Center Region

A lot of religious or spiritual paths talk at some length about the hereafter. For some there’s the idea of going to heaven where you enjoy Forever in some paradise built for humans or their soul equivalents but for others you just “rest” in darkness and stillness until some far-off Judgement Day when all souls are brought into God’s presence to be assessed. For some, only a Great Nothingness awaits. And for some even calling what comes next as a Great Nothingness is still almost too certain of a description for what might await. Sometimes these afterlife schemes involve the idea of certain or potential punishment, too. I’ve read descriptions of these punishments described variously as eternal, temporary, fiery, cold, including severe torment, and as nothing more than full exclusion from the presence of God.

For me, it is certainly a lie any idea that suggests a real and concrete distinction between what I know to be life and others and myself and any idea of God. In fact, I think it’s the greatest lie ever – regardless of how you define or refuse to define “God.” With that in mind, I find it hard to believe in any conceptual afterlife that too closely resembles the life I have now. There can be no streets of gold in heaven. No refreshing streams. No harps played by angels. No crowns to toss as offerings of praise to Jesus’ feet. That’s too much like life now, and anything like like now cannot be “Heaven.” For the most part, I feel the same applies to to ideas of Hell or a tormented afterlife. I’ll be surprised, and frankly quite pissed, if I get to a Hell to find actual flames and gnarled angels ripping my flesh off. I seriously doubt I’ve anything to be concerned about. One space I’ll allow some wiggle room, however, is a concept of Hell defined as total absence from your idea of God – that truly sounds like Hell. But it’s also impossible, so… Whatever.

Something people in my life might have heard me say, and which relates directly to this topic, is what I plan to do after I’m done with my current body. The answer? Weather. I haven’t quite yet worked out the details, but once I’m done being “Joshua” I’ll be weather. I don’t plan to be a hurricane or a tornado or a breeze, precisely. Just a part of the planet’s bigger energetic body. Plus weather is beautiful. All weather is. It’s also impartial and ego-free, etc… Everywhere and nowhere. So… yeah. Weather, though, is a pretty concrete idea. You can picture weather and touch it. You can see it. Kinda like dumb Heaven or Hell, weather is awfully sensory. But I’m cool with it. Nothing about the idea of becoming weather implies I’ll be weather forever. Nothing about it portrays some kind of blissful version of life of Earth.

In Heartfulness / Sahaj Marg, we’re working our way to the Center or Central Region. It’s where we all came from and to where we all are due to return. Humanity has called it by a bajillion names – some of which are more specific and others, which I’m more inclined toward, are less so… Names like The One, and Source, and The Truth. And I think people who think about god are fine even with more abstract titles like The One as a way to identify That. But to continue deeper into this, what does it mean to return to our original and shared Source? A lot of people might say that it means your soul get’s back to where it came from but with the understanding that “you” remain “you” once you have arrived at That. And this is where my understanding diverges.

It makes sense to me that when we actually return to the Source, we become That. You don’t go there and then find that you have arrived. You make your way there and … ARE that There-ness. It feels weird to think that eventually, with enough effort, I’ll become a region. The Region. The Central Region. The Centre. The Source. I’ll be the Thing that everyone issues from which is as much a place as it is a thing. How fantastic is this?

I’m including below some quotes – most of which are from the Complete Works of Ram Chandra – and which I think help to illustrate this idea. These came to me as Daily Reflections emails with various themes.

“With all the innumerable forms, from the finest to the grossest, man is in existence in the material world as a true copy of the universe or the entire manifestation of God, represented by a complete circle from the outermost circumference to the innermost centre or zero. Now, the innermost centre, or zero, of a man’s existence and that of God’s manifestation is really the same. Realisation of God means the same as the realisation of Self, and vice versa.” –Taken from the book “Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Vol. 1 (1st Indian edn., 1989)”, Chapter “Realisation”, pg. 95, by Babuji Maharaj

“In fact spirituality begins where religion ends. Religion is only a preliminary stage for preparing a man for his march on the path of freedom. When he has set his foot on the path, he is then beyond the limits of religion. The end of religion is the beginning of spirituality; the end of spirituality is the beginning of Reality, and the end of Reality is the real Bliss. When that too is gone, we have reached the destination.” –Taken from the book “Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Vol. 1 (1st Indian edn., 1989)”, Chapter “Religion”, pg. 13, by Babuji Maharaj

“There are three stages recognized in Sahaj Marg. Liberation is the lowest – actually, Babuji has called it a toy in the hands of a saint. Then comes the stage of Realization, and the final stage is mergence with the Infinite – what we call “Layavastha.” –Taken from the book “The Fruit of the Tree”, Chapter “Question and Answers VIII”, pg. 2008, by Revered Charij

“Vairagya (Renunciation) can be attained only when one is wholly diverted towards the Divine. When it is so, one naturally becomes disinterested in his own self including everything connected with it. Thus he loses not only the body-consciousness but subsequently the soul-consciousness as well.” –Taken from the book “Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Vol. 1 (1st Indian edn., 1989)”, Chapter “Way to Realisation (Role of the Abhyasi)”, pg. 339, by Babuji Maharaj

“Now I come to the point [of] what the real goal of life should be. It is generally admitted that the goal must be the highest; otherwise, progress up to the final limit is doubtful. The final point of approach is where every kind of force, power, activity or even stimulus disappears and a man enters a state of complete negation, Nothingness, or Zero. That is the highest point of approach, or the final goal of life.” –Taken from the book “Complete Works of Ram Chandra, Vol. 1 (1st Indian edn., 1989)”, Chapter “The Goal of Life”, pg. 24, by Babuji Maharaj

Thank you for reading!

Aum Shanti | Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha

 

 

 

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Madea

I mention Facebook a lot here on Sthapati Samanvayam. It’s really the only social media I used as much as I do and I find myself kinda getting bored of it. Still, there are plenty of times when something shared by someone else really hits me and this happened recently.

A video, from I-don’t-know-what, was shared and it was of the character Madea speaking to a young man who apparently had some life questions needing answered – apparently relating to others in his life. Lately I’ve been dealing with a tough situation in my own life. The situation is tough because it involves bad behavior and it involves a very old and good friend of mine, and it involves living situations which are changing due to the bad behavior.

These changes came about, initially, because of a conversation I started which demanded change and provided guidelines within which change was expected. This kind of event is one of the joys and burdens of being the “mean daddy” in your own home where others live. All in all, things are playing out almost as expected (my foresight can be REAL keen sometimes) and about as good as they were going to play out. Despite the challenging situation, itself, I’m convinced the future will be better because of this.

All of this, though, has really gotten me thinking about people in my life: Why they are here, why they come and go, why I allow bullshit from one person but no one else, Why I allow bullshit from others but not someone specific, … lots of “whys.” This relates directly to Madea’s wisdom. Those answers will come, by and by, and I’m not exactly worried about them. What does come to mind as something to be watchful of are the impressions these events and people make on me. Certainly, to some degree (whether large or small), we are who we are because of everything that led us to where we are right now. The jobs we’ve held. The choices me made or didn’t. The people we know and love … or don’t love. All of these things, along the way, leave marks on us. For anyone familiar with the concept of karma, this ties in directly to that – but that’s for another post.

The Sahaj path of Raja Yoga and Heartfulness practice have made me very aware of these marks or impressions and how far they reach and what some of their effects are. These impressions, whether we’re aware of them or not, are at the foundation of our thought patterns, actions, and reactionary habits. I think Madea’s wisdom to the young man is totally something I would say or have said to others when giving advice – something I am asked to do on a regular basis. But sometimes, when you’re so close to situational epicenters, it can be tough to know when to apply advice you have given to others. That happens with me sometimes. Not usually, but sometimes.

At any rate, I’ve included the video in this post for your viewing pleasure and potentially your betterment. I hope you enjoy Madea’s simple but profound advice and use it to become aware impressions you might carry.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

 

 

Dayton Vaishnavs

A couple Sundays ago a friend and I went to Dayton, Ohio. Our original plan was to venture to Tennessee. There’s a temple of Ganesha there which I adore and the drive is only about four hours – not bad for a day trip. Dayton, however, has a temple that I only recently learned of while in one of the city’s suburbs at the Sahaj Marg ashram. Truly, the Dayton temple isn’t far from the ashram, which is in Beaver Creek.

We took a single interstate almost the whole way there – a journey lasting only a little over two hours. The difference in distance between Indy / Dayton and Indy / Nashville (Tennessee) was definitely a deciding factor for us. We left out pretty early for a Sunday morning and actually arrived at the temple with just enough time to stroll around the temple grounds for a bit and take some pictures before going inside for the start of the Venkateshwar abhishekam.

