Travelling Further Towards the East
- There is an assumption that by following the teachings of another I am following blindly; that by subscribing to the philosophy and insight of a spiritual master, I therefore must lack insight and judgement of my own. As a student of Sri Chinmoy, I am fully aware that I am doing something unusual, that my chosen lifestyle differs substantially from the majority of those around me, particularly in this day and modern age. Some might argue therefore that I am brainwashed, in the grip of another's sway and ideas, and without a mind of my own. Some might say anything, and they can it is their right and opinion but they would do so without regard for the reality being discussed; for the truth as I know it, and live it every day.
"Ignorance is a lot like alcohol: the more you have of it, the less you are able to see its effect on you."
Jay M. Bylsma
Many years ago, I was contacted by the editor of the student newspaper of my former university. They were doing a series on people with "different lifestyles", and would I like to contribute?
In the subsequent article, I started by comparing the lot of a spiritual seeker to a label worn by a well known motorcycle gang: "one percenter". Worn with pride and honour by these latter-day troglodytes, the moniker refers to a minority who have consciously chosen not to follow the path of the many. Obviously, the analogy between motorcycle gangs and spirituality is a highway short indeed, and I went on to make the point that a seeker is more like the one percent of the percent, so rare is the path of spiritual self-discovery in today's world.
It goes without saying that something as rare as spirituality is open to misunderstanding and confusion, for what we do not understand, we often fear. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Fear always springs from ignorance", and that the world is largely ignorant of spirituality, its tenants and foundations, is a fact. Spirituality has traditionally shunned the world, cloistered itself in monasteries or caves, looked down its nose at the world just as the world has turned its nose up at it and this situation has hardly been conducive to shedding light upon spirituality's practises and beliefs.
In such a context, those of us who have chosen to cast aside the so-called ordinary life the life of surface and appearance, of materiality and physicality, of the here and now and the flesh and blood walk a path others very often do not understand. And in many cases, it is a path that they are barely equipped to comprehend.
"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."
In the metaphorical spirit of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock presently being celebrated, those who are seekers are a little like Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters we have sampled the electric kool-aid, and now travel eastwards on a bus named "Furthur". Except that our journey is towards the wisdom of the East, rather than simply east across America; our vessel is meditation, a ship navigated within rather than school bus driven without; and our kool-aid is the original "hallucinogen" and source of awakening, the glimmer and spark of truth more powerful than any substance taken or idea believed the light and illumination of the immortal, eternal human soul.
Unless you are on board this bus towards truth however, unless you have learned to tap into a deeper source of wisdom and knowledge, to seek for and listen to the truths of the heart and soul, you really are not equipped to understand. You are as if without a flashlight, travelling blindly in the dark.
One cannot transcend thinking by thinking, go beyond ideas with further ideas. To reach an awareness beyond that of thought and physical perception, to understand the journey that seekers such as ourselves have undertaken, you also have to silence the instruments of both through concentration, through meditation, still the physical body and silence the mind. Like a puppet master rather than puppet, a seeker gradually learns to control the strings upon which they dance and sway, but once they do so, they are no longer a puppet, and they are no longer living only upon an earthy stage.
It is understandable that people misunderstand seekers and their motives, completely understandable. But it is not so forgivable that they do so without an understanding of what it is they are dismissing, and nor are their arguments any more valid for the persistence or volume of their shouting, or the insistence and strength of their belief.
"You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant."
It is the greatest conundrum of existence, the question of life after death, the question of a reality beyond the doors of the present, but it can not be proved by philosophy or argument, science or reason nor even by faith. The experience of life beyond death, of awareness beyond the physical body, is an experience of consciousness, and the only way to master the domain of consciousness is through meditation.
Going where centuries of philosophers have inconclusively attempted to tread, we who meditate seek a truth which can neither be proved nor disproved with the tools at our present disposal. Meditators seek a non-physical truth and perception, here in the heart of the physical world; we seek the soul while inside the body, and while in a society that is firmly entrenched in a physical culture and understanding. We are the people shouting, or more correctly, quietly chanting, that the Emperor has no clothes that the foundation of reality and existence is deeper than that generally assumed. Yet to the masses around us, the Emperor really does have clothes, and his clothes are not at all illusory when one lacks the perception to see through them.
