Friday, May 31, 2013

what's your happiness dependent on?

Verse 3.18: A self-realized man has no purpose to fulfill in the discharge of his prescribed duties, nor has he any reason not to perform such work. Nor has he any need to depend on any other living being.

Why do we work? I ask since it's a question I pose to myself everyday! For the lucky ones' the answer may be as simple as they love what they do. For others, and I kid you not, it's simply to pass the time. For many though, the answer is money.

I've always felt the concept of money to be kind of silly. It's not as though the actual pieces of paper or coins are valuable. I understand that it represents something, but aside from that fact, it's curious to observe how obsessed society is with making money. In pondering this, I realized the reason for this obsession is actually rooted in the eternal quest to find happiness.

For many, money represents a way to find/buy happiness.

Being brought up in North America, a part of me had also become influenced by this notion. That's probably why I always felt disturbed by the "so-called" poverty in India, especially during my earlier visists. I remember thinking that the hut dwellers who lined the many bustling streets must live such unhappy lives.

However, as I grew older, I started to realize something - many of these individuals were happy! It totally shocked me. Sure, if they had the opportunity they would probably prefer a steady income and a better roof over their heads, but they were quite content even without it.

It was incredible to witness individuals whose happiness wasn't dependent on the objects and experiences that money can buy. Their happiness was invested in relationships and their faith in the Divine.

It's funny when you think about it, but sometimes those who materially have less, are actually spiritual millionaires.

That's exactly what the Gita is teaching us today. A true yogi is not dependent on work, money, or even their senses to be happy. All of those things will be taken away from us when we leave this body. A true yogi's happiness is found within. They are always satisfied and blissful knowing that they are spiritual beings and have an eternal connection with the Divine .

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

bhakti yoga and cheesecake have more in common than you think...

Verse 3.17: But for one who takes pleasure in the self, whose human life is one of self-realization, and who is satisfied in the self only, fully satiated — for him there is no duty.

Are you a lover of cheesecake? Up until a few years ago, I personally didn't care for it. Now, if you were to ask me, I would probably say that it's my favorite type of cake.

I mean c'mon...every layer is just amazing! From the fruit jam on top to the soft and decadent cream cheese centre, it's just so delicious. And the fact that it sits on a base of graham crackers....mmmm....just perfect! Personally, I find it to be an ideal culinary combination of textures, flavours and consistency.

Why the sudden need to highlight my love for cheesecake, you ask? For the simple fact that when I read today's verse it immediately reminded me of cheesecake and I thought, "Cheesecake can act as perfect analogy for bhakti yoga!"

Like the fruit topping which is very visually appealing, the external aspects of bhakti yoga are also attractive and engaging. Whether it be the various asanas (physical poses), to the kirtan aspect (mantra meditation to music ) or even the enlivening sangas (talks and discussions on bhakti), most people would agree that it's a fun process!

But if one goes deeper into bhakti yoga, one finds even greater fulfillment. Again, the parallel can be drawn to the second layer of a cheesecake. A well made cream cheese filling is dichotomous in nature since one may experience it to be light and fluffy but at the same time find it very filling.

With respect to today's verse, this second layer of bhakti could be compared to a person working in line with their proclivities and qualities and offering the results of that work in gratitude to the Supreme. Like the cream cheese filling it may seem contradictory at first (i.e. how can something light and fluffy be filling!). After all, one continues to do the same work, but now it's spiritual simply because one's attitude changes? Yes, it's true! All it takes is a shift in consciousness to transform something so mundane as work from material to spiritual.

***For those interested in this topic, a great deal has already been explored with respect to working in line with one's nature, most of which was discussed in Chapter 2 (i.e. embracing opportunities).

But today we get to delve into a deeper level of bhakti yoga and that is actually realizing that all happiness can actually be found within. Just like a cheesecake needs a firm foundation to build upon, the foundation bhakti rests on is that of - every living entity is a soul. Furthermore, eternal happiness is an inherent characteristic of the soul. The only reason that we may not be experience that limitless happiness is due to the fact that we identify ourselves to be the body, mind and senses. That's what is being described here today:

"For one who actually realizes and acts on the platform of 'I am the soul', there is no need for them to perform any type of work."

Why is that? Because those proclivities and qualities one may engage to perform work relate to the body, not the soul. The soul only possesses two qualities: to desire and to serve the Supreme.

Ultimately, this is the goal of bhakti - to realize we are eternal souls. However, like anything worthwhile, it doesn't come easy. It takes time and focused effort through the process of associating with advanced bhakti practitioners, reading the bhakti texts and engaging in mantra mediation. The great thing? All of these processes are fun and inspiring!

One important thing to remember is that although the Gita is highlighting the top goal, it's not encouraging us to artificially imitate or "cheat" to get there. If we are caught up in thinking and relating to ourselves as the body, that's ok. We can continue to work according to our nature and offer everything in gratitude. Gradually, by doing that, we will start to experience ourselves as souls. This verse is here as a reminder to let us know there's something even higher.

p.s. Here's to hoping that you view cheesecake in a new light - one filled with bhakti!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

what colour glasses are you wearing?

Verse 3.16: My dear Arjuna, one who does not follow in human life the cycle of sacrifice thus established by the Vedas certainly leads a life full of sin. Living only for the satisfaction of the senses, such a person lives in vain.

Ever heard of the saying "viewing the world through rose coloured glasses"? For those who may be familiar, it means seeing the world in a very positive and optimistic attitude.

To a great extent, I believe that all of us not only view the world but also different experiences, persons and even words through different coloured glasses. For example, I have no doubt that for some, the word "sin" in this verse may not sit well. I've noticed that there are various other words that people, including myself, almost hesitate to use nowadays. Those other words include (but are not limited to): God, religion, faith and spirituality.

Why is that? Although there may be numerous reasons, the one that keeps coming up is the fact that we view the world by the experiences we've all individually be exposed to. Whether we were brought up with a spiritual practice, or any activity for that matter, our perception of those activities are a direct reflection of what type of emotions we experienced.

If we were hurt or disappointed in a situation earlier on in our lives, then naturally our mindset when exposed to it later on will be coloured by those feelings. Conversely, if we experienced great love and care then we'll feel enthusiastic and inspired.

The thing is, it's hard to erase any type of impression that has become engrained within us. The only practical solution any of us can turn to is honesty. If we face a situation or perhaps even a word which immediately causes us to shut down, it's only fair to introspect and find out why. That's honesty. By looking deeper, there's a greater probability that we will be able to pin point a root cause and that in turn can help us become more broad minded and open.

