This is the 2nd of 5 talks given at a retreat where we look quite deeply at the most essential and foundational practices for a spiritual life.
These are longer than usual talks, and this one is a Q&A where we address some wide-ranging topics in some detail including somethings related to Christianity.
So, into the Q&A part of the retreat. So one of the questions I had, and I said I’d lead off with—and I don’t know if there’s any more questions—if there’s no more questions, we’ll just keep rolling with where we were this morning.
It’s about the organization behind this retreat, and the retreat—the organization that’s sponsoring this is called Meditation New Zealand. Meditation New Zealand is actually formerly known as the New Zealand School of Meditation, which was started (is this working? Yeah? It’s good?), it was started—when was it started, round about ‘75,’ 76 something about 70—So, it’s been around since like 1976 and gone through a few ups and downs. It’s a pretty loose collection of people that have shared or benefited from this spiritual philosophy. The goal is not to grow an organization, but for people who want to get involved, to try to grow their own spiritual understanding and practice, and if they are inspired to, then try to share that with others.
One of the things that a lot of people in the Western world have a hard time with, and one of the huge differences between ancient Vedic teaching, or the system of teaching, and what’s happened in the Western world in particular, and then kind of moved into the east: there is no concept in the ancient Vedic teachings of an institution having an authority. It’s always been that the journey of self-discovery and God realization is very personal and it is very individual. It’s not a group event.
Having said that, there was—or is, the reality that certain types of group activity, like getting together for kirtan, possess a unique spiritual potency that we benefit from. But it’s not that, as a result of that, everybody is on the same level of spiritual understanding and experience, and are therefore going to be in the same place at the same time. Not at all. It’s participating in a process that has a great deal of spiritual potency.
So, in the ancient Vedic system, tremendous importance was placed upon spiritual lineages. And even though there were spiritual lineages, they were not safeguarded, as it were, by an institution. So, there was no such idea as the term, the Latin term, ecclesiastic, which means of the church, where a church, a religious organization, is the one invested with power, and the person that’s at the top of that institution is seen as the closest connection to God.
In the Vedic system that sort of idea would be utterly rejected and not embraced at all. It had to do with people’s individual connection to somebody that was very spiritually advanced. For a person to become spiritually advanced, they have to first go through, what I think is probably a good term in English, it’s like discipleship, meaning where they actually approach a person of great spiritual realization, and they make humble inquiries from them.
In the Bhagavad-gita, in the 4th chapter of the 34th sloka, it describes, it uses two words, or three words: pranipatena, that through this pranipata, which means a very submissive heart, a heart of great surrender, and sevaya, by also the rendering of humble service, one develops the right kind of consciousness where they can actually absorb spiritual instruction and apply it to their life and experience the benefit that comes from it.
But it was not like—well, even if you find somebody that’s tremendously spiritually advanced, that it’s not that everybody that gravitates to them becomes spiritually developed. It’s not like an osmosis thing that just because I sit in the physical proximity of someone, or I’m hanging around with someone automatically, I grow spiritually. No. You can have your head firmly implanted in a very dark place, as they say, and you’re completely blind, or you’re seeing things completely wrong, and you’re not doing the things that you need to do to make it so that you are open, your heart is open to actual transformation of your consciousness. You can be on the same level as a religious fanatic and be hanging around a completely self-realized spiritual personality, and he doesn’t have the capacity to change you. It’s only you that can open yourself up to that influence. It requires your participation; it requires your involvement.
And so, because of this—you’ll generally see that you have two categories of great spiritual teachers: they call them bhajananandi and parivrājakācārya. Bhajanandi are those who become very withdrawn from the world and don’t really engage, and they don’t really seek to go out, and they’re absorbed in this internal spiritual immersion. The parivrājakācārya is someone that has attained the highest spiritual platform, but they don’t hang there in isolation; driven by a deep feeling of compassion for the suffering of others, they very much engage with the world, for the purpose of trying to help and to share something wonderful with others.
And a person that does that will almost always use organization as a tool to achieve that outcome, because it’s like, organization means that you’re increasing your leverage, your lever is longer, you can move a bigger weight. And so, through an organization, one can reach more people and share more of the message. But in that situation, the organization or the institution was considered spiritual while it was being used purely for the spiritual benefit of others. When that teacher leaves this world and somebody else tries to “take over” the organization, then it’s considered the organization has lost its spiritual potency, unless somebody actually was tremendously spiritually advanced also.
So, these are quite a kind of quite deep spiritual principles, and for this reason, I think these guys—I mean I just, although I’m originally from New Zealand, and I used to visit on and off sometimes, and be invited to help in different ways through the—after 2000, more or less. I’d already been away from New Zealand for about 40 years by that time. And so, I knew some of these people, and so I would assist with what they’re doing. And in returning to New Zealand in 2016, I’m very much dedicated to helping them with what they’re doing.
We do share some spiritual connections. Like, the person that really was behind the start of Meditation New Zealand, his name was Tusta, Tusta Krishna, and he came here in the very early 1970s. I had actually met him in India when I was living there as a monk, and we became friends in the first few moments of talking. He was such a wonderful person, and he asked me where I was from and stuff, and I was telling him about New Zealand.
Then I told him that it’s really—the milk here is like really amazing. You get a pint bottle of milk delivered to your house for four cents, it used to be in those days, and there’s this much cream on the top. And this is not an exaggeration: he said, “That’s it. I’m out of here.” And of course, that wasn’t the motivation, but he was very much that kind of a person. And he went from India by cargo ship across to Malaysia, down through Malaysia into Indonesia, and got another boat—aah, went island hopping there, and another boat through to Darwin, and came down and was doing things in Australia for a while before coming across to New Zealand.
So, he was kind of like the inspiration, or the person, that really contributed a great deal to the early development of Meditation New Zealand, and a lot of people had been in connection with him. He has a very interesting history.
For myself, I have two spiritual teachers that have been incredibly influential in my life. One was—there are different types of spiritual teachers, or the relationship of student and teacher. There is what is called diksha, and a person that offers like a formal spiritual initiation is called diksha guru. And then there is siksha. Siksha is instruction, spiritual instruction; and one can have many gurus, but they only ever have one diksha guru.
So, my initiating spiritual master was Bhaktivedanta Swami, who founded the Hare Krishna movement. I always had a great deal of difficulty getting along with many of my God brothers in those early days, and didn’t agree with a lot of the ideas of how to apply the spiritual teachings. But my personal connection with Bhaktivedanta was extraordinary. He was absolutely mind-blowing, and because I was such an idiot, he was very kind to me and insisted, when I arrived in India, that while he is traveling around, that I should travel along, with another person, with him. And so, I got to spend a lot of very intimate and personal time, and was shown, or given perspectives that I probably wouldn’t have spontaneously developed on my own. So, Tusta was in that situation.
But then when I was still in India, before leaving I had the opportunity to meet another person who was also very much connected to Bhaktivedanta Swami, and his name was Jagad Guru Siddhaswarup. And he has had an enormous effect and influence on my life, and has touched the lives of many of the people in Meditation New Zealand also.
But in our public-facing outreach and activities, we are not trying to grow an organization. We very much want to simply share, that every person, regardless of where you are positioned in life, if you take up this process of the use of spiritual sound, transcendental sound, as the primary focus of meditation, and you cultivate the understanding that you are an eternal spiritual being, you don’t need anything more. If you take that journey, your experience will be more than you can possibly imagine. You will grow in profound spiritual realization and experience as a result of that.
So, we function loosely. This is a kind of like, a group of people. And then you’ve got some other younger dudes that are in the picture—younger because like I’m getting, I’m already 71, going 72. So, I’m just like looking at, “Well, maybe we’ve got about 10, 12, 14 years more, and what am I going to do with that time?” But there’s a lot of young people that feel very inspired, and who are also very much involved in— this is really important to them to be able to share these wonderful gifts. But we do it as a very loose organization. There’s not much of a hierarchy or structure.
And that’s, I think—which is probably a bit of a pain in the butt sometimes, because most people like to be told what to do, or they hate being told what to do—you’re sort of in one of those two categories. And we’re sort of like somewhere pretty floppy in the middle there. We need structure, we need organization, but you’ve got to figure it out. You shouldn’t be just being told what to do.
Is there enough air in here for everybody, or are we lacking air?
So, there you go. But—well maybe I’ll just add a little bit, the lineage to which I’m connected, it goes back over 5,000 years to Srila Vysadeva, who was the actual compiler of the Vedas, and it goes back even way back beyond that. So, there’s a very clear traceable lineage which is considered of actual real importance in this process of spiritual cultivation.
Is that okay?
One of the—I am choosing my words carefully, not wanting to actually be critical at all, but one of the major downsides to many organized religions, while they may contain actually really important spiritual principles, it’s quite often hard to find somebody that you could actually really follow, in the sense of dedicating your life and really following somebody, a mentor and an instructor.
But there is this idea that if I somehow join something, that somehow or other, I can be saved. The idea of spiritual liberation or salvation comes from the idea of joining something—and that idea we absolutely reject, not violently or vociferously, but just because it’s not true. It is, as I said, spiritual life is an individual activity. It’s an individual pursuit. It’s up to you. It’s your responsibility, not anybody else’s. Okay? Whoa!
