Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Call to the Young

Read more of this article entitled "The Ideal of the Karmayogin" at

We say to the individual and especially to the young who are now arising to do India's work, God's work, `You cannot cherish these ideals, still less than can you fulfill them if you subject your minds to European ideas or look at life from the material standpoint. Materially you are nothing, spiritually you are everything. It is only the Indian who can believe everything, dare everything, sacrifice everything.

First therefore become Indians. Recover the patrimony of your forefathers. Recover the Aryan thought, the Aryan discipline, the Aryan character, the Aryan life. Recover the Vedanta, the Gita, the Yoga. Recover them not only in intellect or sentiment but in your lives. Live them and you will be great and strong, mighty, invincible and fearless. Neither life nor death will have any terrors for you. Difficulty and impossibility will vanish from your vocabularies. For it is in the spirit that strength is eternal and you must win back the kingdom of yourselves, the inner Swaraj, before you can win back your outer empire. There the Mother dwells and She waits for worship that She may give strength. Believe in Her, serve Her, lose your wills in Hers, your egoism in the greater ego of the country, your separate selfishness in the service of humanity. Recover the source of all strength in yourselves and all else will be added to you; social soundness, intellectual preeminence, political freedom, the mastery of human thought, the hegemony of the world.'

Handling Chronically Difficult Situations

1) How to handle chronically difficult situations or people, i.e., those for which the remedy is out of one's control.

2) Karma vs. free will.

3) Tolerance vs. active sympathy (feeling others' pain and pleasure)

4) Expanding one's circle of love/consciousness

5) Healing through Thought: an introduction

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Tapasya of Love

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on austerities of the body, life and mind is an excellent article in which they discuss among other things, how to take care of the body for a progressive life - exercise, sleep, discipline etc.

We will use this article (especially, the section called "The Tapasya of Love") as a source for understanding the concept of Love, how to gradually get rid of hatred and start loving things around us. Only after understanding and feeling Love can one grasp the concept of God as something extremely intimate to oneself.

For the benefit of readers, I am reproducing the portion of the above article dealing with love:

Of all austerities the most difficult is the austerity of feelings and emotions, the tapasya of love
Indeed, in the domain of feelings, more perhaps than in any other, man has the sense of the inevitable, the irresistible, of a fatality that dominates him and which he cannot escape. Love (or at least what human beings call love) is particularly regarded as an imperious master whose caprice one cannot elude, who strikes you according to his fancy and forces you to obey him whether you will or not. In the name of love the worst crimes have been perpetrated, the greatest follies committed.

