Thursday, 23 July 2015

Good humans

We recently returned from the annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury. The iconic music festival has a remarkable history. What began 40 years ago with one pound tickets, free milk, and a few thousand people, has now grown to a tented city of 180,000 people, high profile performances and a media spotlight bringing an audience of tens of millions. What has remained, however, is the sense of idealism, activism, counter culture and ‘outside the box’ approach. It’s a refreshing contrast to an otherwise conformist world, and I did indeed have several interesting conversations in my short weekend stay there.

At approximately 2.00am on Sunday morning a fairy entered our tent. Well, he was actually an East Anglian insurance broker and father-of-three who was in costume for the weekend! We sat down and spontaneously began exchanging reflections on life, the universe and everything. He appreciated our spiritual contribution, charitable disposition and jolly approach, but confessed he wasn’t a ‘believer.’ He identified himself as humanist, suggesting that people could live happy and meaningful lives through open communication, strong morals, and healthy criticism, without any need for metaphysical or spiritual belief. He found no grounds to believe in God or religion. But, he said, “I believe man – in man’s creative power, in man’s innate goodness, in man’s endeavour to better the world through discovery, discussion, honest hard work and love.” Passionately gesticulating he ended in a crescendo: “for me, humanity is divine, and divinity is redundant!” I appreciated his heartfelt presentation, but, as you can imagine, I wasn’t quite convinced.

For many, the horrors of the world, the war, injustice, crime and suffering through centuries, can only signal the supreme triumph of atheism. After all, who could believe in God in the face of such horrifying acts of violence and brutality? Many more, however, would argue that it is humanity devoid of genuine spirituality and metaphysical worth that creates such problems. Indeed, humanity has been responsible for moral, social and political catastrophes. Sometimes it was humanity that was supposedly inspired by God, and sometimes it was humanity that was entirely and utterly atheistic. The common denominator, however, in the problem: humanity not divinity. We are innately good, but that goodness is only activated through genuine spirituality. We are good, only when we know who we really are. True goodness rests upon a profound and broad understanding of ourselves, the universe, and its ultimate purpose. History repeatedly shows that the net result of atheism and superficial religious belief, is that we inevitably sink into immorality and selfishness. Attempts to foster goodness and purity on the material platform are neither universal nor sustainable.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Public Eye

For most, personal space is an indispensable commodity. While traveling on London Underground recently, I noticed how everyone in the carriage had strategically sat so that there was an empty seat in-between them. Rather than filling the gap, a boarding passenger walked all the way to the other side of the train where he found a reasonable amount of vacant real estate. Interesting indeed. It’s a stark contrast to Indian trains where people can practically sit on top of you without a second thought! Although modern culture prides itself in personal space and privacy, the traditional cultures of communal setup and public life may be more supportive to our spirituality. Close company of others is not only inspirational and instructive, but also highly protective.

Where do your thoughts and actions gravitate towards when you are alone? What is your natural level of spiritual absorption behind closed doors? Good questions to assess our spiritual whereabouts, since our weaknesses are often exposed when nobody else is watching. Monastic life, traditionally a student phase, is therefore highly public. Being surrounded by so many spiritual eyes is actually a great protection, forcing one to function on a higher level. It may seem artificial and forced, but spending a good portion of your life under such supervision gives you a good chance of developing the maturity and stability to do it alone.

Yet privacy has its part to play - how can we hear the soul when everyone else is talking? Quiet time alone fuels our introspection and reflection. When we are away from the gaze of others, with nobody to impress and nothing to achieve, it can help us dig a little deeper and develop more sincerity and genuineness. We can't always be in the full view of others, because while managing their impressions of us, we become addicted to praise and affirmation, unknowingly chained to public opinion. In exhausting ourselves to be somebody in their eyes, we never quite find ourselves... we never find God.

The saints conclude that privacy is a dangerous necessity. Embrace it with caution - it can make you or break you.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Miraculous Meetings

We’re back on the road, traveling the country for the next four months. Every town has its flavour, and every day is unique. It’s quite a task to stop someone in their tracks, cut through the myriad of thoughts, penetrate the bubble of their life and begin a dialogue about deeper subject matter. Some people naturally tune in to the concept of ancient wisdom, while others are sceptical, uninterested and otherwise-engaged. Either way we always have a laugh, a smile and learn something from each other!

Every day we experience a small miracle. Last week, on our way to Torquay, the driver lost his bearings and we accidently parked up in Paignton, a small neighbouring town. As we got onto the high street, we realised we were in the wrong place! I rushed to the car park to fetch the van while the rest of the team waited on the street corner. One of our budding monks, Nikhil, was convinced we had come there for a reason (he was the driver who brought us to the wrong place!). In his two-minute ‘window of opportunity’ he decided to approach the first pedestrian and explain what we were doing.

