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Varnashrama

Swami_KrishnanandaThe system of Varnashrama is a systematic procedure to adjust ourselves and adapt ourselves to the circumstances of life, horizontally in society, and vertically in our own personality. The horizontal adjustment is the Varna and the vertical adjustment is the Ashrama. We have to be complete in society, in our relationships with people, and we have to be complete in our own selves by a suitable harmonious alignment of the various layers of our personality. Such an adjustment is very effectively brought about by following the great canons of the Varna and the Ashrama.

People generally think that Varna means caste, but it is not that. It means a class. The principle of the classification of society is called the Varna-Dharma. It is a classification, not a ‘castification’. No man is complete in himself, and therefore, no man can be satisfied merely in his own self without the cooperation of other persons. Man is, among other things, intellect, will, emotion and energy. Everyone is not possessed of these characteristics in the same measure. Inasmuch as everyone’s intention is the welfare of all human beings, the solidarity of mankind in general, it is necessary that we share among ourselves the commodities that we have. The commodities are not necessarily physical ones; they can be psychological ones also. If one has great intellectual capacity and spiritual acumen, which are necessary for the welfare of society, but not other facilities, he will share the knowledge and wisdom and the directing intelligence that he has with others, for the facilities which he does not have. The mutual cooperative activity of society—spiritually, administratively, economically and manually—forms the essence of the Varna system. The classification into Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras is not a categorization of people into superior and inferior types, into bosses and subordinates, but it is a classification of the functions of individuals according to their knowledge and capacities, for the purpose of a complete cooperative organization of humankind, with a noble intention and purpose. The desires of ours are classified in this manner, and they are given an opportunity of permissible satisfaction, by a mutual cooperation horizontally in this manner.

There is the other side, namely, the vertical side, which is the subject of the Ashrama-Dharma, or duties pertaining to the different Ashramas, or stages of life. Just as we have totally misunderstood the meaning of the Varna system, we have also misunderstood the meaning of the Ashrama system. Just as we condemn the classification of Varna as caste distinction, we convert the classification of the stages of one’s life by way of Ashrama, into a kind of dead routine of religion. Neither Varna nor Ashrama is a routine. Varnashrama is a vital participation in the processes of life, externally as well as internally. Externally it goes by the name of Varna, and internally it goes by the name of Ashrama. So, outwardly as well as inwardly, these systems of organization known as Varna and Ashrama, are procedures enjoined upon every person, for untying the various knots of entanglement in life, engendered by one’s needs which are social, physical, vital, emotional, intellectual and so on.

Such a vast involvement is associated with this little thing called Brahmacharya, by the practice of which we do not merely put on a conduct personally and socially but establish ourselves in a status of strength, where we are so tuned to things that our energies do not move at all in any direction, but are held up in such a way that there is no urge within ourselves to transfer our energies to outside things for the fulfilment of our desires.

The intention behind the practice of the canons of Varna and Ashrama in a graduated manner is not the indulgence of desires, but their graduated, scientific, systematized and cautious fulfilment in a measure that is permissible and required under the circumstances for the purpose of freeing oneself from them finally. So, we do not eat because we want to eat, but because it is necessary to reach a stage where we need not eat at all. There is, therefore, a deep background behind the psychology of the canons known as the Yamas and a clear understanding of this background will help us to practice these canons better.

By Swami Krishnananda

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The Conduct of the Absolute

Swami_Krishnananda.jpgBrahmacharya actually means the ‘conduct of the Absolute’. ‘Brahman’ is the Supreme Being; ‘Charya’ is conduct, or behaviour. How God behaves—that is called Brahmacharya, finally. The attitude of the Supreme Being towards the universe and all beings is Brahmacharya, and to the extent that we are able to participate in this attitude, it may be said that we are also following that canon. The idea behind this significant term Brahmacharya, translated as the conduct of the Absolute, is that it is a gradual adjustment of the powers of one’s personality towards larger and larger dimensions of impersonality, because, the Absolute or Brahman is the Supreme Impersonality conceivable and existent.

