By Parveen Chopra
To be spiritual is to live each moment in intense communion with life, a union that requires sloughing off layers of identity and conditioning until you reach a void by attainingsamadhi.
It involves repeating the mantra selected by your TM teacher. The mantra gets increasingly refined and acts as a vehicle for the inward journey of the mind. Eventually, both mantra and thoughts are transcended, leaving pure consciousness.
Popularized by Osho, it starts with 10 minutes of deep chaotic breathing. For the next ten minutes, there is screaming, crying, jumping, dancing, whatever. The next stage is jumping and shouting ‘Hoo’ loudly. Then STOP right there. Be absolutely still for the next 10 minutes.
The Sufi Way
Murakabah is meditating under the master’s guidance. In zikr you repeat a mantra-like formula. Qawwali produces a state of ecstasy through music. The dervish dance induces a loss of lower self-consciousness.
Popularized by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, mindfulness means being aware from moment to moment.
Rediscovered by Swami Satyananda, founder of the Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, you begin by rotating your consciousness through different parts of your body, relaxing each. Follow this by feeling polar opposites such as heaviness and lightness. The last segment is a set of visualizations.
Rediscovered by Acharya Tulsi, Preksha awakens your discrimination, thereby controlling passions and purifying emotions.
Meditation : The New Mantra
By Parveen Chopra
Meditation is finally coming home after spreading its message all over the world. Today, tens of techniques are available off-the-shelf. ‘Interest in meditation has picked up in the past three to four years,’ agrees Swami Chaitanya Keerti, former editor of Osho Times, published by the Osho commune, Pune.
What is also new is that the latest converts are the urban educated. Surprisingly too, most converts to the contemplative practices of Buddhism, a melancholic religion to the nonbeliever, are the elite and the intellectual.
Meditation is even studded with glamour. Shabana Azmi, Kavita Lalitaji’ Chowdhry and Bishen Singh Bedi have all done the grueling 10-day vipassana meditation course. Says Bedi: ‘Out of the world! Absolutely fantastic!’
Stress management is influencing the corporate sector’s receptivity to meditation. Companies that have institutionalized meditation include the Godrej group, Lupin Laboratories, Ayodhya Paper Mills and the Nagarjuna and Alacrity groups. At Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd, Delhi, regular sessions of the Jain system of preksha dhyan are held. An in-house study revealed that 75 per cent of the practitioners reported a reduction in anxiety, improvement in relationships and enhanced enthusiasm for work and life.
Meditation is also finding use as a therapeutic tool in medicine. A growing number of up market hospitals are using it as a complementary therapy. In Delhi, Dr Bimal Chhajer has started the Saaol heart program to reverse heart disease through meditation (preksha dhyan), diet and lifestyle choices.
Meditation is also being used to treat behavioral and psychiatric problems. In Mumbai, Dr Rajendra Chokani, a psychiatrist at the Sunflower Nursing Home, uses vipassana for his patients and claims a success rate of 80 per cent.
The wide acceptance of meditation is due to its proven benefits. Deep relaxation releases stress, unblocking energy and creativity. Longtime practitioners show increased productivity at work and score better on personality development and self-actualization scales. Did you say ‘yes’ to meditation? Chances are everyone around you is.
All that lives is Holy
By Amit Jayaram
An aghori lives in a cremation ground and cooks his food on the funeral pyre, before which he also meditates. His begging bowl is a male human skull. He eats and drinks anything, even his own urine and faeces and human flesh. The loincloth is his only garment, he smears his body and matted locks with ashes from the funeral pyre. He uses dead men’s shrouds for bedding. He is a devotee of Shiva, also known as Aghora (‘not terrible’). He turns dharma on its head; if all life is Brahman, all is divine.
After being ceremonially initiated with liquor, food collected from the lower castes and a secret mantra, the initiate doesmaun sadhana (silent meditation) for 41 days in a cremation ground. After this, he awakens his inner light through the ritual of alakha jagana. As his inner energy focuses, he spontaneously calls ‘alakha‘ even as his body shudders uncontrollably.
Generally nomadic, aghoris rarely frequent one cremation ground for more than six months. Along with their skull bowl, they often carry a bell that they ring while chanting Lord Shiva’s names.
This path of walking the razor’s edge is not for everyone. What is it that leads some to live lives of such severe penance, of such bizarre practices when more moderate paths are at hand? They say there are as many paths as there are seekers. Even in this mystical land of India, few choose this arduous way to the divine.
There are some eternal lessons to be learned from aghoris. Surely death, decay and decomposition are as integral to existence as love, life and laughter. To feel this deeply, to transcend fear and disgust as much as greed and anger, to feel that all that lives is holy, as does the aghori, must be truly ennobling.
The Journey Inward
By Suma Varughese
Transformation, most thinkers agree, begins with restlessness. If this restlessness converts into a quest, it can lead to a revelation-that split-second parting of the mind’s veil that flashes a vision of the sought-after goal. Transformation is the slow, steady infusion of that vision into reality. It means moving from seeing anew to being anew.
The tools of transformation are awareness and acceptance. We can only change what we are aware of, and we can only change when we accept it. Once acceptance is won, awareness can effect a change, in much the same way as the sun dissolves the morning mist.
As we move beyond the conditioning that determined our thoughts, words and actions, we become increasingly aware of being whole and perfect. Freed of the need for fronts, we become who we are.
In time, fear dissolves, helped by our growing sense of self, and above all, by an increasing trust in the universe. Freedom from conditioning frees us to see life as it is.
As we take responsibility for our actions and spin away from the orbit of others’ control, we taste the freedom of being our own master. Simultaneously, this generates respect for the freedom of others, which we now see as a fundamental right.
As we learn to leave behind selfish concerns, we begin to focus on the larger world. A sure sign that our growth is maturing is an ability to transcend dichotomies; we become childlike and mature, playful and serious, loving and detached, flexible and firm.
We are now well into the transformation process. Expect change to speed up, bringing us to the domain of surrender.
Here, we let go of all personal concerns. Trusting and loving life and the universe completely, we allow life to live us, rather than the reverse. Having penetrated the layers of our own identity, we merge into the Universe. This is samadhi, the region of Sat, Chit, Ananda—existence, consciousness, bliss—attributes of the Creator. But even this is not the end. That occurs when, letting go of even the Creator’s identity, we plumb the void of consciousness.
The journey is done. We are home.
A Journey Within The Self is the chronicle of Deepa Kodikal’s astonishing spiritual adventures. They range from a union with Krishna and Shiva, a state she describes as ‘divine intercourse’, to witnessing Vishwarupa, the nature of the universe. Kodikal didn’t just see all this, she was all this. ‘I saw in a tremendous flash that—my God! I am the Lord!’
‘The Lord,’ says she, ‘has perfect segmented awareness, as also universal awareness. He is aware of what each being thinks, talks, knows, tastes, hears and smells, individually and collectively.’
The nature of the Lord is the nature of man, affirms Mumbai-based Kodikal. She describes her present state as ‘beautiful’. ‘There’s a constant sense of worship of life.’
Sharon Clarke Sequeira
‘I moved into spirituality via maudlin and motherhood,’ says Sharon Clarke Sequeira, a Miss India runner up in 1985.
Sharon has been a seeker since age 14, when Jesus Christ appeared to her and told her to move within. This was the beginning of a path that synthesized Christian thought and Indian spiritual practice. Her guide is Dr Jayant Balaji Athawale, an auto-hypnotist and founder of the Sanatana Bharatiya Sanskriti Sanstha, which approaches spirituality scientifically.
Chanting ‘Hail Mary’ for two years (members are encouraged to chant the name of the deity they believe in) yielded dramatic dividends. Few events or people upset her now, anger seldom arises and she has transcended her extended love affair with food that had sent her weight soaring.
