Friday, July 27, 2007

What Creates Conflict?

From time immemorial, the world has witnessed unnecessary conflict and suffering. Why does this occur? Is conflict an inevitable part of human nature?

There are many different outer reasons for conflict; but, the source of conflict always begins in the human mind. If we do not have peace of mind, conflict in the outer world is inevitable. These are often the inner reasons for outer conflict.

1. Superiority

It is the ego that separates and divides. It is the ego that gives us feelings of inferiority and superiority. When we have feelings of superiority, we wish to assert our supremacy over others. We feel justified in seeking to change / enlighten / improve other people. It is these concepts which are often at the source of conflict. Because we feel our way of life and beliefs are better than others, we desire to convert others to our way of living. This gives us the self justification to create conflict. Closely related to feeling of supremacy are ideas of inferiority. Quite often we feel that others are seeking to prove their superiority over us. Because of this we are afraid and defensive. We have a subconscious feeling of inferiority and therefore, feel obliged to assert ourselves; conflict becomes a way of asserting and proving ourselves.

2. Separation.

Another root source of conflict is the idea of separation between ourselves and other people. This can manifest in cultural / religious or national separation. It is this sense of separation that causes us to look upon the other side as our enemy. It becomes impossible to sympathise or have any feeling of oneness. Because there is a sense of separation we become indifferent to the suffering of others. If we identified with other people as an extended part of ourselves, we would emphasise with their suffering and seek to avoid it.

3. Pride

Pride is related both to superiority and separation. It is pride that encourages us to feel separate from others. Pride means that we become unwilling to back down or admit that we were wrong. Because of pride we pursue strategies that perpetuate conflict. If we could swallow our pride we would be willing to apologise for doing the wrong thing and thus enable a resolution to conflict. Unfortunately, we give too much opinion to our ego and feelings of pride. We wrongly assume that to admit a mistake is a sign of weakness. Actually, to admit a mistake and change our course of action requires strength. If we are doing the wrong thing, continuing this course of action, only aggravates the situation and makes it worse.

4. A Long Memory.

Many insoluble conflicts go back a long time. Each party is able to bring a long list of grievances to any negotiating table. These grievances and perceived slights often remain a stumbling block to negotiation. Usually in response to one side's grievances, the opposite side merely respond with their own list of grievances. When people are attached to the wrongs of the past, it becomes very difficult to create a harmonious future.

5. Priorities.

For many people harmony is not their highest priority. Whilst this remains the case, it becomes very difficult to do anything about it. To have an end to conflict, it is necessary that people sincerely aspire for this. Quite often, it becomes more important that we are "proved right" rather than work to dissolve conflict and suffering.


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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Keeping your Anger under Control

Anger is like a snake in the deep grass. - Remaining hidden for most of the time, it can suddenly rise up to strike us unexpectedly. Anger, may be justified, but it rarely helps us deal with a situation. Anger also leaves us feeling depressed, unbalanced, and nursing a sense of injustice. Some people feel anger is good, because it motivates them to do something. However, anger is neither necessary nor desirable. When we look at a situation through the mists of anger, our judgment becomes clouded; we react hastily, in a way that often aggravates the situation. If we are a victim of injustice, this does not mean we should remain passive. We can act - but, in a way that will improve the situation for ourselves, not in a way that makes it worse.

How To Control Anger



1. Don't respond immediately.

If we feel anger come upon us. Wait a moment before responding. Take a few calm deep breathes; we will find that after the initial surge, the anger subsides. After, even a moment of reflection, we realise the situation is not as grave as our mind's first reaction. It is advisable to remember the advice of Thomas Jefferson:

"When angry count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred"


If we do respond straight away we will be liable to say something we regret later. Words spoken in anger leave a lasting remark and it can be hard to undue their effects.

2. Remember some good qualities of the person.

It is often the case that 90% of the time we get angry with friends and families. If we live with someone, it is inevitable we will find some of their daily habits irritating. At some point we may snap and get angry with them. If this occurs try remembering 10 of their good qualities. If we can force ourselves to think of even 1, it will reduce our anger significantly. If we are honest, their good qualities are far more powerful then their bad quality of putting the cornflakes in the wrong drawer. It may sound daft, but often anger can arise from minor issues. Try to look beyond small insignificant issues to consider the bigger picture.

3. Forgiveness.

Other people will inevitably do bad things; this is the way of the world. However, we can be wise and try to take a more enlightened position. If we respond to their faults with anger, we will only strengthen them. If we are able to forgive them, we may actually shame them into doing the right thing. When they see our response is flooded with inner peace, they may feel embarrassed at their behaviour; in the future they may seek to avoid doing it. Forgiveness of other's defects, may not be the natural instinct of the mind. But, if we sincerely forgive them, we will help our situation. At some time, others will appreciate our compassion.

Forgiveness does not mean condoning their actions. But, let us start with the minor infractions of our close ones; next time they annoy us, respond with a compassionate attitude rather than anger and see the difference.

4. Meditation.

To permanently overcome anger we need to bring to the fore inner peace. Inner peace is the antidote to anger; it is only through inner peace that we can permanently subdue the force of anger. Real Meditation brings to the fore inner peace; this is because in meditation we are able to detach ourselves from our thoughts. When we learn to detach ourselves from our thoughts, we can easily detach ourselves from destructive emotions such as anger.

5. See Anger as an Enemy.

Remind yourself anger will make yourself miserable. Make a conscious decision not to allow anger to poison your system. Anger may come quickly, but if we ignore anger, it will soon dissipate. Value your inner peace. If we lose our inner peace we lose something most precious and valuable.

Anger says:
"I can destroy
The whole world."

Peace says:
"Not when I work
Inside you."


- Sri Chinmoy
From: Sri Chinmoy Library "Anger Says"

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Monday, July 23, 2007

The Meaning of Freedom


Freedom: the ability to do as we choose; freedom from coercion and externally imposed constraints.


There are many different types of freedom. Firstly, there is political freedom: the freedom to live without constraints from the government. There is also individual freedom: the ability to choose as we see fit, without constraints from others. Finally, there is spiritual freedom; this necessitates being free from the limitations and ignorance of our own human mind.

There are clearly different ways to use our freedom. For a drug addict, freedom involves the ability to take as many drugs as his habit forces him. However, the more drugs he takes, the more his concept of freedom is narrowed; the addiction means his life revolves around the necessity of finding and taking drugs. In one sense he has the freedom to take drugs; on the other hand by becoming an addict he loses the freedom to choose anything else. It is here that we start to question whether individual freedom is the highest kind of freedom.

The human mind is a creature of habit. When we make decisions, quite often we make them because that is what we are used to doing. We hear people say "I know I shouldn't be doing this" or "I wish I could give this up." However, if we are reluctantly drawn to do an action out of compulsion, can that be freedom? -

It is not just in the consumption of addictive drugs that human freedom proves illusory; we can also examine how the traits of the mind create limitations in everyday thought patterns. For example, the mind creates habitual responses to certain situations. If we get criticised, we feel miserable; in the face of injustice, we get angry. It is most difficult to control these emotions; they seem an inevitable part of our nature. We wish to be free, but no matter how often these experiences occur, our reaction is the same. Furthermore, these in built responses of the mind unmistakably lead to suffering and depression.

We wish to be free but at the same time we are slave to the instinctive responses of the mind. What kind of freedom is it when we are at the mercy of events in the outer world? Is it really freedom when one word of criticism, can plunge us into the depths of despair?

The highest experience of freedom can only occur when we can be detached from events in the outer world. Freedom means we need to have our own emotions and responses under our control.

"Spiritual freedom is our liberation from the mire of self-created bondage." [1]


Freedom means that no matter what may happen to us, we can maintain a sense of inner peace, poise and detachment. This inner peace is essential for a real sense of freedom. It is only when we have boundless inner peace that we are not a victim to our own negative thoughts and habitual responses.

How much of our choices are conditioned by the society in which we grow up? If we are honest, we have to admit that if we were born in a different situation, a different place, our life choices would be very different. This is because our choices are a reflection of what society teaches and expects. We may feel it is our freedom to live as we do. But, in reality, this freedom is heavily influenced by sociology and our limited perspective.

However, if we can gain an access to our soul, we develop an insight into our life's purpose. This soul's purpose is detached from social expectations. This is real freedom, because we have the ability to choose according to the aspirations of our soul. We are not just choosing what is expected of us. To be really free, we have to be able to detach ourselves from social conditioning and the ignorance of the mind. This can occur only if we dive deep within. This is the difference between inner and outer freedom

We may have a freedom to choose anything on an outer plane; but, this freedom does not give us abiding satisfaction; why? This freedom is only a freedom to choose from a limited egoistic perspective. Real freedom is only possible when we become one with the universal consciousness. This consciousness is not constrained by the limitations of the mind. It is all expanding, infinite bliss and real freedom. It is because of this inner bliss and ecstasy that spiritual aspirants are not satisfied by the so-called freedoms of the world.