Whenever there is a specialized outlook in any particular direction, along the channel of an object or a group of objects, living or non-living, consciousness moves in that direction. No matter what our interest is in that direction, our mind moves. When the mind moves, the Prana also moves. When the Prana moves, the energy also moves. So, one follows the other. So, in some measure, we cease to be ourselves for the time being when we admire something, love something, or are attracted towards something. The object may be conceptual, visible or audible, it makes no difference; we get transferred.

In all these processes of sensory or intellectual absorption, outside oneself, there is a channelizing of force of which we are constituted and which forms our strength. As long as we do not sell ourselves to any outside object, do not participate in anything external, we stand by ourselves. Otherwise, in some percentage, we cease to be ourselves and become another. We are shaken up in our whole system, because of the desire of the personality to move outside itself. As milk gradually becomes curd by an internal shaking of itself, the subject can turn into the object. And love of any kind is nothing but the transference of the subject into the object in some measure, be that object perceptible or merely conceptual. The very thought of the object disturbs the mind.

The thought of an object is of two kinds, called the Aklishta Vritti and the Klishta Vritti by Patanjali. Anything we like or dislike evokes a Klishta Vritti in the mind. A thing in which we are not particularly interested either way evokes an Aklishta Vritti in the mind. For the purpose of Yoga, both these Vrittis have to be subdued. Neither the Klishta nor the Aklishta is a desirable thing from the point of view of Mano-nirodha (control of the mind) or Chitta-vritti-nirodha (control of thoughts), which is Yoga.

The objects of the world speak in a language which we understand in our own way. They get transformed into a meaning when they enter into the mind of individuals; and each ndividual has his own or her own reading of any particular object. Every object sings a song and we listen to this music, but its meaning is different for different persons.

Objects of the world are not intended for being loved or for being hated. They exist as we also exist. So, studying things in an impartial manner, we find that loves and hatreds are outside the scheme of things. They are not in the order of nature. They do not exist in nature at all.

So, a lack of Brahmacharya means nothing but the presence of interests other than the interest in Yoga. The distracting object may be anything. If we have got a strong interest in something which distracts our attention, the energy goes. Any kind of leakage of energy in any direction, caused by any object or any event or context, is a break in Brahmacharya. A burst of anger is a break in Brahmacharya, though one does not normally think so.

The Individual – A Pressure Center

We are centers of pressure or stress. Every individual is such a center, which seeks to break down this pressure, overcome this stress, by adopting some means which it thinks is the proper one under the circumstances. But, the understanding of the way in which this stress is to be removed depends upon one’s own stage of evolution. We are perpetually in a state of mental stress and nervous pressure from childhood to doom, and the whole of our life is spent only in trying to find out ways and means of relieving ourselves of these stresses and strains, and we have our own way of doing it. The way in which we try to relieve ourselves of these stresses and strains—this way is called the expression of desires. What is called desire is the method we adopt to relieve ourselves of our tensions, nervous and psychological.

The stress or the strain has arisen on account of a separation of the individual from Nature. The world has cast us out as exiles. Our internal desire, finally, is to unite ourselves with Nature which is our mother or our parent. The relief that we are seeking from our stresses and strains is ultimately a desire or a longing to become one with our parent, from whom we have been cut off or isolated. Our desire is to possess everything. And the desire to possess is called love. What goes by the name of love of any kind in this world is a desire to possess things, which are considered as instruments capable of relieving us of our stresses and strains. Forgetfulness of the tension or the stress for the time being is imagined to be a way of relief from the stress itself. When a larger stress swoops down upon us, the lesser stress is forgotten. All our pains, sorrows and complaints vanish in a minute, in a trite, when we are about to be drowned in a river, for instance. We do not complain about anything at that time. Everything would seem to be all right if only we could be saved from possible drowning. Because, that is a problem larger than all the other little problems about which we are constantly complaining in life. So is the case with our asking for the fulfillment of our desires by contact with things.

