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Spiritualizing life and giving

Dividing life into spiritual and non-spiritual is flawed. Separation of work and worship is a western perspective. Spiritual progress can be made during all hours of the day by "Spiritualizing Daily Life." Gurudeva's three fold definition of moksha with bhashya. The many forms of giving. Teaching children and youth about dana and sacrifice.

Unedited Transcript:

Happy to have so many guests with us the morning. So I chose a talk that's very general, a common theme that I use traveling here and there, speaking to different groups because it meets some of the needs of the day. So one of the advantages of being here and having a constant flow of guests is I get to talk to them and hear what's on their mind. And if you talk to five families and four of them say the same thing, what do you have? You have a trend right? Informal survey. It shows, shows what's in the forefront of the minds of many people. So therefore, it's a good topic to talk about and to write about when you run into something like that. So this is a, this introduction is based on that and the usual statement goes something like this.

"Swami, we're so busy with our everyday life, you know. Husband and wife we both work and we take care of the kids and by the time we take care of all of our duties we have no time left over for our spiritual life. What should we do?"

So actually a very common question. So, on the surface it sounds pretty good. You know, what should they do you know, they're really stuck. They don't have any time for their spiritual life. But, when you think about it it has a serious flaw and that is it's dividing life into spiritual and non-spiritual. It's dividing life into secular and sacred. It's dividing up what we do. It's saying that our spiritual practice is only what we do in the shrine room and at the temple. It doesn't encompass anything else. That's our spiritual practice. So if we don't have any time to go to the temple, no time in the morning to spend in the shrine we have no spiritual practice. That's what it's saying.

So another form that this takes is sometimes people who practice meditation in an intense way. They have the same division in life, they feel that: "My meditation, that's my spiritual practice. Everything else I do has nothing to do with my spiritual life." Again they've divided up life in this way, in fact I've known some TM people, transcendental meditation people, who you know are to be highly respected for their discipline. You know they'll meditate for hours a day every day. You know this is good it deserves respect. But they divide up life and life in this way that if they're married their spiritual practice is their two hours a day of meditation and has nothing to do with their family life. They see nothing in their family life of a spiritual nature, it's just family life. Their only spiritual practice is their meditation. So again that, that's flawed. It's dividing life up and you know, in some cases if you do that, it has a disastrous result called divorce. But the wife feels you're putting all your time in meditation and none, none left over for her. So it has a disastrous side effect as well.

So, let's see what I left out.

Worship is what is done in the temple and shrine room. Work is what is done in the fields, the factory or the office. The attitude is, "We are working to earn money to support ourselves; we are worshiping to receive the blessings of the Gods." The two realms are unrelated when viewed in this way. The separation of work and worship is a western perspective, not a Hindu one. In western thinking, one day of the week is considered the holy day, the Sabbath, when we go to the church, temple, mosque or synagogue. In fact in some western religious traditions, work of any kind is not permitted on the Sabbath. The other six days are not considered holy and are days we do our work.

One of the examples I sometimes use is Canada and I had one of our devotees there who is an attorney look it up. And it wasn't that long ago that the that the law still existed in Canada that you can't work on Sunday. It was the law actually, can't work on Sunday. You can only work Monday through Saturday. Sunday, no work. So they repealed it not that long ago because of the more imperialism. You know more diverse religious groups were in Canada and so they couldn't sway everything toward the viewpoints of one group. So that's kind of the extreme when it's part of the law. It's division of secular and sacred, you know. Monday through Saturday is not holy. Only Sunday and visa-versa.

Another form this division--oh that's the one I talked about.

However, in truth the Hindu perspective is life should not be divided into sacred and secular. All hours of the day, no matter if we are at work, at school, at home or elsewhere, are times when we can make spiritual progress. Our paramaguru, Yogaswami, of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, spoke of this perspective on many occasions. One of his statements is:

"The world is an ashram, a training ground for the achievement of moksha, liberation." Let's look more closely at what it means to say that all the world's an ashram. An ashram, of course, is the residence and teaching center of a swami or a spiritual preceptor. It is a place we go to learn about our religion and make spiritual progress. When we go out the door of our home to go to work, school or elsewhere, do we have in mind that we are going to an ashram, that our actions during the day in the office, factory, hospital, classroom or elsewhere will help us evolve spiritually and bring us closer to moksha? Probably not. When we come home and reflect back on the day, do we feel we made spiritual progress while out of the home? Probably not. Why is this? It is because we have not been trained to look at life in this way. We think of the ashram as a place of spiritual advancement, and we regard the world as a place of mundane tasks and distractions from our spiritual work. The common idea is that what we do in the ashram, the home shrine or the temple is what brings us spiritual progress, and what we do at the office or in the classroom has nothing to do with our spiritual life.

This common perspective is not the viewpoint of great souls such as Yogaswami. Such souls know that much spiritual progress can be made during our time in the world if we hold the right perspective. I call this approach "spiritualizing daily life."

So that's the introduction and we'll go into a specific here in a minute.

There's another way of describing this which can be helpful cause it summarizes it in one definition. Gurudeva's description of moksha or liberation, which of course is, the goal here on Earth is to be liberated from rebirth. So, we're stuck in a cycle. Being born seeking to be liberated. So how do we become liberated in the Hindu concept? What's required to become liberated? Well usually in definitions you only find one point made which is God Realization. We need to experience God. Different Hindu traditions describe that somewhat differently. In our tradition it's a monistic experience. We need to experience our identity with God. Experience that part of us which is always identical with God. If we go deeply enough into the soul we find the part of us that is always identical with God and that's what we need to realize. So the problem with having a definition that only has that one point is it tends to create this separation between sacred and secular. Therefore, everything we're not doing that's not directly related to realizing God seems to be secular. Seems to have nothing to do with making spiritual progress based on that singular definition. So, that's the flaw of it. So, Gurudeva's definition adds two more points. It says: "Moksha is achieved when dharma has been fulfilled, karma has been resolved and God Realization attained."

So, we have three points. Threefold definition of moksha which helps what we're talking about which is, encompass all of life as a spiritual activity. All of our waking hours no matter what we're doing should look to us as a spiritual activity. Should give us the feeling that by what we're doing and how we're doing it we're making spiritual progress and we're coming closer to moksha. No matter if we're at work, at school, anywhere. Should have that sense to it. So, how do we do that? Well, through fulfilling dharma and resolving karma. So fulfilling dharma means fulfilling our duties in life and we won't delve into that because that would keep us here a bit long. So, cause this isn't the topic but the topic's still coming up. But the simple idea is we're filling our duties in life. At different times in our life depending if we're married or single, depending on our age; we have different duties toward others. Duties toward family members, duties toward our community, duties toward our nation; fulfilling that duty is part of how we make spiritual progress. Not fulfilling that duty is how we don't make spiritual progress or even go backward spiritually if we seriously offend that duty.

Karma, resolving karma, is easy. People are always mistreating us. Why is that? Well, we mistreated other people in the past. That's why. So, we can perpetuate that cycle by retaliating against those who mistreat us or we can resolve that and move on by thanking them for bringing our karma to us. "Oh, thank you for mistreating me; I got rid of one more karma. You're such a generous person to help me out in that way." That is also another topic called karma management. You know, turning around the attitude which is, normally people mistreat us, we're mad at them. But from Gurudeva's point of view if someone mistreats us it's in our karma to be mistreated. If we can not retaliate, forgive them, move on, that karma's gone. We've resolved the karma. So in other words, how we spend our day interacting with other people in an active way allows us to fulfill our dharma and to resolve karma. If we simply sat in a cave all the time working on realizing God we would not be fulfilling dharma, resolving our karma. Cave is not a very good place for someone to make spiritual progress unless they're at unusual point in their life. And even then it might be for a short period of time or else at the end of their life. You know, someone in their eighties for example. Be a good cave dweller. But someone in their thirties or forties, it's usually not a good time to take up residence in the nearest cave. So, anyway the point is that that threefold definition of the moksha--liberation from rebirth, gives us a better idea or gives us another concept to use in not dividing up our life between secular and sacred. That all of life--when approached in the right way, all of our actions, all of our environments are spiritual when looked at in the right way.

Moving on.

