Posts Tagged ‘Rishikesh’

SADHVI BHAGAWATI SARASWATI, from Parmarth Ashram, Rishikesh

The term “spirituality” is used quite vaguely these days to refer to anything ranging from those who subscribe to an eclectic mix of practices, traditions and beliefs, to those who may agree with the foundational aspects of a religion while not adhering to all the rituals, to those who believe in a divine power without necessarily subscribing to a particular religion at all. The word is also used frequently in contrast to religion. “I am not so religious,” we hear people say. “But I’m very spiritual.”

Ultimately, spirituality literally means pertaining to the spirit, of the spirit, in relation to spirit. It is not the opposite or antithesis of religion, but rather it is the opposite of materialism. To be spiritual, in essence, is to live one’s life focused on the intangible, omnipresent, pervasive spirit rather than on tangible objects with distinct borders and boundaries. To be spiritual, to be “of the spirit,” means to focus on that which connects us to each other rather than that which separates us.

A materialist would say, “I end at the point where my skin ends and the air begins.” To the materialist there is a distinct starting and ending point for the self. For example: “Here is cushion. Here is self sitting on cushion. Here is loved one sitting next to self.” There are distinct beginning and ending points for each of these. A materialist could show you clearly where the cushion ends and the self begins, where the self ends and the air begins, where the air ends and the loved one begins.

A spiritualist, however, understands that that which pervades the cushion, the self, the air and the loved one is the same spirit. There is no distinct point of beginning or ending or boundary or border. Sure, the vessels through which the Spirit flows may vary, but the Spirit is one. So, spirituality is a practice, a lifestyle, a commitment to the spirit, to that which unites us and connects us.

Once I realize that I am one with Spirit, I realize that I am one with you, for that same Spirit flows through you just as it flows through me. Theoretically, that is actually what religion should do as well – connect us to the omnipresent, all-pervasive Divine and thereby connect us to all of Creation. Tragically, however, in many cases the institution of religion has gone awry. Yet, if religion could be distilled back to its essence, to its ultimate purpose, it too would focus on connecting people to God. God, of course, does not play favorites and does not discriminate. So, to be connected with God is to be connected with each other.

This concept of unity, of oneness with the Divine and therefore with all of creation is an intrinsic part of Indian culture and spiritual philosophy. The word “yoga” used so ubiquitously, literally means union. Today, unfortunately we seem to have misinterpreted it to mean a union of my head to my knee or union of my palms to the floor, but essentially it is a union of the self to the Divine. Whichever of the numerous paths of yoga one may choose, the ultimate goal is to deeply and experientially realize that Union.

In today’s world, our illusion of separateness is killing us – as individuals and as nations. Our individual feeling of disconnection from God and from all of Creation leads us to feel alone, isolated, ungrounded and uncentered. Rates of depression and anxiety are skyrocketing across the world even though each year we invent more, accomplish more, eradicate more diseases ,and more and more people have financial stability. Internally, we long for deep connection. Isolation – whether real or imagined – is one of the greatest sources of misery. Similarly, as nations and as cultures, our illusion of separateness from each other permits us to wreak the greatest pain and destruction upon each other. That violence which we could not conceive of doing to a family member or neighbor, we sit back and watch as it is done to people of other countries, cultures and races. We feel separate from them. They are not us. They are outside the border and boundary we have drawn of our own Self. Further, our disconnection from Mother Earth enables us to exploit her as a commodity, to ravage and pillage her forests, decimate her oceans, turn her rivers into sewers killing all life therein, and render her lush mountains bald with wanton disregard.

The Isha Upanishad tells us Isha vasyam idam sarvam. Everything in the universe is pervaded by the Divine. There is no place He does not exist. There is no person, no living being and even no inanimate object from which He is absent. The Divine Presence pervades every cell of my being just as it pervades every cell of you and every cell of him, of her, and of everything in this universe. We are not separate. We cannot possibly be separate. That spirit, that divine spirit that flows in and through each of us, from which each of us is made, is One. To live our lives with awareness of that Oneness, with consciousness of that Oneness, that is spirituality.

