Thursday, 24 July 2014

Spirit Secret

Seven years after its first release and people are still talking about it. ‘The Secret’ that Rhonda Byrne felt she had discovered was the ‘law of attraction’; whatever you think about and focus on, eventually becomes reality in your life. The universe, she says, is essentially energy, and all energy vibrates at different frequencies. Since each person also vibrates at a certain frequency, they attract the same within the larger energy field. Thus, we attract objects, fortunes, people and situations that are of a similar ‘vibration’ to ourselves.

It’s a mouthwatering concept – the possibility of attracting anything you desire. While Eastern teachers would agree with the general notion of designing our destiny, there is more to the story. Philosophical exploration and practical observation clearly shows that forces beyond our control are also influencing our fortunes. It’s called karma. We may desire different things, but without the karmic credit, those things will remain elusive. Unfortunately, the secret is not as simple as it sounds.

The Bhagavad-gita, however, reveals a more profound secret to life. While Rhonda’s book is about attracting, the classic Sanskrit text encourages one to first establish what is worthy of being attracted. Most people hastily draw up their shopping lists of life without significantly considering this point. Our basic problem is that we are attracted by the wrong things; things that won’t bring us what we are ultimately looking for. When we reconfigure our desires, turn our attention towards the right things, spiritual things, those things which allow us to connect with our very essence, then everything falls into place perfectly. This is the secret behind the secret.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Divine Power

Ancient texts poetically describe the effects of divine empowerment. Through it, the lame can cross mountains, the dumb can speak eloquently and the blind can see stars in the sky. Observing my spiritual friends achieve amazing things is living testimony to this (not that any of them are lame, dumb or blind, nor that it makes them anything less if they were). Accessing divine empowerment, however, is open to everyone. The secret lies in developing the ‘selfless service attitude’ – it starts with the necessary, advances to the possible, and matures in the impossible.

Necessary – first, we should become established in doing the necessary: what should be done. This is the foundation. We rise beyond our personal emotions, learning to act with a sense of duty and responsibility. We serve with the knowledge that it’s the right thing to do.

Possible – as we evolve, the focus shifts towards doing the possible: what can be done. Here, we actively seek opportunities to serve. We don’t wait for a need to arise or a request to be issued, but eagerly search for the chance to contribute. We begin to taste the unique delight of spontaneous selfless service.

Impossible – in spiritual maturity, we approach the impossible: what can’t be done. When our hunger to serve takes us to full capacity, we are bolstered by a divine empowerment which transports us beyond our mundane limits. Here, we begin to function on the spiritual platform, transcending all material calculation. Unimaginable things transpire around us. Miracles can become daily affairs.

Let’s increase, expand and push the boundaries. This is where we experience the divine presence first-hand. After all, ‘impossible,’ the Swami said, is only found in a fool’s dictionary.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Market Fluctuations

Swami Prabhupada explained how an expert businessman can thrive in any economic climate. When the market booms he sells commodities and makes a healthy profit. When the market is down, he buys abundantly, remaining alert to sell when the demand rebuilds. Either way, lucrative business as usual. In the same way, the ups and downs of life are all opportunities to become spiritually wealthy. In times of peace and prosperity, we have the space to spiritually immerse ourselves, building assets of inspiration, strength and unbreakable faith. When times are rocky, we are jolted to exercise our internal muscles by practicing resilience, humility, patience and tolerance. Both experiences are necessary, and both are incredibly rewarding.

What tends to happen, however, is that in ‘good times’ we become complacent, absent-minded and lackadaisical in our spirituality. Then, when painful situations surface, we feel disorientated, frustrated and bewildered. Interestingly, armies are recommended to be extra attentive in times of peace. In that period, they can build the fortitude to deal with frontline warfare, at which time their instinctive abilities will naturally take over. Any weakness in their training will be immediately exposed.

As I mentally fast-forward a decade or two, I begin to think of the heavy experiences that I’m in for. Disease, old age, death, and the inevitable miseries of worldly life, appear in everyone’s ‘crystal ball.’ We’ll go through it, and if not, those around us for sure. Nobody wants it, but everyone is forced to experience it. Will I be able to deal with adversity in a spiritually progressive way? Peace is not an absence of anxiety, but the presence of God everywhere, at all times. Will I have the depth of consciousness to perceive that presence? It largely hangs on how seriously and sincerely I immerse myself now. I need to build up my spiritual assets.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Constant Change

Constant change has become the underlying theme of the age – update your fashion, contrast your scenery, evolve your goals and upgrade your gadgets. After all, variety is the mother of enjoyment. If someone maintains the same job for over ten years they may well be viewed as dull, unambitious and dysfunctional. Stability and steadiness just isn’t valued in the same way. Being ‘original’ no longer relates to doing something authentic – it means to do something new! But does this constant adjustment improve the quality of life? Is the age of mass distraction leaving us perpetually restless? Have we developed an artificial culture that diverts us from the real source of satisfaction?

The phenomenon of constant change exposes the inability of external adjustments to satisfy our internal yearning. Looking for a ‘secret solution’ in material variety will never succeed in addressing our spiritual vacuum, since deep satisfaction goes beyond the immediate titillation of the mind and senses. Real fulfillment is born from the state of our consciousness, and excessive focus on the externals can distract us from this cardinal principle. Next time we feel the need to change our ‘externals’, we may want to stop and consider whether it’s really necessary.

There is something beautiful about simplicity and sameness. With the proper attitude, it can help one become more conscious, more aware and more reflective. When activities and surroundings remain consistent, it opens up unique opportunities to invest energy into the quality, purpose and consciousness with which one functions. Simple living high thinking. Having practiced an identical spiritual discipline and lifestyle for quite some years now, I’m beginning to appreciate how much depth it can create. Spiritual technology is timeless and limitless. Eternally perfect. No need for upgrades, add-ons or adjustments – just more attention and conscientious application on my part.


