The Qualities of a Spiritual Life ~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Life is more than matter. If it were just matter, there would be no need for comfort. Matter does not feel comfort or discomfort, beauty or ugliness, love or compassion, joy or sorrow. Will a chair ever feel sorry or happy? No, matter does not have these finer values. They belong to the realm of the spirit. But life is also more than spirit. If it were just spirit, there would be no need for water, food, or rest. Human life is a combination of both matter and spirit.

The nature of the spirit

Spirit experiences and expresses values. Values are feelings and emotions — that which cannot be captured totally by words or understood by the intellect. The goal of the spiritual path is to understand the spiritual dimension of life and live fully all the values that the spirit represents. What are those values? Peace, love, joy, beauty, unlimited knowledge, and the capacity to understand both mind and matter.

Comfort: A quality of consciousness

Whatever one does is directed towards one goal, happiness or comfort. Often people think that comfort comes in a material way, through matter alone. Comfort is a quality of consciousness. To some degree it does depend on matter, but to a greater degree it depends on attitude and understanding.

The true nature of the spirit is comprehension

You listen, you understand and you absorb. Who is understanding? Who is absorbing? It is the spirit in your body that is taking in the knowledge. And this knowledge is not coming through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch alone. It is also coming from inside as intuition.

The very nature of consciousness is knowledge

You can say that at every level of consciousness, knowledge is present. And consciousness is present! If it were nothing, it could not be present. It is something, yet it is not finite. You cannot measure consciousness, so it is present and infinite.

The nature of your consciousness is peace: You are love

Consciousness is peace. You are peace, you are truth, and you are energy, walking, moving, talking, sitting. The “self” is energy and the “self” is knowledge, the knowing and the knower. This consciousness is love, you are love. Understanding and living this is the spiritual life. Life attains its richest form through the spiritual dimension. Without it life becomes very shallow and you are unhappy, dependent, depressed and miserable.

The effects of the spiritual dimension on society

This is a great sense of belongingness, responsibility, compassion and caring for the whole of humanity. The spiritual dimension, in its true form, breaks the narrow boundaries of caste, creed, religion and nationality. Wars will be eliminated only through spiritual understanding.

The spiritual path is not an escape from life

Actually, the spiritual path makes life more difficult! In India people think the spiritual life is easy — go to an ashram where you don’t have to work hard. No! The spiritual path is not an escape from hard work or sincere action, just as social service is not an escape to a comfortable life. In both situations you have to put your heart and soul into your actions and be ready to give a hundred percent of yourself. The spiritual life will bring you enormous joy, more contentment, more peace and more energy than you can find, but it’s not an escape.

The spiritual path is not an escape from responsibility

The spiritual path means taking responsibility. If you think it is difficult to manage your children and your spouse, you will be given more people to care for. If you are ready to take responsibility for 20 people, 2,000 people, 20 million people, then you are on the path. The spiritual path is not an escape from responsibility, but taking responsibility.

The spiritual path is not an escape from hard work

Intelligent, effective work is part of the spiritual life. When you are working hard you may think you deserve compassion. I say that if you are working hard and doing it with intelligence, then you need appreciation, not compassion. If someone is taking five hours to complete something that can be done in half an hour, it doesn’t need compassion.

Knowing peace

Another aspect of spiritual life is peace — knowing that peace is your nature. At any moment, in any place, you can just sit and let go, knowing that inside you there is a pure clear space that’s vast and deep. That inner space is what you are. Feeling this is knowing your spiritual dimension. ”I have come from peace, I am in peace, I will go back to peace. Peace is my origin and my goal.” This inner affirmation or experience makes you a seeker.

A sense of sacredness

Still another aspect of spiritual life is a sense of sacredness. When you have a deep sense of thankfulness combined with regard and respect for everything that comes to you in life, it brings a sense of sacredness. In sacredness there is awareness. Your mind is fully present in fear, anger or sacredness.

Service and silence

Silence heals and rejuvenates. Silence gives you depth and stability and brings creativity. Service brings the dynamic experience of heart. It creates a sense of belongingness. Lack of service can land a person in depression. Service alone can bring contentment in life, but service without silence tires you. Service without spirituality will be shallow and cannot be sustained for a long period of time. The deeper the silence, the more dynamic the outer activity becomes. Both are essential in life.

Have confidence

Have confidence in yourself. One who does not have confidence cannot achieve anything. Confidence clears doubt. Doubt is the opposite of confidence. Once you eliminate the negative, you will see that the positive has already happened. When doubt clears, confidence appears. So to gain confidence in yourself, you must understand what doubt is.

The nature of doubt

If you observe the nature of doubt, it is always about something that is positive. You doubt the goodness of other people, never their bad qualities. You doubt your own capabilities, never your incapabilities. On the spiritual path, you learn to handle things with intuition and inner freedom. I don’t say don’t doubt. I say doubt as much as you can. That will help you get through it before progressing further.

Three Qualities(Gunas) and Four Vedas – by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Is Believing in Past Lives Spiritually Evolved or Spiritually Stunted?

Yep, I believe in reincarnation. Does that make me better, or more content, than those who don’t?

It is often as I’m telling a story, something about life and the bigger picture, that I approach the subject with a bit of trepidation. Almost apologizing, mumbling just a bit, I admit the reason that I agree with some general observation is because I believe there is more than just this life.

Of course, it matters who I’m talking to. Tribe members can often be noted from afar, and they nod their heads quickly in agreement. Others are just as obvious, and of course, those are the ones with whom I tend to end up in these types of conversations. Their pupils constrict as they attempt to hide their judgment, or they go ahead and more openly question my assuredness of lives before and after this one.

It doesn’t necessarily matter that I only truly started believing in past lives about six years ago, though I often throw this fact in the conversation for good measure. That before then, I’m sure my eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly at those who off-handedly mentioned a wound left over from a sword to the gut during the fall of the Roman empire, or a burning at the stake during Salem witch-hunting times. That I can still stand outside of myself sometimes, understanding that if the day a person was born and the moment they die is all they believe they’ve got, the world looks a hell of a lot different.

A lot more depressing, really.

Sure, I get the scientific, it’s-just-as-crazy-as-saying-a-big-man-in-the-sky-made-this-all-in-seven-days perspective. I can see how people see a body is buried in the ground and eaten up by the insects that live there (though the whole quantum idea of energy never dying, only changing form chucks a wrench in the system). Guess if you don’t believe in the soul, or energy, simply being fodder for the bacteria makes the most sense.

But I guess my question is, why believe in just one life/one death?

The Science of Life and Death

I searched around the web a bit for “scientific evidence” of past lives, and surprisingly came across more than a few booksand articles pointing toward “proof” of reincarnation.

Even a website dedicated to “small-caps stocks, options, and high-growth opportunities” offered up an article on the work of Dr. Weiss, a Yale-trained psychotherapist, who kinda fell into research about past lives. The author of the article, Jonathan Kolber, wrote:

I personally had an experience in college that seemed to fit the bill…most interesting to me, the images explained some anomalies in my life and the information gained changed my perspective on some things. Since childhood, I had harbored hostile attitudes towards France, a country with which I had no apparent connection whatsoever. I regarded the French as irrational and prone to mob rule. I also had a phobia of being in crowds.

After seemingly “remembering” a life as an insignificant member of the nobility in France, apparently born in 1756, all of my irrational attitudes disappeared. And for the first time in my life, I was able to enjoy vacationing in Quebec and listening to the French language spoken.

He goes on to discuss possibilities around spontaneous healing, which Dr. Weiss has seen occur time and time again (though by no means every single time). I was reminded of my own experience of seeing an intuitive, psychic, whathaveyou, and her telling me a story that felt like a massive punch in the gut. My friends who have to stretch far in the direction of suspending disbelief did their best to be supportive when I told them my lifelong (well, at least since I was a teenager) fear of being raped came not from an experience in this lifetime, but from being assaulted and left to die last time around. I apparently was around 23 when it happened.