Then, when we become truly “spiritual,” when we become focused on and connected to spirit, we realize that we are not separate from anyone’s joy and we are not separate from anyone’s pain. I am connected to the starving child trying to sleep with pangs of anguish in his belly. I am connected to the woman dying in childbirth due to lack of medical care. I am connected to every animal tortured and slaughtered. I am connected to every tree being felled, every river being polluted, and every fish suffocating in the fisherman’s net.

To be truly spiritual requires one to live with an awareness of spirit, and that spirit is all-pervasive. It leaves nothing and no one out. If I am One with spirit, then by definition I am One with you.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - June 26, 2018 at 6:17 am

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SADHVI BHAGAWATI SARASWATI, from Parmarth Ashram, Rishikesh

Countless people across the world ask me : “Have you converted to Hinduism?” The question is understandable. After all, people don’t often behold an American woman of Jewish ancestry draped in the saffron robes of a Hindu renunciant.

However, although the question is simple, the answer is complex. Hinduism does not convert. It does not exist in a box with borders and boundaries. There are more differences between lineages within Hinduism than there are between Hinduism and some other religions.

If one were to ask several Hindus, “What is the most fundamental tenet of Hinduism?” or “How is God understood in Hinduism?” one would get a wide range of equally viable, equally legitimate answers. In fact, two of the most fundamental teachings of Hinduism are “Let all the noble thoughts come from all directions,” and “The Truth is one but the sages call it by different names.”

So, what exactly is Hinduism, then, that is open enough to embrace an American sanyasi?

“By whatever name and form the devotee worships me with love, I appear to the devotee in that form.”“By whatever name and form the devotee worships me with love, I appear to the devotee in that form.”

Nowhere in the Vedas – the foundational texts of Hindu theology – does one find the word Hindu. Rather, “Hindu” is actually the name given to the people living beyond the banks of the Sindhu or the Indus River, in what was known as the Indus valley civilisation. Hindus refer to their religion as Sanatan Dharma, the eternal way of life. This way of life encompasses everything from a philosophical understanding of the nature of the universe and our role in it, to treatises on science, math, music, architecture and medicine.

The “religion” of Hinduism, if one wanted to attempt to neatly box it up, could be said to include several components.

The first of these is inclusivity. Hinduism excludes almost nothing. The arms of Hinduism are immeasurably long and embrace innumerable names, forms and concepts of the Divine. However, worshippers of varying Divine manifestations all agree on one essential component: the Supreme Reality is infinite, omniscient, omnipresent, and knowable by all names.

As God is infinite and all of creation a manifestation of the same Creator, Hindus see the whole world as one family. In fact, the scriptures state clearly: Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, or “The world is one family.” Hindu prayers are prayers for all; Hindus don’t pray for Hindus or Indians. Rather, Hindus pray,

Sarve santu niraamayaah

Maakaschit duhkha bhaag bhavet

Another aspect is that of a personal relationship with God. Regardless of the name, form in which a Hindu believes, he or she is encouraged to have a personal connection with that particular form. The God of Hinduism is a God who is knowable, approachable, infinite and yet fully prepared to incarnate in material form, a God to whom our food, water, earnings and lives are dedicated.

Ishaavaasyam idam sarvam

It means the entire universe is pervaded by the divine. That same all-pervasive Supreme Reality manifests in infinite forms with infinite names. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains beautifully, “By whatever name and form the devotee worships me with love, I appear to the devotee in that form.”

Stemming from the tenet of an all-pervasive God, one of the core components of the Hindu tradition is service, seva, or karma yoga. Hinduism teaches us to see God in the poor, sick, and needy; the tradition is filled with stories of God appearing as an unexpected guest or a beggar.

As the traditional name of Hinduism is Sanatan Dharma or “eternal way of life” the tenets and principles of Hinduism are not relegated only to worship or prayer. Rather, Hinduism informs every aspect of our lives from the moment we awaken to the moment we sleep. There are shastras and sutras for nearly every component of life, as well as for architecture, medicine, science, math and music.

Another central and unique aspect of Hinduism is emphasis on the divine feminine, or Shakti, as the essential energy and force through which creation, sustenance and dissolution are performed. Worship of the Divine Mother – whether in Her nurturing, compassionate form or in Her fierce, fiery form – is a common thread that weaves through the entire tapestry of Hinduism.