The first thing that struck me is how small the whole area is. I think the temple itself as well as the grounds around it (including parking lot) could probably fit in the same space as the Indy temple’s area – and have at least 30% left over. The building itself is nice enough to look at and the shape seems relatively modern and conducive to worship as well as community functions. The gopurams on top of the worship part of the building are … diminutive.  Even for the smaller size of the building, they felt too small. Additionally, there’s a free-standing gopuram out front of the main temple that looks unfinished and also is in a degree of disrepair. It was surrounded by yellow, plastic caution tape. No work seems to be in progress though, so I’m a little confused as to what exactly is going on.

Soon enough we both made our way inside the temple… through the basement, which is where most congregants have to enter. We removed our shoes and were greeted right away by another devotee who recognized us as first-timers. We were permitted to snoop around the basement a bit and take some pictures. After about five minutes we found our way upstairs into the main worship area. This area was obviously far more ornate than the basement, but like most other aspects of the whole temple even the worship hall was quite compact. There are only four or five garbas total, and a number of the deities which are usually in respective garbas in other temples I’ve been to are simply raised images on the exterior walls of these handful of garbas.

We made it upstairs just in time for the abhishekam of Shri Venkateshwar to begin. Gladly, we seated ourselves and watched everything unfold. I think this is actually the first such abhishekam for Shri Venkateshwar in which He is the temple’s main deity. I’m used to seeing Him all gussied up and wearing golden hands and tons of malas. The form itself is quite a bit smaller when all the fancy is wiped away.

There were times throughout the abhishekam when a quick aarti is performed. In my home temple, most of these involve the light being “offered” to the congregants after being offered to the deity. The priest will finish offering it to the god and then turn and face the crowd to do the same, at which time we all raise a hand or two to received the light and wash it over ourselves. Congregational Light Abhishekam / Aarti for the god within each of us. This didn’t happen at the Dayton temple – not even once. It’s hard for me not to feel slighted in some way, but I imagine this is attributed to a difference in puja style or something? Surely Vishnu would be cool sharing His Light with each of us, so I don’t understand why the priests didn’t facilitate that.

After the abhishekam, everyone lined up in front of the garba for Shri Venkateshwar… half of us on one side of the carpet leading to him and half on the other side, forming a kind of human hallway. The priests made their way down both sides of the aisle to distribute prasadam and other blessings. When this was finished, we meandered a bit to have another look at things and then left to get lunch. After eating, we were on our way out of Dayton when we spotted a Half Price Books store – one I’d noticed when I was at the Sahaj ashram a few weeks prior. Naturally, we stopped in. I was lucky enough to come across, and buy, a New Testament in Pennsylvania Dutch, which isn’t Dutch at all. I’m happy to add this to my home library since it’s the only text I’ve ever happened upon in the language and it’s also the only “Bible” I have which is strictly the New Testament.

Thus concluded the day trip to Dayton, Ohio. I’ve since shared this story with my manager at work, a lovely Hindu woman with whom I often discuss things like this. She told me of a number of other Hindu temples in Ohio and I plan to visit them each as I am able.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

 

 

From a distance...

From a distance…

Getting closer!

Getting closer!

Getting closer

Getting closer

Finally arriving

Finally arriving

Temple outside

Temple outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside

From the outside - the free-standing "gopuram" which is in disrepair.

From the outside – the free-standing “gopuram” which is in disrepair.

Kalpa-Vrksh listing major donors

Kalpa-Vrksh listing major donors

From inside - Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside – Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside - Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside – Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside - Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside – Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside - Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside – Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside - Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside – Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside - Venkatesh abhishekam

From inside – Venkatesh abhishekam

Doors are closed - God's getting dressed!

Doors are closed – God’s getting dressed!

Doors are closed - God's getting dressed!

Doors are closed – God’s getting dressed!

Garuda

Garuda

Garuda

Garuda

:) Just us

🙂 Just us

Doors are closed - God's getting dressed!

Doors are closed – God’s getting dressed!

View of temple interior to the right of Shri Venkateshwar - Ram Parivar

View of temple interior to the right of Shri Venkateshwar – Ram Parivar

Doors are closed - God's getting dressed!

Doors are closed – God’s getting dressed!