In this life, at 23, I began an intense battle with candida overgrowth, which is often thought to be emotionally linked with sexual abuse or repression. Although it was by no means spontaneous healing, hearing what had happened to the body my soul last inhabited felt like skidding to a stop in the fight.

Why Not?

I can’t help but wonder whether or not it’s true, doesn’t it just feel better to think this one life isn’t all there is?

That each of us have our ups and downs in order to get to a more evolved place? That those who seem to have so much in this life, and those who seem to have so little, will have their karma switched next time around?

That it’s not all for nought?

Interestingly, just as I was writing this piece, I came across a Huffington Post article by spiritual writer and psychologist Mariana Caplan. Titled 10 Spiritual Transmitted Diseases, she points out our often unconscious ways of spiritually bypassing the hard work we have to do throughout life to continue to grow. One STP struck me in particular:

Spiritual Pride: Spiritual pride arises when the practitioner, through years of labored effort, has actually attained a certain level of wisdom and uses that attainment to justify shutting down to further experience. A feeling of “spiritual superiority” is another symptom of this spiritually transmitted disease. It manifests as a subtle feeling that “I am better, more wise and above others because I am spiritual.”

So I can’t help but wonder, is my belief in more than just this life not only a way of surviving the hardships I face (and watch others handle in even larger quantities), but am I employing spiritual pride at the same time? I certainly can feel superior to those who think this is it, and feel sorry for the depression I can’t help but believe they harbor somewhere deep inside. Partly, this stems from my own past experiences of having a lack of something-to-believe-in. But is it also steeped in feeling better about myself, and my purpose, because I now do have something to believe in?

Maybe more importantly, how does this effect my interactions with the “others” who don’t believe the way I do?

About the Author

Christine Garvin holds a Masters degree in Holistic Health Education and is a certified Nutrition Educator. She is co-editor of Confronting Love and has written for a variety of health, travel, and relationship sites and magazines. When she is not writing, she gives wellness consultations and choreographs and performs hip-hop and bhangra routines. She currently calls Black Mountain, NC home. Follow her on Twitter @livingholistic or on her FB page.

10 Spiritually Transmitted Diseases ~ Mariana Caplan

It is a jungle out there, and it is no less true about spiritual life than any other aspect of life. Do we really think that just because someone has been meditating for five years, or doing 10 years of yoga practice, that they will be any less neurotic than the next person? At best, perhaps they will be a little bit more aware of it. A little bit.

It is for this reason that I spent the last 15 years of my life researching and writing books on cultivating discernment on the spiritual path in all the gritty areas–power, sex, enlightenment, gurus, scandals, psychology, neurosis — as well as earnest, but just plain confused and unconscious, motivations on the path. My partner (author and teacher Marc Gafni) and I are developing a new series of books, courses and practices to bring further clarification to these issues.

Several years ago, I spent a summer living and working in South Africa. Upon my arrival I was instantly confronted by the visceral reality that I was in the country with the highest murder rate in the world, where rape was common and more than half the population was HIV-positive — men and women, gays and straights alike.

As I have come to know hundreds of spiritual teachers and thousands of spiritual practitioners through my work and travels, I have been struck by the way in which our spiritual views, perspectives and experiences become similarly “infected” by “conceptual contaminants” — comprising a confused and immature relationship to complex spiritual principles can seem as invisible and insidious as a sexually transmitted disease.

The following 10 categorizations are not intended to be definitive but are offered as a tool for becoming aware of some of the most common spiritually transmitted diseases.

1. Fast-Food Spirituality: Mix spirituality with a culture that celebrates speed, multitasking and instant gratification and the result is likely to be fast-food spirituality. Fast-food spirituality is a product of the common and understandable fantasy that relief from the suffering of our human condition can be quick and easy. One thing is clear, however: spiritual transformation cannot be had in a quick fix.

2. Faux Spirituality: Faux spirituality is the tendency to talk, dress and act as we imagine a spiritual person would. It is a kind of imitation spirituality that mimics spiritual realization in the way that leopard-skin fabric imitates the genuine skin of a leopard.