An aspiring seeker does not just want a limited outer freedom; he wishes to escape the cycle of bondage that inevitably creates suffering. In fact, the spiritual seeker, may look upon the outer freedom as a false kind of freedom; a freedom which keeps from discovering our true self.

"What is false freedom? False freedom is our constant and deliberate acceptance of ignorance and our conscious existence in ignorance. What is real freedom? Real freedom is our conscious awareness of our inner divinity, and our constant inseparable oneness with the Inner Pilot" [2]


It is for this reason that the Buddha gave up his kingdom to become a wandering ascetic. In the material world he had all he could wish for, but Siddharta knew that even with this outer freedom he was tied to the inevitable suffering, death and pain of life. The Buddha wanted freedom, he wanted to taste the bliss of nirvana and escape the endless cycle of death and rebirth. With great determination and aspiration, the Buddha transcended his sense of ego; he entered in the perfect freedom of nirvana. In this consciousness, the Buddha was free from the temptations and forces of the world; he regained his Buddha hood and understood the real nature of life, freedom and his Self.

[1] Freedom by Sri Chinmoy

[2] Freedom: From the Tears of Nation hearts by Sri Chinmoy

Picture credit: by Kedar Misani, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

How to Overcome Shyness

  • Shy: being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people.

Shyness is an emotion many people suffer from at some time. It creates awkwardness in social situations and can damage our job prospects. Some people may feel their shyness is incurable - "I'm just a shy person". Others may even feel there is nothing wrong with being shy, they may equate it to a type of modesty. However, we can definitely overcome shyness. It is also very much worth doing because shyness does not help us in anyway. It is not really about being modest and humble; shyness is primarily about covering up our natural state of being; if anything it is a false modesty.

Overcoming Shyness



1. Look upon shyness as a thing to overcome.

If we consciously or subconsciously cherish our shyness, we will never be able to overcome it. We should feel that shyness prevents us from becoming the person that we really are. Shyness is like a veil that hides our spontaneity and natural vivacity. If we see shyness as a bad thing, we will be in a position to try and overcome it.

2. Do not Fear Failure or Success.

Shyness often occurs as a result of our fear of failing. We worry about what people may think, so we drawback and try to hide in the background. Similar to the fear of failure is a fear of success. We are concerned that if we stand out from the crowd we will attract criticism or unwanted intrusion into our life. By hiding our real self, we can slip into anonymity. However, if we constantly prevent ourselves from revealing our true self, we will never feel satisfaction, but just cherish regrets.

3. Develop a oneness with others.

The root of shyness is due to the fact that we feel separated from other people. Our mind can lead us to believe that other people are quick to judge and condemn us. However, if we can change our attitude we will lose this sense of seperativity. Rather than expecting the worst from other people, identify with their good qualities. It is ironic that when we develop this sense of oneness with others, they often seek to reciprocate it.

4. Be Yourself.

If you can develop the confidence to be yourself you will not worry about what people think. Shyness is often synonymous with trying to be something we are not. The secret is to have confidence in yourself. People will generate more respect for you, when you are yourself. Speaking on shyness, Sri Chinmoy says:

"When we see a little child who is extremely shy, we feel that this child is very cute. Unfortunately, from the spiritual point of view, shyness is not a good quality at all. When you express shyness, you outwardly pretend to be what you are not, and you inwardly try to draw all the world’s admiration and attention." [1]

5. Humour.

Don't take life too seriously. If we happen to say slightly the wrong thing or even make a fool of ourselves, no lasting harm occurs. Many years ago, my English teacher told me that if we were nervous and shy about speaking in front of people, we should imagine they are all seated on the toilet. He argued this humorous mental image would make us smile and lighten our mood. I have never perfected this visualisation technique - such an image doesn't appeal somehow. But, I think he made a telling point that if we can force ourselves to smile and laugh, alot of our nervous tension will be released. This will reduce our shyness

6. Patience.

If we are by nature shy, don't expect to overcome it straightaway. If we do still feel shy don't get disheartened. Try to gradually reduce the amount by which we feel shy in various circumstances.

[1] From: Sri Chinmoy Answers

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How To Avoid Criticising Other People.