Friday, 11 April 2014

Unconscious Competence

Sometimes it seems so hard to change. The ‘lower nature’ returns to haunt us, we easily slip back into bad habits, and annoying desires (which we thought were dead and buried) somehow re-appear. It’s frustrating and disappointing when one falls short of the spiritual ideals they seek. They know where they want to be, but it seems a far and distant reality. Will I ever come to the standard of purity I earnestly seek? Are these descriptions of the perfect character simply utopian ideals? How do I progress to perfection?

Lucky for us, the Bhagavad-gita is a book of supreme optimism. Even when faced with the disappointment of failure, there is still reason to take heart and smile. How so? At the lowest stage of ‘unconscious incompetence’, one's deficient character, destructive desires and wayward habits aren’t even a cause of concern. Only when one progresses to the stage of ‘conscious incompetence’, however, do they become aware of their defects and consciously feel the need to improve. That’s quite a jump indeed. Even if one’s behaviour hasn’t changed, the change of values is itself a great sign of progress.

Yet that should eventually mature into a change of character. From the stage of ‘conscious incompetence’, one next embraces the platform of ‘conscious competence’. Here, one makes a concerted effort to act in the proper way; often mechanically and forcibly, one trains themselves in a way of living that mirrors their aspiration. Even though it may feel mechanical and artificial, one is learning to be natural. Finally, in deep spiritual maturity, the proper behaviour and attitude becomes manifest from within, and one lives their ideals spontaneously, effortlessly and joyously. This perfected stage is known as ‘unconscious competence’.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Flying Solo

It’s a brave and bold step to strive for purity in a world of degradation, to embrace simplicity amongst rampant materialism, and to cultivate selflessness in an atmosphere surcharged with exploitation. Anyone who cuts against the grain will face temptation, doubt, ridicule and moments of weakness. Without the encouragement, support and good advice of spiritual friends how can one continue? We can’t do it alone.

Yet the Bhagavad-gita repeatedly highlights the transitory nature of life: the body changes, fortunes change, people change, and ultimately, relationships change. Individuals, even spiritualists, come in and out of our lives. Thus, while drawing inspiration from others, we must learn to stand on our own two feet. Camaraderie is essential, but there is a simultaneous need for self-sufficiency – even if everyone disappears, one must have the tenacity to continue. This deep conviction and individual strength is an essential element of spiritual success, which actually allows us to contribute more when we do come together in spiritual circles.

Etymologically, the word ‘guru’ means ‘heavy.’ The great saint Bhaktisiddhanta gives an interesting illumination: spiritual preceptors are so heavy that they cannot be budged from their spiritual resolve. Come what may, hell or high water, challenges and changes, their determination remains steadfast and unaffected. Our individual connection with God must become substantial and meaningful, strong enough to carry us through this turbulent world. Then, the inevitable chaos of life becomes simply background noise in our resolute internal journey towards purity.

With the kind help of the saintly, always feeling grateful for and dependent on their good wishes, we must learn to fly our own plane.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Top Gear

You may (or may not) be surprised to know that our monks don’t have the best track record with vehicles. We seem to be in and out of the mechanics every couple of weeks. As I patiently waited for a tyre change on Monday, I began thinking of how a spiritual movement is just like a car.

Spiritual Inspiration (fuel) – just as cars need juice, the impetus for a movement comes from vibrancy of spirituality. Only when members are feeling inspired, nourished and happy, can the movement push forward and impact the world. To give life, we ourselves have to be alive.

Organisation & Structure (machinery) – if the mechanics are suspect, the car will constantly start and stop; lots of frustration and very little progress. Similarly, a movement can only stride forward when proper systems are in place to focus, channel and sustain the momentum. Even spirit needs to be managed.

Culture & Ethos (steering) – cars need navigation through the urban landscape. Inattentive steering will damage the car, injure the passengers and wreak havoc for everyone else. In the same way, only when a movement is grounded in the culture of respect, and human dealings are conducted in a saintly manner, can we pass through conflicts, issues and obstacles and without inflicting permanent damage.

Good cars with able drivers can’t move without fuel.
Mechanically suspect cars will invariably breakdown.
Bad drivers crash even the best cars.
Fuel, machinery and steering: all three are essential to reach the top gear.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Free Speech

We live in an overcommunicated world. Good etiquette insists we reply to all text messages within 10 minutes, be mindful of the mountain of emails building up in our inbox, and unfailingly return all ‘missed calls’ on our phones. Don’t forget to regularly post something witty on Facebook, follow your best friends on twitter and utilise all the free airtime minutes on your contract! It is, after all, good to talk. But what is the net result of this web of exchange? Does it bring a greater sense of relationship and community? Is it a case of more connected, but further apart?

Silence, it’s said, is the art of conversation. We often struggle with a quiet moment. When it does arise, most will instinctively grab their phone in a drastic attempt to engage their mind. To see someone sitting and doing absolutely nothing is rare! Even more unusual is to be with another person and not say anything. It feels awkward and uneasy. Yet silence is imperative – it forces us to understand, assimilate, reflect and think deeply about what is actually going on. Often times, however, in order to frantically fill those redundant moments we often end up generating substandard content to share with the world: meaningless, speculative and shoddy communication.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely room for chitchat, niceties, and light-hearted exchange between humans. It would be unnatural to jump to the other extreme of strictly regulating our every word. The Bhagavad-gita, however, offers the over-arching model to guide speech. Words, Krishna recommends, should be truthful, pleasing and beneficial. How much of our written and verbal communication would make it through this filter? Along with freedom of speech, it may be worthwhile to remind people of their longstanding right to freedom of thought.

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something” (Plato)


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