Kosmic Journey

Integral living and wellness. Physical and psychological well-being. Personal enrichment, change management, professional development and learning. Achievement motivation and positive thinking. Emotional and spiritual intelligence. Everything that makes our life more productive and meaningful.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Presence: A Book Review

Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future. Cambridge: MA. Society for Organizational Learning (SoL), 2004. 266 pages, paperback, $40.

Reviewed by Surinder Deol

Presence is not an easy book to describe in few words. At one level it is a book about learning and change, at another it reads like a philosophical discourse on human condition at the start of the 21st century. It is also a dialogue among the four coauthors in the grand Platonic tradition with no major disagreements on the basics but many subtle differences on how each contributor views reality from his or her perspective.

Presence is also a book of stories. There are many stories and there are also stories within stories. It is like the authors are taking a long walk on a beach while pointing their fingers at gems and stones spattered all over. They walk fast some time, but meander most of the time. They take digressions and detours but there is hardly a dull moment for the reader who is just observing and wondering where these kindred spirits would end up going.

Presence could have been written in a racy promotional style in which most business books are written these days, but delightfully for the reader the authors made a better choice—to convey their message in a thoughtful and highly interactive manner. The choice of style, however, is not without its cost. Style impacts substance and at times obfuscates it, renders it incomprehensible, just words without any clear or definite meaning.

The basic idea of the book is well captured in a statement attributed to Bill O’Brien, former CEO of an insurance company: “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” This raises a broader question: where does action come from? Does it come from within oneself, or is it the result of our past learning as many thinkers like Dewey postulated and several concepts of adult learning like the Kolb Learning Cycle incorporated the same insight into what we have come to label as experiential or action learning. It is here that the authors break a new ground and shatter the myth of “past learning” or what they call as Type I Learning.

The myth of past learning as guide for future action has already been under pressure due to unprecedented advances in information technology, advent of globalization, and business and political realities of post-9/11 world in which we live. Yesterday’s insights are valuable but are not a reliable guide to the future success. Since change happens at multiple levels, the individual actor given the responsibility of decision-making has to use his or her deepest Source (not only seeing from the deepest source but becoming a vehicle for the source). This is the level of Presencing, where sensing meets with our presence, where we suspend judgment about what we have observed and we redirect our attention to the Big Picture without holding on to it for too long, and letting it go in order for our deepest source of knowing (Presencing) to assist us in envisioning a future, enacting and embodying it.

When we are “presencing” we are liberating ourselves from the burdens of the past, we are trying to free ourselves from the established ways of thinking, and in many ways we are focusing on our highest possibilities to create the kind of future that we dream about. This reminds me of the Buddhist saying that all dharmas are like dreams which is true because emptiness is the only enduring reality, but at the same time emptiness is also form, which means we have to lead our life in a real world with real challenges and real constraints.

The book does not offer sufficient guidance on how some die-hard, ground-smelling workaholics could acquire the capacity of “inner knowing.” In fact, in certain subtle ways the book delivers the message that going to retreats, undertaking nature walks, or exposing oneself to the wisdom of native societies could achieve this. It is only toward the end of the book that Peter tells the harsh truth about personal transformation: “It’s not just a matter of belief or wanting to be an instrument. You must develop the capacity. That’s why I was saying the Buddhist notion is about the process of cultivation. There are three areas in which you must work. First, you must meditate or ‘practice’—you must have a discipline of quieting the mind. Second, you must study—the sutras, the Koran, the Torah, the Bible—whatever helps to develop a theoretical understanding. And you must be committed to service, what the Buddhists would call ‘vow.’ Your cultivation grows out of all three.” I’m so glad that Peter said this, though this statement could have had greater impact in one of the early chapters.

Based on the model of OD practice in vogue today there is too much of “been there, done that” mentality, which means that if you want to learn anything new you must go to a workshop, an activity or an event and once you have done that you are fully enlightened as far as that topic is concerned. There is no deep shift of perception; learning stays at the surface from where people operate most of the time. This surface learning is useful but it is fundamentally “translational” and not “transformational” in terms of an important distinction mentioned by Ken Wilber in his writings.

Economist Brian Arthur, according to the story narrated in the book, epitomizes new learning (Type II Learning) because he left his job and went to Hong Kong to work with a Taoist teacher on a daily basis. How many corporate leaders would be willing to make this kind of commitment? Or how many of them would respond to Peter’s suggestion of deep change through meditation and study of scriptures and service, or follow an Integral Transformative Practice (ITP) recommended by Michael Murphy, author of The Future of the Body? Not many I suppose. The challenge, as mentioned by Betty, is to find the connection between the spiritual and the professional, If people within today’s organizations do not make a sincere effort to find this connection, they would continue to operate within the translational mode without any real transformation. And without real transformation our dream of creating a better world could die.

What is the special value and significance of Presence to global organizations? I see three areas where these organizations can benefit substantially. First, most of these organizations are caught in a dilemma, namely, whether they should carry solutions to their clients based on institution’s own understanding of issues, or they should listen to the clients and work with them to translate latter’s expectations into projects or policies. Although the second approach is the most favored one at present, the correct answer is not one or the other but a creative mergence of the two approaches. What the client needs or says is the data that has to be downloaded and it is really important for any meaningful outcome, but the decision maker has to be a deep sensor of reality; he or she should not only get in touch with the realm of possibilities but cocreate reality where provider and the beneficiary are not two separate entities but they are cocreators in a boundaryless dance of being and doing, transcending dualities of political exigencies and personal motivations to designing solutions for tomorrow’s problems. Tomorrow’s solutions are little hard to cocreate when institutions are caught up in “listening to the client” or “lessons of experience” modes.

Second, as the book points out, “ … the basic problem with the new species of global institutions is that they have not yet become aware of themselves as living” systems and as a consequence there is an old machine-age mentality to keep everything under centralized control and not letting the whole organism to grow more freely. This means reduced effectiveness because the organization at the top is always adjusting to changes in the environment thinking that environment is out there somewhere, but as Maturana and Varela have pointed out, living systems are autopoietic and that they have the capacity for self-production; meaning change in one part of the system means simultaneous change in every part of the system, and more importantly a system’s interaction with its environment is really a part of its own organization. There is no environment out there. Everything is self-referential. Peter sums up the same insight in the following words: “What is most systemic is most local. The deepest systems we enact are woven into the fabric of everyday life, down to the most minute detail.”

Third, although the book uses cocreation as a key concept, there is very little written about it as an institutional practice. Global institutions like their national counterparts are almost in the dark on how to turn this concept into a tool for daily practice. Words like client orientation, alliance or coalition-building, shared strategic agenda etc. are used but they are not about cocreation. Cocreation occurs at the confluence of physics, biology, psychology, and spirit. It is not this or that; it is a total experience of being. I hope the promised Workbook will address this need for clarity on one of the key pillars of Presencing hypothesis.

Presence is a breakthrough work. It is a book that would deeply impact the way we think about ourselves, our relationship with organizations and their decision-making processes. Whether you are an executive or a midlevel manager, a staffer, or a trainer this book will challenge some of your fundamental beliefs. Written in poetic language, it unfolds like a symphony and when the melody ends, the reader is left struggling with words or concepts like the field of the future, seeing our seeing, the eye of the needle, the power of intention, or the mind of wisdom. These concepts may not mean much when we read them, but these are the seeds of radical change in the ways we think about our future. It will take sometime for these ideas to take root in the organizational soil or find a place in the organizational psyche, but with the publication of this book a major theoretical threshold has been crossed.

[First published in the KOSMOS Magazine Summer 2004]

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Planetary Citizenship: A Book Review

Planetary Citizenship: Your Values, Beliefs and Actions Can Shape A Sustainable World by Hazel Henderson and Daisaku Ikeda, Middleway Press, Santa Monica, CA.

Planetary Citizenship is an extended dialogue between two highly gifted and caring individuals of our time. Hazel Henderson, an American of British ancestry, is well-known evolutionary economist whose extraordinary zeal for ensuring clean air for her young daughter once led to the landmark legislation known as the Clean Air Act. Her fight did not end there; it was just the beginning. Dubbed as the most dangerous woman in the US by the polluters, she successfully challenged the use of economics to advocate narrow corporate and other special interests. She continues to remind us that economics is a profession and not a science. Conventional economists will always treat social and environmental costs as “externalities” unless we take steps to break the stranglehold of economics on public policy. Her mother taught her to “love and learn” —a lesson that was reinforced by other role models in her life, including people like Rachel Carlson, Barry Commoner, Norman Cousins, and legendary Dr. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful.

Daisaku Ikeda, born in Japan, comes from a different cultural milieu. As a young man he experienced the horrors of war in which many of his close relatives were killed. With the blessings of his mentor, Josei Toda, he has devoted all his life to the cause of peace – both as an individual and as the president of Soka Gokkai International (SGI), an organization that uses Buddhist spiritual tradition and values to promote peace, culture, and education. It is important to note that Daisaku Ikeda does not treat peace merely as an absence of war; it is a condition where the dignity and fundamental rights of all people are respected. This form of peace can legitimately arise only from within the individual self and that explains the use of Buddhist doctrine as a way of transforming individual psyche.

Both the authors show strong commitment to Earth Charter – a charter created by hundreds of people working together across national boundaries, outside the purview of sovereign governments. It offers a strong and imaginative vision of the 21st century as the century of peace and environmental sustainability.

The Idea of Planetary Citizenship

Who is a planetary citizen? We probably all are because we share one planet. This was the first citizenship we had when our ancestors fought the elements in order to survive and to find food and shelter wherever available. There were no regional or national boundaries then. Our space age explorations during the last 50 years have again reminded us that the Earth seen from the space is one big organic whole – vibrating with life where light and darkness do their daily dance in wide-open spaces, unhindered by humanly drawn boundary lines. Some human innovations such as information technology (CNN, internet, et al) have also remarkably brought us together as one people. There was a stark reminder of this on September 11, 2001 when many of us sitting in the World Bank, located a few blocks away from the White House and the Pentagon, first got the news of the terrorist attacks from our colleagues 10,000 miles away in India country office.

Daisaku Ikeda certainly adds a rich spiritual dimension to the concept of planetary citizenship by emphasizing the need for peace that joins us in a common endeavor because war causes immense suffering to ordinary people. A shared planetary citizenship honors the sanctity of life. He reminds us, “People are sacred because they have the spark of life.”

But how can we have a common citizenship when one half of the world is bent upon destroying the other half? It is not only the terrorists who believe in killing innocent civilians; there are number of local and regional conflicts going on at any time and smaller wars that are being fought without making headlines in the evening news. Daisaku Ikeda’s answer to end these conflicts is to use dialogue as a tool; he has been involved in 1,500 such dialogues globally. Dialogue, he believes, helps us by opening ourselves to others’ viewpoints. Dialogue is a way of building bridges that can lead to a lasting peace. Hazel Henderson, on the other hand, exemplifies courage for organizing group action and civic activism, based on a strong philosophy, for causes that concern all humanity (human rights, sustainability, democracy). Group action could be used as an effective tool for enhancing the quality of planetary citizenship.

Institutional Implications

If the concept of planetary citizenship has to become a reality, we need new forms of global representation. While both the authors are strong supporters of the UN system and other existing global institutions, they see the need for institutional reform (for example, dropping of veto system in the Security Council) and the enforcement of new measures of human development on the lines of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, and Hazel Henderson’s path breaking work in creating Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators. This is a new approach for compiling comprehensive statistics of national wellbeing that go beyond traditional macroeconomic indicators. The most interesting among the 12 indicators is the one called “re-creation” – meaning how institutional investments enhance the quality of individual characteristics (education, socialization, age and gender, time and money) and what kind of choices individuals make.

Institutional reform agenda should go hand in hand with finding new meanings for terms like “globalization.” The current emphasis on profit-first only encourages selfish pursuit of progress that causes overall suffering and environmental problems. People everywhere need to recognize their connections with other beings. We need truly cross-disciplinary approaches for decision making instead of blindly relying on economics as a way of formulating public policy. We have to think globally, but act locally. We need to inculcate the appreciation of the Earth as the Great Mother, a lesson that ancient humans taught us.

Dangers Ahead

The goal of planetary citizenship is near as well as far. First and foremost, as Hazel Henderson points out, the “hare” of technological innovation has overrun the “tortoise” of social innovation. Stone-age thinking now has access to internet tools for making more effective bombs. We are globalizing bad economics instead of globalizing ethics – the corporate codes of conduct, agreements and treaties to protect human rights, to raise workplace standards and to conserve environment. We are failing to see poverty, ignorance, disease and violence as the “real axis of evil.” Only bold political thinking and action can save the world from its dependence on oil. Unless incentives for nuclear and oil industries end, investments in hydrogen fuel cells will not start on a large scale. Inequality of women – half the citizens of this planet -- must end. As a World Bank report showed a few years ago, there is less corruption in nations where there is advanced participation by women. Hazel Henderson gives sober warning when she says: “The important thing is to have a reflective mirror in which to reexamine society. Human history shows that the United States is only a temporary superpower and imperial overreach has always ended in collapse.”

Book Review by Surinder Deol previously published in KOSMOS magazine (Winter 2004)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Centering & Disidentification Exercise by John W. Cullen

Take the time to center yourself and focus in. We will do this basic psychosynthesis exercise. Quiet yourself and sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. You are going to disidentify, stepping back from the various parts of yourself in order to get to the center--the personal self--the observer that is beyond any of your individual parts. This self is the integrative factor that coordinates all aspects of the personality. So just step away from the parts starting with the body.

"I have a body, but I am more than my body. I am the one who is aware: the self, the center. My body may be rested or tired, active or inactive, but I remain the same, the observer at the center of all my experience. I am aware of my body, but I am more than my body.

I have emotions, but I am more than my emotions. Whether I feel excited or dull, I recognize that I am not changing. I have emotions, but I am more than my emotions.

I have an intellect, but I am more than my intellect. Regardless of my thoughts and regardless of how my beliefs have changed over the years, I remain the one who is aware, the one who chooses--the one who directs my thinking process. I have an intellect, but I am more than that.

I am a center of pure awareness. I am the one who chooses. I am the self."

Through the process of disidentification you become more and more your own manager. You find yourself becoming more free from concerns about the expectations or judgments of other people. The self is the inner director.

Another effect of disidentification is the development of a discrimination between being centered versus being off center. Most people cannot do this because they do not have the experience of being centered. As you begin to experience being centered, there is a tendency to experience a sense of permanence. At the center there is stability. Even though the environment is changing you are identified in that stable center.

Andrew Weil on Healthy Aging

Andrew Weil in his new book Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being, has good advice about managing the aging process. Here are few useful tips:

Nature take its course while doing everything in our power to delay the onset of age-related disease, or, in other words, to live as long and as well as possible, then have a rapid decline at the end of life.
There are no effective anti-aging medicines.
Yes, aging can bring frailty and suffering, but it can also bring depth and richness of experience, complexity of being, serenity, wisdom, and its own kind of power and grace.
The goal is to adapt to the changes that time brings and to arrive in old age with minimal deficits and discomforts -- in technical terms, to compress morbidity.
I do not use antiaging cosmetics and have no interest whatever in cosmetic surgery
I want to warn you that the promises you will hear from practitioners of antiaging medicine are going to become more extravagant in coming years.
Be wary of wishing for life extension without thinking through the details of what your extended life will be like.
Cells are programmed to age and die: When cells become immortal, they are cancerous.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Die Slowly: Poem by Pablo Neruda

Neruda is one of my favorite poets and especially I love his romantic poems. This poem in English translation that Google recently published is very different. In many respects, it's a personal change poem that reminds us how we decide to "die slowly" because we have become slaves of certain attitudes and habits. Read, enjoy and reflect!

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience, dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “is” rather than a bundle of emotions,
the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings, dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives, die slowly.

He who does not travel,
who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself, dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck,
about the rain that never stops, dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it,
who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know,
he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know, die slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
always reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort by far
greater than the simple fact of breathing.
Only a burning patience will lead to the attainment of a splendid happiness

Friday, October 21, 2005

Deep Personal Change: 17 Presuppositions

1. The world in which we live is real and unreal at the same time. We need to understand the difference and keep it in our mind at all times.

The world in which we live exists, but it is not real. If you hit a stone your foot is going to be hurt. In that sense the world is real. But it is not real because it changes, as mentioned by Plato and other great thinkers, and it is subject to the laws of time, space and causality that make it relative and dualistic. Beyond the fleeting images of this material reality, there is Spirit, which is eternal, limitless, changeless, and totally unaffected by fluctuations in the physical world.

2. True happiness lies in finding out our wholeness and our ability to seek oneness with Spirit.

Deep personal change recognizes that in order for us to realize true happiness, our true potential, we have to go much deeper, way beyond the superficial questions of meaning and purpose of life that we frequently ask ourselves. We have to come face to face with the realization that what we call “self” is nothing other than Spirit. It could never be anything else because the whole existence is nothing except Spirit. Deep personal change enables us to discriminate between the real and the unreal and creates a desire to look for what is more stable than the things we value.

3. There are five ego-supported path blockers, namely, selfishness, anger, jealousy, fear, and arrogance, and when they are present they are the biggest hurdles to any kind of positive change.

4. Soul is no different from Spirit.

We talk about soul, but we fail to realize that our soul and Spirit are one and the same. There are no two or multiple entities within us. Of course, there is a part of us that is doing the worldly stuff. There is a part of us that dreams when we sleep. There is yet another part of us that relaxes in a dreamless sleep. All these parts are familiar to us. But we never stop to think: how could we ever do this if there was no all-pervading Consciousness that was illuminating every little detail of our life? This Consciousness is eternal Spirit.