Audience: In connection with that, what is the relation, or the connection, between experiencing everything on our own and being inquisitive, and the need of having and accepting a spiritual teacher?
Well, the Vedas say that it is absolutely essential: if one wants to come to the highest spiritual truth, one must find a qualified, and authentic, and empowered, spiritual teacher, and seek direction from them. That’s not something that you should just do haphazardly or sentimentally. One has to do it through a process of inquiry, and rationally looking at things and making judgments and decisions.
So, it’s like, it explains (and I reached for this [his phone], but I’m realizing I can’t remember exactly where it’s located.) There’s a wonderful verse that speaks to the fact that, when we are in a condition of ignorance, meaning lacking knowledge, we cannot impart knowledge to ourself. We need to seek somebody in that condition of knowledge, and inquire from them. And they use the example of somebody is fallen in a well, and you’re down on the well; you’re not getting out by yourself. You need somebody else outside the well to lower the rope and pull you up. And that’s a pretty awesome example, because that’s the reality of things. So that necessity is there.
A person doesn’t have to—it’s not like a rush to find such a spiritual teacher. Like for instance, what’s going on here, everything that’s been shared, little snippets, or big snippets, or chunks, or whatever, it has its origin in a spiritual lineage and tradition that is actually authentic; and if one simply takes this on board and really considers it deeply and begins a personal journey of experimentation, testing and trying these things, and discovering for themselves the reality, then it means that they are connected to this system of delivering spiritual knowledge. Okay?
So pretty much it’s kind of like a free-for-all when we do the Q&A, so don’t think it has to be connected to anything that we’ve talked about. If anybody has something they want to ask. Yeah, was that a—I’m sorry, you were probably stretching your hand, but I knew that you wanted to ask something. I don’t know if you want to do it here or not. Oh, you want to think about it a little bit. Okay, no pressure. I’ll get to you in a sec, Tony.
Audience: Hi, I’m Jacqueline. Just in general, the spirituality—when you start like thinking about things that, either ways you’ve behaved, or things you’ve done in the past you feel bad about, and you wish you hadn’t done that or behaved in that way, and you still have that sort of sense of shame. What, how do you—not trying to exonerate yourself—how is a way just to move forward through that without…?
Acharya das: Yeah. Firstly I think—I said that word—I know that shame, broadly speaking and normally spoken of, is not bad. It’s actually a really good thing, because it is a self-correcting mechanism for really bad behaviour. The way it’s spoken about in modern psychology, and when I say modern psychology, particularly from around about the ‘80s onwards, they developed this whole philosophical idea that any form of shaming is like really bad, and it’s really destructive. And I’ve—my response says, “Oh, piss off.” No. If you have done something terribly bad, and you’ve hurt someone, you should feel ashamed. And that becomes—it shows that you are already on a platform, of some sensitivity and spiritual development, that at least you’re aware, “I should not be hurting someone, and if I have personally done that, I should feel terribly sad about that, and I should seek to somehow try and correct and offset that as much as I can.” So, it’s not always possible, because you sometimes lose contact with people and stuff.
And so people that are on a genuine path, they—one part of their life—there are nine processes in this path of what we’ll broadly describe “the path of devotion.” And one of these processes is actually to be very self-reflective and to seek to be forgiven for past transgressions.
And in our lineage, some of our spiritual teachers, they’ve written beautiful and quite poetic prayers and songs where they even cry out, “If I have offended anyone knowingly or unknowingly, I beg your forgiveness,” because there was a recognition that while we—if we go around hurting others, you are not going to become self-realized. It’s inconsistent with that journey. And so, becoming more sensitive and aware, they would seek that.
If you can approach the person, and sometimes it has to be measured and careful, because sometimes when you seek to go to apologize to someone, you can cause a worse outcome, and so you have to be very intelligent, to question. I mean, I was mentioning to someone yesterday, a really good principle to embrace in your life is, “Don’t make it worse.” If we could just really take that one on board and live by that principle, my God, people’s lives would be so much better and so much happier, at least a massive amount of distress and suffering would be removed. Just don’t make it worse. So you have to consider, in approaching someone, whether it’s actually going to have the desired result, and sometimes you can’t do it at this point because of some situation. And so inwardly you pray for that forgiveness and express a heartfelt, “I’m sorry that I acted in this way, and it has caused pain,” and look at when you might be able to do that through writing or in person or whatever; but seeking to undo things is important.
When I spend time with someone that is dying, going through this event known as death, it’s like wow, this is something really important that you need to address. You’ve come to the end of this journey, in this body, and you need to unload as much of the bad stuff as you can. You need to be in a really good state of consciousness for when you leave this body, to be able to move forward in a wonderful way.
