This is a continuation of last week’s talk where we explained that enlightenment is not only for “special” persons, but for everyone. Enlightenment does not mean ‘attaining’ something, but rather uncovering our true, eternal, spiritual nature, that which is intrinsic to everyone. We spoke about the use of spiritual sound meditation as being the most powerful and effective way to do that.
However, we can accelerate our spiritual journey by living a life guided by spiritual virtues such as humility and the mood of surrender. This truth was also taught by Patañjali in the Yoga-sūtra:
Asamprajñata samādhi is also[certainly] attained by devotion (complete surrender) to Īśvara. – Yoga-sūtra 1.23
Īśvara Supreme Controller (God / the Highest Truth)
praṇidhānāt devotion, supplication, bowing before
vā or (can also denote “indeed” or “verily” placing stress on the preceding word.)
This process of surrender is extraordinarily powerful. A practical example of the transformative power of this can be seen with the application of these principles in the 12 Step AA process used in many addiction rehabilitation programs. When a person caught in the powerful grip of addiction immerses themselves in this process they can gain freedom and wholeness again.
In this talk we discuss these 12 steps and then consider them in relation to living an enlightened and spiritual life.
The 12 Steps, as outlined in the original Big Book and presented by AA (with associated virtue) are:
- Admitting powerlessness over the addiction – Acceptance
- Believing that a higher power (in whatever form) can help – Hope
- Deciding to turn control over to the higher power – Faith/Surrender
- Taking a personal inventory – Courage (introspection & Honesty)
- Admitting to the higher power, oneself, and another person the wrongs done – Honesty
- Being ready to have the higher power correct any shortcomings in one’s character – Patience
- Asking the higher power to remove those shortcomings – Humility
- Making a list of wrongs done to others and being willing to make amends for those wrongs – Willingness
- Contacting those who have been hurt, unless doing so would harm the person – Brotherly Love
- Continuing to take personal inventory and admitting when one is wrong – Integrity
- Seeking enlightenment and connection with the higher power via prayer and meditation – Self-discipline
Carrying the message of the 12 Steps to others in need – Service
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So this evening we’re going to do a continuation of last week’s talk, which was Enlightenment is for Everyone, because it’s actually a big subject, and there were too many things to cover in a short period. So one of the first things that we tried to establish last week was this idea that you have to somehow be special to become enlightened is actually not true.
This idea of being something special, it’s kind of like if you want to become—if you want to win a gold medal in the Olympics, out of millions of people that may participate in a particular sport, let’s say track and field, only a very limited number (but still thousands) have the capacity to enter the Olympics. You need to have a certain body type. Like somebody that’s really good at doing 1500 metres, you put them in a sprint, 100 metres, doesn’t matter how good they are, they’re never going to win a sprint, because the body type that you need for those two different events is completely different.
Plus, you need to be special from the point of view of having this major conviction and dedication that you’re going to work on this, because it takes years and years of intense and focused work to build the muscle, the reaction time, the way you function, everything, to be able to become highly successful, to be a gold medalist. It’s like a rare achievement.
And so people often think that the attainment of complete enlightenment is something like this also, you have to be somehow special. And so we made the point that it’s, no, it’s not true, that enlightenment is not an attainment that you have to train and strive for, and something outside of yourself. Enlightenment is the uncovering of what’s already there, your eternal spiritual nature.
So we also mentioned this use of spiritual sound.
Number one you all, everybody has, not only the potential, you have the capacity for complete enlightenment, every single living being. And this is why many of the great saints and spiritual persons are—feel tremendously heartbroken, seeing people struggle and suffer in this world, when there is something else for everybody. And I mentioned that 500 years ago the great spiritual teacher and avatar, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, He who is known as the father of kirtan, He began this movement. And He was actually quite a rebel. He was revolutionary in His approach, making it so that anyone and everyone, regardless of background, as they say, race, creed, gender, whatever, anyone, is capable of taking up this process that will actually make it so that enlightenment can be experienced, spiritual enlightenment.
So this use of sacred or spiritual sound is like foundational. It’s very key to an individual attaining enlightenment.
But then it’s sort of like, okay, well is there anything more that’s needed? Fundamentally, no, not really. If a person becomes very focused on this activity, this exercise, this meditation, then they will become incrementally enlightened, and know how to begin to live in such a way that it accelerates the experience of spiritual enlightenment.
So it pretty much deals with the subject that we’ve spoken about before, that in all spiritual processes, they’re either going to be in the category of what’s called the ascending path, the aroha pantha, or in what is called the descending path or the descending process, avaroha pantha.
So the example I gave of becoming an Olympic athlete, the dedication needed and everything, the excellence that one has to attain, this is like the ascending method, where you’re going to try to do it based on your own strength. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu, He really spoke about another way of looking at things, another way of understanding things, and it has to do with the full embrace of this path of surrender, the path of surrender.
This is not kind of like a new idea, or this is—the Vedas is filled with this explanation. And even within the yoga system, the great authority on the yoga system, Patanjali, he, in his treatise, called the Yoga Sutra, in the first pada, in the 23rd sloka, after describing what I would call the ascending process, or the mechanical, all the things that you have to go through, the stages to attain what was called samadhi, the highest spiritual attainment, of which there are still variations or different experiences. The highest was called, in his terminology, asamprajnata samadhi. And after speaking about the difficulty, and what you have to do to attain it he suddenly throws out this verse,
isvara pranidhana va
that by complete submission and supplication of the heart to Isvara one will certainly attain this. And that’s just like, oh, this is a radical idea! This is something really, really different. But there is a great power attached to this idea, and it involves the understanding that spiritual realization is actually a gift. It’s not something that you go out—like going out—
I mean we were just up at a music festival event at Kaipura Harbour, and it’s kind of like—Wow! In the old days, that was like when settlers sailed in here, and then just started taking over the land, (which was kind of like monumentally mind-blowing, that you can just show up and grab stuff), but the whole area, the Kuipura Flats, were all covered with bush. They had to cut down every single tree and rip out of the ground, the root and the stump from every tree, to turn it into farmland. And it’s like, oh my God, what a monumental effort. What a monumental endeavor.
And it’s sort of like, when we think of spiritual life like that, it’s sort of like whoa! It’s almost something that seems unattainable, because it would require such extraordinary effort. But here we are talking about something else, receiving grace, spiritual grace, that can actually completely transform someone.
It’s kind of like, you guys familiar with 12-step AA program, Alcoholics Anonymous, which was used in drug addiction centres and stuff? I mean it’s a totally amazing program. It was—a couple of guys came up with it in the 50s, and up until this point, even with all of the advancement in psychiatric discovery, and counseling, and psychiatry and everything, and psychology, still they have not come anywhere near a program that is more effective. It has actually a very high rate of success compared to all other programs. And the main feature of this program is to live a life of deep surrender and submission to a higher spiritual reality, and to be dependent upon the grace of a higher spiritual reality.
And this is exactly what, thousands of years ago, Patanjali also said, with “isvara pranidhana va”, that this path of complete surrender of the heart.
So if you look at the 12 steps—and I’m gonna read them out. I’m reading them out only for one reason. Number one, anybody that has been caught up in in the grips of addiction, drug addiction and alcohol addiction, and the chaos that it brings in their life and the life of those around them, and the amount of pain—it’s just like unimaginable. It gets so bad. And the idea that there is something—It’s not a magic pill or something that you can take. It requires that a person embrace deep humility and to seek some grace, and this is the key, this is the essence. And it works! It doesn’t matter what you think of it. It’s powerful and it works.
So they talk about these 12 steps, and they actually attach to each one of these steps the equivalent of a virtue. And the reason I’m talking about it is because, while full spiritual enlightenment is possible for anyone, the need for you to live a life that is sacred and is virtuous is absolutely inescapable. You have to embrace virtue, you have to embrace that which is sacred in order to succeed in your spiritual journey. So you’ve got the kirtan part, or the use of spiritual sound in your meditation, but the need to transform one’s life to become a recipient of this grace or this mercy, this spiritual empowerment, is actually paramount.
So in the addiction thing, the first thing that they asked people to do is to admit that, “I am powerless over my addiction.” And the virtue here is acceptance, the learning to accept things, the reality of things. And then this—because this is one of the big problems, when people have a problem with alcoholism or drug addiction, any form of addiction, the denial, “No, no. It’s not me. I’m fine. I’m fine. I can manage this. I can handle this,” that, the denial, is a big part of it. And so it is also with spiritual life, the denial, that, “No, no. I’ve just got to try harder. I’ve got to get more money. I’ve got to succeed in different ways. I’ll find the happiness…” that no one else is finding. So there is a denial there. So the acceptance of the reality of things is critical, and it’s important.
The second one is “believing that a higher power, in whatever form a person may conceive of that,” but believing that a higher power can actually help me. This is like a critical part to dealing with addiction. And so it is with spiritual reality—this hope that I hold, this hope that I too can experience divine spiritual love and complete happiness.
The third step in their program is, “deciding to turn control over to this higher power,” that I’m surrendering my life to this highest spiritual influence. It’s not me. I’m asking that my life become directed and influenced by something very, very wonderful. In the 12-step program they equate that virtue with faith, but our understanding from a spiritual perspective, it’s actually surrender, the surrender of one’s heart, the surrender of one’s will. I’m powerless in my situation. I do believe that I can be helped, but I need to surrender my life. I need to turn over control to this higher power, however I conceive of it, and ask to be saved from this condition.
Then the fourth step is to “take a personal inventory.” It means stepping back and actually looking at your life looking, at the carnage, looking at the damage that you’re doing, looking at the pain and suffering that you create. And so we’re asked to do that on the highest level in relation, not only to relationships, but in relation to this world, in relation to my own body and mind. And the virtue associated with this is described as courage. One needs actually great courage to be so brutally honest about my life and my situation and what it is I’m confronted with it. It requires, yes, courage, but one needs introspection, and one needs to be brutally honest about it.
The fifth step—Is this okay for you guys? I mean this is like super practical. This is spiritual life 101. The fifth step in the alcoholics program is, “admitting to the higher power as one conceives of it, and to oneself, and also to another person the wrongs that I have done.” And of course, this goes completely against the modern ideas in the world, where I couldn’t possibly do anything wrong, and if you tried to say I’m doing something wrong, you’re just trying to make me feel guilty. And it’s kind of like, “Well, I’m not buying that. I’m perfect and pure, and I’m wonderful, and everything I think is absolutely true. I’ve got my own truth,” It’s just this is like insanity. And here you’re asked to do something else. And it requires tremendous honesty and a great humility that you’re willing—I mean they specifically say, you don’t just do it alone, that, “Yes, I admit to this and this and this.” They say that you should also, in embracing that, speak of it to someone else. So they usually have a companion on your journey who’s already gone through this, and you open up to them, because when you start speaking, that person can go, “Uh, uh, no, no, no, no, no. You’re not fully embracing the damage that you’re doing. You’re not fully embracing the reality of what’s going on.” So, in spiritual life having a mentor is also of massive importance.
Then the sixth step is, “being ready to have the higher power correct any shortcomings in one’s character.” And they ascribe the virtue there as patience. We are constantly receiving direction from the Supreme Soul sitting within our own heart. He is called Paramatma, and he is also referred to in the Vedas as Caitya Guru, which means the guru within, that is offering us guidance; and that guidance will be how to live better, how to correct the wrongs.
The seventh item is, “asking the higher power to remove those shortcomings.” And again, it’s this process of surrender that Patanjali has also spoken of. It’s like, “Okay, I can’t do this on my own. I need your help to remove this.” When we chant this mantra aum hari aum, this hari, it means he who removes the burden of our heart.
The eighth step was, “making a list of wrongs done to others and being willing to make amends for those wrongs.” That, because of people’s pride and their egotistical nature people have such a hard time admitting wrongdoing and then apologizing or seeking forgiveness for that: critical to spiritual growth.
The ninth step is “contacting those who have been hurt, unless doing so would harm the person,” and they describe here the virtue as brotherly love. In our background, our spiritual background this would also not only be categorized as love, but also compassion. The need to set things right in your life is tremendously important, but it’s so challenging because you don’t know when you go to someone and open up about, “I’ve wronged you in this way, and I’m here to seek forgiveness,” you don’t know how they’re going to react. They may not like it at all. It’s a massive step, and one needs tremendous inner strength. One has to feel protected and embraced, that when I do this everything will be fine.
Then you have the 10th step which is, “continuing to take personal inventory and admitting when one is wrong.” And so this is classified the virtue of integrity. And so it is with spiritual life, the need for constant introspection.
The 11th step is “seeking enlightenment and correction with the higher power through prayer and meditation,” and the virtue associated with this is self-discipline, that when one is constantly in this mood of prayerful or meditative prayerfulness one is able to maintain this course.
And the final step is, “carrying the message of the 12 steps to others in need,” and this is categorized as service, that when you perform this service, to find others in need and share with them in the same thing, you are doing a great service for them. For us on the spiritual path is to try and share the fundamentals of spiritual truth.
So, we—in the Bhagavad-gita, in the fourth chapter, 34th sloka, the verse is:
“Just try to learn the truth…”
When they say learn the truth they’re not talking about like learning one plus one is two and then internalizing that. When it says here to learn the truth, the Sanskrit word tattva means to understand the bigger picture and all of the truths associated with that, including my spiritual nature, my eternal connection to the Supreme Soul.
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual teacher. Inquire from him submissively, and render service to him, and the self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”
And this is what really defines this process. So not only do we engage in positive activity of utilizing spiritual sound for our purification and our enlightenment, but we also try to live a life of deep surrender and humility, of kindness, and of love. And one thing that makes this possible is again to follow yet another instruction from the Bhagavad-gita, where it describes how one should try to make everything that they do an offering, an offering to God, or a higher spiritual truth as you may understand that, but this idea of connecting everything in your life in a mood of great humility and service and devotion makes it so a person can quickly benefit from the meditative process, the chanting, and quickly come to the platform of full spiritual enlightenment, self-realization and God-realization.
So it is not just for some. Everybody can do it. We need to engage in the process of chanting these spiritual sounds, but we also must learn to live a life of virtue, which is a life of beauty, and a life of love, and a life of peacefulness. We need to embrace it, and it needs to be a conscious effort, and something that is continuously done.
Okay? That’s about all I got to say on that one. Awesome or what? It’s so practical. And it’s all—my success will be defined by my purpose, my purpose for doing things, my purpose for living, the reason, what’s driving me.
So I’ll chant a different mantra, which most of you know. The mantra is Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya Aum Hari Aum. This namo is the—the base word is namah. This namah means complete supplication, the offering of, not just casual respect, but it is a deep and profound surrender of the heart to this great spiritual truth or reality, Bhagavan, who is also known as Vasudeva. And so it is like, unto this highest spiritual truth, unto the Supreme Soul, I offer my complete supplications and obeisance, and I ask that you lift the great burdens from my heart and allow me to enter that spiritual realm, experience this highest spiritual reality.