistaken for a snake by an imaginative mind. The illegitimate, projected snake and the fear one experiences on seeing it cannot be removed by beating the snake or by throwing a stone or by praying or clapping. The snake and the fright caused by it will go away only when one comes to know that there is no snake in fact. When one sees the rope, the problem is solved and one’s fear goes. In this case, one solves the problem not by action, but by knowledge. A legitimate problem can be solved by action but an illegitimate one can only be solved by knowing that it is illegitimate.

If I can make you see that a given problem does not really exist, I have released you from it. The knowledge that the limitations of sorrow, time, and ignorance do not really exist for you frees you from these limitations. That knowledge is called sankya, that which is clearly seen. it is unfolded by Vedanta.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita

Acceptance – Consciously dropping will to resist an unchangeable fact!

Swami Dayanand Ji

There are many occasions in life, many situations in life that I can change. If I have enough resources, I can change the furniture in my house, I can buy new clothes, I can eat out three times a week, I can camp out every week-end, I can have a new hair-cut, it’s endless. If it’s cold I can buy a heater. If it’s warm I can buy an air-conditioner. A new micro-wave ……yes there are a lot of changes that I can make.

If I have no resources but a lot of creativity, I can do the same things that I do every day, in new ways! I can cook food with the same ingredients, but it tastes different and good. I can lay out the table in new ways. I can sing and dance a little differently each time and enjoy it too. I can change my job, my apartment, my car. If I have a big heart, I can express the love in my heart in many different ways too.

I can change my attitudes and my behavior if I choose to. I can tighten what needs to be tightened and loosen what needs to be loosened. If I am very inflexible and rigid as a person, I can become more flexible. If I am critical always and finding-fault I can try and change that too. If I am angry and always want things my way – well I can look into that too if I want to. If I always blame others for my problems, I could see if that is true. If I am a person who does not know how to draw boundaries, then I can learn how to do that. I am always emotionally dependent on someone and it has become painful for me, I can learn how to grow out of that. If I am very fearful always, I can learn to face challenges boldly. If I’m so bold that I become fool-hardy, then I can learn to exercise caution.

Whatever I can change, if I feel I need to change it – I should change.

But I don’t call all the shots in life. There are some situations which are what they are, some events that have taken place, which I cannot change. I cannot change the weather of the country. I cannot change the politicians immediately! I cannot change the fact that a near and dear person has passed away. Sometimes I have family responsibilities, my boss is a pain and I cannot change my job. Above all I cannot change people – this includes my parents, my spouse, my in-laws, my children, my boss, my co-workers, friends, employees. I cannot change my past – happy or sad. I cannot change my childhood. I cannot change my age. I cannot change the way I look very often….the list is endless.

When something cannot be changed whatever it might be – when I find that I have an incapacity to order things as I want – I feel helpless, sad, agitated and angry. I get into a depression very often too.

Now this is the hard fact – that the situation cannot be changed. If I want people to change why should they? They might want me to change too. Maybe I also don’t want to change. Nobody can make a person change unless that person really wants to change. This is how it is. Maybe if I try to understand the background from which the person comes, then I can understand them better and feel some compassion towards them instead of anger. Maybe my expectations are unreasonable. Maybe my expectations are reasonable but the person cannot meet them, or does not want to meet them. Whatever the reason, this is how it is.

Would it not be just easier to accept gracefully that this is how the person is, this is how the situation is, this is how my past was, what has happened has happened. I cannot do anything about it. If I can change something I will – if I cannot, I accept it just gracefully. When I accept, there is a relief because my resistance to a fact is gone.

But the capacity to accept gracefully what I cannot change is not something that I am able to do easily. But at least I can have a value for it. I can have a value for it only if I know what benefit I get from it. To understand the value of graceful acceptance, let’s see what I get if I don’t have this acceptance. Then we can see what can help us.

When I am unable to accept a fact that cannot be changed – I feel helpless, I feel anger and resentment. All my present moments are occupied only in brooding and thinking and repeating the scenes again and again. I lose my self-esteem and destroy any chance of joy I might have in the current moment. Supposing I am walking and there is a beautiful sunset- I am unable to enjoy this truth about my present moment – I spoil my present moments with brooding about the past, the injustice, how I would like the situation to change. And if I keep up this frame of mind of resistance and pain indefinitely, my health is affected. I get ulcers, heart-problems, headaches, body-pains. I find no joy in life and my sadness spills over to others in my environment.

Now when the fact is that I cannot change the situation, does this frame of mind help me? Or does it hurt me. Very clearly, I am hurting myself. Do I want to continue to hurt myself? That is the choice I am faced with. I can continue to hurt myself by retaining this resistance to facts and working myself up into hurting and feeling bad – or I can just let go -by accepting. Consciously dropping my will to resist an unchangeable fact.

I have to see this very clearly and have a value for the peace of mind and a certain relief that results because of this acceptance of facts. Once I have a value for it, then there are ways to help myself to let go. Here devotion to the Lord born of understanding the Lord is invaluable. For understanding the Lord come to Gita class! Here an understanding of the Lord as All-Intelligence and seeing the fact that whatever there is in this creation is in Order, ( even disorder is in ultimate order) there is a meaning behind it all, there is a purpose is very important. The purpose of my life is to grow – maybe because of these situations now I can pray. Growing devotion in the form of a growing trust in the Lord’s order, a growing trust that every situation has a purpose and meaning behind it all and it must be all for the best even though I may not be quite able to understand it right now.

I recognize that I am helpless in accepting the situation and then when I am helpless I can seek help from the Source of All- Help – the Lord in a meaningful prayer. Seeking help when I need it, is intelligent living. So I can make this prayer to the Lord:-

O Lord, may I have the maturity to accept gracefully what I cannot change; may I have the will and effort to change what I can; and may I have the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot change.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati