Jogyata Dallas for IndiaNZ Outlook catches up with Shishir Pauk, a popular Canadian meditation teacher offering a four evening free workshop at the Gandhi Hall in Auckland, plus further free courses in Wellington and Christchurch. The two met up recently in Indonesia at a Sri Chinmoy Centre conference, and just prior to Shishir’s New Zealand visit.
Is life mysterious to you, is there a hidden purpose?
Shishir: Perhaps one of the first mysteries of life is that we don’t even know who we really are. We think of ourselves in such finite terms, as mind, personality, body, profession. But we are essentially spiritual beings trying to rediscover and remember our true identity, find the freedom and happiness of our deeper selves. We are like eternal travellers, life after life, trying to find our way home. Each incarnation is like a chapter in the book of our soul’s long journey of awakening, the quest for ‘yoga’, which is union with God.
The writings of all the great sages and pathfinders over the centuries share many ideas and truths, but a belief in the wisdom and beauty of the immortal human soul is a recurring one. So too the belief that the more we listen to our soul, the more our outer life will prosper and find happiness.
But the soul seems a mystery to most people.
Yes, but this is why meditation is so important. It is in the silence and stillness of meditation that the wisdom and individual purpose of the soul can most easily be felt and experienced. Sri Chinmoy called the soul our ‘inner pilot’, adding that each soul is unique and precious, a special ‘dream of God’.
What does ‘happiness’ mean to you?
To me, happiness is essentially an inner accomplishment, a freedom from the shadows in our nature – ignorance, loneliness, fear, anger, desire, attachment and so forth. We are brought up to look for happiness in the outer things, in relationships, money, travel, children, success, and though these are a legitimate part of life they are not lasting or certain. The teachings of Buddhism, for example, are based upon this impermanence. Real happiness is an inner achievement, freedom from desire, equanimity, inner peace in the face of life’s endless challenges, and God-reliance. We can have all the outer things too, but this inner achievement will be there when one by one the outer things fail us and disappear. Renunciation does not mean living in poverty, it only means an inner non-attachment. If you have these outer things you can be happy, but if they are lost, you can still be happy.
Religion seems to be in decline, does this trouble you?
No. If religion is waning, there is an unmistakable and widening interest in spirituality. The old structures of ritual and belief are simply renewing themselves into new forms. But the sap is still flowing through the tree. Even the neo-atheism evident in the publications you see today in bookshops seems trivial, a kind of irreligious fundamentalism that can’t survive the incoming tide of spiritual awakening.
And trying to contain the mysteries of the cosmos, the boundlessness, unknowableness of God within the tiny cage of the human brain is inherently flawed. It shows a critical shortage of humility – the awareness of how little is our elfin understanding of everything. Science itself is still a juvenile, barely out of evolutionary kindergarten. Atheistic reasoning also disregards all the other aspects of human knowing, other forms of non-mind knowledge and perception that are usually undervalued. And disregards the wisdom of the greatest luminaries, the most impressive human souls ever to walk this planet! Einstein very nicely wrote “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility towards the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.”
It might also be argued that God-love is one of the highest expressions of intelligence since it exhibits a rare ability to see past the painted veil of ‘reality’ to the very heart of Truth and Reality, the true nature of things.
I understand that Sri Chinmoy was a great bhakti yogi, a devout God-lover?
Yes, absolutely. And I think one of his truly remarkable achievements was to make God an absolutely living reality for so many of us. For his disciples Sri Chinmoy’s own intimacy with God was so obvious and compelling, his deference to God in everything he did so moving, and the godliness that he himself embodied so utterly beautiful that he quietly shunted – at least in my case – three prior decades of agnosticism into the waste basket.
Historically it seems that spiritual masters have always had to endure a lot.
Yes, all the way down through history – and not just the spiritual masters but great souls in every walk of life. Mandela spent 27 years in jail, Gorbachev is still blamed and reviled by many in Russia for their woes, Christ was nailed to a cross, Kennedy and Gandhi were killed…the list of assassinations and the bigotry and ignorance that confronted these luminaries is endless. Swami Vivekananda – he was Sri Ramakrishna’s closest disciple – used to say about the persecution of both himself and his guru: “When the elephant goes to market, the dogs come out and bark…”. The dogs have always come out to yap at their heels!
‘Mindfulness’ is a big topic now and turning up everywhere…
Yes, it’s all good, but we need to go much further and much deeper within. One day we’ll be talking about ‘soulfulness’, the ability in meditation to go past the boundaries of the mind into a wider realm of consciousness. The soul is like a blazing sun compared to the little mind, which only reflects the light of the soul – like the moon reflecting the light of the sun. Body, mind, heart and soul are like sisters in a family – the soul is the eldest and wisest, but somehow the mind has become the boss, an often unillumined one!
What is the main role of a Teacher or Guru?
They remind us of our life’s deepest purpose, the reason we are here – which is to find lasting happiness and to realize God. They make God a dear and intimate confidante, one to whom we pray, open our hearts, share our secret thoughts and our worst mistakes. Whether living or passed from this earth, they are all still here and accessible wherever there is sincerity and aspiration, devotion or belief.
Spiritual literature down through the ages is filled with their profundities, inspiratioal quotes that thrill the soul, the uncompromising and life-changing utterances of great sages and Masters. They are so powerful as to sweep aside an entire lifetime of cultural indoctrination – that tragic and ill fated love affair with worldliness that we are so immersed in from cradle rock to last breath. The masters have always had that effect in our lives – a reality check, bringing us back on course, reminding us what it’s really all about. In a world of enchanting distractions, a culture steeped in material ambitions that suffocate the spirit, how lucky we all are to have these exemplars, pointing the way home.