As he turned to a random passer-by, the man stopped almost instantaneously. “We are the monks, traveling the country and teaching people about meditation and spirituality” Nikhil said. With a sparkle in his eye and a look of disbelief the man replied: “Amazing! I’ve been looking for you guys!” He went on to explain how he had received one of our books, read it cover to cover, and begun practicing mantra meditation… all by himself. He has never had any contact with a Hare Krishna community, temple, or practicing devotee. He simply read the book, became convinced and proceeded to string his own beads. Now he carries those beads with him everywhere he goes, quietly whispering the Hare Krishna mantra to himself.

So there was indeed a reason why we stopped in Paignton that day. A miraculous meeting, likely orchestrated by providence. Here’s a short interview with James, without doubt a very special soul:

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Ego Death

The three biggest fears in life: exams, public speaking and death. Of them, the final is probably the most acute. As that fateful hour approaches, everything we worked so hard for is snatched away, throwing our entire sense of identity and purpose into question. On a subtle level, however, we are regularly subjecting ourselves to this disturbing experience. How so? The world teaches us to base our sense of identity and self-worth on transitory, external and artificial considerations. When we identify with our abilities, facilities and positions of responsibility, then we set ourselves up for crisis. Why? Because the undisputable nature of this world is that such things will almost always fade away over time.

We pride ourselves in our ‘unique’ abilities – but then we witness our own ineptitude, or find someone far more qualified and competent. Painful. We find comfort in karmic gifts like beauty, physique, learning and wealth – but the waves of time callously cause them to eventually crumble. Painful. We feel valuable because of our reputation, influence and position in society – but everyone has their day, after which we all have to make way. Painful. Constant change is the underlying theme of the material phantasmagoria – its unstoppable (cannot be checked), unpredictable (will happen at any time) and uncontrollable (could occur in any way). Thus, we suffer a subtle ego death every time we falsely identify with the temporary.

Thus, wisdom teachers continually remind us to focus on our eternal, unchanging, ontological identity. As spiritual beings, our true ego lies in being a selfless servant. Everything we receive in the journey of life is simply a facility and detail in pursuance of this, with any given situation always offering a unique opportunity for selfless service. In such spiritual consciousness, all anxieties, fear and dissatisfaction disappear. You may have the experience of coming home in the evening after a day ‘in the world.’ Surrounded by our closest family and friends, we can kick back, relax and be ourselves - no artificiality, no acting, no masks. Here we feel completely comfortable, safe and natural. Imagine the satisfaction, joy, and sense of fulfilment we can experience if we live each day with the clear consciousness of who we really are... spirit souls and selfless servants. That’s the ultimate in 'being yourself.'

Friday, 8 May 2015

CC Compact - Free E-Book!

Saturday 9th May 2015 marks 400 years since the completion of the Chaitanya-Charitamrita. In a mood of gratitude and appreciation we are making this humble contribution entitled "CC Compact" available for free download.

Download “CC Compact Complete Version” by clicking here (right click and "save link as...")


Throughout cosmic history, Krishna periodically descends to Earth and reveals knowledge of the eternal reality. He re-establishes genuine spirituality and teaches the practical means to develop God consciousness. In 1486, Krishna appeared as Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. While a renaissance of philosophical and theological thought was going on in the world, Shri Chaitanya ushered in a spiritual revolution through His personal interactions, philosophical discourses and most importantly His joyous public chanting and dancing. He established a process of God consciousness that was open to everyone regardless of caste, colour or creed. He went beyond ritualistic worship, dry philosophising, and materialistic piety, instead emphasising the very essence of religion – unmotivated and unconditional love of God.

Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami’s Chaitanya-Charitamrita is considered the most accurate, authentic, and philosophical biography of Shri Chaitanya. At present, however, it remains a relatively unexplored literature. Since the studies of Bhagavad-Gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam are vast in and of themselves, many neglect the opportunity to bathe in the delightful narrations of Shri Chaitanya’s life. CC Compact does not fully describe each episode of the Chaitanya-Charitamrita, since Shrila Prabhupada’s translation does that perfectly. The key objectives are as follows:
  • To present an easy-to-follow overview of Shri Chaitanya’s life.
  • To provide a road-map and framework for anyone who desires to explore the Chaitanya-Charitamrita in greater detail.
Above all, this book has been compiled in a spirit of self-improvement, with the ardent desire to increase my meditation on Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I am far from qualified to write about this elevated subject matter, but my attempt is simply to encourage the reader to approach the original source of knowledge: Krishnadasa’s devotion-filled words translated by Shrila Prabhupada. Please forgive any mistakes I may make, which are likely due to my limited knowledge and lack of spiritual depth.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Three Steps

The three steps of anything: 1) Initial enthusiasm, 2) doubts, disinterest and struggle 3) eventual reward for the committed. This seems to be the standard pattern for most things in life: studies, career, relationships, hobbies, and yes, even spirituality. The beginning of our spiritual journey is often characterised by idealism. Everything is fresh and fascinating, a whole new world to explore and unlimited opportunities to pursue. We can’t imagine any problems, since it all seems so simple and straightforward. We have finally found what we’ve always been looking for.

