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 and so two posts will be dedicated to it!

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/)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

custom made

Verse 4.32: All these different types of sacrifice are approved by the Vedas, and all of them are born of different types of work. Knowing them as such, you will become liberated.

Over the past several verses, the Gita has outlined the various ways in which an individual can perform sacrifice. Whether it be by selectively exposing oneself to certain sound vibrations, not giving into every whim and fancy of the mind's demands, or practicing breath control, these are just some of the ways one can practice sacrifice.

What is amazing about the different options presented is that fact that:

Different types of sacrifice, as discussed above, are mentioned in the Vedas to suit the different types of worker...these sacrifices are so arranged that one can work either with the body, with the mind or with the intelligence. (Bg. 4.32 purport)

I love this primarily because it means there's something for everyone. This aspect of personalizing and custom-tailoring any practice is so attractive because it takes into account the fact that every living entity, what to speak of every person, is unique and special.

That's what bhakti is all about - addressing the fundamentals that unite all of us in a very personal way. In this case, the various options outlined for performing sacrifice speaks to the fundamental truth that we are all individuals. What works for someone else may not necessarily work for us. This is something we've all had first hand experience of!

I first discovered this when I was going to school. The way in which the majority of school systems are set up are targeted to a certain type of individual - one that can copy down endless notes and excel when placed in exam environments. But what about those who learn visually? Or those who learn tactically? Or those who cannot handle exam situations? The list can go on and on. Thankfully educators are understanding this more and more and the hope is that in the future there will be programs to address this need.

Bhakti yoga has addressed and continues to address this need to craft a personalized program according to the nature and inclination of a person. It does so not only in the arena of sacrifice but in all the various components that serve to comprise the practice of being able to serve with love and gratitude.

It reminds me of a quote which I'll end with today. Something that captures this essence and always fills me with a sense of hope and inspiration:

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

sacrifice...is the key to happiness?

Verse 4.31: O best of the Kuru dynasty, without sacrifice one can never live happily on this planet or in this life: what then of the next?

It's been awhile since I've written my last post and I'd like to extend my apologies to everydaygita's regular readers. Although it wasn't intentional, this break from writing has filled with me more experiences of seeing the Gita in action. That said, you would think that I would be bubbling over with words and that the greatest challenge I would be facing right now is to stop myself from writing a 10 page essay!

Instead, I'm finding it hard to shake off the cobwebs that form whenever I stop writing and quite confronting to stare at the blinking courser which seems to be taunting me to come up with the right words.

At this moment, I can totally relate with the subject of sacrifice!

Writing on the Gita always brings me a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness. As opposed to just reading some words, appreciating them for a few minutes and then forgetting about them, writing compels me to personalize and internalize the Gita's teachings. In short, it forces me to use my intelligence!

All of us discover new connections and experience new realizations frequently. But if you're anything like me, it's easy to forget them if they are not written down immediately. The process of capturing those feelings and emotions in an articulate manner leaves a lasting effect.

But to get there requires sacrifice. For me, it's the sacrifice of reading the Gita, introspecting on the meaning, praying for realizations, and setting aside time to journal them here.

It's a pretty simple yet apt analogy for illustrating how sacrifice is required to achieve happiness. For those who long for eternal happiness, the same formula holds true - it too requires sacrifice, and as the bhakti yoga texts explain, requires that we understand a couple of things:

1. The happiness that we experience when we are live in the mind-set of "I am this body" is temporary. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just not ever-lasting.

2. To experience ever-lasting happiness, we have to realize that we are the soul and not this body. That comes by associating with those persons who have already realized this (i.e. advanced bhakti yogis) and engaging in the practice of mantra meditation which helps us to re-connect with our souls.

3. Eternal happiness requires that we sacrifice temporary happiness. But just like writing, the process is not painful. It may a bit uncomfortable when we begin, but as it becomes more consistent, the process itself is blissful.

So whether you are looking for happiness in certain aspects of your life or are looking for the ultimate, everlasting kind, just remember one thing. The process of sacrificing may seem uncomfortable or even painful at first, but give it some time. You may be surprised to realize that sacrifice itself can be blissful.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

a new year...time for re(new)ing commitments?

Verse 4.30: All these performers who know the meaning of sacrifice become cleansed of sinful reactions, and, having tasted the nectar of the results of sacrifices, they advance toward the supreme eternal atmosphere.

The New Year often brings a sense of fresh beginnings. It's a time to introspect, make new resolutions or perhaps re-commit to old ones.

In order to make good on resolutions, promises and vows, it requires steadiness of mind. As we've discussed before, the mind can be a little crazy (to put it mildly)! It possesses the characteristic of chanchala which is the sanskrit word for flickering or moving rapidly. And that, my friends, is the problem many of us face when trying to stick to any promises we make.

Although we may have the best of intentions to stick to our commitments, it's difficult when we reside 24/7 with a tenant, the mind, who is constantly accepting and rejecting various thoughts and ideas. Notice how when first making a resolution or promise, you feel strong and focused? It's because at that moment, the mind may be accepting of it. However, as time wears on, the the sacrifices one may need to make to keep that commitment becomes more apparent.

Therein lies our problem. At that intersection when our commitment is standing in the way of something else that we desire, the mind can act as our worst enemy. If it controls us, our determination wanes and our resolve weakens to stick to our word. That's because the mind is always seeking out ways and ideas to please the senses, not the heart or soul. We are placed in a predicament because our senses seek pleasure which is often temporary and our commitments often require postponing that immediate pleasure.

Although it's an example that's been used before, we'll use it again just because it illustrates this point so beautifully. Resolving to work out more frequently is often a commitment that is renewed around this time of year. For the first few days, weeks or even months, this may seem pretty easy to maintain. However, as time wears on, it's the mind that often gets in the way. "But that cupcake is just so delicious, just a mini one can't hurt," it'll cajole. Then suddenly some unexpected projects fall onto our plate and the mind may say "Impossible to go to the gym, just see all the work you have to finish. And you can't work without eating, so eat what you want!" So tricky is the mind that it's often hard to realize what's happening! It provokes one to ask, "How can I control it or at the very least steady it?"

Integral to the practice of yoga is mantra meditation. By focusing on powerful sound vibration, it helps to calm the mind. Even better is if one incorporates mantra meditation as part of a regular practice. Whether it be two minutes a day or two hours, the effects are powerful. It is the most practical way to steady the mind and costs nothing except a small investment of time.

So go ahead and make new commitments and/or renew old ones! Now you know the secret for ensuring success!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

anniversary special

Today marks the celebration of the day the Bhagavad-gita was spoken. It's a day when lovers of the Gita will sing its 700+ verses, reflect on the impact this great bhakti text has had on their lives and even give it as a gift to those who may not have a copy.

On a personal note, this day marks a year since I started this blog. :) I'll be honest - when I first began, I was writing primarily for myself. It was a therapeutic medium by which I could chronicle my thoughts and feelings and view it through the lens of the Gita. Never did I expect that this blog would create opportunities to meet people and develop friendships with individuals from all over the world whose curiosity, comments and encouragement have inspired me so much. To all those who have followed the journey so far (and will hopefully continue to do so!) - you have my deepest gratitude.

Writing on the Gita has brought it to life for me. It's taught that me that it's not just enough to read it as an observer but to experience it. And know what? It's amazing how easy it is to do so. After all, haven't we all felt some degree of despair and hopelessness, what to speak of struggled with discriminating between right and wrong, at some point in our lives? That's exactly what Arjuna goes through at the beginning of the Gita.

Arjuna's internal crisis reveals to us to that happiness and peace of mind is not attained through the externals. It can only be attained when we actually realize that we are spiritual beings having a material experience. Knowledge is not enough, as Arjuna finds out. To theoretically accept "I am the soul" is one thing, but to live our lives in that space is very different.

That is where the practicality of the Gita's guidance becomes strikingly apparent. It not only provides insightful knowledge but explains how to live our lives as spiritual beings at every moment.

On this special anniversary, I'd like to close by leaving you with one of my favorite verses of the Gita which serves to always put things in perspective for me and would like to invite you to leave yours in the comments below!

"O son of Kuntī, the non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed." Bhagavad-gita 2.14

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

take a breath

Verse 4.29: Still others, who are inclined to the process of breath restraint to remain in trance, practice by offering the movement of the outgoing breath into the incoming, and the incoming breath into the outgoing, and thus at last remain in trance, stopping all breathing. Others, curtailing the eating process, offer the outgoing breath into itself as a sacrifice.

Extensive personal experience has revealed to me that taking deep, calming breaths can be the best thing to do when faced with any type of trying situation. Whether it be a heated argument, feeling out of place, becoming internally frustrated or even trying to curtail one's speech, it's amazing what breathing can do.

On a practical level, it calms one down. Now, it may not happen immediately, especially if one's emotions and feelings are quickly simmering, but by taking the time out to breathe, especially long and controlled breaths, the focus moves from the situation we face to the act of inhaling and exhaling.

In fact, my observation is that challenging situations result in me taking very short and shallow breaths. By consciously taking long and deep ones, the added benefits are numerous. More oxygen enters the body, one's attention is diverted to something else, and it just forces us to take some much needed time out.

That's why pranayama (control of the breathing process) is part of the yoga practice. Just as practicing different asanas (physical postures) help one to keep the body in healthy, working order, the breath has a huge effect not only on our body but on the mind as well.

This is one of the main reasons why I personally love the Gita so much. Not only is it practical but it answers a wide range of questions. From giving advice on how we can react positively to provoking situations to how we can find true happiness (and everything in between!), there's an answer to everything.

So the next time you feel yourself starting to lose it, take a breath. Taking that time out even for a few seconds or minutes could potentially give you a whole new perspective on the situation.