Happy New Year – 2023!

What makes someone take the time to clear the boulder and the fallen rock to make the driving safer for others? Is it unattached active engagement? Please see: https://sipractce.com/2018/01/01/on-altruism/
I wrote this blog post wishing all readers a Happy New Year in 2018! It is truly serendipitous that I came across this video five years later, on Facebook this morning: https://www.facebook.com/watch?v=721192209512930

Happy New Year – 2023 everyone! Wishing each of you and everyone in your families the very best of health and happiness as the new year rolls in. Please keep in mind that life is always a balancing act between (a) our Physical / material conditions (b) our emotions or social conditions and hence how we relate to each other and (c) our thoughts or conditioning of the mind and the peace / harmony that comes with it inside each of us as well as with everything that surrounds us. We call the third leg as Spirituality in Practice!

I am a bit behind in posting this New Year greetings since I was away on travel most of Dec. and in the first week of January. This travel gave me a chance to visit Dharamsala at the foot hills of Himalayas. An amazing and serene experience to this peaceful Buddhist and Hindu sanctuary, where every house seems to be built on hill side and every road is a narrow lane built on a steep slope! The food was amazing. Our host was the most delightful blessing for us in our life! When we were there the Buddhist Monastery where his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama lives celebrated the 33rd anniversary of his receiving the Noble Prize. It was nice to be part of the large throng of audience and also enjoy the butter tea served for every one!

We also had the chance to visit Chinmaya Mission at Sidhbari, 12 Km from Dharamsala. Situated and administered by Chinmaya Tapovan Trust in Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh, this is the second of Chinmaya Mission’s Vedantic institutes in India. It is a well laid out and welcoming facility, relatively quiet at this time as all the residents and monastics were away for the winter season. I had a chance to read one of the quotes by Swami Chinmayananda, founder of the Chinmaya Mission: “Don’t go to the peak to meditate; reach the “peak” in meditation”. This call to action in our daily life is indeed Spirituality in Practice.

For more on this trip to India, please see: https://stimsinstitute.com/2023/01/09/happy-new-year-2023/

We are in the process of compiling the blog posts into a book titled Spirituality in Practice.
We expect this book to be published by end of February, 2023! Stay Tuned !!

Best wishes to all!

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A brief introduction to the book: Spirituality in Practice due for release by the end of this year!

Dear all:

I am glad to share with you the attached pre-publication info.

Each of you has been a part of this journey as I have been working on the contents of this book for well over a decade now.

This book is due for publication before the end of the year.

I shall send you details on the book after it is published, hoping it will receive a wide reception and reading by you and your large network of family and friends.

As of now, please let me know if you have any inputs after reading the attached.

With best wishes to each of you and everyone in your families for a Happy Holiday season.

With warm wishes


Spirituality in Practice – SiP

A Collection of Essays

Exploration for peace and harmony within
as well as collaboration and cohesiveness
with all that surrounds us.

Dr. Krishnamoorthy (Subbu) Subramanian

1.  Introduction

This is a collection of essays on life in general. In our rush to do better, feel better and be happy, we tend to miss a large part of who we are, what we already have, and the happiness which is natural and within us all the time. When we stop, look around and “smell the roses” on hand, then it becomes easier to do better in whatever we are doing. Good feelings and genuine happiness also come forth as naturally as the water flows downstream or the rain soaks the dry earth, or plants grow on their own nourished by rainwater! This is Spirituality in Practice (SiP)!

I was born in a village and raised in rural towns in India. I moved to larger cities for higher studies and work and to the USA for graduate studies at MIT, Cambridge, MA., USA. My long professional career created opportunities to interact with many people and their families across the globe. My upbringing in the villages and small towns in rural India has been a source of reference for comparison and connectedness with many cultures and their way of life I witnessed across the globe while progressing through life. I have personally witnessed poverty and affluence in many continents. I have experienced the culture and way of life at all layers of society. My interactions with many professionals and their families from many nationalities and cultures have enriched my global view. This personal experience and exposure have impelled my study of Vedic Philosophy and its universal appeal.

SiP is always a work in progress. While perfection is the goal, we need to keep the “I” or ego in check to gain the most of it. For peace and harmony within as well as collaboration and cohesiveness with all that surrounds us! So, we have named our blog site: Spirituality in Practice — SiP! This compilation of essays started as a series of blog posts over ten years ago at www.Sipractce.com. There are over 200 essays on this blog site. They have been edited and condensed into 78 essays presented in this book.

This book starts with an overview of spirituality and to address many questions about this topic. This overview also lays the foundation to understand and treat spirituality as a tangible and real aspect of everyone’s daily life. We recognize spirituality as a non-denominational process exhibited through our thought and actions. We recognize that spirituality is one of the three legs of a stool required for a stable life, along with material/physical and emotional/social aspects as the other two legs. When we focus primarily on the material aspects of life or seek comfort through family and social groups, our life suffers from instability since we ignore spirituality as something that belongs to religious people with a monastic or secluded way of life. We hope to shatter this paradigm and false notion and present spirituality in practice as an essential for everyone’s life.

A collection of five essays forms the introductory section. Through these essays, we glide into an analytical approach, the basis for any philosophical study. Then we enter the realm of Vedic Philosophy and its relevance for daily life. We address the basics of Vedic Philosophy through a series of twenty-three essays. Spirituality in practice is far more engaging and applicable in various contexts in daily life. We explore this application-oriented discussion of Vedic Philosophy in the next chapter containing forty-nine essays.

In the end, we hope the reader leaves with a few takeaways: Vedic Philosophy is not abstract and metaphysical. The concepts proposed in Vedic Philosophy provide a simple yet comprehensive framework to describe and understand anything we wish to study or learn about. Life is not an aimless journey but full of potentials enriched by the soul within and the universe at large. We are alone if we choose to be, but we are also seamlessly part of everything since that is the way it is. True knowledge is not feeling isolated as individuals. True knowledge is to see us as part of the eternal and ever-present universe. The goal is to feel good through self-compassion but also work towards the peace and harmony of all, limitlessly. We are subjective when we see ourselves as a droplet of water. We become objective when we see ourselves as part of a larger body of water. We become increasingly objective when we are under self-control (in our physical perceptions), with non-attachment (in our emotions), and liberated in our thoughts from all that bind and isolate us as “I” or individuals (like drops of water). We gain true knowledge when we realize that all that is cognitive and all their enablers (laws of nature) are like two sides of a coin, like the waves on the surface and the deep ocean below coexisting, inseparable, and enabling the other.

To keep the discussion simple and easy to follow, the book is written as a collection of essays. We use simple schematics or illustrations to bring out the “model” behind the thoughts codified in Vedic Philosophy. We do not follow a single text or set of references, but it should be clear that all the materials contained in this book are from a large body of scripture collectively known as Vedic literature. Some interpretations and all the figures are original. The principles and framework outlined in the essays to convey the Vedic Philosophy are adapted from Vedic literature and many books written in English and Tamil to translate and convey their meaning by scores of authors.

The origins of Vedic Philosophy are not well known. They are treated as self-evident truths. The authors of Vedic literature are many. Our salutations to all these visionaries. We present this collection of essays with great regard and reverence to all of them. Our gratitude and reverence are also for many Saints like Adi Sankara and modern-day teachers such as Ramana Maharishi, Saint Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and many others. This author was introduced to formal studies in Vedanta by Swami Chinmayananda through his lectures. “Studies in Vedic Philosophy should not be an abstract intellectual exercise” was his repeated guidance through his lectures. Instead, all such studies should lead to their understanding and application in our daily life. The theme of this book – Spirituality in Practice – originated from this guidance!

Author Biography:
Dr. Krishnamoorthy (Subbu) Subramanian was born and raised in Nannimangalam, a rural village in Southern India. After his high school graduation at Board High School, Lalgudi, Tamil Nadu, he received his undergraduate degree from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. He obtained his Ph. D from MIT at Cambridge, MA. USA in 1977.  He has over 45 years of experience working in the global manufacturing sector. His work has focused on research, new business development, innovation, and mentoring. He has worked with people at all professional levels from many nations and continents, from hundreds of companies and scores of universities. He is a distinguished fellow of two professional societies: ASME and SME. He has received the coveted Eugene Merchant Medal for Manufacturing. His professional work has been published extensively. He has authored the book: The System Approach – A Strategy to survive and succeed in the Global Economy and co-authored another book: Thriving in the 21st Century Economy – Transformational Skills for Technical Professionals. Now he serves as the President of STIMS Institute (www.STIMSInstitute.com), an advisory, consulting, and mentoring services organization that partners with businesses and universities around the world.

Dr. Subramanian is deeply versed in Hindu traditions, culture, and way of life in rural India. His upbringing by his grandparents and growing up in rural Southern India was a formative experience. He has witnessed poverty and affluence and experienced the way of life at all layers of economics in society. His interactions with professionals and their families from many nationalities and cultures have enriched his global view. This personal experience and exposure have impelled his study of Vedic Philosophy and its universal appeal.

He was introduced to studies in Philosophy through a few lectures at MIT by Swami Chinmayananda in the early 1970s. He has pursued self-study since the early 90s, which continues today and hopefully forever. He teaches classes for youth and adults on the theme of Spirituality in Practice (SiP). He explores the nuances of SiP in daily life through mentoring and volunteer work. He is the President of AASAI (American Association for Social Advancement of India http://www.aasai.org/), a non-profit charitable organization. He is married to Dr. Durga Subramanian. Their immediate family includes their son Ganesh, daughter-in-law Jessica, and two lovely grandchildren Asha and Niraj. They live in Bay Area, CA. USA.

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Seeking your input

Dear Reader:

We have posted thus far 200 essays on this topic: Spirituality in Practice.

Many of you have read and commented on several of these essays. Many have been kind and positive with your feedback.

In any effort there are three steps of System Thinking:
What is Spirituality and how it is relevant and/or useful in our daily life?
How can we apply our knowledge and understanding to develop an inner harmony as well as peace and collaboration with the world around us? This is the strengthening of our “Spiritual” leg, one of the three legs of stability for our life – the other two being material/physical and Emotional/social.
Our essays in the past ten plus years have focused on this: Spirituality in Practice.
Can we develop an aggregate or integrated view of the above understanding, as a ready reference for everyone, especially the young and for our future generations?

Above framework has guided me to compile and edit all our posts into a collection of 75+ essays.
On more than one occasion, I have been encouraged to publish such compilation as a book.
Please let me know of your thoughts? All inputs must be free, open source and without any copy right limitations.

I shall resume posting more blog essays starting from Jan. 2023.
Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy New Year !!

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Vedic Philosophy – Summary

Vedic Philosophy is thousands of years old. Our awe and wonder of Vedic Philosophy (Vedas, Upanishads, BG, Athma Bodha, ….) knows no bounds, when we truly internalize its summary (see below) and its profound implications and usefulness. We have arrived at the this synopsis through a series of essays and other materials posted in this blog site under the banner of Spirituality in Practice. It has been truly a journey of study, learning, sharing and reflections. This is our 200th essay on this blog site, starting from April 2010. My sincere thanks to all readers, those who have offered their comments on line and off, as well as for the few who have engaged me in personal discussions over the years.

Vedic Philosophy provides a simple framework to study, analyze, observe and practice in any aspect of whatever we do in personal and professional life. In summary, Vedic Philosophy states that: Everything in the Universe exists in five realms or conditions (Pancha Kosha):

  • Material Object 
    • All that is perceived; Anything one can study and manage through Materials Sciences.
  • Living Object
    • All that can grow, born, live and die. Anything one can study, learn and manage through Life Sciences.
  • Emotional person (individual, family, society, nation, …..)
    • Life – experience, governed by the duality of like/dislike, happiness/sorrow, friend/enemy, good/bad, evil/noble, etc. 
    • This is the subjective universe – of impulsive action and reaction.
    • This is also the world that comprises all fields of human endeavors: Arts, Music, education, sports, religion, politics, career, economics, culture, society, family, ….
  • Intellectual being – Analytical Person (rooted in contemplation, analysis and reasoning).
    • Any subject understood as influenced by three sets of connectors (Guna) and their underlying Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance.
    • Objective – with sincere effort to understand the cause and effect. When our effort fails, we persevere while also accepting the reality as it is, as part of nature (Brahman).
  • Brahman (eternal, objective, omnipresent, intangible forces of nature). Brahman is incognitive. It is visible through the above four realms. It is the cause, the forces of nature behind all the effects perceived or understood through all our perception, feeling and thought.
  • “I think, therefore I am” is a philosophic thought that recognizes the first four layers or conditions. “I am, therefore I think” states the Vedic Philosophy. It includes the fifth layer. This realm is also stated as “I am consciousness” – Pragjnanam Brahma; “I am Brahman” – Aham Brahma. All five layers co-exist like the visible relentless waves and the invisible deep ocean and the wind currents, which enable the waves!

One can arrive at this knowledge or understanding as the end point of sustained study. One can also gain this knowledge instinctively, as the starting point. That is truly immaterial.

Above is a simple and yet profound understanding of any and all aspects of the universe. It is a framework, a starting point for our study, comprehension and understanding of anything. It is a simple basis for Maintaining / Managing Equilibrium in all Activities of our Life/ Living (MEAL)!

More details can be found in many of our previous essays. Here are a few for quick access: https://sipractce.com/2022/06/22/yoga-meditation-and-the-five-sheaths/ https://sipractce.com/2022/01/04/vedic-philosophy-and-the-knowledge-economy/ https://sipractce.com/2011/05/25/anatomy-of-our-experiences-objectivity-the-end-result/

Athma Bodha (Knowledge of The Self) – Part 1. Who am I?

https://sipractce.com/2012/03/22/symbolism-of-aum/ https://sipractce.com/2012/04/15/symbolism-of-the-lamp-at-the-sanctum/ https://sipractce.com/meal-maintaining-equilibrium-in-activities-and-living/

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Yoga, Meditation and the Five Sheaths.

June 21, 2022 is celebrated as the International Yoga day! Perhaps it is appropriate to celebrate this special day with some reflection and contemplation – Jnana Yoga! In this essay we focus on “Who am “I”?” – us the human beings? Also how Yoga and Meditation can serve us far more profoundly, much more than merely as fitness routine or practices to calm our mind.

Pancha Kosha: Five sheaths, generally refer to the five conditions applicable to any human being. It is one of the most profound formalism found in Vedic Philosophy. Human is described as five layers each separate, contained inside the other. Perhaps a closer analytical look would suggest something more. Consider the layers of onion. Each layer is different from the one inside of it. Yet aren’t they all part of the same onion, a vegetable across all layers? We can think of the same in a cabbage or in any flower which blooms with many layers of petals.
Why is this important? We don’t consume only certain layers of onion and discard all the rest. We should not think of any sheath more valuable or less valuable. They are all parts of the human condition. In fact the five sheaths are also called Upadhi : Condition.

https://sipractce.com/2019/07/31/aging-vs-maturing/ https://sipractce.com/2016/11/26/maya-that-which-it-is-not/

Pancha Kosha: Five layers or conditions of human beings
(According to Vedic Philosophy)

The first layer or condition of the human is our physical body. This condition is enabled by the food (Annam) we consume. Hence it is called Anna Maya  (Material layer or condition)

The second layer of the human is the ability to live. This condition is enabled by the air we breathe (Prana). Hence it is called Prana Maya   (Living being). As a living being we are no different from plants and animals, which also live and grow. Our primary organs like heart, lungs, etc. function and keep us alive. Our sense organs function and we have the sight, sound, smell, feel, taste, etc. We could move through life passively, reacting and responding to our environment. All humans, animals and even plants operate at this level.

First Layer       Second Layer   Ignorant     Turbulent   Tranquil
Human Body Living Person Third Layer (Emotional Being)
   Anna Maya     Prana Maya   Manon Maya

YOGA as a physical fitness routine helps to tune the physical body and manage cardiovascular fitness. Yoga routines are also considered useful to improve and tune many other physiological functions of the living person. Hence YOGA is valuable in managing the fitness and functioning of the first two layers.  The outer layers of onion feel stronger and taste different. Similarly, the human condition also begins to differ from plants and animals! We have the third layer or condition of the human body. It is the layer of emotions that we feel such as happiness/sorrow, love/hate, like/dislike, sadness, depression, unbridled joy, euphoria, etc. This is the layer where our brain plays an active role governing our emotions and feelings. We acquire “experiences”. These experiences result in subjective, impulsive reactions, responses and behavior. We live a life of emotional roller coaster. This layer  or condition fostered by our active mind is called Manon Maya (Emotional Being).
Then we come to the fourth layer, when we ask the questions “Where do my “experiences” come from? They are like the relentless waves. How can I manage them with a calm and stable mind? At least for a few minutes? For longer durations? As a way of life?” This human condition (sheath) where we engage in analytical reasoning is called Vignana Maya (Reflective person). Vedic philosophy and the scriptures provide a simple and lucid set of answers to these questions. They help to manage the equilibrium in life and all its activities (MEAL). https://sipractce.com/2011/05/25/anatomy-of-our-experiences-objectivity-the-end-result/

Fourth Layer 
Analytical Person: Vignana Maya

These answers and their practice leads us to a life of objectivity, which calms the mind and minimizes its perturbations. https://sipractce.com/meal-maintaining-equilibrium-in-activities-and-living/ 

It leads to a life of faith in God and service to others. Such a manner of living with self-control is achieved through Bhakthi Yoga.  It also leads to divinity in our behavior and way of life. This is achieved through the practice of Jnana Yoga. In these pathways – Bhakthi and Jnana Yoga – the word “Yoga” itself acquires a meaning different from being a mere practice for physical fitness. Here Yoga means “Union with the self”. It is enabled by reflection and contemplation, essential elements of “meditation”! 

Our mind and hence our capacity to think distinguishes us as human beings from the animals and plants. This is the third layer – Manon Maya (Emotional Being).This capacity of the mind to think and hence feel (the emotions) and the bias that come with it is unique to the human being! The fourth layer helps to elevate any human being from being an ordinary nobody, to a special somebody! They set the standards for others to follow! But, this opportunity to be special is within each of us. We desire to be special through our needs and wants in the third layer as an emotional being. We become special by managing our needs and wants objectively in the fourth layer as a reflective and analytical person!

We desire to be special through our needs and wants in the third layer as an emotional being. We become special by managing our needs and wants objectively in the fourth layer as a reflective and analytical person!

Now we are at the fifth layer: Ananda Maya (the layer of bliss)! Where did the layers of onion come from? They grew from another onion. It is part of nature! How did the onion grow in its layers? That is how onions grow. It is part of nature. Where did our human body come from? Like an onion grew from another onion, it grew out of the mother’s womb. Where did the life processes – breathing, digestion, assimilation, organs and their function, etc. – come from? They are all part of nature. Where did all these likes/dislikes and all other feelings come from? It is all part of human nature. Our skill or power to harness our mind, to seek right from wrong, subjective vs. objective helps us to constantly learn new things and travel through the journey of life with peace and tranquility. This is the fourth layer or condition. Where does it all come from? It is all part of nature! Wow! It is amazing! Everything I know and all that I don’t know are all part of nature. Sarvam Brahma Mayam. I am part of nature (Aham Brahma).This knowledge or awareness is the fifth condition or layer of human beings – the state of bliss (Ananda Maya). https://sipractce.com/2020/01/16/enlightened-living-progression-from-self-control-to-total-self-control-to-un-attached-active-engagement/ 

Fifth Layer: Joyful living (Layer of bliss): Ananda Maya

Everything I know and all that I don’t know are all part of nature. Sarvam Brahma Mayam. I am part of nature (Aham Brahma).This knowledge or awareness is the fifth condition or layer of human beings - the state of bliss (Ananda Maya).

The fifth layer is described in great detail in many places in the Upanishads. It can also be studied in Athma Bodha (Knowledge of the Self) https://sipractce.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/athma-bodha-1-03-22-20.pdf and Nirvana Shatakam (Six verses on liberation) https://sipractce.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/nirvana-shatakam-and-other-poems-2.pdf

Our knowledge and scientific studies provide cause and effect reasoning to many of the questions. They are all achieved as part of the fourth layer (Analytical reasoning). All our education in any field is to refine our objectivity to arrive at cause and effect reasoning. That is why we get Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy) as the highest degree awarded in any field of study! But those answers, immense they may be, still address only a tiny fraction to explain what we know as nature. In all other cases we simply have to admit “it is part of nature”; “It is the way it is” https://sipractce.com/2015/05/02/astu-so-be-it/  This is not an admission of limits of science, but more an acknowledgement of the grandeur of nature!

We should not condition our mind to think that the fifth layer is unattainable except for a few. It would be like rejecting the wallet full of money in your pocket and feeling that you are poor! Few examples: A poor man lives a life of peace and contentment because he knows why he is poor, but he is also happy to manage his life within his means and resources. A rich man on the other hand does not know the limits of his greed and hence unable to enjoy all the wealth he already has! In addition, the fear of losing what he has makes him more unhappy and perturbed while he is also ignorant of the joy of giving what he has to the poor and needy! In both cases it is a simple matter of tuning our mind to the fourth and fifth layers as the starting points!

The state of bliss (Ananda maya) exists in all of us all the time. Those who explore it intensely come to realize it. While the ocean is full of salt water, few who reach the ocean and taste it realize that sea water is salty. But, it  would be incorrect to say that only that drop of ocean water which has been tasted by someone is salty. As another example: in a field full of bananas, we would not say that the sweet bananas are only those tasted by someone! “All of us as part of nature are all evolved; let me open my mind and explore these questions”. In other words we treat the fifth layer as the starting point and then move into the fourth, third layers, etc. This is the process of self-reflection (i.e.) Meditation!

Through such meditation, we can rejoice in peace and tranquility anytime and all the time. It is part of nature. All it requires is a subtle shift in our focus. When we shift our focus from the surface waves we can visualize the calm blue ocean supporting all the waves! When we shift our focus from individual events and incidents, we can see the larger pattern prevailing (fourth layer) as an undercurrent of all the perturbations of life (third layer). We appreciate and relish life the way it is in the big picture (living in the fourth layer), while also experiencing momentary happiness and sorrow (as part of the third layer)! No one escapes from any of the four layers. It is easy to see that.

Moving across the five layers or conditions (Pancha Kosha.):
We begin with our body acquired through birth. Through internal or self-reflection we become progressively aware of being a living object, emotional person, capable of reflection and analysis – all part of the larger Universe (Inward Focus). Yoga and Meditation are the means for such self-reflection. While the five layers remain the same, as self-awareness increases, we gain an expansive view of life and everything around. We see ourselves increasingly as part of the larger Universe (Outward Focus). This awareness – increasingly inwards or expansively outward – is suggested by Vedic Philosophy:
You and the Universe are one and the same:
Thath Thwam Asi!

