There is a story from India of a farmer who longed to have a great mango tree – he goes to the market and buys a small plant, then for years he tends his tree, nourishing it, watering its roots, tending it with all his love. Slowly the tree grows and flourishes, and finally begins to flower with its promise of the first mangos. Later on, the tree at last begins to bear fruit – but to his great surprise the fruit turns out to be apples – it was an apple tree, not the mango tree he had hoped for! He could have been upset and cursed the tree for having lavished all his care on the wrong tree, but instead he said, ‘Well, it is the same tree that I cared for, why would I not love it because it turned out to bear a different fruit?’
The story reminds me of the recent passing of an acquaintance of mine who never accepted the life path his child had chosen, how far away it had been from his expectations and how, right up until his death, he had harbored and even shared his disappointment with his child.
He was about to farewell forever a beautiful and exceptional daughter who had veered away from her father’s ambitions and expectations for her, and chosen a path of her own. The mango tree turned out to be a tree that bore a different fruit. But human love is often quite conditional like this, and fails to achieve an unconditional love that is wider and free of expectation, unburdening those we care for of our own ambitions and allowing and accepting the children’s freedom to choose their own life path.
At the funeral of my disappointed acquaintance, I read out some writings from the wisdom teachings of the late spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. His words would console the saddened daughter, and remind us that one of the secrets of life is that there is no real death, and that although the body is cast aside, the soul journeys on, birthless and deathless like an eternal traveler. They describe life and death as only like two rooms in a house – they are adjoining, and in one room we move about and play and work, in the other we take rest. But life is there in both rooms, and both rooms are needed. Sri Chinmoy writes:
‘We are all like passengers on a single train. The destination has come for one particular passenger. He has to get off at this stop, but we still have to go on and cover more distance. Now we have to know that this hour of death has been sanctioned by God, who is infinitely more compassionate than any human being, infinitely more compassionate than we who want to keep our dear ones. Even if the dying person is our son, or our father or mother, we have to know that she is infinitely dearer to God than she is to us.
So if we really accept and understand this, then this understanding will truly bring peace, an abiding peace, both to us and to the soul that is leaving the earth-scene.
‘We come from the infinite Life, but our stay here on earth is only for a short span of time, perhaps sixty or seventy years. But inside this earth-bound life is the boundless Life. The soul leaves the body for a short or long rest and goes back to the soul’s region, where it regains the Eternal Life, which existed before birth, which exists between birth and death, and which proceeds on beyond death.’
The daughter would eventually find the strength to free herself from her late father’s failure to accept her for who she was, the tree of a different fruit, and the truths about the impermanence and fragility of both life and love are unavoidable ones and finally bring both compassion and liberation.
The following article by Jogyata Dallas is reprinted with the kind permission of the IndiaNZ Outlook newspaper.
Many people believe that human consciousness is on the verge of a pivotal change – from the dominance of the mind to a growing recognition of the importance of the heart. It represents a change so significant that it promises to reshape the very future of mankind, pointing the way – for the first time ever – to lasting peace and universal oneness on earth.
In the course of evolution, the development of the mind was a major step forward, a breakthrough of incalculable proportions. It separated humanity from the animal kingdom, freeing us from blind impulse and dark instinct. It gave us a sense of past and future, a sense of history and time. It raised us from the murk of primitive superstition, giving us a rational understanding of the universe. It brought us new sources of energy and food. It showed us how to explore the bottom of the sea and travel to the moon.
For centuries the pinnacle of human consciousness, the mind was responsible for the industrial revolution, which produced enormous material comfort for mankind. It brought medical advances that tripled man’s life span. It allowed us to change and control the environment, harnessing the power of wind and water, turning deserts into farmlands, constructing great cities. It brought us mathematics and physics, poetry and music – opening countless dimensions in which the human spirit could grow and flourish.
But should the mind be the master – or should it be the servant of our higher selves? For the mind has its limitations and teaches us to see others as different and separate from us, thriving on a sense of separativity and divisiveness. If we are inclined to reach out to help someone, it will urge us to be cautious – to ‘think twice.’ It teaches us to care about only our own needs, our own wishes, and not those of our fellow man. It encourages us to compete with others and try to dominate them. And because it tries to dominate or take advantage of others, it makes us think that others are doing the same to us.
International politics, for example, has become largely a contest of minds, with each country seeking an advantage over others. Countries distrust one another, suspect one another, misunderstand one another’s motives and, ultimately, try to destroy one another. The mind has brought us unparalleled prosperity, unparalleled material achievements; but it has not brought us happiness. It has not brought us peace – either peace of mind or peace on earth.
One of the great advocates of the human heart is the Indian spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. When he speaks of the heart, he is not speaking of the physical heart, which supplies blood to the body, or the emotional heart; he is referring to the higher heart, the heart that is the seat of the deepest human wisdom. This is the heart that teaches us to see others as an extension of our own selves and makes us feel one with all humanity. This is the heart that teaches us the meaning of selfless love – the love that does not seek to possess others or be possessed by them, but wants only to give without expecting anything in return. When it helps someone, it does not feel it is making a sacrifice, any more than our right hand feels it is making a sacrifice when it helps our left hand lift a weight Nor does it feel any kind of superiority – a feeling that is often present when we feel we are being ‘charitable.’ Spontaneously, it just reaches out to help.
