May spiritual practice be part of our daily lives.
Hindu Principles and Practices,
Chapters 7 - 11, Practice.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
Chapter 7. VALUES
Chapter 8. ENVIRONMENT
Chapter 9. KARMA AND REBIRTH
Chapter 10. SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
Chapter 11. PATHS OF YOGA
CHAPTER 7. HINDU VALUES. by Dr. D.C. Rao.
The most fundamental value in Hinduism is to be constantly aware of the Divinity in all beings, including ourselves, and in the entire universe. (30)
Several important principles follow from this core value:
- It implies that the whole universe is inter-connected in all its aspects; harming the planet is an affront to its divine nature.
- All persons are seen as innately good: recognizing the innate goodness of my own nature and the innate goodness of all persons is profoundly healing; it overcomes self-doubt and infuses all our interactions with love.
- The aim of spiritual practice is to experience the universal by seeing myself in all others and seeing all others in me. (31) From this follows the golden rule: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” (32)
- Discriminating amongst all beings is contrary to this value.
- the spiritual aspirant seeks to rest his/her mind in God and perform all actions as a service to God. (33)
- Finally, any spiritual practice that helps one see the Divine in everything around us is encouraged. (34)
Since the capacity to see this varies widely from one person to another, Hinduism embraces a very wide range of spiritual practices. Living these values is not possible without cleansing the mind and heart of contrary tendencies and emotions such as desire, anger and greed. (35)
The scriptures present several lists of values that a spiritual seeker must cultivate. (36) One of the better known of these lists is found in the Yoga Sutras composed by the sage Patanjali around 200 BCE. (37) They constitute the foundation for the practice of Yoga, broadly defined as spiritual practice. Known as the five Yamas and five Niyamas, they are briefly described here.
1. ahimsa = non violence = avoiding violent actions, harsh words and malicious thoughts. Violence has its roots in ignorance, intolerance, jealousy, greed, anger and fear. Overcoming such negative emotions and cultivating an all-encompassing love and forgiveness is the goal and the means of practicing
2. satya = truthfulness = being truthful to oneself and to others in thought, word and deed. Speaking only when necessary and adhering to promises are aspects of this practice.
3. asteya = non-stealing = learning not to covet or take what is not rightly mine.
4. brahma-chariya = non-indulgence = abstaining from sensual excess that dissipates vital energy. A common translation, celibacy, is too narrow an interpretation. All forms of sensual indulgence drain energy that could otherwise be used for one’s spiritual awakening. Disciplining one’s
senses is therefore an essential element in living a meaningful life.
5. aparigraha = non-possessiveness = not being attached to one’s possessions and learning that one’s happiness does not lie in acquiring material objects that are necessarily transitory. It is the opposite of greed. Practicing aparigraha involves a habit of sharing one’s possessions with others and generosity in helping the needy.
1. shauca = purity = For the physical body, this means cleanliness; for the mind it means overcoming polluting thoughts such as thoughts of hate and violence, and maintaining an attitude of mindfulness. At a deeper level, it means not being distracted from awareness of our own divine nature and the divinity we share with all others.
2. santosha = contentment = learning to be happy and content without a greedy scramble for more; finding joy in life as it is; not making selfish demands on others.
3. tapas = austerity = practicing self-discipline that generates intense energy internally and increases spiritual fervor. Recognizing that achieving a significant goal requires sacrificing lesser pleasures and putting forward more concentrated effort.
4. swadhyaya = self-study = making time to study, reflect and meditate in a consistent effort to seek the Truth; knowing ourselves at all levels. 5.
5. ishwara-pranidhana = surrender to God = engaging in action as an offering to God; accepting what we receive as an expression of God’s grace; and resting one’s mind in God.
While the above values are important all through our adult lives, the scriptures point out that some values are more important than others in certain stages of life. Beyond childhood, the scriptures prescribe duties
for each of the four stages of a person’s life: student, householder,
retiree and renunciate.
A student is expected to devote all his/her energy primarily to learning and to serve with respect the teachers and all sources of knowledge. Excessive attention to personal comfort, entertainment and sense pleasures are harmful distractions.
In the second stage of life, the householder must raise, support and protect a family and be a good citizen of society. Fulfilling obligations to family and society are the primary concern even at the cost of personal hardship.
In the third stage, the householder retires from family and societal obligations while remaining available to advise and counsel younger members of family and community. In this stage of life, one should turn his/her attention to meditation and spiritual study with a view to gaining Self-knowledge. Personal needs are reduced to a minimum and the emphasis is on spiritual practice rather than seeking out new experiences.
The fourth and final stage is renunciation i.e. giving up all self-serving actions (39) and setting aside worldly attachments, making a total commitment to serving others and seeking the Truth.
29) Previously published by InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington [www.ifcmw.org]
30) Isha Upanishad 1
31) Bhagavad Gita chp 6 verse 29,30
32) The Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, verse 8;
the Mahabharata, tr. kisari mohan ganguli, munshiram manoharlalpublishers, 1993; vol IV pg 235
33) Bhagavad Gita chp 8 verse 8, 10
34) Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana Bk 7. chp 1 verse 31
35) Bhagavad Gita chp 16 verse 21 cites desire, anger and greed as the three gates to hell.
36) See for example Bhagavad Gita chp.12 verse 13-19; chp13 verse 7-11; and chp16 verse 1-3; and Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11.1-
37) Yoga Sutras, by Patanjali, chp 2 sutras 30, 32, 23. 2
38) Adapting the scriptural descriptions to match contemporary realities, we gain useful insights into the changing values that we should focus on as we progress through life.
38) Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana Bk 7. chp 12.
39) Bhagavad Gita chp 18 verse 2
CHAPTER 8, THE ENVIRONMENT, by Dr. D.C. Rao.
The World View
A core Hindu teaching is that the entire universe, without exception, is pervaded by the One Supreme Being. ( Isha Upanishad 1). This is expressed in a poetic way in the Vedas : the universe emanated from the Divine Cosmic Person : the sun from His eyes, the moon from His mind, fire from His mouth, wind from His breath and so on. ( Rig Veda X.90)
The Vedas also speak of Divine manifestations in the most ordinary settings: As water, He dwells not only in the sacred rivers but also in little streams, puddles, ponds, lakes and wells; in the rain and in the clouds. (Yajur Veda, 16.37,38 )
In short, since the Divine envelops and permeates every aspect of all that we experience, we should view every part of Nature as a celebration and manifestation of the Divine.
Applying this world view in our lives
Our scriptures also instruct us on how to apply this lofty world view in our daily lives. It is our obligation to play our part in the grand cosmic drama. The Bhagavad Gita explains that we owe our existence to food, which is fed by rain, that in turn is the result of cosmic processes presided over by the Creator. Nature and humans have a relationship of mutuality and one who does not
honor this relationship “lives life in vain.” ( Bhagavad Gita verses 3.9-16)
Nature serves humans; and equally, humans are servants of Nature, not its masters or stewards. Through Nature, the Divine Mother expresses Her love and compassion for all living beings. In return, humans are asked to enjoy the bounties of Nature in a responsible way. ( Isha Upanishad 1)
When our greed and self-indulgence disturb the ecological balance, we violate the clear teachings of our scriptures.
Respect for Nature is embedded in many of the fundamental values of Hinduism. (41)
For example, Aparigraha (non-acquisitiveness) instructs us not to acquire possessions beyond our needs. Hindu philosophy teaches us that our happiness is to be found within ourselves rather than in external objects. Consumerism is contrary to this value because it sets us back on our spiritual journey while also greatly straining the environment.
Another value with direct implications for the environment is Ahimsa (non-injury). Recognizing the presence of the divine in all beings, our scriptures require us to avoid injury to others, where “others” includes all beings. Thus,
Hindu dietary laws prohibit eating beef and express a preference for a vegetarian diet. (40) (The Previously published by InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington [www.ifcmw.org] )
Ecological benefits of a vegetarian diet are gaining wider recognition. At a social level, non-injury implies the avoidance of violence and war that threaten the destruction of our environment.