It is very easy to criticise other people. In fact, we may be unaware of how much time we really spend criticising other people. When we criticise people close to us, we very rarely help the other person; people don’t react positively to criticism. Quite often, when we criticise, what we are doing is bringing our own negative qualities to the fore. We may get a slight feeling of superiority, but, living in a world of gossip and criticism will bring us neither lasting peace nor happiness.

The first step is to make a conscious decision to try and avoid criticising other people. Primarily, we are here thinking of the minor fault finding that the human mind is prone to making. This does not mean we will never be aware of other people’s weaknesses, instead, we are seeking to see the good in people and avoid being unnecessarily critical. Here are some suggestions to avoid criticising other people.

1. How do we feel when we are criticised?

We have all suffered criticism at various times; it is not a pleasant experience. When we are criticised we feel miserable, defensive and angry. If we remember how we feel, we will think twice about criticising our friends and work colleagues. Empathy is a powerful invocation of our conscience. When we are aware of how much our actions can hurt others, it focuses us to avoid creating such an experience for others.

2. Is this a fault of myself or the other person?

We are quick to judge others, but skilful to justify or ignore our own weaknesses. It is an irony that when are strongly attracted to criticising somebody’s action, we often have this own defect in our character. For example, we may say about how bad, person X, is for spreading gossip. Yet, we do not think twice about spreading this criticism to all our friends. We gossip to criticise others for gossiping; it is a blatant hypocrisy, and our human mind often fails to see the irony of our own criticism.
When a crowd were gathering to condemn an adulterer, Jesus Christ, turned to the crowd asking. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” The point he was trying to make is that it is easier to condemn and criticise others, but we would be better off trying to reform our own, not insignificant, weaknesses.



3. Is there a better way to change our friends?

Firstly, I think it is a mistake to feel that we can change other people. But, suppose we really wish to discourage some aspect of someone else’s behaviour. Rather than directly criticising their behaviour, we can be more tactful and appeal to their better nature. For example, suppose someone is prone to being moody and miserable. If we criticise them for being miserable, they are unlikely to positively respond to this onslaught of more negativity. Instead, we can encourage them to be proactive in something that they are useful at. If they are able to prove their own self worth to themselves, this will be the best antidote to depression and unhappiness. Basically, if you want people to transcend their weaknesses, always appeal to their better nature. If we just dwell on their negative qualities, we can even make them worse rather than better.

4. Identify with others suffering.

Sri Chinmoy suggests that one of the best ways to avoid criticising others is to develop a sense of oneness with others around you.

“When you identify yourself with the other person's suffering, you will feel, "No matter how imperfect and useless he is, I have no right to cause this kind of suffering in him. I have come into the world to establish my oneness with others and not to destroy others with my criticism."

From: Sri Chinmoy Library in response to: Q. “How can I not criticise others and what can I do when others criticise me? Sometimes I get very mad.”

See also: Dealing with Anger

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Poem: Hope Abides


Hope Abides

Hope abides; therefore I abide.
Countless frustrations have not cowed me.
I am still alive, vibrant with life.
The black cloud will disappear,
The morning sun will appear once again
In all its supernal glory.



By: Sri Chinmoy

More Poetry of Sri Chinmoy

Poems on Hope at Poetseers

Poem by: Sharani Robbins, Sri Chinmoy Centre galleries

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What can Harry Potter teach us about Spirituality?

1. Don't judge by Outer appearances

Hagrid, is, ugly, cumbersome and uncouth, with an unfortunate fondness for dangerous animals; but, his heart is in the right place. On the other hand, who can forget the charming, but shallow, Gilderoy Lockhart? Appearing in the Chamber of Secrets, Lockhart gained a job as Master for Defence of the dark arts. Lockhart was able to impress many with his charm, beauty and extravagant tales of daring do - but this was just a cover for his lies and insecurities.

2. Don't be distracted by Criticism

Throughout his turbulent school career, Harry gets more than his fair share of criticism. Not least, in the Order of the Phoenix when Harry is subject to much slanderous gossip. Through the eyes of others, Harry is at times hero and other times villian; but he needs to avoid being distracted by both extremes.


3. Good Friendship

Friendship is very important for Harry; yet, quite often, his best friends have disputes, especially Hermione and Ron. When Harry is stubborn and proud he feels miserable; when he forgives and forgets he is able to benefit from the strength of his real friendship of those close to him.

