Monday December 18, 2017

Ramakrishna in the words of Swami Vivekananda

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By Nithin Sridhar

“If there has ever been a word of truth, a word of spirituality that I have spoken anywhere in the world, I owe it to my Master; only the mistakes are mine.”

– Swami Vivekananda

During the funeral of Ramakrishna
During the funeral of Ramakrishna

One twenty nine years ago, India had lost one of its greatest spiritual sons. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa- the sage, devotee, yogi who was considered by many as the very incarnation of God, left his body on 16-August-1886.

Ramakrishna and his teachings had profound influence on not only his disciples like Swami Vivekananda who lived with him, but also on many generations of people around the world who have come after him.

Even today, his influence and teachings are visible everywhere around us.

On this 129th death anniversary of a great master, we should ponder over his life and his teachings. There is no better source to know about Ramakrishna than through the words of his most renowned disciple, Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda delivered two lectures in New York and England in 1901 about his Master. These lectures were later published in the form of a book “My Master”.

While describing about conditions of the household in which Ramakrishna was born, Swami Vivekananda described how a typical Brahmin household full of austerity and asceticism practiced charity in spite of extreme poverty.

About Ramakrishna’s parents, Vivekananda says: Very poor they were and yet many a time, the mother would starve herself a whole day to help a poor man.”

Vivekananda further calls his master as being “a peculiar child from very babyhood,” and adds that the master remembered everything about his past and was aware of his life’s purpose from childhood itself.

Ramakrishna’s father died when he was quite young and then Ramakrishna was sent to school. But, says Vivekananda, within a short time of starting his studies, Ramakrishna was “convinced that the aim of all secular learning was mere material advancement, and he resolved to give up study and devote himself to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge.”

He further adds that Ramakrishna was later forced to become a priest at a temple in Calcutta due to extreme poverty.

When Ramakrishna stood in front of the image of “Blissful Mother” Kali, his mind was filled with questions about her.

Swami Vivekananda says:Day after day he would weep and say: ‘Mother, is it true that Thou exists or is it all poetry? Is the Blissful Mother an imagination of the poets and misguided people, or is there such a reality?’….. This thought which was uppermost in his mind gained in strength every day until he could think of nothing else.”

The idea, the desire to find the truth about the Mother, became so intense that Ramakrishna could no longer concentrate on his worship. He was forced to go into a nearby forest, where he lost all thoughts about his own self or about his bodily needs like food. As days passed, he would weep that one more day had passed and the Mother did not reveal herself to him.

As days, weeks and months passed, Ramakrishna began to see visions and slowly he was able to unlock various mysteries of nature. During this time, says Vivekananda, a woman saint (actually Bhairavi Brahmani) came to see Ramakrishna and addressed him thus: “My son, blessed is the son upon whom such madness comes. The whole universe is mad…. Blessed is the man who is mad after God. Such men are very few.”

She then stayed with Ramakrishna for many years and taught him various aspects of Yoga and other practices. Later another Sanyasin (renunciant) (Totapuri), taught Vedanta to Ramakrishna and initiated him into the order of Sannyassins.

Regarding the spiritual practices of various religions that Ramakrishna undertook, Swami Vivekananda says:He went to the various sects existing in our country that were available to him, and whatever he took up he went into it with his whole heart…..Thus from actual experience, he came to know that the goal of every religion is the same, that each is trying to teach the same thing, the difference being largely in method, and still more in language. At the core, all sects and all religions have the same aim.

Speaking about how Ramakrishna overcame the distinction of gender, Vivekananda says: “He began to think that he was a woman, he dressed like a woman, spoke like a woman, gave up occupations of men….until year after year of this discipline, his mind changed, and he entirely forgot the idea of sex; all thought vanished and the whole view of life underwent a transformation>”

Ramakrishna viewed every woman as the very embodiment of Divine Mother. Swami Vivekananda narrated how he had seen Ramakrishna prostrating at the feet of those women whom society would not touch, and weep at her feet saying: “Mother, in one form Thou art in the street, and in another form Thou art the universe, I salute Thee, Mother, I salute Thee.”

