Someone asked in a comment what rules one should follow in the spiritual path regarding music, movies and popular entertainment. This post covers movies and the next will cover popular music songs. I would like to open with a personal anecdote.
Someone wrote to me regarding his experience of worsening health due to the practice of Integral Yoga. He had read Satprem’s “Adventures of Consciousness” about 15 years ago and started practicing immediately. In the beginning, it was slow walking meditation where he would attempt to suspend his thought process while keeping attention on surrounding objects. Later, he imagined himself becoming one with his surroundings and offering it to the Divine.
Sri Kumaré is an enlightened guru from the East who has come to America to spread his teachings. Kumaré sets off to Phoenix, Arizona to build a following. He takes with him two disciples — Kristen to teach yoga and Purva to book events — who will become Kumaré’s first followers and greatest public messengers.
Napoleon once remarked that a great general must have equilibrium: “The object most desirable is that a man’s judgment should be in equilibrium with his physical character or courage. This is what we may call being well squared both by base and perpendicular. If courage be in the ascendency, a general will rashly undertake that which he can not execute; on the contrary, if his character or courage be inferior to his judgment, he will not venture to carry any measure into effect”.
Many novices to Yoga discover that once you have pacified the restless body and harmonized the breathing process before meditation, you might experience a few minutes of mental silence, but this illusory peace is quickly shattered by the sudden uprush of disturbing images and negative thoughts. These unpleasant ideas come partly from within and partly from outside. Within us, there are repressed parts of the personality which rebel against any imposition of harmony while on the external front, we are constantly bathing in the vibrations of the world and a desultory attempt to cut our mind off from these pervasive vibrations is bound to fail. In an age of rapid technological change where we are being continuously bombarded by powerful and seductive audio-visual content on a wide variety of electronic devices, the frequency of this problem has probably increased rather than decreased. These are some remarks by the Mother on this perennial botheration.
The path of the Yogin demands dogged persistence because final perfection depends on two qualitatively different factors: one’s own refractory psychological habits whose complete dissolution requires multiple rounds and a whimsical Divine power which intermittently showers its Grace but leaves you in the dark at other times. These are a couple of progress reports that Sri Aurobindo had jotted down in his diary The Record of Yoga during his early years in Pondicherry. They indicate the ceaseless struggle and the subsequent reversal of consciousness that he underwent in the quest for yogic perfection.
The Mother Mirra Alfassa offers a taxonomy of the various methods of self-realization that have been developed. This article has been synthesized from three of her recorded talks.
The Mother Mirra Alfassa was a much misunderstood Guru outside the confines of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Some derided her as authoritarian presumably because she supervised parades in the Ashram(these were intended to instill the discipline required for yogic transformation). Others, after reading of her intimate involvement in the day-to-day decisions of the disciples, concluded that she had turned the Ashram into a cult. Men especially had difficulty accepting an European (not to mention French) woman as a Guru. Many hasty, as well as nasty, misconceptions arise because we superficially evaluate her external behaviour based on our own preconceptions and prejudices. A proper appraisal of her functioning as a Guru requires some patience along with a nascent psychic sensitivity to perceive the luminous consciousness behind her frontal personality.
The spiritual path often seems like a walk through the arid desert. Intermittently, one may encounter an oasis of water in the form of a replenishing soul moment, but the rest of the time one has to trudge through the scorching heat of the hardships of daily life. It is in this context that the Vedic Rishis spoke of the spiritual seeker being like a Divine child who is suckled by two Mothers – Dawn and Night. In such situations, one may wonder why spiritual experiences never seem to repeat; why can’t one recapture that stirring rapture one had experienced before? The Mother Mirra Alfassa provided some striking and sagacious answers to such often perplexing questions.
“How would the lives of Western women have been different if they had been raised to believe that God was a Mother, all loving and all powerful?” It is with this thought-provoking question that Lisa “Prajna” Hallstrom opens her book Mother of Bliss on the life of the Bengali woman saint, Anandmayi Ma(1896-1982). Hallstrom, through this book, sought to understand the phenomenon of female spiritual Gurus in India. (See her website)
In moments of despondency, we tend to wonder if the efforts that we make through meditation, incantations, devotion, selfless service and other austerities to become a better and more spiritual person are having any positive effect. They do have a substantive but invisible effect on our aura or subtle body but we lack the occult insight to discern such changes. It is only a genuine Guru who can perceive changes in the subtle body of the disciple. In the absence of a Guru, one can assess one’s spiritual progress by observing the psychological changes that have transpired in one’s responses to external situations. These are two talks by the Mother Mirra Alfassa on the topic of spiritual progress.
