Thursday, September 26, 2013

dig deep

Verse 4.24: A person who is fully absorbed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is sure to attain the spiritual kingdom because of his full contribution to spiritual activities, in which the consummation is absolute and that which is offered is of the same spiritual nature.

When reading this verse today, my attention was captured by the word "offer".

In one sense, the whole world revolves around offerings. Whether working or in school, we are constantly "putting forth something for consideration or acceptance". When we are applying for a job, we are offering our services and intelligence to work. When we enter into and maintain relationships, we offer our heart and emotions.

In fact, one could say that every minute of every day is filled with offerings.

After all, it is one of the main functions of the mind. The mind is constantly putting forth ideas and thoughts as to how we can increase our happiness and minimize distress.

But the mind's offerings are often limited. Unless exposed to the culture of gratitude and selflessness, it can be difficult to comprehend the concept of "offering one's life in service." And that, ultimately, is what yoga is all about.

For some, including myself, contemplation of this "career path" can bring up a lot of insecurities and revelations as to where we place our faith and trust. Offering one's life in service, from the yoga perspective, is not just dedicating oneself to a job. It's about utilizing this life to realize who we really are and why we are here. That is - realizing that we are spiritual beings having a material experience.

It requires deep introspection and a willingness to confront our frailties. It takes courage, proper guidance and support to realize that we are not in this world just to enjoy it but to learn from it. By being able to see the lessons that are ever present in all opportunities and experiences that we undergo, we start to learn that there is more to life than just satisfying the senses. It is then that the desire to go deeper burns stronger and we in turn can really start tuning into who we really are through the wisdom of great texts such as the Bhagavad gita. That knowledge, when realized, allows us to become empowered instruments to help others and affect positive change in this world.

But that first step requires a leap of faith to dig deep. Are you ready?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

something worth considering

Verse 4.23: The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge merges entirely into transcendence.

~Before I start this post, I have to preface it by saying that Toronto will always have a special place in my heart because of the great bhakti yogis who live there. For that reason, it will always be one of my homes.~

In the summer of 2005 I moved to Toronto to start my Masters. A month after starting school and getting settled in, I travelled back to Ottawa to apply for a scholarship. I'll never forget that ride. I could literally feel the waves of stress leaving my body. It was a profound experience that gave me a glimpse into the mode of material nature known as "passion".

For many in Toronto, the constant flurry of activity may be something that goes unnoticed. I say this because I know from first hand experience! It was only that first time driving back home that I realized how stressed out I was and how affected I was by living in Toronto. Just that once. I never experienced it again. It didn't mean that I wasn't stressed out, it just meant I had lost my sensitivity to recognizing how it influenced my behaviour.

I bring this up because we've all had experiences of this in our lives. We've all consciously (or unconsciously!) adapted to various people, places, things and circumstances.

Adapting is one thing, but imbibing the consciousness or influence that is associated with something should be done with great caution.

For example, when I first moved, I felt that Toronto was always "on" and instinctively tuned into that frequency. In fact, for the next three years it was a oddity if I slept before 1am! I wish I could say it was because I was proactively doing something substantial, but most often it wasn't! It just became a bad habit.

I became "attached" to the atmosphere of activity and sense of busyness. When I took time out to study in India for four months in a small village, I struggled at first to let that attachment go. I realized that everything has its place. At times we require the energy to get things done, but just staying in that state is not only exhausting but can lead to anxiety (at least for me).

It's something that's worth considering. What are the things that influence us to feel and act in certain ways? If we find that we are happy, positive and feeling strengthened in our journey of self-discovery, keep doing it! If however, our introspection leads us to uncovering that we're feeling less than satisfied, it may be time to find some new positive influences in our lives.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

...the company one keeps

Verse 4.22: He who is satisfied with gain which comes of its own accord, who is free from duality and does not envy, who is steady in both success and failure, is never entangled, although performing actions.

One's desires and ambitions develop according to the company one keeps

For regular readers, you might recognize this phrase. It's one of my favorites and one that I quote often.

Today though, I viewed this phrase in a whole new light which caught me off guard. Ever feel like you've gotten all you can out of something? That you just can't learn anymore? Well...I definitely used to think that about the above mentioned phrase. So you can imagine my surprise when a new insight suddenly came to me.

I always used to think that "the company one keeps" referred to individuals. Reflecting upon the fact that lately I've been experiencing the words of the Gita come to life, suddenly a whole new context to the words "company" unveiled itself:

"The company one keeps is not only limited to the people we associate with; it also includes the books we read and the environments we expose ourselves to."

That's how subtle the soul is. When we are constantly exposed to something, we naturally become affected by it. Reading and writing about working without attachment has become such a constant fixture in my life, that I can't help but think about it more frequently!

I invite all of you to perform an experiment. Make the time for the next five days to absorb yourself in reading about one topic that uplifts you. Perhaps it can be on a quality that you hope to develop or a habit you would like to form. Spend ten minutes reading about it and at the end of the five days, take note of how often you think about it. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that you've already made some positive progress.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

a life less complicated

Verse 4.21: Such a man of understanding acts with mind and intelligence perfectly controlled, gives up all sense of proprietorship over his possessions, and acts only for the bare necessities of life. Thus working, he is not affected by sinful reactions.

Although we have so much in terms of technology, facilities and entertainment, dissatisfaction is running rampant in the world today. Conversations seem to be peppered with the phrase "Life is really complicated these days," and are frequently accompanied with a long suffering sigh!

How did we make our lives so complicated and what can we do to make it more simple?

It's a question that so many people ask these days and today we find the answer in the Gita. Our lives become complicated....

When we try to claim proprietorship over something, someone or someplace

The moment we do so, we immediately inherit complications.

In simple words, proprietorship means claiming something is "Mine". As was explained in the 'Attachment Trap', as soon as we identify ourselves with something (i.e. become attached to it) it can pave the way to lust, anger, delusion etc... if we don't approach it with the right attitude.

There's the potential for things to get!

So what can we do to make things more simple?

When we let go of any sense of proprietorship, recognizing that everything is the energy of the Divine and is on loan to us from Him, a huge burden is removed from our shoulders. Instead of seeing people and things as possessions to own and control for our own pleasure, we start to see everything as they really are - people and things that are worthy of our respect. Instead of trying to gain happiness from them, our mindset changes to how we can give happiness to the one who has given us all these treasures.

Gratitude starts to awaken within our hearts. Things that we may have perceived as obstacles transform into gifts and lessons and our lives become peaceful and happy.

That's what a life less complicated is really about. It's about living a life where our hearts are filled with gratitude and lightness. The only thing we need to do is: appreciate more and think about ourselves less.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

the bhakti experiment

Verse 4.20: Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings.

As someone who spent numerous years studying Science, the scientific method is ingrained in my head. You start off with an objective, follow it up with a hypothesis, design the tests and run the experiment, collect and analyze your observations and draw a conclusion.

You can imagine my surprise when I realized that the process of bhakti yoga is actually very scientific! Specifically, the teachings of the Gita. What may throw readers off, as I personally discovered, is the fact that sometimes the expected results are given before the objective is presented in said text. It's important to remember at such times, that this is due to the fact that Arjuna was already following the path of bhakti and that's why Krsna didn't need to get into all the details.

It's kind of like coming into a conversation when you haven't heard the beginning. You can get an idea and start to surmise what the gist of it is, but if you don't have someone walk you through the background, you'll never get the full picture. For anyone who has read the Gita on their own and tried to make sense of it, perhaps you are nodding your head in agreement.

Again, this only serves to reiterate the need for a teacher who has themselves been taught the Gita and is practically applying it in their own lives. In fact, as we will hear shortly, the need to evaluate a genuine bhakti teacher is done by observing their behavior and noting the results.

Here the conclusion obtained from performing the bhakti experiment of "working without being attached to the results" is given: one feels ever satisfied and independent. Independent from what? From the rolling waves of happiness and distress. One instead feels peaceful and calm.

Now for anyone who has worked in or run labs, you'll remember that you need to perform the experiment a minimum of three times and get the same result three times for it to be valid. From personal experience, I'll tell you - it's very rare to get the same result three times in a row! That's because the procedure needs to be followed exactly and the conditions have to be replicated perfectly. The same holds true for the bhakti experiment of working without attachment to the results.

If one doesn't follow the methods and conditions outlined in the Gita, then it is only natural that the result will not be the same. Practically this translates to: don't give up! If the experiment doesn't work for you, it could mean that something is off. Don't blame the method (as any lab researcher/scientist will tell you!), but go back and analyze what you did.

The outcomes from this bhakti experiment vary depending on what you put into it. So if you sincerely want to get the results outlined in the Gita, such as those of peace, satisfaction and happiness, you have to follow the method given accurately. Good luck and feel free to share what you come out with in the comments below!

Monday, September 2, 2013

asking the tough question

Verse 4.19: One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every endeavor is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker for whom the reactions of work have been burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge.

Why is it so difficult to put things into practice? We may theoretically understand so many things and accept them on an intellectual level, but when it comes to the practical application, many of us face a block.

For those who are trying to live a life of simultaneous gratitude and unattachment, this is often a conundrum. When we read bhakti texts like the Gita and hear from those who live such lives, we feel inspired and hopeful. We too can do it! But when it comes to actually putting in all our endeavours and efforts and offering it selflessly to the Divine as a token of our appreciation, something powerful interrupts us. These things can cause us to promptly fall back into our old way of thinking and doing things which is often that of - I perform x activity and expect y result.

One such challenge can come in the form of doubt. When doubt steps in, it can cause us to question what will happen if we let go of our attachment to the results of our endeavour. "Maybe I'll become too spiritual! What if I just stop caring about everything? I want to be normal and if I start actually becoming unattached, I might not be able to relate to others." Such types of conversations can start to take place in our mind.

When these doubts start to cloud our consciousness, it's very easy to become apprehensive. It causes us to become fearful of the unknown - in this case what will happen to us if we actually live a life of gratitude and detachment. Ultimately, it can be a vicious cycle that leads to more doubts and more apprehension.

Ultimately though, the root cause of all these misgivings is fear. The fear that our efforts to express gratitude and appreciation will go unrecognized. Although we may believe in a Divine power and personality who is giving us everything, do we really and truly believe?

The practice of performing akarmic work is more than just attitude. It prompts us to ask the tough questions and really look inside our hearts. Do we have unshakable faith that there is something greater than us and that the Divine is there ready and waiting to reciprocate with us? When we are able to answer that question honestly, irregardless of whether it is a no, yes or somewhere in between, then we can truly start to live a life of gratitude and selflessness.