Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Society, Spirituality

Episode 40: God, Dharma, & Vedic Spirituality for all Seekers — Interview with Sri Acharya


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“Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya”

is his full name: it means “He Who Sets Dharma In Motion”. For the past 40+ years, Sri Acharya has been a sincere transmittor of peace and authentic Vedic spirituality. Though he has an unimaginable list of academic qualifications, he is no armchair philosopher – he is an everyday activist and regularly speaks to large groups and officially teaches Sanatana Dharma to students. He left the academic life to pursue the spiritual path of Sanatana Dharma, specifically, and to share his wisdom and knowledge with others.

In our first episode together, we touch on a few fundamental questions that should begin every spiritual conversation. Here is a brief synopsis of what we cover.

1. Are all spiritual paths the same, eventually leading everyone to the same goal, since we are all in Samsara, after all?

We can take many angles with this question, depending from the standpoint – Jewish, Vedantan, or Buddhist, etc – but is everyone going in the same direction, regardless of the spiritual path or lack thereof? Sri Acharyaji goes on to explain this in a logical fashion, which leads into our next question:

2. How and why can we know that Vedic scriptures are more valid sources than other spiritual scriptures? What’s the difference?

I ask, because almost all holy books I’ve come across have a claim of transcendent nature. This is why, when devoutly religious people are asked challenging questions about the nature of life and reality, they usually revert to two tactics: instead of making up their own mind from experience, they go into the scriptures and quote the answer, as they are believed to be transcendent. Secondly, if the answer is not found in the scriptures for one reason or another, then they say “that’s the way it is, because God is mysterious” or “only God knows the answer, and I trust God”. When we want answers, though, what good is it to give our power of intellect, emotion, and mind to a source when we are not sure how accurate that source is? (I have talked previously about the pitfalls of trusting in outside, authoritative, sources in my post, here, with Greg Lawrence.) So, we either have to experience for ourselves (find out if the fire is hot by touching it) or we have to make sure the source is trustworthy. However we approach a source, it should lead us back into our own experience for validation. From here, I ask Sri Acharya:

3. As in Buddhism, which relies heavily on experience and experimentation, how does experience play into Sanatana Dharma and knowing Krishna as the absolute?

I picked this quote out of our interview, because it is extremely telling. Acharyaji says:

“If we think we are our own guru, then we have a fool for a disciple”.

What does this mean? It means that, before we can teach or even learn, we need to have a clear goal and also have a clear and true answer that either comes from ourself or our guru/master – that is, a guru who is not lying and has cleared his way, such as the Buddha and other awakened beings walking this earth. (See footnote below on the subject of the authentic guru.¹) Many aspects of ourself can get in the way – this is called “ego” and consists of our biases, past experiences as individual bodies/minds, and feelings or emotional tendencies that may actually be leading us astray. So, experience is essential, but weeding out the true from the false experience is also a skill we must learn as spiritual beings.

4. Why do we have this material body? Did we choose this before coming into existence?

Karma is a hefty subject in both Vedic and Buddhist teachings, but the simple answer is because of our karma. We will do another episode on karma, so don’t worry about the nitty-gritty details just yet. Acharyaji gives a brief synopsis of how karma functions.

5. What is this whole ‘unconditional love’ business about, and why does God need it?

Does God need anything? Why does the pendulum swing towards love and not another facet of our being? I’ve always wondered this. It is in my understanding, thus far, that the Supreme does not need anything but if there is a truth regarding this question, then there must be an answer. And as beings who experience a whole range of emotions and sensations that continually change, then we must whittle it down to the base perception and what that actually is. Could it be unconditional love?

6. What role does intuition or the personal intuitive factor play in Sanatana Dharma?

As above, since we all are independent agents (or at least think that we are) and have a broad range of feelings and emotions, we must be able to tell a true feeling from an untrue feeling. Some people have better intuition than others and this guides their experience in a harmonious direction; yet, all of us have a degree of intuition, or we wouldn’t be able to function. Should I walk left or right? Should I duck down if that bird is flying my way? Should I give my money to that person or not? These all rely on some ‘sense’ we have, and that sense can be honed – we may not even realise when we are using our intutitive force! Acharyaji talks about intuitive recognition in Sanatana Dharma from here.

I hope you enjoy our episode, and please drop me a line at curiousbodhi@zoho.com or see Sri Acharya’s contact at www.dharmacentral.com.

Peace to you, however you are and whatever stage of life you are in! May you and everyone you know be happy and free from all forms of suffering!

Namaste!

¹ A teacher, guru, or rishi, one has to undertake many years of training to earn this sort of title – “Acharya”, “Swami/Swamini”, etc.

In Vedanta (of which there are many, many schools) and Sanatana Dharma, the role of the guru is regarded as of utmost necessity on the path, because they have done the work of cleaning up their own act and their own mind to be a true transmittor. Too often in our world, whether in politics or business or in spiritual circles, leaders abuse their power, because they have hidden motives and this is due, really, to the unclean mind of grasping and ignorance. I recommend two videos by Sri Acharya that touch on this subject: How to Recognize an Authentic Guru and The Age of Anti-Guru.

Buddhism, Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Interview, Society, Spirituality

Episode 38: The Essence of Dharma with Devananda


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Devananda runs the Essence of Dharma podcast: a show which unites the Vedic and Buddhist Dhamma, for all seekers and finders of the truth. He also runs a fascinating Youtube channel with tons of Dharmic content.

In our episode, we have a free-flowing conversation about, well… Reality!

There is an underlying reality beyond what we normally see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. It is that which allows these five senses to function at all, except we wrongly identify with what is in the “front” of us.

But, it is like a screen. Did you ever watch a fire burning on television? Yes, this is like the ego, which pretends to be fiery-hot, but it’s absolutely cool in reality. The fire on the screen is like the consciousness of the five senses. It seems so ridiculously real, and it has been this way since time immemorial, put down to us by our parents (and their parents) who have been conditioned since time immemorial — and thus, we seem stuck in Samsara.

Though, alas…

The wheel of Samsara can be counteracted by setting the wheel of Dhamma in motion!

Whether Buddhist, Dharmi, or otherwise… enjoy the episode and come closer to our essential nature.

Om, Om, AUM. May all beings be happy, free, and peaceful.

Society, Spirituality

Episode 37: Waking Up Isn’t So Easy!

My friend, a true craftsman who has been honing his skills for 20 years, once mentioned to me: “the more you do something, the easier it gets!”. That always stuck in my mind, until a whole podcast episode came tumbling out in the midst of a run through the city and woods.

Take running as a simple example: not only have I been running for the past 5 years religiously as my Sadhana — loyalty and a sense of routine balances out my Vata/Air persona — through major life and emotional changes, but daily, there are factors that add to the conglomeration of making it challenging each and every time. The weather, my sugar levels, sleep the night before, mood, muscular fatigue, shoes, future daily responsibilities, route and the addition or lack of other people, increased expectations, choice of music, and all the rest make it a new experience each day. It’s not any easier; it’s just different.

So, how can it be that the most courageous, difficult, and virtually socialy unacceptable human endeavour in the human kingdom become easier over time? That is: waking up!

Waking up comes with its own challenges and hardships, each to be processed and overcome in its own good time. Don’t give up simply because it didn’t become easier.

Here are some common barriers and experiences on the spiritual path:

Temporary Enlightenment:

As a teenager, I opened up a book after having a psychological break (you know, the world ends with everything when you’re young), and I read the sentence out loud: “We are all One”. With that sentence, I lost my sense of self completely. Tears ran down my face, and I became one with the universe and all my pain and suffering was relieved. After this, I avidly read every book and discarded many concepts I had built up until that point. At 15 years old, I borrowed Indian mantra CD’s from the library, lit candles in my room, and chanted — somehow, I was attracted to spirit, though knowing nothing of Indian culture or tradition, and I certainly didn’t find it outwardly in the small conservative Christian village I lived in, in Wisconsin, USA. Eventually, life took hold and I began focusing on studying and moving abroad to London where even more social conditioning was being spoon-fed to me; then, a second awakening occurred (which I mentioned in other episodes, where I had a non-dual awakening via finding Mooji), yet that didn’t last, either.

Final liberation or awakening, is just that — it is a final stilling of the energies that give rise to the person or human being that has been conditioned to be “small”. Or even to be “big-small”! Even the biggest ego — the richest billionaire with the most confidence who never gives a second thought to enlightenment — has an extremely fragile body that is destined to become sick and to die. This is because we are bound by duality, and when we think the body/mind passes away, then we pass away, too.

It’s totally okay to celebrate your awakening experiences — in fact, they help push you on to the final surpassing of death! But, know that this may come and go for a while until you stabalise.

Spiritual Bypassing:

I’ve done my rounds with this one, too; it can even happen unconsciously. That is, taking hold of spiritual ideas or practices to avoid dealing with issues that you may have from either the past or present. This can range from childhood trauma to using meditation to avoid emotions and thoughts or suppress them. By all means — if you need therapy, get therapy. If you need to meditate, then meditate. In fact, you might notice what has been hiding beneath the surface when you finally sit down to watch your emotions and general mind. A lot can come up during meditation: fear, anxiety, restlessness, and even strange ideas, images, and uncontrollable sobbing or laughter. But don’t stuff your emotions away and pretend something pressing doesn’t exist.