5. Our ignorance is excusable but to stay in ignorance forever is inexcusable.

Our ignorance is not the function of any lack of information or illiteracy. It is the work of the grand illusion (also called Maya) that makes everything that belongs to this world look so real. Our homes are real, so are our workplaces. Our struggle for material security is a real struggle. Nothing comes to us easily. How could we ever doubt the reality and the brutal presence of these phenomena? Yet behind this phenomenal world of multiplicities, there is Reality and that Reality never changes. It does not have to. Spirit is not born; therefore, it never dies. It is a Witness of our waking, dreaming, and sleeping states; it is the only light in the universe that reflects in all life and matter. It is pure joy and bliss because no sorrow ever reaches it. It cannot be comprehended by speech. It is the whole of the universe as well as all its parts. It is the cause of many. Beyond It there is nothing. It is One without a second. It is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. (Sat-Chitt-Ananda) Sprit is God, Spirit is Self, Spirit is the ultimate Guru.

6. There are many ways of seeking intimacy with Spirit; find the one that moves your heart.

There are three ways in which we can know God and frame our relationship with Him. There is a view that says God is a Creator and being a Creator He is separate from His creation. All human beings are part of God’s creation and therefore we stand apart from Him as His subjects. Master and subject can never be co-equals. God might dwell in some secret places of our heart but He is beyond recognition. We can get close to Him but we can never be God. This is the dualistic view.

The second view is like a midway house, which states that we are identical with God in some ways and different in others. We lead our own lives, shaped by our own personal preferences, but everything depends on the will of God. We are separate yet within the all-seeing eye of God.

Deep personal change rests on the third, strongly non-dualistic presupposition that we are no different from God. This is the cornerstone of Vedantic philosophy that was developed experientially by great sages of India in ancient times when they tried to find answers to questions like: What is God? Who am I? The essence of this philosophy is captured in four Great Sayings: That Thou Art (meaning you are That which is God); This Self is God; Consciousness is God; and I Am God. These sayings point attention to the fact of non-duality of the individual soul and the Supreme Self. Beyond the confines of our individual consciousness, there is a point where individual consciousness simply merges into Pure Consciousness.

7. Know that good and evil are symptomatic of our own dualistic thinking.

If God lives within the human heart, what accounts for evil, treachery, oppression, terror, violence, injustice, disease, and suffering that is such an integral part of our daily lives? We exist in a world of relativity and duality, God does not. As long as we believe in the existence of relativity, there will always be polarizing forces, stretching us in different directions. Once we shift our attention from this world of evil and injustice, all dualities and multiplicities begin to disperse. If evil, injustice, and violence are bad, who imposed these limitations and constraints on us? The correct answer is that we are born with these limitations and innate tendencies. In order to achieve material success we cheat and lie. In order to strengthen our own power base we suppress others into submission. All this time, our Self stays away from us, at a distance, just witnessing what goes on in our life. Therefore, God and evil do not coexist as light and darkness cannot coexist. God is so far away from our doings, though residing within us, that nothing touches Him. When there is a contact between them, the spell of evil and injustice is shattered in a split second because there is no duality in the presence of God. In a Self-realized world there is no place for good or evil because it is a world beyond all dualities.

8. We need to build a healthy, harmonious and enriching relationship with our body.

While our body is our most beautiful and precious treasure, in reality we live in three bodies. Our primary attention is fixed on the “gross body” that needs continuous care and nourishment; it feels pleasure and pain, and experiences joy and happiness. The “subtle body” comes next and it consists of subtle elements like breathing, mind, and intelligence. This body plays an important part in our work life because we achieve results by using our mental and intellectual capacities. The third and the most important manifestation of our body is “causal body” that is closest to Self and we get to experience its blissful state in moments of deep sleep. Self is a Witness of these three bodies but cannot be identified with any one of these.

Deep personal change does not require separation from our body or any of its manifestations. Our body is sacred because it is the abode of Self. Therefore, any lack of care or unnecessary hardship caused to body is counter-productive in achieving the overall goal of Self-realization. Yet our total identification with our body is wrong. We have a body, but we are not our bodies. Why? Body is an object like other objects: we can see it, we can feel it, and whatever can be experienced by our senses is not real and is non-Self. This is the essence of subject-object discrimination. Self is the only true seer and subject. Also the body gets old, it decays, it fragments, and it decomposes. Anything that is subject to such natural changes cannot be real. Total identification with body is therefore limiting and false.