As news reports cover the rape and abuse of girls and women throughout India, people misconstrue this as a subjugation of the female endorsed by Hindu culture. The abuse of women is a societal evil which must be swiftly eradicated. However, it couldn’t be further from the very tenets of Hinduism.

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SADHVI BHAGAWATI SARASWATI, from Parmarth Ashram, Rishikesh

It’s time to log off, writes SADHVI BHAGAWATI SARASWATI, from Parmarth Ashram, Rishikesh, referring to our increasing dependence and addiction to the virtual world

Iwas speaking at an event recently in the hall of an upscale hotel. On both sides of the stage were the large LED screens that have become ubiquitous at programmes these days.While giving my lecture, I kept looking out into the front rows of the audience to make eye contact. However, as I looked out I could not find a pair of eyes with which to connect. Almost everyone was looking to their left or right,at my projection upon one of the LED screens. There is something so magnetic about these screens that they automatically hijack our attention. We have become programmed and habituated to look to our screens rather than to the real world; it now barely occurs to us to turn our attention to the actual, live person in front of us rather than her magnified projection on an LED.

For Whom The Beep Tolls

Even when we are engaged in another task, not interacting with our phones, not expecting an important call or text, even then, a significant amount of our brain energy is dedicated to anticipating the next beep or buzz from our phones. The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin,conducted an experiment in which participants had to perform a series of tasks on a computer, tasks that took full concentration. The study showed that those whose phones were in another room performed significantly better than those whose phones were face down on their desks. Simply having their phones within arm’s reach, even upside down and on silent mode, diminished the available cognitive power of the participants.

Given that most of us live, eat and sleep with our phones within arm’s distance, how much of actual life are we missing due to being unconsciously distracted by the mere presence of the device, even when we are not looking at it? And looking at it, of course, actually interacting with it, is even worse…. Our phones have become inherent, and dangerous I believe, aspects of our very identity. We craft and create online identities that project not who we really are but who we would like the world to think we are. Having to curate one identity is hard enough. However, having to curate two identities — a real one and a screen one — is the stuff that daily stress and depression is made of.

It’s now not only ‘Who am I?’ but it’s also become ‘Who should I be online?’ We compare and contrast our real lives with others’ screen lives. We forget that just as we carefully curate our online personas,so do they. Everywhere we look online, others are exuberant. A buttery croissant or cappuccino with a heart drawn in the foam accompanies our friend’s smiling face and her status of ‘very happy.’ Whether she is truly happy and also enjoying a croissant or whether she is sad or tired or bored or confused and using the buttery croissant to numb her emotions — the subtlety is glossed over and what we see is her status of ‘very happy.’ We then, experiencing a deep and pervasive sense of not-good-enoughness, post a picture of ourselves, with perhaps a Monet landscape in our triple soy latte (anything to beat the heart in a cappuccino) and check in as ‘awesome.’ Except that,we are not.

At least not until we get enough likes and comments on our post. Then, a friend or acquaintance who is also struggling,sees our post of unbridled exuberance and feels the same anguish — why is everyone so happy except her? And so the dominoes continue to fall, with each of us projecting that which is not, in order to cover up our insecurity over that which is, and in our simple effort to make ourselves feel better, we all end up perpetuating the very myth that haunted us in the first place: everyone else is happier than we are. The chasm between the real world and the screen world deepens, and we begin to compare ourselves unfavourably not only to our neighbours, friends and co-workers as our parents and grandparents did, but also to our own online identities. We don’t only have to keep up with the Jones or Kardashians. We have to keep up with the very roles we’ve created for ourselves online.

The Innernet & Intranet

As soon as the internet reached mainstream India,my guru began cautioning people,“please remember to stay connected also to the innernet.” And of course we can’t forget the intranet — our real-time, real life connections that are actually much better face-to-face than face-to-screen. Staring at a picture of a sumptuous feast for hours will do nothing to satiate my hunger. In order to be nourished by that food, I must reach through the screen, take it in my hands and carry it to my mouth. In the same way, we may have a lot more screen friends than real friends, and our screen identity may be a lot more exciting than our real identify. But it is those real, tangible connections and real, three-dimensional experiences that deepen our existence. Let’s try, at least every once in a while, to look straight ahead at the full people in front of us rather than let our attention, and lives, be hijacked by our screens.

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