religion

Hurdles Galore

Hurdles Galore

Why it’s so Difficult

 

“In order to save myself, I must destroy first the me I was told to be- the Dreamer”

Whilst I was grimacing and looking morosely at my unsold books, (I made a very brave attempt to pen my experiences, a journal narrating the first 5 years of meditation and the metamorphosis that occurred within me) and wondered why I am so pathetic at marketing myself; my daughter made a very astute observation.

She picked up the books and said, “Ma, why are your books so thin? I mean, all the books I read are 3 to 4 volumes and each volume has about 500 to 1000 pages! Look at these books of yours; both the books put together maybe 250-270 pages only”. I smiled at her, picked a few more books I had read in the recent past and pointed out to her, “Most of the spiritual books I have read are between 125 to 200 pages only, betu. Most of the books published by Sahaj Marg, Ramkrishna Mission, Divine Life society are more like booklets, rather than books.”

“Ah! Right!”, she said, comparing the thickness of the few books I showed her, and the next doubt popped, “But why? Why are they so thin? Can’t they write a thicker more voluminous one?”

I could have laughed out aloud at her innocence. How could I explain to her that true philosophy is a study of the Self, the earnest interest to know oneself. When the singular question ‘Who Am I’ and probably ‘what is my goal?’ (which gets answered if one answers the first one though); sums up philosophy and spirituality put together, how much can one write volumes about knowing oneself? It is a unique journey to be experienced by the person concerned. As long as the experience continues, the journey is ongoing, and they are able to share their experiences. Unfortunately, spiritual journey is rife with pain and desolation; and the books make the reader emotional, and teary, which is what people shy away from, not willingly seek, to say the least. Who wants to know about someone else’s grief when there is enough sorrow in one’s own life? The bliss is when the person has reached the zenith, gets merged with the Creator. Now, the person ceases to exist, and so the narration too comes to a halt. It is like the dew drop merging with the vast endless sea. Then how does one differentiate the dew drop from the sea? And where is the dew-drop to tell its story?

That’s just one aspect of it, the more realistic fact is, the number of people who broach this question can be counted on our fingertips. The rest of us live ignorant about our true calling and purpose in life. So, with less than one percent being interested in the truth, how can thick books possibly be written?

So, why is spirituality or practicing spirituality so difficult? Why are most of us happy within the tenets of religion?

“Page xxix: Introduction by C.G.Andrews for In the woods of God realisation  by Swami Ram Teerth: ‘Dark is the world to these? Thy self art the reason why: For is He not all but that, which has the power to say ‘I am I’. …. the loss of personal identity or complete absorption, as the final end of the soul, is a conception from which the poets of the West shrink back with dread, rather than accept with satisfaction’.”

I think what Sir. C.G.Andrews opined about the people of West has an ubiquitous applicability today. The loss of personal identity is something which no one is able to fathom, and spirituality demands exactly that, the complete absorption of Self, and a comprehension of Nothingness.

This is just the beginning of problems if one intends to practice spirituality in totality. On the other hand, religion has so many advantages, especially our Hindu religion! Islam, Christianity, Sikhism all have one text and they close their eyes, and abide by the book, with absolute faith. They don’t question their texts nor do they have Mohammad, Jesus, or Guru Nanak amidst us today, to make changes or answer any contemporary doubts and questions.  Hinduism has happily relegated the Gods who took human form and lived amongst us to God status, we have temples for Gods, Godmen and Saints. Unquestioningly we worship them, one and all, if our prayers are answered, perfect; else we blame our fate, or in moments of desperation we can blame the Gods too! How unkind, unjust and cruel they are, so as not to heed the earnest prayers of the seeker! Everything depends on our caprice, you see!

That’s the disadvantage of spirituality; our prayers are answered only, and only if, we are deserving and we continuously question our own deservingness before asking for anything. So, in spirituality we have questions galore! That’s the first big hurdle to cross, the inner Self keeps raising its hood and asks us to look within. Prayer for change becomes imminent and the blame game stops too, we have only ourselves to blame for our own failings.

The other advantage of Religion is, in Religion we have no mirrors; how do I put it… like we look at the mirror to appreciate or alter our physical appearance, so does our heart need a mirror, to tell us how well we know the Self within, the creator’s true abode being the heart, we need a mirror for our heart, do we not?  In Religion we go to our place of worship, pay obeisance, offer our prayers, make an application (we always have something we want done) and seek blessings from the priest and we get on with our life. How many of us really bring the temple home? That mindset of inner reflection, do we carry it with us? The prayers offered are rushed and amalgamated with other household chores, wedged in just so that He is not offended. Sadly, that’s not the case with spirituality.