To find out about emotional suppression and release, I recommend Craig Holliday’s video; just make sure you’re alone and in a comfortable place to release and let go:

Taking up the Wrong Practice:

Really, there is no wrong per se, but we know what resonates with us. Don’t take up just any advice, because your friends or family or colleagues or culture believe it is right. Initially, the factor of trying something new or going into unfamiliar territory is necessary. Then, practice, without expecting instant or unchanging results. But, if results never come… if people are demanding your time and your money to convince you of their viewpoint without you doing any work yourself, then be wary. Your practice should carry you, and you should be making decisions about yourself throughout without relying on others.

Western, capitalist, societies are filled with advertising and marketing for everything, and going beyond those messages to get to the grit is necessary. I often say, “If it can be capitalised on, it will.” You can find a course for any type of yoga or meditation or be sold new-age self-help, so just be aware that you should be making your own decisions. We wake up alone, are born alone, go to bed alone, and die alone. So, finding what is resonant should be considered and reflected upon throughout the process.

Stagnation with Practice:

When we stagnate, we stop believing that we’re on the right path. “Things should be happening!” we say. Yes and no. In one sense, things are always happening. Moods, thoughts, changing places in space, people coming and going, situations, bodily changes… but we want big things to happen. Big things do happen, but often they are in between lots and lots of micro-movements. What can also happen is that movement seems to be too slow which leads to doubt…

Doubt:

Doubt can be helpful or a hindrance, depending on the situation. The Buddha pointed out that doubt is one of the five hindrances, in fact.

When is doubt helpful? If we’re in our car and doubt that we’re going in the right direction, then that is good, because it gets us going in the right direction. Similarly, if our intuition or conscience gives us a strong message of doubt about a particular person or place, perhaps, like “don’t walk through that park at night!” — then that is good doubt.

Phillip Mofitt describes bad doubt better than I can:

“Doubt presents many faces, some of which are quite subtle. You may experience it as nonspecific anxiety, as if there is something you have forgotten to do or have done incorrectly. Doubt may be felt, yet unrecognized, as exaggerated or everpresent distress over a decision you have to make, or a vague sense that you have failed or that life isn’t as you thought it would be.

These subtle symptoms reflect the dilemma of modern life: the absence of feeling grounded in something greater than your own ego structure. It is for this reason that doubt is both an existential challenge and a spiritual hindrance.

The Buddha taught that doubt is one of five hindrances that arise in the mind, clouding your judgment, limiting your ability to act, and causing great emotional disquiet. The first is sensual desire of any sort; the second is aversion to a person, situation, or something about yourself. The third, sloth and torpor, is the inability to initiate action, while the fourth, restlessness, is just the opposite – the mind is so restless and anxious with worry that it cannot settle down. The fifth hindrance is doubt. I sometimes call doubt the mother of all hindrances because when it is in control of your mind, there is not enough energy to engage. You find you have no heart for facing difficulties.”

When we have a goal or aim that we know we should be striving for that will change us for the better, often this negative doubt creeps in to tell us “we can’t change”. We doubt our abilities or the courage to see a particular situation through. If we are practicing, say, Zazen meditation and become frustrated or impatient, then we might doubt that it is helpful or useful as a means to reach the goal.

Here’s the kicker: no process is perfect. Whether you’ve done something once or a thousand times, there will be ease and there will be bumps. But, persist.

Use the knowledge of the above of what could get in the way.

On the positive side, use the forces of knowing what is right for you and nobody else, step back and reflect on the macro and micro movements in your progress, change if you feel positive doubt, and don’t forget to be gentle with yourself when frustrating moments arise.

 

Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Interview, Society, Spirituality

Episode 36: Vedic Living — Interview with Akshay Kanade

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Krishna and the Cow

“Veda”

means “knowledge” and

“Sanatana Dharma”

is a more accurate term for “Hinduism”. Why? “Hinduism” was a colonial term given to ‘those living near the Indus River’, and, as another point of gentle contention — there is not a real basis for the Aryan invasion or civilisation, so that is most likely based on colonialism, too. (However, we still use it in our episode, as it’s a familiar term and also is still embraced by many). But, for the record…

“Sanatana”

means “eternal”

and “Dharma”

means “natural way”.

Thus, Hinduism is not a religion nor even the best terminology to use. Anybody, regardless of race, class, caste, career, gender, or global location on the map can follow the “eternal, natural way”! Lao Tzu also wrote the Tao Te Ching, which is indeed the “eternal, natural way”. Buddha also found the “eternal, natural way” and taught it for 40+ years. So there is a harmony amongst all dualistic so-called divisions that simply seek to emanate the same message, brought forth through different languages and cultures and times.

—————

Akshay Kanade was born in India and now lives in New York City. How can a man working on Wall Street live in tune with the Vedic mind, body, and spirit? This seems quite tricky from my point-of-view, as a modern woman living in London! It is said that the main attributes that use up Prana the quickest are forcefulness and speaking. Ask anybody living in the city how gentle they are to themselves and to others, with actions, speech, and mind. It’s commendable that we can still live this way in 2019. Akshay talks with me about his ventures with Sanatana Dharma and shares the breadth of his knowledge with us.

According to Akshay:

“Hinduism proclaims about the fundamental human values, elevated human virtues and we have observed that all Indian saints are the living embodiments of these values and virtues. Hinduism teaches all eight-fold manifestations of a culture such as:

-Dharma (moral conduct and self-realization)

 

-Politics and History

-Economics

-Sociology

-Classical literature

-Science and Technology

-Sports and Performing Arts

-Education”

In our episode, we talk about the four main goals of living Sanatana Dharma:

Dharma – hard to translated directly, but is can be said: as living a moral life with duty; doing what one is supposed/meant to do with dilligence. It upholds both the individuals in society and the entire universal cosmos.
Artha – economic and material well-being as a baseline for every human being
Kama – wishes or passions of the senses
Moksha – liberation from the cycle of birth and death

This ties nicely into the Dharmic literature, as a whole, being a basis for human living. They are considered “Apaurusheya” or “authorless”. The literature fits into either of these two categories:

Shruti – “Heard” or “Perceived as an eternal sound” and written down immediately once heard

Shruti literature includes The four Vedas – Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda; Upanishads; Brahmanas; and Aranyakas

Smriti – “Remembered” or passed down through a disciplic succession and eventually written down

Smriti literature includes: The Mahabharata; Ramayana; The Puranas; Sutras; Panchararatras; Dharma Shastras; and more

Akshay says:

“Hinduism is one of the most ancient, comprehensive and most wonderful philanthropic way of living. Hinduism talks about ‘Shruti’ (Vedas), ‘Smiriti’ (text of laws) and ‘Puranas’ (history of the country.) The Puranas such as Ramayan and Mahabharat with Lord Ram and Lord Krishna respectively is the history of India. Which a lot of scholars have started to believe in recent years.”

Within the Vedas lie texts on Ayurveda, or the science of keeping the body in good health and balance. Ayurveda is still being refined until today and encompasses: regulating diet, meditation and psychiatry, admistering correct medicines, massages, and advice on personal lifestyle/habits.

Akshay and I even touch on whether or not the gods, goddesses, and historical figures in the Dharmic literature were real figures. History is always up for debate, so, you can decide; yet Akshay gives compelling evidence that Lord Ram, for example, was indeed real based on archaeological evidence.

Another amazing doctor he mentions is Dr. R N Shukla from Pune, India, who works with Resonant Frequency Imaging (RFI) to record various effects on the human body and mind. As Akshay mentioned, he also caught the vibration of the Gita when it was spoken so many thousands of years ago!

Without giving too much away, please listen to our episode! If you can be so kind as to leave a review on iTunes, this would really help our show move forward.

“The greatest prayer said on this planet:

 सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः
सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः ।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु
मा कश्चिद्दुःखभाग्भवेत् ।
 शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Niraamayaah |
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||”
————-
*Akshay has innumerable resources available for Vedic living and Dharmic learning, so please get in touch with him on LinkedIn.
Buddhism, Interview, Society, Spirituality

Episode 34: McMindfulness — The New Capitalist Spirituality with Ron Purser

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Ron is not afraid of controversy with his new book: McMindfulness — How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, out this July. He also hosts the Mindful Cranks podcast. Let’s start out by saying that:

“Dr. Purser is an ordained  Zen Dharma teacher in the Korean Zen Taego Order.  He received ordination in April 2013 from the Venerable Jongmae Park, Partriarch of the Taego Korean Zen order for the overseas sangha. His Dharma name is Hae Seong, which means “The Nature of Wisdom.”

As a long-time practitioner, he really knows his stuff! In our episode, we go over just how the modern mindfulness movement, founded on the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) programme convinces that “a little mindfulness goes a long way” — and all the repercussions that can have.

