Wednesday, April 1, 2015

who do you serve?

Verse 4.38: In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has become accomplished in the practice of devotional service enjoys this knowledge within himself in due course of time.

The quest to figure out who were are and what we are meant to do is one that many have embarked on. Perhaps you are on this very quest yourself.

For some people, its a journey they've been on since childhood. For others it's one that they have embarked on later in life. Perhaps, like me, these questions started occupying your mind towards the end of high school when you felt pressured to choose a major in University.

The Gita provides the answer for all of us.

We are spiritual beings (having a material experience) and we are meant to serve.

The answer is so simple and elegant. Know what the best part is?

It is applicable to everyone regardless of gender, nature or culture.

Personally, I have always struggled with "what it is I'm meant to do". The Gita's answer that we are meant to serve is a powerful one for two reasons:

1. It isn't prescriptive. It takes into account that everyone has different natures and inclinations.

2. It indicates that consciousness behind an action is more important than the action itself.

When speaking about service, the Gita is defining it as a mood, intention and attitude. It's not the service we receive as part of a business transaction but rather the understanding that everything we do is in service of something or someone and is done with a particular intention/consciousness. Whether we realize it or not, the thing we serve most is often our own minds!

For this week's challenge, we invite you to stop once a day to ask the question "who am I serving?" before doing something. It's a powerful question and the answer might surprise you!

Friday, March 27, 2015

ask yourself "why?"

Verse 4.37: As a blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities.

Motivation. It's the hidden catalyst behind everything we do. Whether we acknowledge those reasons or turn a blind eye to them, the fact remains, we are motivated beings.

Those motivations lead us to act which naturally bring some type of result; that is essentially what karma is all about.

This verse, however, indicates that there is a missing component to the karma equation. That component is intention.

The difference between motivation and intention is a subtle, but an important one. Whereas motivations deals with the reason or willingness to do something, intention reflects a specific purpose or attitude in performing an action.

It is the intention behind our actions that deems whether any karma is associated with it. An action in and of itself is neither good or bad. It is neutral. It is our intention that colours it.

Today's verse highlights the power of intention.

It also encourages us to do the inner work that is necessary. This begins by taking a good look at our motivations. Although we can try to change our intention without looking into our motivations, it can, sometimes be premature. Looking into the reasons why we do things, forces to face what we are looking for, whether it be validation, power, security, love, etc.

Personally, it is something I struggle with on a daily basis since it can be extremely confronting and disheartening. It's much more convenient to turn a blind eye to our motivations.

But turning a blind eye handicaps us. When we see the reason why we do things, we become aware of not only ourselves but why we behave in certain ways with certain people. From there, we can start to tangibly work on transforming our intentions.

Every week now, we are challenging ourselves to practically apply the Gita in our lives. This week's challenge is to take five minutes out of your day to reflect on one action you took and ask yourself why you acted the way you did. Feel free to leave your observations in the comments below!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

"i'm doing" challenge update

On Sunday, we challenged ourselves and any other interested participants to the "I'm doing" challenge. That is, we invited everyone to transform one of your "I knows" to an "I'm doing".

As we're over mid-way through this week, I thought I'd share something that happened to me, even prior to hitting the publish button for Sunday's post. I was sitting in my room writing when one of my family member's called me down. Joining them in the foyer of our house I asked "What's up?" and was immediately greeted by the accusation "It's because of you we're going to be late!" Looking back in hindsight, it wasn't anything major; rather, it was just an expression of a dear one's frustration.

That said, it was unexpected. Immediately I got on the defensive and offered a legitimate explanation as to why I was not to blame. I was pretty worked up. There's little that bothers me more than being falsely accused of something.

As I walked back to my room, only then did I realize - I had already failed at my challenge! LOL.

I know better than to react when someone else is worked up and yet I did exactly that.

A simple example no doubt, but a powerful one. It left me with the realization that the practice of transforming knowing to doing requires one to be:

1) conscious at all times, and
2) willing to do the work, even if we don't want to.

In this case, I wasn't conscious and therefore didn't even realize the opportunity I had in front of me. In cases where I am conscious of the opportunity to "do" there is often a bigger hurdle and that's my ego. Often it prevents me from doing the right thing because the right thing doesn't provide me with immediate satisfaction.

How have you been finding the challenge? We'd love to hear your experiences and invite you to share in the comments below.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"i know!"

Verse 4.36: Even if you are considered to be the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.

Spiritual life begins with hearing; hearing from someone who walks their talk. The Gita refers to such persons as self-realized souls. Their words have impact on our hearts because of the power that comes along with practicing what you speak. It's through this hearing that we cultivate knowledge, and as this verse states, this knowledge is the vehicle by which one can begin their journey of self-discovery.

For those who have started that cultivation of spiritual knowledge, and especially those who continue to cultivate it year upon year, you'll know that the journey that doesn't end there. In fact, arguably, that could be the easy part -

Practical execution of said knowledge is often the most challenging part.

As I child, I would often say "I know!" In reply to almost any piece of advice or guidance that came from my parents. Want to know something funny? I haven't changed much! Although I may not say those words out loud as often anymore, I sure do think them! Whether it be when I'm listening to a class, reading a book, discussing an initiative with colleagues, or having a conversation with a loved one, my mind often screams "I know, I know!" in relation to any good advice, ideas or guidance that may be shared.

One thing I'm realizing more and more is this: Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether "I know" if I don't DO anything about it. As the saying goes,

If you don't use it, you lose it.

That knowledge which sits within us waiting to be used, will be lost if we don't act upon it. All the information we have stored regarding our spiritual life, relationships, work/career and being a good human being is at risk of being lost. That's serious! All that time and effort spent will amount to nothing!

The act of waking up early to engage in spiritual practices or minimizing our tendency to procrastinate when we get a project assigned to us at work is the hallmark of doing the real work. Knowledge is just one piece of the journey. You can't escape the work part!

I invite you to join me in challenging yourself this week to transform one of your "I knows" to an "I'm doing". Feel free to share your observations and realizations by leaving a comment. Wishing you good "doing"!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

mistaken identity

Verse 4.35: Having obtained real knowledge from a self-realized soul, you will never fall again into such illusion, for by this knowledge you will see that all living beings are but part of the Supreme, or, in other words, that they are Mine.

Ever been mistaken for someone else? How did you feel? I've been mistaken for someone else a few times and its normally resulted in an awkward/amusing encounter once I've let the other person know that I'm not who they think they are. It's often followed by an apology and sometimes even an explanation - i.e. Wow! Your hair looks just like my friend's.

Although its personally never happened to me, I've heard rare cases of people insisting that they are right, saying things like, "You have to be such and such person! You're trying to fool me!" I can only imagine the poor recipient of such words. I'm sure if that type of questioning and conversation carried on for sometime, the recipient could get frustrated and even angry.

Regardless of the circumstance, the point is that in the majority of cases, we are quick to correct if we are mistaken for someone else. It highlights how strongly attached we are to our identity and ensuring that we recognized appropriately.

In fact, it's rare that we question and ever think that we might not be who we think we are.

The Gita flips this illusion on its head. Think you are the mind, ego, intelligence or body? The Gita resoundingly answers "No! You are experiencing a case of mistaken identity!" The Gita proclaims, "You are the soul! A spiritual spark that is part and parcel of the Divine."

This central teaching of the Gita has the capacity to revolutionize our lives and is exemplified by a beautiful analogy given by the great bhakti-yogi Prabhupada. Once a man visited his friend who had a bird which lived in a bird cage. The man was very proud of his bird cage and took great pains to ensure it looked shiny and new. The friend, when entering this man's house remarked upon the bird cage and praised the man saying that it looked beautiful. He then asked, "What's that smell? What happened to the bird?" The man looked inside and was shocked to see that the bird inside his beautiful cage had died.

In this analogy, the bird is the soul and the cage the body. Often, emphasis is placed on maintaining the body to ensure its health, beauty and abilities, which are, no doubt, important. However, the Gita explains, solely focusing on the body can result in ignoring the precious cargo it carries inside - the soul.

The purpose of physical yoga is to ensure that the body is strong enough to engage in activities which serve to nourish the soul. Activities such as hearing, chanting, meditating, serving etc.

So take heed of the reminder that the Gita gives us: there's a soul inside all of us that's crying out for nourishment. Please make sure to remember to feed it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

earth day musings

Verse 4.34: Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.

Today's verse is one of the most important verses in the Bhagavad-gita.

This morning, I learned that today is Earth Day which I later on realized I had confused with Earth Hour! Deciding I needed to learn more, I found out that Earth Day is an annual event that is dedicated to holding worldwide events to promote support for environmental protection.

It got me thinking. Why do we, as inhabitants of this earth, need to be reminded to care about and encouraged to honour it? Shouldn't every day be Earth Day? My musings led me to recognizing that there is a great tendency to take things for granted. Despite the fact that the earth gives us everything we need to survive, how conscious are we of that in our day to day lives?

It's a theme I've started to recognize in my own life:

Although difficult at times, it’s important to recognize the actions we perform now, no matter how small, ultimately serve to form the foundation for our future reality

In this instance, the "celebration" of Earth Day should actually serve as an impetus to find ways to effect environmental changes on a daily basis since we are being subjected to the effects of our past actions. Those in North America will be able to commiserate since we just finished experiencing the winter that never wanted to end!

This theme is also a cornerstone for living a life of gratitude, or a life of bhakti. In order to help us foresee how our daily actions will paint our future reality, the Gita recommends that one approach and learn from a qualified teacher - specifically one who not only knows the path but lives the path. One of the reasons why is to help us become consciously grateful.

To act for the long term can be challenging since ultimately it doesn’t require just a change of habits but a change in consciousness. In order to change one’s consciousness or attitude, it requires that one becomes conscious or aware of what’s going on. That’s where guidance from one who lives a life of being conscious of their own actions is key. It’s said that to develop any good qualities, one needs to associate with persons who themselves have it. Becoming conscious of one’s actions is definitely a positive quality!

The natural result of appreciating the guidance of such teachers is gratitude. And when that gratitude starts to grow, one can't help but become conscious of it all the time. The end result is one becomes consciously grateful. It is that conscious gratitude that propels one to not just feel gratitude but act upon it.

In many ways, the earth itself acts as our teacher. So take a minute to think about her, appreciate all that she offers and think of how you can do something for her not just today, but everyday.

Monday, April 21, 2014

an alternative to "just do it!"

Verse 4.33: O chastiser of the enemy, the sacrifice performed in knowledge is better than the mere sacrifice of material possessions. After all, O son of Pṛthā, all sacrifices of work culminate in transcendental knowledge.

I read a beautiful blog post by a teacher today. He was speaking about how important school is, but not for the reasons a student might think. He spoke of how every mundane activity such as going to class, studying for an exam or listening to a teacher's advice actually has a much deeper meaning. In particular, when it came to discussing the need to study, he emphasized how it isn't the mark you get that's the "win". It's about taking advantage of of an opportunity to practice a life skill - that of sacrificing time and effort to master something that may seem impossible without succumbing to distractions, or worse yet the feeling of "I can't do it".

How fitting that it ties in so well with today's subject where Krsna is telling Arjuna that sacrifice performed in knowledge is a much better way to act! Or in other words:

Doing something with understanding is much better than just doing it

This may seem ridiculously intuitive to some, but I'll be the first to admit, I struggle with this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, society doesn't really encourage us to question and look deeper than what meets the eye. Secondly, if one does attempt to look deeper, in some cases that understanding may not come right away and could require an investment of time and effort and who wants to do that! In a world where we want things immediately, it doesn't satisfy persons such as myself.

That said, in those instances where I've sought to understand why I'm doing something before doing it, I've noticed that I get a much more holistic picture of life. No longer does that simple action stand separated from everything else, but instead I gain insight into how my actions in one area of my life can be reflective of those in another.

When I started writing, I didn't just start writing. I sat down and clearly figured out what I wanted to accomplish which was pretty simple - I wanted to share my own love and appreciation for the Gita in a way that made it practical and relevant to everyday life. Now, whatever I write, I filter through that lens and if it doesn't meet that intention, I don't publish it. This theme of practical and relevant has now seeped into all other spheres of my life. Whoever I speak to, whether it's giving a workshop or offering advice to a friend, practical and relevant has become my motto.

All of us do things on a regular, if not daily basis. But have you ever really asked yourself why you do it? If you haven't, I extend the invitation to you to ask. You might be surprised by what you find if you understand first and then act with that understanding.

(If you'd like to read the article I alluded to in the beginning, please find it here: http://affectiveliving.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/what-students-really-need-to-hear/)