One Perfect Soul

There always have been and there always will be beautiful, evolved, and God-realized souls. Regardless of when they lived and where they lived, one can be in tune with their essence. Time and distance do not hinder the movement of grace.

Even if we do not have the physical presence of great sages in our life, we can have spiritual fellowship by creating a mental atmosphere filled with their vibrations and teachings.

My teacher used to tell me that there is always at least one perfectly God-realized soul somewhere in the Universe.

Milk: At What Cost? By Pramoda Chitrabhanu

Editor’s note: Pramoda-ji is the President of the Jain International Meditation Center in Mumbai (Bombay). She is also on the on the Board of Directors for PETA in India (People For Ethical Treatments of Animals).  She works for the Reverence for Life Society and for Beauty without Cruelty which promote animal welfare and the vegetarian way of life worldwide. Promada-ji has also authored a number of books – Foods of Earth; Tastes of Heaven – Jain Symbols – To Light One Candle (co-authored with Clare Rosenfield) – The Book of Compassion (coauthored with Pravin K. Shah). More on Pramoda-ji can be found on the Jain Meditation website.

Milk: At What Cost?

cow

Today all are aware that the global warming, ecological crisis and environmental pollution is threatening the entire human race making it a matter of graveconcern for all, especially for those who are conscientiously aware. For those who do not know that when one life is threatened all life is at risk.It is all very well to say that individuals must wrestle with their consciences–but only if their consciences are awake and informed. Industrial society, alas, hides animals’ suffering and does not allow the conscience to awake.

When we observe minutely around us we see that even nature sees the whole universe as a great cosmic mechanism with its own self-propelling force. We being part of that mechanism we are responsible for conducting ourselves in harmony and rhythm with the nature and rest of the living beings. It is important to know that each of us is a vital thread in another’s life tapestry and so our lives are woven together for a reason, reason to survive and to live in peace and help others live in peace.

It is with this view that the core teaching of Dharma (Religion) has remained to be Ahinsa since time immemorial. All its practitioners are vegetarians consuming neither meat, fish, fowl, poultry nor eggs. Now with increasing awareness and knowledge of the torturous lives the animals live in the factory farms, there are millions all over the world who have upgraded themselves to becoming VEGANS.

*They live on plant based food, so exclude flesh, fish, fowl, dairy products such as animal milk, butter, cheese, yogurt (curd), ice-cream, eggs, honey, animal gelatin and all other items of animal origin like leather, silk, wool, pearl etc.

*All those who practice Ahinsa Parmo Dharma (Ahinsa the supreme religion) would not take any life for food, fashion or sport.

*It is time we face the truth and see how much suffering is involved in one tall glass of milk. Each sip contains growth hormones, fat, cholesterol, allergenic proteins, blood, pus, antibiotic, bacteria and virus. Hence milk is a deadly poison.

* It is with the increased prosperity, people are consuming more and more amount of meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons in 1999/2001 to 465 million tons in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tons.( FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation of UN 2006 Report )

Do You Know :

*According to a new report published on Nov.29th 2006 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.

*Factory farms produce run-off that pollutes our streams and rivers, endangering not only the water supply for humans but also harming delicate eco-systems.

*Meat-based diets require 10-20 times as much land as plant-based diets – nearly half of the world’s grains & soybeans are fed to animals.

*Cows produce milk for the same reason that humans do-to nourish their young.

*Calves born on dairy farms are taken from their mothers when they are just one day old and fed milk replacers so that humans can have the milk instead.

*In order to keep a steady supply of milk, the cows are repeatedly impregnated. dairy_cow

*Several times a day, dairy cows are hooked by their udders to electronic milking machines, which can cause the cows to suffer electrical shocks, painful lesions, and mastitis. Their udders become sore and heavy with the milking machines and touch the floors.

*Some spend their entire lives standing on concrete floors; others are crammed into massive mud lots.

*Although cows would naturally make only enough milk to meet the needs of their calves (around 16 pounds a day), genetic manipulation, antibiotics, and hormones are used to force each cow to produce more than 18,000 pounds of milk a year (an average of 50 pounds a day)www.chooseveg.com ( National Agriculture Statistics Service.-2004Feb.17 Milk production. USA Department of Agriculture)

www.animal-lib. org.au/lists/vegan/vegan.shtml

*In order to further increase profits, Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), a synthetic hormone, is now being injected into cows to get them to produce even more milk. The hormones adversely affect the cows’ health and increase the rate of birth defects in their calves. BGH may also cause breast and prostate cancer in humans.

*Cows have a natural lifespan of about 25 years and can produce milk for eight or nine years and when their milk production drops they are sent to the slaughter house.

*The stress caused by factory farm conditions leads to disease, lameness, and reproductive problems that render cows worthless to the dairy industry by the time they are four or five years old, at which time they are sent to the slaughterhouse.

