'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta
FIVE VERSES ON SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. Written by Sri Adi Shankaraachaarya. This is the third posting on this text. Please ensure you have recapped the first two before commencing. (The label with name of text will aid your revision.) Why the emphasis on revision and repetition? Even accomplished musicians know that without regular practice, going over the work at length, their performance will fall short. Even then, what separates a competent musician from an outstanding one is the ability to sit within the music - to somehow be a part of it and not just a practitioner, a performer. There is an anecdote of Gurudev having been approached by an older devotee with the complaint that, despite studying the Bhagavad Gita thoroughly some 15 times, he felt that he was no closer to spiritual peace. Gurudev thundered "Fifteen times you have been through the Gita??? Have you even let the Gita go through you once?!!!"
Shloka One; Paada Five.
Wash away the hoards of sins in the bosom. This is a phrase familiar! In spiritual pursuit a key component of improvement is purification. Often in biblical reference, the 'be clean' quotes are taken at the physical level. Yes keeping the home and the body hygienic is certainly something which must be done; but a clean dress does not necessarily equate to spiritual worthiness.
Shock! Horror! Then what does it mean this 'cleanliness is next to Godliness'? Cleanliness of mind, purity of heart, clarity of thinking.
An action is initiated in the here and now when our BMI meet the environment as determined by the fields of experience, OET (see labels). No action can be considered ended at the point of contact between these two fields. In time the action manifests results ( /karma-phala). As an end-product of every selfish act, a tendency is left in our personality which prompts us to repeat similar acts. These tendencies, accumulated from past action, are called /vaasana-s (or sometimes as /samskaara-s). These vaasanas, creating more and more agitation, dragging our attention to the external, can be called /paapa (sins). Through selfless, dedicated actions, performed with an inner personality sincerely God-centred, these vaasanas can be exhausted and thus we 'cleanse our bosom'. Learn the acts of apology and forgiveness; make a pact with yourself not to repeat the acts which have blotted your karma account. If you have your mind focused on the spiritual goal, on the highest humanitarian precept, there is little room left for paapa, and we rewrite our negative vaasanas with positive traits, clambering our way out of the well of our own making.
Recognise that the pleasures of sense-objects are riddled with pain. On choose-day this week you were introduced to the term 'samsaara'; the ocean of life. As with many Sanskrit terms, it has much more depth than this standard interpretation. Samsaara encompasses all within the world; all Objects, all Emotions in response to objects and all Thoughts/Transactions which are triggered for acquistion. It is the cycle of up and down and in and out, of birth, life journey, death, rebirth…
In this line Bhasya-kaara points out the rocks upon which our spiritual 'ship' can be wrecked. By referring to 'sense-objects' rather than the more general term, the guru is making us aware that everything external to us is a potential trap, enslaving us in the material. Samsaara cannot be avoided (until moksha), but the objects within it can. Nobody is denying pleasure in total. This would be impossible and anyway would then remove something of the reward system which keeps people afloat in samsaara. No. What is intended is that we must now apply our viveka and vairagya in full measure. The trap lies in constantly seeking to repeat an experience of pleasure to the level where the pursuit becomes part of that storm on the ocean; until joy is obtained we endure what we consider to be misery. To acquire the objects and to create the conducive atmosphere for their enjoyments is a long chain of endless strife and struggle, at once very exhausting and extremely fatiguing. Then comes the actual moment of pleasure, so fleeting. This is followed by various reactions from simply losing interest, through disappointments, regret or even disgust.
Everything is impermanent. We have fallen into a trap of joy bursts which convinces us that happiness, too, is a temporary thing. It is not! Happiness is a condition which is always available, if we but permit it to reveal itself to us. Once we start applying our vivek-goggles, we start to enjoy less the objects and start to find joy in simpler, more subtle things… the flight of a bird, the turn of leaf, the sound of the breeze kissing the earth… and by seeking these rather than the material we are starting the inward journey which is life's purpose. We begin to understand that by removing our hankering for the sense-objects, not only our mind quietens, but also the very senses which have been agitating it.
Take this further and begin emptying then retraining the mind in its expectation of pleasures; mind, being the mischief it is, does require something upon which to work. If not the pursuit of the external, then give it the internal. Give it the chance to rid itself of the corruption of the material and purify with the exercises which will lead to the permanent happiness found in the eternal, divine truth.
"...But, aachaarya-ji, what bout such and such or this and that, are these wicked?" Often the question is posed in regard to music or other healthy activity, where joy can certainly be found. Understand this, joy in and of itself is not the error. The error is in believing the joy is a product to be obtained. It is the investment we have in that worldly joy which must be measured. Is it enhancing our spiritual purpose or is it creating 'negative vibes'? More than this though, this is about the acquisitive side of our nature. "If I don't have that I shall be miserable." We set ourselves up with comparisons and decisions about what we do not have or how we are not feeling, rather than developing contentment and accepting what arrives and not at all worrying about what is not here.
Having made the step of applying discernment and emptying the mind of worldly desire, what then is left? It was said before, mind needs something to munch upon, so feed it with saadhana; the daily readings, the attention to thoughts and deeds, the dedication of everything to the higher, seeking to purify… then turn to the true purpose. In terms of dharma and aashramas, the early paadas could be considered as addressed to the brahmachaarya stage of life, these middle paadas to the grhastha-ashrama and now we are approaching vaana-prastha with paada seven.
We shall continue this next week; in the meantime continue with saadhana set already. You are encouraged to re-read the posts. Feel free to print them off and make notes, mark your questions - build some courage and bring your questions to the comments box! No question is too small or too basic. Sometimes we do not put our hand up because we have fear; some idea in our heads that the question is stupid, or that the teacher will ridicule or that peers will sneer. Put all of that out of mind!!!