Maha Sivaratri: Who Am I?

The essence of Mahasivaratri is to have a deeper experience of God. 'Who Am I?' is explored going beyond being a human being into the soul nature. Give up identifying with your humanness. 'Now' is the time to claim your spiritual identity, the Transcendent Absolute Nature of God.

Unedited Transcript:

Good evening everyone. Delighted to have all of you this evening joining us for our Maha Sivaratri celebration. It's always a very special evening at the monastery here. And Gurudeva describes it in "Dancing with Siva," this is how he describes Maha Sivaratri. It's observed by: Chanting Siva's names, singing His praise, chanting Sri Rudram and bathing the Sivalingam; and of course these activities are common in all Siva's temples on this night. Gurudeva adds two more activities which you don't always run into: meditation, we got that one in already, and being near the monks as they strive to realize Parasiva, the transcendent aspect of God. So, to do that you probably have to go to a monastery or ashram.

But, it is considered auspicious to observe Sivaratri with monks and it's an interesting experience because it only happens a few times a year. Usually when you come into our temple here well there's one, sometimes two priests in the shrine, doing the puja. So you've all experienced that here so 9 AM puja one priest, sometimes two if we have a lot of people. But on a day like this all the monks gather and worship. So it's a rare experience when all the monks are actually worshiping. So you're joining in with all the monks in the monastery and worshiping with them. So that's what makes it a very special time.

So simply stated, the essence of the celebration of Mahasivaratri is to have a deeper experience of God than is normally available to us on other days. So to explain that in more depth I put together one of my talks which is on "Who Am I?" which was good, I had no idea what Gurudeva would talk about because I was not involved in choosing it, so fortunately our two subjects go hand in hand.

So, the best part of my talks is always the story. So I try to start with a story. So this is a Yogaswami story, a number of you have heard it, but it's a very good one and we can all relate to it. So this is a devotee of Yogaswami's who is having, some, was in a serious down situation. Was having lots of despicable thoughts, and really in the lower states of mind and very upset with himself, and that's where he was. And so, but being a devotee of Yogaswami he couldn't stay away from Yogaswami. He really had to go. But he was very worried that he would go to Yogaswami and Yogaswami would be aware of all of his thoughts. And then of course he'd be very embarrassed. So he went into the hut and his thought was if Yogaswami was meditating then he was in trouble but if Yogaswami wasn't he was all right. So he goes into the hut and Yogaswami's talking with devotees and swami looks at him and says this. This would be very disarming if someone said it to you I'm sure.

"I know everything from your head to your toes. [This is how he greets him.] I know all your thoughts; not only yours but everybody's. [Then he explains.] I am in everybody. You do not know this, because you think of yourself as being separate from others. Learn to consider yourself as the same as others and not separate." Then taking the camphor tray that was burning before Him, Yogaswami gave it to His devotee and said, "Take this light and considering everyone here to be Shiva, worship them."

So I like that story cause it, it shows how naturally Yogaswami was in the state of consciousness of being Siva permeating all. When you're Siva permeating all, there's only one person. Because Siva's consciousness is everywhere and your consciousness, therefore, is everywhere as Siva. So there's only one person. So you don't feel yourself separate from anyone.

So that raises the question about "Who Am I?" which gets into this idea of Oneness and Gurudeva answers it quite nicely in "Dancing with Siva" right at the beginning.

"Rishis proclaim that we are not our body, mind or emotions. We are divine souls on a wondrous journey. We came from God, live in God, and we are evolving into oneness with God. We are in truth, the Truth we seek."

That is a beautiful statement - "We came from God, live in God, and we are evolving into oneness with God." So that is the consciousness we all want to strive for. 'Evolving into' gives the sense that it is a gradual process, that as we have been stressing in the earlier talk; it is a gradual process that doesn't happen overnight.

Paramaguru Yogaswami also gives an insightful answer to the question: Who am I? It's simple enough Tamil, I can say two words of Tamil--Naan yaar? It the title of the letter: Naan yaar--"Who am I?" in one of his published letters.

"You are not the body, You are not the mind, nor the intellect, nor the will. You are the Atma. The atma is eternal. This is the conclusion at which great souls have arrived from their experience. Let this truth become well impressed on your mind."