Cruelty to a Veal Calf in a Crate

*Few consumers realize that veal is a direct by-product of the dairy industry. In order for dairy cows to produce milk, they must be impregnated. While female calves are slaughtered or added to the dairy herd, many male calves are taken from their mothers when they are as young as one day old and chained in tiny stalls to be raised for veal.

*Confinement is so extreme that they cannot even turn around or lie down comfortably. As author John Robbins notes, “The veal calf would actually have morespace if, instead of chaining him in such a stall, you stuffed him into the trunk of a subcompact car and kept him there for his entire life.”

*Many veal calves are deliberately kept anemic in order to produce light-colored meat, which fetches higher prices in restaurants. Their liquid-based, iron-deficient diets cause numerous health problems.

*Motherless and alone, they suffer from ulcers, diarrhea, pneumonia, and lameness.

*After three to 18 weeks of this deprivation, they are trucked to the slaughterhouse, where their young lives are taken from them.

The above information is taken from WWW.chooseveg.com

Veal calves are chained by their necks in tiny crates & fed an anemia-inducing diet. (www.chooseveg.com)

http://www.chooseveg.com/images/CowDidYouKnow.jpgCows are extremely gentle and affectionate animals, forming strong bonds with one another, particularly between mother and child. As Michael Klaper M.D. recalls “The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf…On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn-only ten yards away, in plain view of his mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth-minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days-was excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain.”

*Does the above facts and truth strike a chord in your heart, or is it another piece of information to read and forget about it? Think, ponder and then decide. It’s your life, it’s your choice.

*Today the dairy cows and buffaloes in India also go through the same fate as their counter parts in western countries, becoming milking machines for human beings.

*The cows and buffaloes are kept pregnant every year for a consecutive 6-7 years period by artificial insemination.

*As soon as she stops yielding milk, she is dragged to the slaughter house for beef meat. The life span of a cow is 20-25 years but she dies in 6-7 years.

*Poor calves are deprived of their mother’s milk that is rightfully theirs. They are fattened by hormone injections and kept in dark sheds away from sunlight in oppressed conditions, preparing them for veal meat.

*These cows’ milk is for their calves but now milked for human beings.

*Their calves go hungry without a drop of milk and we become the cause (Nimitta) for their hunger and slaughter, violating the first vow of Ahinsa.

*This also affects our longevity (Ayushya) Karma. Reducing the longevity of others we reduce our longevity.

*The Jains believe that to take anything without the permission of their owner is a theft (Adattadan).

*They also know that it is acquiring the Karma of Obstruction (Antaraya) causing the separation of mother and its baby.

*Mahavir has emphasized foregoing passion creating foods in daily life (Vigaya).

*All dairy products are passion creating food.

*Giving up dairy and becoming Vegan we incur minimum of negative karmas and thus purify ourselves.

*Knowing the facts and yet if we are not able to change our food habits and give up dairy products we have to question our beliefs and commitment to dharma.

*How can we be at peace if we are causing pain and suffering to innocent living beings?

*The law of nature – Dharma is nothing but cause and effect. What we sow that we grow. Whatever suffering is caused to animals comes back to us like a boomerang?

*So becoming VEGAN is one of the most important and effective actions we can take to ease the strain on our Earth’s limited resources, protect the planet from pollution, prevent global warming, and save countless species from extinct.

To sum this up, let me quote Mahavir who expressed it succinctly:

“One who neglects or disregards the existence

of earth, water, fire, air, vegetation and other living beings

Disregards his own existence

which is entwined with them.”

Pramoda Chitrabhanu, Chairperson of Jaina Jivadaya Committee

Federation of Jaina Associations in North America

http://www.jainmeditation.org/pages/pramoda.html

Also see the following related article by Pramoda-ji on ecology and vegetarianism on this site on the following link.

https://luthar.com/ecology-and-vegetarianism-in-jain-dharma-by-pramoda-chitrabhanu

Ecology and Vegetarianism in Jain Dharma: By Pramoda Chitrabhanu

http://www.jainmeditation.org/pages/pramoda.html

Pramoda Chitrabhanu

Jain Meditation International Center

New York City

Ecology and Vegetarianism in Jainism

Taiwan Nov. 3-7 2007

Today, the global ecological crisis that is threatening the entire human race is becoming a matter of grave concern for all of us and especially for those who are conscientiously aware.  For those who are not aware they forget one thing and that is when one life is threatened, all life is at risk.  It is important to know that each of us is a vital thread in another’s life tapestry and our lives are woven together for a reason – survival and to be happy.

Jain Dharma sees the whole universe as a great cosmic mechanism with its own self-propelling force, and we being a part of that mechanism, the religion teach us to conduct ourselves in harmony and in rhythm with the rest of the life force.

In the manifestation of nature we see there is harmony and rhythm. Everything works according to its nature. But when we look at ourselves we do not see our lives in agreement with the cosmic mechanism. We are out of sync with nature and tend to go against our qualities of love, compassion and friendship for all living beings.

We do not realize that we are interrelated and bound together by mutual support and interdependence with all life force. Each living thing depends on another for insuring its survival. We cannot live a single day without the help of others. Therefore, it is important to know that all life is a gift of togetherness, accommodation and assistance which lead to mutual peace and harmony. This fundamental natural phenomenon of symbiosis or mutual dependence forms the basis of modern day science of ecology.

It is relevant to know that the term ‘ecology’ was coined from the Greek word ‘oikos’ meaning home, a place to which one returns. In 1866 Ernst Haeckel, a German biologist and a philosopher, defined it as a comprehensive science of relationship of organism to environment. This term covers the conditions, circumstances and influences surrounding and affecting the development of an organism or groups of organism, exclusive of their hereditary traits.

Today, the problem of global ecological crisis is due to the ecological balance that has been wildly disturbed by our present day lifestyle, particularly by the wanton destruction of the animal and plant life in the civilized societies.

Have we ever wondered how so many invisible lives have made our single day livable and comfortable? How the microcosm is connected to the macrocosm and the macrocosm to the microcosm? How we are indebted to everything that assists us?

In the words of Nathaniel Altman, who depicts a better picture of interdependence, “Grass, for example, provides nourishment for millions of tiny invertebrates, which in turn are food for insects. The insects are eaten by frogs and small snakes, which provide nourishment for birds. When the larger animals die, they provide food for other living things, and as they decompose, they fertilize the soil on which grass is grown. When this “food chain” is disrupted, the very fiber of life on this planet is affected. As with a house of cards, the removal of one card can bring about the collapse of the entire structure.”

Being on the top of the ladder of evolution, we have learned to take things for granted and in the process have lost the sensibility and sense of appreciation and gratitude.

Many of us like to believe that our life is experienced in isolated, watertight compartments and that the way we conduct our daily affairs does not have a significant impact on the society and the world we live in. But we must not forget that just as a stone thrown into a pool will affect every molecule of water in the pool, in the same way our every thought, word and action will affect our inner and outer world. Therefore, it is important to know that what we do — to the life around us and the environment — becomes our fate.

Lord Mahavir the 24th Tirthankar (path finder) of this era for the Jains lived in 599 – 527 B.C. experienced that the thoughts which govern our words or actions are the products of the food we eat. The food that feeds the system has a definite influence on the person physically as well as emotionally, psychologically and also spiritually. Healthy, whole and harmless foods give rise to healthy, whole and harmless thoughts. Once the thoughts are harmless and healthy, the actions also reflect the same qualities. Weakness in character develops in those who are in poor health, mentally or physically. So, it is rightly said that we are what we eat.

If we take this into consideration and adopt a plant based diet we can save approximately 2400 animals in our life time and stop them from going to the slaughter house.

Believe it or not, if you take just the Americans, they consume 9 billion animals every year. If one wants to, one can change this every time one sits to eat.

The practitioner of Jain Dharma practices Upayoge Dharma (religion of awareness) through its code of conduct. There are five basic vows in this code of conduct that strengthen our practice of environmental concern and protection of all life forms.

The five vows are:

* non violence in thought, word and deed,

* seek and speak the truth,

* behave honestly and never to take anything by force or theft,

* practice restraint and chastity in thought, word and deed,

* practice non- possessiveness.

As in the words of Christopher Key Chapple, “The Jains vows can easily be reinterpreted in an ecological fashion. The practice of nonviolence in the Jain context fosters an attitude of respect for all life -forms. The observance of truthfulness prompts an investigation of the interrelatedness of things; a truthful person cannot easily dismiss the suffering caused by uncontrolled waste. The vow of not stealing can be used to reflect on the world’s limited resources and prompt one to think of the needs of the future generations. Sexual restraint might help minimize population growth. The discipline of non-possession gives one pause to think twice before indulging in the acquisition of material goods, one of the root causes of current ecological concerns.”

With this awareness we can live a non-violent life so that we may incur minimum of negative karmas by our actions that are the cause of our suffering. But often we live an unaware and unknowable life during which we become callous and insensitive to the surroundings, causing much destruction to the animal world and nature by our need to satiate our palate and purse.

The depletion of the natural resources, environmental crisis, global warming, ecological imbalance, and annihilation of innumerable life forms are our responsibility. They help us to live and we destroy them for our food, clothing, entertainment, medicine, and luxury and material possession. This way by abusing and exploiting the living lives and the environment, we abuse and destroy the gentleness of our soul.

Do You Know?

* To produce 1 lb of meat, an average of 40lbs of vegetation is used.

* 12 lbs of wheat produce 12 loaves of bread and only 1 hamburger.

* It takes 3.25 acres of land to produce food for a meat eater on a continuing basis, while it takes 1/3 of an acre for someone eating a diet of plants, eggs and dairy and 1/6 of an acre for a person eating totally plant based diet (vegan).

* A University of California Study shows that to produce 1 lb of meat it takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water, it takes 966 gallons of water to produce one gallon of cow’s milk and on the other hand plant foods such as wheat, apples etc. takes 20 to 50 gallons of water to produce one pound of food.

* Eating food crops first hand produces a tremendous energy savings. To produce one pound of protein derived from beef requires 20 times as much fossil fuel energy as the same one pound of protein derived from corn or wheat. Protein from beef requires 40 times more fossil fuel energy as the same amount of protein derived from soybeans.

* The waste released in the atmosphere by the U.S. Meat and Dairy Industry is 230,000 pounds per second, thus polluting earth, air and water systems.

* It is estimated that it takes 75,000 trees to print a Sunday edition of The New York Times for the readers.

These staggering numbers is a wake up-call for us to make a difference.

Human Welfare

* Twenty vegetarians can be fed on the amount of land needed to feed one person consuming a meat-based diet.

* If America reduced their intake of meat by 10 percent, 60 million people can be adequately fed by grain saved.

* A cow has to eat 7 lbs of grain and soy bean protein to produce 1 lb of meat protein. If the same land were to produce food for humans directly, 7 times more people could eat.

* More than half of all the water used in the United States is used in live stock production that can be used where there is water shortage.

When we become aware of these facts and change our lifestyle and go vegetarian we can increase the amount of grain available to feed people elsewhere, reduce pollution, save water and energy, cease contributing to the clearing of forests and the most important we can save thousands of living creatures from torture and pain.

The core teaching of Jain Dharma is Ahinsa and so all of its 10 million followers are vegetarians, consuming neither meat, fish, fowl, poultry nor eggs. Jains would not take any life for food or sport.

But today many have gone one step forward and have also given up all dairy products and call themselves Vegan – who live on plant based diet, so exclude flesh, fish, fowl, dairy products such as animal milk, butter, cheese, yogurt etc. eggs, honey, animal gelatin and all other items of animal origin.

The dairy cows have become milking machines for human beings. The cows are kept pregnant every year for a consecutive 9-10 year period by artificial insemination. As soon as the cow stops yielding milk, she is dragged to the slaughter house for beef meat. Poor calves are forcefully dragged away from their mother, depriving them of their mother’s milk that is rightfully theirs. They are fattened by hormone injections and kept in dark sheds away from sunlight in oppressed conditions, preparing them for veal meat. Ultimately this becomes the fate of the cows and calves!

How can we be at peace if we are causing pain and suffering to innocent living beings? The quality of our relationship with each other and the world is primarily based on our level of self- understanding. As we want to be happy, all life wants to be happy. So, by making the right choices, life will result in right consequences.

In this way a non-violent approach to life through ecology and vegetarianism enables us to express our reverence for all life forms including ourselves – from the minutest micro-being to the macro- being, from the lowest developed consciousness to the highest developed consciousness.

To sum up this, let me quote Lord Mahavir who expressed it succinctly:

“One who neglects or disregards the existence

Of earth, water, fire, air, vegetation and all other lives

Disregards his own existence

Which is entwined with them?”

Vegetarian Lifestyle: By Dr. Shyam Subramanian

Question from a student: As a Hindu living in the U.S., should I remain a vegetarian? If I include meat in my diet there are so many more choices in restaurant menus. Also, when I go to parties I feel awkward telling the host that I can’t eat many of their meat dishes. It is really uncomfortable. I see many of my Indian friends eating meat and fish and caviar and whatever is available and I feel they are more accepted socially in the western culture and that will help them get ahead professionally as well and make more money. As an American born in India, I feel very conflicted about this whole vegetarianism issue. There is pressure from my family to remain a vegetarian but my friends who are not vegetarians are having a better time at my college it seems.

shyam

Answer By Dr. Shyam Subramanian

Continue reading

The Path to Enlightenment: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

docimage138

A Popular Dichotomy

A popular dichotomy has emerged about Enlightenment in the West since the 1970s between the schools of “gradual enlightenment” and “instant enlightenment”. Some of this can probably be traced back to Poonja ji’s and Nisargadatta Maharaj’s disciples returning to the west in the 1970s and 1980s from India and bringing their understanding of Advaita Vedanta with them as given to them by their teachers. However, because many of these students deviate from traditional Advaita as taught in the classic lineage of Adi Shankracharya, they are referred to as neo-advaitins.

Given this thesis and antithesis between the gradual path and the direct path, I address the following question:

It is said that there are two approaches to the Truth of Being or Reality which some call Enlightenment or Self-Realization. A gradual path and a direct path. What is the truth of it? Are their really two paths? If not, which approach is the correct one? What road should a seeker of truth take?

First we look at the two paths and what these are about.

The Gradual Path

In the gradual path, one engages in meditation and other spiritual practices and disciplines, refines and purifies the mind over time, and is able to rise above the body limitations in ecstatic and trance states.

At some point, the mind beholds the divine directly or is able to surrender itself and be absorbed in the divine. Most yoga paths in various Eastern traditions fall into this category. One can check the ancient Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for reference.

Such schools of thought are also common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and other religions as well. In these traditions, personal prayers, effort, and practice to reach the supreme divine is emphasized and considered vital to success on the spiritual path.

Criticism of the Gradual Path

The yogic paths and meditative approaches based on effort are criticized by the proponents of the direct path (the neo-advaitins) as being misguided.

The advocates of the direct path point out that since Advaita Vedanta states that the Self is always realized, expending effort to find it, is itself counterproductive. Their essential position is that since any effort towards enlightenment is based on ignorance, it cannot lead to true understanding or Enlightenment.

If I were to frame the objection of the neo-advaitin to the gradual path in the form of a question, it would be this: ” How can spiritual effort based on the false assumption of ignorance lead to the Truth of Reality?”.

Logically, It is a quite a beautiful and a powerful assertion.


Criticism of the Direct Path

On the other hand, the “direct path students and teachers” are viewed by many traditional yogis and practitioners of meditation as deluded individuals who at best have convinced themselves due to the power of sheer ignorance that they are enlightened. Such self-deception in the long run is bound to prove frustrating and disappointing to themselves as well as those unfortunate enough to fall for their hype of “Instant Enlightenment”.

Many traditional practitioners also claim that the “direct path teachers” tend to be on power trips and underneath the facade of their “Enlightenment” lies the basic human nature of greed and the hunger for power and the usual sexual and financial exploitation of those who follow them. They point to numerous examples of this happening in various spiritual communities and satsangh circles.

Unfortunately, the traditional practitioners and gurus are also not free from such issues. So neither can win the argument on the ground of excessive purity in behavior and conduct.

Support for Both Schools of Thought Exists

Such criticisms and counter-criticisms that the practitioners of two schools hurl toward each other all appear to have some degree of validity. Both schools also have their own particular strengths. An integrative understanding can lead one to relax one’s position on such matters.

In the direct path, the insight or the revelation is sudden like thunder. Truth of the Self appears as lightning and illuminates one’s being in a flash. The ignorance drops away as if it never was and one is at ease with one’s nature. Buddhists call it the Original Face, the Buddha mind, or the Buddha nature. Hindus and Jains call it Atma Jnana, Kevala Jnana, or Moksha.

There are various examples of this particular mode of thought in Hinduism and other religions as well. In this approach, for many, the Grace of God or Guru becomes the focal point on the spiritual path and the role of personal effort is downplayed. Support for this is found in the Upanishads (sacred scriptures of Hindus) where we see statements like, “Self reveals Itself to whom It chooses.” For reference, see the Katha Upanishad, where Yama, the Lord of Death, explains to Nachiketa,” The Self cannot be known through the study of scriptures, nor through intellect nor through hearing learned discourses. It can be attained only by those whom the Self chooses.”

On the other hand, in many schools of Hinduism, the emphasis is on works and on spiritual practices such as meditation, pranayama, fasting, etc. Similarly, in Jainism, the spiritual aspirant must bravely work out his/her karma (destiny) in this world following the path of forgiveness, compassion, and nonviolence. This was demonstrated over 2600 years ago by the Tirthankara Bhagavan Mahavira who bore physical and mental hardships with a feeling of amity and nonviolence towards all living beings. Eventually, as his karma dropped, the heavy burden of his soul becomes lighter and led to Self-Realization and Kevala Jnana (Which Jains view as Omniscience).

We see that in Jainism, the actual working out of karma through indifference to suffering, doing good deeds and by cultivating universal love for all beings is emphasized. The same is true in most schools of Hinduism. Even in Buddhism, originally Buddha taught the doctrine of effort and walking the spiritual path with care and compassion. Buddha’s last words to his students are said to be, “Work out your salvation with diligence.” Essentially, Buddha was saying to his students that after receiving his teachings, it was up to them to walk the path and attain their Buddha nature.

Where is the Truth in this Forest?

So then where lies the Truth of Enlightenment? Is the Truth of Realization achieved through walking the path gradually and carefully while engaging in spiritual practices? Or is Realization attained suddenly through a Zen like Satori or when the Zen master does something strange and shocking as depicted in many Zen stories. Can Realization really come unannounced knocking at the door as was the case with Sri Ramana Maharshi?

Sri Ramana, the great sage of Arunachala, has simultaneously endorsed both perspectives and said that the Truth of the Self is indeed simple and within everyone’s grasp. We simply mix the underlying feeling of “I AM” which is there in all of us (and always the same from childhood to old age) with the circumstances of our life, and the ever changing currents and patterns of our mood and personality.

The self-feeling of existence, the “I AM” which animates our life and consciousness and gives light to identity becomes invisible and goes in the background as we become captivated with our perceptions and invest in our daily relationships. That is only according to nature, and one is meant to engage in these things.

All relationships inevitably end. Even when we love someone dearly and they love us, eventually we are separated through circumstances, old age, or illness. If someone is married for 50 years, there is no guarantee that they will make it another year or another 10 years. In due time, one person will pass away due to old age or illness or another cause.

Coming together and separating are the nature of life. Underlying all these events and relationships is the silent presence of “I AM”. If we are paying attention we can feel it. In our quiet moments it comes upon us and we can stay with it. The truth is so simple and ordinary and that is why we take it for granted. If we remain with this self-feeling of existence, the stainless “I AM” free from the contents of the mind, we can come to see the value and beauty of it. It is only pure being. Our own being.

The Role of Spiritual Effort

The spiritual effort needed in terms of meditation and inquiry, to make the mind subtle and to refine the intellect so that this simplicity of being can be grasped with immediacy and certainty, should not be dismissed.

If some people do not need such efforts and can recognize the truth of their being immediately by hearing someone restate or paraphrase what the ancient sages have said, that is wonderful indeed. It shows that their mind already had requisite subtlety, depth, and maturity.

The Sense of Being I AM: The Open Secret

If there is a deep sense of quiet within, it can be like a mirror and we can see the image of “I AM” reflected in the mind. I am reminded of that passage where God said to Moses, “I AM That I AM”. I am not a scholar or religious expert but sometimes it seems to me that this is a symbolic message telling us to pay attention to the “I AM” within because it is God sitting in our own being and Heart saying, “Here I AM, I AM, Come to Me”.

It is said that man (woman) was made in the image of God. If the nature or identity of God can be described best as “I AM THAT I AM” it stands to reason that the nature of Man (Woman) is also similar. Our essential nature can be captured by this feeling we all have; the simple feeling of being-existing, free from conflicts, “I AM”. According to Advaita, this “I AM” within us is the link to God. Prayer, meditation, contemplation all make us reflect on this sense of being within us.

The Sahaj State

The state of the Self is natural. Easy and natural because the Self remains as It Self. It is devoid of sorrow and has nothing to attain being whole and complete and what the Advaita scriptures refer to as One without a second. Sages called this Realization the Sahaj state.

Sahaj in Sanskrit means easy and natural. That which requires no effort is Sahaj. To understand the Sahaj state of the Self, we can start and reflect on our body and see what is natural to it. What is easy and natural differs among people. Some people are able to sit in the lotus posture in an easy and natural way (see the picture of this young woman at www.harshasatsangh.com sitting in the lotus posture).

However, the lotus posture is not easy and natural for everyone. For most people, to sit like that would hurt their knees and ankles and is very uncomfortable. God did not say to Moses, “Here I Am, sitting in the Lotus Posture.” God only said, “I AM THAT I AM”. The feeling of “I AM” within us is independent of posture. Physical postures pertain only to the body and not to the spirit.

What is Natural Differs Among People

In life and on the spiritual path we have to see what is easy and natural for us. For some, walking is easy and natural and such people practice their prayers, mantras, and pranayama taking a morning stroll. Others are not satisfied unless they lift very heavy weights and scream “Oh God”, “Oh God”, and breathe rapidly and heavily. This is their form of being natural. For such people becoming very muscular becomes natural. If you were to tell weight lifters to take it easy and just take a nice walk every morning, they would not agree to it. They like to have big muscles and low body fat. That is natural for them but not for everyone.

In Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that actions and paths of people differ according to their natural inclinations and therefore one should follow one’s own Dharma not someone else’s. In other words, we need not seek or follow someone’s path because it may not be natural for us. We should be natural, authentic, and true to our self. Without it, there would be inner conflict which is not conducive to being quiet and meditative.

 What Path Should One Follow?
Gradual or Direct or Just Stay Home

In this essay, I have suggested that the philosophies and perspectives of the gradual or the direct path are not inherently meaningful. Their truth lies only in being teaching tools. Words and concepts such as the “direct path” and the “gradual path” are meant to point at the truth but they are not themselves the truth. The Truth must reveal itself to us in our own Heart.

Therefore, one should not be rigid about which notion is correct or more important or higher than the other. Asking whether the direct path is better than the gradual, one misses the point. The real question is, “What feels natural to you and makes sense?”

Being rigid in one’s view, one misses the obvious. Both the notion of “direct” and “gradual” depend on each other for meaning and have no basis in the Reality of the Self.

According to Advaita Vedanta, the Self Always Is. It cannot be seen by “another” directly. Neither is it approached by “another” gradually. Self Reveals It Self Alone to ItSelf. To understand it in plain English, you can say to yourself, “I am always going to Me. And Here I Am.” Just stay with that.

You Are the Self.

Sri Ramana and My Teacher Gurudev Sri Chitrabhanu-Ji: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

All of us come from different backgrounds, and we walk the path in our own unique way. Yet, we all have the same innermost longing to know the deepest mystery of our own nature and being. Reflecting on the purest teachings of the Self and on the nature of Ahimsa as nonmovement of the mind, we are bound to have experiences and openings in our consciousness.

When my teacher, Gurudev Sri Chitrabhanu-ji visited Sri Ramana, he was just a teenager. Chitrabhanu-Ji became a Jain monk in 1942 at the age of 20. Prior to that, he was searching and visiting different saints in the various traditions of India and asking them questions about the spiritual path and how to become Self-Realized.

Gurudev Sri Chitrabhanu

Chitrabhanu-Ji told me that of all the saints and sages he visited in India in his teen years, a few were unforgettable and stood out to him. Sri Ramana was one of them.

When I was 22 and studying with Chitrabhanu-Ji, he saw me carrying books of different spiritual teachers for my reading pleasure. He asked to see these books and thumbed through them. He knew most of the authors personally. Swami Rama of Himalayan Institute had come to our meditation center. One time I saw Swami Chidananda, the disciple of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, when he came to visit my teacher. Swami Chidananda was very thin even then and was leading a very pure and ascetic life.

After looking through my books, Chitrabhanu-Ji told me that I should read the dialogues with Ramana Maharshi and study his teaching. That is how I was led to Sri Ramana. Of course, after I read the classic, “Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi”, it was indeed like magic and I knew deep in my heart that this was my way.

The Author at 21-22 studying With Sri Chitrabhanu-Ji

Going back to Chitrabhanu-Ji, he wanted to know the meaning of life at a very young age. He had lost his mother, his sister, and then his girl friend and so the world did not seem so attractive to him even at a young age. He wanted to know the mystery of life and death and what is beyond. In that quest, he started visiting many saints and sadhus and also visited Sri Ramana.

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Self, Shakti, Heart, and Enlightenment in Advaita: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Often on the spiritual path, the topics of best postures, best techniques of meditation, best behaviors conducive to spiritual growth, best gurus, etc., come up. All of these questions are appropriate to their time and circumstances.  Such questions were frequently put to Bhagavan Ramana.

Underlying all such questions is the fundamental theme or inquiry as to what constitutes superior spiritual practice that will lead to improvement in one’s mental and physical conditions and finally to Self-Realization or Enlightenment. From this perspective, Self-Realization is viewed as an attainment. It is something that is achieved by an individual by making the right effort. This approach in its methodology is not too different than that of a talented world class athlete, who after having trained rigorously, wins a gold medal at the Olympics.

This point of view emphasizes the need to focus the mind in order for it to expand and evolve to higher levels. Spiritual practices based on this foundation, involve meditating in a particular posture, concentrating on chakras, raising the kundalini shakti, practicing mantras, deep breathing, and doing pranayama exercises.

The Yoga paths explicitly incorporate the idea of controlling and developing the mind to gain entry into Samadhi and Super-conscious states. Most religions have this philosophy at their core; that without hard work one does not succeed either in life or in knowing God.

The General Spiritual Path Model

Buddha is supposed to have said to his disciples as he was dying, “Work out your salvation with diligence.” He meant that you have to personally work it out and attain Nirvana by right conduct, right practice, right meditation, etc.

The same principle is present in Jainism and most of the schools of thought in Hinduism. In Jainism, one attains to Moksha through one’s own individual efforts. In Hinduism, one achieves Moksha by God’s Grace. However, in most schools of Hinduism, one only benefits fully from God’s Grace, when one has made the right effort on the spiritual path by following one’s Dharma and by meditating on the nature of the Self.

Although it is a complex topic, the general spiritual model that we have before us is this: There is a spiritual path, there is the goal of Enlightenment or Self-Realization, and you have to expend much effort, and walk on the path for a long time in order to reach the destination. While you are walking, you may even have to go through the “dark night of the soul” a few times, because there are so many temptations along the way and things can sometimes appear hopeless and quite depressing.

So not only is there the possibility of tripping and falling due to worldly obstacles, but one also may give up on the whole idea of Liberation, Salvation, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Moksha, and/or getting to Heaven. Indeed many on the spiritual path do end up concluding that there is no meaning in life or the spiritual aspiration at all and kick themselves for missing out on the pleasures of their youth by having rejected the philosophy of “Eat, Drink, and be Merry” prematurely.

However, experienced sages know that what practices or behaviors will be helpful to the seeker on the spiritual path seems to depend on one’s conditioning, physiology, culture, background, etc. Although there is a general framework on how to pursue one’s aspiration for Enlightenment or Self-Realization, the truth is that one has to make the path as one walks on it because each individual is unique. Therefore, the view of “Eat, Drink, and be Merry”, within reason and in moderation, may be fully compatible with the spiritual life. It is the overall context that has to be understood.

The Self-Knowledge of a Sage

For the one abiding spontaneously and inherently in the Self-Truth of Reality, questions of methods, techniques, and practices, and the path become moot. When clarity of Self arises, any technique may be practiced and any path may be walked or one may give up all techniques and paths. For such a person, the Self-Attention itself absorbs attention regardless of where it is focused outwardly. The essential element in this understanding is the Recognition by Awareness of its Innate Wakefulness. Awareness is always self-aware by its very nature.

When awareness remains pure and spontaneously self-focused (perpetually in communion with itself), the subtle duality between awareness/attention (as Pure I AM) and its Source is seen to be illusory.

Then even the witness disappears, there being nothing to witness. The “I AM” disappears having nothing to point to. Spontaneously with the I AM Awareness/Shakti merging in its Source, the Self is Recognized. The Self Recognizes It Self by It Self and Through It Self as its own Source. It Sees and Recognizes that It has Always Been the Source. That It Is the Eternal Source, the causeless cause.

This is the Supreme Beauty of the Heart. It absorbs the Shakti, and along with it the Mind, thus swallowing time and space.

How can one speak of this Silence? The Silence that transcends all understanding and knowledge can only be indicated indirectly.

Great sages like Sri Ramana Maharshi never tire of pointing out that, —That Which is Real and Absolute Always Exists and is not absent even now—. How can Reality, whether one calls it God, Consciousness, Absolute, Nirvana, Moksha, Kingdom of Heaven, or by some other name be present at one time and absent at another? Perfection, by its nature, cannot be more perfect sometimes but not others. The approach and method of Advaita is based on this implicit axiom.

The Method of Advaita

The ever-present and eternal existence of our fundamental reality, whatever label we give it (Self-Nature, Buddha-Nature, Original Face, God, Goddess, God Consciousness, Pure Consciousness, Supreme Consciousness) must be here and now in this very moment. Otherwise, it is not Perfect!

This is the fundamental insight and conviction of the path of Advaita and the Advaitic sages. Therefore, we have to grasp the present by simply being present to it. This is the method of Advaita.

How is this done? In this way:

This present ordinary awareness, that you experience, you should notice it and then hold on to it. It is subtle and yet so ordinary. That is why we miss it. No matter how ordinary a baby looks to others, to the mother it is special. She adores her baby and to her it is the most lovely and wonderful child in the world. That is the attitude one must have towards one’s ordinary present awareness.

Like a mother holds on firmly to her child in all conditions, one should keep this ordinary self-awareness in the center of one’s consciousness knowing it to be special. The Supreme Reality It Self is hidden in it. It cannot be anywhere outside of it. If the Supreme Reality is somewhere outside of our ordinary consciousness, it is not perfect. Therefore, we can confidently look for perfection in our ordinariness, our ordinary consciousness.

Finding God in the Heart

There is a Christian saying that “Man is made in the image of God”. There is deep meaning in that. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says to Arjuna, “I am in the Heart of all.” We find such expressions in many of the religions of the world and in major works of different spiritual traditions.

On the path of Advaita, through our present ordinary awareness, we become, or more accurately, recognize our True and Ever-Present Image in the Heart. Advaita goes one step further and states that indeed the illusion of separation between the Individual soul and God lasts only as long as God is not recognized as the Center of our Being, sitting in the Heart as the Heart.

This is the Heart, that the ancients called Sat-Chit-Ananda. Existence, Consciousness, Bliss. The Supreme Self. It is beyond thoughts and concepts. Time and Space do not touch it.

As Sri Ramana has said, — that which is real is ever present—. We have to see what is present right now in this very moment. If we become quiet, we are able to feel our ordinary awareness, the sense of “I Am” as being present in this moment. That is the seed. If we water it and give it food, it grows and the Reality reveals it Self from within.

Editor’s Note:  The Feature Picture depicts photo art of brother Eden Kailash on his fb page.