3. Confused Motivations: Although our desire to grow is genuine and pure, it often gets mixed with lesser motivations, including the wish to be loved, the desire to belong, the need to fill our internal emptiness, the belief that the spiritual path will remove our suffering and spiritual ambition, the wish to be special, to be better than, to be “the one.”

4. Identifying with Spiritual Experiences:
In this disease, the ego identifies with our spiritual experience and takes it as its own, and we begin to believe that we are embodying insights that have arisen within us at certain times. In most cases, it does not last indefinitely, although it tends to endure for longer periods of time in those who believe themselves to be enlightened and/or who function as spiritual teachers.

5. The Spiritualized Ego:
This disease occurs when the very structure of the egoic personality becomes deeply embedded with spiritual concepts and ideas. The result is an egoic structure that is “bullet-proof.” When the ego becomes spiritualized, we are invulnerable to help, new input, or constructive feedback. We become impenetrable human beings and are stunted in our spiritual growth, all in the name of spirituality.

6. Mass Production of Spiritual Teachers:
There are a number of current trendy spiritual traditions that produce people who believe themselves to be at a level of spiritual enlightenment, or mastery, that is far beyond their actual level. This disease functions like a spiritual conveyor belt: put on this glow, get that insight, and — bam! — you’re enlightened and ready to enlighten others in similar fashion. The problem is not that such teachers instruct but that they represent themselves as having achieved spiritual mastery.

7. Spiritual Pride: Spiritual pride arises when the practitioner, through years of labored effort, has actually attained a certain level of wisdom and uses that attainment to justify shutting down to further experience. A feeling of “spiritual superiority” is another symptom of this spiritually transmitted disease. It manifests as a subtle feeling that “I am better, more wise and above others because I am spiritual.”

8. Group Mind:
Also described as groupthink, cultic mentality or ashram disease, group mind is an insidious virus that contains many elements of traditional co-dependence. A spiritual group makes subtle and unconscious agreements regarding the correct ways to think, talk, dress, and act. Individuals and groups infected with “group mind” reject individuals, attitudes, and circumstances that do not conform to the often unwritten rules of the group.

9. The Chosen-People Complex: The chosen people complex is not limited to Jews. It is the belief that “Our group is more spiritually evolved, powerful, enlightened and, simply put, better than any other group.” There is an important distinction between the recognition that one has found the right path, teacher or community for themselves, and having found The One.

10. The Deadly Virus: “I Have Arrived”: This disease is so potent that it has the capacity to be terminal and deadly to our spiritual evolution. This is the belief that “I have arrived” at the final goal of the spiritual path. Our spiritual progress ends at the point where this belief becomes crystallized in our psyche, for the moment we begin to believe that we have reached the end of the path, further growth ceases.

“The essence of love is perception,” according to the teachings of Marc Gafni, “Therefore the essence of self love is self perception. You can only fall in love with someone you can see clearly–including yourself. To love is to have eyes to see. It is only when you see yourself clearly that you can begin to love yourself.”

It is in the spirit of Marc’s teaching that I believe that a critical part of learning discernment on the spiritual path is discovering the pervasive illnesses of ego and self-deception that are in all of us. That is when we need a sense of humor and the support of real spiritual friends. As we face our obstacles to spiritual growth, there are times when it is easy to fall into a sense of despair and self-diminishment and lose our confidence on the path. We must keep the faith, in ourselves and in others, in order to really make a difference in this world.

Adapted from Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path (Sounds True)

Mariana Caplan, PhD, is the author of seven books and numerous articles on cutting edge topics in Western spirituality, including the seminal book, Halfway Up the Mountain: the Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment and her newest release, The Guru Question: The Perils and Rewards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher (Sounds True, June 2011). Her previous release, Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path, won three national awards for best spiritual book of 2009. She is a psychotherapist specializing in spiritual issues and somatic and body-centered approaches to transformation, and a professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies.

She has spent the past two decades researching and practicing in the world’s great mystical traditions, and has lived in villages in India, Central and South America, and Europe. She has interviewed and spent time with many of the great mystics and thinkers of our time, both East and West. Mariana resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has a private practice in counseling in Marin County. She is a lifelong student and practitioner of yoga.
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Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story’

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking says there is no room for an afterlife in his view of the workings of the cosmos.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the cosmologist shares his thoughts on death, M-theory, human purpose and our chance existence.

A belief that heaven or an afterlife awaits us is a “fairy story” for people afraid of death, Stephen Hawking has said.

In a dismissal that underlines his firm rejection of religious comforts, Britain’s most eminent scientist said there was nothing beyond the moment when the brain flickers for the final time.

Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, shares his thoughts on death, human purpose and our chance existence in an exclusive interview with the Guardian today.

The incurable illness was expected to kill Hawking within a few years of its symptoms arising, an outlook that turned the young scientist to Wagner, but ultimately led him to enjoy life more, he has said, despite the cloud hanging over his future.

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he said.

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” he added.

Hawking’s latest comments go beyond those laid out in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, in which he asserted that there is no need for a creator to explain the existence of the universe. The book provoked a backlash from some religious leaders, including the chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, who accused Hawking of committing an “elementary fallacy” of logic.

The 69-year-old physicist fell seriously ill after a lecture tour in the US in 2009 and was taken to Addenbrookes hospital in an episode that sparked grave concerns for his health. He has since returned to his Cambridge department as director of research.

The physicist’s remarks draw a stark line between the use of God as a metaphor and the belief in an omniscient creator whose hands guide the workings of the cosmos.

In his bestselling 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Hawking drew on the device so beloved of Einstein, when he described what it would mean for scientists to develop a “theory of everything” – a set of equations that described every particle and force in the entire universe. “It would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God,” he wrote.

The book sold a reported 9 million copies and propelled the physicist to instant stardom. His fame has led to guest roles in The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Red Dwarf. One of his greatest achievements in physics is a theory that describes how black holes emit radiation.

In the interview, Hawking rejected the notion of life beyond death and emphasised the need to fulfil our potential on Earth by making good use of our lives. In answer to a question on how we should live, he said, simply: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”

In answering another, he wrote of the beauty of science, such as the exquisite double helix of DNA in biology, or the fundamental equations of physics.

Hawking responded to questions posed by the Guardian and a reader in advance of a lecture tomorrow at the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London, in which he will address the question: “Why are we here?”

In the talk, he will argue that tiny quantum fluctuations in the very early universe became the seeds from which galaxies, stars, and ultimately human life emerged. “Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in,” he said.

Hawking suggests that with modern space-based instruments, such as the European Space Agency’s Planck mission, it may be possible to spot ancient fingerprints in the light left over from the earliest moments of the universe and work out how our own place in space came to be.

His talk will focus on M-theory, a broad mathematical framework that encompasses string theory, which is regarded by many physicists as the best hope yet of developing a theory of everything.

M-theory demands a universe with 11 dimensions, including a dimension of time and the three familiar spatial dimensions. The rest are curled up too small for us to see. Evidence in support of M-theory might also come from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva.

One possibility predicted by M-theory is supersymmetry, an idea that says fundamental particles have heavy – and as yet undiscovered – twins, with curious names such as selectrons and squarks. Confirmation of supersymmetry would be a shot in the arm for M-theory and help physicists explain how each force at work in the universe arose from one super-force at the dawn of time.

Another potential discovery at the LHC, that of the elusive Higgs boson, which is thought to give mass to elementary particles, might be less welcome to Hawking, who has a long-standing bet that the long-sought entity will never be found at the laboratory.

Hawking will join other speakers at the London event, including the chancellor, George Osborne, and the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Science, truth and beauty: Hawking’s answers

What is the value in knowing “Why are we here?”

The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can’t solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.

You’ve said there is no reason to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper. Is our existence all down to luck?

Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.

So here we are. What should we do?

We should seek the greatest value of our action.

You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?

I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

What are the things you find most beautiful in science?

Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology, and the fundamental equations of physics.”

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