In answer to the question, "Who am I?," if you are not on the spiritual path, you think you are just a human being. You think: "I've got a physical body, emotions, an intellect, that is who I am. I've got an ego, I'm smarter than some people, not as smart as others. Today I am sad. Later today, I'll be hungry. That is who I am, I'm just a human being." Thus the first step in deepening our answer to the question "Who Am I?" is to take us beyond the identity of a human being into our soul nature. Thus the first identity we have as a spiritual being is as an individual soul.

What is the difference between feeling like an individual soul and feeling like a human being? As an individual soul you feel spiritual, you feel perfect. So that's a key statement. You feel perfect. There's nothing wrong with you. You feel perfect if you're identifying with your soul. It doesn't mean you have done, it doesn't mean everything you have done has always been wise or right. It doesn't mean you are smarter than everybody. It just means you feel complete, you feel pure, you feel: "I am all right, right now." You feel like you are on a spiritual journey. You don't feel bad about yourself, you don't regret what you have done in the past because that is not your soul nature. That is just your subconscious mind. If that is present, then you are identifying with your humanness. That needs to be gone, be gotten rid of. Part of making spiritual progress is getting rid of negative identifications about ourselves as a human being, what we did, how bad we are, how limited we are. Then we can identify with our soul nature, as a spiritual being who is content and moving forward towards realizing its oneness with God.

An important quality that is needed to be able to accept the Hindu teaching that our inner self is a divine being, a radiant soul, is a positive self-concept. So that's a very important point. We often talk about it, we need a positive self-concept. What is that? Such a concept is when we naturally think of ourselves as a worthy individual deserving of a wonderful life. Unfortunately, many of us reach adulthood with a negative self-concept, feeling that others are better than we are and life has little to offer. A negative self-concept is developed through verbally running down a person when they are a child. This can occur in two distinct situations. The first is simply making these kinds of remarks as a form of joking or teasing. This of course, needs to be stopped and replaced with remarks that encourage and praise the child. Parents should also not allow their children to call each other names such as fat or lame. When it comes to correcting misbehavior, it is wise to distinguish between the person and the behavior. The behavior was foolish, not the person. So, we always try and do that, so one way of doing that for example is you say, "Boy what you did was certainly stupid, but you're such a smart person I know you'll never do it again." So the behavior was stupid, you know the person is smart, the person is intelligent, in fact the person is so intelligent they won't even make the same mistake twice. So that's distinguishing between the behavior and the person. Correcting the behavior and never correcting the person by saying they're stupid.

When we take our spiritual identity one step deeper than identifying our self as the soul, Paramaguru Yogaswami's famous statement applies. "Bliss, bliss, bliss ... here, there, everywhere am I." Of course, the keyword is 'I', right? Yogaswami does not say, "Bliss, bliss, bliss ... everywhere is God." No. He says, "Bliss, bliss, bliss ... here, there, everywhere am I." He is answering the question, "Who am I?" But He is answering it at a deeper level than, "I am a spiritual being who is evolving towards oneness with God." He is saying - He is omnipresent. He is all-pervasive consciousness. He is Satchidananda. He has gone into a deeper sense of 'I'. He has gone into what we call the essence of the soul, the core of the soul nature, to the consciousness that is all-pervasive. It is always there. You don't have to create it by something you do. The soul body is maturing. It is like a tree. You plant a seed and it grows into a mature tree, it takes time. The soul body is maturing. It is changing. It is going through a certain process of becoming something more than it is.

We had an interesting experience in New Zealand when we were there. We saw the Cowrie tree. And the Cowrie trees grow to be two to three thousand years old. And we saw one that was eight hundred years old and you know gives you a sense of how long it takes something to mature. So it gave me a new perspective on the maturing of the soul which of course takes place over many lifetimes, but two or three thousand years sounds about right. After that amount of living on Earth we might be wise enough to move on. We might have experienced all there is to experience. So it's a slow process.

But Satchidananda is always there. It doesn't change. You just have to find it. You just have to go deeply enough into yourself to find that part of you that is all-pervasive consciousness. Yogaswami did that. This is of course a significant step in evolving further into oneness with God.

Paramaguru Yogaswami described this state in the following way: "Sat Chit Ananda. That is one thing. Satchidananda. Sat is you are. Chit is omnipresence, Prakasa, light as from the sun, all-knowing. Ananda is bliss. They are three, but they are one. That is your nature."

