The Fruits of Self Enquiry

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In order to integrate ourselves, in order to become whole, to bring together various aspects of our being, our physical bodies, our mental being – our thoughts, our emotional being – our hearts, we need to practice what in yoga is termed Vichara. Vichara means self enquiry. Our process is one of constant examination of our lives and of our selves in all its various manifestations and aspects.

We start with an examination of our relationship with objects. We accumulate objects, possessions in our lives from our clothing to our cars, our houses and all the clutter we surround ourselves with. Unless we are practicing Vichara we can easily suffer the illusion that our relationship with these objects is permanent and that we are therefore entitled to become angry when they are taken from us or feel distressed when we lose them. Our relationship with objects requires us to constantly enquire into the absence of permanency of that relationship. For example, this shawl I am wearing was not mine before we went to Kerala last year and in five years time it may be gone. My relationship with this shawl can not be one of clinging, of grasping, of possession, thinking that if I lose this I would also be losing part of myself. Enquiring into the nature of our relationship with objects is liberating because we stop trying to hold onto something that by its very nature is transient.

Next, we examine our relationship with others. We examine our relationship with those people in our lives with whom we come in contact, those people who are there to help us on our way, whether through loving and nurturing us or whether through conflict that reveals some aspect of ourselves that would otherwise have remained hidden in the shadows. The Dalai Lama puts is so succinctly by explaining: We are all going to die one day. Those who realise this, settle their quarrels with others. We want a peaceful heart, we want to feel at peace with ourselves, but when we are holding on to a sense of self-importance and righteousness and  the thought that I know better in our relationship with others we are constantly defensive. We need to settle our quarrels with others, in order to be at peace with others in our lives. Through the process of enquiry Vichara, we examine those relationships that cause us to feel indignant and self-righteous and examine our own part so that we can see how our own sense of self importance, our own ego has helped create that conflict. We take that away and see what’s left. If we can find a sense of humility then very often the conflict we believe was created by someone else, evaporates. It’s gone.

Next we examine our relationship with ourselves. Are we using these precious moments of life to best effect? Soon, one day we will be taking our last breath. Have we lived our lives well? Our yoga and meditation practice provides a framework for treating ourselves with respect. Not only our physical being through the practice of asana, intelligently enquiring into the causes of any aches or pains and practicing with a sense of constant self examination, but more subtly enquiring into the nature of our thoughts. Are our thoughts positive and helpful? Our meditation helps us to examine our mind and to calm and still the thoughts which in turn allows our hearts to open.

What brings joy to our hearts is simply love. You spend time with your partner who cares deeply for you, without asking anything of you, when you are in their presence you feel love. You come to the feet of the Master who is a channel for the teachings and you feel unconditional love. That love leads you to care for your own body and care for your thoughts and care for your heart. The practices are described to lead us in this direction. To help make our lives a manifestation of loving kindness. Not only because our lack of grasping possessions makes us less selfish and so more loving, less inclined to take what we want without regard for the happiness of others but also through enhancing our relationship with others. When we are peaceful and calm and we know our purpose in life we bring happiness to others, automatically, without trying, as a natural product of existence. And so also to our relationship with ourselves so that when we go to sleep at night our minds are at peace and our hearts content and happy.

Patanjali puts it very beautifully in one short sutra, Chapter 2 verse 42:

saṁtoṣād anuttamaḥ sukha lābhaḥ

From contentment there flows the most excellent happiness and delight.

This delight, this bliss or Ananda is the great gift bestowed on us by the teachings that come to us through the blessed souls that the Divinity choses to manifest the teachings

May we ever remember our beloved teachers with gratitude and appreciation.

May we find refuge at their lotus feet.

May we imbibe the essence of their message and realise it in this very lifetime itself.

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Your Real Home

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Living in the body is like living in a rented house. It’s okay, it meets your basic needs. You have a nice kitchen, a pantry full of food, warm water, you can have a nice shower. All your things are packed away there. You have your routine set up nicely. You do know in the back of your mind that it is not permanent, that it belongs to someone else, but it feels like yours while you are there.

Discovering meditation or yoga, whatever your spiritual practice, is like being given the keys to another beautiful house somewhere close. Situated high on the top of the dunes along the sea with clear space all around you. The design is very minimalist, very Zen, ceiling to floor self cleaning glass windows overlooking the ocean where you can sit quietly and watch the sunset, the play of light on the clouds and the sky, the ripples on the ocean as the wind changes. It’s completely yours, and free, no need to pay any rent, no need to do any maintenance, it all looks after itself.

It’s very simple. All there is in the house is maybe a little Japanese tea set so that when you go there you have a cup of tea but nothing else. In the beginning it feels slightly unfamiliar. You think, hmmm, this is nice but what about everything that is going on back at home? Who is feeding the budgie and the cat and the dog? After all, that is my postal address where all the bills come to and I have to go to work on Monday morning so my clean socks and ironed shirts are there.

So your mind takes you back to your rented house and your everyday routine continues but you remember, Oh I have the key to this other beautiful place that I can go to any time I like. Gradually more and more, you spend time in this other place that you have been gifted, that you have been granted and you find that your interest in what is left behind at the rented house becomes slowly less and less. Still you carry on your life, you know you have responsibilities to fulfil, you have your karma to work through but now even when you’re at the rental house part of you remembers this beautiful place that you can go to at any time you like and just be still and peaceful.

As time goes by you realise that you need less and less to be happy until one day the landlord tells you, sorry, your lease is up. You may if you are lucky get a bit of warning, some time to put your affairs in order, but possibly not. However it doesn’t matter because even in the rental house you are now always aware of the other place, the calm, beautiful, empty, clear space that you have. All the while that you have been continuing your duties, feeding the cat and the dog and the budgie, part of your mind is still there in that beautiful clear empty space.

So when your lease comes to an end, you happily give that up and you pass it on to somebody else who moves into the rental house and makes it their own. Your socks and shirts will go to the second-hand market. Someone else will feed the cat and the dog and the budgie. Your awareness, your consciousness, your reality has become entirely absorbed in that new place.

So heaven, if there is such a place, is a state of mind, not a physical place up in the sky. We don’t need to wait until the lease is up on our body to experience that. We can start to become familiar and comfortable with needing less and being happy in a place that is simple, at any time during our life. The body is finally dropped when the karma is complete, when the work is done. When the body’s tasks are finished we can go to that place where we are free and empty and light, permanently.

We are all given the key to this beautiful place within ourselves and we can visit there and stay there as often and as long as we like. Our salutations and prostrations at the feet of the holy Masters who through their pure compassion and selfless love grant us this most precious gift.

Freedom is kindness to others

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If we are to take anything from our spiritual endeavour it is that we practice kindness towards others.  We learn this from all the traditions, not just yoga. In the Christian tradition Jesus instructs us – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, again in Corinthians, There are three things that endure: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love; the Jain tradition, Ahimsa, extends the concept of non violence not only to humans but to all animals, plants, micro-organisms and all beings having life, they sweep the path in front ahead lest any insects should be injured, Ahimsa a strong tenet in the yoga tradition, do the least harm possible, may all be happy peaceful and fulfilled. All the great teachers tell us this. Why? Because they know that loving kindness is the only quality that matters, it is all that endures, and when practiced removes all  obstacles to our liberation.

A life spent in accumulating wealth means very little during the last moments. If you have time to reflect and look back on your life you won’t be thinking, thank goodness, I managed to put that extra thousand dollars in the bank, you will remember the love that you shared. The times that are most precious to you are those moments you have experienced closeness and love with others. When you remember an ancestor of yours fondly, perhaps a parent or grandparent, you don’t remember just the things they gave you, you remember the way that you felt when they cared for you, when they nurtured you and helped you.

