Friday, February 23, 2018

                                Conversations with God - 10
Devotee - Swami, today You are going to give us some practical hints about how to develop shraddha and vichara, as promised by You. This is a wonderful experience, being instructed by the Divine Himself. Till today I had vague ideas about spiritual life, and generally believed that spirituality cannot be a serious pursuit for the modern man. I used to think, be a man of the world, and love God; that should be enough.
Swami - Could be nearly enough if you add a clause: be a man of the world, but do not belong to it.
D - How is that Swami? If we live in this world, we must belong to it, for we are a part of it. We have work to do, duties to perform, and our success or failure is the cause of our happiness or misery. We experience in the world disease and death, poverty and pain, love and hate, desertation of near and dear ones, calamities inflicted on us by fellow humans and nature, the
       list is endless. Sometimes we wish death is better than going through the endless vagaries of life! And now you say we do not belong to the world! Is it more wishful than real?
S - Yes, and No. Imagine two blind men. Both of them lost their eyes in the same accident. One of them lived the rest of his life an angry and hungry man, complaining to heaven and earth of God’s indiscretion. The other refused to bend his knees to his handicap, learnt a trade, and lived to become a prosperous, respectable citizen. The first one belonged to the world, the second to himself. The world with its series of work-worry-woe failed to subdue his spirit.
D -That is wonderful Swami, a very inspiring story. But Swami, though the second person is not subdued by his handicap, he experiences all the worries, uncertainties, and pains of living in the world. In that sense he belongs to it.
S -  He lives in the world, but is not mastered by it. He can still smile, can keep his wits around himself, and live without complaints. He knows what he can achieve, and cannot, and does not lose his sleep over what he cannot. He knows what is inevitable, and what he can change. He does not hold either God or the world responsible for his woes, fixes his attention on rising above them all. But in one sense he belongs to the world.
D -  What is that Swami?
S -  He is still trapped by his ambition, his desires, and the fear of failure. All his energies are spent on grappling with that one adversary, blindness, directed towards rising above his physical handicap. But do you think he experiences the joy of fulfillment?
D - I am not sure swami. But he has achieved something phenomenal, and that should make him happy.
S - How long? After reaching his goal of wealth and respect, he comes at par with people with eyes, in a way, better than many. Then what more remains for him to achieve? Will it not be an emptiness for him after that? Will he not suddenly be overtaken by his handicap, and remember what he could not achieve? Will it not undo the hard work of a lifetime?  The fire which has burned in him incessantly, must be kept burning, otherwise, the fire is going to consume him now, for it has nothing else to consume.
D –Swami, this is completely a new angle of seeing! I confess, this is probable. But aren’t you pointing out that a successful man of the world is happy and unhappy at the same time, successful and unsuccessful at the same time?
S -  My boy, he succeeded in overcoming poverty, and shame, true, but did he succeed in overcoming sorrow, suffering, fear, apprehension, disease and death?
D – But no one can.
S - He partially did. When he resolved to deny the world of darkness and despair an easy prey, which the other blind was, he was still blind, yet he was not. He could not see, yet he did everything to be at par with a man who could. He was not confined by his handicap. If you carry this possibility a little further, you could be poor, but not fall a prey to poverty; you might be betrayed, but not give in to anger or despondence; you might be caught young by a terminal disease, but not rave at fate or the doctors, and live the rest of the sunshine with a cool head on your shoulders. That is being in the world, yet not being a part of it.
D –Swami, how elevating is the thought! But how could one make this possibility 
       a reality?
S - With a little detachment. Once you begin to believe that you are not in essence this body and mind, that you are someone who could have this apparatus in your control; that death is not your extinction; that apparent failures are feeble distractions, you will begin to draft a different success story. You will look beyond status, wealth, authority, appeasement of senses etc which your world dubs as success. You will visualize another horizon across which lies your kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus spoke so often. Though you will not hate this world, nor try to run away from it, you can still love it and serve it as a temporary resting place which you have to live in order to outlive it. That is being in the world, and not a part of it.
D - Swami, every word you speak opens a new window before me, shows me a new dawn. I am increasingly overwhelmed by its glory. But Swami, I have still some questions, for if I do not ask now, I know I may never get another chance to see my way to that glory.
S – I am always glad to clear and clarify your way to me. What greater joy can a father have more than seeing his prodigal son back home? Ask.
D – What is this detachment, Swami, which turns the world around? How does one practise it?  
S –With a little commonsense you can do that. Suppose you were going on a     journey, and missed a train. You would start raving and ranting against the department, and give yourself and the people around a hard time complaining about your misery. By doing so, you cannot get a new train provided for your journey. You will only fail to enjoy your lunch or dinner, as the case may be. Instead, if you pretend a little detachment, and try to explore an alternative route, or train, or if you must wait for the next connection, which was a few hours later, go round the place in a relaxed manner, or try to remember if you have a friend in the place you can spend some time with, or sit down in the rest room and read a book, you can profit well from this untoward situation. Or, take another example. Suppose someone has lost their only child young. Obviously, they would cry aloud against a cruel fate, and an insensitive God. No amount of discourse can bring quiet and understanding to them. If they try to reason out, which no doubt a near impossible task, that even though the child’s death has filled their lives with darkness, whether they would spend the rest of their lives in this darkness, or seek some light to go through life, is in their hands, they will soon have the wisdom of being a little detached. Isn’t that real? Isn’t that practical? Time heals all wounds.

D - Swami, I agree that can help in such extreme situations, though it is, as you admitted, nearly impossible. But is detachment suitable for such extreme situations only? What about living in the world, doing one’s duty, being part of the usual rounds of pleasure and pain, with responsibilities and commitments, with demands to be fulfilled, and obligations to be met, can detachment really help? If one goes through all this without any interest, will not the work suffer, will not people around take it as rudeness? A son may not be sensitive to his parents, and a doctor to his patients. Is it acceptable?
 S -  That is not detachment, that is selfishness, or as you said, rudeness. A man of detachment cannot be insensitive to pain and suffering, indifferent to his duties and obligations, only he will not lose his direction through these experiences. A person of detachment is also a person of right attachment, attachment to God, attachment to enduring values. Non- attachment is born out of a loving disposition, a love that blesses all things, sees the presence of God in all things. Attachment is the secret desire to possess, detachment is freedom from that desire. In fact no freedom is possible without detachment. 
D - I didn’t understand this new idea Swami. How attachment is a desire to possess, and detachment freedom that desire?
S - If you have seen a beautiful sunrise at a seashore, you would like to see it again and again, won’t you? You would love it. But there is no attachment in this love, you cannot ask the sun to offer you this experience to you only at your home far inland. You cannot possess this loveliness, take a patent on it. If you watch a child smile, you would smile too in spite of yourself. There is no attachment in it. But if you think my child should smile better than all other children, that is attachment, and you can’t enjoy even your child’s smile! If you admire a friend’s new car, or his new house, and feel jealous of them, it is attachment, which does not allow you to appreciate them properly. You will lose your sleep over planning how to get a better car, or a better house, and for no reason you would get angry with your friend. If you can remain free from the bug of greed and jealousy, you can better appreciate the innovative design of the car, or the architecture of the house. Admire, but do not desire, that is detachment.

D – Swami, will it not come in the way of our efforts? A detached man might not feel motivated to upgrade his skill and achievement. He might not give his best, and be a slipshod worker. That would damage the organization he works for and consequently himself.
S - That man is lazy, not detached. Laziness is selfishness, not detachment. A truly detached man has no attachment to his gains or profits. He will never ask, “What do I profit by being so sincere, or hardworking? I can easily relax and take my time to reach the target which profits others. Anyway, detachment is a spiritual thing, and I can’t be faulted for being spiritual”. Is that spirituality? A spiritual man always thinks of how the world can benefit from his work. He is the most selfless worker, most efficient worker. Detachment, therefore, improves the world, improves your work, increases the quantum of happiness in the society; it should be the gospel of an awakened mankind.
D - There is a fire running in my veins Swami, but still I have to get more from You. I am hungry for more.
S - When a child is hungry, the mother too feels restless to feed him. Fire your question. Let me also see how hot your fire is!
D -  How to improve this detachment Swami?
S -  If you analyse these states of attachment and detachment you will see that you are  attached to something which belongs to you, or something you want to make your own. The key word is possession. If something is not yours, unless you are greedy, you are generally detached from it. Hundreds of parents are losing their children all over the world daily. Do you weep for them? Do you call fate or God unjust on that account? But when your son dies, young or old, God has a shower of choicest expletives! Isn’t that irrational?
D -  So you call attachment irrational, Swami?
S - While death is natural, death in your house is unacceptable. Is it rational?  You possess your son, and it is entirely your prerogative to decide when, or  if, he could leave you. Is it rational?
D - It appears wrong when we think about it this way. But Swami, if one does not shed a tear when someone so dear to him leaves him, is that rational?
S -  Is it rational too to feel nothing when the only son of a father in Mumbai, or Toronto dies young, leaving him shattered? He was also dear to his father. Do you shed a tear when a little sparrow is eaten by a cat, or a stray puppy is crushed under the wheels of your car? No, because they are birds, and animals, and they do not deserve the sympathies of the lofty man! The relationship is same. If shedding tear is justified by relationships, my boy, you can never wipe your eyes dry, and life would come to a standstill.
D -  What should we do then, Swami?
S -  We will continue the dialogue next week.

