On Pilgrimage with my Teacher pt. 3
I am currently on pilgrimage with Babaji Bob Kindler in India and will take a short break from our ongoing study of the first 50 verses of the Vivekachudamani.
One of the high points of this particular pilgrimage is the presence of a handful of young people who have developed a strong, even intense, interest in the scriptures and have been honing the skills of viveka to increase their detachment. Three of them have taken vows of brahmacharya. All of them have developed the ability to maintain mental reflection on the teachings much of the time, and as a result, there is a constant and natural satsang occurring whenever they are together with Babaji. Thus we have been having breakfast, taxi, dinner, airport, and lobby discourses all along the way in addition to regular classes.
In juxtaposition to this, Sri Ramakrishna would say, “He who eats radish, belches radish.” If one constantly broods on the body, senses, and objects, on past, present, and future, then one only talks about those things. But if one reflects on the teachings – on the nature of Reality, the Self, and the world – then that is what one will talk about. This is a key for those setting their feet on the spiritual path and wondering how to have higher thoughts and higher conversations – one must make a practice of constant reflection. As the Seers have told us, we must hear the Truth, reflect on it, and by doing so, come to realize It. It is also the secret to maintaining sattva, the guna of balance and relative peace (ultimate Peace is beyond the gunas). Sri Sarada Devi taught that “One needs peace of mind first and foremost.” She stated as well that nothing in the world is worth the loss of one’s peace of mind. Sri Krishna explains the “road to ruination” in the second chapter of the Gita, which begins with brooding on objects with desire unchecked. Patanjali calls such thoughts klista vrttis, pain-bearing vibrations. All great teachers advise a peaceful, detached mind.
The way to cultivate this first stage of peace is to keep the mind reflecting on the teachings of the revealed scriptures and/or the lives and sayings of saints and sages, practicing discrimination between the Eternal and the non-eternal, and detaching from the noneternal. This is aided tremendously by memorization of scriptural verses and the various teaching systems found in the Indian darshanas, such as: 24 Cosmic Principles of Sankhya, 8-fold path of Yoga, Sadhana Chatushtaya of Vedanta, just for starters. Below are three more basic teaching-lists found in the scriptures that keep the mind in a state of deep reflection and also hone the intellect and its powers of discrimination:
The three bodies of the non-Self: gross, subtle, causal (easily found in the Vivekachudamani)
The five koshas/coverings over the Atman (also in Vivekachudamani, as well as Upanisads)
The four states of consciousness: waking, dream, deep sleep, and Turiya (ibid and Mandukyo Upanisad)
Returning to the opening topic, the young people on this pilgrimage who are either in school or have just begun their earthly careers, are naturally seeking to adjust all their actions to the dharma teachings. Some are chafing to give all their time to spiritual studies, but they currently need to support themselves. True spiritual seekers are rare, even more rare are those who come to it at an early age. The dilemma/challenge that faces the modern spiritual youth is how to act in this distracted, secular world while continuing to qualify themselves for higher and higher states of awareness. This is the demand and sacrifice of our era in the West where the stations of student and householder need to be revolutionized, spiritually speaking. One swami of the Ramakrishna Order told us that it takes about 500 years of sustained householder dharma in a society to set the foundation not only for a stage of life called sannyas, mature renunciation, but for families to become portals for illumined births of great beings. Lord Buddha made the telling statement that the rust of monasteries is nonrecitation of scriptures, and, significantly, the rust of households is lack of spiritual self-effort. The spiritual health of society depends on the spiritual health of households. Thus, this question of how to act in the world dharmically and live a true spiritual life is of utmost importance if we are to resist and overturn the current wave of materialism, distraction, and greed that is draining the world of earthly and spiritual vitality and leaving a wasteland of despair, depression and mental illness wherever it takes hold.
However, dharma is not a matter of simply being moral and ethical. Persons who are merely moral and ethical do not gain enlightenment or Liberation/Moksha. Morals and ethics are an essential foundation that help prevent bad karma and cultivate good karma and samskaras, but one remains under the control of “dvandhva mohena,” the deluding pairs of opposites, as Sri Krishna calls them, and also the gunas of restlessness, inertia, and relative peace and happiness. Dharma, in the way I am using it here, means the application of those teachings that transcend the pairs of opposites existing in time, space, and causation. Dharma teachings reorient one’s self-identification away from phenomena – body, senses, mind, ego – and shift it gradually through practice and perseverance to the indivisible Self that is the witness of the comings and goings of phenomena in time. As Patanjali would say, one separates the Seer from the seen. This alone brings real Peace and Freedom. Dharma teachings reveal, as Babaji said just this morning, that “the world without discrimination is maya; the world with discrimination is Brahman.” He means, of course, that by discrimination/viveka we are to see through the ever-changing names and forms appearing upon the underlying, unchanging, and all-pervading Reality/Consciousness. We are to remember that form covers Formlessness, time and its segments cover Timelessness, experiences cover the Experiencer. The ancient seers of the Upanisads described this as separating the outer part of a blade of grass from the inner pith. As the Varanasi swami said to us, we make this our paroksha – our intellectual understanding first – and when it becomes our conviction, then comes aparoksha, realization of It.
There might be one more in this series, then back to the series “Going the Distance in Spiritual Life.”