4. Be Courageous.

"The Soul cannot not won by the weakling." so says the Upanishads. To defeat hostile forces in life we have to face upto them with both inner and outer courage. At times we may wish to flee the battlefield of life, but, this does not solve anything. Quite often there are certain things that we need to face upto, whether we like it or not. Harry needs great courage when he is facing trials such as death eaters, Lord Voldermort, or even his own fears of death.

5. Difficulties can provide opportunity for Growth

We would never invite difficulties into life, but, when they come they can be an opportunity to learn from them and grow as a person. Harry has more than his fair share of trying moments. We often feel that, although these create suffering, they also create moments of real satisfaction. The challenges Harry faces make him grow up and learn how to deal with other people.

6. Patience

Living with the Dursley's is torture for Harry; yet, it is also necessary. The summer holidays pass very slowly in privet Drive, and quite often Harry's patience wears thin, getting into trouble as a result.

7. Love Thy Enemy.

True, Harry Potter does not love his enemies. The hate is easy to see - even if it is understandable. However, the character of Professor Dumbledore, gives an insight into a soul with great nobility. Dumbledore is generous with both Snape and Draco Molfoy; he hopes to bring the best out of each character. Dumbledore is willing to sacrifice his own personal safety for the effort to redeem both these characters. In this sense, Dumbledore displays a Christ like attitude of forgiving his potential enemies.

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Saturday, July 7, 2007

Gaining Inspiration for Meditation


1. Music for Meditation.

If music is soulful and peaceful it brings our soul to the fore. When we hear soulful meditative music our inner being begins to aspire for a deeper and more meaningful reality. This aspiration to reach a more fulfilling, expansive consciousness is the real secret of meditation. When we have a burning inner flame then our meditation technique becomes of little importance. When we are inwardly aspiring for peace, light and joy our soul meditates spontaneously on our behalf. Music can definitely awaken our slumbering inner spirit.

"Each time we hear soulful music, we get inspiration and delight. In the twinkling of an eye, music can elevate our consciousness." (1)

- Sri Chinmoy

Music for meditation can give us real inspiration but we should make sure the music is composed and played in a meditative consciousness. If the music creates restlessness and excitement then this will not help in any way our meditation.

2. Meditate on Nature.

Nature embodies a dynamic peace. The beauty, expanse and scale of nature are very conducive to meditation. The Spiritual Master Sri Ramakrishna told his disciples to always meditate when they came across an expanse of water. Water signifies consciousness and purity; this consciousness and purity are the essence of meditation. If we can meditate at the ocean's edge we will also feel a sense of infinity and expanse. It is hard for the human mind to conceive of concepts like infinity and immortality, but when we see the ocean stretching into the distance we can definitely be inspired by this concept of infinity.

3. Meditate with an adept of Meditation.

If we can have the opportunity to meditate with a real expert in meditation we will definitely feel something in their meditation. When we meditate in the presence of a real Spiritual Master we can benefit from the peace and light that they bring down. If we do not have the opportunity to meditate in the presence of a living spiritual master we can meditate on the photo of some Teacher, whom we have the utmost faith. If the photo was taken during meditation the picture will embody a meditative consciousness. If we can enter into this meditative consciousness it will bring our own inner meditative power to the fore. This consciousness is the secret of meditation.

4. Meditate with others.

If we meditate in a group with other like minded people who enjoy meditation we will gain increased inspiration and confidence in the power of meditation. If we only meditate on our own it can feel like we are battling against the world. However when we meditate in a group our own meditation will be heightened because we benefit from the meditative consciousness that occurs in a group meditation.

5. Regularity.

If we meditate on a regular basis then we will gain an increased meditative capacity. We should not be in a hurry to judge our own meditation. If we feel we have meditated badly and start feeling we are hopeless then we will definitely lose inspiration. Instead we should feel that each time we meditate there is a golden opportunity to feed our inner being. Even if we don't feel as if we are making much progress, we should remember that each time we meditate, we are taking an important and necessary step to improving our own meditation.

References

(1) From: Music: God's Universal Language by Sri Chinmoy

Photo Credit: Kamalika Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries

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Improving Your Meditation




Whatever standard of our meditation we can always find some new techniques to give us better and more fulfilling meditation. The real secret of meditation is to feel that we are always an eternal beginner. If we have this attitude it will be easier to empty the mind.


1. Read books by Spiritual Teachers and great seekers
. When we read about the highest experiences of others we get a lot of encouragement and inspiration to try and attain these profound experiences ourselves. For example reading the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna or “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda” will give an insight into the divine experiences of these 2 great Saints. They cannot help but inspire our own meditation.

2. Try a new Meditation Exercise. There are many different types of meditation exercises. If you are struggling with the same one it is good to try something a little different. For example you could just incorporate this simple pranayama exercise into the start of your meditation, it is called 1 – 4 –2 . When you breathe in repeat the name of God (or some mantra that inspires you) once. Then hold your breathe for four counts. Then as you exhale repeat your mantra twice. This will energise your entire being and quieten the mind.

3. Place great Intensity on your meditation. One thing we can try is to feel that this is our last day, our last opportunity to meditate. If we only had 1 more chance to meditate we wouldn’t waste it thinking about what to eat for tomorrow’s breakfast. Each time we meditate we should feel nothing else is important.

4. Set yourself Goals. For a week you could say every day I will meditate at 6.30pm for half an hour. If we set targets and stick to them we will definitely get more from a regular practise of meditation. If we have no regularity and meditate only when we can find time, often we find that several days can pass by without meditating.

5. Remember a Profound Meditation. If we have been practising meditation for a while we should try to visualize a really powerful meditation we had in the past. Imagination has its own power by visualising a high experience we can experience it again and also go beyond.

If you enter into the world of imagination and stay there for 10 or 15 mins, power will automatically enter into your mediation, and it will bear fruit. Then it will not be imagination at all; you will actually be deep in the world of meditation.

- Sri Chinmoy

6. Meditate with Music. Spiritual, soulful music will elevate our aspiring consciousness. It will bring our heart and soul to the fore. This will make our meditation much more powerful, we will easily go beyond the activity of the mind and into the domain of the soul.

7. Make a really beautiful shrine.
If we can create a sacred corner where we only meditate, we will be able to build up a powerful meditative vibration. If we decorate our shrine with beautiful flowers and candles, it will give us an added iota of inspiration in our meditation.

8. Never Give Up. If we feel that our meditation was not particularly good, we should not feel disappointed. If we judge our own progress negatively we will lose our inspiration to meditate. We should feel that each time we sit down to meditate we are making necessary progress even if outwardly we can’t see it.


Meditation pages at Sri Chinmoy Bio

Meditation for Beginners - Article on beginning meditation

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Ramana Maharshi: Who am I?



Ramana Maharshi was a spiritual Master, who spent most of his life around the holy mountain of Arunachala in South India. Ramana Maharshi, played a pivotal role in indirectly introducing meditation and yoga into the West. His life and teachings were of great simplicity; focusing on the philosophy of advaita Vedanta.

As a young boy, Ramana Maharshi had an ordinary upbringing; however, around the age of 16 he became obsessed with fear about death. The young Ramana became paralysed with fear about what would happen on dying. This experiences changed his outlook on life; he no longer could gain satisfaction from wordly activities, instead he became absorbed in seeking a deeper meaning to life. He shunned his former activies and on one day resolved to leave his school, home and family so that he could put all his energies into meditation and yoga. For several years Ramana lived the life of a wandering ascetic; he spent most of his time in prayer and mediation and was magnetically drawn to the holy mountain of Arunachala. In the early years of his sadhana, Ramana lived amongst the wild creatures of the mountain. Ramana Maharshi never showed any fear to animals, his spiritual realisation gave him a uniques sense of oneness with other creatures.

For several years, he lived at Arunachala in relative anonymity; but over time he began to attract sincere seekers who felt in him a magnetic spiritual force of peace and illumination. As the number of disciples increased, a simple ashram was developed on the hills of Arunachala. It was here that Ramana Maharshi spent the remainder of his days. He spoke rarely, he preferred to teach through the silence of his meditation. Quite often seekers would come with a flood of questions, only to find them answered when they sat in the meditation hall.

Ramana Maharshi did write down some of his philosophy and spiritual teachings. They are characterised by a simplicity and clarity that directs a seekers straight to the source. The main suggestion of Ramana Maharshi was for seekers to concentrate on answering the question. "Who am I?" - If we can answer this question and discover our real self, all our problems would be solved. Ramana Mahashi taught that the only way to satisfactorily answer this question was through meditation. He encouraged aspirants to try and trace the place where thoughts come from. If we relentlessly follow thoughts back to their source, we come to learn that we are not our thoughts. Our sense of "I" ness will change from the limited ego, to the all encompassing universal soul. Sri Chinmoy says , from a spiritual perspective, the question of "Who am I? is by far the most significant question we can ask.

