Practical Spiritual Life
Questions by various friends, and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram
I am interested in climbing the stairs that may lead to samadhi. Please guide.
Samadhi is a natural consequence of meditation, and there need be no special attention placed on it. Rather, your attention should be on making sure your practice is correct, of sufficient time, and that nothing in your life is working against it.
Swami Vivekananda told M that Sri Ramakrishna once asked him: "What do you want?" He answered, "I want to remain absorbed in samadhi." Whereupon Sri Ramakrishna responded: "What a poor understanding you have! Get beyond samadhi. Samadhi is a petty thing."
Sri Ramakrishna, the Supreme Yogi, said: "The seed of His Name has great Power. It destroys ignorance. Seed is so soft, sprout is so soft. Yet they pierce hard earth. The earth cracks." Success is assured.
Four years back one of my friend made the following statement: "Nothing is Everything. Everything is Nothing and there is Nothing called Nothing." Is this is a statement to explain Brahman?
Your friend's statement is just nonsensical gibberish by someone who thinks he can express Advaitic ideas by spouting contradictory jargon.
The truth is expressed fully in the Bhagavad Gita. That should be your major focus of study.
The mantra beginning "Purnamidah" is the nearest to a perfect Advaitic statement there is.
Fools discuss philosphy. The wise engage in sadhana and come to know the Truth.
I am extremely interested in pursuing a path wherein I can realize God, but as any other ordinary mortal I am been pulled down by negative forces. But I truly want to be away from this because once I feed my hunger for these forces I see pain and sorrow immediately following me. I have experienced this many times. Moreover the more I want to go away from these bad elements the more I am going towards them in reality. Is there a way for me to come out of these negative forces and become good?
Goodness is your nature. You are realizing this, and that is why the elements of ignorance in your life are unsettling to you. This is a sign of being well along the path; be assured of this.
Meditation is the only remedy for the ills of life. It may take time, but those who persevere will emerge fully into the Light. You will find meditation instruction on our website that we hope will prove helpful to you. Also please see the article: The Foundations of Yoga.
It will be most beneficial for you to daily read from the Bhagavad Gita, as it is completely practical, and not just abstract philosophy. The best translation is The Song of God by Swami Prabhavananda. It is available at www.vedanta.com.
Please remember this: a diamond is a piece of coal that never gave up.
The following is a reply to an inquirer who described an experience in consciousness and asked what was its nature and if it was enlightenment:
Along the way many doors swing open, giving us unexpected insights. But we just keep moving on. On occasion we enter into profound states of consciousness, some of which begin to fade away since they are "messages" to seek and become established in them, and others are plateaus from which we do not regress. Whichever they are, in the words of Sri Ramakrishna: "Go forward." Infinity lies ahead.
How does one know if one is meant to live a monastic life versus a householder's life? I have been going over this in my mind for some years now and I am still uncertain of my calling to one or the other. Anything you might be able to say in regards to discerning if one has a monastic calling would be most appreciated and very helpful.
Since we are not external beings, the external mode of life is not "the thing." Rather, it is the interior development–sadhana–that matters.
Two people once asked Sri Ma Anandamayi if they should some day become monastics (they were married, but living a celibate life). Her reply was: "Those who do sadhana automatically become sadhus."
Once a young man came to Sri Ramana Maharshi and asked if he should become a monk. Immediately Sri Ramana responded: "No." Taken aback the young man protested: "But you did!" "Yes, but I did not need to ask anyone if I should," replied Ramana.
Please focus on your sadhana, making sure that it is going right. Then everything will unfold as it should. As Jesus assures us: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).
Nothing is more miserable than a monk without a genuine interior life–India is filled with them.
I have an established japa practice centered around a mantra of Ganesha and the Kali/Durga mantra. I am drawn to the Om practice as outlined on our website. Can these practises be done together?
The shastras tell us that Om is the Mula Mantra, the source of all mantras. Therefore Its use is not inconsistent with other mantras.
I have a question about gurus and their supposed infallibility. I do not mean to be disrespectful, but guru infallibility is just a mite suspect. Any thoughts that can help me out here?
If we look at the scriptures which form the basis of Sanatana Dharma–the eleven major upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutras–we do not find the exaggerated view of the guru that has arisen and gripped Hinduism in its degeneracy, and is a major source of its continuing degeneracy.
A true teacher is, in the simile of Buddha, only a finger pointing to the Supreme. He is never the Supreme Itself.
In the Taittiriya Upanishad (1:2:2) it is said: "Let your mother be a god to you; let your father be a god to you; let your teacher be a god to you; let your guest also be a god to you." The word here translated "god" is "deva," which means "a shining one." A deva is a semi-divine or celestial being with great powers, and therefore a "god." Sometimes called a demigod. In Christianity they would be called angels. So we are being told to look upon mother, father, teacher (acharya) and even guests as sacred, as angelic beings worthy of great respect. That is all. They are never God. To look upon any human being as God or infallible like God is utterly foolish and self-deceiving. It is also foolish to consider that the records of their teachings are infallible. That is why we seek within ourselves for the Truth.
The foregoing is not the opinion of most Hindus, but it is consistent with real Dharma. And consistent with good sense.
Can you advise me as to a daily spiritual routine?
It is good to experiment and try out various routines to come up with the one that fits you best, and to realize that what will be relevant to you at one point in your development will have little relevance at another time and vice-versa. Like you yourself, your routine should evolve.
Routines are very beneficial, but there is a pitfall. Some people get so occupied with external activities that they mistakenly think they have a spiritual life. Religious activity is not spiritual activity. A classic example is that of the monastics who attend Mass and hours of the Divine Office daily, but have no interior life at all.
What is needed is a spiritual routine as the nucleus around which a devotional routine can be formed. Spirit is consciousness, so dealing with that is the only really spiritual activity. For us, meditation on Om and continual repetition of Om throughout the day is the preferred nucleus. Our study, etc., is necessary yet secondary.
I would like to receive a mantra for healing ________.
A physical problem should be cared for by physical means.
I am married and have two children. How can I lead a spiritual life in this situation?
All the Vedic Rishis were married with families, as were all the ancient sages of India including Janaka and even Sri Rama and Sri Krishna. Therefore marriage cannot be an impediment to spiritual life if it is a dharmic marriage. My sannyasa guru, Sri Swami Vidyananda Giri, once said to me: "There are many dharmic households that are more spiritual that some ashrams." I have lived in such households myself and know that to be true.
Spiritual life is in the heart. Please practice meditation daily. This is the prime necessity.
Read Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) to find practical advice to married men on how to lead a spiritual life.
Also, please obtain and read Meditation and Spiritual Life by Swami Yatiswarananda of the Ramakrishna Mission. It is published by the Ramakrishna Mission in Bangalore but should be available at the Ramakrishna Mission center nearest you.
In reply to a person who believed he was being invaded and oppressed by negative spirits and was suffering in a variety of physical and mental ways.
It would not be possible–or responsible–for us to give an assured "diagnosis" and "treatment" for your situation, knowing only what is in your brief communication.
However, we can tell you this: negative entities cannot stand the supremely high and holy vibrations of the sacred syllable Om. Therefore we urge you to continually repeat Om in a careful and relaxed manner, without strain. It may be helpful to sometimes intone It aloud, as the entering of the sacred sound into the ears has often proved effective against obsessing or possessing entities.
Please read Introduction To Om Yoga on our website.
This may seem easy for us to say and hard for you to do, but smile and laugh as much as you can. Negative entities hate happiness and joy and flee from them. This is why negative human beings are stern and morose and bark at those who laugh or make a joke.
There is no telling how long the trouble will persist if you follow these suggestions, but it should not be too long. If you do not feel completely free from your problem after a week or so, we suggest you obtain and read Psychic Self-defense by Dion Fortune. It is available from amazon.com.
I have read "Christian Insights into Reincarnation." How is a Christian to believe in a continuous cycle of death and rebirth until spiritual immortality is achieved when Jesus and the Bible mention hell as a place of eternal suffering for God's enemies?
First, you should also read May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation? as that contains more information that relates to your question.
Let's talk about hell. (Most religions like to.)
In the Bible there are three words translated "hell." They are: sheol, Gehenna, and ades.
Sheol is Hebrew, and merely means the grave–sometimes "pit." It is therefore a matter of interpretation as to whether it means a realm where the spirit is conscious after death. In the places throughout the Old Testament where sheol is used, it seems to always be a synonym for death.
In the New Testament we have the two words translated hell: Gehenna and ades (sometimes transliterated adis in modern Greek usage).
Gehenna, the term used by Matthew and Mark, means "Valley of Hinnom," and at the time of Jesus referred to the valley outside Jerusalem which was the garbage dump, in smell and appearance very like the infamous (and usually never mentioned) "Delhi sewer," the area on the west side of Delhi where all kinds of refuse are continually smoking and smoldering–and smelling terrible. This was used by Jesus as a symbol of samsara–the continuous cycle of birth and death. Orthodox Judaism uses the term gilgal or ha'atakah to convey the same idea. (This is discussed in May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation?) Although the fires burned and smoked continually in the Valley of Hinnom, the maggots were not destroyed, but kept "working" in the muck. Jesus was referring to this when he spoke of Gehenna as a place "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44). And Revelation speaks of how "the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night" (Revelation 14:11).
Luke uses the Greek word [h]ades, which merely means "the unseen world." In Greek mythology hades was in the depths of the earth, so "hell"–a word meaning "the nether regions" was used in English translations. (Holland is really Hella-land, the Low Land.)
As to "hell" lasting forever, this is based on a misinterpretive reading of aionios, which means "pertaining to the aeon." Greek cosmology, like Christian cosmology (John 14:2) believed in many levels or "worlds" within creation, and referred to them as aeons (or eons). Christianity, like Hinduism and Buddhism, originally believed in many worlds, including both heavens and hells. So in a world of fiery torment the fire would be aionion.
Since these worlds last a long time (but none last forever), aionios could also mean lasting a long time. (In English slang they speak of "donkey's age" and in American slang we speak of "a coon's age.")
It is a matter of personal interpretation as to whether in a particular New Testament passage aionios means a long time or a condition proper to a particular world, but there is no doubt as to its meaning only a limited span of time, for Jesus said: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world [aion–aeon]" (Matthew 2:20). Here we see that the King James editors considered aeon could mean a world. Aionios, then, could mean something lasting the lifespan of a world.
I have a question about something I have been trying to find for a year now. The exact location of the Rig Veda verse that begins Prajapati vai idam, and is the original of the first verse of the Gospel of John.
We understand your dilemma. We found the quotation (without exact reference) in writings by Indian scholars whose integrity we trusted, so we passed on the misinformation about the source being the Rig Veda. Fortunately, an internet friend supplied us with the correct source(s):
Krishna Yajurveda, Kathaka Samhita, 12.5, 27.1 Krishna Yajurveda, Kathakapisthala Samhita, 42.1 Jaiminiya Brahmana II, Sameveda, 2244
I was able to visit the cave of Jesus near Vashishtha Guha with friends twice in the past 6 months! It is a powerful and vibrant cave. No one was near when we engaged ourselves in meditation. I thank you again and again. Would you please tell me of some more places in India visited by Jesus and directions to visit there.
There are two places in the holy city of Kankhal which we usually do not speak about as most people would think we were being overimaginative, but we will relate them to you.
The first is the Ganga channel that you cross from Hardwar to Kankhal. You reach this by turning to the right (east) at the Mrityunjaya fountain as you are entering the main part of Hardwar. Now this is the strange part. Go to stand in the mid-part of the bridge and you may feel a very definite spiritual atmosphere. The canal was made less than 20 years after independence. Apparently Jesus stayed and meditated here when it was solid land.
To reach the second place, just keep on going east across the bridge into Kankhal. As you proceed, you will come to several old ashrams on your right hand (south). After a bit you will come to a large area enclosed by iron fencing in the middle of which there is a small but ornate Shiva temple of carved stone (really a roof on supports rather than an enclosed building). Meditate here and you may feel the presence of Jesus.
When we go to Hardwar we always visit these two places. We make flower offerings into the Ganga from the bridge.
Two other places where Jesus lived are Varanasi and Jagannath Puri. We have no idea where he lived in Varanasi, but in Puri he lived in the Govardhan Math of Sri Shankaracharya–so said Jagadguru Bharat Krishna Tirtha, the former Shankaracharya. He claimed there were records of Jesus having lived there, but his research was thrown out by a servant while he was visiting America (!), and he did not live long enough to rewrite it.
It is also said that somewhere in Puri there is a small shrine containing nothing but a plain wooden cross, and that every day for many centuries a Brahmin does some kind of worship there. Unfortunately this is all we know.
We hope this will be helpful for you and that you will report to us about any investigations you may make of these places.
I would like to know whether the departed soul gets our prayer and the love we express. Also, how does that prayer help the departed soul?
There is no exact answer to your question. Sometimes the departed remain very near the earth plane for a while after death and are very much aware of whatever is being done by those dear to them. Others pass into the higher worlds very quickly without a backward glance and remain unaware of what happens here. Actually, this second state is the best as it helps the person to prepare for the next birth rather than holding him back with attachment to the previous life situation.
Again, some are helped by prayers and others are not. It all depends on the state of development of the person and also his karma. Here, too, we should be aware that it is not helpful for any soul to keep reminding him of his previous life and turning his awareness backward rather than forward.
The best rule is this: Show love and care for those dear to you while they live. Help them to keep their mind on higher things, to worship and meditate on God every day. Then they will carry with them the blessing and knowledge of your love and will need no further help, but will ascend to higher worlds as Sri Krishna assures us in the Gita.
How can I understand the teachings of Jesus better?
First, be sure you distinguish between the teachings of Jesus and the doctrines of contemporary Christianity, including the English translations of the Bible.
Here are four things we feel will be of assistance to you:
1) That you obtain a computer Bible program that enables you to go through the text word by word and see the various meanings of the Greek terms. We have found that Online Bible is extremely good. It is integrated with many Bible versions, however we have consistently found that the King James version is still the most accurate.
2) That you consider purchasing a copy of THE EMPHATIC DIAGLOTT of Benjamin Wilson. This is now published by the Jehovah's Witnesses, but was originally published in the early part of the twentieth century by Ludgate and Hill in England. The Witnesses bought the rights, but have not changed the text at all except to put capital Thetas on the word Theos in the Greek text. It contains both an interlinear Greek-English text and Wilson's translation.
3) That you obtain a copy of THE AQUARIAN GOSPEL OF JESUS THE CHRIST published by DeVorss Publications. This is not a "channeled" book as some claim. Levi Dowling, a Disciples of Christ minister, developed his ability to look into the past and spoke out his impressions as his wife wrote them down. He did not claim his records were infallible or of divine authority–only psychic perceptions. Yet, we find that this book is a marvel of spiritual philosophy and we feel that it is truer to the facts than the four canonical Gospels that have been edited to conform to official doctrine.
4) We have saved the best for last. We recommend that you look into the writings of Paramhansa Yogananda, especially THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST, which has a scripture index so you can see his commentary on specific verses. His autobiography contains a great deal of material on the Bible, as do the three volumes of his talks. We feel that Yogananda had a spiritual comprehension of the teachings of Jesus that was unique, that there is no better source for understanding the message of Jesus.
I do not understand why it is all right to kill and eat plants but not all right to kill and eat animals. It feels like the Consciousness is the same in both. I am not asking this so I can eat meat. I am a vegetarian because my mind, memory and meditation are sharper when I eat only vegetables. I am asking because I hope to understand better.
Here is a relevant paragraph from The Four Soul Killers: "Often the objection is raised that we are killing plants to eat them. But this is not accurate, either. When we harvest vegetables, we do so at the end of their growth cycle; we don't 'cut them down in the prime of life.' Animals, however, are slaughtered long before their natural lifespan is finished. We must also distinguish between the fruit and the plant. When we pick, say a tomato, we do not kill the plant, but it continues to grow–no life is taken. As for root vegetables such as carrots or potatoes, the 'root' that we harvest is the final stage in the plant's growth; if it were not harvested, the plant would merely rot in the earth. Furthermore, in plants the sensory mind is only potential, it is 'asleep.' They do not feel pain. Although they do have a rudimentary nervous system that responds to injury, the conscious mind that would receive the message of pain in animal organisms is not functional." The bottom line, however, is obvious. We can live a better and healthier life by not eating animals. But if we do not eat plants we will die. Philosophy really does not come into its. Things are as they are.
How can I not kill pests? If I do not discourage ants and rats, they tend to move into my house. If I do not spray my garden with some kind of pesticide, the harvest is attacked. Also, when we bathe, thousands of bacteria on the skin probably drown.
There are many ways to avoid killing "pests"–usually by repelling them. Ants, for example, work through smell. We have found that by spraying ant trails with something like Lysol makes them go away. Mice we catch with "live traps" and take them some distance away and set them free. Things that come in the attic and rumble around in the walls we repel with mothballs. (It apparently smells like cat urine to them.) We have a large rabbit population. By spraying around the susceptible plants we ensure the rabbits leave them alone.
Involuntary taking of life has no karmic result. As Swami Sriyukteswar pointed out to Yogananda, it is the intention or desire to take life that violates ahimsa. Buddha considered this very intently and even declared that involuntary manslaughter creates no negative karma.
I hope you will help me with a long-standing question: Can a person realise Brahman just by spiritual activities such as meditation, without ritualistic worship and prayers or devotion to personal gods?
If ritualistic worship and devotion to various deity forms assist the sadhaka, they should be used. But they are not necessary. However the Gita indicates that we should cultivate devotion to the Infinite Being, Brahman, who was speaking through Sri Krishna.
The Bhagavad Gita gives complete instruction on how to realize Brahman. Please take the Gita as your supreme teacher and read a chapter from it each day. You will succeed in spiritual life if you follow its teachings. And you will surely have the living blessing of Sri Vyasa, the author, as well as Sri Krishna.
Please give me some practical advice to achieve progress in the practice of brahmacharya.
The prime key to success in cultivating the great spiritual gem of brahmacharya is perseverence. Persevere and you will attain perfection in this virtue.
Please be aware that meditation is the cornerstone of Brahmacharya.
Besides the material to be found on our website, we recommend that you obtain the book Meditation and Spiritual Life by Swami Yatiswarananda. This book covers every aspect of spiritual life, including very good instructions on brahmacharya. It is published by the Ramakrishna Mission in Bangalore, but should be available at any Ramakrishna Mission or ashram bookstore. You can also order it from: vedanta.com.
May the blessings of God be with you in your endeavors.
Sex (thought and act) was part of my life while I was in college but I repent for having done that. Recently someone told me that if you commit a mistake it can never be erased, and that is the end to me becoming a brahmachari because the guilt will always be there in my mind. Does this mean that even if I try now to improve myself and follow a strict life, I will never be blessed?
A person who has lied can reform and practice truthfulness (satya). A person who has stolen can reform and practice non-stealing (asteya). A person who has done harm (himsa) can reform and practice ahimsa. It only follows to reason, then, that someone who has engaged in sexual acts can reform and practice brahmacharya.
Some of the greatest sannyasis (and therefore brahmacharis) in modern times had been married and begotten children. Yet, when they took up a new order of life they attained liberation and uplifted many others and inspired them to purity of life. Among the great monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Brahmananda–the first president of Ramakrishna Mission–had been married and had one child. The great Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, founder of the Divine Life Society, was married and had two children. When his wife and children were killed in a fire he took sannyas and became one of the greatest yogis of our times, even writing books on brahmacharya. The beloved Swami (Papa) Ramdas of Anandashram, the embodiment of purity, had been married and also had children.
In the Gita Sri Krishna tells us:
"And though you were the foulest of sinners, this knowledge alone would carry you like a raft, over all your sin. The blazing fire turns wood to ashes: the fire of knowledge turns all karmas to ashes." (Bhagavad Gita 4:36, 37)
" Though a man be soiled with the sins of a lifetime, let him but love me, rightly resolved, in utter devotion: I see no sinner, that man is holy. Holiness soon shall refashion his nature to peace eternal; O son of Kunti, of this be certain: the man that loves me, he shall not perish. (Bhagavad Gita 9:30, 31)
In Autobiography of a Yogi, we find this: "A new student occasionally expressed doubts regarding his own worthiness to engage in yoga practice.
"Forget the past," Sri Yukteswar would console him. "The vanished lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now."
This is the truth of the matter.
Trust in God and in your divine Self.