View of temple interior to the right of Shri Venkateshwar - Shri Tripurasundari

View of temple interior to the right of Shri Venkateshwar – Shri Tripurasundari

20160306_120144

Navagraha

Navagraha

:) Just us

🙂 Just us

Siva lingam - Siva lingam

Siva lingam – Siva lingam

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

20160306_120439

View of temple interior to the right of Shri Venkateshwar - Ram Parivar, and some kid ringin' a bell

View of temple interior to the right of Shri Venkateshwar – Ram Parivar, and some kid ringin’ a bell

Lord Ganesha's Name plate --- not at the front of his garbgrha, but on a nearby window sill

Lord Ganesha’s Name plate — not at the front of his garbgrha, but on a nearby window sill

God of the Child

In Christian and other Abrahamic theology “child-like” faith is practically something to aspire to. You can read the New Testament and find a number of references to this. For many, this might sound like a bad thing. After all, the Bible also says to put away childish things when you are no longer a child. So why are we supposed to retain child-like faith? I don’t think I know the full answer, but I think the start of the answer is that children don’t often make things complicated in the same way adults do.

Grown-ups often, both knowingly and unknowingly, pollute things with emotions and thoughts that shouldn’t necessarily apply to a situation or question or … whatever. We carry things with us long after their usefulness and long after it’s healthy to have that baggage with us. We toss in politics and religious preferences and self-interest. Kids don’t usually, and when they do they certainly don’t do it in the ways we do or to the degree we do.

Back in January I came across a post on a blog, Avolara. You can read the post for yourself by clicking here. To me, this is a well written post and stems from a question which came from a child about the creation of everything – specifically, from the Christian creation story. The writer starts with that but goes in a Hindu direction with it. And that where the beauty really starts to shine through the child’s question. Something I was surprised to see not included in this post is the Brahmarpanam, which I think would have tied in nicely and further illustrated what the author was sharing with us.

Anyway, read the post or don’t. But do it. Definitely do it.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

Work

It seems like forever ago since the last issue of Hinduism Today came to my mailbox. It was the January / February / March of 2016 issue and was probably delivered sometime late November or early December. It’s now the beginning of March and if the trend holds, the next issue for 2016 should arrive sometime in the next two weeks. I’m not really complaining because it’s taken me this whole time to get most of the way through the current issue but I’ll admit that, as the newest issue comes due, I’m nervous it won’t arrive at my address – another trend I’ve seen in the past.

Anyway, a big chunk of the current issue speaks about karma yoga and I thought to share bits from it. These bit stuck with me and maybe they’ll stick with you, too.

It seems that the first real obstacle to one becoming a karma yogi is getting beyond the idea that work and worship are separate. When performed in the right spirit, all actions become spiritualized and then there are no truly secular activities. The following quote from the magazine reminded me of how my own path with Sahaj Marg / Heartfulness really helps each abhyasi to become a karma yogi. “Our daily work contributes to our spiritual progress just as much as attending pujas in the temple, worshiping in our home shrine, going on a pilgrimage, singing bhajans, meditating, or studying scripture.” – HT Magazine, Jan/Feb/March 2016

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

“When we are stable in the viewpoint of performing all work with the aim of reaching God, this naturally leads to a deeper perspective that each task we are doing is an offering to the Lord just as placing a flower in front of a murti or picture of the deity is an offering. This observance is known as Ishvara Pranidhana, one of Patanjali’s five niyamas.”

“Hinduism’s four yoga paths because household terms in the West when Swami Vivekananda articulated Adi Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta philosophy to Americans… Within Shankara’s writings, however, it is clear that in his view jnana yoga alone leads to the ultimate. ‘The conclusion of the Gita and all the Upanishads is this, that moksha can be obtained by knowledge alone, unaided (by action).’ A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism echoes this stance in its definition of karma yoga: Nishkama-karma (ordained actions performed without the taint of selfish desires) purifies the mind – this is called cittasuddhi – making it fit for paths of either jnana or bhakti.”

“How we view the world is central to karma yoga. As Swami Krishnananda of the Divine Life Society stated, ‘We see outside what we actually are inside.’ To some, the world is a place where we have the chance to pursue pleasure; to others it provides opportunity to acquire wealth. Others focus on the many problems in the world and categorized it as troubled. To a karma yogi, it is none of the above. For him it takes on a spiritual nature.

“To approach the wisdom of the Upanishads and jnana yoga, the understanding of our true nature, we must first develop the attitude of karma yoga – that we are not the doer.”

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti