By Suma Varughese
The search for enlightenment is what drives us, consciously or unconsciously. however, finding the right path is no easy matter for it has to suit our inclination, interest and temperament. while we can’t promise you a custom-made path, we give you the next best alternative—a compilation of 100 paths including 59 formal paths and 41 readers’ experiences to pick and choose from. happy seeking!
Zen is a system of Buddhist meditation that was adopted in Japan from about 1200 AD. It has evolved from the Indian dhyan or Chinese ch’an, and represents a blend of eastern mystical philosophies cultivated as a living tradition in the unique Japanese way of life. D.T. Suzuki, the earliest proponent of Zen in the West, defines Zen as a discipline of enlightenment, stating that everybody has the potential of awakening the Buddha and his teaching. This experience of awakening is called satori, which transcends thought. Zen is free of any creed, dogma or doctrine, and this freedom from fixed belief renders it truly spiritual.
Zen masters have devised a way of transmitting their teachings non-verbally through the device of completely nonsensical riddles called koans, which dramatically convey the limitations of logic and reasoning in mystical practice. Their irrational wording and paradoxical content make it impossible to solve them by thinking. They are designed to precisely stop the thought process and thus to make the student ready for the non-verbal experience of reality. Zen practice is mainly built around focusing the mind on the breath, a movement, or on an unchanging landscape such as a blank, white wall. The greatest importance is attached to zazen, or the sitting meditation, involving the correct posture and breathing to prepare the intuitive mind for the handling of the koan. This itself is seen as the active realisation of one’s Buddha nature; body and mind being fused into a harmonious unity.
Zen upsets all previous groundwork and leads to acquiring a new viewpoint that looks into the essence of things. It involves training the mind to become a perfect void with no thoughts in it. Its attainment marks a turning point in one’s life. An important characteristic of Zen is that there is absolute freedom, even from God. According to Suzuki, the characteristics of satori include irrationality, intuitive insight, authoritativeness, affirmation, sense of the Beyond, impersonal tone, feeling of exaltation and momentariness.
Enlightenment occurs in everyday affairs. Zen has enormous influence on the traditional Japanese way of life, including painting, calligraphy, gardening, serving tea, arranging flowers and martial arts. There is spontaneity, simplicity and total presence of mind. It involves not only perfection of technique, but real mastery, so that technique is transcended and the effort becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the unconscious. Eugen Herrigel’s Zen and the Art of Archery is a modern classic on this subject.
Vajrayana is probably the school of Buddhism that would seem, to a casual observer, to be most far removed from the original teaching of the Buddha. Literally ‘the diamond vehicle’, it is responsible for the incorporation of tantric practices into the Buddhist path. Speculated to have emerged out of Mahayana and tantric influences in Northwest India, from where it spread to Tibet and China and Japan, today it is mainly practised in Tibet.
Vajrayana’s uniqueness is in its ‘fast path’ to Buddhahood, that enables a person to reach nirvana in one’s present lifetime. This is unlike Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, both of which propagate a long and arduous path of meditation, with awareness and compassion, spread over innumerable lifetimes, before liberation can be attained.
Though it accepts the basic tenets of Buddhism and shares the same goal, Vajrayana includes various multiple deities, symbols, visualisations and complicated rituals, due to which it is known as the esoteric form of Buddhism. Mantras, mudras and mandalas (cosmic diagrams) form an integral part of the practice that is sometimes supposed to develop magic powers in the practitioner. The complex rituals, combined with the fact that there is no explicit reference for determining good from bad, means that Vajrayana can only be practised under a teacher. Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism has a rich history of venerable monks and lamas who are accepted as reincarnations of evolved beings such as the Bodhisattvas.
The Vajrayana Buddhist, as part of his training, studies various aspects of Theravada, Mahayana and tantric Schools. As a student, he is supposed to have attained the basic Buddhist qualities of morality, kindness and compassion, before advancing onto Vajrayana practices. The idea is that all situations can facilitate one’s spiritual awakening, and the student learns not to suppress energy, but to transform it.
Vajrayana Buddhists cultivate an optimistic view of the environment and other beings, and aim to develop these qualities themselves. Thus, instead of focusing on the negative aspects with a view to overcoming them, the seeker recognises and develops the positive side. At the same time, recognition and transformation of each particular negative defilement produces a particular corresponding wisdom.
Contact: website: buddhism.about.com
Trust your guru
Malati A. Rao, Hyderabad
I am one of the first few blessed students of Sri V.S.P. Tenneti Keshavamitra to take mastership of the Arkavidya. When I decided to have my first session, all my doubts started creeping in. I felt I would be depriving the students from Keshavamitra’s blessings. Keshavamitra’s passion and commitment to teach the great Arkavidya is unparalleled and inspiring too. His teachings are beyond mere passing of information or making people healers.