Such was the equanimity and mental purity of Ramakrishna. Treating all women as mother was not just something to be read and preached. It was not just a metaphor for him. He realized the reality and lived it.

Speaking about the compassion and equal-sightedness that Ramakrishna had towards everyone, Swami Vivekananda said: “For years I lived with that man, but never did I hear those lips utter one word of condemnation for any sect. He had same sympathy for all of them; he had found the harmony between them…..He condemned no one, but saw the good in all.”

Swami Vivekananda considered Ramakrishna as a “triumphant example, a living realization of the complete conquest of lust and desire for money.” Vivekananda then says that the first part of his master’s life was spent in acquiring spirituality and the last part, in distributing them.

He adds: “His (Ramakrishna’s) intense love for mankind could not refuse help to the humblest of the thousands who sought his aid.”

Though, Ramakrishna developed a “vital throat disorder”, he did not stop speaking to and giving guidance to those who came to see him. Finally, one day (i.e. on 16-August-1886), he decided to cast away his body, and “repeating the most sacred word of the Vedas, he entered into Samadhi and passed away.”

Regarding the teachings and message of Ramakrishna to mankind, Swami Vivekananda says: Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas, or sects, or churches or temples; they count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man which is spirituality, and the more that this is developed in a man, the more powerful is he for good. Earn that first, acquire that, and criticize no one, for all doctrines and creeds have some good in them.

Show by your lives that religion does not mean words, nor names, nor sects, but that it means spiritual realization. Only those can understand who have felt. Only those who have attained to spirituality can communicate it to others, can be great teachers of mankind. They alone are the powers of light.”

This message of Ramakrishna, if understood and practiced, has the power to end all strife that the world is witnessing and elevate humanity to spiritual emancipation. Let us all ponder on the death anniversary of Ramakrishna.

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Swami Vivekananda

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Bhagavad Gita: From despondency to Yoga

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Bhagavad-Gita

By Gaurav Sharma

In the midst of the serpentine armies, the warriors blow their conch-shells. At the grand setting, Arjuna, the finest archer, asks Krishna, his friend and guide to chariot him between the two armies.

Arjuna has an eagle-eye view of the battlefield. Overwhelmed by the stack of relatives and teachers rallying against him, Arjuna is stricken with grief and despondency at the thought of fighting his kith and kin.

Despondency

He lays down his famed Gandiva bow and begins arguing against the futility of war before Krishna. The stage is set for an epic dialogue to quell man’s eternal dilemma, the delusions of mind.

The despondency of Arjuna represents the perpetual conflicts, recurring contradictions and precarious predicaments that each one of us experiences but chooses only to contemplate and introspect when beset with psychological upheavals and mental breakdowns.

The moments of inner turmoil or the moral dilemmas erupting on the screen of the mind, in fact, act as an impetus for traversing the path and the goal of Yoga.

Multitudinal Yoga

The word Yoga is interpreted in myriad ways. The popular conception of Yoga as merely a series of bodily postures, techniques of meditation and art of breath control is rather fallacious.

Yoga means “to unite”, or “to join”. Panini, the 6th Century Sanskrit grammarian says the term Yoga is derived from either of the two roots– Yujir (to yoke) or Yuj samadhu (to concentrate).

According to Ved Vyasa, the first commentator on the Yoga-Sutras, Yoga means Samadhi (concentration). Those who are practicing the art of concentration are said to be yogis or yoginis.

Etymologically, combining or uniting implies the existence of more than one element. In this case, it indicates duality. This is the reason why yoga is most commonly used as a compound word, such as bhakti-yoga, gyana-yoga, raja-yoga, karma-yoga….., pointing towards union through devotion, knowledge, meditation and action respectively.

Some practitioners contend that aforementioned prefixes before yoga connote the substratum of Yoga, a series of progressive steps which form a ladder towards moksha or liberation. Yet, others believe that Yoga, in the compound form, is a means to achieve the ends that are the prefixes of bhakti, gyana and karma.