Nurturing the forces of Nature
The message that humans and the forces of Nature have a relationship of mutuality is reinforced in our scriptures through stories and practices. One scriptural story is that of the noble King Prithu. (42)
When Prithu ascended the throne, a famine hobbled the land. The king was angry at Goddess Earth for withholding her produce and causing distress. She protested that she had been exploited for generations by his predecessors who had stolen her produce without returning to Earth what was her due. She pleaded with King Prithu to restore the respect due to her and to help her conserve rain water by landscaping the ground and creating water reservoirs.
When Prithu agreed and offered to protect earth as his daughter, Goddess Earth again became prolific in her produce. Earth came to be known as Prithvi i.e. daughter of Prithu. In another story, Lord Krishna eliminates the poisonous serpent Kaliya. (Srimad Bhagavatam Book 10, Chapter 16)
Near Krishna’s boyhood home, a pool of water was terribly polluted.
Anyone who ventured near it and even the birds that flew over the area were killed by the poisonous fumes. The source of the poison was a giant venomous snake that had made this pool his abode. Krishna subdued the snake, banished him to the ocean, and restored the pool of water to its original purity.
Hindus worship God in multiple manifestations and in each of these manifestations God is associated with an animal or bird. This indirectly teaches Hindus to view all other living beings as possessing divinity. Two of the most popularly worshipped forms are Lord Ganesha who has an elephant head and Lord Hanuman who has the form of a monkey.
- The cow is regarded as particularly sacred and the eagle, snake, bull, lion, mouse, peacock, dog, fish, tortoise and owl are all associated with divinity.
- Fragrant flowers, coconuts and fruit form integral parts of ritual worship.
- Rituals in our life cycle involve sacred rivers, lakes and mountains.
- Reverence for Fire is taught to show the interconnections between humans and the Divine.
The very first mantra in the oldest Veda, the Rig Veda, invokes the blessings of Fire. With its infinite capacity to transform, Fire is seen as the “mouth” of the Divine, providing Divine guidance to humans and receiving the special offerings made by humans to propitiate Nature which Fire then transmits to the appropriate forces of the Divine. Our most important sacred vows, such as marriage, are witnessed by Fire.
Several simple prayers that we learn as children help us imbibe the message that the Divine is present everywhere: when we wake up we ask Mother Earth’s forgiveness before stepping on her; before eating we remember that eating is a part of the cosmic drama presided over by the
Divine. (42 Srimad Bhagavatam Book 4, Chapter 18)
When we bathe, we remember the sacred rivers; we are taught never to disrespect books by putting our feet on them; we remember God before starting a new activity. Hindu homes tend to be filled with religious objects to remind us of God’s presence. We are encouraged to take God’s name at all times with or without reason!
The personal names of most Hindus are derived from the many names of God or His qualities. In short, our scriptures, our ethical injunctions, and the way we are brought up as Hindus emphasize that we humans are a part of the infinitely grand fabric of Nature.
Humans and the natural environment are bound to each other in a mutual relationship where humans are required to nurture the forces of Nature even while enjoying its bounty. (28)
CHAPTER 9. KARMA AND REBIRTH, by Dr. D.C. Rao.
Karma means action. An action is undertaken by an individual with a specific intention. It is this individual, known as the ‘doer,’ who is responsible for the action and therefore has to reap the consequences of the action. A central idea in Hindu philosophy is the unshakeable link between action and consequence, as between cause and effect. Each action creates a consequence that the doer of the action must necessarily experience; and each experience of an individual has its cause in a prior action by that same individual.
Because of this tight connection between action and consequence, the word karma is also used to indicate the result or ‘fruit’ of an action. Depending on the intention behind the action, the fruit may be desirable, undesirable or mixed.
Actions that are selfish, malicious and hurtful result in sorrow, tension, regret and guilt. These are known as papa. Actions that are driven by a sense of duty and concern for others bring joy and inner fulfillment. These are known as punya.
Only good actions with good intentions lead to good karma: one cannot harvest mangoes by planting a cactus. The time interval between the action and its consequence may be very short, even immediate, or very long, stretching over many lives. Thus, our experiences in this life may be the result of our actions performed in past lives; and the fruit of our present actions may be experienced by us in future lives. Since we do not remember our past lives, we frequently cannot understand why we suffer pain and sorrow; and we may fail to see in this life the rewards of our good actions that fructify as good experiences in future lives.
