Online is good but keeping holy company is better!

Ask yourself-what are the most meaningful memories that come to your mind again and again to serve as inspiration for your spiritual life? I am willing to guess that they aren’t memories of something you read, or watched online, or even heard in an abstract talk on Vedanta or any other spiritual tradition. Most likely your most meaningful memories involve some kind of personal contact with a teacher, a friend, or a group of people. Maybe you heard someone else tell a personal story or reminiscence that you find very inspiring.

That is certainly my experience. I have been on a spiritual path since I was 13 and now I am 60.
I have always loved reading, loved to learn. I have read literally hundreds of spiritual books, studied Sanskrit so I could read the scriptures and study them without relying on the translations. Like everyone else I am online reading and watching. All of that is important, but what I keep returning to for inspiration is memories and stories, particularly the ones that happened to me or someone I know. In fact, hearing the stories of others might be more inspiring than reflecting on my own.

You can’t get that online. The most important ingredient for spiritual growth is personal contact with great souls, teachers and spiritual friends. The current trend and fad to think that everything one needs can be found online is alarming. The thought seems to be that , if there is cyber-darshan, why set foot in a spiritual center? Ask “Google Maharaj” and all you need for your spiritual life will be given! Even more alarming is that personal contact is being sacrificed in some ashrams and centers to the unseen online millions of potential viewers.

Human contact is critical for spiritual growth. As Sri Ramakrishna said, one of the most important practices is to seek and keep holy company. I hope we are not forgetting that. Stories told, examples set, by those we respect and love-their power lies in personal contact. Let us always ready to keep holy company and to cherish the stories that are born there. All company is holy company.

Wishing all a joyful holiday season!

I want to wish everyone a joyful holiday season! There are, of course, many kinds of notions and beliefs regarding the ‘holiday season’. There’s one belief I feel is absolutely imperative to hold at all times: YOU MATTER. YOUR THOUGHTS MATTER. You matter because you are the Divine appearing in this conventional reality, uniquely as you. And, although we are subject to avidya, the unawareness of our true nature, the Divine is not subject to that unknowing and has ‘chosen’ to be none other than you. As Swami Vivekananda reminds us, each of us is the whole and not a part. Mind-blowing and inspiring! Life is a gift, not a prison sentence, no matter how much happiness or misery we feel.

We often feel discouraged, especially today when this happening we call ‘the world’ that we want to admire and love seems like it’s teetering on the brink. We assume there’s not much we ‘little people’ can do. We can do something right now! YOUR THOUGHTS MATTER. What you think makes a difference to the world and, of course, to yourself.

In his talk on non-attachment in KARMA YOGA Swami Vivekananda reminds us: “…when I am doing a certain action, my mind may be said to be in a certain state of vibration; all minds which are in similar circumstances will have the tendency to be affected by my mind….Every thought projected from every brain goes on pulsating, as it were, until it meets a fit object that will receive it.” He goes on to say that every destructive act/thought influences and is influenced by other similar thoughts, our own and those “projected from every brain”. Likewise,
every constructive thought we think influences and is influenced by similar thoughts. Thought leads to action. Every action we take, however small, has its effect.

If we feel we cannot contribute in action, we can contribute by examining our thoughts, making sure we contribute to the bandwidth of love, peace, expansion, harmony rather than the bandwidth of anger, hatred, and violence that appears to be in the limelight currently. We cannot choose our experience but we can choose how we perceive and respond to it.

So, for the upcoming year my wish for you (and myself) is CHOOSE LOVE, CHOOSE JOY!

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.