The God is within, and not outside the person, there is the hurdle, again. If we have to check or measure the level of water in a well, do we look inside the well, or outside? So, no temple or temple functionary can help us in spirituality. We have to help ourselves, hold the mirror to the heart! And a mirror which is constantly vigilant, probing and always questioning the Self! Such a headache. Who has the time to be questioned every waking moment, and in sleep too! Knowing oneself is an arduous task with no palpable, material benefit one can showcase. In this day and age of material gain, lure of name, fame and glory, the spiritual journey is least becoming! Troubles never cease, no respite for the spiritual seeker. Is it any wonder that people are unable to rise to the challenge and pursue the quest of the inner Self?

The lamp we light

The lamp we light

All Hindus light the lamp in front of the deity, without which our prayers and worship remain incomplete. This is a ritual we have followed since time immemorial. We all do so with utmost devotion and dedication. The meaning of these rituals has never been asked or questioned either. Apart for the simple meaning our folks gave us, ‘you should not, and must not keep the prayer room in dark! A light must burn always.’  Which is explanation enough for us and we stick to it with complete faith. When we run out of oil or clarified butter we become creative and improvise with the small bed light. We are all following instructions and trying to be as true to them as possible. Most of us do not delve deep and try to understand or ascertain why we need to light the lamp in the first place and when we are lighting the lamp, then which lamp should it be? What significance does an oil lamp have and why the effect is nullified the minute we switch on the night light to replace the oil lamp? In the hustle-bustle of our work-home-work routine we barely manage to spare a few minutes to light the lamp every day without fail, that itself is like a big accomplishment for us.

Swami Tattvavidananda, here talks about the lamp, the oil lamp; its’ significance and meaning which clears the soot of our minds and lights up the lamp of understanding explaining ‘why only oil lamp’. ‘In the inner shrine of the temple, the darkness unremittingly tries to envelope the lamp, and the latter in return is struggling to dispel that darkness. Such struggle is constantly going on in the devotee’s heart too between the ignorance and the desire for the knowledge. This is the symbolism of the tiny lamp in a corner of the inner shrine.

The lamp in the shrine is necessarily an oil lamp. It cannot be substituted with an electric lamp, though of similar appearance, for every aspect of the oil lamp has significance. Typically, an oil lamp is lit inside the shrine. The word ‘sneha’ means the oil and also love and affection. When the aspirant settles into devotion to the Lord, he acquires equipoise of the mind. In the metaphor, that devotional state of mind serves as oil for the lamp of knowledge. Oil has two characteristics: it is very sticky, and it flow is continuous and unbroken. The devotee should acquire these two characteristics in the heart in his devotion to the Lord.’

‘The symbolism continues further. There is a varti, wick made up of cotton, that sustains the flame. It stands for proper value system in the devotee’s life, e.g. discipline in the eating habits and speech, right attitude towards others and so on.’ Even after years of worship and temple going, keeping a light burning in the temple room also change is not visible and some of us wonder why so. Our prayers are a distracted mutli -tasking duty juggling between the kitchen getting our kids ready for school and mentally worrying whether the maid is going to come or do we have to do the dishes also before leaving for work. Can we honestly remember a day when we can say that ‘yes, today we only prayed’. Without any other thought sneaking in we are barely able to light the lamp every day, praying is very farfetched.

Oil – lamp has a wide base serving as a receptacle. It holds all the oil required to fuel the flame, and also provides stability to the lamp. The mind filled with vairagya or dispassion is the base. To summarize, the seers have incorporated the entire teachings of the Upanishads and the Gita in the temple worship. Once we understand correctly the symbolism of temple worship, the temple emerges from a seat of worship to a seat of learning.’

The base, the oil, the wick and the eternally burning flame, all have their own meaning and significance and definitely cannot be replaced with anything else. The minute we start replacing anything, we are filtering or diluting the process and the essence diminishes accordingly. We on our own can put ourselves to a test and decide why after all these years of praying and temple visiting, we are yet to really get there, find peace or see a change in ourselves. One among the above steps, maybe more than one will be missing or adulterated, hence the result, or the lack of it. Maybe the change is yet to come because a few steps are wrong or bereft of the essence of worship.

Hindu religion is a highly evolved and scientifically structured religion. The Brahmins used to perform the Pooja and all the rituals because they were given this education since childhood. The Gurukul system was so prevalent and compulsory for every child because only by living with the guru, watching the guru, learning from the expert in person is the only way you can assure yourself that you have learnt it all correctly, the method, the meaning and its significance. How else can anyone replicate it and achieve the same heights that the guru attained? This may be the reason why today’s India is lacking in true realized souls, even though we have an ever increasing number of devotees and Temples. We need to be with the guru or listen to the guru with all our heart to really know, learn and imbibe. It is strange that we eagerly accept a teacher when we need to learn any subjects, like English, Math or Science but when it comes to learning about the most important thing, worship, for our personal betterment some like me think we know it all, or some of us conveniently assign the task to the temple priest and continue to light the lamp with whatever is available at home unmindful whether what we are doing is beneficial or simply a routine duty.