The Many Forms of Giving. The Asian Tsunami of 2004 was a disaster of greater magnitude than most people alive today have ever experienced before--a loss of over 300,000 lives, the destruction of entire cities, and millions of people left homeless. The aftermath of the event also produced the greatest outpouring of help that most of us alive today have ever seen. This global generosity came and is still coming to tsunami-stricken areas in many forms: donations of money, medical supplies, food and clothing, building materials, and personal service for weeks or months by doctors and other professionals. Giving, dana (that's the Sanskrit word, dana), is an essential practice in Hinduism, and it comes in many forms. Recently I received an e-mail from a devotee who was preparing to volunteer a few weeks of her time at an orphanage we work with in Malaysia. When her grandchildren heard she was going, they arranged with their parents to sacrifice something that they would be getting in the future to send $100 with her to the orphanage for supplies for the children.

Sacrifice. Sacrifice is the act of giving up to a greater power, a cherished possession, be it money, time, intelligence or a physical object to manifest a greater good. It always involves some form of self-denial, doing with less so that others may have more. This form of giving not only earns the punyam, good karma, that is the result of any act of dana, but also greatly increases our self-discipline and control over our instinctive mind, especially when the self-denial is significant. The personal rewards of dana are deeply fulfilling. Women devotees who have served at orphanages in the last few years have been surprised by how much they gained from their giving. One wrote to me: "I have returned safely from Malaysia. It was a wonderful adventure at the orphanage which has filled me with love and opened my heart and mind more than I ever expected. Thank you for your kindness and wisdom in allowing me to experience this service." Certainly this is an excellent illustration of the principle that real happiness comes from giving and not from getting. Let's look now at some examples illustrating another aspect of dana.

First example: A family worships regularly at a local temple. At every visit they put a generous offering in the hundi. They also regularly visit a swami at his nearby ashram. Each visit they bring a cash offering, dakshina, as well as an offering of flowers and fruits. Second example: A representative of a school for the blind visits certain families once a year to ask for a donation to print Braille books for the children. In one family, the husband makes an especially large donation, as the request is only yearly. Third example: A wife is acutely conscious of the principle that the guest is God. When guests grace her home, she always invites them to stay and join the family for the next meal.

That's a good one because it's so different from western culture where the guest is an intruder. You know, if dinner is coming up you do your best to get the guest to leave first, right? Whereas in Eastern hospitality you do your best to get the guest to stay for dinner. It's an opposite concept. Fourth example: A Hindu society prints and distributes free religious literature at all the major festivals. Each pamphlet is sponsored by a different family as a way of spreading knowledge about Hinduism. Fifth example: A wife and husband both skip a meal every Friday as an act of self-denial. They give the money saved to a Hindu home for the aged. Selfless giving effectively lessens the instinctive tendencies of selfishness, greed, avarice and hoarding. It is important to overcome the tendency to tightly cling to everything we acquire, to feel, "It is mine. I may need it." We have to work at becoming less selfish. The less selfish we are, the more spiritual we are. One of the ways of overcoming selfishness is to give things away. Here's a story to further illustrate dana.

A man worships regularly at a temple. (This is in India.) There are always a number of beggars outside beseeching him for alms, but he passes them by, purposely ignoring them. One day he feels compelled to give some money to one needy fellow with imploring eyes. After his simple act of charity, he is surprisingly uplifted. From then on he gives a few coins to the beggars before entering the temple, and each time he feels the same upliftment. What's more, the joy he feels inspires him to start a mass feeding which the beggars and others living near the temple attend each month.

Let's look at the varied forms of giving. Today the most common form of giving is a gift of money. We make cash gifts whenever we visit temples and ashrams. A second form of giving is to make something with our hands, an in-kind gift. For example, a man who has a carpentry shop at home makes furniture on his weekends and donates it to orphanages and homes for the elderly. A third form of giving is giving of our time. For example, we help out at the local temple by cleaning the floors and other areas once a week. Another form of giving is disseminating spiritual teachings. We purchase religious literature and give it away during major festivals. A fifth form of giving is religious feedings of the masses called anna yajna or simply yagam. We sponsor a monthly yagam at a large temple in our city, covering all the costs. A universal form of giving is providing hospitality to guests--offering them a seat, taking joy in their presence, serving a beverage and insisting they stay for the next meal.

There's an interesting verse in the Tirukural on this which has a surprising twist to it, way I like to highlight it is by saying, asking a question. If you put the verse in question form it says: "What is the whole purpose of earning wealth and maintaining a home?" Fair question, what is the purpose of earning wealth and maintaining a home? Well the answer almost everyone would give is well it's to provide for family members the basics of life, right? That's the purpose of a home, earning wealth, we're trying to provide for our family members. It's our duty. That's a good answer but the Tirukural doesn't give that answer. Says: "The whole purpose of earning wealth and maintaining a home is to provide hospitality to guests."