"Ultimately, all the questions that philosophy asks can be reduced to "Who am I?" Then the reply comes spontaneously, "Who am I not?" The question and the answer may be found at the same place." [1]

Many visitors came to meditate in the presence of Ramana Maharshi. Often visitors would come with a flood of question; however, on sitting in the meditation hall there questions would be answered in silence. This was the experience of Paul Brunton, an Englishman seeking the meaning of life. Paul Brunton wrote down many of his Indian experiences in a book "Search in Secret India." This helped to introduce the idea of meditation to western society.

[1] Philosophy - Wisdom Chartiot at Sri Chinmoy Library

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The Meaning of Life

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Why do you watch TV?

Whenever man achieves something, new, difficult and challenging, quite often the response of society is Why?

Why climb Mount Everest? Why Run a marathon? Why run a 3100 mile race?


Within humans there are often 2 conflicting forces. The first instinct is our desire for conformity and to live an easy life. After all, life has enough difficulties without adding to them. Therefore, we seek to live according to the customs and norms of society. Without realising it, much of our action and thought is based on the conventional wisdom of the society we happen to be born into. To step outside this conventional wisdom, is like challenging preconceived ideas of what is acceptable and not. Pathfinders often meet with skepticism, criticism and even hostility; people are often skeptical of things that are new and different. Part of the reason is that people can feel threatened when others offer a new perspective on life. Therefore, to avoid the criticism and the skepticism of others, we seek to avoid conflict and live a "normal" life. Sometimes this decision is conscious, but quite often we may just live a certain way without fully considering why or whether this is the best path.

However, although this instinct for conformity is strong, there is another motivating force in man. This is the desire for improving ourself - our conscious evolution and self-transcendence. In many ways, man is evolving and seeking for a better way to do things. In athletics we aspire to go faster; in science we aspire for greater technological advances. There is also an inner quest to aspire for something new and more fulfilling. It may be hard to say why, but there is something inside us that is not satisfied with what we have. It is this driving force, which motivates us to take a new challenge. It is this inspiration which encourages to try something new and unique. We want to climb everest, simply because we have not done it before. There may be no material reward for climbing a mountain; but in achieving such a feat we get a tremendous sense of satisfaction that cannot be gained in ordinary activities.

The problem with an easy life of material comforts is that it does not give us lasting satisfaction. We can get a limited happiness and a limited pleasure, but the happiness is often fleeting and dependent on external factors. When we go beyond our self imposed limitations we learn that there is a deeper meaning to both life and our self. Through setting challenges and transcending ourselves we get tremendous joy. This can be difficult to explain to others; people may see only the outer discomforts of running a marathon. Someone who has never run a marathon cannot fully appreciate the experience. Yet, it quite often doesn't stop them passing judgement on the action. From a certain perspective it may be daft to spend 2 months running a 3100 mile race. But, at the same time, they cannot have a true appreciation of the experience of others.


"Because it's there."

Is it necessary to justify feats of self transcendence to others? Edmund Hilary, climbed Mount Everest because it was there. Do we need a better reason? We could ask ourselves why do spend many hours doing nothing much in particular. Why do we watch TV? Because it's there? No matter how much TV we watch there is only so much satisfaction and joy we can derive. There comes a time when we may ask ourselves Why spend all day watching TV? Why not so something else.

In truth we rarely ask why we do anything. Much of our action is automatic; we do it just because it is easy to do. We may not be able to justify our attempt to climb mount Everest, but at the same time we may not be able to justify our decision to spend many hours watching TV.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Discovering the Meaning of Life

The meaning of life is the perpetual question that has perplexed humanity since the dawn of man's evolution. As one might expect, numerous theories have been suggested as to the real meaning of life. Yet theories and philosophies cannot satisfy our aspiration to know the hidden secrets of life. In essence, the meaning of life is a quest that can only be discovered by the person themselves.

Who am I?

In spirituality we find there is actually only one question that we really need to ask: who am I? If we can know who we are all our problems and uncertainties will be solved. But, to know who we are is much more difficult than we may actually imagine. The natural response is to consider ourselves identified with the body and mind. But the body is perishable, and the mind is a volatile and temperamental collection of transient thoughts. The great sage Ramana Maharshi taught that to discover who we are, we should keep asking the question who am I? However, Ramana Maharshi also taught that the answer would not be another mere collection of thoughts. By constantly asking the question who am I? we seek to dive deep down to where the thought originates from. By asking this question, we come to learn that we are not just our thoughts. At the heart of our existence is the real I, which can decide whether to pursue or reject thoughts. In discovering who am I? we learn that we are not the little I identified with our ego; instead the real "I" is a consciousness far greater than our ego can understand.

"In the ordinary life each human being has millions and millions of questions to ask. In his spiritual life, a day dawns when he feels that there is only one question worth asking: "Who am I?" The answer of answers is: "I am not the body, but I am the Inner Pilot."

Sri Chinmoy [1]

Meditation

The path of self enquiry is a certain type of meditation. It is through meditation that we can go beyond the realm of the mind to discover the spiritual aspect of ourselves. We may find meditation difficult in the beginning, but, through practising concentration and meditation techniques, we eventually learn to stop the mind completely. If we can attain a state of consciousness free of thought, we will look upon the world with a new perspective. Through being unencumbered with thoughts, we discover the limitations of the mind; we also learn of the inner joy that is not dependent on our outer circumstances.

Social Conditioning.

There is great power in social conditioning. The way we are brought up reflects our perspective of life. We tend to feel that what society and our family expect is what we should follow. If we are brought up in one way, we often feel that this must be the best way; people either do not want, or cannot, question the ingrained orthodoxy of life. The great philosophical appeal of Socrates was that he taught people to question everything, even if that means going against the grain of popular opinion. To discover the meaning of life we have to be ready to question and, if necessary, jettison our long cherished beliefs. There is a Zen analogy, that we cannot fill a glass that is already full. If we wish to fill the glass with knowledge, we first have to empty it of our existing beliefs. Similarly, if we empty the mind, only then can we fill it with spiritual knowledge on the meaning of life.

Discovering the meaning of life is a life long process, it cannot be reduced to a philosophical mathematical formula (although 42 was not a bad effort *). The meaning of life is not something that can be forced on others, it is really synonymous with the discovery of our higher self,

References:

[1] Yoga and the Spiritual Life at Sri Chinmoy Library

The Meaning of Life at Sri Chinmoy Library

Off Topic Musings on the Meaning of Life

* In Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Deep Thought returned an answer of 42.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

What does a Red Traffic Light Mean to You?

Whenever I fly to New York I cannot help but notice all the adverts for HSBC, "the local global bank", or something like that. What impresses me is that they show how the same thing can give either a very good or very bad connotation, depending on our frame of mind / social conditioning. Just for one example, the idea of 2 weeks lying on a beach is my idea of a terribly boring holiday. At the same time, others may find a cycling tour through the swiss Alps, perfect hell.


There are many things that we consider to be a bad thing, but is it actually fair to maintain this attitude? Is it possible to see good things in everything?

For example, my instinctive feeling is that a red traffic light is a bad thing: it delays our progress, it is a waste of time. If all our lights are green then we feel the Gods are smiling on us. If all the traffic light are red, we feel perfectly miserable and become convinced the whole world is conspiring against us. As a cyclist, a red light at a pedestrian crossing, only creates a temptation to ignore it and cycle through anyway.

Reading this essay from Everest Aspiration, by Sri Chinmoy, inspired me to look upon red traffic lights in another light(pardon the pun)

"The red stoplight discourages me when I am in a hurry. The same red light soothes my life when I am not in a hurry..." [1]


Instead of seeing a red light as an obstacle on the journey, it is an opportunity to be mentally still, not exactly meditation; but rather than entertaining thoughts of frustrations and impatience I can, at least, try to hold neutral / positive thoughts. A red light is not a meaningless obstacle but a necessary item to allow a smooth journey.

The great spiritual traditions teach us that real happiness is not dependent on external circumstances. Real happiness stems from our state of mind. Whatever may befall us in the outer life, it is our inner attitude that determines whether it is a good thing or not. We may go through life, metaphorically praying all the traffic lights will be green, but God may not want to fulfil this desire. If we pray for all obstacles to be cleared we will never learn that even red traffic lights can be an opportunity for reflection, inner poise and an inner self transcendence.

So even commercial adverts can have a scope for spiritual instruction, it just shows that our mental perceptions will determine our outlook quite significantly.


[1] The Red Stoplight - essay by Sri Chinmoy: from Everest Aspiration Part 3 by Sri Chinmoy.

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