These were still some unanswered questions that I was asked at the recently concluded retreat, so I will attempt to answer them here.
The list of questions was:
02:27 Could you please give us a definition of the word “spiritual”, as you have mentioned trees/nature is not spiritual, but they do contain life force and for many people that is the same life force or “spirit” that we experience as humans.
10:31 What are your thoughts on movement and good nutrition being linked to our ability to connect deeper to our spiritual nature? If we eat crap does impact this connection?
16:09 What is the most important thing I can do in my life to develop spiritually?
18:14 How to find purpose?
23:50 A friend of mine said to me; “Where do we get our thoughts from?” “It’s the key to cultivating other things.” What do you think?
32:11 What is the purpose of romantic relationships/partnerships?
38:10 How do we move from complete self-centeredness/selfishness into greater selflessness whilst maintaining balance and having healthy boundaries?
42:35 Do you believe we are reincarnated? If so can you explain more? When we go after we die? (Some links to a more in-depth look at this subject. – “The Ins and Outs of Reincarnation” “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” “Purpose, Reincarnation, and Suffering – an online Q&A session.”
45:23 Our current society is grooming us to be more isolated. How do we encourage unity every day?
48:02 I really want to change my heart but I don’t have the strength and I don’t know how?
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So about nine or ten days ago, we just ended a retreat that we had here in New Zealand. It was a long weekend. The holiday is called Matariki in Maori. And it is more or less the equivalent of their New Year. So, at the retreat there were quite a number of newer people who attended from all over, and they had submitted a quite large number of questions which I thought were actually really, really nice.
And so wanting to do two things here: One is an attempt to answer those questions which I wasn’t able to get to during the retreat. I had started to feel bad and had been down one nights; but then I’d also like to share these very nice questions with our wider audience, who can also benefit from hearing the questions and hearing the answers. I would just like to say that because I’m going to be speaking more to the audience who had attended the retreat, I may not go into so much detail on some of the answers. I might just address them somewhat briefly, but I think everybody can still benefit very much from this.
So, the first one I’d like to read:
“Could you please give us a definition of the word ‘spiritual’ as you have mentioned trees/nature is not spiritual, but they do contain a life force, and for many people that is the same life force or ‘spirit’ that we experience as humans.”
So, thanks very much for the question. And just for the wider audience, I had mentioned that many people think of nature as being spiritual because of the effect that it has on people when people go out into nature. And again, not everyone, but many people, when they go out into nature, they begin to feel peaceful, more reflective, and more easily attracted to spiritual thoughts and spiritual ideas. And so, for that reason people see nature as being spiritual. But our understanding is what’s happening here is that you have the material energy, primarily, permeated by that which is truly spiritual, the—as the term here was used—“life force.” We can use that term in this context.
So maybe I’ll just give you this framework first. Within the material world there’s only two categories of energy:
One is the all the material elements, the atoms, the things which are constructed of or made up by this energy known as matter.
The other energy is the presence of, I’ll broadly use this term just of souls, of spiritual beings, who may inhabit different types of material bodies. And because of the presence of the soul, or the spirit, or more accurately in Sanskrit, the atma or the self, one experiences or feels, or rather the presence of the soul, or the spiritual, being imparts the quality of life to the material energy.\
For example, the body that I have on, while I am residing within this body, my body displays the characteristics of being alive, supposedly, and all these perceivable characteristics connected with life. But in reality, though that life, that energy, that life force is not arising from the body, but because I am living within this body, I am habitant, this is my habitat, my place of residence for now. As soon as I leave, as soon as the soul, or the spiritual being, leaves the body, the body instantly shows its true nature as being just dead material energy.
In a similar manner, these same souls that inhabit human bodies are able to inhabit other life forms, what we would categorize as lower life forms, and while residing within those life forms impart the quality or characteristic of life to those life forms. But once again as soon as the living being leaves—the soul, the spiritual component leaves—then, whether it’s an animal or a plant or whatever it dies, they say, it dies.
So, the reality is that it is the living being that is spiritual. And the quality or characteristic of life is a characteristic or a symptom of the presence of this soul, or the spiritual being.
But the question still arises, “So, why, if I went and hung out at a rave, or I go down to downtown during rush hour, and I’m caught in the hustle and bustle of everything, why don’t I feel equally as spiritual in that environment as I do when I go out into nature? Because it’s fundamentally the same thing, meaning that you have material bodies of different types but you have the same spiritual beings within.”
And it boils down to this truth that is taught within yoga is that there are three phases, or ways, in which this very subtle force that exists within the material world can manifest. This is called the three modes of material nature, where one can exist or manifest the quality of goodness, of passion or of ignorance. So, when a person is in the environment of a lot of hype or music and things going on the permeated influence that you feel all around this is the mode of passion. Sleep, intoxication, laziness, extreme forms of laziness are all said to be manifestations of the modes of ignorance. But the mode of goodness means there is an atmosphere that’s going to be existing, an influence that’s going to be existing, that brings calmness to the mind and calmness to our self, and it becomes an atmosphere where we can more readily or will be more naturally attracted to spiritual pursuit and spiritual thought.
So, while it is true that nature is not inherently spiritual, it does impart the influence of what’s called the mode of goodness. And when a person becomes connected with this energy, they become more peaceful, more introspective, and more interested or susceptible to spiritual influence or spiritual pursuit.
Next question. And just so you know, these questions are going to be coming from all different angles. They’re different questions that different people had:
“What are your thoughts on movement and good nutrition being linked to our ability to connect deeper to our spiritual nature? If we eat crap, does it impact this connection?”
And the answer is, it depends really on how you are going to define good nutrition and movement. Just like I pointed out movement that is more chaotic or more in the mode of passion does not lead one necessarily to more introspection and spiritual seeking; but both movement and food can play a role of affecting or influencing your body and mind and making your body and mind more susceptible or less susceptible to one of those three influences—the mode of goodness, the mode of passion, and the mode of ignorance.
So, if you eat food that is more in the mode of goodness and the nature of the movement that you engage in, for instance yoga exercises, yeah, this can really help a person to bring their mind and their body into focus and to be more alert and attracted to spiritual pursuit. What you actually eat can really have an influence on your state of consciousness, on your mind, and on your body. If you eat things that are in the mode of passion and ignorance, yes, they literally have the effect of pulling your mind downwards rather than to a higher state. So, there is a connection.
But at the same time, I would just like to make a point that it is not necessary to be eating the highest quality organic produce of very fine quality in order to have spiritual thoughts. We have great yogis who sometimes lived on a mere four or five palms full of food every day, and the food being exceedingly simple in nature and not necessarily the highest quality organic produce. It could be very, very simple and basic.
One great saint, he would undertake some humble begging every day for his meals, and he would do this for the purpose of also providing an opportunity for people that were absorbed in more worldly life, to be reminded of that which is spiritual. But often he would accept flour, just wholemeal flour, and he would mix it with water into a dough, and then he would burn cow dung patties on a fire, and he would put this ball on top and turn it occasionally, and once it was—he considered it was cooked, he would scrape off all the burnt dark things from the outside, and he would break it open, he would make an offering of this to God, and then he would humbly partake of these sacred remnants. And so it’s not like, wow, he’s eating the finest imported organic produce! This is pretty down home, but yet he was a renowned transcendentalist.
So, what you eat is important, but we shouldn’t think that simply by eating a certain type of food that that alone will bring us into a spiritual condition.
“What is the most important thing I can do with my life to develop spiritually?”
Very beautiful question! Without hesitation, I can tell you the most important thing that you can do in your life to develop spiritually is to engage in this process of the hearing and chanting of these spiritual sounds, these transcendental sounds, these sacred sounds, sacred mantras, these holy names, that this process alone—and it is stated repeatedly in the ancient Vedic teachings that particularly in this time in which we now live, known as kali yuga, where it is considered an unfortunate time—a time of chaos, quarrel, and confusion—that during this time there is no greater means of attainment than by the repetition of these, or the reciting of these transcendental sounds.
One famous mantra, from the Brhan-Naradiya Upanisad, if I recall, yeah pretty sure, it states:
harer nāma harer nāma harer nāma eva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā
—that in this particular age, in this particular age, repeated three times, there is no greater means for attainment than the chanting of these transcendental sounds, the name of Hari.
Next question is:
“How to find purpose?”
When I read this, I become very touched by such a profound yet important question.
The Vedas teach that the purpose of human life is for self and God-realization. This is what sets the human form apart from all other life forms. In the human form, one can question, “Who am I? Why am I here? What is this life for?” I can begin this line of questioning, and I can begin the pursuit of knowledge, and the pursuit of spiritual awakening—and that this in fact is the purpose of human life. It’s what sets human life apart from other life.
Animals are not asking these questions. They don’t ask these questions. They, being in lower life forms, lower body forms, they are simply focused on what was considered the four animal essential propensities: to eat, finding food to eat; to sleep; to mate; and then to defend what they considered theirs.
But if we look at human existence, we find that this is also the primary focus of many if not most human beings. Maybe I try to do these in a more refined way than an animal, but whether it is an animal eating something off the ground or a human being eating in a fine dining restaurant, something, some exotic creation, the same basic function is still taking place, that is eating. And the same goes with sleeping, mating, and defending. And so, it was understood that if a person has not moved beyond engagement in these four things, if one hasn’t moved beyond that, then they have not yet realized the importance of human life. They are not valuing human life. They are not engaged in what is meant to be the purpose of human life.
So initially, and significantly, this quest for self-realization and God-realization is really what was considered the purpose of your life, the purpose of your being. But this purpose becomes increasingly refined and even more focused in more detailed ways as one grows spiritually.
The highest transcendental experience is categorized as spiritual love, when one comes into contact with the Lord of one’s heart. And realizing this connection there is this amazing transformation and awakening of this spiritual condition. It is called prema, the highest form of love that one can experience. And then what flows from this is that the individual now seeks to, in a mood of great love and devotion, to become pleasing, to please the Lord of one’s heart. And so, we see that love and service, when properly directed, become appreciated as the highest purpose of human existence. There is a tremendous amount of spiritual knowledge, a great science attached to this spiritual path, but I think this suffices for now.
‘A friend of mine said to me; “Where do we get our thoughts from?” [and] “It’s the key to cultivating other things.” What do you think?’
Can I make, in all humility, a comment? When I’m asked, “What do I think?” I don’t think that I am at all very intelligent. What I think I would regard to be insignificant. What my spiritual teachers think, what the Vedas present as the highest thoughts, I consider to be of enormous value. And so, in my life, I humbly, even though with great many defects, try to present these higher spiritual thoughts, not as my own, but of something of great value for all of us.
So where do we get our thoughts from? There is one—I mean, there are so many wonderful works, but in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali they really examine the whole process of thinking and of thoughts and the effects that it has on us. There is this appreciation and understanding that all action is preceded by thought. And the nature of what you are going to think about, the nature of the thoughts that you have, will always determine the nature of the actions that you take. And then the actions that you take produce outcomes and effects that determine your life experience and what is going to happen to you.
In the Vedic teaching they also understand that the process of thinking is traced back through unlimited lifetimes. Through unlimited lifetimes we have cultivated different types of experience and desire. And previous desires, previous contemplations are providing the fodder for what is currently percolating in the mind. It hasn’t just come from nowhere. These thoughts don’t just arrive or arise from nothing. They are always very much tied to previous types of thinking and thoughts and consciousness.
So, a person can—I mean, this is not a change of subject but a different angle on the same thing: Advertisers have understood how easier it is to capture people’s minds and to create desires that are not spontaneously arising from oneself and make you desire products or experiences which they can then sell to you. This is the science of psychology put into practical application.
In the Bhagavad-gita they talk about this process, and it begins, they say, with the contemplation of the objects of the senses. So that can be an aroma. It can be a flavour. It can be a taste. It can be a visual thing. It can be an experience, a feeling, like on one’s skin, or the tactile senses. By contemplating upon an object of the senses one will develop attachment. They will develop an attachment to that particular thing, to the object or to the effect that it will have on my body and mind. And then it describes that as one continues to contemplate upon those sense objects and what they produce in terms of an experience for your body and mind, as one continues to contemplate on them, that desire transforms into what is called lust. Lust here doesn’t reference just the sexual desire, but it’s referencing an intense self-centered desire for something. And then when one is overwhelmed with lust, one will always act. And so—there’s more to it, but just going up to that point—it describes and shows how, through the process of thinking, of what we allow to enter our mind, what we become willing to contemplate upon, really can determine where we are going in life, and what we will experience, and what will be the consequence of that.
So, understanding the nature of desire was considered really important part of the yoga process. And when a person understood what was the nature of desire, and then the understanding: I can begin to cultivate spiritual desire where I desire that which is good, that which is holy, that which is spiritual in nature, that I can actually begin to cultivate that desire, and it will lead me to engage in meditation, in spiritual activity that then produces a spiritual outcome. So, the idea of understanding where you get your thoughts from and understanding the effect that it then has on you is considered really important in the process of yoga.
Next question. (And as I promised we’re all over the place here, different things.)
“What is the purpose of romantic relationships or partnerships?”
What is the purpose? The yogic teachings approach this question with an appreciation that there are two ways of understanding, or focusing, relationships or partnerships. They had two terms in their ancient society. One was the term grihastha. The other one was grihamedhi.
So the grihamedhi, it’s kind of interesting: Griha usually means house, and when you have this other word medhi it is associated with the idea of in the olden days, when they would thrash grains or when they would grind seeds to produce oil in these big stone, round, stone oil mills, these six feet tall, sort of like big stones, or four feet tall, stones, that you would have oxen tied beside each other, two or three or four, and there’s a yoke, and there’s a piece of wood where they’re all tied together which is tied to a pivot point. And as they walk around, if they’re walking on grains, they’d be threshing them, if they are turning a stone wheel it would then be grinding seeds to produce oil.
So, the Sanskrit of grihamedhi, it implies that certain types of relationships, in effect, bind the living beings to the material world just as beasts of burden are tethered to these devices that I spoke. Meaning where people seek to become—everybody wants to create their own little kingdom and be the king or queen of, the centre of, these relationships. And it’s all about me being the central enjoying agent and trying to build a perfect and happy home—all of which, of course, is not going to happen. But the outcome or the result of living such an inwardly focused life is that one misses the opportunity that human life presents, the opportunity for higher spiritual realization, pursuit and activities that result in spiritual realization.
So, the word grihastha had a different meaning and an understanding. And the understanding was this: that in the material condition it means you have the pure spiritual being, covered and tethered to this material garment, with a strong tendency to be identifying with the material garment, the body, as being who I am. The great spiritual teachers accepted that the vast majority of us are not spiritually elevated and have a tendency to live a self-centred life that is not highly purposeful. But, they said, if two people came together and they shared a common focus, that focus was self-realization and God realization, then they could live together as harmoniously as anyone can, seeing each other not as the other person is my object of love, or the person that’s going to serve me and fulfill my desire to be the centre of everything, but rather in great respect and deep affection that they help each other in this spiritual journey, then the relationship or the connection had the result of spiritual liberation.
So, relationships and this—and marriages and things, were said to have one or two effects: One is to bind one to the material world, or to liberate one, depending upon what you saw as being its purpose.
“How do we move from complete self-centredness or selfishness into greater selflessness whilst maintaining balance and having healthy boundaries?”
So, this is actually a pretty deep question and will deserve much more time. But let me just state, any relationship that one person has with another that is built upon someone dominating or using or abusing the other, or seeking to exploit the other, even in subtle ways, is incredibly unhealthy. Sometimes when people go, “Oh yes, I’d like to be more selfless,” but because of a lack of actual spiritual maturity, one may then adopt an idea that, “Okay, even though I am in this situation I shouldn’t push back. Even though I’m being abused I shouldn’t object, I should try and be more selfless,” and it’s like no, no, that’s not a mature or very developed way of understanding this principle.
Spiritual life will lead a person to become stronger as an individual and would make it so that a person can direct their relationships and things and clearly define, for themself and for anybody else they’re dealing with, what healthy boundaries mean. So, it is true that there is a need to maintain some balance here, and to have healthy boundaries. But one needs to undergo a process of spiritual growth and to really work to discover and define where those healthy boundaries are, and how, what does it mean to be balanced.
So, it’s quite a big subject, and we could actually do a whole retreat just on that subject alone, but I just wanted to, at least in broad terms, outline that. Sometimes when people hear, for instance, that it is good to cultivate a quality of humility, and they misunderstand that and think that they have to subject themselves to sometimes bullying or sometimes over assertiveness or aggressiveness on the part of somebody. You are not required to do that. Humility doesn’t mean that I become so weak and easily abused. In humility a person can manifest great strength and learn to say “I’m sorry, I’m not doing that. That’s not right. We’re not going there.” Big subject.
“Do you believe we are reincarnated? And if so, can you explain more? When we go, where do we go after we die?”
So, we actually did cover this topic to some degree in the retreat, and I will post, when I post this on Facebook, and on my website, and YouTube channel, I will post a link next to this question of reference material that you can actually look at that will answer this more deeply.
But the fundamental understanding is, that according to the nature of your consciousness at death, it will determine the nature of where you will go, the next body that you will have. And so, the importance of cultivating the proper state of consciousness, the proper nature of desire, and how your mind will be working with what its focus will be, was very central to the yoga process. And if a person is still maintaining attachments for the material world and material experience, that will make it so that there will be this continuum, that a person will leave one body and take up another one in an attempt to fulfill all of these desires and wants.
In the Bhagavad-gita, the example given is, it’s said, just like a person may take on a young child’s baby body, a young child body, one may become a teenager, an adult and then go into old age, and finally death, just as you can see the living being is moving from one type of body to another in this lifetime, it says, so the great sages were not bewildered with death. They knew that one gave up the old and useless body and took up a new one as a continuum to try and fulfill these material desires.
“Our current society is grooming us to be more isolated. How do we encourage unity every day?”
Well, I think I understand what the person is asking. We do live in a time where we are being more isolated from humanity, that rather than seeing the commonness in humanity, that we are all human beings, people are being divided along lines of race, of sexual identities and these so-called gender identities, of racial extractions, all kinds of things. And we are seeing these groups pitted against each other in the pursuit of material happiness; and all of that is utterly futile, and will never bring about any elevated result.
The yogis were encouraged to look beyond even humanity, and to see, as one famous verse, where the great sages, the transcendentalists see with equal vision a saintly brahmana (this means someone who’s a spiritual teacher), an elephant, a cow, a dog, and even a lowest amongst men—to see them all with equal vision, meaning you see the commonality of the soul, the spiritual being, occupying different bodies. And it was on this basis that one can feel increased unity and connection with all life. And the more a person becomes absorbed in the external bodily identities, the more disconnected we become from life.
So, another question:
“I really want to change my heart, but I don’t have the strength, and I don’t know how.”
This is so important. What is it that’s going to bring a change of heart? First thing that we have to know is, spiritual realization or spiritual—the process or path of spiritual life is a process or path of uncovering what is already there, what is our nature. So, we’re not asked to become something that is unnatural, it is to uncover our natural being. But we face many challenges and there are many difficulties.
And so, one is encouraged to take shelter in these great spiritual sounds, to actually bathe in these spiritual sounds, to take shelter in them completely. And within that we will find the courage, we will find the motivation, we will find the desire to seek this change. And it will be through the spiritual sound that change actually occurs. It means that I am not doing it, I’m not trying to do it, alone or based upon my own strength.
It is just like, as I mentioned many times before, when you bathe, if your body is all dirty, and you go and plunge yourself into the ocean or a lake or a river, or you step into the shower and turn on the water, that purifying medium of water purifies the body. In exactly the same way, when I place myself in the presence or expose myself to this all-purifying medium of spiritual sound, then this will wash away all of the material contamination, the material consciousness. And gradually and increasingly my real spiritual nature will become revealed to myself and to others.
So, I’d like to thank you all very, very much for submitting those questions. There were a couple more that I didn’t get to. My apologies for that. We will try to cover that at some point. I think this evening’s talk is extraordinarily beneficial for all of us. And I would like to thank everybody that submitted the questions for me to deal with. Thank you very much.
So, in closing, I would like to invite you, since my voice is still bad, and I’m still positive with Covid, rather than me attempting to lead a kirtan, we will play one of the kirtans from a former or previous talk that I’ve given. And I ask that you consider everything that we’ve spoken of, but especially what we closed out with, that you take advantage of this powerful spiritual process, and immerse your heart in these transcendental sounds, and they will bring you to the highest perfection. With that, thank you so very, very much. Haribol