The ascendancy of the heart holds enormous possibilities for human progress. The heart offers us the message of oneness – a oneness that can become the foundation for the global peace that mankind has dreamt of for millennia. It is only when the mind yields to the heart, when our feeling of division and separateness surrenders to our feeling of oneness and brotherhood, when I feel your need as mine and you feel my needs as yours, and we are both ready to help one another – only then will our world truly change. Similarly, if everyone can regard his own nation as nothing but a tree, whose branches are the other nations, then I will see your country as a branch of my nation-tree and you will see my country as a branch of your nation-tree. At that time, working together we can surely solve the world’s countless problems.
This kind of shift in consciousness, Sri Chinmoy feels, represents the next great step in mankind’s evolution – a step every bit as significant as the ascendancy of the mind over the animal consciousness. Some 30 years ago he formed the Sri Chinmoy Centre to help build momentum for this change. He also founded the Oneness-Home Peace Run – a global relay run that strives to create a oneness-world family, a deeper feeling of brotherhood among peoples through sports. And over forty years, he discussed his philosophy with countless world leaders, including the late UN Secretary-General U Thant, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul and Mikhail Gorbachev. He also brought his message of the heart to large audiences through his free Peace Concerts and lectures, and for over four decades explored the possibilities of a world at peace with delegates and staff at the United Nations through his twice-weekly peace meditations.
To Sri Chinmoy, heart-power is not a metaphor. The heart embodies enormous energy, enormous beauty, enormous willpower and determination. It can achieve things that the mind considers impossible because it is more receptive and open to the limitless power of the human spirit. The mind has its fixed notions as to what can and cannot be done, but the heart is always ready to go forward, always eager to take on new challenges. The heart is continually inspiring us to transcend our previous achievements, to strive for greater and greater perfection and satisfaction. In Sri Chinmoy’s words:
“Our goal is to go from bright to brighter to brightest, from high to higher to highest. And even in the highest, there is no end to our progress, for the human spirit is unlimited.
“Through our prayers and meditations, we silence our divided and dividing mind, and we develop our united and uniting heart. With our doubting minds, we try to possess what others have. With our loving hearts, we identify and become one with what others are. This power that loves can solve world problems. This power is full of self-giving, not with a sense of sacrifice, but with the feeling of serving all humanity as our brothers and sisters.
“ A day will come when this world of ours will be inundated with the power that loves. Only the power that loves can change the world. My ultimate goal is for the power of love to replace the love of power in each individual. At that time world peace can be achieved, revealed, offered and manifested on earth.”
Some time ago I had the good fortune to travel to Brunei, a sovereign state on the island of Borneo. I was pleasantly surprised on the short flight from Malaysia – and prior to take-off – to be welcomed with a traveller’s prayer on my economy cabin video screen, an invocation to Allah and a supreme protector to safeguard our journey. The screening was received in a meditative, respectful silence followed by a short incantation from my fellow passengers. In my own world one would be astonished by such an event, since personal belief, God and religion for the most part are carefully excluded from the public domain – schools, airlines, company offices – and conversations about an all-governing Intelligence are rare and often awkward.
My fellow passenger was less impressed by the devoutness of our airline, and I was happy to inform him that, to the best of my knowledge, Emirates, Etihad, Royal Brunei and Kuwait Airlines also have similar customs. I was able to remind him of Albert Einstein’s remarks, that “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” Rebuking the ardor of many who rail against religion, Einstein further commented:
“The fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against traditional religion as the ‘opium of the masses’—cannot hear the music of the spheres.”
Although the idea of God, of Allah, Brahma, a supreme creator, lies beyond the comprehension of the limited rational mind, we nevertheless have an intuitive intelligence that responds to life in a rather different way. Many truths lie over the horizon of the mind’s understanding and await discovery at a further point in time, but if one can quieten the chatter of the mind, silence and stillness are gateways and portals to a different kind of knowing. Spiritual masters are very much at home in this world, and speak of a relationship we have with the universe which is both mystic and inspirational. The late Indian master Sri Chinmoy wrote a small book called ‘Grace’, an account of the responsive role of grace in human life.
For most of us the concept of grace with its assumption of the existence of God or a benign, conscious Intelligence has little reality. Either we do not believe in God or, overly conscious of our blemishes and wrongdoings, we cannot believe that a God could love us constantly and unconditionally. But Sri Chinmoy writes: “Personal effort cannot live by itself even for a minute, because its inner nourishment is the Grace from Above… God’s Grace is responsible for everything. This moment it is using our hands, next minute it is using our legs, next moment it is using our mind, next moment our breath or our heart.”
He describes grace as one of the elusive, powerful mysteries of God’s love, the key to that great alchemy that transforms ignorance into knowledge, disbelief into devotion, seeker into saint.
‘Grace’ describes the love and compassion of God responding to personal effort and falling unconditionally like rain on agnostic and believer alike. Personal effort, magnet-like, always attracts grace – and grace increases our hunger, deepens our meditation, clears away the blocks and obstacles to expedite our progress.