It's also important to realize that sometimes our understanding of a situation, person or a word is not complete. In those circumstances, rather than shy away, it's important to take the opportunity to clarify and understand the full picture. Not doing so can prevent us from moving forward and taking advantage of opportunities.

So the next time you encounter this type of situation, ask yourself "What coloured glasses am I wearing?" And remember - not everything is as it appears at face value.

Monday, May 27, 2013

taking directions

Verse 3.15: Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently the all-pervading Transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice.

Are you good at following directions? Maybe that's not a fair question. A better question perhaps would be, are you good at following certain directions? In answer to the second question, I'm guessing that many of you, if not most, are nodding "Yes."

So then, I pose to you, "Why do you follow some directions and not others?" If you've never asked that question of yourself, please take the time to do so today.

Everyone follows directions whether they realize it or not. Even the rebellious teenager who is against everything is following directions - they are following the directives of their mind.

It just goes to show that we are always following something or someone all the time.

What we forget sometimes is the fact that we have a choice; the choice to decide which directions to follow.

But how do we know what to choose? To make that informed decision, it's important to analyze the motivations of what and whom we may choose to follow. Let's analyze a couple of options beginning with the mind. The mind has only one end goal which is to satisfy the dictates of the senses. Although that might sound quite appealing, it unfortunately doesn't satisfy the soul's desire for eternal happiness since the enjoyment that we may experience through the senses is limited and temporary.

We may also choose to follow the instructions or directions of a particular individual. In doing so, once again it's so crucial to determine whether they are qualified. A self-proclaimed biology teacher will not be of any help if they themselves have not been taught biology and understand the subject matter.

Here, Krsna is stating clearly that we should follow the directions of the Vedas. However, I'd like to point out, in no way is He asking us to accept it's teachings, like those of the Gita, blindly. The essence of following the path of bhakti yoga has been outlined already and questions and queries have been encouraged.

We've learned that by this process of yoga one can become equipoised, compassionate and happy. What more, we become awakened to our real identity - that of being an eternal soul which is full of knowledge and bliss.

This is what happens when we accept directions from authorized persons and sources. We become enlightened. Whether it be for understanding a material subject matter or understanding the highest truth, I'd like to end by asking you, my dear readers, to remember - you have a choice in deciding which directions to follow. So take the time to investigate and really understand what you'll get by following any directions that are presented to you.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

our important role in taking care of mother earth

Verse 3.14: All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rains. Rains are produced by performance of yajña [sacrifice], and yajña is born of prescribed duties.

It is easy to live our lives thinking that we do not have an impact on our surroundings and environment. I think one of the root causes for this kind of thinking and behaviour is a lack of understanding one's responsibilities. I'm not just speaking of the spiritual responsibility each of us have of asking "Who am I?" but a responsibility to the planet.

Mother Earth is crying out for help. Due to our exploitation of her natural resources and disregard for her general well-being, so many anomalies are happening nowadays. Whether it be strange weather patterns, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes and/or floods, we can't ignore it any more. We are all, individually and collectively, responsible.

Each of us have our own tolerance limit, don't we? We can only handle so much until we can't take it anymore. The earth, has been tolerating our abuse of her offerings for our own gratification for so long. Some of us have been consuming and consuming without even thinking to offer her recognition and appreciation. In short, we've been acting as though we're entitled to everything she is providing and that those gifts will never deplete.

Here, the Gita speaks out against that attitude and teaches us of our responsibility and required participation in ensuring that we look out for the earth's welfare.

Although our time on earth may be temporary, that is no excuse to neglect our responsibility to her. To those who may be wondering how we have an impact on the earth, the Gita explains:

It is by the performance of sacrifice, through the chanting of the greatest mantra and by offering everything we have in gratitude to the Supreme, that rain falls. That rain is required to nourish food grains which we in turn consume in order to subsist.

Although it may not seem as much, this verse speaks volumes. When we offer sacrifice, in the form of time and appreciation, we start to realize the importance of the earth and our crucial role in helping to maintain her. It prompts us to recognize that we are not entitled to everything, and that we have an essential role in ensuring that we get our basic necessities, such as grains to eat. This in turn may help us realize that there is no need to waste anything and that be using our intelligence we can find ways to minimize the pain we may be inadvertently be inflecting on Mother Earth.

As a quick and practical suggestion, take the time everyday to give thanks to the earth and everything she gives us. In conjunction with offering appreciation, find ways to minimize food wastage in your daily household. These small steps can go a long way.

Friday, May 24, 2013

the yoga of food

Verse 3.13: The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.

How much time do you spend on food? I'm taking about all of it - from thinking about it, shopping for ingredients, preparing it and eating it. Although it definitely varies from individual to individual, I would hazard a guess that at minimum the average person devotes at least 2-3 hours to food, daily.

That number has probably gone up drastically if you take into account the increasing popularity of food and cooking shows on tv. The creation of the Food Network and the myriad of cooking competitions such as Cupcake Wars and Top Chef cause many of us of us fantasize and dream about food even more these days!

Although that's all well and good, there's one important element that's missing. That is: the consciousness of cooking and eating any food.

Although we may feel gratitude for the chef, whether it be ourselves or others, who is cooking for us (and that's great!), what about the ultimate provider? The one who has actually created it all. That's what today's verse is getting it. It is encouraging us to practice the yoga of food.

That's right! We can connect to food in a yogic way! How so? It's really very simple. When we prepare anything, whether it be a meal, a snack or even a drink, we do so in a consciousness of love and care. Then, before we ourselves partake in eating it, we take the time to "offer" it.

Think of it like this. When you have someone over for a meal, don't you offer it to them first? They are your "esteemed guest" and you genuinely want them to have the first taste. Although we may forget, the Supreme is always with us too...but how often do we think to let Him have the first taste? By offering food to the Supreme first, we are recognizing that He is there with us and that He is the one who is providing everything. It's such a loving way in which we can reciprocate with the Divine.

The offering process is also very simple and the great thing and is we don't have to worry that the Supreme will eat everything and leave nothing for us! One can offer food simply saying "Thank you for providing everything for us Krsna!" or, if one is inclined to, one can even recite specific prayers and mantras.