Without giving up your body or any of its unique attributes, you have to seek this realization that only non-duality (that you and Self are One) is your true reality. This realization takes us straight ahead to some basic routines of Self-realization that includes questioning the working of your mind and carrying a creative tension around the question: Who am I? In case of self-doubt, ask: Who really doubts? If you are investing your energy in attaining a particular material gain, ask: Who is driving me in this direction? Self is beyond all doubts, cares, concerns, gains and losses. It is our mind or ego that forces us to stay focused on ups and downs of daily life. And what is mind after all? It is a bundle of thoughts and feelings. Stop thinking and see where the mind goes. If we stop paying attention to ego, it will just cease to exist.

9. Intimacy with Spirit ultimately shatters the veil of ignorance.

If Self is our true identity, and we are already Self-realized, how come we do not know it? We do not know it because we lead our life under the burden of mounds of ignorance about what is real and what is not. Anything that we cannot see is not real to us. Anything that does not directly serve a worldly purpose is not real to us. We are taught from our childhood to be pragmatic. Do not live in a world of illusions or dreams, we are told. Live in the real world, pursue real goals, and become something that others will recognize and value. How can we be ever Self-realized if we are not even paying attention? We look outside for solutions. We are enamored by words like “enlightenment” as if there is something out there by possessing which we would become luminous. There is a multi-billion dollar industry around self-discovery, self-awareness, and self-enlightenment that feeds into this craze for finding easy solutions, and for searching enlightened gurus and masters in exotic places. Our ignorance is the result of our denial that we are separate from Self.

The reason why this grand illusion (aka Maya) exists are too subtle and complex to be enumerated here. Suffice is it to say that the grand illusion works at two levels: first, it operates through its power of concealment, and second, it functions through its power of projection. It conceals Ultimate Reality so that we forget the distinction between the real and the unreal. The projective power is a creative power—a power that creates the world as we know it and all the objects that reside therein. Both these powers are in the nature of a superimposition on the true face of Reality. No superimposition can have any impact on the Ultimate Reality, because the latter exists independent of any external influence, but it does create a problem for us. Most human beings lack the power of discrimination that can cut straight through this veil of superimposition. The result is that we are condemned to a life of ignorance and suffering.

10. Spirit is Guru and she appears as a guru or guide when we are ready.

People ask do we need a guru to be Self-realized? Scriptures do emphasize the need for a spiritual guru or a mentor. But whether you should look for a guru is a very personal decision. While the company of an enlightened soul is always a blessing, there is no difference according to Vedanta between God, Self and Guru. He is within us. But we have to look deep within us to find Him.

There are two problems with having a guru who is another human being, other than your own Self. First, really enlightened gurus are hard to find. Even when you find one, he or she will be unable to give you the time and attention that you might need. Also there is a risk that another person’s solution may not work for you and you might end-up spending a better part of your life gaining nothing.

The second problem is that of giving up your inner freedom to pursue your spiritual path in your own way. We are told that what we are giving up is our ignorance, which is not true. The guru will probably require unqualified submission. The alternative is to give up our ignorance to our own Self and ask that ignorance be transformed into eternal wisdom. That always works. Ask and you will get it. As one of the Upanishads (collection of holy teachings going back thousands of years) advises us: “Have you ever asked for that instruction by which we hear what is unheard, by which we perceive what is unperceived, by which we know what is unknown.” (Chandogya Upanishad)

While you may not need a guru, there is no harm in seeking the help of a learned teacher or a spiritual facilitator for clarifying your doubts and resolving your inner conflicts. Deep personal change does not require us to change many things. The whole learning is like knowing one thing by which we know every thing

11. Renunciation is living in dynamic detachment from what is unreal and transitory.

Renunciation is needed for deep personal change but not in the sense the word is commonly understood. There is no need to go to the Himalayas, give up your home or mortgage, no need to give up your loved ones, and no need to give up your fancy job. The renunciation that is needed is a spiritual one in which we inculcate within ourselves the power to discriminate between the real and the unreal and “give up” in some sense the unreal. We need to be clear what this “giving up” entails. Self does not need anything from us. What we give up is a personal matter for us. We should give up excessive attachment to people and things. How “excessive” is excessive, one might ask. This is the function of the power of our discrimination. As we cultivate and nurture this capacity, even little attachment might look excessive. We should make this decision on a daily basis.

Attachment gives us security, but it also causes suffering when we lose things and people we are attached with. Some degree of detachment from the world in reality is the only way to end this suffering. And how much do we suffer over a lifetime? Buddha answered this question when he said: “If all the tears that had flowed from human eye since the beginning of creation were gathered together, they would exceed the waters of the ocean.”