Belief or disbelief in grace does not alter its reality any more than our expectation of a sunny day might stop a sudden downpour — and an open mind/open heart will gradually reveal its existence. As we become more conscious of grace in our life, a direct personal experience, our faith and our feeling of being God’s child deepen. Anxiety disappears, love and patience come, everything is being taken care of by God the infinitely loving parent. Sri Chinmoy writes:
“God’s greatest adamantine Power is His Grace. The moment God uses His Grace for an individual, He offers His very Life-Breath to the seeker. If we approach God with the heart and the soul there can be no dryness, only a constant shower of love and Grace.”
Many people talk of a relentless causality that governs our lives. From the alignment of planets astrologers also make charts that predict what will happen. But grace can nullify everything. Sri Chinmoy reminds us that “there is a world which is infinitely higher than the planets. From there we can easily create, and we can also delete anything in our fate… then we can add something new. Your fate can also be adjusted by the Grace of the Supreme.”
Grace especially permeates our being when we are in the field of aspiration, even to the point of nullifying or changing our karma. Sri Chinmoy uses the analogy of a child who does something wrong then runs to the father to avoid the consequences. The father has compassion for the child. He knows the child has done something wrong but safeguards the child from the consequences.
Comments Sri Chinmoy: “In the case of an ordinary, unaspiring person, karmic dispensation is unavoidable, inevitable. The law of karma is always binding: like a snake it will coil around him. He has to pay the toll, the tax; the law of karma is merciless. But again, there is something called divine Grace. If I shed bitter tears and pray for forgiveness, then naturally God’s compassion will dawn on me. Divine grace plays the role of the father. If the father wants to protect the son, he can.”
“When we aspire with our heart’s tears, we see that God is coming down to us from Above. The heart is crying and yearning like a mounting flame burning upward. This flame of the heart wants to go beyond the mind, so it is always rising. And God is constantly descending with His Grace, like a river flowing downward. Ours is the flame that always burns upward; God’s Grace like a stream, is coming down from the Source. When aspiration and Grace meet together, we come to experience the divine fulfillment of union with God.”
“God’s love gives us first a free access to His inner Existence, then a most complete intimacy or oneness with His inner Will and finally, ecstasy or delight, which is the universal and transcendental Reality which God Himself is.”
For those who doubt such things, there is nothing at all wrong with having a questioning mind or a healthy skepticism. But a little humility is also helpful, the recognition that our comprehension of truth, reality, the fundamentals of the universe might be still very small. Einstein adds from my small book of his quotations:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”
If you happen to be one of those people with a keen interest in world news, 2016 may have prematurely aged you quite a bit. Those dark clouds massing on the horizon – the great challenges and changes poised to affect all of humanity – are shaking up the world and bringing a new and unwelcome sense of almost existential vulnerability.
But if you’re stockpiling water bottles, your favorite brand of Italian pasta and boxes of baked beans under your bed – your survival rations – you might be over-reacting just a little. 2017 is upon us and some of the incoming year’s surprises might just be inspirational ones!
At the start of this New Year it’s also a good time to reflect on the power we each have to usher in a time of positive change. Sri Chinmoy often spoke of the power of the soul, the unremembered sleeping God inside us which, once awoken, is the great game-changer. Instead of reeling from election results, environmental disasters, a world in disarray, this is the best time to focus on yourself, meditating more, drawing up determinedly your 2017 resolutions, and understanding that your own blossoming spirituality is the reason you came to earth and absolutely the highest thing you can do for the world.
It’s interesting that both ancient Vedic insights and modern quantum theory understand the universe – the multiverse – to be a single indivisible entity, everything unified in a fundamental underlying matrix of consciousness. My own teacher of course knew this, and saw that the quantum ripple of thousands of meditators was really a tsunami, capable of bringing about a consciousness shift that would really change our world. Thus Sri Chinmoy’s love of the Peace Run which he founded – ‘peace begins with you, with me’ – and our meditation classes and concerts and each of us bringing forward the very best within ourselves. The universe is inside my heart, your heart.
Sri Chinmoy also spoke of the end-of-year energies as resembling a dark tunnel down which we all go before the incoming light of the New Year brings newness, inspiration, positive change. A good time to focus on your personal spiritual practices; to understand that our trials and challenges will strengthen us, not weaken us; to feel gratitude at the gift of our inner awakening, no small achievement in an enchanting world of endless distractions; to pray for steadfastness on our chosen path; and, if you are a God-lover, to pray for devotion – that lovely bridge between man and the universe, disciple and Master that diminishes or pardons all of our other shortcomings. So here we go – fasten your seat belts !! Let’s all make 2017 the Best Year Ever!!
This article was written by Sri Chinmoy Centre authors for the monthly IndiaNZ Outlook newspaper and features here with the paper’s kind consent.
Diwali is here – our annual free celebration of Indian culture and our city’s ethnic diversity, a weekend of music, dance, food and splendid cultural performances. Also too a festival of spirit, a remembrance of its original and deeper intent to celebrate the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil.
In our deeply troubled modern world, this aspect of Diwali has profound significance, for Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, his wife and brother from their 14-year exile and of their defeat of the 10-headed demon-king Ravana – this famous epic tale, depicted in The Ramayana, is filled with spiritual, moral and deeply insightful truths about the proper purpose and conduct of human life and is one of the two great Sanskrit epics writte
n in poetic form.
First written around 550 B.C, the Ramayana is composed of twenty-four thousand verses divided into seven books, and remains as relevant and meaningful today as it was when first told – thus Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and people from many other cultures inspired by and familiar with the timeless wisdom embodied in this great classic.