I expressed all these thought to my Guru. He simply replied: ‘Don’t worry, I will be with you. They will be blessed.’ I took this lightly and felt he was just being motherly. The days when I attended a session on February 14 and 15 in Hyderabad, he was in Bangalore.
I was nervous in the beginning but later, I was totally involved with the class. During the initiation when we were chanting the mantras, all of a sudden I felt that I was hearing my Guruji’s voice in my voice. First I thought it was my imagination, but after the initiation my husband, who is also a student of V.S.P. Tenneti and was attending the session, mentioned that he also heard Guruji’s voice and not my voice at the time of initiation. Other students also said they felt someone’s presence in the room.
In the evening, Guruji called up and told me that my session was good and he was present with me, when at the same time he was conducting a session in Bangalore miles away from Hyderabad. This taught me to have complete trust and accept unconditionally our Guru.
Ph: (040) 27427519
Soka Gakkai is a movement of lay Buddhists that originated in Japan. Following the teachings of the Nichiren School of Mahayana Buddhism, its philosophy reposes faith in every individual’s inherent ability to create value in their lives, while also enriching society. Buddhists of the Nichiren School believe in the ‘ultimate’ truth of the Lotus Sutra, believed to contain the loftiest teachings of the Buddha.
According to the Lotus Sutra, Buddhahood is not an external state attainable after death, but rather an elevation in an individual’s present life itself. Also known as the Human Revolution, Soka Gakkai followers believe such a way of living to be the only way to bring about permanent change in society, an idea best expressed in the words of the President of the Soka Gakkai International, Dr Daisaku Ikeda: ‘‘…the Soka Gakkai finds the noblest religious thought and philosophy in the individual life, the aggregate of which becomes the basis for a new and better society.’’
Makiguchi Tsunesaburo, the founder of the Soka Gakkai movement, held that happiness, which was the ultimate goal of each individual, could be attained through the teachings of Nichiren. He taught that the understanding of life depended upon the perception of truth (cognition) and evaluation (value). Cognition is empirical in nature while evaluation is subjective to the individual. Makiguchi’s successor Toda Josei stressed on religious practice as the path to individual salvation, which would ultimately lead to universal salvation. He advocated daimoku or chanting of nam myoho renge kyo and daigohonzon, the mandala composed by Nichiren.
Soka Gakkai philosophy is life affirming and humanistic. Not preaching specific rules of conduct, Nichiren Buddhism does enjoin upon its followers to respect all life and to discover the potential of their lives. Soka Gakkai adherents believe in creation—the transformation of possibilities into actualities—as an inherent aspect of life. They consider nam myoho renge kyo, to be the ultimate reality infusing all existence. An affirmation of the pledge to devote one’s life to the ultimate Law of the Universe, its chanting forms an integral part of the practice of Soka Gakkai. Followers affirm the possibility of Buddhahood for every human being through actualisation of one’s innate potentialities—the flowering of one’s Buddha nature. They also deepen their understanding of practice through the study of the Buddhist teachings. While members focus on their own spiritual growth, the Soka Gakkai movement is dedicated to a better society through peace, education and culture.
Contact: Bharat Soka Gakkai Cultural Centres Ph. (Delhi) (011) 2625 1016, (Mumbai) (022) 2215 1644
The Sanskrit word ahimsa stands for total and complete renunciation of any type of violence, arising out of love and compassion for all sentient beings. It is an important doctrine in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The first yama of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali preaches ahimsa, while non-killing and vegetarianism are integral to the practice of Buddhism and Jainism. In fact, so absolute is this concept in Jainism that monks take precautions to avoid even the accidental killing of insects while walking or by inhaling some micro-organisms while breathing.
Indian history is replete with examples of the power of ahimsa in transforming lives. Around 300 BC, Emperor Ashok, filled with remorse after winning a vicious battle in which 100,000 lives were lost, became a Buddhist and embraced ahimsa. Taking a vow then to ‘‘conquer by right conduct alone’’, his enlightened reign is a shining example in world history. In more recent times, Mahatma Gandhi incorporated non-violence in India’s struggle for freedom from foreign rule. Gandhi’s ahimsa inspired other movements, including the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the ongoing Tibetan movement under His Holiness the Dalai Lama for autonomy.
