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Chapter 4 / parts 1 - 4

Summary of the Workshop on Spirituality

   This was intended as a report to the general conference on the closing day of the workshop. But spirituality cannot be reported on in the past tense. It is a dynamic reality belonging in the present. So, this short talk turned into another opportunity to dwell on Swami's teachings:

1  Be Happy!

   Swami says that the very first step on the spiritual path is "BE HAPPY!" One time he was speaking to the higher-secondary school boys. He said, "You may think that this body is 61, but really it is only 16. I am always young and cheerful. I am always happy. It is you who are 61! Look at all your castor-oil faces. Be happy!" Well, that goes for us also. When we come together for an occasion like this we get very serious and we forget to be happy. Let's let the sun shine through. Happiness is our basic nature. It is who we truly are. "Pleasure, not pressure!" Swami says, "Transformation not information!" When he speaks to us he calls us embodiments of eternal joy and bliss. That is the key. We must rediscover our own true nature and abide in it... that is what spirituality is all about.


2  Our own Gita

   In the workshop we took up a wide range of Swami's teachings, but we concentrated on the highest, the non-dualistic principles. Although these are very difficult for most of us because they are really at a level beyond the ability of the mind to comprehend, beyond the realm of understanding, nevertheless, these are the teachings that Swami is stressing when he speaks to foreign devotees, as was also evidenced by the enthusiastic response and interest of the participants in the workshop, both days. There were many insightful questions and discussions on the finer points of Swami's teachings. As you know, Swami teaches on many different levels. There are many paths leading up the mountain, but Swami is the whole mountain; all paths lead to him. When he teaches at the highest level, we may not be able to understand, yet, when we have become ready to hear this, there will be some kind of intuitive awakening that makes us brighten and say,"Yes, this must be true." In that way, he sows the seeds and lets them grow. And we can only conclude that we must be ready for these seeds, because more and more he exposes us to these sacred teachings on the knowledge of the divine self.

   Just as he did for Arjuna on the battlefield, Swami will give each of us a Gita, a song of God. Actually, he has already given us a Gita collectively, in the 34 discourses he presented in 1984. In those talks he gave a new interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, an updated version, one that is easy to understand and practice. He showed that there are two paths. The first path is one we are all familiar with; it is really the only one that we in the West would call 'the spiritual path'. It is the path that leads home to the Lord, coming up from below and going to the very heights of spiritual attainment. Another way that we refer to this path is the evolutionary trek, in which we evolve through countless lives to reach this present penultimate state as human beings, aware of our divine inheritance and heading for the final goal. This path is supported by our spiritual experiences. Swami gives us these experiences to convince us that he is intimately involved in our lives, directing, protecting, nurturing, correcting and loving us, as we expand in consciousness and grow up spiritually, and in that way, come ever closer to him.

   The path of action and the path of devotion characterize this first path. We start by doing some selfless service to those in need. This involves turning ordinary actions, wherein we have only our own reward in mind, into sacred actions, where we do some good for others and relinquish all interest in the fruit of our work. Then, when we dedicate every action to the Lord and live a life of love in action, our work is transformed into worship. And when we see the Lord everywhere in everything that is happening in our lives, and know that the Lord alone is doing everything, prompting every thought and every action, then the path of action automatically turns into the path of devotion, and we have become elevated to this higher path of devotion.

   This then describes the steps on the first path. But there is another path. For most of us this one is totally unfamiliar, because it doesn't tally with our experiences, at all. Actually, it is not a path. It is just the removal of the mistaken notions that have hidden our truth. Here there is no question of reaching a goal; there is no liberation waiting for us on the horizon. We are already at the goal; we have always been there. We are the divinity in its infinite splendor, but we have hidden that truth from ourselves. We have descended from above. We have veiled ourselves in a cloak of imagination, but this has in no way affected our real nature. We are and remain the divinity itself. This is very much an Eastern idea; we will not find it in our Western traditions. Swami recently said, "You are all avatars. You have all descended into incarnation." We have taken on a human birth, but our truth is that we are the unchanging divine principle in all its fullness.

   So, we have descended into a dream world of our own creation; but now, it is time to wake up and return home. For this, the spiritual practice that is required is to purify the mind and remove the veil of illusion which has covered it and hidden our truth. Swami started several talks he gave in his temple last year with an introductory poem in which he said, "A wise man seeks out his own faults and removes them, whereas a foolish man looks only for others' faults and criticizes others." This is obvious when we realize that the most important thing that we must do is to remove our number-one fault, which is the mistaken notion that we are not who we truly are, that we are not divine. What good is searching out others' faults and criticizing them? It will not help us. It will only get in the way of our spiritual work, which is to purify our minds and see the divinity everywhere.

3   Separation - The Cardinal Sin

   Swami said that the greatest sin, the cardinal sin is to deny our divine nature and consider ourselves to be separate individuals, with the result that we fill ourselves with desires and dislikes, attachments and hatreds. He said this is a very deep-seated disease that comes in the way of our realization. This ego-disease must be removed. He said, "You have been sick for so long, you don't even know where to look to remove this illness. You are looking in the wrong place. You look out towards the world and think that there is something wrong. But the fault is not with the world; it is within you. That is where you have to look." This is why the Gita was given on the battlefield; that is the meaning of the Mahabharata. There is an inner war which is going on in our own hearts. This is a war that we must win.

   Rama had to go into the forest and fight the demonic forces who were invading the sanctity of the forest dwellings and disturbing the peace of the sages, engaged in penance there. Then with Krishna, the war shifted into the family. Krishna couldn't actually take up arms, so he had to be the director behind the scenes. He became the charioteer and had to do his work from inside. Now, in this materialistic age, the war is in each individual's heart and the Lord takes the part of the conscience. So we must become very quiet inside and develop our intuitive faculty, in order to clearly hear that voice of conscience. For this our thinking equipment is not very useful. All of this is beyond the mind. It is something very deep within. Now in us, our intuitive faculty is still only a little trickle; but it has to flow like the Ganges. It is where the truth is hidden.

   This intuitive faculty within us knows why we have come, why we have descended, why we are returning. It knows all. To clarify that channel, to allow that river to flow, we have to remove the negative forces that have taken up residence within us. They have been there for so long that we confuse ourselves with them. Now we must root them out. This is no overnight thing. It is an all-out struggle in which we have been engaged in a number of lives, and in which we vitally need the grace of the Lord. He must come and guide our chariot through the mine-field of the mind. We can evoke his grace by developing certain noble qualities that make us dear to him. Most importantly, we must do some good in the world. And we must recognize the one God who is everywhere, and direct all our love towards him. This is the heart of the teachings of the Gita and it is also what we find in our Judeo-Christian tradition.

 The First Commandment  

   When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment, he said that first comes the conviction that God is one and there is no other. And that, therefore, we should love God with all our hearts, with all our minds and with all our might. And next is that we should love our fellow man as we love ourselves.

   That all there is the one God is the path of wisdom. It is the meaning of the schmaa, the great mantra given by Moses which is at the very heart of Judaism. It is also what the prophet declared in Islam, when he called out, la illaha el allahu, there is only one allah, there is no other. To love God with all our hearts is the path of devotion. To love and serve our fellow man is the path of action.

   Yet, there is an important truth that you find in the Gita and in Swami's teachings that you won't find elsewhere. It is what brings us to India, to Swami. And that has to do with that second path. Not only is the divinity everywhere in all that exists, but that divinity is our own self. It is the one self, the immortal self. That is who we call ourselves every time we say "I am." The source of that "I am" by which we identify ourselves, is the supreme self. And so, when we say, "I am a sinner," "I am wicked," "I am worthless," "I am small and helpless," we are violating the second commandment of the Ten Commandments, which says, "Do not take the name of the Lord in vain." That "I am" which we use is the name of the Lord. How can the Lord be a sinner, how can he be small and helpless? It cannot be true. We must root out these mistaken notions of our own smallness and limitations. It is easy enough to see these mistakes in others, but we must see them in ourselves.

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