Seeking God

Fundamental darkness

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I wrote here. Surprisingly, it has also been a time that my spiritual life has been rich and vibrant, with plenty of reading, discussing and assimilating going on. But how difficult it is to apply all that knowledge!

A term that I have been wrestling with, and which comes up every day these days, is ‘fundamental darkness’. It is used in Nichiren Buddhism to represent all those fears, insecurities, and emotional demons that reside inside us and keep pulling us down whenever we try to rise above them.

To fight these demons, I pray, I work and write, I read a lot of spiritual literature, and inspire myself every day to keep my head up. I collect quotes like this one:

Quote-20.jpg

And yet, day after day, morning after morning, despite everything else being so fine in my life, I wake up with a sense of insecurity and dread. On some days I feel like the brave Arjuna in the Mahabharata who demands that Krishna be by his side as he sets out on his life’s mission. On most others, though, I feel like his enemy-cousin Duryodhana, who says:

I know what is right, but I don’t have the strength to do it.
I know what is wrong, but I don’t have the will to resist it.

The spiritual journey is surely a difficult one! Most of the time, it feels like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back. The more aware I become of my mental demons, the more helpless and dejected I feel in their absolute control over me. It’s like a surgeon operating a mole on the skin, only to discover a network of malignant tumours underneath.

The best thing to do — I can say from my layman’s experience — is to just DO. There is no substitute for action taken in the right direction – whether it’s a vibrant round of chanting or a determined long session of writing at the computer or a visit to a friend who needs a shoulder to lean on. Even if I’m at a very low point inside my head, I refuse to let my demons paralyze me and hold me back from taking affirmative action, even if it’s just a little bit at a time. I must keep operating.

The best we can do is to do our best in the present moment.

Seeking God

Take my breath away

Winters are usually a big bother for me in terms of health — I’m sneezing, sniffing and wheezing most of the time. No doubt Delhi’s pollution + cold = bad time for asthmatics, but even without the asthma, I am generally down in the dumps all through.

Couple of weeks ago, I was grumbling to hubby that I’m sick of being sick all the time and just want to be able to breathe normally through my nose… was that too much to ask? In response, the March issue of Aurobindo Ashram’s newsletter landed up in my mail with the title, ‘Cure of Illness’. I learnt two important things from The Mother over the next couple of days of repeated reading:

1. Illness exists to call your attention to something. That is fine. But do not have a morbid obsession about your illness for then you only make it worse. Let it be there and do its job. In the meantime, you do yours.

2. Doing your job means following your mission and your passion. At all times, keep your focus on these. If you have to obsess about something, obsess about these, not your illness. The illness will take care of itself, and in most cases, it will become far more bearable or may just even come to an end.

I loved this advice so much, I put it to practice immediately. I have now stopped thinking about my blocked nose and asthma attacks. Instead, I focus on giving my best to my home and family (my missions), books and work (my passions). Whenever I do have a bout of breathlessness, I take it as a cue to sit down and chant Om. And I don’t know if it’s because of the better weather we’ve had in Delhi or my new mission-focused frame of mind, but my health issues are 90% better in just two weeks. (I threw out my nasal spray yesterday.) You MUST try this if you’re suffering from a chronic health issue.

***

My daughter gave her last board exam today, which means she’s done with school and is setting off on a new phase of life. I have mixed feelings — on one hand, we wait for our kids to grow up, and when they do, we want them to go back to being kids. Childhood looks simple once you’re done with it.

Tonight both the kids are out at end-of-term parties and I’m feeling the beginning of the empty-nest syndrome already (though there are some years left). But it’s not so bad. I have my man and my books and my dogs and my blog. I’ve made peace with the peace a long time ago. It’s familiar territory.

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A beautiful, breathtaking quote by Sri Ramana Maharshi to sign off tonight:

“That in which all these worlds seem to exist steadily, that of which all these worlds are a possession, that from which all these worlds rise, that for which all these exist, that by which all these worlds come into existence, and that which is indeed all these — that alone is the existing reality. Let us cherish that Self, which is the reality, in the Heart.”

Finding God

Beliefs that serve me

I’ve started a new weekly exercise at my workplace. Every Monday, I share with my team 5 tips on living life to the fullest. The idea is to pass on whatever little knowledge I have before I die. Surprisingly, my team is very receptive and eager for these sessions. It is deeply fulfilling for me and I thank God every day for the opportunity.

This past Monday I shared 5 beliefs I have imbibed over the years that have served me.

1. There is enough for everyone: Contrary to what the corporate world makes things out to be, there really is room for everyone to be a true leader. If we operate from a mindset of ‘there can only be one man for the top job’, well, we’re always going to fight and jostle for our space in the universe. The minute I adopted this belief 5 years ago, the universe actually CREATED new positions for me to occupy. I no longer had to apply for a job. It was created for me by the forces that be.

2. People are good: We’re often brought up to distrust strangers or told that some people are good and others are bad. But one belief that has served me is that all people are inherently good, and if they do commit behaviours that are perceived as ‘bad’, it is because they crave something – love, attention, acceptance, power, whatever – or because they’ve been indoctrinated that way. I truly believe that, given the choice, humans gravitate towards the light. This belief helps me see the good in just about everyone, and this further helps me bring out the best from them. It also keeps me happy and at peace since I do not doubt people’s intentions.

3. Everyone is right: My dad once said this to me when I was a kid and, later, when I grew up, I understood what he really meant. Every human being takes actions that his or her subconscious dictates as the best option for survival at that moment. In other words, if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you too would do exactly the same deed at that same moment in the same situation as they did. So there’s no point judging others as wrong and yourself as right. This belief has served me in arguing less and accepting others more. I do not hold grudges for long.

4. The universe is a benevolent place: Over the past many years, I have come to believe this deep in my heart that no matter what happens, I am protected, I am safe, that this life is not all there is, and that there is more to existence than existence. I have come to believe that I am deeply loved by my Creator and that no matter how bad things may look, they are really only less than a blip on the radar of the mighty universe. And that, eventually, whatever happens is going to be for my good. This belief helps me bounce back from setbacks time and again, and to be resilient in the face of sorrow.

5. We can only defeat darkness by turning on the light: By constantly focusing on the negative around us, by reporting only negative news day after day, we only create more darkness. What we need to focus on is the light. Once the light is turned on, the darkness automatically goes away. This applies to just about everything: let us publish more positive news instead of negative; let us work on our strengths instead of cribbing about our weaknesses; let us focus on our mission in life instead of whining about little obstacles on the way.

With gratitude. Hari Om.

Seeking God

Exam time

I’m sitting for an exam these days; not because I attach any particular value to collecting certificates but because I love attending classes.

This is an exam on the study of Nichiren Buddhism. I attended a lecture at someone’s home recently; they’ve converted their basement into a prayer hall (excellent way of generating good karma, I say). Our teacher was elaborating the concept of ‘myoho’. It has a couple of meanings, he said.

The first is the relationship between myo (cause) and ho (effect). Buddhism counts karma as thoughts, words and action (not just action) so just about every thought that flits across your mindspace works as a cause that is bound to have an effect. Which is why it’s important to learn to control our thoughts — words and actions will follow.

The second is the relationship between myo our internal life condition and ho, the external environment. This is a very interesting idea. It says that our external reality is a reflection of our inner reality — based on what we think and are, we actually create our external circumstances. “It’s not the other way around, it’s not ho-myo,” said the teacher, his arms flailing about and his comically disapproving expression drawing laughter from the 40-strong audience. Our perspective creates our world. Our challenges and issues are a result of our own beliefs and obsessions. If we wish to see our physical world change, we have to change our inner one.

So when things happen — and especially when things happen again — the idea is not to curse God, nature, your neighbour’s son, your mother-in-law, your husband, your wife, your child, your mom, the stock market, the weather. The idea is to look within and see what has created this pattern in your life. Why is this or that happening to you? What is it that you need to change within yourself?

It could be something big and obvious — like an addiction, a tendency to violence, an angry temperament. But in most probability, it would be something subtle — a latent disrespect towards a form of life; an age-old fear you are no longer aware of; a suppressed emotion; a wayward wish for destruction of the self or the other.

When things happen — as they are wont to do — it won’t help to look at what the other person has done to you. That’s their karma. Your karma is what you think and do. That’s all the limit of your responsibility. And yet, it often takes us a lifetime to figure that out.

While the teacher went on in that fascinating, animated way of his, a low human wail began outside of the room, just up the stairs. It was an older person, perhaps specially abled. The sound seeped deep into our hall, raising goosebumps on our arms. A couple of women clucked disapprovingly, looking around with exasperation, tch tching at no one in particular.

The rest of us focused even further on the teacher, our attention taut as if we were determined to squeeze out every last bit of juice from his words. The more the old person wailed, the more waves of compassion and gratitude went up the room. It was an exam of the more lasting sort — it was not our knowledge but our faith and empathy that were being tested here.

We create our environment, after all.