Then, there is one more step. Last but not least, one more spiritual identity is that of the Transcendent Absolute Nature of God which is described as timeless, formless and spaceless,which again isn't a case of changing or becoming. It is always there, available to be claimed anytime, day or night. There is nothing we have to do to earn it, realize it, become it. It could come at any time because it is totally outside of the realm of time and space. It doesn't become. It is just a question of finding it, claiming that part of your identity.

The first obstacle to realizing the Absolute is to feel, "Well, we have to do this and then this and then this before we can realize It. I am confident I am not ready. Maybe, twenty more years of meditation. I should be good enough in meditation to realize It." So we put it off for twenty years! We feel, "Well, I did this when I was young. Therefore, I don't deserve to be the absolute. Maybe next lifetime." We put it off because of that!

To get rid of the first obstacle we need to feel, "Maybe this very minute, I will realize the Absolute." We have to give up the idea of putting the experience off, that now isn't the moment when we can claim to be the Absolute. Because, it has nothing to do with what we do. Because, it transcends time and space. Time-and-space goes along and the Absolute just transcends it all. It doesn't relate to what we do, doesn't affect being the Absolute.

Paramaguru Yogaswami described his experience of the Absolute as follows: "I climbed Mt. Everest in three days. [This of course is he's at the top of his head, it's not Everest.] There, there is nothing. No sun, no moon. Then you come down and there is dharma, adharma, and all things."

On another occasion, he describes it as follows: "If you think of the state of Siva, which is beyond all attributes, it won't come. It will come by itself. One day, when I was in that state, a bird came and sat on my head. Even yogis and jnanis can't understand that state."

Once we are able to see God in ourselves, we can see God in others as well. Interesting point. We can only see in others what is in us to some degree. It's like young children, they can't see so many things because it's not in them yet. They can't see in adults all kinds of qualities that are there because the qualities aren't present in the children yet. They have to get older. So, likewise if you see someone and see spirituality in them, what does it mean? It means there has to be some spirituality awake in you otherwise you couldn't see it in them. You can only see in others what is existing in ourselves. So, if we can see God in ourselves the idea here is, that now we can see it in others. If we don't see it in ourselves it is hard to see in others. So we were talking about how to see it in ourselves and Gurudeva was giving clues on that too. So, if we can see it in ourselves we can also see it and others and it's easiest to start with our closest family and friends. That's Gurudeva's advice. Don't start with those you don't like. It's hard to see God in someone you don't like. We'll get to that in a second. But start with your family and friends, the ones, your family and friends that you like. And try and see God in them. And once you see it in them you've made some progress.

Look deeply enough in their eyes, you will see their soul, their inner light shining out. This is not difficult.

What is difficult for many is to see God in those we do not like, or those we consider evil,-- have you thought about that? --in a hardened criminal, for example. However, God is there too. In this regard, there is a helpful quote from Paramaguru Yogaswami:

"See everyone as God. Don't say, 'This man is a robber. That one is a womanizer. The man over there a drunkard.' This man is God. That man is God. God is within everyone. The seed is there. See that and ignore the rest."

So what does that mean? Well, everyone is a soul. It's just that the soul may not be influencing our outer actions. But the soul is everyone and around the soul we have the rest of it. But everyone is a soul. That soul is divinity. So, one of the ways I like to describe the soul and divinity is like a variable light switch and a light, because we're all used to that. A variable light switch, you turn the light switch one way and the light gets brighter right? So, the light is always there. But it, the light switch has to be turned in order for it to become brighter. So, that's like the soul. The soul is the light. Everyone has the light. In this case physical light, talking about in them, but in many people it's turned down very low. And over lifetimes it gets turned and gets brighter and brighter. But the seed is there as Yogaswami says. So everyone needs to be treated as a divine being, even a hardened criminal needs to be treated as a divine being; meaning the goal is to help the person improve his or her behavior. That's what it means. We never give up on anyone. Cause everyone is a divine being. We simply try to help them improve their behavior and in that way become a brighter light. Function more in their spiritual nature.

So this is the idea we're talking about tonight is that in answering the question, "Who Am I?" a spiritual person thinks of themselves as a soul. And then we can deepen that experience into identifying with God who resides within the soul as Satchidananda and Parasiva, as all pervasive consciousness. And there's the Transcendent Absolute. And the deeper we go into ourselves and see God in our self, then the easier it is to see God in everyone. And the ultimate challenge is to see God in those we don't like. And those we really have trouble getting along with; to see God in them, that is the penultimate challenge.

Aum Namah Sivaya, thank you.

[End of transcript.]