Practicing loving kindness towards others is a way for us to become happy. It’s not selfishness to want to be happy, everyone wants the same. In order to find happiness we have to be free. Free from anger and jealousy and hatred and envy and greed and all those things that eat us up and so rob us of our peace of mind. So to be free we can practice loving kindness.

We start with someone we like, we start with someone who is kind to us. They give us a packet of kindness and we give them a packet of kindness in return. It’s easy to be kind to someone who is kind to you. Swami used to call it market place kindness. Exchange. More difficult if someone is neutral towards you. You do something good, you let someone into the traffic in front of you, they don’t acknowledge you, they are neutral towards you, maybe something is going on for them in their own head and you think Hmmm, you are offended. You have this subtle sense of entitlement, they need to give you something back for your kindness. So the next step in our practice as seekers after truth is to practice loving kindness towards those who are neutral towards us with out expectation of reciprocation. We rise a level up.

What about those people who are hostile towards us? Our boss doesn’t treat us fairly, an invading force comes into our country and kills our people, we have to flee across the mountains. Or imprisoned for twenty years for standing up for what is right. Can we practice loving kindness towards those who are hostile towards us? This is the real test of an awakened seeker. If we allow others who would harm us to force us down the path of anger and revenge and hatred we continue to do to ourselves what they have done to us. If we somehow find a way to practice forgiveness and loving kindness, Lord forgive them they know not what they do, to those who wish us harm, we are free.

At the end of our lives, they may have collected the wealth and the karma but we have the love and that is the only treasure our souls can carry when we depart this life. The rest of it ihas no substance, it falls away. Only love endures.

Now watch for circumstances in your life where you can repay kindness with kindness, where you can repay neutrality with kindness and even someone who wishes you no good, try to repay them with kindness too. Kindness to those who are hostile does not mean allowing yourself to become a victim or pretend to like them or wear a mask. It can mean standing up for what is good and right, speaking your truth, that too is loving kindness. This is the greatest gift we can bestow upon ourselves because it leads to freedom.

The great Masters are living examples of this. They do good to all because that is their nature and they cannot do otherwise. They are forever free and have gone beyond the pairs of opposites. Our salutations to those great souls who light the way for us.

Two Paths to Choose From

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We are recently back from our trip to Tibet and the completion of the Kora of the holy Mount Kailash. It was difficult and challenging but a wonderful experience. What is clear from the journey is that there seem to be only two pathways, the pathway of love and the pathway of fear. At every juncture in our lives we have a choice of whether to choose love or whether to choose fear. It needn’t be something dramatic or universal, it can be a simple event in life that helps to illustrate this truth. I will share with you an amusing example from our trip.

We were walking on a camping trek from Simikot up into the high mountains of north western Nepal, a very remote region. We saw no other travellers, just the local people and our little group of six led by a wonderful guide and two assistant guides and a superb cook and his kitchen assistants. One of the assistant guides, a Sherpa, who led the front of the party kept stopping and taking off his shoes and rubbing his toes. I asked him what was wrong and he explained that his shoes were too small. They were a cheap pair of Chinese made black sneakers about two sizes too small for him and that night when we stopped he pretty much threw them away and was going to do the rest of the walk in beach thongs. Now it is cold and rocky and walking is precarious in sections of the path high on cliffs above raging torrents of rivers that have claimed more that a few pack donkeys over the years.

There I was with my brand new Italian leather hiking boots and had also been shopping the day before we left and bought a second pair of quite expensive lightweight trail shoes for wearing in the camp at night, and I had that second unused pair in my pack. So I agonised over this for a little then realised that it wasn’t right that I had two pairs of shoes and he had none and so decided that I was going to offer him the use of my second pair of shoes until we got to the Tibetan border and then I would need them back. So just an inkling of love but still eighty percent of fear. What if he breaks them? How will I manage without them? I got the main guide to explain to him that he could borrow the shoes because he was struggling but when we got to the border of Tibet and our ways part I wanted the shoes back because I was going to need them in Lhasa.