12. Actions are our living karma; what we give to the world we receive back sooner or later.

One important reason why we start our lives at different spatial points away from God is that we bring different karma with us when we are born. Karma is the sum and substance of our past actions that have an impact on our present life. Karma simply means action—an action that produces results or consequences. Every thing we do have consequences—some known, others unknown. All the unknowns and some that we are aware of get accumulated and attach to our personal consciousness that we carry from one body to another. People ask how do they get to select another body and another life? We are born as a body that is in fact crafted by us. Our karma and our innate tendencies work to shape us as a specific human being.

If karma decides who we really are, where is the place for free will? There is much that we can do in spite of the cruel burden of past actions that we are made to carry. Any progress that we make to reach the goal of Self-realization in this life eradicates proportionately some residue of our past lives. A fully Self-realized person has no karmic baggage because he or she has moved away from the world of causality.

13. Deep personal change can be accelerated by the efforts that we make to nurture spiritual qualities.

Shankara, the great Indian sage who lived in the 8th century, suggested cultivation of six unique qualities. First and foremost, we need calmness, like a piece of wood that burns without being affected by the smoke and dust that surrounds it. Second, we require self-control over our senses (what we see, what we hear, etc.) and over our actions (what we do). Third, there is a need for stability, which makes us stand firmly on our ground, not shifting our attention from one thing to another. Fourth, we need forbearance, the unlimited capacity to withstand the ‘pinpricks of life’, to bear pain and suffering in the spirit of total acceptance. Fifth, our mind needs to be totally concentrated on Self and nothing else. Sixth and the last, we need faith, not in the sense of having belief in something mechanical, but something that is a living commitment. Faith is a true signature of our mortal identity. Our faith defines us; it provides a set of values that inform all our actions. These are the qualities, among many others, that help us in reaching our goal of Self-realization. When the grand illusion of our separation from God is shattered, then there is no barrier between Him and us.

14. Living in the present moment is an opportunity for us to live in Spirit

Present moment is the only moment that we can live in. Past is history and future is just a projection. The valid question is not whether we are living in the present moment, but what are we thinking and doing in the present moment. If we are just paying attention to things around us, that is of little use. On the other hand, if we are living in pure Self-consciousness it is a different matter. Any moment lived away from Spirit is not helpful for reaching the goal of Self-Realization. We should not only live in the present moment, but in a meditative state where on the one hand we pay attention to the business of life and on the other stay fully absorbed in Spirit.

15. Paths to Self-Realization do not matter; inner motivation is the key to success.

Deep personal change may follow some steps, levels or stages, or it may not. There is no one true path. Every path goes to the summit if one has the right motivation. Self-realization is an ever-present state. Self within us is Truth-Consciousness-Bliss. But we don’t know it. As saint-poet Kabir says, “You do not see that the Real is in your home, and you wander from forest to forest listlessly!”

Meister Eckhart, the Christian mystic expressed the same thought but much more elaborately: “God must be very I, I very God, so consummately one that this he and this I are one ‘is’, in this is-ness working one work eternally … God’s being is my life, but if it is so, then what is God’s must be mine, and what is mine God’s. God’s is-ness is my is-ness, and neither more nor less. The just live eternally with God, on a par with God, neither deeper nor higher. All their work is done by God and God’s by them.”

The day we break all the barriers, and remove layers of ignorance that surround our real nature we will be fully Self-realized in a split second. This truth is captured in Zen saying: “We can drink the pacific ocean in one gulp.”

16. Work performed as desireless action is like surrendering our effort at the feet of Spirit.

We want to succeed in our careers and not renounce them. This is a natural aspiration on our part because we have spent years preparing ourselves for a position in life that we cannot easily throw out of the window in the hope of becoming a Self-realized monk or lama. There is no such requirement or expectation when we talk about deep personal change.
The problems faced by men and women in today’s organizations center around how the work is rewarded. Somehow this idea has been drilled deep down into the organizational consciousness that material incentives are needed in order for people to do their normal work. This thinking also drives people to expect material rewards for their work in the form of promotions, raises, and other perks. When these expectations are not fully met, or they are late in coming the result is frustration, low morale, low motivation, and less satisfaction with work life. The solution for this problem was offered by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita many centuries ago in the form of desireless action. “Do your allotted work but renounce its fruit—be detached and act—have no desire for reward, and act.”

Can this solution work for everyone? Probably not, because today’s organizations are political entities where rewards are less targeted to quality and timeliness of work, and more toward perceptions around “work” and how employees and their managers continuously manipulate these perceptions.

But let us think about this issue another way. There is no guarantee that I will be rewarded for my good work if my attention is always focused on the “fruits” of my actions. I will be probably under great stress, losing my sleep over when the reward will come my way. I will be even more stressed when my expectation is not met. Therefore, isn’t it better for me to just focus my attention on my work—pursuing excellence in everything I do, being creative and thoughtful about how I do my job—and leave everything else to God? If I am disappointed, I will give my disappointment to God. If I am pleased, I will give my happiness to God. In both cases I will carry no burden in my mind other than the commitment to my duty.

Expectations make people stretch the truth about their performance. As Gandhi has mentioned in his essay on the Bhagavad-Gita, such thinking is at the root of untruth and violence in this world. Both organizations and workers will be better off if reward-driven thinking is replaced by desireless-action thinking.

17. In every relationship Spirit aspires to join two people in sacred harmony.

When people realize that their union or relationship was the work of Spirit, their relationship lasts forever.

Deep Personal Change

Deep personal change is a changeless change. This paradoxical statement hides a great truth: in order to be Self-Realized we do not have to change. We are already Self-Realized; the challenge is to know this truth in the same way as we know other things in our life.

Change is always perceived as a movement from one point to another. All our life we try to change or reposition ourselves to cope with changing external circumstances. If deep personal change is not change in the traditional sense of the word, what does it mean? Let us look at all the three words carefully. “Deep” means finding our current surface state (the current mental and spiritual state) and stretching it in different directions to find a glimpse of the special qualities that we possess as human beings and probing the meaning of it all with a “beginner’s mind.” Where do I come from? Where am I going? What is the purpose of my life? What kind of life should I lead?

Any such inquiry is “personal” because it is focused on our own narrow self and as it gradually expands it turns itself into a maddening search for Spirit (or Self), that is our true inner core, a state of changeless bliss, ever present and eternal.

“Change” is nothing but a realization that what we always believed to be real is real only in a relative sense. We have to live in the world but we have to do it with dynamic detachment. By becoming one with Spirit, we are not negating the world. We cannot negate the world because it is also Spirit at the collective level. What we negate is the grand illusion of our own separation from Spirit; the illusion that our affections, our possessions, and our social connections are the only reality that we need to care about.

This is a fundamental shift of perception. Instead of looking outward our gaze shifts inward. In our daily life we value things that we can see, feel or touch. We value things that give us comfort. We value relationships because they make us feel secure. But what is hidden beneath the surface is the center of our greatest potentialities. What is hidden is Spirit whom we search outside all our life and never find. Deep personal change takes us on to the path of discovery and provides a clear map of how you can get there.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

One Minute Meditation

You don't have even three minutes. What about one minute meditation repeated several times a day:

1. Stop whatever you are doing
2. Close your eyes
3. Breathe deeply
4. Feeling your breath countdown from 12 to 1. After each number say: “I fully accept the present moment”
5. Slowly open your eyes

Three Minute Meditation

We are always short of time, just can't find those 20 minutes for meditation. What about three minutes? It is better to spend three minutes in meditation and repeat it several times during the day than not do it at all. Here are five simple steps:

1. Close your eyes.
2. Sit so that your back is straight but not stiff.
3. Become aware of your breathing [Awareness of breathing is not the same thing as thinking about it. Feel your breath. You can feel your breath in your nostrils, in your chest or in your belly. Feeling your breath in your chest or belly is better.]
4. Do not let your thoughts wander away. If they wander away please bring them back to the present moment.
5. Sit in this posture for thee minutes

Sri Aurobindo on Spiritual Transformation

Here is a passage from The Integral Yoga, one of the easier to follow works of Sri Aurobindo.

"What I mean by the spiritual transformation is something dynamic (not merely liberation of the Self or realization of the One which can very well be attained without any descent). It is a putting on of the spiritual consciousness, dynamic as well as static, in every part of the being down to the subconscient. That cannot be done by the influence of the Self leaving the consciousness fundamentally as it is with only purification, enlightenment of the mind and heart and quiescence of the vital. It means a bringing down of the Divine Consciousness static and dynamic into all these parts and the entire replacement of the present consciousness by that. This we find unveiled and unmixed above mind, life and body. It is a matter of the undeniable experience of many that this can descend and it is my experience that nothing short of its full descent can thoroughly remove the veil and mixture and effect the full transformation... I may add that transformation is not the central object of other paths as it is of this yoga--only so much purification and change is demanded by them as will lead to liberation and beyond-life. The influence of the Atman can no doubt do that--a full descent of a new consciousness into the whole nature from top to bottom to transform life here is not needed at all for the spiritual escape from life." (page 211)