Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Three disciplines of purposeful life

(adapted from a new year talk by Swami Paramarthananda)

Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in Gita (18-5):
Activity in the form of yajña, dhana (charity) and tapas (austerity) should not be given up. They have to be performed necessarily. Yajna, dhana and tapas are purifiers according to the wise (people).
The above three disciplines yajna, dhana and tapas that are emphasised by the scriptures for purification of mind also lead to a purposeful life.  A purposeful life is a life lived with a conscious intentional goal.  We shall see the three disciplines as can be followed even by an ordinary spiritual person, in a little more detail individually.

Yajna means worship. What we usually understand by worship is going to temple, offering puja, doing abhisheka etc.  But the worship that acts as purifier of the mind is a higher form of worship where one converts one’s very life itself into worship.  Swami Chinmayananda makes a wonderful statement “The life that we have is a wonderful gift from the Lord and what we do with this life is our gift, our offering to the Lord.”    Lord Himself has earlier given the formula for such a life in Gita(9-27) thus.
O Arjuna, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer (as oblation) whatever you give (in charity), whatever austerity you undertake --- dedicate that as an offering to Me
We should live our life in such a way that it is a worthy offering to the Lord i.e. It must be the best, i.e a dharmic life of love and positive emotions.  This way let us start living from today itself without postponing it to a future date for every day spent is like a sword cutting into our life span as the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar says in his kural no. 334
நாளென வொன்றுபோற் காட்டி யுயிரீரும்
வாள துணர்வார்ப் பெறின்.
(Naalena ondrupor kaatti uyir Eerum Vaaladhu unarvapperin)
The wise get this : Time, that manifests itself as days; is a sword that slices off life.
As Swami Paramarthananda says while leading such a dharmic life of love and positive emotions let us love and enjoy what we have to do and that will be the best yajna to the Lord.
Dhana means a charity which we do for others. Lord Krishna defines a satvic gift thus in Gita (17-20)
That gift which is given to a proper person at the proper time at the proper place, with an attitude that giving is a duty, without expecting the person to reciprocate is considered to be satvic gift.
Taittriya Upanishad contains advice on dhana in a passage where Guru addresses the students on the occasion of their leaving gurukula after Vedic studies to start life in the outer world.  This is similar to a convocation address and in this address guideline for dhana is given.  It runs as follows:
Sraddhaya deyam – Whatever you give, give it with faith i.e. gladly and willingly
Asraddhaya adheyam -  Don’t give without faith i.e. unwillingly
Sriya dheyam – Give with a sense of plenty i.e. to your capacity
Hriya dheyam – Give with humility
Bhiya dheyam – Give with sympathy
Samvida dheyam – Give with knowledge i.e. understanding of cause
Apart from complying with the above guideline governing a satvic gift there is a very important gift which must accompany all the gifts.  Accompanying a gift, it makes the gift more valuable and also all people, rich or poor, crave for it at all times and in all circumstances. That is the gift of love. Without love all other gifts remain incomplete, while love makes all other gifts meaningful.  Love is invisible; it is an inner feeling, a feeling of the mind.  So when we talk of love, we mean expressed love.  Love is both the consequence and cause of spiritual growth.  The best expression of love is giving our time and attention to the other person, to share their stories and their feelings.  It should start from one’s own family members in the house, especially the elders and children.  One can share their happiness and unhappiness without judging them.  Today when many families are nuclear families, the gift of giving quality time and to respect other’s feelings is the best dhanam.  Giving time to others especially the elders is one of the indices of spiritual growth. Dhanam made without the gift of love is only mechanical and the gift of love regularly and continually made makes one’s scriptural studies also meaningful.