Our desire is not for the contact. That is the whole point, though it appears that the senses tell us to come in contact with various things in the world for the relief of our tension. We are not asking for things. Nobody wants anything in this world finally. But, it appears as if we are wanting them, due to a mischievous interpretation given to these circumstances by our senses, by externalizing our internal anguish for a communion with all things. All loves, all desires, are urges for communion with things. While our urge within is a holy and pious impulse to come in union with all things, with Nature as a whole, this impulse is thrown in the direction of space and time and is externalized by the powers of the senses. The senses have only one work to do, to externalize everything. So, even our desires are externalized, while really our desire is for something else. That is the reason why we are not satisfied, no matter what objects are given to us, we are always disillusioned in the end. Whatever be our possession, it is not going to satisfy us finally.

There is a basic blunder in the very attitude of the mind in imagining that what it seeks through the fulfillment of desires lies outside it. The other blunder is, that in its movement towards the so-called external things, it has lost its energies. It has weakened itself. The Self, when it becomes the non-self, becomes a corpse, becomes dead. So, a person who has desires is a weakling. He has no strength at all. He has neither physical strength nor mental strength. The more the unfulfilled desires, the greater is the weakness of the body and the mind.

By Swami Krishnananda

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Eternal Questions

Satguru-Sivaya-Subramuniyaswami-26Many people think of the realization of timeless, formless, spaceless Parasiva, nirvikalpa samâdhi, as the most blissful of all blissful states, the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Gods, as a moment of supreme, sublime joyousness; whereas I have found it to be more like cut glass, diamond-dust darshan, a psychic surgery, not a blissful experience at all, but really a kind of near-death experience resulting in total transformation. The bliss that is often taught as a final attainment is actually another attainment, Sat chid ânanda, an aftermath of nirvikalpa samâdhi, and a “before-math.” This means that Sat chid ânanda, savikalpa samâdhi, may be attained early on by souls pure in heart.

In my experience, the anâhata chakra is the resting place of dynamic complacency, of thoughtful perception and quietude. Those of a lower nature arriving in the bloom of this chakra are released from turbulent emotions, conflicting thoughts and disturbances. This to many is the end of the path, attaining peace, or Sânti. Once one attains sânti as just described, in my experience, this marks the beginning of the path, or part two, the second level. It is from here that the practices of râja yoga take hold, once sânti is attained. In the anâhata chakra and visuddha chakra, Sat chid ânanda, the all-pervasive being of oneness, of the underlying being of the universe, is attained, experienced. But unless brahmacharya, chastity, is absolutely adhered to, the experience is not maintained. It is here that relations between men and women play an important part, as in their union temporary oneness occurs, followed by a more permanent two-ness and ever-accumulating distractions, sometimes along with insolvable difficulties. Those who practice sexual tantras, seeking Self Realization through this path, will agree with this wisdom.

Self Realization is in several stages. Realizing oneself as a soul —rather than a mind, an intellectual and emotional type, or a worthless person—gives satisfaction, security, and this is a starting point. Realization of the Self as Sat chid ânanda gives contentment, a release from all emotions and thoughts of the external world, and the nerve system responds to the energies flowing through the visuddha and anâhata chakras. Realizing the Self that transcends time, form and space, Parasiva, is a razor-edged experience, cutting all bonds, reversing individual awareness, such as looking out from the Self rather than looking into the Self. There are many boons after this transforming experience, if repeated many times. One or two occurrences does make a renunciate out of the person and does make the world renounce the renunciate, but then, without persistent effort, former patterns of emotion, intellect, lack of discipline, which would inhibit the repeated experience of Parasiva, would produce a disoriented nomad, so to speak. Therefore, repeated experiences of the ego-destructive Parasiva, from all states of consciousness, intellectual, instinctive, even in dreams, permeates the transformation through atoms and molecules even in the physical body.