It is fortunate that we forget our past lives. If we remembered them, we might be plagued by guilt or anxiety and the memory of past associations might poison relationships. The karmic consequences of all our actions in all our previous lives are accumulated in seed form that produce fruit in future lives. This accumulation is known as sancita karma.
As long as there is sancita karma in our karmic account, we are bound to be reborn until we exhaust this accumulation. Since it has been accumulated over many lives, the burden of the past is too much for us to exhaust in this life alone. If the sancita karma is thought of as a warehouse full of our past karmas, one part of it, designated to be exhausted in this life, is like a truckload in our front yard. This is known as prarabdha karma, a subset of our karma that must be experienced in this life. It is our destiny for this life, determining the circumstances of our birth, our life span and the principal elements of our lives.
Who selects prarabdha karma as a subset of sancita karma? This is the prerogative of Ishwara, the all-knowing, all-powerful and compassionate God who set in place the law of karma and oversees its operation. Ishwara helps us exhaust our accumulated sancita karma in the most (29) efficient way possible in successive births. The purpose of each birth is to exhaust prarabdha karma and, as far as possible, avoid adding to the stock of sancita karma.
To grasp how this is done, one needs to understand the link between our actions and our latent desires. Each action is driven by a desire, consciously or unconsciously. Even when we believe we are acting out of a conscious intention, we frequently act out of habit. The habits we cultivate by repeated actions over many lives are known as vasanas. Since our actions are driven by our vasanas, we can only exhaust our karma when we have overcome our vasanas. Vasanas dwell in our mind and are acted on by our body.
In His compassion, Ishwara provides us with the body and environment that is best suited to exhaust our vasanas . For example, vasanas of violence may be best exhausted in the body of a tiger and vasanas of stubbornness in the body of a mule. When our mind is overwhelmed by vasanas that constitute an obstacle to our spiritual growth, Ishwara gives us a birth in a non-human form best suited to exhaust those vasanas.
. Since animals act from instinct, they are not “doers” and do not create any
new karma by their actions. Thus each animal ends its life with a reduction in
sancita karma. Humans have greater choice in how they act. When humans act to fulfil desires, they add to their sancita karma. Actions driven by selfish desires such as anger, add to bad karma; and actions motivated by a higher purpose and undertaken in a spirit of dedication to God add good karma to their stock of sancita karma.
Ishwara gives us a human birth only when our minds are sufficiently evolved and capable of the self-control needed to make right choices. When humans fail to exercise self-control and act to fulfil base desires, they are propelling themselves toward an animal birth in the future. Based on the changing composition of sancita karma, each of us might have gone through many lives in a variety of different forms, human and non-human. This cycle of births and deaths in one body after another is a journey undertaken by our minds.
Our minds are filled with desires and habits accumulated over many past lives and we are deluded into thinking that the way to happiness is the fulfillment of our desires. It is only through long and bitter experience that we learn that the well of desires is bottomless and that seeking happiness by fulfilling desires is foolish. Spiritual practice consists of seeking fulfillment in helping others; working unselfishly for a higher purpose; training our minds to be detached and single-pointed; reflecting on who we are and how we relate to the world around us; and surrendering all our actions and their fruits to God. That is how we accumulate good karma.
The goal of spiritual evolution is to realize that our own true nature is eternal, blissful and universal, unaffected by the joys and sorrows that are an inevitable part of all individual experience. This is Self-Realization. A Realized person no longer sees himself or herself as a “doer” of actions; and the warehouse of sancita karma is as if burnt, bringing complete liberation from the cycle of births and deaths.
The law of Karma is not ‘fatalism’ or ‘pre-determination.’ First, our experiences today are merely the consequences of our own actions in the past, maybe past lives that we do not recall. This is a theory of full accountability rather than ‘pre-determinism.’ Second, while what we experience is a consequence of our past actions, how we conduct ourselves in the midst of these (
30) experiences determines our own destiny in the future. This again is individual responsibility and exercise of free will rather than fatalism. A proper understanding of how the law of karma operates in our lives helps us sustain peace of mind in the midst of turmoil and sorrow while strengthening our motivation to engage positively in meeting life’s challenges.
Note: for a fuller treatment of this subject, including important nuances and lessons drawn from engaging scriptural stories, see -
From Death to Birth: Understanding Karma and Reincarnation, by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Himalayan Institute, 1997; ISBN 0-89389-147-9.
CHAPTER 10, SPIRITUAL PRACTICE, by DR. D.C. Rao.
The ultimate goal of Hindu spiritual practice is to become aware of the Divine’s presence everywhere at all times in oneself, in every other human being, and in the whole of creation. Achieving this goal requires a mind that is exceptionally clear and calm. Hindu scriptures offer a variety of practices that help the seeker purify the mind and expand his/her consciousness.
While the final goal of these practices is moksha, liberation, there are also immediate benefits of great practical value. Such a person rises above sorrows and spreads peace and joy to others. The purpose of this note is to convey a broad understanding of the principles on which Hindu spiritual practices are based and outline the vast variety of practices that are described in the scriptures.
The core of Hindu spiritual practice is to recognize that our true identity is not the mortal body but the immortal, blissful Atman. Hindu scriptures offer detailed guidance on how to replace this misidentification with an understanding of our essential inner Divinity. When the physical body dies, our minds live on and carry to our next life the level of understanding that we attained in this life. Each life as a human being is an opportunity to improve our spiritual understanding.
The primary impediment to spiritual evolution is the deep reservoir of habits and misconceptions in our minds that prevent us from realizing the truth about our own blissful nature and seeing Divine glory in the world around us. These misconceptions are the cause of endless agitation as we vainly seek to find happiness is the wrong places. Jerked about by our likes and dislikes we fail to enjoy the peace of mind we crave for.
Replacing false understanding with a realization of the inherent joy in the universe is necessarily a long and arduous process that might take several lifetimes. Hindu scriptures describe this process in depth and offer many suggestions on how to transform our minds and speed our progress on the spiritual path. In discussions on how to transform the mind, two recurrent themes are abhyasa (practice) and vairagya (non-attachment) (43)
. As long as our minds are preoccupied with seeking fleeting pleasures in gratifying our senses, accumulating possessions and nursing relationships, we are only reinforcing mental habits that consistently fail to bring lasting happiness and spiritual growth. Disciplining these habits by cultivating non-attachment frees our minds to pursue spiritual goals and connect with the Divine within us. Such discipline requires sustained and well-designed practice. Hindu scriptures prescribe a vast array of practices that can be helpful to a spiritual seeker.
With some ritualistic exceptions, practices are not mandated. The individual seeker is free to adopt the practices that s/he finds appealing. Many seekers consult spiritual teachers (Gurus) and follow systematic paths. Spiritual practices constitute two broad categories: those practices that can be practiced by all seekers without much preparation; and more intensive practices that require a higher degree of commitment and preparation. The following paragraphs provide some examples of practices in each of these categories.
Practices as a part of daily life such as: daily prayer at a family altar at home; remembering God in simple prayers associated with daily activities such as eating and bathing; celebrating holy days; visiting the temple; regular fasting on a weekly or fortnightly basis; daily or weekly readings of scriptures such as the Ramayana.
Satsang: Being a member of a community of spiritual seekers to engage in singing devotional songs, scriptural study, and group prayer. Listening to spiritual discourses by learned teachers. This helps keep the seeker on the spiritual path, reinforces good practices and resolves doubts.
Pilgrimage: scriptures extol the practice of visiting sacred sites, preferably with the family. This enhances faith. Some pilgrimages can be arduous and strengthen spiritual discipline. There are scores of sacred sites that seekers aspire to visit, ranging from nearby temples dedicated to family deities to distant temples in the Himalayas.
Dharma: Hindu dharma is a nuanced set of guidelines on what constitutes right action in given circumstances. Basic principles include not hurting others, being honest and living a life of self-restraint. An ethical life is the foundation of spiritual practice. Many scriptures offer guidance on dharma, which is a major emphasis in family upbringing as well.
Right attitude in all daily activities. Basic practices include being diligent in performing all duties and focusing on doing the right thing rather than on enjoying the fruit of our actions. Engaging only in actions that promote the greater good purifies the mind, reducing the force of desire, anger and greed.
Ashtanga Yoga: the 8-fold path is a systematic approach to spiritual practice that includes an ethical foundation; physical and breathing exercises to mobilize inner energies; and mental disciplines that culminate in meditative absorption of the mind and complete liberation. Related yogic practices focus on activating internal energy centers (cakras) to expand spiritual consciousness. A yogi sees everything clearly as it is and remains unperturbed.
Upasana: more intensive forms of prayer that include use of physical images (murtis), esoteric patterns (yantras) and the repetition of mantras (japa) that represent the Divine. Formal worship includes the practice of nyasa whereby God’s presence is ritually invoked in each part of the worshipper’s body prior to the worship (puja). By recognizing God’s presence in everything, one
sees oneself in all others and all others in oneself. (33)
Yajna: placing offerings in a sacred fire accompanied by chanting of mantras invoking Divine blessings.
Jnana Yoga: intensive study of the Upanishads and related philosophical texts, resolution of doubts on their meaning, followed by contemplation and application of the teachings in daily life. Seeing the One in all diverse forms, s/he sees beyond all divisions and all his/her actions are for the well-being of others.
Meditation: practice of deep and prolonged meditation that brings clarity and tranquility to the mind.
Sanyasa: total renunciation of all possessions, family, professional and social ties; and complete immersion in spiritual contemplation. Some renunciates live in spiritual communities, ashrams, and many wander freely in a spirit of surrender to the Divine, relying on whatever food and shelter comes their way.
Practices listed above as “common” and “intensive” can be used by both beginners and advanced practitioners to purify and calm their minds. One whose mind is completely clear and calm connects effortlessly with the inner Divinity and attains liberation from worldly agitations and sorrows. (34)
CHAPTER 11, PATHS OF YOGA, by Dr. D.C. Rao.
The Sanskrit word Yoga is derived from the root yuj, similar to the word ‘yoke.’ In the spiritual context, yoga is that which helps one unite with Supreme Consciousness.
The ultimate goal of spirituality in Hinduism is to become aware of the Divine presence everywhere, at all times, in oneself, in every other human being, and in the whole of creation. Hindus may seek to connect with the Divine as an all-pervasive Consciousness, Brahman, or as a presence that dwells within one’s heart or as the Personality of Godhead.
Recognizing that persons have varying spiritual understanding, physical and intellectual capacities and even interest in the Divine, Hindu scriptures offer a variety of spiritual paths or yogas to help all seekers progress toward this goal, each in their own way. A key component of all yoga is to transform the mind, making it clear and calm; the techniques vary among the different paths of
Karma Yoga: the Yoga of Action
Actions commonly reflect personal likes or dislikes, and are undertaken seeking personal gain or the benefit of those to whom one is attached. Spiritual evolution requires that all actions, including speech and the thoughts that lead to actions, are unselfish and derive from a dedication to the common good. The path of Karma Yoga is about being engaged in purposeful action without any expectation of personal reward, here or in after-life, and achieving freedom from fear and sorrow. The components of this path are:
- Doing one’s duties willingly, cheerfully and with love. This helps overcome likes/dislikes and reduces avoidable stress.
- Surrender the fruit of actions to God. Recognize that the outcome of one’s actions is determined by forces beyond one’s control. Give God the credit for successful actions.
- Do good because it is the right thing to do. Offer all actions as contributions to nature’s cosmic flow presided over by God. Act as an instrument of God.
- Acknowledge that the power to act is itself a gift from God and gratefully surrender all actions to God.
Raja Yoga: the Yoga of Meditation, the “Royal Path”:
Raja Yoga is the systematic practice of precise techniques to become -
- aware of one’s internal energies,
- make the mind clear and calm and
- know the Self.