So on we go and that night we stopped at a campsite and there was a beautiful monastery up on the hill, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is so powerful and rich. We had heard that there was a Rinpoche in residence there, a high Lama, living in the monastery looking after the whole region and we were very keen to meet him. My new boots by this stage were hurting so I took the boots off and was going to walk half an hour up the steep mountain path in bare feet. The main guide was worried for me and told me not to do it because of broken glass and thorns and sharp stones and it was evening and cold and getting dark but love was calling from the monastery and fear was put aside so two of us set off with one of the porters whose relative was a monk in residence there to seek an audience with the Rinpoche. Not one single thorn or stone or sharp object hurt my foot so that was a little hint, an affirmation of the power of love. The Rinpoche blessed us with an audience, non grasping is important he said, and put white scarves around our necks and gave us sweets as prasad which was later distributed amongst the guides.

As we got closer to the Tibetan border the Sherpa guide seemed so happy and in the moment with his shoes, he was striding along, smiling and watching him I thought to myself there was no way in the world I was going to be able to ask for those shoes back. So I said to him on the second last night, I put my hands on his shoulders and said “You keep the shoes, the shoes are for you.” The right thing to do, obviously. So letting go of the fear and attachment, the worry that my shoes are going to come back dirty, maybe damaged and what am I going to wear when I get to Lhasa, letting go of all of that, love expanded in my heart and I felt utterly free of attachment of grasping for the shoes. It led to the most beautiful and moving moment for me of the whole trip when we said goodbye. He was sitting next to me in the small camp kitchen and then he took my hands and he put them on his forehead in a gesture of thanks.

Not to suggest that I was somehow being generous, there was no other course of action possible but just that moment letting go of fear, of the thoughts “what about me and mine”, and allowing love to emerge gave me the greatest joy and happiness of the whole experience.

Once we crossed the border into Tibet I thought I had better get some other shoes. We were at the Chinese border town and I was looking for replacement shoes, walking around every single shop in the town. Chinese feet are generally small, so the shopkeepers would take one look at my huge boots and turn their backs disdainfully shaking their heads. I was looking for a size 45 but there was nothing bigger anywhere than a size 41. I was just about to give up when I saw a rack of shoes outside a toy shop and asked the owner if he had a big pair of shoes. He got very animated and told me to wait, not to go anywhere and then disappeared for at about half an hour. Finally he came back beaming with a large box in his hands saying “one pair, one pair only!”. He had found a pair of slip on shoes that were just the perfect size. Another reminder that the universe looks after you when you let go of fear.

Choosing the path of love over the path of fear doesn’t mean that everything is always going to be rosy but what it does mean is that we say Yes to life, that we open ourselves to both the pain and the joy. We can’t have one without the other. Fear means we contract, we shut down, hide away, we say No to life and nothing happens, we stay stuck in our selfishness, we don’t progress. When you have the courage to say Yes to life, to choose the path of love, life becomes mysteriously enriching.

The great ones, the Masters,  show us the way by living their lives in a way that shines as an example to us all. They are ever engaged in service for the wellbeing of all with no hint of selfishness. Salutations to that Sat Guru whose life is an embodiment of pure and selfless love.

Satyam, the search for truth

 

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Truth is a beautiful thing. The beauty of truth is not that it is a rule, a commandment that states if you don’t speak the truth you willhave to bear the consequences, you will be punished in some way nor that you will be rewarded every time you speak the truth but truth is in itself immensely satisfying and its own reward.  Whether you are an advocate representing someone who has been falsely accused, getting to the truth of the matter so that you can ensure justice is not compromised, orwhether you are working with numbers as an accountant and the satisfaction when all the numbers align correctly or whether you are a writer seeking to express some more abstract truth through the interaction of the characters you create, or an artist expressing your own truth through the manifestation of your own creative efforts, truth is a beautiful thing.

It is known as Satyam in our yoga texts and it applies not only on a micro level, in that every situation has its inherent truth that we can come to and discover through the application of right enquiry but there is also the macro truth that affects us all. The big questions. Do we have a soul? Is there a God? What happens when we die?