Bliss quiets the senses. It is the natural state of the mind when unperturbed by previous desires unfulfilled, desires yet to be fulfilled and the desires known to not be fulfillable. As long as the anâhata and visuddha chakras spin at top velocity, the senses will be quieted, few thoughts will pass through the mind unbidden, and the understanding of the Vedas and all aspects of esoteric knowledge will be able to be explained by the preceptor.

Realizing Parasiva is merging with Siva, but it is not the end of merging. At that pinpoint of time, there are still the trappings of body, mind and emotions that claim awareness into their consciousness. Ultimately, when all bodies—physical, astral, mental, even the soul body—wear out their time, as all forms wear out in time, bound by time, existing in time, as relative realities, then visvagrâsa, the final merger with Siva, occurs, as the physical body drops away, the astral body drops away, the mental body drops away, and the soul—a shining, scintillating being of light quantums—merges into its source. As when a drop of water merges into the ocean, it can never be retrieved, only Siva remains. Aum Nama˙ Sivâya.

Excerpts from “Merging with Siva” by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

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From Caterpillar to Butterfly

Satguru-Sivaya-Subramuniyaswami-26There are no shortcuts to enlightenment, but there are detours. Impatience with the natural process is one of them. I am saying that impatient striving, the kind of striving that puts aside all common sense and says “I am going to get realization no matter what” is itself an obstacle to that realization which is not a something to get. We must work to perfect an inner serenity that can accept spending a lifetime or several lifetimes in search of Truth, that can accept that some of us are by our nature and unfoldment better suited to service and devotion, and others to yoga and the various sâdhanas. This is a far more enlightened perspective than the Western notion which subtly maintains that there is but a single life in which all the final goals must be reached. The eternal spiritual path, the way of God, is broad. It accepts all and rejects none. No matter where a seeker is in his inner development, the eternal path embraces and encourages him.

According to the Ågamic tradition, four categories of charyâ, kriyâ, yoga and jñâna are the natural sequence of the soul’s evolutionary process, much like the development of a butterfly from egg to larva, from larva to caterpillar, from caterpillar to pupa, and then the final metamorphosis from pupa to butterfly. Every butterfly, without exception, will follow this pattern of development, and every soul will mature through charyâ to kriyâ, through kriyâ to yoga and into jñâna. Charyâ, or karma yoga, may be simply defined as service. Kriyâ, or bhakti yoga, is devotion. Yoga, or râja yoga, is meditation, and jñâna is the state of wisdom reached toward the end of the path as the result of God Realization and the subsequent enlivened kundalinî and unfoldment of the chakras through the practices of yoga. The soul does not move quickly from one stage to another. It is a deliberate process, and within each stage there exist vast libraries of knowledge containing the sum of thousands of years of teachings unraveling that particular experiential vista.

The evolution of the soul through the stage of charyâ, or service, may itself take many, many lives. We see people every day who are working to be of service, to be more efficient, to be more useful to others. Charyâ is the state of overcoming basic instinctive patterns and learning to work for the sake of work rather than the fruits of our labor. It is the simple fulfillment of right action and the first step on the spiritual path. The instinctive mind at this stage of evolution is so strong that it must be governed firmly by external laws, external forces. Tendencies toward selfishness lose their hold on the devotee as he strives to become the perfect servant to God and mankind.

Worship during the charyâ stage is entirely external. As the devotee unfolds into the next stage, of kriyâ or bhakti yoga, he will want to worship and serve in the temple in more internalized ways. Singing the sacred hymns, chanting the names of the Lord and performing japa will become an important part of his devotion, which is partly internal and partly external. Kriyâ blossoms into its fullness when there arises in his heart a desire, a strong desire, to know and experience God.