And yet men have invented all kinds of moral and social rules in the hope of controlling this force of love, of making it amenable and docile. But these rules seem to have been made only to be broken; and the restraint they impose on its free activity merely increases its explosive power. For it is not by rules that the movements of love can be disciplined. Only a greater, higher and truer power of love can subdue the uncontrollable impulses of love. Only love can rule over love by enlightening, transforming and exalting it. For here too, more than anywhere else, control does not consist of suppression and abolition but of transmutation - a sublime alchemy. This is because, of all the forces at work in the universe, love is the most powerful, the most irresistible. Without love the world would fall back into the chaos of inconscience. 
Consciousness is indeed the creatrix of the universe, but love is its saviour. Conscious experience alone can give a glimpse of what love is, of its purpose and process. Any verbal transcription is necessarily a mental travesty of something which eludes all expression in every way. Philosophers, mystics, occultists, have all tried to define love, but in vain. I have no pretension of succeeding where they have failed. But I wish to state in the simplest possible terms what in their writings takes such an abstract and complicated form. My words will have no other aim than to lead towards the living experience, and I wish to be able to lead even a child to it.
Love is, in its essence, the joy of identity; it finds its ultimate expression in the bliss of union. Between the two lie all the phases of its universal manifestation. 
At the beginning of this manifestation, in the purity of its origin, love is composed of two movements, two complementary poles of the urge towards complete oneness. On one hand there is the supreme power of attraction and on the other the irresistible need for absolute self-giving. No other movement could have better bridged the abyss that was created when in the individual being consciousness was separated from its origin and became unconsciousness. 
What had been projected into space had to be brought back to itself without, however, annihilating the universe which had thus been created. That is why love burst forth, the irresistible power of union. 
It brooded over the darkness and the inconscience; it was scattered and fragmented in the bosom of unfathomable night. And then began the awakening and the ascent, the slow formation of Matter and its endless progression. It is indeed love, in a corrupted and darkened form, that is associated with all the impulses of physical and vital Nature, as the urge behind all movement and all grouping, which becomes quite perceptible in the plant kingdom. In trees and plants, it is the need to grow in order to obtain more light, more air, more space; in flowers, it is the offering of their beauty and fragrance in a loving efflorescence. Then, in animals, it is love that lies behind hunger and thirst, the need for appropriation, expansion, procreation, in short, behind every desire, whether conscious or not. And among the higher species, it is in the self-sacrificing devotion of the female to her young. This brings us quite naturally to the human race in which, with the triumphant advent of mental activity, this association reaches its climax, for it has become conscious and deliberate. Indeed, as soon as terrestrial development made it possible, Nature took up this sublime force of love and put it at the service of her creative work by linking and mixing it with her movement of procreation. This association has even become so close, so intimate, that very few human beings are illumined enough in their consciousness to be able to dissociate these movements from each other and experience them separately. In this way, love has suffered every degradation, it has been debased to the level of the beast. 
From then on, too, there clearly appears in Nature's works the will to rebuild, by steps and stages and through ever more numerous and complex groupings, the primordial oneness. Having made use of the power of love to bring two human beings together to form the biune group, the origin of the family, after having broken the narrow limits of personal egoism, changing it into a dual egoism, Nature, with the appearance of children, brought forth a more complex unit, the family. And in course of time, with multifarious associations between families, individual interchanges and mingling of blood, larger groupings were formed: clans, tribes, castes, classes, leading to the creation of nations. This work of group formation proceeded simultaneously in the various parts of the world, crystallising in the different races. And little by little, Nature will fuse these races too in her endeavour to build a real and material foundation for human unity. 
In the consciousness of most men, all this is the outcome of chance; they are not aware of the existence of a global plan and take circumstances as they come, for better or for worse according to their temperament: some are satisfied, others discontented. 
Among the contented, there is a certain category of people who are perfectly adapted to Nature's ways: these are the optimists. For them the days are brighter because of the nights, colours are vivid because of the shadows, joy is more intense because of suffering, pain gives a greater charm to pleasure, illness gives health all its value; I have even heard some of them say that they are glad to have enemies because it made them appreciate their friends all the more. In any case, for all these people, sexual activity is one of the most enjoyable of occupations, satisfaction of the palate is a delight of life that they cannot go without; and it is quite normal to die since one is born: death puts an end to a journey which would become tedious if it were to last too long.
In short, they find life quite all right as it is and do not care to know whether it has a purpose or a goal; they do not worry about the miseries of others and do not see any need for progress. 
Never try to "convert" these people; it would be a serious mistake. If they were unfortunate enough to listen to you, they would lose the balance they have without being able to find a new one. They are not ready to have an inner life, but they are Nature's favourites; they have a very close alliance with her, and this realisation should not be needlessly disturbed. 
To a lesser degree, and above all, in a less durable way, there are other contented people in the world whose contentment is due to the magic effect of love. Each time an individual breaks the narrow limitations in which he is imprisoned by his ego and emerges into the open air, through self-giving, whether for the sake of another human being or his family, his country or his faith, he finds in this self-forgetfulness a foretaste of the marvellous delight of love, and this gives him the impression that he has come into contact with the Divine. But most often it is only a fleeting contact, for in the human being love is immediately mixed with lower egoistic movements which debase it and rob it of its power of purity. But even if it remained pure, this contact with the divine existence could not last for ever, for love is only one aspect of the Divine, an aspect which here on earth has suffered the same distortions as the others. 
Besides, all these experiences are very good and useful for the ordinary man who follows the normal way of Nature in her stumbling march towards the future unity. But they cannot satisfy those who want to hasten the movement, or rather, who aspire to belong to another line of more direct and rapid movement, to an exceptional movement that will liberate them from ordinary mankind and its interminable march, so that they may take part in the spiritual advance which will lead them along the swiftest paths towards the creation of the new race, the race that will express the supramental truth upon earth. These rare souls must reject all forms of love between human beings, for how ever beautiful and pure they may be, they cause a kind of short circuit and cut off the direct connection with the Divine. 
For one who has known love for the Divine, all other forms of love are obscure and too mixed with pettiness and egoism and darkness; they are like a perpetual haggling or a struggle for supremacy and domination, and even among the best they are full of misunderstanding and irritability, of friction and incomprehension. 
Moreover, it is a well-known fact that one grows into the likeness of what one loves. Therefore if you want to be like the Divine, love Him alone. Only one who has known the ecstasy of the exchange of love with the Divine can know how insipid and dull and feeble any other exchange is in comparison. And even if the most austere discipline is required to arrive at this exchange, nothing is too hard, too long or too severe in order to achieve it, for it surpasses all expression. 
This is the marvellous state we want to realise on earth; it is this which will have the power to transform the world and make it a habitation worthy of the Divine Presence. Then will pure and true love be able to incarnate in a body that will no longer be a disguise and a veil for it. Many a time, in order to make the discipline easier and to create a closer and more easily perceptible intimacy, the Divine has sought, in his highest form of love, to assume a physical body similar in appearance to the human body; but each time, imprisoned within the gross forms of Matter, he was able to express only a caricature of himself. And in order to manifest in the fullness of his perfection he waits only for human beings to have made some indispensable progress in their consciousness and in their bodies; for the vulgarity of man's vanity and the stupidity of his conceit mistake the sublime divine love, when it expresses itself in a human form, for a sign of weakness and dependence and need.
And yet man already knows, at first obscurely, but more and more clearly as he draws nearer to perfection, that love alone can put an end to the suffering of the world; only the ineffable joy of love in its essence can sweep away from the universe the burning pain of separation. For only in the ecstasy of the supreme union will creation discover its purpose and its fulfillment. 
That is why no effort is too arduous, no austerity too rigorous if it can illumine, purify, perfect and transform the physical substance so that it may no longer conceal the Divine when he takes on an outer form in Matter. For then this marvellous tenderness will be able to express itself freely in the world, the divine love which has the power of changing life into a paradise of sweet joy. 
This, you will say, is the culmination, the crown of the effort, the final victory; but what must be done in order to achieve it? What is the path to be followed and what are the first steps on the way? 
Since we have decided to reserve love in all its splendour for our personal relationship with the Divine, we shall replace it in our relations with others by a total, unvarying, constant and egoless kindness and goodwill that will not expect any reward or gratitude or even any recognition. However others may treat you, you will never allow yourself to be carried away by any resentment; and in your unmixed love for the Divine, you will leave him sole judge as to how he is to protect you and defend you against the misunderstanding and bad will of others. 
You will await your joys and pleasures from the Divine alone. In him alone will you seek and find help and support. He will comfort you in all your sorrows, guide you on the path, lift you up if you stumble, and if there are moments of failure and exhaustion, he will take you up in his strong arms of love and enfold you in his soothing sweetness. 
To avoid any misunderstanding, I must point out here that because of the exigencies of the language in which I am expressing myself, I am obliged to use the masculine gender whenever I mention the Divine. But in fact the reality of love I speak of is above and beyond all gender, masculine or feminine; and when it incarnates in a human body, it does so indifferently in the body of a man or a woman according to the needs of the work to be done.
In summary, austerity in feelings consists then of giving up all emotional attachment, of whatever nature, whether for a person, for the family, for the country or anything else, in order to concentrate on an exclusive attachment for the Divine Reality. This concentration will culminate in an integral identification and will be instrumental to the supramental realisation upon earth. 
This leads us quite naturally to the four liberations which will be the concrete forms of this achievement. The liberation of the feelings will be at the same time the liberation from suffering, in a total realisation of the supramental oneness. 
The mental liberation or liberation from ignorance will establish in the being the mind of light or gnostic consciousness, whose expression will have the creative power of the Word. 
The vital liberation or liberation from desire gives the individual will the power to identify itself perfectly and consciously with the divine will and brings constant peace and serenity as well as the power which results from them. 
Finally, crowning all the others, comes the physical liberation or liberation from the law of material cause and effect. By a total self-mastery, one is no longer a slave of Nature's laws which make men act according to subconscious or semi-conscious impulses and maintain them in the rut of ordinary life. With this liberation one can decide in full knowledge the path to be taken, choose the action to be accomplished and free oneself from all blind determinism, so that nothing is allowed to intervene in the course of one's life but the highest will, the truest knowledge, the supramental consciousness.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Coming Up: Wishlist of Future Topics

  • Are we really as "free" and "independent" in our thinking as we believe?
    •  Our thought process, outlook, opinions are not our own, most of the time, but are internalized from elsewhere. Find out why.
  • Don't love your opinions too much
    • Why one shouldn't be too enamored of one's mental preferences
    • For example, a person born in place X looks down on those born in place Y.
  • The basis and power of Faith in the Divine.
  • Fate/Karma vs. Free Will - which one is true?
  • How to handle chronic problems (illness, relationships out of one's control)?
  • Spirituality and Vegetarianism
  • The four types of Human Nature: The chaturvarNya

Internal Makeup of a Human Being 2: Motives for Action

In this class, we have discussed the three dominant types or guNas of nature - sattva, rajas and tamas, which are the three chief motives for action.
I will post an article by Sri Aurobindo explaining these, shortly.

The best way to get out of laziness (or inaction) is to increase sattva + rajas, by engaging in any activity that benefits others (not oneself or one's immediate family). If one gets into an activity driven by one's own "interests" or preferences, that will lead to rajas, which only aggrandizes the ego and leads to downfall.

We have also dwelt a little deeper into the emotional aspect of man, the manas, how the agitations and distortions within this layer are the chief cause of restlessness and lack of efficiency in human beings. We also discussed what constitutes the Buddhi and its powers. We mentioned that Vijnana is a layer above buddhi, and is source of all breakthrough advancements of human knowledge so far.

The objective is to quieten the disturbances of the lower mind or manas through "passive observation" or "udaasiinataa (= sitting above, observing)" so that the buddhi becomes the sovereign controller of human activities as well as awakened to the higher inspirations (or intuitions) coming from the vijnaana or intuitive faculty of man, leading to effective innovation. We also discussed the causal difference between an ordinary man and a genius.

What is the positive role of manas? The manas has this great power of enthusiasm. This enthusiasm for work is what should be cultivated and exploited by the buddhi in achieving its ends.

We then practised praaNadhaaraNa as a first step towards quietening the mind as well as thought observation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Top of the mind..

Much of literature in spirituality is present in the form of a conversation between a student and a master. So we started out with a bunch of Whys ? such as Why do we get agitated, why do we get bored, why do we dislike what we do and and why do we crave for what we dont have (and possibly cant get ?) . Peering open the mind and looking at its internal wiring gave a picture of a restless monkey being drawn in several directions by various accumulated emotions, past baggage, and confusing associations.

We now want to understand the Hows?.. how to disarm from past impressions, how to selectively filter/sensitivise our senses, and most importantly how to energize our minds? Beyond physical energy, is there a means of tapping into a vital-energy-store to replenish our enthusiasm, motivation and happiness.

As I write this, I ponder what gives more joy ? Solving a problem, or solving it faster than your peers ? Taking a stroll in a scenic location or posting your picture with that background on facebook ? Can happiness be defined in absolute and not relative terms?

The Internal Makeup of a Human Being

I had motivated the need to know about the inner psycho-physical make-up of a human being. Self-awareness is the essential first step towards self-control, and self-mastery.

I had used as study material, Sri Aurobindo's article on A system of national education. I had explained the various sources of errors in human perception such as poor observation skills, misconceptions, hallucinations and distortions, and explained how Yogic Pranayama helps address many of them.

Explained the three layers of man - physical (annamaya), vital (praaNamaya) and mental (manomaya) sheaths. Explained how the vital layer is the seat of our emotions, adamant preferences, rajasic passions, revolts and depressions. Explained how bad habits form and become stronger due to indulgence. Using coffee example, illustrated how to overcome a bad habit via Rajayogic method of Samyama (संयम) via three steps:
recognition, rejection and substitution.

People appreciated why calmness is a cure for many of these maladies. They all felt that this class is very helpful and answers so many of their questions. They haven't heard these things explained like this before.

Then as a first practical step towards self-awareness, taught a simple technique to become calm and increase keen observation. Conducted a simple four-stage breath-awareness session (praaNa-dhaaraNa) to calm oneself and relax. People wanted to make Yoga a regular portion of the session.

The key thing to note is that none of the stuff we discussed or practiced today is at all novel. It is part of any basic Yoga book or teaching. However, it is a fact that people are not even aware of such things and as a result, don't know why they are suffering. We all felt that combining a dose of theory with practice is very helpful.

