Monday, December 29, 2008

33. Stages in spiritual Journey (first installment) ( afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest)

Here is a simple classification of basic stages, devised by this mote, to simplify the matters in his own mind. Not all the sub stages are mentioned:

Stage 1. Hunger of the soul. Searching

Stage 2 a. practical steps, (such as, meditation, mental chanting of God’s name) to realize God are started. May hear sounds like running water. Bliss, during meditation that does not rise to the level of ecstasy. Waves of kundalini, throbbing at lower forehead.

Stage 2b. During meditation person becomes oblivious to time and space (or may even be to the person)

Stage 3a. God responds. First touch. Glimpses of Divine , first Samadhi ( or trance-like state )

Stage 3b. After first touch, during meditation person experiences any of the following

a. Visions
b. Voices
c., Out of body experiences
d. Waves of ecstasy
e. Prophecy
f. Transport

Stage 4. Person is connected with God all the time, or most of the time

Here are the details:

Stage 1. “The hunger of soul is the first necessity. All else will follow”
By William Law, the British mystic.

Except for preselected persons, this stage may last for a long time. I know of two persons, whose first stage lasted for over fifty-five years. Something is missing in one‘s life. One keeps on asking questions, such as, “What is the purpose of life?”, “is this all there is to life?”

And then there are the eternal questions, which mankind has been asking since time immemorial. “Who created this universe?” “If God created everything, then, who created God, or from where did He come?” “Do we have free will or is everything preordained?” ?” " Why should we be blamed for our actions, when we are merely doing what He makes us do. (Bible: St Paul in Romans 9:19)”.

“ We are merely a product of nature( genes inherited from our parents ) and nurture ( our upbringing )), we had no say in choosing these two processes. Whatever happens, happens, because of interaction between us, environment and sheer chance. How much independence do we really have?”

“Why is there so much suffering in this world?” “Granted, that God is not responsible for the evil and suffering, but why does God allow it to happen?” "Why does God not reveal Himself? Why is He hidden from everybody?” " Why does He not talk to us, help us, guide us…….... so that we can build a better society?”

"Is there life after death?” “Does transmigration of soul takes place?” “If religions are God’s code of laws for human conduct, then, why are there so many religions, which differ from each others? There ought to be just one religion, one set of rules, God's rules.” “Universe is made up of matter and energy. If God did not create the universe, how was it created? Can something be made from sheer nothing, as scientists say? Is it not a ridiculous notion?” “Is God accessible? Or is He outside time, space, form or boundaries?” “Does God answer to prayers?” “Are there any limits to God’s powers?”

“ Is there a purpose to the universe?” “ Is it a grand, gigantic experiment, carried out by God, , involving millions of quadrillions of star systems, incandescent with light and fire, spread over googolplex of miles, harboring countless diverse life forms, spinning like tops and flying like birds, for billions of years? Doesn’t He know the results of the experiment beforehand, or does, even He, needs experimentation to determine whether the outcomes tally with the theories? Or did He, in His own inscrutable way, deliberately choose not to know the results any earlier?”

"Why is there anything. Why is there, simply, nothing.". ( a question asked by Leibniz in 18th century )"

Another feature, often always present, is that such persons are inordinately attracted to the supernatural, or God / deities/religion. These persons are drawn to the esoteric and mysterious. Another frequent trait is the compassionate nature of these people; misery of less fortunate never fails to touch their heartstrings.

What keeps such persons in first stage, often, for such a long time?

The answer is, two words: “Unfulfilled desires”

Look at an average person’s early life. He/she has to go to school/college and finish education. That is the goal society has established for him/her. For men, in underdeveloped and developing countries, the next overriding concern is to find a job, otherwise, how is the family going to eat? For women, in these countries, it is to get married (parents are ashamed of themselves and looked down upon by society, if they cannot arrange marriage for their daughter).

To be continued

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

32. Other paths ( afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest)

I hesitate to write about Sufism, because I have no personal experience, and know very little about it. I am writing about it, because, my personal inadequacy notwithstanding, not to mention it, while mentioning all others, would have been a disrespect to such a noble path. It is a well travelled path or rather a highway, on which thousands, if not millions, have travelled and a lot have realized God.

Due to the lack of knowledge about the exact methodology used by the travelers ( most of the books, in this area, are in foreign languages that I do not know, and, I have no desire to be a scholar; I, being a mere lover of God ), I will mainly draw from ‘shahabnama ( see sidebar )’ , which has enough details.

