Practical Spirituality – Introduction
(Fair warning: This series of article was born after some pretty nasty incidents that were reported in the news over the last couple of months. This would be of the very direct and no-holds barred kind of series. By the way, all opinions expressed in the articles are mine and my own.)
I am sure everyone would have heard (and probably seen the video courtesy of Sun TV) of Nithyananda and Ranjitha. No, these are not some yesteryear cinema stars. These two are just the most recent ‘famous personalities’ to be brought to disrepute by a hidden video camera, showing them in, let’s just say, compromising positions.
Were you were truly shocked upon hearing this news? Not me.
Did you also see the news item where the infamous ‘Amma Bhagavan’ – the one who named himself as ‘Kalki’ – and his ‘ashramites’ are indulging in some pretty weird stuff under drug induced frenzy?
Were you were truly shocked upon hearing this news? Not me.
(I just saw a news item again few days back which showed Mr. Nithyananda doing some odd ritual… seems like he is undergoing some ‘deep’ penance. What a show!! I really pity his ‘followers’.)
Here he goes… What is the relevance of this sleaze news item to the topic? Ambi is in rambling mode again.
Hear me out, will you?
There is another ‘famous one’ who is very market savvy, and in the guise of teaching people to live, he has made a good living himself, trying to involve in politics now and then. I was at a store last week where I saw a CD of lectures by this person. It was something about contradictions in the Bhagavad Gita. I was kind of amused, actually. Here is a person, who is ‘revered’ by oh-so-many, models himself as a spiritual teacher and yet instead of trying to teach the essence of Bhagavad Gita, he is trying to show himself to be scholarly and giving lectures on a topic which I have no doubt would simply confuse the people more.
Then, there are the VERY famous ones who actually let their followers claim them to be God himself (or sometimes they get followers by making that claim). They make statements like ‘not an ounce of dirt moves without me knowing it’ and create a mystic aura around themselves, make politicians and socialites kneel in front of them and project themselves to be the savior of the masses. It does not matter if such ‘Gods’ are confined to a wheelchair to be able to move around. The sad part is I get justifications for such a position saying ‘oh, it’s just the body. Swamiji is just acting his role in this jada (gross) world’.
The list of such people is only growing every day.
These swamis are no better than some of the fake missionaries who hold huge prayer meetings on the beach or an auditorium claiming to heal cancer and lame legs. And the more I look in to such matters, the more I am convinced that ‘most’ of the people go to such ‘famous swamis’ only for instant gratification… be it wealth, cure from a disease, or generally showing off to the world that they are also ‘spiritual’. The highest and most dangerous form of such gratification comes when you are told “You are God”. But a disclaimer follows: “You haven’t realized that yet. But I have. So worship me.” How ridiculous is that!! Well, to be fair, these are just a small but growing lot of ‘gurus’ who take advantage of the growing lack of knowledge amongst people, on what real spiritual life is.
Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 12, Chapter 2, Verse 4:
A person’s spiritual position will be ascertained merely according to external symbols, and on that same basis people will change from one spiritual order to the next. A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he does not earn a good living. And one who is very clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar.
Is this verse relevant here? Well, Canto 12 is titled as “The Age of Deterioration” and the chapter 2 is titled “The Symptoms of Kali Yuga”. Get the idea? In just 4 lines, this verse summarizes what we have been seeing for quite a while and what is getting more and more commonplace these days.
If someone wants to feed you poison, they will not give it for you to drink saying that it is poison. They will say it is nectar and by the time its true nature is revealed, the damage is done on you. It is even more dangerous if the person feeding you thinks the poison to be nectar. So, we need to be aware of what is conducive and what is not for spiritual well being. And for that, I have to do my fair duty in pointing out the poisons from the nectar, and justifying the distinctions. And this is exactly what I will try to address in this series.
I am aware that some people might get offended or feel irritated that I go against ‘established’ Gurus or some popular siddhantas. But that is just a small inconvenience compared to the satisfaction I gain by doing my part to disperse the knowledge which I have received by the mercy of my teachers.
The next article in this series will deal with very basic information on what is spirituality, what it does it take to actually understand spiritual science, what are the first steps that someone can take in getting on to the spiritual path. Of course, all of this will be from the perspective of the Vedic teachings.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Main Topics of Srimad Bhagavad Gita
In my previous article, I had concluded stating that if we want our understanding of the Bhagavad Gita to be perfect, one must understand it as Arjuna understood it. We now begin our journey through the vast ocean of knowledge that is the Bhagavad Gita.
There are five basic truths that Bhagavad Gita addresses
They are as below:
1. Īśvara – Supreme Lord, the supreme controller, the supreme soul
2. Jīvas – the living beings that are controlled, spirit souls.
3. Prakṛti – the material nature
4. Kāla – Time
5. Karma – Activity
Can anyone point the odd one out in the above? No? Well, it so happens that the Supreme Lord, the spirit souls, material nature as well as Time are all eternal. Karma, activity, is the only one which is temporary. (Amusing, isn’t it? It takes 4 eternal entities to create something that is temporary!)
