Makar Sankranti: A Union of Shakti and Bhakti

Makara Sankranti is the day when the the Sun transitions into Capricorn (Makara Rashi) on its celestial path in the zodiac. In India, this festival is celebrated by sharing Sesame and Jaggery.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has beautifully explained the significance of this ancient practice of sharing Sesame seeds and Jaggery and its relevance in society today. We are like sesame seeds with respect to this Universe. If you see, what is our significance in this universe; what is life? Next to nothing, like a sesame seed; a mere speck! We are minuscule. We need to remember this message. We are tiny and sweet; delightful like sesame seeds with jaggery. So stay small and sweet, and together with many others you will truly become big.

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Gurudev says four things are needed to be successful: Shakti (strength), Bhakti (devotion), Yukti (skill) and Mukti (freedom). If even one of these is lacking, life would not be successful. To succeed in society, strength and skill are needed, and if you want to experience success in personal or spiritual life, devotion and liberation are needed. We need to move along with all four. The union of Bhakti and Shakti is what is required. This will strengthen the spirit of the people in the world today.
carousel--1366x455-peaceLet us come together like Sesame seeds and Jaggery – the union of Shakti and Bhakti and give the world a message of universal love and peace. The World Culture Festival is a unique opportunity for us to strengthen our spirit – in a world that is increasingly torn by strife and violence. A beautiful chance to make the voice of peace to be heard loud and clear – and celebrate our cultural diversity and resolve to protect and care for the planet we all call home. Come join  us in New Delhi on March 11, 12 and 13th, 2016.

A very Happy Sankranti, Pongal, Bihu and Lohri to all!

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Developing Our Personality

A colleague of mine shared this wisdom by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar with me, noting that following each of these would provide us with perspective. She went on to say that “we are so self-centered that we forget to relate to others and the resulting loss is our own….  ….Thank goodness someone with no axe to grind spends his gifts thinking about these things and shares it with others.” Reading though the piece brought gratitude to my heart and restored perspective to my busy mind. Read on!

Question: How to develop our personality

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: To develop your personality, you have to spend five days to have these five experiences to really blossom in your life. You can develop your personality with these five experiences. You have to sincerely play these five roles:

1. The first role which I would recommend to you is to be a school teacher. To teach lessons to children who are not learning, you need a lot of patience. Being a nursery or primary school teacher, even for one day, you will see how you have to increase your patience.

2. Be a Gardener or spend a day with a farmer. If you are sowing the seeds, if you are watering the plants, you will know how you must care for water, earth and environment. You will have a feeling for the environment. You will value food and you will not waste food. You know, what we do? We bring so much food, and we put in the fridge, and after few days from the refrigerator we throw the food. We are wasting millions and millions of tons of food every day. We should not waste food. This we will learn, if we spend one day being a farmer or a gardener.

3. You should spend a day in the mental hospital. Whatever people talk in the mental hospital, you don’t mind. If they scold you, if they blame you, if they curse you, will you mind? You don’t mind because this person is mentally sick.

You know, many people are outside the hospital, that does not mean they are mentally well. So, in life, you come across people who blame you for nothing, who are jealous or angry, who say things that make no sense. Then you know you will have patience to deal with them with a smile. You will not take the garbage inside and spoil your mind.

So if you spend one day in mental hospital, you will know how to save your mind. You will stop being a football of others’ opinions.

4. One day you must go to prison. Maybe it is shocking to you. You don’t have to do a wrong thing to go to a prison. Just go visit a prison, spend a little time with the prisoners. You will understand what compassion is. What helplessness is. Those people did a mistake without awareness. So you will know how you must have a say on your emotions.

5. There are terminally ill people in the hospital. Spend one day with them and you will realize how precious life is. And you will start valuing health. You will eat better, you will exercise. You will do all that is needed to be more vibrant in your life.

 

With these five days what would be the outcome?

I guess from these five days you will become more vibrant, more alive, more loving, compassionate and active. Many of us have a tendency to think a lot. Thinking and thinking, that is it. We don’t act. Some people simply act without even thinking. Both need balancing.

We need to have that balance of thinking and acting: a perfect coordination of our thoughts and actions. Sensitivity and sensibility – both need to be matured.

Ganesha Chaturthi: Experiencing the Formless through the Form

Happy Ganesha Chaturthi! The following article by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gives an insight into the symbolism behind this festival venerating one of the most beloved deities in Hinduism. Enjoy reading and do share your thoughts!

 Experiencing the Formless through the Form

Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated on the a day on which Lord Ganesha is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all his devotees. Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is worshipped as the supreme god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. Though it is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the symbolism behind the festival is much deeper.

The essence of Ganesha is brought out beautifully by Adi Shankara. Though Ganesha is worshiped as the the elephant-headed God, the form (swaroop) is just to bring out its parabrahma roopa. Ganesha is described as Ajam Nirvikalpam Niraakaaramekam. This means that Ganesha is never born.

He is Ajam (unborn), he is Niraakaar (formless) and he is Nirvikalpa (attributeless). Ganesha symbolises the consciousness which is omnipresent. Ganesha is the same energy which is the reason for this universe, from which everything is manifested and it’s the same energy in which the whole world will be dissolved. Ganesha is not somewhere outside of us, but the very centre of our life. But this is very subtle knowledge. Not everybody can percieve the formless without the form. Our ancient sages knew this; so they created the form for the benefit and understanding of people at all levels. Those who can’t experience of the formless, over a period of sustained experience of manifested form reach the formless Brahman.

The Panchamukha Ganesha in the Panchagiri Campus, International Art of Living Center, Bangalore

 The Panchamukhi Ganesha at the International Art of Living Center in Bangalore, India

So in reality, Ganesha is formless; yet there is a form to which Adi Shankara prayed and that form carries the message of the formlesness of Ganesha. Thus, the form serves as the starting point and gradually the formless consciousness begins to manifest. Ganesha Chaturthi marks a unique art of reaching the formless Paramatma called Lord Ganesha by worship of the manifest form. Even the Ganesha Stotram, the prayers recited in the praise of Ganesha, conveys the same. We pray to Ganesha in our consciousness to come out and sit in the idol for us for a while so that we can play with him. And after the puja, we again pray asking him to go back to where he comes from; that’s our consciousness. While he is in the idol, we offer back whatever God has given us through the puja of the idol.

The ritual of immersing (visarjan) the idols after few days of worship reinforces the understanding that God is not in the idol, it’s inside us. So experiencing the omnipresent  in the form and deriving joy out of the form is the essence of the Ganesha Chaturthi festival. In a way such organised festivity and worships lead to an upsurge in enthusiasm and devotion.

Ganesha is the lord of all the good qualities in us. So when we worship him, all the good qualities will blossom in us. He is also the lord of knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge dawns only when we become aware of the Self. When there is inertia, there is no knowledge, no wisdom, nor is there any liveliness (Chaitanya) or progress in life. So the consciousness has to be awakened and the presiding diety of consciousness is Ganesha. That’s why before every puja, the Lord Ganesha is worshiped to awaken the consciousness.

Therefore, install the idol, worship it with infinite love, meditate and experience Lord Ganesha from within. This is the symbolic essence of Ganesha Chaturti festival, to awaken the Ganesha tatva which is masked inside us.

Celebrating Life

On the happy and auspicious occasion of Vara Mahalakshmi Celebrations, I found this wisdom by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar particularly appropriate to share. Enjoy reading and do share your thoughts!

On Celebration

There are two types of celebration. One is as thanksgiving, an expression of gratitude for the Divine. The second comes from dropping the past and moving forward, knowing that life is eternal. Any excuse to celebrate is good.

In true celebration, you are not just having a party. When sanctity is attached to it, celebration becomes complete. The body, mind and the spirit rejoice. If celebration uplifts and unites all around you, if it frees them of the traumatic past and hold out hope for the future, then you will not feel guilty. That type of celebration is service. It is sacred. Turn your celebration into a sacred offering for society rather than a self-centred pleasure-seeking one.

When celebration has a tinge of sanctity and prayer, it gains depth and dignity. It is not just entertainment for the mind or excitement for body, but nourishment for the soul. Instead of beginning the new year with intoxicants, begin afresh with an act of kindness, a moment of reflection.

Celebration is an attitude, to celebrate life you don’t have to spend a lot of money. Celebration comes from enthusiasm and joy. When you are depressed, that’s when celebration is needed the most. Reconcile with the past and move on to the future with enthusiasm. Share what you have with others.

Life will always move in the direction of the best. On the way you may find some rough roads, but they will lead you to a better life. Difficulties give you depth and joy gives you width. The wise see their past as destiny, the future as free will and are happy in the present. The unwise regret the past, think the future is destined and are miserable in present. The choice is yours.

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Keep smiling. The past has taught us many lessons; what we should be doing and what we should not. Every pain that we went through brought us some depth, and all the joys and pleasures gave us a new vision of life and hope for the future.

Welcome the future with a genuine smile. That smile comes when you know for sure that you are loved. If you don’t know you are loved by the Divine, you will not be able to celebrate life. You will live in insecurity. With insecurity comes greed. With greed comes selfishness. And with that comes anger. With anger comes lust. And with that comes sadness and misery one behind the other, like a chain.

Look back and try to remember how many days in the past you were entangled in such maya. When you do this, do not reject anything. Let your attention be on the self. This is a delicate balance. That balance is yoga. That balance is spirituality. Some people think being silent is spirituality. Some think only celebration is spirituality.

Spirituality is a harmonious blend of outer silence and inner celebration; and also inner silence and outer celebration! Celebration that comes out of silence is real celebration.

What is the Secret to Happiness?

Was listening to Happy by Pharrell Williams on the way to work today and got thinking about the centrality of happiness in human life.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Father of the United States famously said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness is perhaps the most important aspect of life. And yet, it is elusive for so many of us, caught in the rigamarole of daily life. Happiness has become an important subject of modern research. Prof. Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University notes that people find greatest happiness in connecting with those around them. (See this link for more about his research:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/06/tpl-what-makes-people-happy_n_4548604.html ).

Even governments around the world have started thinking more systematically about the levels of happiness or well-being in their people – and how they can set policies that help people live happier and be more connected. The United Nations even publishes a world happiness report! The Government of Bhutan has played a leading role in calling for a new index – one of Gross National Happiness.

But what about the individual level? What are the sutras or tenets of wisdom that we can rely on to increase our happiness levels? I found the following article by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar particularly valuable. Enjoy reading!

Every living creature wants to be happy. Whether it is money, power or sex, you seek it for the sake of happiness. Some people even seem to enjoy misery because it gives them happiness!

To be happy, you seek something. But despite getting it, you are not happy. A schoolboy thinks that if he goes to college, he will be more independent, free and, therefore, happy. When you ask a college student whether he is happy, he feels that if he gets a job, he will be happy. Talk to somebody who is settled in his job or business, and you may find that he is waiting to get a perfect soul mate to be happy. Then what? When he gets a soul mate, he now wants a child, to be happy. Ask those who have children, if they are happy. They respond that how can they relax until the children have grown up and have had a good education and are successfully settled on their own? Ask those who are retired if they are happy? They long for the days when they were younger.

All of one’s life is spent in preparing to be happy someday in the future. It’s like making your bed all night, but having no time to sleep in it. How many minutes, hours and days of your life have you spent being happy from within? Those are the only moments you have really lived life. Those were perhaps the days when you were a small kid, completely blissful and happy or a few moments when you were surfing, swimming or sailing or on a mountain top, living in the present and enjoying it.

There are two ways of looking at life. One is thinking: “I’ll be happy after achieving a certain objective.” The second is saying: “I am happy come what may!” Which one do you want to live by? Life is 80% joy and 20% misery. But you hold on to the 20% and make it 200%! It is not a conscious act, it just happens. Living in the moment with joy, alertness, awareness and compassion is enlightenment. Being like a child is enlightenment. It is being free from within, feeling at home with everybody, without barriers.

Don’t judge and don’t worry about what others think of you. Whatever they think, it is not permanent. Your own opinion about things and people keeps changing all the time. So why worry about what others think about you? Worrying takes a toll on the body, mind, intellect and alertness. It is like an obstruction that takes you far away from yourself. It brings fear, and fear is nothing but the lack of love. It is an intense sense of isolation.

Relaxing through meditation and breathing exercises can handle this. When one is relaxed, one realizes that they are loved, and connected to everybody, and are a part of the whole universe. This will liberate you and the mind will completely shift. You will then find so much harmony around.

To find harmony, it is not as if you have to physically seek it by sitting somewhere for years. Whenever you are in love, your mind is in the present, you feel joyous. At some level, to some degree, everybody is meditating without being aware of it. There are moments when your body, mind and breath are all in harmony. That’s when you achieve yoga. The Art of Living lies in the present moment.

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The Art of Service

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has said,

” When you have come to this world, do something good that benefits everybody. Do not stay entangled in thinking only what you will get. There is nothing for you to take away from this world. There is nothing to take away from here. You have come to give. You have come here to do something beneficial for everybody. And you should all get together in doing service.”

As I reflected over this profound wisdom today, I got to thinking whether there were any guidelines for doing service. I went through some books looking for this and found this story that my grandfather had written about service.
Riverside

Maharishi Mandavya was a great scholar in ancient times and had many disciples. One day, two of his disciples went from his ashram to the nearby riverside to gather flowers and fruits. While doing so, they observed a big scorpion slowly crawling along the riverbank.

One of the disciples cautioned the other, “Please keep away from the poisonous creature, as per the advice of our Master, to keep aloof from evil people and things.”

In the meantime, the scorpion slipped from the bank, fell into the river and was struggling for life. Upon seeing this, the second disciple immediately bent down, lifted the struggling creature with his hand and placed it upon the shore. While doing so, he was stung by the scorpion, causing him much pain.

The first disciple, on seeing the suffering of his friend, rebuked him and said, “You have ignored the teachings of our Master, and hence are in pain.”

“No,” said the other fellow, “I was only following the teachings of our Master, and how can they be wrong?”

While debating about the teachings of the Master, and its effects, the unfortunate scorpion again slipped and fell into the water, prompting the second disciple to lift it again from the water. In this process, he was once again stung by the poisonous creature.

Though he was in pain, the second disciple explained, “Our Master has taught us not to forsake our helping nature, but serve everyone, even though others might not appreciate or reciprocate it. While it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, it is my nature to help and save the scorpion.”

“But our Master has also taught us to keep away from evil people and rings, to protect and preserve our own safety. You have violated it and hence you are suffering.”

As they were unable to solve the apparent contradictions in the Master’s teachings, they both went back to him and explained their misgivings.

Maharishi Mandavya heard them with a smile and calmly said, “Both of you are partially right and partially wrong in understanding my words. There is no contradiction in them.”

“When I taught you to keep aloof from bad people and things, it was to save you from pollution through contact with evil. Any sensible person will do the same, unless he is strong and confident of reforming the evil doer.”

“When I taught you not to forsake your helping attitude, it was only to strengthen your basic human nature to serve. You should be like a true doctor who does not distinguish between friend and foe in relieving or reducing pain.”

“In the present case, the second disciple should have combined both the teachings of aloofness and service. It was his duty to save a struggling creature, but he could have used a stick to lift the scorpion and not his bare hands. By such action, he would have saved the poisonous creature’s life, and also saved himself from its sting.”

“But what to do if the bad thing is big and strong?” asked another disciple. “Then,” said the Master, “your first duty is self-preservation, as the instinct of survival is a basic fact of Life. Once safe, you can try to immobilize it, using the powers at your disposal,”

This interesting tale reveals how we could help others, without hurting ourself, using some guidelines for service as enumerated by our ancient Masters. This story was adapted from Tales for the Young and Old, by Acharya Ratnananda.

Navaratri: Time for an Inward Journey

Greetings and well wishes to all the readers on the auspicious and holy time of Navaratri.
In the Hindu tradition, Navaratri is a time for self-referral and returning to our source. The word Navaratri literally means nine nights in Sanskrit; Nava meaning Nine and Ratri meaning night. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of the feminine aspect of the Divine as Shakti are extolled. The seeker gets back to the true Source through fasting, prayer, silence, and meditation. Night or ratri brings rejuvenation. It gives relief at the three levels of our existence – physical, subtle, and causal. While fasting detoxifies the body, silence purifies the speech and brings rest to the chattering mind, and meditation takes one deep into one’s own being.
There is a story in ancient scriptures when Mother Divine destroyed the demon Mahishasura who had assumed the form of a bull. Mahishasura  represents dullness, small-mindedness and inertia.  Only the Mother Divine could destroy this demon with the collective energies of the Holy Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara (representing Creation, Maintenance, and Renewal). Just as a baby takes nine months to be born, the Divine Mother took nine days to rest, and what was born on the tenth day was pure love and devotion with which She conquered the demon of inertia and dullness.

“There are 64 divine mother impulses which govern the subtle creation. These are responsible for restoring all earthly and spiritual benefits. They are simply part of one’s awakened consciousness. These nine nights are celebrated to rekindle those divine impulses and celebrate the innermost depth of our lives.” says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The nine days of Navaratri are also an opportunity to rejoice in the three primordial qualities that make up the universe. Though our life is governed by the three gunas, we seldom recognize and reflect on them. The first three days of Navaratri are attributed to Tamas, the second three to Rajas and the last three to Sattva. Our consciousness sails through the Tamas and Rajas and blossoms in the Sattva of the last three days. Whenever Sattva dominates in life, victory follows. The essence of this knowledge is honored by celebrating the tenth day as Vijayadashami. Vijayadashami or Dussehra is celebrated all over India to symbolize the victory of good over evil.