Seeking God

Application of knowledge

Decades ago, when my dad had just completed his engineering degree — the highest level of education that anyone had ever achieved in his family back then — he used to be a chubby young man.

One afternoon, at home in Delhi after years away in hostel, he was lying side by side chatting with his mom on her bed. My grandmother was a graceful woman all through her life; she never raised her voice. Mostly dressed in white saris paired with pearls, there was an air of ethereal calm about her. Even when she disapproved of something you did, she expressed it softly, regally, so that you yearned to earn her approval in future.

While having this conversation, my father recalls the topic veering to his weight. In her typical gentle fashion, his mother said, “What is the point of all your education, son, if you cannot even master control over your body?”

Moved to action, my father lost several kilos and made sure his weight stayed in the normal range — where he continues to be five decades later.

At one of the study lectures I attended, the teacher talked about the ‘application of knowledge’, over and above the acquisition of it.

She likened it to having two separate bank accounts. “You are born with a certain amount of ‘loan’ from the universe; call it past karma or debts to be paid. Let’s say this amount is Rupees 50,000. Now, once you find a guru, begin on your path of self-discovery, and start acquiring wisdom, this is like earning money in another account. Let’s say you earn Rupees 70,000 in this account.”

To all appearances, she continued, it appears as if the knowledge / wisdom you have earned would cancel your debts. “But this is not automatic,” she went on. “If you do not make a conscious effort to take the money from one bank to the other, your debts stay right there. In other words, you have to work on your karmic weaknesses using the knowledge you have acquired. Otherwise, your knowledge merely turns into arrogance and you don’t progress on the path to enlightenment.”

How do we know what our karmic debts are? “Look at your habits. They are a sign of your karmic tendencies. The good habits are to be strengthened. The bad habits are symptoms of old karmic weaknesses (such as lack of self-love). Use your knowledge to attack those tendencies. Only then can you say the debts have been cleared.”

Nearly 50 years ago, my angelic grandmother advised my father to use his education to fix his negative tendencies. On Fathers Day 2014, I am inspired to do the same.

Immersing yourself in knowledge is a wondrous gift; but using it to shine the sharp torchlight of awareness on your own soul is a priceless blessing. Let us start counting ours.

Seeking God

We got a drooling kinda love

I have been reading a lot lately, and one of the books I read extolled the virtues of meditation (not that I was difficult to convince). So I sat down the very next morning at 4.30 am to enjoy 30 minutes of silence while everyone was asleep.

Surprise, surprise. It was a cacophony in my head. Doesn’t matter how quiet the house is, I realised, when the space between the ears is noisy.

Still, I forgave myself since it was day one of meditation after a very long time, and tried again the next morning. This time, I didn’t make it past even a few minutes, so difficult was it to sit still. I became so disillusioned, in fact, that I gave up meditation completely.

Today, though, my perspective shifted.

Doggy love: When it comes to living in the moment, you gotta hand it to dogs. They probably pioneered the concept. If I leave home even for 30 seconds to go get something from the car, they jump all over me as if they’re seeing me after years. When I come out of the shower every morning, they drool all over my feet in happiness to have me back after a mighty long time, unconcerned that — hello?! — I’ve just washed myself squeaky clean. If I scold them for barking too much from the balcony at the neighbourhood strays, they put their heads down for precisely three seconds before they’re wagging their tails and expecting me to do something exciting (like tickling their ears) instead.

They’re never sad for long; they never hold grudges; they are quick to forgive and always ready to receive adoration. There’s no ego or shame or pride in their relationships. It’s just pure, unadulterated, unconditional LOVE ME RIGHT THERE BABY.

Why yoga: Then today, at my Gita class, the topic came up about Krishna extolling yoga as the path to achieving Him (or enlightenment). The teacher elaborated that one of the key lessons in the tome is: “All of life is yoga. There is no part of it that is more or less important than others. Everything that happens, all activities, all relationships, all events, can be used for yoga.”

In other words, yes, yoga is the path. But whatever path you are on is also yoga.

I considered my sweet dogs and their mindfulness meditation of being 100 per cent present in every moment of their lives. I considered my restlessness as I sat down to meditate in the silent darkness a few days ago. I looked at my cravings, my habits, my fears that drew me in directions I didn’t really want to go any more. I dwelt on the changing landscape of my desires, always wanting something more, always seeking something new, always in a state of flux.

And I thought to Krishna, “This, too, is my path, isn’t it?” All these colours, too, are what life wants to paint through me.

My dreams, at the moment, have got drool all over them. I can mourn the mess, or I can use this opportunity to turn yikes to yoga, and tickle Life’s ears back.

Love me right there baby.