It is through the devotees in the kriyâ, or bhakti yoga, stage of the unfoldment of the soul that we have all over the world today magnificent Hindu temples, built by people who have performed well, who have controlled their thoughts and actions, who have understood the laws of karma and the penalties of wrong action. They have avoided wrong action not out of fear, but because they have evolved into performing right action. As he matures in kriyâ, the devotee unfolds a more and more intense love of God, to the point that he may well shed joyful tears during intense moments of worship. When that love is constant from day to day, when it is strong enough that he is capable of surrendering his individual will to God’s Cosmic Will, then kriyâ or bhakti yoga has reached its zenith.

At this stage of kriyâ the devotee learns patience. He learns to wait for the proper timing of things in his life. He is in no hurry. He is willing to wait for another life, or for many more lives. There is no urgency. He trusts God and trusts the path he is on. He settles down, and his life comes into a balance.

In the stages of charyâ and kriyâ, the deep-seated impurities of the mind are cleansed as past karmas are resolved and a foundation laid for the third stage on the divine path, that of yoga. Yoga is a very advanced science. It cannot be sustained except by the soul that has unfolded into the fullness of charyâ and kriyâ and maintains the qualities of service and devotion as meditation is pursued. The devotee who has served God well now embarks upon finding union with God in his sanctum within.

In yoga, the devotee worships the transcendent aspect of God. He strengthens his body and nerve system. He disciplines the energies of mind and body. He learns to regulate his breath and to control the prânas that flow as life’s force through his nerve system. In this process, the kundalinî Sakti is lifted and the multi-petaled chakras unfold in all their splendor. Lord Siva now brings the earnest  devotee to meet his sat guru, who will guide him through the traditional disciplines of yoga on his inward journey. It is his spiritual preceptor, his guru, who takes care that he avoids the abysses and psychic pitfalls along the path. In this stage of yoga, the devotee looks upon God as a friend, a companion. Finally, one day, in his first samâdhi, he penetrates to the essence of being. In this ultimate experience, which remains forever beyond description, he has reached the union which is yoga.

Returning from this state of ineffable fulfillment, the devotee brings back into his life a new understanding, a new perspective. He is never the same after that experience. He can never again look at life in the same way. Each time he enters into that God Realization, that samâdhi, he returns to consciousness more and more the knower. His knowing matures through the years as his yoga sâdhana is regulated, and as it matures he enters ever so imperceptibly into the fourth and final stage of unfoldment, into jñâna.

One does not become a jñânî simply by reading philosophy. Understanding another person’s wisdom does not make us wise. Each has to experience the fullness of the path to enlightenment himself. The jñânî becomes one who postulates that what he has himself realized are the final conclusions for all mankind. His postulations are filled with assuredness, for he has experienced what the Vedas, the Ågamas and the Upanishads speak of. He has awakened the power and force of his own realization. He knows. He becomes the embodiment of that knowing, of the Truth he once sought as something other than himself. He finds within the scriptures confirmation of his realization echoed in the verses of rishis written at the dawn of human history. This matured soul sees reflected in their writings that same state of complete merging with the Divine that he himself has come to know as the timeless, formless, spaceless Absolute which he once worshiped symbolically as a stone image in previous life wanderings within the instinctive mind. He has removed the veils of ignorance, removed the obstacles to understanding. He has come into his true being, union with God, union with Siva, and in this serene state he sees God as his beloved, as that which is dearer to him than life itself, as he is consumed by that all-encompassing love. He has become the source of light and darshan which radiate out through the nâdîs and prânas of his being.

The final conclusions are that mankind is on a spiritual path as old as time itself, that this journey progresses from birth to birth as the soul evolves through the perfection of charyâ into the perfection of kriyâ, and from there into the perfection of yoga, emerging as a jñânî. This is the path followed by all souls. Whatever religion they espouse, whatsoever they may believe or deny, all of mankind is on the one path to Truth. It begins with the dvaita of charyâ and ends in the advaita of jñâna.

Excerpts from “Merging with Siva” by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami