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!

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.

Springtime Cherry Blossoms

 

When the Master Laughed

Maharishi Matanga was an enlightened sage who was respected across many kingdoms. He traveled extensively along with his disciples, and they had the benefit of learning about various cultures. Most of the time, and most of the people came to see the Sage with bundles of woes and worries. The Sage would listen to their concerns, and bless them in silence.

Once, during their stay at a prosperous town, the local chieftain came to see the sage with pomp and fanfare. A large retinue of fawning officials and followers accompanied the chieftain. The proud chieftain began to explain his exploits with much gusto. He claimed that he was so powerful, that he could protect everyone and control everyone in his province.
As he continued gloating about his invincibility, the Sage simply laughed. This greatly upset the fellow. When the chieftain queried as to why the Master laughed, the reply he got was more laughter. Feeling quite insulted, he left in a huff.
Several days later, the Sage and his disciples were passing by another town. The Sage was visited by a well-known Vaidya (physician) with his big retinue of assistants, who began to explain how he cured the illness of a large number of patients and gave them life. Even while they were thus reciting his praises, the master laughed. The physician felt insulted at this and left in a hurry.
Still later, in another town, the local temple priest had come with his devotees. They were singing and praising his enormous spiritual powers, and how he had pardoned their sins and promised deliverance for all those who came under his guidance.
Again, in the middle of their narration the Sage laughed, causing the priest to become flustered and leave in anger.
The disciples, who witnessed these instances, were confused by these unfamiliar responses of the master. “O Master”, they said, “Normally you bless people in silence, but on these occasions you not only did not bless them, but laughed at their achievements and forced them to withdraw in anger. May we please know the reason?”
The master said with a smile “My dear students, the chieftain tried to control other people’s future. He was so sure about it without realizing the uncertainty of his own future. The physician was sure of extending other’s lives unaware of the uncertainty of his own, the priest tried to replace the Divine in pardoning the sins of people, while ignoring his own. These egotistical individuals attempted to control the future, life, and also the faith of people. I laughed because the chieftain had no idea that he going to die early, the physician was going to be afflicted by an incurable disease, and the priest would become mad soon.”
“So”, the master said, “don’t try to take the credit for things much beyond you, but encourage others for self effort, through faith in the Divine and the guidance of an enlightened master.”
This story from the Upanishads reminds us that we cannot grant life, though we may help to maintain health, and we cannot control faith, though we may promote faithfulness.

 

This story from the Upanishads was compiled by Acharya Ratnananda in “More Light on Less Known: Courage, Compassion, Confidence” Volume 3. 

 

Learning and Love

Long, long ago and far, far away, there lived a great sage. His name was Maharishi Shounaka. He had many disciples, and would send them to the surrounding villages to spread his message on life and its purpose. Over time, this increased the ego of some of the senior disciples and they began to consider themselves the storehouse of all knowledge.

One day, a few of these disciples came to Maharishi Shounaka and said, “Master, we have been obeying your commands and conveying your message on the purpose of life to the people in the manner we have found good and desirable. But we find that our work serves no purpose! Most of these people are stupid, and they are either unwilling or unable to learn or change their way of life. We feel it is a waste of our valuable time to educate these people and pass on our knowledge to them.”

The sage was amused, but saddened by the rising ego of these disciples. He said, “You all seem to have acquired considerable knowledge about people and life.”

“Certainly Master,” they echoed in unison. “Our learning is approved and appreciated everywhere. We have learnt almost all that is worth learning.”

“I am indeed very happy to learn about the level of your expertise,” said the Master. “But before we can discuss these matters further, I suggest that you form two groups and approach people again. One group will find out all about knowledge without reading books, and the other group will find out all about love without physical contacts. You may return to me later with your findings.”

The egoistic disciples were rather dismayed and surprised at the strange commands of the Master and the queer nature of their assignment. How could anyone acquire knowledge without reading books? And how could anyone learn about love without physical contacts?

However, in obedience to the Master’s wishes, they went around, far and wide, in two groups, seeking the view of the people of the surrounding villages and town on these two matters. But lo! They met with ridicule and laughter, wherever they went. People laughed at them as two groups of idiots, not aware of the facts of life. Their ego got a good beating and they came back to the Master, crestfallen.

“Oh Master! You simply sent us on a fool’s errand. Everyone who respected us before is now laughing at us. Master, it is impossible to acquire knowledge, without reading books, and it is equally impossible to understand love without physical contacts.”

“Is it so?” said the Master with a smile. “Then, what is the knowledge that you have got from me? If real knowledge could be got from libraries and real love could be got from physical contacts, then why have you come to me? After reading volumes of books, and searching for love through physical contacts, why are people still ignorant of true knowledge and true love?”

The disciples were shocked and ashamed at their lack of wisdom and appealed to the Master for guidance. “My dear children,” said the wise sage, “please understand that real knowledge cannot be obtained by just studying books, but by a study of the people, for whom and from whom the books have come. We have to first educate ourselves about the people, before we proceed to educate them. We should avoid ridiculing people, without placing ourselves in their place. A closer study of people leads us to a clearer perception of them, which in turn results in a deeper understanding. From such an understanding flows a sympathetic acceptance.”

“To study, to understand, and to accept creation, as it exists, is real knowledge. All else is just plain information, though you may have given many names to it. In the same way, real love is that which sprouts from us and generates a sense of gratefulness to the Divine, who has blessed us with a body and mind, and provided us with endless wonder in this creation.”

