Kosmic Journey

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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.


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