Shahab pursued God, by his own account, for at least forty-eight years (see post 9, preselected ….”). He mentions his reading about the four big and several minor channels of Islamic spirituality ( called tarikat or tasauwuf). He should, then, be an authority on Islamic spirituality. But nothing surprises the reader more than his conclusion, that spirituality is nothing more than a method used to entice people to the dry and tedious, often difficult, routine of the practices of the five basic tenets of Islam, called shariat. For sure, the practices are difficult to do, because they have to be performed continuously.

For instance the daily prayers, called namaz (consisting of thanking and glorifying God and the prophets, and asking God for help), requires washing ( and water may be ice cold ) of parts of body before namaz, clean clothes (without urine ), getting up and leaving a warm bed before dawn, and saying namaz five times daily at certain hours ( a rather long namaz before sleep ). Namaz is mandatory; there is no exemption, even for one namaz (except, in certain conditions, such as, travel, sickness or unfavorable environments) in whole adult life. Another tenet requires one month per year of day-time fast, of food and water. There are three more similarly tough tenets

Therefore, according to Shahab, just as children in kindergarten, are taught through play with seducing toys, so the toys of spirituality are used to entice the seekers towards the true path, the path of shariat. Seekers may experience dazzling lights, mesmerizing sounds, of running streams and rushing ocean-waves, enchanting music, invisible voices, shaking of the body, erection of hair,etc. Seekers may think these occurrences are from God, but they are not. They are just seducing toys. The real purpose of all this is to entice the seeker towards shariat.
How does shariat come into the picture? Because, in order to practice various spiritual disciplines, one must strictly and absolutely follow shariat . So the seeker develops a habit of saying prayers , keeping fasts, etc.

Shariat is supreme. It is the big river which leads to God. Various Islamic spiritual channels are just streams which merge into the river. Without shariat ( or following the tenets of Islam ) spirituality( tarikat) is worthless, even if a practitioner walks over water

It also follows, that if one can follow shariat ( which most Muslims do, especially when they get old), then, there is no need of traveling the path of spirituality. It will be redundant.

Spirtual disciplines are similar to what are used in other religions. Fundamental practice is repetition of God’s name and Quranic phrases ( called zikar ). There are others.

I do not know, if amongst the practitioners of Islamic spirituality, this is the majority view. I hope not. I have heard of several spiritually advanced Muslim persons , who , at least externally, did not follow shariat.

Perhaps Shahab is right that shariat must be strictly followed for anybody to reach God through Islamic spirituality or tarikat but the sublime heights of tarikat (nearness and realization of God) are way loftier than mere following of shariat. There are over a billion Muslims worldwide, millions are strict followers of shariat, ,(they should all be God realized, according to Shahab, as far as I understood him ) but those who are near God are perhaps only a few dozens, and those few went through the furnace of tarikat

The great 11th century Muslim saint, Daata Gunj Bakhash,in his book, states, that his teacher (spiritual guide )lived in caves for sixty years. Living in caves and seclusion from society are the ways of tarikat

Friday, December 19, 2008

31. The easiest path. Sixth instalment ( afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest)

The easiest path, in my mind, is to repeat God’s name, all the time. You can say “God, God, God, God” or “Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah”, or “Ram, Ram, Ram, Ram” or any other name of God. You should try to make a habit of repeating it mentally, without moving the lips, so that nobody else should come to know about it. You should do it at rest, as well as, when you are busy in activity. You should say it when you are awake and when you are asleep.

Initially it is very difficult. You will forget it once you get engaged in some activity. Hours will often pass, before you remember it. Do not lose heart. Keep on trying. It will take years, to have partial success, unless you are spiritually advanced to begin with

Once developed, you will yourself be surprised at the fact, that your mind is automatically repeating God’s name , while you are walking, or doing something in which mind is not engaged. You may be half sleep and realize that your mind is saying “God, God…” on its own. Mental activity, like reading a book, or talking to someone, stops this mental chanting. It may remind you of Brother Lawrence (see Posts, 15-18) and his method, which is very similar.

I have read in a book (the name of the book escapes me, but I think it was biography of Swami Brahmananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna) that once a person complained to the Swami of lack of spiritual progress. He gave him a mantra (some holy word/s, with God’s name in it) and told him to repeat it all the time, and he guaranteed him spiritual progress in one year. “Come back in one year, and complain to me, if it does not happen” or words to that effect.

