Answers to some frequently asked questions on Vedanta and spirituality

Does Vedanta believe in one God?
Vedanta believes in one omnipotent, all pervading, supreme essence in the universe which is called Brahman. Vedanta believes two levels of reality – Absolute and Relative. In Absolute what is Brahman in Relative level that same Absolute is God.

How old is the philosophy of Vedanta?
Vedanta has existed from time immemorial. Vedanta is the knowledge portion of the ancient Vedas, the Upanishads. The Vedas were handed down by the rishis or seers before time.

What is the ultimate goal of Vedanta?
The ultimate goal of Vedanta is the union of the individual self, Atman, with the supreme Self, Brahman. This is called Moksha or Liberation and is achieved through any one of the four Yogas or combination of all the four yogas: Selfless Service for other, Intense Devotion, Meditation, and Scriptural studies or guidance from able teachers, Reflection and Meditation.

If I am a Christian can I study Vedanta?
Vedanta is both a philosophy, spirituality and a way of life. As such, it is open to people of all faiths. Vedanta respects the authenticity of every religion. “As many faiths, so many paths,” is a phrase common in Vedanta.

Will I be required to attend rites and ceremonies if I am studying Vedanta?
Vedanta is the study of the Upanishads through lecture, class and discussion. Many people who follow this path also enjoy fellowship and celebration. This is not compulsory, however, in order to study Vedanta.

I.  Vedanta


1.    What is Vedanta?

1.    Vedanta literally means the end (‘anta’) of the Vedas, the oldest and the principal scripture of Hinduism, that contains eternal truths revealed to the ancient sages of India. It is a religious philosophy based on the Upanishads, the ‘knowledge’ portion of the Vedas, that teaches that man's real nature is divine, that the true object of human life is to unfold and manifest this divinity, and that truth is universal.

        Vedanta is characterized by a belief in one God who has both 'transcendental' (un-manifested) and 'immanent' (manifested) aspects. God-vision can be obtained, or in other words, the divinity within us can be manifested, by controlling our nature, internal and external, and through paths (yoga) of knowledge (Jnana-yoga), selfless work (Karma-yoga), devotion (Bhakti-yoga), and psychic control and meditation (Raja-yoga).

        Vedanta accepts all religions of the world as true and reveres their great prophets and teachers because it recognizes the same divine inspiration in all and believes that all faiths are but different paths leading to the same God.

        Reference: Vrajaprana, Pravrajika. Vedanta - A Simple Introduction.

2.     What is the Ramakrishna Order?

2.     The Ramakrishna Order, named after Sri Ramakrishna, the Prophet of Modern India, consists of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission managed by the same monastic board members. The Ramakrishna Math, brought into existence by Sri Ramakrishna in 1886 is a monastic order of men. The Ramakrishna Mission, founded by Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna’s chief disciple in 1897, consists of both monastic and lay members.

        The Ramakrishna Order is headquartered at Belur Math, near Kolkata, India and has some 180 Centres worldwide. The Order, under the twin ideals of ‘Self-Realization and Service’, is devoted to spiritual and philanthropic services such as, medical, educational, cultural and rural outreach.

         Reference:

        Gambhirananda, Swami., History of Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna         Mission

3.     Why is your Centre named the Vedanta Society?

3.     Our parent organization, familiar as the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission in India, is known as Vedanta Society in many foreign countries. It is based on the traditional philosophy of Vedanta as interpreted and embodied in the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. As people of foreign countries may be more comfortable with the philosophy of Vedanta, at least initially, than with the personality of Sri Ramakrishna, foreign branches of our Order are mostly introduced as Vedanta Societies.

4.     There are many religious Orders around the world with various characteristics. What are the characteristics of your Order?

4.    a. This Order is founded by the wish and with the blessings of Sri Ramakrishna, the Godman of Modern India and his consort, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, and is being sustained by them. It is also being nourished by the accumulated spiritual powers of all sixteen monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, including Swami Vivekananda. That each of these disciples was a saint of the highest degree becomes evident from the study of their biographies, which are well documented.
        b. Our Order emphasizes the realization of one’s real ‘Self’, and selfless and worshipful service to humanity.
        c. We believe in and practice the ‘harmony of religions’ and celebrate the birthdays of some of the prophets of other religions. Not only do we celebrate the birth anniversaries of Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ, but we study their teachings as well.
        d. We practice the synthesis of different spiritual paths with the goal of Self-realization; namely the paths of Knowledge (Jnana Yoga), Devotion (Bhakti Yoga), Self-less Service (Karma Yoga), and Meditation and Mind Control (Raja Yoga).
        e. Our Societies combine both reason and faith in their spiritual deliberations and practices.
        f. We do not place much emphasis on ritualism, but focus more on the deeper problems of life and living and their solutions.
        g. We do not convert, but rather encourage others to adhere to their own traditional faiths and practice it devotedly while drawing inspiration freely from scriptures and prophets of other faiths. We welcome everyone, irrespective of one’s faith.
        h. This Order has published, in about twenty different languages of the world, a vast amount of literature covering different aspects of Indian scripture, spiritual life, meditation and cultural traditions of India
        i. This Order does extensive philanthropic work with a worshipful attitude, especially in India. However, in other countries some of our centers have also launched philanthropic works in addition to their regular spiritual programmes.
        j. This Order is managed along democratic lines.
        k. This Order is also particular in maintaining transparency in all matters, especially financial.
 

II.  Ramakrishna / Sarada Devi / Vivekananda


5.     Who are Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda?

5.     Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886), born in modern India, practised various spiritual traditions, and concluded that all religions are but paths leading to the same God realization.

        Sri Ramakrishna is looked upon by millions in the same way that Christians look upon Christ and Buddhists look upon Buddha. Sri Ramakrishna was in constant communion with God, which was documented by his authentic biographers. He was the apostle of universalism and religious harmony, as well as a spiritual teacher par excellence.

        Sri Sarada Devi (1853-1920), known as the Holy Mother to her devotees, was the consort of Sri Ramakrishna with whom she maintaineda spiritual relationship. In Her own right, she is considered one of the greatest woman saints India has produced. She was the embodiment of purity and universal motherhood, and demonstrated in Her own life how the householder can combine secular life and spiritual life and attain peace and perfection.

        Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), himself a realized soul of the highest order, was the chief monastic disciple and exponent of his Master’s (Sri Ramakrishna) message in the world.  The swami was an original thinker, an excellent orator and philanthropist, and possessed many sterling qualities of both the head and heart. He founded the Ramakrishna Order with the twin purposes of realization of the Self and service to humanity with a worshipful attitude.

        Since their appearance, up to the present day, many national leaders or spiritual teachers and thousands of the common people of India have been impacted directly or indirectly either by Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda or both, including Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo. Outside of India as well, they inspired famous personalities such as Romain Rolland, Max M�ller and Leo Tolstoy.
                       
    References:
    1. Saradananda, Swami., Sri Ramakrishna, The Great Master
    2. Nikhilananda, Swami.,  Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (1942)             
    3. Nikhilananda, Swami., Holy Mother: Being the Life of Sri Sarada Devi, Wife of SriRamakrishna and Helpmate in His Mission.
    4. Nikhilananda, Swami., Vivekananda: A Biography

A more comprehensive description the ‘Holy Trinity’ is also available on our webpage at: <http://www.vedantajp-en.com/holy-trinity/>
 

III.  Hinduism


6.     I have heard that Sanskrit is a divine language, what does this mean?

6.     Scriptures of Hinduism are mostly composed in Sanskrit, which is a highly articulated language. Rituals of the Hindu tradition are conducted in Sanskrit. Hymns and passages of the scriptures, if pronounced articulately and correctly, leave a soothing and holy effect on listeners, even if their meanings are not properly understood. For all these reasons Sanskrit is regarded by the Hindus as a sacred language.

7.     Why is ‘Om’ considered most sacred and universally used in Hindu spiritualpractices?

7Om or Aum, the sound of which consists of the three letters ‘a’, ‘u’ and ‘m’ is regarded as the sound-symbol of the Universe and also of God / Supreme Reality / Brahman who created it. It may also denote the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. With the help of Om, the Lord created the Universe.

        From Om, which encompasses all sounds starting from the throat region to the mouth and emanating from the lips, originates all sounds and, as a matter of fact, all human languages and their scriptures.

        Hence, Om is considered the holiest and most important sound, often mentioned in Hindu scripture and profusely voiced in the chanting of mantras, hymns and in performing rituals.

        By chanting and meditating on Om alone, not only can one purify himself, get mental peace, joy and strength, but also attain spiritual illumination. Thus, the chanting individually or collectively has been considered very beneficial to one’s attainment of mental peace and spiritual illumination.

            Reference:
            Nirvedananada, Swami., Hinduism at a Glance
            Bhaskarananda, Swami., The Essentials of Hinduism   

8.     What is Yoga?

8.     Yoga means union. According to Hindu scriptures, which profusely use this word, it is the union of the individual soul and the super soul, of the devotee and God, of the Jivatman (embodied soul) and Brahman (Supreme Reality). It is both the way to and the goal of this union.

        However,  the kind of Yoga we see so widely practiced the world over today is actually Hathayoga, a form of Yoga focused on physical health. If Hatha Yoga is practiced so that we are able to sit quietly in one posture for a long time, it may be useful in the path of Raja Yoga. If it is practiced simply to improve our health, it may prove helpful in that respect, but will not be of much use in the field of spirituality.

        There are four spiritual Yogic paths:

        1. Jnana Yoga: The path of Knowledge, which emphasises the method of discrimination between the transient and the eternal, focusing on the eternal.
        2. Bhakti Yoga: The path of devotion or divine love which teaches the aspirant to direct his love to God and to practice continuous communion with God.
        3. Raja Yoga: The path of sense and psychic control and meditation.
        4. Karma Yoga: The path of selfless work, surrendering the results of such work to God.

9.    Why do Hindus worship images? Is it not idolatry?

9.    When Buddhists install the image of Buddha or Catholics the images of Jesus or Mother Mary made of stone, metal or wood in the altar of their respective temples or churches, offer food and pray to them, do we also call them idolaters? No, because they imagine the divine and living presence of Buddha or Jesus or Mary in those images and give offerings and prayers. In the same way, Hindus worship their deities in temples or homes.

        Moreover, in the beginning, worshipping God through images is especially helpful for those who cannot concentrate or focus on a formless aspect of God, which is definitely a higher concept of God.

10.    Do Hindus believe in one God or many Gods?

10.      Hindus believe in one Supreme Reality which manifests Itself in various forms of God and Goddess.

11.    Does Hinduism believe in heaven and hell?

11.     Hinduism does believe in heaven and hell, but does not believe in any eternal heaven or hell. According to Hinduism, human beings after death go to heaven or hell for a certain period, which is determined by their good or bad Karma. When that period is over, they are again born on the earth to continue doing Karma. This cycle continues until, by realising God, they attain liberation from both birth and death and heaven and hell. They do not come back to the earth to create or experience more Karma, but become one with God, which is the goal of human life and all spiritual practices.

12.    Does Hinduism subscribe to the concept of 'original sin'?

12.     Hinduism believes that man is not essentially a sinner, but pure. However, this purity is, as it were, covered by evil propensities of mind, which are to be removed by moral and spiritual discipline. Consequently, when mind becomes free from such dross, the ever pure nature of man shines forth.

13.    What is ‘Samadhi’?

13.    Samadhi, which is experienced after long and arduous spiritual practices and by the grace of God, is the state of total absorption of the mind in the Self or God or Supreme Reality, in which the true nature of the Self or God or Supreme Reality, which are basically the same, is revealed to the aspirant.

14.    What are the effects of Samadhi?

14.    After experiencing Samadhi the aspirant cuts asunder all his bonds; he also becomes free from ignorance, impurities, attachments, fear, and sorrow. Finally, he becomes full of joy, peace and love, and is established in wisdom, and, thus, his life is fulfilled. Karma cannot bind him, the seeds of his desires are burnt so that he is not reborn, and he becomes a free soul.

15.    What are Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, which are often referred to in Hindu scriptures?

15.     These are the three ‘gunas’ (in Sanskrit) which are both quality and subtle substance and constitute Prakriti, the Primordial Energy. Every animate and inanimate object in the universe is made of these three gunas, though in varying proportions.

        1. Sattva guna stands for poise or wisdom, and a predominance of sattva in an individual’s nature generates purity, equanimity, and the power of clear vision.
        2. Rajas stands for dynamism, and a predominance of this in an individual’s nature generates passions, ambition, and restlessness.    
        3. Tamas stands for inertia and ignorance, and a predominance of it in an individual’s nature generates lethargy, dullness, and delusion.

        By transcending all three of these gunas, which bind the Self, one becomes free and is established in wisdom and bliss.

        Reference:
        Bhagavad Gita Chapters 14, 17 and 18.

16.    What are ‘Karma’ and ‘Samskara’?

16.    Karma and Samskara are two of the most important concepts of Hinduism and are now widely known and often referred to.

        Karma, in the broadest sense, includes not only what we do with our limbs, but also with our senses, mind and intelligence. Our every movement, including our breathing and even the blinking of our eyes, is also karma. Karma, in a technical sense, is what we do or think repeatedly or even once not only in this life, but also in our previous lives, and their effects in the form of our enjoyment of pleasure or suffering of pain which is not restricted to one life, but may extend to a series of lives. The process continues until we get liberated by controlling and transcending our desires, which are at the root of karma, through hard and sustained spiritual practices and the grace of the God.

        ‘Samskara’ in the context of the theory of Karma, refers to the subtle mental impressions, which may be either good or bad, resulting from the good or bad thoughts and deeds we do repeatedly in a series of lives, including the present one, which drive us to do or to cherish good or bad things. These tendencies, by which we are meant to grow, are samskaras.

17.    Is the theory of Karma the same as the concept of fatalism or predestination?

17.    No. While fatalism or predestination do not explain why something must happen and is also unavoidable, the theory of Karma explains the happenings in an individual life by referring to one’s Karma earned either in previous lives or the present one.
   
        Moreover, according to the theory of Karma, if one suffers, or is destined to suffer, because of one’s bad Karma, this suffering can be reduced substantially by performing good Karma, that is, by purifying oneself through spiritual practices and seeking refuge in God, who is the giver of the results of Karma.


18.    Why do Indian monks wear saffron color clothing?

18.    The color of the cloth worn by the Hindu monks, who have given up hearth and home and embraced a life of total renunciation to dedicate their lives to realize God and serve people unselfishly, is called saffron or ochre or ‘gairk’ in Sanskrit. Fire reduces everything subject to decay and destruction to ashes. Thus, by wearing this color, which is the color of fire, monks are reminded that things of this world are non-eternal and must not be craved after as they seek the Eternal, that is, God.

19.    Why are many Indians vegetarian? Is it a sin to eat meat?

19.    In India, while there is a strong opinion that the killing of any life for whatsoever purpose, including for food, is a sin, there are also others who think that though killing is definitely condemnable, there are certain exceptions to this rule, which are enjoined by Hindu scriptures. For example killing for the purposes of food, self-protection, saving the honor of a woman or protecting one’s country from invaders, do not accrue any sin.

        Even a casual study of Vedic literature reveals that eating meat by Indians in the Vedic Age was not uncommon. But later, as a result of the impact of Buddhism, and later still by Vaishnavism, which preached nonviolence in food habits, many people became vegetarian. Nowadays vegetarianism is practised more as a family tradition, a local tradition, or on health grounds, more than out of any religious consideration. Thus, while most of the people of Bengal, Orissa and Assam are non-vegetarians, people of other provinces of India are mostly vegetarian.

20.    Why is the discriminative caste system allowed in Hinduism?

20.    The caste system as originally planned and practiced in ancient India was pragmatic and flexible, but it gradually degenerated when the priestly class demanded special prerogatives for themselves and became rigid. However, if we probe deeply we find that caste systems not only existed in Indian society, but in some form or other in almost every ancient society.

        However, this discriminatory system has been fading away slowly, as in modern-day India intercaste dining and marriages, especially in cities, are becoming more and more common. Moreover, there are lots of people belonging to the lowest social strata receiving good educations and jobs and rising to social and national distinction. A few prominent examples are: Doctor B. R. Ambedkar, Father of the Indian Constitution, K. R. Narayanan, President of India, Ms. Kumari Mayawati, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and many former and present-day central and state ministers, executives and professionals.
 

IV.  God and Spirituality


21.    What is the difference between religion and spirituality?

21.    According to Indian tradition, while religion includes ritualism, customs, theology,  mythology, philosophy, and, in fact, encompasses everything regarding God, the emphasis of spirituality is on the philosophy of life, transformation of life, and a way to attain eternal peace, joy, wisdom and freedom.

        Spirituality focuses on the realization of one’s own real Self, which is pure consciousness, existence, knowledge and bliss absolute at the individual level. This is the same as the realization of God or the Supreme Reality, Existence, Knowledge and Bliss Absolute at the macro level.

22.    What is the difference between a cult and a mainstream religion?

22.    All mainstream religions emphasize realization of God/The Self, purity, love for all, truthfulness, selfless service, and transparency of purpose. Cults, on the other hand, are secretive and narrow, and may even advocate violence and hatred toward non-conformists, creating disharmony in society.

23.    Religion must teach the truth, so why are there such differences in their beliefs? For example, one has only one life in Christianity, yet many lives in Hinduism, etc.?

23.    Religions have originated and grown under different circumstances in different ages in different regions. Hence, various differences are found in religion. In spite of such differences in some areas there is perfect unity among all religions and their messages in various religions. For example most religions share views on morality, purity, truthfulness, compassion, selfless service, renunciation of the non-eternal in the quest for the eternal, prayer and contemplation, and finally, love of God.

24.    What can religion do to solve the problem of war?

24.    Religion can certainly help to solve the problems of war by creating an ambience of mutual love, respect and understanding among citizens of a country, peoples of the world, and devotees of different religions, by emphasizing the presence of the same God in everyone, or the interconnectedness of everyone irrespective of one’s caste, creed and country through the same Self; also by emphasizing and practicing the idea of universal love and selfless service by seeing the presence of God in everyone.

25.    I think religion makes one weak.  What do you say? 

25.    Religion wrongly taught, understood and practised makes one weak, indolent and even a wrong doer, but religion rightly understood and practised will definitely make one pure, strong, active and wise. Did religion make Buddha, Christ, Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda and their disciples weak? Did religion make Gandhi-ji weak, or the opposite? Do the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita make one weak and indolent, or quite the opposite?

26.    Is not religion responsible for innumerable cases of violence perpetrated in the name of religion?

26.    It is true that violence is often committed in the name of religion killing many. But is religion responsible for that? Will you also condemn and hold science responsible for the innovations in the instruments of war, for example, drones and smart bombs, including tactical atomic weapons, biological and depleted uranium (DU) weapons which have polluted, maimed and killed millions and millions of people? There are huge stockpiles of atomic weapons held by the great powers of the world that could extinguish human civilisation within a few minutes. Is science really responsible for this? Or will you not hold those who employ science and scientists for such nefarious and horrendous purposes responsible?

    Why then should religion be held responsible for the acts of those committing violence in the name of religion? It is those people who have misunderstood religion, or self-serving religious and/or political leaders who have employed religion for their temporal or nefarious purposes that are responsible.

    Moreover, you should consider how much religion has nourished and is nourishing millions of souls the world over through the ages and has given them peace, solace, joy and mental strength.

27.    What is harmony of religions? Is it not enough if I practice the religion in which I have sincere faith, or must I believe in a ‘harmony of religions’?

27.    Harmony of religions is accepting the idea that each religion is but one path leading to the same God. Moreover, while adhering to the path one chooses and practising it sincerely, one should respect other faiths, their scriptures, prophets and devotees. A practising devotee can even draw inspiration from the scriptures, lives and teachings of saints of other faiths, and may even visit their places of worship and thereby derive spiritual benefit.

        However, there is nothing wrong if you choose a faith and practise it exclusively, provided that you do not criticise other faiths, scriptures and prophets as false. Such criticism is totally unjustified and unwarranted since, historically speaking, every religion has produced superior devotees and saints. Thus, the denouncing of other faiths only exposes the narrowness and ignorance of the critic. It also creates hatred, conflict and violence among the devotees and religious teachers of different faiths, vitiating society and causing violence. In the past, destroying places of worship and erecting those of the victors was commonplace. Such instances still occur, although to a more limited scale.

        Thus, religions which otherwise should have preached and practised universal love and harmony in society, fail to play that role because of wrong understandings and the narrow-minded practice of a faith by its adherents and its wrongful use by motivated people.

28.    What is the difference between spiritual healing and spirituality?

28.    Spiritual healing is oriented toward addressing diseases of body and mind, and in seeking relief from such ailments by engaging practitioners of occult powers through a financial arrangement. Spirituality, on the other hand, is something quite different, as explained in Question 21.

29.     Though I believe in God and pray to Him I have no clear idea of God, which at times makes me uncomfortable. Moreover, I hear so many confusing ideas about God. Can you enlighten me about the true idea of God?

29.    You are not alone in this predicament. There are many who do not know a God in which they can believe, or in the case of atheists, they know neither the God in which they do not believe.

        Consequently, such belief or disbelief suffers from superficiality, ambiguity, contradiction, and vulnerability. Hence, it is necessary to form a clear idea about God as we shall discuss here. There are four aspects of the same reality, called God or Supreme Reality (Brahman), which are as follows:

        1. God is Pure Consciousness with no form or quality, which pervades the whole universe in all that is animate and inanimate, and manifests through them in various degrees.
        2. God has no form, but has qualities and powers, like the power of creation, preservation and destruction of the universe; He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; He is the dispenser of justice, yet shows mercy, the giver of the fruits of Karma. This concept of God is similar to that of the Semitic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
        3. God assumes different divine forms having various qualities and powers, for example Shiva and Ganesha (Gods), and Durga and Lakshmi (Goddesses) of the Hindus. This concept of God is similar to that of Shinto.
        4. God periodically assumes human forms to guide human beings in the path of peace, bliss, wisdom and liberation. Such human forms of God, for example Krishna, Buddha, and Jesus, are known as ‘Avataras’ (incarnations or sons of God).

        Hinduism believes in all these four aspects of God.

30.    How can God have form and, yet, be formless?

30.    This is a question which has baffled many sincere seekers, since the idea that God can have form and, yet, be formless, is quite puzzling and even sounds irrational. Sri Ramakrishna explained this point beautifully to his devotees, who would often put this question to him, by giving simple, but convincing, examples of water and ice and of the chameleon.

        Though the states of vapour, water and ice are different, and accordingly, their characteristics of visibility, transparency, temperature, etc., also become different, the basic molecular structure of vapour, water and ice remains as H2O. Again, though the chameleon sometimes assumes the colours of green, blue, and red and sometimes is without any particular colour, it is, after all, the same chameleon.

31.    Is there only one way of God- or Self-realisation, or are there various ways?

31.    There are various ways of ‘Realisation’. For example, there are paths of knowledge, of devotion, of meditation, or of work, and any combination of them. (For further details see question 8.)

        Buddhism places emphasis on the paths of knowledge and meditation, Christianity on the paths of devotion and selfless service, and Islam on the path of devotion. Hinduism accepts all these paths, but recommends a particular path or paths according to the aptitude and capability of a given aspirant.


32.    How can I love an entity (God) whom I have not seen, nor am I even sure of His existence?

32.    This is a pertinent and common question. However, you may try the methods explained below to have faith in God and to love Him.

        1. By appreciating the following arguments:
            a) Every creation has a creator, so this universe also has a creator, whom the devotees call God, as the universe cannot create itself.
            b) A conscious and intelligent entity is necessary to make an insentient thing start and continue functioning and also to guide it. Nature, which is insentient, also needs such an entity to do these jobs, and this conscious and intelligent entity is called God.
        2. Having faith in the words of the scriptures and saints, who have realised God     and who say emphatically that God is.
        3. By a continued and sincere prayer to the effect: “God, if you really exist, please reveal Yourself to me.”
        4. By worshipping and meditating on God in an image as the Hindus do.
        5. Another way, which is rather common and feasible, is to love incarnations or sons of God and prophets like Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and Ramakrishna, who are full of God.

33.    What are the most important pre-requisites for God- or Self-realisation?

33.    These are mainly four:

        1. Purification of body and mind
        2. Control of ego, anger and greed
        3. Love for all
        4. Concentration on a spiritual theme (Self or God or incarnation of God).

34.    Can grace of God and self-effort be reconciled in spiritual life?

34.    The grace of God is kindness or favour shown by God to human beings in general. For example, He provides sunlight, water, and air so that we can live. In some cases God also shows special favour to particular individuals or groups, for example granting His vision. Such a special favour, however, is unconditional, which means that it depends on the sweet will of God.

        According to one interpretation, because such grace can be obtained with little or no striving whatsoever, self-effort in spiritual life is secondary, and one should patiently wait for such grace. According to another interpretation, without effort and striving grace cannot be obtained, hence self-effort is also very much necessary. Cases of obtaining such special grace without any self-effort, however, are indeed rare. Moreover, most scriptures, saints, and prophets advise self-effort; that is, first do spiritual practices sincerely and then wait for God’s grace in reaching the spiritual goal.

35.    a) How can you prove there is a God?   b) Must I believe in God?

35.    a) Through reasoning alone God can neither be proved nor disproved. God can be realized by following a prescribed and tested method as follows: control of the mind and senses; practicing truth and selfless love; discriminating between the eternal and non-eternal, and focusing on an eternal entity, namely God/Self. Persons who have followed this method with utter sincerity, faith and patience were convinced of the existence of God overtime through spiritual realization.

        Such persons, known as realized souls or sages, speak with direct authority and conviction about the existence of God. Millions of people over the ages and all over the world have believed the testimony of these sages, who were the embodiment of purity, truthfulness, selfless love, and wisdom about the existence of God. These millions have followed their spiritual instructions; have called on God and found peace in life.

    b) To believe in God or not is one’s choice. However, certain things are to be considered before making such a choice:
         i) It is far easier to disbelieve certain things, like God, than to investigate the matter properly and seriously. Is the enquirer willing to commit to the serious investigation following prescribed methods necessary to come to a conclusion on such an important matter as believing or non-believing? Most so-called non-believers fail here.
        ii) After experiencing a few hardships in life many people often value a sustained mental peace more than money and other secular things. This peace is not a purchasable or transferable commodity, and we have to seek it in a different way. This way calls upon us to shift our focus from the fleeting, ever-changing, and finite things of the world to that non-fleeting, eternal and infinite entity known by the generic name `God`.
        iii) Irrespective of the existence or the non-existence of God, it is an established fact that millions of people over the world and over the ages have found in God their one and only dependable refuge and solace in days of trouble and suffereing.
        iv) There are people who profess themselves as modern, rationalistic, scientific and hence, non-believers in God, yet believe in all sorts of supernatural things like ghosts, spirits of ancestors, fortune-telling, spiritual healing, visiting power spots etc. They would rather believe in ghosts, spirits, and the effects of planets on their lives, than God. The lives of such people suffer from dichotomy and contradiction. Moreover, is not this belief in and dependence upon occultists and astrologers quite possibly more degrading in the long run.

36.    What does God incarnating as ‘Avatara’ mean? How can one recognize an Avatara?

36.    While the birth and death of ordinary persons are bound by the laws of Karma, God, of His free will, incarnates Himself as a human being known as‘Avatara’, in different ages to teach humanity how to overcome suffering and get abiding peace, joy and wisdom by realizing God/his own Self. Thus the concept of Avatara, which is basically of Hindu origin, is most similar to the Christian concept of the ‘Son of God’.

        The following are some of the characteristics by which an Avatara can be recognised by observation:

        1. The Avatara is pure and spiritual to the core.
        2. He is completely free from all bondages and attachments and established in wisdom.
        3. He is an embodiment of universal love and compassion.
        4. The Avatara can absolve sins of others and make them pure, which in Christianity is known as vicarious atonement.
        5. The Avatara has the power to grant liberation or give the highest spiritual realisation to His devotee, if He wants to.
        6. The Avatara’s spiritual influence is not restricted to the country and time where and when He was born.
        7.The Avatara’s impact is felt not only in the religious field, but also in the fields of society, literature, music, art, architecture etc.

37.    If one sees God or feels God, is it an illusion?

37.    A vision of God is genuine if it gives unbound joy, ineffable peace, and paves the way for a transformation of the character of the person who experiences such a vision. This fact is authenticated by the lives of those who have had the experiences of a genuine vision. On the other hand if the vision of God is not followed by these effects, the genuineness of such a vision is questionable and may be an illusion, a mere fancy of the mind.

38.    How can I love God more? How can I always commune with God?

38.    By undertaking spiritual practices sincerely; purifying the heart and mind and establishing a relationship with God, as we do in the case of our human relationships. Such a relationship is practised both in Hindu and Christian religious traditions. Thus, we can look upon God as our master, father, mother, friend, or even a child and direct our innermost love to Him. God is far away from us, as it were, when we are in awe of Him; He comes nearer to us when we love Him.

        One can always commune with God through regular introspection and meditation, and by repeating God’s Holy name and/or a mantra and soulful prayer, and reading selected holy books.

39.    Sometimes I wonder who I am. Am I a body with mind and intelligence inside it? If so, how is rebirth possible when this body is either burnt or buried? How can I go to heaven or hell in which all religions believe? Can you explain?

39.    We have eight aspects or levels of our being as a human:

        1. The physical body, which is made of skin, flesh, bone, blood, and physical organs of the senses, like the eyes and ears.
        2. Our senses, which are ten in number: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch, the five senses of knowledge, and the hand, leg, speech, excretion and generation, the five senses of action
        3. Vital energy
        4. Mind (thinks, imagines, feels)
        5. Intelligence (analyses, understands, decides)
        6. Memory
        7. Ego, ‘I-ness’ and ‘my-ness’
        8. The Real Self, or Atman.

        The first aspect refers to the gross body. The second to sixth aspects refer to the subtle body. The seventh aspect refers to the causal body. Beyond these seven aspects there is the Self, which refers to the substratum of our being, which is Pure Consciousness, and from which consciousness is lent so that the body and mind, etc., can function.

        In death it is the physical body which dies and is burnt or buried, but not the subtle and causal bodies, which, accompanied by the soul, travel to heaven or hell according to one’s Karma, and then are reborn.

        Sometimes we identify ourselves with the gross body and think “I am the physical body, I am walking.” Sometimes we identify ourselves with both physical body and senses, like the eyes, and think “I am the body and the eyes, and I am seeing.” Sometimes we identify ourselves with the body and mind and think “I am body and mind, and I am thinking.” Thus, the idea of ‘I-ness’ focused on different aspects of our being at different times continuously changes.

        But the only aspect of our being which is changeless, which neither decays nor dies, is Pure Consciousness, and it is the substratum of all other aspects of our being. This pure Consciousness; eternal, infinite, free and blissful, is our real ‘I’ and is known as the `Atman.`

40.    If the real ‘I’ is Pure Consciousness why can’t I feel it?

40.    According to one explanation, under the spell of ‘ignorance’ (“Maya”), the real and eternal ‘I’ identifies itself with the body-mind complex, which is material and transient. In other words, it gets a false notion of itself. But when, by following the methods of discrimination and other spiritual practices, the real ‘I’ dis-identifies itself from the body-mind complex and focuses on its own Self, it realises its real nature, which is Pure Consciousness, eternal, infinite, free and blissful.

41.    a) Why are we born?   b) What is the purpose of life?

41.   a)  According to one view, we are born so that we can get the `Joy of Liberation` while we are still in this mortal body. For another explanation of our birth, please see the answer to question 99.
        b)  According to the Hindu tradition, there are four aims of life worth considering:
        1. To lead a virtuous life.
        2. To earn money by honest means.
        3. To have enjoyment of life with discrimination.
        4. To realise God or Self and attain liberation.

    Liberation, the 4th aim, has been regarded as the highest and ultimate goal of life by Hindus, as it brings to an end to the incessant sufferings caused by repeated births and deaths and gives one eternal life full of bliss and peace.

    Liberation, the 4th aim, has been regarded as the highest and ultimate goal of life by Hindus, as it brings to an end to the incessant sufferings caused by repeated births and deaths and gives one eternal life full of bliss and peace.

42.    What is death and what happens after death?

42.    Death is the end of one chapter of the book of life. Death occurs when the soul gives up a diseased and worn out body to take up a new one bearing new energy and enthusiasm to do unfinished jobs, fulfill unfulfilled desires, and to experience the results of `Karma` of previous lives, which had not yet been experienced. Thus, one chapter ends and a new chapter opens, until our soul attains liberation and our book of life comes to an end.

43.    If there is a God, why are there such calamities and sufferings?

43.    God has designed the world in such a way that we can learn here important lessons and gain wisdom. It is through experiences, which may be good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, painful, and even shocking, that we really learn. Only when our learning is completed and we become truly wise in one life, or series of lives, are we then set free to enjoy limitless joy and eternal peace.
 

V.  Spiritual Practice


44.     a) What does spiritual practice mean?   b) Why should I do it?

44.   a) Spiritual practice means such practices as would help us to become aware of and finally realize the true nature of our self which is pure consciousness, eternal and also the selestratum of the personality. (See also answer 42.)

        b) Spiritual practices along with practices for physical, mental, intellectual and moral development will make our personality balanced and holistic; thus we attain a state of steady joy, peace and wisdom and our life is fulfilled. Even with spectacular material achievements it is difficult to get steady mental peace and joy, which everyone craves for, without doing some sort of regular spiritual practices, like meditation selfless and merciful services to others, etc. [Please also see answers to other questions in this section]
  
45.    When I pray to God, how can I pray for everybody’s well-being, such as in the time of universal suffering from a massive natural disaster?

45.    When you pray to God for everyone’s welfare in a general way, then say the following prayer mentally: Let auspiciousness befall everyone; let everyone be happy; let everyone be peaceful; let everyone be perfect.

        If you pray for a particular person having trouble first visualize his condition and pray accordingly. When you pray for the victims of a huge natural disaster, you may say the followingprayers:

        a. A prayer for the peace of the souls of the deceased
        b. A prayer for the peace, comfort, and wellbeing of the relatives of the deceased and other victims who are still surviving, but have been suffering
        c. A prayer that normalcy is restored as early as possible

46.    What is the best method of meditation, e.g. best timing, duration, breathing, concentration, etc.?

46.    Sit straight and don’t move or fidget. Close your eyes. Take a few deep and rhythmic breaths. Watch your mind for a while and finally concentrate on a holy theme.  Morning is the best time for meditation. The time, place and duration (at least 20-30 minutes) should also be fixed.

47.    What basic preparations for meditation should one take?

47.   a.  Regulated food, work, rest and entertainment
        b.  Strong motivation to continue the practice and to have patience.
        c.  Chanting or listening to hymns.
        d.  Reading selected holy books <http://www.vedantajp-en.com/shop/>
        e.  Also, please see answers to the other questions on meditation in this section.
        [Please also visit our ‘Discourse Text Gallery’ pages for: ‘Meditation: Why and How’]

48.    How should one practice meditation to get enlightenment?

48.    If you want to experience enlightenment through deep meditation, you have to first devote at least 1 hour to meditation both in the morning and in the evening/night daily; get connected with God/your Atman through repetition of your mantra as much as possible; work with a prayerful attitude; and also lead a balanced lifestyle. Slowly the period of meditation should be increased. Also, please see the answers to the other questions on meditation. Finally, you should also consult an experienced spiritual teacher for further detailed instructions.

49.    How can I make meditation an everyday habit?

49.    a.  Create strong motivation in yourself through deep introspection and understanding, that just as food is most important for your physical health, meditation is most important for your mental health and spiritual wellbeing.
        b.  Include time for meditation in your daily schedule.
        c.  Don’t take breakfast or do any other jobs until you do your daily meditation for at least 20-30 minutes.

50.    I’ve heard that it is better not to meditate after mid-night, but due to my work I cannot be home at an appropriate time. Is meditation while commuting by train okay? Or should I just skip meditation?

50.    If you can ignore what’s happening around you, and don’t feel stressed about missing your station, you can surely meditate on a train. However, it is preferable that you mediate everyday at the same time and the same place in a quiet atmosphere. So it is better to meditate in the quiet atmosphere of morning at home. Your time of returning home may not be fixed but the time to go out for work is generally fixed. So if necessary decrease about 20-30 minutes from your sleeping time as it does not really affect your physical health. But 20-30 minutes of meditation will do tremendous good to both your mental health and spiritual well being. It will also help you in your work and relationships.

51.    Many thoughts intrude upon my meditation and it becomes hard to concentrate. How should I deal with this problem?

51.    Appearance of random thoughts during meditation is quite common. While you sit for meditation first watch your thoughts as a witness, which you are, or think of your thoughts as white clouds floating across a blue sky. This will help to control your thoughts, and their number will also gradually decrease. Then focus your mind on a spiritual theme and continue to meditate. Occasionally do some introspection about your purpose in life and self-analysis during meditation hours. Devote at least 20-30 minutes to each session and more during holidays.

52.    How can I continue the peaceful mood that meditation gives me throughout the day?

52.    Repeat the holy name of God or your mantra throughout the day as much as possible and perform your work in a worshipful attitude (Karma yoga).

53.    I meditate everyday thinking that I am surrendering to God. But sometimes I feel uneasy, and ask myself, ‘Is this really the right thing to do?’  What should I do?

53.    The more we become free from our egotism, the more we can surrender to God and depend on Him, which really makes us free from worries and makes us peaceful.  Practicing egolessness should go along with the practice of surrendering to God.

54.    What is this discrimination that is regarded as an important spiritual discipline in spiritual practices?

54.     Discrimination is to first understand the difference between the finite and the infinite, between the relative and the absolute, between the changeable and the changeless, then to judge each object and perception accordingly, and focus on the eternal, infinite, absolute and changeless entity known as ‘Reality’ or ‘Brahman’ (in Hinduism).

        Discrimination can be practiced both in the path of knowledge (Jnana) and the path of devotion (Bhakti).

        There is a second kind of discrimination necessary for spiritual life, discrimination between the good (‘Sreyas‘) and the pleasant (‘Preyas‘), that is, between those things which lead us toward liberation and those things which keep us bound to the world.

55.     Can you give some examples of discrimination?

55.     1. Discrimination according to the Path of Knowledge (Jnana)

            a. The body, vital energy, senses, mind, intelligence, memory, and ‘ego’, which I possess, are made of matter and are transient and finite. I am not the body-mind complex, nor am I affected by its functions. I am Pure Consciousness, eternal, infinite, free, pure and blissful. By borrowing consciousness from the consciousness, which is my real ‘I’, the body-mind complex functions.
            b. All inanimate objects of this universe with different forms and names are made of matter and are transient and finite. The substratum of this universe is, however, Pure Consciousness at the macro level, which is eternal, infinite, pure, and blissful.
            c. The nature of the pure consciousness at the individual level and the macro level is the same, which is Existence, Knowledge, Bliss Absolute.

            2. Discrimination according to the Path of devotion (Bhakti).

            a. The body, mind and intelligence which I possess are not really mine; these are gifts from the Lord. It is the Lord who is operating through me, as He is the operator and I am His instrument. The results of the works, which He does through me, also belong to Him. My family is also a gift from the lord. He wants to get my service through my family members in whom He lives.
            b. My relationships with family and friends are restricted to this life alone, while my only eternal relationship is with God.

56.      But why should I discriminate?

56.     If we do not practice discrimination, we become attached to the transient things of the world, including our body and family members. Such attachment brings in its wake bondage, suffering and various negative emotions like pride, anger, and jealousy, and we become totally peaceless in the long run. So the purpose of discrimination is to shift our focus from the transient things of the world to the eternal, and to transcend our relationships with others, which will make our life full of peace and joy.

57.    But I am afraid that if I don’t feel any attachment to my family and friends, my heart will be dry and I shall lose the motivation to do my duties toward them. In other words, is love really possible without attachment?

57.    Absolutely. And this is the key-point here. Presently, our love is full of attachment; hence we should practice discrimination, as much as possible, to free our love from attachment. There are many examples of love without attachment in the lives of great householder devotees and, of course, saints; and this love motivated them to serve others even at great cost to themselves.

    However as it is difficult to eliminate all kinds of attachment all at once. If we can at least eliminate the selfish aspect of relationships, as well as feelings of expectation, we can remove many of the harmful effects of attachment.

58.    What is renunciation? Is it possible for us, who are householders, to practice it?

58.    Renunciation is giving up the attachment to fleeting things of the world, so that in pursuit of the eternal, we can focus more on the eternal than on the temporal. While monks are required to practice both external and internal (mental) renunciation, householders can practice mental renunciation by practicing detachment–that is, being like a lotus leaf, which is in the water, but not dampened by it.

59.    What is ‘ego’?

59.    The word ‘ego’ is often used to mean vanity or pride. Such pride and indulging in excessive self-importance induce one to ignore or belittle others, which causes one’s downfall. However, the deeper meaning is that because of ego, we become conscious of our identity as a person distinct from others.

        According to Hindu philosophy, our being as a person has many aspects or levels for example: physical body, senses, mind, intelligence, etc.; ‘ego’ is one such aspect or level from which emerges our feeling of ‘I-ness’ and ‘my-ness’ related to our body, mind, etc., our family and friends, and also our personal belongings in an exclusive sense.

        This ‘ego’ is the starting point of our delusion and attachment leading to suffering as this ‘ego’, under the influence of ‘Maya’ (spiritual illusion) falsely identifies itself with the transient aspects of our being, the body, mind, etc. Nevertheless, when this ‘ego’, through spiritual disciplines and discrimination (for details see Answer number 55), identifies itself with the Self, which is Pure Consciousness and eternal, or with God as His devotee or child, and gets established in that state, enlightenment follows. Consequently all one’s sufferings come to an end and one experiences a state of bliss and peace.

60.    When I do spiritual practices like meditation and Japa I consider myself as a devotee; then the next moment when I busy myself with many worldly duties, I feel I have become a worldly man. These two feelings, evidently contradictory, create a dichotomy, confusion, and conflict in me, that always torments me. Is there any way to reconcile them?

60.    Whether a particular work should be considered spiritual or worldly is determined by its purpose and the way in which it is performed. Even meditation, if practiced with a temporal motive, cannot be called a spiritual practice that may bring spiritual benefit. On the contrary, if worldly duties are performed in a spiritual way (Karma-yoga) and with a spiritual motive, such worldly duties cease to be worldly and are transformed into spiritual practices bringing spiritual benefit. Thus, to a spiritually awakened soul there is no distinction between spiritual practice and worldly duty also by being in constant communion with God even during work. Consequently, every work, irrespective of its nature, worldly or spiritual, is transformed into the spiritual alone.
   
61.    If we do not pray, or if we do not ask directly, will God never hear or know our wishes?

61.    As God is omniscient, He knows our innermost thoughts, wants and problems. Some devotees have such a tremendous faith in and dependence on God, that they don’t ask God for help, believing that God will send help when and if it is really necessary. With such deep faith in their hearts, they do their duties and are at peace even at the risk of great loss. But most devotees, who do not have such faith and dependence, ask God for help through prayer, and there is nothing wrong about it.

62.    How can I find my Guru?

61.    If you are an earnest seeker of God and crave for finding your `Guru` to lead you in the spiritual path, pray to God sincerely; God will definitely respond to your prayer.

63.    What is initiation and Mantra?

63.    Initiation is a ritual in which the Guru formally initiates the disciple into spiritual life. In the Hindu tradition initiation is called ‘Diksha’. During initiation the Guru or spiritual teacher imparts a Mantra, a sacred and mystic formula, to the disciple, which the Guru has himself received through the succession of Gurus. Such a Mantra must have the potentiality of enabling a disciple to have God/Self realization.

        By repeating the Mantra regularly with faith and sincerity, and by focusing on the deity indicated by the Mantra, a devotee gradually becomes pure and peaceful, and his love for God is increased; and finally, he realizes God.

64.    If one decides to call on God, should that person give up even some hobbies that give enjoyment? If it is too hard to give up such hobbies, is it better to just reduce the time one spends on hobbies?

64.    No hobby (for example gardening, music etc.) is basically bad and is rather welcome, provided it is not unethical, is practiced within limits, and does not make us forgetful of God.       

65.    My family is against my spiritual way of life; what should I do?

65.    If you are convinced that spiritual life is good for you and that you are not disturbing your family members at all by your spiritual practices, or ignoring your duties to them, you should quietly ignore their objections. Nevertheless, avoid confrontations on account of their objections; rather pray to God for them. If you are sincere the same people who raise objections to your spiritual life now may begin to inwardly appreciate you, or may even change their views about your practices sooner or later. They may even get interested in them by witnessing your example.

66.    There are those who cannot attend discourses because they are very busy.  Are there any ways to help them to lead a spiritual life?

66.    The Internet is really helpful in such matters. For example, if you cannot attend the monthly retreats at our Zushi Center or attend the Gita discourses at the Indian Embassy in Tokyo, you can at least listen to the talk or read the text of discourse by visiting our homepage where these are regularly uploaded. Moreover, a CD on guided meditation or devotional songs, and spiritual books published by our Society, will be helpful to lead a spiritual life. To learn more regarding our programs and services, please visit our "shop" page.

67.    I cannot sing Bhajan at daily prayers offered at the Vedanta Centre. Is it an effective spiritual practice for us, even though most of us do not understand the meanings of those songs?

67.    Devotional songs, hymns and Sutra chanting have been considered helpful for mental peace and spiritual progress according to various religious traditions of the world. If it is difficult for you to sing devotional songs at our center because of a language problem, try to concentrate on their meaning. Otherwise, receive their holy vibrations and think of God during Bhajans.

68.    If I want to make an altar in my room, which direction should it face; East, West, South or North? If I make the altar, should I purify the picture? How would one do that?

68.    Though there are certain rules for making an altar according to an orthodox Hindu tradition, there would be no harm, if you make one according to your convenience. God does not really value such secondary things; what He values is genuine devotion to Him. You need not purify a picture or portrayal of God or incarnation of God, as it is already pure.
 

VI.  Mental Peace and Joy


69.    Can you please advise me about positive thinking and living?

69.    Sit quietly for some time and reflect upon the purpose of your life and the way to fulfill it. Set a reachable goal of life and then work on it. Focus on the `now`. Never brood over past mistakes. Don’t mind failures. Failures pave our way for success. So try once more.

        Now and then read inspiring messages; memorize some of them and repeat them to yourself in moments of despair or weakness. Cultivate some good hobbies. Our homepage also features a ‘Discourse Text Gallery’ where an article on ‘Positive Living’ can be found in the Archives. Also see answers to questions 94 & 95.
   
70.    Please offer some advice on how to live a meaningful and joyful life.

70.    Please see the Answer to Questions 69, 94, 95.

71.    How can I maintain a peaceful mind in daily life?

71.    By the practice of meditation for 20 to 30 minutes every day, continuing the mood of meditation throughout the day, and by focusing on the work at hand. Please also see the answers to questions on meditation in section V. Spiritual Practice.

72.    How can I concentrate the mind?

72.    Most of us experience concentration when we are engaged in something which we like, but not everything we like is always beneficial. Again, all that is beneficial may not be interesting; hence we find difficulties in concentrating on such things. If we want success in life, and to learn or practice something for self development, we need to focus our mind on things irrespective of their being interesting or not.

        Through regular practice of meditation we can surely develop the power of concentration and then apply it as needed to accomplish great things. But if we want to learn and master this technique of concentration, we have to work at it. Results require that we must give at least 20-30 minutes for the practice of concentration every day. For more details on concentration see section V. Spiritual Practice and answers to questions on meditation.

73.    Negative and weakening thoughts often appear in my mind. How can I become mentally strong?

73.   a. Remember now and then the following saying of Swami Vivekananda:`The remedy of weakness is not brooding over weakness, but thinking of strength.
        b. Prepare a whole day’s schedule and try to follow it by focusing your whole mind on each scheduled task.
        c. Live each present moment well.
        d. Whenever negative thoughts and unnecessary worries appear in the mind, mentally repeat some Holy names or words (Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ, Shiva, Krishna, Ramakrishna or Om) or any positive words (for example, peace, harmony) for some time and next resume your focus on your schedule.
       
74.    After listening to a spiritual discourse and doing meditation, I feel at peace during work and feel a harmonious relationship with others, but with time my mind is gradually disturbed. Howcan I maintain that peaceful mood with me always?

74.    In addition to listening to spiritual discourses, practice of meditation 20~30 minutes every day, mentally chant a mantram, the holy name of God or prophets, as much as possible at other times, and do work in a worshipful way.

75.    How can I forget past mistakes, wrongdoings, and sad experiences?

75.    See the answer to question 73. Also consider, however grievous a sin one may have committed, God forgives it if one is sincerely repentant for such a wrongdoing, takes refuge in God, and vows not to commit that sin again. It is better to follow this positive method than to fall into useless brooding over past wrongdoings and mistakes, and thereby weakening oneself.

76.    I worry too much about the future; how can I concentrate on the present?

76.    See the answer to question 73.

77.    How can I stop feeling repentance or guilt over trifling things?

77.    By growing self-confidence and focusing on the `Now`. Also see the answers to question 73 and 75.

78.    How can I be selfless?

78.    We can grow the desire for a higher life – a value-based life of wisdom, purity, compassion and service - a desire for a God-centered life and work on it. Ponder on Swami Vivekananda’s words, “Unselfishness is more paying than selfishness; only people have not patience to practice it.”

79.    How can I distinguish between ‘good desires’ and ‘bad desires’?

79.    By analyzing the effects of the fulfillment of a desire. If fulfillment of a certain desire makes us physically, mentally, spirituality weaker sooner or later, and also makes us feel repentant, such a desire is undoubtedly bad. On the other hand, fulfillment of a certain desire makes us strong, joyful and elevated, such desire is definitely good. Please study Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic happiness as explained in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verses 37, 38 and 39.
 

VII.  Relationships


80.    How can I get genuine love from others?

80.    If we want to be loved by others, first we should love others without expecting that love to be returned.

81.    How can I make better relationships with others?

81.    The most important requirement for better relationships is to love others, as love is the password for entering into the hearts of others. Also practice giving more and taking less.

82.    How can I live in peace and harmony with someone especially when we    (husband and wife) don’t share the same value systems, which strains our     relationship?

82.    Value concepts may be different from person to person. Unless such concepts are unethical, one should not criticize them. Place emphasis on where you agree with others, not on where you disagree. Try to ignore the shortcomings of others, as much as possible, without expecting them to do the same in their dealings with you.

83.    I have a problem with one particular person with whom I cannot even talk to and it is not even possible go near that person yet I cannot totally dissociate from him. How can I solve this problem?

83.    a. Please consider whether other people also have the same problem of communication with that person, or if it is only you that does.

         b. Find out if that person has some good qualities which others appreciate, but you may have overlooked or not been aware of.

         c. Observe what he/she likes or dislikes and try to adjust your behavior.

         d. If we change ourselves before trying to change others, we may find that others change, too.

84.    How can I deal with a tough and difficult person?

84.    Try to observe that person’s likes and dislikes. Interact with him or her accordingly. We should try to accommodate others as much as possible without compromising with our principles. Also see the answers to questions 81, 83, and 86.

85.    I have a problem communicating with a colleague at work even though I try to be kind to him/her.  What should I do?

85.     Please see the answers to questions 81~83 and 86

86.    How can I always be nice to others?

86.    By trying to see God in others and to understand and love them, and to offer them a helping hand whenever needed.

87.    How can I see always positive things in others, as sometimes it is difficult?

87.    We are generally aware of our own nature. Yet, even if we know our negative sides, do we hate ourselves? No. Moreover, we expect others to overlook our shortcomings. Similarly, even if we know another’s negative traits, we should not mind them or be upset with them. Hence, try to ignore the weaknesses of others, appreciate their good qualities and pray for their well being. Let our ideal be to become a bee which seeks only honey, and not to become a fly which also seeks filth.

88.    Having been betrayed in a close relationship, I believe no one and I feel life is meaningless. Is my way of thinking incorrect?

88.    In our lives we have relationships with various persons. If someone has betrayed me, there are others who consistently love me. So why should I dwell on a solitary case of betrayal and forget all the other cases of love and compassion? Life offers us many experiences, good and bad, so that we can learn from them and thus grow and become perfect, which is the goal of our life.

89.    In my business, I have to deal with many high ranking or elderly people of Rajasic temperament.  What can I do?

89.    Get yourself firmly rooted in the `Sattvic` state through regular spiritual practices and self-analysis and then you can handle the Rajasic people correctly. Be soft and polite in manners, but at the same time be firm in matters of principle. See more 16
 

VIII. Miscellaneous


90.    How can one activate a very lazy person?

90.    We can constantly motivate such a person by being an example of the active lifestyle we’d like to see in them.

91.    How can I control excessive appetite or sleepiness?

91.    If you think excessive intake of food and drink is not good for you and want to stop it, first reason out why it is not good. For example, it takes a lot of energy to digest rich or excessive amounts of food – which is waste of energy. Moreover, it makes the mind lethargic and may cause disease. If you are thus convinced that overeating is not good, impress it upon your mind repeatedly, until the mind is motivated to control the desire to take excessive food or drink.

        Excessive sleep and sleepiness are the characteristics of a Tamasic person, and finally makes that person dull, lethargic, indolent, and susceptible to mistakes. To overcome such a state one must motivate the mind by impressing upon it repeatedly that life is valuable, but short and fleeting, so one must utilize one’s time as best as possible to lead a higher and more purposeful life. Regular exercise and stretching, or a brisk walk at the onset of sleepiness, may help to relieve this.   
       
92.    Why are there so many differences in life; rich and poor, good condition, bad condition?

92.    There may be various explanations for such differences we see in the world, which pains us at times. However, some explanations are given below:

        a. The universe and all its animate and inanimate objects are made of the five elements; Kshiti (earth), Ap (water), Tejas (fire), Maruti (air) and Vyoma (ether), each of which have the three qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, mixed in various proportions, which cause differences in things and persons.
        b. Some of these differences in human lives can be explained by the theory of Karma (see also answer 16 and 17).
        c.  Because there is darkness, we understand the value of light and strive to dispel darkness by bringing light. Again, that is why we abhor ignorance and strive for knowledge, and thus, develop ourselves and proceed on the path to perfection.
        d.  Differences in certain areas, in matters of aptitude and tastes for example, are generally welcomed as they make life interesting and colorful.

93.    I do volunteer work because I think working for financial reward is a very lowreason to work. But at the same time I am worried that if I do not work for money, I may face financial problems or that society will not allow me to rejoin the workforce later. Please advise.

93.    Doing work to earn money by honest means to support oneself and one’s family is in no way bad. Do that work in the spirit of service with a worshipful attitude (Karma yoga).

94.    Though I know that regular practice of meditation, exercise, study of holy books, etc., are good for my body and mind, I practice them either half- heartedly or give up after a few days. As a result I cannot bring any positive change in my life, though I wish it so much, which makes me sad and frustrated. Has this problem any solution?

94.    This is not exclusively your problem. Many idealistic people who want to lead a higher life also have similar problems. In fact, this situation is caused by lack of will power and strong motivation. To redress this, some methods are suggested below which, if tried sincerely, should yield some positive results.

        1. Do occasional introspection. This will help you to realise your present state and to make new resolutions for self development.
        2.  Make a schedule for the whole day that should include your practice of exercise, meditation, study, etc. and scrupulously follow it at least once a week. If you succeed in doing that even a little, it will be a great in help in developing good habits.
        3. Even if you are very busy or feel a little unwell, practice these disciplines for a shorter period of time, but don’t skip them altogether. For if you skip them even for one day, your mind, which is fond of casual ways and dislikes discipline, will find some excuse to skip them the next day as well.
        4. Do what you should do even if your mind does not want to do it. Don’t do what you should not do even if your mind wants to do it. This helps to increase your will power.
        5. Memorise some inspiring messages and often repeat them in your mind. You may also write such messages on a piece of paper and keep them at your desk or on your computer and read them every day. This is a simple, but very effective, method that has been followed by some who were later to become quite eminent people.

95.    Can you suggest some such inspiring messages?

95.    Some inspiring messages and words of wisdom would include:
     
        1. ‘Introspection is the steering wheel of the car of life.‘
        2. ‘You can if you think you can.’ - Norman Vincent Peale
        3. ‘For success strive until there is success.’ - Matsushita Kounouske
        4. ‘All power is within you, manifest it.’ - Swami Vivekananda
        5. ‘Faith in yourself, faith in God is the secret of greatness.’ - Swami Vivekananda
        6. ‘Strength is life, weakness is death. The remedy of weakness is not brooding over weakness but thinking of strength.’ - Swami Vivekananda
        7. ‘Hope is life, despair is death.’ - Swami Virajananda
        8. ‘Never make yourself depressed. Uplift yourself by your “Self”.’ -  Bhagavad Gita
        9. ‘You are your friend provided you can control your mind and senses, you are your enemy if you cannot control them.’ - Gita
        10. ‘Don’t run away from the brute (problems), but face it.’ - Swami Vivekananda
        11. ‘Live this moment well. The work in your hand right now is the most important work for you; the person in front of you right now is the most important person for you.’ - Leo Tolstoy
        12. ‘The secret of health for both mind and body is to not mourn for the past, not to worry about the future or not to anticipate trouble, but to live wisely and earnestly for the present.’ - Gautama Buddha
        13. ‘Love is the password for entering into others’ hearts.’
        14. ‘Ninety-percent of our worries are imaginary, and they do not take place at all.’
        15. ‘Unselfishness is God.’ - Swami Vivekananda