Its central characters are personifications of virtues and qualities – Sri Ramachandra, an incarnation of God; Sita his pure and devoted wife and an idealistic portrait of the perfect woman; Laksmana the loyal brother of Rama, youngest of all of the King of Ayodhya’s sons and the embodiment of dharma; Ravana the evil king, secure in his dispensation from Brahmā of a boon of invincibility. With the rise of the demon Rāvaṇa, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa vow to help save the kingdom and the world from this evil doer and to promote and uphold dharma.
The celebration of Diwali as a victory of good over evil is based upon this great epic and refers not just to Rama’s final victory but to the deeper import it carries, the triumph of the light of higher knowledge over ignorance; a triumph over the ignorance that masks our true nature, the unchanging, infinite Self. The many schools of Hindu philosophy share this belief that there is something beyond the physical body and mind, something which is pure, infinite, and eternal, variously called the soul or the Atman. The Ramayana is thus allegorical, explores human values and the concept of dharma, depicts the duties of relationships and portrays ideal characters like the ideal father, the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife, and the ideal king.
In The Rámáyan of Válmíkii the combatants are described in memorable words: “Gainst him, a mighty warrior too / Strong, as a soldier born and bred / Great, as a king whom regions dread / See! what a host the conqueror leads / With elephants, and cars, and steeds / O’er countless bands his pennons fly / So is he mightier far than I.”
“…he wins success, And dying foes his power confess. / Tall and broad-shouldered, strong of limb,/ Fortune has set her mark on him./ Graced with a conch-shell’s triple line,/ His throat displays the auspicious sign./ High destiny is clear impressed / On massive jaw and ample chest,/ His mighty shafts he truly aims / And foemen in the battle tames.”
My own teacher Sri Chinmoy had a great love of the Ramayana and wrote a memorable and popular play about the life of Rama. On one occasion, speaking of Sita’s sacrifice and its deeper meaning he commented: “
“Women have one common name: sacrifice. They can sacrifice everything that they have and that they are, either for their dear ones or for an unknown, if not an unknowable, supreme Reality. From time immemorial, Indian women have been revealing the supernal beauty of sacrifice. An Indian wife is synonymous with an Indian sacrifice-heart.
“In the Ramayana, Sita became an incarnation of sacrifice. She cheerfully and unconditionally accepted the life of exile for fourteen years in order to be with her beloved Rama. Urmila, the wife of Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, made a similar and ever-memorable sacrifice. She allowed her beloved husband Lakshmana to follow his eldest brother into exile, although she could not go with him. She sacrificed the company of her dearest husband by cheerfully letting him fulfil his desire to be with his brother Rama.
“Again, look at Savitri. Savitri’s love for Prince Satyavan touched the very depth of Immortality. When Death snatched him away, Savitri continued following the spirit of her husband until she proved to Death that nothing in God’s entire Creation could stand between her and her husband. Finally, Death had to return Satyavan to the world of the living, for the power of Savitri’s oneness-love for her husband far surpassed the division-power of Death.
“Man’s inner strength is his poise. Woman’s inner strength is her love. When poise and love blend together in oneness-game, at that time true satisfaction, constant satisfaction, perfect satisfaction, infinite and immortal Satisfaction will dawn on earth.”
A sweeping and dramatic tale of abduction, battles and courtship played out against a wider canvas of cosmic gods, great armies and demons, the Ramayana is a wonderful portrait of human life and its often forgotten depths and existential truths, similar to the Greek legends like Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey, remaining popular through the course of time. The story of Rama summarizes the very nature of human life, the play of shadows and light, the timeless struggles and conflicting impulses of human existence, the dramas of the soul’s awakening into light.
In 1893, the city of Chicago was host to a rainbow gathering of representatives from the world’s great religions. They had come together in a spirit of oneness for the World’s Parliament of Religions. It was not the first such attempt to to encompass the universal spiritual aspirations of humanity, there having been precedents as early as the third century BC, when the Indian king Asoka invited one thousand scholars of all faiths to meet in Patna. Again, in the sixteenth century, the great Moghul emperor Akbar created a Hall of Worship in his palace at Fatehpur Sikri where debates were held between representatives of many faiths, including Christianity and Judaism.
However the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 was the first such endeavour in modern times to consider the truths which all faiths hold in common and to deepen mankind’s understanding of the unique worth of each. From India, a penniless monk received an inner message to come to America and participate in the conference. Bearing the ancient message of the Vedic seers, he was welcomed as a representative of Hinduism, the mother of all religions. This was Swami Vivekananda, whose presence and speeches were to profoundly inspire and illumine the entire gathering.
“Sisters and brothers of America,” he began in his opening address on September 11, 1893. The audience responded to his opening words with thunderous applause and it was several minutes before peace was restored. Swami Vivekananda then proceeded to declare to the world at large the supreme necessity for universal acceptance and tolerance. His superb command of the English language, his deeply resonant voice and his dignified bearing captivated the thousands who attended the Parliament each day and galvanised its participants with his soul-stirring words.