The practice of ahimsa has its basis in the appreciation of the fact that all living things are manifestations of the same life force. They too experience joy and sorrow; they too seek happiness and avoid pain and hold their own lives as dear. Realisation of this truth helps to develop compassion and check the ego that is responsible for the harm we do to other sentient beings. From the point of view of karma, too, the practice of ahimsa is advisable for it ensures the seeker’s rebirth in circumstances that are conducive to the continuance of his practice.
For the aspirant to self-realisation, the practice of ahimsa goes beyond the physical to embrace mental and emotional levels as well. Coercion of any nature is a form of violence, even when practised at the mental level through the domination and control of others. Indeed, any form of damage to others through betrayal of trust, economic exploitation, unkept promises and hurtful words are all aspects of violent tendencies that need to be transformed through self-acceptance.
Ahimsa does not preclude the violence we perpetrate on our own selves. Self-loathing and aversion cause inner conflict and breed the seeds of anger and hate that spill out into the world as violence. We are therefore to be compassionate towards ourselves. Rather than rejecting and fighting what we dislike about ourselves, we learn to accept these aspects of our own personalities.
By the steady transformation of violent impulses into love and compassion, we move towards union with the world and ultimately with the Creator.
Solutions through meditation
K.M. Chopra, New Delhi
Right from my childhood I was religiously inclined. My mother, a very pious lady, was my first source of inspiration. Secondly, as a youth, I had two disappointments in love, which made me determined to only love the loveable, i.e., God.
The third factor to lead me into spirituality was a sensation of unwanted heat at my back. This suffering had defied all treatment, as my pathological reports were normal. It became my mission to get rid of it.
My mother was successfully treated by an eminent homoeopath, Dr Jugal Kishore, of a suspected malignancy of stomach. Her cure prompted me to learn homoeopathy to find a solution to my back problem. However, even after qualifying as a homoeopathic practitioner, I found no cure. My struggle continued. I learnt astrology. Even that did not help me find a solution.
God’s ways are strange. I read The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. On reading about the cause and effect theory, I concluded that my body thermostat was not working properly as I seldom perspired. I tried homoeopathic remedies that brought on the desired perspiration and my back became cooler. Improving my blood circulation through detoxification also helped. The final solution was the discovery of Shitali Yoga, a practice which cools the body.
Spiritual growth was assisted by the practice of TM. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi emphasises not controlling thoughts during meditation as that creates tension. Eventually, the thoughts themselves become channelised into silence. I was an average student but TM sharpened my mind. It also made me very active and energetic in my daily life.
Meditation thrills me mentally and gives me peace of mind. In meditation one is tuned with the Almighty and delinked with the maya world.
Ph: (011) 25102954
The Three-Step Rhythmic Breath
The 3SRB is a set of breathing exercises intended to synchronise prana intake in the astral body with the intake of breath in the physical body. The practice of this breathing, which should be learnt under a teacher, can be integrated into daily life to effect transformation.
These exercises stem from a teaching of secret yoga by Patanjali. Shri Tavariaji, who received these teachings from his Guru Shri Ram, condensed these practices learnt over a period of 12 years, into a few simple exercises with three-step rhythmic breath, in order to make their benefits easily accessible to everyone.
3SRB is the natural rhythmic breathing that we are born with. Here, both chest and abdomen work in consonance, and each complete breath takes five seconds (six pulse beats), without any pause between inhalation and exhalation. The practice of this breathing is gradually increased and adapted to different postures, till it becomes a part of the unconscious brain.
Breath control as an aid to mind control is often thwarted by the highly volatile nature of the human brain that reverts back to its mischievous ways when one is not actually practising. 3SRB answers the need for a pranayam technique that can be carried out continuously throughout the day. Only then does the conscious brain surrender and the mind can turn inward to enable spiritual progress.
According to Tavariaji, the astral body has fine energies having emotional qualities, which is why it is susceptible to negative emotions, which create blocks. Called ‘granthis’, these are formed by the collection of negative emotions and their memories over lifetimes. Granthis block the free flow of prana, leading to the manifestation of problems at the physical level.
By dissolving the granthis, the 3SRB exercises enable higher energies to circulate, finally ending in the throat centre from where energy can be created for communication. Each exercise is done with a particular area of the body and as the area is connected to the granthis and plexuses at the astral level, emotional energies in that area get upgraded. Thus, emotions of jealousy and anger are upgraded to love and compassion.
3SRB enables the seeker to overcome baser tendencies and progress on the path to spiritual emancipation. The exercises should always be done with the attitude of worship, keeping their higher purpose in mind. Tavariaji recommended practice with the intensity of ‘white hot heat’ to enable the student’s inner teacher to guide him to the heart of Yoga.