Swami Ramdas (see sidebar, "In quest of God…") was given a mantra by his guru. He left his house, wife, and children and travelled penniless, repeating the mantra all the time. He realized God in few months (although, he did not start from zero, he had been struggling beforehand for years)

Mental chant of God’s name does not guarantee God-realization, but it does guarantee spiritual progress. Why does it happen? Does God’s name have an intrinsic power? Shahab ( Shahabnama, see side bar ) writes, and I quote " How can it be possible, that God’s name should have no effect (power)”.

Swami Ramakrishna gives contradictory answers to this question. On one place, in his biography ( see side bar ), he states that mere repetition of God’s name is ineffective: " How will the mere repetition of ‘Brahma’ profit you if you are not imbued with discrimination and dispassion? It is the empty sound of a conch-shell”
On another occasion he stated : "The name of God has very great sanctity. It may not produce immediate result, but one day it must bear fruit. It is like a seed left on the cornice of a building… crumbles… seed falls…..germinates, …..and at last bears fruit”
And, in another place he says: "If a man repeats the name of God, his body, mind, and everything becomes pure.”

Sunday, December 14, 2008

30. Types of paths, continued (fifth instalment ).( afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest)

The next path to realize is the path of action. No ordinary action, but selfless, detached, action. The action is to serve others, to help others. Not for any reward. No desire that others should say to you, on your face, or behind your back, that how good a person you are. Not for fame. The great philanthropist Edhi of Pakistan, in his early days, would take care of unclaimed dead bodies in the metropolis of Karachi. He would wash them, wrap them in coffin cloth, dig grave for them, say prayers, and bury them. His actions did not serve or help the dead person, but helped the society. He had compassion even for a dead man, who, in his opinion, deserved a decent burial.

Then, what is in it for you?

Several things. Firstly, it makes you feel good. Secondly, it helps the needy person. Thirdly, it helps society. Fourthly, others may be influenced by your example, and it may start a movement, which may benefit millions. Finally, if the motive behind your action is to please God, Who, in His infinite grace made it possible for you to do that action, and you thank God that He made it happen, then you may even realize God.

You have to understand that basically you do such things, because it makes you feel good. You are not sacrificing anything. Persons like Edhi, St Francis of Assissi, and mother Teresa of Calcutta are different from ordinary persons; they have or had innate, overpowering desire to help others. They are full of compassion. On more than one occasions, St Francis gave his own clothes to the destitute. He would kiss the wounds of lepers. Father Damien of Molokai lived with lepers in leper colony for nineteen years and died from leprosy.

Most, if not all, great mystics believe that God is in you. Therefore, if you serve another person, you are serving God, Who is in that person as well. May be, the great philanthropists I mentioned above, thought like that.

Gita, the Hindu scripture, advises us not to desire for the fruits of action, because then we will constantly worry about the results. This will feed into anxiety, attachment, and anger (if the results do not go our way). This humble mote, still at a lower plane, wants his actions to have good results.

What are the dangers of this path?

There are three problems: Firstly, it inflates the ego. Vanity is a great peril, even for advanced aspirants. One may start thinking that he is doing all these good things, whereas, the correct attitude should be that he/she is just a machine, God is the driver. Secondly, the person starts thinking that he is such a nice person. He starts doing good deeds, so that others may think highly of him. Thirdly, too much activity may lead into too little time for God. You may forget God. Construction of schools and hospitals, is good, but one may be treading on razor’s edge.

Sri Ramakrishna said, that you should pray, “O God, make my worldly duties fewer and fewer………I find that I forget Thee when I am involved in too many worldly activities. I may think I am doing unselfish work, but it turns out to be selfish.”

A final note. It is said that the path of action also leads to love for God

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

29. Types of paths, continued ( fourth installment ).....( afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest)

There are three practical points about the technique which, in my opinion, are quite important.

1. To practice meditation, you can sit in a comfortable chair. You do not have to assume lotus, or semi-lotus position. Lotus position has its advantages, but if you or old, or your joints are stiff, or you get pain, do not worry, just sit in a comfortable chair. Fully relaxed. No part of body should be under stress, otherwise, soon the position will become unbearable, and you will have pain. When you start, ask yourself this question; 'can I maintain this position for one or two hours?’

2. Back should be straight. Ideally it should not be supported by the chair. Too comfortable a chair will lead to sleep.

Why should the spine be straight? Because, after some practice, waves start moving up and down the spine. These are, so called, waves of kundalini or serpent power (see sidebar, "living with…”). Straight spine expedites the development and propagation of these waves. According to Sri Ramakrishna, the development of these waves is an essential precursor to enlightenment.