Now, let’s see how these topics are addressed.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita establishes the superiority of Īśvara above everything else. And Lord Krishna is established as the Supreme Controller of everything that is there, throughout Gita. Krishna himself declares it in Chapter 10, verse 8:
ahaḿ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaḿ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māḿ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”
In fact, Arjuna understood this perfectly. And that is the reason why we should try to understand Bhagavad Gita in a submissive mood, as a devotee of Lord Krishna, accepting him as the Supreme God (even if just theoretically), because otherwise the import of his teachings will be lost. We will see this in detail when I start addressing the chapter contents later on.
Next in line come the Jīvas, the living entities or spirit souls. While the subject of Īśvara is dealt in detail only at a later stage, the subject of the spirit soul is dealt with by Krishna in Chapter 02, verses 11 to 31. It is explained in Bhagavad Gita, as well as by the Acharyas, that each of us is a spirit soul (atma), infinitesimal sparks that are qualitatively the same as Īśvara, God. But just as a water droplet from the ocean of water cannot compare to the ocean itself even though being qualitatively same, we cannot compare ourselves to God in any manner. We are subordinate to the Supreme Lord and as such do not have the capabilities attributed to him.
Then we come down to Prakṛti or material nature. Bhagavad Gita clearly establishes that material nature is completely controlled by the Supreme Lord.
In Chapter 09, verse 10, Krishna states this:
“This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.”
Previously, he also states in Chapter 07, verses 4 and 5:
bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaḿ mano buddhir eva ca
ahańkāra itīyaḿ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego — all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.”
apareyam itas tv anyāḿ
prakṛtiḿ viddhi me parām
yayedaḿ dhāryate jagat
“Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.”
Here, Krishna states that he is the Lord of the material nature and makes a clear distinction between himself and his energy. He also states that the living entities, the Jivas, are part of his superior energy whereas material nature is part of his inferior energy. Now, since the Jivas are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, they have the tendency of trying to lord over the material nature. The only problem is that they are not the Supreme Lord and hence cannot exercise full control over it.
While we stay on the topic of material nature, I wish to clarify an important point. What we are in, is part of material nature. It is real. But because material nature continually manifests and unmanifests itself under the effect of yet other energy of the Lord, Eternal Time, its manifestation is considered to be temporary. But its manifestation, this world and countless others, is never illusionary or false.
So, that brings us neatly to our next item: Time. Krishna mentions in Chapter 10, verse 30 that “kālaḥ kalayatām aham”, meaning “of the subduers I am Time”. As energy of the Supreme Lord, Time wears down everything. We see time only in relation to existence and movement in the material nature, whereas it does not have an end or a beginning. Since this is very difficult to understand at the outset, we will deal with this as and when we encounter it during the course of our study.
Last in line is Karma or activity. It is not activity performed just now. It includes everything from time immemorial, and by the laws of which our enjoyment and suffering are determined. Karma is affected by all the eternal entities. Activities arise due to the effect of combinations of 3 mode of Material nature (Goodness (Sattva), Passion (Rajas) and Ignorance (Tamas)), along with the influence of time. Karma, though its effects can stretch across millennia, is still temporary as we do have the ability to change our karma and hence the reactions to our Karma, based on perfection of our knowledge. Chapter 05 of Bhagavad Gita talks about Karma and Karma Yoga in detail and I will present that in due course of time.
(Phew, that was a heavy dose? Well, that is required as a foundation to proceed further. So, I will take a more relaxed pace from now.)
So, the next question anyone should ask is
How does one go about getting this knowledge perfectly?
If you want to learn or earn a degree in physics or nuclear medicine, I think you would pretty much know how to go about it. One has to go through 14 years of schooling, 4 years of college, another 2 years as post grad, and probably a Ph.D, before one can be considered as an expert in that field. Now, it so happens that for learning Spiritual science, there is a process to be followed. One must be humble in searching for the truth, must be able to identify a bonafide Guru, render service to him and inquire from him submissively. If you are wondering “Oi… hold it! That’s all? Are you sure you aren’t making this up?” well, here’s what Krishna says in Chapter 4, verse 34:
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaḿ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”
There. Satisfied? But note that I never said this is easy, since most of us (including me) fail miserably in the first criteria, which is humility. It is only by the mercy of our teachers that we are somehow dragged in to a higher level of understanding, regardless of whether we are taught modern science or Spiritual science.
(For a detailed description on the process of gaining knowledge in the Vedic methodology, please have a look at the article “Descending Knowledge” which I posted on my blog a while back.)
What made Arjuna lose his composure before the battle? What did he lament about? How does that relate to our current times? These I will address in the next article.