Thursday, September 18, 2014

The thing about progress...

When i was working on the second Bhagavat Commune property with my godbrother Radharadhya Prabhu and his family, i noticed something that gave me an important insight on life in general that i think most people who have ever been on a spiritual journey can relate to.

The 180-acre property that we purchased for our project comprised of about 120 acres of forest and 60 acres of thickly overgrown brushy pastures on rolling hills.  Mixed in the brush were various types of small trees and wild blackberry bushes making the land virtually impassable and unusable for farming/pasture land.  Those who have read our blog entry from October2012 may recall the photos of our tractor and bush hog clearing out the 9-foot tall brush in the back end of our property, transforming the area from a treacherous mess to a usable field with a lot of potential.

When we first started clearing the various areas around the property, there was a huge noticeable difference and a major sense of achievement as well as a more tangible and clarified vision of our goals for the space and for the project as a whole.

As we cleared more and more of the previously neglected overgrown pastures, however, the feeling of accomplishment no longer accompanied our long days of work.  Since we now knew exactly what the areas could potentially look like, every time we cleared a few more acres, instead of appearing like progress as it did in the beginning, it just seemed like that was the way that it was “supposed to look”.  In fact, eventually it started feeling like the more we cleared, the less we actually accomplished because instead of seeing the progress, we saw how much further we had to go before we had all 60 acres cleared.

We wanted to skip the rest of the first step and start the next (assembling the fences for the pasture areas, building barns for our prospective animals, planting fruit trees in the orchard area, etc.).  The problem with that idea was that if we had done it that way, the other overgrown areas, which were already neglected for nearly a decade, would have transformed from very difficult to manage to nearly impossible.  The wise and responsible choice was to continue our bush hogging until all 60 acres were cut down before we began the second phase of the fields’ transformations.

When we set off on our spiritual journey, several things happen.  One of the things that happens is we immediately notice a substantial amount of personal growth and transformation.  We tangibly experience the results of our spiritual endeavors and notice the progress that we have made compared to that of our previous lifestyles.  In this way we feel validated and we enthusiastically continue our progressive march toward transcendence.

Unfortunately, after some time this sense of accomplishment can seem to slowly fade away causing many to question the effectiveness of the spiritual process.  This is because, as in the example above, when we begin a long process we not only see the immediate results, but we also get a glimpse of the ultimate results of that particular step.

Having seen said future results, we feel as if we have already achieved them and therefore we begin to desire the results of the next step before we even finish the first one.  Thus, when we fail to attain the secondary results we essentially place the blame on the process for not working instead of rightfully keeping the blame on ourselves for not completing the prerequisite step.

Although it is naturally tempting to jump ahead on the blissful and illuminating spiritual path, if we attempt to do so without first addressing our base material attachments we are doing the equivalent of grabbing on to a passing train with one hand while firmly anchoring ourselves to a tree with the other.

Material life and spiritual life are like oil and water…  although they can superficially mix for some time, they naturally oppose one another and therefore they automatically separate.  There is a period of transition where we dovetail our material desires with spiritual life, but it is imperative that during this process we let go of our material tendencies and latch onto spiritual ones.  When we practice spiritual life in the material world we must carefully follow the guidance of a legitimate spiritual authority so that we can successfully transfer our consciousness from material to spiritual without getting lost in the mix.  If we maintain attachments to both matter and spirit we will naturally be torn apart.  This is why it important for us to finish the first step before we move onto the next.

This is also why we sometimes feel helpless in our pursuits.  Although we have made ample progress, we have also seen a clear picture of what we will attain if we continue the process.  Knowing that we must continue our efforts in order to gain said progress before we can move on to the next level can be daunting…  it can feel like a tease.  And so some people just give up.

Of course, when obstacles are thrown in front of us while we are pursuing our material goals we do not give up.  On the contrary, we tend to conjure up super-human strength and abilities to rise up against the odds to conquer all of the adversity keeping us from our enjoyment.  If we showed that much enthusiasm and vigor on our spiritual endeavors we would be in much better shape than we are currently.

So don’t give up on your spiritual pursuit, just take a closer look at what is really happening.  The progress hasn’t halted, we have.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Question authority.

Throughout my life i have heard and read this phrase countless times.  Whether it is on a bumper sticker, a t-shirt, in a book, shouted by someone with a raised fist, uttered in jest, or just brought up in normal conversation, it is mostly used by anarchists who “don’t want the man (or system) keepin’ ‘em down”.  Contrary to what some may think, this phrase was not spawned from the punk-rock revolutionaries of the 1980’s.  Many consider one of America’s forefathers, Benjamin Franklin, to be the originator of the term as he is often quoted in saying, “it is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority”.  Although Mr. Franklin was fairly punk in more ways than one, i’m not sure that his intent behind this message was to encourage people to categorically reject authority like the punk counterculture seems to profess.  After all, there is quite a big difference between questioning something and completely rejecting it.

But i am in no position to interpret the intent of this historical figure as, having never met the gentleman, my thoughts on the matter would be mere conjecture.  Fortunately, though, there is no need for speculation in this regard because the actual person who coined the phrase under discussion was Sri Krsna Himself and He is quite clear about what He means by it.

While Lord Krsna was conversing with His dear friend Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra, He told him: “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” (Bg 4.34)

So as it turns out, it is quite beneficial to question authority.  Since genuine authorities actually know what they are talking about, they can certainly teach others to advance in their field of expertise providing that the potential student is worthy, qualified and possesses the proper attitude.  Without assimilating these characteristics, the student may find it difficult to advance in knowledge.

Not many educators are eager to cooperate with a student who breaks down their door, demands immediate attention, and questions their teaching methods or qualification.  Some etiquette must be there if one sincerely wishes to learn something, and so our questions should be put forth in a submissive and respectful manner.

We should not, of course, accept every yahoo who claims to be an authority and blindly follow their ramblings and drivel as gospel truth and our life’s mission, but it is certainly necessary for us to accept some authority if we want to effectively increase our understanding.

It is in our best interest to employ good judgment and fair discrimination in choosing our authority.  Our mentor should be noticeably successful in the field in which we desire to achieve success.  If our goal is to become a plumber, we should not approach a surgeon for training (and visa versa).  Although there are no doubt some similarities in these two fields, the techniques are completely different and therefore we can easily understand that choosing our authority requires a bit of intelligence and some initial research on our own part.  Of course the first step is to know what it is that we want to achieve; then we can select a suitable advisor.

We humans have material needs and spiritual needs, so naturally we can have both material teachers and spiritual ones.  We may learn how to fix a car from an expert mechanic, but for our spiritual needs we should approach an expert in spiritual matters.  So if one is looking for the Absolute Truth, beyond this temporary and illusory world, one must approach a guru who is expert in dealing with transcendental subjects.  Although becoming an auto-mechanic may help one provide for one’s material needs (food, clothing and entertainment for oneself and one’s family), there is still a spiritual need that goes unfulfilled if it is not addressed.  

It can easily be understood that spirit is different from matter and that, while the body is composed of material elements, the conscious spark that animates it is eternal and transcendental to the temporary body.  The body requires food and water to function properly, but no amount of material care can satisfy the soul.  An eternal being cannot find true comfort in a temporary place.  So beyond these bodily necessities are spiritual necessities that require attention.

We need answers to questions such as, “Who are we?  Why are we here?  Why are different people born into various favorable and unfavorable situations?  What is the meaning of life?  What happens after the death of the body?”

These questions pertain to the soul and as such are eternal.  Similarly, the answers to these questions generate eternal results.  As we progress in our spiritual understanding, we are placed into more spiritually favorable situations (both in this life and the next).  The more we value these priorities and actively pursue the cultivation of this spiritual knowledge, the quicker we will satisfy our spiritual needs and attain peaceful perfection.