It is known that the restless mind cannot immediately enter into a state of thoughtlessness. That is why meditation is practised in stages. A 2005 paper “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness” by Antoine Lutz and his colleagues contains a very succinct description of this graded process accompanied by a concise table, which we highlight in this post. Continue reading
The spiritual path attracts all kinds of people, each endowed with some peculiar psychological strengths and weaknesses. The Bhagavad Gita 7:16 (see Four types of Divine seekers) speaks of four types of spiritual aspirants: those who seek refuge from worldly troubles, those who seek intellectual satisfaction in spiritual knowledge, those who wish to use the Divine strength to fulfill worldly ambitions and above all, those who synthesize devotion and knowledge and seek union with the Divine without expecting anything in return. In this context, Dr Ramesh Bijlani, who is currently affiliated with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Delhi, has written a perspicacious article detailing some pitfalls that can be observed in young, over-eager spiritual aspirants. This rest of this article is excerpted from his blog.
A particularly intransigent problem in the practice of Yoga is that of retention of power; the fleeting contact that one gains with the Higher Power during meditation seems to dissipate within a few minutes after meditation, after which one finds oneself uncomfortably thrust back into the ugly daily persona – an amalgam of anxiety, impatience, ambition and what not. The way out of this dilemma is to embrace a daily regimen of control over conversation, food, television and computer usage and other activities which “externalize” the consciousness. The exercise discussed in this article “walking with eyes unfocused” can also extend the retention of consciousness.
The subjective perception of Time is a well-known phenomenon studied by neuroscientists and psychologists. They have discovered that as people get older, the years seem to be fly by much quickly . Time slows down amidst a crisis or accident when we become painfully aware of every thought and feeling . It slows down when we are exasperated and eagerly waiting for something to happen (“Are we there yet...?”) but, in sharp constrast, it zips by when we are engrossed in study. Scientists have also discovered the Kappa effect by which a faster journey over more distance appears more time-consuming than a slower journey over less distance. Psychedelic drugs like LSD are said to drastically impair the linear conception of time, making time go backwards and even out of sequence. Centuries earlier, St Augustine of Hippo commented that when we measure time, we are actually measuring the mental memory of the past event or interval of time .
Thomas McEvilley has done a systematic study of the correspondence between ancient Greek and Indian philosophy in his 2001 book The Shape of Ancient Thought. This post summarizes his discovery of the Kundalini concept in Greek and other ancient non-Indian cultures. The manner in which these concepts were divined or disseminated through various ancient cultures is a matter of contention, which I shall not pursue here.
As the consciousness becomes purified through regular practice of Yoga, one finds that sleep becomes more active and more real. Dreams no longer seem to be phantasmagoric illusions but resemble what they actually are – excursions into the occult worlds. We possess one unbroken stream of consciousness, which during the day dwells in the physical world and at night interacts with the occult worlds and consequently, the experiences we have in dreams are inextricably tied to the events in the physical world. In this article, we explore a few ways to become more conscious in sleep.
Most people in the initial stages of the spiritual path attain what may be called a “passive calm”. The glow on their face lasts only as long as they are surrounded by kind and gentle people like themselves. Faced with a protracted conflict, they either shrink from it in revulsion or unexpectedly lose their composure in exasperation. One must strive to attain an “active calm” which doesn’t dissipate even in the midst of conflict. The ability to handle vicissitudes in the hustle and bustle of daily life has to be developed. It is in the darkest hour, when circumstances are the opposite of one’s spiritual ideals, that one must be able to survive solely by the power of the inner lamp.
As children, many of us are told to speak the truth as we see it but as we grow up, we realize that the forthright manner of asserting the truth can have undesirable consequences, as it may impede some higher ideals that need to be upheld or perhaps because there are conflicting ideals which may call for exercising discretion. In the spiritual path, one gradually becomes conscious that behind the objective affectation of truth stands a Higher Truth which needs to be understood and manifested in speech.
We know we are doing something wrong and yet, when the time comes, we are unable to stop ourselves. This can happen for very small things and also for things which have a crucial impact on our lives. When we are quiet, by ourselves, we feel that we will not indulge in wrong movements or repeat our mistakes. But as soon as the occasion arises, not only do we forget our resolutions, but even begin to find justifications and excuses for our indulgence. And the whole cycle repeats itself over and over again. We sometimes wonder why this is so. This article explores the way out of this psychological predicament.