In 1993, the Parliament’s centenary, another great son of India was invited to participate and to offer the opening meditation. This was Sri Chinmoy, the spiritual master who had established a bi-weekly program of meditations for world peace at the UN headquarters in New York city, and in similar fashion brought the timeless wisdom-teachings of India to the West. In honor of Swami Vivekananda, Sri Chinmoy offered a published collection of stories, poems, essays and insights into the life of Vivekananda – the following few paragraphs are reproduced from “Vivekananda: An Ancient Silence-Heart and a Modern Dynamism-Life”, Sri Chinmoy’s wonderful tribute.
“Sri Ramakrishna’s unstinting Grace and Naren’s volcanic Will combined to create Vivekananda, who created a commotion all over the world. Vivekananda came into the world in an age seething with rank materialism. Spiritual values were at a discount. He held the mighty torch of spirituality high. Exceptional was his clarion call to lead the life of the Spirit. The soul-stirring message of Sri Ramakrishna was embodied in him, in this lion amongst men.
His was a life of unimaginable sacrifice. And how can India, his Motherland, dare to forget his message of stupendous sacrifice? “For my own part I will be incarnated two hundred times, if that is necessary to do what I have undertaken amongst my people.” At this Sri Ramakrishna, if he had heard his disciple, could have done nothing but clap and dance in supreme ecstasy. For it was this very Naren whose heart ached to remain always in samadhi and whom Sri Ramakrishna had to scold fondly by saying, “I thought you had been born for something greater, my boy!”
It was J.H. Wright, Professor of Greek at Harvard University, who was first in realising what Vivekananda was when the Indian monk was found, prior to becoming a delegate to the Parliament of Religions, almost destitute, no better than a street-beggar. Verily, Professor Wright, that blessed son of America, was a man of action. He introduced Vivekananda to the President of the ‘Parliament’ in Chicago. The professor’s flaming and instructive words have echoed and re-echoed in the hearts of both East and West: “To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine.”
Vivekananda’s soul-stirring addresses inspired the audience to have faith in all the religions of the world, to hug the best in each religion. There was a magic spell of throbbing delight woven around his very name at the Parliament of Religions. He was the figure that dominated the world’s gaze there. A report appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript of September 30th, 1893, about the great triumph of the Indian spiritual giant: “If he merely crosses the Platform, he is applauded, and this marked approval of thousands he accepts in a childlike spirit of gratification, without a trace of conceit.”
The same paper on April 5th, 1894, had an irresistible recollection:
“At the Parliament of Religions, they used to keep Vivekananda until the end of the programme, to make people stay until the end of the session. On a warm day, when a prosy speaker talked too long and people began going home by hundreds, the Chairman would get up and announce that Swami Vivekananda would make a short address just before the benediction. Then he would have the peaceful hundreds perfectly in tether. The four thousand fanning people in the Hall of Columbus would sit smiling and expectant, waiting for an hour or two of other men’s speeches, to listen to Vivekananda for fifteen minutes.”
In no time America realised that Vivekananda was no isolated dreamer, nor, unlike most spiritual figures of the East, did he care primarily for his own personal salvation. They discovered in him a lofty spiritual realist and a universal lover of humanity. It was his vast personality and his spiritual inspiration that achieved for him such acclaim in America. Vivekananda’s credo was characterised by its freedom; thus the freedom-loving Americans responded enthusiastically to his message. They accepted his teaching that material prosperity and spiritual aspiration must run abreast and help each other if man is to see the full face of Divine Knowledge.
From the spiritual point of view, each new year has a specific significance, ushering in new energy, new possibilities and often a fresh new consciousness unique to that incoming year. This incoming fresh energy does not always coincide with the calendar new year, but often begins before or after the first days of January. It is like a bell ringing to awaken and re-inspire humanity, and when it comes it can be felt in our lives quite clearly.
Each new year is like a new rung on the ladder of consciousness which we have to climb up. When the new year dawns, we have to make ourselves conscious of the fact that we have to transcend our present capacity and present achievement. The new year energises us, encourages us and inspires us to run towards a higher Reality.
During his life, spiritual master Sri Chinmoy would often describe the unique incoming energies of the new year, enabling us to best utilize these and prepare ourselves, like a weatherman mapping out the advancing highs and lows of the outer weather. He comments:
“Each year has a soul of its own. Even the astrologers can tell something about the soul of a year, just as they can very often tell about the soul of a country.
Every day, when morning dawns, we should feel that we have something new to accomplish. When we start our journey in the morning, we should feel that today is the continuation of yesterday’s journey; we should not take it as a totally new beginning. And tomorrow we should feel that we have travelled still another mile. Then, we know one day that we will reach our Goal.
“When the new year dawns, a new aspiration, a new dedication and a new realisation enter into us. Tomorrow, on New Year’s day, that new newness will enter into us. What can we expect from tomorrow? We expect that which we do not have right now: freedom from bondage, freedom from limitation, freedom from disease, freedom from death. I always say, ‘The past is dust.’ Once again I repeat, ‘The past is dust.’ Why? The past has not given us what we have been striving for. So the past is of no use. It is the present, and the golden future which enters into the present, which make us feel what we are going to be—nay, what we truly are. We are not children of the past, but children of the glorious future.
“There is no end to the progress we can make, and each new year comes and stands in front of us to remind us of that very fact: that there is no end to our progress, both inner progress and outer progress. God is entering into us to inspire us to dive into the deepest, to fly into the highest, to run towards the farthest. We must always feel that we are children of the Supreme, that self-realisation or the conquest of the self is our birthright, our divine heritage.”
In a modern world marred by conflict, war, poverty and widespread suffering, the teachings of the spiritual masters continue to offer beacons of consolation and hope, reminding us firstly of our task of self-perfecting and of the power this has to better the world around us; and informing us of the great and dormant power of love, one of the primary gifts of the human heart. For when the heart’s power of love replaces the love of power, and self-interest is replaced by a widening oneness and concern for others, all of the world’s problems will quickly disappear. We will not want to prosper at the expense of others, nor remain silent and uncaring at their misfortunes, for we will feel and understand that we are but one family, a part of each other. Sri Chinmoy writes:
“ The world exists just because love still exists on earth. No other divine quality can create, sustain and fulfil God here on earth like the quality of love. How can we help our sisters and brothers of the world? We can help them if we become all love for the One who is all Love. Let us love the One, the root of the tree. Then we shall see that the branches, the leaves and the foliage of the tree will also feel our love. Each individual who fulfils God and His creation embodies God’s living Concern and living Sacrifice. And it is in this Concern and Sacrifice that God and man are both fulfilled.”
In an earlier new year, and referring to the heart’s love, Sri Chinmoy once wrote:
‘My Lord, I do not want the peace
That tells me I need nothing more.
No, I want the peace that creates in me
Constant hunger to receive You
In every way
And distribute You
In every widening heart.’
There is a story from long ago India of a great yogi – Narada – who is requested by the sage Vishnu to fetch him a glass of water from the river. Narada is a highly evolved soul who has shunned the world but never understood the power of ‘maya’ – our enthrallment with the appearance and enchantments of the world – and is about to experience this.
At the river Narada sees a beautiful girl, and captivated by her beauty follows her to her village and requests her father for her hand in marriage. Years go by and Narada has forgotten his original purpose and Vishnu’s request – he is immersed in his human life in the world with his wife and family. One night a terrible storm comes, sweeping away the village and his family in a flood – desperate, Narada remembers his Guru Vishnu and calls out for his help. Vishnu appears before him and asks him: ‘Narada, where is my glass of water? I am still thirsty.’ The distraught Narada is still grieving though for his family, and does not understand.
‘Where does this pain and suffering come from, Narada?’ asked Vishnu with a smile. ‘I thought you had full knowledge of Maya before you set out to fetch water for me. You knew all about the spiritual truths and realities. Yet you forgot all about them as soon as you experienced the material world – home, family, children, and village. Your understanding of Maya could have helped you in the tumult of pleasure and pain, but it did not. Such is the spell of Maya, the illusory nature and powerful enchantments of this world.’
The story remains relevant even today, our tendency to easily forget our deeper spiritual nature and purpose as we become absorbed in the human dramas of our lives that resemble, in Shakespeare’s words ‘a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more’. When we become interested in meditation though, there is a remembering of something more, a questing beyond the usual attractions of our lives that have failed to fully satisfy. This is a special time in our journey of self-discovery, an awakening to some deeper realisation. Vishnu has come to us and asks of us … ‘But where is my glass of water?’
It’s a windless Sunday morning and I’m sitting on the crater summit of Mt. Ngaruahoe, the Mt Doom of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, dangling my feet over the edge of the crater wall. At 7,300 feet up in the sky the view is stunning – as far as the eye can see a panorama of mountains, the violent genesis of recent volcanoes strewn all around, the far-off tectonic upheavals of the central North Island peaks, and further away on the edge of the sea the snow smeared cone of Mt Taranaki. Blue sky, lakes of silvered sunlight, red earth, green valleys of hard-won pasture, the rumpled earth torn into wild majesty by millennia of volcanic fire.
My companions join me, breathing hard after inching up the steep scree face of the mountain. Far below others are tiny ants moving across the red earth, 20 kms of trail before them. There are people here from all over the world, and it’s wonderful how happy and friendly they all are – we’re a one-world family, happiness is infectious, you can talk to any stranger. An English boy joins me, shares my lunch. I tell a Canadian couple the mountain will erupt at 2:30pm, they’d better finish their summit lunch and flee. They respond by throwing snow at me. They sit on their packs and slide down an ice field for 200 metres, the girl shrieking in terror and delight.
Its been a great week. We’ve had the Swiss meditation teacher Kailash here, a tour of Australia and New Zealand, ‘Secrets of Happiness’ talks most evenings. Post-class, snacking on curries and yellow rice, we quizz him about his life back home in the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Switzerland, his thoughts on everything from meditation to humanity’s future. We’re all fairly positive on this, though there will be some big challenges.
It’s been another topsy-turvey year, but there have been the good things. We’ve offered our ‘Hour of Peace’ program to quite a few companies in Auckland, held over 36 free meditation courses, placed Sri Chinmoy’s inspirational aphorisms in over 250 retail stores, installed peace-themed paintings in city-wide exhibits, conducted radio interviews and published 15 lengthy articles in magazines. We’ve also organised 12 fun-runs – plus our national 24 hour championship race – given out over 500 ‘Happiness’ posters, and had some great fun-filled weekends away. And Golden Grove, our Montessori-type school, is slowly spreading its wings, lots of beautiful kids preparing for life.
What lies ahead in the incoming year? A commitment to more of this, a resolve to deepen our personal meditation practise, swirling plans for new and needed enterprises, a deeper listening to where we need to point ourselves. Newness too, the further resolve to not get stuck and overly comfortable. Like the steep mountain face of our weekend adventure, the higher slopes of growing and becoming are always beckoning, calling us onward and upward, up into the beautiful clouds.
I have been browsing through the Upanishads of late, enjoying their perennial wisdom and marvelling at the common ground they share with 21st century revelations about the primary nature of the universe and with modern quantum theory. The Upanishads are a summation of the knowledge, insights and sacred wisdom of the Vedic sages and seers and date back some 4,000 years .
In his introduction to selected translations from the Upanishads, Alistair Shearer writes that the Vedic teachings propose ‘the ground of all being is an infinite and unified field of Consciousness, eternal and self-luminous. This Consciousness creates the universe from its own depths, by reverberating within itself….Thus, Veda is said to be the source of creation; it is the DNA of the universe, containing all manifest possibilities in seed form.’ The Upanishadic teachings also reflect the ancient Greek understanding of philosophy or ‘gnosis’ – the cultivation of true and sacred wisdom. Plato described such a philosopher as one who would ‘live in constant companionship with the divine order of the world’.
I do remember my own teacher Sri Chinmoy speaking of the same realities, and referring to an unmanifest world of infinite potential from which everything in the manifest world originates. He often spoke of meditation as the still space of inner silence that connects us with the unmanifest– here where the identification with mind and body temporarily cease, a doorway opens between the finite and the infinite, the drop rejoins the ocean, man becomes consciously closest to God. This is the creative space as well – silence is the nest, inspiration is the bird that ventures forth and is felt as new insight, creative originality, vision.
Alistair Shearer notes that ‘upanishad’ is a derivative of SHAD and the prefixes UPA and NI, these terms referring literally to a ‘sitting-down-near’. He writes: ‘ In the India of their composition, no less than today, the seeker of wisdom approached a teacher, sat down at his or her feet, and settled the mind to receive spiritual instruction. Both teacher and pupil had to be well qualified for their relationship….the teacher was to be both “learned in the scriptures and established in brahman “– in other words, an enlightened being – and the pupil expected to be pure and receptive, “one who is calm and whose mind is quiet.” ‘
Today the Guru-disciple relationship remains foundational for many spiritual paths, and to anyone with an ardent hunger for inner knowledge and peace this relationship is a timeless and sacred one. The illumined master seldom coveys his wisdom through language, but more often through his ability to awaken the seeker’s soul; and through the silence of his gaze, the compassion of his heart, the qualities of harmony, poise and spiritual depth which he embodies. He is an artist of infinite patience, moulding the often stubborn material of our humanity into it’s highest possibities, and using years as his time frame. Sri Chinmoy writes:
“To achieve realisation by oneself alone is like crossing the ocean in a raft. But to achieve realisation through the grace of a Guru is like crossing the ocean in a swift and strong boat, which ferries you safely across the sea of ignorance to the Golden Shore.”
The Guru is the polestar, the bright light of knowledge . He or she makes God, the soul, the spiritual quest into living realities, revealing the deeper purposes to our life and helping us to understand what is truly important in our lives, and what is not. In a world of enchanting distractions, a culture steeped in material ambitions that so often suffocate the spirit, how lucky we are to have these exemplars pointing the way back home.
Excerpts from Sri Chinmoy’s book “India, My India.”
What is India’s inner message to the world at large? Spirituality. What is spirituality? It is the natural way of truth that successfully communes with the Beyond here on earth.
What is India’s absolutely distinctive possession? Her soul. She lives in the soul, she lives from the soul and she lives for the soul.
Where can the world find the real nature of India? In the ever-wakeful domain of the Spirit.
What has made the history of India unique? A most surprising and unusual continuity of the line of her spiritual seekers and Masters.
What does Indian spirituality teach? It teaches the world to conquer the evil of the lower nature and to go beyond the good of the higher nature.
What is Mother India’s desire? It is to transcend the human way once and for all through radical self-transmutation, and to enter into the ever-dynamic Way of God.
Religion, however mighty it may be, is not and cannot be the message of India. Her message is Self-realisation. The perfect truth of India’s religion lies in its outer and inner realisation of the One that is, of the One that is in the process of becoming.
There is no more than a hyphen between the Vision of the Vedic seers and the soul of India, and between India’s spirituality and the final spiritual liberation of the world.
Today’s India is poverty-stricken. But tomorrow’s India will be prosperous. She will be a mighty wave of hope and faith. Her very thought will be stirred with a new vision. Infinite will be the possibilities on her horizon. Her sacrifice will build a more durable foundation for mankind. She will contain within herself nationalism and internationalism, becoming the true symbol of spirituality in action. India, with her spiritual power, will wield a tremendous influence on future generations. India and India alone is the nerve centre of the aspiring world.
India is the vault of an ancient, eternal wisdom that has a universal appeal. She is also the universal reserve bank of an ever-growing wisdom, and she is destined to be the hub and dynamo of world transformation. India’s strength is not in her arms, but in her heart.
She tells the world that the realisation of unity is the only strength which can conquer the world.
In the later periods of India’s history, the saints and seers came to feel that the material life and the spiritual life could never go together, that they had to renounce the outer life in order to attain God. Hence, the external life was neglected. This led to foreign conquests and many other troubles. Even today, the attitude that material prosperity and beauty should be negated is very common in India. This accounts for much of her continued poverty.
But at present there are spiritual giants in India who feel that God should be realised in His totality, that Creator and creation are one and inseparable. They advocate the acceptance of life, the real need for both progress and perfection in all spheres of human existence. India may be poverty-stricken today, but she will progress quickly by virtue of her new awareness and her new aspiration. She has not only magnanimity of heart but also the power to bring her soul’s strength to the fore and use it to solve all her problems.
Modern India will always keep the spirituality that was born countless years ago. It is true that human beings have become ultra-modern, so they may not or cannot or do not want to be strict with their spiritual life. There are millions and millions of people not only living abroad but also in India itself who do not care for self-discipline. So in that sense you can say there is not the same degree of self-discipline as there was before. But when we are speaking of real spirituality, there is no difference between ancient spirituality and modern spirituality; spirituality in its pristine beauty will always remain the same whether it is found in the ancient world or in the modern world.
She had always been moved and deeply touched by Sri Chinmoy’s comments about the spiritual value of giving, and at some heartfelt and intuitive level felt that she really understood what this meant and how it worked in that preternatural inner world where everything connected, the giving that enabled receiving, of love deepened by desirelessness, the happiness she had known in penury, and how gratitude attracted grace and humility won power, the polarities and opposites all interwoven, the paradoxes untangled and resolved. So for many years she practiced non-attachment, made a point of giving away as much of what little was hers, especially the things she most cherished. Like the splendidly serene stone image from that roadside stall in Asia, which more than anything she had ever seen embodied the feeling and flavor of enlightenment, its utter detachment and unshakeable calm.
When she held it in her palms, the partly open eyes watching her but withdrawn within, it comforted her, it was her own future Self. It lay at the heart of her life and summoned some intimation of her own final purpose, that freedom which was the only thing that had ever really interested her in the endless verisimilitude of life. The cold yellow stone warmed her heart, its meditative half smile soothing, hushing the mind – its composure was eloquent and breathtaking and beautiful. Only her own guru had surpassed this image – she recognized in her smiling teacher that even greater attainment that cannot be described or grasped …its orbit from the familiar earth too far away to understand.
Till one day even this she gave away, a gift to someone she really cared for. When it had gone – there was only the pale mark on her shrine where it had sat – she knew that she had gathered it even more closely into her heart and that the act of giving it away had brought it closer, its consciousness now a part of her. The carved yellow river stone smiled through her eyes, meditated in the dawn stillness, watched peacefully her own unfolding life, and her life ending. The enlightenment stone was the last thing my wife Subarata ever gave away before her passing.
I went for a long run early on a Sunday morning, partly to have some time out and also to sort out some of my life’s issues.
On my way back from my run I saw a seagull on the tidal flats of Mangere harbour with a plastic bag around its wings. I climbed down on to the estuary to help it but it kept flying away – but the more the seagull tried to get away from the bag, the more wet and muddy and crippling the bag became. Soon the gull could hardly fly or move at all.
I saw my chance and walked out onto the muddy flats, my legs disappearing up to my knees. As I got closer, the tired entangled gull would try to move away, determinedly dragging its bedraggled self forward and I with equal determination pulling my limbs through the mud toward it. Eventually I flung myself forward and managed to grab the end of the bag, toppling face down in the mud.
I carefully held its head and gently unwrapped the bag. The gull was just a young one with juvenile brown feathers – the other older gulls were watching intently. Finally the gull was freed and flew back to its flock and I made my way back to the shore, looking like some sort of mud monster from a horror film. Lots of stares and comments as I ran back home through the streets of a busy shopping centre.
As I ran back home I thought how much me and my problems were like the gull and its plastic bag. I was trying to get away from this thing on my own back, never realizing how attached to it I was, how entangled and immobilized by negative thoughts and emotions. Like the gull evading its rescuer and going out into the muddy waters of the tide, my own mind was turning away from the things that would really help me.
I have been a student of meditation for 12 years now and I still have times, though fewer and farther between, when my mind gets caught in negative traps. Over the years I have learnt ways to avoid getting caught in these mental ‘plastic bags’ and to simply watch them float by, unaffected. I have learnt how to quieten the mind and connect with a wiser part of myself, with my spiritual heart.
My meditation has brought me many benefits – a more peaceful, healthy, dynamic life; a deepening connection with a compassionate and loving God; a growing inner happiness. And although, like the seagull, I might at first want to turn away and hide from God when I am in difficulty, I am always in awe at how quickly my wings become untangled and I am free to once again fly in the deeper wisdom of my heart.
In this analogy it humored me that as rescuer of the gull I was playing the role of God. Then I thought to myself – ‘who rescued who?’ The gull was reminding me of an important lesson – and was God in fact playing a little game with us?
How ironic that I had to wade through a sea of mud to see things more clearly!
Pip Speedy (Auckland)
Pip is a teacher at Golden Grove Primary, a new and vibrant Montessori school in Onehunga. She is also a keen and talented actor, runner and race walker. She often volunteers her time to work as a clown at children’s events to help fund the free meditation class programme offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. Photo of Pip is taken from a recent World Harmony Run in New Zealand.