Friday, January 4, 2013
The Power of Prayer
Audience: Gurudev, today is Kanakadas Jayati.
There was a great saint in India. He was a shepherd in the 12th century Karnataka. He was called Kanakadasa.
The 12th century was a time when there was a wave of devotion that swept through India, in fact the whole world. I think the Francesco d'Assisi (widely known as Saint Francis of Assisi, an Italian saint), they were all during that time only, between the 12th and 15th century.
Kanakadasa was a great devotee of Lord Krishna. He has written many beautiful songs in Kannada. So, everyone in Karnataka knows about these songs.
The story goes that he was not allowed in a temple because he was poor and from a lower caste. So he stayed on the outside of the temple and prayed, because the temple was mainly for the rich and upper class people.
So what happened is that the wall (of the temple) broke and the statue of Lord Krishna turned and gave Kanakasada Darshan. And the people who were doing pooja on the other side, they were all startled. This is a very well known fact here.
Even today, in the Udupi Krishna Temple, you will find that when you enter the temple, the deity is facing the other way around. There is a broken wall, and it is from the broken wall only that you can see the deity. This is said to be The Window of Kanakadasa, from where he stood and prayed.
It is said that from then on the caste and class discrimination was done away with.
There are many people who have fought against class and caste discrimination. He was one of them, and he was adored by everybody.
That is the story.
Q: Gurudev, there are so many different prayers in Hinduism. Some for Devi, some for Vishnu. In each prayer it is said that with regular recitation of the prayer one will be benefited. Now all prayers say the same thing, how do we know which one to follow?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: See, the first thing to understand is that God is One. No matter by what name you may call him, he is One. That is one thing.
Secondly, it is not true that God is pleased by listening to His Stuti (devotional songs or hymns sung in praise of God).
When you open the windows of your house, the sunlight just comes inside, isn't it?
If you close the windows of your house, do you think the sun will get angry with you? Will the sun suddenly stop giving sunlight if you do this? No!
Whatever prayer we do, we do it for our own happiness. We pray to uplift our own selves. We do not pray to please God.
People who think that they can please God by fasting are foolish. It is sheer ignorance.
Now, do not think that God will give you something very special if you worship him and pray. Yes, if you pray, you will surely get the fruits of your prayer because that is the law of nature. Just like how, when you open the windows, the sunlight will surely come into the house and when the sunlight comes you will get the benefits for sure.
See, God anyways loves you very much. But to grow to love God just as He loves you, that is what devotion really is and this is the essence of prayer.
Pooja means that which is born out of fullness and completeness. To express a heart which is overflowing with so much gratitude and joy, Pooja is done.
‘Dear God, I am so grateful and blessed. You have given me so much in abundance’ – to express this feeling, we do Pooja.
When such a feeling arises within us, then some action inevitably gets linked with it also. One simply cannot resist expressing this deep feeling of gratitude.
For example, when you meet a very close friend of yours, you shake hands and pat his back to express your affection. This is very common in Punjab (a state in North India). So in this way, we express our love towards each other by doing some sort of action.
In the same way, when a devotee is so in love with the Divine, he wishes to do something or give something to the Divine. This is why our ancestors developed the various rituals and methods of performing Pooja. So, whatever we have received from the Divine, we offer it back to him.
God has given you flowers, so you also offer flowers back to Him with a prayer that may our hearts also blossom just as abundantly towards Him. God gave us water, so we offer water to Him during Pooja, with the feeling that we too should become humble like water and bring coolness to everyone. Like water, we too should have a foundation in life (just as water is the vital element and basis of life). So we pray that our life too becomes like this.
We also offer Akshat (whole unbroken rice grain) to the Divine because it is a symbol of never ending abundance. The rice grain does not break ever. Scientists have said that matter and energy can never be created nor be destroyed. Similarly also for the rice grain because it never gets destroyed or damaged. When we eat rice, it provides energy and nourishment to us and is absorbed by our body. And upon death, when our body is cremated and returns to the Earth element, the same rice grain after sometime grows from the Earth and becomes ready as food for consumption. When the body turns into ash, the ash becomes food for many fishes which in turn become the food for many other human beings again. So this happens again and again in Nature. When you bury the body under the Earth, the body dissolves away into the five elements.
Similarly we offer Chandan (sandal paste) also, with the feeling that its fragrance spreads everywhere. All our five senses which bring sensory experiences and pleasure to us – the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the skin have certain sense functions and substances associated with them. So all the substances and objects that bring joy or pleasure to these five senses are also given as sacred offering in the Pooja. We ring the holy bell during the Pooja because due to the sound that is produced, the mind is freed of all thoughts from here and there, and settles in the present moment. Then the mind comes in harmony with the Naad – the single sound in the environment during the Pooja. Therefore, to focus and channel the mind, many drums, trumpets and cymbals are also played during the Pooja. Such a loud sound causes the mind to come into the present moment.
Camphor is burnt to perform Aarti (circular movement or display of the lamp in reverence before the deity or the idol) before the deity. Just as God rotates the sun and the moon around you, you imitate the same and thus offer and move the small camphor lamp before God to bring joy to you. This is also to express the prayer that the light of our life should never go astray from God and should always be centered and revolve around God. It is with this deep feeling that you perform aarti. In the whole of India, people everywhere perform the aarti but do not know the deeper meaning behind it.
Aarti means the highest and the greatest possible bliss. It represents the fact that the Divine is the greatest source of joy. When our hearts overflow with such intense love and devotion that every particle of our body is soaked in it, then that is what aarti really is. Aarti is that which gives you total contentment. It is made up of two parts: ‘Aa-’ and ‘rati’. ‘Rati’ means joy, bliss and ecstasy. So when we are full of such kind of devotion and bliss - that is called Aarti. So we perform aarti with the prayer that our lives should also be filled with the ecstasy of devotion, such that we see God everywhere we look. This is called Pooja. Pooja is never done to flatter or please God.
But in our country, people go and feed sweets to the idol of the deity, so much so that the face of the deity is spoilt. Then you are unable to see the eyes, nose and the mouth of the idol. Furthermore, they offer flowers to every deity’s picture or idol with fear and guilt that if they offer to a flower to Lord Hanuman and not to Lord Shiva, then Lord Shiva will get angry and punish them. All sorts of superstitions arise in the mind. This is why it is said that you must have only one Ishtadevta (referring to the tradition of having a prime or central deity for worship and devotion). All others deities are simply divine forms of the same Divinity. The essence is to see One Divinity in everyone and everyone as part of One Divinity. That is what it is.
Q: Gurudev, can you speak about women Rishis?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Yes, there are some women Rishis, and there is space for more to come. Very few women Rishis have been there, not many actually.
Meera was one such great devotee.
There was one lady in Tamil Nadu, she was called Avaiyar, and she is remembered as the mother of Tamil literature. Anybody who studies Tamil, cannot miss Avaiyar, isn’t? How many Tamils are here? (Some in the audience raise their hands.)
(A person in the audience makes a reference to ‘Athi Chudi’, a composition of Avaiyar.)
Athi Chudi, these are alphabets isn’t it?
Like how we have, ‘A for apple’, ‘B for ball’, ‘C for cat’; like that, she has made something philosophical for each alphabet. So from childhood, the alphabets are taught with values, and this is what the intelligent lady; the mother did.
Her story is very interesting. She was a very beautiful looking young woman, and her parents wanted to get her married, but she didn’t want to.
The King looked at her and liked her. You know in those days, the King always had the privilege of having the best, and she was so good. So the King wanted to get married to her. And when a King asks, nobody can say ‘No’.
Then the story goes that she prayed to Ganesha (Hindu deity with elephant’s head). She was a devotee of Ganesha.
In India, you can have your own specific form for God. Though God is only one, there is something called Ishta Devata(Desired, liked or cherished Divinity). Each one can have their own liking for a particular form of God.
See, there is one God, one Allah, one Paramatma, but for that God, you can choose one name, just for yourself. And then you feel a very personal connection with that name.
So she had Ganesha as her personal deity, and she prayed to him, ‘I should look old.'
And it is said that in no time all her hair became white, and she started looking old. When the King came and saw her he did not marry her. She was left to herself.
So this is the story.
Q: Gurudev, can you please speak on surrender? I feel that surrender makes me a bit ignorant.
When I look back at the past, I see that whenever I had to take a decision or some action, I would think that everything is being handled by Gurudev so he will do everything. Therefore instead of doing what I am supposed to do in that situation, I would believe that whatever has to happen will happen on its own.
So please advise me on what kind of surrender I should have so that I do not become ignorant.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Both sankalpa (taking a firm resolve or wish for some action) and surrender go together. Once you have done your 100% and there is nothing more you can do, then you surrender.
Having done your part, you can surrender your desire for the fruit of the action. But not doing anything will not help achieve anything. We should do whatever we are supposed to do 100%, and then we should surrender the desire for the fruit of our action to the Divine. We should surrender keeping in mind this feeling that whatever is best for us should come to us. We should make all our efforts and then surrender the desire for the fruit of our action to the Divine. Do you understand what I am saying?
You should not simply sit by yourself and think, ‘Oh, I have surrendered, so everything will happen automatically.'
That state of perfection, Siddhavastha, happens very gradually and takes time.
When you become so strong in your Sadhana (spiritual practices) that no cravings or aversions remain within you, and neither are there any desires – then such a state is called Naishkarma Siddhi (the extraordinary ability to attain or achieve something without doing any action for it).
That is, a state in which your work and wishes get fulfilled without having to make efforts for it. However, until that state comes, we must continue to act and do our work.
In the state of Siddhavastha you grow so deep in devotion that you do not have to strive or make efforts for anything. Even before thinking your wishes get fulfilled.
How many of you here have had this experience? (Many devotees raise hands in the audience) See, it is indeed happening already.
Now, how can we attain this state? As we continue to go deeper and grow more on the spiritual path, we become more contented. The more contented we become, that much more will we be able to receive such siddhis (extraordinary abilities).
Having siddhis is not a thing of the past or the future. It is something that can be achieved in the present itself. However, such abilities are currently veiled, and that curtain will fall away slowly and slowly. As this curtain raises more and more, we will find such abilities manifesting in us effortlessly.
Q: Gurudev, in many of the knowledge books, I have read that everything is just One consciousness and we are part of that One. In that case, what do you mean by surrender? What is it that we are surrendering and to whom do we surrender when it is just One consciousness?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Yes, correct.
Actually there is nothing to surrender, but when the mind feels, ‘I am separate, I am different, I am alone’, to let that go, you surrender and just relax.
It is like the mother at home feeling. To generate the mother at home feeling, the process of letting go is called surrender. That is all. There is nothing that you have that you need to surrender. Got it?
That is why there are three different paths (Karma Yoga or the Path of Action, Bhakti Yoga or the Path of Devotion,Jnana Yoga or the Path of Knowledge).
The Path of Knowledge is when you wake up and see, everything is made up of just One thing. There is no two, and this is knowledge.
But when you forget this and feel there is two and when there is something that you are holding on to and it is too much on your head and you can’t bear it, then you say, ‘I Let go’, that is surrender.
One very good example for this would be: You are sitting on the train and you are holding the luggage on your shoulders. Though the seat is comfortable you are putting the weight of the luggage on your head and shoulders and feeling so uncomfortable. Then someone comes and says, ‘Hey, come on! Keep the luggage down. The train is anyway carrying you and the luggage. Relax.’
Giving you that sense of total ease, is said to be Sharanagati (surrender).
Q: Gurudev, what if my choice is different than the conventional way.
People say, ‘You should marry, have children, have property, etc.', which is the conventional way. If I want to deviate from it, I am constantly told that I am wrong.
I don’t see that as wrong as I have a choice. I should always have a choice. What to do in this case? How do you go against the family, society and still stand and be happy and make your own choices?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: es, it is a very tough thing to do. You have to convince your parents that you don’t want to do what everybody else is doing.
You know what? What would be best is to keep an open mind about all these aspects. Not be rigid. Just to have an open mind and play it by the ear. I feel that would be a better way to look at it.
You know in a marriage and in a family, there is always some compromise required. You can’t only say, ‘My way.' You have to take some middle path. You have to take the other partner’s concern as well. So, in life always there is some compromise.
So keep an open mind.
In any case, do not lose your joy and your happiness.
There are people who are single, who are not married and they are not happy. And there are people who are married and they are not happy. So, both the situations are not so good. I would say, whether you are married or not married, be happy however you are. This is essential.
People who do not have children, they cry day and night and they are not happy. And there are people who have children and they are also not happy.
So your happiness should be delinked from the circumstances or situations. Don’t think, ‘Oh, only when I look good, I will be happy. If I am getting old, I will not be happy’, no! Make one thing for sure, 'Come what may I am going to be happy and contented.'
Q: Gurudev, I want to share an incident. I was going somewhere and I bought two bananas. I ate one banana and kept the other banana. I saw a beggar on the road and a thought came to my mind that I should give him the banana, but another thought came to my mind to keep it for later. So I kept it for later. Did I do something wrong? Should I have given the banana to the hungry person?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: I tell you this is what exactly happens. So many people buy so much food and then keep it in the fridge. After a while they find it is getting rotten and throw it away. How many of you do this, you store food in the fridge and then throw it? (Some in the audience raise their hands).
This has been a habit world over.
Do you know, one third of the food thrown comes from our fridges. And nearly one fourth of the food thrown comes from shops where they throw away the foodstuff because it has past it's expiry date. This tendency to hoard is there in the world.
I would say, be spontaneous. If you feel like keeping it, keep it. If you feel like giving it to someone who appears to be very hungry, you can give them.
You don’t have to have a fixed idea, ‘I should always keep the banana to myself and not give it.’ This is no good. Neither you should think, ‘I should always give it’, that is also no good. Be easy, take it easy, and sometimes do this and sometimes do that.
Q: Gurudev, yesterday I happened to meet a lady and she told me that about 20 years ago her Guru came in her dreams and said that she was born to protect the society. This dream prompted her to join the IPS (Indian Police Service), even though she was never an athlete. She said her Guru helped her through her training and today she is one of the most feared cops in India.
Can something like this actually happen? Is there a force that can actually drive a person to that extent?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: You know, there are five types of dreams.
The first type of dream is your own projection. Your own desires, fears, come to you as dreams.
The second type of dream is that which you have already experienced in the past, come to you as a dream.
The third type of dream is an intuitive dream. What is going to happen in the future will come to you as a dream.
The fourth type of dream, has nothing to do with you, but with the place where you stay. Suppose you go and sleep in Orissa in a hotel, or in somebody’s house, then in your dream you will hear Oriya language. Have you had this experience?
If you go and sleep in Bengal, then you will hear Bengali words coming out of you in your dream. So this is the fourth type.
The fifth type of dream has a little bit of everything. It is a mixture.
Almost 90% of our dreams will be these type of dreams. It will have some of intuition, little bit of this, little bit of that. So, that is why you should not rely too much on your dreams.
Yes, there will be some intuitive dreams, definitely. But sometimes, your own fears and ambitions can also come in that form. Are you getting what I am saying?
You cannot totally discard it and at the same time you cannot totally accept it as well.
So you don't need to worry about it. This is called Yog Maya. For a Saadhak (seeker) these things happen. That is when they need more guidance. And when you meditate and follow knowledge, you can get over all this.
Q: Gurudev, the journey is from form to formless, then how important is it to be with a Guru? We see even very senior people running after the Guru. So should we just be with knowledge, or feel the presence, or run behind you?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: See there is nobody behind me. Everybody is in front of me.
Do whatever you want to do. I have no wants. If you stay in a place and be contented, it is fine. And don’t get in to a guilt trip. I don’t want to put you in to more problems. When your heart says run and your mind says don’t run, you are already in a conflict.
So, I am not going to take either your mind’s side or your heart’s side, because both are important. You decide what you want to do. Make one win sometimes and the other win sometimes. Sometimes your head should win and sometimes your heart should win, that is life. It is all about compromise.
Just know this that there is a power and know that miracles happen. Give some space for miracles to happen.
Q: Gurudev, you tell us choice is yours and blessing is mine. What if what we choose for our self does not fall in line with your broad vision, how do we get to know and how can we rectify that? Will you take the responsibility of bringing us back to your line?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: (Laughs) Every line is my line only.
I wish the best for you and I would like for you to choose. It is not that I decide for you. I want you to choose because with every choice you make, you grow.