"Living is Easy with Your Eyes Closed."
Modern psychology has a phenomena termed the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby incompetent people tend to lack the competence to realise their own incompetence, repeatedly rating their skill and ability higher than those who actually do possess high skills and abilities. Inversely, those with higher competence underrate their abilities, and rather than possessing what would be a fully justified sense of superiority, tend to suffer from an actually illusory sense of inferiority.
To put it in the clinical language of the investigating psychologists: "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."
There is a similar phenomenon at work among the seeker of truth. One of the first hallmarks of seeking is the realisation of how little is known wisdom is said to begin with the knowledge that one has much more to learn. Thus begins the road to wisdom, spiritual wisdom; the knowledge of oneself one's true self and the true, deeper nature of the world we are in. With such a realisation, which you could correctly call humility, it should be added that it is also perfectly natural to seek the assistance and insight of one with more wisdom a guru.
As a seeker learns to be humble, to appreciate the truth and understanding of others as being a part of an overarching, universal truth "oneness in diversity" as Sri Chinmoy would describe it, or "multiplicity-ecstasy" they can at times inadvertently subscribe to the same fallacy described by the Dunning-Kruger effect an assumption that others must know what they are talking about, must possess also the same insight and reason especially if they voice it with sufficient volume and conviction. Conversely, without the insight of meditation, and the wisdom and humility that it brings, those who are not seekers may overestimate their knowledge especially in regard to the spiritual life.
In such a light, people may make the assumption that in being students of a meditation teacher like Sri Chinmoy, we are following the word and say so of another blindly, but to put it frankly, they really do not know what they are talking about.
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"People are confident of everything these days. Even a child knows everything. Two or three hundred years ago, people wouldn't dare to speak of God. A few hundred years ago most people didn't know anything about God. Very few had the feeling that some people had realised God. Now all Indian widows are realised; we have to touch their feet. These days in America, people who haven't even done Hatha Yoga, let alone meditation, talk to their friends as if they know everything about God. They may not have been to any spiritual Master, but they know everything.
As in the Indian villages, people here have a disproportionate confidence. In the past people had faith in their incapacity. They would learn from God. Now the people in the world know everything about God. Often people are insincere. If they tell a lie ten times in a dramatic way, the eleventh time they do not take it as a lie. By the eleventh time, it is the truth. Once they are convinced that they will realise God, they try to give realisation to everybody. A kind of confidence has entered into the world that is founded upon nothing. We need confidence, but this is false confidence. It is something we have created in order to show off to the world and to other people."
Excerpt from Transformation Of The Ego by Sri Chinmoy.
* * *
Personally, I take it on more than just faith that Sri Chinmoy was an authority on spirituality and the inner life. Before I became a student of Sri Chinmoy, I read and reread every book I could get my hands upon on meditation and the spiritual life, and as a nineteen year old university student, I was already meditating twice daily, starting to eat vegetarian, attempting to refrain from alcohol and even considering celibacy long before I had read a single word of my guru to be. Far from swallowing a philosophy or creed credulously, I tested and weighed every phrase and page of Sri Chinmoy's when first read, compared them to what I had already gleaned and understood and only then found them to be true. And not just true in a mental or mathematical sense. The words spoken by Guru rang true in my heart, just "made sense", spoke to me directly in a way that nothing before ever had.
Furthermore, in fifteen years as a student of Sri Chinmoy, I test my guru and his teachings every day not in a critical, suspicious manner, but by putting them into practise, consciously and deliberately, then weighing the subsequent result. The proof indeed is in the pudding as they say, for if I were not honestly happier, wiser and more insightful for following Sri Chinmoy's path, why would I continue to do so?
I laugh at the suggestion that I may be like a sheep, blindly following a shepherd or the rest of the flock. I have lived in the material world, I have tasted its fruits, and if I thought them preferable I would devour them still. I am not a disciple because I am afraid of the world, and I am not a disciple because I think it rotten to the core. I am a student of Sri Chinmoy because I seek more than all this more than the here and now and because in Sri Chinmoy, his teachings and personal example, I have found the more that I seek. More so every day.
- Hello everyone,
I have not had the time to check out this site for ages. I have just spent a fascinating hour and more reading all the posts in this thread. There is much I agree with and much to which I feel inspired to comment on.
The first thing is the Village Green, preservation and change.
I grew up on a farm, deep in the English countryside, surrounded by villages so I know quite a bit about villages.
The Village Green originated as common land in the middle of the community where all the local people could graze their animals free. It symbolises the best in community qualities like oneness, fairness, sharing and working together for the common good. It is a sacred space which belongs to noone but is available for the good of all.
In villages where the Village Green remains it is a real asset for all the community. It is the place where village cricket is played, school sports days and summer fetes are held, a place where children play and the elderly can sit in the shade of the trees to watch the day go by, catching up on the news from all who pass by. Long live the Village Green, God Save the Village Green.
My home village is Hempstead, in North Essex near the borders of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Our village green once ran as a wide strip of grassland right throught the village, beside the stream and along the main road one side with its main width on the other side and fringed by houses.
Some if it was swallowed up in the years after the second world war by greedy residents whose homes bordered on it, incorporating pieces into their gardens. Slowly the gardens encroached and as they copied each other more and more was eaten up until now most gardens border right onto the footpath and road.
More was lost, right in the heart of the village (where our road turns up towards the church. opposite the village pub (which took the spread of land in front of it as a car park,) when the village shop (now closed) extended its premises right up to the road - and more was lost by the widening of the road, building of a bus shelter and memorial garden until eventually there was no Village Green left. In this way so many villages have lost their character and their strength. Much has gone that once brought people together and wove them into a real community.
Village Greens are priceless. We need to recognise the things that are of real value and protect them. True, change is inevitable. Without change life would end, but there needs to be discernment. There are sacred trusts, passed to us from previous generations, which - as the Native American Philosophy reminds us so eloquently are like the earth which `was loaned to us by our grandchildren, and is not something which belongs to us' to use for our own selfish desires.
You can play with satire and criticise those who resist change but do not ever lump silly things like Donald Duck together with sacred things like the Village Green!
Reflecting on this in relation to our spiritual progress I can see that we are also changing and that this is right and good. But in our spiritual lives also there are sacred qualities which, like the Common and Village Green in our communities, we should also cherish and defend.
`Be like a child' is a message found at the heart of all the religions. I remember that Guru once said something to the effect that that everyone who had been a disciple for more than two years and was under 80 years of age should participate in Circus, during Celebrations, because it brings forward and strengthens the 'divine child' in us.
One of his favourite ways of describing the Absolute Supreme was as The Divine Child.
Guru asked us to sing the `seven year old' song every day. That was because he wanted us to make good progress, not go backwards. So what are the important qualities of a child which we need to cherish and develop, not abandon or destroy?
I think that being like a seven year old child does not mean staying small and weak, helpless and innocent. It does not mean being childish, self-centred and inclined to 'throw a tantrum when we loose our toys.' I think it means being free from the intellectual and judgemental mind and always open to new things. It means seeing the world with fresh eyes, appreciating beauty and being able to look with wonder and not be ashamed to cry - as well as being quick to smile. It means possessing and valuing qualities like purity, simplicity, sincerity, eagerness, enthusiasm etc while still striving to develop all the divine adult qualities such as knowledge of the unknown wider world, wisdom and the inner and outer strength and confidence which children still need to find.