It is important to note though that the yoga texts, such as the Gita, specifically list what items can be offered to the Supreme:

"If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it." (Bhagavad Gita 9.26)

Every living entity has a soul, even fruits and vegetables. Therefore, by eating these fruits and vegetables without offering them, one will still incur karma. However, when we offer these items in a spirit of gratitude to the Supreme, that karma is removed.

Isn't the yoga of food practical? This was just an introduction though, so please stay tuned. There's more to come!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

a teachable moment...and an intro to mantra meditation

Verse 3.12: In charge of the various necessities of life, the demigods, being satisfied by the performance of yajña [sacrifice], will supply all necessities to you. But he who enjoys such gifts without offering them to the demigods in return is certainly a thief.

When we do something for someone else, in one sense, we are performing a sacrifice. We are giving up our time, energy, money and even mental energy to acknowledge someone.

That's exactly what Krsna is saying here. "If you don't "perform sacrifice" for the demigods (empowered beings who are in charge of providing us various necessities), you are not acknowledging their service and therefore may be considered a thief."

No beating around the bush here; we're getting some tough love. And truth be told, for some of us, it may be needed. A jolt, to snap us out of any sense of entitlement we may be experiencing and/or the complete ignorance we may be blissfully be in that at every moment we are the recipients of gifts. Whether it be the air we breath, the use of our limbs or just being able to digest our meals, we are indebted to so many persons.

Ultimately, the person to thank is the Supreme, but I'd like to point out a "teachable moment" here. Although Krsna is the one who is empowering the demigods by giving them the knowledge, ability and facility to provide us with all our necessities, note what He is doing here: Krsna is passing along the credit to the demigods. This not only demonstrates perfect leadership, but by His own example, Krsna is showing us that we should take no one for granted. Everyone should be appreciated and acknowledged for whatever they do.

But I digress...back to the tough love. Acknowledgement is required and it's demonstrated through sacrifice. So what type of sacrifice do we perform then?

The recommended sacrifice that is given in the bhakti texts is that of mantra meditation. A mantra is a spiritual sound vibration which can free the mind from anxiety. If we think about it, why do we experience anxiety? Often it's because we're indebted to someone or something! We need to finish a report for our boss, need to feed the kids, need to plan an event for the thirty people who are coming, etc etc., the list just continues. Mantra meditation removes all this anxiety and in it's place brings about focus and peace.

Still, this might have some of us scratching our heads thinking, "How is mantra meditation sacrifice?" Simply put, mantra meditation requires that we voluntarily use our time to engage in saying these spiritual sound vibrations, and just as importantly, we engage our senses in hearing the mantra. Since mantras are composed of the names of the Divine, by saying and hearing these spiritual sounds, we are essentially making time to re-connect (i.e. yoga) and revive our forgotten relationship with the Supreme. The bhakti texts describe that the names of the Divine are non-different from the Divine Himself.

When you think about it, there's actually a lot more in it for us! Just by sacrificing even a little bit of our time to hear and chant, we get peace and focus, serve to acknowledge all the gifts that we are receiving from the Divine AND re-connect with Him all at the same time!

Another amazing thing about mantra meditation is how practical it is. It can be practiced anywhere, anytime. There is no restriction and limitation as to how and when one can start. This leaves us with one question then - which mantra one do we choose? There are numerous mantras that are offered in the Vedas, but only one is called the greatest mantra (i.e. maha mantra).

That mantra is:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

This sixteen word mantra is so powerful that by just saying it, one gets the benefits of chanting all the mantras that are found in the Vedas.

Simple but so powerful. The perfect sacrifice to express our acknowledgement and appreciation for all the gifts we receive is to engage in mantra meditation.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

taking things for granted

Verse 3.11: The demigods, being pleased by sacrifices, will also please you, and thus, by cooperation between men and demigods, prosperity will reign for all.

How often do you consider where the water you are drinking is coming from? When you're handing over your money to buy your fruits and veggies, do you think "Wow! I'm so lucky to receive the gifts of nature"? Truthfully, those thoughts rarely cross my mind. I just assume that food and water, what to speak of all the other basic necessities, will just be there at my beck and call.

In other words, I often tend to take things for granted.

The Gita, at this point, is leading us into a deep exploration of gratitude. Here, we learn that everything from the air we breath, to the water we drink, to even the inner functions of our body, are controlled by various personalities known as demigods. Demigods, simply put, are empowered beings.

Just like a prime minister or president of a country will delegate authority or power to trusted members of his/her cabinet, similarly, demigods are individuals who have been delegated specific responsibilities by Krsna to ensure that the material world works efficiently.

When we receive anything from anyone, this puts us in their debt. That is why Krsna is bringing up the work of demigods and the necessities they provide to us. Although we may not have the vision to see them, they are there in the background. One can think of it like this: just like we may not see or take note of the individuals who work at the power plants to bring us electricity in our homes, we immediately feel an effect the moment our electricity is cut off. Our "gratitude", as one may choose to call, is reflected to those workers by the electricity bills we pay.

That is: we give recognition and offer our appreciation for the services that are provided to us.

Krsna is indicating here that it is only be recognizing the service of the demigods that one can live in prosperity. If that's the case, then the obvious question is "How does one go about doing this." Did you know that there are millions upon millions of demigods? To acknowledge and recognize them all is simply not practical. That's why the Gita provides us with a short cut.

See, the demigods themselves are aware that the power and responsibility that they carry is also not their own. They too practice gratitude by acknowledging that the source of their empowerment comes from the Supreme. That is why by simply living our lives in gratitude by offering everything we do (and even say) to Krsna automatically relives us from the debt we owe to the demigods. By going straight to the source, everything is covered. In fact, the Vedas state that the demigods themselves are even more pleased when we offer everything to Krsna rather than offering it to them.

It's quite beautiful if you think about it. It's a chain of gratitude where everyone, from all of us to even more highly empowered beings such as the demigods, acknowledge and offer our appreciation. It is this practice of gratitude and appreciation that enriches us and makes us open to become empowered bhakti yogis.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

a little sacrifice goes a long way

Verse 3.10: In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Viṣṇu, and blessed them by saying, "Be thou happy by this yajña [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you everything desirable for living happily and achieving liberation."

As I grow older, I'm starting to realize something important. Life is about seeking and making the most out of opportunities. It's so easy to become forlorn and depressed just waiting for things to happen to us. More often than not, what we need to do is open our eyes and look at our present situation and circumstances from a different perspective. The opportunities are there; sometimes we just lack the vision to see it.