So don’t let the material modes keep ya down!  By all means, be punk… question authority…  just don’t be a jerk about it unless you want to remain a fool.

After all, there is nothing more punk than overthrowing the authority of material nature, which impels us to thoughtlessly consume its mind controlling products while chasing around the illusion of freedom.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Everybody meditates.

i am often approached by friends and colleagues who want me to “teach them how to meditate”.  Usually when they approach me with this request they are panting and ranting due to being majorly stressed out, completely overwhelmed, or just craving some semblance of peace in their otherwise volatile lives.  They have observed me being subjected to similar types of stresses, burdens and chaos that they are afflicted by, but with a relatively more peaceful mind.  Since it is no secret that i meditate, they easily make the connection that meditation is beneficial and so they ask me to train them in this discipline.  Of course, most of these friends would prefer some sort of magical mantra or sitting posture, either of which they could learn quickly and do for five minutes per day or less, but since that is not the way that it works, they generally give up before they start.

The truth is that the essence of meditation does not really reside in merely uttering syllables or in special sitting postures; it resides in the consciousness that drives us to do the things we do.  Although mantras and suitable environments certainly have a positive affect on our consciousness, the essence lies beyond these mechanical things.  And just like anything else in this world, meditation can be either material or spiritual.

For a very brief time in the 90’s i was an awning salesman.  Prior to this job, awnings were not a part of my world-view beyond the simple knowledge that they provide shade.  Although i knew they existed i didn’t really notice them on a daily basis, but when i became an awning salesman i had to learn about my product.  So after much scrutiny of fabric samples, design implementations for special features, and the mechanics of the production and installation process, suddenly i saw awnings everywhere.  Even though i was traveling through the same neighborhoods and cities as before where they never caught my eye, i found myself noticing every single awning around me…  the good ones, the bad ones, the new ones, the ones that were falling off buildings…  i could even recognize just by the design and quality whether an awning was built by the company that i worked for or by someone else.  This is meditation.

There are numerous things around us at all times, but we do not notice all of them.  It is only the things we have assigned some sort of value to (positive or negative) that we notice.  The things we do notice are a result of our having meditated on them.  So everyone is already meditating…  businessmen meditate on money, parents meditate on protecting their children and keeping them under control, hunters meditate on their prey, alcoholics meditate on booze, couture junkies meditate on fashion, etc.

So everyone already knows how to meditate.

The problem is that if peace is truly their goal, these people have not been properly meditating.  As i mentioned earlier, meditation can be either material or spiritual, as always, the determining factor which separates these two is consciousness.  If the goal behind our meditation is to personally gain control over something it implies that we view our self as the center of our own universe.  This is material meditation and can only lead to ultimate frustration since we are unable to truly control anything.  But if our goal is to understand the world as it is with God in the center, then our meditation is spiritual.  It is only when we understand our constitutional position as a part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and therefore live our lives in such a way that we recognize and acknowledge His supreme position that we can attain peace.

Peace comes when we step out of the center…  when we stop trying to control and enjoy.  If one’s goal is to be peaceful while selfishly enjoying or controlling, one will most certainly fail in an extravagantly miserable way.  The harder we try, the bigger we fail.

Peace is attained when we recognize that the actual occupier of the center is much more qualified than we are.  In fact He is the only one who is qualified.  When we stop trying to do God’s job and simply assist Him according to our capacity and His desires, then peace occurs.  A child “waxing” your car with gravel-filled mud is not peaceful, and the world run by our unqualified selves is equally as painful and chaotic.  Even though our intentions in trying to control something beyond our understanding may be noble, the result is that we just keep adding to the real problems.  And even though we are having fun and we think we and doing a terrific job, it is only because we do not understand the consequences of our careless, selfish and misguided action.  And so we keep wiping gravel-filled mud across the Lord’s really nice paint job. 

So the meditation part is easy…  everyone does it.  But until we step out of the center we cannot expect to find a truly peaceful situation.