Mahadev Mangela once settled all disputes with his fist. Today, he says: ‘From wanting to hurt, I’ve turned to healing. Now I realize the other is not the other, he is my brother.’ The vehicle for his transformation is the Swadhyaya philosophy, which preaches the concept of the God within as the source of kinship between all mankind.
Through this noble philosophy, Mahadevbhai has flowered into an orator, poet, administrator and leader. He is also a key lieutenant of Swadhyaya. However, the most revolutionary change for this son of illiterate fisher folk has been his conversion to a priest, well versed with the Vedic rites for marriage, birth and death.
On the threshold of his first bhakti pheri (devotional tour) to South Africa, he says: ‘Dadaji (founder Pandurang S. Athawale) made me export quality.’
By Eugene Davis
To be healthy, happy and in the flow of good fortune we need to be spiritually awake and in harmony with life. This can happen only when we choose lifestyle routines that enable us to have the support of nature’s life-enhancing influences, including practices that illumine the mind and allow innate qualities to unfold.
We can help ourselves by our actions. The Cosmic Mind, in which the universe resides, provides us with circumstances, events, relationships, and resources to support our constructive endeavors and make fortunate outcomes possible.
Exercise your creative imagination. Envision yourself to be physically and psychologically healthy, happy, creatively functional, prosperous and spiritually enlightened.
Think about the possibilities available. If you were enlightened, how would you feel? What kind of relationships would you have? With these insights, begin to live like an enlightened person.
Self-care routines can include activity, rest and exercise and a natural, wholesome diet that is preferably vegetarian. Exercise routines may include hatha yoga or tai chi.
Meditate for physical and psychological health and progressive spiritual growth. Schedule 15 to 20 minutes once or twice a day to meditate. Your thoughts will be more orderly, emotions will be calmed and the body’s immune system will be strengthened. You will be more alert and will have energy to live effectively.
Choose a word or phrase as a mantra. ‘God’, ‘Om’, ‘peace’, ‘joy’ are suitable. Sit upright with spine and neck erect. With closed eyes, look slightly upwards, through the place between your eyebrows and be aware. Then do the following:
• Pause for a few minutes to be centered and relaxed.
• When inhaling or exhaling, mentally listen to your chosen word.
• Continue listening to your chosen word until it ceases to manifest and you are established in a thoughtless, tranquil state.
• When concluding, open your eyes and be still for a few moments.
Immediately after meditation is an ideal time to write in a journal. You may also want to devote a few minutes to pray for others or find solutions to problems.
To experience higher consciousness states, meditate longer and more deeply. After a few months, extend your daily session to 30 minutes or an hour. When the intellect is purified, exceptional powers can be demonstrated. When intuition is unveiled, the truth can be directly known. When awareness of our true nature is no longer obscured, we are Self-realized. When we are permanently established in Self-realization and impervious to external influences, we are liberated.
A Woman’s Way
By Deepti Priya Mehrotra
Spirituality connects many different realities, like a bridge. As I allow spiritual currents to enter my life, I find myself stretching, embracing opposites. I feel a sense of personal growth, and deep gratitude.
For women, typically, spirituality is not only otherworldly. It is as much about the body, relationships and work, as it is about soul and spirit. Janet Chawla, a specialist in women’s health and religio-cultural traditions, talks about her unease when a Buddhist teacher referred appreciatively to people who had left their families in response to the inner call. ‘This is very objectionable in a world where children are being abandoned for all sorts of reasons,’ she says.
During 1993-94, I was part of the Delhi-based Forum for Women and Religion. Here, we explored spirituality from women’s perspective. These discussions became the starting point for a re-evaluation of my own skepticism. I saw that my rejection of religion was essentially a reaction to dogmas, arrogance and distortions that have crept into organized religions.
I also noticed tremendous arrogance in the modern view of the human being as all-powerful in a way that pits him against nature, against other human beings, and against the humane, emotional, intuitive and spiritual parts of his own self. I began to understand that empowerment comes from an acceptance of the boundless potential of the human self.
Madhu Khanna, a scholar of tantric traditions, says: ‘Feminine energy is central to tantric understanding. This energy has many aspects, benign as well as fierce. In tantra, the yoni (vagina) is energized and worshipped.’
Female power here denotes balance. In her book Passionate Enlightenment —Women in Tantric Buddhism, Miranda Shaw writes that a large number of women like Dombiyogini, Sahajayogicinta, Lakshminkara, Mekhala, Kankhala Gangadhara, Siddharajni, and others, were respected yoginis (female yoga exponents) and advanced seekers on the path to enlightenment.
According to anthropologists, it was women who adapted plants for daily nutrition, medicine and agriculture and made the first homes. Ancient goddess-worshipping cultures gave way, in different parts of the world, to belief systems in which God, or the godhead, reigns supreme. In her book Devi and the Spouse Goddess, historian Lynn A. Gatwood shows that when female status declined characteristics of goddesses also changed.
Documentary filmmaker Saba Dewan comments on some Banda women she met: ‘Shanti had been beaten by her husband and in-laws. Yet, by her own definition, Shanti is not a victim; she is ‘the chosen one’ who has stood by her beliefs and accepted the consequences of doing so. Coming from a privileged class, we are arrogant because we can negotiate the world. But here was another world, which I lacked the skills to understand. For me, spirituality became a bond with something bigger than one’s self.’
Ritika, one of four women who started the Gnostic Center in New Delhi that is consecrated to the vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, says: ‘Spirituality deals with One Reality, the Divine, which is genderless.’
Yet, organized religions often privilege the male persona. Ma Jnanananda, a well-known guru, dismisses traditions that regard women as unsuitable for spiritual initiation. Says she: ‘When the male and female completely complement each other in the same individual, the soul is fully realized.’ Spirituality, then, is one way for a woman to celebrate her femininity and yet go beyond it. Free to be a woman and simultaneously free of it too.
Vipassana – Ascent of Dhamma
By Suma Varughese
Satya Narayan Goenka, responsible for bringing vipassana, a 2,500-year-old technique, back to its land of origin, defines it as ‘the development of insight (‘vipassana’ is insight in Pali) into one’s own nature by which one may recognize and eliminate suffering.’
Taught by the Buddha, vipassana disappeared from India 500 years after his death, but was preserved by masters in Burma. Goenka’s program is rigorous to say the least. No participant is allowed to leave until the end of the 10- day course. All stimuli in the form of reading, writing and talking are forbidden. After a delicious vegetarian lunch at 11:30 a.m., there is nothing but tea and fruits at 5 p.m. The meditation is grueling-almost 10 hours daily.
The first three days are spent in anapana-sati, watching one’s breathing patterns by concentrating on the triangular space between the upper lip and the nostrils. On the fourth day, the tethered mind is harnessed upon the task of studying the subtle sensations within the body-heat, cold, pain, itching, throbbing. This is the heart of the meditation. After three days of anapana-sati, meditators are asked to move their attention systematically through every part of the body without unduly dwelling upon any sensation, pleasant or otherwise. Finally, you stand at the edge of a breakthrough, the region where the body and mind are seen as vibration arising and disappearing ceaselessly.
Thus, you experience the impermanence of matter, leading to an understanding of the futility of attachment.
Elaborates Goenka: ‘There is no sectarianism in the technique from beginning to end. We can’t say that respiration (or sensation) is Hindu or Muslim, Christian or Buddhist. The whole path of dhamma is a path to make us good human beings. It is a way of life, an art of living.’
An important part of vipassana is Metta meditation where the meditator bestows the merits of his effort upon the world. Most courses get rapturous responses when they are over. But in the case of vipassana, about 35 per cent repeat the course, testifying to its lasting impact. For householders like you and me, vipassana offers a chance to keep on hold all distractions of everyday life and keep an appointment with ourselves. Personally, I can’t wait to do it.
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