From Gitaprana: About finding inspiration

We hear a lot of teachings and instructions but sometimes the most important ones are simply one sentence.

Some people felt that Swami Swahananda was not specific enough with the instructions he gave to his disciples. He often answered questions about practice by offering a variety of answers and told us to choose. Or, in my case, his main instruction was to exclaim, “Figure it out yourself!” But, he was also a master of the one-liner: a really quick, powerful sentence that had implications for every action, everywhere.

Here is an example that will stay with me until the end of my days:
When I lived in Hollywood I served on a couple of committees. We all know that committees can be exasperating, especially to one without patience like me. One day I made the total mistake of saying (without thinking) to Swami Swahananda, “I think X committee is wrecking my life”. Instantly, within a nano-second, he turned and shouted, “YOU HAVE NO LIFE!!!”

I understood. As a sannyasini, when I performed my own funeral, and took the gerua cloth, I, in effect, gave up my life. The challenge is to identify with the Self, the Divine, the Mother, and to work to eliminate all the mental obstacles that keep me identified with the ego-constructed self. Really, I don’t have “a life”. That is a notion born of believing we are separate beings. And, the individual life that I experience has been given to serve, in the Mother, in Sri Ramakrishna, all sentient beings. That means embracing every experience that arises as coming from the Divine. To me, that’s the essence of renunciation and you don’t have to be a monastic to do it!

Here at Ridgely I have many responsibilities that sometimes seem overwhelming, like a job for some kind of superhuman. To ensure that others find peace and inspiration here, I don’t have a lot of peace. But all I have to do is remember Swami Swahananda shouting, “You have no life!” and I feel inspired again. It reminds me to look at daily events through the Divine lens.

So, one fantastic spiritual practice is to find a memory of a meaningful personal teaching, or even one from a scripture or other book, and use it to reorient yourself whenever you feel life is running crazy without your participation , when your job/family situation is a little complicated or stressful.

From Gitaprana: About Murtis/Images

I want to say something about murtis, or forms of the Divine.Every religious tradition has them. Every person has their own notions, mental forms of the Divine. Hinduism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity share the belief that the form/murti/icon is a window to the Divine, a threshold and a meeting place. The idea is that, somehow, in some unspeakable way, the consciousness of the Divine overshadows the individual image. We are not talking a a general, God -in- everything way. The mystery here is that the One, Infinite Satchidananda, present everywhere, is specifically aware in the murti.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, icons are blessed to give them a living presence. In the Hindu tradition, that process is called prana pratishtha: invoking life in the image. The life has been invoked in virtually all the images you meet in Indian temples. The image becomes a dwelling place for the Divine and is treated as a living being.

Sometimes a temporary image will have the life invoked during the puja and then “returned” to the infinite after the puja is over. At Kali Puja the prana pratishtha ritual is part of the puja. Once the life of the murti is invoked, the Mother Herself is specifically present, aware. It does not matter if the image is large or small, like ours here at Ridgely. Between the Mother and the devotee attending the puja there is darshan/seeing. You see the Mother and, more importantly, the Mother sees you. That is what makes Kali Puja so powerful. The Mother is there and she is Kali, that terrific power of creation and destruction, looking right at you, listening to the music, accepting your offerings. On a more subtle level she touches your inner awareness, that place of silence that has nothing to do with what is going on around you.

And yes, it is also true that all is Brahman, infinite, undivided, formless. The world of the vyavahara, the world of namarupa is filled with paradoxes! For several years I was the one who created the murti for the Hollywood Center’s Kali Puja. I was present when the image was immersed at the very end and I can tell you, the Mother LOVES to return to the formless as much as She loves to take forms.