This path consists of eight steps:
- exercising specified disciplines in daily life;
- cultivating and refining internal awareness;
- physical postures to improve health and gain awareness of internal energy flows;
- breathing exercises to access the nervous system and bring clarity to the mind;
- turning the mind inward, away from the distracting influence of sense organs;
- making the mind one-pointed in concentration;
- focusing the mind in meditation; and, finally,
- achieving Samadhi, a super-conscious state of mind that leads to intuitive wisdom and direct experience of the Self.
This path requires good health, discipline and a dedication to regular practice.
Jnana Yoga: Path of Knowledge, Vedanta:
Practitioners of the path of knowledge strive to realize the Self by removing ignorance about our essential nature, our relation with the world around us, and the origin and destiny of the universe.
The basic technique used on this path is seeking the Truth through deep intellectual enquiry and vigorous debate. It has three stages -
- Study the scripture, mainly the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras, along with commentaries and expository texts by learned teachers.
- Sustained reflection on the messages of these scriptures and efforts to resolve doubts about their meaning.
- Meditation to fully internalize the distinction between Pure Consciousness, the eternal, all-pervasive, changeless and blissful Reality and all the rest that is ephemeral and the product of the mind.
The conclusions of Vedanta are fully accepted only when the statements in scriptures are found to be consistent with reason and the seeker’s own direct experience.
This path requires a high degree of intellectual rigor, the capacity for patient reflection, a burning desire for liberation and the ability to detach from sensory pleasures in order to concentrate on spiritual enquiry.
Bhakti Yoga: the Yoga of Devotion, Love of God:
The essence of Bhakti Yoga is intense love of God, characterized by constant remembrance and an unconditional desire to serve God in both mortal and celestial realms.
On this path, devotion is its own reward and the practitioner renounces all other desires, even the desire for moksha, liberation. All desires and emotions are directed toward God and the devotee loves God with at least as much intensity as others might love sense pleasures or worldly possessions.
In brief, the devotee rests his/her mind and heart in God and consecrates all actions in service of God. The main steps in the path of devotion are:
- Guard against bad habits that pollute body and mind;
- Seek the company of other devotees; listen to and sing about the glories of God;
- Chant God’s name, worship God and remember God incessantly to purify the mind;
- Serve all beings with humility and in an attitude of submission to God’s glory;
- Cultivate an intimate relationship with God as a dear friend, as a child or as a lover;
- Be open to God’s grace by which alone one attains supreme devotion;
The scriptures urge devotees to go beyond mere ritual worship and stress the importance of serving others. The best devotee is one who sees God dwelling in oneself and in all beings, and all beings dwelling in oneself and in God.
Tantra: Esoteric, All-embracing Path:
The central theme of Tantra is that the entire universe is one indivisible whole as a manifestation of the Divine Mother, the inseparable union of Pure Consciousness ( Shiva) and primordial energy (Shakti); and that one who has pierced the secrets of the universe can attain all goals, both spiritual and material.
The focal point of tantra is worship of the Divine Mother in all Her aspects, both creative and transformative. Declaring that each human being is a microcosm embodying the entire universe (
36 ), tantric practitioners seek to master their own mind, senses and body as a means of knowing the universe.
Tantrics see the Divine in and through every experience; and use every object and experience in the world as tools for spiritual growth. Practitioners embrace a very wide variety of practices including the use of sacred sound, sacred designs , sacred gestures, sacred objects, gems, astrology, alchemy, ritual sacrifice, fire-offerings, prayer and meditation.
Building on the techniques of Raja Yoga, advanced techniques are used to mobilize the infinite energy that dwells dormant within oneself. When these practices are employed for personal gain and transgress ethics and morality, they cause fear and revulsion. When the goal is spiritual, the path of tantra is systematic, comprehensive and effective.
The Yogas are Complementary:
Far from being mutually exclusive, the various paths of yoga are strongly complementary. A Hindu spiritual seeker typically draws on more than one path in practice.
Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga have been described as the two wings and the tail of a bird in flight. Karma Yoga is recognized as powerful in purifying the mind and a necessary foundation for all spiritual practice. Each path contributes in its own way to the achievement of spiritual goals. Further, these paths converge at the culmination of spiritual practice. A deep practice of the path of knowledge leads to the flowering of devotion; and the deep practice of the path of devotion leads to the emergence of knowledge.