Counseling Corner: Ask a Question

  • Are you or someone you know facing a difficult situation in their personal or professional life?
  • Do you want to understand why it arose?
  • Are you curious to know the right attitude to face it?
  • Do you want to know how spirituality can help in your case?
If so, feel free to pose your questions here in the form of comments to this post. You can anonymize it to your comfort before posting, or you can request a personal response. We will make sure that someone knowledgeable will post a response directly to you or to this blog after abstracting out personal details.

Sri Aurobindo on the Mind and its Layers

Here is an excellent article on called A System of National Education, explaining the various aspects of the Human mind, their powers, and how to systematically hone them to their full capacity.

In the next few meetings, we shall discuss the characterization and try to feel those layers through experiments.

Minutes of the First Kick-off Meeting

The participating individuals belong to a research group in a multinational software company. Naturally, their main concern was how to enhance their pace of innovation and achieve great results. Some common issues faced:
  • How to improve my power of visualizing a goal, which studies reveal as very important for its achievement?
  • How to context-switch between multiple tasks quickly? Why do I take so long to do so?
  • How to detach myself from the wrong mood (renunciation) and get into the right mood (concentration) quickly?
  • What is the right motivation for work? Is it the reward or is it the interest in the work? Empirical studies indicate the latter. But why is that? If latter, what makes me distracted quickly? How not to get distracted from my work?
  • I take too long to sleep. How to sleep quickly?
People quoted several psychological experiments that made observations on how to address some of the issues above. However, all of them seemed to treat the human being as a black box (not knowing the why of things, but only the what), and work around the observed shortcomings. For instance, people observed that a sports person is coached to get ready for his sport by getting "angry" or "anxious", which seems to make him perform well in practice. Supposedly, it helps him pump up enough adrenaline for alertness during the game. But what are the after-effects of such "working up"? Burn out, making athletes not last longer than the age of 35 years. Will a similar approach work for an intellectual activity such as software development? What are some alternative ways to get oneself to work effectively?

We decided that in our next session, there needs to be a short primer on the holistic anatomy of a human being - the various levels of a man according to Yoga, followed by a practical session on how to perceive and distinguish those levels. An exercise in self-awareness is indispensable to mastery over our instincts.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

digvijayii bhaarata: Achieving allround success and fulfilment through applied spiritual wisdom

All youngsters want to be superheros when it comes to work and play. We all want to be high achievers, efficient workers and be admired and loved. We do not want to be bored or depressed. We want to relax at a moment's notice, and enjoy life every moment.

However, reality is never so rosy. It is difficult to deal with.We cannot focus as we are drawn in many directions, get tired very soon, take hours to accomplish something that should take minutes, see so many things we don't like around us but cannot do anything about them, and sometimes don't know how to get out of frustration and agitation that ensue.

There is no dearth of advice showered on us, especially in India where everybody is a self-styled philosopher and guru :-): do yoga, meditate, pray, take things easy, get out of laziness, go beyond, get things done. We nod our heads, get motivated, but it doesn't last long. We are back to our normal slow-paced self.

Why does that happen? What is in us that draws us back? What is the cause of our inefficiency? How will yoga, sports, vacations help? What happens internally to a person who does yoga, goes to a temple, goes to a beach, faces a disappointment, consumes alcohol, eats to the brim, gets angry etc.?

I am extremely fascinated by this thing called the inner science - to
understand the why of things inside people and find answers to the above questions, and actually leverage them in practice. Spirituality is all about delving into these questions, and is less about dogma - what you should believe or not believe, which is the realm of religion.

This blog is intended to be the chronicle of the activities of a focused group of individuals who meet regularly to read snippets of what accomplished yogis had said about these issues, learn from their wisdom, discuss and find ways to put them into daily practice. We believe that spirituality is all about practice and not about intellectual reasoning - nothing will come out of theory until we practise it. However, a little bit of preliminary understanding will motivate and guide the practice.

We really don't want this to be a metaphysical/religious discussion group, though religious concepts may creep in here and there. The criteria for relevance to this group is very simple: if an issue is not being faced in real life by some of us right now, it doesn't belong in this discussion. No dvaita/advaita/theism/atheism, "God exists or not" discussions should take place here.