For moralists, Yoga incorporates ethical concepts directed towards leading a ‘sagely’ introspective life. The Tantriks see it as a way to enter other bodies and the Mahayana Buddhists view it as pure cognition, keen perception and discerning intellect.

According to Vivekananda, (the Vedantin), Yoga assumes a broader concept that includes the aforementioned prefixes (bhakti, gyana, karma..) as a means to achieving the end of Yoga itself. Yoga is both the means and the end. Yoga is the goal of Yoga.

Then there are others who view Yoga as an expansion of consciousness. Paramhamsa Yogananda, the post-Vivekananda yoga-guru used the term kriya-yoga to define the means to attain communion.

Kriya (literally meaning action) represents spontaneous bodily action arising from the flow of energy (kundalini). Kundalini is graphically represented as a coiled-up snake, denoting the tied-up bundle of energy within the human body.

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Patanjali in his Kundalini form

Symbolic meaning

The characters of Bhagavad Gita are also symbolic of our daily struggles.

For instance, Arjuna’s unwillingness to fight the battle with his own relatives refers to our own indecisiveness in discerning right from wrong. His doubts and delusions are compared to demons by Krishna. The scathing remark “do not succumb to such degrading impotence”, warns us of the pitfalls of choosing not to act.

Yet, everyday we choose to be a passive observer, a silent watcher of the evils of society that happen right beneath our eyes. Performance of our duties and abiding by our essential nature (Dharma) makes imminent and practical sense, yet we choose to lie in a sea of inactivity.

There is even a psychological underpinning to every character and name in the Gita. When the blind king Dhritarashta inquires from Sanjaya: Tell me Sanjaya, what did the sons of Pandu and my sons do when they assembled on the field of Kurukshetra?, it is an allusion to the fact that our blind mind (Dhritrashtra) should take instructions from the divine insight (Sanjaya)

The mind or manas is under a deluge of sensory activities whereas the Buddhi (intellect) is the doorway to truth. Amidst the opposing forces, the Ego or ahamkara, as represented by grandsire Bhishma is pulled into a tug of war, impeding the journey towards communion.

A vivid analogy describes this field of activity, the tug of war, in its most fulfilling form:

“The body is the chariot pulled by the five horses (sensory organs) towards different sense objects. The mind is the reign of the horses which receives impulses and sends relay from/to the charioteer. Intelligence is the charioteer that controls and guides the horses.”

Uncontrolledsenses
Uncontrolled senses as represented in Kathopanishad

Ensconced behind the web of words and concepts lies a treasure trove of wisdom. The right approach awaits its deciphering, one that defines the goal of life. Further delving into the mysteries of life through Bhagavad Gita’s lens in the next article.

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Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

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BY ANIL K. RAJVANSHI

All over the world, and in every civilization, large number of cases have been reported about ghost sightings, poltergeist incidents, production of materials from thin air, out of body experiences and other paranormal phenomena. Quite a few can be thought of as trickery or sleight of hand-type events, but majority of these phenomena have remained a mystery. Nevertheless all these cases point towards the possibility of reality or layers of them, which is beyond our level of perception and out of our four dimensional world.

Perception of reality

We can perceive these layers of reality by expanding our consciousness through a powerful brain. A powerful brain (or processor) is one which can focus and concentrate on a single thought for a long time. This process is called ‘Sanyam’ in Patanjali Yoga. Such a powerful mind can process information from sensory inputs very effectively and hence becomes “hungry” for more information and experience. This is the basis of mind expanding process.

One reason for enhanced awareness is that a powerful brain also becomes an enhanced signal receiver and can easily get information and knowledge from external sources including the knowledge space (KS). Knowledge space (as the name implies) is filled with knowledge both from present and past civilizations and this knowledge can be assessed by the prepared mind. This is akin to cloud computing in the cyberspace.

There are large numbers of instances of advanced Yogis, scientists and inventors who have discovered the universal truths by plucking them from the knowledge space. This requires preparation and tremendous concentration of the mind for a long time and is akin to Sanyam of Patanjali Yoga.

