Be Clean. Smell Good.

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

 

Today in the shower (for the second time today) something happened that usually happens, but not in the shower. I turned toward the water to rinse and my eyes caught the back of the Axe body wash bottle. I read many of the words thereon and was caught two very short sentences at the end of the directions: Be Clean. Smell Good.

It’s not rare at all that I have a very mundane experience and it transforms into something … more. Like reading the back of the body wash bottle. Similar business could happen while counting leaves on the ground or sitting at a table in Starbucks or noticing the feel of the leather on my car’s steering wheel.

I do it all the time without even trying. Practically transcendental experiences just doing what I do. I’ve always done it – and one of my earliest memories is of precisely this kind of thing. It involved a snowfall.

So there I was showering all spiritual like. Totally normal. And my first thought during this experience is of the Heartfulness practice of cleaning. Be clean.

The long and short of the Sahaj Marg / Heartfulness path is to remove the samsaric layers that we pile upon ourselves as we move through our evolution. From our perspective, true and productive personal and collective evolution happens naturally but happens best with intention. Be clean –  and be it on purpose. It requires your own responsible and intentional effort. The Guru helps in an invaluable way, (and I do feel fortunate to follow a fantastic lineage of loving and watchful gurus) but even then pretty much only with your permission and cooperation. Be clean. And if you don’t feel you can be clean then at least try to be cleaner.

My next thought was really more of a question: Smell good? How can the Guru make me smell good? The body wash does it on the most superficial of levels. Our cleaning practice and the help of the Guru go far deeper. Naturally, the “good smell” in this context is something that is tougher to achieve that that which is obtained by rubbing soap on your skin – but it also lasts a bit longer.

I’ve read in various texts that certain things “smell” good to God. I think that’s bullshit. I think for there to be any legitimacy to a statement like that you have to believe in a personal god. (To be clear, I think I believe in a personal relationship with the One but not a personal One. Theres a difference.)

So what might, “Smell Good” mean in this context? I think it might touch on the idea of carrying with you the change that happens when you make an effort to, “Be clean.” When I shower and use that heavily scented bodywash and then go out into the world I look cleaner than I otherwise might and I smell cleaner. In a world caught up in appearances, looking and smelling clean / cleaner means something. It changes how things might otherwise go. We’re touching on karma here, right?

I have no interest in going into any specifics about how karma might change according to your own efforts to be clean, but surely you understand that relationship.

Hopefully, dear reader, you see the value in doing your own cleaning – in the shower and in your Center. Be Clean and smell good, my friends.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Entitlement

This post is the finalization of draft I put together MONTHS and MONTHS ago. I really dislike taking so long to complete a post – I rarely have the the same thoughts as when I began the post and dragging these things out so long can make it tough to look back and see where I was with something once upon a time or to decide where I want to go with it now.

The picture in this post was something I saw on the Progressive America page on Facebook ages ago, and it struck me as kinda profound and somewhat “high level” or a little vague. I’m not very familiar with any of the Justices, but I’m willing to allow that they are all intelligent people with varying versions of what they think is best for the American population. Sotomayor, if this quote is legit, seems to have a really good head on her shoulders. I’m sure that, as an American woman, she also has a different perspective that allows her to present different ways of viewing life.

Still, these words seem awfully strong. No? You’re not entitled to disagree until you understand. I asked a number of people across my friend spectrum what they thought this actually means and I received different answers – as I would expect.

Most Americans, I’ll say, feel awfully entitled to a lot. We have rights, damn it! What’s more, we often ignorantly assume that my “rights” are allowed to overstep into yours. Example: You’re not allowed to get married because I have the right to religious expression. Additionally, we have lots of really important documents from the formation of our country to document the fact that we have rights – things we’re absolutely and undeniably entitled to. It can’t be argued or debated. Right? And surely, as the general population would agree, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But are they really?

I think yes. After all, we’re all allowed to hold any view we prefer. And what’s more, we can hold these views for any reason we want. No one should be able to dictate what another person thinks about something. And I think the truth is also that a person can’t really determine that for another. Sure, we can influence each other. But I could dance and sing all day in an attempt to get you to think something – or to think something in a certain manner – and there’s still no guarantee that my efforts will be fruitful. And that’s how it should be.

I think all of that, though, isn’t what Sotomayor might have meant. I’m certain someone of her life condition and personal evolution understands that mind control is poop – not good and often bogus. So, that can’t be what she was getting at. If I can be so brave as to wager a guess on what she meant, my guess would be that her words might should be interpreted as something along the lines of, “Unless you possess an understanding founded on a precisely parallel experience, then your opinion only carries the value of an opinion.” Yeah we afford more weight to some opinions, but be reminded that opinions are more common than cell phones.

 

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It’s probably really tough and maybe not the truest thing for one person to tell another that he / she “understands” what their friend is going through unless he / she has actually been through that specific experience or else one very VERY much like it. Otherwise, this is probably some form of lie. (An obvious gray area with this is that we’ve all felt much of the same emotions / thoughts in our individual existences, and to some small degree can honestly tell another “I know how you feel” because your anger or sadness is felt probably somewhat similarly to my own anger or sadness, etc…)

But really what is involved to understand – to truly understand? Almost certainly more than most of us ever think to consider and Sotomayor’s words probably initially strike people as pretty biased or not true because of that. I mean, if I’m entitled to my own opinion, and our respective experiences have produced thoughts or emotions that are similar, then how could my opinion (wherein I disagree) not be valid?

Because understanding takes more than just an opinion added to “similar” experiences. What’s that old saying… something about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, right? There’s no slack given for having watched someone walk a mile, or for having walked a mile in your own shoes – that’s still in YOUR shoes with YOUR feet. If you haven’t walked the same mile in the same shoes, it’s simply not the same – regardless of how close your experience might otherwise come. It’s probably a pretty smart thing to keep in mind that if you haven’t lived what another person has lived, then your opinion of disagreement is possibly not super valid. Sure you might be able to commiserate on some levels, but her words are talking about disagreement.

This is really challenging for Americans, I’d say. We’re often know-it-alls, and everyone seems to know exactly what their neighbor should and shouldn’t be allowed to do (have the right to do) never mind the fact that we may not even actually know our neighbor. Most of us have never actually read documents like the Constitution, and half of us who have aren’t educated sufficiently to properly interpret them – and yet we’re all pros on these matters. And those of us who carry the realization that we’re not pros seem to trust any and every damned fool who claims to be, which is likely worse than just staying completely blind. And as icing on this crappy tasting cake, we’re really hit-n-miss when it comes to humility, which is often the very first roadblock to overcome when trying to rectify any of this.

So here we are. Be careful what you think you’re entitled to and be mindful of why. If you’ve never conceived a child from having been raped, maybe your not entitled to tell women abortions are wrong and should be illegal. If you’ve never been a victim of someone else’s religious dictates and thrown to your death from a building top as a result, then maybe you’re in no place to cry about religious persecution.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Who Loves You More?

Image taken from closed Facebook group

Image taken from closed Facebook group

 

 

Pics like the one in this post usually upset people. Considering how inherently violent Christianity is, I can totally see Jesus of Nazareth punching and biting. (Not really – I’m quite aware that, biblically speaking, he was very much the opposite kind of individual. It’s just his followers that are historically and consistently violent.) And Hindus are REAL protective about depictions of their devas being inappropriate – I have zero doubt in the world that there are Hindus who would be (are?) appalled to see the ONE form of God that all Hindus worship to be engaged in hand-to-hand(-to-hand-to-hand) combat like this. If we can’t hardly stomach seeing him on a pair of socks then this is surely upsetting. But what really should be focused on in this image is the first / top portion of it as it relates to the bottom. The bottom part, by itself, is pointless.

The first part is itself two-part. In one portion you have a juvenile praying before a cross – a young Christian person hoping Jesus will favor her more than he will favor her fellow students and grant her the blessing of winning the competition. In the second portion, you find another juvenile but who is praying before a picture of the Hindu god Ganesha and undoubtedly for the same purpose.

What’s ridiculous here is that neither apparently realizes the ego and selfishness inherent to their prayer. In these instances, and in waaaaaay too many others when humans employ prayer, there’s seems to be either total ignorance of or a will to ignore the fact that for me to win you must lose. That’s part of why earlier in this post I pointed out that the humans in the first part of this picture are juvenile. It’s natural enough, I suppose, to pray for the things you want. But it’s absolutely childish to pray in this way. All linguistic specifics aside, these prayers are almost literally a request for god to shit on someone else in order to give you preferential treatment. I think almost everyone has prayed in this manner at least once. It’s a really human thing to do. But that doesn’t make it less immature or selfish.

And it’s even a violent thing to do in most cases. Sure winning a school competition seems nonviolent. But again, your prayer to win the competition necessitates that the Lord of the cosmos squashes your opponent (within that context) in order to answer your request. And what about war? Who doesn’t want their loved ones to return home from war service? Everyone wants that, of course. But in war, usually, one side has to lose in the worst of ways for the other not to. (Yeah, I know it isn’t quite that cut and dry, but work with me here.) And so, given this oversimplified scenario, if I have a brother at war (and I’ve had two in service) and I pray that he returns safe, in a very round about way I’m praying that others die instead of him.

“Well now, Joshua” you say, “those people aren’t wanting bad things to happen to others. They’re just asking for the Lord’s help…” I’m telling you this is “Potato, potahto.” You can argue this but in most cases what I’m saying is technically correct. And what’s almost worse – or at least adds insult to injury – is that most of us are so self-centered and buried in this layer of ego that we refuse to see that praying for your son to win at war is equivalent to praying someone else’s son dies instead.  We simply can’t believe it. How could praying for my son to return safely from war be offensive when the intention behind it is good? I’ll remind you that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

P.S. All of this is not far removed from the ridiculousness of people who think they’re purer for avoiding hamburgers and hot dogs because those beings aren’t killed for the dinner plate – never mind those that die for the farming and production of produce used in salads. Be careful with your intentions, sure. But be conscious of them, too.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Sucky Cartoons

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

I’ve been clear in this space that I’m not a fan of Christianity. At one point in my life, I was SUPER into it. But that time in my life was also my teen years, and in my mind I feel like that’s indicative: While a teen, I practiced a religion that is itself pretty much a teen. But that’s just my opinion. For various reasons, those who are practicing Christians find the religion to be fulfilling. It’s not something I understand, and may never, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not my place to make sense of something that I outgrew or to make sense of something that no longer applies to me.

When I think about Judaism and Islam, my feelings are similar but a bit less concrete or strong. I have very little first-hand experience with those two paths and feel less qualified to speak about then to any great depth. Still, I have an opinion on them and, generally speaking, that opinion doesn’t differ much from the opinion I hold on Christianity. The truth is, these three are WAY more alike than they aren’t and so it seems logical that to see much of the same coming from those three, very different directions is natural and not at all surprising.

Other religious hats I’ve tried on include Buddhism and the Baha’i faith. I don’t feel the same about these two religions as I feel about the other three – but I’ve enough experience with them both to know surely that, like the other three, neither of these two are a good fit for me either. Like Christianity and the others, I’m sure I’ve written to some extent on Buddhism and Baha’iism. Regardless of what I write here or how I feel, or what Truth I think I’m seeing from where I sit on my current path – none of it matters. Not really. And luckily, despite how critical I can be of one religion or the next, I’ve never actually hated someone for their religion. I’m fortunate enough to have many friends, family members, and friends who are like family that adhere to a religion I don’t agree with – and every time we get together things are amicable and lovely. This difference between us simply doesn’t factor in.

And it occurred to me today that hating someone because of their religion is not terribly different from hating someone because they have a preferred Saturday morning cartoon that you don’t like to watch (assuming Saturday morning cartoons are still a thing – I honestly don’t know). My brothers and I used to LOVE watching X-Men on Saturday mornings. I mean, we loved X-Men in general but I recall making sure I never slept beyond 10:00 or 10:30 on a Saturday morning, no matter how late I was up the night before, because that’s when X-Men came on and I wasn’t about to miss an episode – even a rerun.

But what is a cartoon, truly? It’s a fancy and colorful concoction that serves a variety of purposes depending on the audience. For some, it’s merely a distraction. For others, it’s even less – hardly good for background noise. And yet others use cartoons to convey lessons to whomever might be watching or listening. (For me, one cartoon was THE best part of Saturday. That 30 minute part of the whole day was a part I wanted never to miss.) The cartoon doesn’t change. Often the content or elements of it like characters and back storyline don’t change. The bulk of all that changes is who might be paying attention. Right? Did you watch cartoons this Saturday? Or were you watching last Saturday? Both? Neither?

Religion really isn’t different and it’s not inherently any more consequential. For some Christians, Christianity is a distraction. For others it’s not even got that value – they just do it. For some, it’s everything and is THE axis upon which all of reality rotates. But those distinctions don’t matter. At all. And none of them really have anything to do with the Christianity so much as with the Christian, and I think that’s important to know and remember.

Things like that are, I think, a big part of why the Sahaj Masters tell us that religion is like kindergarten. It might have a use and good purpose at some point, but otherwise simply doesn’t matter and can be used in a million different ways like any dumb hammer or spoon. Religion is like Saturday morning cartoons and just about as important. And guess what? I no longer watch Saturday morning cartoons. Do you?

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Prayer

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

In the Heartfulness tradition (Sahaj Marg) we have a prayer – one prayer, that I’m aware of. It’s our “official” prayer if it can be said that we have one. According to one of our sites ( which you can access by clicking here ) this is a part of our practice employed at the beginning of the day and at the end. Abhyasis ( Sahaj Marg / Heartfulness meditators ) start and end each day in much the same way – a short prayer followed by meditation. In the evening we also “clean,” but that’s not for this post.

My default opinion regarding prayer is that it should be organic – living, and a bit unorganized. But, I can admit, that opinion of mine really only exists as a shell – hollowed out parts of prior religious experiences that don’t have much to do with spirituality. Many religious traditions use prayer and in many of those traditions prayer is something that comes pre-formulated. Hindus have mantras. Catholics have the Hail Mary. Even Muslims have pre-formed prayer that is recited at regular times and in certain ways – even their declaration of faith (Laa ilaaha illallah, waa …). So this is common to many paths. The more I think about this, the more logical it seems (to have formulated prayer, I mean).

I’ve said a number of times here on Sthapati Samanvayam that most of the prayer that seems to come from humanity is just noise – with not much of it amounting to more than, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.” Even the Prayer of St. Francis, which has always really touched me is in that category to some degree. We beg, demand, and insist to our idea of God that something we think we need or want should happen. Sometimes we just state what we desire, but often times we bargain with It, “Dear God if you do such-n-such for me, I’ll do such-n-such for you in return.” Think about that – bargaining with your idea of the Creator of the Cosmos. If there even is a Cosmic Creator, what then, on earth of all places and from a piddly human creature, do you think It could possibly need? And if you get beyond the idea that God could “need” something from you, tackle the notion that God actually wants something from you. It’s hilarious, really.

And beyond that hilarity, it’s selfish on every level and in pretty much every instance. I mean, even when we pray for someone else’s safe travel there’s an element there that is self-protective. Yeah, sure, you want your loved one to make it home safe and sound – for their sake – but also for yours. No one likes the pain of losing loved ones to a car crash, right? So when you pray, “God please grant safe journey to my mom on her way home tonight,” you’re saying two things – “Get my mom home safely, for her well-being” and also “I’m not ready to experience the pain of that kind of loss, so keep her alive longer yet.” I mean, honestly, have you ever heard someone pray, “God, I’m fine with the idea that my mom may be killed by a drunk driver tonight, but I don’t think she’d like that so please get her home safely. Thanks.” Umm, I’ve never heard that. We might not outright-ly speak the selfish side of our prayer (or we might, whatever) but it’s virtually always there – at least when prayer is organic.

So, for me, a pre-formed prayer is usually “better” than the usual kind of prayer I think people use. There could be many reasons for this, but one that stands out in light of things I just wrote is that the prayer can be prayed without ego actively involved in the process. This is one time when taking the easy route perhaps has more merits. With a pre-formed prayer you are still engaged – you enter a prayerful bhav and you’re usually in a place that has that “vibe.” You probably will have your mala / rosary to count the repetitions. A lot of divine things still apply, but the part of you where the ego has the most effect is less involved and in some cases might be entirely absent.

In the Sahaj Marg prayer, there’s no asking. There’s not really any begging or pleading or bargaining. Our prayer is really just a statement…

O Master!
Thou art the real goal of human life.
We are yet but slaves of wishes putting bar to our advancement.
Thou art the only God and Power to bring us up to that stage.

In our practice, the word Master is used in two meanings. We refer to the gurus in our lineage as Masters and we call the Guru within the same. This prayer, to be clear, is not a prayer to the guru, but to the Guru. Our lineage masters are those guides on our shared path who help to direct and assist us on our journey to the Master within each of us. Naturally, we revere them and respect them and value them greatly, but they are in no way any kind of religious dictator or ruler. Anyone who has interacted with our masters or observed them via video, audio, or text will attest to as much. Our masters are gentle, patient, and not only possess but exhibit immense understanding and compassion.

So when our hearts speak, “O Master….” we’re calling the deepest and truest part of our existence as human beings. The Center and the Goal – which is indicated in the next line of the prayer. The next two lines couple nicely. We recognize a condition inherent to living a human life – we’re filled with wishes. This is the “Gimme, gimme, gimme” mentioned earlier. These wishes keep us from peace and keep us adding to our samsaric layers. We stop our own advancement and That which is already within us, which IS who we truly are,  is the only solution.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Maxim X

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

 

The final of the Ten Maxims in Sahaj Marg helps us conclude our day. Fitting, considering the initial maxims helped us start the day.  “At bedtime, feeling the presence of God, repent for the wrongs committed. Beg forgiveness in a supplicant mood, resolving not to allow repetition of the same.” This is another maxim that I’d like to offer a twist of my own on as I break it into its parts.

“At bedtime, feeling the presence of God…” Many religious people, traditionally speaking, pray at bedtime. But that’s not exactly what’s being talked about here. Prayer is talking to God. Not listening. Not feeling. Prayer is a making of noise – and I plan to write about the Sahaj Marg daily prayer in a future post. Imagine, though, getting into bed at the very end of your day and FEELING the presence of God. What would That feel like? I hope it would feel like the you-est of you. You climb into bed and under the covers, on your back and facing the ceiling with your head on the pillow. And then you feel the presence of God. Really, what would it feel like? At that point in the day, and certainly depending on the day you experienced, you could potentially feel (or think) many different things. But the presence of God? I’ll suggest that you strip away the happenings of the day that ultimately led you back to your bed where you started many hours prior. (This could, in a round-about way, be related to our practice of cleaning.)

The traffic you fought. The conversations with coworkers. The lunch you had. The win / lose experienced by your child at their volley ball game. Whatever comes to mind about the day – let it out the window. Keep letting the thoughts and emotions of the day pass out of your mind as quickly as they enter. Even if the stream of thoughts is steady and seems not to end, you should soon notice the part of your awareness or consciousness that is present before, during, and after each mental object. The part of you that is watching all that movement within your mind. That is you, the Real You. And that is non-different, qualitatively, from God. It’s tough to see and feel and know – and most people hardly do more than get a small taste at any one time, but it’s there. Always. That presence has been with you the whole day and is now with you as you bring the day to a close. Feel that Presence.

“…, repent for the wrongs committed.” Be careful with this one. I’ll suggest to you that the habit of listing so-called sins is a dangerous one and one that too predictably does more damage than benefit. In order to repent for your wrongs, you have to be able to cite or list them. That’s generally an unproductive thing to do. However, there’s no harm in being a bit aware of shortcomings and specifically those of the day that is ending. I just think this activity warrants a personal assessment of what defines a wrong.

“Beg forgiveness in a supplicant mood, resolving not to allow repetition of the same.” Begging for forgiveness strikes me as odd. The Goal or our Center …. “God” doesn’t keep a list of our sins. The same Being doesn’t – at all – punish us for shortcomings. As such, who are we begging for forgiveness? Ponder that, if you will. The real meat of this part of the maxim, from where I sit, starts with the word supplicant. If you can manage an aware feeling of the Presence and also become aware of your shortcomings for that day, then I think you’ll find a natural response is humility and supplication. And gratitude. And once all of that is on the plate, the natural response – which really should come naturally – is to resolve that tomorrow would be better (aka: resolving not to allow repetition of the same.)

There’s no need (or benefit) to beating yourself up at this point. The day itself has probably done a fair enough job at that. As you wrap up your day, feel that Presence which has always been with you, accept your truth with humility and supplication, and go to sleep intending that tomorrow will be better than today was. I hope this series on the Sahaj Marg Maxims has been helpful in some way. And if not, that’s okay, too.  🙂

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Maxim IX

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

 

 

“Mould your living so as to rouse a feeling of love and piety in others.” The ninth maxim. For anyone unfamiliar with the word, as it’s not a terribly common one these days, “piety” means a quality of being religious or reverent. Devoutness. Saintliness.

The first thing that struck me is that, by itself, this maxim could easily confuse people. On a number of levels it can tie into the things we’ve discussed in earlier maxims, but this feels like a maxim that would best be supplemented by commentary from the masters of our lineage. If it were a commandment or something in another religion it would likely come with lots of explanatory interpretations and guidelines on how to best implement it into the believer’s life.

In regard to the use of the word piety in this maxim I think there’s a new understanding that should apply. For one, the path of Heartfulness helps us see that religion is to be left behind just as kindergarten is. So I think to say that piety here means that we’re meant to invoke a feeling of religiosity in others is inaccurate. Reverence, though, is likely more applicable and more practical for today.

If you “mould your living” in a way that causes others to experience love and induces a feeling of reverence for who you are, how you conduct yourself, and the overall value of your life as a whole in relation to the lives of those witnessing your living.

I was recently talking with a friend. I’ve known this person for the better part of a couple years already and we were chatting about many things in life, including our respective significant others. We were both comfortable enough to share with each other things we think might be better in our own lives if they were maybe different. During this part of our discussion, although I forget the details of how it came about, it was said to me by this friend, “I think anyone would want to be your husband, but I feel like I’m not good enough.” It obviously gave me pause and then, as anyone who knows me can attest, I insisted a statement like that be explained immediately. I got my explanation and the conversation kept moving, but my heart broke right then with humility.

I’m never doing anything other than what feels natural and right and true to be “Joshua” right now. I try to conduct myself in the best and highest way I know to, given any circumstance I might find myself in. Never once, truly, have I thought to myself that I need to do this or that to be better person or to get more people to like me. Frankly, I don’t even try to inspire people. I guess that kind of thinking isn’t part of who I am. And yet, that’s what happens sometimes with my connections to others. People sometimes think I’m cool or talented or even wise…. too good for them, even. It baffles me and flatters me and humbles me and invariably surprises me.

It can be tough to accept that you’re setting some kind of example when that idea isn’t even on your radar – but that’s exactly what we’re called to do in this maxim. Readers, I would encourage you at this point in our study of the maxims to look back and assess. How much of the prior maxims do you incorporate into your life and what example does that mean you’re setting for others to witness? Do you feel the need to set more of an example? Less of an example?

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti