August 2014 Q&A with Swami Shraddananda Giri and Swami Sarvapriyananda, both of who will be speaking at the first Life Positive Expo in Kolkata on August 23-24, 2014 “Realizationmust be lived.” – What inspired you to move into spirituality? I suppose you could say it was samskaras – tendencies towards spiritual life which I had from childhood which finally culminated in the decision to become a monk – a person completely committed to spiritual life. What would you say are your key insights about life? Spirituality is the core of life. With spirituality, life is meaningful. Spirituality must be expressed in life – in our daily thoughts, speech and actions. Realization must be lived. How much has the presence of a guru and being part of an organization helped you in your search? I think a spiritual guide and a community of spiritual seekers is essential for most of us. Sri Ramakrishna often emphasised the importance of ‘sadhu sanga’ – holy company. I know that I have benefitted immensely from being in the monastic order to which I belong, and the blessings of my guru sustain my spiritual life today. Would you say these are essential to the search, or can people find their way to God even without them? I would say that a guru is essential. ‘Doing it alone’ is often a sign of an immature ego. If you are seriously interested in spiritual life, wouldn’t you take all the help that is available? Every human being is in search of happiness. What advice do you have for them? Look for happiness in oneness, not separation. Look for happiness in unselfishness, not self-seeking. Look for happiness in strength, not weakness. And look for happiness in the permanent, not the impermanent. The path can often appear never-ending and impossible. How can we sustain our efforts? The traditional farmer keeps on farming regardless of good or poor harvests, rain or drought. Thus should one pray, meditate, work and study in the path of the spirit. Make up your mind that God-realisation (or Self-realisation, whatever term suits you) is your one and only ultimate goal, and then nothing else will matter. What are the traps and hurdles that a seeker should be wary of? Confusion, distraction, desire – these are the obstructions. The Sanskrit terms are ajnana, viksepa and vasana. And the remedies are jnana, dhyana and nishkama karma, respectively. In your own journey, what tools or techniques did you find most valuable? There are basically four practices which are central. Jnana yoga (the path of spiritual knowledge), bhakti yoga (the path of devotion), karma yoga (the path of selfless work), and raja yoga (the path of meditation). These are all methods to realise one’s inherent spiritual nature. One can easily see that the first three yogas deal with the cognitive, affective and conative (capacity to act on thoughts and feelings) domains of psychology. Spirituality is becoming frontline today. Why do you think this is so? The spread of affluence, increasing levels of education and awareness, the benefits of science and technology, the availability of information over the net – all these mark our age. And with all of these, we are still far from being happy. Hence people are looking towards spiritual solutions to modern challenges. What lies ahead for the human race? God only knows! Greater spiritual awareness and action, I hope, expect and pray! What must the seeker do today to help humanity? We must first and foremost cultivate a deep reservoir of spiritual strength, wisdom and peace within ourselves and then direct it outwards. Spirituality is finding peace within when you close your eyes in meditation, and when you open your eyes to the world, your attitude is, ’What can I do for you?’ What have been your own struggles and learnings along the path? I have learned that the spiritual life is true – I have seen truly great spiritual practitioners, very saintly persons. I am convinced that the spiritual life is the most worthwhile of all pursuits. And learnings – well, there are so many! It’s best to depend on God in all matters – that is one great learning! “Life is a school” Every difficult circumstance is an opportunity to move ahead spiritually, says Swami Shraddhananda Giri, editor-in-chief of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India Swami Shraddhanandaji, a member of the Board of Directors of Yogoda Satsanga Society, is also in-charge of the spiritual guidance of the sannyasis. What inspired you to move into spirituality? A school friend introduced me to spirituality. Reading spiritual literature, and practising whatever I could, the recognition gradually dawned on me that complete knowledge of any part of the material universe is not possible through any of the material sciences. Also, I felt that only spirituality can give answers to life’s ultimate questions, such as who am I, and what is the purpose of life. What would you say are your key insights about life? Life is a school. We come to the Earth to learn lessons from our experiences. We get only those circumstances that have the potential to help us grow spiritually. We need to pass the tests we face. Trying to run away from them is not a solution; it only postpones our struggle to learn, overcome, become victorious, and progress — till we fully understand the purpose of life, experience ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss, and reach the goal of Self-realisation. How much has the presence of a guru and being part of an organisation helped you in your search? The help I have received from my guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, has been and continues to be invaluable. Paramahansaji wrote to one of his disciples, “You must never lose courage….I shall ever be with you and…guard you from all harm….I shall not only ever forgive you, but ever lift you up no matter how many times you fall.” Sri Gyanamata, Paramahansaji’s greatest woman disciple, wrote to him, “Glory to him who permits me to call him my Guru, without whom I could not possibly succeed in this work [meditation], with whom I cannot possibly fail.” A true guru deeply loves his disciple, knows what is best for him, has the capacity to help, and is always inwardly with his disciple. This I have experienced. The organization my guru established in 1917, has been the channel for me to receive his teachings through the Yogoda Satsanga Lessons, and through the personal guidance of his senior monastic disciples. After I became a monk in 1976, I have the continuous company, in my brother monks, of earnest truth seekers who have renounced the world for personal spiritual evolution and selfless service. The daily routine we follow includes individual meditations in the wonderful ashram environment, group meditations several times each day, and regular classes on his teachings. It is like living in heaven! Would you say these are essential to the search or can people find their way to God even without them? In my understanding, a guru is essential for all except perhaps the greatest souls. If one wants to be proficient in any field, training under an expert who is deeply committed to the student is necessary. That teacher not only guides by his knowledge or expertise, but also takes upon himself the responsibility of enabling the student to know all that he knows. A true guru has already reached the Ultimate Goal, and has the capacity to help others to get there. Regarding organisation, Paramahansaji’s guru, Swami Sri Yukteswarji asked him to create the hive of organisation and fill it with the honey of God communion. Paramahansaji’s organisation publishes his Yogoda Satsanga Lessons, books, as well as CDs of his talks, and other aids for meditation. It has created a supporting structure of over 200 dhyana kendras and mandalis throughout India, which provides opportunities for group meditation. Here the seeker has the company of other spiritual seekers during the time they are most spiritual, i.e., while they are making an intense inner effort to realise God. Therefore, I feel that in order that more than just a few persons benefit from the guru and his teachings, some system for making spiritual help available is essential. Every human being is in search of happiness. What advice do you have for them? Happiness that is temporary is not true happiness. Happiness should be sought within, not only in external accomplishments. Performing our worldly duties, and doing what we can for helping ourselves, our family, and others, is good and necessary. But, without inner joy, it won’t provide deep and lasting fulfilment. The path can often appear never-ending and impossible. How can we sustain our efforts? The spiritual path leads to the highest possible goal. Naturally, it may sometimes seem long and arduous. We could try to enjoy the journey and find contentment in the knowing that effort is progress. If we are making a spiritual effort, we are getting closer to the Ultimate Goal, and we will ultimately get there. From time to time we will clearly see that we are not the same as we were some years ago — we react to difficult situations with greater maturity, insight, and equanimity. The practice of scientific meditation techniques gives the meditator a personal experience of some aspect(s) of God, such as peace, joy, love, wisdom, light, the primordial sound of Aum, energy, and the beauty or glory of God. This experience motivates the seeker to continue with his efforts. What are the traps and hurdles that a seeker should be wary of? Perhaps the biggest trap is getting enamoured by or drawn to phenomenal “spiritual” experiences or to extraordinary powers, instead of recognising that the goal is the vibrationless Noumenon
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