Namaste. I was asked to upload this video of a talk from last Sunday’s Mantra Night program, where I reflected on some of the lessons I have learned on my journey through this life.
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So this morning I woke up early as usual, get up to do my meditation and puja. But before doing that I lay in bed for a few minutes, contemplating and reflecting. I was born 71 years ago today; and I was thinking about this journey of life and my imminent mortality. The body does not last, and I’m in the home straight, so sometime soon we’ll be departing. And of course, how you have lived and your state of consciousness will determine what that event will be like for you. But it’s going to happen to all of us. But thinking about the journey of my life and how extraordinarily blessed I feel that I have been.
I grew up in a small rural community in Te Aroha, and when I was still very young I ended up traveling to India and got to live there as a monk, and walked hundreds and hundreds of kilometers in bare feet and robes, visiting holy places. I spent a good part of my life in the Philippines, in the beginning there for a while I lived in the mountains with mountain people, learned how to build a house with nothing but a large knife, a bolo, grow rice, and pound it every morning and winnow it to prepare food for offering. And then another extreme: I got to decorate palaces, fly in private jets, sit with kings and queens; and done a whole bunch of stuff in between.
But the most blessed part of my life was to be able to sit at the feet of two great transcendentalists, two great saints, to hear from them, and to be able to offer some humble service to these personalities who completely changed my life. And looking at the just, journey, from one end to the other.
We all are going to experience that life is just a series, non-stop series of events, things that happen to you. And amongst all these millions and millions of things that happen to you, they are divided into three categories.
One category is called in Sanskrit, karma phalam, the fruit of past actions: that you show up in this life and a particular type of body that will have a certain type of intelligence and beauty or non-beauty, a capacity and opportunity for education or not, of social and financial status or not. That has come from previous activity. And through your life, you will from time to time encounter these fruits of past actions from a previous life.
The second category of events are somewhat rare, and many people overlook them: where we are directed from within our own heart by what is called the chaitya guru, the guru within, the Lord within our own heart, who opens doors and provides opportunity but doesn’t push, and you freely choose whether to accept these things or not. And they radically shape your life, and they’re always utterly spiritual in nature.
But the rest of our life, the vast majority of it, is a series of events or things that happen to us that we frequently don’t take responsibility for. We don’t understand that the experience of my life, and many of the things that will come my way, are due to choices that I make and actions that I take, that I am actually utterly and completely responsible for my experience of life, by the choices that I make, by the actions that I take.
If we are unintelligent, and particularly if we are very influenced by society, and more so, by things like social media, where we’re being utterly manipulated, and advertisers, then we will make choices and decisions that are not our own, that we have been brainwashed into making. And all these choices will have outcomes. They’ll have results and we will experience the results.
If my life is totally miserable, it’s either going to be because I’m making really bad and crappy choices that are producing these outcomes, or I am not in control of my life in the sense of deciding how things are going to affect me. That’s your choice also. We spend too much time complaining about the things that we have no control over and very little time focusing on the fact that we have a tremendous amount of control in our life of what it’s going to be like and what that experience is going to be like.
The most liberating thing is when a person can actually completely take charge of their life, where they can make sound and rational choices, brilliant choices that produce really good outcomes. And it doesn’t matter how you get started, and it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, everybody has this capacity. This is the nature of human life. But it requires a lot of work. It requires sacrifice. It requires endeavor in order to be able to be in this position to make really good choices.
And this is the essence of what is taught by spiritual teachers. You have to take charge of your life, and you have to make really good choices. You need to educate yourself. You need to gain control of your mind. If you are constantly surrendering to your emotions and your desires, I can guarantee your life will not be brilliant. It may end up being quite tragic.
Unfortunately, this is the big messaging today: that we must serve the desires of our mind, we must serve our emotions. They’re so precious. It’s like—and this is complete, from a yogic point of view, and I’m sorry if it’s going to offend anybody, this is utter ignorance. In such a state a person is oblivious to the reality that I am a glorious and eternal spiritual being temporarily residing within this body. I am meant to be the driver of the bus, not to be sitting back there, and the bus is rolling down the hill on its own, whatever pothole or bump it hits, and the camber of the road, it’s going to go this way or that. No, I’m meant to be behind the driver’s wheel in my life. I need to be in charge of my life.
In the work that I’ve done in prison and stuff we frequently direct people to contemplate on the Serenity Prayer, because it is actually a really, deeply, spiritual message. You cannot change your past karmic activity and the fruit that will come from that. You have to experience that, but for the vast majority of your life you are meant to be in the driver’s seat, and you can be. You have to learn how. You have to learn how to become strong and resilient, and to use your intelligence, to be properly guided.
In that Serenity Prayer, it goes “Grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change.” That’s an extraordinary thing to say. Why serenity? Anyway, big subject. We’ll do that another time.
But fundamentally, if you are spiritually grounded, if you are grounded in the understanding that I’m an eternal spiritual being temporarily within the body, in that you will find the peace, the serenity to accept the things that have come your way that you cannot change. Don’t overly dwell on it. Get on with things. Life is moving on.
“Grant me the courage to change those things that I can,” the courage, rather than being weak and feckless, one needs to be strong. One needs to have an element of trust that when I make good choices good outcomes will be there.
And, “Grant me the wisdom to know the difference.” And if you look at your own life, if I look at my life, you’ll see that we spend too much time lamenting over that which we cannot change, how someone talked to us, how they behaved to us, what they did to us, why everything is so unfair, and it’s just like, oh my gods, get over that one! You can’t do anything about it. What you have control over is how you are going to react. Are you going to let this dominate you?
So in closing, I promise you that if you take what I said tonight to heart, and make this your life, your life will be wonderful, your death will be wonderful. It’s absolutely a promise. All this other stuff that comes and goes, it ain’t so important. The passing so-called pleasures and excitement and—it all just comes and goes. And after it’s gone then what? What are you left with?
Of course, the foundation to make it so that you can do this lies in this process of meditation. You cannot just intellectually cultivate an understanding that I am a spiritual being, but then at the same time be overwhelmed by your bodily experiences and your emotions and mind. It is through this process of meditation upon spiritual sound that the fog becomes dissipated, that you gain piercing clarity, and you see everything that happens to you with such brilliant clarity; and you make the choices: What am I going to do about things? Am I going to tolerate it because I cannot change it and focus on that which I can? Yeah! That’s what we should do.
And I can map out my journey of life, how I want it to be, and how it – I want it to end, this journey. It’s my choice. And if I take charge of it, even if my life is filled with difficulty, extraordinary difficulty, I can be utterly transcendental to it, untouched, unwavering, and inwardly experiencing extraordinary spiritual blissfulness and ecstasy.
So I need my vitamins for the soul every day. It’s not just about nutrition for the body. We need to take care of our actual self; and this process of chanting, it produces everything that you have ever aspired for, everything that you’ve actually hoped for, even if it is misdirected, complete fulfillment, satisfaction, full self-realization and God-realization.
Okay. Too serious or what? Yeah. Really serious, but good serious. Don’t get lost in the massive illusion of material life where so much has been promised and nothing is actually being delivered. Sorry if that upsets people. But it’s just the reality of things. I’m not the bearer of bad tidings, I’m the bearer of good tidings. Okay. Thank you very much. Haribol