Unfortunately that honeymoon period doesn’t last forever. Now familiar with the externals, one is forced to dig a little deeper to maintain their commitment and dedication. What in the beginning seemed so natural, now requires a good dose of discipline and determination to maintain. As we situate ourselves in the external world of spiritual practice, the internal world of chaos begins to reveal itself. Over time, we realise we aren’t as saintly as we thought, our hearts riddled with weakness, frailty and stubborn material stains. Welcome to the stage of realism – where the gap between the ideal (of where we’d like to be) and real (of where we actually are) becomes strikingly apparent. The gap is indeed uncomfortable, and different people attempt to close it in different ways. Some quit the process altogether (forget the ideal), while others compromise the purity of their expectations (lower the ideal). Both of these approaches cheat us of the invaluable gift of pure spiritual happiness. Only the brave accept the third way: to accept the gap, admit one’s flaws, and undertake the step-by-step process to refine their character (raise the real). It requires incredible commitment, buts it’s the rewarding path that leads somewhere significant.

To tread that path we need to move to the stage of optimism. Embracing the hard work required to raise our character towards the ideal, is only possible as we develop great hope in the spiritual process we practice. We can survive for three weeks without food, for three days without water, but not a moment without hope; it keeps our spiritual journey alive. That hope is cultivated through observation (appreciation of how we’ve developed our spirituality to the current point) and application (the feelings of reciprocation and reward we feel in the current times). Nurturing unbreakable hope is the hallmark of an advanced spiritualist. For one whose spirituality is fortified by such hope, quitting is not an option. Such dedication cracks open the divine treasure-house.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

New Book – IQ, EQ, SQ

Download “IQ, EQ, SQ” by clicking here (right click and "save link as...")

IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests are famous for assessing logical, mathematical and linguistic skills. We all wish we were in that top bracket of Mensa elite who have an IQ in excess of 140 – unfortunately only 0.5% of the population make it! Developed intelligence empowers one to gather, process and analyse information effectively. The intelligent can think in abstract ways and learn from their experiences. Despite this, history shows that the intelligentsia are not always the most successful, happy and influential people in the world.

Psychologists and neuroscientists are increasingly talking about the need for Emotional Quotient (EQ). Those with high EQ’s are emotionally balanced, able to maintain composure in the chaos of life, and great at relating with people in appropriate and inspiring ways. EQ empowers the successful utilisation of IQ – people act irrationally when volatile emotions hijack their mental state. Thus, EQ measures the human side of life and our interactions with the immediate environment.

While IQ and EQ help us to function in our present situations, SQ (Spiritual Quotient) is all about ‘thinking out of the box.’ People often come to the point where they begin to question life, the universe and everything – who am I, why am I here, what is my purpose, what should I strive for, and what will make me happy? By exercising their SQ an individual can discover deeper meaning, purpose and direction in life. Often, we are busily engaged in chasing things without seriously considering whether they are necessary, fulfilling and really adding value. Our daily endeavours are usually focused on asking the question ‘how,’ but SQ is all about asking the question ‘why.’

We hope this collection of articles will stimulate your SQ and offer some ‘food for thought’ in a world that (consciously or unconsciously) yearns for fresh perspectives and newer paradigms.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

People Problems

Conflict, friction and human disagreement is, unfortunately, a major part of daily life. Whether it’s the erratic driver who cuts in front of you on the high street, crafty and cunning work colleagues pulling a fast one, or ungrateful and insensitive friends, unsavoury interactions can spoil our day really quickly. Fortunately for us, the great saint Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur offers invaluable wisdom to help handle these daily challenges:

"When faults in others misguide and delude you - have patience, introspect, find faults in yourself. Know that others cannot harm you unless you harm yourself."

Patience - the first moments of a conflict situation are crucial. Be tolerant and patient. The art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but sometimes to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. When negative emotions hijack our mental state, chances are we’ll act and speak irrationally. One who is patient in a moment of anger, saves themselves days of sorrow.

Introspect – take some time to consider the situation. Beyond the perceived idiocy of actions and words, try to understand what is driving someone to do what they do. What is the hidden background? If we can identify that, we hold the key to progress. In human dealings the golden rule is this: seek first to understand, then to be understood. We could also consider how important the conflict really is – most Issues can easily be dropped or ignored, but often our emotional engrossment keeps us doggedly fighting till the last breath.

Find faults in yourself – every experience we encounter is ultimately an opportunity for self-growth. Provoking situations act as a mirror to better understand our weaknesses and faults. When we can identify and accept our own imperfections, we’re better placed to considerately deal with others. Else, we may fall into the trap of being very good judges for other people’s mistakes, and expert lawyers for our own.

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