We go into detail how mindfulness has been hijacked to serve the capitalist system. This truth is Ron’s passion.

My passion is how it has been torn apart from its very meaning, as a way to enlightenment on this planet (and all other planets and universes, also).

So, how has modern mindfulness been severed from its Buddhist roots? Well, here’s a hint: in the Sattipatthana Sutta that the Buddha laid out on mindfulness, a lot is missing from the modern mindfulness programmes.

Bhikku Bodhi lays out on Accesstoinsight.org:

“The practice of Sattipatthana meditation centers on the methodical cultivation of one simple mental faculty readily available to all of us at any moment. This is the faculty of mindfulness, the capacity for attending to the content of our experience as it becomes manifest in the immediate present. What the Buddha shows in the sutta is the tremendous, but generally hidden, power inherent in this simple mental function, a power that can unfold all the mind’s potentials culminating in final deliverance from suffering.

To exercise this power, however, mindfulness must be systematically cultivated, and the sutta shows exactly how this is to be done. The key to the practice is to combine energy, mindfulness, and clear comprehension in attending to the phenomena of mind and body summed up in the “four arousings of mindfulness”: body, feelings, consciousness, and mental objects.

At the heart of the matter, modern mindfulness misses that mindfulness is made to lead to true and final liberation from all suffering, or Nibanna. (This is simply one way to waking up out of the vast collection of the Buddha’s methods.)

Without taking into account other factors beyond “simply paying attention to the present moment” — a person will (more than likely not) magically become free or cultivate wisdom. In fact, this is just another form of suffering, and this can be proven. If simply paying attention to the present moment worked, then we would see evidence of this in the external world as greed, desire, and hatred decrease: that is its purpose, after all. Is this the case? Not at all!

Google, Apple, Nike and other major corporations have repeatedly used secular, modern mindfulness training as part of their curriculums. Marissa Levin admits this, in just one article underpinning the mindfulness/capitalist situation:

“Once the Eastern practice became popular as a method of self-help, it quickly became a tool within businesses to increase productivity and well-being of employees.

‘With business meditation, we have a practice that is extrapolated from Buddhism and secularized so that all of the theological underpinnings are swept away,” says Catherine Albanese, author of A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion.'”

Mindfulness, as a business model, completely disintegrates the value of mindfulness as a way to liberation from wordly suffering for all beings. As a business model at all, to increase productivity for corporations, lends itself to be a materialistic substitute for Reality. This is in direct contradiction to its purpose. B. Bodhi goes on to say, “This [mindfulness] is the only satisfying way for the seeker of truth when the diffuseness [papañca] of the external world with its thin layer of culture, comfort and allurement, ceases to be interesting and is found to lack true value.

Also, modern mindfulness misses out on the other facets of the Sutta, including:

Contemplating the body in mindfulness of breathing, bodily positions/postures, eating/drinking/walking/speaking, and…

Reflection on the Repulsiveness of the Body:
Ex) “And further, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu reflects on just this body hemmed by the skin and full of manifold impurity from the soles up, and from the top of the hair down, thinking thus: ‘There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, fibrous threads (veins, nerves, sinews, tendons), bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, contents of stomach, intestines, mesentery, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, solid fat, tars, fat dissolved, saliva, mucus, synovic fluid, urine.”

Reflection on the Modes of Materiality: (Cemetary Contemplations 1-9)
Ex) “And further, O bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu, in whatever way, sees a body dead, one, two, or three days: swollen, blue and festering, thrown into the charnel ground, he thinks of his own body thus: ‘This body of mine too is of the same nature as that body, is going to be like that body and has not got past the condition of becoming like that body.”

Contemplation of Feeling:
Ex) “Thus he lives contemplating [painful, pleasureable, and neutral] feelings in feelings internally, or he lives contemplating feeling in feelings externally, or he lives contemplating feeling in feelings internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-things in feelings, or he lives contemplating dissolution-things in feelings, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-things in feelings. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘Feeling exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and remembrance and he lives independent and clings to naught in the world.”

Contemplation of Consciousness:
Ex) “Here, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu understands the consciousness with lust, as with lust; the consciousness without lust, as without lust; the consciousness with hate, as with hate; the consciousness without hate, as without hate; the consciousness with ignorance, as with ignorance; the consciousness without ignorance, as without ignorance; the shrunken state of consciousness, as the shrunken state; the distracted state of consciousness, as the distracted state…”

And so much more…

Ron and I go into detail on how modern mindfulness and capitalism are satisfied holding hands. See www.ronpurser.com to contact him.