Monday, June 1, 2015

About ONE God/Spirit formless/with-form, and interventionist God, and Loving God unconditionally

Last updated on 3rd June 2015

Thought of sharing a comment I made on a Facebook post.

Wonderful post showing the unity of traditions across the world and across various ages, about the belief in the Formless ONE spirit that permeates or projects the whole universe.

A good part of my spiritual journey has been based on the Hindu Advaita tradition of the Upanishads, which speaks about this ONE ever peaceful & changeless spirit that permeates all, and that the essence of each of us is the same as this ONE spirit. The classic Upanishad metaphor is that of the wave and the sea/ocean - each individual is a wave and the entirety is sea, and the essence of the wave and the sea is the same water. Also, the wave is born out of the sea water, spends some time as a wave and gets merged back into the sea after that. The metaphor is sometimes extended to a water bubble (like wave) and water (like sea).

But that this spirit also intervenes in the affairs of human beings (and even non human beings according to some scripture) when earnestly prayed to, no matter whether we pray to it as a form with a name, or as just a name without a form or as a nameless and formless entity, was a somewhat distinctly different part of my journey. As Eve commented, I believe that the spirit that responds to earnest prayer is the same as the one who makes the prayer (but at a deeper level of existence which I have not plumbed yet).

The confidence given by this FAITH in a God/Spirit, viewed as formless-but-named or nameless-and-formless or with-name-and-form, who intervenes in human affairs, in some fasion which may not exactly be the way one wants but is typically beneficial, is truly extraordinary. And it is that FAITH in the interventionist God/spirit that seems to be vital force behind the many faithful in various religions in various parts of the world, across the ages. Developing this faith in an interventionist God/spirit has been a very important part of my spiritual journey.

And then to Love this God/spirit, '"With all thine heart, And with all thy soul, And with all thy might." - the Shema (Jewish Sacred Prayer)', is a yet another vital step in the journey - To love this God/spirit unconditionally, in good times & bad times (which is all illusion (Maya) anyway, according to the Upanishads), and bask in that spirit of eternal & undying love towards anything and everything. Hard to actually practise all the time :-), but worth trying to do so, whenever we can. Thanks.

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The above contents were later put up as a separate FB post here: https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/1624656757750895.

I have given below, selected comment exchanges (slightly edited) from the FB post. [I have presumed that Sai Das, Terry Reis Kennedy, Eve Gardener and Venugopal Bhamidipati would not mind me sharing their comments/blog-post extracts on this blog post as it is a free service to people interested in such matters.]

Sai Das wrote:
It is very nice to know of another Sai Advaitist; until reading your opening paragraph, I was the only one I know of practicing Sai Jnana. Even though it is the cornerstone of Swami's teachings, my experience is that most Sai devotees are not very knowledgable about it and are even less interested.

Up until the last 8 years or so, I found that Swami's teachings had more emphasis on Bhakti than Jnana yoga but then switched. Most of us remember Swami's teachings going from I Am That to I Am to I Am I to just I. To me, this fit perfectly with His maha samadhi because it forces us to make this change which is really what Swami's ultimate mission is, no?

I would love to discuss Sai Jnana with you sometime Ravi S. Iyer The only others I've heard even discuss it are Srikanth Sola and Al Drucker and one was addressing a group of devotees which kept it light and the other was in an old letter.

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Terry Reis Kennedy wrote:
I'm one too. Here in Parthi there are quite a few of us.

In fact a professor in the ashram gives classes here.....and Ron Ronald Berdy has written many books on Advaita. He lived here for over 20 years.
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Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Sai Das: My humble view on the matter (and I surely could be wrong) is that Swami's primary concern was re-establishment of Dharma, and faith in an interventionist God, among the devotee-masses. The seekers of self-realization or ultimate truth of existence, were a minority. [I wonder whether you have read of Swami stating the types of people who come/came to Him - arthi, arthaarthi, jignyaasu and jnani. If you have not I will dig up some references to Swami's words on it and pass it on to you.]

But Swami did spend some time on re-emphasizing Advaitic truths in the midst of all his teachings on Dharma and love and Karma. I have heard him speak on Advaita in Sai Kulwanth Hall many times from mid 90s on. He spoke so authoritatively on it - I mean I just felt that here is somebody who is talking from DIRECT EXPERIENCE of Advaita, and not just a scholarly mastery of Upanishads or Brahma Sutra (and I have heard a fair bit from such scholars usually from Hindu monasteries/matts). However, I also noticed that many in the audience would kind-of lose it when Swami would go into Advaita. They preferred the easier Dharma, Karma and Love bit.

BTW you may want to have a look at a blog post of mine, Some Shlokas from Chandogya Upanishad VI chapter including Tat tvam asi (You are That) Mahavakya, and comments on it, here: http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/03/some-shlokas-from-chandogya-upanishad.html.

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Sai Das wrote:
Ravi S. Iyer Terry Reis Kennedy - What I am interested in is how the relatively few Sai devotees incorporate their Sai Bhakti and Jnana yoga. There is no dearth of material to consume for either, but what I haven't come across, but would like to, is how other Sai Advaitists practice. Strictly speaking, Advaita Vedanta doesn't allow for bhakti as it is generally understood and we don't hear Advaitists speak in bhakti terms and rarely Bhaktas speaking in Advaitic terms.

I've had similar communications with Sai Anandini and you say there are others, so what would you think of forming a Sai Advaita Facebook group to discuss and share this? I'm all for it.

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Terry Reis Kennedy wrote:
Ronald Berdy already has such a group but few people enter into discussion about his posts. 90% of his posts are all that Baba has said in his many, many discourses on Advaita. Swami's own words....written....by His Own Hand and published (as) found in Jnana Vahini. I don't feel any conflict in loving the Imperishable One who I am....The Doer of all. We are all puppets of the Imperishable One and to love and respect the SELF and the self are Swami's teachings. That is the Miracle of BABA...one simple discourse communicates on hundreds of levels.

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Sai Das wrote:
Ravi S. Iyer ~ "Swami's primary concern was re-establishment of Dharma, and faith in an interventionist God, among the devotee-masses." ~ I agree that this seemed to be His general mission as Avatar and as you stated, there are many different kinds of sadhakas just as there are academic students. Ramana Maharshi said similar in saying there were really three Vedas: for the general masses, for serious sadhakas and those who Realized them.

I have had a few conversations over the years but they usually would fall into either an Advaitic philosophic exchange or some amorphic Sai bhakti conversation.

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Eve Gardener wrote:
I, the Atman, am Brahma, I am Vishnu, I am Shiva. I am this universe. Nothing is, but I am. I dwell within; I am without, I am before and I am behind. I am in the south and I am in the north. I am above and I am below."

- Shankara (Hindu Mystic) I enjoy all paths - all teachings - all that adds to the good.. I would not call myself a devotee of this or that - just experiencing...

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Eve Gardener wrote:
--snip-- Never say, "O Lord, I am a miserable sinner." Who will help you? You are the help of the universe. What in this universe can help you? What can prevail over you? You are the God of the universe; where can you seek for help? Never help came from anywhere but from yourself. In your ignorance, every prayer that you made and that was answered, you thought was answered by some Being, but you answered the prayer yourself unknowingly. The help came from yourself, and you fondly imagined that someone was sending help to you. There is no help for you outside of yourself; you are the creator of the universe. Like the silkworm, you have built a cocoon around yourself. Who will save you? Burst your own cocoon and come out as a beautiful butterfly, as the free soul. Then alone you will see Truth.”
― Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: v. 3 - i already have quoted this. :-)

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Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Sai Das Terry Reis Kennedy: This is a response to multiple comments. Interesting point you made, Sai Das, "Strictly speaking, Advaita Vedanta doesn't allow for bhakti as it is generally understood and we don't hear Advaitists speak in bhakti terms and rarely Bhaktas speaking in Advaitic terms." But Sathya Sai was emphatic that such division is improper - He even went to the extent of saying that Bhakti margam (path) was, at some spiritual level I guess, the same as Jnana margam, if I recall correctly.

About a blended Sai Bhakti and Jnana yoga path - that is quite interesting. There are certainly a few in PTP who try to practise it but I don't know whether they write about it. As I have not read too many works by contemporary Sai devotee authors I don't know whether there are some who write or speak about such a blended path.

About the Sai Advaita facebook group (including Ronald Berdy's referred to by Terry): I think that is quite interesting in general. However, in my particular case, while I was both reading and trying to practise a blend of Bhakti & Advaita (including silent sitting with chintan - meditating on words read earlier, and deep meditation on awareness/self with some Kundalini rising experiences which I could not handle properly) till Swami's Mahasamadhi, the divine shock of the Mahasamadhi and the CHAOS & CONFUSION afterwards in Puttaparthi, changed all that for me. Now I have stopped both my reading and practise of Advaita & deep meditation. Instead I have focused my readings (and writings) on religions, Bhakti, spreading the faith in an interventionist God amongst people (to the small extent I can) etc. Whatever small comments I write about Advaita come from my pre-Mahasamadhi readings & understanding & small/minor experiences related to Advaita.

Sai Das, you wrote that you agree that "Swami's primary concern was re-establishment of Dharma, and faith in an interventionist God, among the devotee-masses" ~ seemed to be His general mission. I feel that after Swami's Mahasamadhi I should focus on contributing my little bit to what I view as Swami's primary concern as mentioned above.

The following may be a repeat of info. that you already know. But I thought I should mention it.

Here's a good explanation of arthi, arthaarthi, jignyaasu & jnaani type of people coming to Avatars (including Krishna and Sathya Sai), from http://venugopalbh.blogspot.in/2013/08/do-we-love-god.html:

In the Bhagavad Gita, the song Divine, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna that there are four kinds of aspirants who pray to Him. The four kinds are described as Arthi, Arthaarthi, Jignaasu and Jnani. Let us take a crash course on what these mean.

Very simply put, Arthi is one who prays to God only in times of distress or dire need - the category most people belong to.

Arthaarthi is the one who seeks Artha(money). The general population who pray everyday but include only prayers for the financial and physical well being of themselves and their families.

Jignaasu - now, this category of people are rare. They pray for wisdom and enlightenment. This is a person in search of God.

Jnaani- This category of people constitute the wise. The ones who see all creation as one with the Divine and only pray and act for the welfare of the world. These are the rarest kind and there will be only a handful of them in society."
--- end extracts ---

Ravi: So most people who came to Sathya Sai in physical form, and now in Sathya Sai congregations, IMHO, belong to the first two categories of Arthi and Arthaarthi. The Jignaasu category which is the typical sadhaka in a proper Advaita ashram or Bhakti margam ashram type category, is a much smaller number. The Prasanthi Nilayam ashram, IMHO, is not exactly an Advaita ashram or Bhakti marg ashram (where service to society activities are typically limited to spiritual type of service only), but more of a mini-world actively engaged in service to society activities with a strong dose of Bhakti and some Advaita as well, and playing the vital role of world HQ of Sathya Sai movement. In my view, Bhagavan wanted Prasanthi Nilayam ashram to show the world how one can be spiritual and be active in the world at the same time. Bhagavan would say that everything is spiritual - don't differentiate between worldly and spiritual - all is God.

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Sai Das wrote:
Excellent observations as always Ravi S. Iyer

We know or should know anyway, that the ultimate goal of Bhakti & Jnana yogas are the same; the elimination of the separate self to Realize our true nature as Pure Consciousness/God. Without getting to deep into it, the main difference is that many Bhaktas want to maintain a sense of separation with the Divine so as to experience the bliss of adoration of the beloved whereas a Jnani's is to Realize the Divine as the Self and be Liberated from the separation. It always struck me that Bhaktas wanting to maintain the separation was their idea and not the Lords. Swami's analogy of a dog chewing on a bone enjoying the bliss of the taste of blood that it thinks is coming from the bone when it's actually coming from his own gums.

So was Baba's ultimate message and teaching to become better devotees or to Realize our true nature as God? To me, it was the latter, ultimately, but for the masses, it was the former before they could realize their true nature.

I agree with you that the overwhelming majority of Sai devotees fall into the first two categories you listed and mostly pay lip service to the other two. As I often say, knowing about something is not Knowing it.

Regarding an "interventionist God". The problem for me is that thinking of God in these terms usually personifies or anthropomorphizes God into an object of our limited imaginations and understanding and then belief usually enters into it causing all kinds of problems. I think this is especially so for us Sai devotees who unlike many other Bhaktas, have a recent personal experience with an actual form and think of that form when thinking of God.

To most Sai devotees, God and Sai Baba are synonymous so when someone thinks or hears the words Sai, Swami, Baba, etc. they immediately think of the form and a very personal relationship with that form. I think that the blending of jnana & bhakti margas is not so simple as some might think. When I asked about a Sai Advaita group, I wasn't referring to approaching them as separate paths as there more commentaries and writings on each to last several lifetimes. What I was referring to is the exploration and understanding into the last two categories. As you pointed out, Swami said that these last two were nearest and dearest to Him so it would make perfect sense that we would want to be those. Having said that, I'll bet you'd be hard pressed to find devotees who would identify with the first two categories even though they constitute the vast majority. I think most Sai devotees would identify themselves as Jignaasus. I also think that most of us are self-delusional. :-).

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Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks for the kind words Sai Das. You asked, "So was Baba's ultimate message and teaching to become better devotees or to Realize our true nature as God?" and responded that for you it was the latter. That I think is a very fair view/approach.

But I would rephrase the question to a more general question of "What was Baba's ultimate message?" And the answer, IMHO, is that Baba clearly had multiple objectives to meet as the Avatar of the age. Giving clarity on the highest truths of existence & life, which according to Him, as per my understanding, was Advaita Vedanta, especially as interpreted by the great Adi Shankara, was undoubtedly a vital part of His mission. So the spiritual leaders of the flock down the ages from now on have an authoritative interpretation of Advaita Vedanta from Swami via His vahinis on Upanishads, Brahma Sutra and Bhagavad Geeta, as well as His discourses on these topics.

However, re-establishment of Dharma, among the people including the spiritual teachers, the warriors, the merchant class, the working class ... is, according to Hindu scripture, the main task for which the Avatar takes birth in this world. Spiritual teachers alone lack the wherewithal to force the re-establishment of Dharma. The Avatar comes with the powers needed for its re-establishment. Swami has created an awesome organization for the re-establishment of Dharma. While upanishad vahini and other vahinis are very important, for mankind as a whole, the Bal Vikas movement is perhaps even more vital! As Bal Vikas inculcates, or tries to inculcate, the right attitude among masses of children, so that they become adults who follow Dharma. The Sathya Sai organization provides a fantastic platform worldwide for interested adults to learn & practise Dharma in a community. I greatly benefited from the Sathya Sai organization as I became more committed to spirituality, as I found a set of like minded people when it came to Dharma, and I was able to earnestly try to practise Sai teachings in that community first, and then later with others too. So I think the Sai organization including the Bal Vikas movement is perhaps the biggest legacy of the Sathya Sai Avatar along with His teachings which the Sai organization has to practise and spread (in a non-evangelical way).

The "interventionist God" need not be visualized with a name & form. It can be a nameless & formless one too. However, I agree that Sai devotees will typically view God in the form of Sathya Sai. Most devotees of other Hindu groups and other religions would also view God at least with a name, if not with both a name and a form.

One of the reasons why I am rather focused on belief in an "interventionist God" and spreading that belief in my small writings, is that I experienced it in the living human form of Sathya Sai. So I know that earnest prayers do get answered. Not many people are blessed with this GREAT GIFT of FAITH in such an "interventionist God".

The other reason is that the world today seems to badly need to reinforce its faith in a loving God who responds in some fashion to earnest prayer. In India itself, the craze of the material culture has made many people lose track of Dharma & Karma, and go with the attitude of achieving financial success at all costs. I don't know how many of such people realize that they are REALLY incurring bad karma if they do acts that are harmful to people in their quest for earning great money, and that they will have to suffer that bad karma. I don't know how many people REALLY believe that if they earnestly pray to God (with a form or formless ...) to help them in their dire need, their prayers have good chances of getting answered in some fashion.

And when one looks to the materially advanced West, it seems to be even worse! Sorry if what I say hurts you (I believe you live in the USA). But I have viewed videos and read at least one book (Timothy Geithner's Stress Test) about the financial crisis of 2007-08, which was easily the biggest world crisis that I saw in my whole life so far. I am appalled at the GREED of some of the few at the top of the financial system in the USA, who brought not only the USA, but also many other parts of the world, to the brink of a financial catastrophe! It is not just a question of ethics - it is a question of KARMA. Today I believe that those who got carried away by their GREED and backed dangerous financial practices (e.g. "overvaluation of bundled subprime mortgages based on the theory that housing prices would continue to escalate", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_crisis_of_2007%E2%80%9308) will have to endure the bad karmic effects for their acts. My view is that if such top financial people of Wall Street believed in Karma and a formless spirit (God) who is watching and will hold them to account in some way, they would not have been as RECKLESS as they were. And, if they believed that this God would also intervene if they followed Dharma and prayed earnestly, USA and the world would have been saved from the trauma of the Lehman Bros. collapse followed by other collapses.

Then we have Prof. Richard Dawkins and his "The God Delusion" book and anti-religion foundation. Yes, there are flaws with organized religion but it is not ALL FAKE. If Prof. Dawkins & co. have their way then a lot of the West would lose faith in any God, not just an "interventionist God".

I am of the firm view that it is faith in Dharma, Karma and an "interventionist God" (as against a "witness only God") that can bring some peace, love and joy in an increasingly stressed out world.

Now that does not mean that those who pursue self-realization do not contribute to overall happiness of the world. They sure do. The vibrations emanating out of a self-realized person as well as a genuine sadhaka on the self-realization path will have a marked positive effect on the surrounding areas. So all kinds of good spiritual people (Bhakti, Karma, Jnana ... paths) are needed to help the world today, IMHO.

Sorry that the answer is a long one. But I now feel comfortable that I have expressed myself decently on this matter :-).

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Sai Das wrote:
"What was Baba's ultimate message?" ~ I would say clearly that it is "We are God" and that everything else He teaches is to lead to that Realization.

"So I know that earnest prayers do get answered." ~ So what constitutes "earnest"? Those prayers that get answered? I can speak from personal experiences that I prayed for "things" with more earnestness than I have ever felt before in my life and they were not answered. I prayed for decades to Swami until my heart would ache just for Him to give me a sign that He was still with me and guiding/protecting/loving me but nothing. So were my prayers not earnest enough? They certainly weren't for self centered "things". Swami himself said (I paraphrase) that He knows the past/present/future of all of us (karma) and occasionally intervenes to modify to some degree.

"My view is that if such top financial people of Wall Street believed in Karma and a formless spirit (God) who is watching and will hold them to account in some way, they would not have been as RECKLESS as they were." ~ Apply this same thinking to the handful instigating the MDH scam. They not only believe in karma, they had a personal relationship with God incarnate and they still do what they do and they are not the only examples. People will always rationalize their behavior no matter what it is.

Personally speaking, what people believe is of little interest to me and not much more relevant than hearing about what they dreamed last night. Beliefs come and go and change and vary in intensity. In other words they are temporary, conditional and only an object of the mind. Where is the importance or relevance of these beliefs while one sleeps?

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Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Sai Das: Noted your views.

About the lack of response to earnest prayers of yours - I really am not in a position to say much. All I can say is that at least while Swami was in physical form, response from physical from Swami to earnest prayer was something that I have personally experienced. After Mahasamadhi, while I surely pray to Him quite often, I have not intensely prayed to Him for a sign, as I did not feel the need to. I have prayed lightly for a sign before I do this or that - but those were not really SERIOUS prayers.

So I cannot tell you that I have earnestly prayed to Him after Mahasamadhi and then received a sign. Surely there will be many who will say they received signs from Him (after Mahasamadhi) on prayer. But then one needs to know them real well to accept their account.

Life in Puttaparthi involves prayer all the time. And, having heard Swami say so often that He is in us, above us, behind us ..., today that belief is very strong in me. It acts as a tremendous kind-of shield to help me face whatever issues I have to. In this connection, you may want to see a shared post of Pardha Saradhi Uppala here: https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/1625487724334465, which is the typical message of Swami that has been drummed into my being, from being in His physical presence in Puttaparthi for close to a decade.

I did not have that sort of faith prior to my stay in Puttaparthi in His physical presence. In fact, this faith grew over the years I was in His physical presence.

The point you raised about the MDH folks who believe in Karma and Sai, but still are, according to you, "instigating the MDH scam", is interesting. My view of the MDH setup is that it has been born out of misguided belief in somebody/some spirit with some paranormal powers which has very successfully fooled many people into believing that it is the subtle body/light body of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I will not say it is a scam as a scam implies deliberate hoodwinking of people to make lots of money, usually illegally. [And there are lots of illegal scams in India.] The service activities done by the MDH groups is awesome! That is what is attracting droves of people, devotees and donors to them, IMHO.

IMHO, one cannot compare the misguided belief involved in MDH to millionaire and billionaire USA hedge funds which were far more interested in making their millions and billions than have any serious concerns about any disastrous impact their actions had on poor and middle class Americans. I mean their money power gave them a status where there was no accountability for their dangerous financial market games.

But I do accept that even with belief in God and Karma and all that, people can still become very greedy and deliberately get involved with scams. And, as you wrote, they will find a way to rationalize their behaviour.

About relevance of beliefs: When one sleeps in a deep sleep mode (as against sleep with dreams) there is perhaps zero relevance of beliefs. I believe, as some scripture says if I recall correctly, we are one with the changeless self then without any aspect of the mind projected Maya. However, in our waking life, faith in a God who protects in some fashion, helps in some fashion, can go a great way in giving confidence to deal with the challenges of life. That has been perhaps my greatest gift and greatest learning from my coming to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. [I had been pretty deep into Advaita theory with some meditation and little lifestyle with Advaita belief also thrown in, prior to coming to Sri Sathya Sai Baba.]

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Eve Gardener wrote:
Prayer is something we do not understand yet. I would say most of us today, are at a level where are prayers are but seedings in the garden of love so to speak. The mystics and saints in all religions have a high regard for prayer, I guess their prayers have become full grown flowers, that blossom easily. I remember Sai saying, you all have weak minds!!! - great yogis and mystics have strong minds, they can move mountains. :-)

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Eve Gardener wrote:
Sadly also we live in very dark times, in the West, the churches are not doing well, These old establishments cannot bring in the people anymore. People have lost faith.. I do not know what will bring a change to that. I do not know how it is possible for us to do anything without hope. However, hope and apathy among the poor is growing and the world grows darker for most.. Personally I think it will take something like a revolution for change in the world today.. Re: Chris Hedges - as he says.

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