And so addressing things and seeking forgiveness is something that people really need to consider and take on board. But just as part of our spiritual journey, it’s important, if you hurt somebody and you feel bad, you are fortunate that you feel bad; don’t feel bad about the fact that you feel bad. That’s good, that’s a recognition—it’s maturity. It’s a recognition that I’ve caused some chaos or pain. Okay, good enough?
Yeah, Tony, you had your hand up?
Audience: I’ve got two questions. I used to be one of those people that would laugh at some others when they told me they’d found God, and now I’m one of those people. Is that my karma?
Acharya das: It’s not karma. I mean—and once again, this is kind of like, we have to be so careful in talking about some of these subjects. Some people that claim to have found God may not actually manifest, in their life and relationships and dealings with others in the world and everything, the symptoms of a person that knows God. It may be just the opposite. There are limitless numbers of so-called gurus and people out there claiming to know God, and they’re just causing chaos, and abusing and misleading people, and doing all kinds of crap.
So, sometimes a person can claim to have known God, but they’re not displaying the actual symptoms. And they may be, it may be a little bit laughable, but we shouldn’t really laugh. Yeah? If a person actually had an experience where they had genuinely begun to experience, even in the beginning stages of God realization, and you laugh at them, hen you are—they call this term aparada in Sanskrit. You are actually behaving in a manner that is highly offensive, and it will have a very detrimental effect on you and your heart and your ability to move forward.
If somebody has done it light-heartedly or with scepticism and stuff, that’s not in the same category.
But—one of the biggest sadnesses for me, is I kind of steer clear a little bit of the word “God” now, only because God has developed such a bad rap, and people have become even fanatically anti-God, and yet they have in their own life pursuit of excellence, of perfection, of beauty—those things that actually are connected with a higher spiritual reality; and while they may not be using the word God, anybody that is actually seeking truth or seeking that which is most beautiful, most wondrous, most glorious, they are, without knowing it, they’re seeking this higher transcendent reality. What form that transcendent reality takes, it’s not just actually, from the Vedic perspective, a singular thing. There are three main features to this higher Transcendent reality.
But many people use the word God, in actually a very worldly sort of way. I mean, I was raised as a Catholic, and as a child I became very sceptical, because I saw in the spiritual leaders around me, that their life did not mirror their speech, and I realized that, as they say, “feet of clay.” You may think they’re in some higher realm, but their feet are very much embedded in the earth, and they’re struggling, in a lot of ways.
And so, I started wondering, and started looking, and really trying to explore, “Is there actually anybody that knows?” And the early part of my journey, I was deeply disappointed. Every time I heard about some person that was really together and very spiritual and, you know, I’d be on the road hitchhiking. I’d be running off to all these different places, and actually in a very submissive way, seeking their company and association and to hear; and I was always disappointed.
But the fact that in your case you never stopped searching, even though you, in your mind, might have had a limited appreciation of what we call God and people’s ability to become God realized, you know, there may be some truth to that. It’s not just that you’re being necessarily disrespectful or anything. But it’s interesting that you find yourself in a place now where you are seeking this higher spiritual reality, and one term to describe it maybe God. But that’s healthy, that we can grow. Is that okay?
Audience: I have a question in relation to something you discussed with us earlier today about the eyes. Over the past couple of months, I have actually been like kind of questioning this, in relation to this physical gross material senses of this body, and how I feel like I can’t necessarily trust my senses. I can’t trust my eyes and what I—necessarily, see as being true essentially, and I don’t know how to necessarily see things with the lens of truth, through my senses; I also struggle like with really identifying others as spirit soul, and just seeing that and remembering that and being aware of it daily. And I was wondering how can we perceive through a lens of truth, and how can we actively remember that others as spirit souls and not their body, and put that into practice on a daily basis?
Acharya das: You guys hear that, more or less?
So, firstly, there’s no easy solution to that. I mean, what we are dealing with, the spiritual journey from the Vedic perspective, is you have a pure transcendent being who has lost the plot so badly that they have become utterly covered by a subtle body, constituted by the mind, the buddhi or intelligence, and the ahankara, the false ego. The false—any time you say, “I” followed by (what?) “I am hungry.” No, it’s not you. Your body is hungry. Right? “I am tall, I am short, I’m male, I am female, I am fat, I want to do this, I want to do that, I’m a parent, I’m pregnant, I’m…”—No, that’s not you. That’s the body that you’re wearing around and deeply identifying with.
But this change in consciousness, where now we begin to identify with our true spiritual self, and we begin to live out that reality, it’s not going to happen, for the vast, vast, vast majority of people, suddenly. It’s going to be a gradual process. And so, there’s no easy answer to that, there’s no easy way to do that. It’s a question of practice, making perfect.
So, the term for this in Sanskrit is sadhana. Sadhana means that which takes you to your goal; and so spiritual teachers and the Vedas lay out a process that you need to engage in, and it will gradually move you along, that path, to your goal. And what is happening as you go, is that as you become more absorbed in your spiritual practice, then your vision, the way that you see the world, the way that you see others, the way that you see yourself, all begins to change radically, and eventually will become purely spiritual.
In terms of trusting the senses: the embodied condition of human life means that you suffer from four defects. This is like, you can’t be embodied and your consciousness material consciousness, and not suffer these four defects.
The first is the tendency to commit mistakes. Anybody here never made a mistake? And of course, the problem then is, if I was truly intelligent, and I’m making a firm decision on something, and I’m sure I’m right, I surely must ask myself, “Am I mistaken?” This breeds great thoughtfulness. This is called bhrama, which can be—mean like wandering aimlessly, that’s literal meaning, but it means to be mistaken and to make mistakes.
The second one is we are subject to illusion. That’s a heavy word. “But I thought he loved me!” No, that person never loved you. They might have had the hots for you, and might have spoke nicely to, and might have thought that they really liked you, but they moved on. They are never actually—that’s not love, that’s called lust. Lust is characterized by quite strong self-interest; whereas love is the opposite in that it is very giving, and it’s a whole different world.
So, we can be so easily illusioned. I mean, it used to be, they used to call them magicians; now they call them illusionists. And you’ve got all these science shows on learning how the brain works, and how the mind works, and how some of your auditory or visual sensors work. And they can learn how to do things in a way that you can’t see what they’re doing. And it’s not that they’re not doing it, you just don’t have—the body that you have and your perceptive senses, they just can’t catch it, or the brain processes it, or the mind processes it in a different way. And so they perform illusions. And even when you kind of like, if you’ve got it on a video, and you slowed it right down, you often cannot even catch how it was done. But that we can see something, and think that we saw it, but we actually didn’t, and that didn’t happen, it’s because we have this tendency to be illusioned.
And so once again, if I come to a conclusion, and want to make a decision, and I’m very convinced, how do I know, “I’m not an illusion over this?” I should ask that question. So, this is called pramada.
Then vipralipsa, which means the tendency to cheat. Unfortunately, that’s part of the human condition—the tendency to even cheat ourself and to cheat others. This is a defect that exists in the human condition, the material human condition.
And of course, the fourth item is the sensory limitation. The fact, even if you use technology to enhance your—like look at a microscope to see bacteria, or telescope to see heavenly bodies, in spite of even trying to magnify the power of the senses, they do have limitations.
And so given we have these four things, I should be very humble about how I live. I should not be overly confident.
What gives rise to confidence is, in—you know, something that gave me great confidence was studying Vedic teachings, listening to my spiritual teacher, and then considering that in relation to this world; and then my own spiritual journey. And over time, you develop enormous confidence that, following these truths, many of them have been revealed and opened to me, and I’ve directly experienced, but there are many that have not, but up to this point, everything that I have been told or shown, I’ve come to see as being true. So, I have a pretty good reason to accept the rest of that picture. And I use those truths, and those principles to guide my life and to help me in decision making and the idea of purpose, etc. Okay?
Can I just say—in dealing with the highest spiritual reality, many times there is not just one answer. There sometimes can be a number of answers. So, it’s kind of like an example I use, having lived most of my life in the third world and less developed economies where there was village life and stuff, and a common feature was to have public markets where people would come from different villages on a certain day, and they would exchange, barter, buy, sell, trade, all that kind of stuff. And in that environment, one guy may meet somebody, and they talk. And the guy goes, “Where are you from?” and he will name the place that he’s from, and the other person may not have heard of it.
He goes, the guy goes, “In my place, there’s this huge mountain behind us that’s covered with extraordinary bamboo forests. It’s just like amazing.” And the other guy will go, “Wow I also come from a place,” and he describes, “It’s also near a mountain, and there’s this big waterfall,” and somebody else, “The big mountain has got a big, massive cliff face on it.” And without knowing it, they’re talking about a particular aspect of the same large mountain. And when you see it from different angles it seems to be presenting something that is different, but what you are perceiving is actually part of actually something much bigger.
And so, when it comes to spiritual life, according to a person’s understanding, and according to the audience, certain things may be presented from a particular angle of vision, but sometimes there’s more to it. And if we hear sometimes something else, it doesn’t mean that, “This is wrong, and this is right.” We may be being presented with things from a particular angle of vision that’s suitable for us at the time. And what we need to do is we need to develop the helicopter view, where you can see the whole picture, and understand it and take it in.
