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:


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.

Finding God

Not alone

Someone recently told me, “It’s very brave of you to be able to bring up two daughters single-handedly in a city like Delhi.”

But I have never felt ‘single-handed’. I’ve felt overworked, yes, tired, exhausted, worn out and any other synonyms you can come up with. I’ve felt physically incapable of juggling all the ‘work’ thrust upon me — by my own choices, I must add. I’ve felt 24 hours just aren’t enough to get everything done, and I have struggled with letting go of certain things in order to make space for others (laundry instead of dusting, bank visits instead of buying fruits, you get the idea). I’ve outsourced as much work as possible, and stopped imagining even in my fondest dreams that my house will look as spanking clean as my mother’s. I have given up on the idea of being superwoman; my choices have made me acutely aware of my limits.

But I have never felt ‘single-handed’. I was introduced to Buddhism at the age of 30, and that is the period of my life I call ‘the opening of the eyes’, which is coincidentally (or not) a chapter in Nichiren Daishonin’s Gosho. At that point, despite my ‘amateur spirituality’ and metaphorical blindness, there was an instant connection with… how should I put it… the Universe (I was too green to call it God then). There was an immediate sense of ‘oneness’ with the forces of Life, a sense of being part of something much larger than I was. As if someone had opened a door and I could suddenly see this truth. Even if my eyes were squinting and blinking in this bright light, I could sense I was in the ‘right place’. Finally.

It is only after this ‘awakening’ of sorts that I was able to put an end to an already dead marriage. So being ‘single-handed’ was never a feeling I have had to deal with. I was able to take on the weight of life as a single mother only because I had the comfort and knowledge of a much larger force carrying all of us along.

Many women my age, in difficult marriages or otherwise similar situations, ask me how I found the courage to take all those steps, how I managed to handle a difficult job along with all the social mountains and this heavy burden of bringing up two kids in a heartless city. I tell them I didn’t find the courage, the courage found me. The minute I embraced my spiritual practice with surrender and devotion, a tsunami of chance happenings, miracles and inexplicable blessings poured forth on me, carrying me along a wave of unimaginable change.

I can almost say I had nothing to do with all of this, I only had to allow nature to take its course in the truest sense. Being a single mother doesn’t have to mean being alone and unsupported.

How can I feel single-handed when I’m sitting atop the innumerable hands of God?

Seeking God

A divine journey

I read this excellent post on Tiny Buddha a couple of days ago, and it was so brilliant that I dwelled on it for hours later.

The crux of what the author Brad Alexander says is: Once you achieve a significant goal, you will not be the same person you were when you set out on the journey. The process of achieving your goal and the experience you have gained will have changed you. This is why the journey is the reward.

The concept completely resonated with me and I was instantly able to look back and see how my journeys had changed me, in ways more meaningful than even arriving at the destination:

From darkness to light: Before I was introduced to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, I lived, what I call now, a blind existence. Unaware of the true nature of things, I believed in the shadows, created monsters out of wisps and mountains out of mistaken identities. In the journey to growing spiritual awareness, I became: (a) More compassionate towards myself and others. (b) Introspective in a healthy way, able to look at myself with kindness and objectivity. (c) Happier and more at peace with the world. (d) Comfortable with the silence, once my enemy but now my greatest source of divine strength.

From powerless to powerful: One of the greatest material shifts in my life has been my journey from being an unhappy, stifled homemaker to a working woman with, I am grateful to say, a fulfilling career. In the process, I was able to: (a) Apply and develop various inherent talents and skills. (b) Learn several more. (c) Teach them to others. (d) Reach out to a wider circle of influence, both through my workplace and through the publications I worked with. (e) Apply my still-growing wisdom and spiritual knowledge in real-time situations. (f) Develop a deep, unshakeable level of confidence in myself and in a sense of divine protection. (g) Feel more and more gratitude for the various gifts and blessings this job has endowed me with.

From stifled to free: Another momentous journey in my life has been the one from being stuck in toxic relationships to being able to make my own choices and assert myself. This is not just about letting go of a marriage; it is also about mending and investing in other relationships that once used to be stifling and limiting for me. In the process I learnt: (a) That love and hate are sides of the same karmic relationship. It is very possible to love and hate the same person at different points in your life. Once you realise this, you take your hatreds a little less seriously, and your loves a little more gratefully. (b) Any relationship can be beautiful and precious; it depends on your perspective and the amount you have invested into it. (d) You get the benefits of love by giving it away, not by waiting for someone else to fulfill you. (d) It is possible, and sometimes necessary, to sever ties with someone and yet wish them the best of everything in your heart. (e) That your only true responsibility is to yourself and your own happiness. As long as you are happy, all relationships fall in place. Do what it takes to be happy, and let go of guilts and expectations.

While the present evaluation points of all these journeys (I can’t say ‘end results’ because they’re still in progress) are delightful and heavenly in themselves, the process of becoming a better person and developing a deeper understanding of the universe has been an immeasurably valuable gift. It makes me look at the next big journey I must take (to lose 20 kg, sigh) with a little more optimism than dread. Who knows what lessons and growth await me there?