          To continue --            --------------------------------------------

Sunday, February 11, 2018

                          Conversations with God  -  9

Devotee - Swami, I am back at your Lotus Feet for learning more lessons. I can understand learning from you, but learning from the world – well, how could the world be a school? Why then all these schools and universities?
Swami -  What do you learn at school?
D -  Physics, Chemistry, Maths, Economics, History, Languages etc.
S -  And at the university?
D -  Higher level of all these subjects.
S -  What do you gain from all these years of rigorous studies?
D -  Knowledge, for sure, but more importantly, a living.
S -  So schools and colleges train you for a living?
D -  Yes Swami.
S -  After you leave the university, and get a job, you stop learning?
D - No Swami, if we do not learn while in job, it would be difficult to keep it. Besides, there are other things to learn too.
S -  For instance?
D -  Swami, like, how to behave with colleagues, how to behave with the boss, how not to be cheated by others, control anger, and scores of things.
S -  At which school?
D – Err….Ah, now I understand how the world is a bigger school!
S - Yes. At this school, which never stops teaching, you learn the art of living. Your schools and colleges should prepare you for this bigger school where the real teaching takes place. In your schools and colleges you pick up some skills for earning a living, but no lessons for living a life. Therefore after getting a gold medal in the university you can fail in this school.
D -  Who teaches in this school, Swami?
S -  God. But He does not come to the class with chalk and duster to work out
       the lessons. He may send you the lesson in a friend’s birthday card, in a disease or a cure, in some dear one’s betrayal, in a failure, in a patch of cloud, in a song, in a tear or a smile, from a bird or a beast, in fact the Upanishad talks of one Upamanyu who learnt great lessons from a crane and a bull, and one Abadhuta learnt great lessons from the 24 aspects of Nature – there are a million ways God may want to teach you how to live a God-ward life for which the only condition is your readiness.

D -  Readiness to learn, swami?
S - When something happens to you, in fact things are happening to you all the time, you should be able to see the hand of God in it. Experience is not what happens to you, they are mere incidents, but whatever you do with them is experience. Life is an opportunity to learn, and keeps upgrading the lessons. Most people live a horizontal life, without awareness of domains they need to explore. It is not living a life; it is flowing willy-nilly on the stream of time like a hapless leaf being carried away in a strong current. Only when you live to learn, live on a vertical line, you learn to live.

D - Please stop Swami, this is a huge bouncer! What is live to learn and learn to live?
S -  My son, if you use living this life as means to an end, not an end in itself, it is living to learn. When you realise that there is more to life than is seen, and each day is an opportunity to encounter this unseen life, it is learning to live. They are complementary to each other. The most important thing in life is this awareness. I was telling you about attention last time. Attention and Awareness are twin brothers. Therefore I always say Awareness is Life. You are here on earth to complete your incomplete homework, the tasks which remain unaccomplished from a previous lifetime, from a previous school, and tasks of this life, the current school. If you do not carry out this dual homework, you will have to return with the same workload, and waste another lifetime.
D - Swami, how to complete the homework, and how to learn lessons properly?
S - Besides awareness, you must have shraddha (श्रद्धा), or creative interest. Willing eagerness to learn is shraddha. Nothing good or great can be achieved without it. It is like fire, forever burning in your heart, forever driving you to learn more and yet more. Shraddha drives you to give your best, and make the best investment of your time. But it works best when aided by Vichara, or discrimination. Therefore Krishna told Arjuna श्रद्धाबान् लभते ज्ञानम्, the one with creative interest alone has access to wisdom.