Reflecting on the need to become like a child reminded me of my own son. He has is in Bangladesh for the concert. That is a real miracle. We knew he must go, we both gave it our total focus - but until the goal is won everything is unsure. It was a great experience of the power of faith and refusal to even consider the possibility of giving up. And I was very proud of my son because not only was he a member of the famous orchestra choir but he was so strong, so focussed and we were able to encourage each other. It's a privilege to know such a good disciple, never mind to be his mum.
On the way to the airport my son was thanking me for helping him reach this particular goal. I thanked him. He may not be great in the way that the wider world understands, they may look down on him because he is not `university educated' or `earning a regular salary' in some `prestigious profession' and the `mainstream world' may blame me for 'ruining his life' by encouraging him to get to New York twice a year and be available for things like the Bangladesh concert instead of 'getting a steady job and saving up for a house and family' etc. But he has something else far more valuable than wealth or outer-world prestige.
Like all the great disciples, he has the love for Guru, the faith in Guru, the divine aspiration to serve Guru, the readiness, the eagerness, the willingness, the determination, and the focus which Guru spoke about so often. In the spiritual life these qualities are infinitely more important than money and social position.
The day when Guru put him in Kanan's Group and said he must always sing with the 'Excellent Singers' was perhaps the proudest day of my life. You need a golden voice to be in Kanan's Singing Group but you also need something else- your inner, spiritual qualities to be shining bright. If he had won an Olympic Gold Medal I would not have been more proud.
So he is one of the great singers - but without the willingness and determination that he has showed in the past weeks he could have had the finest voice on the planet and he would not have made it to Bangladesh.
Some people writing here spoke on the subject of 'feminism' and I am so grateful that my own 'feministical needs for motherhood' could be used and blessed by Guru in such a divine way to be mother of such a great disciple. But as so many disciple girls have shown we do not need to physically give birth to children to offer the mother-qualities in the service of the Supreme. Our Centre Community is real family - and beyond that Guru came to offer love and light to all the world. I guess this is why so many great Centre Heads are women.
There is endless scope for satisfying our 'maternal instincts' with or without our own children - and as all those who have been mothers know well, our kids grow up 'real fast' so we have to look more widely if we are endowed with maternal riches.
My name is Durga-Mata. The Mata bit means mother and the meaning includes 'The compassion to embrace the whole world.' Years before I knew my soul's Name I was in India where through Guru's grace I met Manju and her granddaughter Amrita who became Guru's first (and so far only) disciples in Kolkata and I became Amrita's 'second mum.' at that time she was 9 years old and she is now 22.
I am so proud of Amrita and delighted that she is staying with me at the moment. We are looking for ways of strengthening her outer situation as well as her discipleship. She is such a fantastic kid. It is a great source of joy to be able to give Amrita some motherly friendship and support.
But there are many other ways in which we can use our motherly skills for the wider world. One member of our centre is unwell at the moment and I have been able to visit and bring her to the Centre sometimes, glad for once that I am not in full time work. At a time when many are finding it hard to maintain the discipline of being on the Path, and who may be lonely or stressed, we have a special responsibility to use our motherly qualities to care for each other and make sure our family is strong and our brothers and sisters are given the support they may be needing.
Some people, not physically close, one can support just by finding time to phone, to listen, to share. I think that Maternal instinct is a fire-bright capacity for love, self-giving and concern it has little to do with bringing one's own offspring into the world. And it is not just my son and daughter of whom I am proud. The spiritual life is not easy for any of us. Maintaining our focus and faith through and beyond the time of our Guru's Passing has been difficult for everyone. It still is. I am proud of all my brothers and sisters around the world who are still giving their best efforts and love to their spiritual lives and Centre activities.
Maintaining the beauty and purity of Guru's Divine Vision and Mission and taking His Light to all the people of the world is something that we can all only achieve when we work together. When Oneness becomes a reality and not just a word. I feel so proud of all my brothers and sisters who embrace Guru's teaching and discipline wholeheartedly, who remain true and will always remain true to Him even though the whole world may not understand.