Tapas is the discipline of austerity.  There are a variety of disciplines one follows in austerity like fasting on important days like ekadasi.   Of all of them the most important tapas is vak tapas – austerity or discipline at the verbal level, as speech is an important instrument of communication between human beings and more problems arise from spoken words than even action. Sri Sankaracharya says in Vivekachudamani (verse 368) “Yogasya prathama dwaram vak nirodhaha” (The first doorway to Yoga is discipline of speech). Lord Krishna gives four criteria for speech to qualify as an austerity. They are:
  1. Anudhveshakaram -  No verbal violence. One must avoid verbal violence which is the most powerful and worst form of violence.
  2.  Sathyam - Truthful, sincerity in words, no hypocrisy.  There should not be chasm between our mind and words. When we say something, it is because we mean it.  
  3. Priyam  -  kindness. Our words must be soft, polite, and gentle.
  4. Hitham - Beneficial, to the other person. Before speaking any words we should pause and apply the filter whether it is beneficial to the other person. Better remain silent than speaking something not beneficial in the name of speaking truth.
Vak tapas requires that we remain alert to subject the words coming out of our mouth to a quality check always to ensure that they are sweet and good for the people, truthful and is for welfare of all
 So a life that conforms to the cardinal principles of dharma where gift of love and vak tapas is practiced is a purposeful life and let us start living a purposeful life from today.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Three great powers of the mind

(adapted from Swami Sarvapriyananda’s leture)

One of the three great powers of mind is the power of concentration or the power of focus. According to Swami Vivekananda the difference between an ordinary person and a great person is the degree of concentration one can bring to the job on hand.  The great person has greater focus on the work at hand and this focus when it is total is called ‘Flow’ by positive psychologists.   Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  (pronounced as ‘mehigh cheeksendmehigh’) describes the mental state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."  It is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. This focused absorption is what is achieved in Dhyana and when prolonged leads to the Samadhi state, as we can see now.

In Ashtanga Yoga Dhyana, the uninterrupted focus is achieved through a process of steps starting from mental and moral disciplines outlined in Yama and Niyama.  These help to keep one on the path of Dharma, and staying on the path of dharma there are less distractions for the mind as compared to otherwise.  It is all the more important today where we are in the midst of an epidemic of distractions sparked by the latest smart phones and where it has become a habit to look into the phone for messages or latest updates in various fields all day long even in the midst of other activities, not to mention waking up in its face and going to bed with it.  Yama and Niyama are followed by Asana which brings physical discipline.  Staying quiet in a place also limits the field of distractions for the mind. Next step is Pranayama and control of breadth is a shorter way to control mind as Maharishi Ramana states in verse no. 11 of Upadesa saar “Through breath-control, the movement of the mind is contained, just as a bird is restrained when caught in a net.”  Pratyahara, withdrawl of the wandering senses, the next step leads to Dharana, focussing on a single object or chant.  This focus maintained continually for some time is called Dhyana. Dhyana, effortlessly achieved with ease and at will, helps one to achieve Samadhi.

Scientifically it is stated that our mind is capable of processing at the same time 150 bytes of information. In Samadhi state all the 150 bytes are concentrated on the object of meditation. But ordinarily only a fewer bytes are focussed on the object at hand.  The greater the number of bytes one is able to focus on the work on hand the greater degree of concentration one achieves in the work on hand.   But the effect this power has on an individual depends on the object of focus.  If the object of focus is on the positive values of life then greater the focus, the better the quality of life one enjoys. The greater is one’s misery when the object of focus is on the negative values of lie.  So to use this power to one’s advancement and happiness in life:
1)    Be focussed on whatever you do, cutting off the distractions from other sources.
2)    Hold to that focus to that point of absorption in the object of concentration.
3)    Hold on that way for extended stretches of time.
4)    Focus only on positive values of life.