This expansion of our horizons or yearning for Universal Consciousness gives us an awareness of reality and life in different dimensions. Sage Patanjali has spoken about this reality in couple of his shlokas where he says “When a Yogi is fairly advanced in his Sadhana he will be approached by celestial beings. The Yogi should be careful about such a contact and there should neither be attachment nor surprise, for undesirable connections can occur again”. Interestingly Patanjali does not discuss the nature of these beings and what their attributes are.

Nevertheless many modern saints like Ramakrishna, Vivekanand and Aurobindo Ghosh have spoken about these entities and have always stressed that one should not get entangled with them. That these highly advanced Yogis spoke about them meant these entities exist.

Nature of entities

So what are these layers of reality? These could be energy packets in ghost forms and are differentiated into their layers of existence by the energy they possess. This is just like a quantum state of an electron in an atom where the electron energy level corresponds to various levels of its existence.

The higher energy level electrons are farther from the nucleus whereas the lowest energy level ones are closest to it. Similarly the lower entities remain attached to the earth’s gravity field and for their stability feed on the psychic energy of individuals. This could also be the basis of Shamanic rituals and religion. In fact the whole basis of “sacrifice” (both life and food) ritual and offerings to gods might have originated from this concept.

It is also possible that these ghost forms are strong memories of physical beings both humans and animals and sometimes result when unnatural deaths take place. When these psychic energy structures interact with humans and animals they are capable of influencing their minds and make them exhibit the latent tendencies of their past existence. Thus they can continue to “live” through the medium of other bodies and could be the basis of possessions that have been witnessed in all civilization since time immemorial. They get attached to those who will them and sometimes it is difficult to get rid of them.

Lots of tantriks, charlatans and so called miracle ‘god men’ have close interaction and connections with some of these entities. These entities do their bidding but also demand their pound of flesh which is why most of these ‘god men’ fall prey to their own shenanigans and these spirits. Thus it is best to be always wary of such influences and to keep away from them.

How are these entities formed?

It is possible that these entities are ghost structures which remain stable even after the physical body is dead. How this structure remains stable and how it is sustained remains a mystery. It is also possible that the ghost form is a template of the physical being and takes time to “dissolve” after the physical death and this form somehow in some cases becomes stable and is fed by the psychic energies. In Indian mythology this ghost form is sometimes called “Sukshma shareer”. This is almost similar to Prigogine’s dissipative structures which remain stable because of the energy feeding them. One example of a dissipative structure is convection currents in a body of water heated from below. The heated water rises in the container and is replaced by the cold water from top and thus the convection is developed. This convection structure exists as long as the container gets energy from the heat source.

The higher energy entities loose lot of their negative attributes and are the benevolent gods that almost all religions talk about. Indian and other mythologies talk about many instances where great souls have come and “settled” on earth to help earthlings and it is said that they have remained ethereally on this planet. It is also possible that all these god-like entities are pulled on this earth by the active memories of the living beings. In Bhagwat Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjun that he will come to earth and will be born again and again whenever there is Adharma.

Similarly all great heroes, yogis and enlightened human beings after their death reach the status of gods since they are actively remembered by humans. The continuous remembrance by large number of humans creates a stable structure for that god entity.

We should certainly remember the higher energy entities and the benevolent gods but we should ask them for favors of  wisdom, better minds and how we can help in the betterment of mankind and not for mundane and petty personal favors. The awareness of higher dimensional space and reality can also make us fearless and remove our fear of death since death is a simple transition between various forms and dimensions. This is also the lesson of Gita. With fearlessness comes the ability to do new things and follow uncharted paths which can give us a quantum jump in our spiritual and technological developments and understanding of natural forces.

(The author is the Director and Hon. Secretary Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). He could be reached at  anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)

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Decoding subconscious mind: How dreams can be guided by yoga

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BY ANIL K. RAJVANSHI

In 1953 three major events took place. The Everest was conquered by Hillary and Tensing Norgay, Watson and Crick discovered DNA’s structure and a young Ph.D. student Eugene Aserinsky in U.S. discovered rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  During REM sleep the brain is extremely active and produces dream. This was the beginning of whole area of research in sleep and dreaming. Now almost 60 years later there has been tremendous progress in mountaineering and genetic engineering but sleep and dream remains as much a mystery as before.