You can read about kundalini and different centers of body, called chakras, in books about yoga. I do not know enough about them (and do not care, because I follow the path of love for God), but erect spine, and the next instruction, does help.

3. Look slightly towards the center of the eyebrows, as if you have a squint, with eyes closed. After a while you will get throbbing or some other sensation at that point. Now you can stop looking at that point and just concentrate at that point. The new sensation will help you to concentrate at that point. This is, initially, a difficult practice, and an un-natural one, for the eyeballs, because both eyes are turned inwards (normally when one eye moves inwards, the other moves outwards). It produces strain on the eye muscles. One gets pain in the eyes, one falls sleep, and so on. But keep on doing it. It took this nothingness years to learn it. It helps in enhancement of floating or swinging sensation. If you cannot look towards the center, at least concentrate at that point.

I was always intrigued by this injunction, despite the fact, that Sri Yukteswar, the great guru of Swami Yogananda , had said somewhere, that you do not have to develop squint, while meditation ( or words to that effect ).

The reason I was intrigued was the fact, that Sri Ramakrishna, went into nirbikalpa Samadhi when he concentrated upon the center of eyebrows, at the instruction of Totapuri (see 22, fourth installment)

I, recently read, in Gita (see footnote), the most important of all Hindu scriptures, the following ( 8 :10):

"………………..with your mind completely stilled and your concentration fixed in the center of spiritual awareness between the eyebrows, you will realize the supreme Lord”

The Bhagvad Gita, translated by Eknath Easwaran

Thursday, December 4, 2008

28. Types of paths, continued (Third installment).....( afnta, afnta-questforallah, Allah, God, love for God, quest)

The path of wisdom or knowledge is extremely difficult. The spiritual aspirant tries to understand the majesty of God. During this process, he falls in love with God. He learns the purpose of the creation. He gets the answers to questions which have perplexed humanity for centuries.

This is a dry path. In the end, the path of wisdom and the path of love meet. In other words, an aspirant who realizes God through knowledge gets love for God, and an aspirant who loves God, now, also understands God and gets knowledge and wisdom.
Lord Buddha succeeded in realizing God through this path. Paul Brunton appeared to have followed this path. He has written several books, especially for Western audience, and has given practical details (see footnote) His guru, Maharishee Ramana, realized God, through this path, without any teacher.

I do not practice this path; therefore, I cannot give you the practical details. I tried to follow this path, initially, but failed, due to inability to stay awake during meditation. The theory behind this path is, as follows:

The aim is to realize one’s own self. This Self is hidden in the innermost recesses of one’s mind. To reach this Self, is extremely difficult, because one has to quieten one’s mind. One’s mind is constantly active and spinning thoughts. Except in deep, dreamless sleep, it is always active. Its nature is to be always active and make thoughts. Therefore, to stop one’s thoughts, in order for Self to emerge, is extremely difficult, and requires years of constant practice.

Why should one want to realize one’s inner Self? What good will that do? Is there any hidden, vast, mysterious, wisdom or knowledge present in that, so called, Self, which, the person himself, is not aware of? Is it reasonable to assume such a strange proposition? In other words, why should there be such hidden knowledge? Where did it come from? Why should this knowledge be different than the knowledge one accumulates, throughout one’s life, by learning through one‘s senses, since, one’s first breath in this world?

The answer to all these questions is, yes, yes, yes. The reason one wants to know one’s Self is, that the Self is akin (or made in the image of) to the Supreme Self (or God), which is present everywhere, both inside and outside us. In simple terms, God is within us.

There is no proof of it. It just is. To borrow an example from Aldous Huxley, “by looking at water there is nothing to suggest that it is made of two gases, but we just accept it as the truth. Under rigorous experimental conditions, water splits into hydrogen and oxygen”
(in, The perennial philosophy by Aldous Huxley )

Similarly, the great Masters have told us that after years of practice of meditation, aimed at focusing the mind on Self, one can silence one’s thoughts. If this state, which has aptly been named as ‘alert passivity’ is sustained for some time, a sort of vacuum is created in the mind. A practitioner of this art, Sudhei Babu, in Brunton’s book (see sidebar, ".........India" ) said; "…….God……..the soul, the higher power, shall I say, enters and fills that vacuum.”

Knowing one’s self was considered as important, in ancient times, in far-away ancient Greece, as in India and Far East. One of the two sayings of Oracle of Delphi (mentioned by Homer, in eighth century B.C ) was ‘Know Thyself’

1. The secret path by Paul Brunton
2. The perennial philosophy by Aldous Huxley