Contact: Mukti Sadhana Trust,
Ph. (022) 2218 4404, 22182413
Taoism is an ancient mystical teaching from which derived the technological, medical, psychological and mystical arts and sciences of Chinese culture. Lao Tzu, a sage who lived around 604-531 BC, published the Tao-te-Ching, the definitive book on Taoism, in times of constant feudal warfare and disruptive conflicts. With several translations available today, the Taoist I Ching, or the Chinese Book of Changes, is a modern classic used for meditation, contemplation and divination.
The Tao simply means the way. It refers to a power which envelops, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living. This is the origin of all creation and the force—unknowable in its essence but observable in its manifestations—that lies behind the functioning and changes of the natural world. In the Tao and nature exists the basis of a spiritual approach to living.
The Tao regulates natural processes, nourishes balance in the Universe, embodying harmony of opposites. It can be interpreted as the path to enlightenment through practising harmony with nature and seeking perfect balance between the polar opposites of yin and yang. It is represented by the well-known yin-yang symbol, containing the constantly moving swirls depicting change as the only constant in the Universe.
Time is a cyclical construct in Taoism. There is an interest in promoting health and vitality. Five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five elements: water, fire, wood, metal and earth. Each person must nurture the Ch’i (air, breath) that has been given to him. Development of virtue is one’s chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation and humility. Taoists follow the art of wu wei, or non-action, which is to refrain from acting contrary to nature. One should plan in advance and each action must be carefully considered. Kindness is important, because it begets kindness from people in interaction.
Fritjof Capra says in The Tao of Physics: ‘‘Acting in harmony with nature thus means for the Taoists acting spontaneously and according to one’s true nature. It means trusting one’s intuitive intelligence, which is innate in the human mind just as the laws of change are innate in all things around us.’’
Siddha Samadhi Yoga
Introduced by Guru Rishi Prabhakar, a former Canada-based computer scientist and engineer, Siddha Samadhi Yoga SSY, like many other system today, is a composite programme of meditation, pranayama, and discourses. It also advocates the adoption of a Natural Hygiene diet favouring raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. The programme approaches the path to enlightenment through the purification of the five sheaths said to cover the soul—the panchmaya koshas. It works its way through the physical body, the annamayakosha, through a regimen of fasting and natural foods; the pranamayakosha (subtle body) through the practice of 10 to 12 pranayamas; the manomayakosha (mind) through their form of meditation, a process of non-doing; the vigyanmaya kosha (intellect) by the process of practising right discrimination and adopting a code of conduct based on yogic injunctions such as truth, non-violence, non-stealing, cleanliness, detachment, and silence; and finally the anandamaya kosha through identification with the whole and becoming joyous and child-like.
Running over 14 evenings for three hours each with a four-day residential stay in their ashram, the programme aims to help the individual know his true nature, and thereby contribute to a world of harmony and happiness.
The teaching is based on the ancient science of brahmopadesam. Graduates are required to meditate for 15 minutes thrice a day, and meet for satsangs on a regular basis. The path continues progressively through an advanced course featuring asanas, yogic kriyas, silence, the consumption of natural food and returning to one’s child-like nature.
The parent organisation running these programmes, Rishi Samskruti Vidya Kendra (RSVK), emphasises seva and social consciousness. Members actively participate in social and rural uplift and have helped free hundreds of villages in India of the curse of liquor and petty politics.
SSY is reputed to heal many chronic conditions such as asthma, arthritis, spondylitis, heart problems, etc. It effectively combats stress, enhances creativity and intelligence and generates the energy to work effortlessly. the final goal, however, is enlightenment.
Contact: (080) 6631909; email: email@example.com; website: www.ssy.org
Over the years I have come across a number of ways of self-growth. My intention was to explore different paths before deciding on my own, and thus I have dabbled with Reiki, Pranic Healing, NLP, Silva Method, TM and the Art of Living.
However, the one enduring practice that has been with me ever since I learnt it, has been that of retrospection. Every day I spend some time with myself, which I call ‘Quiet Time’. This time is spent in reflecting where I am heading in life, what is going right and what is not. I also try to find events that I learnt from, and where I could have been better.
After that, I spend time jotting these thoughts on my computer—a sort of an e-journal called Deep Thoughts.
This practice, for one, helps me articulate myself to myself—to make sense of what is going on in the world around me, and in my life too. Taking an observer position works well for me, because genuine observation of myself throws light on a lot of parts that I can work on.
Reflecting has been a daily part of my life ever since I came across the idea at Panchgani on an Initiatives of Change camp. It has become an almost indispensable part of life. The benefits probably are more intangible—like a sense of clarity and grounding, of well-being, and of not living life in a knee-jerk fashion but with conscious choice.
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