In every religion and society dreams and sleep have been thought to be mechanisms to connect the present physical world to that of supernatural.  Before Buddha’s birth his mother Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant has entered her body. Similarly the mother of Shri Ramakrishna dreamt that a small green figure, whom she identified as God, was telling her that he will be born in her house and even mother Mary dreamt about the birth of Christ. There are other innumerable instances of prophetic dreams in the annals of history of mankind.

Similarly there are many celebrated cases where persons have produced wonderful solutions through their dreams. Kekule’s benzene structure, Mendelyeev’s invention of periodic table, Howe’s invention of sewing machine, Neils Bohr’s atomic model and Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of Dandi March came in their dreams. There are also large number of examples where scientists, inventors and technologists have literally dreamt up solutions to problems which they could not find in the waking state.

How does mind produce such prophetic and solution dreams?

During dreaming there is blockage of sensory inputs and thus the ego sense ‘I’ is absent. The sense of identity ‘I’ comes with the body and the sense organs like eyes, nose, ears, etc. In the absence of ‘I’ during sleep the brain allows free reign to random thought patterns. These thoughts emanating from existing memories from different parts of the brain produce dreams. The dreaming process therefore follows the Maxwellian distribution (the bell curve), where majority of people generally dream about a day’s events and activities. Scientists claim that the day’s learning process is consolidated in the memory during sleep. This type of dreaming process produces disjointed and sometimes nightmare dreams since the random thought patterns produce a surreal movie. Scientists claim that in REM sleep the brain somehow ignores the obvious in favor of the crazy, the unexpected or the bizarre. It is somehow biased towards activating the weak neural connections.

However under certain circumstances, about which very little is known, the brain synchronizes the random thoughts into a powerful single thought. This is almost like a Samadhi where 100 billion neurons of the brain synchronize in a laser like fashion to produce a higher dimensional thought signature. This thought connects us to the higher dimensional space – time continuum from which we get the knowledge and powers of clairvoyance. The probability of this type of synchronization is very small but still is finite and lies at one end of the bell curve. This synchronized thought leads to prophetic and solution dreams. Quite a number of people sometime or the other in their lifetime are blessed and do get such dreams, which help us understand the existence of higher thought and reality. However such prophetic and solution dreams come to those who have a prepared mind and have been thinking deeply about these problems.

What can we do to produce prophetic and solution dreams?

Since the ever present director-the ego sense ‘I’ is absent during the dreaming process, we have no control of over dreams. However, we can control our day’s events which ultimately are reflected in our dreams. Yogi’s have all along claimed that Sanyam which is a combination of contemplation, reflection and Samadhi helps in producing a powerful thought process which ultimately leads to a non-REM or dreamless sleep.

Recent evidence from sleep research corroborates it. Scientists have discovered that REM and non-REM sleep are totally dependent on how active the brain is during daytime. The MRI scans of sleeping volunteers brain show that most of the dreaming activity takes place in the region of the brain which was most active during the day time. Scientists have also discovered that non-REM or slow-wave dreamless sleep occupies the central position in the sleep process. The information and memory consolidation process takes place in the brain only during non-REM sleep. Hence REM sleep is simply a mechanism for the brain to check whether the memory consolidation has taken place. Besides it also helps us remember dreams. Thus to produce happy and productive dreams one needs to be very active mentally and physically during waking hours. Whatever memories we make during daytime are reflected in the dreams including the prophetic dreams. Probably the solution dreams of great inventors also came because of the very active prepared mind during waking hours. There is still no single definite theory of sleep and dreams. However the jigsaw puzzle is slowly being assembled by research inputs from all over the world. As our science and technology advances we will probe deeper into the mysteries of sleep and dream because they provide the best windows for getting a peep into the workings of human mind and ultimately will lead to the discovery of what is thought.

(The author is the Director and Hon. Secretary Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI). He could be reached at  anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)