Spiritual Blossoms
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Dear Reader,

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 another model.

Hope you like what we have to offer, Jai Sai Ram.



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 as follows.

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 about that.

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 beef.

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 industry.

CON: OK, I think we have had enough views on the matter. Let me offer an interim summary:

  1. We need to be clear about the difference between a real need and a craving.
  2. We must practice restraint, abstention and control because it is good for us.
  3. 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 all round.

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 name?

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! [Laughter.]

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 lady.

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, and power,
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 to God.

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 be pure.

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.

  1. We all are sparks of the Divine.
  2. 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.
  3. As we grow up, we rapidly forget our true nature. But the inner hunger for Bliss is there.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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 in alternation.
  7. 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: Real Happiness [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 eternal happiness.

MR. C: Can I chip in with an example?

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.

  1. We all have come from God, and therefore our intrinsic nature is Bliss.
  2. 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.
  3. We look for any kind of happiness we can latch on to.
  4. We go shopping in the market place called the world. It is full of imitation products, and we promptly fall for them.
  5. In this process, we are totally misled by the mind and the senses, which act in unholy collusion.
  6. We end up with a lot of sugar-coated pills. These pills taste sweet to start with but soon become bitter.
  7. We don’t know what to do. So we go shopping again. More pills and more bitterness.
  8. We never learn; life after life, we make the same mistake.
  9. 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 really want.”
  10. 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!”
  11. Desire for worldly objects leads to trapping in the cycle of birth and death. Desire for God leads to eternal liberation from this cycle.
  12. 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 Circle.

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?


Volume - 2 Issue - 6 Radiosai Journal - PSN 2004