“This boundless gratefulness leads to a total love for the Divine, who is our resource and who is also our refuge. Real love related to giving, and can only be related to the Divine. All else is just plain desire, the desire to possess and enjoy, though you may call it by many other names. In order to receive the benefits of such knowledge and love, one must have faith in the Master, as he represents both the creation and the Creator. Through an enlightened Master, you can learn that the knowledge of creation is real knowledge, and the love of the Divine is real love. It requires humility from you as a basic qualification.”

This story reveals what to seek from an enlightened Master, and the importance of pondering on the purpose of our life.

This story from the Upanishads was compiled by Acharya Ratnananda in “More Light on Less Known: Courage, Compassion, Confidence” Volume 3. 

All One!

Today, December 8, 2012, is my grandfather, Acharya Ratnananda’s 88th birthday. I fondly recollect my childhood and   growing up with him. His stories enriched our imagination and values. His example continues to inspire us to walk a path of love and service, in a humble yet joyous manner.

Acharya Ratnananda  All One!

–       By Acharya Ratnananda

“Give way! Get away!” shouted a disciple, while another screamed, “The Master is coming, everyone give way!” Most people  on the way complied. However, one rather unclean looking man and his company of dogs declined to budge, and stayed right in the middle of the path. The disciples accompanying the Master were quite upset with the behavior of this man and his barking dogs.

The Master also perceived the obstinacy of the obstacle and said in anguish, “Are you deaf? Did you not hear my disciples? Take yourself away from my path.” The man just laughed, increasing the discomfiture of the Master and the anger of his disciples.

He calmly looked at the Master and asked, “Whom do you want me to take away from your path? The Soul, which is in you and me, and is non-dual, or this body, which according to your teachings is a product of maya (illusion). How can you or I take either of them away from you or me?”

The disciples were shocked and stunned at these words from an unclean and uncouth specimen of humanity. However, they were prepared by now, to forcibly lift the man out of the way of the Master.

Even the Master was surprised. He realized that the concept of Advaita or one reality was thrown back at him in such a simple manner, by such a simple looking person.

He calmed his angry disciples and forbade them from harming the man. He folded his hands in obeisance and said, “My dear sir, you have educated the educator by polishing my knowledge with your experience. I bow to thee as my preceptor. Please could you tell me who you really are?”

“Reality is just one, and all our concepts could ultimately lead us to less than two, though it appears with a multitude of names and forms, qualities and qualifications, virtues and vices.”

“I am teaching this truth to others, but today I also learn this reality from you,” said the Master turned student.

The great Master was none other than Adi Shankaracharya, while the outwardly uncouth and unclean person was none other than the unmanifest Divinity in a manifest form.

This story teaches us to expect wisdom from even unexpected situations, and the true, non-dual nature of existence.

Navratri: The Nine Nights of the Divine Mother

On the auspicious occasion of Navratri, I am happy to share the knowledge Sheet that Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had dictated in 1996. Navaratri celebrates the nine nights of the Divine Mother in Hinduism. The following knowledge sheet speaks about its significance and relevance to our modern lives.

Weekly Knowledge #70

 09 Oct 1996

Mumbai, India

NAVRATRI

Navratri means the nine nights and also the new night. Creation happens in the darkness. In the womb of the mother and underneath the soil. Nine months in the womb are like nine long nights where the spirit takes human form.

Night provides rest and rejuvenation. At night, the entire creation goes to sleep including the ashram night watchman! (Laughter) People working come home at night and they celebrate, rejoice and pray. These Nine nights are precious as they have subtle energy. The subtle is enriched.

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.

Jai Guru Dev

Cleanse your body and cleanse your soul. Cleanse your body with water and your soul with knowledge and your spirit with pranayam and kriya. There is no penance higher than Pranayam. It is the greatest penance.

Worry vs. Work!

–       by Acharya Ratnananda

Long long ago, and far far away, there lived a king who was very wise. However, he was always a worried man. One thing or another made him feel depressed and desolate.

As is normal with many wise people, he could never take things lightly and laugh. His ministers and subjects rarely found him in a pleasant mood and were even hesitant to smile or laugh in his presence.

One day, his well-wishers secretly met and discussed ways to reform the king, and they hit upon a plan. Next time when the court assembled, the king, as usual called upon his minister and said, “My dear Minister, I am worried about a problem.”

The minister promptly replied, “Yes Sir, I have also thought over it.” In turn, the king was puzzled. He said, “How can you be aware of my problem, even before I have expressed it?”

The latter said, “I need not know it, but I know something better. I know the solution.” The king was now really shocked. “How can you know the solution even before knowing the problem?” The minister calmly replied, “You may have not one, but many problems. But I have just one solution for all of them.”

The shock and the surprise of the king increased at these strange words of the minister. How can anyone offer a single solution to many problems even before knowing them?

The king hesitantly asked, “May I know what is your solution?”

“Don’t worry” said the minister, “that is exactly my solution.”

The king slowly understood the import of the words but was still unable to appreciate them. “How can I not worry when there is a problem?” he asked.

“Has your worry solved any problem any time, my good king?” asked the minister. “No,” said the king. The minister said, “When such is the case, why worry and expect it to solve any issue? The secret of success is not to worry, but to work for fulfillment. It is also a fact that it is worry, and not work, which kills. The joy of life is to laugh your worries away!”

“O King,” continued the minister, “you are leading us in your wisdom, why not lead us also to laugh and live by your own example?”

The king at last realized the folly of his worries and the subtle manner in which it was brought home to him. He began to laugh and was amused to find that everybody joined in the merriment.

This ancient story reveals that worrying never solved anything. Worrying has often weakened one’s resolve and also reduced the stamina to succeed. To overcome worry by laughter and wisdom, is half the battle won!