This brings us to the second important power of mind, the power of making decision
Second great power of mind is the power of making decision on what to do, what to speak and what to think.  They include the opposites as well i.e. what not to do, what not to speak and what not to think.  This power one has all the time and one exercises it all the time when he does not act out of instinct of habit but engages in self-conscious activity.  As Swami Vivekananda has pointed out all that is great and excellent including power and glory will come to one rising to self-conscious activity all the time.  The conscious action should be not only in respect of others but even in respect of oneself.  Another important point to note is the conscious action in respect of thought, word and action should embrace Dharma to uplift a person.  In Mahabharata Duryodhana once told Lord Krishna, “ Jaanami dharmam, na cha me pravrittihi: Janaami adharmam, na cha me nivrittihi”  i.e. “ I know what is Dharma, but I cannot follow it;  I know what is adharma, but I cannot stay away from it”   When one acts self-consciously in an unrighteous way,  he is driving himself towards his downfall. On the other hand we have the example of Arjuna, who surrenders to Lord Krishna seeking advice and says at the end of advice in Gita “karishye vachanam thava” i.e. “I will act as per your advice”   Arjuna was here willing to be guided by the Lord. Even psycho-analysis and medicine can help only if one is willing to be changed. So one should remember for making the best use of the power:
!) Words are subtler than action; thoughts are more subtler than words.   So take care of your thoughts and be self-conscious to entertain positive thoughts only
2) Deciding consciously what not to do is as important as deciding consciously what to do
Swami Vivekananda said that all that is great and excellent in human life will come if one knows what to speak, what words to employ and what action to perform and acts accordingly.  So not only our actions be self-conscious, the guiding motive must also be righteousness and positive thoughts. 

That brings us to the third great power of mind, Power of selflessness.  Thinking unselfish thoughts, speaking unselfish words and doing unselfish action makes one a good person.   Further unselfishness and spirituality go together. Swami Ranganathananda says that  when he closes his  eyes in meditation, he feels peace flowing in him and when he opens his eyes, his attitude is one of ‘what can I do for others meaning community’.  We should not feel other way i.e. with eyes closed in meditation, letting all agitations and problems surface and when eyes are open to have the attitude of ‘what I can get from the world’.  Get should change to give; it can be in money, time or service.  In a school a teacher once told the students “No class today. Let us all go to the theatre to watch a movie”.  The boys gladly followed the teacher. After returning to class, the teacher gave them each a sheet of paper and asked the students to evaluate their happiness on watching the movie in the scale of 1 to 10. Next week also this exercise was repeated but this time the visit was to a children’s home where they distributed, books, toys, clothes and sweets to the poor children housed there.  After returning to the class now also they evaluated their happiness of being with the children and helping them.  Six weeks later the teacher asked the students to recollect their experience and evaluate the happiness felt then separately for the two visits.  It was found that while the scores were now lower for the visit to movies, the scores for the visit to the children’s home was almost the same or even higher. Then the teacher used the comparison of scores to show them how the happiness derived in giving and helping others i.e. from selfless activity lasts much much longer than the happiness derived from personal entertainment i.e selfish activity..  No doubt one feels happy when entertaining oneself or enjoying a pleasure but the happiness is all more when one helps others and instills happiness in their lives. Swami Vivekananda gave as the ideal to the monks the motto “Athmanasthu mokshartham, Jagat hitaya cha.” i.e. “For the liberation of oneself, For the welfare of the world” and laid as much emphasis on “Love thy neighbor” as on “Love thy God”.  Advaita Vedanta does not subscribe to individual soul being separate and unique. Soul is only one for all and is in essence  Brahman, the Supreme.  So Vivekananda says to be selfish is immoral and he emphasized that each individual should work not only for their individual liberation but also at the same time for the uplift of the less privileged fellow men as well.  The interest and care one takes in working for the welfare of under-privileged and downtrodden in the community must be no less than the interest and care he takes in working for his liberation.  In practice one effort helps the other.

The above three great powers of the mind can be harnessed to promote the feeling of personal happiness and well-being in an individual all the time; if one thinks, speaks and acts self-consciously, engaging oneself in all activities one hundred percent, eschewing selfishness and entertaining positive emotions only.