In these situations, we need help. Help from someone who has the vision to see opportunities where we may only see the status quo. That is what the Gita offers. It gives us the vision to realize, "Hey, I've only been taking care of my body for so long. I've totally forgotten about the soul inside!" In doing so, a new path opens up to us by which we can practically experience eternality, knowledge and bliss.

That opportunity, as outlined in today's verse, comes in the form of sacrifice. Sacrifice may be associated with words like hard work, pain and struggle; that is, it may seem difficult and uncomfortable. Although those components may be there, it still doesn't delve deep into the spirit of sacrifice, which is an equally important aspect.

Sacrifice comes from a willingness to do something for a higher cause and often results in putting others before our selves. It comes from a place of compassion, care, love and affection and is infused with positivity and gratitude.

One of the most beautiful examples of sacrifice is that of a Mother for her child. Over and over I have witnessed the beauty of this relationship where Mothers' have sacrificed everything from sleep, peace of mind, to even their very lives, for the happiness and well-being of their children. The amazing thing is that they are happy to do this and ask for nothing in return.

That's what the Gita is teaching us today. By offering the results of all our actions to the Divine in a spirit of gratitude, we are practicing sacrifice (i.e. we are taking the time to put the Divine first).

The opportunity is there, the rest is in our hands whether we choose to experience it!

Monday, May 20, 2013

what type of karma do you choose?

Verse 3.9: Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu has to be performed, otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.

If you had a choice, what would you choose - good or bad karma?

Whether we realize it or not, that's the question we face on a daily basis. Sometimes, however, the best choice may not be the one that has been presented, which is exactly the case here. That's why the Gita is offering us the other option. The one that many of us would not have thought of.

Good karma is definitely the way to go if the options were only limited to good and bad. But even then, there's something important to realize. The thing with good and bad karma, is that they both bind one to a temporary material body. That's because we don't always receive our karma in the body we are inhabiting in presently. Simply put, if we do something good, we may not reap that benefit now.

The goal of bhakti yoga is to free ourselves from the captivity of impermanence which is what we face here in the material world. Why is that? Because we are eternal souls and therefore all the temporality we experience doesn't sit right with any of us and that's why we are always longing for ever-lasting pleasure.

So whether it be good or bad karma, it still serves to trap us in an endless cycle of impermanence. The key to escaping this prison is by performing akarmic activities, those that result in no karma. The amazing aspect of performing akarmic work is the fact that it doesn't require one to give up their occupation or their talents. All it requires is a shift in consciousness.

This topic was briefly discussed in Chapter 2 when we discussed the secret behind working without attachment to the result. Instead of acting in a consciousness of "it's all for me", instead we work in a spirit of gratitude. Now we get a better understanding of why this consciousness shift actually benefits us. As Krsna says, it's because we will always remain free from bondage by working in this way. Or in other words, it won't tie us to having to take birth in another material body.

So....the choice is yours. The next time someone asks you whether you would choose good or bad karma, go ahead and choose akarma! That's the path by which we can experience our eternally blissful true selves.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Recap of the "Intro to the Gita Workshop" in Charlottetown, PEI

Good morning everyday gita readers!

My profound apologies for the lack of posts during the last few days. It's been pretty hectic here in Charlottetown! This post is going to be a little different than our usual ones' as it won't focus on a specific verse of the Gita (which will be up shortly, I promise!). It's more a recap of an incredible event I was honoured to facilitate here on beautiful Prince Edward Island.

Yesterday, over ten yoga enthusiasts came out for an "Intro to the Gita" Workshop at Moksha Yoga Charlottetown. I have to say, it would be hard-pressed for me to remember meeting such an open and receptive group of aspiring yogis who were eager to go deeper in their personal yoga practices!

We started off by presenting the backstory behind the Gita (i.e. story time!). After placing that into context, we quickly went over the simple, yet necessary, exercise of practicing how to pronounce the the title of this great yoga text called the Bhagavad Gita! And then....we got started!

A few of the practical take away's that were highlighted:

- the importance of being a good listener (Krsna doesn't speak for the entire first Chapter of the Gita!)
- the necessity of seeking advice from those we have faith and trust in (Arjuna asks Krsna to be his teacher)
- the basic a, b, c's of the Gita begin with - we are not the body but the eternal spirit soul
- characteristics of the soul: eternal, full of knowledge, blissful, conscious, desires
- the importance of understanding one's nature and how we can meaningfully contribute to society
- the finer details of karma (there's more than good and bad karma!)
- the power of mantra meditation

Our group of yogis were so interested and full of questions that we didn't even realize that the one and a half hours allotted for the Workshop flew by! Personally, it was such a fulfilling and incredible evening. A big thank you to everyone who came out to make it so memorable and amazing!

I'd also like to take the opportunity to give a special thank you to Karen and Jen from Moksha Yoga Charlottetown for being such incredible hosts and such sweet people.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

a matter of perspective

Verse 3.8: Perform your prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one's physical body without work.

For all the aspiring yogis out might have encountered this feeling every so often. At certain times in your practice, you may get fed up with all the superficiality that the material world has to offer. Having tasted the richness of bhakti, you decide that perhaps the best thing to do is retreat to a secluded place and just meditate.

Guess what? Arjuna went through it too. However, his expert guide and guru, Krsna, clears up a very important misconception. Better to work according to your nature. In fact, Krsna even says that it's not possible to maintain one's physical body without work.

Hmmm...if that's the case....does that mean we shouldn't ever spend time in an ashram or go on a pilgrimage?

One thing I've learned about myself over the years' is my tendency to categorize things. It probably stems from the fact that it's much easier to label something as black or white, right or wrong, up or down etc. In fact, it takes thinking and using my intelligence right out of the picture! One of the biggest gifts that I've received from my own personal practice of bhakti is some much needed perspective.

Perspective that not everything is so easily labelled. I'm learning to (and trust me...I still have a long way to go) look at things through the eyes of the Gita and according to time, place and circumstance. The answer I've been able to glean from the Gita is this - the same solution doesn't apply to everyone. That, in fact, is the best part about bhakti. It recognizes that you are a unique and special individual that needs things tailor made for you.

This verse is applicable to all of us who, by our nature, are inclined to work in a variety of professions. There are few persons out there who are truly happy living very simply and spending their time just reading and engaging in mantra meditation everyday. For those who are like that - no problem. That is their "work". That is their propensity and they are naturally engaging in it. For the rest of us, it is best if we work according to the unique talents and gifts we've been blessed with. For some of us that might mean working 9-5.

Coming back to the question of whether those of us who do the 9-5 ritual should ever spend time in an ashram or go on pilgrimage, the answer is a resounding yes! It gives us an opportunity to do something for our souls. Actively working is for the maintenance of the body. Therefore taking regular "time outs" to hear from advanced bhakti practitioners, visiting spiritually surcharged places and living the simple life in an ashram can give us a glimpse into what can really nourish us.

Like I said, it's all about perspective. Just because we may not be cut out to retreat and just meditate full-time doesn't mean we can't find opportunities to incorporate it in our lives. Those precious moments will inspire us and naturally cultivate the enthusiasm to spend more time engaging in bhakti yoga.

Monday, May 13, 2013

effective public speaking

Verse 3.7: On the other hand, if a sincere person tries to control the active senses by the mind and begins karma-yoga [in Kṛṣṇa consciousness] without attachment, he is by far superior.

This weekend, I had an opportunity to share my love for the Gita to a group of bhakti yogis. The audience consisted of several advanced practitioners and as I was contemplating what to speak on, the essence of the previous verse (3.6) kept running through my head: be true to yourself. Or in other words, speak from your realization.

That's what I try to do in sharing these small reflections everyday. My motto is: keep it simple and keep it practical.

For some (not all, as I'm sure there are may people who love public speaking!), the tendency when speaking or presenting any topic in front of those who are advanced may be either: 1) fear and/or 2) to show off that "I too" know lots. Having heard many advanced bhakti yogis speak, I realize that what really touches my heart, as a listener, is the consciousness of the speaker. If the speaker is sincerely trying to share what they know in a mood of care and affection, it's amazing how powerful even a simple class can be.

That's why I decided to speak on a subject that has fascinated me for weeks now. The fact that the first two topics that Krsna talks about in the Gita are the soul followed by the necessity of working according to one's nature. It was a simple class and I probably did go all over the place, but speaking on those two topics which meant so much to me resulted in a couple of things.

1) I felt no fear in speaking
2) It allowed me to go deeper into the subject matter and find connections which I had never thought of before.
3) It allowed me to interact and engage my audience and learn new things from them!

Similarly, just as in public speaking, if we just try to live our life by the principle of sincerity, it's amazing how quickly one can progress in yoga. When we are able to take stock of our challenges, acknowledge them, and instead of hiding them, try to actively work on them, that actually INSPIRES others! It's the consciousness that matters which affects ourselves and others. Amazing, isn't it?

Bhakti yoga is not about how much philosophy you can spout off or how many verses you can quote. Although that knowledge is important and can help one tremendously, it's not enough. Bhakti yoga is about how we actually apply the process in our life. The great bhakti master, Srila Prabhupada, put it best: "Bhakti is not for arm-chair philosophers." It's about action and application.

Just like it's so easy to give tips and tricks on becoming an effective public speaker, it's all theoretical if one doesn't speak in front of an audience. There's no replacement for real life experience. Similarly, it can be easy to learn a lot about bhakti, but if one doesn't actually put it to the test, then what's the point? All the amazing realizations and experiences one might hear about are just second hand.

All we need to do is practice sincerity. Reading the Gita, becoming friends with other aspiring bhakti yogis and engaging in mantra meditation are all practical and easy things we can incorporate in our daily lives and yoga practice. If you haven't received one before, please consider this your personal invitation to experience bhakti!

Friday, May 10, 2013

be true to yourself

Verse 3.6: One who restrains the senses of action but whose mind dwells on sense objects certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.

Today's Gita message is simple: be honest with where you are at, whether it be in your practice of yoga, life or anything else! For example, we may not be at the level where we are unattached to the results of our work or we may still be hanging on to a few bad habits that are impeding our advancement. That's ok, as long as we acknowledge it and continue to work on ourselves.

It's a constant struggle to genuinely be honest with oneself. Feeling overwhelmed with expectations we may perceive others have of us, we may be tempted "cheat" and over-embellish a skill on our resume or tell a little white lie to be held in higher esteem. It's unfortunate, but when asked why, often times the answer is a resounding "Everybody does it! I'm just trying to even the field."

Key to being honest with oneself is to refrain from passing judgement. There's nothing wrong with facing challenges when we are new to the practice of bhakti yoga. It's also common to go through times of struggle when one is a super advanced practitioner! And it's definitely no surprise that even when we practice offering the fruits of our work in a spirit of gratitude, at times a little voice may pipe up and say "It belongs to me. I should get the credit." After all, we've been trying to play controller for lifetimes and relating to everything on the level of the body and the senses.

When we attempt to genuinely live as spiritual beings having a material experience, there will be challenges. But instead of sweeping them under the rug and presenting the illusion that we are advanced, if we, in a spirit of humility and honesty, seek to go deeper, we naturally start to experience ourselves as eternal, spiritual souls.

So try it out in your own life. There's no need to pretend. Yes, we can always improve but being honest and genuine is so attractive. So go on and be true to where you're really at!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

putting the pieces together

Verse 3.5: Everyone is forced to act helplessly according to the qualities he has acquired from the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment.

Even though my background is biochemistry and I spent many years studying things on a molecular level, I've always been a big picture kind of gal. I appreciate the importance of understanding things and subjects individually, but let's face it: life's not like that. Life is a combination of so many different events, emotions, people and ideas. Understanding how different variables affect one another is integral to being able to handle whatever comes our way.

It's like a puzzle. A little child may, in the beginning, only focus on each individual piece of the puzzle, not realizing that there is a larger end goal. When gently guiding them and showing them how different pieces connect together, the child is given the precious gift of vision, of seeking out the bigger picture. This is exactly what the Gita does. Although many of us may have an idea of the different topics and subjects that the Gita presents such as karma, reincarnation, the soul, the importance of compassion etc., sometimes we struggle as to how to put it all together. What to speak of struggle, sometimes we have no clue that they can even be put together! Like the guide, parent or teacher who is helping the little child with the puzzle, the Gita not only teaches us the basics and fundamentals but gives the process by which we can understand how to put it all together to live a holistic life.

In Chapter 2, we were introduced to many different subjects. With the key basics having been explained, Chapter 3 will establish connections between the various processes and factors that we may have never realized affected one another. We'll hear of how certain seemingly disparate truths, actions and practices may result in positive synergy or antagonism in the practice of yoga.

