Good-bye, Thatte-ji

When considering all that Thatte put into his booklet, especially the final chapters about the different yogas, he closes in advising how a person might know their path. Surely a question each human asks at one point or another in their life. Thatte points out that in Hinduism:

  • A person isn’t limited to one path
  • A person might end up taking any combination of paths throughout life’s various stages
  • There are several examples of saints who achieved moksha through different paths
  • All paths ultimately merge into one

He seems to suggest that the path most appropriate, and possibly the easiest, for younger people would be the path of Karma Yoga and that as one ages the emphasis might switch from Karma Yoga to that of Bhakti Yoga or Jnana Yoga.

My thought differs. What I know about myself, and what I have experienced with other Americans is that, typically, Bhakti would be a good place to start, depending on the temperment. Otherwise Raja Yoga(which Thatte fails to address) or Jnana are perfectly fine starting with. I think a person’s mind/soul need to have undergone a certain amount of development before they can functionally act without attachment to the fruits of those actions.

This post designates the very last chapter in Thatte’s booklet. I’m thrilled, actually. I recall when Thatte came to my temple and spoke. Seemed to make a lot of sense. I was glad to be able to grab up his booklet. However, after digging in and giving each chapter an amount more of thought, I’m less impressed than I was initially. I suppose his booklet proves what he said originally to be true for why he wrote it in the first place which is that, unlike so many of the othr world religions, Hinduism can’t adequately be summed up in a catch phrase or a couple of sentences.

P.S. A week or two ago this blog was given a shout out on another blog by Tandava. I’m excited to know that others are noticing my small existence, but I would much like to clarify something said in his shout-out, which is that I’m¬†clearly influenced by Thatte. Not true. Tandava is correct about me in every other way mentioned: advaita, western hindu, and I speak of myself often without directly speaking of myself. Beyond that, this series was hardly more than an experiment, and one I had to force myself through at that. Thatte’s no fool and his seva for the Hindu diaspora is sweet. But I can safely say, and especially after diving deeper into his booklet, that any impressions Thatte-ji made on my brian are likely few and minor. All the same, I’m grateful to Tandava for adding me to his space’s blogroll, for the shout-out, and the rating of 4.5 out of 5 Ganeshas. ūüôā

Om Tat Sat Om


Mother Theresa, much?

The Seventh, and final Star of Hinduism as assigned by Thatte is that of Karma Yoga.

Thatte’s¬†simplest description of this comes in the form of just two words: Detached Action. Thatte¬†also points out that karma yoga induces control of one’s ego, of humility. Agreed. Vocabulary of interest¬†found in this star’s chapter: Nishkam¬†Karma, working without expectation of personal reward; Dheya, goal; Phala Asha, personal reward(literally: fruit hope (interpret as hope for the fruits of one’s actions)).

Early in this chapter Thatte rightly points out that Karma Yoga should not be confused with the Law of Karma. In the context of Karma Yoga, karma means work.

“We are all engaged in daily work. We all have some type of profession. A personal reward is called Phala. And expectation of a personal reward is called Asha. If you work professionally, honestly, and without keeping the personal reward in mind, then you are following the path of Karma Yoga. There is a distinct difference between being rewarded justly for your honest work and working solely for a reward … Thus doing your work without an eye¬†on recognition is Karma Yoga. If you receive recognition or wealth as a result of performing your duty sincerely, there is nothing wrong in enjoying the fruits of your honest labor.” -Thatte

While I view the path of Bhakti to be the most potentially trapping, I view Karma Yoga to be the most challenging.

In Bhakti Yoga, one must work at being swept away in devotion while also remaining emotionally responsible in all areas. Challenging enough in day-to-day life, without encouraging extra emotional currents, no? I feel like everyone needs to cultivate bhakti. It has immense value. But, to me, it seems this path is mostly suited to those who “require” religion-at least religion as most modern people know it.

In Karma Yoga, emotions may ebb and flow, and should be of little consequence. And superficially, it sounds quite easy to jump into one’s karma yoga practice… just do something. Anything. But that’s really only half of it, isn’t it? You must act, yes. But you must act without the aforementioned Phala¬†Asha.¬†A very dear and sometimes wise friend of mine once said something that’s stuck with me. She said, “There’s no such thing as a selfless action.” On the surface her words seem entirely true. In fact, they aren’t 100% true but they are 99.9999% true. Surely, karma yogis exist. And not to brag, but I feel there have been times when even I have acted selflessly- and I nowhere near sainthood yet. So, you see, my friend isn’t all-the-way correct, but she’s correct enough to bank on it.

Nearly all people find difficulty in doing anything without attachment to the results. And I suppose that reasonable, no? Most of the time the entire reason anyone anywhere does anything is because of what happens when they do that thing ( read: the results/fruit of their action ). Aside from involuntary stuff like breathing, from the time we awake until we rest again in sleep virtually everything we do is because we seek the result of having done it. We want that reward, whether it’s a bigger pay check or a cleaner house, or just maintaining the spotless reputation we have with our neighbors.

We want the fruit of our actions and we’re programmed to act.

2 + 2 = 4 in normal human life and Karma Yoga seeks to help someone make 2 +2 = 5, 6, 7, or something more. This is where its efficacy is to be found and this is how Karma Yoga ultimately leads to moksha.

If a person can truly release attachment to their actions, a transformation will take place without a doubt. At first, and on the surface, other will simply notice a change in the person and it will be increasingly said of the person that they are “a good person.” However, beneath the surface much more is taking place. The effort required of one to let go of the results of his or her actions will utterly transform their inner landscape. Little by little the inside gets polished and reconfigured, the final result being something closer to what happens when one walks the path of Jnana Yoga or Raja Yoga.

So how’s a guy to know which path might be best for him? The conclusion of Thatte’s booklet, and of this blog post series, titles “Which Path to Take,” hopefully will shed some light.

Om Tat Sat Om

You are my sunshine, My only sunshine!

Bhakti Yoga is designated at Thatte’s Sixth Star of Hinduism.

Bhakti is often translated as “devotion.” Bhakti is intense devotion to God. Bhakti Yoga is the yoga I find to be the most artistic and the most….well, beautiful. It’s also the one I find to be the most superfluous and with the most potential to trap a human on the wheel of samsara with purely emotional lurings.

In Thatte’s booklet there are four traits specific to Bhakti Yoga.

  1. Belief in a (chosen) God. Ishwara/Ishtadevata
  2. Total belief and surrender in His powers.
  3. Demonstration of belief through actions: Damam, Danam, Dayam.
  4. See your God in everyone and serve humanity accordingly. “Manava seva is Keshava seva”( service to man/humans is service to God)

Folk who tread the path of bhakti are bhaktas. Among the four traits typical of Bhatkta Yoga there are, apparently, four kinds of bhaktas.

  1. Aart: These people are essntially in distress. They seek the Lord for the purpose of petitioning Him to change their circumstances and situations.
  2. Jigyasu: These folks, according to Thatte, aren’t sure of God existence, but pray anyway just in case.
  3. Artha-arthi: Those who need something from God. These devotees are looking for a”deal.” They seek wealth and material gain in exchange for prayers.
  4. True Bhakta: Those who truly search for God through their devotion.

Thatte ranks each type of devotee, as above, in accordance to their level of devotion and motive for devotion.

I think the most well-known group within all of Bhakti-Yoga-dom¬†has¬†got to be the Hare Krishnas. They sing. They¬†dance. They chant…and they have a whole bajillion “offenses” they watch out for. I also sense that the path of Bhakti Yoga is the part of Hindu Dharma that most closely¬†connects with the Abrahamic approach to God.

Perhaps, since I used to be a Christian, this is the reason I’m less inclined¬†toward this path. On that note, I’ll close this post.

Om Tat Sat

Yoga of Wisdom/Intellect

Since just about forever, Jnana Yoga has been the approach my heart feels most inclined towards. It seems to me that if you have things figured out(aka you know), then little else is to be done. Thatte, though, says this path is the hardest. According to him, “This path requires supreme concentration and takes tremendous discipline and sacrifice.” He also claims Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra(Raja Yoga) offers guidance for this(Jnana) path.

In my experience, Jnana Yoga doesn’t “cost” any more than another yoga path does and this is actually the first I’ve heard where Jnana and Raja yogas have been linked.

As offensive as this might sound to some, the entire path of Jnana Yoga can be summarized as follows, “Since the Atman is a part of Brahman, once you understand the Atman(Self) you would know Brahman(God).”

To expand on this, Thatte mentions an analogy which is actually fitting and succinct. He says that the air in an empty pot is the same as the air outside the pot. The air is the same regardless. The Atman which is in your body is the same as Brahman outside your body, and which the basis of the universe. So once you understand Atman, you undestand Brahman.

Thatte says that in order to understand the Atman you have to focus on your inner self-which apparently means giving up any distractions the senses may offer. I will agree with him in that this is hard for most people to do.

I think in my own life, my attraction to sense gratification has ebbed and flowed so much that, generally, this path has been easier for me than it might be for someone else. Nowadays, even when I’m in the clutch of sensory attraction to a person or a thing or a habit, I find that I’m still able to at least realize what’s going on inside me. I may chose to indulge anyway, or I may not, but with practice I’m now actually quite able to separate myself from what’s going on(or what might …), the result being that I tend to act instead of react.

In my own life, I can’t say how very valuable this has been. So many around me go from one reaction to the next. They’re perpetually trying to save face or avoid taking two steps backward. People whose primary mode of operation is reaction, are deepening the karmic rut they’re in and they’re likely to repeat the cycle of death and rebirth until the decide to choose otherwise.

For me, Jnana Yoga has been instrumental in gaining more control of my senses and my responses to my senses. I will admit that in this process, for me, it’s meant that my life is less influenced by my emotions or the motions of others. Some have found this to be insensitive, but I disagree. It’s emotional responsibility and to manage something like that a person has to invest a serious amount of their wakiing hours into investigating the reality of things. We’ll touch on all this emotional stuff when we get to the Star dealing with Bhakti Yoga.

At this point I’ll close. Like I said, this is a yoga that is really “near & dear” to me… I’m likely to revisit it in more, non-Thatte, detail in the future.

Star Six on its way!

Om Tat Sat Om

Three’s Company

As a lead-in to the Fifth Star, Thatte takes a side trip into what he calls “Three Fundamental Paths” which¬†is the first¬†section in his book¬†that I find to have a serious deficit. Granted, it’s relatively well written… it’s just also incomplete. I do plan to eventually contact Thatte and ask about this.

The three paths he lists as Yogas for Moksha are: Jnana, Bhakti, and Karma.

The truth is that each person’s individual dharma is an entirely valid and very personal yoga for¬†moksha,¬†if (and only if) it’s lived as truly as possible. Beyond that cosmic notion it can be said that, classically speaking, there are¬†four¬†main yogas: Jnana, Karma, Bhakti, and Raja. Perhaps Thatte thought it best to leave Raja Yoga off the list because of the¬†four it’s probably the least known and least practiced today. At any rate…

As noted by¬†Thatte, the ultimate goal in¬†all¬†cases is something called Mukti/Moksha which translates roughly as “liberation.” The implication here is¬†freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth(reincarnation, please realize the difference between death/rebirth and life/death. The second is like comparing apples to oranges. The opposite of death isn’t life, it’s birth or rebirth. Life has no opposite truly.). At their base levels, all yogas are¬†unique and individualized, however in their upper strata more and more differences¬†become increasingly vague and the lines blur considerably. It’s in this way, and because of this phenomenon that a Hindu can say with certainty “Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vedanti” which is “Truth is One, though the wise call It by many Names.” This can be interpreted as all paths lead to the same Goal.

“This can be compared to the study of Math, Physics, and Chemistry. As one advances in these subjects, they begin to merge essentially and eventually there remains little distinction between the three.”

Thatte devotes the remaining three Stars of Hinduism( 5, 6, and 7) to the three paths mentioned above. The next post here will cover Start Five: Jnana Yoga.

Om Tat Sat Om

Star: Four/Seven, Karma

The fourth star of Hinduism is that of Karma. Perfect!

It’s actually very fitting that Thatte¬†ordered the stars in this way because after explaining in Star Three a little about the Atman, we’re now learning just a smidge about what steers the Atman as it meanders along one lifetime and into the next.

After a very abbreviated definition of karma(action, act, or deed), Thatte quickly addresses something huge: Karma does not¬†mean fate. This is, unfortunately the very first thought that comes to people’s’ minds when they think of karma and it’s super fitting that this is addressed so early in the chapter on Karma.

Thatte¬†points out that Karma is a spiritual laws which also has scientific basis and expression. It is compared to the Law of Gravity: this applies to all people everywhere on Earth regardless of their religious background. I agree, and it’s precisely for this reason that I don’t see karma as being a spiritual law, primarily. Yes, because it affects the spirit(Atman), and follows the soul from the last life through this one and into the next, I do suppose there is a spiritual¬†dimension at work in the Law of Karma. But really, and Thatte¬†points this out also, karma is quite natural. I feel that the Atman’s connection to karma helps validate and support the idea that the Atman/soul is also a naturally occuring thing, and also (one day) entirely provable by our sciences.

It should be noted that Brahman, Supreme Consciousness/God, is not necessarily a distributor of punishment or reward. If that were the case, The One God would instantly be far too human to actually be God-this is an area the Abrahamic Faiths fail horribly at. Instead, The Law of Karma handles this.

There are many kinds of Karma, but the three major types are called:

  1. Prarabdha Karma (Fruit bearing karma)
  2. Sanchita Karma (Accumulated karma)
  3. Kriyaman Karma (Current karma)

The first type listed, Prarabdha, comes with a person from their past life(lives) and starts to bear its fruit in the current life. Because it’s¬†carried over from our last spin around the wheel, there’s no choice in it. This is nearly the only karma in which we have so little say. This type pertains to where you were born, into which family, what gender you are, what genes you have, what color eyes, what height, ect… these things can’t be changed. You have no choice but to accept these things and live with them- and it’s because of this that many individuals are more accepting of his/her physical attributes. Instead of lamenting, one can move on towards improving.

Sanchit¬†Karma, like Prarabdha, is accumulated from previous lives, but hasn’t come to effect yet. This karma pertains to softer properties of a person. It’s because of this karma that a person has certain characteristics, traits and tendencies. These are changeable and can be changed through determined effort, practice and constant endeavor( called tapas ).

The third Karma mentioned is Kriyaman¬†Karma. This karma is being generated now. This will come into fruition either at some point later in this life, or in the next life. It is within one’s control to ensure that one is generating good karma!

Often karma is seen as fatalistic. Many believe our lives are predetermined. Not entirely so!As can be seen, Prarabdha¬†is the only pre-set portion of our Karma which leaves a minimum of two-thirds remaining for us to be able to manipulate for our betterment. This is truly the definition of hope- that which I’ve done, I can undo.

“Unlike many religions where an individual may repent and have all their “sins¬†forgiven, Hinduism believes that there is no free ride for anybody. One has to pay for one’s own actions, either in this life or the next. By the same token, one can also upgrade oneself¬† through one’s own effort…It is interesting to note that reincarnation supports not only of the physical characteristics, but also in terms of spirituality.” Weaknesses are left behind in the past, in favor of higher¬†operational efficiency (physically and spiritually) in the future.

Take-Aways: Your destiny is in your hands. Accept who/what you are, and come to terms with whatever cannot be changed. Having accepted this, remember that two out of three karmas are within your ability to change. This viewpoint not only allows you to enjoy this life, but prepare intelligently for your next life!

Om Tat Sat Om!

Star: Three/Seven, The Soul and its universality

The third, official/unofficial start of Hinduism is the Soul.

The basics of this star include:

  • Universality of the existence of souls
  • All living beings have “soul” -not just humans
  • The same life, which is Atman/part of Brahman, exists in all living beings
  • Soul is indestructible
  • The whole Universe is one(family)

Earlier in his booklet, Thatte¬†mentions Purusha¬†and Prakruti. The soul is the Purusha¬†of a being. Since the soul is essentially a living entity’s Atman, which itself is a small part of the Ultimate Brahman, and since every living thing has soul, all things have the same foundational essence and are thereby connected. Hence the Vedic sentence, “Vasudev’ Kutumbhakum.” Universal Family. Hinduism believes that the whole Universe is an intimately-connected family.

All living things have soul, which can also be called Self or jiva. All soul is part of the Universal Consciousness, aka Brahman. It’s because of this that all that is living must be treated with care and respect. This is the basis of environmental sensitivity which is embedded in Hindu philosophy.

What happens to the Atman when one dies?

You must first understand that a person dies because the Atman leaves the body, not the other way around. Once He has left the body, it is dead. The Bhagavad Gita explains, “Just as one discard old clothes when they get worn out and puts on new clothes, similarly, the Atman discards the body(at the time of death) and is reborn in another physical body.” (It should be noted that while the body is impermanent at best, Hinduism places great emphasis on physical well-being. Patanjali’s¬†Yoga Shastra/Sutra is a great resource for this!)

The life form the Atman takes upon rebirth is determined by a staggering number of factors, not least of which is the Atman’s store of karma yet to be worked through as well as the condition/focus of one’s mind at the moment of death. It has supposedly taken “several million cycles of birth, death, and rebirth” to experience life as a human. Some believe that it’s possible for the Atman to regress to a lower life form, depending on one’s actions/karma. This is something I’m not sure I agree with entirely.

It seems to me that, if there is a hierarchy¬†of life(surely based on the development of¬†consciousness), it isn’t a two-way street. Evolution, whether physical or spiritual, must surely be a process that leads to ever-better states of existence, with no choice of going back really. So, I don’t see reincarnation as a matter of forward/backward movement of the Atman in its development. I see it as a matter of how much or how little the Atman progresses compared to what the potential for progress is. A life lived with¬†intentionally more effort placed on improvement(punya-¬†good deeds, etc…), versus the opposite which would be a life lived with tons of paap(badness) is more likely to know further and faster advancement.

This alone would constitute “heavenly” reward in the form of increased nearness to moksha/mukti/samadhi(freedom from the samsaric cycle of birth and rebirth), as opposed to the relatively hellish “punishment” of another turn around the wheel.

Thatte’s practical take-aways in this chapter include: We all have a soul and it’s because of this that we’re all connected. It’s because of this connection that we should strive to treat others with compassion and empathy. And although he doesn’t go much into these, he also claims as take-aways: You create your own heaven or hell. As well, we can train ourselves to control the desires generated by our senses. Controlling these desires isn’t the same as denying them, rather it means that the intellect is in charge of using the mind to control one’s senses.

Hinduism’s Second Star

The second star designated in Thatte’s booklet is that of Advaita, NonDualism. This is huge for me. From my earliest memories I’ve been spiritual. Winter has always been my least favorite season, but as a young child I can recall looking out my parents’ front door windows at snow swirling down. I sensed the wind. I felt a hint of the temperature on the cold glass. I saw flake after flake swoosh to the ground or a tree branch and pile up on the flakes before it. All of this is very superficial and something anyone can see, but I saw Something behind all those aspects of a snowfall. I had no idea what to call that Something because the family I was born into isn’t religious, but I perceived It no less. For me now, the saddest part of that memory is that I assumed that Something was on the other side of the front¬†door’s window. It must be out there.

As¬†I entered my teens, I familiarized with Christianity through the means of a local Baptist church.¬†I’ll spare the many details of this part of my life. For what seemed like a long time this new chapter satisfied me religiously and spiritually. Still, as¬†with my early childhood, That was external. It should be noted that within every branch of every Abrahamic faith,¬†the vast majority have a very orthodox understanding of an external God. This trait, in my estimation, is a defining characterist of those streams of humanity’s perception of the divine, and frankly I feel this is a sad testament to the state of human affair in recent millenia.

If the Abrahamic faiths can be noted for their distant god, surely the Dharmic faiths should be noted for the opposite trait as something which is equally defining. This is where Advaita/NonDuality comes in and is also why it’s particularly important to me.

“Advaita Vedanta maintains that everything is derived from Brahman and Brahman resides in everything. The Upanishads teach us that the world comes from Brahman and returns to Brahman.” (Thatte, 2010)

All throughout most of Hindu theology nowdays one encounters the notion of Atman. Invariably, this is presented as the human soul and is essentially defined as a spark of the Divine which resides in every entity. This Atman comes from Brahman in the same way a spark comes from a fire. It’s because of this, that hindus have the mantra/prayer, “Aham Brahmasmi,” “I am Brahman.”

Thatte goes on to explain that it’s because of all this that one does not need an external medium to seek God. Because your deepest Self is nondifferent to God, knowing your self(aka self-realization) automatically is synonymous to knowing God.

This is phenominal. Truly, I believe the Abrahamic faiths, at their cores, teach this. Today though, it’s much tougher to discern that from their doctrines. Part of why this is amazing is that it allows the flood gates to open for the experience of God. If God naturally resides in me then I don’t must follow some prophet, else I’m damned. Each person is free, even before the grand self-realization process has begun, to find their own path Home. In my opinion, this is foundational for any real and true spiritual or religious effort. Also, on a very personal level, the fact that this is(currently) a huge difference between Hinduism and the Abrahamics is enough for me to sense the truth there. My time with Christianity didn’t end well or quick, really, and while I honestly hold no actual grudges against individuals I can’t help but find comfort in anything that isn’t Christianity.

Back to the booklet…

Thatte’s practical take-away for this star’s chapter¬†is that: Since each of us is essentially Atman, all should be treated with respect and reverence, just as we’d treat the Supreme Being.

Star three is somewhat a continuation of this star. It deals more with the Sould and its universality.

Om Tat Sat Om