D – Vichara? What is this new thing Swami? What if we don’t use it, and what if we do?

S - It helps to decide what you would learn. Suppose you want to be a physician. Then at a certain stage in school you have to choose a certain combination of subjects for study. It is same with any profession. You have to make an early choice. If you would be a physician, then you don’t take mathematics at 11th class, and if you would be a computer scientist, you don’t take biology at 11th class. In life too you have to make some conscious choices. There are a million ways you can live your life, but no one wants to learn all the million ways even though they are all exciting. Once you have defined your goal by the help of vichara, stick to the roadmap with shraddha.

D -  Swami, can you elaborate it?

S – Suppose you have decided to spend a quiet evening in reading a book, or in writing an article, or doing namasmarana. Suddenly a couple of friends arrive for chatting, or someone invites you to go out for dinner. What will you do? You may tell yourself, “Look, you can read the book another day, write the article tomorrow, but should not disappoint your friends”, or “When I decided upon giving myself a quiet hour, I did not know what my friends were planning. Therefore I need not oblige them”. Here vichara is in operation. Vichara helps your choice, and shraddha helps to carry out your choice. Remember, one step to accept the wrong decision weakens the next decision to do the right, and one step to reject the wrong decision strengthens the next decision to be on the right.

D - Swami, it is not always possible to stick to the right decision. There are so many obligations and attractions we live with that sometimes we cannot do what we would like to do. How to face this challenge?

S - Yes I know. The other day some of you were watching a cricket match in hostel, and came for darshan late. In the meantime, I had called a few of your class to do some work in my room, and you missed the learning chance.

D -  Yes swami, that was the hardest hit, and I learned the lesson of my life.

S - If you follow your Guru with shraddha, he can convert a failure into a success. You were tempted by cricket that day, and missed an opportunity; but since you had shraddha for me, when next time a more interesting match was going on you were able to resist the temptation and come for darshan in time. And to reward your strength for right choice, I spoke with you.

D -  Yes Swami, I am so much grateful to you for that.
S -  You must however remember that every learning situation is also a test.
D – How Swami?
S - I will give you a very simple example. Suppose you are driving to your office. You found a young man lying on the road in a pool of blood. Another car had hit him and run away. What are you going to do? Run away to your work, or take the wounded man to hospital and save him? Compassion tells you, save him. Your mind tells you, you must reach office in time, otherwise your boss will get mad at you. This is a test for you and a learning situation too.

D -  Yes Swami, that is a big test. What should one do?

S – It depends on which class you are in, and the strength of your vichara. Every minute you come across a situation, it is both a test and a learning opportunity.

D - Swami, if every minute I am on tiptoe, the tension will kill me! The three
       hours test in college drives me to the edge of my patience! Now you are
       asking me to push it to 24 hours!

S –You feel like that because you are forcing yourself to learn, you don’t have shraddha to learn. You can play cricket for a whole day without getting bored?
D – Yes Swami.

S – And discuss the pros and cons of the game for a week?

D – But that is cricket Swami, much more interesting than an exam hall.
D – In other words, you have shraddha for cricket, and no shraddha for the subjects you study. This is where vichara takes a lead. You tell yourself, ‘Cricket is no doubt interesting, but the many games I am going to play in my life are no less important. So I must learn my lessons with equal zest, if not more’. I am very much pleased even if you take a single step towards me with shraddha, for that makes you stronger for the next step. All your learning lessons are connected, and well planned by God. If you miss one lesson, you do not get the best of subsequent lessons. You have grading system in your university?

D -  Yes Swami.
S – Which means marks you get in each class test add up to final grading point?
D -  That is so Swami.
S -  Then if you fail in one test your final grading suffers?
D -  Very much Swami.
S -  That is exactly what happens in life. Your missing a right lesson, or learning a wrong lesson affects your stay in the school of life.
D -  But Swami, Our Guru can remedy that?
S - Yes, he can, provided you have shraddha. Therefore strengthen your vichara, and increase your shraddha. This much today. More next time.
D -  Thank You Swami.
              - To continue