The world today promotes instant gratification over long term spiritual achievements. It is often a mystery and even more often a dilemma about how one can practice any form of spiritual practice in the world where spirituality is sometimes even looked down upon. If one looks deep enough, it becomes apparent that the externals have nothing to do with one’s internal spiritual practice. Often, it is just a matter of adjusting one’s activities and environment to complement one’s inner principles.
There are thousands of things you could do to lead a more spiritual life. But if you want practical suggestions of the best things that will give you results quickly in a minimum time, then just remember these letters: A B C D E F G.
A is for Association. Whatever you keep company with – the food, music, books, movies, television, websites and newspapers you consume, your phone conversations, your work colleagues – are what you associate with. By choosing carefully you can create a favourable environment for your mind, a great foundation for spiritual life. Be with positive people who lift you up and give you positive, life-affirming thoughts. Avoid those who don’t.
B is for Books. Whatever you read becomes a voice in your head, and will affect how you see the world and make choices of direction. Books like the Gita and Bhagavatam are full of powerfully spiritual messages that will help you see the world around you from the soul’s point of view.
C is for Chanting. Although we all have to work late nights these days, it’s worth getting to bed earlier, waking up slightly earlier, and getting in some morning mantra meditation before breakfast. Chanting of the maha-mantra is the greatest way to experience a quite remarkable transformation of consciousness. Do it regularly and you’ll never look back.
D is for Diet. The path of Bhakti-yoga begins with the tongue, with chanting and sacred food. If you avoid three types of food you’ll feel better, create no karma, and become connected with Krishna:
- Foods that are the product of violence, such as red meat, poultry, fish, lobster, crab and shellfish.
- Foods that are considered impure, such as eggs, whether fertilised or not, and some fungi.
- Foods that agitate the mind, such as onions, garlic, alcohol, chilli and foods with high sugar.
E is for Enthusiasm. You’ll do well on the spiritual path if, once you’ve decided it’s for you, you throw yourself into it with all your enthusiasm, without reservation. Don’t wobble or waver in your spiritual life – be determined and enthusiastic.
F is for Friends. We all have an intimate circle of friends. They’re the ones who’d support you through hard times, who’d visit you in hospital, and who care about what you’re into. For rapid spiritual growth, we’d recommend having at least two spiritual friends in this inner circle, and more if you can. Why? Because we tend to listen to our close friends and if they are also practising bhakti-yoga it’s a powerful friendship to have.
G is for group. You can join a group for any interest under the sun. A weekly or monthly group meeting helps to keep your interest alive. There’s probably a bhakti-yoga group very near you. You’ll learn more, have fun, and find inspiration if you join it. You’ll be taking part in kirtan, talks and discussions, and if there’s a free meal at the end of it, that’s another problem solved.
The main practise in awakening our spiritual nature is known as yagya, the turning around of our consciousness from self-centred to God-centred. It involves offering our words, wealth, time and intelligence to God. Some of this is done as part of daily life, and some is done in powerful ritualised practises.
There are four main ingredients for yagya and they have been practised, say the Vedas, from the very dawn of creation. The universe has four seasons that revolve over many millions of years. Each one of the four yagya activities is most appropriate for a particular season. The Spring of Satya Yuga requires meditation on Vishnu within the heart; for Treta Yuga fire sacrifices are most important; in the Dwapara Yuga opulent temple worship is the recommended process; but in the Winter Age of Kali Yuga the chanting of the ‘Names of Hari’ is the most effective yagya process.
Indeed, the Brihan-Naradiya Purana says hari-nama eva kevalam: ‘the chanting of the holy name of Hari (Krishna) is the only way.’ When Sri Chaitanya appeared in India he promoted the chanting of the names of Krishna as both a personal practise and a collective, congregational and musical practise. The result of his teachings, and of those who followed him, is the modern-day Hare Krishna movement.
The ‘idols,’ as you call them, are the essential point of focus within a temple. Although the Abrahamic faiths proscribe the worship of ‘graven images’ and subject anyone who does so to punishment, it is important to understand the reasoning behind this form of worship.
Firstly, it should be noted that imaginary images, conceived in the fertile mind of a man and executed by an artisan in wood or stone, are also forbidden in the Vedic tradition. No good can come from worshipping an imaginary God. The devotees of Krishna are in complete agreement with Judaism, Christianity and Islam on this point. But God does have an actual form, and this revealed form can be worshipped.
The archa-vigraha is the form of God fashioned in a material element such as wood, stone or metal and installed with authorised rituals and mantras. Krishna can turn spirit into matter and matter into spirit, so His consecrated statue should never be mistakenly identified as being made of matter. The sacred image is one way that the invisible and untouchable God makes Himself available to the senses of the devotee.
Reverence should be given wherever reverence is due. Vedic culture is one of respect and gratitude. Parents and other elders are honoured, older siblings are given respect, and everyone offers gratitude to teachers of any kind. The highest level of respect and reverence is given to that teacher who gives the highest knowledge and guidance.
When a guru, or spiritual teacher and guide, repeats the words of Krishna, the guru becomes as honoured as Krishna. Although the guru is a human being, since the devotee hears the words of Krishna from the guru, the devotee feels a connection with Krishna through those words. A police officer may be a mere human being, but is obeyed because he represents the law; similarly a guru is a mere human being – and always thinks of himself as such – but is revered because of who he represents.
We would much prefer that the messages of Krishna were already heard, understood and honoured all over the world. Our motto is ‘simple living, high thinking,’ and we much prefer sustainable, natural devices to technological ones. But since practically no-one knows about Krishna, we are taking the opportunity to use any invention to disseminate the information.
Devotees of Krishna thus run radio stations, both analogue and digital, run television studios, and naturally produce millions of books – both in print and electronic formats. At the same time, we also create sustainable communities where members can live off the land, and horse and oxen provide the transport.
Temples and the worship that goes on inside them have a powerful and positively uplifting effect on people. For this reason, in any major European city, you’ll find that the cathedral or church was right in the middle of the population. From the religious centre came education, medical care, hospice facilities, food distribution and help for the poor, morality, arts and culture, including music, writing, architecture and many other aspects of progressive society. In India it was the same: the temples performed unlimited amounts of social service.
The most ancient forms of authentic meditation have always involved the recitation of sound formulas, or mantras, but they may be spoken out loud, murmured, or heard within the mind with no sound at all. The meditation known as japa – the repetition of the Hare Krishna mantra – is actually far more absorbing than silent meditation.
Proof of this is that a regular chanter can meditate for two hours at a time. So-called silent meditation simply means that an observer cannot hear a sound, but the meditator can. After the advent of Buddhism in India, other forms of meditation developed, later spreading to Tibet, China and Japan. But even many of them involve focusing the mind on sound. It is difficult – almost impossible – to focus on nothing.
A mantra is a spiritual sound vibration. Its origins are not in the world of matter. All mantras come from God and have been passed down by a chain of rishis (seers) and gurus (teachers). Although when listening to a mantra we hear only syllables made by the tongue, and vibrated as sound waves, it would be incorrect to think that the syllables themselves are the sum total of the mantra. The sounds are invested with potency beyond our imagination. Their true power becomes evident upon chanting with attention.
The Isha Upanishad says that everything is controlled and owned by the Lord, but that we can use what we have been allotted as our quota. If we remember those facts and work in that consciousness we may live happily for one hundred years. Others are preparing their way to the hellish worlds. So when we transform our God-given talents into hard work and success we have a right to do that; but the fruits of the work belong to God.
We are allowed to use them, being mindful of His ownership. Wealth and poverty are therefore neutral; you are not closer to God by being poor or further away from Him by being rich. You are closer to Him by using whatever you have in His service. You can give your money to a good cause, particularly a saintly person or a temple – or you can do God’s work in the world, and become a saintly person yourself!
There are so many occurrences of the number 108 in ancient civilisation it is difficult to know where to begin. In modern mathematics 108 is considered an ‘abundant’ number and one with which a small computation produces the Golden Ratio. In ancient mathematics it was considered an ‘auspicious number.’
In modern astronomy the ratio of the diameters of Sun, Moon and Earth are all calculated to be an average of 108. There are 108 pressure points in the body according to the Indian martial art Marma Adi. There are said to be 108 Upanishads. And of course, it is said that Lord Krishna had 16,108 queens. The number 108 also adds up to 9 in numerology, the number of the guru principle. There are 108 holy places in Vaishnavism and of course, 108 beads on a set of japa-mala. In today’s India the 999 emergency telephone number is also – 108!