This search for truth is something that brings joy to our hearts and minds. The Yoga Vasistha, the wonderful text containing the teachings of the Sage Vasistha helps us here. Some of you have been with us to Vasistha Guha, the cave north of Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganges River in northern India where Vasistha is said to have meditated and written the texts that have been preserved for us to study. He describes the Sage Valmiki instructing Rama in the search for truth. Rama asks Valmiki, “How will I find this truth, how can I discover truth?”

Valmiki replies that there are four gateways to truth. The first of these gateways is self control. It is satisfying when you are with someone who is able to exercise self control. They don’t take the last piece of food from the plate, they can hold back, they can restrain their needs and desires. They are measured in their words, they consider carefully before they speak. There is something inspiring about that. The first gateway to the discovery of truth in our lives in every situation.

The second gateway Valmiki describes is a spirit of enquiry, a hunger for the truth. If we think we know everything there is no room for truth to reveal itself to us. The spirit of enquiry, known as Vichara in yoga is very important.

The third gateway described to Rama is Santosha, contentment. Similar to self control. When the mind is always racing after the next thing there is no stillness. The truth can only reveal itself to you when the mind is still.

The final gateway to the discovery of truth is good company. Satsang.

In the texts Valmiki goes on to describe to Rama what truth is and that truth is not something static. Not something that can be contained exclusively and comprehensively in a single book or a manuscript. Truth is dynamic. Every situation we encounter has its own essence, its own truth. So in order for us to be seekers after truth we need to maintain those four attributes and an open mind in realising that we do not know it all. That there will be situations where we will need to pursue this enquiry to come to the truth of the matter.

When we come to the truth of the matter our hearts are still. When we are practicing our meditation all four of these are automatically included. Self control, enquiry, contentment and good company. Our practice is a celebration of truth as revealed to us by the holy sages who are beyond the mind, one with divinity , immovably established in truth and the witness to our innermost thoughts. Solutions to those great souls that preserve and share this universal self consciousness with us seekers after truth.

How can a Loving God allow suffering?

At this time our thoughts and prayers go out to our brothers and sisters in Kerala where once in a century floods have left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and many have died. How do we understand events of this sort? How can a loving God allow such suffering to exist in the world? Our philosophy fails us in circumstances like this, we don’t have the answers.

However, instead of being angry with God and thinking that, well if I were in charge, if I had the power and was directing operations, I would do it differently and would never allow such suffering to exist in the world, instead of that attitude, we can take the opportunity to look for some way that we may be of service. To be of some help, to do some good in all of the chaos and turmoil that exists in the world, to make this world a slightly better place.

After all, our goal here is not purely to secure our own well-being and comfort. To strive to become like a wealthy landholder reclining on a velvet couch, adorned by jewels and fine clothes, fanned by servants and having peeled grapes put one by one in our mouths, becoming increasingly portly as we feed our insatiable desires and then to die a lonely death worrying about what may become of our fortune. Our goal is not our own comfort. Our purpose here is to serve others.

Everything we do to serve ourselves, every morsel of food we take, getting the body strong and fit through our yoga practice is not for our own benefit only but in order to be able to serve others. In order to be able to help others.

This analysis turns our attention  towards our own suffering because none of us are exempt. When we read accounts written by people who have gone through very difficult times, it is interesting to note that when immersed in the most challenging of circumstances is when the greatest insights develop. People who have had to endure long periods of illness have said that this is when they have learned the true meaning of prayer. That is when they have experienced true communion with the divine.

Time sweeps everything away. A hundred years ago none of us existed. Those people who were here had their own issues and joys and struggles. In a hundred years from now, none of us will be here and all the things we think are so important will all be forgotten. So this is nothing but Leela or God’s play. Not because it is trivial but because our experiences here are designed to lead us to discover our higher purpose. Our purpose is transformative, to uncover something that is otherwise veiled and hidden. We exist not just as bodies in the physical universe but as souls in spiritual consciousness with an opportunity to discover that our true nature is not subject to time but is eternal. That despite all of the changes that occur from birth to old age to the dropping of the body when our work here is complete, some aspect of our being continues to exist.

That aspect of our being is blissful and discovered through love alone. So when we see suffering in the world and when we ourselves experience suffering, rather than rage against the injustice of it all we take the opportunity to grow from that and to move towards the deeper understanding of our true essential nature.

Our meditation practice takes us step by step in this direction. The great Masters are there to guide and protect us on our journey of self discovery and self realisation. May we ever remember them with gratitude and love.

The joy of goodness

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Be certain that every act of goodness you perform is never lost, every good action you perform, every good thought you have, every kind word you utter is never lost. The karmic ledger is balanced in your favour. It is said that if you take one step towards God, God will take ten steps towards you. It’s like that. Good actions take us forward, selfish actions performed from ignorance don’t take us backwards but they do keep us still, locked.

In performing actions that are intended for the benefit off all, not just for the benefit of others but for the benefit of all, yourself included, the law of karma is set into effect. You can see examples of this in the plant kingdom. The plants are there only to serve. The vegetables you grow, the herbs you grow in your garden are there to give your body nourishment. Not out of any selfish motive but because it is in their nature to serve. The flowers give their fragrance and beauty to the world. The tree grows giving its shade freely, sharing its fruit, imparting its serenity and eventually when it is cut down it gives its wood to create furniture or to burn for fuel. It does all this selflessly. We see evidence of this everywhere around us.

Good cannot force you to be good, because if it were to compel you it would become its opposite. So good waits patiently for us to awaken to the joy of goodness. We don’t perform good actions for a reward. We don’t perform a good action so that somebody will recognise us and give us accolades, a pat on the back or to accumulate karmic credit points so that we will be allowed through the gates of heaven. True good is performed without motive. It is its own reward. Being of service to someone in need makes you feel good. You don’t need any other reward or to be recognised and applauded for your kindness, the reward is itself the goodness.


The underlying nature of the universe is this essential benevolence and it is only the veil of ignorance, selfishness and fear, that makes us think otherwise. Everywhere around us is light and we should try to live in this light. At the very least without hurting or harming anyone and if we can, also without being hurt ourselves. We have to discover how this can become possible.

If you set your camera to a very high sensitivity and point it at the heavens at night you will see that there is light everywhere around us, an explosion of light in all directions, even in the apparent darkness. It’s just that our eyes cannot perceive it. The spirit however has eyes that see in a very different way. Not the physical eyes that are restricted to seeing just the visible spectrum of light, but the spirit sees the light of goodness. As you allow yourself to be drawn into that goodness it develops momentum and becomes self perpetuating and the wheel of karma turns in your favour, the ledger balance is in your favour.

Then comes the final step. Instead of claiming that karmic credit for ourselves and thinking, now I have become a karmic millionaire, I can enjoy a holiday in heaven, we donate that karma to the divine. We dedicate the fruits of our good actions and thoughts to the divine, to the well being of all and in that way we become free.

The lives of the saints and masters are a testament to this. Their lives are like the sweet fragrance of incense. They are dedicated to the upliftment of seekers and they wait in that goodness for the students to become ready to receive the teachings that will lead them to living a life that harms no-one and takes no offence. In this way inner peace, inner calm and stillness becomes established.

As Patanjali has proclaimed: atha yogā ‘nuśāsanaṃ

When the sincere seeker approaches an enlightened teacher, with the right attitude of discipleship, free of preconceived notions and prejudices, and full of intelligent faith and receptivity and with the right spirit of enquiry, at the right time and the right place, communication of yoga takes place.

And then: yogaś citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ

Yoga happens when there is stilling in the sense of continual and vigilant watchfulness of the movement of thought – without expression or suppression – in the indivisible intelligence in which there is no movement.

Our prostrations to the lotus feet of the Masters