Also in the spiritual journey, different people will come to understand and appreciate certain spiritual truths, but there may be some limitations on that. They’re up to a certain level of really understanding it, and it’s just amazing, but there may be plenty of opportunity for them to grow further in their understanding and experience of higher spiritual truth.
So sometimes we may present things in one way, and sometimes somebody will go, “I thought it was like that,” and in such instances, it’s quite often that there’s more than one aspect, and there’s more than one answer to things.
So, if you find yourself having that experience and want to seek clarification, please do. Your highest duty in your spiritual journey is to learn questioning. Something that really blew my mind, when I started learning about this ancient Vedic system of knowledge, was the importance of teaching, from a young age, people how to question, to ask, “How do I know that’s true? Why should I believe that? Why should I believe you?” These kinds of things were not considered bad. This was considered, wow, it’s great that people are taking personal initiative and actually questioning.
The idea of blind faith, blind acceptance is, was, really rejected by the Vedic teachings. Of course my experience as a kid was you ask a question related to God, and often the religious teachers would go, “That’s a mystery.” Just because it’s a mystery for you, it doesn’t mean it is a mystery, and it has to be a mystery for everyone, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t come to know.
And something that completely blew my mind, quite early on, was the wonderful consistency of these spiritual teachings, and how they can present different angles of vision, and you can find where things actually harmonize and come together to form a much bigger picture. But one should never be fearful of questioning.
Whoa! Bit on the serious side here.
Do we have anything else? Yeah?
Audience: …something that covers us as well, part of the material covering, how is that a material covering? Is that something distinct? I’ve heard you speak about before, when you’re going to do something, and there’s that little voice in your head that’s saying, “Don’t do that,” is that buddhi or is that something actually…?
Acharya das: Well, it can be one of two things or a combination of two things. Can you just hang on a second. I just need to grab something here.
The yoga system talks about the coverings of the pure spiritual being. The very first covering is called ahankara. This ahankara means, it’s kind of like the placeholder for “I am,” and all the material conceptions that can be added to that “I am whatever,” anything that’s other than “I am an eternal spiritual being.”
The next, what’s considered—and it’s kind of like, I sometimes use the example of like if I put cellophane on all the lights, I used green cellophane on all the windows and doors so the only light that was in here was a green light. And then you lead somebody in here that’s never been here before; they have a really hard time telling you what colour things are, and sometimes what things are, because you lose a lot of ability to perceive. So, in a similar manner, the pure consciousness of the soul, the atma, radiates through the subtle body, and its effect and influence on the subtle body and the gross physical body—Let’s talk about the gross physical body first. Sorry, this is going to probably go on a little bit because a lot of people don’t know about it.
The difference between a live body and a dead body—I mean anybody that—have you known anybody that, particularly somebody who knew well, and they died, and then you’re in the presence of that body? You may have even held it, or carried it, or touched it. Of course, there’s instantly a sense of “Ewww!” [mimes backing up with hands warding off] It’s kind of like it’s become—it gets creepy, really quick. You don’t want to put that thing in bed with you. I don’t mean to be irreverent, but you don’t want to put it in bed with you. That’s like—that’s kind of weird territory.
But there is a deep reverence for the person that you knew and a deep sense of love for the person that you knew, but there is this internal conflict with what you’re seeing now, and what you’re experiencing. And many people think that it is the body that makes a person, that your personhood is because of the body. But we see in death very quickly, and especially if the body is left for—
I’ve seen shocking things in my life. I remember my early days as a monk, this area where we lived was this massive flood. As far as you could see it was just water. We lived in the roof of a bamboo hut. When the water subsided, or began subsiding, there was this massive cholera outbreak, and the number of dead people I saw was just absolutely shocking, and the condition that people were exposed to. And sometimes bodies were washed up, and you stumble upon partially decomposed things. You can’t eat for days afterward. It just completely shocked me, this young innocent Kiwi dude from Te Aroha, encountering things that you shouldn’t actually see.
And so, the reality is that your personhood exists because of the soul. Many people have this misconception as the soul—and I also don’t like using that word—as being something that they possess: “I have a soul, my soul.” And of course, the question would be, “Well then, who exactly are you? And what exactly then is the soul that you are possessing and owning?” And that’s problematic, because it’s not reflective of the reality. Because of the presence of the soul, who is a spiritual being, the body comes alive and manifests a personality; and as soon as the soul, or the spiritual being, leaves, that’s all gone, that’s gone away.
So, you have this gross physical covering, and you also have a subtle body, made of the mind, the intelligence, and the false ego. In a similar manner, because of this proximity, and some other very deep things, the spiritual being lends the quality of life, of life energy, to the mind; and so the mind comes alive and appears to act almost independently. But if the life force, the spiritual being is withdrawn, the mind is just manifest as dull material energy. It’s not live. It’s not active.
This subtle body has got these three components. This original source of ignorance, the false conception of “the body is the self.” But there is another faculty, that can be directed materially or spiritually, and it is this intelligence or buddhi, and in there, one has the sense of myself existing as an individual. This buddhi is also understood to be higher than the mind in the hierarchy of power, if I can put it that way. And so, because of that, a person even in a fit, like we talked about anger, in the fit of anger, you can suddenly hear a voice, “Don’t go there, don’t go there,” or, “Don’t do that,” but you’re so overwhelmed with emotion that you do it anyway; and that can apply with lust, greed, fear, anger, all the different array of things.
So, in part of the yoga process, they seek to sharpen the buddhi, or the intelligence, and use it to direct one’s life, where we learn to make good choices. That’s the thing I was talking about with mindfulness, where you take a time out, you step back, and you think, “Okay, before I react or say anything, what should I actually do here? What’s in my best interest?” This faculty, though, can be directed toward material pursuits. I can use it to develop an atomic bomb or, you know what I mean, something to cause mass destruction or control a bunch of people. It can be misdirected or perverted. But it still retains this capacity, and one is really advised to try to hone and sharpen this, and it comes about by doing those kinds of practices, by not just flowing with your mind, just because your mind’s telling you something or it’s all emotional or whatever, learning to step back and go and not just follow it, not get swept away by it is important.
But there is another faculty that all living beings possess. It is a feature of God, or a higher spiritual reality, that is called the paramatma. The atma means the self, or we’ll say, the soul, and the param means Supreme, the Supreme Self or the Supreme Soul. This is not you.
And it’s described in the Vedic teachings and amongst all the great yogis, they use this analogy that’s found in the Upanishads, in many places, in the Bhagavat Purana, of two birds sitting in the same tree. And one bird is busily engaged in hopping from branch to branch, trying to enjoy the fruits of that tree, but is always feeling morose. Within that tree there is another bird that is simply waiting for that first bird to turn and to recognize their eternal Friend, and to become liberated and free from all moroseness and suffering. And so, the yogis would really meditate upon this feature of Paramatma, which was located generally in the region of the heart, and endeavour to directly perceive.
This feature of Paramatma is described as directing the wanderings of the living beings, so we are constantly getting direction, suggestions, and advice from within our own heart. And if a person also learns to foster this reality, then—and this is particularly true in the case of spiritual teachers: A person has, not only the duty to understand what the qualities and qualifications, so I can make a judgment, “Should I be even listening to this person?” one can also go within their very heart and ask this question in great sincerity: “Can I trust this person? Is this person actually your representative?” as it were; and to have some sense, if we ask that question, the response may be, “Run!” or it may be, “Yeah,” or it may be, “You can trust within limits. To some capacity you can trust.”
So, the direction can come from the buddhi, or the intelligence, which is a higher faculty than the mind, or directly from this feature of God, or a higher transcendent reality, that’s actually located within our own heart, heart of hearts.
Wow, we’re going all over the place here. Is this okay or what? We actually often don’t deal with much beyond the fundamentals of spiritual life. There is a vast and practically limitless ocean of spiritual truth that is available.
Some people are drawn to trying to find it and discover it and understand it; others are quite happy with a very simple and straightforward spiritual practice. Even for somebody that is not seeking great knowledge, part of the process of spiritual enlightenment is that you will be gifted with profound understanding. You’ll be gifted with spiritual knowledge, and it will come from just seeing things with great clarity, and it’s not like an intellectual pursuit. It’s not like, because you’ve struggled with the mind and tried to understand. It will come as a spiritual gift.
So, yeah, I think we’re just about done. [Someone wants to ask a question] Is it a short one? My problem is I never give short answers. I’m terrible, but…
Audience: Yeah, I was just more like—as a spiritual person, I know you’ve worked in the prisons and stuff, with people. I’ve watched on Netflix the show Revelation about the Catholic priests abusing boys—
Acharya das: About what?
Audience: Catholic priests abusing boys, interviews with them, and it was just completely disturbing like you know, you just think these—there were just so many suicides, just like the whole thing was just creepy [Acd: Mmhmm] like seeing these people I just, they are actually like devils on this earth. How do you, like—they’re like still humans. How do they even…
Acharya das: How do they do that?
Audience: Yeah, how do people do such…
Acd: Well, I think what becomes very confusing for a lot of people is that within religious institutions you can see manifestations of such evil, and that’s clear proof that it’s not a spiritual institution. It may be a religious institution, but people have wandered far from even the most basic teachings that are put forward within that religion.
You have to understand that we have both a higher and a lower nature. And there is this constant—it’s not a battle, but there is this constant reality that we are always and continuously faced with choices. And once I begin the slippery slope of making bad choices, it accelerates. And you can—
I was having a conversation with somebody last night—and it’s a principle that’s hard for people to grasp: Is there some eternal evilness? From the Vedic teaching, the answer is, “No.” Anything that is spiritual is inherently pure, but you can, the spiritual being, become so covered and become so degraded. You can behave in a manner where you don’t even get a glimmer of spiritual, anything spiritual. And that potential lies within each of us.
The living being, while we are considered—there is a particular term for it, it means like a part and parcel of God, a fragment of God, we have this natural tendency to go either way. We can go either way. And if a person starts going down the route of material entanglement, you can manifest evilness, horrific evilness that’s even beyond imagination. And yet what’s going on is you have a pure and perfect spiritual being who has utterly lost the plot, whose consciousness is absolutely covered and is beginning to manifest in this horrific way.
This world—oh my God, big subject. No, we won’t go there. But I’ll just let—and maybe we’ll talk about it. There are three invisible and powerful forces that permeate every atom of material reality. And they are called the gunas, or the qualities of goodness, of passion, and of ignorance. And we can become, through our body and mind, situated very much and influenced by the mode of goodness or deeply by the mode of passion or by the mode of ignorance, and become—you can become like a complete almost demon or somebody that is actually very godly or saintly—that capacity exists. But it is of this world. It is not of the spiritual dimension.
I’ll stop there. There’s probably going to be more. It’s a big subject.
Okay, go on. I’m watching the clock, otherwise these guys are going to beat me up. They take me to the back room. [Mimes beating up] Boof, boof.
Audience: Personally, I’ve come, [word inaudible] asked death of the body, always a big question mark. I was also raised Catholic. So, I would love to hear, based on what you’ve mentioned already about death and us being eternal spiritual beings. What is your belief on that, what we would call, life after death?
Acharya das: Yeah, life after death. So, okay this is like really super-fast and condensed:
We understand that if you have not cultivated fully spiritual consciousness, if you are still seeking to be the central enjoying agent in your life, and your life is all about “you,” you are at the centre of things, and with that, the desire to exert power and influence and mostly to try and enjoy in different ways, if that is your state of consciousness at the time of death, you will be given another body to continue that journey, to try and fulfill those desires. You will always be frustrated, because, no matter what you experience and how high you climb, you will always experience emptiness within your heart of hearts, because material experience can never satisfy you and can never fulfill you. We are in need of spiritual nutrition.
Our original spiritual consciousness is one of enormous humility, and, out of a profound spiritual love, a desire to render loving service to this higher spiritual truth or reality or God. That is inseparable from our deepest spiritual nature.
So, within Christianity, they threw out the idea of reincarnation about 300 A.D. It was primarily during the time and the influence of Constantine. But you still get so many references to it, like there was a reference when Jesus Christ is said to have healed a blind person, and he was blind from birth. And so his disciples had this question, “So how come somebody is even born blind?” Because people have this: “Well, how can so much suffering happen to kids?” And they asked, “Was it due to the sins of his parents, or due to his own sins?” So, we can clearly see that that reference still remains, even though they tried to remove everything, that there was an acceptance and understanding that prior to this birth that a person has acted, he has engaged. Otherwise, they couldn’t commit what was categorized as sin.
Most people don’t understand that when a little baby shows up—we think they’re so innocent and they’re so pure, but that’s actually not true. That little dude shows up with massive amounts of baggage that it’s bringing and will unpack. And that baggage has already determined the nature of the family that you will be born in, your economic status, your capacity to learn, and the availability of learning, The idea of beauty and health, all of these things are attached to karma. You know, “As you sow, so you shall reap.” From the moment you’re born, you’re reaping stuff. So where did the sowing take place? Who sowed the seeds?
And the reality is, they understand in the Vedas, that there is a continuity, that life is eternal and continues to go, even though the body has died that the person has left. But if you are not in that state of consciousness where you can enter that spiritual realm and be free from all forms of enviousness and the desire to be the centre of things, then sorry! This is material ambition, and so for that you will take birth, and you will bring with you many fruits from previous actions, which you will have to taste in this lifetime. Some are sweet, some are bitter.
Okay, better stop. We’ll just chant a little bit.
Thank you very much. I’ll chant Aum Hari Aum