Sunday, February 19, 2017

Unconditional Love

In the beginning of the ninth centum of Tiruvāymozhi, Svāmī Nammāzhvār declares that there is no real love in spouse, children, relatives, friends or others. They behave in favorable manner when there is something to take and not otherwise. 

Some of us may feel outraged by this suggestion. We may believe we enjoy the true love of someone or we may believe that we truly love someone. How can it be said that this love is motivated and unreal? 

Before we lose our composure, let us take a step back (as usual) and look at what this love is. The first question to ask is: Is love conditional or unconditional? 

The first answer is that love is conditional. After all, we do love only some people and not others. There is something in them that we like or learn to tolerate. We do not like others the same way. If this is the case, the matter is over. Love is established to be motivated by conditions. 

Some fortunate people, who have experienced love in their lives, may claim that love is unconditional. However, this is generally found to be an illusion. What is called unconditional is generally a superior set of conditions. Instead of loving for superficial reasons, if love is developed for slightly higher reasons and if it is developed with a slightly higher sense of tolerance, we think it is unconditional love. 

But surely, the love of a mother for her child must be unconditional? Probably. But, even this has its limits and love can quickly turn into emotional excess or over-protective control. Many times, attachment gets confused for love. The mother may just be trying to control and modify the behavior of the child with the idea, "I know what is good for you". Love is something that is beyond attachment. To think, "You are my child. I birthed you. Therefore, I love you." is also a way of attachment. Some parents are distraught when they learn that their children do not reciprocate their love. In reality, their wards did not reciprocate their attachment and left to other attachments. Mothers, who love their children excessively, do not love other children the same way. It appears as if their kids are special. They would wish that their kids should win and other kids should fail. Why? Due to the simply reason that "this is my child". 

The mother's dedication and sacrifice is worthy of the highest respect, but if we analyse it deeply, we find that it is a product of attachment. The condition of attachment motivates this love. It is a matter of pride to the mother if her child does well. She has skin in the game. 

Can there be love that is truly unconditional? Can there be love that is not motivated by even the highest of conditions? 

The answer is as simple as it is uncommon. To experience or provide love unconditionally, we have to get out of the conditions and see ourselves for who we are. As long as we approach the world with conditioned minds, it is not possible to love unconditionally. 

This unconditional love is called Bhakti. Bhakti is not the love that grasps (develops attachment to) an individual. It is the outcome of an enlightened state where one sees oneself truly and loses the false ego. The love which is unconstrained by conditions of mind, body, etc. spreads out fully. It expresses itself totally and with respect to the All, the Brahman. When the pettiness of conditions falls apart, the larger picture becomes revealed. The need to grasp this or that fades.  The glorious harmony of all entities in the Brahman becomes evident. One does not see the many, but only one, the One - in whom everything is strung like pearls on a twine. Also, truly unconditional love is the Brahman's love. It is His love that gets expressed through multiple channels. Some contaminate that love through attachment. But, it is truly His love. He is mother, father, friend, relative, spouse and child of all of us. An enlightened person is one who is pleased merely by the sight of another soul, by the simple nature around oneself and does not have to grasp something to attain pleasure. That is because there is nothing to grasp but Nārāyaṇa. All these sentient and non-sentient entities are His modes and He is the governor of their reality. They are His bodies, His expressions. 'sarvaṃ brahmātmakam.' Love to Nārāyaṇa is not an outcome of "if"s and "because"s. It is all there is in reality. It is all the love experienced and it is all the love expressed. It is the love woven into the fabric of reality. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ups and Downs

Life comes with its ups and downs. This is common knowledge and there is hardly any adult who does not have a first hand account of this truth. 

However, we are surprised every time life throws up something new. This is an outcome of ignorance. But since our minds are conditioned for information, they register surprises positively. We even feel good about some of them as long as they don't diminish our state of survival. What is a surprise but information that was not expected due to prior ignorance.

When things go good for us, we cultivate a positive image about ourselves. We feel confident about our abilities - "I can do this, I can do that, I should be good". A lot of our expertise comes from what our bodies and minds are by nature and how they get nurtured in a set of circumstances. Nearly all of this is beyond our control. Yet, we find justification in feeling proud about ourselves. The mind feels bored even when things are going well, and tries to invent some drama to spice things up. It feels good to get into a contest even it is not necessary, and even better to come on top of the duel.

When things go bad, we fall sullen, depressed, upset. Sometimes, the loss channels into anger or a false sense of morality. One may feel that one is a victim of something and dedicate one's whole life to fighting for some cause. Sometimes, we lose confidence. We do not know who we are anymore.

If we take a step back and analyse the situation, it would be very clear what the truth is. We may want different things out of our lives, but the truth remains what it is.

Most of our good times and bad times are not really that in reality. Yes, you may argue that this was really good  and that was really painful. We are not talking about that context. That context is of goals which are expected to be achieved. If the events do not add to the outcome desired, we are sad. Otherwise, we feel happy.

The deeper truth concerns who we really are. We are knowledge entities, sentient beings. The mind, the breath, and the body are all borne by us and are not us. We may identify with the body, the mind, etc. and place expectations on how they should turn out. But they are not us; they can be taken away or changed. We see people telling one another, "You are not the person I knew a few years ago." This remark is usually accompanied with disappointment. But, what is to be surprised? Of course he is not the same person! The body and mind change all the time. The mistake was getting attached to something that keeps changing.

Reality has a way of teaching us that. Our bodies fail, our minds change. What we thought was ours once is no longer ours. We may have dreamed that we are set for life. But, things go bad. The reverse also happens, and somehow we happily accept such events without consideration.

Events that we describe as bad can be seen as opportunities to see for ourselves who we truly are. Each loss shows us what we are not and is a moment for waking up, for self-realization. The directness of these events is a call to truth. Likewise, favorable outcomes must be treated carefully.

All this is certainly easier said than practised. Years of conditioning will not fall away easily.  It is actually easy to accept everyone for who they truly are: instantiations of sentience in various garbs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Upāya - Method

When there is an object to be attained, one seeks the method. There is a always a procedure to carry out any activity to bring out some result. When the process is well-defined we feel comfortable. When the process is not defined, we find ourselves confused and disturbed. 

In the spiritual parlance, what is the method to attain spiritual success? What is the process? 

Some teachers feel that there is no method. Others think there are methods and list them out. Some others think that the situation is more complicated and that a simple answer is not possible.

In Śrīmad-Bhagavad-Gītā, Kṛṣṇa teaches that there are three well-defined spiritual methods:
1. Karma Yoga - Communion through action
2. Jñāna Yoga  - Communion through knowledge
3. Bhakti Yoga - Communion through love 

The purpose of Karma Yoga and Jñāna Yoga is to produce self-realization. The purpose of Bhakti Yoga is God-realization. 

Śrīmad-Bhagavad-Gītā clearly teaches self-realization as a precursor to God-realization. This is important because unless one knows oneself, it is hard to want God in a genuine way. When one is identified with the body or the mind, one only thinks, "May I have a good body. May I decorate it well. May I present myself well. May I have pleasurable experiences and feel happy." Only when one understand the self, knowing oneself truly, one develops detachment towards other objects and the attention becomes focused on God. This is not because there is some rule book that says that we must want God. It is simply that this turns out to be the greatest good. "Discover yourself truly, and then you will find out what is good for you." The teaching of the Gītā is very straight forward. Without this systematic approach, we will have sudden 'flings' with God which are either very superficial or very mundane. 

Let us investigate the methods. 

Karma Yoga does not create any artificial constructs. Its role is simply to teach us the truth. Karma Yoga is practising action with detachment. This is not unnatural. We have a right to only engage in action but not a right to the result. We may believe we deserve some results, but there is no natural right to those results. Our only right is in acting. This is not a bad thing. It is a very good thing. By detaching ourselves from the fruits of action, we have the opportunity to remove ourselves from the karmic fruits which lead to suffering. Our action is possible only because of the body, the senses, the mind, ... the manifest world in which we are. None of this is the "I". But action has meaning only in this world of mind, senses and forms. Karma Yoga teaches us to deeply realize this. Through this realization, we form detachment to agency, "I am the sole doer" which breeds identification with the mind or the body, and also removes the notion, "This is my action." 

Consider the very simply act of seeing. We think, "I am seeing" and we tend to get very stimulated by sights. But, the blind person cannot see. This simple act is not possible for that person. Yet, we get attached to the action and identify ourselves with mind and form. When we reflect upon the factors in everything, we realize that 'seeing happens to us'. The laws of universe makes our experience possible. We do have an important role in this process. It is the conscious self that sheds its light and illuminates the non-sentient universe. But this freedom is fairly limited. Our actions, their nature and their fruits are not in our control. 

So, in Karma Yoga, one understands one's actions as the effect of the modes of nature. However, action is important without which we cannot survive and our civilization will degrade. So, Karma Yoga discourages inaction. Actions are performed and they are offered to God as worship. I am fulfilling a particular state of the universe as willed by God. Work is literally worship. This understanding removes selfishness and attachment in action. Karma Yoga teaches us the truth of who we are, the nature of action and our subordination to God - our minds, bodies and the universe are governed by one set of laws, and we ourselves are tied to this state of experience by another set of laws. Both of these are the laws of God in effect. So, one is fully subordinate to God and every action is a worship of God - not my action for my benefit. 

Jñāna Yoga is the method of knowledge that involves deep reflection. One seeks to truly discover oneself through inquiry and reflection. Finding oneself, one rests there firmly. 

The method of knowledge is easy(?) when one is alone and without distractions, when one's needs are taken care of. But, for the rest of us who have to engage with the rest of the world on a regular basis for our survival or live in complex situations, the method of action is more helpful. Many wise people who live well by themselves attain downfall because they do not know how to interact with the world. They lose grounding in themselves when nature strikes with a vengeance. 

In a way the two methods are complementary. One must have some taste of oneself to even trust that the method of action is meaningful. There is some degree of reflection required to undertake Karma Yoga. Likewise, as one practises Karma Yoga, it eventually shatters the masks and unravels the true self. 

The method of love or Bhakti is the stage that comes after self-realization and is a very vast topic. It leads to God-realization and is best appreciated by those who get to the self-realization stage. So, let us take that topic separately later and analyse something else now. 

The realization of oneself, and one's dependence and subordination to God provides us clarity in action. It shatters the false ego. It also leads us to ask an important question, "If the situation is such, who is doing the method?" Am I the practitioner of the method? After all, a process or method is not different from action. Who owns the execution of the method? 

If one fails to ask these question, there is a vestige of false ego: 'I am a practitioner of Karma Yoga which removes my false ego in relation to action.' This is a meta-false-ego. Sometimes, it can be more dangerous than the more mundane false ego. The meta false ego thinks that it is removing the mundane false ego. But, both are effectively the same entity in two different forms. The false ego likes goals, conflicts and problems. So, instead of self-realization, one ends up strengthening a heavyweight 'spiritual' false ego and goes about defending that false identity. 

Getting free of these meta false egos is very difficult and hence the whole process is very slippery. Arjuna was baffled as he realized how tricky the situation is. This is when Kṛṣṇa taught the method of surrender. Surrender to Kṛṣṇa  and be without worry. Worry also breeds the false ego; likewise, self evaluation: "Is this method really working for me?" and the meta false ego: "I am all set now because I am doing this method for my own good. Soon, my false ego will fall off and it will be awesome."

Surrender does not mean inaction or compromise. One continues to do all the methods mentioned about but not with the sense that these are methods to some end. They are done out of love to God who creates the situations that lead to self-realization and God-realization. Surrender is directness with God. It is the interplay between God creating the situation and the self responding in the right way. Action becomes service; knowledge becomes self-vision; love becomes the playground for the experience of God. The nature of the methods don't change, what changes is the way we consider them. 

Not going through this line of thought leads to (and has led to) endless confusion. Some people ask, 'Is surrender a different method from action, love, knowledge, etc.?' This is again the false ego trying to reassert itself. In the name of philosophical development, some teachers create a further split: surrender as method and surrender as non-method. The poor mind then wants to know if surrender is not the method, then what is? It has to be pacified with the answer that God is the method. Some minds are not pacified here because they cannot understand why God is the method. A method is something that is done, a process. How can God be a process? Again, in the name of philosophical development, we can go on developing new concepts to trick our minds. But, the simplest way is to stick to the truth and develop understanding. Surrender is not a method. It is not even something separate from the three methods mentioned above. It is simply the basic truth which underlies the three methods asserting itself and transforming the methods into non-methods. Surrender is the final death of the false ego. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Who am I?

Until recently, this question was considered useless. Only those poor desolate ones needed to worry about this. The other comfortable ones were understood to get along well without asking such questions. Asking "Who am I?" would be met with "What happened to you? Is everything fine?" Given the pressures from social-media explosion and work-related stress, suddenly everyone is wondering who they are. 

Asking "Who am I?" is the first step to spirituality. Am I this gross body that is available to the senses? Or, am I this mind? Or, am I the senses or breath? Am I the entirety of experience?

By the process of meditation and reflection one can gradually or quickly realize that "I" am not the body, not the senses, not the breath. 

After some effort, it would be clear that the mind which provides the connection between the sense data and the knower is also not me. Most of the time, the mind is subject to three qualities: truth, passion and ignorance, being the element of nature. It works on its own and most of the time uses me for its purposes of needless worry, scheming, desiring, etc. 

Emerging above the view that I am the mind is very difficult but with meditation, one can attain to such an understanding. 

The harder questions is: am I this knowledge. Many people emerge out of their mind-self, i.e. the false ego and think that they are knowledge. They are not knowledge of anything particular but just knowledge. The self is an illusion. 

This is a misunderstanding. The self is not an illusion. The sense of "I" is not invalid. Having been conditioned with the sense of "I" getting identified with the false ego of the mind, some people are misled to conclude that there is no "I" in the absence of false ego. There is just experience or knowledge. 

What remains after the false sense of self drops off is the true sense of self. This is still the "I" but a very different and benign, constant form of "I".  A lot of people waste their time waiting for the knower and the known to become one. This leads them to frustrations. In reality, once the mind is transcended, a different kind of "I"-identity does exist. We may trick ourselves to not pay attention and believe that the knower has vanished. But, the knower is still there. It is with reference to the knower that the vivid experience takes place. Experience or knowledge is also always about something. We may stop labeling things thinking we are entering non-dual state, but red will remain red, blue will remain blue, and hard will be hard, soft will be soft. That is not going to change. 

Content-less knowledge is an absurdity since knowledge, by definition, is always about something. It shines upon something and illuminates an object. Knowledge is also always for somebody. I do know a lot of things, and have unique experiences. The real self does exist deep and does not have to be wished away in the dream of some non-dual paradise. 

We have come to understand that our brains can provide us a wide variety of experiences and hallucinations. So, it is indeed possible to legitimately have different kinds of experiences. But, the key is to find out which one is true without getting tricked by one teaching or the other. 

The basis nature of the self is knowledge, and the self is the knower. It is a very different kind of knower than the mind-self (false ego). The mind simply draws the true ego of the self and superimposes it on itself or on the body. Hence, we go around thinking, "I am this body; I am tall; I am good looking; I am rich" or "I feel depressed; I am happy". When the "I" is rescued from these false identifications, it still exists but in a very different way. It is not impulsive, artificial, judgmental or acting from memory. It is grounded in the present and is not swayed by time. It approaches everything with freshness and acts from truth. 

Yes, the mind-self is a product of ignorance. The mind-self does not have free-will and is driven b y forces of nature. But the true self is different. 

Some people also believe that this true self is God. They become God or the All once they discover this self. This is also false. The true self is still subject every now and then to the vagaries of nature. For such high souls, nature sends distractions. They fall for those distractions after years of sanity and then nature has a hearty laugh. Wise souls suddenly lose patience or temper. This is because they are not the All. They have tricked themselves into believing that. They cannot control their experiences. They can only choose to deal with what comes their way. Nature does not act according to their intentions. It poses various problems and puts obstacles on the way.  People drawn anew to spiritual experiences get frustrated when Nature just piles on problems and nothing changes. They feel they are doing something wrong. 

The truth is the true self is not independent and is not the All. But, the true self is the mode of the All, of God. The true self is one expression of God. This expression while eternal, as eternal as the primary substance of nature, cannot control its experience and cannot control nature. 

Only, God, the Supreme Self of All, the repose of all the best auspiciousness, greatness, beauty, bliss and potency, expresses Himself though the modes of the individual self and nature. 

The mind-self makes us believe that we are the center of the universe and that the world exists for our sake. When the world slips even narrowly from what we believe is good for us, we scream "O God! Why are you doing this to me? How did I wrong You?" This is fake religion. Fake religion provides the illusion that the world exists for our sake. Have you ever seen a cat or dog or cow challenge God and scream, "God! Why are you doing this to me?" The animal would just lick its wounds and move on. No complaining, no false sense of righteousness. 

By getting trapped in false religion, we confuse ourselves that religion is bogus and God is fake. It is chiefly because of our incorrect understanding of God and relating to God through the fantasy created by the mind-self or false-ego. 

However, the true religion and sense of self lead us to a different religion altogether and a different relation to God. It is very simple. We exist for God's purpose as does the rest of nature. The only difference is that nature does not have knowledge while we do. Except for the presence or absence of sentience, there is no difference between the self and nature with respect to God. They are subservient to Him and exist for His purpose alone. By patient meditation, one can see this truth. 

This is liberating knowledge. Bondage comes from the false-ego which assumes that the world exists for its purposes and hankers after possessions. It tries in vain to control its environment often inflicting harm upon itself. It sees the world as being against its existence, a full blown contest that needs to be won. Instead, it suffers heavy losses and suffers from accumulating karma. 

Knowing that one is subservient to God, one surrenders to God. One realizes: everything being in the hands of God, God is the only savior, our only rock. One realizes: God being the ultimate truth of all reality and the abode of auspiciousness, joy, beauty and bliss, is my only pleasure. And this is not fake. It is real. We are always connected to God; we are His expressions, His modes. All this comes from Him, resides in Him and goes into Him. He is our master residing deep within. Then, there is no confusion. 

There is action, but no selfish action. The action is offered to God. There is enlightenment, knowing who one is. There is love for God from the understanding of our relationship and His greatness. There is surrender from the understanding that He is the master and controller of all. 

All the yogas taught in the scriptures are not artificial devices but true states of the true self. The crux of Śrīvaiṣṇavism is to understand this deeply. Then, there is no complaining "This is not working for me. I am not able to do this constantly." It comes from understanding; it comes from the deep self. Only artificial things are hard to construct and maintain. What is true will remain when everything else falls apart. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Are there such things as ghosts? Is there such a thing as exorcism?

Of course there is. We are not talking about the horror movies or haunted houses here. 

Everyone one of us is haunted; haunted by a ghost called the mind. The mind always keeps worrying, crying, commenting, judging, lamenting. It is always stuck in an emotional state and carries the individual in the rough waves of that emotion. 

Several individuals are prisoners to their minds and their emotions. If someone could see what the mind is doing, we would all be declared insane. 

This ghost-living, living in siege by the mind, moving on with our lives without the slightest awareness, How many lives have been ruined b emotional excesses! 

The ghost is the false sense of ego: identification with the mind. One goes around spinning one's own tales. There are glowing narratives. People write books and make movies explaining these narratives, and other people who are vulnerable become agitated. The patterns gets reinforced, and awareness reduces. The false ego has overshadowed the real person. 

The mind is always grasping, desiring for objects. It develops agitation and anger when it fails to attain. It is always looking at the world through a selfish filter, salivating for pleasure, devising schemes. Such an unchecked mind loses objectivity and connection to truth. It becomes passionate and constrained. It destroys the individual by forcing him/her into insane actions, words and thoughts. 

A wise person must restrain the mind. One must abandon the false ego which is always constructing the artificial self and distorting the thoughts with possessiveness. 

It is not easy to do this. So, one must leave the mind in God. God is the infinitely beautiful, infinitely auspicious, and is the Master of all being. He alone can restrain the mind and keep it in order. When the mind is fixed upon His lotus feet, it becomes benign. It can transform into a beautiful thing which liberates the individual and fills one with peace. 

One has to surrender with the mind to the lotus feet of God. This is the only exorcism available. Then the real self shines radiantly and one is full of love.