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

It is the heart that is important

My Monday tips for my team this time were taken from a talk I’d given on one of my recent Buddhist discussion meetings. It was the concept of: ‘It is the heart that is important’. Happiness (the real, everlasting kind) doesn’t work outside-in; it works inside-out. So we need to work on our inner life state and on ‘polishing our hearts’.

To make it easy to remember, I had divided this concept into five parts, each of which corresponds with a letter in HEART. (A lot of this material is directly from Buddhist literature; I have simplified it.)

H stands for Happiness

Why is that, in the same situation, one person responds vibrantly while another grumbles? It is because happiness is an internal condition, something we feel in our hearts. Happiness is not found in ‘stuff’, nor does it matter how rich and famous you are. There are lots of people who do have these things but are still unhappy. And such external circumstances are changeable and impermanent; no one knows how long they will last. So the aim is to have an ‘unshakeable inner state of happiness’, one that nothing can destroy. One that nobody can violate. That’s what we have to work towards.

Our happiness is our own responsibility. There is no knight in shining armour who will come and hand it to us. We have to work on it every day, bit by bit. Do one thing every day that makes you happy. Spend time on yourself. Contribute to making a better world. Joy is in us; we just need to unleash it.

E is for Eternity

Eternity refers to the Buddhist concept of reincarnation. As Indians, we are all pretty familiar with this ancient theory that says our lives do not end with our current experience of it. Our thoughts, words and deeds are our karma all put together, and as we sow, so we reap. The aim to live life with such faith and joy that even at the time of death, one can say with a heartfelt smile: “What a wonderful life that was! Now, where shall I go next?”

A vast universe exists in our hearts, in our lives. But most of us invest time and effort only on enriching our current material reality, and just not enough on our spiritual practice. I once read a quote by Neale Donald Walsch that said, “Earthly possessions are not what you came here to gather. Do not worry about your earthly possessions. Place your attention on your heavenly goal–the evolution of your soul–and you will find peace even while on earth.”

A is for Attitude

Faith is not just a matter of praying or meditating a certain number of minutes a day. It is also a matter of our heart, or the attitude with which we live every aspect of our lives. The attitude in the depths of our being determines everything. Whether we are happy or wind up in a state of suffering, everything is the exact result of our attitude. What’s in our heart is communicated to the universe.

When we do something, do we approach it with a negative attitude – grumbling, “Oh, not again! I hate this!” – or a positive attitude, telling ourselves brightly, “All right, here’s a fresh opportunity to grow and learn!”?

This subtle difference in attitude can make a huge difference in our lives. It can change things 180 degrees. A proverb says, “Do not complain that the rosebush has thorns but rejoice that the thornbush has roses.” Our perception changes our reality.

R is for Radiance

‘I have decided to shine bright; it does not matter how dark the room is,’ says the candle. When we light up our hearts, we simultaneously light up our families, our societies and the land that we live in. No one is immune to life’s problems. The storms of karma appear in many unexpected ways – as problems at home, at work, with our children and so on. But every time we overcome a challenge, we change our destiny and that of our loved ones. Precisely when things are tough, that’s the time to encourage those around you with a bright smile. If the situation seems hopeless, create hope. Don’t depend on others. Ignite the flame of hope within your own heart.

When our hearts shine like the sun, everything seems to shine brightly. Rather, we can make everything shine. When we ourselves become the sun, all shadows disappear.

T is for Transformation

Until we do not feel a shift within ourselves, we have not progressed, really. Can we look back at our life and say, “Wow, I’ve come a long way”, or do we feel that we’re stuck where we were decades ago? That’s where the concept of transformation comes in. When our life state changes, the world around us changes. There’s a quote by Daisaku Ikeda that goes: “When the fundamental engine of our ‘one mind’ – our inner attitude or resolve – starts running, the gears of all phenomena of the 3000 realms are set into motion. Everything starts to change. We move in a bright and positive direction.” Like a bud blooming into a flower, a seed into a tree, and a caterpillar into a butterfly, transformation is the essence of progress.

H. E. A. R. T. It is the heart that is important.

Seeking God

When you’re fragile and you know it

So it has been a while since I have been having a good time — I gave up a nasty, silly job this summer and then went about reading, writing, editing, setting up websites, sleeping, eating, spending time with the family, not worrying about money, making enough money… in short, living my idea of a great life.

But then I became too comfortable. I gave up on my spiritual practice — in fact, all of them. I took up a great new job. I slunk into the cocoon of material life and began to thrive in all the pleasures it had to offer, all the colourful distractions the gurus called ‘maya’.

Last week then, God sent me a wakeup call.

My husband had been reporting a story from the heart of Naxalite country, Bastar, in the state of Chhatisgarh. I knew of course that he was going into dangerous territory but his confidence rubbed off on me and I assumed nothing could go wrong.

Two days into his trip, his phone was unreachable. I didn’t panic. It was a rural area without signals or much development, after all.

Then, about 22 hours after our last conversation, I happened to see his inbox on my computer; what struck me immediately was that he had not checked email for almost 20 hours. It was very unlike him and, suddenly, alarm bells went off in my head. I called up his senior colleague, who assured me that all was fine. They were in a no-coverage area for the night. It was okay, it was expected.

But something had snapped inside me by then. I was wracked with fear and paranoia. I broke down crying, until that voice in my head spoke to me after a long time. It said, “Where’s your faith, then? Is this how fragile you are?”

It also reminded me: “Isn’t this what life is about? One minute, everything is hunky-dory, and the next minute, everything has fallen apart. Don’t you know this already? That life is all about change? Aniccha — it is all impermanent?”

My sobs took on a jerky rhythm of abject guilt and remorse. Fear for my husband’s wellbeing was overwritten by an enormous sense of loss of religion. Where was my faith, indeed? At one point in my life, when everything around me had shattered to pieces, it was my faith that had kept burning unbeatable like an Olympic flame. And now, when everything around me was rosy and perfect, the slightest bit of bad news had sent me weeping and wailing to the gods. What had I done to myself?

I spent close to an hour crying and chanting simultaneously in front of my Gohonzon, dusty for lack of use, but as welcoming as ever. A few days later I met and hugged two important people in my life who have faced great personal loss and unimaginable grief but who did not give up on their spiritual practice. If anything, their loss had fed their faith. They inspired me.

I have now resolved to return to all things God, including this blog. (She has a dramatic way of reminding you of Her presence, doesn’t She?) And so the seeker returns.

PS: The husband was fine. We spoke the next morning and promptly had a marital argument. All’s well that end’s well. 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

Three lessons

Last weekend, I found myself in not one but three different spiritual study classes. Here are selected notes:

Divinity 24/7: The first one I attended was a satsang at an amazing place in the middle of nowhere called the Temple of Inspiration. Peopled by smiling, silent, everyday folks with halos around their heads, the prayers, meditation and study lecture by an awesome doctor there left me with much peace for the whole week. A lasting lesson that stayed with me was when, after her talk about Kriya Yoga, the doctor responded to a query by the lady sitting next to me, who happened to share my name. “How do we keep our divine connection alive 24/7 despite hectic, busy lives?” my namesake asked.

The doctor replied with a question, her eyes closed: “Do you have to make any effort to be the mother of your child?”

Silence.

She continued: “You know it in every cell of your body. It is a deep and all-encompassing knowing that you are the mother of your child. In the same way, when your connection to divinity becomes a deep and all-encompassing knowing in every cell of your body, you will be connected 24/7. There will be no effort required.”

Oh mother: The second talk I attended was at my local Buddhist group, where a group of women’s division members were talking about lessons from a book by Daisaku Ikeda. Just before I had left for this meeting, I’d mourned on the phone to my dad: “I’m so caught up in life’s daily grind, I fear I am not spending enough time on my spiritual growth.”

At this meeting, God answered me through the group’s senior, who suddenly diverted from the topic at hand to say: “As women, wives and mothers, we’re constantly running about fulfilling our various roles. We get caught in the whirlwind of daily activities and go round and round, faster and faster, till it becomes impossible to get out. But we must.”

I stared so hard at her, she intuitively looked me straight in the face and asked, “Would you like to say something?”

“Yes. That’s what I needed to hear. How do we break out of the whirlwind?” I wondered aloud.

“If the whirlwind is leading to growth, there is no problem. But most times for working moms like us, it isn’t. You need to make a special effort initially to invest in your spiritual growth. But soon you will notice that everything else becomes easier, life becomes vaster, fresh energy flows into all the different areas of your life. It is worth it,” she twinkled at me.

Through all of the following week, I noticed.

Non-violent battles: The third talk I attended was a Gita lecture at the Aurobindo Ashram. Our teacher talked about why it’s important to have our sattvic tendencies control our raajsic and taamsic tendencies. “You do not have to completely suppress your negative taamsic emotions or raajsic desires (for then they only lay low until the moment is right for them to exert themselves), but you must control them through your sattvic qualities. Sattvic values are those pertaining to peace, balance, love, compassion, harmony, santulan.”

Preoccupied with events from my life, I asked, “But if we must operate from our sattvic values alone, then how does one stand up to a bully, for example? Isn’t some kind of aggression required sometimes?”

Our teacher removed his glasses before replying, “The entire Gita is about Krishna urging Arjuna to fight a battle that goes against his peaceful tendencies. Operating from your sattvic state does not mean suffering injustice. On the contrary, you have to fight it, it is your duty, said Krishna to Arjuna. The key is to do it without attachment to the reward, to do it not out of malice but out of neutrality and non-attachment to ego. If you must fight, do not fight with your anger or pride. Fight with fearlessness, detachment.”

***

Last weekend I took three steps towards God. And God sent three thousand love notes to guide me.