I will end this post - which is getting quite long enough now - with the words of my esteemed brother Jogyata; words which I and so many other disciples will be moved to write in gold on the tablet of our hearts and claim forever as our own. I love you all as my real spiritual brothers and sisters. We are a fantastic family and I will always do my best to support and encourage you all . Now, here is Jogyata again, speaking so eloquently as he always does and getting right to the heart of the matter -
`Personally I always pray to be true to my teacher and my path to the end. And the inner challenges such as doubt, fear, anxiety and flagging aspiration - these are really our greatest threat rather than the enemy at the gates - plus the innumerable outer challenges of the world will finally strengthen us, for we cannot make progress in a vacuum, nor ever realize God unless through the trials of life we develop strength and faith and fortitude.
Our prayer life and meditations also keep us on track, even if the way forward seems sometimes a little murky - for the deeper into meditation's silence we can go, the more we can feel our inner promises and purpose, the light of our soul, the living omnipresence of our Guru....
Guru's own words are always encouraging': "A seeker must feel that he is all duty. The more you take your life as a life of divine, supreme duty to the Supreme, the more your body, vital, mind, heart and soul will spread beauty ...
Spiritual history will bear witness to what we are doing. Each of you is of paramount importance. In spiritual history our love of light, truth and oneness will be inscribed in golden letters. If we dedicate ourselves consciously to the supreme cause with our aspiration, prayer, meditation and service, then in and through us will grow a better, more illumining and fulfilling world." - Sri Chinmoy (unofficial)
Thanks Jogyata, thanks to all who have contributed to this inspiring and insightful thread.
All my love,
- Hi Durga-Mata,
It was fascinating to read about the Village Green from you, a bona-fide expert on the subject. :-) Only in our spiritual family would we find such a breadth of experience, geography and background that the choice of the "Village Green" as a metaphor could be versed in reality, not theory, in your own life.
The genius in that song "The Village Green Preservation Society" featured in Michael's post is the layers of possible meaning and interpretation one could bring to it. In one breath it seemed to poke fun and in another it could be said to be sincere. I guess you felt it was more the former than the latter and certainly you make a valiant case for its positive attributes.
In New England, our phrase for the village green is the town common. Since New England has the word England in it, I guess it is only to be expected that this model of community organization would be replicated in the region first settled in America. When I lived in Amherst, Massachusetts (near the homestead of Emily Dickinson), the town common hosted events such as a "Teddy Bear Rally" where people actually brought their stuffed animal bears to the green expanse in the center of town for a festive kind of a fair. Here is footage from a Teddy Bear Rally in Amherst in 2000 that includes the singing of the official Amherst Teddy Bear Rally song:
Granted, the teddy bear rally was not exactly the norm...
Branching out from the village green, I do feel that unlike the Village Green song, my own reply on the subject of Michael's post lacked subtlety and I should take a lesson from his use of examples like the W. H. Auden poem. There is a delicate art of offering social commentary in a manner that provokes self-reflection without being alienating. Again the genius in Auden's poem "The Unknown Citizen" is that he offers a critique of ordinary and mainstream society and corporate life (circa 1940's England) without doing it in such a way that you are absolutely certain it is what he intends.
My own enthusiasm of conviction coupled with a fairly down-to-earth perspective sometimes is my own best friend and sometimes my own worst enemy. My strength of conviction can be an ally when I channel it as encouragement and support. If that same conviction is more of a critique, well we all know that most people are unable to respond positively to even the most constructively worded criticism. Adding a dose of humor with tongue in cheek can "preach" better than utmost seriousness. Hence the further wisdom in referencing Monty Python.
In closing, I am grateful to read your perspective as a mother as well. Your description of pride in and support of your son's own blossoming within the Sri Chinmoy Centre is quite touching. I especially like the way that you weave your perspective as a mother instilling in her child a deep love for God together with the spirit of child-like enthusiasm and cheerfulness so valuable for a spiritual aspirant of any age.
I hope you continue to find time for reading and replying here and thanks for continuing the thread on the topic of feminism, values, tradition/change and let's not forget strawberry jam and my new addition to the mix - teddy bears.