Today's verse kicks off the journey into understanding how the pieces of the bhakti yoga puzzle fit together as it re-introduces the three modes of nature and how they force one to act. In yesterday's verse, we learned that merely abstaining from work or renouncing work is not the way to go. Another level of understanding is now being presented. Not only is that not recommended, it's impossible to do. Everyone is forced to work according to the modes of material nature.

Ok, I have to stop here and interject. This is what I ADORE about Krsna and the Gita! Krsna is the perfect teacher. We are first introduced to the ideas of abstaining from work and renouncing work as possibilities an aspiring yogi might present to not incur karma. They are not recommended. Then, the positive substitute is given to us which is to perform work (using our intelligence) in a spirit of gratitude without being attached to the results. Now, we get to understand exactly why renouncing and abstaining from work is not recommended - because it's not possible!

Isn't that incredible. The flow is just beautiful. Still a bit confused? It's like this. The Gita is saying that just "choosing" not to do something which is a part of our nature will not stop it from re-surfacing. For example, if our nature is to lead others and we are in charge of a project and just give it up for whatever reason (i.e. too stressful, time consuming, etc.,) that doesn't mean our inclination to lead others will disappear. In fact, if one's true nature is to be a leader,what often happens is that such persons end up finding another group or team to lead in a different area. It's just not possible to "kill" the qualities and propensities that we have. Instead, we transform those propensities them by shifting our consciousness and attitude.

As someone who tends to ask the question "Why?" a lot, these explanations and connections soothe my inquisitive heart and mind. As we continue our exploration into the Gita, we'll do our best to point out the deeper explanation as to why certain things are recommended and others are not.

Hoping this helped you in putting together a few more pieces of your personal bhakti puzzle together! If so, please feel free to share how in the comments!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

a story about birds...with a side dish of karma yoga!

Verse 3.4: Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.

Today I had a dear blogger friend come to me for some advice. Although I was doubtful that I could be of any help, I asked her to present her challenge and listened with an attentive ear. My friend is an avid birdwatcher and has been creating areas in her yard where birds can come to hang out. Isn't that cool?! In helping to facilitate this ideal setting for her winged friends, she has set up feeders in different areas.

Problem is, an unexpected side effect has started to manifest in the form of rodents who are now also coming to call this area home. As she explained the situation, she informed me, "I don't have any problems with mice or rats per se, I'm just concerned with them being so close to the house." She continued on asking, "Would it be wrong to introduce an animal, say a cat, to take care of this?"

The very fact that she was concerned about potentially bringing in something to help rid the area of these pests speaks volumes. I can't say how impressed I was. Some of us probably wouldn't even think twice when trying to get rid of a pest, what to speak of rodents. Finishing her tale, she asked me, "What would the Gita say?"

I have to admit....I was TOTALLY stumped! On one hand, the Gita informs us that all living creatures have souls and therefore they should all be respected equally, irregardless of the body they are presently found in. On the other side, rodents near homes is never a good thing for obvious health and safety reasons.

How does that have anything to do with today's verse? There are quite a few parallels, if you ask me. It demonstrates very practically that by merely abstaining from work one cannot achieve freedom from reaction. That is, if my friend does nothing, the rodent population might increase and she might have a serious situation on her hands. Similarly, if she were to just "renounce" her project of creating this beautiful area for the birds, that probably won't sit right with her either. Her desire to help the birds won't leave and instead she'll be left feeling unfulfilled.

I honestly can take no credit for coming up with the option which I proposed because we just kind of stumbled into it! In talking, I just happened to ask my friend whether her feeders were close to the house to which she replied yes. So I suggested that she move them further into the yard and away from the house (that way if the rodents did get into them, they too would have to move away from the house). She liked the response! In fact she said, "That never occurred to me, probably because I like watching the the action at the feeder from my window."

Now, that doesn't mean that the challenge is solved, but it does present an option which can be tested.

Similarly, when we face times in our lives when we don't want to or don't know how to go about doing the needful, this verse is a handy one to come back to. Karma, as most of us know, means that for every action there is a reaction. Sometimes, newcomers to yoga think that the only way to not receive a reaction is to remain inactive. I'm afraid that's not the case....even inactivity can result in action which we'll discuss soon enough. Try that one on for size!

Receiving "no karma" or akarma is the desired goal for those who want to practice karma yoga. Key to performing akarmic actions is to perform the activity without being attached to the result. As was discussed in Chapter 2, Verse 2.48 - it's all a matter of consciousness.

So remember, yoga isn't about artificially renouncing something or abstaining from work - it's about working intelligently in a spirit of gratitude.

Gita Workshop in Charlottetown PEI!

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - Gita Workshop at Moksha Yoga, Charlottetown, PEI (5:30-7:00pm)

Join us for us for a practical and inspiring introductory workshop on the Bhagavad Gita! The Gita is not only a comprehensive yoga text, but a guide book to life. It covers numerous topics, all of which can help us lead richer, more fulfilling and stress-free lives. This workshop will present a background to the Gita, an overview of it's contents and give you an opportunity to delve into the mysteries of one of the oldest and greatest yoga texts.

Please feel free to spread the word and invite anyone you know who will be in Charlottetown, PEI that day!

For more information on the event, please feel free to contact Moksha Yoga Charlottetown at (902) 894-9642

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

what is religion?

Verse 3.3: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O sinless Arjuna, I have already explained that there are two classes of men who try to realize the self. Some are inclined to understand it by empirical, philosophical speculation, and others by devotional service.

There's a really beautiful phrase that is contained in the commentary to this verse which I'd like to share here today:

"Religion without philosophy is sentiment, or sometimes fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation."

Now, this phrase brings up the word religion which I'd like to discuss today in the context of bhakti yoga. Most who aspire to practice bhakti yoga (myself included), rarely if ever refer to it as a religion. Why? Because in the context of what appears to be the constantly shifting understanding of the word religion today, it doesn't really fit. Speaking of which, is there a universally accepted definition of religion these days? It seems to change depending on whoever I talk to!

Having been brought up in the tradition of bhakti, my definition of religion is the one given in the bhakti texts - to re-awaken our inherent love for the Supreme and demonstrate that love by serving Him. That's it. Done. Nothing else. Nowhere does it state that one religion is better than another.

**On a personal note, this understanding has led me to appreciate, admire and learn so much from so many religious and spiritual paths and honour the practitioners of those paths. For that, I'll always be so grateful.**

As the great bhakti master Srila Prabhupada often quoted, "Any religion is a true religion if it teaches one to love God." So by that definition, sure bhakti yoga can be considered a religion...but even then, I would argue that most bhakti yogis would still feel uncomfortable saying that. It's so much more. Again, this doesn't mean that bhakti proclaims to be "better" than anything else, it's just that there's a lot more to it.

Bhakti yoga is a lifestyle. It's not something that you just do once or twice a week, although that option is also there for beginners. To feel the full effects, it's something you live and breathe.

It's also not just about understanding intricate and complicated philosophy; it's about practically applying that knowledge in one's life which results in positive transformational changes.

That's the essence of the quote I pulled out from the commentary given on this verse. To truly follow any path, there need to be answers to the questions our doubting minds often present. If we are not given access to those answers, sometimes all we have is mere sentiment. It may be a nice feeling, but when our doubts overcome us, we don't have the strength to continue along the path. Or even worse, there's nothing to set us straight and so some may give their own interpretations and use that to justify engaging in abominable actions all in the name of spirituality/religion.

On the flip side, if all we have is philosophy, it may be very hard to act like a normal human being! That's just my opinion so feel free to disagree! I've found that sometimes those who just hang on tight to philosophy alone find it very hard to access the softer side of their emotions. Everything has to be clear cut and even the idea of miracles or blessings may be hard to accept.

What attracts me most to the practice of bhakti is the fact that it does not solicit or ask one to give up one's own spiritual path or religion. I know so many Christians, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., who all practice bhakti yoga in their daily lives. In fact, many have told me that it makes them an even more devout practitioner in their own path.

In closing, I leave you once again with this definition of the word religion: Any religion is a true religion if it teaches one to love and serve the Divine. Do you like this definition?

Monday, May 6, 2013

feeling confused? you're not alone...

Verse 3.2: My intelligence is bewildered by Your equivocal instructions. Therefore, please tell me decisively which will be most beneficial for me.

For all of you who have ever tried to read the Gita and have given up because you've just found it confusing, I dedicate today's post to you!

I've spoken to innumerable persons over the years who have expressed so much interest in reading the Gita. They've heard incredible things about it, seen positive transformations in the lives of friends and loved one's who have applied the teachings of the Gita in their own lives and have been just so excited upon receiving their own copy. Making the time to sit down and read it, they've opened up the book and with anticipation in their hearts, they started reading the first few verses.

It's normally around Verses 4 and 5...

"Here in this army are many heroic bowmen equal in fighting to Bhīma and Arjuna: great fighters like Yuyudhāna, Virāṭa and Drupada." Verse 1.4

"There are also great, heroic, powerful fighters like Dhṛṣṭaketu, Cekitāna, Kāśirāja, Purujit, Kuntibhoja and Śaibya." Verse 1.5

...that a small wrinkle starts to appear in some peoples' foreheads. Some start thinking, "What? What are these names? I can barely read them what to speak of pronounce them." That anticipation and excitement that first accompanied the opening of the book is now fading fast and for some, this is where their foray into the Gita ends.

For others, they journey on and as they continue to read Chapters 1 and 2, some are not quite sure if they really understand what's going on. Perhaps you yourself may have pondered along the lines of, "What exactly is Krsna saying? What is this book really about? I thought it was about yoga and karma and becoming a good person. I thought it was practical, but all I'm experiencing is confusion. What gives?"

Have you ever felt like this? If're not alone. Arjuna, who is not only Krsna's friend but an incredibly intelligent yogi, is also feeling totally confused.

So what's the take away? Feeling confused is ok. It's normal.

Although this analogy may seem totally far-fetched, I kind of think of it like this. Have you ever seen Titanic? No, this isn't a trick question, I'm actually asking if you've seen the multi-billion blockbuster movie Titanic. I'm guessing that the vast majority are probably nodding their heads (even if it's in embarrassment!). Now, I don't know about you, but when the movie first started, I honestly felt like I was in the wrong theatre.

[Spoiler alert in case you haven't seen the movie] In the first half hour of the movie all you see is an old woman and some deep sea shots of a ship in the water. I remember feeling totally confused and turning to my friend asking, "Are we in the right theatre? I thought Leonardo DiCaprio was in this movie?!"

It was only a little later that things started to finally make sense...but it took some time. I finally realized that they were establishing the back story in order to place the movie into context.

In many ways the Gita is also like this. At the beginning, we are being introduced to various characters and the scene is being set. As we move into the Second Chapter, the essence of the Gita is spoken. Essentially, everything one needs to know about the Gita is found in the Second Chapter.

However, for most of us, like Arjuna, that just leaves us feeling confused! Of course, for some, everything might just click which is wonderful. But...that's for some. For the majority of us, we are just left going "Huh?" We may understand a few points like the fact that Krsna is saying that we are the soul and that attachment can be problematic. You know what? If that's all you got out of the Second Chapter, good for you! That's a great foundation to start on.

It's now in Chapter 3 that Krsna is going to systematically break the process of bhakti and karma down into digestible bits. He's going to give us a step by step process as to why one should perform work according to one's nature in a spirit of detachment instead of running away to the forest to meditate.

So, if you ever gave up on the Gita, take heart. Even Arjuna, one of the greatest yogis of all time, was confused. The Gita is life transforming and extremely practical but it takes some time. We invite you to join (or re-join!) us as we start getting into the heart of the Gita!

Friday, May 3, 2013

excuse making - a lost art

Verse 3.1: Arjuna said: O Janārdana, O Keśava, why do You want to engage me in this ghastly warfare, if You think that intelligence is better than fruitive work?

Excuses. We all make them. Sometimes it can be for extremely good reasons and sometimes pretty lame ones, but one thing is certain. It's a universal pastime!

There can be many reasons why we give excuses so I won't even attempt to list them all here. Two, that I find to be most common are: "not feeling like it" and not understanding the importance behind doing something. Note, I didn't include the responses that we give when we are genuinely not able to follow through on something due to a lack of time and/or resources. They are reasonable explanations and apologies, not excuses.

But the other two...well...let's investigate them a bit further.

When we don't feel like it, thanks to our frenemy (and yes that's actually an accepted word as per the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and Wikipedia) mind, excuses are our go to default. Interestingly, it seems that the validity of the excuse is directly proportional to how much we care. Ever notice that? If we don't care about what we are supposed to do and whether we are letting someone down (including ourselves), our excuses really aren't that great. Some of us may just honestly come out and say that "I didn't feel like it" if questioned why we didn't follow through on our commitment.

Another reason why we may give excuses may be due to the fact that we don't understand the significance or importance of something. For example, if we don't understand why it's necessary to brush our teeth twice a day, then we won't follow through on it. Instead we may be do it sporadically or ignore it completely.

Where it gets confusing is when the reason behind giving an excuse is a combination of not understanding the significance behind something AND not feeling like it.

That's what we encounter here with Arjuna. Although it has been explained why it is important to work according to one's nature in a spirit of detachment, Arjuna still doesn't feel like fighting. Be honest now, we've all been in that situation. We may be gone to the dentist and been advised that we need to floss and brush our teeth more regularly, but we still need more convincing.

Arjuna, is not just skilled at giving an excuse but presenting it so reasonably. It makes me realize that excuse making is truly an art form! That being said, Arjuna is also demonstrating a beautiful quality. Even if we may not want to do something, if we have trust and faith in our mentors, it inspires us to reveal our doubts to them and ask for further clarification. By asking Krsna for clarification, Arjuna is demonstrating this wonderful quality of being the perfect student.

As for Krsna? He is the perfect teacher. As we'll see, Krsna doesn't get mad at Arjuna nor does He call Arjuna out on his excuse making. Instead, Krsna will explain in even further detail the process of why and how we can engage ourselves in performing activities without becoming attached to the result.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

action, adventure movie star

Verse 2.72: That is the way of the spiritual and godly life, after attaining which a man is not bewildered. If one is thus situated even at the hour of death, one can enter into the kingdom of God.

We all want to live eternally. I'm talking about eternal, ever-lasting happiness where we are not subject to birth, disease, old age and death, not the "live eternally in the material world where we are subjected to temporary happiness and distress".

It's natural and normal for all of us to feel this way because that is our rightful position. The soul is eternal, full of knowledge and is always happy. Why else do you think there's a thriving multi-trillion dollar cosmetic industry out there that's promising the ever-elusive fountain of youth? They are selling us an illusion of happiness and eternality. If we can look younger, some of us can fool ourselves that we are not aging (i.e. getting closer to death).

"Just wear this make-up, use this skin-firming cream or even better, get this botox injection! No one will ever be able to tell how old you are." That's the message we are bombarded with daily. Having read Chapter 2, we can now understand why we may feel tempted to buy into this propaganda - because we want to get back to our original nature.

The thing is, experiencing the incredible qualities that are inherent to the soul doesn't come cheap. For lifetimes, we have been playing into the illusory material spell of temporary fixes. Short term fixes which just fail to satisfy our innermost longings.

Now, for many of us, we are being given this priceless gift of yoga. An opportunity to connect, not just with our true selves, but with the Supreme. It's a process that takes time, effort, determination and guidance. It's filled with excitement, adventure, new discoveries and incredible moments. On the flip side, it's also filled with challenges that come in the form of our own minds and past experiences. At such times, we may stumble and fall, want to throw a tantrum, quit and just go back to "the way things used to be".

Good to think of yourself as staring in your own action, adventure movie when facing with those moments. The hero (you) can't really be a hero if they don't face obstacles. They always have trusty friends who help them (in this case, bhakti mentors and even the Gita) and have their moments of crises that re-define them (moments of doubt and helplessness). The goal (for all of us who are aspiring to be the hero in our personal movie) is the same - to re-establish a loving relationship with the Supreme. The process is the same but the path is individual and unique. After all, each movie has to be different, or else it'll get too boring!

We may encounter unwanted and unwelcome guests, get lost in the forest or feel helpless. Don't worry! It's all part of the plot twists. Just know that persevering on will get us our hearts' desire - to love and be loved, eternally and happily.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

cleaning the heart

Verse 2.71: A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego — he alone can attain real peace.

Wow! That's quite a list, isn't it? In fact, it's overwhelming. Just giving up the desire for sense gratification is hard enough, what to speak of being devoid of the false ego and giving up a sense of proprietorship. It sounds amazing, but be honest. Is there a part of you that thinks "Is this even possible?"

If so, you're not alone.

Sometimes those who have been practicing bhakti for a long time, what to speak of those just being introduced to it, feel like it's just all too much. That's why it's important to know that this is only practical and possible if we recognize and accept a couple of things.

Just recently a friend was down in the dumps feeling like they were going nowhere fast on their bhakti path. They were starting to recognize that there was so much work to be done upon seeing various unwanted qualities bubbling up to the surface.

Firstly, this is normal. In fact, if one starts to see those anarthas (the sanskrit word for undesired things, qualities or traits), it means the process of bhakti is working! In fact, it's a cause for celebration.

It's like cleaning your room. Once you start the process of cleaning, you start to realize how much stuff you actually have (that is, if you're a pack rat like me!). The secret to successful room cleaning, which I've realized over the years, is to not stop mid-cleaning!!! You know that moment when everything is scattered around you and all you want to do is run or move? It's hard, but that's the moment when you need to keep going! If you don't, it's really really hard to get momentum to continue. It's not impossible, it's just more challenging.

It's in those moments that the mind starts to freak out and puts up all kinds of obstacles like: "You have better things to do, you don't have the energy, you'll never finish etc,". This leads the mind to stating what to some, may be the most frightening fact - "You may have to throw out some things."

"WHAT? I have to give up some of my precious clothes and junk which I never realized I even had before I started cleaning but don't want to because I'm attached? I never signed up for this!!!"

This, at the root, is one of the most challenging facets of bhakti. Recognizing we have unwanted qualities/habits and then realizing that we may be hanging on to them. Even though we may logically know that they are holding us back, we've become so accustomed to them (like we may have become so accustomed to our messy room), that the thought of letting them go is too foreign. How will we live our lives without them?

That brings us to the second point we need to remember - the bhakti process takes time. We may have to go undergo several rounds of the cleaning process and each time we may be able to let go of one other thing. The important thing is to celebrate the victories, even if they are small. They may seem insignificant, such as watching a half hour less of your favorite tv show and spending that time reading the bhakti texts, but they are important.

So don't give up hope! Although cleaning may take some effort- it's worth it. That process will leave us with clean and beautiful hearts.