This awareness - increasingly inwards or expansively outward (either right or left) - is suggested by Vedic Philosophy: You and the Universe are one and the same: Thath Thwam Asi!

Yoga and Meditation at the third and fourth layers are joyful exercises to reflect on Subjectivity (bias) Vs. Objectivity (unattached and neutral outlook). Meditation on the fourth and fifth layers is further enhancement of this joy to visualize the play of nature and its marvels we see as life. In this level of contemplation our calm and quiet mind learns to smell the rose, while also recognizing the thorn which is part of any rose. It accepts the joy of cherishing the fruit on hand instead of being fixated on the perfect imagined fruit elsewhere. The rose and the fruit are mere analogs for our physical health, comfort, economic condition, relationships, emotional upheavals and intellectual quests. In every case, we learn to enjoy what we have while learning the limits of what we need and why or what we truly do not have. We see the same in others around us. We learn to care and share with others limitlessly. We are not just individuals with limits. Instead we are an inseparable part of the wide open infinite: Children of Immortality. https://sipractce.com/2010/07/07/family/ 

Through Yoga and Meditation we learn to enjoy what we have while learning the limits of what we need and why or what we truly do not have. We see the same in others around us. We learn to care and share with others limitlessly. We are not just individuals with limits. Instead we are an inseparable part of the wide open infinite: Children of Immortality.

All five layers of human condition are integral and inseparable – all are part of nature. It is for our mental convenience we look at them as five layers. Birth and death of the body (second layer) is part of any living object, which includes plants and animals. The nature which enables our “gross body” is also responsible for our “causal body”. The laws of nature that enable them are universal, beyond these conceived bodies. One need not hang on to the causal body after death, looking for its liberation after cycles of “reincarnation”. We can let go of that causal body here and now! It truly liberates us instantly! Such liberation comes from a genuine acceptance that everything is part of nature (Sarvam Brahma Mayam). 

Buoyancy is conceived only through all that floats! It has no birth, cycles of birth, reincarnation or liberation! Our causal body, which enables all the four layers, is like buoyancy. It merely exists! It is the fifth layer! Why is this important? Causal body, Karma, reincarnation and eventual liberation are all concepts very much needed at the basic level. They are like crutches to support oneself to stand up in the pursuit of self-reflection, non-attachment and objectivity. They are like scaffolding put up to build a skyscraper. Our eventual goal is to be free of crutches and scaffolding to stand on our own strength of non-attachment and objectivity. Yoga and Meditation are the means for that liberation.

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Yearning for God – Two approaches!

“Yearning for God does not come until and unless a person has satisfied his cravings for mundane objects, renounced all attachment to lust and gold, and shunned worldly comforts and enjoyments like filth. How many people are restless for God-realization? People shed jug full of tears for their wives, children, or money, but who weeps for God? He who longs for Him certainly will find Him. Cry to Him. Call on Him with a longing heart. You will see Him.” They Lived with God: Life Stories of Some Devotees of Sri Ramakrishna Ch 7 Manomohan Mitra, p 115

Above quote is an excellent description of the longing for God. We weep and cry for our wife and children and live a life of fear for losing the gold and wealth we have! Attachments with all these are seen as sources of stress, anxiety and unhappiness. Longing for God begins with non-attachment from all that is worldly like the wife, children, money, etc. As a counter balance to this non-attachment from all worldly objects, we need something else to hang on to. Religion and theology tells us that God, the all pervasive, Omnipresent, Eternal and Objective source is the one to hang to. “Any one who longs for Him certainly will find Him”.

Excerpts like the above fail to provide the context adequately.  Solely based on the quote and not being aware of the totality of his teachings  one may assume that Sri Ramakrishna was very rigid in his approach to teach his devotees.  This is not the case in reality.  His teachings were tailored to the spiritual maturity of each devotee coupled with their worldly responsibilities. He used to tell his devotees in family life to pursue their duties while keeping their mind in God. 

Developing spiritual maturity is an individual responsibility. It is part of Spirituality in Practice. We can look at the above quote with an intent to further our spiritual maturity.

Let us reflect for a moment a person in family life, living in any community. His wife, children or money – are they his sources of stress, anxiety and unhappiness? It is an opinion based on our superficial observation that requires further analysis. It is like blaming a stone by stating “this stone tripped me causing my injury, pain and suffering!” Did the stone really trip you? Stone is an inertial object, incapable of moving or impacting anyone or anything. It requires my foot and its impact against the stone to trip me! Where did this motion of my foot in that direction at that moment come from? Because I did not see the stone before! My ignorant mind gave my foot a command to move in a certain direction resulting in my getting tripped resulting in pain and injury. Any objective observer will know this simple truth. 

In fact, every aspect of our pain and suffering can be traced back to our mind and its attachment to something it knows and something else it does not know or believes to be true based on partial knowledge. When my mind is still – at peace, non-attached – things around me continue to happen, but “I” am non-attached. One can experience this non-attachment when your brain and its functions are sedated (under Anesthesia). In that state the body feels no pain even when it is cut by a surgeon’s knife! But, can my mind remain unattached to anything and hence feel no pain or pleasure without my brain being anesthetized? Vedanta offers a simple approach for this.

Returning to our example of tripping on the stone, let us ask the question, “who really tripped me?” Not the stone alone, or my foot, my eyes looking elsewhere, my brain nor my mind. It is the way it happened where everything had a part. But collectively it is part of nature. When I accept this view – “na ithi bhavam”: Not this attitude – we also see all that is involved. Of course my pleasure and pain comes from many sources and reasons that include wife, children, money, etc. . But, through sustained analysis – “na ithi bhavam”: Not this attitude –  blame or responsibility shifts from anything or anyone specific to a collective view that it is all part of nature: Sarvam Brahma Mayam. 

The more my mind is trained and focused to look at all that happens as part of nature, we are more objective and non-judgmental. We are able to see the full picture and proceed accordingly. We are at peace, calm and tranquil. We want to get united with the all pervasive, Omnipresent, Eternal and Objective source. Is there anyone like that? Can we get attached and emulate that Person? Our longing and its intensity increases. Religion and theology tells us this void can be filled by God. 

Philosophy tells us that as this void and longing – to be relentlessly objective and eternally focused to remain as part of nature – increases, we see increasing Divinity in our action and way of living. We live the life of God with increasing non-attachment and less perturbations, anguish and tumult in our daily life, while living with all aspects of nature. That includes wife, children and money!

Yearning for God through the religious path requires us to accept God as “someone else”. We accept and worship that God! We surrender to that God, His mercy and blessings! Yearning for God through a reflective approach transforms us into a better person (more Divine in our thoughts and way of life). We see God in us. We live the life of God through Divinity in daily life. We accept and worship wife, children and money as the extensions of God within, part of God’s family (Vasudeva Kudumbham). Perhaps they are not two separate pathways? Instead they are two sides of a coin, integral and inseparable!

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Meditating and the Ocean Waves!

Recently I was fortunate to spend a few days in a place located on the edge of the ocean, with a balcony literally on the beach! Sitting at this balcony on the 20 feet cliff facing the ocean in front me one could not help notice the relentless waves and their constant ebb and flow. It is these ocean waves that one is suggested to concentrate upon during meditation sessions. At this moment, the waves are not imaginary, but real. In fact every aspect of life is both real and imagined in some fashion. Is that the illusion (Maya) that the scriptures talk about?

Waves are composed of action, relentless, non-stop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, almost eternal. These waves and their churning noise have been here ever since we arrived and will continue for ever after. So are our actions through our body, mind and intellect! We have to acknowledge that most of the body and its functions, along with our mind (and the emotions) and the intellect (and the thoughts) begin with our birth and end with death, unlike the eternal ocean waves! Body as a material object and its change or decay into other forms will continue forever like the stones in the ocean front which are gradually eroded, crushed and pulverized into sand over time! The residual effect of our emotions and thoughts may also endure but their effects are less traceable except for a few among us!

This very notion that “These waves and their churning noise have been here ever since I  arrived” is a constraint imposed on my mind by myself! Of course the waves have been here forever, well before I arrived and will be here well after I leave, indeed long after, almost eternally and forever! Vedanta tells us that the life-giving forces, represented as the soul or the spirit is eternal which existed well before we were born and will exist well after we are gone! Is the soul or Atman that we are suggested to meditate upon and the waves are merely a simile for the eternal force of nature? 

Waves continue their relentless motion. Their sway and intensity change with wind conditions and directions. Some waves reach the shores calm and subdued and return their water back to the deep ocean. Other waves are violent, hit the shores with great vigor and thunderous noise. 

Severe and moderate waves only moments apart!

See above two contrasting images of the same oceanfront moments apart. Calm waves or their splashing counterparts can be seen at the same place based on the energy and intensity of the waves. They are also governed by the resistance they face, based on the topology of the beach. Large sandy beaches foster slow and gradual waves that also recede the same way. Rocky beach and the turbulent waves are in contrast to that. Please see the images below!

Calm, Intense  and  Severe Waves 

Our emotions and reactions to events are described as Tranquility, Turbulence or Inertia (Sathvikam, Rajasam and Thamasam – Gunathvam). They are subjective, each unique dependent on the impelling forces (like the wind currents) and the reactive influences (like the beach and its topography). Do we have the capacity to manage each wave or even focus on all of them? Of course not. But, each wave is unique and to a large extent independent of others. But we don’t remain fixated on each wave, while sitting at the oceanfront! So are also our emotions. Are we able to set aside each emotion as an independent event and not carry the burden of pleasure or pain of accumulated experiences? Is this part of our meditation?

At a larger level we can recognize each wave as a response of the body of water influenced by impelling forces and beach conditions. We see calm and manageable waves at the sandy beach and the turbulent and unmanageable waves at the rocky beach. We also see changes if the beach is shallow and gradual or a deep cliff! We are able to see a larger pattern in the waves, across all of the oceans, beach topography or wind conditions.  Our “experiences” are also like that. There are observable common patterns in all our experiences. Many experiences in the beginning appear as independent, different and divergent. Through sustained observations and reasoning we can see commonality or emerging themes across many experiences. Is this the Objectivity that we develop (Sagunathvam) as an outcome of our meditation?

There is no ocean on earth without waves. These waves are everywhere – at the shallow beach as well as in the middle across the wide span of the ocean. It is an unmistakable evidence of the constant impinging of the wind on the ocean water everywhere. It is a natural phenomenon. We can see waves even in places where there might appear to be no waves at first sight! A closer look at the sandy surface below and its patterns suggest that such striations could contribute to the waves in the water that flows over it! The waves in turn could also contribute to the surface level perturbations on the sand below. In due course each influences the other. Are our experiences (waves) the undercurrent of influence from our body, mind and intellect? How do these experiences in turn shape the function and influence our B. M and I.  Can we step back and look at this symbiosis instead of getting immersed in the experiences? Is this stepping away for reflection, a deep dive into the cause and effect of our experiences part of meditation?

     Waves in the mid-ocean     Subtle waves on a shallow shore

We can relate to only a limited extent of the expanse of waves and their occurrence everywhere. Even this simple phenomena of nature is way beyond our total comprehension. Then what can be said of the infinite laws of nature and the limitless phenomena (Nirgunathvam)? They create and facilitate all that, which we have come to learn as our life, the universe and existence. Is this what we are to infer from the dictum “Sarvam Brahma Mayam” – everything is Brahman?

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Moral outrage needed in the face of cold blooded attack on neighbor?

We are now entering the fourth week of the cold blooded attack by Russia on its neighboring country Ukraine. We are all confronted with many questions:

How can one nation be allowed to march into another without any provocation? Can historical arguments of decades ago be ever used today to destabilize the international borders? Where does such uncalled for provocation end? Is the fear of nuclear war a deterrent for all other nations to sit in silence when such aggression goes unchecked? Also at what cost? unarmed civilians, children and women are being massacred in the name of a war? All this happening in the 21st century? We see cold and calculated alignments in the name of energy security, raw material resources, political ideology – when do all these end, to reflect the values and interests of larger humanity? ………… The questions go on in the minds of everyone.

The answer is simple: Morality is paper thin. This essay https://sipractce.com/2013/09/09/morality-is-paper-thin/ was posted in Sep. 2013, nearly ten years ago, when the Syrian population was subjected to attack using Chemical weapons. Few passages from this essay are copied below. Additional thoughts follow after that.

It is often easy to fall behind the wisdom of three monkeys: “See no evil; Speak no evil; Hear no evil”. In fact much of the rupture and degeneration of the moral fiber starts with this seemingly moral position. Yet inaction, when action is required is also a moral failing as we know well from the scriptures. What should be done as a consequence and as a response to such heinous crimes? The answers may not be simple or easy. But if there is a time to remember that morality is paper thin, this might be one such moment.

Precisely how we uphold morality always starts as an individual decision. In due course it evolves into a mosaic that holds the social unit – the family, community, nation or the humanity at large – together.  Morality represents the social conscience and hence a compass that serves well for the society at large. Yet, morality has no force on its own, since its enforcement power comes from something invisible and intangible (i.e.) the soul or conscience of all of us as individuals  as part of the society or community. It is like a sheet of paper. When it is whole it serves many purposes. But, when it is ripped or torn, it is merely cast aside into a pile of waste.

It is heartening to see the united effort of most of the nations of the world isolating Russia and particularly its leadership. It is clear that unbridled ignorance and attachments to the false sense of “super power” of one man or few in Russia is driving the massacre of thousands in Ukraine. It also accompanies the death and dismemberment of hundreds of Russian soldiers. Let us hope that the combined effort of almost all of humanity will bring an end to this cold and calculated war.

There are three possibilities for the end of this tragedy: (A) Russia wins unilaterally and Ukraine – a sovereign democratic nation – becomes oppressed under the autocratic rule in the guise of communism. This seems less likely as the war is now protracted with mounting Russian casualties; (B) Russia is defeated unilaterally in the battlefield and driven out of Ukraine. This option is also far-fetched as far as we can see now; (C) There will be a protracted war of attrition, much like what happened in Syria or Afghanistan. This scenario seems most likely. As a result, a serene and moderately well off nation of 40 million people living at the edge of poverty and war torn destruction seems to be the most likely outcome for next decade.

In Syria, the oppressor who used chemical weapons seems to have won at least for now, with help and support from Russia. We are told that Russia might have been emboldened because of this apparent success in a foreign war. In Afghanistan – whatever their religious fundamentalism may be – the locals won the war of attrition with untold loss of life and property for all sides. It is the silence of the world community in both these wars, which might have emboldened the Russian autocrat leading to the Ukraine crisis.

An eye for an eye leaves the world full of blind people. This sad reality is not understood by nations and world citizens despite the repeated destruction from war. It would be a mistake to characterize the war against Ukraine as a war between Democracy and Autocracy. In such arguments it is assumed that people of both nations are fully engaged and have contributed to the decision  of their respective nations. Autocrats do not make decisions based on popular opinions. Fear of authority and need for self-preservation (Subjectivity) are the fodder for authoritarian rulers. Democracies can not sustain their decisions unless the citizens are fully engaged all the time and do not take their freedom for granted. Hence the war in Ukraine – or for that matter wars anywhere in the world – is a challenge for the moral conscience requiring vigilant engagement of every citizen of every nation in the free world. Such morality and vigilance can not be compromised for a few dollars of lower price of imported goods, energy or raw materials or lower cost of labor from nations that abuse their newly gained economic strength or those who abuse the freedom and respect of their own citizens. 

Globalization appeared to be a pathway for shared wealth and prosperity for all. Yet, society forgot that Globalization also means shared responsibility for the care of all citizens of all nations. This has resulted in unequal distribution of wealth with few “haves” and a lot more “have nots”. This economic imbalance combined with the spread of fake news – abundance of false information – have slowly eroded our unique human skills for self reflection, a fundamental need for any moral fiber. Shift towards extreme liberal or extreme right wing positions seem to dominate nations and their politics rather the middle ground.  When the Covid-19 Pandemic affected the globe, every nation withdrew into its own cocoon. Collective global action to curb the pandemic (as was the case in previous pandemics) was abandoned. Globalization must also imply care and welfare of the planet as a whole. Instead the climate crisis has now become isolated as a social movement of a few progressives and opposed by a limited few on the other side with their power to block any meaningful solutions.  Developing a common cause approach appears far fetched. Self preservation has become the norm for the past decade or more.  Increasing Subjectivity and erosion of Objectivity (focused on larger common good) is the slippery slope we have been sliding down. Will the war on Ukraine be the trigger to reverse this trend and wake up the moral conscience of every citizen of the world? Will such awakening lead to a renewed faith and respect for each other as human beings and fellow citizens of the world?

Philosophic reflections at a time of war and crisis of untold proportions in Ukraine might appear aloof and insensitive. Far from it. It is the time for each of us to search deeply our long held personal or self-centered opinions and judgements (Subjectivity) and separate them from thoughts and ideas that foster good for others and the larger community (Objectivity). From this point of view we can see all forms of Government – Democracy, Communism, Socialism, Autocracy –  can co-exist as long as they survive and succeed with respect and regard for other nations and their choices. This will be an objective outlook that can be preserved under the umbrella of world organizations such as the UN.

Russia may not want a growing NATO or Ukraine to join NATO. But, the solution for this desire is not a cruel war on its neighbor. Instead Russia could work to become an economic Superpower, which is attractive for other nations to join Russia in their alliance. Instead it is the economic failure of Russia that has catalyzed the current Putin War on Ukraine. Ignorance and attachment fostered by subjectivity always leads to unbridled anger, grief and destruction. Nations of the world must exercise wisdom and sound judgment to overcome this ignorance and attachment of autocratic leaders for a long term peace and tranquility for Ukraine.

Such global events are also sources for each of us to exercise self reflection. Each of us should transform our moral outrage into actionable questions such as: What can I do to help those innocent people who are caught up in this unjust war and violence? How can I as a citizen promote better understanding of the reality that “an eye for an eye leaves the world with more blind people”? Am I unintentionally and unwillingly contributing to such moral failings in my own life within my family, community or nation? Am I being subjected to such immoral acts – big and small – by others and am I able to stand up to that?

Comment from Joe P:

It does appear that the people of the Ukraine are exemplifying moral outrage, and staying to fight the evil, even when the odds are not highly in their favor. For isn’t that a key to true moral outrage- Fight for Right? And we see the peoples of the world, even Russian citizens giving their voices to the support of Ukraine. President Zelenskyy has said that anyone can support the efforts using their own particular skills and knowledge, be it soldiering, making meals, driving people to safety, putting out fires, spiritually assisting, donating time, money, effort. He has found a way to continue leading the world to assist. As was stated, being like the three monkeys is not always the correct response. Action is sometimes required by us. Let us hope that the typical short attention span of the worlds moral outrage will extend, hold fast and reverse the attack by evil.

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You can take a horse to the water but can not make it drink!

You can take a horse to water, but can you make it drink? Why does my mind behave the way it does?

Proverbs convey moral code or guidelines for better living. “You can take a horse to the water but can not make it drink!” is an often quoted proverb, familiar to many. It suggests that one can not force or coerce others to do anything without their own intent or willingness. Such proverbs are useful at the elementary level (i.e.) day to day life. Perhaps an in-depth analysis may be needed as one’s role and responsibility changes in life. Also in-depth reflection on such ordinary and common statements lifts one above the cloud of confusion and challenges faced at times despite one’s best intentions and efforts?

Vedic Philosophy provides three distinct and yet interconnected steps to reflect upon. They are the guides to understand anything. These three steps are:

  1. All that is cognitive (every aspect of anything Physical, Emotional or Intellectual) is the result of our Knowledge, Bias (Partial Knowledge) and Ignorance (Absence of relevant knowledge).
    • Our Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance always coexist.
    • The dominance of one over the other two determines our equilibrium state (Gunathvam) identified as Tranquility, Turbulence and Inertia. These determine our nature of connection to the subject matter.
  2. What is the true nature of our equilibrium state in understanding anything? in relation to anything? That depends on our Objectivity (Sagunathvam) or equal disposition to all equilibrium states. It reflects a non-judgemental frame of mind.
    • Our Objectivity helps to identify the specific and true nature of our Subjectivity (personal connection) and how it affects us in relation to anything: our reaction, response or plan of action going forward in any matter or situation.
  3. All our equilibrium states, subjectivity, objectivity, our understanding of all these and our action / reaction as a result in any matter and at any time are all governed by the invisible laws of nature or enablers (Inaction: Akarma). 
    • Inaction (Akarma) represents the infinite number of invisible forces of nature that merely exist. Collectively they are identified by a singular term: Brahman.
    • We along with every aspect of nature including the equilibrium states (Gunathvam : pertaining to connection) exist merely as products, outcome or effects of the Brahman, the forces of nature (that are invisible, eternal, omnipresent, objective, invariant, enabler of everything). 

Sarvam Brahma Mayam.

The above three steps are not independent. They are interconnected. 

Behind any proverb are lots of assumptions. In this case, for example: the horse is thirsty; it has been taken to a source of clean water in sufficient quantity; it has the freedom of movement and it is not restrained, etc. and yet it refuses to drink! Our Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance in all these and many other matters will have an impact on the intended goal. Let us make a short list:

Is the horse thirsty?

Knowledge: Yes, this horse is fed water at this time daily by me and it generally drinks water. Bias: The horse is expected to drink water at this time and it knows that very well! Ignorance: Someone else had earlier fed water to this horse; nobody told me.

Is the water clean to drink?

Knowledge: Yes, the horse is fed this water daily by me and it generally drinks. Bias: After all it is a horse; should I feed it bottled water? Ignorance: What is the difference? Aren’t all waters the same?

Is the horse free and not restrained from drinking?

Knowledge: Yes, this horse is free and not restrained; It can drink easily; I check for this daily. Bias: A horse can not be left unrestrained; I am responsible and I will be blamed! Ignorance: Horses have a sense of anticipating danger, better than humans. I didn’t know that!

If our knowledge is dominant in all cases, we will check for the remaining bias and ignorance at play. We check around and learn that the horse has been fed water a little while ago, by someone else. Or, there was a snake nearby that the horse perceived as danger. Ignoring the frightened look in the horse sensing danger, is ignorance. One could learn of these possibilities by observing the horse and its behavior. Blaming the horse as “unwilling to drink”, is a bias. Our thinking shifts from being judgemental – blaming the horse – to better understanding the cause or reason behind its behavior. The best course of action for the moment follows. That is Karma or duty. Such reflection and analysis preceding any action is Yoga?

It is easy to analyze and discuss a horse and its behavior towards its drinking water. Even that is not simple since it requires breaking our impulse to action and jumping into an opinion or judgment. Action, doing something –  blaming the horse as unwilling to drink – follows the judgment instinctively. It is a genuinely cultivated habit to be calm, contemplative and reflective through any action in our daily life. To guide us through such challenges the proverbs serve as a crutch, a walking stick – accepting the reality as it is without bias and moving on.

But we must discard such support occasionally and challenge ourselves. Consider for example a family matter. Or it could be a matter of discussion at the workplace. After great reflection you offer your views or opinion. You follow it up with an offer of some help that could be useful. If followed up or accepted, your inputs could have a great impact on the peace, harmony and overall welfare for all. But your input is summarily rejected. What can you do? Simply say “You can take a horse to the water but can not make it drink!” and walk away? The above situation is not hypothetical. We are faced with it all the time: in communication within immediate family members; across families; communication in a project team; religious and political groups; social circles, etc. Please see: https://sipractce.com/2021/10/19/on-overcoming-the-challenges-in-our-communications/

This is where step no. 2 listed above from Vedic Philosophy becomes useful.

Have you done your best to feed water to the horse as required and to your best of ability? Have you given sufficient reflection prior to offering your views or opinion? Have you relentlessly addressed your own bias and ignorance and minimized them, before, during and after sharing your opinion or suggestion? That reflects your objectivity. Are you rejecting the obvious clues or signals received? Are you unhappy with the outcome even if it is partial? That reflects your attachment (Turbulence). Are you feeling helpless? That reflects your ignorance and its dominance (Inertia). Are you pleased with the outcome and willing to let things evolve as the matter requires participation and engagement by others as well? Then you are Tranquil. Precisely which equilibrium state (Gunathvam) truly reflects my state of mind will be known only to myself. This requires me to be non-judgemental: distance from the situation, details, inference, communication, etc. This non-attachment with which I observe my state of mind in any instance is Objectivity (Sagunathvam)? This broader aspect of being unattached or non-judgmental and its distinction from the objective analysis of the data in step 1 is subtle. It is like a person sitting quiet in a place. But he may not be truly unattached if his mind and emotions are fertile and active. In step 2 every aspect of our body, mind and intellect are unattached and non-judgemental. This is a measure of renunciation (Sanyasam). 

Step 1 above is situation specific. We get into the details – the nuts and bolts – of our Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance. In step 2 we proceed to an aggregate view of the situation and the prevailing equilibrium state. I check my own bias and impulse to action arising out of attachment. One’s views being ignored is nothing new. I am not alone in this as it happens to many more I am aware of under various circumstances. What course of action in a similar situation helped or hurt in the past?  Do I see progress over time or do I continue to push for an outcome or communication, where my approach or method is flawed and has not worked before? All of these aggregated views and analysis is part of Step 2.

We are no longer assessing a horse and its drinking water. Instead we are thinking about the behavior of a herd of horses and their consumption behavior! In real life, we are exploring the means and methods of communication of our views and their effective use; communication with others, on matters in life with significant impact. Our reflection becomes non-attached (i.e.) independent of specific person, people or event or situation. Our thought gets more focussed on the process such as the science of communication. Creating the right climate for communication becomes the goal rather than the end result. This gradual shift ultimately and hopefully fosters better communication across team members on their own. My role and responsibility becomes secondary. I exist and participate, yet I am not involved as others are enabled to play their role on their own accord! At this stage we are already in Step 3 (i.e.) exploring the prevailing laws behind our subject matter. It may be the behavioral science of horse and its drinking water or the science of communicating useful guidelines and their acceptance or not, by others involved in our interactions! If the outcome of step 2 is true non-attachment (i.e.) renunciation, the end result of step 3 can be seen as “liberation”. In this state of liberation we are truly one with nature! Sarvam Brahma Mayam.

Such challenges to communication within families or project teams are very visible everywhere. https://sipractce.com/2021/10/19/on-overcoming-the-challenges-in-our-communications/ Traditions have a large role in such matters. Such wisdom is generally codified as proverbs, rituals and religious practices. Yet they are merely crutches. They can not replace individual reflection, reasoning and inference. In a large joint family the words of the elders had the final say. Good or bad they could “force the horse to drink”. Their effectiveness and failure is recorded well in the history and the epics. (e.g.): https://sipractce.com/2019/09/27/bishma-complex/  

Today nuclear families are spread across the globe. Traditions have become ad hoc. There are too many “family heads” and each wishing to assert their views and superiority. The same goes for Business Units and Project Teams spread across the globe. Decisions and communication may occur that optimize local needs. But, global optimization, meeting the larger good of everyone suffers due to bias and ignorance in decision making and communication. Even matters of advice and consent on routine aspects of life suffer from these pitfalls. People may flock to the social media and internet more readily for guidance than seek out interpersonal exchanges and communication. Leadership at any level and in any situation requires us to diligently pursue the three step process outlined above. It is a sure way to escape the despair faced (i.e.) You can take the horse to water but can not make it drink!

Even when you accept the reality – the horse when guided does not drink the water – such acceptance has to be with clarity and understanding. It has to be genuine based on the reasons and the laws pertaining to them. Otherwise the unfulfilled need over time could become a major source of anguish leading to depression. Such mental health challenges may not be limited only to one person (the horse that needs to drink). They may spread across to the person who feels the responsibility to guide others (one who takes the horse to the water)! This spread of unfulfilled needs and their mental anguish can be seen across generations. Education on Vedic Philosophy and their practice through strict adherence to the above three steps as a way of life may indeed be the required solution in all these matters. We do know that such a treasure house of wisdom exists in our tradition, literature and scriptures. How do we make it a prevalent way of life for many? We need to progress beyond the proverb: You can take a horse to the water but can not make it drink!

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Rethinking Grief !

Recently I was browsing through an email chain, the kind exchanged across members of large Google groups. The following segment caught my attention:

Lord Buddha gives a short yet very clear description of grief (dukkha) in his first discourse The Dhammachakkapavatthana Suththa (the wheel turning discourse).  He lists the following types of grief:1.Jathi – Birth 2.Jara – Aging 3.Vyadhi – Sickness 4.Marana – Death 5.Appiyehi Sampayoga – Union with the undesirable 6.Piyehi Vippayoga – loss of desired things 7. Yampichhcan na labhathi – not receiving the desired things or wishes. 8. Panhca upadanaskandha – taking all panchaskandha (rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara, vignana) as I or Mine. 

Such annotations acquire greater attention and authenticity through the sprinkling of Sanskrit words and any reference from the Internet: “Answer to What is dukkha? https://www.quora.com/What-is-dukkha “. In such exchanges and reference to internet sources, are we slowly but surely losing our power to think and reason? While my emotions suggest that we are, my hope challenges me to think otherwise. Maybe it is time to rethink and challenge all that we read like the above? In the least we should not accept them as stated. Do they truly reflect the intent and thoughts of teachers like Lord Buddha? Does he condemn birth, aging, sickness and death – all inevitable parts of any life – merely as sources of grief (Dukkha)? One would think not.

Vedic Philosophy provides three distinct and yet interconnected methodologies to reflect upon. They are the guides to understand anything. These methods must be readily applicable to any common aspect of life such as grief (Dukkha). 

Vedic Philosophy provides three distinct and yet interconnected steps to reflect upon. They are the guides to understand anything. These three steps are:

  1. All that is cognitive (every aspect of anything Physical, Emotional or Intellectual) is the result of our Knowledge, Bias (Partial Knowledge) and Ignorance (Absence of relevant knowledge).
    • Our Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance always coexist.
    • The dominance of one over the other two determines our equilibrium state (Gunathvam) identified as Tranquility, Turbulence and Inertia.
  2. What is the true nature of our equilibrium state in understanding anything? in relation to anything? That depends on our Objectivity (Sagunathvam) or equal disposition to all equilibrium states. It reflects a non-judgemental frame of mind.
    • Our Objectivity helps to identify the specific and true nature of our Subjectivity (personal connection) and how it affects us in relation to anything: our reaction, response or plan of action going forward in any matter or situation.
  3. All our equilibrium states, subjectivity, objectivity, our understanding of all these and our action / reaction as a result in any matter and at any time are all governed by the invisible laws of nature or enablers (Inaction: Akarma). 
    • Inaction (Akarma) represents the infinite number of invisible forces of nature that merely exist. Collectively they are identified as a singular term: Brahman.
    • We along with every aspect of nature including the equilibrium states (Gunathvam : pertaining to connection) exist merely as products, outcome or effects of the Brahman or forces of nature (that are invisible, eternal, omnipresent, objective, invariant, enabler of everything). Sarvam Brahma Mayam.

The above three steps are not independent. They are interconnected. One can think of these three steps as three legs of a stool providing required strength and stability in any aspect in life.

The three steps for reflection and reasoning
based on Vedic Philosophy.

Let us use the above framework to look at Grief (Dukkha). We can use this framework to study the material cited at the beginning: “Birth, Aging, Sickness, Death, Union with the undesirable, loss of desired things, not receiving the desired things or wishes, taking everything as I or Mine”. They are all part of any human life. 

  • Everyone of these are aspects of anyone’s life. They are governed by our body (Physical), mind (Emotions) and intellect (Thoughts).
  • There will be Knowledge, Ignorance and Bias with respect to each of these and how we relate to them.
    • When Knowledge is dominant we shall see “Birth, Aging, Sickness, Death” merely as aspects of any living object in the Universe. There will be no fear or grief (Dukkha). 
    • They induce fear in us or in any individual, family or society while we are under the cloud or dominance of Bias (attachments) and Ignorance. Buddha’s teaching constantly strives to lift up anyone, out of this cloud.

It is necessary to acknowledge the cloud of Bias and Ignorance as the sources of grief. It will be a mistake to assign Birth, Aging, Sickness, Death by themselves as the sources of grief (Dukkha).

With true knowledge of death, sickness merely as part of anyone’s life, one will be respectful of the fear or grief experienced by others. Then we will find ways to help them to cope with it. The approach and solution will vary. But they will be through addressing the Physical, Emotional and Intellectual needs in each case.

True knowledge and its effect can also lead to celebration of these life events: Birth, Aging, Sickness and Death. After all, we celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna as Janmashtami. Celebrating the birth and the birthday can become a joyous occasion for anyone. There are positive as well as negative aspects of Aging, Sickness and Death. All of that depends on our state of mind, knowledge, bias and ignorance. Kathopanishad addresses the fear of death in which young Nachiketha wonders “why should anyone grieve or be afraid of death? After all such fear and grief is created by our own mind. People are born, age and die just as the corn plant that germinates and perishes every season”.

Now let us look at the second half of items listed above as sources of grief: Union with the undesirable, loss of desired things, not receiving the desired things or wishes, taking everything as I or Mine

  • Each of the above four are not physical in the sense you can not pick them up and throw them away!
  • Instead each of them is the product of our mind, thinking and the emotions as a result.
  • They are all equally amenable for analysis and categorization for the Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance behind these thoughts and emotions.
    • When Bias or Ignorance is dominant these thoughts and emotions lead to grief (Dukkha).

Teachings of Buddha constantly strive to lift up anyone, everyone out of this influence of Bias (attachment) and ignorance. It is necessary to acknowledge the cloud of Bias and Ignorance as the sources of grief. It will be a mistake to assign Union with the undesirable, loss of desired things, not receiving the desired things or wishes, taking everything as I or Mine by themselves as the sources of grief (Dukkha).

True knowledge leads us to discriminate between “what is desirable and undesirable?” in my (our) association with this person, people or situation. This analysis leads to an objective outlook and the proper path (duty – Karma). At this point one will be reminded of a Tamil proverb which states “ If you look at only the blemishes in others you will have no friends or relatives”. We should also remember the often quoted advice from Buddha “Let the one who has never erred throw the first stone at others as a punishment!”.

We can extend this discussion to other sources of grief listed above. But, it is clear in three out of these four conditions the governing verb is “desire” and in the fourth  it is the “attachment” to the self. Buddha constantly describes desire and attachments as the source of grief. 

In all of the above analysis we have resorted to the first pathway (i.e.) discriminative approach to identify the sources of grief based on our Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance. We should keep this pathway in mind and not be swayed by specific examples or listings. That would be like getting caught up in a thick growth in a forest and losing your way.

To avoid this pitfall, we need to become proficient in pathway no. 2 (i.e.) Emphasis on Objectivity. Am I truly assessing the situation with reference to my Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance? Or am I getting influenced by my own preferences (Subjectivity)? For example, do I have a fearless attitude and approach to death when it pertains to someone else, while I am mortified of the thought when it applies to me or someone close and dear to me? You can immediately relate to the intended and necessary Objectivity! Such objectivity is fostered by non-attachment (Sanyasam): Treating everything as “external” or not pertaining to the self! This is not a monastic way of life. It is merely framing of our mind. If practices in Yoga and meditation help you in this non-attachment, benefit from them. But, let them not become a crutch for physical isolation, while the mind, emotions, intellect and thoughts remain attached.

Viewed from this perspective (Pathway no. 2) Grief (Dukkha) can be seen in anything and at any time. This Dukkha may be merely a product of the human mind and its emotions. Depending on the situation and circumstances it may be driven by our connection (Gunathvam): Tranquility, Turbulence and/or Inertia. We need to recognize each of these equilibrium states behind our grief and address it appropriately. Hence grief need not be identified merely as belonging to a prescribed list of items – see above – or aspects of life. While such a checklist may serve some purpose, it should be followed by reflection and analysis.

With all of the above behind us, we come to pathway no. 3: Everything is Brahman (Sarvam Brahma Mayam). This pathway requires us to think that we are no different from any other object of nature. While this is indeed true, it is a concept difficult to digest. Let us perform a small thought experiment with the following questions:

We are like stone or any other inanimate object: True/false?

We are like plants and animals: True/False?

  • Plants and animals are born, age, go through sickness and perish (die). So do we (every one of us).
    • Then why do we assign our Birth, aging, sickness, old age and death as sources of grief?
  • Everyone of us has a body, emotions and feelings, thoughts and ideas. But the forces behind these – anatomy, physiology, psychology, neural function, etc. – are the same. 
    • Then where is the difference between 
      • desirable and undesirable?
      • desired things and undesired?
      • receiving the desired wishes and undesired?
      • I or Mine ?
        • It is this isolation into “self” and “others” that is illustrated in the following story from Swami Adi Sankara’s life: When a Chandala (considered untouchable by the society at that time) crossed Sankara’s path, his disciples tried to keep him away. On noticing this the Chandala asked Adi Sankara “Who are you trying to stay away from – my body or my soul?”

Above is a lengthy narrative to focus our attention on the basics of Vedic Philosophy (as well as teachings of Lord Buddha). It is imperative that in this age and capabilities for vast and rapid communications we return to the basics of human competence (i.e.) reflection, analysis, reasoning, comprehension and a life based on all these. This analysis and suggestion is presented with due modesty. We acknowledge everyone is the “Child of Immortality – Amrithasaya Puthra”. Everyone is a teacher as well as a student.

Hari Om.

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