We find from many letters received
by us that a good many of you are using our feature GETTING
SPIRITUALLY BETTER in your Study Circle. In this context,
some material we had prepared earlier is reproduced below.
Basically, it is a model for how the Study Circle might be
conducted. We prepared a few such models because many people
approached us and asked us for advice on this matter.
What follows is the transcript of
a fictitious proceeding. It is not an actual transcript but
just an imaginary one, scripted to give some idea of how the
proceedings might be conducted. This is just one model, and
many others could be followed. This model corresponds to a
situation where the Circle has already decided in advance
on the topic. Thus, everyone is supposed to have done study
in advance, and this is where our feature GETTING SPIRITUALLY
BETTER could help.
In a later issue, we hope to present
Hope you like what we have to offer,
Jai Sai Ram.
MODEL 1 FOR STUDY CIRCLE PROCEEDINGS
Presented below is a model for how the Study Circle session
could be conducted. It is presented as a transcript of the
actual session. Of course, the transcript is imaginary. It
is intended to give an idea of how points generally come up
for discussion during the meeting, and how they must be steered
by the Convenor. Clearly, the Convenor has to put in a bit
of advance work and planning. In the model given below, a
topic has been chosen in advance, and the members have been
asked to come prepared. The topic chosen for discussion is:
DESIRES. After the preliminary prayer etc., the session proceeds
CON: Sai Ram. I offer humble salutations
at Baba’s Lotus Feet and pray that He guide us. Today,
we shall explore the general topic of desires. Desires are
the main stumbling block to spiritual progress, and Swami
has commented upon them any number of times. We shall try
to recall some of those teachings and digest them. I had asked
the Secretary to make copies of Baba’s sayings on desires
and distribute them. Have you all received a copy?
CHORUS: Yes, we have!
CON: Good! Hope you have
at least glanced through them before coming here.
MR. A: I can’t understand
how desires can be all that bad. I feel hungry. My body desires
food. Unless I eat, I will wither and die. So, please explain
to me why desires are being criticised!
CON: Our brother has raised
a good point. His comment highlights why enquiry is needed!
There is a thing called a legitimate basic need, and there
is another thing called craving. We should carefully distinguish
between the two. Desire refers to the latter.
Let us take food. The popular saying is:
One must eat to live and not live to eat. Swami has clearly
spelt out what one must eat and how much of it. Eating must
always be in moderation; no stuffing business! Some people
try to fast and do so in excess, mistaking it to be an austerity
that would please the Lord. Krishna makes very clear in the
Gita that to torture the body
is to torture Him! In short, eating is required but must be
in moderation and for sustaining the body.
Let me now turn to eating for the sake of
eating, i.e., eating consequent to a craving. People have
a craving for all sorts of things – ice cream, fast
food, etc. This is not necessarily good.
MR. B: Does that mean I
should not eat ice cream?
CON: No, it does not mean
that. Just that you should not have a craving for ice cream.
Don’t get worried if you do have a liking. Just make
sure you gradually decrease your wanting to eat ice cream
– that’s all. Let’s stop talking about food
and move on to other aspects of desire.
MR. C: I am not sure how
practical or relevant this business of curbing desires is.
Let us take meat eating. People say that slaughtering animals
is bad. There is a person who likes meat but is ready to accept
that slaughtering is bad. So, this person gives up meat. But
will that make any dent on the meat industry? Hardly. So,
one might argue: “Why bother? Why give up eating meat?
I don’t slaughter anyway.”
CON: Your argument highlights
the importance of discrimination and perspective while engaging
in enquiry. I wish to start with the basic objection to meat
eating. A foreigner once told Baba: “Meat is important
for me. It gives me proteins.” Swami replied: “May
be meat gives proteins for your body. It will not give spiritual
proteins.” This conversation is recorded by Hislop in
his book Conversations with
Baba. I suggest you look it up.
The point simply is this: If I eat meat,
it would taint my mind and seed cruel feelings. Remember,
food is not just the solid or liquid stuff we consume. Besides
the gross material that we take in, we also take in the subtle
stuff associated to the food. This subtle matter is [subtle]
food for the mind. The mind being subtle, its food also is
subtle. The mind is nourished by [subtle] food just as the
body is nourished by gross food. We must make sure that the
mind gets a proper diet. Anything that pollutes the mind is
objectionable. It must be avoided at all costs, if one is
serious about spiritual progress. Meat definitely taints the
mind; it most certainly obstructs spiritual progress. So,
it must be avoided at all costs. Is that clear? Swami has
explained all this in great detail, and we should go back
to these teachings.
As regards the impact on the meat industry,
Swami says that if one by one people give up meat, then one
fine day, the meat industry would have to close down.
MR. D: I am not too sure
MRS. E: I wish to submit
that there can be an impact. Take the mad
cow disease. After its outbreak, many have given up eating
MR. D: May be, but they
have not given up eating meat!
MRS. F: Actually, even from
a purely body point of view, many doctors advise giving up
meat. This has made many to turn vegetarians.
MR. D: But that has not
shut down the meat industry or made any impact.
MS. G: About impact, I would
like to draw attention to the tobacco industry. In America,
there is a definite wave against smoking,
and this does appear to have caused concern to the Cigarette
CON: OK, I think we have
had enough views on the matter. Let me offer an interim summary:
- We need to be clear about the difference between a real
need and a craving.
- We must practice restraint, abstention and control because
it is good for us.
- If everyone does so, then it would automatically have
an impact on society. For example, in many cities of Europe,
people have gone back to the bicycle. This has done good
Let us move on. I now wish to pose the following
question: “What is the basic problem with desires?”
Let us say I want to collect old pens or watches. What’s
wrong with this desire? What objection can be raised to that?
Mind you, I do not want you to argue about pens or watches
but go to the root of the problem! Who is going to lead from
here? ….. Yes, you young lady.
MS. H: Desires as we normally
understand them, are related to the senses. Animals have senses
and humans too.
MR. A: That clearly shows
that senses have come from God. Why then give senses a bad
MS. H: Wait, please allow
me to continue. I am coming precisely to that point. God has
endowed all of us with senses for survival in the world. The
world is the domain of the senses. The problem is that the
senses drag the mind out into the world.
MR. D: But isn’t that
what the senses are supposed to do?
MS H: No, the mind is not
supposed to get dragged by the senses into the world.
CON: Sister, may I suggest
that you clearly explain the difference between the lower
beings and humans, where the senses are concerned?
MS. H: I shall. Swami says
that there is a hierarchy [where humans are concerned]. First
there is the Atma. From this
is born Aham or I. And from Aham
is born the mind. Thus, says Swami, the mind is the grandson
of the Atma. The senses are born
from the mind. Thus, in the case of humans, the mind must
be the master of the body and the senses. In turn, the mind
must follow the Atma or soul,
whatever one wants to call it.
MR. J: What about animals?
MS. H: The animals are,
to use modern lingo, hard-wired. They have a brain with limited
capability but no mind, no discriminating power, no Buddhi.
They cannot distinguish between good and bad, between right
and wrong. Swami has made that very clear. Baba has also added
that man has been specially blessed with Buddhi
or the power of discrimination. By properly using the Buddhi,
one can make it to God.
MR. D: I wonder if this
Buddhi is a blessing really!
CON: Let me intervene at
this point to call attention to an important aspect of evolution.
Scientists say that the Universe originated in a Big Bang.
First the gaseous clouds were formed, then the stars, and
finally the planets. Here on planet earth, life originated
in a primitive form, and then slowly evolved through various
species to man. The spiritual view is that all the preliminaries
were merely to set the stage for man to evolve back to God.
One can diagrammatically represent it as follows:
Man is only a short distance from God. As
Swami says, man is already 85% Divine. Human birth is given
to leap back to God, and not slide backwards. This is where
mind and sense control becomes important. … Carry on
MS. H: Thanks brother. Let
me come back to the business of desires and link them to what
our Convenor has just said. There are many things in this
world that can give pleasure. Some are material and some are
subtle. They can give pleasure to the senses or to the mind.
For example, eating sweets gives pleasure to the tongue. Success
in business gives pleasure to the mind.
MR. A: But what’s
wrong with that?
MS. H: Wait! Give me a chance
to complete! Now what was I saying? ….. Oh yes. The
point is this. Pleasure is available in the
world in a million forms. The senses are attracted to them,
and the mind too. The problem is that NO
worldly pleasure lasts for ever. It has to
be transient since the Universe itself is transient. If there
is pleasure today, there has to be pain tomorrow. As Swami
often reminds us: Pleasure is an interval between two pains.
The big question is: Does anyone want pain?
MRS. E: Permit me to recall
a verse of Shankara that Baba often quotes. It is in Sanskrit;
I shall give the English translation. Shankara says,
Wealth, progeny, youth,
All these pass in a fleeting moment
CON:. Thanks for that quote.
You have made an important point. Sister H, please continue.
You are giving us valuable insight.
MS. H: Thanks for the compliment!
To continue, let us ask the basic question: “Why do
we want to be happy?”
MR. D: That is a weird question!
I mean who ever wants to be sad?
MS. H: You haven’t
really answered my question. Why does everyone, from a little
child to an old man, seek happiness? What is the fundamental
reason for this?
MR. B: I know. Swami has
given the answer. He says that happiness is our true nature.
MS. H: Bliss, not happiness.
I reserve the term happiness for the feeling we get when we
have pleasant experiences in this world. Bliss is the joy
we experience in the Inner World.
CON: Sisters and brothers,
we have come to a very crucial point. Please pay very careful
attention to what Ms. H is telling us.
MS. H: Bliss is the true
nature of God. The Sanskrit word for Bliss is Ananda.
Swami says that one of God’s names is Brahmananda,
meaning, the One of Infinite Bliss. We are all sparks of the
Divine; therefore, Bliss is also our true nature.
MR. D: But what has all
this got to do with the pursuit of worldly happiness?
CON: Patience, my dear brother,
patience! Without patience, how can we achieve purity?
MS. H: Thanks brother! In
a moment, I shall connect Bliss with the pursuit of [worldly]
happiness. When a baby is born, it is pure and very close
MS. G: That’s true.
Swami has said this many times, and also added that Jesus
was always like a child. That was why he was pure. Baba says
that we must all try to be like little children for at least
five minutes everyday. This is the simplest way to try to
MS. H: Exactly. Sister G’s
remark makes my job easier. OK, a new-born baby is pure and
innocent. It knows nothing about the world, not yet. Babies
often smile. How come? Has the little one won a million-dollar
lottery? The baby knows absolutely nothing about the world,
and still it is happy. How is this possible? The answer is
the baby is happy because it is in its NATURAL
state and experiencing Bliss.
As days pass, the baby grows up. Its hunger
for Bliss continues but slowly it begins to forget the source.
This is because it has started paying more and more attention
to the outside world. So it starts looking for Bliss in the
outside world. Can you get Bliss in this transient world?
No, never. But the baby does not know this. It comes across
things that give temporary happiness, and slowly starts getting
hooked on to them. For example, it develops liking for toys,
and soon, it is ready to fight for them.
The baby is dragged from inside to outside,
and then hooked on attachment. Attachment is a coin with two
sides; one side is pleasure and the other side is pain. The
baby does not understand it. When it grows into a boy, it
still remains ignorant. Indeed, the ignorance stays through
teenage, youth, middle age and even old age!
CON: Sister H has done a
wonderful job. Let me allow her to take a short break and
sip some water, while I underscore what she has been telling
us. She has made the following points.
- We all are sparks of the Divine.
- Therefore, our true nature is Bliss. Bliss is our natural
state. That is why Swami often says that people do not ask
why a person is happy. It is only when a person is sad,
that people enquire about the reason.
- As we grow up, we rapidly forget our true nature. But
the inner hunger for Bliss is there.
- This hunger drives us here and there, and quickly we end
up in the outside world looking for Bliss. Bliss is totally
absent in the outside world, but the world is full of imitation
stuff called pleasure.
- The mind and the senses do a con act, and sell us this
imitation stuff and we fall for it. We become perfect suckers!
We fail to realise that the world is temporary, and that
transient things can give only transient happiness. It is
only the Eternal that can give Eternal Happiness or Bliss.
And you know who is Eternal!
- In short, we are [unconsciously] looking for Bliss in
the wrong place. We can look there till doomsday but we
will never find it. We will find only pleasure and pain
- The mind and the senses collude and create desires; and
desires mislead us; they make us [unconsciously] look for
Bliss in the world. As I just said, we can never find Bliss
in a dual world.
MR. B: You know something?
I think I now understand why Swami often sings the Bhajan:
Hari Bhajana Bina Sukha Shanti
Nahi at the end of many of His Discourses.
It means that without singing the glory of God, one cannot
find peace and happiness.
MR. C: I have a question.
OK, I sing Bhajan; I feel blissful.
But after a while, that feeling evaporates, and I am back
to square one, immersed in problems.
CON: Bliss is associated
with a particular state of mind. If you move away from that
state, you will perforce go back to square one.
MR. D: Be practical, Sir!
We can’t be singing Bhajan
all day long. So clearly, Bliss also is temporary!
CON: Bliss is NOT temporary;
your experience of it can be. The question
about how to be constantly in a state of Bliss is an important
one, and we shall explore it in a later meeting. I think it
is time for Ms. H to resume her remarks and then wrap up.
MS. H: Let us look back
to where we started. We began by discussing desires. Very
simply, desire is an urge that is born out of our quest for
happiness. I want to be happy. I think seeing a movie would
make me happy. This leads to a desire to see a movie.
Now we are in quest of happiness because
Bliss is our natural state. Actually, we are quite ignorant
about our true state as well as about true Bliss. But this
we do know: we want to be happy, and if possible, always.
So we go chasing happiness. Misguided by the senses, we look
for it in the wrong place. We look for it in this ephemeral
world. The world is dual. If there is pleasure, pain is sure
to be hiding behind it. We may experience pleasure now, but
be assured that pain will follow later. Pleasure and pain
are like the two sides of a coin. Can we ever have a coin
with just one side?
MR. J: I have been silent
all along; so, let me be heard. I wish to ask a question.
I understand what you are saying, at least in outline. But
what has all this got to do with spirituality?
MS. H: Ah! That’s
a good point. You agree that life must be spiritualised? You
agree that we must go back to where we came from? We have
come from God and to God we must return – you agree
on that? …You agree? Good!
Now we must clearly understand that God is
Bliss. Going back to God therefore implies seeking Bliss.
If Bliss is what we want, then we must look for it in the
right place, i.e., Inside.
MR. D: Inside?
MS. H: Yes, Inside.
MR. D: I don’t follow.
MS. H: When I say Inside,
I mean the Heart, the spiritual heart that is. This Heart
is the residence of God. It is the seat of the Atma
or the Soul, whatever you want to call it. By the way, Atma
and God mean the same thing. Recall what Swami often says:
[or Bliss] is union with God.
MRS. I: Is this how one
must interpret Swami when He says, “Be Happy!”?
MS. H: Absolutely! When
Swami says, “Be happy,” it means that we must
seek God inside and unite with Him. It does not mean that
we rush to a night club! [Laughter.]
To continue, if we keep looking for eternal
happiness in the outside world, then we are wasting our time.
Nothing, and I repeat nothing, in the external world can give
MR. C: Can I chip in with
CON: Please do.
MR. C: There is a scientist.
He works hard and one day he wins the Nobel Prize. He is deliriously
happy when he hears the news. A month or so later, he makes
the trip to Stockholm to actually receive the Prize. Again
he is very happy. Years pass. He becomes old. His productivity
comes down. Young scientists have appeared on the scene, and
they are now in the limelight. This old man goes to meetings,
but he is hardly recognised. People even make snide remarks
that he is a has-been. He is pained. Happiness one day, pain
some other day.
CON: A good illustration
of Shankara’s teaching that was mentioned earlier. Back
to you Ms. H.
MS. H: So, the bottom line
is: Desire is something that drags one away to imitation products.
The mind and the senses are so clever, that they can easily
fool everybody and con people into believing that the world
offers real happiness.
Be clear! Worldly desires always lead only
to worldly happiness. By its very nature, worldly happiness
is temporary. Our goal is PERMANENT happiness or Bliss. Desires
drag us away from our real goal, i.e., Bliss.
Desires are an unnecessary distraction and an unwanted obstruction.
If we want to get back to God real quick, then we had better
switch off desires as fast as we can.
CON: Thanks sister, you
have done a marvellous job.
MR. D: Listen! All this
is easily said but it is not practical in the least.
CON: You must understand
that no one is asking the all desires be instantly switched
off like one flicks a switch. But surely one can try a ‘brown
out’. In this context, I would like to recall a story
once narrated by Swami.
There was a young man who was very much addicted
to opium. A wise man came to the village where this young
man resided. He told this young chap, “You must give
up this bad habit. It is not good for you.” The young
man replied, “Sir, I would certainly like to give up
this habit. I know that it is not good for me. But you see
I have been hooked on opium for years, and it is not easy
to give it all up overnight. The wise man said, “OK,
I agree with you. Now have you got a chalk? If so, bring it.”
The young addict was puzzled but did as he was told. The wise
man held up the chalk and said, “Every day before you
consume opium, take this chalk and write OM three times with
it. Afterwards, you can take opium, but only as much as is
the size of the chalk. Do you agree?” The young man
nodded. The young man faithfully followed the instructions.
Day by day, the chalk kept getting smaller and smaller. And
with it, the quantity of opium that he took also decreased.
Thus, he avoided all problems associated with severe withdrawal
symptoms, and one fine day, he was off the hook altogether.
Let us get back to desires. You can try out
a similar strategy. Many people dine out; say you do so once
a week. Decrease the frequency to once in two weeks; next,
use the money saved for some service work. After a while,
make the frequency once a month, and so on. In short, the
trick is to gradually tone down; this way, almost all desires
can be overcome. Remember, if you seriously make the effort,
then Sai will help. If we take one step, He will take ten
and come towards us. If we are determined, He is determined
to help us!
I think the time has come to have a summary.
Who will do it? Mr. A? You will do it? Thanks; go ahead.
MR. A: I shall be brief.
- We all have come from God, and therefore our intrinsic
nature is Bliss.
- Once we come into the world, we promptly develop hunger
for happiness. Actually, it is a hunger for Bliss, but we
don’t know that. We think we want worldly happiness
and go looking for it desperately.
- We look for any kind of happiness we can latch on to.
- We go shopping in the market place called the world.
It is full of imitation products, and we promptly fall for
- In this process, we are totally misled by the mind and
the senses, which act in unholy collusion.
- We end up with a lot of sugar-coated pills. These pills
taste sweet to start with but soon become bitter.
- We don’t know what to do. So we go shopping again.
More pills and more bitterness.
- We never learn; life after life, we make the same mistake.
- And now, Sai has come to tell us where we are going wrong.
He says, “Come to Me, and I will give you what you
- Sai continues: “To come to Me, you have to give
up desires. You say impossible? No, it IS
possible! Just replace the desires you now have, i.e., worldly
desires, with desire for ME!”
- Desire for worldly objects leads to trapping in the cycle
of birth and death. Desire for God leads to eternal liberation
from this cycle.
- Once again, just convert worldly desire into desire for
the Divine – the latter is a more safe currency!
CON. : Thanks brother that
was a real crisp summary! I now suggest that we give a big
hand to all participants for their lively participation. [Applause.]
Mr. Secretary, I hope you have kept notes
of the proceedings. As years go by, the log-book would be
very useful. I also suggest that you post on the bulletin
board, a summary of today’s proceedings. This would
be useful to all, and could even attract more members to our
May I remind you that the topic for the next
meeting is Swami’s saying: Less Luggage, More
Comfort, Make Travel a Pleasure.
I now request you to join me in a prayer
to our Lord.
Dearest Lord Sai, offering our Love, we express
our deepest gratitude to You for being with us throughout,
for deftly guiding us across sticky points, and for enlightening
us via Your instruments here. We now pray for Your Grace so
that we can assimilate the lessons learnt here and put them
into practice, for we know that practice is what pleases You
most. Once again, with Pranaams
at Your Lotus Feet.
We shall now bring this session to an end,
with our usual closing prayer. Thank you, and Jai Sai Ram.
So, what do you think of this model? Do you think it could
be helpful to you? How do you conduct your Study Circle? Why
don’t you share some of your experiences so that others
too may benefit?