Know! It's upping the concept. It's taking it up a step. Saying well you know think more broadly, just don't think about yourselves, you know. You're earning money, you have this situation and what can you do? You can give some of it away in the form of hospitality. So it's a chance to fulfill dharma, it's a chance to earn punyam if you're in that situation. As we can see from our list, there are many forms of giving that don't require any money or require very little money. By giving in those ways, we can afford to give more than if our gifts were solely gifts of money. The idea that one must be wealthy to give is a misconception. In fact, it is often the least endowed who make the greatest sacrifices in giving.

You find that you know. Rich people sometimes they give and it looks like a lot of money but to them it actually isn't. It's just an ordinary middle class person, maybe giving a larger amount of their income and we don't think that much of it because their income isn't that great but they're actually being more generous. So children, this is an important part. Children should be taught to be generous from a very young age. They can be given a small amount of money to give to the temple, to holy ones, and to the needy. When older, they can be trained to give a portion of any gifts they receive on their birthday or on holidays to a Hindu institution the family supports. Besides financial giving, children can also be trained by the parents to give by regularly volunteering their time, perhaps to the same projects their parents help in. It is also important to train children in self-denial. For example, instead of going out to dinner, you stay at home, or instead of taking a fancy vacation, you go on a budget vacation. Have family discussions beforehand about what you are giving up and the spiritual benefits of this practice. Afterwards discuss with the children how the money you saved together will be given to a Hindu institution for a project that has special meaning to the family. In conclusion, life offers us many more opportunities to give than we take advantage of. Therefore, the idea to put into practice is to increase our acts of giving without, of course, giving more than we can afford. Besides money, we can always give by volunteering our time, using skills and making in-kind gifts in our spare time or, through self denial, doing with less to provide someone else with more. Remember, every act of giving earns punyam, good karma, and increases self control over our instincts and desires, thus moving us forward on the spiritual path.

There's one last story, it's not there but it's in some of my other talks. Cause it really impressed me. Our western culture does not focus a lot on this idea of raising children to be actively giving all the time to others. You know we tend to focus on their academics. You know raising children to get good grades in school. If they do that, we're happy. You know having them go out every weekend and help the poor or something like that is not usually focused on or self denial, actually doing without something that we want and giving that away is definitely not focused on. So this is an interesting story that I use in some talks. We saw it on television. It was a group of college age youth around twenty years old, average age, from eastern schools. They were on Spring break and they went down to New Orleans to help there with the aftermath of the hurricane. So they were living in very simple conditions in tents for about a week and they were going in an doing the drudgery work, ripping out the wall board that was wet and the smelly carpets and all of that kind of work you know. Kind of gutting the homes so that more skilled labor could come in afterwards and build them back. So they were doing this work for about a week and then the television show interviewed them. And so what struck me, why I remembered it was they interviewed about three or four of the youth, they also said basically the same thing. That's what struck me. They said three points. They said: "Never done anything like this before." Second point: "Were surprised how good it made them feel." And third point: "Hope to be able to do it again in the near future." You know what an interesting story, you know and it shows a lot about giving and what we need to do so one of the ways we work that in is its in part of a talk which encourages an entire temple group to have programs, outreach programs, for their local community at least once a year, minimum. You know where they get all the youth together and in some significant way go out and help the community, the broad community not just the Hindu community, but the broad community in which they live at least once a year to show that this is part of our duty. It is one of our duties is to community. So, even the monastery feels a duty to the community of Kauai. Gurudeva taught us all to think that way. So there's all kinds of small projects we do to help the broader community. A lot of the bumper stickers on the cars come from us, you know. One is called "End the Ice Age" which in this case refers to a drug. "End the Ice Age." It was designed by the mayor, he's very proud of his creation. "End the Ice Age." We also have other bumper stickers. "Aloha It's Kauai Spirit" we also did some of those and over the years it's just a one example of ways in which we try and reach out and help the community in issues that they feel are important. You know the community does have a drug problem. Youth drug problem.

So well thank you very much for listening to all that.

[End of transcript.]

Photo of  Gurudeva
If you take responsibility for all that happens to you, then you will have the power to deal with your karma through the grace of Lord Siva.